Friday, December 22, 2006

Can intractable conflicts be solved?

The answer to this question highlight why it is the participation of the US is vital to resolving intractable conflicts. Why is it that we see ethnic tensions turning violent or criminal elements becoming more powerful in places like Bosnia, Iraq, and Palestinian Territories? The answer is that there is no longer a strong, overarching power keeping those tensions in control. In the absence of astrong central authority, smaller despots will coalesce their power, in whatever base they can, be it tribal group, co-religionists, like minded criminals, and struggle for power. This is a pattern seen everywhere in the world. The Chinese call it the Dynastic Cycle; as the power of the central authority wanes, local chiefs contest for power during a period of anarchy that lasts until one of them gains sufficient advantage, or a foreigner comes in to smash the squabbling forces and takes over the divided kingdom.

Colonial powers conquered and ruled their colonial holdings much as did the Mongol invaders who invaded China. A strong, unified power came into an area without a unified government, and was able to establish control and rule. This pattern has been in evidence all over the world. Britain ruled India, eastern China, Australia, and southern Africa among other places. The US government destroyed dis-unified Indian tribes and extended control over the entire continent, Hawaii and smashed the Boxer Rebellion in Beijing. Japan and the Chinese Nationalist ruled Taiwan by oppressing the indigenous people with such ruthlessness, there was no chance of uprising. After smashing Japan, the US forced the Japanese people to renounce their traditional warrior culture, and adopt a peaceful constitution before they were allowed self rule. In all these situations, a stronger power came in and forced a weak group of squabbling people to change their behavior to live in peace.

Such is the situation the US faces around the world at the end of 2006. Theorists have essentially thrown away centuries of collected wisdom of how a major power pacifies a troublesome area, and has attempted to do things in a new, unproven way. The US has attempted to be culturally sensitive in the situations where it has intervened lately, and to be charitable, the jury is still out on whether this approach will be successful. Bosnia appears to be a success story, but still requires the heavy commitment of US forces and money to keep the warring parties apart. It is hard to imagine that peace would reign if the US redeployed. Iraq is really up in the air and has all the earmarks of a situation that is not “ripe” for settlement, since none of the sides seems yet to fear being destroyed by any of the others. Since the largest power, the US, is unwilling to impose its vision of a settlement on the country and destroy those who would combat that vision, the minor despots continue their insurrection. Since Israel has been unwilling to destroy the forces of the Palestinians, hat situation does not appear to be ripe for settlement either.

There is now an institutional bias against ethnic cleansing, against partition, against maintaining secure borders and against intervening to destroy one warlike culture to replace it with one more attuned to political settlement of differences. The idea currently in vogue is for the dominant power to avoid a large cultural “footprint” and allow the local people to live as they wish. While we might now shrink from imposing a settlement of differences on an unwilling population and forcing that people to accept it, the historical truth is: this approach works, and it works regardless of the political landscape. Currently, with the US spending more on defense than the next 44 powers combined, with 300 million people and the largest economy in history, there is no doubt about the power of the US in unrivalled. Whether the US can muster the will to use this power in a way that will accomplish its goals, is another question.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

10% correct

This post reads like one of those arguments that a high school Lincoln Douglas debater makes when forced to argue a side of a proposition that he disagrees with. “Resolved: The Texas 10% plan is inherently worse than a system giving preference to racial minorities.” The debater makes points that look like they affirm the proposition or argue against the inverse, but don’t really. Further, the entire argument rests on the idea that there is a substantive difference between colleges.

Regarding the first point: “it often leads universities to admit students that are probably inferior to those they would have chosen otherwise.” Maybe, but, then, so does the proliferation of colleges. If UT-Austin was the only state college in Texas, and could only admit the Valedictorian from each HS class, you would have an erudite group of scholars pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake, or some such. But the reality of the situation is that lack of a college degree is a barrier to entry into many fields, state colleges serve the constituents of the state legislatures, and colleges exist to employ academics. So an academic or a frustrated university booster who can’t get his kid into his alma mater may complain that the hallowed classrooms are sullied by the presence of “inferior” students, no one else actually sees this as a problem. People do their four years to get a degree, legislators get their constituents kids into college, and administrators justify the employment of so many academic. Everyone wins.

Regarding gaming the system: Give me a break. Show me one student or family with the wherewithal to plan and execute such a move in order to get into the top 10% of one school when they couldn’t qualify in another, and I will show you someone who could have used that effort and research time to get into some other school that would meet their requirements. Or, here is another challenge: show me one student or family that has actually done this. I can just imagine the thought process: “My kid will finish in the 11th percentile at Plano East, so I am going to drive him everyday to Carter so he can qualify to go to UT-Dallas.” Nonsense.

Can a “harmful effect” of a policy really be “undetected?” And how does arguing that support your proposition? “Your honor, my client will argue that harmful effects of the actions of the defendant have gone undetected and we can’t really say what they are, but take our word for it.” Um, no.

The last argument against the 10% policy is the most interesting, because of all the biases built into it. The primary objection seems to be that poor Mr Price is somehow disadvantaged if he is forced to study finance at University of Houston instead of UT-Austin. Is there any rational basis to make such an objection? Is the education at one state school quantifiably better than at another? Can we say that geologists who graduate from UT-Permian Basin are 8% less likely than those from UT-Austin to detect oil in a particular area? Do lawyers who graduate from George Mason write briefs that are 14% less compelling than those from UCLA? No, of course not. This argument is all about perception of the relative worth of the school, a perception that is completely divorced from any objective criteria. To argue that one school is “better” than another without telling us the criteria upon which this argument is based, is just not compelling.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Lost Room

Every couple of years, I see a show, and become a little obsessed by it. I don’t watch a lot of TV in the evenings, (other than baseball), but there are times when I get into a show, and think about it, pretty much all the time. A few years ago, it was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” then “The Matrix,” and now, it is “The Lost Room.” “The Lost Room” is a miniseries on the SciFi Channel, about a man looking for his daughter. Only, the man is a detective on the run for killing his partner, and his daughter ran through a door to another dimension. And he has a key that allows him to open doors and move from any room any where in the world to any room any where else in the world. And competing organizations of people are searching for the key, and other ordinary objects, a pen, a coat, a bus ticket, among others, that are infused with powers that alter time or space.

This show is a hoot. There are coolly malevolent bad guys. There are opportunist anarchists. There are petty thieves. There are murderous cults. There are feeble public interest groups. There are clueless cops, evil CSIs, hidden treasure, comedy, romance and creepy terror. The performances are all first class, and the end of the series left a ton of cliff hangers. I can’t wait until the next installments.

There are some loose ends. The “objects” all belong to a man who was checked into a room at a hotel in New Mexico on Rte 66 in 1961. Something, and we have not found out what, happened to infuse everything in the room, including the man himself, with the powers. Throughout the mini-series, people open a door with the key, and end up in the hotel room. Inside the room are a bed, a bedside table, and a TV mounted to the wall opposite the bed. The room has electricity and water. Everyone who enters the room goes over to the TV and fiddles with it, but never turns it on. The TV is not just a prop because there are times when characters just wander over, and the TV obstructs the character from the point of view of other characters and also the audience watching the show. Putting the TV directly in the view of the audience is a clear signal that there is something going on with the TV, but for some reason, no one ever turns it on. I suspect future episodes will reveal more about the TV.

The most malevolent of the bad guys simply disappears at the end of the last episode. He is experimenting with the powers of the glass eye in conjunction with the powers of some of the other objects, when suddenly, he disappears. Where did he go? Hopefully, we will find out.

I can’t wait for more of this show!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Questions, questions, questions

A classmate asks: "I understand the dilemma of sovereignty and our reason for not signing on with the ICC, but even if we arent bound by the jurisdiction (technically we are if the UN refered Rumsfield to the ICC) shouldnt we still act in the manner outlined by the ICC? We are the champions of democracy and the rule of law, in order for us to maintain our credibility we must act credibly."

My reponse: I make a couple of points. 1) International law is not synonmous with the ICC. and 2) The ICC's jurisdiction is whatever the UN and the ICC says it is.

Reagarding point 1), Gen Pinochet can confirm this. Some of the families of people who disappeared during Pinochet's rule in Chile prevailed upon a Spanish judge for justice. This judge investigated the charges and issued an arrest warrant that Scotland Yard enforced when Pinochet showed up in England in 1998 for back surgery. The judge based his warrant on the theory of "universal jurisdiction" the idea that some crimes are such an affront that all humanity has an obligation to pursue the offender, and bring him to justice. (The Ripple Effect of the Pinochet Case By Stacie Jonas Human Rights Brief, Volume 11, Issue 3, pgs. 36-38 May 24, 2004) We therefore see a Spanish judge issuing a warrant that was enforced in England against a Chilean citizen for acts committed in Chile that were considered to be violations of Spanish law. Part of the deal that got Pinochet to give up power was the grant of immunity that was negotiated with other Chilean politicians. What tyrant, seeing the idea of "universal jurisdiction" enforced everywhere in the world, would ever give up the reins of power lest some mischief maker somewhere else in the world decide he was going to bring that tyrant to justice? Such a possibility would make a mediator's job very difficult if the goal were to have the tyrant reliquish power. This is also the theory in the complaint against Rumsfeld. According to press accounts: "The groups' lawyers say their case model was former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had been arrested five times since 1998 due to human rights cases against him."

Regarding point 2) the Security Council can refer anything or anyone it wants to the ICC for trial. If the powers of the world decide that atrocities occuring in southern Thailand or the Marshall Islands or southeast Chad are so heinous that the perpetrators are committing crimes against humanity, if those individuals are somehow caught, they can be hauled up in front of the ICC.

Another classmate asks: "How legitimate is its power?"

My response: I am not sure who you are referring to when you ask "how legitimate is its power?" For either the US or the ICC, the question pivots on the definition of "legitimate." America's power in the world is undeniable; it is the third most populous country in the world, the largest economy in the world, has the most capable military and outspends the next 44 countries in defense expenditure.

The ICC, on the other hand, has seen its ratification treaty legitimately signed by 139+ countries, but the same question Stalin asked about the Vatican during WWII must be asked about the ICC: "How many divisions has it got?" Without some way to compel unwilling actors to comply with the rulings of the ICC, it is an inert body. The only way to compel anyone is with sufficient force, force that only the US and its allies can provide.

Folly of International Law

The idea that international law tribunals have legitimacy is based on the concept of consensus. There is a paradox in this, because in order for a tribunal to be created, the countries of the world must all agree with the following: 1) that a group of people committed atrocities, 2) that these atrocities were so bad that they demand international attention, 3) that the atrocities were committed with the sanction of the state, 4) that those in power in the state who gave the orders or committed the acts are identifiable, and that 5) the sentences of those convicted will justify the considerable expense and time of the trials. In other words, for all countries of the world to agree on the applicability of international law, there must be agreement that the target of the international law is guilty and worth the expense of prosecuting. For a shorthand description of this process, we can turn to the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland” who exclaimed during the Knave of Heart’s trial for stealing the tarts: “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”

The entire edifice of international law is based on consensus of those who agree to be bound by it or to enforce it. This consensus is based on the acceptance of certain traits that are common to all people around the world. McDougal and Lasswell developed a classification of human desires that they published in “The Identification and Appraisal of Diverse Systems of Public Order” in 1981. Their classification of human requirements included security, enlightenment, wealth, well-being, skill, affection, respect, and rectitude. Chander, in “Globalization and Distrust” argues that “Underlying even these values is a commitment to a world public order of human dignity.” (Pg 1230) While there may be a philosophical underpinning for international law, the calculus of power requires that the powerful governments of the world agree on whom to try, and where.

The classic examples of international tribunal conducted with maximum consensus were the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazis and the Tokyo War Crimes trials after World War II. The powers of the world, after extended conflict, had just vanquished regimes that practiced atrocities. There was little doubt that those regimes and the leaders of them would face justice. However, even though such a trial would seem to be a slam dunk in terms of consensus among the government of the world, some see it differently.

Donald Bloxham, in his book Genocide on Trial: the war crimes trials and the formation of Holocaust history and memory, page 4, calls the International Military Tribunal ‘the most significant manifestation of what came to be known critically as “victor’s justice’”.

So even though the world had to recognize that the Nazi and the Japanese leadership had conducted numerous acts that were an affront to human dignity and world public order, there were still those who questioned the legitimacy of those trials.
Additionally, international conventions have layered intricate rules of procedure and evidence onto the process that extends the length of trials. For example, Milosovic’s trial had lasted 5 years before he died, making the whole thing moot. But even absent the consensus that would seems to be a pre-requisite for prosecuting war criminals, given the structures of international law already in place, there is ample opportunity for the unscrupulous to use those structures. The latest news regarding international law is the idea that Germany is going to charge US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld with crimes against humanity. While it is impossible to conceive that the Supreme Court would allow the extradition of Rumsfeld, this kind of mischief will make it difficult for Rumsfeld to ever again travel lest some eager magistrate seize him to satisfy the German warrant. Given such daunting standards, is it possible that international law will ever be considered anything other than rump victor’s justice or a vehicle for mischief making?

Probably not.

Further, the prospect of “international law” being brought to bear also tends to make a mediator’s job more problematic. What incentive would a despot have to relinquish power if he knew that regardless of the assurances he has in his own country regarding immunity, an international body or another country might indict him and drag him before some tribunal for years of endless hearings and a possible death penalty?