Archive for the ‘Jonathan Power’ Category

Is there a way of reducing ethnic disputes?

By Jonathan Power

August 8th. 2017

It’s not that many years ago that Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, commenting on the outbreak of separatist ethnic strife in the 1990s in countries such as Somalia, Zaire, Rwanda, East Timor and ex-Yugoslavia, asked. “Where will it end? Will it end with 5,000 countries?”

It was a serious misjudgement. Separatist wars have fallen sharply. Minorities are not fighting for their own patch of territory at the rate they were. Since 1993 the number of wars of self-determination has been halved.

The list of countries where the problems of ethnic conflict looked potentially ominous but which are now vastly improved is a long one.

Baltic nationalists have moderated their treatment of their Russian minorities. Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania are no longer under threat. After a long war Croatia is respecting minorities.

Conflicts between the central government and India’s Mizo people, the Gaguaz minority in Moldova and the Chakma tribal group in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hills have all diminished. One of Russia’s most important but least-noted achievements has been its peacefully-arrived-at power-sharing agreements with Tatarstan, Bashkiria and forty other regions.

A list almost as long can still be made for ethnic disputes unsolved.

But what we have learnt in the last few years is that the pool of ethnic conflicts is not infinite; that the ultra-pessimism of just a few years ago was misplaced; and that human beings can settle for less, as long as the dominant party recognizes the underdog’s integrity and gives it enough room for manoeuvre.

Nevertheless, there is no time for complacency as a new report by Britain’s Minority Rights Group makes clear. Read the rest of this entry »

Ukraine should become a buffer state

By Jonathan Power

August 1, 2017

Now a few recent words from Jack Matlock who was US ambassador to Moscow under presidents Reagan and Bush senior:

“The Ukraine crisis is a product, in large part, of the policy of indefinite expansion of Nato to the east. If there had been no possibility of Ukraine ever becoming part of Nato, and therefore Sevastopol (the ex-Soviet naval port in Crimea) becoming a Nato base Russia would not have invaded Crimea.”

He goes on to say: “Americans have lived for nearly two centuries with the Monroe Doctrine [which forbids non-Americans to seize land or intervene in Latin America]. Why don’t we understand that other countries are sensitive about military bases from potential rivals not only coming up to their borders, but taking land which historically they have considered theirs.

These are extremely emotional issues – issues that are made to order for any authoritarian leader that wants to strengthen his rule”. In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Lukin, vice-president of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adds a point: “It was only a matter of time before Russia finally reacted to Western encirclement”.

Matlock’s final point is that, “You have almost a clique in Washington that just can’t look at any atrocity in the world without wanting the US to get involved militarily.” [Despite Iraq and Libya which are falling to pieces, perhaps to be followed by Afghanistan.]

Matlock was the top Soviet expert in the Reagan Administration before he became ambassador. His great predecessor in this role, George Kennan, went to his grave warning that an expansion of Nato would be totally counterproductive. Read the rest of this entry »

Our violent world?

By Jonathan Power

July 24th 2017

The most peaceful countries in the world are Iceland, Portugal, Austria, New Zealand and Denmark, according to the new Global Peace Index, in a new 136-page report, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace in Sydney, Australia. The most violent are Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.

Seen from a spaceship the most violent ones appear more or less clustered in a corner of the earth. It’s not that the rest of the globe is at peace but even where there is fighting there is not the wholesale destruction of cities that we see every day on TV, as, for example, when the cameras follow the multi-sided civil war in Syria. Indeed, violence away from these five countries is localised. Nowhere else does it consume whole societies.

The fickle eye of television needs to show more peace and less conflict if it is to project a balanced picture. Read the rest of this entry »

Liu Xiaobo’s death holds China to the light

By Jonathan Power

China, since the days in 1793 and the mission of Earl Macartney, emissary of King George 11, has kept its distance from the West, preferring to be “as self-contained as a billiard ball”, to quote the great historian Alain Peyrefitte.

It was Peyrefitte who argued in “The Collision of Civilizations” that Macartney’s decision not to kowtow to the emperor gave the Chinese the impression that their civilization was denied. They withdrew into their bunker and have remained for the last two centuries prickly, ultra-sensitive, quick to take offence and too ready to assume the worst of West’s motives.

Thus, among politicians and businessmen there has developed a school of thought that there is only one way of dealing with China – a sort of delayed, reversed kowtow, always leaning over backwards neither to provoke nor to annoy China.

No better example can be given than the way China treated the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who died last week while still a prisoner and how the world responded whilst he was in prison.

When in 2009 he was convicted for “inciting subversion of state power” and sent to prison for 11 years he said in his statement to the court, “I hope I will be the last victim of China’s long record of treating words as crimes.”

Why should the outside world accept that China can make its own rules when it comes to essential human rights?

Sometimes, as Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, says, “One has to pinch oneself to remember who needs whom most”. To begin with, he argues, we and our governments should never forget the simple but very important fact that China only represents around 2% of all Western exports added together.

Over the years it has been distasteful that Western countries have regularly betrayed each other, and, in so doing, the human rights activists inside China, in an effort to better position themselves in this quite modest market-place. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s right? What’s left?

By Jonathan Power

July 11th 2017

It goes back to the French revolution of 1789. At the Revolutionary Convention the most radical of the insurgents decided to seat themselves on the left side. “Why not on the other side, the right side, the place of rectitude, where law and the higher rights resided, when man’s best hand could be raised in righteous honour?” wrote Melvin Lasky in what was then Britain’s most influential intellectual monthly, Encounter.

“Anyway they went left, and man’s political passions have never been the same since.”

When Oskar Lafontaine, the German finance minister, broke with Chancellor Gerhard Schroder in the early days of the last Social Democratic government, he explained it was “because my heart beats on the left.”

The right could never say that, even the liberal-inclined, ex-prime minister of the UK, David Cameron.

When Humpty-Dumpty insisted on his own “master-meanings” he reassured Alice, “When I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra.”

British Leftists sometimes stretch their minds to work out if Prospect, today´s most influential monthly, is left or right. I tell them that it is hard to tell most of the time which is how an intellectual magazine should be. They shouldn’t be asking the question.

Perhaps if they and the rest of us want to study the ambiguities and contradictions of intellectual leftists they should be informed that once upon a time – a hundred and seventy years ago – there was a writer, a philosopher, who spent most of his time in the British Museum and who moved his family from down-at-heel Soho to elegant Primrose Hill.

He wanted his maturing daughters to have the chance of meeting a better class of men. His wife too was pleased because she could now invite ladies to tea. A suitor of one his daughters was given the door as he seemed unstable with his revolutionary opinions.

He wrote soon after that he thought the “historical” process had already started to undermine “bourgeois society”. Read the rest of this entry »

On Gorbachev and Reagan and Putin and Trump

By Jonathan Power

July 4th 2017

Here I am in Moscow – three days ago – standing in front of a statue of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhael Gorbachev to celebrate the unveiling of a statue crafted by the master sculptor, Alexander Bourganov.

I’m the only journalist invited to speak – and after I go with the others to drink Russian champagne. I talk to a group of students and a younger member of the Russian media contingent. I’ve also invited along a journalism student I met late at night on an almost empty street when I stopped to ask the way. She insisted on walking me to my hotel. To my surprise she accepted my offer of a drink and we spent an hour talking about her course and the Russian press.

At the airport in the Aeroflot lounge I talked to one of the hostesses. It turned out she was a journalism graduate. On the plane I sat next to a Russian student studying in America.

In a quick three days in Moscow these chance meetings (although one TV producer is a friend) enabled me to get a snapshot of what some 30 year-olds and younger think about the government and the media.

Five out of nine were highly critical of President Vladimir Putin for one main thing: his overriding influence on the media. However, it is true that there remains one TV network and one radio network and a couple of newspapers which do not toe the line.

At the journalism degree course at the prestigious Moscow State University one tells me that many in her class are disillusioned by the media and wonder about the jobs available that are not in the hands of the government.

Then it is my turn to tell them something. Read the rest of this entry »

UN Peacekeeping gets tougher

By Jonathan Power

The United Nations is often scapegoated for the falling short of its peacekeeping troops and deployments. Why are they not in Syria or Yemen, Libya or along the Palestinian/Israeli border? Why did the US and the UK make it impossible for the few UN troops present at the onset of the genocide in Rwanda to have their numbers significantly augmented? As a result those few on the ground had no choice but to withdraw when some of their members were killed and their genitals stuffed in their mouths.

All good questions if not easy to answer. In Syria, for example, where exactly would they be deployed?

But a better question is why didn’t they go in at the beginning of the civil war when things weren’t so complicated and Al Qaeda and ISIS were not around?

Then there is the bad behaviour of UN troops.

In Mali, French peacekeepers were found to have engaged in paedophile activity with local children. In the Congo peacekeepers from the Indian subcontinent have been found to be raping. In Bosnia, Dutch troops washed their hands and pulled back after they felt they couldn’t do anything to avert the onset of a pogrom that happened almost before their eyes.

In Somalia, US troops supposedly there under UN command, fled when the going got rough, and then President Bill Clinton blamed the UN for the debacle.

On the other side of the coin are the great unsung victories of the UN troops – in El Salvador where at the end of the civil war the UN held the ring and organised fair elections. In Namibia at the end of the colonial war against South Africa the UN did the same. In Cyprus it averted a Bosnian-type Christian/Muslim war. Read the rest of this entry »

Abolishing war

By Jonathan Power

June 20th 2017

Frederick the Great of Prussia was a friend of Voltaire and enjoyed ribald evenings with the philosopher discussing the intricacies of life’s dos and don’ts. Before becoming king he was persuaded by Voltaire to become a pacifist.

But on ascending to the throne he became the most ferocious and successful of Europe’s warrior leaders. He said of himself that he was “doomed to make war just as an ox must plow, a nightingale sing and a dolphin swim in the sea.”

So far the twenty first century has been far more peaceful than the twentieth. No world war and none are there likely to be, even though the great powers might have the occasional confrontation. Some say we are overwhelmed by small wars, understandably so since the media, especially the fickle eye of television, picks up on every altercation.

As Francis Bacon wrote, there has never been, nor will there ever be, a shortage of “seditions and troubles”. But in fact this century there have been no interstate wars and civil wars are down in number, way below their Cold War total when the big powers stoked their fires.

Perhaps war is sometimes necessary and just. Most people will say that Read the rest of this entry »

Trump could play the nationalist card to avoid impeachment threat



By Jonathan Power


June 12th 2017

“The best lack all conviction”, wrote the Irish poet, William Yeats, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Is this not true of America today?

Some of the “best” are working to bring down President Donald Trump yet are they ready to cut to the chase? He has cards up his sleeve. He came to power partly because he won the support of working class and lower middle class whites who were prepared to vote against their economic interest for the sake of the nationalism that Trump espoused. Neither Keir Hardie nor Franklin Roosevelt nor Bernie Sanders were their leader. It was Trump.

I don’t find it difficult to imagine how Trump could play the nationalist card that would rally his electorate. The “best” would be against this, but how many would be convinced enough to go out on the street, French style, and demand Congress impeach him?

I doubt if the Harvard professors would or journalists from the New York Times, business men, school teachers, doctors, civil servants or airline pilots. Of course, as with the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests, there would be students in the front row. Then there would be clergy, a few professors from the University of Wisconsin, novelists, Senator Sanders and at most 50 members of Congress. The police would easily face them down and disperse them.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, said Samuel Johnson. So is extreme confrontation, or even war. What follows is not my scenario. It is that of Philip Gordon, writing in the current issue of the respected “Foreign Affairs”.

He was Barack Obama’s Special Assistant for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf regions. Those who have dormant passionate intensity in their bones should read it and act now before it is too late. Events can move fast. “A week is a long time in politics”, said the former British prime minister, Harold Wilson.

Trump could begin his diversionary tactics with Iran, Read the rest of this entry »

Is a nuclear arms race coming more likely?

By Jonathan Power

June 6th 2017

It was all smiles out on the range last week when, against a deep blue sky, an American interceptor rocket took out an incoming “enemy” long-range, missile (which in a real attack would be carrying a nuclear warhead). Generals and Congressmen and women jumped for joy.

But what was there to be joyous about?

Over the decades of the Cold War the nuclear deterrent was supposed to be the instrument that kept the peace. MAD, it was called- Mutually Assured Destruction. Simply put, if you attacked me you might catch me by surprise and destroy many of my cities and military bases, but in fact you wouldn’t dare do it because beyond surprise is my “second-strike force”. Hidden away, deep underground, invulnerable to attack, I can retaliate with that.

So in real life you will not dare attack me and I won’t attack you. That is a stalemate. That is deterrence.

Forget morality, forget the chance of a rogue or accidental launch – this is what the military say kept the peace throughout the Cold War, and maybe still does as the ice cap returns, argue its supporters.

However, if there is now going to be a big jump in technology and you can intercept my second-strike with your interceptor rockets we no longer have the surety of MAD. I’m wide open and you can “get me”. You no longer fear retaliation and I will have no choice but to surrender after you have demolished some of my cities and military bases.

Fortunately, the technology is still in its early stages. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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