January 5th, 2012


Interesting Links for 05-01-2012


January Books 4) Dealing with a post-BRIC Russia, by Ben Judah, Jana Kobzova and Nicu Popescu

The European Council on Foreign Relations published this analysis of EU-Russia relations just before last year's Russian elections. I found it very informative on how Russia has managed to crash out of the BRIC category (the other three being the rising economies of Brazil, India and China) to the point where the Putin machine has become exhausted, unable to deliver due to rampant corruption and a captive, stagnant economy, with the glory days of the 2008 military victory over Georgia forgotten and the far east being surrendered economically to Chinese domination. It is a compelling picture of a state in crisis and although the authors did not predict the remarkable outcome of the elections, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone who had read the booklet.

The authors are on less sure ground in proposing how the EU should react. The good news is that there is less divergence among member states than was the case a few years ago; now that the Poles less hostile to Russia and the Germans less complacent, they have converged around a pragmatic yet mildly principled centre of gravity. The ECFR trio propose some fairly sensible measures to crystallize this convergence, including anti-bribery measures, sanctions against the murderers of Sergei Magnitsky, but also a drastic easing of the visa regime for Russians visiting the EU.

Unfortunately it is not at all clear where the leadership for taking these sensible measures might come from. EU external policies are in crisis, with twelve out of twenty-seven foreign ministers demanding that the beleaguered Baroness Ashton up her game. This year's EU presidencies are held by small countries whose governments are both deep in domestic crisis, and one of which is anyway notoriously pro-Russian. In any case EU leaders will be fully occupied with the new eurozone treaty for the next few months, whether or not they intend to sign it. So this is a set of good ideas which sadly have nobody caable of implementing them.

January Books 5) Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009

This is a fascinating and brutal report commissioned by the Norwegian government on the Norwegian contribution to the failure of the Sri Lanka peace process, in which the government of Norway was the sole mediator between the goverment of Sri Lanka and the LTTE Tamil rebels. I learned a lot from it about the brutality of both sides during the war (the forty-page narrative section is probably the best summary of events you will find anywhere) but more importantly it is also very thought-provoking in its wider conclusions on peace-making.

One interesting conclusion is that to have one sole mediator, and for that mediator to be the government of a small and not very powerful state rather than an international organisation or an NGO, was unsustainable. It would have been much better to have had a diverse team of involved actors who might have had more ability to cajole or even coerce the parties; it would have been much better if the government had not allowed itself to be both overstretched and undermined, the inevitable risks in the role of a single mediator. The government of Norway chose to put itself in this awkward position, and chose not to extricate itself sooner, and the report points out the alternatives available and the consequences which resulted from those choices.

Second, there were only two brief windows of opportunity for actually resolving the conflict during the Norwegians' mandate (in late 2001-early 2002, when a ceasefire was brokered, and in early 2005 immediately after the 26 December 2004 tsunami). On both occasions, the internal dynamics of the political situation allowed the situaton to slide back into violence, and while the report finds that the major responsibility for this lies with the parties, who were rarely negotiating in good faith and always negotiating at cross-purposes, still, a smarter and perhaps less modest mediation mission might not have let those opportunities slip.

As it was, the Norwegians remained impotently engaged well past the point when it was clear that a negotiated solution was impossible, and the report is clear that they should have terminated the mediation in 2006, thus making the extent of the crisis clear to the rest of the world, rather than hanging on until they were finally expelled in early 2009. There are words of praise for the individual and courageous efforts of the senior Norwegian officials involved and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, but basically the report concludes that the mediation could have been done better, if indeed it was worth doing at all.

Much credit to the Norwegian government for commissioning and publishing this important work. The authors, for the record, are Gunnar Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada. Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik.