History as Weapon against Future

19 april 2005

People’s Daily Online — China, Japan agree to view ties from ”strategic perspective” amidst tensions

The last week has seen a deterioation of relations in East Asia as a wave of ”popular” protests against Japan has swept over China.

The overt reason is that new Japanese schoolbooks tend to gloss over war crimes committed by Japanese forces in China during the 1930’s. It’s only some books, used in some schools, but is nevertheless by China seen as a step back from the Japanese side.

The real reasons are probably more complicated. It is of course inconceivable that major street demonstrations or massive Internet campaigns can be organized in China without some sort of appropval – at the least – by the authorities.

It’s in all probability an attempt to motivate stopping Japan from getting a permanent set at the UN Security Council as a result of the reforms now being discussed.

But it’s a high-stake game. Playing the nationalist game is always possible, but it carries consequences. Japanese investments remain very important for the Chinese economy -providing jobs that are desperately needed.

More generally, it once again demonstrates that history count. Some of the emotions seen on the streets of China are no doubt genuine – but they have been let loose and tolerated by the authorities.

But the problem is that of China can mobilize nationalist sentiments, others in the region can do the same, including a further development in Japan.

This should be in no ones interest. The region need to move further together – not dramatically apart.

Will a Non be a Yes to Instability?

18 april 2005

Practically all of my French friends are now telling me that it looks as if the referendum on May 29 is going to result in France saying ”non” to the constitutional treaty of the European Union.

That might be a premature conclusion – it’s still more than a month to go – but still makes it highly relevant to discuss which might be the consequences of a no in France. If there is a no in France, it seems likely that there will be the same result in the referendum in the Netherlands three days later.

Then, it will effectively be the end of this suggested Constitutional Treaty of the European Union.

It has often been said that there is no Plan B for this contingency, but then a Plan B would very rapidly have to be put in place. The June meeting of the European Council under the presidency of Luxembourg will be highly important.

The first casualty of a French no might well be the future of the process of enlargement. The issue of Turkey is already one of the major issues in the French campaign, along with a general sense of malaise over the rapid enlargement of the European Union in recent years.

The EU is supposed to start accession negotiations with Turkey on October 3rd. Although in a formal sense this is hardly affected by a failure of the ratification process, the reality is likely to be a different one.

There will be voiced raised in favour of a pause of reflect on the new situation. And even if the accession negotiations are in face started as planned, there will be a clear perception that they will be on a distant back burner for years to come.

But it’s not only a question of Turkey. As has been argued elsewhere, there is an acute need for the EU to send a new message of commitment to enlargement to all of the countries of what is nowadays referred to as the Western Balkans. And there is also Ukraine, which also needs to know that the process of enlargement will move forward, eventually enclosing the lands of the Dnjepr and beyond.

If there is a no to the Constitutional Treaty, there is a very acute risk that all of this will suddenly be seen to be in doubt.

The consequences are unfortunately not too difficult to predict.

There will be an immediate slow down of the Europe-oriented reform process in all of these countries and regions. That’s bad in itself.

But there is a corresponding risk that this will be associated with a further rise in nationalist sentiment in these regions already so exposed to the destructive effects of aggressive nationalism. Without a clear European perspective for the future, there is an obvious risk that those forces dreaming of a return to a nationalist past will gather in strength.

Together, these likely effects are likely to lead to increased both short- and long-term instability in the ”near abroad” of the European Union.

Not a good result – mildly speaking.

A New Wind of Change?

18 april 2005

A New Power Rises Across Mideast (washingtonpost.com)
In a Washington where the cherry blossoms are out and spring is as it is when it’s at its best, Wasington Post published this article – the first in a series of two – on the new winds of change that – perhaps, perhaps – are starting to sweep through the Arab world.

It’s still too early to tell, there is a very long way to go, and there might well be dramatic set-backs – but there is no doubt that there are new winds starting to blow.

New Balkan Beginnings?

13 april 2005

The time when the Balkans can be on the back-burner in terms of policies is fast coming to an end. It’s no longer enough just to handle the crisis of the moment, but necessary to deliver a strategy for the entire region that is comprehensive, clear and credible.

For too long, the talk was mainly about devising an exit strategy for NATO, when the key task is really to develop an entry strategy for the European Union. Increasingly, there is the realisation that without such a strategy the tactics of dealing with the individual challenges from Macedonia to Bosnia will simply not succeed.

This might not be the best of times to talk about starting bringing new members into the European Union. There is a noticeable enlargement fatigue in many of the existing EU members. At the same time, it is obvious that several of the countries in the region are at a considerable distance from meeting the Copenhagen criteria of readiness for membership negotiations.

But ten years after the peace in Bosnia, and more than five years after the end of the war over Kosovo, it is as obvious that only European integration can bring the peoples of Southeaster Europe along the road of reconciliation as it once was for the peoples of France and Germany. It’s a leap into the unknown, for sure, but the unknown brings hope of something better, while the known unfortunately brings very little.

The recent report of the International Commission on the Balkans does recognize the necessity of both dealing with the painful and unresolved status issue of Kosovo and of devising a coherent European strategy for the region and sees the intimate link between the two. It’s only within the framework of the later that the former can be handled.

There are obvious risks in the Kosovo situation. At the moment we see the economy declining at the same time as frustration is building up. It makes little sense to make the UN the scapegoat – the UN mission was set up for failure when the key powers for years simply refused to deal with the status issues. As has happened before, the UN was ordered to implement a policy that just as well could have been devised by an ostrich as by the Security Council.

Seen in isolation, we might well be on our way towards setting up a failed state in Kosovo. There is talk of it as a centre of organized criminality, and in view of the absence of honest alternatives for the rapidly growing population this would hardly be surprising. The political system seems to be driven by an unhealthy tendency towards revenge for real or imagined events in the past.

Nevertheless, there aren’t very many other alternatives than to continue along the path of state-building in Kosovo, and in the view of the European perspectives of the region, the aim ought to be that Kosovo gets the its full independence as it enters the framework of interdependence of the European Union.

In the meantime, the present holding operation of the UN should be replaced by a more focused member state-building operation under the direction of the EU, although still with the authority of the UN.

There will also have to be a far more effective effort at integrating all the economies of the region – irrespectively of if they met the political criteria for become candidates for membership or not – with both each other and the European Union. The extension of the customs union of the EU to the entire region, certainly including also Kosovo, could be as positive for its economy as it proved to be for Turkey during an earlier stage of its road to Europe.

Serbia and Croatia remains the most significant countries of the region, and it is only to be hoped that their leaderships can sort out their remaining issues with the Hague war criminal tribunal so that both of them can proceed on their European paths. A customs union arrangement for the region would make the earlier membership of Croatia into more of a possibility than a problem for the region, and create better possibilities for Serbia to speed up its progress.

If Serbia and Croatia moves forward along a European path, this should easy the situation for Bosnia as well. As it approaches the 10th year anniversary of the Dayton agreement, it is high time to close down the Office of the High Representative and hand powers to the elected representatives of Bosnia, making them responsible also for the new constitutional deals that may be necessary to move the country towards its European destination.

There are no easy or fast solutions to the remaining issues on the table. But if Kosovo status issues and customs union arrangements are sorted out during the period of this European Commission and Parliament, a fast track for membership for those ready for it should be perfectly realistic during the coming five-year period.

It was in the summer of 1914 in the Balkans that a long period of relative prosperity and peace for Europe come to its end, and we entered the horrible 20th century of wars, dictatorships and genocide. It should be in the summer of 2004 – with perhaps the possibility of also most of the peoples of the Balkans having the possibility of electing their representatives to the European Parliament – that Europe can finally but those horrors behind itself.

It’s possible, but it requires far-sighted and determined policies – and it requires them now.

Which Europe?

13 april 2005

There are wildly different versions of where Europe is heading in the two most lively political dramas of Europe at the moment.

In France, it seems as if the opposition to the Constitutional Treaty has definitely gained the upper hand in the run-up to the May 29 referenum. The latest 11 opinion polls all show a lead, although a small one, for the no side.

A dominant theme in the negative campaign – apart from the issue of Turkey – is the complaint that the Constitutional Treaty takes us towards a ”neo-liberal” furure fundamentally incompatible with social ideals dear to the French and others.

Across the Channel, it all sounds very different. In sofar as the issue is there in the campaign for the UK election on May 5 – there seems to be a tacit agreement to concentrate on other issues – it’s there in forms of complaints that the Constitutional Treaty would impose a straight-jacket of regulation on any attempts to run a decent liberal economy.

Although political cultures are always different, the difference is still striking. Are they talking about the same Constitutional Treaty? Are they talking about the same Europe? Simply speaking – they can’t both be right.

I guess the thruth is that neither of them are really talking about the Constitutional Treaty at all. They are just using their usual laundry list of prejudices to project on the issue of Europe in order to gain support.

It’s rather depressing. Politics at its worst. And hardly the leadership that Europe needs in times like this.

Sweden – by the way – is hardly better. Debate and discussion on these issues is virtually non-existent.

Twenty Years of Collapse and Reform

13 april 2005

This April, it is 20 years since Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General-Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

A series of old leaders had just died, and Gorbachev managed to take over as a representrative of a somewhat younger and less ossified generation of Soviet leaders.

The rest – as they say – is history. History still in the making, I would add.

The greatness of Gorbachev rested on his fundamental misunderstanding of the Soviet system. He genuinely believed that it could be reformed and modernized, and that it accordingly was not only wrong but also unnecessary to call out the tanks when the system was seen to be under threat.

The previous generations of Soviet leaders had certainly not been under that illusion – as witnessed dramatically in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, not to speak of the massive use of repressive force within the Soviet Union itself.

Some time after having achieved his position, Gorbachev started to talk about ”perestroika” – openness. And that unleashed a stream of calls for changes that eventually were to unravel the entire Soviet Union, its socialist system and its decades-long empire in Europe.

It’s doubtful that Gorbachev ever understood what was really happening. But his greatness was that – with some exceptions, primarily in the Baltic countries – at each stage of the dissolution of the system, either resisted or was reluctant to endorse those that more or less openly advocated a return to the old methods of repression to defend te system.

Accordlingly, the collapse just continued, eventually to destroy the position, power and prestigre of Gorbachev himself. The more dedicated and aware reformer Boris Yeltsin simply took over when Gorbachev had lost it all.

Since then we have seen a decade of Yeltsin reforms and Yeltsin decay, and a term of Putin stability followed by the present term of Putin stagntion.

There are increasing question marks over where Russia is heading. Away from democrcy – certainly. Less of the necessary economic reforms – also fairly obvious. But the picture remains a very mixed one.

Dimitri Trenin recently pointed out that Russia is more than the stagnation and de-democratization of Putin:

”The millions of consumers exercising their right to choose in the rapidly growing supermarket chains; the planeloads of business travelers converging on London, Zurich and Frankfurt daily; the holiday-makers who, having lost the Crimea, have rediscovered the Mediterranean — all are part of a Russia beyond Putin’s Russia, one that will grow and develop even when Putin is history.”

This is also part of the new Russian reality, and the key question remains whether it is the old statist and centralists tendencies now dominating much of the Kremlin, or the dynamism of a new Russian generation as well as of parts of the economy that we are also seeing, that will dominate the coming one or two Russian decades.

Old Suspicions Remain

13 april 2005

Opinion & Analysis

The visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India, as well as the different agreements signed, was undoubtedly of major importance. We should – as I have noted earlier – take note.

But old suspicions don’t die that easily. This comment in the main Indian business newspaper – Business Standard – shows that there is a healthy dose of sceptisism over how far the rapprochement can really go.

Both India and China have ambitions to be treated as the major power in the region.

Whether China really supports Indias ambition to get a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is doubtful.

An Indian permanent seat would come as part of a package in which also Japan gets such a seat. Suddenly, there would be three rather than one permanent Asian members of the UNSC, although China would remain as the only one with veto powers.

And recent popular outbursts in China has certainly highlighted the old suspicions against Japan that can still be found – and not only in China.

We certainly see economic and industrial relations in Asia booming – and the potential for Indian-Chinese cooperation here should be substantial – bur we also see how the old suspicions are still remaining.