Category Archives: IR and UN

An attempt at an utterly unbiased FAQ about the Brexit result

By James Mackle

Just about the only thing I have learned from the works of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, once dubbed by the French as the ‘’Mr. Bean of Renaissance philosophy”, is that when a seismic event occurs, one must not descend into the binary depths of happiness or sadness. One must look past this and seek to understand.

I don’t think these words of advice would be particularly useful for David Cameron right now. After all, he understands fully well what went wrong. They will be even less comforting to the United Kingdom representatives in Brussels. They’ll be swelling the ranks of lobbyist positions to give up the insider information, in what is known as the revolving door policy in the corridors of Berlaymont. Only this time, for them, the door will stop revolving and jam to a deafening halt.

Nevertheless, a quick glance at the Facebook feed always makes the inner know-it-all of the journalist actually make use of his curiosity. While most of my entourage were pro-Remain and maybe even knew more about the effects of a Brexit than the average Brit, some of the cringe worthy posts ignore the domestic reasons for why we voted out.

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Why did we have this referendum in the first place?
Simply put, the party currently in power, the Conservative Party, has a Eurosceptic base. Because of three terms in opposition to Blairite Labour, this base was silent on the European issue that has historically divided their party, roughly among “moderates” (of which David Cameron is a member) and more radical elements of the Tory party. In 2010, for example, they agreed to shut up about Europe in order to form a coalition with the Europhiles called the Liberal Democrats.

In 2015, the Conservative Party put a referendum as one of their manifesto pledges. The moderates accepted this believing, as most people did, that another Lib Dem coalition would save them from implementing it. Instead, the Lib Dem vote vanished, the Labour opposition underperformed, but Cameron only had a 10-seat majority, enough for the fringe to demand the referendum.

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Is it all the Conservative’s fault then?
It usually is in the eyes of many a deluded folk. But the idea that the Tory party along with the far right has single-handedly voted the United Kingdom out is a fallacy. For a start, there is a sizeable chunk of Labour voters who voted out, as well as people who never voted before (turnout was higher than most elections). Add to that Wales, who have very few Tory Members of Parliament, voting in favor of leave, and that this is a one-man, one-vote system. Not constituency based.

Is it all Labour’s fault then?
This has been said by most of the Labour parliamentary members, the Conservative Party Remainers, and the LibDems, saying Labour, and in particularly Leader Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t do enough to change the mood amongst their voters in depressed former industrial zones that ultimately swung the referendum. Early polls actually suggest that the Labour vote on the issue changed little as to what was expected (something like 60-40 for Remain). Corbyn is just grossly unpopular with his colleagues off the back of a surprise victory for the radical leftist, who called himself a reluctant supporter of the EU during the campaign, and probably doesn’t care much for the EU as a whole. Most of the policies he was elected on would also be illegal under EU state aid law.

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Who is to blame then?
If you need someone to blame, you have to look geographically rather than the outdated party system, so probably provincial England. But in a 1-man, 1-vote system, the blame game is just not just ignorant but inadequate: the mentality of who or what are relative winners or losers in our society is precisely the mentality that makes the poorest in society vote out, despite absolute gains. Thus, many Scots voted in, to reaffirm their identity over some of the provincial Englanders who wanted to stick two fingers up to the London elite. These kind of reductionist proposals are what in turn feeds such a divisive, tribalistic campaign in a 1-man, 1 vote referendum. As Spinoza would say, do not look for someone to blame, dust yourself down and understand.

I see no reason to vote Out of Europe. Are the majority of Brits seeing something I am not?
No short-term, rational, cost-benefit economic or political analysis actually looked favorable to a Leave campaign. This sentence was what Remain effectively campaigned on. Remainers secretly told the political correspondents that the polls they had conducted showed that this was the only issue that could possibly get enough people out to vote Remain, rather than some glorified pro-EU stance. Cameron was not being negative when he campaigned against Brexit rather than for Bremain. He was just being realistic.

This is because of how widespread the British fear of any kind of federal Europe is. More precisely, the idea of a political superstate. It was voted for a free-trade agreement back in the 1970s. But the Brits have never been culturally and politically affiliated with the European Union; its flag, its anthem, or even its supposed values. Its state institutions and actions have always been viewed negatively, and comments from ex-Commission President José Manuel Barroso saying the EU was the first “Non-Imperial Empire” in an Orwellian example of Eurospeak, simply does not help.

While the immigration issue undoubtedly managed to push some (working-class) voters over the line into voting Leave, the vast majority of the Englanders who tend to be election-winners for political parties are small-c conservative-liberals who don’t like government the same way the Americans don’t and the French do. I reckon about 60-70% of those went eurosceptic after the Maastricht Treaty, which established the foundations for political union. Once Europe crossed this line, they were never going to support the European project in a referendum again.

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But there were no economic benefits for leaving, right? Britain is screwed.
In the short run, it seems like another recession is coming. A source in an economics consultancy department for the City of London told me he had seen nine scenarios for Brexit. Eight of them had Britain entering recession. The one that didn’t assume that a free-trade deal with the EU is similar to that of Norway’s, who negotiated theirs having not stuck two fingers up to the Commission. It also only made British households 80 pounds better off per week in the long run.

All the other scenarios make Britain worse off. Most of the others relate to uncertainty for investors both foreign and domestically. Subsequently, there is also the potential crash of the British housing market due to lower prices and interest rates fluctuating from very low to compensate for Brexit, to sky high because of uncertainty. The economist Steve Keen once proclaimed the British private credit bubble to be “The biggest Ponzi scheme on the planet”. Without stable interest rates and inflation, this should soon be put to the test.

In the long run, though, most accept the former fifth largest economy in the world (now taken over by France it seems) will survive, but worse off in absolute terms. Remember that voters, and people in general, think in relative terms though. One scenario is borderline apocalyptic, and it includes the breakup of the Union…

Does Scotland voting Remain mean they will call another referendum?
I believe voter fatigue, uncertainty over the Euro as a potential currency and the low price of oil mean that the Scots will wait two years for the renegotiation process to end before considering their options. Because the Scottish economy is still heavily reliant on England as an export destination, it does not want a shut border. If the Conservative leader negotiates a free-trade deal with the EU with favorable terms, then they may actually consider staying. If they ball it up and another right-wing Conservative government is still re-elected, then the Scots will vote out and apply for Union membership status.

Who will be this Conservative leader you speak of?
Boris Johnson is the obvious candidate, as he appears to have solely come out against the EU to try to lead his country after the referendum, having supported Cameron’s stance up until then. Unfortunately, he would be the most likely to be received as a populist, self-serving clown by the Commission and Council leaders in Europe.

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Theresa May, who voted Bremain but is eurosceptic (don’t ask me how that works), will undoubtedly be up there as a compromise candidate who could be better received in Brussels.
While the country may prefer a consensus candidate, ultimately the Tory membership decides, and their membership (not their voters) are likely to back Johnson.

What about Northern Ireland voting Remain? Could they opt to be united with Ireland?
Northern Ireland is a different political animal altogether due to its history and divided communities. Generally speaking the Nationalists (those who wish to unite with Ireland) had the most to lose from Brexit due to the closed border and cross-member-state co-operation, so they will have campaigned more for Remain along with some moderate Unionists, explaining the result. Nevertheless, the DUP, Ulster’s largest party and fiercely pro-Unionist, came out for Leave, and they have enough power to block Nationalist demands in the context of a consensus-based government between the two communities in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Feinn, the main nationalist actor, has called for a border poll, but they have had that stance for years and a major, divisive political event like this results in them calling for a border poll. They know that they would probably lose it due to the small Unionist majority, and jeopardize the now fragile peace process.

There is no way that this referendum is an indication of Northern Ireland’s leanings towards secession in the same way Scotland’s are.

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What will happen in the next General Election?
There is little chance Labour will win with Corbyn in power and Scotland being generally pissed off, so it will probably be to determine whether the Conservatives have a majority or minority government, the LibDems recover due to EU nostalgia, and whether UKIP or its natural successor becomes the first established right-wing populist party in the UK.

What will happen to the rest of Europe?
I have no idea, and the degree in European Studies has not helped in that regard. They are such a pluralistic, incoherent, irresponsible mess right now it’s hard to see what will emerge. Some have touted the UK’s departure as a stepping stone to deeper integration. This would require a major Treaty revision requiring consensus from 27 – not 15 as in Maastricht 1992 – Member-states. So they are stuck with their outdated Treaty and ad hoc legal modification designed by European Law students too clever for their own good (you know who you are).

Electoral forecasts show this is as much a failure of the Union as a failure of the UK to find its place within Europe. Spain will vote on Sunday substituting its centre-left pro-EU bore fest for the Eurocritical Podemos. If the PVV win in 2017 Dutch General Election, then there could be another referendum. They currently lead the polls but have a plurality, not a majority. France is fools gold for Eurosceptics: the Le Pen family and the national Front will always be too toxic for most voters. As for Germany, they cannot hold a referendum on an issue like this as it is constitutionally illegal to hold referenda after Hitler declared four to reaffirm his power in the 1930s.

So will everything be OK, like the UCMers say?
Interesting slogan for an academic environment, but not as ‘interesting’ as the media frenzy we are being led in. I was looking forward to writing about the end of a savage war in Columbia but instead, I write about Brexit. This is why Spinoza’s assertion is so true: ultimately, if you look enough, you will find dark in the light and light in the dark. To let emotion take over in times like this is not a matter of perspective, but of irrational choice.

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“History will not forgive us”

An Interview with the Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands and the Head of the Palestinian Mission to the Netherlands

By Johannes Schroeten
The Diplomat is a liberal journal. Our aim is to promote peace and we can not deny that we believe in diplomacy, instead of conflict. Thus, it is hard for us to understand the ongoing violence in the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Why are there no solutions? What are the obstacles to peace?

Who better to ask than the representatives of the respective governments. In an extraordinary chance, the Diplomat got the possibility to discuss the issue with H.E. Ambassador Haim Divon of Israel, and H.E. Dr. Nabil Abuznaid, Head of the Palestinian Mission.

The two ambassadors arrive in separate cars. Large sized models, manufactured by well-known German companies. Seeing both walking up to the building where the interview will take place, one thing comes first to mind: These two men look strikingly alike, both in their mid-50s, suits, glasses and the professional day-to-day routine, acquired from countless events like today’s. Indeed, from the distance, we could not tell them apart. An interesting observation, considering that these two men represent the strongest enemies since, perhaps, Germany and France in the 19th century.

After a few minutes for refreshment and settling, we are called into the room. One observation is evident from the start: Our interviewees are the least thrilled. Sitting side by side, they spread a sense of calmness. Staff and organisers seem to worry much more and are restless, re-scheduling and planning already the rest of the program. We, however, take seats across the table, facing now our two interview partners. A short introduction, and then we start.

The Diplomat: Thank you for having us! Let me start with a very general question: What effect will debates like today have on the ‘road to peace’?

The ambassadors look at each other. A short exchange à la “who starts” and Dr. Abuznaid begins.

Dr. Abuznaid: First, I think it is important for students to understand the conflict. Second, it is good to see us in a civilized and friendly way. Even though we have different views on this conflict. And third, to hear from people what they have to tell us and what advice they have to the Palestinians and the Israelis, since both of us in all these years of conflict didn’t find a solution, yet! So hopefully, this generation will help to bring us more together.

Ambassador Divon: First of all, I agree a hundred percent. Unfortunately, it won’t affect the decisions on the senior level. That is not the way it goes. With all due respect to what we are doing as ambassadors, these are decisions that take place at the level of President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanjahu. But, I think that many people feel that Israelis and Palestinians, whenever they see each other, they right away go into a fight. That’s not the case! Differences yes, there is violence, there are extremist ideas! But I believe that the majorities on both sides want to put the conflict behind them. For you, as a younger generation, living in Europe, it’s a bit difficult to understand. But we are both living in conflicts since the days we are born – and it’s not a picknick! We can not lose hope, but certainly you, the younger generation, you should not give up on any conflict. Keep pushing us to move in the right direction!

 

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The two ambassadors during the interview

 

The Diplomat: The international community’s attention has shifted towards other issues, such as the Iran Deal and especially the Syrian conflict. Does this maybe provide opportunity for a calm rapprochement, with absence of world attention?

Again, both struggle to figure out who starts.

Dr. Abuznaid: You want to go first? (Ambassador Hain shakes his head). Okay, then I keep going first.Maybe, we should look to the roots of the conflict. And many people say that maybe, the Israeli-Palastinian conflict in the region with blood shed for almost a hundred years, played a part to create a mentality to address the conflict. It is not healthy, it never created a healthy environment in the region. Even internationally! Today, Israel and Palastine should share a vision for security, as I told the ambassador a few minutes ago, we are together in this situation. There is a threat that could concern both of us. Violence and terror do not have borders. I agree on the issue that more attention is given to the other conflicts and we are ignored a little bit, because it is being said that there is more killing in Iraq and Yemen and Syria.  I think this is an issue where the Palastenian and Israeli situation should be handled in a peaceful manner, and the countries of the region should unite against a common threat, namely ISIS. So how does it come that we allow them to play with the Palastenian and Israeli conflict, although we say: ‘Don’t use this conflict for your own sake.’ Sometimes people think it is a just cause to fight Israelis and to use the Palastenian situation as a justification. So I think it’s a message for us and the Israelis really to try hard to finish all these problems and to unite against a common threat. So to come back to your question, it has taken some attention away, but also send a message to move forward, to end this conflict or otherwise both of us could be victims.

Abassador Divon: Yes, attention is diverted to a certain degree. But if you follow for example the discussion in the Dutch Parliament or in Brussels, you see that it is still there, although many times not in a way we Israelis like it. If you take for instance measures like labeling products coming from beyond the green line, we feel that this not the right approach. The question we ask ourselves is, by using punishing measures, do you bring two sides together? That is a question you should always ask before every step. There is a conflict, so what is the best way to get two parties to the table to negotiate? I don’t know what frustrates the Palestinians, but one thing that frustrates us is the labeling of products. This is a punishment. For what? For not sitting down, when we are ready to sit down? The approach we see in Europe is often counter productive. Again, as I said, it’s a pity that we are not able to advance a peace process. That is not up to us ambassadors, but the fact that we are sitting here, talking and respecting each other is elementary. Therefore, parliaments in the EU should ask themselves: ‘what are the best measures to press ahead’. And sometimes we feel that the measures taken against us are just creating bitter feelings, not just among the government but also among the people. The measures don’t really serve the purpose.
Although there are other conflicts which are much more grave than ours, terrible disasters and tragedies. Not that we have been friends with Syria, but all Israelis feel for the Syrian people, their suffering and the falling apart of the country. When it comes to us, I am not so sure that the approach of the international community and the UN is the right way. And this is something where we (He points to Dr. Abuznaid) do not agree, for instance. We do not agree with the steps taken by the Palestinian authorities take to get accepted in the international arena. We feel that they have to go through the negotiation process with us, as stated in the Oslo agreements. Going back to your question, yes there are other conflicts, but there is also a lot of effort to resolve our conflict, yet not in the right direction.

The Diplomat: Coming to the UN. Do you think they should get more involved in the conflict?

Dr. Abuznaid: Well, I think yes. The UN is an international organisation. We are members of the UN, the UN represent the international community, and if two countries are in conflict with each other, they should go to the United Nations. This is the representative of the world. We have an issue that we can not solve, so we say: ‘you are the international community, please give us the advice, the direction and the guidance on how we can achieve peace.’ And we should respect the international community’s decisions on our issues. We should accept them although they might not suit us. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of the resolutions are not implemented. So I agree, that the UN is the umbrella organisation of the international community, we should support it and we should respect its rules and regulations. They are trying to support and deal with issues on every level, education, health, environment etc. And Israelis and Palasetianans should be part of the international community, part of the civilized world and accept its recommendations and its guidance. It’s a plus for us to be members.

Ambassador Divon: My position is a bit different. Our record with the UN is not the most positive one. Look at the achievements of the UN, not only when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also other conflicts. The UN does not have the best record. And in particular, for many reasons, we are not pleased with the way the UN approaches this conflict. It does not mean that the UN should be out of it. We are very much disappointed with some of the decisions of the UN and the inability to move things ahead. I am not taking away the good intentions of the UN. But let’s try to think about where the UN was successful in solving a conflict. Their record is not so impressive. We would like to see that the players in negotiations are both influential and can be trusted. Trust is very important. By the way, if we look at Oslo, we were able to move ahead through direct negotiations. The negotiations for the peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan were guided by the Americans. They have to take the lead in negotiations without excluding anyone from the table. But concerning the UN, we have our reservations. We let them be there, as one of the players, but certainly not the only one.

 

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The following panel debate was organized by Ambassador Lectures Series, UNSA and ELSA

 

The Diplomat: Let us come to a more personal question. Ambassadors are committed to find diplomatic solutions and promote peace. So… Isn’t it frustrating to see so much violence still going on?

Dr. Abuznaid: I think it’s not only being a diplomat, it’s also being an Israeli or Palestinian. Personally, the first thing I do in the morning is to look on my phone, and if there is no killing, on both sides, I am happy. But believe me, maybe half of the time there is killing. This is affecting us on the personal level. We are humans, we have children, we have a life. For Haim and me, both approaching retirement, we face the same question. What are we going to do? How will we continue our life? In the end, an ambassador is a human being as well. To be ambassador of Israel or Palestine is different from other areas, you have to be determined that you will continue to have the hope and the will to achieve peace. And I have no doubt that we will get there. But the question will be: Why did it take us all these years? History will not forgive us. Because we should have stopped the killing long ago. It is not a matter how many you killed from the other side, but also how you protect your people from being killed. It is really a challenge, it is difficult, so you need a commitment for peace to be a diplomat for Palestine or Israel.

Ambassador Divon: I agree with Nabil. I always ask myself, what my colleagues -and I will not mention names- do when they get up in the morning. What do they do? What’s on their desk? Living in the conflict and caring for our people and our country, and being patriots, we are in this conflict day in and day out. Wherever I go and at every event, there are always people asking me: ‘What is going on, what is happening, please explain.’ People expect answers, they want to know: ‘what is your explanation, what is your take on this.’ Even for this lecture, you would not invite ambassadors from the Philipines or China or Latin America. Because this conflict is very high on the agenda of political science, we are in the focus all the time. But it is not that I keep repeating mantras. I do not have to sit hear and rehearse government policies. We both can talk and come back to our respective governments and make suggestions, for example about possible involvement of the Dutch government which is respected by both sides. And the government did help, for example to implement scanners at the border between Gaza and Isreal in order to facilitate the movement of trucks. That was appreciated and meaningful for both sides. We visited the border crossing with the Dutch minister Koenders together, and we saw an interesting and good will of the Dutch government. That’s an example that both of us work on the conflict and try to create a platform. This is our contribution. Other than that, there is, of course, the hope that one day we will be able to put the conflict behind us for the sake of our people. No one enjoys living in a conflict. And maybe also as an example for others because there are so many terrible conflicts. Our rapprochement could be kind of the shining light in these dark days that we see in so many spots around the world.

The Diplomat: Thank you for the interview!

Being completely honest, we have to admit that we did not even manage to ask half of our prepared questions. Nonetheless, the extensive and open answers shed new light on our understanding of the conflict. Maybe it is indeed a question of small steps to approach each other. Grasping this issue as what it is, namely a territorial conflict between two different religious and ethnic groups, might make it easier to achieve a solution. To see the two ambassadors together, both being very compromising and calm, was a fundamentally different image than what we would expect. This is the misperception of the conflict that is healthy discussed around the world. The strong polarization that has taken over almost every political discourse in the world is not constructive at all. The guilt question, with a childish: ‘But they started it’ will not lead us anywhere. Thus, we entangle ourselves in immaterial discussions and lose sight of the real goal: to establish a sustainable solution between two fighting parties. Dr. Abuznaid said, with respect to his generation: “History will not forgive us!” For their generation, it is already too late to put this conflict aside and to commit to their responsibility for future generations. We should not make the same mistake!

Evo and the End of the Pink Tide

Evo Morales is easily Bolivia’s most recognisable figure. As President of the multinational country, he has been at the forefront of the late Pink Tide (marea rosa) of Socialist governments in the region. The most (in)famous, depending on your politics, was undoubtedly the late Hugo Chavez. But Morales also attracted headlines for his slightly more nuanced, yet fierce opposition of the post-Cold War, American-dominated order. A position that has earned his ‘Movement towards Socialism’ party three landslide general election wins in a row.

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Yet Morales’ bubble burst last week when he lost a referendum on a constitution to allow him to stand for a fourth term. This despite arguably being the most popular and successful socialist leader in the region. The troubles for Latin American socialism don’t stop there: in Venezuela, Chavez’s successor Nicholas Maduro is facing a gaping economic vortex due to the low oil prices and let the majority in parliament slip to the opposition. Brazil’s leading Partido dos Trabalhadores is facing a corruption scandal. The ultimate scarecrow of ‘’post-neo-liberalism’’, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was defeated in Argentina late last year.
The emergence of the Pink Tide has its roots in the reaction to perceived right-wing, and United States, dominance in the region. Several military coup d’états, facilitated by the fact that the military’s institutions were better run than the democratic ones, had struck a blow to Latin American democracy.
The most controversial academic reason was the perceived state of neo-colonialism in the region, exercised by the United States on grassroots industries. Indeed, it was the US’s policy on restricting coca plants in their latest battle on the ‘War on Drugs’ that lead to Morales’ rise to fame, as leader of the peasant union.
The idea of neo-colonialism has served as a basis for the revolutionary left since the fall of the Soviet Union. It basically consists of an ‘’update’’ on classical Marxism to our more globalised production system: Instead of bourgeois classes being internal to a state, they express themselves through the states themselves on a global stage. The result is that the USA ‘’owns’’ a huge amount of the factors of production in South America, and therefore reaps most of the rewards from any profit vis-à-vis international trade. In Bolivia though, the US’s intervention was peculiar: it consisted of restricting the production of coca as part of the ‘War on Drugs’. One such producer of the coca industry: Evo Morales.
Bolivia had been subject to some 187 coup d’états after the Second World War before Morales emerged as its democratically elected leader. For many, mostly native Indian Bolivians, Morales’ victory represented not just an opposition to the American meddling in the region, but a genuine democratic renewal after years of oligarchic dictators, the most brutal of which was General Banzer, whose achievements include a US-sponsored plot to turn Bolivia into a ‘White Flight’ country for some of the most extreme Apartheid South Africans in the 1980s, and personally overseeing the torture of his political opponents.
Morales’ victory was soon undermined by the richer eastern parts of Bolivia, who wanted to separate themselves from his government. Whilst Bolivia was on the brink of a civil war, Morales kicked out the US ambassador, accusing him of starting the conspiracy to overthrow the Socialist government.

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Of course, it seems a throwback to the bygone era of the Cold War: Socialist ruler vs Big Uncle Sam and his local, questionable allies. But the demise of the Communist block has made this conflict more and more about reviving an older political narrative: that of native Amer-indians vs white colonialist. In Bolivia, for example, the coca plant abolition, imposed by Banzer when he somehow managed to be the first dictator elected in the late nineties (soon to be followed by Hugo Chavez), was seen as a purely anti-Amerindian action. The neo-colonialism then was not just of an economic or political nature, but of an ethnocultural one.
This ultimately constitutes the first failure of Latin American socialism: its inability to unite the peoples of its country across ethnocultural fault lines, instead playing an equally divisive role as its opposition. Morales was supposed to be the exception rather than the rule. Around the mid-2000s, before he was elected, he famously adopted a more “European” name to his party and broke up with the more violent elements of the Amer-indian resistance, such as Felipe Quispe.

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The latter has labelled Morales’ policies, or Evonomics, as “neo-liberalism with an Indian face”, and there is some truth to that, looking at the results of similar economic policies in Venezuela. What you effectively have is, rather than a distribution of wealth across working class wages, a full round assault on the previous owners of capital in the region through state institutions. Venezuelan economics included price controls and maximum prices to ensure affordability of goods on such a wage. But the result is that the old oligarchs simply scaled back production to remain profitable. As one internet poster explained: “It’s almost trying to create a for-needs economy within the framework of profit maximisation, while normatively arguing for socialism, and that is bound to fail”.
The untimely death of Chavez exposed a deeper, yet all too familiar, breach in the ideological fulcrum of the Pink Tide: its emphasis on personality cults. It is hard to look beyond Evo in Bolivia or Lula in Brazil. But once chinks in the very human armour of these leaders are exposed, such as the latter Brazilian’s ongoing corruption case, it is difficult to endorse a movement that has relied so much on them. Morales’ attempt to extend his presidential term was rejected outright by a country all too familiar with the problem of personalist dictatorships.
The author is only ruthlessly critical of the Pink Tide in this regard, because he takes it so seriously: this was a genuine opportunity for an alternative system that could shift the disturbingly one-sided global political debate. But perhaps it is engrained in the South American psyche to always oppose a global status quo. Certainly the anti-‘yanki’ sentiment has shot up regardless of the left’s poll numbers tumbling down. Since the days of Bolivar, the man who provided Bolivia with its name and identity, the continent has always been struggling to achieve a certain measure of detachment from its brooding northern neighbour and old colonies. The conventional view, as well as those of the national leaders, is that the only way to achieve this sovereignty is an EU-style regional integration on an economic, then political level. But the only way such a ‘Bolivarian’ ideal would be a success is if they learn from the mistakes of the past, including that of the Pink Tide…

 

 

Remembrance of a Secretary General

By Johannes Schroeten

The 1990’s were certainly remarkable years. The Soviet Union broke down, the Cold War ended and the world was on the edge of a new era, full of both hope and threat. In these tumultuous times, a new Secretary General of the United Nations was appointed in 1992. His name: Boutros Boutros- Ghali. The Egyptian, being the first Arab and African to hold the office of secretary general, soon faced a number of crises. In 1992, he issued his agenda for peace which urged the necessity for preventive diplomacy and humanitarian intervention.

However, the United Nations struggled to adhere to this agenda in Somalia, Jugoslavia and especially Rwanda by finding the right response. During Boutos – Ghali’s term, the United Nations faced massive criticism for their inactivity in the genocide in Rwanda and the maasacre of Srebenice as well as the failed UN-Mission in Somalia.

Nonetheless, the Secretary General positioned himself as firm advocate of peace and calm diplomacy.  Neither the NATO-bombing mission in Bosnia nor the Iraq war in 2003 had his approval. His strong opinion and independent appearance as Secretary General may also have influenced the United States in denying Boutos–Ghali a second term as UN in 1996, which made him the first UN Secretary General ever serving only one term.

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Despite a difficult and troubled time in office, current secretary general Ban-Ki Moon remembered Boutros–Ghali as playing a key role in increasing the number of blue-helmet soldiers and the role of the UN in World politics.

Boutros–Ghali, born in 1922 into a coptic christian family, soon became an important networker and negotiator in Egyptian diplomacy. His greatest success was perhaps his role as architect of the Camp–David agreement in 1978 which was the base for the reconciliation between Israel and Egypt one year later. After he left office, Boutros–Ghali engaged himself in the International Organization of La Francophonie. Furthermore, he signed an appeal to initiate a parliamentary assembly of the United Nations, a first step towards a world parliament.

On 16th February 2016, Boutros Boutros – Ghali has died, aged 93.

An exposed nerve

By Johannes Schroeten

At first sight, it is a rather odd situation: a bunch of armed militia men occupying a federal building in a national park in Oregon. However, its significance should not be underestimated. The occupation is only one symptom of a new hysteria in the United States of America.

Flash-back to the 1990s, shortly after the breakdown of the Soviet empire. The United States seemed to be the all-encompassing and dominating force, the last true world-power. Its economy expanded and the rise of the digital age promised a technological superiority for years to come. In his acceptance speech, Bill Clinton called out the ‘renewing of  America’ in 1992. A break-through of democracy, capitalism and Western values in the world was only a matter of time. Or so it seemed. Flash-forward to today, and things look very different. What happened?

The American society was struck by two blows, triggering its current anxiety.

It all started with 9/11, the first foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbour. Suddenly, the US were no longer untouchable. In the aftermath, President Bush declared the ‘war on terror’ and a US-led coalition invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite an early victory, the military forces would stay, fight and die for more than a decade. The results were costs of more than 2 trillion dollars and a traumatised American society.

The second blow came in 2008.The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers let loose a chain of business failures, private insolvencies and rise in unemployment. Mortgages could no longer be repaid. The pictures of thousands of abandoned houses became the symbol for the failure of the American Dream. The economic devastation would discourage many Americans.

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Within a decade, two core elements of American collective identity, namely superiority in military and security terms as well as the perception to have the strongest economy in the world, were gravely shaken. Although the economy soon recovered and is now larger than ever, the notion of a society in which everyone can achieve anything with diligence could not be revived. Instead, a deep uncertainty spread. For many, this was a nightmare proving the American economy to be no longer the hegemon in the world economic system. Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’, still so strongly embraced and shouted in 2008, yielded to a precarious ‘Maybe, we can’t.’.

Out of these quarrels, two fluxes emerged. On the one hand, those who want to transform the US into an ultra-modern society, in which everyone enjoys the same rights and no one feels oppressed or restricted in their way of life. Examples are the civil rights movements, feminists and LGBT activists which usually flourish in urban areas and especially within the academic environment of universities. These are modernists, often politically represented by democrats.

Despite encouraging debates about structural racism and bigotry in society, their strive for political correctness has taken on sometimes ludicrous or even radical features. Not seldom, the correct name for an ethnic group or social minority can change within days. Those who might offend someone in any way easily face a ‘shitstorm’ of collective shaming and can hardly defend themselves in the outpouring hysteria.

On the other hand, a new emphasis on ‘traditional’ American values has entered the social and political discourse in the US. It is an ultra-conservative movement which is strongly oriented towards traditional ‘Christian’ and ‘American’ values. Despite the modernists, they also hate a supposedly elitist political class, the notion of a supreme government or even state structures in general.

They advocate a Christian identity of society and desire a maximum of personal security, not just from criminals or foreigners, but also from their own government. Hence a strong opposition to any restrictions such as gun control legislation. While the present and the future seem to be rather grim, they glorify their own history, be it the constitution from which they derive major arguments or the American superiority of the 20th century. This group is often formed out of middle aged white people, which tend to have received a lower level of education, and used to form the working and middle class of the US. However, due to the digital revolution and the outsourcing of production, they tend to be the ‘losers’ of the huge changes of the past decade. Ultimately, they struggle to preserve the lifestyle their parents have acquired. Let’s call them traditionalist.

The Tea Party has managed to coin this traditionalist view into a political program. Through further encouragement of bias and hysteria, it made way for Ben Carson and Donald Trump who poured more oil into the already blazing fire. The demagogic claims of both presidential candidates have fostered resentments against everyone and everything the traditionalists already dislike. With impressive effectiveness, Trump and Carson have managed to rally the underprivileged white masses behind them. Even more strikingly is the fact that moderate conservatives, such as Jeb Bush, cannot manage to pose a significant Republican alternative to the Trumpian hysteria and simplicity.

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Without doubt, both the modernists and traditionalists have always existed and influenced the political culture in the US. In recent years, however, a major shift became prominent. The social gap between rich and poor, countryside and city, majority and minorities, has only widened. Partisanship increased, resulting in debates in which facts play a subordinated role. Ultimately, the cement which used to hold the American society together has lost its grip. The (foreseeable) decline of American global influence has shed light on domestic struggles which had remained in the shadows in the past decades. Increased numbers of unarmed African Americans being shot, a hunt both online and in real life on students who might not comply with the predominant standards of behaviour on university campuses and government officials who deny homosexual couples their right of marriage are all symptoms of a frenzy which is preventing a rational discourse.

The United States would not be what they are today if they could not handle such tensions. And contrary to European politics, the dominant political tone has always been more aggressive. Nonetheless, the new developments peaking with the Planned Parenthood shooting, the Oregon occupation or the Charleston Church shooting, signal a new American hysteria. From the outside, the US still seems to be an extraordinary power. From the inside, it could face profound and radical changes. Like an exposed nerve, the American society is sensitive to any incident which in return could trigger an unpredictable knee jerk reaction.

“Capital of Belgium. Capital of Europe. Capital of Jihad.”

By James Mackle

The French polemicist Eric Zemmour lived up to his title after the terrorist attacks on his country’s capital. He proclaimed that ‘’instead of bombing Raqqa (Daech’s stronghold in Syria), we should be bombing Molenbeek”, a suburb of Brussels in Belgium. Quite how serious he is remains to be seen. This is a man who took a line in a rap song about him as a ‘’death threat’’ that he reported to the French police, after all.

But behind Zemmour’s gasp for attention in the heaving masses of media hysteria, there remains a fundamental question as to how these attack were planned in the capital of Europe rather than the capital of the Caliphate. How Brusselaren, 3rd generation immigrants, had decided to execute such a plan in cold blood. This hurts us Brusselaren more than any words of a French polemicist. Our prime minister, Charles Michel, whose political stronghold is just a half-hour south of Brussels, has had to justify how we let Molenbeek “get out of hand”.

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People in Molenbeek gather to show support for the victims and their community after bad press. 1080 is Molenbeek’s postcode

There are several theories about the demographical layout of Brussels and the causes of the ‘’hotbed of extremism.’’ Let us first start by stating that the ISLAM party of Brussels, which is as close as politically possible to demanding Islamist sharia law, got just two percent in Molenbeek alone. The same statistics are reproduced for Vlaams Belang, the Flemish separatist party with a violent history of neo-fascism. That doesn’t stop both aggressive Flemish hooligans calling for the expulsion of French speakers from the city, and apparently terrorist jihadist cells with direct links to ISIS in the Orient, from roaming the streets where European institutions lie. But it does give some perspective to the overall political standing of our city.

Political opportunists have called the layout of Brussels akin to ghettoization of certain communities. Personal experience would say otherwise: Brussels has an insane amount of variety per square meter. Suburbs such as Molenbeek would have Turks, Maghrebis and Albanians mixing with the Brusselaren, Italian workhand and the Congolese. They were very different, but lived side by side. It was only until 9/11 that they seemed to be all lumped into the same nominal variable, according to a social worker there. Antwerp, Flanders’ diamond city, is a much more ghettoized demographic, and while it has no lack of communitarian problems, it doesn’t seem to have the lack of integration one can perceive when walking around Brussels.

The concept known as “white flight” did emerge, although it is less black and white (with no pun intended) than originally thought. Many of the locals, already skilled with languages would receive the top jobs. Higher salaries, and the fervent Belgian commitment to company cars, meant an opportunity to move out of the stressful city life to pastures, while crucially still working in Brussels. Many Flemish and particularly Walloons – who lost their coal and steel industry – also came to work in the capital, taking over the lower paid jobs. The latter contributed to the ‘’Frenchification’’ of Brussels, making it a natural relocation for Maghrebi immigrants not wanting the stigma that the Franco-Algerian struggle entailed in the French Hexagon.

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Revived after bankruptcy, Molenbeek’s local football club is in Belgium’s fifth (regional) tier yet still attracts full capacity

The result is that you have a strong inner city population of immigrants who came to fulfil the low-pay work, while the top jobs, excluding the EU ones, are taken by people who have long since left their home city. The regionalisation of Belgium, pushed by Flemish nationalists and fuelled by Walloon stubbornness, led to Brussels becoming a region in itself. This meant that its guest workers pay communal and regional taxes to Mother Flanders and Father Wallonia, leaving little coin for development in an already crumbling suburb like Molenbeek. A Bruxselwa indentiteit (as the phonetic, hybrid language of the city boys denominate it) formed though, one that was held together by a siege mentality. Ni Flamand, Ni Wallon. Wij tegen Allemaal. Us versus the World. One that is all too easy to translate into the international political scene for young Muslims, passionate about perceived injustices of their religious community, in the area.

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Brussels’most famous street art : ‘’Manneke Peace’’

Poverty is sometimes cited as a causal effect of criminality. But rather than raw wealth as measurement of poverty in Brussels, one must look at opportunity as the structural reason. Opportunities are defined by what factors of productivity are available to a population. If there is a factor of production, essential for the worker in Brussels, it is the car. I once had a friend who posted a picture on social media with her driver’s licence, saying it was ‘’a permit to freedom.’’ She was not exaggerating. Many “suburbs” of Brussels are ludicrously cut off from anything remotely productive or interesting. Public transport is notoriously difficult (the fast train project was a subject of farce then frustration, as its due date was postponed seemingly year after year, for 15 years). To quote Rust Cohle of the True Detective series, we “might as well be living on the fucking moon,” no matter how close you feel to a city.

For a third generation boy with no prospects, a 35-strong class and a government that deliberately isolates his district from the rest of Brussels, there’s not much to strive for. There’s no travel to new beginnings after failure, let alone travel to exotic, luxurious summer holidays. There’s only that suburb for an indefinite amount of years. You fail, you are done. The immobility is less to do with transport, and more to do with aspiration. Boredom with lack of long term future prospects will only end in a seeking of immediate recognition and gratification, through even the most desperate and sickening means.

There’s a whole combination of other factors that also must have contributed to the Jihadist path. The play “Djihad!” by Ismael Saidi, who grew up in North Brussels, was praised for the way he took 3 completely different personalities, profiles and their problems and showed the banality of descent in radical Islam in a Western society. For Molenbeek is a profoundly Western society, despite what Zemmour, and other clichéd judges of what Western values constitute, would have us believe. It does not have the problems Syria has, it already has its own, different ones that relate to the individuals in question rather than entire communities like in Syria. For all the diagnosis on the ills of Brussels above, if we are to solve an entire community’s problem in the West, we must take as a unit of analysis the individual, just as the foundations of society would want us to. How does an unemployed individual perceive an army of eurocrats in their city that sing the praises of modern liberalism from their expensive, mostly empty offices? How does a love-struck individual handle a society that promises at the very least romantic fulfilment, if not excess, through its narrative-obsessed media? How does a bored, static individual find purpose in mundane city life when he is disinterested in the standard structures society expects of us, even in a liberal context?

Zemmour’s underlying message therefore might be correct: instead of ‘’solving’’ Syria or the entire Middle East (through throwing fireworks into a pub fight, as Scottish Comedian Frankie Boyle put it), and thinking this is somehow a solution to domestic problems, we should rethink our own, with our unit of analysis – the individual – rather than lazy ethno-cultural groups. We are too used to a paradisiac vision of our liberal society, and at the same time blaming the problems of individuals cheaply on their entourage. There are deep social problems in Molenbeek, but we must not use that as an excuse for not affording the attention that a tiny minority of individual require, or indeed any individual requires.

When the Curtain Falls

By Marie Peffenköver

It is not only since yesterday that the world is facing crises and upheavals. However, although scholars speak about a decrease in the number of conflicts and military interventions since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, one cannot get rid of the impression that the International Community never had to focus on so many trouble spots at the same time. Daesh, refugees coming to Europe, conflicts among the EU member states, radical Islamist groups in African and Asia, economic ups and downs on every continent, climate change – the new millennium has just begun and yet it would require a wand to solve all these problems sustainably.

At the Dutch Invitational Model United Nations (DIMUN) in Leiden 2016 on 16 January, the simulation tackled these crises respectively.  With students coming from all over the Netherlands, albeit Utrecht, Nijmegen, Maastricht or Leiden itself, various different viewpoints and experiences added up to some fruitful debates which were ended successfully with the adoption of three resolutions in total. The two crises committees proved to be productive in another manner: With three Heads of States killed, the Delegate of Bangladesh kidnapped and the assassination of their chair at the end, both sub-committees can claim the highest death rate of the entire conference.

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All participants of DiMUN 2016

Facing Terror: The “What-if” Question

I personally must say that the crisis sub-committee of the South-Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) surprised me the most. Not only was it way less formal than I had expected from my first MUN conference with merely nine people present (including the chair); also, the discussion highlighted the problems in establishing cooperation against terrorism in a fictive world where there are no rules and even the killing of Heads of States is allowed (indeed, it is highly encouraged).

Both crisis committees were dealing with the same situation: The “What-if” question. What would you do if on 10 July 2017 Europe would be shaken by various terrorist attacks in Berlin and Frankfurt, with six suicide bombers in Rome, while the high number of refugees from the Middle East where warfare is still continuing are equally pressurizing the states to react? How would the United Nations react? And, over all, could they do something?

Although all states expressed the mutual will to find a communitarian solution and to collaborate in any possible way, a satisfying answer proved hard to be formulated. What would you do if you were a Head of State of an Asian country, being faced with these major crises? Close your borders as the Head of Sri Lanka proposed? “This is not going to work”, was the quick answer of the Afghan Delegate. Sent troops to fight Daesh? But what if your country is directly located at the epicentre of the terrorists’ actions? As the Delegate of Iran explained, “ISIS is right on our doorsteps and an excessive amount of troops will not be sufficient to solve the problem”.

The Craft of Warfare

Similar hard choices were to be faced by the students who represented the states in the UN’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, called DiSec. Here, to me it was most interesting to see how the group dynamics and the size of a group can influence the structure and content of a discussion in a fundamental way. Whereas in the crisis committee the debate began rather moderate (before the shouting and killing started after the lunch break), in DiSec, the chairs’ question “Are there any countries that wish to speak?” was answered by almost everyone raising their placards, sometimes truly battling about who is allowed to speak now. As a press person, this change of pace was a true challenge, but the new dynamism also offered a completely new insight: Namely that the proverb “to write one’s fingers to the bones” can really have a literal meaning.

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The DISEC Committee in action

DiSec had a very special approach to their topic of combatting piracy on the sea: the employment of Private Military Corporations (PMCs) was highly debated. PMCs are private firms offering security services and military capabilities as well as consultation for everyone who can pay enough present a special danger to the stabilization of war-shaken regions. With them lacking any political affiliation and hence loyalty, the craft of warfare becomes driven away from the monopoly of the state, giving war a new ugly and uncontrollable face of civilian violence.

Discussions regularly arise – and have also arisen during DIMUN – as the UN are employing PMCs as well, arguing that due to the ill-equipment of international troops and a lack of experience, the contracting of PMCs presents to be alternativeless. Struggling to formulate a resolution both allowing action against piracy and circumvent the use of PMCs, debates in the DiSec committee became very intense.

Additionally the talks gathered pace when one student from Leiden slipped into the role of a BBC reporter who had just found out that the Dutch gas and oil giant Shell was employing pirates to destroy the oil riffs of its competitors. Although the chairs had to pressurize the Delegates a bit to agree on the amendments and to bring the debates to an end, a Resolution was passed which also established regional taskforce as local solution (to know more, check out our article “The Shadow of the Seas”).

The Challenge of Women’s Rights in Saudi-Arabia

I found my last visit in the UN Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) the most interesting, although time allowed me to only witness the last 45 minutes of discussion. Yet, the committee had already agreed on a Draft Resolution and was in the middle of discussing several amendments when I entered the room.

The topic of the UNCHR was both old and new: Old, because it is generally known that women are extremely limited in their rights (they are, for example, not even allowed to leave their house without a male guard). New, because the message that women could vote for the first time in December 2015 presented an entirely new background for the Delegates of the UNCHR: How could the UN help the desert monarchy in promoting women’s rights?

The final adaption of the Resolution which established – inter alia – an international organization to serve as a platform to inform women about their rights revealed a (in my opinion) major flaw in the voting procedure of the UN. With a two-thirds majority, the Resolution passed. However, the states that heavily opposed the Resolution where the very ones which are seen to be the main infringers of human rights: Saudi-Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon and Iran.

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The UNHRC

Useful? “This Resolution reads like a Wikipedia entry”, was the criticism explained by the Delegate of Iran. “This is nonsense” were the harsh words of the guy representing Sudan.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to visit the Committee on Special Politics and Decolonization (SpecPol) where the topic of PMCs was further discussed. Hopefully I will be able to do so next year.

For those of you who never participated in a MUN, I can only recommend it. Although I have not been a delegate myself, standing up in front of people, pretending to be the important and distinguished Delegate of a state, writing or blocking amendments is a lot of fun (and, yes, a bit nerdy as well).

PS: Even if you are not participating in the next DIMUN – make sure you visit the beautiful city of Leiden!

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The inner city of Leiden at night