Archive | September, 2012

Arming Proxies

12 Sep

The US ambassador is reported to be killed in Libya. Yet another wasted life. This tragedy points towards a wider issue: the sponsorship and arming of proxies as part of regime change operations. Of course, the arming of proxies is nothing new and many states make a rational calculation that it is often better for someone else to do the dirty business of killing and repressing.
While it may make sense to some to arm proxies in order to sway the battlefield advantage, this is usually a short-term calculation. The long-term implications of arming proxies are rarely taken into account. There are numerous examples. The Israelis left the South Lebanon Army high and dry in 2000 when they withdrew from southern Lebanon. SLA members were faced with an invidious choice: surrender to Hezbollah and be tried for treason by the Lebanese state, or seek refuge in Israel where they weren’t exactly welcome. The CIA ‘local defense initiatives’ in Afghanistan comprise of distributing weapons in a country already awash with weapons. The ostensible aim is to help villagers defend themselves from the Taliban. But this is a society steeped in factionalism, warlordism and ethnic division. What guarantees are there that the weapons will be used exclusively for anti-Taliban operations? None.
And now we have Libya in which the post-Gaddafi dispensation seems a long way from a stable and tolerant polity. A patchwork of militias, some of them briefly sponsored by western and Gulf patrons, seem to be in charge. The central state is weak. It is not yet clear if the militia responsible for the murder of the US ambassador and his colleagues was armed and supported by outside powers in those heady few months when Gaddafi was ousted. But there seem to be no checks on the usage of weapons and on the wider worldview of these militias. This is an abrogation of Responsibility to Protect.
All of this points to a wider problem: the weakness of traditional diplomatic models in making contact with sub-state groups. Diplomatic structures and protocols date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Overseas diplomatic missions struggle to get beyond the formal strata of their host government and make contact with sub-state groups, minorities, citizens and dissenters. Diplomatic structures are not geared for these sorts of linkages. Over the past few decades we have seen desperate scrambles by western governments attempting to make linkages with dissenters within Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iran and many other places. Many of these dissenters have had – to put it mildly – unsavoury pasts or hold views that are deeply antithetical to the worldview of their sponsoring states.


Fragile policing

4 Sep

What explains the very high casualty figures among the police in the Belfast riots over the past few days? Forty seven officers injured on Sunday night!* Another fifteen last night.** It raises the under-explored area of what constitutes ‘injury’ or ‘casualty’. It is worth stressing that this posting does not condone the rioting nor seek to shift the blame away from the rioters. But it does raise an interesting question about the metrics used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to designate an officer as ‘injured’.
Peace Studies has designed various metrics through which to measure violent conflict. Perhaps the most well known of these is the Conflict Data Program from the University of Uppsala.*** Relying on battlefield casualties, it divides conflicts into war, medium armed conflict, and minor armed conflict. Counting battlefield fatalities is a fairly blunt instrument but it does have the advantage of being absolute: you are either dead or not.
Which brings us back to the PSNI casualty figures. There is a world of difference between a permanent life-changing injury and a minor injury that heals quickly, and between physical and psychological injuries. The PSNI does differentiate between its casualties by noting that some have been hospitalized. Indeed, this accounts for a very low proportion of the overall figures, suggesting that many of the injuries are quite minor. But how minor? Only four of the forty seven officers injured on Sunday night required hospital treatment. So forty four injuries did not require hospital treatment but did merit inclusion in the casualty figures.
To some extent one can see a logic of the PSNI ‘talking up’ its casualties. It underscores the seriousness of the situation and may help shock community leaders into action to help restrain the rioters. But the high casualty figures risk sending out another message: that rioting is hurting the police, that it works. That despite all the body armour, plastic bullets and riot cannon, it is still worth talking on the police.
When I posted this on Facebook, one respondent noted that post-Patten officers ‘were not police material’. I’m not persuaded by this. The issue lies in the reporting of incidents by field commanders and the PSNI press office. They’ve decided to go down the let’s report everything route, but I wonder if this is counterproductive?

It is worth restating, lest there is any doubt, that television footage attests to vicious rioting by perpetrators who care little about the safety of the police, or of those living in houses adjacent to the rioting.

New article: ‘Routine Peace: Technocracy and peace building’, Cooperation and Conflict, 47(3): 287-308

3 Sep

This article seeks to unpack the implications of technocracy for contemporary peace-building. It aims to illustrate how the bureaucratic imperative explains much about the ascendancy of certain actors to positions of prominence on the peace-building landscape, and the types of activities that these actors engage in. In line with world polity theory, it is interested in the construction and institutionalization of discourses, understandings, expectations and practices of peace-building. It argues that there has been a ‘technocratic turn’ in relation to peace-building, whereby there has been a gradual but persistent trend towards the application of technocracy in the framing of conflict and approaches to it. Two key claims advanced on behalf of technocracy – neutrality and efficiency – are discussed. The article then argues that a complex mix of structural and proximate factors have reinforced the technocratic turn in peace-building. It concludes by considering the extent to which the discursive framing of conflict by key actors predetermines their conflict response. The article is primarily an exercise in conceptual scoping, though it can also be read as a contribution to the critique of the liberal peace and considerations of resistance and agency in peace-building contexts.

Just email me if you would like a pdf copy: