Had a pause in short article writing of late as have been bogged down with larger commitments. However, in the meantime, wrote a couple of short op-eds for what is becoming a regular column for 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) touching upon the riots in the UK and the taking of Tripoli last week (with retrospect there are aspects of the UK one that I am less happy about). The English I submitted is below, and before it a link to the Chinese. More longer pieces in the pipeline on terrorism and China.
Lessons from Libya (In Chinese)
This week’s take-over of Tripoli by the rebel forces opposed to General Gadaffi has stirred a mixture of emotions. In the first place, there is a certain gratefulness that events in Libya are moving towards some sort of resolution. But while some in Europe are proud of the role that they played in ousting him from his position in power, there is an underlying sense of concern about what happens next. Nevertheless, it now seems clear that his time in charge of Libya is up and there are some lessons that can be usefully drawn from the experience of ousting him.
First of all, NATO, the EU and the US should be careful to celebrate this victory as their own. While it seems doubtful that the rebels would have done so well without their support, the fact remains that NATO was running out of ammunition and there is a growing uncertainty in Europe about what they are doing in Libya. There is also still no clear sense that Europe went into Libya with any sort of a clear strategy. All of this is a reflection of weakness rather than success.
Secondly, success in intervening here does not mean NATO now has to (or wants to) intervene in Syria. This is not hypocritical or evidence of double standards. The reality is that you can only become involved where you can make a difference and where you have support. No one liked Gadaffi so support was easy to find, and support came in the form of low-risk airstrikes in support of rebels that shielded NATO from too many casualties on the ground. All easily manageable. Syria, however, would be a very different proposition – quite aside from having a different capacity to respond (Syria is a longtime supporter of militant groups outside its borders), there is nowhere near the consensus in the international community. And of course there is the reality that NATO forces are now stretched over two battlefields (and subsidiary operations in Cote d’Ivoire and Iraq).
The point is that the reality on the ground is different. To call this hypocritical is simplistic and somehow assumes that we live in a world where absolute and universal rules apply. The world is complex and requires different responses that are often dictated by capacity. A one-size fits all policy in international relations is a recipe for disaster.
Thirdly, UN sanctions and resolutions do not equal armed intervention. In this case, it now seems clear that NATO, the EU and the US decided to take the initial sanctions against Gadaffi to their furthest possible point. This meant in the first place to protect Misrata and the other parts of the country Gadaffi had said he was going to crush, and secondly to support a rebellion to oust a leader who had mismanaged his country for four decades. This is a specific set of reactions to a specific situation. In other instances where sanctions have been imposed nothing has followed – for example, Iran, where the EU and US continue to push sanctions – there has been no subsequent military intervention. This means that we need not fear that sanctions against the Syrian regime would necessarily lead to conflict on the ground.
Chinese friends I have spoken to express a great sense of confusion over what the EU and US think they are doing in Libya. They see vast amounts of money being spent with no clear outcome. They worry precedents are being set in international policy that may lead to other problems down the line. While some of these concerns are well placed (going in with no apparent plan as NATO did is certainly not sound policy), the overarching point that they are missing is that a bad dictator has been removed from power and is no longer destroying his own country. In time a new democratically elected government will emerge that will mean that Libya is finally able to interact with the world on its own terms. This is an outcome that is in everyone’s favor. What this does not mean is that this is going to be the strategy that will be pursued in every situation.
Anarchy in Europe (In Chinese)
Britain ablaze, Greece on strike, and lunatics planting bombs and shooting people in Oslo – Europe seems an increasingly dangerous and chaotic place. But what is behind this growing anarchy, and why it is suddenly expressing itself with such fury now?
There are a number of reasons: from social disaffection and anger, to economic hardship and disenfranchisement, to a general anger at elites that it is no longer felt represent the public. It is not, as some have suggested, all a cause and effect from the economic crisis, but rather it is a complex set of issues that all feed off each other to create a multiplier effect that explodes in the violence that we can still see on London’s streets today.
To start with my hometown, London: the trouble there started off as a peaceful public protest in a community with tense relations between police and locals after police shot and killed a young man. This event appears to have been hijacked by local youths and petty criminals who used this as a pretext to launch a violent assault on city centers taking advantage of the opportunity to loot and steal as much as they could. This in turn inspired other communities to launch copycat efforts around the country and the end result has been chaos in major British cities.
It is far too early to say exactly why this has all taken place, but a part of it is clearly anger is directed at ruling elites that are perceived have no connection to the community. Similar, but much less violent expressions of displeasure were seen last year during protests linked to the government decision to charge for university places. This group has moved beyond an expression of political anger to wanton destruction. But nonetheless one of the direct causes of the current trouble are local tensions between police and the community.
This anger at elites is further reflected in the current protests and strikes across Europe, including the months long sit-ins taking place in Spain and the repeated stoppages in Greece and Italy. In all these nations, the publics are tired of listening to politicians that they do not feel represent them. Many young feel that they simply do not have a place in society or cannot get good jobs and end up migrating elsewhere to seek their fortunes. In an ironic twist, in Belgium, the situation has gotten so bad that the nation has not had an elected government for over a year – instead a technocratic administration has managed the nation. In the capital where the EU has its bureaucratic heart, the local government has very little credibility with its domestic audience.
On the more dangerous end of the scale are individuals like Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian self-styled crusader who was so angered at his government’s allowing of Muslim immigrants into the nation that he decided to punish the ruling party. Using a massive car bomb in the city center followed by a shooting of a group of young aspirant politicians, Breivik’s act was in retaliation for what he sees as the conquering of Europe by Muslims and the fact that no-one in Europe is doing anything about it. He particularly blamed the ruling Labor Party in Norway for letting this happen, and consequently targeted them for punishment in late July of this year.
The running thread through all of this is mistrust in government – something that is going to be further accentuated as economies collapse and debt numbers go through the roof. European publics have already stopped voting in elections in ever increasing numbers, now they are turning to other ways of expressing their distaste in their governments. There are clear lessons here for government’s about the importance of finding ways to connect with their publics.