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

Karate Kid: Personal observations

I just saw the re-make of Karate Kid which I thought was an interesting improvement (in at least in some ways) on the original .  Of course, if you knew the original you could sort of predict how the new film’s plot was going to go (after making some adjustments for it taking place in China, of course 🙂 ).

Ok…some personal background.  I was a year ahead in school, which meant that I was (at least) a year behind getting to puberty.  So, to make a long story short, I got bullied quite a bit.  It was awful…I was frequently humiliated, etc…Oft told tale…sigh.  The point is that this made me sort of a sucker for films where the bullies get put down, one way or another.  I think I became aware of how these films affected me when I was watching a re-run of the original KK in a London hotel room, some years ago.

Anyhow, it would be untrue to say that I  don’t have this feeling anymore, and I have to admit that I still very much liked seeing the bad karate kids get beaten in the newer movie.  However, this time there was something else.  I was just a bit appalled by the level of violence in the film, particularly given the age of the children.  The first movie was dealing with adolescents; these kids are pre-adolescents.  The first fight scene, where the “best” bad KK beats up pour defenseless, but very brave, Dre to a pulp is so violent as to be unrealistic.  Basically, Dre should have been dead, or in a coma.  Also, the level of violence tolerated in the tournament at the end is much more extreme than in the first film.  I wonder what the Chinese thought of this image of their country.

So, what I’m trying to say here is that the new film put me off as  much as it gratified my personal hunger to see bullies stopped.  In fact, the movie got me wondering about the perennial issues of violence in cinema and what is necessary to get the public’s attention in our violence soaked times.  Do we really have to see twelve year olds trying to break each other’s limbs to get involved with the characters and the theme of the movie?  Also, while I liked the character of Dre’s mother, and even if one concedes she might have something of a “street” background, what mother is going to sit still and let her little boy (not yet a young man) get the bloody hell beat out of him by a “gang” of violence drugged crazies whose motto is “no pity”?  That was pushing it a bit, I think…but, after all,  it wasn’t a documentary 🙂 .

So, I guess I am more sensitive to these issues, and at the same time, the level of ambient violence seems to have gone up a notch (or two, or three).  I wonder what the third re-make will be like 😦 .

IGb says “peace is the way!”

September 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Some reasonable view of Apocalypse 2010

I was just having a quick look at a SyFy documentary on the “end of the world” scenarios for next year.  I have not been following this subject overly closely–when you get to be my age you have already been through several “end of the world” dates.  However, I was interested to see that near the end (of the program, not the world 🙂 ) there were commentators saying that maybe what Nostradamus and the Mayans were on about was not the physical destruction of our planet and/or our civilization, but more abstractly the end of an era.  This makes much more sense to me for a number of reasons.

First, the changes are already well underway and whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) next year would probably “just” give them a big boost.  Personally, as readers of this blog have probably deduced, I think we are much farther along the way to a “new world order” than most people yet seem to grasp.  The indications that the basic elements of a true planetary civilization are clearly discernible are too numerous to sum up here.  However, one can make a case for a “tipping point”, for a combination of events and tendencies that push us “over the top” so to speak.  This may well be at least in part catastrophic.  Certainly many recent catastrophies (whether largely natural or largely man made) have highlighted the degree to which our collective ability to cope with the rapidly multiplying challenges of our era is simply not adequate.  Looking at what passes for politics in our times, I can’t see this problem being solved in the very short run, unless there is a very significant, large scale “kick in the rear” to our normal ways of doing things.  This could be almost anything–though some people’s favorite scenario of the aliens showing up to make us all world citizens seems just a touch far fetched to me (after all, we haven’t reached light speed yet–obscure reference to all you Star Trek fans).

So, to conclude, while it would be very naive to suggest that more pain is not necessary to get us  on the way to true fulfillment on this planet, I really do think it is more likely that all the prophecies point more to an ever clearer break with the past and a much broader consciousness of that break than to “the end of everything that stands”.  In what direction you ask?  Well, as I mentioned recently “everything that rises must converge”.

IGbarb says:  “Hold  on to your hat, it’s going to be quite a ride!”

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

What a world (woild)!

You have to admit, we live in interesting times (sometimes horrible and tragic, but always interesting).  Maybe you have to have reached what the French call “a certain age” to really appreciate this fact.  I am old enough to remember all sorts of odd things and to think back about all that has happened.  To give you an idea:  I remember seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV.  In fact, I was looking at a TV in a store window and my parents were talking to some friends with whom we were taking a walk.  The adults were not looking at the screen.  I tugged on my father’s sleeve and said “They shot Oswald”.  Before he looked around my father said “No, son, Oswald shot President Kennedy”.  I said, pointing at the screen (if memory serves) “No, Dad, they shot Oswald”.  By that time the the TV in the shop window had everybody’s attention.

Or, then there was my friend Skip, who in the late 60’s or early 70’s had an LSD experience in which, as he explained to us later, he saw the whole world connected by a “web” and you could “web in” or “web out” and go anywhere you wanted.  I often think back on that as I write these blog posts.  Or, there was the evening in 1969 when a bunch of us wannabe hippies went to see Janis Joplin, and one of the guys (not the coolest) disappeared and came back the next day saying he had met her and gone back to her hotel with her.  “Riiiigghhhttt !” we all said.  We knew it was not true, because he said she was a heroin user when we all knew she was a boozer…! hmmmm..

History does seem to have gone crazy.  All sorts of things are happening that nobody anticipated, and, I suspect, our leaders are often, at least for a while, simply at a loss about how to respond.  Let me give you an example.  Gaddafi has, apparently, fallen.  Not that long ago he was received with full Head of State honors in France, and was even given a place to pitch his residential tent.  I suspect that, off the record, some people in the Elysee Palace are a wee bit embarrassed right now.

My point?  Well it might all be random…just so much vain noise on a little dust heap circling a not very big star in one of an infinity of galaxies.  Ho hum!  Or, it might be leading up to something altogether different and better.  Maybe the out of date and retrogressive stuff is breaking down, and the ground is being prepared for a wiser, more humane era.  Clearly we are not there yet; but we are capable of  learning, and we seem to be “slapped” with one lesson after another.

Just a few IG thoughts in the dwindling days of the interesting August of  ’11.

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow the money!

You have probably heard about this.  Here’s a little teaser:

“Sarkozy told reporters that he and Merkel want a “true European economic government” that would consist of the heads of state and government of all eurozone nations.

The new body would meet twice a year — and more in times of crisis — and be led initially by EU President Herman Van Rompuy for a 2 1/2-year term. After that, Sarkozy suggested, it could be opened up to other heads of states and government.”

This is very interesting, and it confirms what I have always suspected:  the “Eurozone” would need to also be a “Eurogovernance zone” if it was to survive.  Some years ago Flannery O’Connor wrote a compilation of short stories entitled “All that rises much converge” (and I highly recommend you read the story of the same title), and I have always thought that phrase nicely summarized much of what is happening in our era.  Here, for instance, while nobody is in a hurry to create a European (or global, for that matter) “superstate”, still there are many benefits in having a common currency and one economy.  This worked fine as long as there was smooth sailing, but when the turbulence of global finance started to seriously rock the boat the “governance deficit” in the European economic system became more and more obvious (I won’t go into the details).  So, even if most might not yet be ready to follow Nico and Angie, it is very significant that these two prominent leaders of major European powers should even suggest such a thing.

Again, it seems to me that Europe is a very good case study and model for what the whole world is experiencing…ie the problems of integration and how to go about solving them.  Remember, that whatever you might think about the EU, it has, for all practical purposes eliminated war among its members, and that is no mean achievement.  Economic integration is probably the main engine behind this.  And here we see that there is definitely some “spillover” from the economic toward the political.

IGbarb says:  “Onward, upward and closer together!”

August 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

How I finished (at least the first draft :-) )

Here’s how the chapter I’ve been working on ends:

“The sweeping and fundamental changes necessary for world peace have often been described as “utopian”, meaning they represent an unattainable state of perfection in social life.  However, this pessimistic attitude toward the possibility of peace stems from a misunderstanding of human nature and history, and that, rather than being at odds with the true nature of the human person, social change toward peace in our age represents the truest expression of the human spirit.  Thus, the pursuit of peace and unity is not utopian but realistic, in that it accords completely with human individual and collective needs.  The insights gained into peace-building through needs analysis, and the possibilities for re-humanizing and healing created by reconciliation support this alternative view of the human condition.

It would be naïve to suggest that a power politics and power oriented approach to ending contemporary conflicts does not still dominate contemporary practice.  However, it would be also strangely myopic to deny that the dominant mode leaves many issues unaddressed.  For instance, it is clear that some peace agreements and settlements prove to be more long lasting while others fall apart relatively quickly.   While several factors come into play, ceteris paribus those agreements which have tried to go further to address the concerns discussed above have had a better chance of succeeding.  While, clearly, there are no guarantees of success, or short cuts to a new social order, taking the whole person and the whole society into account, is at least, the right place to start.”

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer daze…and CS!

OK, ok…I’ve not been posting very regularly the last couple of months.  No excuse, except a summer mindset (more time on the links, etc…)

I have also been doing some grading of my international relations students’ term papers and exams; and, as usual, that is food for thought.  For instance, one student, when writing about the problems associated with making Collective Security (ie in the U.N. system) more effective, was self contradictory without realizing it  (I hope), and it seemed to me that his views are fairly typical.  At one point he restated the old saws about the inter-state system being anarchic, states being sovereign, etc… as a reason why there is resistance to collective security.  Then, he went on to say that the Security Council of the United Nations had the authority to make decisions about international peace and security that were binding on the organization’s members.  While I can understand his reasoning, taken at face value, those two statements are not compatible.  Either the system is anarchic–meaning no central authority–or it isn’t.  In actual fact, we do have a sort of “central authority”, and it is, indeed the Security Council.  However, while its powers are extensive (check the Charter…they are); the conditions for exercising them (ie SC approval, with all permanent members having the veto) are quite restrictive.

You see, what seems to slip by most people is that a–dare I say it–“world government” might  just as well be very loose, relatively ineffective and inequitable in its actions, as tight, authoritarian and unitary.  Both are forms of government.  However, we always imagine the latter when we hear the term, and therefore, might miss that we already have one (at least to some extent).

How’s that grab you!



July 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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