Why do international peacebuilding efforts often fail in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and the Central African Republic? Séverine Autesserre's work in the DRC suggests that a variety of factors explain these disappointments, including peacebuilders' failures to engage in local peace building. In her new book, Peaceland, Autesserre argues that the everyday habits of peacebuilders matter as well. I sat down with Autesserre for a Q&A about her findings.
Q: The central argument of Peaceland is that international peacebuilders can undermine their own peace building efforts because they live lives that are largely separated from the populations they are trying to help.
The London School of Economics Middle Eastern Studies Center recently advertised that it is going to hold a symposium on whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine applies to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. In particular, it is gathering a cohort of experts to debate R2P’s standing in the conflict, as well as if the norm is the correct framework to be “useful;” however, “useful” for what is not at all clear.
R2P, which holds that states have a responsibility to protect their peoples against gross crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, is a
Highlights will include:
- Some Colorado conference travel to present my research findings to one of the activist communities whose work I profiled in my book
- London for a week of exploratory research among NGOs that specialize in civilian casualty-counting, plus visits with my son to the newly re-opened Imperial War Museum and 222B Baker Street
- Some southwest road-tripping fun with children, partner and siblings sandwiched in.
Between all this I'll drag along various bits of light reading, among them the following, in case you're interested in reading along:
Germany won the World Cup in soccer, demonstrating to all that its team truly is the best in the world. The German players and coaches were dominant, dispatching a succession of opponents with near masterly strategy and skill—including a historic drubbing of the overwhelming local favorite Brazil, expected by many to emerge with a symbolic victory for the host country. Instead, the Germans beat them handily at home, before going on to prevent Argentina from denying them from an even more symbolic victory of their own.
A massive celebration immediately ensued across Germany, among Germans the world over, and vast throngs that were cheering them on for the World Cup victory they achieved in grand style. Strangely however, not all Germans were among the jubilant. In fact, a sizable minority of Germans remain uncomfortable with such a widespread and vibrant display of patriotism. The weight of history remains staunch, so much so that some of this ilk have publicly called for banning the display of German flags in public. It is an odd phenomenon, to say the least.
For don’t Germans deserve at long last to be proud, and unreservedly so; in fact, doesn’t Germany deserve to be treated like—and become again—a normal country? After all, the horrors of World War II took place more than half a century ago. Successive German generations have grown up in a culture of collective guilt, in which the vestiges of pride and patriotism were purposely kept out of reach. But Germany long ago has paid its debts, with memorials to the holocaust strewn across the country and decade after decade of responsibility displayed on the European and world stages by every Chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in the name of everyone that elected them.
As we all know, the social sciences are a messy business. People change their minds, don’t always follow law-like rules, and often have the guts to defy our theories by reflecting on their past behavior. For these reasons, it is always nice to see when our work receives support from other scholars, especially when these scholars operate within another paradigm, sub-field, or use a different methodological approach. In the case of my own work, which focuses on the explanatory value of the concept of generations and its applications in Foreign Policy and International Relations, this just happened. On July 7, Yahir Ghitza and Andrew Gelman at Columbia University published “The Great Society, Reagan's Revolution, and Generations of Presidential Voting,” a working paper, which was featured prominently, with some very pretty graphics, in the New York Times.
What's the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, "The IDF's objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure."
Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante -- albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn't want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn't want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes :
A depressing series of news days lately. What can make us feel good? Jon Stewart? Stephen Colbert? Star Wars? How about all three?
Mu Sochua a leading member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on Tuesday along with five others after a demonstration to gain access to Phnom Penh's Freedom Park turned violent in clashes between police and some of the protesters. Sochua was elected to the Cambodian parliament in 2013 and is a leading human rights and non-violence advocate in Cambodia. Despite their calls on the protesters to remain calm and non-violent, Sochua and the five others have been charged with insurrection and incitement and have been detained in Phnem Penh's maximum security prison. If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The US State Department, and others, including my home institution Mount Holyoke College have already called on the government for their release. Human Rights Watch called the government to investigate and prosecute those opposition supporters who committed violence, but is also called the insurrection charges "absurd" and yet another "pretext for threatening opposition leaders with prison."
Samer Abdelnour and Akbar Saeed have published a terrific article in International Political Sociology. "Technologizing Humanitarian Space: Darfur Advocacy and the Rape-Stove Panacea" critically traces the emergence of fuel-efficient cook-stoves as a global "solution" to sexual violence in refugee camps.
Here's the abstract:
We examine how an unassuming domestic technology—the fuel-efficient stove—came to be construed as an effective tool for reducing sexual violence globally. Highlighting the process of problematization, the linking of problems with actionable solutions, we show how US-based humanitarian advocacy organizations drew upon spatial, gender, perpetrator, racial, and interventionist representations to advance the notion that “stoves reduce rape” in Darfur. Though their effectiveness in Darfur remains questionable, efficient stoves were consequently adopted as a universal technical panacea for sexual violence in any conflict or refugee camp context. By examining the emergence and global diffusion of the rape-stove problematization, our study documents an important example of the technologizing of humanitarian space. We postulate fuel-efficient stoves to be a technology of Othering able to simplify, combine, decontextualize, and transform problematizations from their originating contexts elsewhere. When humanitarian advocates construe immensely complex crises as “manageable problems,” the promotion of simple technical panaceas may inadvertently increase the burden of poverty for user-beneficiaries and silence the voices of those they claim to champion and serve.
I remember teaching about the firewood/rape nexus in refugee settings during my days at GSPIA, but I was not aware of how the technology had proliferated since then or of many of the pernicious side effects of this technocratic solution to a multi-dimensional problem (here is an op-ed version by Abdelnour). It was nice to read a detailed critical assessment of such a policy, and to think about how many other globalized practices are doing more harm than good (or maybe some good and some harm) in places where well-meaning agents are struggling to deal with so much nastiness. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves to reduce rape are a band-aid, but so are refugee settings themselves: technocratic efforts to cordon off nastiness from vulnerable populations, and cordon off vulnerable populations from their host societies. The takeaway is that looking below the rug of humanitarian policy leads to some pessimistic conclusions.
Lots of ink is being spilled over Gaza. Watching and reading, I am reminded of something I read early in my career, while writing my second book. This thing I read was a manual for reporters, written by veteran British war correspondents Annabel McGoldrick and Jake Lynch. Jaded by knowledge of how the media can exacerbate or dampen conflicts, their manual contained specific suggestions for producing "peace journalism."
For example, McGoldrick and Lynch suggest reporters avoid portraying conflicts in zero-sum terms, emphasizing essentialist divisions, adopting language that victimizes or demonizes, or reporting only the horrors. Instead, they suggest, war reporters should "disaggregate the two parties into many smaller groups pursuing many goals," engage in "asking questions that reveal areas of common ground," and ask victims "how they are coping and what they think."
Like many I am today watching unfolding events in Gaza with sadness, outrage and a sense of helplessness. As a non-expert in the region, I have very little value to add in terms of insights. But what I can do, I figure, is a) pass along things I've seen come across my feeds that exemplify this kind of reporting and b) dwell especially on some under-covered angles that might complicate the conventional story of intractable hatreds in ways consistent with McGoldrick and Lynch's suggestions.
Germany won the Men's World Cup. The other half of the tournament takes place next year, in Canada.
Calling the men's half of the tournament 'The' World Cup while excluding half the world's population including some of the best players in the world is really nothing more than gendered language at its sexist best.
At Huffington Post last week, Jezebel's Valerie Alexander penned a terrific piece on why this semantic distinction is so important:
American commentators, please stop announcing that Landon Donovan is the "all-time U.S. leading goal scorer." He is not. With 57 international goals, he's not even in the Top Five. The all-time U.S. leading goal scorer is Abby Wambach, with 167 goals, followed by Mia Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Michelle Akers (105) and Tiffeny Milbrett (100). In fact, Abby Wambach is the all-time leading goal scorer in the world, among all soccer players, male or female.
I don't want to take anything away from what Landon Donovan has achieved. But every time he sits there, silently allowing that phrase to be rattled off -- 'all-time leading U.S. goal scorer' -- without pointing out that he is the all-time leading men's goal scorer, it does take away from what Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have achieved -- total world domination. It would be great if he displayed some of the dignity and grace we know he possesses and say, 'All-time leading men's scorer. There are seven U.S. women higher on the list than me.'
Many graduate students are expanding their job searches outside the academy. As an advisor, I'm horribly underprepared at offering job advice outside of the academic job market – besides work you can get off of Craigslist, I've never held a real job. Recently, I had a student come to me with questions about finding a job in the DC policy world. I asked my great friend (and former student) Kate Kidder for her thoughts, which she agreed to allow me to post at the Duck.
Rob Farley and I talk on BloggingheadsTV about new books (his and mine); the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots; how political scientists might study the circulation of science fiction and fantasy in real-world politics; and the meaning of Game of Thrones' fourth season.
What epitomizes American summer more than baseball? Star Wars! Well, Star Wars + baseball:
As I write this, Twitter and Facebook inform me that air raid sirens are going off in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well as several cities and towns closer to the Gaza Strip, while Israeli forces have launched air strikes against Gaza and are considering the mobilization of as many as 40,000 reservists for a possible ground incursion. The numbers of dead, wounded, and terrorized are mounting.
This most recent escalation comes on the heels of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, and also the official and unofficial retaliation by both the Israeli government and a small group of Jewish extremists. But while this is the proximate cause, the truth is that this week’s bloodshed and terror is rooted in the simmering hatred, prejudice, and distrust that has characterized the peace process almost since its inception.
While leaders have in the past at least made a pretense of working toward the goals set out way back in the 1990s, the Israeli government under Netanyahu and the deeply-divided Palestinian leadership have both made clear their unwillingness to compromise. Decades of occupation, radicalism, and foot-dragging have brought us to the point where leaders and citizens now find themselves, committed to verbally endorsing a peace process that has no chance of ever turning into actual peace. At the very least, peace would require an end to – rather than the continued expansion of – Israeli settlements in the West Bank, just as it would require Hamas and its supporters to unequivocally give up on the dream of a map of the region that doesn’t include Israel. But peace would also require giving up on the idea that justice is bound up with affixing blame and with retaliation, giving up on the whole ridiculous notion that everything will be sorted out properly once everyone finally understands whose fault it all really is.
As I wrote a few days ago, a new pattern of warfare is emerging in the Middle East and Africa. This “new blitzkrieg” isn’t really new, but it is asymmetric warfare at its best, pitting swarms of fast-moving, lightly armed fighters operating as a network against hidebound hierarchies of Western-trained and equipped “professional soldiers”. These state forces have a bad track record of crumbling under the tempo of swarming, networked attackers; and the only thing that has proven capable of stemming the tide is early airstrikes followed with a robust military “prop-up and mop-up” campaign, as demonstrated by French and African Union forces in Mali. The outcomes aren’t that great in any of the recent cases – but it’s much, much worse when any regional government has fallen to the non-state forces.
This might be might last football related post, what with the World Cup coming to a close and host country Brazil departing ignominiously from the competition by a margin of 7 to 1 in the semifinal against Germany. I've got a few football/Brazil related links for this week. I'm sitting on a goodly number of climate change and conservation related themes that I'll come back to in coming weeks.
I'm also aiming to write about restive criticism of President Obama's foreign policy, both by the usual suspects as well as some more unlikely folks like Peter Beinart. I'll leave that to a later post. In the meantime, what does Brazil's loss mean for Dilma Rousseff's re-election prospects? Why is that almost all the Brazil fans at the games appear to be white? Brazil's got a ton of water but Sao Paulo doesn't, what gives? At the end of the day, this is just a game, and with the deterioration of the situation in Israel, among other calamities, there are certainly some bigger issues looming.
Imagine never knowing whether your next step will be your last, whether your children are safe in the fields around your house, whether objects they find in the street are toys or deadly explosives. For people living where landmines lie in wait long after wars end, such frightening thoughts are daily realities.
“The humanitarian impact is heartbreaking,” said Kiman Lucas of Clear Path International, which assists landmine survivors. For almost two decades, US landmine policy has been at odds with NATO allies and in the uncomfortable company of Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria. “Everywhere I go,” Lucas told me, “people question why the US has not already joined the landmine ban treaty.”
But without much fanfare last week, representatives of the State Department announced subtle but crucial changes to the US government’s stance, distancing itself from the unilateral tone of Bush-era policy.
Just over a week ago – two days before the discovery of the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers and four days before the abduction and revenge killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir -- I sat in the family quarters of a young Palestinian shop owner in Jersusalem’s Old City sipping mint tea with two colleagues. We met the young shop owner and his two cousins while bargaining over some textiles in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. At the conclusion of the sale, they thanked us for a rigorous negotiation and invited us to their family quarters where they had a museum style display of textiles, rugs, and other artifacts that their family had collected in their 150+ years as shop owners in the Old City bazaar.
As we sat drinking our tea, we asked the young men about the political situation.