Day: June 12, 2012

Credit the observers

The UN Supervision Mission in Syria has started posting its own Youtube videos (apologies if this is old news–it has just come to my attention):

The caption reads:

In Homs where increased and intensified fighting is taking place, smoke drift into the sky from buildings and houses hit by shelling. Next the observers traveled to Talbiseh and al-Rastan, north of Homs city. The roads were empty and all shops, garages, health centers were closed. The bridge on the highway between Talbiseh and al-Rastan appeared shelled.
A Syrian opposition flag – with three stars – draped from the bridge as the smoke and fire continued to burn. UN military observers on patrol to these towns noticed helicopters firing. There was fresh blood on corridors and outside some of the houses.The UN patrol team spoke with both side – Syrian army soldiers and oppositions free Syrian army – to try and ascertain the extent of this increased heavy weapons and attacks.

Copyright UNSMIS 2012

This will not stop the Syrian government from committing atrocities, and it doesn’t even clearly asign responsibility. But it certainly improves the visibility of what is going on and generates both internal and external pressure against the regime.  Unless you think the opposition is flying those helicopters and using artillery.

Does anyone doubt that the international observers, restricted and abused though they may be, are serving a useful purpose?  I salute their courage, and their use of Youtube.



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Measuring peace

It is hard for me to know what to make of the Global Peace Index (GPI), the 2012 version of which was presented at CSIS this morning by Michael Shank of the Institute for Economics and Peace.  I was originally trained as a scientist (through a master’s degree in physical chemistry at the University of Chicago).  I take measurement and numbers seriously, which means I am skeptical of hodge-podge agglomerations of numbers based on implicit models not well articulated.

It is difficult to reduce a lot of things to numbers, and when you do the results aren’t always interesting. Thus it is with aspects of the GPI.  Western Europe is the most peaceful region, followed by North America as well as Central and Eastern Europe.  Asia Pacific comes in fourth.  Latin America fifth.  The laggards are sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Duh.

The individual country numbers and the changes from last year aren’t any more interesting:  sure the Arab Spring pushed the MENA numbers down a bit.  Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and Democratic Republic of the Congo are at the bottom of the heap.  Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe moved in the more peaceful direction.  Syria, Egypt and Tunisia went the other way.

This suggests one big problem with the GPI.  It counts countries undergoing revolutions as less peaceful, even if the overall direction from the perspective of their inhabitants may be positive.  And it perceives the end of war in Sri Lanka and the power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe as positive developments, despite the real possibility that they are merely prelude to new violence.

The GPI has a big problem with the United States, which it ranks as middling in peacefulness because of its large military expenditures and arms exports.  But as Lawrence Wilkerson pointed out during the presentation, these are a necessary concomitant of any country with global security responsibilities.  If you play the role of world policeman, whether wisely or unwisely, you are going to need the power projection capabilities required as well as well-equipped allies.  And some of the things you do are likely to contribute positively to peace.  Emily Cadei, speaking from a Congressional perspective, confirmed that America’s politicians certainly do not see defense expenditure or arms exports as negative for American security.

Far more interesting than the country and regional numbers are the twenty-year trends and correlations for components of the GPI, which itself is remarkably unchanged in each region except the Middle East and North Africa since 2007, when it was first calculated.  Military expenditures as a percentage of GDP are down everywhere except the United States, battle-related deaths are generally down too, with the notable exceptions of the Balkans in the 1990s, the Rwandan genocide and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Where things really get interesting, as pointed out by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her introduction, is in correlation trends.  To avoid getting it wrong, let me quote:

Both the Corruption Perception Index and per capita GDP have a similar looking relationship with the Global Peace Index. There appears to be a ‘tipping point’ for countries with a score of around 2 on the GPI. This meant that at a score of 2 on the peace index, small positive changes in peace had large positive impacts on corruption or per capital GDP. Similarly once past the score of 2 on the GPI small negative changes in corruption or per capita GDP were associated with large decreases in peace.

The data likewise confirms the relative peacefulness of full democracies.  Of course these are correlations that confirm our fondest beliefs.  There are still big questions about the direction and mechanism of causality.

New this year is the Positive Peace Index (PPI), whicch is intended to measure attitudes, institutions and structures that determine capacity to create and maintain a peaceful society.  It is based on factors like well-functioning government, sound business environment, equitable distribution of resources, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbors, free flow of information, high levels of education and low levels of corruption.  The difference between GPI and PPI is the “peace gap”:

A surplus means that the institutions, structures and attidudes of the country can support a higher level of peace than is being experienced, while the inverse, a deficit, signifies that the country may be fragile due to weaker than expected institutional capacity.

This is where the U.S. (as well as Israel and Bahrain) are shown to have more potential than they have realized. On the deficit side, there are relatively peaceful countries (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa) that seem to lack the institutions needed to manage “external shocks.”  The PPI will presumably offer more interesting results in the future as trends emerge with time.

I’m not less skeptical of hodge-podge quantification than at breakfast this morning.  But the GPI report is worth a look.


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Nikolic starts well, now let’s have fun

Tomislav Nikolic’s inauguration as President of Serbia went well:  he pledged Serbia to a European future, committed himself to resolving regional problems through dialogue and promised future prosperity in return for hard work. He did not of course repeat his controversial remarks of recent days seeming to justify the Serb assault in the early 1990s on the Croatian town of Vukovar and his denial of genocide at the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

He did however necessarily commit himself to

protect the Constitution, respect and safeguard the territorial integrity of Serbia and try to unite all political forces in the country in order to identify and implement a common policy on the issue of Kosovo-Metohija.

This means that he maintains Serbia’s claim to all of Kosovo, despite loss of control over 89% of its territory and more or less the same percentage of its population.  As required by the constitution, he denies the validity of the 2008 declaration of independence and recognition by 90 sovereign states.

The key question for today’s Serbia is whether and how Nikolic resolves the contradiction between his commitment to a European future for his country and his commitment to holding on to Kosovo.  No Serb politician wants to admit that this contradiction exists, but it does and they all know it. Twenty-two European Union members have recognized Kosovo’s independence.  They will be unwilling to accept Serbia into their club unless it accepts Kosovo’s sovereignty and establishes “good neighborly relations” with the democratically validated authorities in Pristina.

Belgrade has been inclined to put off any resolution of this contradiction for as long as possible.  That is understandable.  It involves a trade-off that is unappetizing:  either give up Kosovo, or give up the EU.

But the failure to make a clear choice distorts judgment on other issues important to Serbia’s future:  relationships with Russia, the United States and NATO as well as Serbia’s relationship with Kosovo’s Albanian citizens (Kosovo’s Serb citizens will presumably choose to remain Serbian citizens, though some have also accepted Kosovo citizenship).

The United States and the EU have been reluctant to press Serbia hard on its choice between the EU and Kosovo, for fear of undermining former President Boris Tadic and strengthening Nikolic’s more nationalist forces.  It might appear that there is no longer need for that reluctance with Nikolic in the presidency.  But there is a real possibility that Tadic will become prime minister and lead the first government of Nikolic’s mandate.  That would enable Serbia to renew its diplomatic manipulation of the West on the Kosovo vs. EU issue.

Nikolic in the past has been more inclined to advocate partition of Kosovo than to give up all claim to it.  This proposition won’t go anywhere.  The Americans and the Europeans are solidly against it, because it would precipitate a domino-effect of partitions in Macedonia, Bosnia, Cyprus and perhaps farther afield.   The Kosovars would ask for the Albanian-majority area of southern Serbia in trade, something Belgrade would not want to offer.  More importantly:  it is not in the interest of most Serbs who live in Kosovo (outside the northern area Serbia would hope to claim).  The Serbian church, whose important sites are all in the south, is solidly opposed.

I’ll hope that Nikolic defies the odds and gets courageous about Kosovo:  it is lost to Serbian sovereignty.  All politicians in Belgrade, including Nikolic, understand that, but no one wants to accept responsibility for it.  Some of my Serb Twitter followers and email correspondents assure me there is not a chance in hell Nikolic will:  that’s why they voted for him.  They want him to choose Kosovo over the tarnished EU.

They may well be correct, but I’ll wait to see what Nikolic does.  His first test will be implementation of the agreements already reached with Pristina.  Tadic did precious little to make them operational.  If Nikolic wants to stick his predecessor with responsibility for them, he’ll demand that they be implemented by a newly named prime minister, whether it be Tadic or someone else from his Democratic Party.

Nikolic could also change Serbia’s policy on United Nations membership for Kosovo, thus forcing Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic to preside in his new position as General Assembly president over Pristina’s acceptance into the UN. Watching that would be worth almost any admission price.

I’m not holding my breath for any of this to happen.  Just saying it would be fun.

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