Sometimes the stereotypes are right

It’s usually a charmingly naive belief that wars are the fault of leaders, and if the Ordinary People could choose we’d all live in peace. It doesn’t take long, considering some parts of the blogosphere, your local bar, the historical record and such, to realise this is absurdly simplistic. For one thing, there are always plenty of people who, whether they knew it or not beforehand, burst into a dark bloom of hatred at the hat of a drop. For another thing, the structural forces, the permanently-operating factors in Soviet military jargon, that make leaders do these things would work just as well whoever the individuals are.

Call me a determinist and spank me if you like, but I doubt that’s seriously contestable. But the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to defy this, or at least it has done in the last two years or so. Consider the detailed draft agreement on the Golan Heights, but not just that – the Prisoners’ Document agreed between Hamas and Fatah, Khalid Meshaal’s recent statement that Hamas would accept Israel within the 1967 green line as a “reality”, and more, going back to the ceasefire offer set up by MI6 station chief Alistair Crooke back in 2002, and it’s hard not to conclude that some people aren’t trying.

As Simon Hoggard said about Northern Ireland, they’ll do anything for peace but vote for it. More accurately, they would vote for it if it was on offer – majorities of both parties to the conflict express this view in polls. There are probably lessons to be learned about the long-term management of national interests in a small space from Europe – Gordon Brown’s chief economist and now MP, Ed Balls, has apparently been commissioned to study the economic aspects of the question, and he’d be a fool not to look back at the Monnet/Schuman plans. I doubt he’d like it very much – what did happen to the suggested French-Italian-Spanish initiative after all, then?

In conclusion, though, it’s tempting to think that the continuance of the conflict has a lot to do with hierarchy itself, and the vastly enhanced power and status that war gies leaders. If it wasn’t for the frozen war, Belfast politicians would be of similar status to those of Bradford. No US presidential gladhanding there.

Update: You doubt my method? The Globe and Mail reports that Dick Cheney rejected an offer of Iranian help in Iraq and Lebanon in 2003…oh, and another offer: Jalal Talabani says the Iranians offered him and the US talks “from Afghanistan to Lebanon”..

The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
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Lebanon: So much for a “strong mandate”

According to today’s Haaretz, Israel has abandoned the idea of an international force in Lebanon designed to disarm Hezbollah. What they are now talking about is a 1 km wide “demilitarized zone” along the Israeli border where Hezbollah can’t deploy, enforced by Israeli artillery over the border in Israel.

Since Hezbollah’s rockets go a lot further into Israel than that, this indicates, if the report is true, that stopping rocket attacks is no longer seen as a viable goal for this conflict. And, a demilitarized zone enforced by artillery fire has no impact on Hezbollah’s ability to undertake the kind of border skirmishes that served as pretext for this fight. So, deployment of an international force is becoming not much more than a cover for Israel to declare some form of victory in a conflict they certainly appear to be losing. So much for “strong mandates” and avoiding, in Condoleeza Rice’s words, “temporary solutions”.

Beirut’s Daily Star is offering a more optimistic outlook this morning, suggesting Israel will accept some kind of negotiated trade for its kidnapped soldiers (which it could have gotten in the first place without going to war) and that Hezbollah might agree to stop to rocket attacks on Israel in return for some sort of settlement on the Shebaa farms area, an end to Israeli harassment of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and some other outstanding issues. If either side was going to be honest in making such an agreement, an international force would hardly be necessary to keep the peace. In a true flight of fancy, the Lebanese editorialist sees such an agreement as opening the way to settlements between Israel and Syria, and to addressing Palestinian grievances. Fat chance.

Hezbollah’s chief is openly declaring the intent to continue rocket attacks even while declaring itself open to political discussions to resolve the conflict. He also admits that no one expected Israel to freak out like this. This willingness to discuss options from Hezbollah, and Israel’s apparent willingness to accept reduced demands, might be indicative of an openness to some kind of agreement, as the author of the editorial suggests. But it almost certainly means no meaningful solution.

Again, I have to ask: Why should anyone send troops to Lebanon if the intended outcome is nothing more than a restoration of the status quo ante that led to this war in the first place? If negotiation is supposed to end this conflict without actually undermining either side, then what purpose is served by a peacekeeping force with no mandate to keep the peace? Why should outsiders participate in saving face for Israel and in solidifying what will no doubt be perceived in the Middle East as a Hezbollah victory?

The Human Costs Of War

Controversy continues to surround the problem of assessing non-combatant casualties in time of war. The Swiss based Graduate Institute of International Studies has just published its latest annual small arms survey where it suggests some 39,000 Iraqis have been killed as a direct result of combat or armed violence since the start of the war.

The most relevant part of the report is probably chapter nine “Behind the Numbers: Small Arms and Conflict Deaths” – where, in addition to Iraq, other recent warzones like Guatemala, Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sudan are also assessed. (A chapter summary is available here).
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the amateur anthropologist

20 years ago I had an Idea. Maybe someone who knows something about the field can tell me what is wrong with it in 20 seconds (including maybe someone else had the idea 40 years ago).

This thought was stimulated by reading Structural Anthropology a collection of essays by Claude Levi-Strauss. There are two questions. One is why are some cultures monogynous and others polygynous ? The other is why do the Bororo divide their tiny villages into 3 endogamous clans ?

OK first question. Why in some cultures men can marry more than one woman and in others only one ? One possbile explanation is polygyny occurs when the gender ratio is many women for each man. This can happen if lots of men get killed by other men. So women share husbands or go single wasting their uteruses (the Moll Flanders problem described by Daniel Defoe some time ago).

Could be the explanation, but I would like to talk about another. Levi Strauss was very interested in a very simple mathematical model which pointed out that hunter gatherers typically live in tiny groups (have too to avoid killing off all the game within walking distance). Someone else (really some two else) calculated that these groups were about as small as could be sustained given risk that a generation would be all male or all female and thus the last (he didn’t explain this model very clearly and I didn’t look it up). OK see how much worse this problem is if monogynous. If people live in small groups and are mostly endogamous (must have some flow with other villages/bands to avoide inbreeding but I assume this is pretty low). If each man is allowed to get only one woman pregnant, the number of woman who reproduce each generation is the lesser of the number of woman and the number of men. If each man is allowed to get as many women pregnant as are available then the number of women who reproduce each generation is the number of women. Polygyny might be required in people who live in small mostly endogamous villages to deal with random fluctuations in the sex ratio.
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