Tag: world order

Is the Liberal World Order Finished?

This is a guest post by Dillon Stone Tatum, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Geography at Francis Marion University.

If the liberal world order isn’t dead, commentators have killed it. The recent explosion in analysis focusing on what Donald Trump, or broader populist movements, mean for the future of world order have already written both the eulogy and the obituary for liberal internationalism. Robert Kagan makes this argument most bluntly in suggesting “the collapse of the world order, with all that entails, may not be far off.” Kagan is not alone. Others like Stephen Walt express concern with the decline of a liberal order. And, John Ikenberry argues that this new order is already upon us—that “in this new age of international order, the United States will not be able to rule. But it can still lead.”

Rest in Peace, liberalism.

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How the US is Slowly Cultivating the Conditions for a Renewed International Order

Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s talk in Parliament in London this week offered useful insights into how the Obama administration and foreign policy analysts around it are thinking about shaping international order. As Director of Policy Planning in that administration from 2009-11 she spoke from experience about the mechanisms being used to implement international change. While she touched on Syria, drone strikes and other newsworthy issues, her wide-ranging discussion was more important for the glimpses it gave of the theoretical assumptions underlying how US policymakers understand change. There is a tremendously ambitious agenda at work. We must scrutinise the theory driving that agenda if we’re to understand US foreign policy.

Slaughter began by saying that structures are being put in place whose effects won’t be visible for some years. The structures the US is building are informed by the assumption that the biggest development in international relations is not the rise of the BRICs but the rise of society – “the people” – both within individual countries and across countries. The US must build structures that harness societies as agents in the international system. Slaughter returned to Putnam’s (1988) two-level game, the proposition that it is in the interaction of international and domestic politics that governments can play constituencies off against one another to find solutions to diplomatic and policy dilemmas. Slaughter took up this framework: the US administration must see a country as comprised of both its government and its society, work with both, and enable US society to engage other countries’ governments and societies. The latter involves the US acting not as “do-er” but as “convenor”, using social media and organising face-to-face platforms for citizens, civil society groups and companies to form intra- and international networks.

Critically, these two levels are flat. This took me by surprise. At the society level, citizens, civil society groups and companies are connected horizontally. No particular group or individual is afforded a priori centrality. Why is this a surprise? Public diplomacy experts have spent the last few years trying to target ‘influencers’ in societies. Influencers are political, religious or cultural figures who are listened to by others. This idea is informed by network analysis, marketing, and the idea that State Department messages are more credible in different parts of the world when mediated and delivered by a local influential figure than by Hillary Clinton on TV. Slaughter was not convinced by reliance on influencers, empirically or normatively. She argued that all the millions marketers have spent still hasn’t generated any clear knowledge about how influencers can be identified and utilised. Not only that, but it is surely preferable to try to engage whole societies and treat all individuals equally. That would flourish a greater democratic ethos than appealing to amenable clerics, companies, journalists and intellectuals in the hope they might spread the word downwards.

The long term goal of this foreign policy agenda is to create overseas publics who are receptive to the US in a low-level way, such that in a decade or two when the US might need to rely on these publics, it will at least be listened to. Slaughter quoted former Secretary of State George P. Shultz (1997). He suggested diplomacy is like gardening: “You get the weeds out when they are small. You also build confidence and understanding. Then, when a crisis arises, you have a solid base from which to work”. Slaughter praised the US Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, who spends 20 percent of his working week on Twitter and his blog. Huebner writes about rugby and other issues of local interest rather than about US foreign policy. As a result, Slaughter said, he has a higher readership than New Zealand’s largest newspaper. The significance of this isn’t so much in quantitative metrics such as reach, but that he has built an audience by constructing a different quality of engagement. He is forming Schultz’s solid base.

An incremental, everyday-focused approach to engaging foreign publics might not strike up much publicity, but some US policy practitioners have been trying it for a few years now. In War and Media (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010) we discussed how since 2005 Capt. Frank Pascual and Capt. Eric Clark of the Media Engagement Team of CENTCOM, Dubai (the US Central Command base for the Middle East) had tried to engage Arabic-speaking audiences by becoming a regular presence on TV in the region, ’24 hours a day’:

Pascal: … We’ve had people come out from the Pentagon and look at this and say ‘wow’, really that’s been the word used because they realise how far forward we’re leading. There are times when, we basically have toothpaste and a toothbrush and not a lot more because things happen so quickly … I can’t allow Al-Jazeera or any other of the news media to get the high ground if we can seize it. Even if all I have is a piece of the information, or even if I don’t have anything to be able to say: ‘we’re investigating’, ‘we’re looking into that’ and at least give them something to go with, you know […] we will hold our people accountable for it and you can rely on that […] the American comedian Woody Allen said: ‘80 percent of life is showing up’, and that really is the word presence for us: being out there.

Unlike the ‘monks’ in their embassies, Pascal and Clark felt they were beginning to generate trust, initially with journalists but eventually with audiences. They acknowledged this was a slow process. Their temporal horizons for success appeared long term:

Pascal: There are a lot of people in our own government both on the military side and on the diplomatic side who would tell you: ‘what are you guys doing, you’re wasting your time with them’. It’s not wasted, the fact of the matter is that at least we got to say something on the air, live, and in fairness to them again it was not just 30 seconds, it was about five minutes of conversation, so it’s a real engagement, the ball gets moved very slowly sometimes and sometimes agonisingly slowly and I would argue that that’s the case here, but it’s moving.

This statecraft-as-gardening approach faces problems, Slaughter acknowledged. First, convening platforms for societies to communicate to each other and to foreign governments depends on a liberal faith that if you give people opportunities they will do more good than harm, and a quasi-Habermasian public sphere where everyone can and should have equal say. Slaughter conceded that the very technologies that allow publics to come together are the same technologies that allow states (and some non-state actors with particularistic agendas) to monitor and manipulate public debate, censor, and arrest dissenters. This was part of a “back and forth” struggle, Slaughter said, between people challenging their government using communications technologies that government can also use to restrict freedom – a struggle that long predates the Internet. So, there will be risks with this technology-led strategy and the open, free “townhall” model won’t emerge overnight.

Indeed, this approach assumes information is neutral and communication is a fundamental right. It is an approach that can easily slip into presenting a particular vision as natural and apolitical. Slaughter’s is a world where information should flow freely; it only gets political when people restrict it. If the US embassy in China tweets alternative air quality information to the Chinese government’s (LeVrine, 2010), “we were just tweeting information”, Slaughter said. No: information is being used to challenge Chinese state authority and make its expertise seem provisional and weak.

The second problem is that other major powers are trying to shape the international system at the same time. They may not share Slaughter’s theoretical premise that the fundamental relationships in international politics now involve the mutual interpenetration of numerous governments and societies. The EU and the BRICs have alternative ways of looking at the world, different levels of analysis, and their understandings of the individual, society and state can diverge fundamentally. It will take a lot of patience between foreign policymakers among these powers to identify conceptual and practical overlaps if the US approach is to be finessed with others.

Rival powers might also ask whether Slaughter’s approach is simply a new form of instrumentalism. Creating platforms for citizens and civil society groups to work together may seem attractive, but this is a means to the ends of US security. As Schultz said, the aim is to have a solid base of support overseas when crisis hits. And given that global pandemics, food and water shortages, terrorism and other security challenges depend on the responses of societies, “empowering” societies to address these issues may be a route to preventing crises and securing stability in the first place. Consequently, the classic tension in US foreign policy between pragmatism and idealism, documented again in Global Policy this week (Lilli, 2012), remains there to see.

It was generous of Slaughter to articulate so many of the assumptions and concepts underpinning US foreign policy and to provide detail on how those are being translated into policies and structures. US policymakers are aware of the problems identified here and it will be a long, patient process on their part to ensure those problems do not fatally undermine US efforts to empower citizens and cultivate support for the US around the world. Students of international affairs can expect to watch this renewed two-level game play out well beyond the current administration.

Cross-posted from the LSE journal Global Policy: http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/

References:

Hoskins, A. and O’Loughlin, B. (2010) War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War, Cambridge: Polity.

LeVrine, S. (2011) ‘China’s microblog furor over bad air days’, Foreign Policy, 10 November. Available at: http://oilandglory.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/11/10/chinas_microblog_furor_over_bad_air_days

Lilli, E. (2012) ‘Review: Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy by Martin S. Indyk et al’, Global Policy, 30 May. Available at: http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/30/05/2012/review-bending-history-barack-obama%E2%80%99s-foreign-policy-martin-s-indyk-et-al

Putnam, R.D. (1988) ‘Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games’, International Organization, 42 (3), 427-460.

Schultz, G.P. (1997) ‘Diplomacy in the Information Age’. Paper presented at the Conference on Virtual Diplomacy, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C., April 1.

Quarter-Baked Idea: The Post-Cold War Concert System

This is the first in what may become an occasional series. Over the last year or two, I’ve drifted out of regular blogging. The usual excuses apply: too much work and not enough energy. I am so badly behind on a number of book chapters, manuscript revisions, and the like that the simple act of writing this explanation feels like a misuse of my time. Well, anyway, so my notion is this: write short posts designed to provoke discussion of various issues in international relations and international-relations theory. We’ll see if it works.

For the last decade or more, unipolarity has been the basic framework in security studies for understanding contemporary international order. We’ve debated about the general stability of unipolarity. We’ve argued about whether the character of American leadership impacts that stability. And we’ve spent–and continue to spend–an enormous amount of time contemplating the power-transition dynamics associated with the rise of China.

I wonder, though, if our unipolarity fixation obscures some important aspects of post-Cold War security order. In the early 1990s another image of world politics seemed plausible: that of a new great-power concert. After all, the United Nations was constructed with an embedded concert architecture via the United Nations Security Council, and the 1991 Gulf War suggested a reinvigoration of that latent aspect of international order.

The standard story is that those hopes were dashed by retreat from Somalia, the Rwanda debacle, NATO expansion, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, and so forth. Renewed optimism–at least those who favored such an arrangement, including Moscow–after 9/11 quickly gave way to talk of “American Empire” as the Bush Administration mobilized to invade Iraq. Thus, most recent discussions of a great-power concert have been forwarded looking. In essence, foreign-policy pundits debate whether the US should pursue some kind of new capital-c Concert  as the fundamental component of a post-Iraq grand strategy. Sometimes the Concert in question is supposed to be composed of democratic states, and other times not.
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International Security and the Twitterati

I’m just back from the Halifax International Security Forum where I had the good fortune to meet fellow Duck blogger Jon Western. The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons described the gathering as Davos for the security set, which certainly is a nice ego-boost, whether or not it’s true. The forum is in its third year and is backed by the Canadian government among other sponsors. The forum of 200 plus draws mightily on traditional transatlantic security elites, but the smattering of Brazilians, Syrians, Yemenis, Serbians, Indians etc. gave it a decidedly more cosmopolitan flair. On the U.S. side, notable attendees this year included Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (and 17 other defense ministers from around the world) as well as a trio of U.S. Senators McCain, Shaheen, and Udall. 
With most of the plenaries webcast and on the record, I was struck by the live Tweeting going on in the room, with a number of foreign policy observers  — Anne-Marie Slaughter, David Kurtz, Heather Hurlburt, Brian Katulis, Mieke Eoyang, among others–capturing the salient points and offering their observations live. One could have almost a real-time on-line virtual conversation both with people in the room and from around the world (check out the twitter hashtag #halifax2011).

Aside from the process, I had a number of observations that I think capture the zeitgeist from the meeting (or at least my biased interpretation of the proceedings).

First, I was somewhat surprised by the limited focus on the crisis of the Euro (which could have major implications for Western governments’ abilities to finance security and development commitments going forward). It may well be, as noted by my friend Tom Wright, that security experts have tended to avoid the complex subject matter of international financial markets in recent years. I fear they do so at their (our) peril. Despite the relative paucity of coverage of the issue, one of the most salient observations linked the European crisis to the rise of other nations. The observer pointed out that Portugal’s formal colony Angola, buoyed by oil money, is now helping its formal colonial master, by buying up banks and providing other sources of finance. 
Portugal’s Prime Minister visits
Angola hat in hand

Source: The Guardian
Second, there was understandably a large emphasis on the Arab Spring and much speculation about the future direction in places like Syria. After the Libyan intervention, participants assessed the extent to which it might serve as a precedent for other places under the guise of the responsibility to protect (R2P). While R2P in theory encompasses other instruments than the use of force, most of the discussion centered on intervention rather than other measures like conflict prevention. 
Clearly, panelists like Canada’s defense minister were reluctant to consider using force in Syria, though he thought the world could envision other measures that might pressure the Syrian regime such as bans on participation in sporting events. With yesterday’s vote in the UN General Assembly human rights committee to condemn Syria, it will be interesting to see whether the Security Council (and in turn China and Russia) will feel compelled to do something. 
A member of the Syrian opposition made a compelling case for assistance, though one questioner noted that the international community on the one hand has told the Syrian opposition not to ask for assistance and then has turned around and said, we can’t intervene because no one has asked us to (!). On this topic, the most memorable line for me was Senator McCain saying he was glad Bin Laden lived long enough to see the Arab Spring which was a repudiation of all that Bin Laden stood for.
Third, the meeting would not be complete without a session or two on the rise of China and other emerging economies. As ever, the scope of China’s ambitions and capabilities are unclear. With its actions in recent years in the South China Sea, China may have squandered some of the soft power it had built up in previous years among its neighbors. In terms of capabilities, even if China has an aircraft carrier, it may not have adequate planes for it (yet). More importantly, the challenges of tamping down domestic discontent may loom rather larger than external observers recognize, with far more men under arms to guard against domestic dissent than external threats. 
Outsiders tend to credit the Chinese for taking the long view and having a pretty apt perspective on the external world, but some of the folks I talked to suggest that the Chinese may not be as adept in managing their international presence as some imagine. In Africa, for example, actions by Chinese firms in places like Zambia, where owners of a Chinese mining company used live rounds against striking workers, have triggered a political backlash and international criticism by groups like Human Rights Watch.
Fourth, there was incredible uncertainty about the role of the United States going forward. This kind of gathering lent itself to some modest self-congratulation on the historic role played by the NATO alliance and some measure of pride in the success of the recent mission in Libya. Given the forum, it is not surprising that there was a welcome embrace of the U.S. decision to send troops to Australia to signal to China and other regional players that the U.S. intends to stick around.
The difficult economic circumstances in Western countries cast a cloud over the proceedings. The Australia announcement notwithstanding, there was something of sense of resignation, if not malaise, about the prospects for an American or broader Western revival. Anne-Marie Slaughter sought to remind the crowd that the combined economic and military might of the U.S. and Europe will not be matched any time soon, but her buoyant attitude seemed a bit of an anomaly. 
With the the supercommittee failing to reach an agreement on deficit reduction and Niall Ferguson provocatively warning of a EU break-up over the weekend in the Washington Post, it is hard to resist the somewhat defeatist temptation and imagine the inevitability of decline. Of course, such handwringing characterized a number of U.S. commentators in the 1980s during Japan’s rise and throughout the EU’s tortuous path of integration.

So, it is surely premature, despite the paralysis of the U.S. political system and Europe’s economic woes, to write off either of them. But, as I’ll explore in my next post on the economic crisis in Europe, we are living in pretty dangerous times for the global economy, and I worry that not enough of our leaders are taking those threats sufficiently serious.

War and the Eurozone

PM and Chancellor Merkel press conference

Last week, at University of Bristol, I gave a talk called “The Future of World Order” to the student International Affairs Society. It was a speculative lecture, based on my 17 years directing the Grawemeyer Award (for Ideas Improving World Order) more than my scholarship per se. I warned the audience from the start of two personal biases: (1) I am an optimist; and (2) I don’t really put much stock in specific predictions. I tried to stick to big ideas more than particular policies.

In the presentation, I argued that any order built on coercion and force would inevitably face a legitimacy crisis — and would ultimately collapse. The implications are twofold, I think. Domestically, people will demand greater control of their own lives. This means the world will see many more emancipatory movements to topple autocrats and unaccountable sources of power — as illustrated just this year by events in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, the city of London, Wall Street, etc.

Internationally, it means order built on deterrence, brute force, or even the balance of power will give way to something that is more consensual, such as a security community. In support of this position, I talked a bit about John Mueller’s thesis that major power war is becoming obsolete — an outmoded institution, abandoned like slavery and dueling previously were. Could this thinking become even more pervasive, so that virtually any talk of war — internal or external — becomes outmoded? Eventually.

In the talk, I did not explicitly argue against the traditional state-centrism of international relations, nor call for the end of the states-system. However, I strongly implied that the future of world order will be more cooperative, focused on low rather than high politics (elevating the human security agenda), and much less violent.

This week, recovering from jet lag, I’ve been following the efforts to save the euro and Eurozone. One interesting aspect is that conservative leaders in Europe have certainly made some bold claims to sell their preferred outcomes. For instance, while traveling in Australia, British Prime Minister David Cameron used some classic statist language to highlight his concerns about the implications of ongoing negotiations:

“This is our key national interest, that Britain, a historic trading nation, has its biggest markets open and continues to have those markets fairly open and fairly governed.”

He later told the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson: “In business often it’s selling more to your existing customers that’s the best strategy.

What his comments reveal is that when – if – the eurozone crisis ends, big political questions will replace the big economic problems”

“We’re big sellers into Europe, we can do better in those markets if we liberalise further.”

Mr Cameron has vowed to protect the UK’s position and said on Friday that the City of London was one “area of concern… a key national interest that we need to defend”.

“London – the centre of financial services in Europe – is under constant attack through Brussels directives,” he said.

Note the words and phrases Cameron used: “key national interest,” “attack” and “defend.”

Next, consider these remarks Wednesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails,” Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.

“We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.”

Gulp.

Based on these quotes, scholars should perhaps worry about the long-term durability of Mueller’s thesis.

Well, at least slavery is gone. Right?

Olympic Dreams

The 2008 Summer Olympic games kicked off today in Beijing, on the same day as Russia and Georgia go to war. Correlation? Causation?

John Hoberman’s “Think Again” article in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy would have us believe that the Olympics are not only irrelevant to, but actually bad for world order and international cooperation:

“The real genius of the IOC is its ability to create and sustain the myth that it promotes peace. In reality… trapped by its grandiose goal of embracing the entire ‘human family’ at whatever cost, the IOC has repeatedly caved in and awarded the games to police states bent on staging spectacular festivals that serve only to reinforce their own authority.”

I am no expert on the IOC’s history or on any large-N studies that may or may not confirm Hoberman’s claim that the Olympics have a negative or at best zero effect on the frequency or intensity of interstate war. But I am able to see an important conceptual problem in Hoberman’s argument: he treats “internal human rights” as synonymous with “interstate peace.” For example, the first sentence of his abstract begins with the foil: “The Olympic Games were founded to bridge cultural divides and promote peace.” But the article primarily refers to the internal human rights abuses of certain Olympic-hosting states as evidence that this goal has not been met by the IOC. Hoberman derides the IOC’s official policy of political neutrality and Olympic diplomacy as an “old cliche”:

“What the Olympics promote instead is a form of amoral universalism in which all countries are entitled to take part in the games no matter how barbaric their leaders may be.”

But it is precisely this amoral universalism that has the capacity to promote peace – among, not within, countries. It is no different from the political neutrality espoused by humanitarian organizations who, like the IOC, lack coercive instruments and instead peddle universal norms; or by the United Nations, an organization founded on the sovereign equality of states moreso than on a commitment to clean up their internal politics. In fact, the tension between these two noble goals – international stability between states, and human rights within them – underlies many of the key debates about UN reform today. Hoberman treats these two goals as if they are the same and can be conflated, when in fact, achieving one often depends on undermining the other.

Do the Olympics promote human rights? I’ll buy his argument that they can legitimize offending governments. But does the IOC claim to be a human rights organization? No. Its avowed goal of “acting as a catalyst for collaboration between all members of the Olympic Family” does in fact, perhaps, sometimes depend on looking the other way when it comes to internal repression by governments who think of themselves as family members.

2008 Grawemeyer winner

University of California, Berkeley, professor Philip Tetlock has won the 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $200,000.

The December 3 Chronicle of Higher Education
has a brief piece that explains the rationale for the prize:

Predictions on political issues are frequently wrong, says Mr. Tetlock, which is unfortunate because lawmakers frequently rely on such analyses to shape policy. In a 20-year study of 27,000 predictions made by 284 “experts” cited in the news media, he found that, very often, the professionals were no more accurate in their crystal-ball gazing than ordinary people.

“In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area-study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of The New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations,” writes Mr. Tetlock in his 2005 book about the study, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? (Princeton).

Experts need to receive more training and be held publicly accountable for their advice, he argues in the book.

The university press release noted:

Award judges called the book “a landmark study that changes our understanding of the way experts perform when they make judgments about world politics.”

One of the members of the final selection committee outlined his support for Tetlock’s book in Tuesday’s local paper:

“It’s one of these really thorough, long-term projects,” [Professor Charles E.] Ziegler said. “He did a lot of interviews, spent a lot of time thinking it through. He was self-critical and balanced.”

In political science, many critics argue that it is not possible to be objective and scientific, yet Tetlock’s research shows “we can still strive for that,” Ziegler said.

And Tetlock’s observations have broad applications to decision-making and forecasting in many fields, Ziegler added.

The Louisville Courier Journal story by James Carroll also included this quote from the author about the irrationality of political discourse in the US:

“There seems to be a rather perverse, inverse relationship between what people find persuasive in political rhetoric and the qualities of reason that are conducive to accuracy in the political sphere,” he said. “There’s a trade-off between being persuasive and being right.”

The local paper also has a nice explanation of the way Tetlock casts experts as either foxes or hedgehogs.

Jacob Levy and Dan Drezner mentioned the prize on their blogs too.

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize.

2007 Grawemeyer winner

University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris has won the 2007 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $200,000.

One of the members of the final selection committee outlined the main argument of Paris’ book in Tuesday’s local paper:

Charles Ziegler, chairman of U of L’s political science department, said Paris’ “institutionalization before liberalization” theory is an important contribution to international thinking about post-conflict peace missions.

“His proposal is for a new peace-building strategy,” Ziegler said. “It has real applicability to a lot of conflicts now,” including Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

The Chronicle of Higher Education added this:

Mr. Paris is being recognized for his scholarship on how to establish and maintain peace after warfare. In his 2004 book At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict (Cambridge University Press), he outlines strategy proposals that he says NATO must adopt if it hopes to keep Afghanistan from reverting to a terrorist haven. According to the proposals, NATO should place less emphasis on its efforts to destroy Afghan poppy crops and more on training police and military forces, eliminating government corruption, and stemming the flow of fighters entering the nation from Pakistan.

If NATO cannot meet those objectives, he says, then it should withdraw.

The Louisville Courier-Journal article includes a juicy quote about Iraq:

“The postwar stabilization mission in Iraq was lost the day after the United States entered Baghdad with too few troops,” said Paris,

That paper also describes a bit about his book:

Paris’ book said that establishing such institutions as the police, courts and a government that can run basic services are more important to a nation in the early period after a civil war than rushing to democracy and opening economic markets.

In his book, he examined 14 cases in the 1990s involving international missions attempting to stabilize nations after civil wars. Among them were Bosnia, Angola, Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cambodia.

The article has some additional quotes about policy failings in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so I encourage everyone to read it for a brief overview of the scholarship.

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize.

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The Paradox of Humanitarian Action

I have been quite busy this week hosting Fiona Terry, author of Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action, and 2006 winner of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. She’s been a great guest and the book is truly worth your time.

Terry, by the way, has a PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Australian National University — and has been a humanitarian field worker for about 15 years. At the time she published the book, she was research director for the French section of the Nobel-winning group, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

Terry’s passport reflects a large part of the political history of the post-cold war era. She served in Somalia in the early 1990s, then (I’m not 100% sure of the order) Vietnam, northern Iraq, Rwanda, Liberia, and across the border from North Korea. She’s been in Myanmar (Burma) for about two and a half years and will leave there in October for some other global hotspot.

Today, before flying back to her current post for the International Red Cross, Terry was on a local public radio interview program, “State of Affairs.” If you are interested in her ideas, but don’t have access to the book, listen to the entire program from the website.

The archive is here. The April 21 show is not yet there, but I’ll try to post a link when it appears.

The Cornell University Press website explains the book’s main argument:

Humanitarian groups have failed, Fiona Terry believes, to face up to the core paradox of their activity: humanitarian action aims to alleviate suffering, but by inadvertently sustaining conflict it potentially prolongs suffering….

[She] makes clear that the paradox of aid demands immediate attention by organizations and governments around the world. The author stresses that, if international agencies are to meet the needs of populations in crisis, their organizational behavior must adjust to the wider political and socioeconomic contexts in which aid occurs.

Most recently, by the way, Terry’s book was seen under the arm of one of the world’s most famous international aid advocates. If you get People magazine, check out p. 13 of the April 3, 2006 edition.

Note: The University of Louisville gives the Grawemeyer World Order awardannually and I have administered it since 1995. There are four other $200,000 awards: for Religion, Psychology, Education and Music.

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First, do no harm

Fiona Terry, who currently works for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Myanmar, has won the 2006 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The Louisville Courier-Journal has the story that will likely be picked up by Australian papers soon:

Although well-intentioned, humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees in Zaire became the fuel for more repression and death, Fiona Terry says.

For analyzing how that occurred and urging international aid groups to understand that their actions can have unintended consequences, Terry was awarded the 2006 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order….

Terry, 38, is an Australian who worked for Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in camps in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She wrote a book in 2002, “Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action,” about that tragedy and similar ones in refugee camps around the world.

“Not enough organizations look into the political side of their aid, what they’re contributing to,” Terry said. “They turn a blind eye to it.”

The award is a $200,000 prize.

The book was published by Cornell University Press and is available in paperback.

Dr. Terry provided the newspaper with quite a bit of detail about the Zaire case:

In Zaire, Terry said she saw how the assistance that nations, including the United States, were sending was being diverted to illegitimate purposes.

“The aid was helping the refugees,” Terry said, “but the refugees were being controlled completely by the same people who had committed genocide in Rwanda.”

The majority Hutus had directed a bloodbath against the minority Tutsis, resulting in up to a million deaths and a mass exodus of Tutsis and moderate Hutus to neighboring countries.

As the Tutsis wrested power from the Hutus in Rwanda, many of those responsible for the mass killings ended up in the camps as well. They “were stealing the food and preventing the refugees from going home,” Terry said.

Eventually, the French section of Medicins sans Frontieres, including Terry, pulled out of Zaire.

“We have an obligation to say no sometimes — ‘This is unacceptable,’ ” Terry said.

The Hutu militia used the camps as bases to attack Rwanda, and in 1996 Rwanda attacked and destroyed the camps.

“Up to 200,000 people went missing from the camps,” Terry said. “It was really a slaughter.”

Terry also claims that aid to Afghan refugees in Pakistan gave birth to the Taliban.

I’m looking forward to meeting Terry in April when she visits Louisville. Full disclosure: I have been the chair of the Grawemeyer World Order committee for more than a decade.

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NOLA diaspora and International Norms

Under international law, the dispersed former citizens of New Orleans are now “internally displaced persons” (IDPs). Refugees, by contrast, are people who cross national borders when they flee their homes.

The University of Louisville awarded its 2005 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order to Roberta Cohen and Francis Deng for their efforts to develop Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Note: I administer this $200,000 annual award.

The principles

were presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights by the Representative [of the Secretary-General] in 1998.

The UN Commission and the General Assembly in unanimously adopted resolutions have taken note of the Principles, welcomed their use, and encouraged UN agencies, regional organizations, and NGOs to disseminate and apply them. Individual governments have begun to incorporate them in national policies and laws, international organizations and regional bodies have welcomed and endorsed them, and some national courts have begun to refer to them as relevant restatements of existing international law.

So what do these Guidelines say (also here) and how are they relevant to New Orleans? one that caught my eye:

Principle 3

National authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons within their jurisdiction.

Not to play the “blame game,” but did you notice that it doesn’t say “state and local”?

Several of the principles make clear that displacement should be a last resort and that even in the case of natural disaster, people should only be made to leave their homes when “the safety and health of those affected requires their evacuation” (Principle 6). Clearly, some homes in the area were not flooded and some might argue that total evacuation of the region was not necessary. Caveat: I do not know the condition of gas and power lines in those areas. I only know that there are residents quite reluctant to leave even now who do not feel threatened.

Principle 7 includes these provisions pertinent to natural disaster cases:

(b) Adequate measures shall be taken to guarantee to those to be displaced full information on the reasons and procedures for their displacement and, where applicable, on compensation and relocation;

(c) The free and informed consent of those to be displaced shall be sought;

(d) The authorities concerned shall endeavour to involve those affected, particularly women, in the planning and management of their relocation;

(f) The right to an effective remedy, including the review of such decisions by appropriate judicial authorities, shall be respected.

Principle 11 concerns the safety of the displaced:

1. Every human being has the right to dignity and physical, mental and moral integrity.

2. Internally displaced persons, whether or not their liberty has been restricted, shall be protected in particular against:

(a) Rape, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and other outrages upon personal dignity, such as acts of gender-specific violence, forced prostitution and any form of indecent assault

In addition to stories about rapes and other attacks in the temporary housing, there have been stories about locked doors and road blocks:

Principle 14

1. Every internally displaced person has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his or her residence.

2. In particular, internally displaced persons have the right to move freely in and out of camps or other settlements.

Hmmm. What about the people relocated to the Superdome and Convention Center, as an interim measure? Principle 18:

1. All internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living.

2. At the minimum, regardless of the circumstances, and without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to:

(a) Essential food and potable water;

(b) Basic shelter and housing;

(c) Appropriate clothing; and

(d) Essential medical services and sanitation.

About that foreign help, even from Cuba. Principle 25:

1. The primary duty and responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons lies with national authorities.

2. International humanitarian organizations and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of the internally displaced. Such an offer shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act or an interference in a State’s internal affairs and shall be considered in good faith. Consent thereto shall not be arbitrarily withheld, particularly when authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to provide the required humanitarian assistance.

3. All authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced.

I’ve merely highlighted some of the key concerns that I have had in the past week or so, but if you read the entire document, you will likely have others.

Former Clinton-era budget official for national security affairs, Gordon Adams, raises some of these issues, without the international normative angle, and draws a rather strong conclusion.

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