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of New York City police officers began clearing Zuccotti Park of the Occupy Wall Street ...
In recent decades, postcolonial theory has largely displaced Marxism as the dominant perspective among intellectuals ...
"The socialists consider it their principal, perhaps even their only, duty to promote the growth ...
Because of its strategic location between the two twentieth-century centers of Arab power, Egypt and ...
Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, speaks at a news conference in Tunis, ...
Review of Paul Le Blanc, October Song:Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, 1917-1924, Chicago: Haymarket, 2017, 479 ...
The election victory of Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece has galvanised ...
Several Egyptian cities, most notably Port Said, have been rocked by days of deadly riots, ...
The Actuality of Communism Verso Books, London and New York, 2014. 304pp., £9.99 pb About the reviewer Matt ...
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Archive for December, 2012

The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives-Hans-Christoph Schmidt Am Busch and Christopher F. Zurn (eds)

Posted by admin On December - 19 - 2012 Comments Off on The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives-Hans-Christoph Schmidt Am Busch and Christopher F. Zurn (eds)


The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
Lexington Books, Plymouth, 2010. 378pp., £59.95 hb.

Reviewed by Bryan Smyth
Bryan Smyth (basmyth@memphis.edu) teaches philosophy at the University of Memphis.
ReviewSince the 1990s, the notion of ‘recognition’ has occupied a prominent place within philosophical and political discourse. Based on the idea that subjectivity is formed intersubjectively, the central claim is that a necessary condition of authentic selfhood is to have one’s identity appropriately acknowledged by others. Just what is meant by identity and what such acknowledgement of it would entail has always been a matter of lively debate. But it is widely accepted that at least in cases of systemic oppression, misrecognition by others is a complicit harm. The political implications of this could be quite radical – think, for example, of Fanon’s analysis of racism in the colonial context – and it is a perspective with which most Marxists would sympathize. Yet it is also the case that identity-based recognition theory represents a repudiation of Marxism. Emerging in the wake of the new social movements of the 1970s and 80s, this approach belongs to the ‘cultural turn’ that rejected the perceived reductionism of historical materialism, especially its commitments to the priority of economic issues and the strategic centrality of the working class. So while a Marxist may sympathize with recognition struggles of this sort, she might simultaneously maintain that they are premised on an idealist reification of identity that will ultimately thwart any radical intentions they may have.

Structuring the typical Marxist perception of recognition theory, this tension may explain why, certain exceptions notwithstanding, this theory has not had much of an impact within Marxism. But even though there are real worries about the politics of recognition, this situation may be disconcerting. After all, much of the discourse of recognition tracks issues that remain areas of relative weakness within Marxism, and it would be unfortunate if a defensive reaffirmation of the received understanding of materialism were to obstruct the possible appropriation of productive conceptual resources. This is not to say that Marxism should ever align itself with a theory built on incompatible premises. But it is to open the question as to whether the cultural dynamics of recognition have a materiality which, even if it challenges traditional Marxist assumptions, does indeed fall squarely within the purview of historical materialism. That there could be a genuinely Marxist theory of recognition is entirely plausible, and so it would behove Marxism to explore this possibility if it could mean gaining a more analytically and normatively complex account of social injustice and of the emergence of revolutionary opposition to it.

This volume offers much food for thought along these lines. Following an introductory survey by Christopher Zurn, there are fourteen essays: the first seven take a primarily historical approach, while the rest have a more contemporary focus. This review will focus on those contributions that relate most closely to the philosophical concerns of Marxism.

Historical approaches to recognition have been especially concerned with Hegel, and this is reflected here with essays by Michael Quante, Ludwig Siep, and Terry Pinkard. Quante’s discussion is the most historically detailed, but it is limited to the Phenomenology even though Hegel had more and better to say on the theme in some of his earlier Jena works. Siep likewise limits his historical reflections to the Phenomenology, but mostly tries to relate Hegelian considerations to several contemporary problems in order to question the theoretical value of recognition. Pinkard also brings a Hegelian approach to current questions, but to somewhat greater effect. Focusing on the relation between recognition and the good, he shows that the former cannot be conceived in terms of right alone, but that it has substantial implications in terms of social goods—a salutary, if entirely uncontroversial, point from a Marxist perspective. Although these contributions are not especially remarkable, this sort of scholarship is useful inasmuch as a Marxist theory of recognition would require some new reading of Hegel.

But not only Hegel. Jay Bernstein contributes an excellent essay in which he reconstructs the basic arguments from Fichte’s Foundations of Natural Right that purport to ‘materialize idealism’ by integrating recognition with the materiality of embodiment in an account of the transcendental conditions of an egalitarian social order based in freedom. This work stands alongside other recent Fichte scholarship that disposes of the misleading image of him as a nutty ‘subjective idealist’. To be sure, there are, as Bernstein points out, some major problems with Fichte. But in terms of locating the philosophical antecedents of Marx (in abstraction from questions of direct influence), there is certainly a case to be made – not that Bernstein makes it – for the importance of Fichte’s ‘transcendental anthropology’.

In an essay that may be profitably read alongside Bernstein’s, Daniel Brudney reconstructs Marx’s vision of communism circa 1844 in terms of intersubjective recognition. Specifically, Brudney portrays the young Marx’s idea of a ‘true communist society’ as one in which production and consumption are institutively rooted in ‘mutual concern’ as a distinct sort of ‘practical attitude’, and this in a way, moreover, that shows that such a society would be a ‘well-ordered’ one in the Rawlsian sense. For anyone who dismisses the 1844 Manuscripts altogether this will be completely inconsequential. But otherwise it offers a very auspicious way to shore up the normative coherence and ideal feasibility of the idea of communism.

Turning to the contemporary side of things, Nancy Fraser’s essay ‘Rethinking Recognition’, originally published in New Left Review in 2000, is reprinted here. Although now slightly dated, this piece still conveys well some of Fraser’s core ideas: the rejection of any identity-based conception of recognition, and its replacement with a status-based conception in which the harm of misrecognition is understood not in terms of distorted subjective identity, but as the denial of ‘participatory parity’ within society. Among other things, this would allow for a more objective assessment of recognition struggles (many are, after all, reactionary). More importantly, it would counter what she perceived as the unacceptable displacement by claims for recognitive justice of more fundamental economic issues of distributive injustice. Fraser does not dismiss the legitimacy of the former. Her point is just that however interwoven they may be with struggles over economic inequality, struggles for recognition transpire at a distinct cultural level in a way that necessitates an at least dual approach to social justice. (In theoretical terms, this is based on the Habermasian distinction between ‘system’ and ‘lifeworld’, understood functionally and hermeneutically respectively.)

Marxists might be tempted by this. For it can be taken as responding to the rejection of Marxism by identitarian recognition theory by reaffirming the priority of economic justice while also embracing cultural struggles for recognition. But is this coherent? The worry would be that the connection between the respective dimensions of injustice is ultimately arbitrary—no compelling reason could be given as to why they couldn’t be remedied separately, or at least why recognition couldn’t be achieved through social reforms devoid of redistributive measures. But Marxism’s conception of capitalism as a totality militates strongly against such division.

The basic issue is thus poorly posed if it is seen as concerning the relation between justicial struggles located in social spheres that differ in kind. The problem with Fraser is that in adopting the system/lifeworld distinction, she (like Habermas) effectively reiterates the old base/superstructure model in a way that precludes any coherent alternative to economism or idealism. Some theoretical distinctions need to be drawn, of course. But to hive off the economy as a distinct domain is politically problematic and possibly unfounded from a materialist perspective.

This brings us to the centre of gravity of contemporary recognition theory: the work of Axel Honneth (the volume has four contributions related to this, including one by Honneth himself). The œuvre that Honneth has developed since the publication of The Struggle for Recognition (1992), and especially since he became director of the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt in 2001, represents a methodical ‘reactualization’ of left-Hegelian social philosophy as, following Horkheimer, an immanent critique of capitalist society with ‘emancipatory intent’. It is with Honneth’s work especially – and whether it can be given a compelling materialist interpretation – that Marxists interested in recognition need to grapple.

The core of Honneth’s theory of recognition is an account of the fundamental types of normative interaction that condition autonomous individual self-realization. The most contentious of these concerns relations within the social division of labour (construed as broadly as possible) that support ‘self-esteem’ through the valuation of work as a contribution to societal goals. Honneth develops this in his contribution to the present volume. Inspired by Hegel, the critical task here is to disclose the implicit normative infrastructure of the capitalist organization of labour – for example, principles concerning fair wages and meaningful work – and to articulate this as a resource for ideological struggles over the interpretation of social goals and the terms of distributive justice. Key here is the claim that those normative principles have a ‘validity surplus’, in that they retain transformative leverage over institutions that fail to embody them fully. The upshot is thus that instead of reducing recognitive to economic justice, or else dualizing them, economic injustice is seen as supervening on social disesteem such that its redress – in addition to whatever else it may entail – is best understood as a recognitive ideal.

This may seem wildly naïve. But the underlying motivation is solid: rejecting the system/lifeworld distinction, and thus conceiving the economy in terms of social rather than system integration. For otherwise economic structures are placed beyond the range of critique and intentional transformation. Indeed, seemingly anonymous and ‘norm-free’ economic imperatives couldn’t be conceived to function at all, and to affect people’s lives as they do, unless they were in fact embedded in a normative totality. Honneth’s theory thus takes the form of an action-theoretic monism grounded in the dynamics of social interaction, for this is where culture and economics intersect concretely.

Three other essays make contributions favourable to this theory. Hans-Christoph Schmidt am Busch undertakes a critical examination of the conception of social esteem, and ultimately finds that indeed a theory of recognition along those lines can obviate the need for a separate functionalist account of the capitalist economy, such that a rigorous analysis and critique of capitalism could be made on the basis of such a theory alone. Emmanuel Renault and Jean-Philippe Deranty – who have each made important Marxist-inspired contributions to the field – are also positively inclined to Honneth’s general approach. But understanding it as attempting a ‘redemptive critique’ of Marxism, they appreciate critically that on its own this theory is insufficient and must be extensively supplemented with a more comprehensive social theory. Renault thus aims to deflect Marxist criticisms of Honneth that are based on the incorrect assumption that his theory of recognition is itself intended to be such a theory, and hence to leave space for a possible rapprochement. To this end, Deranty presents some stimulating suggestions as to how the need for a credible political-economic framework might be satisfied. With reference to institutionalism and regulation theory, which emphasize the cultural and normative embeddedness of economic phenomena, Deranty shows that viable resources are available with which to explain the complex coordination of the economy in terms of social integration. The crucial thought lies in the observation that Marxists are as guilty as anyone in perpetuating the myth that economics is some sort of hard science, rather than a hermeneutical one. For once we disabuse ourselves of that error, the prospects for developing a more complete theory of recognition on a materialist basis become significantly brighter.

There is much in this volume which could be taken up productively by Marxist philosophers toward a more sophisticated framework for theorizing the dynamics of contemporary class struggle. But one must beware of the Hegelian character of recognition theory, especially in the case of Honneth, the force and justification of whose work stems from the radical immanence of its standpoint. Marxism shares this refusal of nostalgic and utopian ideals, which is necessary for the unity of theory and practice. Yet it also runs the risk of leaving us, if not mired in the status quo, then at least unable to transcend its implicit normative horizons. It may seem highly unlikely that sufficient ‘validity surplus’ obtains in the normative infrastructure of contemporary capitalism to underwrite revolutionary social change. But if recognitive principles could be reconceived dynamically from the standpoint of, say, communism as ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’, then a dialectical bond between recognition and revolution might be found after all.


The War on Terror, and the New Imperialism -Neil Faulkner

Posted by admin On December - 19 - 2012 Comments Off on The War on Terror, and the New Imperialism -Neil Faulkner


The day the world changed – the terrorist attack on New York’s Twin Towers on 9 September 2001
The Al-Qaida terror attacks allowed the great powers to justify new imperialist wars to safeguard the interests of global capital, writes Neil Faulkner
On 11 September 2001, Al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four US aircraft to carry out attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the Capitol Building in Washington DC.

Three attacks were successful: the Pentagon sustained major damage, both Twin Towers were hit and later collapsed, and about 3,000 people in total were killed.

9/11 was an attack on US imperialism. But it was a misdirected attack in which a sinister right-wing network targeted ordinary working people.

Because of this, 9/11 was a gift to the US ruling class: it allowed them to rebrand their own aggression – which has since been a thousand times more deadly than Al-Qaida’s – as a ‘war on terror’. It helped them fabricate the ‘threats’ and ‘enemies’ they needed to justify new imperialist wars.

The War on Terror is the geopolitical correlate of neoliberal capitalism (see MHW 102).

Neoliberalism wrecks economies and destroys lives. This tears societies apart and leads to revolutions and wars. The great powers then intervene to safeguard the interests of global capital. The War on Terror provides their current framework for intervention, and also, since the end of the Cold War, their primary justification for maintaining high levels of arms expenditure.

The new pattern was set by the events of 1989. The glacial geopolitics of the Cold War melted in the popular revolutions of that year (MHW 91 and 103). But all too quickly, politics froze over again, allowing an old elite of party bureaucrats to morph into a new elite of neoliberal oligarchs.

As state-managed capitalism was dismantled, entire economies collapsed. Ten years after 1989, the Russian economy had shrunk by 40%. East German unemployment hit 20% and more. Yugoslav living-standards halved in the space of two years.

The economic and social dislocation was not restricted to former ‘Communist’ regimes. The state-managed model was picked apart on every continent. From Egypt to India to Latin America, state enterprises were sold off, public services run down, and welfare provision retrenched.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), representing global finance-capital, became the supreme arbiters of neoliberal virtue. Those who signed up to ‘structural adjustment programmes’ were rewarded with access to finance, technology, and investment. Those who did not were consigned to oblivion.

Of 76 countries subjected to ‘structural adjustment’ in the 1980s, the great majority failed to restore the growth rates of previous decades. The effect was to leave 55% of Africans and 45% of Latin Americans below the poverty line.
‘Humanitarian intervention’ – the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999
The social tensions exploded in many different ways. Yugoslavia can serve as a case-study in neoliberal chaos. As the heavily-indebted state broke up, Western banks cut off access to further funding, and IMF-imposed ‘structural adjustment’ plunged the sundered fragments into a depression.

Party bosses reinvented themselves as nationalist politicians and rekindled ancient identities. The region was then ripped apart by vicious civil wars marked by genocide and ethnic-cleansing of a kind unknown in Europe since 1945.

This proved a handy testing-ground for a new kind of Western imperialism masquerading as ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘peace-keeping’. NATO, the US-dominated Cold War military alliance, was now recast as the military guardian of a post-1989 ‘New World Order’.

Serbia was attacked by NATO bombers, both during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and the Kosovo War (1999). The purpose of these interventions was to control the transition from state-managed to neoliberal capitalism. The aim was a stable political order safe for foreign capital.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair proclaimed the new imperial doctrine in a speech in Chicago during the Kosovo War: ‘We are all internationalists now … We cannot refuse to participate in global markets if we want to prosper … We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure.’

He continued: ‘We are witnessing the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community … Global financial markets, the global environment, and global security and disarmament issues: none of these can he solved without intense international co-operation.’
Blair preaching war
Blair exuded the arrogance of imperialists throughout history. His ‘we’ meant the neoliberal bourgeoisie. His ‘international community’ meant the great powers. The major war he helped launch in 2003 laid this bare. It represented the new imperialism’s coming of age.

The principal threat to global peace today is the United States. This is because the US is in decline economically, yet remains dominant militarily.

The US economy grew more than 15% per year during the Second World War. By 1945, it accounted for more than 50% of total world output. This share has declined since, to around 30% in 1980, and around 20% today.

On the other hand, US arms spending has remained relatively high throughout the post-1945 period. Over the last 20 years, it has accounted for around a third of the global total. In 1999, US arms spending was three times that of China, eight times that of Russia, 40 times that of Iran, and 200 times that of Iraq.

It is this contradictory couplet – relative economic decline and absolute military superiority – that explains the belligerence of the US in the world today. Military power is being projected to compensate for declining economic clout.

Control over oil – the single most important global commodity – is at the heart of US strategic calculations. That is why the Middle East, with about 70% of all known reserves, remains a central focus.

The War on Terror is not a struggle between Islam and the West. It is a struggle on the part of imperialist capital for control of oil and other vital interests. But it derives its ideological character from political developments inside the Middle East since 1979.

Islam is a religious confession that can take as many forms as Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism. It can express a wide range of class interests and political attitudes. ‘Islamism’ or ‘political Islam’ is not, therefore, a single, cohesive, organised force.

The label encompasses traditions as diverse as the benighted tribal conservatives of Afghanistan’s Taliban, the present ruling regime in Iran, Egypt’s relatively liberal Muslim Brotherhood, and radical resistance organisations like Hezbollah (in Lebanon) and Hamas (in the Palestinian territories).

Indeed, Islamism’s lack of political definition is part of its appeal. It seems able to offer a political home to anyone opposed to imperialism, Zionism, and dictatorship. It has the apparent capacity to unite the young professional, the unemployed graduate, the stallholder, the slum-dweller, and the village mullah in a single mass movement.

That appeal has been enhanced by the failure of other, secular traditions. The Arab nationalist regimes were defeated in the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973. They later morphed into brutal dictatorships, like that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.

The old Arab communist parties – following the Stalinist line – led their followers to repeated defeat by subordinating working-class movements to treacherous bourgeois-nationalist leaders. The Palestinian guerrillas – outnumbered and outgunned – struggled heroically but hopelessly against the might of the Zionist state.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 seemed to represent a new way forward. A mass movement of millions overthrew a vicious, heavily-armed, US-backed dictator.

Admittedly, the Left was subsequently smashed by an Islamist counter-revolutionary movement. Islamism thereby revealed its deeply contradictory character: able to bind together disparate social forces in a struggle for change; but then shattering into antagonistic class fragments once in power.

Yet the Iranian Islamist movement, even when wearing a counter-revolutionary face, did not represent a wholesale return to the old order. Instead, under the green banner of Islam, it represented an assertion of Iranian national independence in defiance of the US-backed setup in the Middle East.
One among millions of victims of the global War on Terror – an Iraqi child maimed by bombing
That is why the US armed Iraq in the bloodiest war of the 1980s – the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, when a million died in a trench-war stalemate which effectively ‘contained’ the Iranian Revolution.

Then, having built him up into a regional strongman, the US knocked the Iraqi dictator down when he attempted to seize Kuwait’s oilfields. The Gulf War (1990-1991) was a practical illustration of US imperial doctrine in the Middle East: keep the region divided and weak by preventing any local state from becoming hegemonic.

9/11 provided the US ‘neo-cons’ (neo-conservatives: the hawkish advocates of the new imperialism) with their opportunity to go onto the offensive. US military power was to be projected across Central Asia and the Middle East to steal a march on imperial rivals, impose a Pax Americana on the region, and secure a military platform for the indefinite defence of US access to vital oil and gas reserves. The cost would be a million dead.

But the Afghan and Iraq Wars would spin out of control, conjuring intractable guerrilla insurgencies in the occupied countries, and a mass anti-war movement of unprecedented size at home.

In time, this crisis of imperialism would mess with a crisis of neoliberalism. After 2008, the mass movement against war would feed into a mass movement against austerity as the world’s banks crashed and the global economy was plunged into a Second Great Depression.


The 2014 withdrawal and Pakistan- Tariq Fatemi

Posted by admin On December - 19 - 2012 Comments Off on The 2014 withdrawal and Pakistan- Tariq Fatemi


writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999
While various Afghan scenarios in the aftermath of the 2014 withdrawal have been the subject of many conferences, its impact on Pakistan has escaped much scrutiny. The two-day deliberations in Paris this past week among officials, scholars and analysts from both sides of the Atlantic were, therefore, most timely as well as useful, thanks to brutally frank exchanges. The conclusions were cautiously optimistic, with broad consensus that Pakistan was likely to be confronted with huge challenges, both at home and in the region, with many doubting the government’s capacity and resolve to make fundamental changes essential for governance. Others expressed misgivings about the ‘establishment’s’ attitude to militancy and extremism.

There was consensus on three broad themes: first, on the importance of having free and fair elections in Pakistan, with some expressing hope of the emergence of a government that would be focused on domestic economic growth and development, coupled with socially responsible policies. Second, there was great emphasis on the need for the new government to remain irrevocably wedded to democracy and the rule of law to make institutions the drivers of political, economic and social reforms. Third, accelerating the peace process with India was emphasised, so as to enhance regional cooperation not merely for purposes of trade but also for regional understanding on terrorism, water and energy issues.

The one issue that generated the most animated exchanges was about significance of recent signals of a possible change in Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies’ attitude towards the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. While there was appreciation for initiatives taken over past months to breathe life into the peace process, many viewed it as a tactical ploy to improve US-Pakistan relations which had fallen off a cliff, as well as an effort on the part of Pakistan to enhance its role in developments related to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. A few were, however, willing to give Pakistan the benefit of doubt, speculating that this may well be a strategic shift on the part of the ‘establishment’, arising from its appreciation of the harsh realities currently obtaining in Pakistan and the near universal disapproval of its perceived ‘sympathy and sustenance’ to militants and extremists. There was, however, unanimity on the view that unless this was truly so, Pakistan’s own problems of security and governance would never be resolved, irrespective of which party or parties won the coming elections. Not only would the peace process with India peter out but Pakistan’s international isolation would increase and its economic straits would worsen.

There were also repeated expressions of concern about increasing violence and intolerance in society, with cultural, linguistic, ethnic and sectarian interests dominating the national debate. This led some to point out that failure to address these tendencies forcefully, but politically and with national consensus may well result in the country’s disarray as a functioning state. If this were to happen, it would not only mean a greater likelihood of terrorists getting deeper entrenched in Pakistan, but also of the theft or leakage of nuclear and missile technology and material — a prospect viewed in cataclysmic terms in the West.

The one silver lining for Pakistan was the widely held view that while the international community was rightly focused on the dangers looming ahead for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces, it would be a grave error to ignore Pakistan or to see it only through the prism of Afghanistan. It was emphasised that tackling the deepening economic crisis and growing militancy at home would have a positive impact on itself, on its attitude to peace in Afghanistan and to stability in the region. This led to the strong recommendation that both the US and Europe needed to maintain their current levels of assistance to Pakistan, while continuing to urge Islamabad to see the Afghan withdrawal as an opportunity to resolve many of its own problems.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2012.

Liberty and Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renais-sance to Enlightenment-Ellen Meiksins Wood

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Liberty and Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renais-sance to Enlightenment
Verso Books, London, 2011. 336pp., $26.95 / £16.99 pb
Reviewed by Tony Mckenna
Tony Mckenna is a Hegelian Marxist philosopher whose work has been featured in The Huffington Post, ABC Australia, New Statesman, New Internationalist, Monthly Review, Counterpunch, Open Democracy, Znet, Liberal Conspiracy, The Philosophers Magazine, New Left Project, Ceasefire, Counterfire, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Greek Left Review, Dog House Boxing, East-side Boxing and the Greek channel TVXS among others.
ReviewLiberty and Property is the second volume in Ellen Wood’s endeavour to trace what is loosely, though problematically, termed ‘western political thought’ by situating its greatest exponents within the sweep of a broader historical development. The current volume takes in, among others, Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Spinoza, the Levellers, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

Liberty and Property picks up the thread in the mid to late fifteenth century with an analysis of the Italian city states, the large urban concentrations of trade and commerce which had begun to develop in the North of the country several centuries before. Wood notes how these city states possessed, from a certain perspective, an exceptional character, for across the Italian panorama pockets of urban life had survived the collapse of the Roman Empire in a way they hadn’t elsewhere. In addition, social relations in much of the Italian countryside tended to preserve a free peasantry rather than the serfdom which was ubiquitous in Western Europe more broadly. Such factors resulted in a specialised historical configuration in which there were ‘more or less autonomous city states, governed by urban elites … exercising what has been described as a collective lordship over the surrounding countryside, the contado’. (34)

But despite the uniqueness of these structural features, the city states did not depart significantly from the fundamental economic modes of ‘feudal’ economy, for though there was a pronounced accentuation of commerce and trade, this was not underpinned by a market imperative which necessitated cost effective production and an ancillary investment in productive technique. Rather, the development of wealth by the Italian city states was premised on ‘extra-economic’ factors which lay outside the immediate realities of production and exchange – ‘political power, monopoly privileges, sophisticated financial techniques, and military force’. (35) Even in a city state like Florence where great textile making factories emerge demonstrating a heavy investment in production, nevertheless, Wood contends, such investment was still very much dependent on ‘extra-economic’ factors.

In fact, despite their semblance of modernity, Wood goes as far as to categorise the republics of the early renaissance as ‘an urban and commercial feudalism’. (42) Because the city states were dependent on the exploitation of European territories more broadly, specifically the ‘fragmented governances of European feudalism’ (41) which were themselves decaying as a result of famine, crises and plague; because the city states were locked into a symbiotic relationship of this sort, and furthermore, were pressured into wars with one another in order to secure trading privileges – for all of this, they were, in the late fifteenth century, particularly vulnerable to the rise of the European absolutist monarchies.

Wood seeks the tenor of Machiavelli’s work here. Machiavelli’s thought, she argues, should not be understood as a prelude to the modern nation state. When, in the conclusion to The Prince, he calls for the liberation of Italy from the ‘barbarians’ (cited 41) it is not that he is half way toward theorising a modern national identity, but instead, through the adoption of a sophisticated and often ruthless real politik, he is attempting to ensure the survival of the individual city state – a military republic governed by a commercial aristocracy and premised on an earlier economic mode – over and against a newer historical form; that of post feudal absolutism. His concept of republican autonomy, despite resonating the contemporary ear with its modernity, nevertheless depends on an analysis which draws heavily on the Roman Republic in particular, in as much as there the republican form of government was clearly seen ‘to produce a more effective fighting force’ (50) and it was this which remained Machiavelli’s ultimate concern. Wood offers an incisive analysis on the way Machiavelli adapted and expanded the ancients’ model of government (especially Polybius) which tended to recognise three principal forms: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. She is able to synthesise all these concerns with a deft and articulate unfolding of Machiavelli’s personal history, from his rise to prominence in the restored Florentine Republic to his imprisonment, torture and exile when the Medici returned.

The section on the Spanish empire proves equally fascinating. Wood provides a concise overview of the history which led to the colonial ‘golden age’ under the unifiers of Castile and Aragon, Isabella and Ferdinand, and their Habsburg successors. But Wood is at pains to point out how the empire ‘on which the sun never set’ was nevertheless governed from a Spanish state which retained only ‘a tenuous national identity’ (86). When the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united, each ‘brought to the union its internal jurisdictional conflicts among parcelized sovereignties, corporate, local and regional.’ (86)

Spain was, therefore, fundamentally an empire before it became a ‘proper’ nation state ‘and that distinctive reality is clearly reflected in Spanish thought’. (89) The question of sovereignty became one of a complex of competing interests, from the class of warlords which had emerged in Castile battling the Moors during the time of the medieval ‘reconquista’, to the more traditional and well-heeled feudalism of Catalonia (within Aragon) which curtailed the power of the royal authority. In addition all these tensions were refracted through the prism of empire which generated some quite startling ideological results.

Bartolome de Las Casas, for instance, would, during the Vallidolid debate of 1550-1, argue radically and eloquently against the ecomienda system of labour in the Americas which reduced the indigenous populations to the condition of slaves (although they weren’t formally considered property). Las Casas, going against the grain, argued that the ‘Indians were rational beings with a complex civilisation’. (93)

Francisco Vitori a supplemented this view in his lectures at the University of Salamanca – On the Indians and the Law of War – where he too made the case to concede both humanity and rationality to the Indians. But again, despite the fact that these arguments bear a resemblance to later enlightenment notions of individual natural rights, Wood points out that they had ‘medieval roots … already well established by the sixteenth century’ (94) and, perhaps more importantly, they mediated explicitly certain tendencies which were integrated within the overall nexus of socio-political power relations.

Vitoria’s assertion of Indian autonomy, for instance, was an expression of his pro-monarchy sympathies; in establishing the legitimacy of the Indians as rational creatures with the concomitant right to own property, he was as well undermining the power basis of the ecomienda and, vicariously, the Adelentados – the class of military governors who had themselves come to present as an obstacle to royal hegemony. In a similar vein Las Casas’ views on the autonomy of indigenous Latin Americans discovered a powerful advocate in Pope Paul III who issued a papal bull proclaiming that ‘Indians are truly men’ (cited 93). The surprising nature of such a radical edict delivered by the reactionary power in Rome represented, in no small part, a response to the rise of the Spanish empire and the spectre of Charles V who was a Habsburg as well as Holy Roman Emperor – and the figure of most threat to the Papal power, thereby.

The rigorous examination of the competing and interlocking political-economic tendencies is typical of Wood, and is carried across to her account of the Dutch Republic. Here she envisages a similar paradigm to the one she laid out in her account of the Italian City states where ‘urban patriciates extracted great wealth from commercial activities’ but where the conditions for their success depended ‘less on competitive production than on “extra-economic” advantage, up to and including military force’. (113) Again Wood argues that the particular notions of emancipation which arose at the time of the Dutch Revolt and its aftermath must be understood first and foremost by locating them in the context of what she has previously termed ‘urban feudalism’, its relation to the countryside, and the geo-political situation in Europe more broadly.

For example, struggles between the Stadtholder (the (sometimes) hereditary state leader of a given province) and civic elites throw up conceptions of freedom which were inevitably coloured by the dynamic of their conflict, but which also responded to political developments internationally. For instance, William I of Orange, who was the Stadtholder in Holland among other regions, argued for ‘the freedom of the provinces in the manner of medieval corporations asserting their autonomy; but he also defended the freedom of the people from enslavement by the Spanish Monarchy’. (118) For this, he became one of the radical leaders of the revolt, however the opponents of the House of Orange would later conceive their own notions of ‘true freedom’ which meant ‘asserting republican liberty against monarchical forces’. (118) In other words, Wood points out, ‘there was, in the Republic, no simple opposition between an anti-democratic monarchy and a more democratic republicanism’. (118) Rather, events were fluid and dynamic, political relations were constantly undermined and renewed, and the concept of republicanism itself often entailed the dominance of ‘wealthy civic elites … at the expense of popular elements’. (118)

Such contradictions would crystallise in the person of perhaps the greatest intellectual representative of the Dutch Republic – Hugo Grotius. Wood examines in particular his major works, De Jure Belili ac Pacis and Mare Leberum. The latter offers an ingenious defence of what Wood has already located as the fundamental mode of appropriation – those ‘extra economic’ strategies – which underwrite an essentially urban and commercial feudalism. Mare Liberum was, we should note, written in the context of the appropriation by the Dutch of a Portuguese freight ship laden with treasure.

The act itself was, without doubt, bald piracy but Grotius justifies it through the versatile elaboration of a theory of property whereby land, which was capable of transformation into property through human labour, was therefore ‘susceptible to political jurisdiction’. (127) The sea, on the other hand, was not capable of being acted upon and transformed in this manner. Hence, according to Grotius, any principles of jurisdiction cease to obtain and were, in fact, vanquished by the (more permissive) principle of ‘self- preservation … the first and fundamental law of nature’. (126) One of the many strengths of Wood’s approach is that she remains attuned to the tension between natural and positive law which provides a steady motif running through the theorists she examines.

The last two main chapters describe French absolutism and the English revolution. It feels natural that they should stand side by side in as much as each throws the other into relief. In her French history, Wood focuses in particular on Jean Bodin, Montchretien, Montesquieu and Rousseau. There is much of interest here – her account of Rousseau is particularly eloquent and provides an effective rescue of that thinker from the charge that he provided an adumbration of the politics of totalitarianism. In fact, argues Wood, Rousseau began from a fundamentally benign vision of human nature. Rousseau, in describing human beings in the state of nature, references a natural ‘love of self’ (amour de soi). But, in contradistinction to Hobbes, he didn’t assume that such a desire for self-preservation automatically implied conflict with others. Rather, according to Rousseau, it was the development of the social institution of private property which genuinely encouraged ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’. Wood quotes sections of Rousseau which, almost unnervingly, seem to presage Marx: ‘What a strange and fatal condition – where accumulated riches facilitate still greater riches, but where men with none can acquire none; where the good man knows no way out of his misery’. (cited 192)

In terms of its political make-up, in pre-revolutionary France Wood concentrates on the tension between the feudal aristocracy and absolutist monarchy. Nothing remarkable in that, mind you, but what is unique is her emphasis on the sheer degree of separation between the two powers and her subsequent sense that the theorisation of the rights of the individual (pre-Rousseau) is not so much the result of the struggle between the individual against the monarchy but rather the result of a feudal comprehension of right filtered through the ‘individual’ corporation or estate; or to put it another way, the theorisation of right at this point is, ultimately, a product of the tensions between absolutism and aristocracy rather than any genuine upsurge from the forces below, even if the masses were, in this or that moment, pulled into the political vortex.

Wood contrasts this with the English case where, according to her, a uniquely and qualitatively different form of property relations had emerged in the English countryside. Now Hobbes, as Wood concedes, was the theorist of absolutism par excellence. But what is interesting about Hobbes’ defence of absolutism is its basis in a fundamental egalitarianism. Hobbes premises his reactionary defence of the monarchy on the most radical ideology which owes much to the Levellers. The Levellers advocated the notion that ‘the people were sovereign’ (233) but in an entirely different way from the other European discourses where sovereignty of the ‘the people’, argues Wood, tended to be conceptualised in and through the feudal structures of corporations, guilds etc.

In the English case notion of people’s sovereignty found its genesis in a unique historical blend, for the feudal aristocracy and the monarchy had in the past maintained, for the main part, a less antagonistic and more mutually beneficial relationship, which was expressed through the creation of the common law, for instance. The English monarch in the mid-17th century was, therefore, faced by a resistance constituted not so much by a host of fragmented feudal jurisdictions (as in the French case) but rather a ‘unitary and representative legislative body’ (252); this higher level of social cohesion meant, in turn, that notions of right ceased to be lodged in various corporate bodies but rather ‘the rights of persons’ took precedence over the ‘rights of office’. (252)

This was manifest even in the defence of absolutism which Hobbes mounts, and Wood, in her analysis, wryly teases out the thinker’s dialectical slyness: ‘Hobbes makes use of the proposition that the multitude is a collection of individuals rather than a corporate entity … to deprive the multitude of its political personality … every man possesses certain rights by nature, but he cannot enjoy his natural rights without effectively giving them up to a sovereign power’. (247) The chapter on the English revolution concludes with a considered account of ‘Improvement’ theory and particularly the way John Locke would draw upon it in the development of his theory of property.

As a whole Liberty and Property is an interesting and worthwhile book bearing all the hallmarks of the author’s customary intellectual charisma and sweeping, graceful prose. Nevertheless I think the project itself is hampered and reduced by the burden of its central, and ultimately untenable, thesis: that the Italian city states and the Dutch Republic constitute a form of commercial feudalism driven by a mercantilism which almost exclusively rests on ‘extra-economic’ means of appropriation. Wood’s position here is a more extreme version of the Brenner thesis which itself harkens back, at least in part, to Eric Hobsbawm’s conviction that Dutch commerce represented a ‘feudal business economy’ marked by a corresponding lack of development in productive capability.

This strain of thought has been widely criticised – most recently, and to great effect, by Marxist scholar Pepijn Brandon (2011, 118) who points out that by the fifteen and sixteenth centuries there were substantial pockets in the Netherlands where ‘land had accumulated into the hands of wealthy tenant-farmers, who employed fully proletarianised wage-labourers in market-orientated cattle breeding and grain cultivation’.

The details of this debate are far beyond the scope of a book review, but it does seem to me that Wood is somewhat myopic in her inflexible separation between the capitalism which develops in the English countryside and economic trends in Europe more broadly. As a result her interpretations of various thinkers sometimes verge on the mechanical; the immanent, though combined and uneven development of property relations on a Europe-wide scale is eschewed in favour of an external, structural analysis of the relationship between, say, a given absolute monarchy and its feudal antagonists, with the result that thought is sometimes too hastily conscripted into serving an immediately political function. Nevertheless Liberty and Property is a provocative and interesting book which contributes a great deal to on-going debate.

Brandon, Pepijn 2011. ‘Marxism and the “Dutch Miracle”: The Dutch Republic and the Transition-Debate’, Historical Materialism vol. 19 no. 3, pp. 106–146.  

Opposing Apartheid, Then and Now-Paul Pillar

Posted by admin On December - 19 - 2012 Comments Off on Opposing Apartheid, Then and Now-Paul Pillar


Several factors contributed to the demise of apartheid in the land where that term originated, South Africa. Inspired and timely leadership within South Africa was an important ingredient. But international agitation and pressure, based on a widespread sense of moral outrage, undoubtedly were also critical. The international response included unofficial boycotts and official sanctions, with great and lesser powers alike contributing.

International opposition to the most conspicuous current example of apartheid—Israeli subjugation of Palestinian Arabs—is not nearly as ubiquitous as opposition to the South African variety had become near its end in the early 1990s. But there are signs that it is growing. Organized efforts are aimed at boycotting products from settlements Israel has built in occupied territory in the West Bank. A recent noteworthy departure in the policy of a major power was Germany’s refusal to toe the Israeli line in a vote in the United Nations General Assembly.

To the extent that international opposition to Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians may indeed be growing, there are good reasons. One is a realization that the Israeli version of apartheid is very similar in important respects to the South African version, and that moral equivalence ought to follow from empirical equivalence. Both versions have included grand apartheid, meaning the denial of basic political rights, and petty apartheid, which is the maintaining of separate and very unequal facilities and opportunities in countless aspects of daily life. Some respects in which Israelis may contend their situation is different, such as facing a terrorist threat, do not really involve a difference. The African National Congress, which has been the ruling party in South Africa since the end of apartheid there, had significant involvement in terrorism when it was confronting the white National Party government. That government also saw the ANC as posing a communist threat.

A fitting accompaniment to the similarities between the two apartheid systems is the historical fact that when the South African system still existed, Israel was one of South Africa’s very few international friends or partners. Israel was the only state besides South Africa itself that ever dealt with the South African bantustans as accepted entities. Israel cooperated with South Africa on military matters, possibly even to the extent of jointly conducting a secret test of a nuclear weapon in a remote part of the Indian Ocean in 1979.

The sheer passage of time probably has reduced the reluctance of some to confront Israel about its system of apartheid. As each year goes by, it seems less justifiable for horrors that were inflicted on the Jewish people in the past to be a reason to give a pass to whatever are the policies of the present day’s Jewish state no matter how oppressive those policies may be to another people. Less than five years from now will be the 50th anniversary of the war that Israel launched and used to seize the West Bank and other Arab territory; maybe the half-century mark will be an occasion for even more people to observe that what exists in the occupied territories is a well-entrenched system of subjugation. Meanwhile, the lock that Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition have on Israeli politics provides frequent opportunities to see through obfuscatory rhetoric and perceive the intention to make that subjugation permanent.

Nonetheless, other factors will make it difficult to mobilize against Israeli apartheid anything like the international consensus that arose to confront the South African version. The European history linked with Zionism and the establishment of Israel still weighs heavily on this issue. Since the Balfour Declaration the concept of an exclusive national home for the Jewish people has been widely accepted, quite unlike anything ever bestowed on the Afrikaaners or white South Africans generally. Related to that is the charge of anti-Semitism that is quickly injected into any significant discussion that questions Israeli policies. And related to that is the very large role that toeing the Israeli government line plays as political orthodoxy in the most important global power, the United States. Some observers hopefully see signs that this orthodoxy may be weakening, pointing to indications such as resistance at the Democratic convention this summer to a resolution about Jerusalem. Perhaps if President Obama appoints—and gets confirmed—Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense in the face of the opposition that the Israel lobby is already cranking up, that will become another data point suggesting the harmful political orthodoxy may be weakening.

Another impediment to mobilizing against Israeli apartheid concerns the desired end-state of the Palestinian situation. Officially, even according to the Israelis, that goal is the two-state solution: separate states for Jews and Arabs. This makes the situation different from South Africa, in which the objective in dismantling apartheid there was always going to involve a one-state solution. Israeli governments such as Netanyahu’s thus can continue to pretend to seek a two-state solution, treating the situation in the West Bank not as one of permanent subjugation but as only a temporary problem involving “disputed territory.” And if the ostensible goal is a Palestinian state, this inevitably muddies the issue of Palestinian rights and Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Why get agitated about the details of the Palestinians’ lives today, the Israelis can say, when if the Palestinians just stop terrorizing and start negotiating they can have a state of their own? Indefinitely maintaining the illusion of wanting a two-state solution is a reason Netanyahu—despite the willingness of some in his party and coalition to let the cat out of the bag regarding their true intentions—has stopped short of steps that would clearly kill off the two-state solution. That is why his recent “punishment” of the Palestinians involving expansion of settlements into the critical E1 zone involved the initiation of planning and zoning but may never lead to actual building.

Meanwhile, Israelis can keep muddling through, relying on their armed might and believing genuinely that they can maintain their superior position indefinitely. By cordoning off—and periodically clobbering—the patch of blockaded misery known as the Gaza Strip, Jewish Israelis can remain a majority in the rest of the land they control. That is not something that white South Africans could ever hope for.

The overall conclusion of this comparison between the two versions of apartheid is disconcerting. In any meaningful moral (or legal) sense, the Israeli system of apartheid warrants just as much active international opposition as the South African system did. But for a combination of historical and political reasons, it is substantially more difficult to mount such opposition.

There is also the problem of leadership. The current leadership situation on the Israeli side gives little reason for hope for responsiveness even if substantially greater international opposition could be mobilized. But then again, it would have been hard to predict that F. W. de Klerk would have taken the historic steps he did. A Nelson Mandela on the other side would help, too. It’s hard to see one, but maybe Marwan Barghouti could play that role if the Israelis would let him.

Image: Flickr/Peter Mulligan.


Obama Absent from the Middle East-James Jay Carafano

Posted by admin On December - 19 - 2012 Comments Off on Obama Absent from the Middle East-James Jay Carafano


The Army term is AWOL: Absent Without Leave. Take off without permission from your commander and you’re AWOL. Today, mounting evidence suggests the president might be AWOL on Middle East policy—ignoring, without the permission of the American people, an area where the United States has vital interests.

Looking at the president’s record the last few months, a pattern starts to emerge.

After the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Washington focused on who said and knew what, when. But concentrating on those points misses the bigger issue.

There is no question this incident caught the White House by surprise. They had not prepared to talk about Libya as a new al Qaeda battleground, and that clearly showed in their Keystone Kops response in the aftermath of the attack. But why?

Al Qaeda has been at war with the State Department since 1998, when it bombed—simultaneously—our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. We have embassies, consulates and missions all over the world that the State Department considers “high-risk” posts. All are continuously in al Qaeda’s crosshairs. Yet, the Benghazi attack blindsided them?

The Hamas-Israel-Egypt pas de trois seemed equally confounding.

When Hamas and Israel started trading shots, it was clear that Washington wanted to keep the two from coming to blows—as in an Israeli military campaign into Gaza. Egypt seized the moment, aggressively inserting itself as a mediator to broker a ceasefire. But once the White House offered its heartfelt gratitude to Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi, it was clear they had no idea of what to do next.

Sensing the vacuum, Morsi “coincidently” decided to issue a decree granting himself broad powers to “protect” the nation and legislate without judicial oversight. Again, President Obama appeared not to see this one coming. Worse, when the announcement was made, the administration didn’t even denounce Morsi for trying to become a sectarian Mubarak overnight. Instead, it blinked.

Only after protests broke out in the street did the United States regain sufficient equilibrium to emit even a modicum of support for pro-democracy voices. Indeed, the American response was so stunningly tepid, that rumors of quid pro quo spread on the Arab Street. In exchange for getting Hamas to stop using Gaza as a Cape Canaveral aimed at Israel, the whispers said, Obama gave Morsi the “green light” to set up a Sunni Egypt. That’s a pretty far-fetched scenario. The far more likely reason: the White House was merely clueless.

Meanwhile, back at the UN, in direct defiance of President Obama’s request, the Palestinian Authority pushed for a vote to upgrade its status to nonmember statehood. What really stood out here was how countries like Portugal, which in the past normally abstained on these votes, switched their votes to “yea.” They did this under pressure from France, and they held the bad news back from Washington until the last minute. Again, the president looked out of touch with events.


And what about Mali and the al Qaeda-inspired Islamist outbreak in the north of that country? The European Union, Economic Community of West African States and African Union are scrambling to put together a military assistance package for the beleaguered nation. It’s being designed with an eye toward winning—not the conflict, but the UN Security Council’s stamp of approval. The mission has all the makings of another ineffectual, multinational—and totally hair-brained—scheme. And the United States is doing little to prod the schemers toward developing a more coherent strategy.

Finally, has the administration ever been serious about Syria? The administration has a few disconnected operations ongoing there. But mostly it seems content with cheerleading for the opposition, and pretending that it actually is influencing Russia’s relations vis-à-vis Damascus. Rather than vigorously engage with surrounding nations like Turkey and Iraq and work with the Persian Gulf Arab countries to create a real band-of-brothers response, the president looks more like he couldn’t be bothered.

One misstep in the Middle East is unexceptional. But a pattern of apparent indifference in one of the world’s most important and troubled places? Forget AWOL; that sounds like desertion.

James Jay Carafano is vice president for defense and foreign policy issues for The Heritage Foundation.

Image: Flickr/Joe Bielawa.


Next of Kim-Victor Cha

Posted by admin On December - 19 - 2012 Comments Off on Next of Kim-Victor Cha


grandfather and father. (Courtesy Reuters)

One year ago, the chubby and blubbering soon-to-be leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was seen walking alongside the hearse that carried his dead father, Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un was young, inexperienced, unqualified, and bereft of any of the larger-than-life myths that had sustained his father’s and grandfather’s rules. And yet, just days later, he assumed power in the only communist dynasty in the world.

Today, the junior Kim can be seen riding high in Pyongyang. And last week, he became the first Korean to launch a domestically designed satellite into orbit on the back of a domestically designed rocket. But more broadly, some analysts see him as pushing his own version of reform. His new ways might not exactly be Gangnam style, but they are undeniably a break from the past. He promulgates high heels and miniskirts for women and commissions amusement parks and (pirated) Walt Disney productions for children. Never too busy to ride rollercoasters and frolic with school kids, the prince of Pyongyang also found time to take on a wife, Ri Sol-Ju, whom the New York Times compared to the British Duchess Kate Middleton.

Optimists look to these changes and to Kim’s years of Swiss schooling — during which he took courses on democratic governance, wolfed down pizza, and came to idolize NBA stars — and declare that North Korea is ready for reform. This past spring, I participated in track-two meetings in New York at which North Korean officials sought out executives from Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken to discuss opening branches in Pyongyong. Rumors that the regime is hatching a new economic policy only fuel speculation that Kim is “distanc[ing] himself from the regime of his father and grandfather,” as one article in The Telegraph had it. Some onlookers even predict China-like reforms in Rason (a city near the Russian border) and Hwanggumpyong Island (an island near the Chinese border) that would create the next Hong Kong or Shenzhen, where low taxes, high returns, and reduced government intervention reign free.

Weathered North Korea watchers, however, will remember that similar predictions were made in 1994, when the 52-year-old Kim Jong Il took over after his 82-year-old father died. The journalist Selig Harrison believed that North Korea was signaling a coming transformation by sending officials abroad to learn about market economics. Likening the Kim regime to the Communist Party in China, Harrison remarked that “as Pyongyang gradually liberalizes its economy and opens up to the outside world,” the ruling regime and the North Korean political system as a whole will transform. But believers in the irresistibility of Disney, Dior, and Coke have short memories.


North Korea’s political system, helmed by a young and unproven leader, faces severe challenges. The regime will not change because the West hopes that it will.

For optimists in the United States, North Korea’s quiescence as the country’s leadership changed this past year confirmed that Kim was on the right path. Last week’s rocket launch from a snowy facility in the northwest corner of the country poured ice water on those expectations. And with presidential elections in the United States last month and in South Korea this month, Pyongyang is unlikely to be finished. A study I undertook at the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that Pyongyang has usually done something provocative within an average of 16–18 weeks of every South Korean election since 1992. For example, within four weeks of Lee Myung-bak taking the South Korean presidency in 2008, North Korea expelled all South Koreans from the joint industrial complex at Kaesong and tested two missiles. Pyongyang’s election antics are not just reserved for other Koreans. In early 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama was welcomed into office with ballistic-missile and nuclear tests. Last week’s successful rocket launch is thus only the first in a series of provocations that the Obama administration is likely to see.

Why? Because even an authoritarian dictator must justify his or her rule to the “selectorate,” as the Georgetown professor Daniel Byman and the Dartmouth professor Jennifer Lind have written. Otherwise, they could “find a better deal from a rival leader.” The current Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, had revolutionary credentials as a guerilla fighter against the Japanese. And Kim Jong Il had a decade of training and preparation for the job. Without a day of military service, Kim Jong Un was grafted to the top of the power structure in his late twenties. Kim’s regime is thus only as strong as his ability to prove to the elites that he is worthy. If he does not affirm his ability to actually do something — say a third and successful nuclear test — he will struggle to justify his rule.

The danger, however, is that decelerating from such a crisis this time will not be easy. In the past, the United States often provided the exit ramp. Based on my research of U.S.–North Korean negotiations since 1984, within an average five months of a provocation, Washington was usually back at the bargaining table. This diplomacy has often been for the express purpose of ratcheting down a crisis. So, after the October 2006 nuclear test, the George W. Bush administration returned to negotiations in January 2007 and reached a deal with the North Koreans the following month. But the Obama administration, having been burned thrice (first by the April-May 2009 missile and nuclear tests, then again in April 2012 by another missile test, and yet once more last week by a third missile test) is not interested in such diplomacy but rather in “strategic patience,” or not negotiating with North Korea until it commits to denuclearization.

Perhaps that explains the Obama administration’s relatively muted response to last week’s missile test. The White House’s bland condemnation of the test was a stark contrast to its stern announcement of a red line against the Syrian regime using chemical weapons, especially since last week’s missile test indicated that North Korea’s weapons program has come a long way in the last year. By successfully launching a payload into orbit, North Korea joined only China and Russia as non-allied countries that could potentially reach the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile. It is probably just a few years before the country is able to load those missiles with a nuclear weapon.

Like the United States, South Koreans are fed up with negotiations. After North Korea torpedoed a South Korean navy ship and shelled one of its islands in 2010, the South Korean government and public are no longer willing to preach patience and stability, as they had been doing during the previous decade-long “Sunshine policy” toward North Korea. It is an open secret that South Korea has rewritten its rules of military engagement with its northern adversary. Seoul is now prepared to retaliate to the next military act, not just by returning fire but also by going after North Korean support systems and command structures. This escalation would not even require high-level political approval. In interviews with top officials, it was apparent that the military leadership could determine the steps to be taken based on the situation on the ground. Meanwhile, South Korean contenders in this month’s presidential election can’t afford to look weak on North Korea. The leading conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, has evinced a mild interest in more engagement with Pyongyang. The opposition party candidate, Moon Jae-in, is also favorably inclined to improve relations. But the political victor may not have much of a choice. If Pyongyang tries to test the new leader, it will be very difficult for him or her to turn the other cheek.


China might be ready to step in where the United States and South Korea have demurred. Beijing’s preferred solution to North Korean rambunctiousness has always been to make it more like China (or Vietnam) — that is, to push a slow process of economic reform that would get North Korea out of its attention-getting cycle of provocation and crisis. But despite all the economic assistance and food Beijing showers on its communist brother, Pyongyang bites the hand that feeds it. Recent high-level meetings between Chinese officials and Kim were preludes to more economic deals between the two countries. They might even presage a visit by Kim to Beijing to meet the newly ensconced Xi Jinping. But the day after the meeting with the Chinese, North Korea announced its rocket launch, which just goes to show that China can neither restrain Pyongyang nor reform North Korean leadership, no matter how much economic assistance it provides or how many bureaucrats it offers to train.

After all, every time Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, made a visit to China, his Chinese interlocutors urged him to tour factories and cities to see the benefits of capitalism with communist characteristics. Over a decade, Kim willingly walked through facilities that manufactured fiber optics, computers, telephones, lasers, and computer software. With each visit, Chinese and Western journalists and scholars proclaimed a new chapter in North Korea’s economic transformation that would inevitably make it more peaceful. And each time, they were proved wrong. Kim invariably made the trips to appease his Chinese hosts (and to receive the requisite aid packages) but had no intention of changing. And all the while, he forged ahead with his ballistic-missile, chemical weapons, and nuclear programs.

China’s long-term strategy remains to institute top-down economic reform in North Korea. But faced with short-term failures, China resorted to trying to bribe Pyongyang into returning to the six-party talks and holding off missile and nuclear tests. As last week’s test showed, though, this is not sustainable either, so China has recently adopted a medium-term coping mechanism: engage with North Korea economically but solely for the benefit of Chinese economic interests, not as part of a reform agenda.

This medium-term solution is evident in the slew of mining contracts and further agreements to excavate coal, minerals, and other resources from North Korea to fuel China’s two poor inland provinces, Jilin and Liaoning. In 2005, China and North Korea cooperated to build a “commercial corridor” associated with the Greater Tumen Initiative, which would connect Jilin Province to the seaport in Rajin, North Korea. China subsequently leased Rajin for ten years in 2010. In 2011, Chinese and North Korean trade reached $6 billion, according to Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies and the director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Meanwhile, in the same year, total Chinese investment in North Korea reached $98.3 million.That might sound like a lot, but this number is dwarfed by Chinese investments in South Korea ($1.2 billion), Vietnam ($437 million), and Mongolia ($890.7 million). In the end, Pyongyang’s restrictions and inability to make rational economic decisions have confounded China’s hope of seeing North Korean economic reform and peace. Only when the Kim regime decides to prize wealth and growth more than power will this vision be realized.


Even as the nuclear and missile programs continue to grow unimpeded, the domestic situation inside the dark country seems unsettled. Presumably, there is some degree of infighting within the North Korean government, which resulted in the surprise sacking in July 2012 of Ri Yong-ho, the country’s top military general. In fact, all of the military generals who walked with Kim aside his father’s hearse last December are gone. Some interpret these unceremonious departures as evidence that the reform-minded Kim is trying to usurp power from the hardline military. Others suggest that Kim, in a move to assert his authority, wanted to signal that he is fully able to silence rivals who challenge his power. More likely, Kim wants to strengthen his own patronage network by reclaiming some of the money that the military, presumably including Ri, was making through lucrative business activities awarded to them by Kim’s father. This means that there are some very unhappy military generals in North Korea today.

Perhaps to befriend the military, Kim continues to pay lip service to his father’s military-first (songun chongch’i) brand of rule. But he appears to have complemented this with a fundamentalist version of his grandfather’s juche, or self-reliance, ideology of the Cold War. It could be that the bankruptcy of his father’s rule compelled him to find a better idea to justify the family’s continued rule. Fundamentalist juche ideology, or what I call “neojucheism,” appeals because it reminds North Koreans of an era of relative economic development and affluence, when production levels outpaced those of the rival South, and Chinese and Soviet money poured into the country. Juche fundamentalism was, and will be, a time of deep ideological indoctrination, mass mobilization, and rejection of foreign influences. Indeed, Kim has made himself the physical reincarnation of his grandfather down to the Mao suit, protruding stomach, cropped hairdo, and hearty laugh.

But even as the regime’s ideology is growing more hard-line, the society that Kim inherited is moving in a diametrically opposed direction. The biggest difference between the hermit kingdom of 1994, when Kim Jong Il took over, and the one of 2012 is the development of a market mentality among the people — something that grew out of terrible food shortages. Official and unofficial markets sprung up as people struggled to cope with the breakdown of the government’s ration system. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics’ Marcus Noland and his colleagues Stephen Haggard and Erik Weeks, found that recent defectors admitted that at least 50 percent of total food they consumed in North Korea came from sources apart from the government. That creates an independence of mind that is dangerous in a society such as North Korea’s.

Other elements of modernity are starting to seep in, as well. Over one million North Koreans use cell phones, and more than 4,000 crawl the Web. Daily NK, one of the biggest new sites, attracts over 150,000 hits online per month for its timely insider information on North Korean issues. Thanks to expanded cell-phone access, North Korean “citizen journalists” operating between the Chinese-North Korean border can transmit bits of information more effectively both within the country and worldwide.

The peculiar part about these advancements in communication technology is that most of them are legal. The North Korean government promotes, to an extent, cell-phone use because it holds a 25 percent stake in Koryolink (the North Korean branch of the Egyptian telecommunications company Orascom Telecom). With the number of subscribers to Koryolink steadily rising, mostly in Pyongyang, phones are quickly finding a permanent place in daily life.

Where does all this lead? Toward a dead end for Kim, I think, and perhaps a nightmare loose-nukes scenario for the United States. The new leadership is exercising a more rigid ideology that seeks greater control over an increasingly independent-minded society and over disgruntled elements of the military. Meanwhile, its nuclear-bomb- and ICBM-making programs continue. All that is not sustainable. If Kim tried true reform and an opening North Korean society, however, he would immediately create a spiral of expectations that the regime would not be able to control. The young and untested leadership will try to navigate between these two perils. But it may prove too difficult. And if it does, Obama may find his pivot to Asia absorbed by a new crisis on the Korean peninsula.


Pakistani Crisis Prompts Leader to Race Home-ERIC SCHMITT and SALMAN MASOOD

Posted by admin On December - 18 - 2012 Comments Off on Pakistani Crisis Prompts Leader to Race Home-ERIC SCHMITT and SALMAN MASOOD

20120222_174-150x150Pakistani Crisis Prompts Leader to Race Home-ERIC SCHMITT and SALMAN MASOOD

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