Archive | April, 2018

Where are the peace missiles for Syria?

12 Apr

The toxic-macho exchange of statements and tweets over the dead body of Syria is a dreadful indictment of the failure of global governance. What is particularly disappointing is that the threats of violence (on top of the violence already inflicted by Russia, the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran and particularly the Syrian regime) are not accompanied by a political or humanitarian campaign. Sometimes violence can be legitimised (if certain ‘just war’ criteria are met). But violence to simply punish or censure without the hope of betterment for the Syrian peoples (plural – there is no homogenous ‘Syrian people’) seems particularly pointless.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Trump and Putin exchanged competitive tweets and statements ahead of a peace campaign? Trump could boast of ‘smart’ peace. Putin could reply about ‘Russian peace’. Instead, they – and their many proxies – seem to offer nothing except violence. There is no point in blaming the United Nations – it is merely a vassal of state sovereignty and state vetoes.

Should the US, UK and France engage in attacks on Syria it will be worth reading the accompanying statements to see if they say anything about humanitarianism and political initiatives. We seem to be moving towards an era of post-legitimacy in which intervening states invest little energy into the public narration of their reasons for intervention beyond stability and security. Complain all we want about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but Blair, Bush and their administrations did actually invest heavily in the public justification of their actions. These used the language of human rights and emancipation. Those days seem gone.

The other point worth making is that so successful have been the misinformation and propaganda campaigns by all sides that we – the far away public – have no idea what to believe. Waters have been well and truly muddied. The White Helmets seem either to be heroes or CIA stooges. Qatar seems to be a clever regional actor punching above its weight or the funder of jihadists. There seems to be little space for well-informed journalism that isn’t accused of being in the pocket of an interested party.

In all of this, it is striking that we hear very little from Syrian voices in Syria. My suspicion (and it has to be a suspicion given my comments on the news media) is that most Syrians still in Syria are utterly fatigued by the civil wars. Sustaining such a long series of linked civil wars is surely taking a massive toll and I suspect that most people want it to end. A relatively unexplored factor in the ending of many conflicts and civil wars (think of those in southern Africa and – to some extent – Northern Ireland) is the exhaustion of the participants. One generation feels so exhausted by the conflict that it thinks twice about the continuation of the war. The Russian intervention certainly re-energised the conflict, just at a time when a Mutually Hurting Stalemate (MHS) seemed to be in prospect. The threatened violent intervention by the US and its allies might similarly re-energise the conflict (in a best case scenario it might ‘re-balance’ the conflict, lead to a MHS and an mutual interest in peace but that seems unlikely).

There might – of course – be subterranean negotiations underway. Possibly away from the glare of the tweeting and bombast, calm international and national intermediaries are hashing out a plan that will bring some form of peace to Syria. If there are such initiatives I wish them luck. But I have seen nothing to encourage such optimism.

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The Good Friday Agreement – 20 years on

11 Apr

It is easy to be cynical twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement was reached. There has been very limited reconciliation between the two main communities. The power-sharing government collapsed over a year ago and there is little sign of it being restored. The reason for its collapse is that the two main political parties – Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists – loathe each other with an intensity few outsiders could imagine. Important parts of the Good Friday Agreement – like those on dealing with the past and a consultative role for civil society – have been ignored.

A list of disappointments could go on but the Good Friday Agreement is to be celebrated for one fundamental fact: there are hundreds of people walking around today who otherwise would have lost their lives in violence. Add to this the thousands who would have been incarcerated had things continued, and the thousands who would have been injured, and the human advantage of the Agreement is very clear.

Certainly the backslapping by celebrity politicians is grating. But is worth recognising that a number of politicians took risks to make the Belfast Agreement happen. Tony Blair – a man whose stock is low because of the Iraq debacle – invested enormous political capital into the Northern Ireland peace process. He did not have to do this. Bill Clinton made things happen. He cajoled, persuaded, enticed and quite possibly bullied. It worked. Bertie Ahern used the gift of the gab. George Mitchell had the patience of an army of saints. And lots of other politicians, civil servants and civil society played their part too. It worked.

Commentary on the failings of the Good Friday Agreement could go on forever. But many lives have been saved. Many more have been improved. For that we should be grateful.

Shared space and civility in Belfast

4 Apr

A plug for a great article in the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development by HCRI Manchester PhD student Eric Lepp. Based on really innovative field work, the article looks at how space is, and might be, shared in a deeply divided society.

The abstract is below and I am sure Eric would send you a pdf copy if you emailed him: eric.lepp@manchester.ac.uk

In Northern Ireland the Good Friday Agreement brought with it top-down political and social approaches to construct and increase intergroup contact and shared spaces in an effort to reconcile divided Nationalist and Unionist communities. In the period following the peace agreement, the Belfast Giants ice hockey team was established, and its games have become one of the most attended spectator activities in Belfast, trending away from the tribalism, single-space, single-class, and single-gender dynamics of modern sport in Northern Ireland. This article utilises the setting of the Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) Arena, home of the Giants, to demonstrate normalisation of interactions occurring between supporters who are willing to purchase a ticket beside someone to whom they are politically opposed. This sport and its supporters choose to enjoy the experience of the hockey game, rather than be caught in the politicised attachment of meaning expected of shared space, offering a challenge to the reconciliation-centric assumptions in post-peace agreement Belfast.

Things I learned from reading the newspaper today (and thus a reason to celebrate good newspapers and good journalism while we still have them):

1 Apr

– Remmington – the gunmaker – has filed for bankruptcy in the US.
– The technology company Huawei spent $13.8bn on research and development last year.
– North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has had seven defence ministers in the past six years.
– Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was a semi-professional footballer.
– There are now 50 Lebanese wine producers – at the beginning of the century there were 14.
– The summer population of Antarctica is about 10,000 and falls to 1,000 in winter.
– The wife of a former minister in Putin’s government spent £160,000 to play a tennis match with Boris Johnson.
– The Conservative Party has received £3m from Russian sources since 2010.
– For every 10 tonnes of fuel on a Jumbo jet, three tonnes are burned just to carry it.