The recipe for peace, the Libyans deserve it.

One of the things I try and impress upon people is that peace isn’t a default state. It isn’t the absence of violence. It isn’t a vacuum situation that just happens when people aren’t fighting. Peace takes time, it takes effort, it requires resources. It needs people to want it, desperately and to be passionate about it. What does it take for peace? What is the recipe?

Libya has lived under the rule of one of the most unpleasant dictators in history for more than 40 years. In all fairness Gaddafi has never quite been a Kim Jong-Il or Stalin but the stories emerging from Libya about his treatment of some sectors of society are gruesome. Libya deserves better.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), now recognised by the United States, Britain and France amongst others as the legitimate government of Libya, swept into Tripoli overnight to a joyous welcome from residents.

This is a moment of great possibility. As Fawaz Gerges at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics described it on the live stream of BBC news this morning “a moment pregnant with possibilities”. Libya and the NTC have an enormous task ahead of them. Democracy, human rights, peace and justice are all within reach, but it won’t be easy. We mustn’t expect things to happen over night.

So what will it take? How can we make sure that this works, that the Libyans get what they so deserve? What are the ingredients?

Libya needs reconciliation. Saif Al-Islam and Gaddafi need to be sent to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Evidence needs to be collected, the cold light of day needs to shine upon their crimes. The Libyan people need to know what happened to their brother, or mother or daughter who disappeared one day many years ago. They need to know about the money embezzled, about the dodgy deals with foreign governments and oil companies. They deserve honesty and openness.

The NTC needs absolute unity. It cannot fracture apart into warring sides. The Libyans need an interim government that represents the East as well as the West. Rumblings about dissatisfaction between the two have emerged but they need to put tribalism behind them, they’ve come too far for that. The Libyans deserve an interim government that will open a constitutional dialogue with them, that will immediately respect their universal human rights and promise speedy elections.

The Libyan police under the new authority need to be deployed to the streets as a single, national, cohesive force. They need to be monitored closely and instructed to maintain law and order and to protect United Nations and other humanitarian aid convoys. The Libyan people desperately need electricity and clean water so the police need to ensure that engineers and experts can work safely to bring them those things. The Libyans deserve law and order and justice and a police force that polices with the consent of the people.

The Libyans deserve peace, it is our intrinsic human right. As human beings we have an absolute and unquestionable right to life and liberty and a life of peace. The NTC armed forces must not resort to punishing pro Gaddafi Libyans. They deserve peace too. They may have made unwise decisions but to punish them now is to guarantee the seeds of unrest, resentment and negative peace be sown.

Of course this recipe is only a starter. It will take so much more. The oil facilities need to be rebuilt. The airports need to reopen. Aid, lots of it, needs to pour into the country. Roads need to be relaid and markets need to be stocked. This won’t be over for many, many years but this is a critical time for Libya and for global peace.



Of Syria and Sovereignty

The Syrian government has become enraged by the actions of the United States. Like a game of chess the US moved ambassador Robert Ford to the eastern city of Hama, the site of previous violence. With ambassador in the city the Syrian government of Bashar Assad has two problems and it’s their move next.

Firstly the US is clearly watching them. What on earth is an ambassador if not to do just that: watch and report back?

Secondly Mr. Ford has quite literally placed himself in the line of fire. He’s a knight straying dangerously close to the wrong side of the board.

It’s a dangerous game to play but imagine if the US ambassador was shot by the stray bullet of a Syrian soldier? If the Syrian armed forces didn’t know they were shelling the hotel of a powerful diplomat? That’s a worst case scenario for Assad. Although of course this game of power play hasn’t been admitted by anyone on either side but I’m going to let you in on a secret. It’s all intentional. The Syrians would not outright murder their own citizens in front of the US representative to Damascus and the chance of him getting caught in the cross fire is too high for them to make the move they wanted to. Well played Obama, check mate. Ford might as well have strapped on some kevlar and gone into the streets.

Assad knows this and he isn’t happy. Part of his cunning scheme to murder his own population has been somewhat foiled. So, what banner does he hold up to assert his authority?

In my mind one of the single most absurd and pernicious myths in international politics… Sovereignty.

The idea that, simply put, whatever happens within a nations own borders are the business of that nation alone. Sovereignty is an absolute doctrine, there is no grey area. According to sovereignty no outside body, from other states to international bodies can comment on, interfere in or forbid act on a matter that is the internal matter of a sovereign state. Regardless of what that matter might be, genocide to war crimes, persecution etc. This notion is laughable for many reasons. Notably that humanity is a single entity with common interests and rights and that borders are essentially artificial. When it comes to matters of mass life or death borders are immaterial, a smoke screen to protect the most ruthless of dictators from Gaddafi to Jong-Il by way of Jiabao and Assad himself.

If this medieval principle was excised from international law it would be the duty, the compulsion of the international community to act in the circumstances mentioned. This is known as the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. That in situations that constitute crimes against humanity (most usefully laid out in the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court) it is not only OK for countries to intervene, sometimes militarily if all other options have been exhausted, but it is the duty, they must intervene. The doctrine asserts that the sovereignty of nations must bow to the international responsibility to defend humanity against certain crimes. This principle has even been endorsed by the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations.

What the US is doing with Mr. Ford’s move to Hama is reminding Syria that it does not exist in a vacuum. That the rest of the world is watching and we are not happy.

We’ve already flexed our liberal cosmopolitan philosophical muscles and bombed Gaddafi back to the stone age. Who knows, maybe Assad will be next.

North Korea – what’s going on?!

It’s hard to work out exactly what’s happening in North Korea sometimes. It seemsĀ  it takes an advanced degree in psychology to figure out what wild schemes the leadership will think up next. From randomly sinking ships to shelling an island, for no apparent reason, the North Korean Central Military Commission, headed by Kim Jong-Il have only one predictable trait: complete unpredictability.

Right, hands up who thinks they know what’s going on? Anyone? No. I didn’t think so. The actions of the North Korean state lack a central theme, something we’re so used to when looking at the behaviour of a country. Their actions lack rationales, their words seem to be unrelated to anything they’re doing. It’s very confusing. We just put our heads in our hands and moan ‘oh what next?’. We can’t rely on them not to do it again or even raise the stakes and go nuclear. There is nothing stopping them, they’ve everything to gain and seem blissfully unaware of everything they have to lose – that one day they might cross a line and the USA and S.Korea will have had enough, and this time China won’t be there to save them.

I’m going to use this post to do a little analysis of the situation in N.Korea, bust some myths and perhaps set up people’s critical eye for when this inevitably happens again.

Before that, let’s have some background, some people are still surprised when they learn about the conditions the North Koreans live under.

North Korea is the most oppressive state on earth. It’s inhabitants are barely aware the outside world exists. They are dimly cogniscent of South Korea (the enemy) America (definitely the enemy) Japan (also the enemy) China (sometimes a friend) and Russia (unpredictable, just like us!). It is also one of the poorest. The people live in desperate poverty. However the regime has a magic trick up it’s sleeve. Because it is in complete control of all media and communications and has blacked out the outside world, it is able to convince the population that in fact they are gloriously wealthy. It has told the North Koreans that their standard of living is far superior to that of the Americans and that they are lucky to live the way they do. Clever eh?

So, the last few days:

Why have they been shelling each other? What is going on?

There a number of factors at play here. Most important is the succession going on in North Korea. Kim Jong-Il is sick, we think he’s had a stroke, and he’s dying and there isn’t really anyone to take his place. He’s got a few sons but he’s a bit of a lunatic so he isn’t sure he trusts them. He’s decided to select the most pliable of his progeny, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him. This Jong-un chap is quite young, maybe 30 at most (we don’t even know how old he is, that’s the sort of secrecy we’re dealing with) and he’s had no experience of running a horrible socialist autocracy. Jong-Il wants him to take over and command the respect of the army who are huge and powerful and quite likely run the place. So what do they do? They want to it to appear that the recent decision to shell South Korea came from Jong-un, to make it seem like he is in control, knows what he is doing and has some military successes under his belt (bizarre I know, bear with me).

But… it’s not that simple. North Korea is a centrally run state, when I say centrally run I mean that, it’s all run by one person, or a small group of people. So when the person running the state has a stroke, what do you do? Nothing! Panic! But luckily for the North Koreans the army was there to assume more control. The army are even less bright than the leadership, they don’t have the limited international relations savvy that Jong-Il has. They are either unaware or do not care what impact their actions have. It is more than possible that the shelling was simply because they were bored!

A final reason they may have started shelling this island is because North Korea is a spoilt child. It has been given money and food and guns for the best part of half a century. Not just by China, it’s friend, but by America and South Korea, in an effort to change it’s behaviour. Since the negotiations to end it’s nuclear programme broke down a few years ago this stream of luxuries and money has been cut off by and large. The North Korean state is now throwing it’s toys out of the pram and having a tantrum. Why? To get attention. They want to appear scary so that people will want to tame them and bring them to the negotiating table. They think if they cause a fuss they will zip to the top of everyone’s agendas and that might mean they can lie and fib until the aid tap gets turned back on.

So that’s a brief(ish) analysis of the situation. This post was precipitated by the frightening goings on around the Korean border, I think it’s very important to challenge preconceptions about situations. It’s also important to make things a little clearer from our perspective, there are no countries in the world we know less about and the little we do know about North Korea should be talked about, if only because it means we can’t be frightened by them into aiding and abetting the criminal negligence of their people or demented military plans.