IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

civil war and trafficking

In one of my courses, students read an article analyzing the distinction between “new” and “old” civil wars.  While too much has probably been made of such a distinction, still there are some interesting differences.  For instance, I am impressed by the degree to which many contemporary civil wars and “insurgencies” have become inextricably (apparently) involved with trafficking in illegal goods, such as diamonds or drugs.  While it is too simple to just equate war activities with “crime”–most importantly, perhaps, because what gets rebels started are often very real concerns about justice and security–it seems that, to keep going, they tend to degenerate in that direction.  So, many movements have become, essentially, mafia type organizations to sustain themselves financially and whatever merit there was in their original agendas is eclipsed by the trafficking money machine; which, obviously, makes certain people wealthy on the ill-gotten gains.

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions here, but the syndrome, in itself, is very interesting.  It seems almost that if you continue in a violent direction it will be difficult to avoid crossing over the badly defined “line” between political insurgent and trafficker.  Many would argue that the ends justify the means, but I would simply reply “look at the results…do the ends justify the means, or do the means corrupt the ends?”  This is surely a question worth considering.

IGbarb says:  “The ends are the means, and the means are the ends:  peace is as peace does.”


October 31, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Reasons for doing something that you shouldn’t be doing

I have written (more than once probably) about how for centuries humanity has believed that we are naturally aggressive and acquisitive, and that this explains violent conflict.   However, while many still believe this, today we are coming to realize that there is nothing inherent or instinctive about this behavior.  It is culturally imprinted, and that is, thankfully, amenable to change–though such change is not easy nor necessarily realizable over the short run.

Anyway, I am beginning to think that if violent conflict persists and is as frequent as it is in our day, we have to conclude that somebody (individuals and groups) derive some benefits from keeping it going, and not that it is just the way we are.   It could and can be stopped.  So, I reasoned what might those benefits be.  Here is an initial list that I will probably come back to at some point.

1.  It is relatively easy for leaders to consolidate their position by focusing their followers on a struggle against an external other.

2.  Getting control of the state through violence means that  you also get control of the state’s resources (such as they are) and that you can, at least for some time, use them as you see fit.

3.  A leader has a personal grudge against another leader.  This may predate the violence, or may arise in the course of violence.  Of course, once in place this dynamic becomes self-perpetuating:  he hits me so I hit him, etc…

4.  Arms makers and suppliers make huge profits from violent conflict and are willing to “share” those with the leadership that buys their weapons (ie kickbacks)

5.  The military becomes either a government within the government, or the government itself.  To justify not moving toward democracy a state of emergency associated with a conflict is often a good excuse.

In other words, when you see violent conflict you need to ask “Qui bono”  (which means, I think “who benefits” and not “Who is U2’s lead singer 🙂 )

As always, the underlying dynamics have to be brought to light, and the myth of the horrible external other who has to be eliminated has to be exposed for what it is:  a “trick” so that somebody, somewhere can profit (one way or another) from the horrors of war.

IGbarb says:  “Enough is enough, already!”

October 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

U.S.V.I. visit

I was in St. Thomas U.S. virgin islands over the weekend (to play in a golf tournament…but that part does not merit much discussion…ouch).  My wife, who is from Martinique, and therefore “Caribbean” had an interesting exchange with a taxi driver.  She said something about how nice the island was and how he must be proud…small talk..etc…  Well apparently that set the guy off about how he wasn’t proud, about how he could only be proud if the islands (there are three) became independent, how the Americans dominated and ruined everything etc…  One hears some of  the same thing in most overseas territories of major countries.  The feeling exists in Guadeloupe and Martinique, in Puerto Rico and in French New Caledonia.

As a card carrying political scientist I find this interesting, because while one can understand the feeling, it is very hard to see how small island countries can really exist on their own in the way that “independence” and “national sovereignty” seem to imply.  I would go further to say this is a very 19th century feeling, that is really not practical in the 21st century.  Why?  Well to take any Caribbean case, independence would bring with it the almost immediate need to join the regional organization, CARICOM, and to start to “pool sovereignty” by opening borders, sharing currency, etc…A small island cannot stand alone in our globalizing era.  However, if you feel oppressed–ie if you feel you have suffered and are suffering injustice–it seems natural that you would seek “independence”, given all that that condition is supposed to include.

So, these remaining overseas dependencies are sort of caught in a dilemma which seems to be fraught with tension and conflict potential.  Either they remain in what they perceive as a dominated and oppressed condition, but enjoy the benefits of being linked to a much bigger country that has to, to some extent at least, take care of them.  Or, if given the chance, they become independent and are immediately subjected to the rough currents of global economic change, which would almost inevitably have devastating social consequences and give rise to a variety of conflicts.

There may be need here for some creative political imagination to find a modus vivendi for these vestiges of a colonial past.  Certainly, something has to be done to reconcile economic survival with the need for a sense of coherent political identity.

IGBarb says:  “We’re all in this together!”

October 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

an interesting case of coexistence

Most of us have seen pirate movies (including the most recent Johnny Depp series).  What might not be so well known is that Caribbean islands were fought over for a long time among the colonial powers.  Some passed back and forth a few times.  For instance the island of Martinique, which is now very French, was briefly British.  This also explains why you find place names that are very French (like “Roseau”) on what are now Anglophone islands.  You might also have seen pictures of some of the old forts like this:

Well, the forts were there to defend the islands, because of all the fighting to gain and maintain control.

However, there is at least one interesting exception:  the island of St. Martin.  According to the Wikster:

“In 1493, on Christopher Columbus second voyages to the West Indies, upon first sighting the island he named it Isla de San Martín after Saint Martin of Tours because it was November 11, St. Martin Day. However, though he claimed it as a Spanish territory, Columbus never landed there, and Spain made the settlement of the island a low priority.

The French and Dutch, on the other hand, both coveted the island. While the French wanted to colonize the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, the Dutch found San Martín a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (present day New York) and Brazil. With few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor, and soon thereafter the Dutch East India Company began their salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well. Taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, the Spanish now found St. Martin much more appealing. The Eighty Years’ War which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands provided further incentive to attack.

Spanish forces captured Saint Martin from the Dutch in 1633, seizing control and driving most or all of the colonists off the island. At Point Blanche, they built Old Spanish Fort to secure the territory. Although the Dutch retaliated in several attempts to win back St. Martin, they failed. Fifteen years after the Spanish conquered the island, the Eighty Years’ War ended. Since they no longer needed a base in the Caribbean and St. Martin barely turned a profit, the Spanish lost their inclination to continue defending it. In 1648, they deserted the island.

With St. Martin free again, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements. Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts. After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily. Preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two.”

…and so it has remained!  Coexistence has tended to work out for both sides, and was, of course, greatly facilitated by the emergence of the European Union, the Euro, etc…In fact, when you drive from the French side to the Dutch side (where the lingua franca is English, btw) there is such a small sign that you might well miss it.  Another interesting factoid:  most of the French people really can speak pretty good English…ie more  like Montreal than Paris.

So, what am I getting at?  There is nothing inevitable about violent conflict.  Cooperation is/was possible, even centuries ago.  And, lo and behold, it seems to have been profitable to everybody concerned.  Surprise, surprise! 🙂

IGbarb says:  “Vrede is de weg!”

October 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment


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