Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: International (Page 3 of 3)

Nuke testing in “Sudan”

Hmm, I drove my sudan to work this morning. 🙂

Looks like a transcript of a Congressional hearing came close to ruining the day for American and Sudanese government officials. Sometimes when you conduct secret nuclear tests in Sedan, it sounds like Sudan.

What I’d like to know is what enterprising diplomat from Sudan came up with the idea of immediately blaming the U.S. for cancer cases from a nuclear test that didn’t happen there? I’m surprised that story didn’t get more play.

Link courtesy of Metafilter

Marx and Globalism

This article has the overblown title of “The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing,” and it’s the Hoover Institution on Marxism, but it’s still interesting.

“The Baran-Wallerstein revision of Marxism does provide a new global reformulation of the immiserization thesis. But the locus of this misery, the Third World, does not and cannot provide an adequate objective foundation for a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system.”

I would think an even larger problem is that there would be the need for an organized opposition representing and supported by the exploited, which is far more likely within a country than across the world. Is the identity of a global underclass really more powerful right now than so many religious, political, ethnic, and other identifications?

In order for it to become so, I think either the world would need to be seen as simplified with clear antagonists — a bipolar world did that somewhat — or the importance of non-class identity would have to be lessened and class identity placed in opposition to an immediate global environment. (In other words, you’d need to be at least as concerned with the multinational exploiting your town as you would be with the problems you had with your neighboring town.)

It’s interesting that no one is doing more to accomplish both of those conditions than we are.

In the first case of a simplified world with clear antagonists, our attempts at democracy-building — no matter what the outcome — place the U.S. in intimate contact with people’s lives. We become not only an overarching presence, but an immediate concern.

In the second case, the quest for global markets and spreading Western secular culture is also a quest to instill identities much like our own. And we are very familiar with class and the predominance of the economic in life.

Courtesy of Policy Review

U.S. Saves World from Muslim Peacekeepers

Oh, good. Our administration has protected Iraq, and by extension the world, from the danger of a small Islamic peacekeeping force under the command of the UN. I’m sure our troops are grateful to our government for saving them from a slightly increased likelihood for peace, free elections, and UN involvement. Yep, busy with such problems as this, it is no wonder the administration’s thought capacity has become so dangerously overextended.

Courtesy of The Daily Kos

Terrorist Movements without Borders

A recent Spiked article has some interesting things to say about modern terrorist movements and their globalist, as opposed to nationalist, backgrounds.

I don’t agree with the main thesis — that Western humanitarian intervention weakened the concept of state sovereignty so much that terrorist movements no longer have nationalist aims — because I don’t think the weakness of the state is a new thing. Internationalism has eroded state sovereignty for quite a long time, but a large part of the weaknesses of the state system are the same ones that it has had all along. (A reliance on national identity for legitimacy, for instance, makes it very hard to fill the entire world with brand-new states, which was the one of the effects of decolonization. Former colony space simply could not remain “empty” of states when the powers of the world were states themselves. After all, with whom do you set trade rules?)

I also take issue with the implication that modern terrorist movements do not have political goals. Of course they have goals. They might have goals that are foreign to our minds. Some of their goals may be so prosaic that we could not imagine shedding lives over them. But they have goals.

(To give the writer credit, the statement about goals is passed over so quickly that I doubt it was explained clearly. It was likely meant to draw a distinction between what Westerners see as clear political goals and what we have actually encountered.)

What the article did to intrigue me, however, was describe “rootless” groups wandering around the world and committing atrocities that shock Western sensibilities for reasons not understandable to those same Westerners. Sound familiar? I don’t think you have to look to internationalism as a primary cause of new-form global terrorism, except in the way that it makes the global adjective realistic through improved communication, logistics, and transportation. I think you just have to look back at what we’ve been doing to each other for centuries.

Sometimes in international relations we forget that sovereignty and the state are not basic concepts, even if they are useful. Both depend on the basic concept of power and are then refined through additional qualifications. However, power does not have to be a complex relationship between a person and his/her government. Humans have been conducting power relations with each other on much more intimate scales throughout our history. Person-to-person, leader-to-tribe, warlord-to-followers…we’re familiar with those concepts. After all, it’s how we built monarchies.

So what are the aims of our modern terrorists? So varied it isn’t even useful to try to describe them globally. There isn’t a lot of agreement between the aims of the various groups we describe as terrorist. Tamil Tigers are not the same as Hamas, who are not the same as Al Qaeda, who are not the same as Chechen rebels, who are not the same as a dozen groups in Iraq who are kidnapping people, who are not the same as…you get the point. In cases of cooperation, primarily only shared enemies, shared religion, and perhaps a few shared goals keep the fragile coalitions together. (Hmm, starts to sound a bit like Western international cooperation.) As we’ve seen in the past, in many cases if you withdraw that enemy from an area, the area dissolves into a patchwork of warlords. (This is less likely for actual nationalist movements, but those we claim to understand better, even if we condemn their tactics and goals.)

Do those groups have aims? Of course, even if they come down to something as simple as “Get me more power” or “Make them pay.” (A couple of classic motivations, by the way.) To act as if those aims are something new and mystifying if they cannot be fit into the context of statehood or nationalism is to ignore a large amount of our own experience.

I’m thinking, for instance, of the Crusades, a time we try to analyze in terms of broad geopolitical and religious goals, when in reality what it boiled down to was a highly organized form of “roving bands of men,” taking land and gold and settling down in areas to exercise power: The mass export of feudalism to a land that already had a mostly settled civilization. (I don’t think our current turn towards romanticizing the Muslim defenders is simply a politically correct balancing out. I think it’s because we actually somewhat identify with them now.)

Christianity’s power to organize those groups, even if their ultimate goals may have differed or conflicted, should teach us something about cooperation, however. We should not discount the organizing factor of radical Islamic aims, even among groups that may fundamentally disagree. (But, really, our preoccupation with Islam as the organizing factor is misguided. If it wasn’t that, it would be something else. Just the past few decades we’ve had international movements based on Communism and post-colonial nationalism…as odd as that sounds.)

What happens if a terrorist act occurs that has no clear political aim? Aside from the constant human fear for one’s life and the health of others, the primary effect of terrorism is the fear of disorder. We may support resistance groups if we do not like the order they resist, but we fear groups that try to take away the order with which we are comfortable. A lot of terrorist acts have aims that are simply not publicized or discounted. (“Surely they didn’t kill all of those people just because one of their leaders was arrested.”) The acts that go beyond all bounds of normal understanding, such as Beslan, may have been driven partially by such goals, but the method of the violence is designed to create greater disorder, or at least the perception of it, which creates more fear, which creates more perception of disorder, and so on. Since we create order by shared agreement, the perception of disorder creates a vacuum that offers room for the terrorist group to create its own perceived order, no matter what it is.

Is it a winning long-term strategy? Possibly, on a very occasional basis. (While it would be hard to characterize Moqtada al-Sadr as a terrorist, rather than a classic warlord/resistance leader, his disruption of what little order the U.S. had managed to impose may have vaulted him into a seat in the Iraqi government.) However, an eventual apocalyptic showdown with the West — as Al Qaeda’s aim seems to be — isn’t likely to produce anything except many more deaths. Short-term goals may be more achievable, though, and as anyone can tell from reading the local newspaper, short-term goals can make people do some crazy, violent things.

So what has been our own reaction to terrorist acts designed to create disorder? Well, we were determined not to “let the terrorists win” — an interesting statement, since we usually go to war aiming to win ourselves, not just keep someone else from doing so — so we started chasing those terrorists, even into Afghanistan. (Small confession: I think that was the exact right thing to do.) Of course, then we let many of them get away and didn’t provide enough help to the Afghans to keep the country from falling into greater disorder. (The exact wrong thing to do.) Then we invaded Iraq without enough people or commitment and created yet another disorganized space on the pretext we were still hunting terrorists. (Even more wrong.) So, has humanitarian intervention weakened the state? Probably not. However, our own country stomping on anything it recognizes as an organized government, creating plenty of disorder for groups to operate in and reconstruct in their own ways, while failing to pay enough attention to the perverse NGO that is Al Qaeda is accomplishing much of what the author worries about. (Am I saying we always respect the sovereign state? Of course not. But we treat the sovereign state as a state, declare war, and have a clear idea of why we are doing so and what we want the results to be. Doing so while already involved in an unconventional war is a mistake.)

In the meantime, at home, we create enough disorder ourselves as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks that we fill it with such new order as the Patriot Act, a document that makes us feel better, but has yet to prove its worth given the potentially permanent loss of civil liberties we paid to get that promise of more security.

Do the terrorists win? That depends on the minimization of the perception of disorder. If they don’t have room to operate — if the reaction to their acts, for instance, doesn’t turn into sympathy from the local populace — it is unlikely terrorist acts will accomplish political goals any faster than other means, and may actually slow that process. Do we win? Since the state system has proven adept at handling more disorganized forms of power, I doubt they do unless we accomplish their goals for them. Unfortunately for our foreign policy and for the Russians in Chechnya, it looks like that accomplishment becomes more likely with every stumble.

What, Me Worry? (Or, How I Came to Ignore the Bomb)

I realize we’re in the middle of fighting Evil, one medium-sized country at a time, but growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I still have a healthy respect for the nuclear weapons issue. (You know, the one that says we’re glad they haven’t been used in a while and we know the probability of their being used approaches 1 every time another country develops them.)

From what I recall, as late as 1994 a primary concern of our government was making sure nuclear weapons capability wasn’t spreading around. We didn’t do a great job, but hey, it worked somewhat well for fifty years or so.

So what is happening nowadays, in this administration? Lately I’ve seen:

Are we so busy nation-building in Iraq after a war to protect us from weapons of mass destruction rumors of weapons of mass destruction that we are ignoring the real WMDs? Have we become so concerned about terrorism that we have forgotten the terrors of total war? (Okay, on that last sentence, I think it would be hard to say our current administration’s foreign policy is really oriented towards terrorism — or anything else sensible — right now.)

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