A European Future?

Parag Khanna has a monster screed – eight pages – in the NYT on the subject of “turning away from hegemony”. The hegemony concerned is that of the United States; the argument is that US power will decline relative to that of China, India, big second-tier powers, and Europe. This is a topic that cannot fail to elicit trolls; but it’s worth looking to, perhaps just for that reason alone.

Khanna, interestingly, bases part of the piece on demographics; Russian demographics. We’ve broached this before – it certainly looks like Russia is going to get more and more like one of the small Gulf states, an authoritarian petroleum exporter with a small population and a significant dependence on immigrants from a poor periphery. Further, we’ve also argued that Russian power is constrained by mutual dependence on the EU as a downstream market for energy and a source of investment; interestingly, a financial source of AFOE’s recently told us that he doubted the Russian sovereign-wealth fund spoke for anywhere near as much money as is sometimes claimed.

But the core of this row will probably be the US and Europe; it’s hard to imagine the US maintaining a hegemonic role in the world economy when it’s a massive importer of both goods and capital. Just as the UK’s financial hegemony didn’t make it past the First World War for the same reasons. Similarly, when Societe Generale had to dump the Kerviel overhang last week, they don’t seem to have bothered to tell the Federal Reserve; naturally, the French central bank and regulator were informed on day one (although Finance Minister Christine Lagarde seemed to deny she knew in advance on the BBC last week), and one presumes they clued-in the ECB.

Tony Karon calls it the Incredible Shrinking Davos Man. Well, their organisation is slipping; for the second year running, AFOE’s invite hasn’t turned up. But I’m not so sure, at least on the definition. If a multipolar world is going to work it’ll have to be more like, well, the European Union; all Khanna’s talk about playing by other people’s rules just drives home the point that they are rules, and rules mean institutions.

Institutions imply membership; which means the EU. Meanwhile, also at Karon’s, we see this in action. In Gaza, peaceful mass action to re-connect with the wider world has just capsized several world powers’ policy; the idea of locking up and refusing to engage with Gaza is now absurd, and it’s no surprise that it leads to concessions. If you can get out to the backbone, economically, suddenly all kinds of choices become available. It’s certainly very different from the days of George Habash, whose signature airline hijackings were directed precisely at separating from the rest of the world.

The Jewish-European heritage

On the day following Israel’s national holocaust memorial day, writing in Haaretz, Fania Oz-Salzberger reminds both Israelis and Europeans that, for centuries, Jewish history has been an enriching element of European history. Concerned about the effect of class trips of “roudy groups” of Israeli teenagers to Auschwitz, she recommends trips to Spain instead –

Take the money, enlist more supportive foundations, and take select groups of Israeli pupils to Andalusia, in the south of Spain. Because there, in many ways, begins the story that ends in Auschwitz: the story of Jewish Europe, which is both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi tale.

Somewhere in Andalusia there was a small paper mill at the end of the Middle Ages. It was at that time that the ancient Chinese technology arrived, after a long journey across Asia and North Africa, and entered Europe via Spain. Without it Gutenberg would not have been able to print. And lo, that mill was operated by two partners, a Jew and a Muslim. Their clients from the north were Christians. This story, symbolic rather than historic, should be told to 17-year-old Jewish and Arab Israelis. You have to be a great pessimist not to tell it. It is a story of life and rejuvenation. It would not overshadow the story of the persecuted and the murdered, but empower it greatly.

Woe to a Jewish-Israeli identity that relies only on the ashes of the crematoria. Our European past also includes a thousand years of life, art and the spreading of knowledge.

I don’t think trips to Andalusia should replace trips to Auschwitz, but they certainly seem like a valuable addition. They represent what I like so much about the the Jewish Museum in Berlin – it’s not just a holocaust memorial but also offers a glimpse onto Jewish European’s life before the Shoah – as well as thereafter. Because, as opposed to Ms Oz-Salzbergers claim above, I don’t believe the story of Jewish Europe ended in Auschwitz, not even in Germany.

The statistics of recent Jewish immigration, particularly from Russia, are unequivocal. But it’s the anecdotal evidence that, I think, matters more in this case. The Jewish community in my home town, Mainz, is one of the oldest in Germany, dating back to the 10th century, possibly even to Roman times. In the 1970s, there were only about hundred community members. Today, there are about a thousand, and a new Synagoge – architecturally slightly reminiscent of the Jewish Museum in Berlin – is currently being planned.

Chirac has a transient dishonesty malfunction

Everyone’s now blogged about Jacques Chirac’s unexpected remarks about Iranian nuclear weapons.

But I think there may still be some angular momentum to be had. Chirac stated that, should a hypothetically nuclear Iran launch a nuclear weapon, Tehran would be destroyed before it had gone 200 metres. This is a pretty basic statement of nuclear deterrence, with the further point that in a sense, having one or two nuclear bombs makes you weaker than having zero nuclear bombs but the capacity to make them. Once you fire the one bomb, you have no further deterrent, and you’re definitely going to be nuked.

Quite a range of powers have credible deterrence against Iran – there’s the US, obviously, Israel, obviously, but less obviously France, Britain, Russia, India, China, and Pakistan. So, Chirac argued, the real danger wasn’t so much from a North Korean-style couple of bombs, but that this would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt also rushing to obtain nukes as a counterdeterrent. (In yesterday’s Libération, Francois Heisbourg, the director of the IISS, restates this point adding Jordan to the list of presumed possible proliferators.)

He was of course right. Saudi Arabia has been quietly and consistently making noises about nuclear bombs for years, and it has close military-to-military ties with Pakistan. Some say Saudi money financed the Pakistani bomb project, and alone among nations they are in a position to actually buy the bomb. Egypt would probably see a Saudi bomb as unacceptable, and start using its own considerable scientific-technical establishment to work on going nuclear. (Chirac saw this differently – he suggested rather that the Saudis would finance Egyptian efforts – but I doubt this due to the historic competition for Arab leadership between the two states, and the Pakistani option.) Gah.
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The secular jihadi two-step

In a previous post, I argued that the extreme Right has rebranded itself as a “secular jihad” against “Eurabia” to appeal to the liberal hawk/”decent left” tendency. Where once the New York Times‘s op-ed pages wrung hands and wagged fingers against the rise of Haider and Le Pen as a renaissance of anti-semitism, now Melanie Phillips flirts with the Vlaams Belang as strugglers for Western civilisation.

Blogistan reports that the BNP is trying to make nice with the Jewish Chronicle over an article, ironically by Melanie Phillips, which accused them of being anti-Semitic and allies of Hezbollah. (One wonders exactly how.) Amusingly, she quotes the Communist Morning Star‘s pointing out that BNP leader Nick Griffin has both supported Israeli military action in Lebanon and crazy Eurabia propagandist Bat Ye’or as evidence that the Left is anti-Semitic and so is the BNP. The only logical route to this proposition is that “the Left criticise the BNP for being pro-Israel, therefore the left is anti-Semitic because all criticism of Israel, or even the Eurabia mythos, is anti-Semitic by definition” – something which a lot of JC readers would have been outraged by had it been made explicit.

The further leap, that the BNP is really anti-Semitic despite its explicit and noisy support for the Israeli hard right, is based on a statement by some BNP “theorist” that the party needs to stop being obsessed by Jews. At some point here, clearly, we have slipped the surly bonds of logic and sailed off into the pure air of propagandist ravings. This is an example of using a point in debate that means the exact opposite of what you wish to say. There is absolutely no doubt that the BNP *is* anti-Semitic, in that many if not most of its members are and much of its past history is. But it is very significant that its leadership and its “theorist” are trying to retarget its hatred onto Muslims.

Phillips’ mental model is founded on the assumption that a) the CPGB is representative of all leftwing opinion, a highly noticeable step, and b) not only is criticism of Israeli policy equivalent to Nazism, but this protection extends to the Eurabia meme, rather as “extended deterrence” was held to protect Western Europe as well as North America.

This kind of ideological acrobatics is usually a signal of a big realignment a-coming. It is reminiscent of the good communist who had to believe in the necessity of war against fascism up to the moment he or she learnt of the Nazi-Soviet pact, then of the essential non-dangerousness of Hitler, and then the exact opposite immediately on hearing the morning news on June 22, 1941. After all, precisely the people in Europe who believe in the Eurabia meme are…the BNP and Co. And if it is now the acid test of fascism, then Melanie Phillips can’t logically avoid lining up with Nick Griffin.

Slight update: I recall that a few years ago, the “Loyalists” in Northern Ireland were reported to have started adopting Israeli iconography, and the Republicans had begun to wave Palestinian flags in response. No doubt part of the reason is that the colours were roughly right for Glasgow Rangers, but still. The BNP, C18, NF and Co are known to have contacts with the “Loyalist” paramilitaries.

The AFOE Plan

Jonathan of The Head Heeb sums up the detail of the US-French UNSC draft on Lebanon, and it looks eerily like the AFOE consensus solution. Key points, as we predicted, are how to arrange for everyone to claim victory..

If all these hurdles are overcome, then the Israel-Hizbullah war will end on terms that allow everyone to gain something. Israel will have weakened Hizbullah and will get a stable northern border for the first time in more than 30 years, Hizbullah will be able to claim that it fought the IDF to the end, and the Lebanese government will obtain sovereignty over the entire country as well as a chance to resolve its outstanding disputes with Israel. France, as Lebanon’s once and future patron, will increase its regional influence, and even the United States will (against all odds) have played a critical role in brokering the settlement.

This means that the proposed resolution is, at this point, about the best possible end that can be imagined for the whole sorry mess. A war in which all parties can claim achievements is one that is less likely to fester and more likely to provide a foundation upon which the underlying issues can be settled. As Israel has learned from bitter experience, a draw that leads to a resolution of the root conflict is preferable to a victory that doesn’t – the Yom Kippur War ultimately resulted in peace with Egypt while the Six Day War led to nothing but an endless nightmare of occupation. If this war, like the war of 1973, leaves all parties proud but chastened, the not-defeat may have better results in the long term than an unequivocal battlefield victory.

OK, Scott – hour of Europe not at hand

Well, it now looks as if the window of opportunity for a ceasefire in the Levant has slammed shut on the fingers of its proponents. With the destruction of a UNTSO observation post, the mobilisation of three Israeli reserve divisions (by contrast, the total force employed so far has been one division-plus), Hezbollah’s successful defence of positions close to the Israeli border and their first launch of a long-range rocket, and the Israeli government’s claim that the world has given them permission to fight on, all parties to the conflict now seem to be giving war a chance.

If anything arose from the debate here, it was that the employment of an international intervention force might be useful in the context of a ceasefire and mutual concessions. There is no ceasefire, and even if by accident, the danger such forces would be in has been underscored. Worse, Hezbollah has tasted enough success to want to keep going, and the Israelis seem riled enough by this to escalate further. It is therefore unlikely anything would be achieved by sending NRF-7 to wander around the dry hills of the Litani valley.

Jacques Chirac’s remark that NATO, as the “armed wing of the West”, should not be involved is interesting. It admits both a Scott Martens/Sam Huntington reading-that NATO plus a few others roughly equals “the West”, so getting involved in a fight in the Middle East would be a step perilously close to religious war-and also a more limited one. Chirac may also have meant that any force should sail under the EUFOR or UN banner, or that a so-called “Virtual NATO” solution – a UN force made up of NATO member states’ forces, like KFOR or the intervention in East Timor – might be preferable.

It’s worth putting on record, however, that European forces (NRF7) were indeed available and ready when the crisis erupted.

You say that like it’s a bad thing

Says Scott: 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?

Well, if a situation emerges where Israel can save face and Hezbollah is simultaneously able to claim victory, we’d be fools not to seize this opportunity. Put it another way, if both parties can convince at least themselves that they are coming away from the battlefield with their interests advanced, they are likely to stick to the agreement.

Think about it – if the Israelis, as seems possible, settle for a token retreat and an international force whilst giving up the Shebaa farms, thus terminating Hezbollah’s claim to legitimacy, and Hezbollah can meanwhile be satisfied with the feeling that they have beaten off an Israeli onslaught, the northern dimension of the Israel/Palestine conflict is not far at all from solution. There is nothing left to argue about, except disarmament (or something akin to it).

It’s unfortunate that both sides will probably claim they won it by force of arms, but it can’t be helped. In fact, Hezbollah’s extension of its self-declared insecurity zone with bigger rockets and successful delaying action on the frontier probably had more to do with it than the Israeli freakout blitz.

The only problem is the fish, of course. Time for a ceasefire, before the maniacs talking about “doing this for the whole Sunni world” get a hearing in Israel.

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?

Maybe the hour of Europe is at hand

…this time? The signs do appear to being pointing to a possible employment of European forces in Lebanon, not least with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and others expressing a preference for “EU countries” or NATO – which is mostly the same thing, especially militarily – to supply troops to any peacekeeping/peace enforcement mission there.

The reason why particularly EU forces might be wanted is that the experience with UNIFIL, the existing UN force there, is not great. As what could be termed a “classic” UN force – blue helmets, white AFVs, no Chapter VII authority, and often drawn from neutral and third world armies – it never had a chance of keeping the PLO or Hezbollah out, and neither did it have a chance of standing up to the Israelis. For their part, the Israelis would obviously like any international force sent to the Litani to be effective. And if it is not effective, it won’t protect the Lebanese from the Israelis either!

Unfortunately, effective international forces for this job are in short supply. The US is out of the question, even if it could spare the troops. British armed forces are frantically overstretched. It seems unlikely to say the least that India would get involved, Pakistan would not be welcome, neither would Turkey for different reasons. Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would support a peace force, but its deployable forces are small, and a dose of the Grozny approach to peacekeeping would do everyone a power of bad. That doesn’t really leave anyone else.

Update below the fold.
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NATO peacekeepers in Lebanon: Why Europe should just say no

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – Hosea 8:7

The new American-Israeli proposal for peace in Lebanon is a NATO-led force with a “strong mandate” rather than UN-led blue helmets. “NATO” in this case is a code word for European troops under effective US command, since it must be presumed that American forces are about as welcome in Lebanon as the IDF, and Israel is unlikely to tolerate a strong international force under any independent authority.

It would be an incredibly stupid idea for Europeans to go along with this. The “strong mandate” of such a force would no doubt be the suppression of Hezbollah. Let the Israelis do their own damn dirty work. They lost a war in Lebanon once already, let them lose again. I see no reason why Europeans should have to back Israel up in its campaign of collective punishment against the people of southern Lebanon. “Israel has the right to defend itself” – this has been the mantra of Israeli governments for decades, evoked in defense of every atrocity it commits. So let them defend themselves. Why should Europe intervene in support of a state that targets civilians?
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