Neo-liberal Crisis Threatens Peru

Crisis threatens Peru, with presumed populist Humala taking a corporatist stand. Rhetoric is hardening on both sides, and no one appears able to define the struggle between the rural poor and international gold mining interests in a positive-sum manner.

When Ollanta Humala, who had presented himself as a populist who would put civil liberties ahead of international corporate interests, won election as Peru’s leader, Peru’s future seemed to be brightening, but his first year in power has left the country facing a text-book neo-liberal challenge: people versus gold. Despite local fears that a new gold mining project will destroy the population’s water supply and strong regional government support for anti-mining demonstrations, Humala has sided with the gold mining corporation and pushed his administration into crisis.

This delightful video shows the natural beauty of the Cajamarca region.

Following two resignations from the cabinet, the Humala administration has shown signs of a new willingness to listen to the people who elected him. Nevertheless, the extension for another month of the state of emergency in Cajamarca on Friday, a slap in the face of the head of the on-going negotiations between the central government and the regional government, suggests a continuing pro-corporate bias on the part of what was supposed to have been a popular, democratizing regime. In protest over Humala’s attitude, Cajamarca regional president Gregorio Santos, who now stands accused of “rebellion” against Humala, is boycotting the negotiations and flatly asserted on August 9 that at this point lifting the state of emergency would not suffice: the mining corporation must step back and the government must look into the deaths of the protesters. Speaking slowly and thoughtfully, Humala called for an “end to hypocrisy” (Dejémonos de hipocresías.) on August 8 and warned Humala not to “hide behind the priests” (ocultarse detras de los sacerdotes) serving as mediators. The Humala Administration, however, is demanding the retreat of the protesters before negotiations—assurances that there will be no more “actos radicals” before lifting the state of emergency, far from Santos’ demand for action by the mining corporation.
Despite the deaths of five protesters and mediation by the Catholic Church, the central government and the regional opposition to the mining project have not even managed to agree on the terms for sitting across the negotiating table from each other. Humala, seen by the elite a year ago as a troublemaker for his outspoken opposition to their policies, now sits in their seat, evidently expecting the same popular obedience the old elite once expected of him. His accomplishments during his first year in office may be overwhelmed by the controversy over gold mining:

Since taking office a year ago, Humala has introduced a minimum monthly pension for the elderly poor and grants for students while augmenting programs for infants and families in poverty. He said the number of the people enrolled in some of the programs would double during his term. Humala’s approval rating fell to a fresh low of 40 percent this month, according to pollster Ipsos, after a crackdown on protesters opposed to Newmont Mining’s $5 billion Conga project in the northern region of Cajamarca that killed five people this month. [Reuters7/28/12.]

Humala plans a $30 billion expansion of gold and copper mining over the next five years in Peru; how that will address the quality of life of Peru’s rural poor remains unclear.
Rhetoric on both sides is hardening, and protesters have called for a strikeon August 21 and 22.

Humala’s Theoretical Error: Screwing the Lid on Tight Makes the Pot Boil Over

As a man of the people, Humala must know better, but once in office, he began to think he was, if not above the law, at least above the people. He has, as a result, discovered that top-down decision-making imposed upon the people, without gaining their buy-in generates exactly the chaos leaders want to avoid. By failing to show that residents would benefit from a new gold mine in their backyard, by failing to ensure that they would retain clean water, and most importantly of all by avoiding the short-term inefficiencies of democratic decision-making, he has provoked a deepening national crisis reminiscent of the decade-old Cochabamba water war against Bechtel Corporation and a Bolivian leader who made the same mistake…and turned Evo Morales into a national hero. More, he has thereby contracted a severe case of instability plus long-term counter-productivity, weakening himself both domestically and internationally while undermining his policy of befriending international mining corporations to boost Peru’s economic prospects. Political processes are not linear: what works for a day may be the cause of failure by the weekend.

Humala had to play a two-level game (to simplify his reality), dealing with the international gold mining corporation and dealing with his countrymen. On the foreign policy side, he negotiated; in terms of domestic governance, he attempted a centralized decision-making process…thus landing, for this policy, solidly in the tricky blue arena where behavior toward domestic partners clashes with behavior toward international partners. Playing tough guy in the red arena of force might make a leader feared; playing nice guy in the green arena of conciliation might win a leader moral stature. Playing in the internally inconsistent blue arena makes a leader look like a push-over to foreigners and like a sell-out to those who voted for him.



Globalizing Paraguay

After decades of oppression, a reformist president was finally elected in Paraguay, only to be suddenly impeached last month. In the ensuing five weeks, Paraguay has rushed to open the country to the U.S. military and controversial U.S. corporations.

In what had all the appearance of a blatant kangaroo court, the elite-controlled parliament of Paraguay voted on June 22, 2012to impeach the reformist president, giving the president’s lawyers two hours to present their defense. [Telegraph, 6/23/12.] Ousted President Lugo championed land reform, albeit without major success. Surprisingly, Vice President Franco, who automatically replaced him, is already claiming successes on land reform, though with a statistically insignificant number of farmers so far. 

Vastly more important to Paraguayan society and democracy, however, are the contradictory signs of Franco cosying up to international corporations. He has already met with U.S. oil and Canadian mining companies and spoken out against “las invasions de tierras,” presumably code words for signaling that when poor farmers protest former theft of their lands by the rich, Franco will support the rich. Coincidentally, U.S. oil interests center on Chaco, according to a company spokesperson, the Paraguayan region that the U.S. military currently has an interest in (see below). And suddenly the new, temporary president is “accelerating” the decision-making process on the admission of foreign companies, a move that former President Lugo had been examining for its potential environmental and social threats. The proposed deal with a Canadian mining company alone would use an amount of electricity equal to that of 9.6 million people and be subsidized by Paraguayan taxpayers, according to a Paraguayan social research institute. Simultaneously, Franco has suddenly opened Paraguay to Monsanto’s infamous seeds that “require an expensive regimen of pesticides, and must be fertilized and watered according to precise timetables.”  With elections scheduled for April, private interests are evidently desperate to push through these deal.
Opponents of Lugo in Congress accused Venezuela’s ambassador of interfering in the impeachment process by inciting the Paraguayan military to revolt.
The questions at this point include at least the following:
  1. Was Lugo fired for trying to redress historical elite theft of land from farmers?
  2. Do Franco’s tiny initial land reform achievements forecast a real land reform policy?
  3. Why is the elite in such a rush to give foreign companies access to Paraguayan resources and put farmers under Monsanto’s control?
  4. Is Washington playing the Honduras game  {updated text: old game} of sabotaging democracy, and, if so, why?

[Update: According to evidence provided by Wikileaks (!), as quoted in The Nation, evidently there was no “Honduras game,” at least in the sense that Washington did not provoke the coup, whatever its post-coup tolerance or support may have been. The reference to Honduras in Ques. 4 is thus my error and hence deleted.–WM]

Washington’s Role
Paraguay’s elimination of traditional dictatorship in favor of a supporter of land reform made the country a natural target for U.S. imperialists, and U.S. officials have reportedly been concerned about Lugo’s independent attitude toward U.S. military involvement in his country. [Nikolas Kozloff in Al-Jazeera 07/08/12.] Kozloff describes the Bush Administration’s attitude toward Paraguay in clearly imperialist terms:

the Bush White House was careful to employ the stick, bluntly informing Asunción that if the authorities failed to host US troops then Washington would cut off millions in aid. 

In the event, such threats were probably unnecessary: a right wing Colorado government proved all too willing to comply, and, in May 2005, the Paraguayan Senate dutifully approved entry of US troops, granting the forces total immunity from local jurisdiction.

After Lugo was elected, he publicly rejected a new US proposal to send troops to Paraguay. The U.S. ambassador responded that the military deployment would have been for “humanitarian reasons,” without explaining why armed troops were the appropriate method of providing “medical” aid. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that Obama, not just Bush, has been pushing hard to expand the U.S. military presence in southern South America.
Argentina. In the spring of 2012, the U.S. inaugurated a military facility in Argentina, according to a Southern Command spokesperson (as quoted in Argenine media). As protests occurred in an Argentina that still remembers with horror the vicious U.S.-supported fascist dictatorship, the U.S. Embassy denied it was in fact a military base. According to Argentine writer Walter Goobar:

the province of El Chaco is of great importance for several reasons. “In this specific case, (a base) gives the Southern Command control over a strategic area where the borders of Argentina, Braziland Paraguayconverge and where the famous Guarani Aquifer flows.” As it loses political leadership in South America, the United Statesneeds a territorial kind of control ; Goobar adds that “the installation of bases in El Chaco and in Chilewill also allow for the recruitment of local forces in order to have them under its command and on its payroll.”

Chile. Meanwhile, Southern Command has admitted that it has opened a new base in Chile. With an unbelievable display of crassness, the base will be used to train the Chilean Army in urban warfare, which can hardly help but be seen in Chile as a direct threat of a return to the Pinochet days of fascist violence.  
Paraguay. Precisely as Lugo was being impeached, a group of U.S. generals was reportedly in Paraguay negotiating the establishment of a new base there, with local conservatives proclaiming the “threat” to Paraguay posed by Bolivia’s new “military arms race.” The speaker, Paraguayan Congress head of the Commission on Defense Jose Lopez Chavez helped organize the impeachment of Lugo, has ties to “former coup leader and retired general Lino Oviedo,” and reportedly met with the U.S. delegation of generals. Coincidence is of course possible. Chavez was Oviedo’s lawyer representing him concerning charges that he masterminded the murder of an ex-vice president of Paraguay in 1999 and member of Oviedo’s party Unace.
A month after leading the successful campaign to impeach Lugo, on July 29, Chavez introduced a motion that carried in the Congress’s lower house to impeach the defense minister on debatable charges, only three months after he had first been threatened with impeachment charges for criticizing the U.S. ambassador by letter for “interfering in” the internal affairs of Paraguay.
Paraguay already hosts what is widely reported in the media to be a U.S. air force base, at Mariscal Estigarribia, featuring an impressive air base (photo) and bizarrely located in the same region as an enormous, 98,000-acre ranch reportedly purchased by George W. Bush. If Washington is indeed as fearful of Hezbollah and Iranian activities in the region as some militaristic conservatives claim, one can only wonder why the Bush family would wish to live there. Stridently pro-Netanyahu Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for example, has ominously referred to “nefarious activities” by Iran in the region including (how dare they?) a Spanish-language TV network.
Meanwhile, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay have banned Paraguay from participating in their joint trade group until it holds elections to legalize the post-impeachment regime, and have admitted Venezuela, thus seeming to respond to Washington’s military initiative with an economic countermove to bolster Latin independence.
In sum, while the U.S. superpower is clearly working hard to expand military involvement in southern South America, as far as Paraguay is concerned, two hypotheses have supportive evidence:
  1. In an attempt to get U.S. soldiers on the ground in Paraguay to minimize Iranian or Hezbollah influence, Washington is coordinating with factions in the Paraguayan military and elitist political supporters of the military to return Paraguay to pro-U.S. dictatorship.
  1. While more than willing to use its excess soldiers to provide humanitarian assistance, the U.S. is being drawn into domestic Paraguanan politics by sly Paraguayan military officers and elitist politicians who, eager to simultaneously prevent social reform and give tiny Paraguay a larger regional military role, are playing up the ever-present fear in Washington of independence-minded Latin populism.
The U.S. Military in South America:

Latin America, it seems, will participate fully in U.S. global military plans. Even according to DoD, which no doubt omits many off-budget items, U.S. military spending has been explodingrising exponentially both since the end of the Cold War and despite the U.S. retreat from Iraq.
Figures out through 2013 show a slight drop that still leave the budget more than $100 M above its level in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
That budget evidently remains sufficient for a wave of expansion into one of the most peaceful regions on earth, despite the raging conflicts throughout the Muslim world, the rising power of China, and continuing recession back in the U.S.

Further Reading:

Paraguayan Landowners’ War on Farmers

Leaders: Experimenting on Us?

When leaders appear to be promoting a short-sighted, evil, or counter-productive policy, are they in fact simply conducting an experiment, testing an hypothesis (perhaps with you as the test material) they wish to apply to a completely different issue?
It is tempting, for those of little faith, to jump to judgment on our leaders, assuming that they share our values. Perhaps we believe in peace and jump to the conclusion that government policies that so obviously provoke war demonstrate the “stupidity” of leaders. It is undeniably easy to name leaders who give every indication of stupidity, but governments are not run by a single individual; policy is almost always the result of the input of at least half a dozen, and perhaps of many dozen, individuals. Becoming a leader is not easy; a particular one may conceivably be a hapless front-man for some shadowy elite group, but if that is the case, then still policy is flowing from a group (perhaps a financial elite or a military-industrial complex or a group of rich ranchers or the army’s leading generals or a frustrated faction out to change the world). The policy-making group may be composed of folks all of whom harbor some delusion but all are unlikely to be stupid. After all, they had the smarts to get power! More than that, leadership requires or at least is associated with inventiveness. Leaders tend to be activists with all sorts of ideas. These ideas may certainly be short-sighted, inimical to the interests of the country, or even counterproductive for the individual policy-makers themselves. But if you have set yourself the task of figuring out what is going on, jumping to the conclusion that these policy-makers are simply “stupid” is probably the wrong place to start.
Neatly trim your hairy initial thoughts with Occam’s razor. That may not lead to truth, but it will give a logical foundation on which to erect your mental framework. Assume that policy flows from a group with intelligence. If that policy appears short-sighted or counterproductive, consider that the policy-making group may have different goals than you. National security may, for example, be not at all in the interest of a jet-setting group of rich men on the make, nor is national security necessarily in the interest of an international reform movement or a fundamentalist group intent on overthrowing the international political system.
But to observe that leaders are probably not, in comparison with the average person, “stupid,” is certainly not to claim that they are, in comparison with thoughtful and well educated students of human behavior, “intelligent.” Perhaps the assumption that they are inventive is the best starting point. Leaders are people who go to considerable effort to acquire power and, along the way if not from the start, can generally be assumed to have wild imaginations about what they would do with that power. Do they have vision? Not necessarily. But the probably do enjoy experimenting…more than you might have imagined.
Before exploring the question of whether or not leaders play with their power like a mad scientist building Frankenstein just to see what Frankenstein’s first words might be rather than because of any particular objective that he might want Frankenstein to achieve, a couple comments on the marvelous ability of leaders to drop rocks on their own feet may be in order. The question of whether a given policy is an example of “dropping rocks on one’s own feet” or in fact for some ulterior motive known only to the leader is central to understanding human politics. Here, an example will suffice.
In a concise little study of U.S.-Latin American relations, Amira Armenta focuses on the counter-productive nature of U.S. policy, which presumably has been designed to achieve control over Latin regimes for the benefit of, say, U.S. corporations or some concept of U.S. national security, but which repeatedly provokes utterly unnecessary waves of anti-Americanism that end up costing the U.S. money and decision-maker time that could better have been applied to real global challenges.

La misma myopia que ha caracterizado la politica de seguridad de EEUU para el continente se puede percibir tambien en su politica economica. Cuando Washington predica su modelo de mercados abiertos y de libre comercio como receta magica para la prosperidad ecomomica, en realidead esta impulsando la penetracion de EEUU en los mercados latinoamericanos mientras mantiene al mismo tiempo una linea protectora y de subsidios para supropia industria agricola. Los impactos de esta judaga no tardan en revelarse: pobreza que genera malestar social, incremento de la delincuencia, migracion. Despues se preguntan, de donde surgen el chavismo, el indigenismo, el zapatismo y todos esto movimientos socials y politicos que acusan de populistas, radicals, izquierdistas, etc. [En el patio de atras 58.]

Heavy-handed economic exploitation provokes anti-American rebellion. Support for the rapidly spreading cancer of soy monoculture in Paraguay at the expense of the livelihood of the people may indeed be provoking yet another anti-American movement at the present moment. One may fairly ask if an elite can ever learn.
Policies can surely be counter-productive, but that judgment is derived from a long-term perspective. Over the long term, someone else will be in office. It is worth considering the evidence that leaders frequently are folks really just don’t think about the long term; rather, they like to tinker…with our fates.
One example is Gaza, which for years has been treated by leaders on all sides as a laboratory to experiment with hypotheses about running a global war against activist Islam or about making oneself a great Muslim champion.
Another example [“Men as Test Mice” on Historical and Literary Lessons] is suggested by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag archipelago, wherein he describes the development of the Stalinist policy of imprisoning everyone with a mind of his own:
Юридической же формы, как  и у раскулачивания,  у не?
не было. Уголовный кодекс был сам по себе, а ссылка сотен тысяч человек --
сама по себе. Это было личное распоряжение монарха. Кроме того, это был его
первый национальный эксперимент подобного рода, это было ему интересно

…the German exile had no juridical basis. The Criminal Code [which dealt with all manner of individual infraction: WM] in itself was one thing, and the exile of hundreds of thousands of people was something else entirely. It was the personal edict of a monarch. In addition, this was his first experiment of the sort with an entire nationality, and he found it interesting from a theoretical point of view.
The thesis of Greg Grandin that Latin America “has long served as a workshop of empire, the place where the United States elaborated ,tactics of extraterritorial administration and acquired its conception of itself as an empire like no other before it” [Empire’s Workshop (N.Y.: Holt Paperbacks, 2006, 2)] is yet another suggestive perspective, and is filled with examples of lessons learned in Latin America that were later applied in the Mideast, though it is of course difficult to find evidence to demonstrate the degree to which practitioners in Latin America may have had non-Latin countries in mind at that time as ultimate targets.
Perhaps seemingly vicious, short-sighted, or self-defeating policies really are not about the particular subject population. Perhaps the policy-maker’s perspective is no more about “victory” than is a scientist’s daily experiment. Sure, the scientist will be happy to get the desired outcome, but failure to concoct a particular chemical in a test tube is also educational. Indeed, it is the only road to ultimate discovery. Did Stalin really care about a few tens of thousands of German residents or were the vast millions of subject Central Asian Muslims in his mind? Did Washington really see tiny Nicaragua as a threat or were the contras really a test of a broader Cold War-rollback hypothesis?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
To what degree can vicious, short-sighted, or self-defeating policies most accurately instead be understood as experiments to validate hypotheses designed for application elsewhere?

Foreign Policy For the New American Administration

It would be naive, I suppose, to anticipate that the candidates for the U.S. presidency might put aside their immoral bluster about innocent populations they would “obliterate” to give some intelligent thought to the type of world the winner will inherit next January. So, perhaps we should do it for them. All with the foresight to estimate where current global political dynamics are carrying us are cordially invited to share their visions. The world can use your help.

One of the clearest trends I can see is the intensification of determination in official Washington to solve problems with military force. Closely allied with the use of force is the desire to ostracize and totally defeat those who disagree rather than trying to find areas of potential agreement think creatively about possible compromises. The May 8 editorial in Pakistan’s Frontier Post quoted in my previous post neatly dismissed that approach to foreign policy, though its argument could have been even stronger if it had referred to the endless Colombian civil war, the endless Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or the coming tragedy in Lebanon.

Whoever enters the White House next January is going to be boxed in by a whole series of conflicts from which it will be extremely difficult to disengage. The failure of the candidates today to reject publicly and clearly this path of confrontation will only further limit their own freedom of action once elected…digging the ground out from under their own feet.

Election Debate: Where Are the Ideas?

An election in a democracy should be an opportunity for fresh ideas to rise to the top. So where are the ideas in the current U.S. presidential election? The list of dangerous and highly unstable situations in the world that are likely to make life miserable for the next U.S. president is long, and the level of instability is rising. Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, and Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela are all on a knife’s edge. Mexico’s drug cartel issue is not far behind.

From the Republican side, Ron Paul has been shunted aside, and McCain is grinning, “Full speed ahead!” One wonders exactly where he thinks he is going.

From the Democratic side, Kucinich and Robertson and Gravel have been shunted aside. Obama says “Change!” and says it grandly, but whenever he makes the mistake of becoming specific, he sounds just like every other mainstream leader who has gotten us into this trouble. Clinton can’t make up her mind whether she (A) is still part of Bill Clinton’s old liberal group that offered such hope to the nation for a brief moment so long ago or (B) another angry Republican suffering from an overdose of testosterone.

Neither Clinton nor Obama looks like Bush, and neither is likely to win by trying. On domestic issues, there are real differences, but the rest of the world is not going to disappear. How to climb out of the hole we have dug ourselves into needs to be addressed.

Nader is not going to win, unless of course the unthinkable happens and we all start thinking for ourselves, but at the moment a protest vote for Nader does indeed, as suggested elsewhere, sound like the way to go.

Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and…Mexico???

While most of us Americans who pay any attention to what is happening anywhere outside our own borders in the first place are focused on Islamic countries, Latin America is still here, as shown by this extremely disconcerting note from Adam Isaacson, one of the most reliable Latin American bloggers:

“…in Mexico, a top defense official made an absolutely stunning admission: more than 100,000 soldiers have deserted Mexico’s army in the last seven years – and
many of them are now in the service of narcotraffickers. Yet Mexico’s police are
at least as troubled: in three important border towns this week, the Mexican
forced municipal police to cede control, citing widespread allegations that local law-enforcement was deeply infiltrated by drug cartels. Meanwhile Congress is still considering a Bush administration proposal to give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Mexico’s security forces.”

According to a Mexican official quoted in the Mexican press,

Más de 100 mil militares han desertado del Ejército mexicano en los
últimos siete años, algunos de los cuales han engrosado las filas de los grupos
criminales, en particular del narcotráfico
, afirmó hoy el subsecretario de la
Defensa Nacional, Tomás Ángeles Dahuajare.

One might say that the important point is what is meant by the word “algunos” (some), which is just as vague in Spanish as in English, but the existence of such a career path at all is really the troubling part. Indeed, the official noted that the trend is growing. This hints at an underlying social dynamic that might theoretically be dangerously nonlinear.

Anyone have anything to add on this issue?

An invitation:

From my vantage point as an observer of politics in the Islamic world, this Mexican story sounds way too familiar. If it were Afghanistan or Pakistan, the knee-jerk American reaction would be to blame it on al Qua’ida or Sunnis or the Islamic faith; if it were Iraq, the knee-jerk reaction would be to blame it on Iran. To get away from such simplistic mental models and force ourselves to examine real social dynamics, I would propose an analysis of social collapse that compares Latin American cases with cases in the Islamic world.

I know, this crosses institutional boundaries. How would we ever get Latin American and Islamic specialists in the same room??? All I can say is, “This is important, folks. South Waziristan on the Texas border is not something we really need to live through.”

Anyone interested in organizing a little workshop?

Complexity and Dynamics of Global Violence

How to comprehend the functioning and evolution of human civilization as a complex system will be one of the great scientific challenges of the 21st century. A key sub-question concerns the interplay between individual human behavior and the various components of the international political system. Progress toward answering this question promises invaluable payoffs in terms of wars avoided and human aspirations satisfied.

To sketch out the nature of the problem, one can simplify to a three-lens view of international relations:

· One lens shows the familiar broad overview of events: sequence is fairly clear but causality far less so, which leaves us vulnerable to surprise.

· A more powerful lens reveals the causal dynamics. The concepts for interpreting what we see at this magnification are well developed and can even in some fields be represented by equations (because it is assumed that all actors in a given class behave the same), but culture lags behind: we are unfortunately not accustomed to thinking very clearly about the nature of feedback loops and delays in the context of international relations. We have a valuable set of interpretive tools for minimizing surprise in global affairs and for avoiding foreign policy failures that we have simply not bothered to use.

· The third lens is still being polished; though the view through it remains murky, we need to start using it because it shows a far more accurate image of reality. This is the lens that reveals not only the actions and dynamics of a system but also the various structural components. If these components are at multiple levels (individual, group) and all are interdependent, the result is complexity. The theory of complexity that is taking shape today is designed to illuminate systems composed of multiple interdependent parts whose connections at one level (e.g., individual) give rise to seemingly counterintuitive behavior at other levels (e.g., group, national, regional, or system-wide).

The first lens shows us speeches, invasions, elections. The second lens shows the forces causing those events, which it may be reasonable to classify into political, economic, demographic, cultural, and technical. The third lens presumably should show how new behavior emerges at one level from highly complicated interactions at another. More precisely, behavioral dynamics will occur at multiple levels within each of the five sectors mentioned above and others will occur among those sectors.

Exactly how to apply these ideas to international relations is a challenge that remains to be solved. Among the specific problems that seem appropriate subjects for viewing from the complexity perspective are:

· How Palestinian infighting has emerged to undercut the Palestinian people’s long struggle for independence from Israeli colonization;

· How a peasant rebellion for justice against exploitative big landowners in Colombia evolved over half a century into a battle between guerrillas and paramilitaries, with both selling narcotics and committing atrocities against the innocent;

· How violence-addicted extremists gained ascendancy on all sides so quickly after the brief glow of post-Cold War hope, leading to the casting aside of fundamental rules for governing the international political system;

· How the Iraqi insurgency evolved into Sunni-Shi’ite in-fighting at the expense of efforts either to resist the U.S. occupation or rebuild Iraq, with the emergence of new types of behavior (e.g., blowing up holy sites).

Complexity theory sensitizes us to questions that might otherwise be overlooked.

· The interdependence of the parts of a complex system (think of the difference between giving drugs to a sick person and repairing a car) warns one to expect “side” effects. Thus, if a problem in ties between two ethnic groups appears, from the complexity perspective, one would automatically ask how that would ripple through the whole system, with implications for system stability.
· The expectation that the way the parts of a complex system interact will be affected by the context in which the system exists focus attention on how external pressures modify the behavior of actors within the system.
· The assumption of complexity theory that variation exists among individuals cautions one to pay strict attention to details. (Note that this assumption directly contradicts the assumption of smoothness that is made when viewing dynamics [the second lens, above].)

· The concept of “emergence” sensitizes us to anticipate rather than be surprised by new forms of behavior that violate cultural norms (the rise of narco-paramilitaries, revenge destruction of holy sites, intifadas, ethnic cleansing, massacres of civilians, bombing of cities, threats of nuclear war against non-nuclear states).

The generic complexity theory we have today sensitizes us to ask certain key questions and prepares us to anticipate surprise. There is as yet little application of that generic theory to the specifics of human civilization, much less to the field of global politics, so the theory does not—yet—tell us what type of behavioral modifications we should anticipate. It remains to be seen whether or not we can construct a “science of human socio-political complexity.” What is the next step in the direction of that vision? The development of a framework to allow us to think more conceptually about the proper ways to use each of the three above-described powers of magnification–events, dynamics, and interdependence—would be a good place to start.

The Insurgency Closer to Home

Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only countries with insurgencies complicated by U.S. involvement. Closer to home is Colombia, a country Congress is about to focus on, at least for a moment. A little theory may help put this half-century-long civil war in perspective…

We may all agree that instability read as chaos, disease, and war is bad, while stability read as peace, progress, economic development is good. Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between saying:

A.) that stability requires that the current leaders, current customs, and current inequities remain in place and

B.) that stability permits all desired changes at whatever desired speed in leadership, custom, law, power relationships as long as those changes are achieved peacefully and with tolerance.

Recognition that stability need not mean stasis opens the door to fundamentally new policies. Dictatorships no longer need to be propped up by foreign powers interested in establishing commercial or military ties because one’s imagination is opened to the possibility of a new system that would both address the desires of the population for, say, social justice or political participation and address the foreign power’s interests:

  • An oppressed population helped to gain social justice by a foreign power might well find it had no problem selling oil to that power;
  • A foreign power that chose to support a rise in the wages of banana pickers against the wishes of international corporations might find the new country a much more stable source of bananas.

Colombia is a case in point. Half a decade ago, all sides in the endless Colombian civil violence, which in its current formulation has continued for four decades but really began at the end of the century – the 19th century, agreed to join together to negotiate a solution. After nearly four years of trying, the negotiations failed.

Among the many reasons for the failure of those negotiations and the continuation of the civil war up to today, with no end in sight, was a seeming closedmindedness about the definition of stability. There does not seem to have been any general recognition among the key participants in the negotiations of the wide range of possible changes in how economic resources and political power are apportioned in Colombia that could have been encompassed within the meaning of a stable, negotiated settlement of the Colombian civil war. Many are now dying in Colombia, in part as a result of how the key actors define the word “stability.”

Regime Behavior and Instability

I have commented before on the fundamental importance of how one defines “stability” in international relations. Given the many current world problems directly tied to violent instability and violent efforts to eliminate it (for example), a brief focus on the often-overlooked ways in which instability may be provoked seems worthwhile.

The diagram pictures some causal relationships between state policy and tension in the populace, based on the following hypothesis:

Stability is a function of tension.

The hypothesis implies the intuitive: if social tension rises, so will instability. Other causes are of course possible, but the underlying psychological state of the populace is one that is all too often overlooked. The diagram posits four causal loops, each of which may increases tension:

1) Foreign aid may induce the repression of minority rights (by giving the regime the confidence to turn its back on the minorities);

2) Civil rights may be repressed;

3) Arms imported by the regime may be used against the people.

A couple points are worth making about this simple diagram. First, reality is of course more complex. There may be loops that mitigate violence, connections directly from one loop to another, etc. But this diagram is already complicated enough – with three separate ways that tension might be raised, which leads to the second point. One might well implement a policy that successfully mitigated one of these causal pathways and not even notice an impact on social tension because the other loops were still provoking so much of a rise in tension and resulting instability. For success, policies will need to be developed that address each causal loop that is operating in the given situation.

Does anyone see a connection between these ideas and any of the world’s current violence?

Statesmen Do Not Play Chess

Chess is a grand image for self-important world actors: their armies march across the stage, rooks and bishops plot devious pincer movements, queens sweep through to deliver the coup de grace. But international competition for influence over the Mideast is no game. The dead in the World Trade Center and Jenin and Beirut and Fallujah attest to that.

If one chooses to use game imagery, then chess should certainly not be the game in mind. The modern, interconnected, interdependent, nuclear world needs a much more sophisticaly metaphor than the Dark Ages “exterminate thine enemy” nonsense of chess. The game of politics, played skillfully, rests on a vision of compromise, but compromise in a very special sense.

Power is the issue, but power has attributes little appreciated by your average power-hungry but politically inept and testosterone-blinded political actor. Power is infinitely maleable. It can of course run out; it can be monopolized…but it need not be. Power can be transformed. Therefore, political compromise need not be a mindless and frustrating redivision of the same old pie. Handled skillfully—and herein lies the distinction between ‘politician’ and ‘statesman’, political compromise is the art of transformation: not only can the pie get bigger but multiple pies can be baked.

If a resource-rich but economically less developed country sold some of its resources to an industrial country and took the profits for honest national purposes, say, the creation of a modern educational system and an egalitarian economy, while the industrial country in turn built up its own economy, the pie would be bigger. Each country would end up with more “power”—more capability to do things.

If our two utterly mythical countries had started out in a military competition (e.g., the industrial country being intent on colonizing the other and stealing its resources or the less modernized country intent on overtaking the industrial country as the preeminent power in its own region), then the above scenario with its peaceful, cooperative and mutually-beneficial outcome would have effectively baked new pies. Rather than one military power pie, where the bigger Side A’s piece, the smaller Side B’s piece, the result would be additional pies.

An economic pie would be shared in some manner, no doubt not really 50-50, but that pie would be growing, with benefits on both sides. An intellectual pie might grow as well, with a new population receiving a modern education, cultural exchanges, and a general increase in knowledge occurring.

These are simple examples to make the point that skillful management of international affairs can replace the politician’s dangerous, zero-sum approach to international affairs with a safer, positive-sum approach in which compromise is the process of transformation of the competition. With multiple, growing pies, the two sides no longer need to compete to take each other’s share. One side may retain most of the military power, while the other gains, say, economically or in terms of status.

The brilliance of politics lies in the quest for transformation. Chessmen don’t transform: they conquer or die. The art of politics is to redefine an insoluable issue into an issue that is soluable. The possibilities are limited only by the human mind:

  • Once there were two superpowers who ruled the world, both armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons aimed at each other and sufficient to destroy the opponent, themselves, and all the rest of mankind several times over. Sensing that something was amiss, they managed to transform the competition just enough to avoid open war…engaging, for example, in an intense competition over Gold Medals.
  • Could one imagine Tel Aviv replacing its generation-long history of invading Lebanon and destroying the livelihoods of Lebanon’s poor with an economic assistance program designed to enable them to become part of Lebanon’s political system – with a stake in preserving it?
  • Could one imagine India and Pakistan agreeing that each of those countries has more than enough problems and potential without Kashmir as a possession and deciding that helping the Kashmiri people to develop their homeland as a friendly neighbor might not be so unbearable after all?
  • Could one imagine Colombians deciding that it might be worth the price to give Colombia’s poor peasants control over their own land in an effort to end a half century of civil war?
  • Could one imagine Washington and Tehran renouncing violence and focusing their competition for Mideast influence instead on a cultural level by, say, funding competing educational systems?

Good leaders accomplish such redefinition.