16 December, 2006

Palestine, Prime Minsters, Presidents, and Projects

I have been thinking for a while about maybe doing a thesis on the relationship between the president and prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, going back to the period when Abbas was appointed as prime minister to Arafat's president. I could do some kind of comparative analysis based on the literature on other semi-presidential polities and make observations on how the office-holders have or have not managed to leverage the power of their offices.

Having come up with this vague idea some time ago, I then got a bit bored with it, and started thinking if there is a so-what quality to the relationship between two offices in a non-state that governs no territory and is in any case on the brink of collapse. It seems maybe a bit like doing research on the deck-chair arrangement patterns on the Titanic as compared to those favoured on other cruise liners, to get all analogical.

The topic has started to interest me a bit more recently, as the tensions between Hamas and Fatah have escalated (as you know, the Palestinian prime minister is from Hamas and the president from Fatah). Last week there was the ghoulish episode of a prominent Fatah leader's children being murdered by gunmen outside their school. On Thursday, there seems to have been an attempt on the life of Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister, with Haniyeh publicly accusing the senior Fatah figure Mohammed Dahlan of ordering the attack. Today President Mahmoud Abbas has called for joint elections to the parliament and presidency to resolve the political deadlock. Presumably he is assuming that in simultanaeous election the same side will win both elections, and hoping that he has the prestige to win these elections.

So - it is like the internal politics of the Palestinians, and the struggle between the competing legitimacies of the parliament and president is actually important to what is going on, with the failure to reconcile the prerogatives of the presidential and prime-ministerial offices a key driver of the malaise of Palestinian politics. Maybe it is time to dig up those books on semi-presidentialism.

10 December, 2006

You Cannot Stand In The Way Of Progress

Sorry, not much action here lately. I blame Tunisia. It seems to be an interesting country. Like many places, its leadership in the 19th century attempted a defensive modernisation in reaction to increasing European encroachments. Like almost all such places that tried this (eg Turkey, Egypt, Hawaii, China, etc.) this process failed alarmingly, leaving the country as a protectorate of the French.

My learned colleague Nicholas Whyte is discussing a similar (fictional) process in his review of The Curse of Peladon, in which a backward planet is being invited to join The Federation, over opposition from traditionalists who fear the planet's way of life will be eliminated. My recollection of the story is that it shows a very old school binary idea of things - tradition = bad, modernity & progress = good. It helps that the Federation in the story is shown as being fundamentally benign, and unlike certain of today's international institutions is not proposing hare-brained one-size-fits-all transformations of the Peladonese society.

Nicholas mentions how certain commentators have seen this story as some kind of parable for the British entry into the then Common Market (in much the same way that it's sequel is seen as having parallels with mid-70s industrial unrest in the UK). That got me thinking about how during the Thatcher era and beyond, the worst thing anyone can say about some EU politician is that they are a "Federalist". I wonder if this fear of any thing that smacks of being a Federation is some kind of relic of previous viewings of Blake's 7?

21 November, 2006

I love conferences

I love conferences. You get to hang out with important people and feel like you are part of some great scholarly community, even if you are a just a master student who lurks at the back and says nothing. And you get to go to receptions with free bouze - it's like being an undergraduate again.

I am going to the Royal Irish Academy conference on The Rise of Asia in International Affairs this coming friday. Spy school have not really covered this area so much, so I am looking forward to the RIA filling in the gaps.

The RIA are also hosting the annual Graduate Research Seminar in International Relations on thursday. This event features people talking about the exciting research they have undertaken in the field. My hope is that it will help to trigger research ideas in my own mind.

Look forward to write-ups of these events, hopefully less interminable than the account of my last conference attended.

09 November, 2006

Markus Wolf

Markus Wolf, the chief spy of the DDR for most of its existence, has died. Despite his many successes, he was unable to prevent the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of his country, though he had by then retired. Wolf's memoirs make fascinating, if self-serving reading. Among his agency's many achievements were running an agent in the immediate circle of the West German chancellor and recruiting senior figures in West German counter-intelligence.

BBC obituary

Guardian obituary

07 November, 2006

Recently in Spy School

"Recently" in this context is rather relative.

A couple of Fridays back we had a double lecture on Development. The lecturer (OK, let's call him Peadar then, affecting an impertinent familiarity) talked about how the development project burst into being after the second world war, summoned into existence by Truman's inauguration speech (I'm guessing in 1949 rather than when he succeeded Roosevelt in '45). The context was interesting - both post war optimism (the sense that if we stuffed the Nazis then anything is possible) and Cold War paranoia (making sure the Soviets do not lure people to their kind of development).

The theoretical underpinnings of the development project were discussed. Marx was mentioned in passing, in the context of his blandly confident sense of capitalism as being a progressive force in the world (although one he questioned when looking at Ireland and India). I think maybe Marx is more important in this context for the idea that societies can and do change - when you have that intellectual possibility you are in a position to start thinking of fundamentally changing society. Other intellectual stars of the pre-Development theoretical views of the world are Max Weber (protestant work ethic and all that) and Emile Durkheim, with the latter having apparently more or less invented the idea of the "modern" and "traditional" as two radically different things, thereby launching the Modernist project; development comes to be seen as a process of moving from traditional to modern.

Moving on from the precursors, we get actual rogues gallery of early development theorists, who seem to all come at it from different directions but share a vision of development as being about modernisation: Talcott Parsons (sociology), Walt Rostow (economist), David McClelland (psychology), & Seymour Lipset (political science). McClelland is one of the more entertaining of these, with his idea that reading children stories about self-reliant heroes will make them become entrepreneurs in later life. They all think in terms of a natural progression of societies from backward traditionalism into something akin to the USA in the 1950s. The development project is seen as being about helping the backward societies along this road a bit more quickly than they could manage on their own.

An influential reaction to the broadly liberal and pro-capitalist development model emerged in the dependency theory model especially popular in Latin America. This to some extent took Marxist ideas but left out his bland confidence in the progressive transformative power of capitalism in the non-west. Instead the dependency theorists talk about transnational exploitation, of a world "core" and of nations of the "periphery". The latter are seen as being in a dependent relationship to the former, with people in the periphery being at the end of a chain of exploitation from the rulers of the core. Whereas the modernisation theorists saw engagement in the world economy as straightforwardly positive, dependency theorists saw international trade as exploitative, and argued that peripheral countries should detach themselves from the world economy; they were however a bit vague as to what this actually meant, not really going so far as to suggest that peripheral states should actually adopt fully autarkic policies.

In practice, modernisation and dependency theory turned out to be a bit rubbish. Modernisation theory could not cope with the emergence of countries with economies that were obviously growing, but which were also seeing increasing inequality and poverty. Dependency theory suffered from a lack of any real policy programme and a tendency to encourage fatalism about the unjust nature of the world. AG Frank, one of the leading dependency theorists, subsequently claimed that it had failed empirically. One might add that it is simplistic to talk of peripheral countries being dependent on the core, when all countries are joined in a complex web of interdependence, with even the richest being dependent on trade. Our lecturer, though, is an unreconstructed leftist and felt that dependency theory still has much in the way of positive results, even though it failed to deliver on economic development. These would be in the areas of political mobilisation and the development of civil society in the "periphery".

So now there is a theoretical void at the centre of the development project, and two positions have emerged which implicitly or explicitly challenge the conceptual validity of development. Postmodernists lambaste the development project as a typically totalising Enlightenment grand narrative, an attempt to coerce the world into one way of living. The proponents of neo-liberalism, meanwhile, seem to give up development as a heroic project, instead suggesting that the untrammelled workings of the market will lead to the most optimal of outcomes.

06 November, 2006

First they came for the niqab wearers

I'm learning German. In German class last saturday, we discussed the veil (der Kopftuch). This seems to have become something of an issue in Germany, following a ruling by the Constitutional Court that the federal government has no right to ban teachers from wearing the hijab. Apparently some opinion poll has shown that a large majority of Germans think that women teachers should not be allowed to wear the hijab.

Our discussion was conducted in the halting style you would expect with people for whom German is the second, third or fourth language, and I suppose given our lack of vocabulary and skill with the language it is not surprising that discussion tended towards cliché and unsophisticated argument. Still, I was struck by how many of my classmates were taken with the idea that immigrants into a country should conform to the mores of the host culture. I find this kind of idea disturbing. To go further, I think it dangerous, and I feel that thinking along these lines is the first step on the road to Fascism.

Fascism is an oft bandied word, and saying that any kind of thinking is akin to it is alarming, if not alarmist. What do I mean? Simply this - that in any country, there is no monolithic host culture which immigrants can be required to adopt. I can't speak for everyone who reads this, but I do not live a life that conforms to the majority culture of my country. My fear is that any attempt to impose "our" culture on immigrants leads to a narrow definition of what that culture is, and that after immigrants have been obliged to love it or leave it the culture cops turn on other people who do not match up to their constructed view of how to live Our Way Of Life. I reckon the gays would probably be the second or third up against the wall, but it would not be long before general low level deviance would be having its collar felt. I would be having to give up my nerd hobbies and instead have no option but to take up an interest in GAA and Coldplay. The horror.

02 November, 2006

Nice work if you can get it

I have a new hero: Stephen McVeigh of the University of Swansea, who is delivering a paper on The Galactic Way of War: Warfare in the ‘Star Wars’ Universeon the wednesday at the annual British International Studies Association conference, taking place next month in Cork*. Christ, I could write that in my sleep, talking about pre-Westphalian models of political organisation coexisting with oddly modern ideas of ideology. I must get my act together and submit them a paper on the International Relations of Star Trek: The Next Generation for next year.

You are probably too late to book for this event, as they are being a bit Realist about reservation deadlines. And it costs a fortune as well.

*Cork is not actually in Britain.

25 October, 2006

Pattern Variables

Spy School has made me feel old. In Development last friday, the lecturer was going on about yer man Talcott Parsons and his pattern variables. I had a wonderful flashback to hearing all about these in the first ever Sociology lecture I went to back when I was an undergraduate. Then I realised that this would have been 20 years ago last October.

I still do not know what pattern variables are.

18 October, 2006

Britain goes veil mad

Following on from Jack Straw's intervention on women who wear veils that obscure their faces, it seems like Britain has become obsessed with the question of what women do or do not, should or should not wear on their heads. It all seems a bit prurient.

One thing that often strikes me about those propounding an anti-Muslim discourse is the idea that They (Muslim Men) oppress "their" women. That the same people who say this are quite happy to tell women what they can and cannot wear is an irony that never seems to strike them.

Anyway, I was very taken by a piece by Zaiba Malik that appeared in The Guardian on Tuesday: 'Even other Muslims turn and look at me' In this, the journalist, a Muslim woman, wears the full-on niqab for the first time in her life. She finds it dehumanising, but is struck by how it makes her a magnet for pervs and racists.

11 October, 2006

and what did I learn this week in spy school?

not much... I missed the Development class, in which the lecturer talked a bit more about the magic of academia, ending apparently in a ta-daa moment where everything suddenly fell into place and became relevant to studying Development's theory and practice.

In the International Political Economy class the lecturer talked a bit about the development of the world economy, not really saying anything you would not already know. More interesting, but also more annoying, were the questions from some of my classmates. These cast the world trading system as Bad, and the lecturer as a representative thereof, so there was a lot of "but what about...?" style questions, which maybe missed the point that we were there to learn the history of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and not engage in a debate about whether trade was classic or dud. The interesting bit was maybe in looking at how for all that arguments broadly in favour of free trade between countries have essentially won the battle where it matters, they have not really won hearts and minds, particularly of graduate students who may well find themselves making decisions in the future. So perhaps if all that Kuhnian paradigm shift stuff has anything going for it we could be going back to the 1930s at some point over the next ten years or so.

09 October, 2006

The Final Programme?

Hunting Monsters is under threat. One of my pals has started a new International Relations weblog, and invited me (and many other people) to write for it. It is called The Dublin School of International Relations, and has only one post on it, not by me. It would be churlish not to sign up for that project, but I suspect that there is only so much IR stuff I can write, meaning that Hunting Monsters may fall even more on the back burner. Ah, such is life.

02 October, 2006

Conference: Palestine as 'State of Exception': a Global Paradigm (part three)

You may recall part one and part two.

Gargi Bhattacharyya talked about how the Palestinian issue has become an emblematic one for anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist people, with it often being said that it is the defining struggle of our time. While this has obvious benefits, it has the downside that the Palestinians themselves get reduced to ciphers, with their actual struggle rendered almost invisible by its appropriation by the opponents of the current world system. There is also the problem that although the Palestinian struggle is currently chic, it may soon go out of fashion, leaving the Palestinians high and dry. As someone with a sceptical view of the anti-globalisation movement, I found myself wondering if the Palestinians conscription by the that lot alienates support from middle-of-the-road people; the dispossession of the Palestinians has little or nothing to do with neo-liberalism, so bundling the two things together produces unlikely bedfellows.

Dr. Bhattacharyya also talked about race, and about how the West has in the context of the War on Terror moved towards seeing Muslims as an existential threat to Our Way Of Life; this is akin to how the Israeli establishment paints the Palestinians. The UK authorities, meanwhile, has moved away from multicultural models of integration for immigrants, seeing these as promoting self-segregation, and instead have moved towards a new model of authoritarian assimilation, with those clinging to other ways of life seen as hating freedom.

Bobby Sayyid talked about the resonance Palestine has for Muslims throughout the world. He finds this resonance interesting and not readily explainable – Muslims who have never been to Palestine or met anyone who was there still feel a great personal attachment to the issue. Dr. Sayyid also talked about how this general Muslim engagement with the Palestinian struggle can be somewhat abstracted and removed from the real-life experience of that people. Instead, the Palestinian issue becomes a metaphor for all Muslims who are struggling against oppression. Sayyid felt that without the engagement of Muslims world-wide with Palestine, the issue would have lost its salience.

I did find myself wondering how the Palestinian issue would resonate with people who are themselves being colonised by Muslims – the good folk of West Papua, say. If the struggle of the Palestinians has become a metaphor not of resistance against oppression but of Muslim resistance against repression of Islam then maybe the Palestinian struggle could lose its cachet with the kind of anti-globalisation people Dr. Bhattacharyya was talking about, if bolshy Muslims and anti-globalisation ever become decoupled.

Conor McCarthy was the last speaker, talking about Edward Said and his theories of the state. A lot of this was situated in a world of literary critical theory with which I am not that familiar, so I struggled a bit, with the lateness of the hour not helping. The paper name-checked such exciting characters as Gramsci, Foucault, and Poulantzas. Dr. McCarthy talked about how Said looked at the Zionist project from the point of view of those on whom it impacted, and on how he looked at the genealogy of Zionism as a concept. Beyond that, Said was perturbed by the disconnection between Israeli and Palestinian self-narratives.

General Points on the Conference

One thing that really struck me about this conference was the absence of any real Palestinian voice or any sense of Palestinian agency. Dr. Lentin had in her opening remarks to the conference discussed how this was going to be a conference about Palestinians in which their voices would be articulate. In practice, though the papers seemed to be all about things being done to the Palestinians or things other people were doing purportedly on their behalf.

Another feature was the absence of Israeli voices. Dr Lentin pointed out in her closing remarks that three of the academics who scheduled to speak were Israeli citizens, but these were either Palestinian Israelis or dissidents like Ilan Pappe whose opinions are completely beyond the pale of normal Israeli opinion. If the conference had lived up to its billing as a vehicle for articulating and analysing Palestinian viewpoints, then the marginalisation of any kind of Israeli voice would make more sense. In practice, though, large parts of the conference were devoted to things the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians, and the lack of any attempt to see things from their point of view made them seem disembodied and ahistorical, a decontextualised and inhuman force rather than the human citizens of a country.

In some ways, though, the above is just nitpicking on my part, and should not be taken as indicating any overall lack of satisfaction with the conference proceedings.


01 October, 2006

Conference: Palestine as 'State of Exception': a Global Paradigm (part two)

Remember part one?

On the second day, Raef Zreik opened by talking about the constitutional setup in Israel. Legal theory imagines other countries as moving from a chaotic revolutionary situation where all metaphorical gloves are off to one bound by constitutional niceties, while in Israel the revolutionary state of emergency has remained in being while the forms of constitutionality have been adopted. He also mentioned an odd feature of the country – that the state notionally exists not just for the benefit of its actual inhabitants, but also for all Jews everywhere, giving Israel a notional constituency several times larger than its actual citizenry.

Honaida Ghanim began with an account of a named Palestinian woman who found herself giving birth at an Israeli army checkpoint, losing the child. She discussed the incident in terms of it being almost the perfect atrocity, and then went on to talk about the Palestinians living in a situation of endlessly terminable bare life, subject to total biological control by the Israeli powers that be. More sociology.

Laleh Khalili discussed the relationship of Hezbollah with the Palestinian issue. This was for me one of the most interesting of all the papers delivered at the conference, perhaps because it was more to do with politics than sociology. Dr. Khalili talked about how Hezbollah have painted themselves as the champions of the Palestinians, taking numerous symbolic and actual acts in their favour. However, she cast the relationship as being not entirely symbiotic, with Hezbollah being prepared to subordinate Palestinian concerns to the party’s own interests. Thus, Hezbollah organised commemorations of the Sabra & Shatila massacres that focussed on the small number of Lebanese Shia Muslims killed, obscuring the far greater number of Palestinians killed. For Lebanese political reasons, Hezbollah invited speakers from the Amal party to speak at the commemorations, despite its role in killing numerous Palestinians during the camps war of the mid-1980s. Dr. Khalili went on to talk about how Hezbollah’s symbolic attachment to Jerusalem obscures the city’s status as an actually existing place in which real people struggle to maintain their lives, echoing themes covered in my beloved’s unpublished MA thesis.

Ronit Lentin then talked about Zochrot, this being an Israeli Jewish organisation which seeks to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba (the Nakba being the Arab language term for catastrophe used to denote the founding of the state of Israel and the associated dispossession and exiling of numerous Palestinians). Zochrot organises trips for Israeli Jews to places that were once Palestinian towns or villages. They place signs in Arabic and Hebrew showing the localities’ old names and arrange for the places’ former inhabitants to talk of their dispossession. Lentin was somewhat critical of this fascinating organisation, partly because their trips can often traumatise Palestinians who must re-experience the Nakba for them, and partly because Zochrot proletarianises the Palestinian victims of the Nakba by making them performers of misery recreation for Zochrot tourists. More crucial, however, was Lentin’s disdain for Zochrot’s politics, or Zochrot’s de facto lack of politics. They commemorate the Nakba, but they are a bit vague on whether they are calling for the Nakba’s victims (and descendants) to be able to return to the country in which they used to live. Meh, that seems like ultra-leftism to me – what Zochrot does is more important than what they call for.

During lunch, they showed two short films by Tamar Goldschmidt, apparently downloadable from http://www.mahsanmilim.com - Abu Dis Report and Qalandiya Report. These are both about crossings through the Wall that Palestinians use if they are coming to Jerusalem. Abu Dis is a surreal spot – it is a section of wall standing on its own, with fencing on either side of it, fencing that has had holes knocked through it so that people can climb through it and enter Jerusalem without showing papers to Israeli soldiers. The film is an endless succession of people climbing through the gap, carrying an endless variety of stuff to or from Jerusalem. The surrealism of the whole thing is accentuated by the musical accompaniment – an early Zionist song about the wonderful country they were going to build in Palestine. Qalandiya Report showed people moving through the checkpoint at Qalandiya, the entry point to Jerusalem from Ramallah and the northern West Bank. The passage looked amazingly chaotic, with enormous numbers of people having to crowd through a handful of turnstiles as they waved their papers at Israel conscripts. However, the piece lost some of its power with me because it was filmed about a year before I was in Palestine. The Qalandiya checkpoint had changed greatly by then (and has probably changed even more since), becoming much less chaotic and more efficient, though still somewhere that anyone interested in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should visit.

One odd thing for me with both these films and the earlier use by Professor Goldberg of an image of an Israeli settlement on a West Bank hilltop was the nostalgia they evoked – while intended as images of oppression, they reminded me of places I had been to on holidays.

What I learned this week in Spy School, 29/9/2006

Spy School is back! Oh the excitement, the fun of trekking out to DCU to learn things about stuff.

This week I had two classes. One was notionally on the theory and practice of Development, though it was actually an overview of how the social science produces knowledge. The lecturer talked about the academic community, the importance of academia's independence from vested interests, and the role of theory in shaping understanding of the world. Deadly stuff, though over pints afterwards some felt that maybe he could have cut most of this out and got us straight into a discussion of where Development is at these days; it was even argued that academic theorising is responsible for all the ills of the world.

The second class was on International Political Economy - the study of how the world economy works and stuff, though more from a world politics point of view than a rigourously economic one. This class was introductory, outlining some of the general theories in the area (basically, Realism/Nationalism/Mercantilism, Liberalism, and Marxism (with its friends Critical Theory, Dependency Theory, Structuralism, et al.); attentive readers will already have some understanding of this) before going on to say that no one pays any of them that much attention any more. He then bombed through some theoretical discussions of why countries trade, beginning with Adam Smith's theory of absolute advantage and David Ricardo's comparative advantage. The more sophisticated Hecksher-Ohlin theory was then outlined, with this adding in factors of production costs, a massive leap from Smith-Ricardo models; unfortunately, empirical evidence has not been favourable to its predictions that countries like the USA with lots of capital and not so much labour would exclusively export industrial manufactures and exclusively import commodity goods. There was then some theory about intra-industry trade in advanced markets with monopolistic competition between companies manufacturing differentiated products, but this seemed a bit too woolly to count as a full on theory.

30 September, 2006

Habermas: To arms!

You will be familiar with Jurgen Habermas, the last of the Frankfurt School gang. You will be familiar with how they produced all that is bad in the world, including the film of V For Vendetta.

Momus reports that Habermas' latest project is to call for the transformation of the EU into a European state, complete with a fully functional European army (word) It is the only way to contain American militarism, contends Habermas.

The discussion on Click Opera that follows is interesting, apart from the tiresome coda on sharia law.

24 September, 2006

Conference: Palestine as ‘State of Exception’: a Global Paradigm (part one)

I went to this conference recently in Trinity College Dublin’s Institute for International Integration Studies. In her introductory comments, Ronit Lentin of IIIS and TCD talked about Edward Said’s ideas regarding the distinctness of Palestinian history as distinct to that of the Arab world generally – the Palestinian experience of oppression and rolling dispossession has created a uniquely Palestinian identity. The idea behind this conference was to discuss the Palestinian experience in the context of ideas around state security regimes developed by Carl Schmitt, Michel Foucault, and Giorgio Agamben. The term ‘state of exception’ is a literal translation of the German Ausnahmezustand, or state of emergency; the Palestinian identity has been shaped by near continuous experience of such a state of exception. However, the rest of us are seeing states of emergency becoming institutionalised as part of the War on Terror – as rights are taken away, the state of exception becomes increasingly unexceptional.

Usual caveats apply – my description of what the speakers had to say relies on my scratchy notes and what my faulty memory recalls about the event. I therefore apologise in advance to any of the speakers who stumble across what I have written and find that I have completely misrepresented them.

The conference’s first proper speaker was David Theo Goldberg. He talked about how Palestinian racial identities have been constructed, more in terms of how Zionist settlers and later Israelis defined “Palestinians” rather than how the locals defined themselves. Early ideas of the Arabs of Palestine as people over whom a benign hegemony could be asserted evaporated in the face of determined (if ineffectual) resistance to the Zionist project, leading to a switch in which the Palestinians were recast as an endlessly demonized and bestial Other. That leads to the Palestinians being in practice stripped of any rights they might expect to have in a normal liberal democratic polity, reduced to the status of what Agamben would call homo sacer, a state of bare life where one exists merely at the whim of the dominant party. This was all pretty interesting, but a bit heavy on the sociology for me. And I did think that maybe Professor Goldberg was going a bit overboard when he said that in the current War on Terror, with the continuous erosion of civil liberties, we are all Palestinians, or potential Palestinians; I don’t think there is any real likelihood of some cockfarmer putting a wall and a load of checkpoints between me and where my parents live.

Ilan Pappe spoke next. While not exactly a household name, he is one of the most important of the Israeli “New Historians”. He talked about the ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing that the Palestinians have had to contend with since the fighting that erupted in the last months of the Mandate. In the past, such things were swept under the carpet within Israel, but more recently the past expulsion of Palestinians has come to be seen as a necessary part of the creation of the Israeli state. More recently, some Israelis have become exercised by the fear that Palestinians will outbreed them and become a majority in the territory west of the Jordan river – the so-called “demographic problem”. Dr. Pappe ties this fear to the essentially unquestioned idea with Israel – that the less Palestinians there are within the country’s borders, the better; Right and Left differ only in how they propose to advance this goal – by expulsion or by redrawing borders.

Dr. Pappe then went on to talk about how the Palestinians have responded to their rolling dispossession. The first strategy was based on nationalism and attempting to cast their struggle as one of anti-colonialism. This was the approach of Yasser Arafat, Fatah, and the mainstream of the PLO. It led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the limited self-rule of pockets of Palestinian territory, but it has proved to be a failure. Dr. Pappe sees its failure as being intrinsic to its status as a nationalist discourse – the world, seeing a conflict between a Palestinian nationalism and an Israeli nationalism attempted to broker a kind of compromise between them, but one based on partition that had no viability (I am not entirely clear whether Dr Pappe is talking of the non-viability of partition based on creating a Palestinian state on all of the territory in Mandate Palestine beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, of if he means the attempts by Clinton et al. to railroad Arafat into an agreement that sees Israel gobble up all of Jerusalem and large swathes of the West Bank. Dr Pappe would probably feel that the problem with either of these is that they do nothing for the victims of past expulsions – those rotting in refugee camps in Lebanon are not going to be returning).

The second strategy of the Palestinians has been to rely on Islamism as mobilising strategy. While this is still ongoing, Dr Pappe does not see it as having any great likelihood of bringing about an improvement in the situation. He therefore turns to the third strategy, one only now emerging – one of post-nationalism where human rights rather than religious zeal or national rights would be the focus of demands for a halt to the dispossession of Palestinians and a reversal of past expulsions. Dr Pappe talks of campaigning for the emergence of a single state west of the Jordan River, where no religious, national, or ethnic group enjoys any kind of ascendancy over any other.

Now, this might sound utopian, but Dr Pappe sees this as a more credible goal to strive for than something based on national or religious particularism. I do not know if I agree with him on this, but the failure of the other strategies to yield any positive results is striking. Dr Pappe notes how ethnic cleansing is now widely seen as an unacceptable act. The US State Department’s own mission statement stating an uncompromising commitment to the absolute right of refugees to return to their countries of origin, so it’s not like advocating the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be seen as some kind of ultra-leftist madness.

(part two to follow shortly)

30 August, 2006

Edge of Darkness

My old college pal David Landy is organising a conference: PALESTINE AS ‘STATE OF EXCEPTION ': A GLOBAL PARADIGM.

One amusing feature of this is that it stars Ilan Pappe, an Israeli academic. Pappe has played a leading role in advocating a boycott of Israeli academia similar to that which apartheid era South Africa was subjected. So I should really boycott any talk he delivers, but instead I am signing up to hear him speak. Here is a great short article by Pappe on the Israeli legal system: 'In Court'.

I think the conference title draws on the ideas of political and social scientists like Giorgio Agamben, who talk about how it is the ability of states to suspend the normal niceties of constutional rule that defines them. Malcolm Bull reviewed Agamben's States of Exception in the LRB earlier this year: 'States don’t really mind their citizens dying (provided they don’t all do it at once): they just don’t like anyone else to kill them'.

(You'll need to be a subscriber of the London Review of Books to read those linked to articles in full)

29 August, 2006

History Today

I was bemused by an article David Cannadine wrote for the BBC News website, "A Tale of Two Historians". He talks about two well-known but now deceased historians, A.J.P. Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper. He mentioned how since their deaths, the reputation of one has soared and the other nose-dived. But bizarrely, it seems to be Taylor's stock which has fallen while suddenly everyone apparently loves Trevor-Roper.

The contention is interesting, but Mr Cannadine has little to say in favour of Trevor-Roper, apart from claiming that his collected letters are a cracking read. Big mickey, especially given that they seem to largely deal with the puerile university politics that kept him away from producing anything to rival Taylor's works.

Er, not that I am actually that familiar with Taylor's oeuvre in its totality. Years and years ago I read an entertaining book about British foreign policy dissidents, but the one big book of Taylor's I have read is his Origins of the Second World War. That is a cracker, a book covering interstate politics in Europe from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the Second, with the sense of pace and drama that makes it a page turner to rival the most exciting thriller.

One very odd thing about that book is the way people keep saying that it is some kind of apologia for Hitler. This is bollocks, basically. Taylor treats Hitler as an actual person pursuing goals rather than the kind of dehistoricised monster some are more comfortable with. And the focus of the book is on relations between the states of Europe, meaning that their internal affairs are largely outside its concern. That said, Taylor is quite clear on how Kristalnacht and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia were important events, in that they made the British public realise that Hitler really was a maniac and not someone who could be appeased. Taylor is quite clear on Hitler's boundless appetite, even if he does not believe that Der Fuhrer came into office in 1933 planning to launch a European war in September 1939.

Mmmm. I think I will add The Struggle for Mastery in Europe and Taylor's book about the Habsburgs to my mountain of unread books.

12 August, 2006

Virtual War

I hope eventually to trundle along through the magic of IR theory, bringing you eventually to the magic of post-modernism in so far as it relates to my discicpline. In the meantime, ILX brought me to an article by Eyal Weizman called Israeli Military Using Post-Structuralism as “Operational Theory” which originally appeared in the journal Radical Philosophy. I'm not saying this article is brilliant or anything (I've only barely skimmed it myself), but it seems illustrative of the type.

29 July, 2006

Voodoo Economics

I have been reading this book Silent Revolution: The Rise of Market Economics in Latin America by Duncan Green. It's about how Latin America, hit by the debt crisis of the early 1980s, found itself caught in the embrace of neo-liberal economics. The book is interesting enough, and I may talk about it at more length when I eventually tell you everything you need to know about Latin America.

Green's thesis is that neo-liberalism is BAD. Fair enough, it's not like the region has done particularly well since it embraced the creed. However, he displays a less than total understanding of basic economics, which undermines his credibility when he scoves at the discipline in general or attempts to draw conclusions about particular economic models. The error that most struck me was when he attempted to explain Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage by giving an example of a situation where the different concept of absolute advantage applies. The error is not fatal to his analysis, but it did make me wonder what other clunkers had crept in there. So I am somewhat more sceptical about his overall conclusions.

25 July, 2006

Europe Endless

Momus writes about Europe, referring to a piece in a magazine called Europe Endless and referring to writings by some Mark Leonard fellow (whose book, Why Europe Will Run The 21st Century stares provocatively at me in bookshops.

The European Union is unstoppable, because our progress is based not on war but personal and economic commerce. Our flubbly world of compromise, difference, and bureaucratic deal cutting is endlessly attractive to outsiders. I look forward to the day when Morocco and Turkey join the EU, because it sets the project rolling for the EU's transformation into the WU, a pacific league straddling the globe.

16 July, 2006

Theorising International Relations: Marxism

Some time ago I said that I would take you all on a journey through the world of International Relations theory. Sadly, the train had barely left the station when it faced a long delay in its second stop, but now let’s get things moving again. And look, we are pulling in at the third stop, which is called Marxism. This is the third of International Relations’ big three theories, though it is very much the poor relation of Liberalism and Realism.

In broad outline you probably know what Marxism is all about. In some ways it is reducible to a string of buzzwords - class struggle, dialectics, historical materialism, modes of production, relations of production, alienation, base & superstructure, surplus value, and so on. The interesting question is how applicable all this is to world politics. In his own writings, Karl Marx largely confined himself to analysing power structures within countries, saying very little about how the workings of capitalism work internationally.

Still, Marx says more than nothing about the world as a whole - there is a fascinating passage in The Communist Manifesto of 1848 where he talk presciently of globalisation, and of capitalism’s insatiable urge to spread itself throughout the world, transforming all traditional societies it touches through the introduction of the cash nexus and capitalist relations of production. Nevertheless, the argument is somewhat unsophisticated in the light of later developments - capitalism is seen as turning the whole world into a simulacrum of the advanced industrial societies. The division of the world into a developed core and a (seemingly) permanently underdeveloped periphery does not look like something he envisaged.

After Marx’s death, others tried to develop his ideas and more complex Marxist ideas of relevance to International Relations began to develop. V.I. Lenin, in works such as Imperialism - The Highest Stage of Capitalism, talked about how through colonialism and overseas investment capitalism had become transnational, that in a sense entire countries had become bourgeois or proletarian. Lenin’s grasp of economics was much weaker than Marx’s, and his belief that colonialism was driving the world into world war seems a bit simplistic when you look at how the First World War actually started. Nevertheless, Lenin was in retrospect correct in identifying Russia as capitalism’s weakest link, in so far as it was both an imperial state and (through extensive inward investment) a de facto colony, thus making it the place where world revolution was most likely to begin.

Lenin’s legacy for Marxism was ultimately malign - by achieving his revolution and identifying Marxism (or Marxism-Leninism) as the state ideology, Marxism was tied to the USSR’s fortunes and forced through conceptual hoops to support whatever twist in policy the country’s leadership felt like espousing. The USSR’s quarter century rule by a psychopath also did not help. That end of Marxism gradually lost any intellectual credibility, and I doubt anyone in the world now seriously reads Marxist scholarship originating in the USSR.

In the west, however, a separate Marxist tradition developed in academia, divorced from the rough and tumble of actual politics. Marx himself would probably have been appalled by this development, given that he devoted as much effort to organising socialist movements as he did to research and writing, but the ivory tower academics have kept his ideas alive. Unfortunately for the International Relations student, the ideas of these intellectual Marxists have gone in many different directions. Some of these roads have produced lines of thought relevant to our discipline, such as Dependency Theory or various strands of Critical Theory. However, these have either evolved so far from original Marxist orthodoxy as to be essentially post-Marxist, or they have been almost completely discredited by the passage of time (or both). I would therefore question whether one could still talk of a "pure" Marxism as having any great relevance to International Relations.

Nevertheless, Marxism has one major contribution to our subject. When you look at writings in the Realist or Liberal tradition, the focus is all on diplomacy, states, armies, treaties, statesmen, and high politics. When you look at what Marxist writers talk about, you see stuff about economics, companies, exploitation, class, and so on. In some ways that makes Marxism look like it is from a completely different discipline to "true" International Relations. However, the question can be turned on its head by asking whether it is actually the old-school theories that are missing the point and ignoring what is actually relevant to the way the world works. Marxism is also important in that it explodes the idea that states are unitary actors working for the good of all their citizens - rather we see conflict within states which in turn is bound to affect how they operate internationally.

In the end, Marxism is probably more relevant to International Relations because of the questions it asks rather than the answers it provides. Others have taken those questions and answered them in ways that go beyond anything Marx would have envisaged.

12 July, 2006

Why are all those borders in those places?

Ralph Peters, writing in the Armed Forces Journal, reckons that all the borders of the Middle East to reflect ethnic and religious facts on the ground.

Thanks to Nicholas Whyte for this, who in turn got it from my pal Carl Bildt, who reckons it is "insanely stupid and dangerous".

This kind of attempt to play god with an entire region's borders is obviously arrant mentalism, but at times I reckon that the international community attaches too high a value on defending the work of past cartographers. I cannot but think that the good folk of Somaliland, say, would be in a much happier position if the world did not insist on shackling them to the corpse of Somalia.

22 June, 2006

Current Library Loans

I've got a load of books on loan from the library of my university. I bet you are wondering what they are, so now I will tell you.

Robert D. Putnam (2000) Bowling Along: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

You know, that book about how people don't like joining things any more because they'd rather sit at home watching shite on TV (or posting to their stupid internet blogs). I borrowed it partly because the subject sounds kind of interesting, because it is kind of zeitgeisty, and as an example of good social research that has managed to say things which have resonated with people.

This book has lots of graphs showing things going down.

Robert Elgie (1999) Semi-Presidentialism in Europe

Robert Elgie is my thesis supervisor, though I've not met him yet as I don't actually have a thesis topic. I reckoned reading one of his books would be a good idea, partly just to be a lick and partly because I might end up doing some research on this semi-presidentialism business. What is semi-presidentialism? Well, in presidential regimes like that of the USA, executive power is completely focussed on this president guy elected (indirectly) by the people? On the other hand, parliamentary regimes like Germany have a purely ceremonial president appointed by parliament, with executive power being focussed on a premier whose power comes from their ability to command a parliamentary majority. In a semi-presidential regime, you have an elected president and also a premier requiring a parliamentary majority to govern; France is the classic semi-presidential regime.

As I said, I may do research on semi-presidentialism. I am thinking of looking at the politics of the Palestinian Authority through this kind of lens, though I might of course do something completely different.

Stephen R. Weart (1998)Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another

As you will recall, I am interested in that democratic peace hypothesis thing. I picked up this book more or less at random to see what kind of explanation people throw out for this observable phenomenon.

Duncan Green (1995) Silent Revolution: The Rise of Market Economics in Latin America

In some ways I am just playing catch-up on the Latin American course I did last semester, in others laying the ground work for Peadar Kirby's development course in the autumn. This is the first edition of this book, and the only one you can borrow on long loan. The more recent second edition is perhaps more interesting, as its subtitle is the more exciting The Rise and Crisis of Market Economics in Latin America.

Mancur Olson (1965) The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups

I gather this book is quite famous. I also reckon it might be the anti-Bowling Alone, as Olson comes across as seeing groups as a bit dodge and hostile to the natural desire of most people to be left alone. That, anyway, is something I picked up from reading Tom Garvin's Preventing The Future, a book I really ought to get round to reviewing.

James Der Derian(ed) (1995) International Theory: Critical Investigations

As you know, I love theory. I would like to do research guided by some of the more wacky International Relations theories. If you're into that kind of stuff, Der Der Derian is your only man.

John L. Esposito(ed) (1997) Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform?

Political Islam, very interesting.

Adam Przeworski et al (2000) Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990

I have had this book recommended to me when I expressed an interest in doing research that sought to compare the economic performance of different regime types. This book has lots of complicated looking tables showing all sorts of important variables.

I always feel sorry for multiple authors who aren't the first named on a book... it must be really annoying to endlessly see yourself cited as "et al".

Adam Przeworski (1991) Democracy and the Market: Political |and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America

I have borrowed this for similar reasons to Przeworski's other book. In this one it seems like he is trying to show how political institutions affect economic outcomes.

I hope I actually read these books.

14 June, 2006

Why do we have elections?

My old friend and quaffing partner Nicholas Whyte has provided a handy guide to upcoming elections, together with some information on how to go about observing them. Election observing sounds like great fun, a way of turning spectator politics into a job while feeling like you are advancing the cause of democratisation.

He also mentions a course you can do in observing elections. Sadly, it has been scheduled on a day on which I must attend a wedding (not mine, ladies).

I was very interested to see that Turkmenistan is having municipal elections this year. I wonder will Mr Nizayov Turmenbahsi's lot be re-elected!

13 June, 2006

The asocial Swiss

I've been reading that zeitgeisty book Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. You probably know of it already, if not it's about how people these days are much less likely to get involved in things than people in the past were, and how this is bad.

Anyway, there is a bit near the beginning where he talks about how low the participation rates in US elections are. The Americans have the lowest rate of voting in the developed world, with the exception of... The Swiss. It surprised me that the Swiss have such a low rate of voting, as I think of them as being very civic minded and being into doing things in the socially approved way. So I have started thinking about why they vote so little, and come up with some possible theories which I will now share with you.

1. They don't vote because they participate so much in public life through other means that the act of voting seems like an irrelevance. I'm thinking of all those military manoeuvres the blokes go on, but also all the checking on their neighbours' alcohol consumption and so on. Maybe if you are very civically engaged, marking a ballot paper seems a bit trivial.

2. They don't vote because Switzerland's weird power sharing system means that the same guys are always in power. That is, if elections change nothing, not even the faces at the top, then why vote?

3. They don't vote in national elections because the central government is relatively weak, and real power lies at the local level where people can take part in direct democratic activities. In other countries, local elections see lower turn-outs, but given Switzerland's strongly cantonal identity, maybe this is reversed there.

I don't know, can anyone come up with a better solution for this mystery?

29 May, 2006

The Licence Raj

In lieu of a proper post, I'm going to point you at an article about India on the BBC news website, written by one Kaushik Basu. He asserts that employment regulations in India, designed to combat unemployment by making it difficult to lay off workers, have had the perverse effect of slowing employment growth. he maintains that this has happened because risk averse employers are loth to take on workers that they can't easily get rid of should times change.

I think the article has something going for it, and comparisons with the recent attempts to change employment law in France might be instructive. At the same time, I am curious as to what the guy says squares with the commercial and sci-tech boom India has recently experienced.

21 May, 2006

Essays are fun

Yeah, sorry. Spy School has been keeping me busy, making it hard for me to update this. I have recently been researching essays on Pinochet's foreign policy, Honduras' suckass attempts to achieve equitable insertion into the world economy, and the distinctively post-communist (or not) political systems of eastern Europe. I may eventually share this knowledge with you, but I am still writing the third one so it may be a while.

In the meantime, here is an engagingly idiosyncratic blog post about Zionism. Mike likens the creation of the state of Israel to the ghettos of the Middle Ages, with Israel representing a bizarre instance of self-ghettoisation.

18 April, 2006

My new best friend

Hey look! Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt has a blog!

I am going to link to his blog, so that people will think we are friends and stuff. And then maybe he will see that loads of people are coming to his blog from mine, and he will then come to Ireland and hang out with me, and we'll be able to talk about the timeless wisdom of political realism and suchlike.

17 April, 2006

Return to the International Monetary Fund

I sometimes scove at my pals on Helicopterview, but one fellow's reply to my post on the IMF hit paydirt... basically he pointed out the interesting fact that prior to the 1970s, the IMF worked as an institution lending large sums of money in short term loans more or less to whoever wanted them. After that, however, the IMF started imposing heavy-duty conditions on the loans, and basically only lending to countries if they would reorganise their economies on lines dictated by the organisation.

16 April, 2006

Yet more Mearsheimer & Walt action

I appreciate that I have been neglecting Hunting Monsters. By way of amends, I will now write again about that article about the pro-Israel lobby by John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt. I am largely doing this because it's a surefire way to grab a few hits.

Anyway, if you are interested in all that stuff, may I refer you to this article in Ha'aretz by one Ned Lazarus? the great thing about it is that it is written by someone who understands what Realism is, and appreciates the irony of Realists ciriticising US policy towards Israel, given that Israel's actions seem largely to be dominated by Realist ideas. In some ways this reminds me of one of the central problems with Realism - is it meant to be descriptive of the world, or does it say what leaders of countries ought to do to advance their nation's interests?

Ha'aretz tend to start wanting you to pay for articles in old issues fairly quickly, so if you want to read that piece you'd better hop to it.

26 March, 2006

Realists, the USA, and Israel (slight return)

A couple of things have struck me about that article by John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt (now that I have actually read it properly):

i) Mearsheimer & Walt are International Relations experts. It's odd, therefore, that in this article they primarily apply themselves to domestic US politics. It might have been better if they had written a long article outlining why they feel the US-Israel alliance is not in the USA's interests, and then left it to others (like people whose specialities are the process of government policy formulation or interest group action or that kind of stuff) to analyse why this apparently dysfunctional policy had been adopted.

ii) Mearsheimer & Walt are Realists, whose views can be simplified as meaning that they believe states in the long run always act in their own interest. Yet in their article they are talking about how a state has adopted a policy inimical to its own interests for internal political reasons. This is odd, and it suggests that Mearsheimer & Walt's views are evolving towards those of the Social Constructivists, who see states as evolving "interests" through interaction with the world, rather than their having actual objective interests per se. Arguably the giving of unequivocal support to whatever Israel fancies doing is a core interest of the United States, simply because all its policy makers think it is.

iii) The emerging campaign against the two is entertaining, given that it seems to amount to saying "They say X, as do certain bad people, therefore they are bad". The removal of the Harvard logo from a study by one of their star academics is probably a better testimony to the strength of the pro-Israel lobby in the USA than anything in their article.

25 March, 2006

The International Monetary Fund

A lot of people do not like the IMF. I have decided that it is important to work out what these hataz want done about it - do they want it abolished, or do they want its lending rules changed?

To this end I have issued an e-mail to the Helicopterview mailing list , and started a thread about all this on ILX. You can read the ILX thread yourself (already derailed into discussion of some lamer pop group from the early 1990s), and if the Helicopterview list generates anything interesting I will summarise it.

19 March, 2006

Realists, the USA, and Israel

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer are the leading academics of the Realist school of International Relations. They have written an article appearing in the London Review of Books, contending that the USA's blank cheque support for Israel is not in the USA's interests. The article is entertaining on a number of levels. Not least is the way they finger US domestic policy reasons for the USA's pro-Israel foreign policy - Realists typically regard domestic policy as not being a significant determinant of a state's foreign policy. My understanding is also that Realists do not believe that a state can indefinitely pursue a policy that does not pursue its interests.

I have problems with the idea that there is such a thing as an objective and knowable national interest, so I don't know if you can straightforwardly say that a given state's policy advances it or not. However, the article does a good job of suggesting that the United States would do well to pursue a substantially less pro-Israel policy.

12 March, 2006

The Democratic Peace hypothesis (part two)

Read part one of this fascinating analysis here.

So the point really is to try and explain this observable phenomenon. Obviously, it could just be coincidence, and maybe in a couple of years' time German soldiers will be marching on Paris once more. But that seems a bit unconvincing and an attempt to retreat from systematising world events. Yet the Democratic Peace is not readily explainable in Kantian terms either. Kant reckoned that republics would be pacific because a politically engaged citizenry would not send themselves off to be butchered. That's all very well, but would lead to republics being equally pacific towards both other republics and authoritarian states. However, in real life, the Democratic Peace only seems to extend between liberal democracies, and they remain perfectly willing to lay into other types of country.

One of my Helicopterview correspondents attempts to explain the Democratic Peace by saying that the open media of liberal democracies makes it easy for them to engage in virtual war with each other, undermining each other's hostile regimes through media subversion. This is an interesting proposition, and does at least have some basis in unique features of liberal democracies. However, I don't think it works. If you look at actually existing liberal democracies, it is hard to see cases where liberal democracy A has bent liberal democracy B to its will by subverting B's media. And given the plurality of views on major international issues held among the leaders of liberal democracies, one could not credibly say that they have all had their consent manufactured in one particular direction (see France & Germany's willingness to engage in symbolic resistance to the US invasion of Iraq, or the Western Europeans' willingness to buy Soviet gas in the early 1980s over the vitriolic resistance of the Americans).

So I think the Democratic Peace has to have another explanation. I am developing ideas as to what that explanation might be, but I may cheat and consult the extensive academic literature on the subject. One way or another I think Helicopterview will be back to this.

One side point made on the mailing list was that over how research on the Democratic Peace can be misapplied. The NeoCons, in their muscular über-liberalism have married the Democratic Peace thesis to their quest for US dominance, and produced a wonderfully simplistic idea - that if the USA goes around invading countries and blessing them with pliant democratic regimes then the world will be at peace for ever, and Fukuyama's dream of history's end will finally have arrived. This NeoCon idea is basically a pipe-dream - history is not over-run with examples of countries where democracy was successfully installed at bayonet point.

I am suspicious, though, of the idea that because research into the Democratic Peace can be misused it is therefore dangerous. There is nothing dangerous about the truth, save to those who profit by lies, even if such people are the rulers of this world. Academia should never let itself by dissuaded from lines of inquiry for fear of how the fruits of research could be applied. Gangsterish politicans will always find excuses for doing whatever they want, whether or not there is available research that can be twisted to their purposes. Moreover, any research into anything can be misused by the powerful, so avoiding lines of inquiry that are twistable by the overlords would kill academia.

11 March, 2006

The Democratic Peace hypothesis (part one)

I mentioned the Democratic Peace hypothesis in my second posting on Liberalism. Some of my pals on the Helicopterview mailing list took issue with the idea, but I think they have got the wrong end of the stick and started talking about whether so-called democratic states are actually democratic, given their elitist nature and the role of the media in manufacturing consent etc. etc.. My own feeling is that for the purposes of the Democratic Peace hypothesis, such ideas are irrelevant. The point of the theory is not to get into a discussion of whether country A is more democratic than country B - anyone who has studied democratic theory knows that democracy is a scalar rather than binary concept, and also that modern liberal democracies are far less democratic than what might be considered an abstract ideal of what a democratic society should be like. The point really starts from an awareness that there are a certain type of country in the world which have been dubbed "liberal democracies". Maybe the name is not fully descriptive, just like the People's Democracies that once flourished in Eastern Europe, so think of it as a label attached to a certain kind of society... basically the countries of Western Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan. The Democratic Peace hypothesis is based on one simple and observable fact - that as the governmental systems of these countries have converged, they have shown less and less inclination to go to war with each other.

And again, in world historical terms, this is very strange. There has never previously been any sense in which countries with similar social systems resolved their difference through non-violent means while reserving war for those countries with different systems. The observation also runs counter to the Realist theory of International Relations which so many people are taken with, that states act in accordance with their interests, and that these interests exist independently of the internal political system of a country. To a Realist, a democratic Germany should have the same interests as a fascist or authoritarian Germany, yet the years after 1945 did not see Adenauer gearing up for a third crack at the French.

(The German-French example is slightly unfair, but only slightly. Realists would talk about erstwhile enemies uniting against a common foe, and arguably that's what West Germany and France did in the face of the USSR. However, with the removal of the USSR's threat, a Realist would assume that Germany and France's conflicting interests would drive them back to hostility)

Join me soon, when I will discuss explanations for the Democratic Peace.

04 March, 2006

Theorising International Relations: Liberalism (part two)

Could you handle the wait? When last I wrote, we were languishing in the 19th century, an era of free trade halls and the march of reason. Now fast forward to the 20th century.

Liberalism took a bit of a battering with the outbreak of the Second World War... maybe international disputes were not so peaceably resolvable after all. Paradoxically, the Cold War was good for Liberalism... if the other side had some big ideology they could wave in our faces then didn't we need something too? Realism and its pure power politics is too depressing as a basis for organising, and anyway leads to the worrying conclusion that we are no better than they, so Liberalism, or a somewhat weird version thereof, became the ideology of the West.

Still, in academia, things are maybe a bit more subtle. There are a couple of things you can see as at the heart of Liberal thought. Market economics as a good thing remains central. Democracy is also usually seen as a good thing. Like the Realists, Liberals see the state as the primary actor in international politics, and like them they also see states as having interests which may conflict with each other. However, Liberals see this conflict as being potentially manageable. Crucially, the world is not set up in a zero-sum manner, and it is possible for states to cooperate in such a manner that everyone benefits. International institutions come into being as ways of promoting particular types of inter-state cooperation while regulating state conflict. In certain circumstances international organisations can gain a life of their own, and become themselves serious players on the world stage.

The early 1990s saw Liberalism reach its high tide mark, with all that end of history stuff about how Liberalism had won and how there would henceforth be no serious challenge to its conceptual hegemony. More recent events have suggested that to the extent that Liberalism is identical to the West (whatever that is), there are many people in the world who want nothing to do with it. It is maybe also interesting that the intellectual cheerleaders for Bush's war on terror and the invasion of Iraq are essentially purveyors of Liberalism, albeit of a muscular and combative sort. Although classic Liberals would see democracy as being a fundamentally good thing for people to have, they may well not have thought that bringing it to them at good point was particularly likely to be successful, but this is life.

One final fascinating Liberalism fact arises out of something Kant predicted. I mentioned how he thought that republican regimes would eschew war. This has not obviously come to pass - many of the world's great warmongers are blessed with representative government. However, one thing is very striking, and demonstrable by empirical research - in general, representative democracies do not fight wars against each other. This contrasts with other systems of government, where there is no obvious sign of intra-system war avoidance.

22 February, 2006

Theorising International Relations: Liberalism (part one)

Remember my threat to boringly roll through loads of theories of International Relations? Now, finally, I get to part two: LIBERALISM. For reasons of length, this will confusingly be divided into two parts.

First up, beware - Liberalism in this context may not be the same as what you associate with the term in domestic politics.

Liberalism and Realism are the two big theories of International Relations. As a coherent body of thought, Liberalism is much older, and was the dominant set of ideas when the discipline emerged after the First World War. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, the Liberals sought both to explain how the world worked and to increase the chances of such horror being avoided in future. So Liberalism is both descriptive and normative.

The lineage of Liberalism can be traced back to the Enlightenment, and to Immanuel Kant. Kant believed in human progress, and believed that the autocratic governments dominating ancien regime Europe were being swept away by new republican systems of government. Such regimes, he felt, would be far less inclined to go to war, for when the people are in power they will hardly send themselves off to be butchered. Instead, thought Kant, the new republics would come together in a league of nations, and work through their differences in a spirit of rationalism and mutual compromise.

The other plank of liberalism came in the 19th century - an almost utopian belief in the positive transformative power of market economics. 19th century liberals did not just have a functional fondness for free trade between nations - they saw it as a transmitter of kinship and fraternal association between the peoples of the world, almost like we would see the Internet now. This might be a product of the times, when markets were becoming free where previously they had been controlled by states, not for the kind of half-baked ideas the mid 20th century saw but to further state power. The freeing of markets thus could be seen by Liberals as part of the process of eroding the power of the monarchs.

Can you control your excitement? Can you wait until part two, when the story of Liberalism is brought up to date? READER - YOU HAVE NO CHOICE!!!

Or you could just click here.

11 February, 2006

Spy School 11-2-2006

A new semester brings with it two new courses. First up there is one on Eastern European stuff. Not much has happened with this yet. A big thing with the lecturer is the idea that Eastern Europe is defined by its in-between-ness, lying between Western Europe and Russia. What's going on in Eastern Europe is then defined by whichever one of these two is in the ascendant (he seems to assume that Eastern Europe always goes on a winner-takes-all basis to dominant power). The interesting thing is that Eastern Europe has over the last hundred years undergone several major sets of changes en bloc, with all of the region's very different countries going through them more or less simultanaeously. This is a godsend for social scientists, as it allows all kind of exciting cross-cultural comparisons to be made.

And then there is a course on Latin America, focusing on the region's relationship with the wider world economy. | have no amazing insights from this yet, but it was interesting to look at various development statistics for countries in the region. It goes without saying that Latin America is a good bit poorer than some other parts of the world, but the spread of wealth between Latin American countries is quite striking. For example, Bolivia has a GNP per capita around 15% that of its neighbour Argentina. Another interesting thing was that Chile seemed to be the most successful country at reducing abject poverty among its people, but was also one of the country's with the most unequal income distributions. This suggests that maybe there is a trade-off between fighting inequality and fighting poverty, and that if you are serious about raising people from gross impoverishment then you have to accept that rich people will either stay rich or become relatively richer.

This is a truly disturbing prospect. I hate rich people - the very thought of them sitting in their mansions being waited on by servants while they drink the blood of working folk makes me gibber with incandescent rage. But I hate poverty more, and if the poorest of society can only be raised from abject poverty by letting the rich bastards live their lives of luxury, then that is a price I consider worth paying.

09 February, 2006

The Magic of International Law - Part two

And so to that old bugbear about how the stuff in International Law is applied so erratically that it is hard to take it that seriously. I take a more optimistic view. Seventy years ago, the idea that a national leader could be taken to court abroad for any kind of human rights violation would have been laughable. Now, though, the world has moved in a direction where people have been banged up by international courts for taking part in the most serious of crimes against humanity. Now, you may well say that it is only losers who will find themselves in the dock at The Hague. However, any world leader will be familiar with the proposition that all political careers end in failure. Today's winner could be tomorrow's loser, and today's friend of the United States could be tomorrow's Saddam Hussein. So if we assume even a degree of rationality on the part of national leaders, the increasing prospect of indictment for heinous crimes might serve to deter them from engaging in them.

Those of us living in Europe have had the good fortune to live in states that signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Council of Europe states signed up to it as a bland declaratory we-wuv-rights kind of thing, and it then turned into this friendly monster bringing new rights and stuff to the people of Europe. Like in Ireland, where it led to the decriminalisation of voluntary sexual acts between men.

I also read somewhere once that the human rights bits of the Helsinki accords that setup the Organisation for Security Cooperaton in Europe were a serious contributor to the fall of Communism. The Sovs had signed up to them more or less for the laugh, but they saddled them with a series of intrusive human rights inspectors and reports that basically made them look like the cockfarmers they were.

More generally, there are a lot of human rightsy stuff that states have signed up to in order to look good which then have a rolling effect on how they conduct their internal affairs. There is some international convention on torture, for instance, which is contributing to the improvement of conditions in prisons and mental institutions in our countries. And then there is the European Union's human rights requirements for its members... if any of the candidate countries are shown to have knowingly collaborated with the operation of illegal torture camps by the USA then their application process will be fucked. And if any member countries are shown to have operated the secret gulag on their territory then they could notionally have their EU membership suspended. I concede that that is unlikely to happen, but any EU country who was allowing US torture centres on its territory would see the collapse of its ability to influence events within the Union.

Sorry if this is all a bit disjointed… that’s what you get when you cut and paste from mailing lists. And sorry if anyone from Spy School is reading this with an air of déja vu.

07 February, 2006

The Magic of International Law

They’ve been talking about International Law and human rights-y stuff over on the Helicopterview mailing list. I’ve just finished a semester long course on International Law, so you would think I am well placed to discuss this kind of thing. Sadly, you would be wrong, as I did not pay sufficient attention and have got back completely suckass grades for my coursework. But hey, ignorance has never stopped me before.

One thing about the course I did is that it was very law-y, in that it focussed on what the International Law in a variety of situations was. I would have preferred something that looked at International Law in terms of what it is meant to do and whose interests it is meant to serve, together with an analysis of how it works in practice and who benefits from it.

One of my Helicopterview correspondents raised the idea that the whole idea of states having rights – such as the right to have various types of weapons or whatever – is a bit dubious, given that a state is an abstraction and surely the whole idea of law ought to be to give people rights. Maybe so, but my understanding is that in International Law as it stands, states are both the primary actors and the primary subjects. International Law is based on the idea that states have both duties and rights with respect to other states, and also (increasingly) towards private individuals. This conferral of rights on an abstraction is not completely insane, and has parallels with the way domestic law bestows rights on corporations.

The International Court of Justice and the new International Criminal Court were mentioned, with it being suggested that these are a bit useless given their ineffective remit. The ICJ does seem to work in a funny way... basically, you can only be taken to court there if you agree to it. |n practice this means that it tends to be used to resolve interstate disputes where neither power sees a fundamental interest as being at stake. So you get cases about whether the border is 50 feet this way or that way. That said, some serious cases have come before it, either where both parties felt they couldn't opt out of it or where some FULE let themselves be taken to court there by mistake (the case about the USA arming the Contras and mining Nicaraguan ports was one of these).

The ICJ is nevertheless not a body designed to promote human rights, and faulting it for not doing so misses the point of its existence. The ICJ is actually there to help resolve interstate conflict, an entirely different matter. The distinction is important, because, as already mentioned, International Law has historically been primarily about how states operate with respect to each other, and not about how they treat their citizens or other subjects. All this human rights stuff in International Law is something novel and exciting.

Of the International Criminal Court, I say give it time before writing it off. It is only new and it will need to be in operation for a while before we can say what difference it makes. The ICC actually has universal jurisdiction, or will have once enough countries in the world ratify the ICC treaty (this may already have happened). This means that the ICC can indict even people from countries which are vehemently opposed to the ICC, making things potentially sticky for them should they ever want to travel beyond their homeland’s borders. One suckass country hostile to the ICC has signed lots of treaties with ICC states saying that they will not hand over its citizens to the ICC... however, these are thought to have no practical legal validity. It will be interesting to see what happens in practice should someone from this pro-war crime state ever be indicted by the ICC.

04 February, 2006

Hamas & Palestine

I went to an interesting lecture yesterday by Dr Francesco Cavatorta. He specialises in the study of political Islam, and was talking about the victory of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections. Here is my attempted summary of what he said, interspersed with occasional opinions of my own. Sorry if it goes on a bit or accidentally distorts Dr Cavatorta's opinions.

Hamas are in some ways like other Islamist groups in the Arab world. They seek to change the behaviour of individuals, in order to build a better society more in tune with Islamic principles and ultimately to seize control of the state apparatus. Like other Islamic parties they are happy to advance their goals through the political process - engaging in elections and so on.

However, Hamas have one major difference with other Islamist parties - they see themselves as engaged in a national liberation struggle against the Israeli state. As well as striving to Islamise Palestinian society, they seek to liberate all of historic Palestine from the perceived occupation of the Israelis. That is to say they seek to build a Palestinian state in all of pre-1948 Palestine.

While Hamas has an uncompromising charter, in practice they have shown themselves to be more flexible and pragmatic. In particular, they have prioritise the national liberation struggle over the goal of Islamising society. They have done this basically to build and maintain Palestinian unity in the face of Israeli power, and thus have refrained from attempts to impose their social vision.

One interesting thing about Hamas is how internally democratic it is, with the rank and file being closely involved in the formulation of policy. This is a virtue born of necessity. Israel has systematically exterminated the leadership of Hamas, so it is necessary to keep the rank and file fully onboard with all policy decisions so that there are no discontinuities when the next cohort take their brief turn at the top.

In the elections a couple of factors contributed to their victory over Fatah. Fatah is seen as having failed to deliver on bread and butter issues while engaging in corrupt cronyism. Hamas has made populist promises on economic issues, and as an opposition group it has not hitherto been able to engage in serious corruption. More generally, though, Hamas has profited from Palestinian disenchantment with the whole Oslo process; this has also seen Fatah itself move towards a rejectionist position.

So now what? There is no real likelihood of Hamas formally abandoning its campaign of violence against Israel, nor is their any likelihood of Israel and a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority engaging in face to face talks. However, Israel and Hamas have in the past had low-key indirect talks, and these are likely to continue [I have read an interview with a senior Israeli army officer, where he said that the Israeli army routinely meets with Hamas members when they hold local political office, so it is possible that Dr Cavatorta is underestimating the possibility of direct discussions between Hamas members and the Israeli state].

The West will probably choose not to talk to Palestine's new elected leaders. Western aid donors may well punish the Palestinian people for choosing Hamas, but this will not matter as much as people think. Western aid is not enormous in absolute terms, and could readily be made up by private and public donors in the Gulf and Iran. Hamas would probably prefer western money, but it will take what it can get.

Beyond that, a lot depends on whether Hamas succeeds in enticing Fatah into a national unity government. The populist promises of Hamas are probably undeliverable, so if Hamas governs on its own, it could see its popularity ebb, with Fatah staging an electoral return to power in a couple of years. By then Israel will have lengthened and strengthened its wall, and will be in a position to offer a take-it-or-leave-it Palestinian state of disconnected enclaves.

A solo Hamas government may find itself drawn toward imposing its social vision on Palestinian society as a compensation for lack of progress on the economic and national liberation fronts. This will probably further contribute to an erosion in Hamas popularity, as the Palestinian people have shown surprisingly little enthusiasm for the Islamist social project, and have punished Hamas at the polls in areas where they have attempted to enforce it.

What do I think? Well, if Fatah have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart they will join a national unity government, but if they are self-interested they will stay out. In a couple of years they could return to power, but whether they will accept the job of being Israel's bantustan enforcers remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, there is another possibility entirely - that Israel, dissatisfied with elections that produce leaderships that won't play ball, may simply shut down the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian electoral process.

02 February, 2006

They call him Chompers

It is interesting how low Noam Chomsky’s reputation is in the academic world of International Relations. One of my lecturers hedged as to why this is the case, but a couple of things spring to mind - i) the discipline's distaste for a specialist in another discipline entirely suddenly sticking his oar in ii) Chompers' "public intellectual" persona fitting ill with the refined world of academic debate iii) more generally, a sense that his writings on the subject are more polemical than seriously academic and iv) the possibility that Chomsky just says the same inadequately demonstrated stuff over and over again.

I can't comment on his work, not having read any of it, but I did recently read an interesting article* about him which asserted that his stuff on media control is rejected by academia through the kind of controversy avoidance processes he talks about. The article mentioned some other team of researchers who came up with more or less the same analysis as Chompers, but are far more cited. The difference between them and Chomsky, though, is that they are not poster boys for the radical left. I wonder how cited he is in linguistics, his actual discipline of speciality.

Separately, I have noticed this tendency on both the right and left to judge Chomsky as though he was some kind of moral teacher leading by example rather than a linguistics professor who dabbles in political analysis. What is strange about this is that Chomsky has never offered himself as a living example of how to lead the good life. Seeing him as such is surely indicative of a weak analysis of the socialist project generally. Leftism is not a religion, and socialists analyse the world to say how to change it, not to tell people how to live their lives. Meanwhile, rightists display an obsessive desire to demonstrate hypocrisy on the part of Chomsky, as though his having a shares portfolio somehow disproves his opinions on the world’s political/economic structure. This is entirely nonsense. Capitalist exploitation is systemic rather than based on the actions of “bad” individuals.

*Herring E & Robinson P (2003) Review of International Studies 29 pp. 553-568 ‘Too Polemical or too critical? Chomsky on the news media and US foreign policy’

29 January, 2006

Theorising International Relations: the timeless wisdom of political realism

I love theory. Empirical research is difficult, but theory allows people to spend their time thinking in the abstract, without having to dirty themselves with analysis of the real world. Thus I have greatly enjoyed the course on international Relations theory I did last semester.

Partly because it might be interesting and partly just to fix the ideas in my head, I propose to run through some of the competing International Relations theories with you, in a series of mails. I’ll stop if anyone finds this boring, and I apologise to anyone else who has studied in the field, as I will be retreading very familiar ground.

So first up: Realism. This has dominated the discipline since the Second World War, but has fallen from favour a bit since the end of the Cold War. Realism has different strands, but they share certain things in common. States are the primary units of international relations. World politics is a game in which states compete against each other for power and security. Some states are strong, others are weak. Weak states either get flattened by strong states, or they form alliances with enough other weak states to block the ambitions of the strong.

Why all this conflict? Old-school realists like blame the fallen nature of humanity -- people will forever lust for power and dominion. Neo-Realists cite structural reasons; the international milieu is seen as being like a perfectly competitive market in which states must either compete or go under.

| always imagine Realists as being chubby middle-aged gentlemen in bow-ties with a fondness for port. This comes with their name - it suggests that they are merely stating the obvious facts about the world, saying things that everyone secretly knows to be true. They claim to be imparting timeless wisdom applicable in all international environments. Earlier writers like Thucydides and Machiavelli are drafted in as proto-Realists, to make their views seem less bound to particular contexts; some of these writers would be a bit bemused by this appropriation of their texts.

Realism lost its lustre to some extent when the Cold War ended not in a bang but by one side giving up the struggle. It remains nevertheless one of the two dominant theoretical perspectives in International Relations theory.

Realism comes across as being intrinsically rightwing, but a lot of leftist analyses of world events seems to be informed by its ideas. Only yesterday I read an interview with Chomsky, where he talks about how states always try to maximise their power, a classic realist position. Likewise, there is an element of crypto-Realism to anyone who reckons the USA went into Iraq for entirely selfish reasons, dismissing any talk of building a new liberal middle-east as hogwash.

What do I think: I think Realism is complete rubbish, and it amazes me that a theoretical idea so fatuous could reign over a discipline for so long. I suppose part of its appeal is that it is simplistic, and thus easy to understand.

why have one blog when you can have two?

I have started this blog to collect boring stuff inspired by my studies in Spy School and posts to the Helicopterview mailing list. Sadly, the Helicopterview mailing list's archives are too secret to post online, so Hunting Monsters will have to do the job for you. You can take it that everything that appears here has already appeared on that mailing list.

What is Helicopterview? Well... following the thread Where do you go to discuss politics? on I Love Everything, some people who felt that ILE was not the most ideal place in the world to discuss politics seriously set up the amusingly named mailing list. If you are interested in joining this discussion forum for the brain elite of the world then drop me a line and I will see what I can do.