As a former pro in this sort of thing, I am really surprised at how lame the prepared lines were for this question. It's almost as if some dopey desk-officer had strung together some word-processed platitudes without giving a scrap of thought to how anyone might use them in front of journalists and not sound absurd. Is this what the Amazing Shrinking US Leadership of Obama is now giving us?
Let's give them a shred of probably undeserved credit, and imagine that the State Department has pondered over how best to respond to the latest round of farcical 'elections' in Iran. They have concluded that one or other aggressively anti-Western tendency is going to win again, and decided that there is nothing to be gained as things now stand for ratcheting up public pressure on Iran. The economic sanctions regime on Iran is already severe and painful.
So, what to say instead?
How about something measured like this:
in almost every respect that matters we Americans disagree with the undemocratic way Iran chooses candidates for its elections
the fact that now women candidates are barred from running for the country's top office shows that the ruling Iran elite is showing no respect to half the country's population, and no respect to the many international undertakings and obligations that require equality of opportunity for women and men that Iran itself has accepted
it is therefore hard to imagine any country accepting that these forthcoming elections in Iran have been free and fair - by proceeding in this manner the Iranian regime is further isolating itself
the USA wants a normal relationship with Iran. Restoring that after everything that has happened will be a long hard job
but if whoever comes to power after these elections, gravely flawed and undemocratic as they obviously will be, opens the way to a sincere and sensible programme of normalising relations, Washington will be ready to respond
That sort of language manages to combine a firm sense of disagreeing with Iran's so-called elections with a signal of engagement if Iran's next leader manages to achieve a change of course.
Simple, clear, principled and flexible. Always the best combination. It's called diplomacy.
... national borrowing on the modern scale really only began around the seventeenth century. Before that in the monarchical era, so-called "court bankers" provided cash-strapped sovereigns with loans and quite often served as royal tax collectors and handled other fiduciary matters for them. Monarchical debts, when they were paid, were usually paid at the people's expense. For example the land now known as Pennsylvania was given by the Crown to William Penn to repay a 16,000 pound debt.
With the passing of the monarchical governance structure, responsibility for a nation's debt moved from the rulers to the ruled. Henceforth these were the people's debts, issued by a national bank, the Bank of England — in return for the privilege of producing its own banknotes — on behalf of the people, to their elected rulers.
I believe the analogy between national finances and insolvency is damaging. If politicians and policy makers believe their country is, literally, insolvent, then they behave differently towards their creditors. For politicians of debtor states, suddenly vast privatizations make sense, because of course you're selling some of your remaining assets.
Suddenly the will of the people of the debtor nation becomes secondary to the will of the nation's creditors. Suddenly democracy is an expensive irrelevance in the face of an overwhelming technocratic desire for a speedy, and market-friendly, solution.
There's more (my emphasis):
The single European currency project, in depriving member states of the ability to issue their own currency, has created the conditions for something close to national insolvency when economies slump. With high debt-to-national output ratios, current account deficits, fiscal deficits, and, putting it mildly, shaky banking systems, the debtor countries of Europe look very much like insolvent firms to the markets.
Their sovereign power to issue currency is gone, meaning only painful deflation through the wage channels are possible. Leaving the currency union is very, very costly. The solution is national austerity. Indeed, in some cases, like Cyprus, Ireland, and Italy, the banking systems are so big relative to the rest of the economy as to make the sovereign itself almost vestigial.
The saving of the banking system and the system as a whole is the prime concern of Europe's policy makers — typically representing the interests of creditor countries — but what will take its place?
A more or less autocratic system of coercion is the logical outcome of these policies. They come from using ideas like national insolvency to reduce the grip a people have on their sovereignty.
But there is no asset valuation concept in the founding documents of any nation state; nor should there be.
That last sentence is curious. Why 'should' there be no asset valuation concept in the founding documents of any nation state?
There is in fact always an implicit asset valuation, namely the ability of the state to coerce its own people to extract more taxes and so pay off debts. The 'asset' is the future work of the populace and the ability to extract value from it. Without that why would anyone lend money to a state when that state wanted to spend more than it was taking in from taxes?
The author is right to identify the emerging 'more or less autocratic system of coercion' as the logical outcome of EZ policies. And he's right that this reflects the fact that the EU/EZ projects do require people to have less grip on 'their' (sic) sovereignty. But that's not a bug. It's the key feature!
Nasty parochial national sovereignty is now required to give way to bold shiny higher EU-level sovereignty, in which the mass of Germans heavily outvote the puny Greeks and Cypriots - democracy! I have added a comment to the piece in this sense.
So, question. Is 'national sovereignty' (putting to one side the increasingly tricky of what a 'nation' is these days) a conservative, old-fashioned, obstructive force? Or is it something progressive and noble, the one unfailing must-be-maintained-at-all-costs barrier between the masses and the brutish technocratic markets?
Who should have more say in how the EU deals with its currency and its debts? Large numbers of Germans or small numbers of other countries' citizens? What does democracy as a basis for sovereignty mean in this context?
And, as usual, the only question that matters: who decides?
The psychological, communication and political skill that was marshaled to give the speech its maximum impact with public opinion was quite extraordinary, and stands in contrast to some miscalculations Obama made about Israeli and Palestinian perceptions during his first term.
By systematically downplaying expectations for his trip, Obama made the power of his speech and the boldness of some of the language and positions he staked out -- particularly regarding the realities Palestinians face under Israeli occupation -- surprising and therefore all the more striking...
... The effectiveness of Obama's careful political and psychological preparation for these unprecedented statements with his Israeli audience was demonstrated by the sustained, and otherwise unimaginable, applause he received for almost all these remarks. He clearly went a long way in assuaging Israeli skepticism.
Palestinians will be harder to win over, as they require more than words given the onerous conditions of the occupation and their repeated disappointment with successive American governments, and in particular with Obama's first term...
... Diplomacy without sufficient outreach may have proven to be a failure in Obama's first term. But this kind of bravura performance of public diplomacy will have to be backed up with significant real diplomacy or it may be remembered as yet another inspiring Obama Middle East speech that ultimately produces more disappointment than tangible achievement.
Still, if Obama was primarily trying to change the tone and the atmosphere in the region, and the way he is perceived by ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, it's hard to imagine how he could have been more effective than he has been over the past couple of days.
Hmm. If I were a Palestinian I'd be unimpressed with the marginal walk-on role the Palestinian leadership was given and the obvious glowing warmth of Obama's tone when with the Israeli side.
Because power is more important than mere rhetoric, it won't take long before Obama's visit is just another memory. The settlements will keep expanding, East Jerusalem will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank, the Palestinians will remain stateless, and Israel will continue on its self-chosen path to apartheid.
And in the end, Obama will have proven to be no better a friend to Israel or the Palestinians than any of his predecessors. All of them claimed to oppose the occupation, but none of them ever did a damn thing to end it. And one of Obama's successors will eventually have to confront the cold fact that two states are no longer a realistic possibility.
What will he or she say then?
That seems about right.
However, my eye caught what Stephen Walt had to say about the role of language in international relations theory. As someone who flees screaming from all such 'theory' I nonetheless found it cleverly put. Thus (my emphasis):
There is a broad school of thought in international relations -- often labeled "social constructivism" -- which maintains that discourse can be of tremendous importance in shaping the conduct of states.
In this view, how leaders talk and how intellectuals write gradually shapes how we all think, and over time these discursive activities can exert a tremendous influence on norms, identities, and perceptions of what is right and what is possible...
But there is another broad family of IR theories -- the realist family -- and it maintains that what matters most in politics is power and how it is applied. In this view, national leaders often say lots of things they don't really mean, or they say things they mean but then fail to follow through on because doing so would be politically costly.
From this perspective, words sometimes inspire and may change a few minds on occasion, but they are rarely enough to overcome deep and bitter conflicts. No matter how well-written or delivered, a speech cannot divert whole societies from a well-established course of action. Policies in motion tend to remain in motion; to change the trajectory of a deeply-entrenched set of initiatives requires the application of political forces of equal momentum.
Walt is a self-proclaimed realist and so saw the President's words in Israel very much from that point of view. Hence his pessimism:
For realists like me, in short, halting a colonial enterprise that has been underway for over forty years will require a lot more than wise and well-intentioned words. Instead, it would require the exercise of power. Just as raw power eventually convinced most Palestinians that Israel's creation was not going to be reversed, Israelis must come to realize that denying Palestinians a state of their own is going to have real consequences.
Although Obama warned that the occupation was preventing Israel from gaining full acceptance in the world, he also made it clear that Israelis could count on the United States to insulate them as much as possible from the negative effects of their own choices. Even at the purely rhetorical level, in short, Obama's eloquent words sent a decidedly mixed message.
Read both pieces. Walt's drills deeper and is more convincing, but both are eloquent and interesting.
In my view the distinction between the IR Social Constructivists and Realists is more about the need of US professors to write convoluted clever stuff than it is about anything that matters. Of course 'power' matters. But sometimes power comes not from weight of firepower but from creating a certain new tone and from being convincing: helping change attitudes today, and so creating a better chance of changing policies tomorrow
So? It just depends. There is a lot of reality out there, so a speech on its own - even from a US President in Israel - rarely makes any perceptible difference to anything. Obama's much praised but intellectually nugatory Cairo speech is a good example of a much vaunted speech that if anything weakened the US position in the region, because it rambled around and appeared to promise more than Obama could or would ever deliver.
Here my sense (I speak as someone who knows nothing at all about the Israel/Palestine and wider 'Arab World' nexus of problems) is that President Obama leant very heavily towards the Israelis, partly in his words (what he said and what he did not say) and partly in the way the whole visit was organised and packaged.
Why did he do that? Stephen Walt:
By telling Israelis that he loved them and by telling both Israelis and Palestinians that the latter had just as much right to a state as the former, he was hoping to mold hearts and minds and convince them -- through logic and reason -- to end their century-old conflict. And make no mistake: He was saying that peace would require a powerful and increasingly wealthy Israel to make generous concessions, because the Palestinians have hardly anything more to give up. As Churchill put it, "in victory, magnanimity."
Which brings me back to my earlier conclusion:
... Or was this visit 'really' about something else entirely, namely sweeping aside any misunderstandings with Israel (and helping Israel get back on track with Turkey) so as to be able to work with them in managing the more immediate horrendous and potentially inter-related problems of Syria and Iran? Not to forget the gruesome economic situation in Egypt.
Politics is/are all about priorities and timing. If you are a US President keen to work up a respectable second-term foreign policy legacy you might conclude that as things stand the Palestinian cause will just have to wait for a while, as other much bigger Arab/Muslim dramas unfold. And that in this failing Middle East region Israel, for all its faults, represents a stable partner you can more or less rely on.
Is such a conclusion an iteration of Realism, or Social Constructivism? I report. You decide.
Here's my Telegraph Blogs piece this morning on the news coming from Brussels that mirabile dictu the EU Budget may in fact not grow over the coming seven year financial cycle:
The French have made the usual belligerent noises, feigning to champion increased spending that they too can’t afford. As a net contributor (but unlike the UK with a huge stake in the existing bad pattern of spending skewed towards the CAP) France hoots for more Europe, then gracelessly falls in line behind the tough position determined by the other two largest net contributors, UK and Germany.
But wait. What about the European Parliament? Can’t they refuse to endorse the deal and impose annual budgets at higher costs to UK?
London’s answer to that will be “bring it on!”. If the EU Budget in all its labyrinthine complexity is not agreed at the start of the seven-year spending cycle, it gets far harder for the major net beneficiaries of structural spending (eg Poland and Romania) to plan sensibly. That in turn sharply increases the likelihood that by 2020 they will not have spent their allocations, so the actual spend by the UK and other net contributors is sharply down.
In other words, if the European Parliament tries this on in a clumsy power-grab it will incur the wrath of almost everyone, including MEPs on all sides who, taking their lead from their respective capitals, prefer the certainty of a comprehensive Budget deal now to the horrible uncertainty of annual budgets.
In any negotiation of this sort, those who pay in more than they get out decide the final outcome. This time round David Cameron – aided by the shamelessly opportunistic Labour Party in Westminster – has stuck to a firm position of principle that also makes sound economic sense. He is winning a major victory.
In a battle between Givers and Getters, Getters win. It just comes down to how little they want to Give, and how long the Getters want to keep the issues open, trading the hope of further small gains against the certainty in planning that comes from getting the whole boring business over and done with.
The depressing thing is that the EU now staggers on with no move seriously to downsize the role of the CAP in overall shared spending. Plus all sorts of budgetary bungs will have been handed out to get the final package close to approval, so the process is even more squalid and inefficient than usual. None of which helps maintain Europe's long-term position as a world economic force.
Maybe that's exactly how decline has to happen. It's just easier to stick with the sinking ship you know, and gently gurgle downwards with it.
Have the Algerian authorities messed up this ghastly crisis, by forcing a deadly showdown?
One view says yes. Even if the terrorists had started killing the hostages under their control, it's better to keep trying to talk to them to head off complete disaster. An outcome in which some terrorists and some of their captives survive is 'better' than an outcome in which all or almost all die - better to salvage some human lives (even wicked ones) from the carnage than none.
The other view says that there are no meaningful criteria for assessing this extreme situation, and that as it's their country the Algerians must decide how such episodes are going to be tackled on their territory going forward. Looked at like this, the Algerian action sends a commendably clear message:
"If you kidnap people in Algeria and try to make political demands (eg for trading prisoners) using terrorist tactics, you will die and your demands will stay unmet. Maybe it's better to go somewhere else instead?"
A separate question is, of course, how far any action launched by the Algerians to tackle this situation was in fact done well. Western intelligence sources should have had almost real-time analysis of what was happening in and around the compound from all sorts of different information-flows, and perhaps watched aghast at some of the methods and tactics being used.
There again, once incidents like this start to unfold few countries (and especially countries in the Middle East or North Africa) are going to want to suffer the apparent loss of self-esteem involved in asking for outside technical help.
Plus who needs to introduce into an already difficult situation the potential Western legal niceties (and liabilities) over targetting and 'proportionality' that come with having Western soldiers directly - or at least openly - involved in the operation?
Indeed, refusing to call in top-end Western special forces is in effect part of the underlying message the Algerian leadership want to send to the terrorist world:
"We aren't playing these games according to Western 'best practice'. We are doing things our own way, and if that turns out to be a lot more chaotic and merciless than you can imagine, too bad for you."
No easy answers.
One good thing the UK government can do in such circumstances is to call out any journalist or pundit who talks about the terrorists 'executing' hostages. 'Execution' is a word that somehow legitimises these killers and their cause by suggesting an outcome arising from a legal process. Terrorists murder people.
An interesting response to what I think is a profound analysis by John Alderdice.
You say 'Blowing up random people to make a political point is not a form of warfare recognised by anyone serious.'
Do you know 'Just and Unjust Wars' by Prof Michael Walzer? In this he points out, inter alia, that if terrorism is defined“in the strict sense” as “the random murder of innocent people”, then terrorists are merely walking where soldiers have already trod. He points to the deliberate targeting of civilian populations by both Allied and Axis Powers in the Second World War as an example.
I'd welcome your thoughts on this.
I think that his example makes my point. It's precisely because wars have rules and indeed laws that terrorists have to be regarded as especially objectionable.
Look at his WW2 example. Yes, in part because of the prevailing 'mass' ideologies of the time, civilians were deliberately targeted by conventional armed forces in huge numbers. The Allied powers did their fair share, but the Nazis and Soviet Union did far more.
Yet those horrors nonetheless took place as a result of military decisions taken in a context of a conventional war started and waged according to international law. Amazingly enough (and hard though it is now to imagine) even at the Auschwitz cluster of POW camps the Nazis followed various proper principles in dealing with Allied POWs, allowing letters and parcels to reach them. These courtesies were denied Soviet POWs who received far more cruel treatment - the USSR had not signed the relevant conventions, perhaps because it would not accept the idea of treating prisoners properly (see eg Katyn).
Since WW2 we have seen extraordinary advances in weaponry (above all pinpoint accuracy) and rather less extraordinary advances in the law of war. Nonetheless time-honoured principles apply. Proportionality (using only as much force as is necessary to achieve a legitimate military goal). Proper targeting (aiming at military targets only, and trying to limit civilian or non-combatant casualties). No hostages. Nousing human shields. And so on.
Today's soldiers are drilled on how to apply these principles in practice. UN peacekeeping troops carry little cards describing the rules of engagement - when they can and cannot threaten to use military force.
And (if you can face it) look at that Israeli video showing the death of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabri. The fatal missile is shot to hit the target's car just when it has gone past adjacent vehicles, ie in a way seemingly done to minimise the risks to other people nearby. Hence anguished analysis of the ethics of drone warfare.
These days Western governments pore over international law to try to find a principled way forward in highly difficult situations. See eg the decision by HMG to recognise the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.
You may or may not think that this decision is smart or wise. But at least it was reached in a civilised, measured way by people with a clear democratic mandate and taken with full consideration of international law rules.
Therefore what? What does it mean to say that today's terrorists are "merely (sic) walking where soldiers have already trod"?
I think that this sort of argument (and in a way it props up Lord Alerdice's thinking in the piece I linked to) is pernicious and sinister relativism. It takes examples of extreme behaviour carried out in a completely different context and suggests that that behaviour is a precedent - and somehow a legitimising precedent - for anything terrorists do now. It's nothing but the Law of the Slippery Slopes wearing dishonest trousers. There is no fixed point at which we can say a mouse is too big to be a mouse, or an elephant too small to be an elephant. So a mouse can be as big as an elephant.
Where to draw the line between Good and Evil? Nowhere clear. Therefore Good is indistinguishable from Evil. Therefore Evil = Good. QED
Thus the terrorist defending himself before the Westminster APPG on Conflict Issues:
You once killed someone breaking your own rules. Therefore you can't criticise me for killing someone according to my rules.
Oh, and by the way, I accept no rules anyway. I'll do what it takes to achieve the goals that I and my heroic co-fighters alone have proclaimed to be the supreme values deciding who lives and who dies. Just like you in fact.
Back in 1998/99 I was one of the first people to point out that Bosnia's new post-war Constitution as promulgated by the Dayton Accords had a unique feature.
The Constitution was unconstitutional! It included obviously discriminatory clauses working against the interests of many citizens who were denied the chance to run for President in either Entity.
And lo!, eventually the European Court of Justice ruled as I had expected. Here is a long but steady analysis by Katie Engelhart of the history of the matter. She does not do justice to the ethno-constitutional machinations of the SFRY that set the framework for the Dayton deal, but no-one is perfect.
The issue is simple. The Constitution defines four 'constituent peoples' in Bosnia: Bosniacs, Serbs, Croats and 'Others'. The collective Presidency of BH is elected thusly: a Serb elected from the territory of Republika Srpska (one Entity), and a Bosniac and Croat elected from the territory of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the other Entity).
What's wrong with this? 'Others' (eg Roma, Jews) get squeezed out completely. And a Serb living in the Federation or a Bosniac and Croat living in Republika Srpska can't run for President. Trivially discriminatory and unfair. These ethnic quota provisions have many other echoes at different levels of government in the two Entities and at the BH level, making it a serious obstacle to progress.
So how best to solve the problem? Not easy without a complete rewrite of Dayton?
The Bosnian Serbs have come up with an elegant (enough) if not crafty solution. To keep the three-person Presidency comprising one person from RS and two from the Federation, but not mention ethnicity at all except negatively: "No one constituent people can have more than one member represented in the Presidency".
That formula seems to do the job. It maintains a territorial element of representation and thereby respects the two-Entity Dayton deal, but it also means that in practice a Serb (99% certainly from RS) and a Bosniac and Croat (98% certainly from the Federation) will be elected. Plus anyone anywhere in Bosnia can campaign to be elected President. Freedom!
But will it be ruled out just because the Serbs have proposed it? Maybe not. Has anyone any better ideas?
Worrying news for Greece and for other countries looking for major bail-outs.
Treat all sides fairly! Or else the lawsuits start.
But what if treating all sides fairly just isn't possible?
A mess. But much more than a mere mess. A mess that changes the rules:
Reuters’ Felix Salmon, who has followed the story closely, sees Argentina’s bind (and the broader ruling) as a major shift in world of sovereign debt:
[T]his ruling is just one more step towards a world where the old verities about sovereign risk simply don’t hold any more. It used to be that sovereigns were sovereign: that was bad news if they unilaterally decided to default on you, but other than that it was pretty good news.
Now, however, they’re at the mercy not only of unelected technocrats at places like the IMF or the ECB; they’re also at the mercy of unelected judges in New York. Sovereigns have less freedom of movement now than they have done in a very long time, and we’re only beginning to grok the implications of those constraints.
... As the US election saga limps to its end, those of us who favour the victory by Mitt Romney do not find it hard to point to staggering examples of corruption and abuse of power by people closely connected to the Obama administration. Democrats of course throw back plenty of examples of Republican scandals. Then there’s the eternal problem of EU funds that never seem to be properly audited or accounted for. Further afield we have seen the recent stories run by the New York Times looking hard at the financial machinations of the top communist elite in China. The sums of money involved in all these abuses and suspected abuses run not into millions, but into bewildering billions.
By comparison these British Parliamentary scandals are embarrassingly microscopic, banal in their parochial prosaic pettiness and sheer lack of ambition. Good grief! He bought several laptops! And books! Down he goes.
Down Denis has to go, and rightly so.
MPs perch themselves right at the very top of the public policy chain. They have the ultimate power to set the rules and proudly to call to account those anywhere in the system who abuse them. Plus they have all sorts of privileges from being members of that plumply funded parliamentary club with its cheap bars and affable, elegant restaurants.
In these circumstances, those of us who have spent decades living scrupulously by the rules and working late into the night to account for every penny find ourselves with no sympathy to spare for people in high office who sent us orders and demanded scrupulous adherence to the rules, yet time and again personally signed off their own expenses claims that they knew were cutting corners if not explicitly dishonest.
With great power comes great responsibility. And with great abuses of responsibility comes great – and richly deserved – humiliation.
If you have never been to Hanoi or indeed Asia before, nothing can prepare you and your nose for the restless, crowded confusion out there on the streets. People are everywhere. Crossing the road requires nerves of steel as swarms of people on improbably laden scooters come at you from all directions, tooting their horns and chatting on their mobile phones.
Almost everyone is busy doing something, carrying, pushing, sorting, haggling, stacking. It is more than obvious that idleness is not rewarded. No work, no food!
Micro-restaurants proliferate with scant regard for our prissy health and safety standards: a shop selling bits of metal will have someone cooking generous quantities of lunch on a small stove for shifts of people squatting on the street; fresh ingredients delivered non-stop from here and there as cooking proceeds.
Life in Dickens's London must have been something like this, albeit perhaps in a more genteel way despite the poverty of many people; remember how on Christmas Day the Cratchit family ordered their goose from a shop cooking it?
Watching in amazement the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, with its overwhelmingly youthful population, I started to wonder what the operational ethics of such a society must be.
Social relationships will be myriad and subtle, with extended networks of family and friends working together to create all sorts of improvised, fast-moving supply chains. Taxi drivers who bring a shop new tourist business will get rewarded according to finely calibrated scales. There will be cheating, but likewise in each neighbourhood social trust will accumulate fast.
Obvious miscreants will be quickly identified, thumped, and shunned. Vietnam scores poorly on world corruption perception indices: that sort of obvious cheating is all about the state sector’s machinations, not the mass of people hustling to survive.
Old people in Vietnam keep working to the end. I saw people who looked as if they personally knew Confucius scurrying along carrying heavy trays of vegetables or helping chop things for dinner. This is the social safety net of a poor but fast-developing country.
No doubt the conditions for many disabled or mentally ill people must be grim, yet even they are much more likely to have some sort of active honourable family support than their counterparts in the UK where families have outsourced private responsibility to the state.
You see the difference as soon as you get off the plane at Heathrow. People working at the airport project a lower order of urgency and purpose. Whereas anyone in Vietnam with a proper job wears an immaculate uniform with pride and works at something like top speed, the ranks of British immigration and other officials come across as indefinably scruffier and usually overweight. They look like people who know all too well that it is next to impossible to sack them for slacking: a general "good enough" 70 percent effort will suffice, and even a dismal 55 percent effort is unlikely to provoke any serious sanction.
Back in Vietnam if you don’t try hard in your job you get thrown out in favour of someone desperate to succeed. That sort of merciless pressure is, well, merciless. But it keeps up standards and morale and ambition...
Isn't the problem in the bureaucratic West that we are outsourcing more and more of our lives to impersonal, literally inhuman processes run by the state? And that this erodes our most basic survival instincts including sociability and everything that goes with it?
If you have not heard behaired US shock-jock Howard Stern in full flow, now is the time to start.
He asks various African-American voters (overwhelmingly Obama supporters) whether they support Obama or Romney and why. It turns out that some of them are, ahem, rather light when it comes to detailed knowledge of the candidates and issues:
My various postings and pronouncements on the rights and wrongs of the UK government's 'threat' to remove the diplomatic immunity of the Ecuador Embassy in London to enable J Assange to be nabbed have prompted Brian Barder to weigh in.
And when Brian weighs in, he does so thoroughly. His long analysis was too much for the Comment function of this site, so he has sent me his views by email and I am pleased to post them in full below. I have taken the liberty of breaking down his paragraphs into manageable smaller pieces, to make the flow of the argument readable (BB is one for long sentences and longer paragraphs. I am not).
The key issue is simple. BB says (in effect, I think) that the 1987 UK Act purportedly giving the Foreign Secretary the power to remove an Embassy building's diplomatic status under certain conditions is so constrained by the Vienna Convention (apart from an extreme case of obvious 'self-defence') that it can't be used.
I by contrast argue that the Act gives legal force to the underlying time-honoured sense of reciprocity in the Vienna Convention by enabling modulated and proportionate action by a receiving state against grave breaches of the Convention by or through the Embassy concerned.
So we disagree on the margins (important margins) about what abuses of the Convention by/through an Embassy might trigger a legally justified move against the Embassy's immunity. We nonetheless agree that in the Assange case the abuse (if any) by the Ecuadoreans of the Convention by sheltering Assange is NOT such as to make even the temporary removal of the Embassy's diplomatic immunity by HMG a legally appropriate or politically wise response.
Note that some of this is all about deep diplomatic theory and high principle. What happens in practice - and how any case on the matter might come to the courts and who would decide the outcome - is a very different matter. Note too that in his excitement BB ascribes to me a number of positions that I do not hold, and/or strays into some weak non-sequiturs. But I forgive him.
Enough. Judge for yourselves. Here is Brian's analysis, taking up my earlier piece here. CC in black,BB in blue
* * * * *
Brian Barder: I'm afraid there are so many elementary confusions in all this that it's difficult to disentangle them.But here goes.Quotations from your post labelled "CC" are followed by my explanation of why they are wrong, labelled "BB".
CC: "Brian is right that the Vienna Convention at Article 22 lays it all down pretty bluntly:
The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of mission.
To which one can say, so what? The Convention also has a catch-all Article 41 which requires diplomats to respect local laws and not use their diplomatic premises in ways incompatible with the Convention or wider international law rules."
BB:You imply that if the British government believes, rightly or wrongly, that the embassy of Ecuador is behaving improperly, Article 41 of the Vienna Convention (VCDR) permits us to strip it of its diplomatic status and immunities, send in the cops, and arrest Assange, without the ambassador's consent.But that's simply wrong.
We have several options for responding to the embassy's perceived misbehaviour, from a simple protest right up to expelling the ambassador or in the last resort breaking off diplomatic relations with Ecuador and closing down its embassy (which incidentally would be bad news for Assange).
What we can't legally do is renounce our obligation to respect the embassy's diplomatic status, claim to have abolished its immunities (which would be flat contrary to the VCDR), invade it, and arrest anyone we find there -- even the sainted Mr Assange.
I did explain all this in my earlier comment on your blog, from which you quote selectively.Apparently it was not understood, although it seems simple enough to me.
CC: "Thus the 1987 Act, that gives HMG the right to strip a mission of its diplomatic status by withdrawing consent for that status in specified circumstances and "if the Secretary of State is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law" (Note: a somewhat subjective test, ie Brian is not correct above on this point)."
BB:By calling the test "somewhat subjective", you seem to imply that if the Secretary of State declares himself satisfied that what he wants to do is permissible under international law, he can do as he likes.But that's wrong.His declaration of satisfaction that his proposed action is legal would be subject to judicial review.
The courts would look into the basis for the Secretary of State's claim of satisfaction, and would not take very long to find that he had no basis whatever for that claim, since any proposal to muscle into the Ecuador embassy would clearly be contrary to Art. 22 of the VCDR, which you yourself re-quote.
Mr Assange's supporters and the Ecuadoreans or their sympathisers would be sure to seek that judicial review before you could say "William Hague".So it's not purely subjective, and I was not wrong to point it out.
CC: "In other words, it is not open to a diplomatic mission to insist that any given building is its Embassy and remains so indefinitely - that has to be accepted by the receiving State."
BB:Wrong again.Art. 22 of the VCDR, part of which you recklessly re-quote, obliges us to respect the inviolability of what we have already recognised as an embassy and diplomatic mission.Art. 22(2) says:"The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity."
There's no way that can be squared with the receiving State (Britain) itself mounting an intrusion.The receiving State has no option but to discharge its obligations under the whole of Art. 22.There's no basis for your assertion that this has to be accepted by the receiving State, even if you underline 'accepted'. The receiving State has already 'accepted' it by signing and ratifying the Vienna Convention.
Moreover Britain can't wriggle out of those obligations by passing a domestic law purporting to permit it to do so.If it could, any country -- North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran, Ecuador -- could pass a similar law, and send its heavies armed with baseball bats into the local British embassy or high commission an hour or two later.No international agreement (including the Vienna Conventions, plural) would be worth twopence.
CC: "And that acceptance can reasonably be withdrawn eg if the receiving State has good reason to think that that building is being used in ways grossly incompatible with international law. That is an expression of the rights available to a receiving State under the Convention, not a breach of the rights of the hapless cheating mission."
BB:Perhaps you would point to the Article or Articles of the VCDR which grants to the receiving State the right to denounce its Article 22 obligations and break into the premises of a diplomatic mission as a mark of its displeasure at allegedly -- or manifestly -- illegal or objectionable activity going on in those premises.
As I have now explained twice here already, there are many ways in which the receiving State can respond to illegal or improper activity in a diplomatic mission, but entering it without its consent simply isn't one of them -- with one clearly defined exception which we'll come to immediately but which is totally irrelevant to anything currently being done by the Ecuadoreans or indeed by Mr Assange.
CC: "Probably no row at all would ensue if eg the Ecuadorean Embassy or even J Assange starting shooting out of the window without provocation at passers-by and/or the police, gravely abusing the Convention. It would be absurd to say that in such a dramatic situation HMG could enter the Embassy only with the Ambassador's permission to stop the mayhem: action to strip the Embassy's diplomatic status would be right in principle, and overwhelmingly popular in this country and probably applauded by any country that takes diplomatic privilege seriously."
BB:The one exception to the principles and rules that I have now explained three times above is where the receiving State acts under its "inherent right of self-defence" under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
To be able to assert this right, the receiving state has to be able to point to behaviour by or from the embassy which poses an immediate threat to the lives and safety of people in its vicinity, such as the kind of situation you imagine -- someone shooting randomly, or at all, from within the embassy.
When young PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot from a window of the Libyan embassy in 1984, the British government would have been entitled to exercise its right of self-defence to enter the embassy and take whatever action was necessary to prevent further murders.(It decided against doing so, primarily because of the risk to the British embassy in Libya if it did -- a point worth considering in the context of the Ecuadorean embassy in London, incidentally.)
This sole exception to the special status of Article 22 is not AFAIK set out in any formal legally binding document, but it is generally recognised by students of international law, and confirmed in Professor Eileen Denza's authoritative book 'Diplomatic Law', as well as in the chapters in the current edition of Satow on diplomatic privileges and immunities (of which Professor Denza was the author).
One further point:you talk about the functions of a diplomatic mission specified by the VCDR as proper and permissible, as if anything not mentioned in the Convention must be incompatible with the mission's obligations under it.But the functions described in the Convention are purely illustrative, as shown by the all-important phrase 'inter alia' in Article 3.
It's therefore wrong to argue that because the Convention is silent on the question of using diplomatic premises to shelter a refugee (something that many British embassies have done for years BTW), therefore sheltering Assange must be incompatible with the embassy's international law obligations.
Whether this action by Ecuador is permissible in international law probably depends on whether the extradition proceedings against Assange can properly be regarded as politically motivatedor whether they are purely associated with accusations of non-political criminal offences, a matter on which you and I will take one position and Mr Assange and the Ecuadoreans will no doubt take another.
But the presence of this gentleman in the Ecuadorean embassy can't possibly justify action by the British government contrary to Art 22 of the VCDR in pursuance of its inherent right of self-defence.End of story.
And my last word on this issue on your ever entertaining blog. If I need to write yet more, I shall do it on my own, athttp://www.barder.com/ephems/, where you and any other reader of this will find a pretty exhaustive account of my view of the issues, both in two recent posts and in my responses to numerous comments on them.
With Ecuador set to make an announcement later today about Julian Assange and his bid for asylum (he currently is skulking in their Embassy in London) the BBC World Service have just interviewed me for some background on the way bids for 'asylum' in Embassies work in practice. I drew on my classic DIPLOMAT article from late 2010:
There are two basic ‘invasion’ scenarios. Those where the people concerned are invading an embassy situated in their own country to try to escape (the two Havana examples above). And those where the invaders are in another country and enter a passing embassy as a way to get to somewhere else. In this latter case, both the embassy and the host government will be pleased to see the invaders leave the country, one way or the other: problem (for them) solved.
The former case is problematic though. It pits the embassy concerned against the host authorities in a way that is embarrassing for both. The host authorities have to face the disagreeable fact that some of its own citizens are so revolted by circumstances in their own country that they entreat another country to help them get out. The embassy involved is likewise torn. The idea that it is seen locally as a source of freedom and succour may be flattering but, on the other hand, relations with the host country have to go on.
This was brought out sharply by the mass demonstrations in Iran this year protesting against the rigged election results. With varying intensity, different European and other embassies in Tehran were saying that the Iranian elections had not, cough, quite met best standards of freeness and fairness. Yet they also had to make clear to the Iranian masses that in practice they would not open their doors to Iranians wanting to escape persecution.
A Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman summed it up: Sweden ‘cannot grant asylum on embassy territory…if that decision was to be taken, it would mark a very strong gesture with regard to the Iranian government’.
Which, translated into normal language, is roughly this: ‘Sorry, massed Iranian chaps and chapesses. We do like and support you. Honest. But in this one you’re on your own. Good luck!’
Which sounds harsh, and is harsh, but has to be right. Since envoys were invented millions of years ago, the whole point has been to allow one leadership to keep open lines of private communication with another. If this special mechanism for such discreet top level communication is held hostage by anyone who has a grievance, however justified, a disruptive mess of no real use to either side ensues.
This Assange case is a fascinating version of the genre. He is a national of country W hiding in an Embassy of country X, with the hope of avoiding host country X sending him on to face justice in country Y and perhaps eventual extradition to country Z. Phew!
What is this case 'about'? Let's look at it from the point of view of Negotiation Theory.
On one level it is all about the astonishingly self-important J Assange. Here is an LSE Book Review I wrote earlier this year about him and his quest for fame:
One of the key advantages of WikiLeaks as seen by its avowedly radical ‘hacktivist’ creators led (loosely speaking) by Julian Assange is that it subverts all existing categories of pretty much anything: geography, law, morality, self-restraint. The book notes that by aiming for impunity from the law WikiLeaks hopes for immunity from the consequences of the “wider settlement between journalism and society” and ”a less-reported but similarly liberating degree of ethical and moral flexibility”. Hmm. Which tyrant down the ages has not hoped for such ethical and moral ‘flexibility’?
Take the vital issue of ‘protecting sources’, something journalists claim to be a core part of their professional responsibility. Assange is quoted as saying that any US informants in Afghanistan who were murdered by the Taliban as a result of WikiLeaks revelations deserved their fate, a loathsome and – as he found – unsustainable position.
Likewise the book records that WikiLeaks’ publication of confidential documents about corruption in Kenya led to riots in 2007 which 1300 people were killed and 350,000 displaced. The authors’ assessment is at best baffling: “It also indicated that Wikileaks, and Assange in particular, were prepared to make a different risk calculation that accepted some incidental harm for the ‘greater good’ of transparency.” Had a Western politician described the deaths of 1300 Kenyans as ‘some incidental harm’ caused by a different risk calculation in official policies, imagine the banshee shriek.
In this moral tarpit some people see in WikiLeaks a source of hope. The book quotes ‘cyber-optimist’ Clay Shirky: “it represents, in its irresponsibility, a space for reform and progress”.
No thanks. WikiLeaks is by any normal standards a malign phenomenon based on a business model of stealing then selling other people’s information. It has surged sensationally across the media firmament but now looks bedraggled and discredited. As the authors note in the epilogue, former WikiLeaks enthusiasts are writing it off, as further damage has been done to its credibility.
The real value of this fascinating but uneven book is that it reminds us that especially in an age of ‘anything goes’ e-leaks, the heart of credible journalism remains a sense of unwavering professional responsibility – and a good old-fashioned sense of honour.
So the core visible part of the negotiation here is what happens to him. Does he get extradited to Sweden to face various criminal charges, or not?
By scuttling into the Ecuador Embassy in London, Assange has created a vast amount of expensive hassle for HM Government, who have been quietly pointing out to the Ecuadoreans the fact that they have no real options other than to show him the door, sooner or later, whereupon he will be arrested and relaunched on his way to Sweden.
It turns out that HMG also have the power - a diplomatic doomsday weapon to be sure - to take away the diplomatic status of a foreign country's embassy/consulate. This comes via the well-known and rather witty Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987:
(a) a State ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post; or
(b) the Secretary of State withdraws his acceptance or consent in relation to land,
it thereupon ceases to be diplomatic or consular premises for the purposes of all enactments and rules of law.
(4) The Secretary of State shall only give or withdraw consent or withdraw acceptance if he is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law.
(5) In determining whether to do so he shall have regard to all material considerations, and in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of this subsection:
(a) to the safety of the public;
(b) to national security; and
(c) to town and country planning
This makes sense. If we think that a state is abusing its diplomatic privileges under the usual treaties and conventions eg to pursue activities threatening our country or people, we can take away the immunity of their base of operations.
Note that if we did take away their Embassy's diplomatic status this does not mean that we have to batter the door down to get Assange out. We could (I assume) first start cranking up the financial costs by removing any Embassy exemptions from local and other taxes. And of course the fine free parking-spaces and diplomatic number-plates would be the first things to go: once gone, very hard to get them back, your Excellency. Aaaaargh.
The Act says that the Secretary of State needs to 'satisfied' that stripping away the Embassy's diplomatic status is 'permissible' under international law. In the circumstances that might not be too easy and might itself launch exhausting legal proceedings.
Would (for example) an argument have to be made that in effect the Embassy was part of a criminal conspiracy to help Assange escape due process of law? Much care needed here, as we might not want our own Embassy in Horribleland to be stripped of its immunity next time the local Nelson Mandela arrives there fleeing oppressive local laws. See eg that recent case of Chen Guangcheng at the US Embassy in Beijing.
In other words, it's good if your Embassy is seen by downtrodden locals as a beacon of freedom. As long as they do not actually try to enter it for too long.
We have made our legal case politely to Ecuador. They now have turned up their pseudo-aggrieved perpetual-victim Non-Aligned Member loudspeakers and started wailing that we are 'threatening' them and that they are not a 'British colony'. Zzzzzzz
Why are they doing this?
Because on a different level of the negotiation they have a self-created problem of Reputation - it was fun to take him in, but how now to cough him up without losing face at home and internationally?
One way to do this is to make a massive silly noise and show that they 'did all they could and more' to help Assange, but in the end the bullying British imperialists were too relentless and mean-spirited to give them any other choice but to ask him to leave.
HMG likewise have a Reputation problem. The vast diplomatic community in London sets about its daily business safe in the knowledge that it will be treated lawfully and fairly, and that in return they should obey the rules. We can not afford to allow a precedent to be set that anyone wanting to escape British justice races to the nearest Embassy and gets a good deal. And, to be clear, the vast majority of Embassies quite like that austere situation - they do not want these unwelcome guests making a massive mess for them.
So what will happen later today? The Ecuadoreans will proclaim some sort of asylum status for Assange. Hurrah!
Then ... nothing will have changed.
Assange still at some point has to leave the building, and (probably) whatever new status Ecuador says he has will not be recognised by us, allowing him to be arrested and sent on his way (no doubt after yet more lucrative lawyerly litigation) to Sweden.
Perhaps a way could be found to make a joint UK/Ecuador request to Sweden for formal assurances that Assange will be dealt with properly as part of a deal for sending him there? That would help both governments (and indeed Sweden) manage this tedious matter with no lasting damage done at the diplomatic level.
Diplomacy: the art of finding ways to back down gracefully - and move on elegantly.
Anyone reading this blog regularly will know my views on the Bosnia story and the underlying struggles it epitomizes.
But as there is never enough of a good thing, here is a new longer piece from me over at TransConflict:
Basically, Yugoslavia was a set of sui generis contradictory and dishonest nationalist-socialist structures that for 45 years played down ‘national’ ethnicity for some purposes, while cementing it in to political life in others.
Approaching Dayton, the Americans were dimly aware of some of this, but it did not much matter to them. They were not interested in changing local mindsets or being reluctant imperialists.
The Americans defined the Dayton process not to fit Bosnia, but to fit Dick Holbrooke’s ambition and Bill Clinton’s timetable. They felt that they had made a huge new dangerous commitment to agree to US troops being on the ground in Bosnia – now the overwhelming priority was to get them home as soon as possible, preferably immediately after the 1996 BiH elections.
There was no prospect of the Americans or anyone else taking on a long-term responsibility to run Bosnia as a protectorate and sternly transform it into a modern democracy. On the contrary, the Dayton deal was designed to give Bosnians themselves and not the international community the leading role in running their country after its first ever free and fair elections. The so-called Bonn Powers of the High Representative (that I helped invent) were imposed later (arguably illegitimately) to try to make up for lost time...
Thus Dayton was a grimy US-driven deal cut with the territory’s “violent chauvinist elites” to stop the Bosnian war and create some chances for sensible pluralist political evolution. To make that happen the Americans incorporated their own unhappy creation of the ‘Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and this meant ceding to the Serbs ‘their’ Entity.
Yes, ‘Others’ as a distinct category were marginalised at Dayton and so thereafter. But their numbers, like the numbers of ‘Yugoslavs’ in SFRY, were small enough to be ignorable – and ignored. And that will remain the case far into the future.
Mr. Mujanović here has a strong if overstated point:
Dayton has created, instead, an exclusionary and particularistic linkage between particular “ethnic groups” (whose homogeneity is falsely assumed, as I have previously argued) and particular territories whose present demographic structures are the direct result of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the process, such a constitutional order has effectively disenfranchised persons of other ethnicities, minorities, persons from mixed-marriages and, most of all, civically-inclined individuals who do not identify either as Bosniak, Serb or Croat.
All I am saying is that Dayton drew heavily (and necessarily) on legal forms and precedents taken from the Yugoslav coercive socialist self-management ideological toolkit, which in turn drew on wider European/Soviet precedents.
And I say that this was not illogical or malevolent or even unwise. Because Dayton was set-up in this way, it gave the three dominant different ethno-religious communities as such strong political internationally supported guarantees. This ended the war, allowing generous international assistance to flood in.
Have the Bosnian elites used this investment well? No. The excuse that their wretched failings and corruption over 17 years are caused by the evils of the Dayton constitution does not convince me. Within that flawed framework, a transformative amount more could have been done – and still can be done – to improve living standards and bring in good democratic civic processes.
The whole point is not the one advanced by Mr Mujanovic, our young left-anarchist of Bosnian roots in faraway Canada.
It is that Diplomacy has Limits. Some things can be done, and of the things that can be done most of them involve unpleasant compromises. There is an eternal struggle between Is and Ought - between pragmatically accepting unhappy outcomes and striving (maybe vainly) for supposedly happier outcomes that meet a higher standard of decency and freedom. Both pragmatism and idealism have their merits.
If Mr Mujanovic can persuade the mass of Bosnians to adopt social networked media tools and campaign to bring down the inept ethnic leaderships now running the place in favour of his anarchistic anti-capitalist plans, good for him. I suspect he won't.
That said, I have often wondered how Dayton might have been done differently a few years later as Internet web-based technologies took off (back in 1995 remember that even email was a novelty for most people). That technology gives us quite different options for empowering citizens and bringing in far higher transparency in the public and private sectors alike. Peace deals can now be stacked in that direction. If anyone is interested.
The ultimate limit of diplomacy is that it is run by diplomats, not anarchists. Holbrooke was not a moral philosopher. He was a ruthless fixer, determined to drive through a Dayton peace deal for Bosnia, partly to help Bosnia as he saw it, and partly to impress President Clinton and help his own rise towards becoming US Secretary of State.
This meant that he was not interested in subtle questions going (say) to the way the first BH elections in 1996 were run. Different voting mechanisms and ways to arrange parliamentary seats might have led to very different and more reconciliatory outcomes. All that sort of thinking was pointy-headed European namby-pamby limpness.
Ah yes, they hoot, but all this is irrelevant and pernicious. Don't you see that it was all down to a Milosevic/Serbian genocidal master-plan?
Perhaps it was. But even if it was, what would have happened if Alija Izetbegovic had not pushed for the fatal referendum to force Bosnia to break from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the teeth of furious Serb opposition, but instead had called in international experts to help Yugoslavs and Bosnians design a new set of substantively democratic constitutional arrangements?
Things would have been appallingly messy and unpleasant for a long time. But might not many tens of thousands of people who died in the war still be alive today, and Bosnia a far happier and more prosperous place now?
If you let things get so bad that you need to outsource your new constitution to the Americans, don't be too surprised if you dislike the outcome?
My piece over at Transconflict about Bosnia has attracted all sorts of the usual lively comments.
Including the magnificent Owen:
The stale odour of complacent Majorite neo-realism, sexed up with an intro of pure, ineffable Foreign Office superiority and disdain for lesser breeds
Then there's several from bosniak-Radislav, which get my name wrong but rather make my own point that many Bosniaks think that the whole territory is 'for' them or otherwise theirs::
“The main problem is that the various Bosniak leaderships all hate the idea, as it further denies their core instinct that the whole territory of Titoist Bosnia and Herzegovina is ‘for’ them. And if the largest community in BiH won’t buy it, that change won’t happen.”
What exactly is Titoist Bosnia Herzegovina? I do love how Crawford starts his article by diminishing Mujanovic, as to cover up for teh fact that he´s article could have have been written by Matthew Parrish or Damain Duff.
“The Serbs have no reason to give up or redefine ‘their’ share of BiH, and have all sorts of legal ways to block constitutional reform.”
Crawford fails, deliberatly one thinks to mention that it´s not their share, unless ethnic cleansing and genocide are okey by his standards?
... Bottom line, some 50% of bosnia´s population live on 24% of the countrys areal, as result of clansing and genocide, many are displaced around the globe, and frankly it´s time for those who consider themselvs bosnian to take back what whas stolen from them, so that inte the future we don´t waste time commenting articles written by Matthew Parrish Marko Prelec or James Crawford… Just nullify the issue
Betty is on my side:
Great response. I was going to write a response to Jasmin’s article as well along similar lines but couldn’t get the energy to respond to such drivel.
The tension in all this is the timeless one between Is and Ought. How far should the 'international community' accept the consequences of injustice, even if the IC can work out what is just and unjust in any given situation?
One result appears to be that for the time being you can't find work by contributor (eg me) now. You have to scroll through each issue to see what has been posted on the site. Action is in hand to change that, I gather.
Here are my two latest articles.
One on Air Services - my life and times in the famous Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department of the FCO back in 1984/85, when I was grappling with the US/UK politics of the privatisation of British Airways and the punitive damages antitrust lawsuit against BA and other airlines by Freddie Laker.
Civil aviation is an interesting and little-known international policy area. When you fly you might think that you are held aloft by powerful engines and brilliant engineering. In fact you stay up there thanks to a vast network of treaties and rules, painstakingly negotiated by experts with an eye to national advantage. Yes, I was once one of those experts:
The focus of my job was UK/US air services arrangements. These were complex and bad-tempered: operational issues were asymmetrical, and transatlantic passenger loads were heavy and lucrative.
The US had a huge territory many international ‘gateway’ airports into the territory, and many national airlines. The UK had a small territory, far fewer gateways and far fewer airlines. Above all, it had the state-owned British Airways (BA), much the largest national carrier and a prime target for Mrs Thatcher’s privatisation policy. The Americans pressed us to allow more US carriers to fly into our gateways, but would not let BA make internal flights in the US (eg take passengers from London to New York and then on to Chicago).
These negotiations gave me a depressing insight into the way governments work. I joined a meeting at the Department of Transport (the lead Whitehall Department on civil aviation negotiations) to consider a US demand that we open Manchester airport to more US carriers and/or more flights from the current carriers.
BA objected that the competition would gnaw away at their margins and be ‘unfair’: US carriers could take passengers from Manchester to (say) Chicago but then on to many other US cities, whereas BA could take passengers only from Manchester to Chicago. It was quickly agreed to reject the US request.
The point here is that in deciding the UK position, the government back then focused only on the specific, visible and articulate interest of BA – the more general and invisible interests of people and businesses in the greater Manchester area who would have benefited from a surge in US business and tourist travel were not even mentioned.
Now thanks to social media and the wider information revolution all that has changed – perhaps to the point of creating administrative paralysis as hard-pressed civil servants try to formulate and manage myriad clamorous interests simultaneously...
The other is on the diplomacy of 1947, the year DIPLOMAT was born. The world was still grappling with issues and some conflicts arising from WW2 - a lot was happening all round the planet, including the deaths of hundreds of German forced labourers being used to clear mines. Health and Safety left a lot to be desired back then.
Check out especially the passages on social attitudes in the then FCO (not least women diplomats and smoking after dinner). It really was a different age. Or not:
What of the United Kingdom in 1947? Times were hard, but London was gearing up for the 1948 Olympic Games. A cartoon by New Zealand’s legendary David Low (‘Cut Fags until we have Exports’) recorded a Trafalgar Square lion and Colonel Blimp smoking short cigarettes after tobacco duty rose by 50 per cent as there were not enough dollars to pay for tobacco imports.
A Royal Commission on the Press was set up amidst public concern that concentration of ownership was inhibiting free expression, leading to inaccuracies and allowing advertisers to influence editorial content. It eventually proclaimed that the presentation of news often left much to be desired and that there was inherent partisanship and political bias.
1947? Or 2012?
Plus there is one ghastly spelling error (lifted from the original text I sent in, alas). Can you spot it?
Last night BBC reporter and troubleshooter Lyse Doucet gave a spirited talk to the Programme about international mediation. I of course disagreed with quite a lot of it. One for another day.
But along the way I squeezed out another Commentator piece, describing how over the years the UK has surrendered more and more slices of sovereignty to the European Union.
I presented this in a droll way, namely as a dialogue between a bland Club Secretary and one of the Club members:
80 percent – 60 percent
EU(Friendly and positive tone) "We’ve been thinking about the rules. That majority voting has worked well. A few squeakers here and there, but nothing too serious. It is well worth extending this voting to some more areas.
The great advantage to you as a significant club member is that usually you’ll be able to use your influence in the club to pass rules you really like. In theory you can get outvoted on issues important to you, but according to our calculations that will happen very infrequently. And even if you lose a few votes, you’ll gain much more by getting the things you like passed faster and not blocked. Plus you retain a veto on the great majority of decisions! OK?"
UKThinks: They don’t give up do they? But maybe they’re right: on balance we’ll do a bit better by getting our requirements pushed through faster. Plus we keep a veto on 60 percent of all decisions – the ones that really matter…
"OK, but I insist - that’s enough fiddling with the rules!"
In successive conversations the Secretary persuades the UK to cede more and more decision-making authority to the Club. Until finally the tone changes:
49 percent – 10 percent
EU(using a very firm voice) "The time has come to make this club really work properly. There is far too much time being wasted on silly arguments and people blocking things for selfish reasons. The club’s overall purposes must be fulfilled and not constantly held back!
Let’s face facts. For most members only a very small handful of issues really matter – some 10 percent at most, i.e. those involving your own money. The rest must be decided by majority voting so that we all benefit and move ahead. You’ve sensibly conceded that 51 percent of issues be decided by majority voting. Accept your responsibility. Keep a veto on only the issues of the utmost importance, such as voting club membership fees. You’ve come so far to make the club a fine success - and the club committee salutes you for that. Take this next bold step too."
UKThinks: “I am in blood stepp’d in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
"I accept but with extreme reluctance. And I want it entered in the minutes that this way of running the club is quite unsatisfactory. You are behaving abominably, sir!"
You can guess what happens next. Read the whole thing.
I have been wanting to write this one for ages, as it is in fact not (much) about the EU at all but rather a mini-symposium on negotiation technique.
The skill in the way the Club Secretary makes progress is found in the way the parameters of the issues and their 'framing' are subtly changed as the situation changes. This reflects a paradigm for effecting change known (I think) as Creative Dissonance.
Imagine you want to persuade X to move from Point A to Point B. You want this move to happen because (say) you want to help X get along with Y, and you conclude that Point B is a much better place for a compromise between them
X is very comfortable with Point A, and sees Point B as highly unwise or at least far worse. It's not going to be easy to get X to shift his view, especially if Point B is indeed in many respects worse for X albeit much better for Y.
So how to proceed?
You press X to accept a small move towards Point B, arguing that a small move in this direction will do no real harm. X reluctantly accepts. Note what has happened! X has set a precedent for moving under your persuasion in the direction you want. Plus X has accepted the principle that small changes may do no harm.
You then argue that by virtue of X now being a bit closer to Point B, X is in a rather anomalous position. It clearly makes no sense to go back to Point A, as X has already left that place. So the best way to resolve the contradiction is to make a further harmless small move to a more stable place that just happens to be rather closer to Point B.
And so on. Basically under the pretext of appealing to good sense and stability you deliberately create contradictions (physical/emotional/moral/practical - any will do) that - you ruefully but bluntly point out - can be resolved only by further movement in the direction you want.
You may think that this is ridiculous. Who would fall for that?
One answer is that a frog (supposedly) can allow itself to be boiled to death by imperceptible increases in water temperature.
An awesome real-life example was the end of apartheid. The De Klerk team supported by a Broederbond group of liberal-minded Afrikaner intellectuals deliberately created more and more legal and practical contradictions in the way apartheid worked (or not|), allowing them to demolish apartheid laws one by one.
Thus they desegregated bus-stops. Life went on without any upheaval. This small change allowed them to argue that it was now only 'logical' to desegregate buses too. Ditto.
Then it was logical to de-segregate the areas where people got on buses: farewell the hated Group Areas Act. And finally it was illogical to have any of those 'racial' categories enshrined in law at all!
So if you read my Commentator piece closely, you can see how the EU elite cunningly use Creative Dissonance to get their way. This echoes many EU negotiations in real life. And it is carrying on as I type - how otherwise to salvage Far More Europe! from the rubble of their policies?
Both sides will have to decide whether or not they want Europe – that is, full economic and political integration. Economically, they must choose either joint liability and a transfer union or monetary re-nationalization. Politically, the choice is whether to empower a common government and parliament or return to full sovereignty. What we know for certain is that, just as one cannot be a little pregnant, the existing hybrid is not sustainable.
The problem is, the very gradualness of careful Creative Dissonance means that you may sense it's happening but feel powerless to do much about it.
This is how the modern Security State grows. And how collectivist ideological passivity insinuates itself into almost everything, to the point of allowing a man to drown in a shallow pond while we and even the rescue services all stand glumly watching. Bewildered by our own apathy.
The key fact in last night’s Wisconsin recall election? Over 30 percent of households with a union member in them voted for Walker. A strong majority of people in Wisconsin got the core Tea Party political and moral message: stop unaffordable spending
We are going to have to deal with a sprawling moral hazard issue in democracy itself as the bills dumped on the future continue to rise, but the people required to pay them decline in numbers as demographic trends unfold. Under what circumstances should people who don’t work have a claim on the product of those who do, or will?
Putting it another way, why should Germans work well into their 60s to pay for EU olive-belters who retire well before that? Why should Germans work well into their 60s to pay for EU olive-belters who retire well before that? Why should Germans work well into their 60s to pay for EU olive-belters who retire well before that?
This explains why it is a Good Thing that the Walker camp outspent the anti-Walker camp. To those who wail that Big Money is now unfairly buying political outcomes, the answer is that that is a far sounder basis for long-term public spending than Big Stupidity using monopoly power to define the options and ending up creating ruin, as has happened for far too long across much of the European Union.
President Obama's problem now isn't what Wisconsin did, it's how he looks each day—careening around, always in flight, a superfluous figure. No one even looks to him for leadership now. He doesn't go to Wisconsin, where the fight is. He goes to Sarah Jessica Parker's place, where the money is...
Any president will, in a presidential election year, be political. But there is a startling sense with Mr. Obama that that's all he is now, that he and his people are all politics, all the time, undeviatingly, on every issue. He isn't even trying to lead, he's just trying to win.
Most ominously, there are the national-security leaks that are becoming a national scandal—the "avalanche of leaks," according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, that are somehow and for some reason coming out of the administration. A terrorist "kill list," reports of U.S. spies infiltrating Al Qaeda in Yemen, stories about Osama bin Laden's DNA and how America got it, and U.S. involvement in the Stuxnet computer virus, used against Iranian nuclear facilities. These leaks, say the California Democrat, put "American lives in jeopardy," put "our nation's security in jeopardy."
This isn't the usual—this is something different. A special counsel may be appointed.
And where is the president in all this? On his way to Anna Wintour's house. He's busy. He's running for president. But why? He could be president now if he wanted to be.
... the unsustainable "bubble" is not student debt or subprime mortgages or anything else. The bubble is us, and the assumptions of entitlement.
Too many citizens of advanced Western democracies live a life they have not earned, and are not willing to earn. Indeed, much of our present fiscal woe derives from two phases of human existence that are entirely the invention of the modern world.
Once upon a time, you were a kid till you were 13 or so; then you worked; then you died. That bit between childhood and death has been chewed away at both ends. We invented something called "adolescence" that now extends not merely through the teenage years but through a desultory half-decade of Whatever Studies at Complacency U up till you're 26 and no longer eligible for coverage on your parents' health insurance policy.
At the other end of the spectrum, we introduced something called "retirement" that, in the space of two generations, has led to the presumption that able-bodied citizens are entitled to spend the last couple of decades, or one third of their adult lives, as a long holiday weekend.
The bit in between adolescence and retirement is your working life, and it's been getting shorter and shorter. Which is unfortunate, as it has to pay for everything else.
This structural deformity in the life cycle of Western man is at the root of most of our problems. Staying ever longer in "school" (I use the term loosely) leads to ever later workplace entry, and ever later (if at all) family formation. Which means that our generation is running up debt that will have to be repaid by our shrunken progeny. One hundred Greek grandparents have 42 Greek grandchildren. Is it likely that 42 Greeks can repay the debts run up by 100 Greeks? No wonder they'd rather stick it to the Germans.
But the thriftier Germans have the same deathbed demographics. If 100 Germans resent having to pick up the check for an entire continent, is it likely 42 Germans will be able to do it?
Look around you. The late 20th century Western lifestyle isn't going to be around much longer. In a few years' time, our children will look at old TV commercials showing retirees dancing, golfing, cruising away their sixties and seventies, and wonder what alternative universe that came from. In turn, their children will be amazed to discover that in the early 21st century the Western world thought it entirely normal that vast swathes of the citizenry should while away their youth enjoying what, a mere hundred years earlier, would have been the leisurely varsity of the younger son of a Mitteleuropean Grand Duke.
... In the world after Western prosperity, we will work till we're older, and we will start younger – and we will despise those who thought they could defy not just the rules of economic gravity but the basic human life cycle.
Derek Tonkin makes plenty more smart points in emails to me which he is pleased to see made available to a wider audience (edited and reorganised slightly by me for this format). See especially his wise concluding sentence.
In 1999 the UK Government completed a general study of sanctions and came up with a set of thoroughly sensible recommendations which merited and enjoyed all-Party support:
In the case of Myanmar, all UK political parties abandoned these criteria without a second thought and introduced, through the EU and unilaterally, measures which helped to impoverish the people by denying them bilateral and multilateral development aid, allowed the Chinese and other countries in the region to exploit Myanmar's natural resources unchallenged, and far from undermining the military regime in power actually bolstered their position, at the same time making them all the more recalcitrant and unyielding. Western influence meanwhile shrank to virtually zero.
It took from August 1988 to April 2012 for the Western world to recognise that sanctions weren't working and had achieved precisely the opposite effect to what was intended. Indeed in 2007 the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs asked the Government to review policy on Burma, reducing the Lord Wakeham to a state of impotent rage (perhaps not all that difficult…) for failing to take the Committee's report seriously:
You might have noticed the only comment on sanctions which Amnesty International made in their recent article:
"Amnesty International has not taken a position on economic sanctions or other punitive measures since they were first enacted against Myanmar. Our delegation did note, however, the message from many concerned individuals that sanctions did not cause Myanmar's economic decline, but they are hindering its economic recovery.
"To the degree that a viable economy is a necessary, if insufficient, part of promoting and protecting economic, social, and cultural rights, Amnesty International believes that countries must continue to take a critical look at their current policies on Myanmar."
In short: we have a thoroughly sensible policy of "smart" sanctions which successive governments have chosen to ignore, imposing measures frequently on a wave of emotion because "something has to be done". Once the policy of "regime change" under Clinton and Bush became entrenched, there was no hope of more creative policies until the military regime itself determined that their political objectives had been achieved and their interests secured with the 2008 Constitution and the 2010 elections.
It is Western policies which have put the military in a position of political strength, but the economic and financial needs of the country remain dire which is why the regime is asking for remaining sanctions to be removed. "You see, they must be working" says Suu Kyi "otherwise why are they making such a fuss about it all?" I could tell her why, but then she wouldn't listen. When you've followed a policy for 23 years - see Annex to:
and you believe you are infallible, it is hard to admit that you might have got it wrong.
Sanctions are having an impact, but - as I have said in my comment online - only because they mainly affect the people. The US are still prevented by statute from supporting any IMF, World Bank or ADB funding. The only US concession so far made is allow a limited measure of "Technical Assistance". Despite their reported change of policy, the necessary presidential waivers and statements have not yet appeared.
You mention Myanmar's lowly position in the "Corruption Perceptions" Index. Many of us who follow Burma/Myanmar closely hold this perception to be biased … It is based on contentious criteria. TI place a high premium on the incidence of human rights abuses, arguing that corruption is invariably entwined with abuses (which may be generally true, but needs collateral).
They also argue that as the greater part of foreign exchange revenue in Myanmar is earned by State companies (natural gas sales accrue to Myanmar Oil and Gas, which used to be the Burma Oil Company) and there have been doubts about how this revenue has been spent, this must reflect a high level of "corruption". At the same time, in their reports about Myanmar, Transparency International acknowledge that they have few materials on which to base an analysis. See the attached, which draws heavily on US sources, and which I would regard as rather superficial. They have not attempted an update.
TI have played a leading role at "activist" conferences condemning the regime, to the extent that statements made by them at times appear to contain only incidental references to corruption.
I have challenged them on their criteria and their analyses, in as friendly a way as possible. But they did not respond.
The main Western fault was around 1995 when Western Governments started actively to discourage trade, investment and tourism. In the UK Myanmar was reduced to a purely human rights issue, taken out of its pigeon-hole every six months or so for a ritual bashing in Westminster Hall and occasionally even in the two Houses, and the put back again until the next occasion. Any other Western interest was ignored, until the US realised that they wanted to be an Asian-Pacific power again, Europe recognised that ASEAN and other Asian neighbours had a different view, and we all belatedly agreed to take a fresh look.
If anything, we have now gone overboard, with scores of VIPs now descending on the hapless regime. Everyone wants to get in on the act. We are likely to be seriously disappointed. But at least the Burmese people might benefit.
The reality is that Myanmar is not susceptible to sanctions when it is supported by every country in the region. It was perfectly reasonable for the West to apply a full arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban, but not to extend this, as the Americans in particular have done, to virtual economic and financial warfare directed at the economy generally - the very antithesis of "smart" sanctions. The Americans are now not a little embarrassed about this and are promising to ease the "bluntness" (their word) of their sanctions.
As for Suu Kyi, I view with some foreboding her forthcoming European tour. She is due in Bangkok next week, and she is slated for major speeches in Geneva (ILO), Oslo (Nobel Prize) and the UK. She is not used to international travel and such a punishing schedule and may find it very hard going … But then she has her own agenda.
The only safe policy on Burma/Myanmar is not to believe a word you read, for that matter from me or anyone else.