The world in 2050 is made up of democratic states only. By 2011, more than 110 UN member states had some form of elected government and the trend would continue. In 2050, China and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Libya all have democratic governance.
Anyone who thought that the history of piracy was now something out of a Hollywood movie has had to think twice. The events in the Gulf of Aden lead us to wonder what differences there are between ancient piracy and the modern version. Perhaps if we examine the piracy that reached its peak between the end of the seventeenth and the early eighteenth century, and preyed on the major trade routes, we may get a clearer understanding of modern piracy. However, opportunity makes men thieves and the cleverly written and witty book by Peter T. Leeson, The Invisible Hook. The Hidden Economics of Pirates (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2009), enables us to do so.
According to Leeson, pirates applied economically rational principles aimed at obtaining the maximum result with the least effort and above all minimum risk. They too, in other works, apply the rules of Adam Smith's invisible hand, or rather the invisible hook. Pirates were not cruel out of sadism but simply because by spreading terror they were able to increment their booty. Flying the infamous "Jolly Roger" served the purpose of generating what economists call the "announcement" effect: the potential victims were warned that any attempt to stave off the attack by a pirate vessel would lead to ferocious reprisals. If, on the other hand, the vessel attacked surrendered without any resistance, everything of value on board would be seized but the crew would be spared. The same applies to the pirates' widely publicized ruthlessness against prisoners: many of the latter were tortured, others forced to walk the plank. Also in this case the pirates' intention was to create what economists call the "reputation" effect. Prisoners might try to conceal information about valuable goods or about the routes followed by other trading or navy vessels and would be induced to reveal all their secrets by the terrible reputation enjoyed by the pirates.
Leeson gives credence to the economic interpretation of the pirates' behavior: mutineers were certainly attracted by high profits; in the early 18th century a sailor of a merchant vessel earned no more than 25 pounds a year, and a courageous pirate could earn as much as 300. But as well as borrowing from the trappings of economic theory, Leeson does not disdain also casting a penetrating glance at the social and political motives of these odd outlaw communities. Life on board ship, whether a merchant or a navy vessel, was regulated in an authoritarian and hierarchical fashion (and it might be added that things have not changed much since those times). The ship's commander had the power to inflict very severe corporal punishment, stop crew members' pay without good reason and demand that the crew perform work not envisaged in the original contract, and more besides. On board the captain had the power of life or death without any checks or balances. It is true that the sailors could sue for justice in the courts on returning home, although the latter usually sided with the commanders, also because the judges came from the same social class.
It is thus not surprising that, far beyond the reach of the dominant authority on land, sailors should set up a completely different social organization. And it is striking to see the extent to which this was based on principles of equality. In the first place, political equality. "Every Man has a Vote in the Affairs of the Moment" runs article one of the Code of Conduct on board the private vessel of Captain Bartholomew Roberts. Furthermore, it was the crew members who elected their own captain. Furthermore, the commander could be deposed by the pirates themselves if judged to be inadequate, corrupt or not bold enough, as happen to the famous Captain Edward England. In the rudimentary system of checks and balances characterizing the pirate republics, also a quartermaster was elected to look after the ship's management, and who had the power to avoid individual crew members being unjustly punished. Nor must it be overlooked that, in an era in which the European nations were getting rich from the slave trade, many pirate ships granted equal rights also to colored men.
The pirate communities were in other words far from being anarchic: indeed, they developed a democratic system opposed to the autocratic system prevailing in the other vessels. Pirates had even too many rules: their codes of conduct prohibited sailors from gambling and smoking on board, from drinking after sunset and from keeping lamps alight late at night. They were also prohibited from bringing women on board to avoid causing jealousy.
The distribution of the rewards was much fairer than the pay on merchant or naval vessels: the pay of the captain and the quartermaster was only twice as high as that of ordinary pirates. Moreover, in the case of accidents in the "working place", the pirates' republics had a much more highly developed welfare system than that applied on the other ships: they meticulously specified how much was due to any crew member who had lost a hand, a leg or an eye. On the other hand, desertion during a boarding operation was punished by death or marooning on a desert island.
If piracy offered so much more to its members than was available to other sailors, the question is not so much why there were so many (it is estimated that there were two or three thousand in the early 18th century) but rather why so many sailors did not become pirates. Perhaps it is because when captured they were almost always hanged: a count of executions between 1716 and 1726 indicates that about 400 were hanged, about 40 per year on average. But if we consider the high death rate among law-abiding sailors it must be concluded that the "announcement" and the "reputation" effects worked more for the scaffold than for the Jolly Roger.
More than half of Europe's citizens did not vote in the elections for the European Parliament, but the institution faces more challenges than those of credibility. One of the great challeges faced by the Parliament is the number of languages it uses: after the admission of Bulgaria and Romania these now total 23, practically one per European state. Etymologically, the word Parliament derives from a word actually meaning "speaking", but if the members of Parliament speak 23 different languages, what kind of Parliament can this be?
The European Parliament is not the only one to use several languages: the Belgian parliament, for instance, has two and the Swiss use four. However the MPs of these individual countries are able to understand one another without the need for interpreters. (Despite its tremendous linguistic diversity, India's parliament has only two official procedural languages - English and Hindi. If they feel unable to address the assembly in either of the two languages, members are allowed to speak in any of the country's nearly two dozen languages, with translation provided.) This is not so in the European Parliament: the work of the Assembly and the Committees entail the MPs being assisted by a team of interpreters. The possible language combinations have increased with the growing number of languages. You need a calculator to work out how many they are - 23*22 - a total of 506! This requires the help of 403 full time interpreters and several thousand external collaborators so that Euro MPs can speak and listen in their own language.
It is no easy task, even for the European Parliament, to find translators from Finnish to Greek, or from Portuguese to Bulgarian. However, Eurocracy is ingenious, and to reduce costs it uses double translation: those who speak less widely known languages are first translated into the principal languages (English, French or German) and then retranslated into all the other less common languages. One wonders how much the substance of the MPs speeches is altered by the second or third translation.
Woe betide anyone trying to include a truly amusing joke in a parliamentary speech: it is nothing like the British House of Commons where the quips and the responses make the parliamentary debates more lively than a stage play. If an unwary MP cracks a joke in the European Parliament you first hear the roar of laughter of those following the speech in the original language and then one after the other of those listening in the first, second and umpteenth translation. However, the linguistic machine manages to work: the Parliament has only 403 interpreters, even if they are also helped by several thousand external collaborators; no one is prevented from speaking and listening in their own language.
But not even 23 official languages are enough to keep everyone happy. The linguistic minorities are also demanding to be able to use their own language. Among the more insistent are the Catalans, on the grounds that they alone make up nearly 10 million Europeans, practically twice as many as the Danes and Finns, four times more than the Slovenes and 25 times more than the Maltese. Similar demands are made by the Basques and the Corsicans. And then what about the approximately thirty million "third-country citizens" living in Europe and who speak all the languages of the planet?
It seems impossible that all these demands can be met. Some are now calling for the number of official languages to be reduced, or indeed to raise English to the status of sole official language of the Parliament. But to formally accord this privilege to the language of two states could lead to resentment being felt in all the other states. To tell the truth, even Ireland must be a little skeptical; it demanded successfully that Gaelic should become an official language. If we account that only a few Irish are able to understand and even fewer to speak Gaelic, it is clear that language policy, in this instance, has been used as an instrument of identity rather than of communication (for a further discussion of language and identity in the EU, see Patrizia Nanz, Europolis. Constitutional Patriotism Beyond the Nation State, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007; and Peter A. Kraus, A Union of Diversity. Language, Identity and Polity-Building in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
But a lingua franca is desperately needed. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has suggested reviving Latin , an idea that would place all the MPs in a condition of equality (and certainly of similar difficulty), although Latin would further alienate the people from European institutions.
Will English become the single official language of the European Parliament, defeating its many diplomatic resisters? After all, English is already the most popular second language in the world as well as in Europe (see Eurobarometer, Europeans and their Languages, February 2006). But it is one thing to use English in business, tourism and education, and quite another to grant a special political privilege to the language of one of the 27 member countries. To ask the Euro MPs to speak a foreign language would enormously restrict the number of those eligible for election. There would be a risk of creating an assembly of technocrats that is distant from the people's needs. And certainly it does not help that English is also the language of an EU member state with a large density of euro-skeptics and which has not adopted the European currency.
But the march of English as lingua franca is difficult to stop. Even in the Swiss Parliament it is increasingly common to hear MPs of the French and German cantons communicating in English.
Perhaps the European Parliament should try to be part of the solution rather than of the problem. If all European students would study English as a second language, then in a couple of generations, both the MPs and their electorate would finally be able to understand each other. This might well be the most far-sighted measure to propose to the new European Parliament to bring back to the European polls at least some of those who stayed at home.
We may be certain that many Hollywood screenwriters are now taking notes on the rebirth of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Pirates were believed to have become anachronistic in a world in which nations had occupied every corner of the earth and even of the seas along their coasts, to the point of attributing legal value to the oxymoron "territorial waters''. It was believed that satellites and smart missiles would be a sufficient deterrent against large-scale piracy, allowing pirates to carry out only small raids. Satellite-based anti-theft devices allow us to locate our automobile with pinpoint accuracy, let alone an oil tanker. And yet, these are the roaring years of a new piracy which, using old-fashioned means, is successfully defeating the technological society of the 21st century.
What is sensational about the actions of the pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and which distinguishes them from all the others, is that they are able to seize huge vessels and to take and keep their crews hostage, even for extended periods. They are, in other words, not like the pirates swarming along the west coast of Africa and in the seas of Asia, who conduct short, incisive operations and then flee with what little booty they have been able to seize.
The Somali pirates can lay claim to having carried out the largest ship seizure in history, that of the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star, of having captured a Ukrainian ship carrying a cargo of T-72 tanks, and of having dominated the front pages of the New York Times and the Guardian. They are only relatively anonymous: thanks to new information technology it is quite easy to photograph their assault craft, to know where the seized vessels are being held captive and even to identify individual pirates on the deck. However, these marvels of modern technology have so far failed to solve the problem. According to International Maritime Bureau estimates, in 2008, there were 111 pirate attacks off the Somali coast alone, a good 42 of which culminated in the seizure of the ship. This new and unexpected trend seems to be something out of a movie. Indeed we may be sure that someone is already preparing the casting for a film on this subject.
Casting for Hollywood
Let's take a closer look at the main characters of this new film, which still remains to be made: the media packages received from special reporters have already provided us with more information than we need. First and foremost, we have the captain courageous of the ship attacked, taken hostage after resisting and who is concerned with saving his cargo and, above all, his crew. We have seen the ship's owner, who suddenly loses a precious vessel and who protests vehemently to the minister of the merchant navy of his own country about the lack of security on the high seas. What may we say about the insurance company financier who must compensate his clients for the damage caused by acts of piracy rather than by storms and hurricanes?
And it is this financier who brings another character on stage, the mercenary, who is hired to guarantee the safety of the vessels and, just like the pirates he has to combat, has complete contempt for legality. He, he assures us, would be able defeat the pirates using old-fashioned methods: sinking their boats with one shot fired from a cannon. The mercenary is nostalgic for the days in which pirates were hanged at the dockside without a trial.
However, the most fascinating character is the adventurer whose job it is to negotiate on behalf of the ship owners and insurance companies: he is the one who has to board the seized ships and verify that the crew and the cargo are safe, but above all to pay the ransom. He is the only one of whom we know absolutely nothing as the negotiations must be conducted in absolute secrecy. However, proof of his secret existence comes from the fact that the ransoms are paid and the ships resume their voyage. One may wonder whether the pirates are content to be paid in cash or whether even today they do not demand to be paid in doubloons or gold nuggets. The way the ransom was paid for the release of the Sirius Star was certainly sensational: as in an adventure film, the cash was dropped on to the ship's deck from a helicopter .
Lastly, the increase in piracy brings other characters into the picture: governments have been led to cast aside their typical maritime rivalries and to collaborate in the protection of the sea routes. In September 2008 a mission sailed under the NATO flag and, in December, the first joint naval mission of the Europe Union left port. Furthermore, it has already been announced that another multinational mission led by the United States is about to sail. Also China has sent several convoys towards the Gulf of Aden, thereby inaugurating the first expedition by its navy outside the Pacific area. These new pirates are actually stimulating quite considerable innovations in navy practice.
However, the time has come to describe the real hero of this singular film - the pirate himself. Some have managed to interview him and to trace out his portrait. This hero is darker-skinned and much younger than Long John Silver, the Treasure Island hero that no adolescent has ever forgotten and, like him, is a likeable fellow. In 1992 he was just a kid when he witnessed the arrival of the US soldiers participating in the "Restore Hope'' peace mission. Sixteen years have passed and the hopes raised by western troops have been dashed. He is almost certainly a young Somali coast fisherman who grew up while his family and his people were being worn out by an endless civil war. He saw fishing boats that had come from afar to catch the fish that was needed to feed his people in the total absence of any Somali navy capable of defending what should have been the zone of exclusive economic exploitation of his country. He saw ships from other countries dumping toxic waste, including nuclear residues, on the coasts where he lives.
On several occasions he himself has been robbed in his wretched little boat. Demonstrating greater business acumen than his peers, he first bought a rifle to defend himself from attack and then suddenly discovered he could do the same thing and so was transformed from fisherman to pirate. Perhaps the striking part of the film could be the transformation from harmless victim to criminal, putting together the tools needed for his new and dishonorable profession: a fibre-glass boat with a powerful outboard engine, a couple of hand grenades salvaged from the ever full civil war arsenals in the Horn of Africa, a few rudimentary electronic gadgets compared with the technology possessed by those who hunt him, and a lot of guts.
The act of piracy
The hijack victims describe the mechanism of the attack and the International Maritime Bureau reports the salient features of each episode. Generally speaking, a swarm of boats approaches the ship to be hijacked, fires a few rounds from a rocket launcher into the air for the purpose of intimidation and lastly boards the ship using wooden ladders. Once on board, the first thing the pirates do is to try and reassure the crew by gestures rather than by the few words they are able to proffer in a foreign language: they want their money and certainly not their life. The pirates take no more than a quarter of an hour to seize a ship. However, the action is risky and uncertain: only one attack out of three succeeds. Sometimes the vessels manage to escape, or to prevent the pirates from boarding them. One particularly combative Chinese crew succeeded in beating off their attackers by throwing tomatoes and bottles of beer at them.
However, the most significant fact so far is that only two crew members of attacked ships have reportedly been killed, while several pirates have been killed. No pirate deserves to be considered a gentleman, although those of the Gulf of Aden may not deserve to be called murderers.
The closing scene of this déjà-vu film could be set along the Somali coast, with the pirates distributing their ill-gotten gains among their people, stimulating commerce, providing new jobs and indeed becoming the only successful role model for children. Indeed, along the coast they are greeted as heroes for having brought back to this desolate corner of the earth some semblance of an economy that, however criminal it may be, is preferable to perennial famine. It is therefore not surprising that they are in no way perceived as criminals, but simply as replacement customs officials who exact tolls on behalf of a state which disintegrated a long time ago.
However, the pirates are not always in a position to celebrate. When they reach the shore, they often have to come to terms with other armed groups claiming their share of the booty. On other occasions they suffer the reprisals of the ship owners. And above all they have to cope with the elements of nature. A motor boat with eight of the pirates who participated in the seizure of the Sirius Star capsized for reasons still to be ascertained. Three of those on board succeeded in swimming to the shore, three were found drowned in the sea, one is still missing, while the last one was found dead on the beach with an envelope containing 153,000 dollars in his pocket.
But this is not a film; it is an episode of a real narrative. At this very moment more than one dozen ships are held prisoner in the Gulf of Aden and hundreds of hostages, and their families, live in fear for their lives. Ships are released after payment of a ransom and others are seized. The last cargo ship hijacked has an US flag and twenty-one US crewmen taken hostages. Like the Ukrainian ship, it is also probably transporting military equipment and it will also be very interesting to see if the United States will be prepared to pay a ransom.
It is the first time that a pirate attack involves a US ship and US nationals, and the whole world is waiting anxiously for the response of the Obama administration towards this difficult foreign policy challenge. The new year may well be much the same as the old one: on New Year's Eve a cargo vessel was seized with twenty-eight crew members on board, who have now swelled the ranks of those held hostage.
The acts of piracy that take place in other parts of the world, although numerous, have completely different characteristics. They are limited to brief raids on board ships to grab as much as possible before immediately returning to terra firma to hide. The rebirth of this form of piracy based instead on seizing the vessel can be explained in terms of three factors: the failure of the Somali state, the difficulty of coming up with an effective response, and the structural weakness of merchant vessels. Let us examine them.
The first and most oft-cited factor is the Somali state's incapacity to exercise the so-called "monopoly of force", on land and even less at sea. As we learned from the history of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries, buccaneers need a land base where they can equip and resupply themselves; a lawless state in the grip of poverty and strife serves this purpose well.
The second consists of the difficulty encountered by the navies of other countries to attack and repress the pirates in their hinterland. Although Somalia is a state on the brink of collapse, it nevertheless remains a sovereign state and no naval vessel flying a different flag can venture into its territory or territorial waters without its permission. Today it is not clear who to apply to to get this permission. A no-man's-land, or rather a `no-man's-sea', is thus created which has been exploited by the pirates to "park'' the vessels they seize and to start negotiating the ransom.
The third point is related to the vulnerability of merchant shipping. Cargo ships can be lightly armed, but only with the authorization of the country where they are registered. Moreover, the weapons cannot be left in the hands of the crew as they would not know how to use them. The ship owners would have to rely on mercenaries and shoulder the relative costs. To enable merchant vessels to provide for their own defence would, in other words, entail huge costs and logistical problems.
The fight between merchant vessels and pirates is therefore one-sided as only the latter are armed. It is not surprising therefore that rather than foot the bill, many ship owners prefer to steer clear of the Gulf of Aden and to circumnavigate the whole of Africa. One ship owner told us that after doing the necessary sums he discovered it was more economical to pay the ransom than to hire mercenaries. The possible organization of a private system of collective self-defence has so far produced discouraging results. Indeed, in many cases the mercenary companies have trained guards who then turned into pirates: just as at the beginning of the 17th century, the corsairs who lost their jobs became the best pirates. And vice versa.
The fragility of global governance
Among openDemocracy's other articles about Somalia:
Harun Hassan, "Somalia: the way forward" (13 February 2007 )
Harun Hassan, "Somalia: Mogadishu's ghost days" (5 April 2007)
Edward Denison, "The Horn of Africa: a bitter anniversary" (12 April 2007)
Tom Porteous, "Somalia: a failing counter-terrorism strategy" (13 May 2007)
Anna Husarska, "Water problems in Somalia: a photo-essay" (9 October 2007
Georg-Sebastian Holzer, "Somalia: piracy and politics" (24 November 2008)
It is certainly peculiar that a few poorly armed pirates are enough to breach the system of global governance of commercial navigation. The Gulf of Aden is a maritime space almost as large as the Tyrrhenian Sea and the protection of merchant vessels is certainly not a simple river policing operation. However, the international community, an ambiguous term used to refer to governments and intergovernmental organizations, was caught unprepared at both the operational and juridical levels.
Operationally speaking, most countries have preferred prevention to the cure: for many months, various navies have dispatched war-ships to the spot for the purpose of escorting the merchant vessels flying their flag or in which they have a particular interest. So far, the system of defence has been more individual than collective. Today the Gulf is much more crowded with naval vessels, which has had positive repercussions also as far as collective security is concerned; in numerous cases, the attacks of pirates were foiled by the arrival of naval vessels flying a different flag from that of the merchant vessels.
Only the persistence of the attacks has led to the development of a collective security system. NATO has been given the task, with the Allied Provider Mission (12 October - 15 December 2008) of escorting convoys transporting the humanitarian aid of the World Food Programme towards Somalia itself. Once in the Gulf, the ships of the Mission also protected merchant vessels, keeping the raiders at bay.
NATO then handed the job over to Operation Atalanta (EU-NAVFOR Somalia), the first joint maritime mission by the European Union. It actually seems that the pirates have contributed to triggering this European military collaboration which might otherwise have had difficulty getting off the ground.
Naval vessels therefore have a deterrent and preventive effect; the pirates often flee at the sight of them and even more so when helicopters take off from the cruisers. However, it does not seem that these unilateral or multilateral actions fully recognise their mandate from the legal standpoint. Maritime law allows a naval vessel to stop and inspect the papers of any merchant vessel encountered on the open seas, but certainly not to sink it without warning. The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea also specifies that a naval vessel from any country can arrest persons suspected of piracy and deliver them for trial to the legal system of their own country. The crime of piracy is actually one of the few offences, indeed the first, for which a universal jurisdiction was invoked. And yet, in only a few cases have the pirates, even when caught red-handed, ended up in court.
A good example is that of the operation conducted by the Danish navy on 17 September 2008, which captured and detained on board their vessel a group of ten suspected pirates. In the end it simply accompanied them on shore. The problem lies not only in the opacity of the Danish language. When we asked the officers of the Italian navy in command of the NATO mission, "If you come across pirates at sea, what will you do?'', the answers given were uncertain.
Only France has decided to combat piracy directly. In this it has displayed a quite unusual vitality that has led it even to request the Security Council to extend the provisions regarding the repression of piracy in Somalia to take in also the West African coasts. The first episode, the seizing of the yacht Le Ponant in April 2008, was initially characterized by negotiations for the release of the thirty hostages (twenty-two of whom French nationals) and subsequently the capture of six pirates which actually took place in Somali territory without the explicit permission but the tacit acceptance of a government of such uncertain status as that of Puntland. The incident then took on a spectacular turn, with a live broadcast of the pirates being captured by heliborne French commandos and the freed hostages being personally welcomed by President Sarkozy. The second raid, in September 2008, to free the Delanne couple, was actually announced by President Sarkozy, renamed "national Indiana Jones'' for the occasion, in a press conference. The two actions each led to the arrest of six pirates (and the death of one of their number), who are now awaiting trial before a French court.
The United Kingdom which, during its history, more than any other country is known to have both favoured and repressed piracy, has perhaps found the most satisfactory way of treating the arrested pirates - washing its hands of the matter. It has actually negotiated a treaty with Kenya whereby those suspected of piracy are handed over to that country. Kenya's legal system is without doubt less sophisticated than that practised in the Old Bailey and its prisons are less comfortable that those of Her British Majesty's. In other words, it is a stronger deterrent. After a few months, the United States and the European Union followed the example of the United Kingdom, negotiating with Kenya very similar agreements. During the first days of March, sixteen pirates have been delivered to Kenyan authorities. At this stage, it seems very likely that the pirates kept by France will also be transferred for being judged on African territory.
The Security Council in the limelight
The laws to combat piracy on the high seas exist, but the states that would be entitled to apply them have either forgotten them or are reluctant to use them. It would certainly be easier to eradicate piracy along the coast but who is able to exert control over the territory? The state of Somalia has no chance of intervening as it is in the grip of a twenty-year-long civil war. The other states face serious problems in having to act without encroaching upon Somali sovereignty.
It is on these two aspects that the Security Council has acted, also under pressure from the business community. It has consequently displayed unprecedented vigour, approving numerous resolutions on Somalia in 2008 alone, the last one, no. 1851, on 16 December 2008, even going so far as to allow the states involved to engage in the hot pursuit of the pirates in Somali territory, although subject to the permission of the Somali Transitional Federal Government. The aim was to invite all the states operating in the area to follow the example of the French armed forces, thereby granting ex post approval of an action of somewhat dubious legality.
During the Security Council debate, numerous states eagerly pointed to the robust legislation existing on the matter: consuetudinary law, the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, which, although initially intended to provide an additional instrument for combating terrorism, can also be applied to the crime of piracy. As well as allowing a strong capacity for action, the Convention prescribes that the states should adopt the necessary measures to prosecute the individuals captured. Lastly, resolutions 1846 and 1851 extend the powers of the states and exhort them to act with greater determination and above all greater coordination.
Searching for jails
From the legal standpoint , the lack of coordination during the first phase of the fight against piracy made it materially impossible to bring the pirates before a court of justice. The uncertainty over the procedures to adopt in such circumstances led to the surreal episode involving the Danish navy. On the other hand, a definition of the mechanism to follow in the case of capture that was shared by the states operating in the area would also allow any problems of internal law similar to that of the Danish case to be overcome. Bilateral agreements such as those between Kenya and the United Kingdom are a mere palliative, a useful step but not one that eliminates the need for an integrated approach. If the first bilateral agreement between Kenya and United Kingdom was a rather modest palliative, the European and the American initiatives have certainly shown the willingness to lead the operations following a a more incisive and structured approach.
Nevertheless, can it be deemed opportune and dignified that the great democracies of the planet take advantage of the dissuasive capacity of the Kenyan prisons as an instrument for the fight against piracy? Is it acceptable to delegate the administration of justice to the institutions of a country that several reports of the most important international organizations have defined as extremely lacking in providing basic guarantees to the inmates?
The Kenyan prison system is in disastrous conditions. The penitentiary structures contain a number of inmates that is at least three times higher than the maximum allowed and inside there torture episodes and arbitrary executions by the penitentiary police are frequent. The judicial system has been harshly criticized by the majority of the external observers. First, the 1963 Constitution does not determine a system able to guarantee a separation of powers that goes beyond a mere formal declaration, assigning to the President very strong check powers over the judges operations. At the same time, the widespread corruption of public authorities doesnt help to guarantee the rule of law. The impressive congestion of prisons involves so strong delays in the call of trials to make it possible that an inmate could spend more than ten years in jail without being taken in front of a judge. Third, there are very limited guarantees regarding legal aid, with the obvious consequence that the defence into trials becomes an optional for the few people with the necessary resources. Fourth, Kenya is a country that maintains death penalty, even if it has applied a moratorium on executions. Finally, subtle perplexities comes also from the managements modalities of the crisis due to the riots successive to the 2007 elections, when thousands of people have been deliberately killed by the police. Following the missed institution of a Special Tribunal to judge the massacres responsibles, many external observers invoked the intervention of the International Criminal Court. Obviously, the ICC intervention is admissible only when the territorial state is unable or unwilling to administer justice. We are facing an evident paradox: states entitled to exert jurisdiction have decided to delegate it to a state that just in these days is showing its incapability to assure the course of a fair trial regarding acts of exceptional seriousness like crimes against humanity.
States bound to the most sophisticated instruments on human rights protection are now willing to send Somali citizens in their custody to a country that almost certainly will violate their most essential prerogatives. The case of the European Union, that has always been very careful as far as the protection of human rights is concerned and that, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, is preparing to become a member of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is highly emblematic. In conjunction with the adoption of the treaty for trying the pirates, the Union promoted another agreement relating their treatment after the transfer in which all the main instruments on human rights protection are recalled. The conclusion of such agreements will certainly improve the capacity to avoid that the prisoners must wait for years before the start of the trials, it will assure more guarantees related to legal aid and maybe it will reduce also the probability of being subject to inhuman or degradating treatments, creating a sort of first class inmates, but obviously it cant change the conditions of Kenyan prisons. The Mombasa jail, where very probably the pirates will be imprisoned, contains more than 3,500 prisoners, most of them sleep on the floor of very humid and sweltering rooms, among rats and cockroaches, with salty drinking water and widespread malaria. As many NGOs have observed, agreements on prisoners treatment limit a risk that remains very considerable and they do not exclude a violation of the so-called principle of non-refoulment by states patrolling the gulf, that is the imperative norm that forbids to hand over individuals under their custody to states that could violate their fundamental rights.
The last element that deserves to be taken into account concerns the rules of the Convention on the Law of the Sea related to jurisdiction over pirates. Article 105 provides for the power of the flag state to try pirates on its own territory. From the drafting history we can assume that the aim of the norm was to preclude the possibility of a transfer to a third state. Therefore, the legitimacy of such an attitude isnt completely undoubted, even if states practice seems to be univocally oriented in this direction. During these days China as well is starting negotiations with Kenya. Unfortunately for the potential prisoners, in this case we can exclude any concern about the different treatment received in Africa rather than in the country entitled to exert justice.
However, the initial judicial deadlock and its disappointing solution, although it may and should arouse serious concern about the international community's capacity to act, is certainly not the main obstacle standing in the way of eliminating piracy in Somalia. Whenever the Security Council has had to debate the issue, a chorus of voices has arisen to point out how the roots of the Somali problem lie in the absolute insecurity of the territory due to the absence of any effective state authority and the distressing poverty of the population.
What can be done about piracy?
These states have finally made up their minds to shoulder responsibility for maritime security in the zone: this is an example of tardy global governance acting not only at the administrative level but also at the military level. The Gulf of Aden is beginning to be crowded with naval ships, often with the task of escorting the merchant shipping flying their same flag, although of course they are not loath to dissuade pirates from attacking other shipping. On 9 January 2009 the United States announced they would be taking command of the umpteenth international force in the area, the Combined Task Force 151 , with a naval contribution from another twenty countries and specifically designed to combat piracy.
The commitment of the international community is proving to be particularly massive and this is not surprising. The pressure from the business community has been reinforced by the concern that if piracy takes root it may ultimately become associated with terrorist groups or lead to more or less deliberately caused environmental disasters. The increased risks of transit through this area and the consequent increase in the insurance premiums paid by shipping threaten to make the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope a less costly option. We would thus see a substantial increase in the price of goods that currently pass through Suez, mainly oil and manufactured products from Asia. This would be a cost that, in view of the current international economic crisis, it would certainly be preferable to avoid.
One further element of concern lies in the risk that the ill-gotten gains of the pirates might be used to fund extremist groups potentially linked to international terrorism such as the Al-Shabab movement, the more intransigent wing of the Islamic militia occupying the South of the country. In fact, there is so far no evidence that the much feared links between Somali pirates and terrorist groups actually exist. There is actually a radical difference between the motives of these two groups of individuals. A reduction in the phenomenon actually occurred in the first half of the year 2006 when the Islamic troops succeeded in exerting a more stable control over the territory. However, once the vulnerability of merchant shipping becomes clearly apparent, there is no reason why it should not be targeted in future. The only apparently proved connection between pirates and the embryos of state apparatus present in Somalia, has been subject of the last report by the General Secretariat to the Security Council - concerns the Puntland territory, situated on the extremity of the Horn of Africa and completely extraneous to any Islamic influence.
There are clear signals that the various navies are no longer willing to use the kid gloves international law when dealing with pirates. The Indian and British navies have already fired shots in anger. The Indian navy's shots have probably caused the killing not only of the pirates but also of the 16 sailors kidnapped. The NATO mission and that of the EU shows that there is a will to act together. In Kenya and in other countries the prison doors are being opened. The pirates have been warned - in future it will be much harder to get off scot free.
However, the growing strength of the military response is in dramatic contrast with the catastrophic conditions in which the Somali population lives. They total nearly ten million people, with a life expectancy of less than fifty years living in a country where the average age is seventeen. The country lacks the most elementary health and welfare structures, where famine and perennial drought condemn them to live on less than two dollars a day and where the twenty-year-old civil war between the northern warlords and the Islamic militias of the South means it is impossible to live without fear.
At this point it is impossible to dodge the question of whether the best and most effective way to restore security along one of the most important sea lanes in the world consists of deterrence and repression. A huge imbalance actually exists between the amount of money that the Somali pirates have successfully extorted in the form of ransoms (estimated at no more than 60 million dollars in 2008) and the damage they have caused, calculated as being of several billion dollars. So far no one has taken the trouble to estimate the cost of the protection provided by the various navies, perhaps because this is shouldered by the taxpayer. It has been suggested the creation of an operative co-ordination among the regional states, on the example of the Maritime Organization for West and Central Africa (MOWCA) that operates in the gulf of Guinea, to which delegate the burdens relates to the patrols. Its about a little reassuring expedient, aimed to save resources leaning the repressions expences against countries that, although advantaged under the geographical point of view, are all in a condition of extreme poverty.
If the states had invested the time and resources they now devote to combating piracy in reconstructing the Somali society and economy, they would probably not now have to cope with these problems. But today there are new opportunities that should not be wasted. The Djibouti accords, signed in June 2008, providing for the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops, are raising some faint hopes of possible cooperation between the Federal Government and the more moderate fringes of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, a first step towards the making of a legitimate and effective central government. On the 31st of January 2009 Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the moderated Muslims leader, has been elected chief of the Transitional Federal Government, defeating the candidate supported by the international community and spreading all over the country a climate of renewed optimism. As we said before, in twenty years the only period of relative stability of the area has been observed during the phase in which the Islamic factions controlled the most of the territory. In his report to the Security Council, Ban Ki-Moon reaffirmed that peace and stability are a fundamental pre-condition for the solution of the piracys problem, in order to make possible that who today is finding himself in the bandits shoes, could come back to play the usual role of the fisherman.
In all likelihood, the financial resources the states intend to devote to protecting their own commercial interests will achieve better results if they are used in support of this difficult moment of transition. Above all if they are used to bring some relief to this people afflicted by perhaps one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises of all time, rather than being invested in the announced operations of deterrence and policing. The international community should have learnt that it is virtually impossible to come up with an effective deterrent against those who, in spite of themselves, have no longer anything to lose.
The G20 is important in the eyes of the world. Its pronouncements could decide whether you can get a job, refinance a mortgage, get a loan if you are a small company and, in the poorer parts of the world, even put your kids to bed with a full stomach.
Is the G20 really the right institution to address so many hopes and fears? From the standpoint of legitimacy, not at all. It has no employees, no headquarters and not even a statute. Indeed the international relations handbooks cannot tell us how to handle it, as it is situated half way between an international organization and the more formalized practices of traditional diplomatic channels.
In spite of the name, it does not even have 20 member states: it has only 19, boosted by the addition of a European Union representative. The member governments are by no means featherweights; as they themselves often remind us, they represent 85 per cent of world production, 80 per cent of world trade and two thirds of the world population.
However, these are merely quantitative values and have little to do with legitimacy. For Bangladesh it is not enough to have a population six times greater than that of Saudi Arabia to become part of the group. The only representative from the continent of Africa is South Africa. The G20 is lacking in logic also as far as income is concerned: Spain, Iran, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Poland have a gross domestic product exceeding that of Saudi Arabia, Argentina and South Africa but have not been invited. Also other countries of crucial importance for world financial architecture, such as Switzerland with its banking system and the Arab Emirates with its Sovereign Wealth Fund assets, are absent.
How does that one third of the world population whose state representatives have not even been invited to the Summit feel about it? A good 173 countries in the world have been left out and can only wait and see what is decided in London. We are talking about one third of the world population which has all the problems of the other two thirds and often many more, but in this case have no voice.
However, it is still better than the G8, it might be objected, which groups the governments of only 14 per cent of the world population, all of which located in the North of the world. It might be argued that to enlarge the meeting and turn it into a G192, a kind of UN General Assembly on a school outing, would make it more representative but also inconclusive as there would be no possibility of taking effective decisions. The crisis that has hit the financial markets calls for strong messages to be transmitted, which can only come from those governments that have enough resources to guarantee them. But the countries that have fat wallets do not seem to be interested in sending these messages, perhaps because they have not been given a mandate to act on behalf of all countries.
Initially dreamed up to act as a clearing house to the G8 by providing a platform also for the countries of the South, it has become entangled in inter-governmental logic and represents interests that are too divergent to allow a consensus to be reached.
In the preliminary document drafted by the host nation, the British government warns against protectionism and demands that the Doha Round be concluded as soon as possible, without however indicating what concessions the rich countries should grant to the poorer nations. It pleads for the reaffirmation of the objectives in terms of Official Development Aid without however indicating any ways or means. The only qualifying point, evidence that the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House has had some effect on the dry language of international summits, is the reference to a “low-carbon recovery”.
Although vague as far as the instruments are concerned, the G20 has radically overhauled its agenda with respect to previous years, as Will Hutton has noted. It calls for greater market regulation, whereas for years and years it debated on the trinity – liberalization – privatization - deregulation. It finally acknowledges that markets are fallible and that greater state intervention is needed. It calls for a reform of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, increasing the available resources and modifying the relative quotas. It claims that it is necessary to increase official development aid also as a demand support strategy.
There is nothing wrong with any of these ideas, although they are by no means original: indeed the anti-summiteers, the NGOs and independent observers have championed the same policies, and long before this. But instead of being debated by the heads of government and the economic ministers, all this wisdom has remained fixed to the banners carried in the demonstrations held under the windows of the summit venues. Had these ideas been given the required attention the present financial crisis might have been avoided or at least much reduced in intensity. The same proposals are summarized in the common document of the organizing organizations “Put People First:" Ensuring a response to the economic crisis that delivers democratic governance of the economy”.
It is to be hoped that the technocrats attending the summit have since become sufficiently humble at least to have read the document. But it is really a pity that none of the 35,000 protesters who rallied in London on March 28th will have the possibility to illustrate these proposals at the Summit.
The inability of the G20 to come up with solutions is largely dependent on its institutional nature. There is no proof that there is a trade-off between legitimacy and efficiency. In terms of efficiency, the key discussion will take place in the G2: on the one hand the United States with its debts, on the other hand China with its credits. But if something goes wrong in the dance between the two, all other dancers can be swept away.
In a world in which it is demanded world politics be increasingly held accountable it is inconceivable that everyman’s problems should be addressed in summits held outside the confines of democratic logic. Today some suggest not only that the Bretton Woods institutions should be radically overhauled but also that they should be placed under the scrutiny of a directly elected world parliament (see, for instance, the “Call for Global Democratic Oversight of International Financial and Economic Institutions” made by the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly).
When the world markets were still in a state of great euphoria, Frances Stewart and Sam Daws proposed setting up an Economic Security Council within the United Nations comparable for political authority to the Security Council. In such a body, seats would be elective and the member countries selected on the basis of their population, income and their capacity and willingness to contribute to financial stability.
The fundamental difference between this proposal and the current G20 is that each government would be empowered to act in the interest of all and not just in the interest of their own country. As with the Security Council, such a body would be based on a Charter, on transparent decision making, and would be able to rely on a permanent Secretariat. We have also learnt from history that inter-governmental organizations are more efficient when they are under the scrutiny of citizens and it would be important to give voice in such an institution also to non-state actors and elected representatives.
Now that the crisis has laid Wall Street and the City low, we can only hope that the London Summit will discover that the absence of democracy is a luxury we can no longer afford. And the best way to acknowledge it, would be to call for a genuine G6-billion Summit.
The image of the past
The idea that freedom and
democracy can be exported all over the world is an ancient dream. Athenian democrats,
French revolutionaries, and Russian Bolsheviks, to mention only the
better-known cases, were convinced that their own political system was good
enough to be donated to all peoples. But not even the path to freedom is
carpeted with rose-petals: enthusiasm is often mingled with fanaticism;
idealism must come to terms with the
harsh laws of Realpolitik (see Luciano Canfora, Esportare
la liberta [Mondadori, 2007]).Daniele
Archibugi is director of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), affiliated to the Institute on Population and Social
Policy (IRPPS), and professor of
governance and public policy at Birkbeck College, London. His website is here.
Also by Daniele Archibugi in openDemocracy:
"What do to with the United Nations?" (8 September 2005) - with Raffaele Marchetti
"Can democracy be exported?" (1 November 2006)
This essay forms Chapter 8 of Daniele Archibugi's book The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy [Princeton University Press, 2008). It is published here (with minor editorial adjustments) with the kind permission of the author and publisher.
At the end of the second world war, democracy was a gift made by the Americans to the Europeans. An Italian cannot be unmindful of the glorious days of the summer of 1944 and the spring of 1945, when the main Italian cities were being liberated by Allied troops. I use the term liberated because this was the feeling of the vast majority of Italians, who considered that the Allies' arrival marked the end of Nazi and fascist brutality, of civil war, and of the air raids. However, it is often forgotten that at the time the Allies referred to Italy as an "occupied" country; rightly so, since until only a few months before, it had been an active ally of Hitler's Germany.
But even if Italy had been the enemy until the day before, not a single shot was fired in anger against the Allies. As soon as the Allies arrived on the ground, hostilities ceased. The heavy Allied bombing of the Italian cities, which had caused numerous deaths among the civilian population comparable to the number of deaths caused by the ruthless Nazi reprisals, was immediately forgotten. On the ground, the Allies, and the Americans in particular, did not arouse feelings of fear but were immediately regarded as friends and brothers, who handed out cigarettes and joined in the dancing and singing. Above all, they spoke of freedom and democracy.
If the Italians welcomed the Americans so warmly, it was partly because Italian immigrants on the other side of the Atlantic had explained what the United States was like, but it was above all because the ant-Nazi and anti-fascist resistance had spread the idea among the population that the Allies were not enemies of the people but rather, as they had been promptly renamed, Allies - not just because the troops came from an alliance of countries but because they could be considered our allies against dictatorship.
In Germany and Japan there was no civil war as in Italy, and the resistance was much weaker in those countries. Indeed, the Allies were not greeted there by a flurry of flags as they were in Italy, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, even though they were not actually attacked by anyone. In all three defeated countries, the winds of change were felt promptly because there was awareness that the occupation troops would be staying for only a brief period and that before leaving the country they would plant the seeds of a political system - democracy - that would benefit the whole population.
The idea that it was a matter of setting up not trusted regimes but rather democratic governments was much more deeply rooted in the Americans than in the British. Britain headed a world empire and was more interested in having faithful regimes than democratic ones. Despite the looming rivalry with the Soviet Union and its recent satellite states, the United States believed in the value of democracy for the purpose of consolidating the bonds among free peoples. Political parties, trade unions, information agencies, judicial apparatuses - all received substantial support from the American administration. Ever since, United States foreign policy has repeatedly declared that its objective is to spread democracy, often by means of armed intervention.
To export democracy has actually always been one of the declared priorities of US foreign policy (see Tony Smith, America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century [Princeton University Press, 2001]). The successes achieved at the end of the second world war gave rise to the idea that any military action could produce the same outcome. Not even years and years of supporting dictatorships (for instance, all over the Latin American continent at the time of Henry Kissinger), not even the CIA plots against elected governments, could erase from the mind of the American public opinion that its country was not only the freest in the world but also better able than any other to liberate the others.
Neither the isolationists nor the interventionists have ever denied the good intentions of the exporter and the advantages accruing to the importer: the American debate focused on whether it is in the country's interest to carry out these interventions (see Michael Cox, G John Ikenberry & Takashi Inoguchi, eds., American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts (Oxford University Press, 2000).
This essay is a contribution to an international debate on democracy support
co-hosted by Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
(International IDEA) and openDemocracy
Vidar Helgesen, "Democracy support: where now?" (17 November 2008)
Rein Müllerson, "Democracy: history, not destiny" (25 November 2008)
Monika Ericson & Mélida Jiménez, "Taking stock of democracy" (17 December 2008)
Kristen Sample, "No hay mujeres: Latin America women and gender equality" (4 February 2009)
Ingrid Wetterqvist, Raul Cordenillo, Halfdan L Ottosen, Susanne Lindahl & Therese Arnewing, "The European Union and democracy-building" (10 February 2009)
Yet, the sentiments expressed by the vast majority of world public opinion no longer supports the United States's concept of its mission. Since 1945, scepticism has continued to grow concerning the legitimacy and efficacy of external action. American intervention outside its frontiers is increasingly perceived as an imperial projection. As a result of the uncertain outcome of the mission in Afghanistan and the Iraq disaster, this scepticism has spread also to the American population.
This essay re-examines the question of the exportability of democracy in the light of the cosmopolitan project. Unlike humanitarian intervention - discussed elsewhere in the book on which on which the essay draws - exporting democracy involves not only preventing acts of genocide but also imposing a specific regime: democracy. It is proactive and not just interdictive (see The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy [Princeton University Press, 2008).
The question raises much greater conceptual problems: while it is only to be expected that all individuals wish to survive, it cannot be taken for granted that they wish to participate in the management of public affairs. A humanitarian intervention by definition refers to political communities in which peaceful coexistence has ceased; while an intervention to export democracy can also be directed toward communities that, although authoritarian, guarantee their citizens' security. Anyone wishing to export democracy must therefore be sure that their intervention will be appreciated and not perceived by the population as merely replacing one internal authoritarian regime with another imposed from the outside.
This essay asks whether it is legitimate, and what means may be used, to bring about a regime in autocratic countries in order to convert them to democracy. The cosmopolitan project holds that all political communities can embrace the values and rules of democracy; but who can legitimately and effectively extend the values of democracy geographically, and how can they do so? The following section considers the theoretical implications of exporting democracy; the next addresses the available ways and means, and their efficacy in this perhaps decisive issue; the last assesses the role played by international organisations (IOs) in fostering democracy.
Regime change as power-act
Why should democracies be concerned with exporting their own system instead of enjoying its fruits in their own home? Imposing a regime from the outside is above all an act of power, and democratic countries are certainly not the only ones to be led into temptation. The most frequent reasons that convince a political community to invest its own resources to change a regime elsewhere are its own interests and the hope to acquire resources from other societies. In some cases, this offensive inclination involves annexation and the subjugated peoples will claim self- determination; in other cases, a state may attempt to achieve its objectives by imposing from the outside a given internal regime by setting up "puppet" governments.
A wide-ranging historical review covering the past five centuries has taken into consideration nearly two hundred cases of countries imposing internal institutions on other countries from the outside (see John Owen, "The Foreign Imposition of Domestic Institutions" [International Organization, 52/2, 2002]). A report on such heterogeneous cases that covers a long period of time helps to frame the problem in a perspective that is less dominated by contemporary ideology.
It is not surprising to find that the countries imposing the change are usually the great powers, while the countries whose regime is changed through external imposition are the less powerful ones: you cannot impose if you do not have the power to do so. The cases reviewed show that whenever a country set about imposing regimes from the outside, it tends to do so repeatedly.
The regimes imposed from abroad vary widely, ranging from absolute monarchies to republics, from constitutional monarchies to democracies, from nationalist dictatorships to communist systems. As might be expected, the regime promoted tends to correspond to that of the promoting power, although there is no general rule. In many cases, a political community imposes a different regime, sometimes one of an opposite political nature, as is demonstrated by the colonial domination of the European powers.
The external imposition of internal regimes tends to be concentrated into given historical periods characterised by massive ideological confrontations, such as the European wars of religion of the early 17th century, the disorders following the French revolution, and the period after the second world war. Those favourable to the stability of the international system understandably are concerned over these upheavals, and it is not surprising that after a period of furious conflicts arising out of the desire to dominate from the exterior there are attempts to dampen enthusiasm by boosting the principles of national sovereignty, non-interference, and self-determination. The Treaty of Münster (1648), the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), and the San Francisco charter (1945) may all be viewed as attempts to set up counterbalancing forces by treaties, rules, and institutions designed to safeguard each player's autonomy.
Is there any substantial difference in imposing a democratic regime rather than a Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, communist, or fascist regime? Today the democratic countries are politically dominant and could, like any other regime, feel tempted to expand their own geographic area of influence out of self-interest. A democratic country could, for example, consider that states having a similar regime are more reliable trade partners and less inclined to start a war or to threaten their security, as well as being probable allies in the case of conflict. In other words, a democratic state might have a vested interest in living in a condominium of democratic states simply in view of the benefits involved. If these are the reasons, there would be no greater legitimacy underlying the intention of exporting democracy than there would be in imposing any other regime. The attempt to export democracy would represent a new version of undue interference of one state in the internal affairs of another.
For these reasons, it is necessary to assess the intentions of not only those offering to carry out an intervention but also those living in the political community where the intervention is intended. It seems logical to attach greater weight to the wishes of those who intend to "import" democracy than to those who wish to "export" it. The exporter should ask himself whether signals exist on the interior that indicate a wide- spread desire for regime change.
From insurrection to interference
Interference may be justified in support of peoples seeking to free themselves from an authoritarian system, but why would a people need an external intervention instead of taking its destiny into its own hands? If a people are under the yoke of an authoritarian government, they can revolt against it and set up a government that complies more closely with their desires. When the social contract between a government and its people is broken, until an open contrast becomes apparent between the government in power and the rebels, it can be expected that external forces may take sides with one of the factions without foreigners being accused of upsetting the state of peace or of interfering in another country's internal affairs. But in the absence of any overt or at least latent rebellion, external intervention will verge on undue interference. Above all, it is difficult to ask the citizens of the democratic countries to put their lives at risk and to put their hands in their pockets to provide a more satisfactory government to citizens who are unwilling to do the same for themselves.
An overt rebellion does not necessarily signify a commitment to democracy by the rebels. History is filled with revolts that have replaced an authoritarian regime with one that is even more authoritarian. In the many cases in which a people is split into several factions, the main aim of external intervention must therefore not be to support one of the warring factions but to find an agreement among them all. For pacification to be effective, the conflicting parties must also agree on how to manage public affairs, and democratisation becomes the principal instrument for doing this. Rather than as an ally of one of the factions, external intervention is required to act as a mediator or arbitrator (see Nichael W Doyle & Nicholas Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations [Princeton University Press, 2006]. However, in these cases, the external intervention takes place when a civil war is already under way; those who intervene from the outside cannot be blamed for breaking the state of peace.
It might be expected that democratic countries would unconditionally support those struggling for democracy. Historical experience shows, however, that this is not a general rule. Just as the very Catholic France supported the Dutch Protestants against the very Catholic Habsburgs and the French monarchy supported the Republican rebels against the British monarchy, the United States supported General Augusto Pinochet rather than the elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende. During the Spanish civil war, Germany and Italy consistently supported Francisco Franco, while Great Britain and France were much more ambivalent in their actions. No unequivocal solidarity seems to emerge between democratic governments and movements fighting for democracy.
Regime-change after aggression
Regime change often occurs as the result of a compulsory transition after a war. A government that starts a war of aggression and loses it also loses its legitimacy as a member of the international community and in the eyes of its own subjects. In such circumstances it is not surprising that internal and external pressures combined can lead to a radical change of regime. One typical case occurred in the post-1945 years. The Allies deemed it necessary to remove all traces of national-socialism from Germany and its allies. This policy was legitimised not only by the crimes against humanity carried out by Nazism but also by the obvious argument of self-defence: that is, to prevent the same regime from committing new acts of aggression.
However, the action taken by the Soviet Union was opposite to that of the Allies: while in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) a government was set up under direct Soviet control, the Allies expressed complete confidence in West Germany's capacity for self-government, provided that West Germany carried out a radical and irreversible regime change. The Allies decided implicitly not to blame German citizens for the crimes committed by their government and concentrated instead on the individual prosecution of those who were directly involved with the crimes of the old regime. Recognition of individual responsibility for the crime of aggression or for crimes against humanity was used to provide legitimacy for a new leadership based on completely different values.
The approach taken by the victors of the second world war was quite different to that followed after the first world war. At the Paris peace conference of 1919, the victorious powers imposed sanctions and reparations on Germany, implicitly considering the German people fully responsible for their government's actions. These powers also implemented a number of "containment" actions aimed at preventing Germany from ever again representing a threat to its neighbours. The democratic institutions of the Weimar republic failed to mitigate the victors' claims. The disastrous outcome of the Treaty of Versailles induced the Allies to radically change tack after 1945.
Unfortunately, these long-standing lessons were ignored at the end of the Gulf war in 1991: after winning the war, the allied countries left power firmly in the hands of the existing ruling class, further isolating Iraq from the international community and weakening it by implementing "containment", thus making the country's oppressed citizens pay a higher price than the regime's ruling class (I therefore believe, unlike Michael Walzer, that "containment" is the policy least likely to encourage regime change; see "Regime Change and Just War" [Dissent, 52/3, summer 2006].
The lesson that may be learned from the second world war is that if a country suffers an aggression, it acquires the right and the duty to set up a different regime in the defeated country, if for no other reason than self-protection. However, this does not represent a specific justification for exporting democracy; otherwise a state having suffered an aggression for religious reasons could, if it won the war, claim the right to remove the religious institutions underlying the aggression.
Does the conclusion necessarily follow that exporting democracy has no greater legitimacy than exporting any other regime? Some claim that it is not possible to achieve democratisation if there is no internal pressure: that democracy can be imported but not exported (see, for example, Sunil Bastian & Robin Luckham, eds., Can Democracy be Designed? The Politics of Institutional Choice in Conflict-Torn Societies [Zed Books, 2003]; and Nadia Urbinati, I confini della democrazia [Donzelli editore, 2007]). This does not alter the fact, however, that the international framework plays a decisive role, although no general rule can be established.
Exporting democracy can gain legitimacy provided that it is based on three intentions (see Laurence Whitehead ed., The International Dimensions of Democratization: Europe and the Americas [Oxford University Press, 2001]). The first intention is related to the willingness to sound out the intentions of the peoples of third states with regard to a democratic regime. It must be assumed not only that it is in the interest of these peoples to have a democratic government, but also that peoples may not succeed in attaining their objective because they are repressed by the ruling government. A democracy-exporting agent acting in good faith should, in other words, give priority to the importer's reasons over the exporter's own reasons. Otherwise, one of those typical cases arises that (in Robespierre's words) reflects the mania to make peoples happy against their will. In some cases, the intentions of a people may be explicit, for instance, when a government in power refuses to step down after losing free and fair elections, as happened in the Philippines in 1986 and Myanmar in 1990. In these cases, international law has begun to be used to safeguard internal norms (see Thomas M Franck, "The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance" [American Journal of International Law, 86/1, 1992]).
The second intention is related to giving the population freedom of choice regarding its own form of government. It is clearly anti-democratic to want to export democracy without allowing the people to decide which constitutional form they prefer. Exporting democracy means giving people the chance to decide which constitutional form to apply.
What can be exported from the outside is the power of self-government, while the specific democratic form must be decided on the inside. The third intention refers to the way of assessing the political regimes involved. Since exporting democracy requires the existence of at least two agents, the importer and the exporter, it would be necessary to perform an in dependent assessment to establish whether the importer actually needs a change of regime and whether the exporter is in a position to develop an alternative regime.
It has already been seen how controversial it is to assess democratic regimes and how reluctant also consoli- dated democracies are to accept external assessments. Ideally, only global legislative and judiciary institutions can legitimately define such criteria and apply them (see Gregory H Fox & Brad R Roth, eds., Democratic Governance and International Law [Cambridge University Press, 2000]). In the absence of such power, the would-be exporter of democracy would have to rely on the opinion expressed by existing institutions or third-party organisations.
The means of export
The discussion presented in the preceding section may seem abstract. Indeed, much of the controversy arising over the idea of exporting democracy is not related to its theoretical legitimacy but to the means used. While few would deny the utility of exporting democracy through persuasion, the matter becomes much more controversial when it is intended to use coercive means. What are the consequences of using coercion (the stick) instead of persuasion and incentives (the carrot)?
The means of coercion par excellence for exporting democracy is war, as in Afghanistan and in Iraq. In this case, the means (war) is clearly in conflict with the end (democracy). The violent means represented by war does not involve despots alone but inevitably ends up affecting also the individuals who are expected to benefit from the regime change. The use of such means is the least suitable for effectively promoting a regime based on non-violence and for protecting the citizens' interests. Rather than establishing a ruling-class alternative to the one in power, a war of aggression creates a vacuum and only aggravates local conflicts. In the case in which the public expresses an explicit will in favour of a democratic government, this does not mean that the same public will accept a military invasion.
The case of Panama in May 1989 is instructive. The then president Manuel Noriega and his regime, after losing the elections, refused to hand over power. Although Panamanian citizens had expressed their desire to have a different government, they feared an armed intervention by the United States to overthrow Noriega. This was a classic case in which the population would have preferred external help of the non-violent kind - for instance, a naval blockade (see Eytan Gilboa, "The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era" [Political Science Quarterly, 110/4, 1995]).
But as well as representing a clear-cut contradiction between means and ends, historical experience shows that only in rare cases can a democratic regime be set up using external military means. What happened in Germany, Japan, and Italy in 1945 represents a unique experience that is unlikely to be repeated. A survey by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace dedicated to US involvement in military operations abroad in the 20th century indicates that only rarely was democratisation the result (see Minxin Pei & Sara Kasper, Lessons from the Past: The American Record on Nation Building [Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2003]). In the first half of the century, the failed military operations involved countries that were neighbours of the United States and apparently easy to control: such as Panama (1903-36), Nicaragua (1909-33), Haiti (1915-34), the Dominican Republic (1916-24), and Cuba (1898-1902, 1906-09, and 1917-22).
Other military occupations, such as in Korea in the 1950s and South Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s, were dictated mainly by the intention to block communist expansion, and democratisation was not even attempted. Since the end of the cold war, the US administration has not achieved any lasting success even in Haiti (see Karin Von Hippel, Democracy by Force: U.S. Military Intervention in the Post- Cold War World [Cambridge University Press, 2000]). After the second world war, evident successes have been Panama (1989) and Grenada (1983), two small states closely linked to the US economy and society. In the case of Panama, a heavy price was paid.
Even more discouraging is the record of the two old European colonial powers, France and Britain. France and Britain almost never explicitly intended their military interventions abroad to favour democratic forces but rather to follow the traditional logic of maintaining political influence. French and British interventions after 1945 almost always led to reduced political liberalisation and to support of the existing regimes, even when those regimes were oppressive (see Jeffrey Pickering & Mark Peceny, "Forging Democracy at Gunpoint" [International Studies Quarterly, 50/3, 2006). The problems and failures in Afghanistan and in Iraq have numerous precedents. How can such disappointing results be accounted for?
One of the first ingredients that seems to be missing in the attempt to export democracy is the determination of the exporters, who are more often inclined to promote reliable and faithful regimes than to allow the self-determination of peoples. In a situation in which the intentions are controversial and the successes (to say the least) questionable, it is understandable that the developing countries should view with some distrust the good intentions of western countries, especially when they propose using coercive means; and that even the greatest champions of the democratic cultivate this distrust.
When the intention is to export democracy using coercive means, another decisive aspect is overlooked: namely, the consequences that involvement in a war has for the exporter. In war each state is compelled to forgo some of its own freedom. The citizens are sent to war, civil freedoms are reduced, the relative weight of the strong powers (army, secret ser vice, and security apparatus) increases at the expense of transparency and control. Democracies that are perpetually at war develop chronic diseases.
The United States and Britain, which have been involved in a never-ending series of high- and low-intensity conflicts since 1945, have so far resisted incredibly well in preserving their own democratic system at home. But not even these two states have been able to avoid sacrificing part of their own democratic institutions on the altar of national interest. In the state of necessity produced by war, torture and the killing of unarmed prisoners have been committed and justified; these would have never been tolerated by public opinion in peacetime. Exporting democracy by military means also signifies reducing democracy on the home front.
At the height of the enthusiasm for the export of freedom at bayonet-point, at the beginning of the French revolutionary wars, a few wise voices were raised to warn against the looming dangers. One of them said:
"Invincible within, and by your administration and your laws a model to every race, there will not be a single government which will not strive to imitate you, not one which will not be honoured by your alliance; but if, for the vainglory of establishing your principles outside your country, you neglect to care for your own felicity at home, despotism, which is no more than asleep, will awake, you will be rent by intestine disorder, you will have exhausted your monies and your soldiers, and all that, all that to return to kiss the manacles the tyrants, who will have subjugated you during your absence, will impose upon you; all you desire may be wrought without leaving your home: let other people observe you happy, and they will rush to happiness by the same road you have traced for them."
These words date from 1793 and belong to the Marquis de Sade. Perhaps because they were contained in a book whose raving author had been consigned to an institution, they had little effect at the time. But it is never too late to meditate upon them.
Must it therefore be concluded that nothing can be done to export democracy outside one's borders; and, as the Marquis de Sade suggests, that the only useful thing left for democratic countries to do is to perfect their own political system to the degree that other peoples will want to imitate them?
There is no reason to be so sceptical. If democratic states support the self-determination of other peoples, they will soon discover that other peoples want to participate in the way power is managed in their own society. The error implicit in the mania to export democracy refers solely to the means, not to the end. If the end is legitimate, what instruments are therefore available to the democratic states?
The first and most obvious instrument is linked to economic, social, political, and cultural incentives. The present-day domination of the west is so widespread that, if its countries' priority is truly to expand democracy, they ought to commit more resources to the effort. The facts suggest otherwise: in 2005, the United States's defence appropriation amounted to more than 4% of its gross domestic product, and that of the European Union countries to more than 2%. By comparison, the amounts dedicated to development aid are small change: currently around 0.1% of the US's GDP and 0.3 % of that of the EU (see the World Development Indicators, World Bank 2005-08). Moreover, only a meagre proportion of these funds are explicitly earmarked for encouraging democracy.
But the carrot does not consist solely of economic aid. Economic aid can be effective but may also be perceived as a form imposition by a rich and powerful state on a small and weak one. The logically most convincing way to export democracy is to have it transmitted by the citizens of the democratic countries opening up direct channels between themselves and the citizens of the authoritarian countries. Professional and cultural associations and other transnational organizations play an important role in connecting citizens. During the cold war, these channels proved fundamental in supporting the opposition in the Soviet-bloc countries and in forming an alternative ruling class (see Mary Kaldor & EP Thompson, eds., Europe from Below: An East-West Dialogue [Verso, 1991]).
These channels are often politically weak and easy to counter: the leaders of the opposition that maintain personal contacts are often placed under surveillance and are the first to be repressed. The governments in power are capable of brushing off for decades all requests for political liberalization; this is exemplified in the case of Burma and the persecution suffered by the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, even in the face of a pressing international-solidarity campaign. Yet the political importance of these channels cannot be discounted. At least they demonstrate to the oppressed inhabitants of authoritarian regimes that political societies expressing solidarity for their aspirations exist. Without this solidarity, Vacláv Havel, Nelson Mandela, and Lech Wałesa would never have been transformed from political prisoners to heads of state.
Using persuasive means also reinforces instead of weakening democracy in the exporting countries. Involving civil society in foreign-policy choices - for example by directing trade, tourism, and economic aid flows toward countries that respect human rights and where self- government prevails - helps the populations of democratic countries to pursue the values underlying their own social contract. If the citizens of these countries become ambassadors for their own political system and plead its cause abroad, they thus come to embody and project the democratic values that underpin their societies.
It is equally important to offer countries that might choose democracy the chance to join the club of democratic states on equal terms, rather than establish an explicit hierarchy in which a state deems it can export its own system instead of allowing different states to participate in a political union where the various systems are compared and reinforced. If democracy can be defined as a journey, some peoples could benefit from travelling together. It is therefore not surprising that international organisations continue to play an extremely useful role in spreading democracy.
The role of "internationals"
International organisations (IOs) act on behalf of democratisation by exerting pressure on authoritarian governments: this is true both of those which accept as members regimes of very different character (as in the case of the United Nations) and of those which accept only democratic states (as in the case of the European Union). The UN exerted weak pressure in the direction of democratisation in the 1960s and 1970s; this pressure has increased considerably since the 1990s, in part because the number of the UN's member-states that are democracies has gradually increased. A virtuous circle has been set up in which the greater the number of democratic states, the tougher it has become for the others not to be democratic.
The capacity of regional organisations may become extremely strong, even though they depend on the nature of their membership and the available incentives (see Jon C Pevehouse, Democracy from Above? Regional Organizations and Democratization [Cambridge University Press, 2005]). The EU has a greater force of persuasion than the Arab League, for example, both because it may reach a greater degree of consensus on democratic values and because it has more instruments and resources to commit. International organisations can influence internal democratisation through at least three channels: stable centre of gravity, crafting of rules, and economic integration.
The IOs often represent a point of reference and stability during the transition process. The elites in power often fear that regime change will be accompanied by a violent change in the economic and social base, will wipe out their acquired privileges, and will expose them to reprisals. In many cases they fear that the regime they control may be replaced one that is equally authoritarian one; this can make the ruling classes extremely reluctant to liberalise the political system, and induce them to defend the existing regime even at the cost of unleashing a civil war.
In this context, IO membership may instead prove useful in defining the future rules of coexistence, for example in helping to allow the ruling faction to become one of the political parties represented in the new regime. The other member-states can act as models on which to base the future regime. Likewise, once political liberalisation has been achieved, the IOs can contribute to stabilising the existing political regime and sheltering it from attempted coups d'état. Not surprisingly, countries increase their propensity to participate in IOs after democratisation (see Edward D Mansfield & Jon C Pevehouse, "Democratization and International Organizations" [International Organization, 60/1, 2006). Several IOs have in the past undertaken to suspend countries whose governments seized power in a coup. Article 30 of the statute of the African Union, for example, states: "Governments which shall come to power through unconstitutional means shall not be allowed to participate in the activities of the Union."
One typical case in which the effectiveness of IOs can be appreciated is the design of constitutional systems and electoral assistance (see Peter Burnell, Democracy Assistance: International Co- operation for Democratization [Frank Cass, 2000]).
In the transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one, the parties and factions involved distrust each other. A supranational institution can not only certify the outcome of the electoral process but also contribute to planning the constitutional system. Precisely because IOs are multilateral, they are less likely to dominate one state or to be perceived as an instrument of domination. It is therefore not surprising that the UN electoral-assistance office has become increasingly active and that numerous IOs, including the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) receive a growing number of requests for collaboration in organising or certifying elections. Among NGOs, the action of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) is particularly dynamic and effective (see Electoral Management Design: The International IDEA Handbook [IDEA, 2006]).
The IOs open up channels of communication among states, involving not only governments but also enterprises. IOs whose principal aim is free trade boost the dialogue between players operating in different countries, making it more difficult for authoritarian regimes to control economic agents (see Bruce Russett & John R Oneal, Triangulating Peace: Democracy, interdependence, and international organizations [WW Norton, 2001]). Furthermore, a growing number of IOs tie free-trade agreements to the existence of democratic regimes. If a democratic regime were overthrown, the enterprises could have their access to foreign markets revoked, which for purely economic reasons would induce them to defend the democratic institutions.
After the military coup in 1967, Greece was suspended from the Treaty of Association with the European Community, which exerted considerable pressure inside Greece to restore democracy, an aim achieved in 1974. Similarly, the attempted coup in Spain in 1981 was resisted by enterprises owing to the consequences the coup would have had on Spain's proposed membership of the European Community. Other regional organisations such as Mercosur, which are open solely to democratic countries, are also helping in consolidating democracy (see Francisco Domínguez & Marcos Guedes de Oliveira eds., Mercosur: Between Integration and Democracy [Peter Lang AG, 2004]).
The EU represents the most successful case of an international organisation setting up and consolidating democratisation. The EU has some of the toughest membership criteria of any organization: countries must attain a given level of democracy and maintain it over time. In two distinct historical periods, and in completely opposite international climates, the EU has played an extremely useful role in launching democratisation.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the EU played a central role in allowing southern European countries (Greece, Spain, and Portugal) to emerge from fascist regimes. In the 1990s and 2000s it played the same role for Europe an countries in the Soviet bloc. The EU has also very effectively promoted democracy outside its own continent (see Richard Youngs, The European Union and the Promotion of Democracy [Oxford University Press, 2002]). The fact that the EU is a "civil power" composed of numerous countries often in disagreement among themselves has meant that the EU's interventions were perceived not as imposition but as collaboration (see Mario Telò, Europe, a Civilian Power? European Union, Global Governance, World Order [Palgrave, 2006]).
While much attention has been focused on economic incentives, as represented by access to the largest market in the world, the political incentives have often been underestimated. As soon as new members are admitted to the club, they enjoy the same status as founder members. Romania, admitted only in 2007, has a larger number of deputies in the European parliament than the Netherlands, which is one of the six founder members. Even though each country has a different amount of economic muscle, each country has the same clout in defining institutional politics and foreign policy. Exclusion from the EU is in itself already a severe penalty. The EU does not simply give lessons in democracy, but once new members have been admitted, those new members define common policies jointly and democratically.
Europe must reproach itself for not having played the membership card when the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s. Perhaps it would have been possible to avoid the savage wars in Yugoslavia if the EU had demanded that each ethnic community should break off hostilities and be rewarded by being given a fast-tracked admission to the EU. It would thus have been possible to reduce the importance of the fight to delimit the frontiers, as EU membership would have guaranteed free circulation of persons, goods, and capital and the protection of human rights for each ethnic group. In that case, the EU failed either to offer a carrot or to use the stick. It was a failure, but the only one.
It may justly be objected that so far the EU has accepted new members from among countries that, owing to their economic level, infrastructures, and social capital, were considered likely to democratise (see Adam Przeworski, Sustainable Democracy [Cambridge University Press, 1995]). The next years will show if the EU is able to take in countries that are culturally different and/or have substantially lower income levels. The lesson to be learned from the EU, however, is that as soon as a state takes seriously the political destiny of another community, that state should be coherent enough to bound with the other to form an institutional union.
Since no one offered Afghanistan and Iraq the opportunity to become the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth members of the EU - not to speak of the fifty-first and fifty-second states of the United States - the scepticism of those who believe that these wars do not encourage self- government is further reinforced.
After Iraq, what is still possible?
The war in Iraq has reaped an unquantified but growing number of victims on the ground, made international relations stormier, and caused the west to forgo the role of leader among the developing countries that it had acquired thanks to its material and cultural resources. The war in Iraq has had another detrimental effect: it has shown the world's peoples that the west has not shaken off the habits of old colonialism and new imperialism, aggravated by its use of the noble values of freedom and democracy as a rhetorical screen behind which to conceal the interests of restricted elites in power.
Inside the west, this has produced a dramatic rupture between democratic governments and, at the same time, between governments and their own publics. Since the west possesses the resources and the will to export democracy, the Iraqi adventure is destined to have a decisive impact on the agendas of the future.
A long list of factors explains why democratising Iraq and Afghanistan has proved so much more difficult than democratising Germany, Italy, and Japan. Among the ones most commonly invoked are that Iraq and Afghanistan did not satisfy minimum conditions regarding income level and political and religious culture; that a complete defeat of the previous regime is necessary to allow the transition to take place; and that numerous errors were made in the way the transition administration was handled (see Thomas Carothers et al., Multilateral Strategies to Promote Democracy [Carnegie Council, 2004]; and Larry Diamond, Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq [Times Books, 2005]).
All these arguments are valid, but none seem decisive. I claim that a war of aggression is a means that contradicts its end - and that this, more than any other factor, explains why the Iraqi people, instead of accepting a regime imposed by occupation forces, launched into a stubborn resistance.
The damage was done far beyond Iraq. Just as the Vietnam war discredited the leadership of western countries and for more than a decade pushed many developing countries and national-liberation movements toward political systems that were antagonistic toward those of liberal democracies, the Iraq war created an opposition to the foreign policy of western countries that will have unpredictable consequences.
The wave of democratisations that started in 1989 has come to a sharp halt, and there are even dangers of regression: after 2003, and for the first time since 1990, the number of democracies has decreased rather than increased. It will take a long time and a lot of patience before the democratic countries regain the authority on the international scene that has been dissipated by George W Bush and Tony Blair. Yet it would be mistaken to believe that the civil wars in Iraq and Afghanistan signal that there are people who are not "mature" enough for democracy or that the international context cannot contribute to its spread and consolidation.
This essay has revealed that the opportunity for self-determination may be exported, while the specific form of democratic government can only be imported; that is, the democratic government needs to be formed starting from a suitably endogenous political fabric. This rules out the possibility that democracy can be exported militarily, unless the attempt takes place after democratic countries have been attacked.
The historical experience considered confirms that the cases of successful export of democracy were carried out by means of persuasion, incentives, and international collaboration. In this case there is no dilemma regarding the choice of means and ends: the aim of democracy is achieved much more easily when coherent means are adopted. This lesson is fully compliant with the cosmopolitan project outlined herein: the external conflict reinforces the authoritarian regimes, while an international system based on peace and collaboration makes life difficult for despots and encourages the internal oppositions required for an effective political liberalisation.
The policy of persuasion, incentives, and sanctions is not always effective and is rarely timely. South Africa's apartheid regime, in spite of its extensive international isolation, remained in place for several de cades before being removed; the despotic regimes in Burma and many other countries are still under the yoke of dictatorships. However, the carrot has a huge advantage over the stick: it does not cause any damage or harm for which the democracies have to take responsibility. No collateral damage is caused by the attempt to convince other countries to become democratic. At a time in which there is no certainty that evil means allow desirable goals to be achieved, it is wise to refrain from carrying out actions that compromise the democratic cause.
One of the most accredited interpretations offered to explain the launching of missiles by Hamas and the disproportionate Israeli reaction is that both in Israel and Palestine a general election is shortly to be held. While the holding of Palestinian elections is always, like the distribution of water, food, medicines and fuel, highly uncertain, the mandate of the President in office of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, expires on 9 January. Looming over the Palestinians is the risk of a resumption of the civil war between Al Fatah and Hamas, and an electoral competition could avert the resumption of hostilities.Daniele Archibugi is Professor of Innovation, Governance and Public Policy at the University of London, Birkbeck College and is the author of The Global Commonwealth of Citizens. Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton University Press)
What is instead certain is the date of the Israeli election: it will be held on 10 February 2009 and in view of the fragmented political system in the country it would seem that no single party will succeed in winning enough votes to govern the country by itself. Two of the three candidates are playing key roles in today’s conflict: the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the Kadima Party, and the Defence Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labour Party. The third candidate, the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, currently in opposition, was leading in the polls before hostilities began, perhaps because he is considered a hawk in general and because he resigned as Foreign Minister when Israel began its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 more specifically. And it is precisely the attempt by Livni and Barak to regain votes and to hinder Netanyahu’s progress that explains the savageness of the Israeli reaction. According to a handful of opinion polls held at the end of December, a significant number of voters are changing their mind.
We are all democratic and bless the moment in which people express their will, particularly when a crisis looms. Vox populi vox dei: elections serve the purpose of confirming old leaders who have proved themselves capable of governing properly or else of voting them out of office in the hope that the newly elected will do better than the old ones. And, more importantly, elections are a form of political agonising which is based on non-violence. However, these conventional predictions of democratic theory are not valid in Israel and in Palestine. This leads to the paradox that the imminent elections are likely to bring war and violence. Why?
When politics gives way to proclamations
As far as the Palestinian people is concerned, years and years of hardship, the lack of any hope of having a future worth living, have reinforced a leadership - that of Hamas - capable of pronouncing high-sounding slogans but quite uninterested in offering a political solution to the conflict with Israel. Never before in contemporary politics has there been such a clear-cut disproportion between the declared objectives and political reality. Hamas denies the right of the State of Israel to exist but completely lacks any credible military deterrent power. How is it, then that the Palestinian people, when allowed to express themselves by voting, as in the last legislative election held in 25 January 2006, actually gave Hamas the relative majority? While more realistic political forces such as Al Fatah have succeeded in wresting only paltry concessions from Israel in dozens of half-baked negotiations, the people have consigned themselves into the hands of the political force that speaks with the loudest voice.
To speak loudly, indeed, and achieve no results. It is sufficient to read Hamas’ decision not to renew the six-monthly truce with Israel brokered by Egypt and which expired on 18 December. For ten days Hamas added to its rhetoric the launching of some sixty or so Kassam rockets. From the military standpoint this missile has proved ineffective, causing the death of one Israeli citizen before the beginning of the reprisals on 27 December and a few after that date. From the political point of view, Hamas has handed on a plate to the Israeli government a perfect excuse for a new and wholly disproportionate reprisal .
Apart from any ethical consideration, Hamas has acted irresponsibly as it triggered an escalation it is unable to maintain. However, this launching of rockets must not be judged by the yardstick of foreign policy, but by that of the internal micro-politics of the lacerated Palestinian political community. Hamas is fully aware that by forcing Israel into responding militarily it will gain increased consensus not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank and among the population of the Palestinian diaspora. It thus sets itself up as the victim of the conflict, shows that nothing good can come out of negotiations and discredits the negotiations engaged in by the Palestinian National Authority. At the same time, the yet to be sworn-in President elect of the United States will have a much harder task to mediate an agreement. The harsher the Israeli reaction, the more politically victorious Hamas will appear on the domestic front, obtaining a consensus that it can cash in on also when free elections among the Palestinians are held.
The priority of domestic politics
However, the cynical unscrupulousness of Hamas alone would not be enough to bring about a crisis of these proportions. It takes two to have a fight. What interest could Israel thus have had to respond to a salvo of rockets with a crushing aerial bombardment condemned by the whole world? Why did it not realize that by so doing it would simply be strengthening the position of the worst Palestinian factions? Everyone knows what Hamas’ intentions are, beginning with the sophisticated political experts in the Israeli government. Apart from the moral considerations regarding the killing of hundreds of civilians, the Israeli government did not realize that this reprisal has made its own population even more insecure, exposing it to the risk of a new season of suicide attacks? Also in this case, the Israeli response has very little to do with foreign policy. It has instead a lot to do with the 10 February election, in which each leader will have to prove he or she is the toughest against their enemies. The effect is that, instead of having a moderating effect on each other, they have been incited to prove to their electors that they would each be capable of destroying the external threat. And, according to recent opinion polls, it seems that a significant number of Israelis have changed their intentions and are now willing to support again the political parties of Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak.
Peace and democracy
Over the past twenty years, international political observers have discussed at length the theory of peace among democracies. According to this hypothesis it is highly unlikely that two democratic countries will wage war on each other. The conclusion is that a democratic regime acts as a kind of vaccine against war, at least when waged against other equally democratic regimes. Even though Israelis and Palestinians have quite different political regimes (a consolidated democratic system in the first case, an uncertain representative system in the second, also as a result of the absence of an actual state), this would seem to be a case that disproves the theory: the approach of the elections increases the likelihood of violence.
But if those in power can so easily manipulate public opinion and, instead of being punished by the voters, are actually rewarded, it raises some doubts as to the truth of vox populi vox dei. What is the remedy? Many courageous proposals have been put forward in forty years of conflict, by both Israelis and Palestinians. These proposals have all been ignored by the leaders and, at least in the case of Israel, by leaders elected by the people.
A film as a message of peace
In these days we need to pay extra attention to the few wise words that emerge from the belligerents. One of them comes from a recent Israeli film, Waltz with Bashir. As observed by the New York Times, this is a cartoon and a documentary, a film of political propaganda and a study of memory. It is of course based on a true story, that of the director Ali Folman, a young Israel soldier who took part in the occupation of Lebanon in 1982 where he received his baptism of fire. Having lost his memory, Folman searches for his vanished recollections by interviewing his old comrades in arms a quarter of a century later.
Although the images consist of cartoon figures, the soundtrack makes use of the real voices of those who witnessed this war and this unique combination would be enough to justify giving a film genre such a contradictory name – a “cartoon–documentary”. However the film is above all a historical and political document as this is one of the first times that an Israeli artist engages in introspection, not to reconstruct the Holocaust tragedies, but one of the many conflicts with its Arab neighbours. The episode which triggers his trauma is the fact that Israeli soldiers stood by idly, and possibly were complicit, while about three thousand Palestinians were murdered by the Lebanese falangist militants in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. A trauma, in other words, that stems from not being victims but being the assassins’ accomplices. The film enjoyed success at Cannes, London, New York and above all in Israel. The audience was able to appreciate an important message, that of grief linked not only to the violence suffered but also the violence perpetrated.
Today the Israeli army is ready to invade the Gaza strip again. Once again, young soldiers are sent to kill and, if expectations based on the relative military strength of the two sides are confirmed, occasionally also to be killed. They will first of all destroy lives and hopes of peoples living in one of the most deprived areas of the world. But they will also come back to their homes with the trauma of having committed carnage. How is it that as many as 80 per cent of Israelis approve the actions of their government? It will take much more than a film to explain it. Any sensible witness in any other part of the world would seriously doubt that vox populi vox dei.
As the time comes to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the West has lost its moral authority and seems incapable of offering any hope of future dignity to the rest of the world. Guantanamo, 'extraordinary rendition' and Abu Ghraib will be just some of the words launched in the face of the West to deny its self-assigned role as the champion of human rights. Many despotic regimes, previously so used to being the accused, are now careful not to miss an opportunity to point out the fact that, when the circumstances are exceptional, all countries, whether they are run as democracies or not, are quite prepared to set aside human rights when it suits them.The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved by the United Nations' General Assembly on 10 December 1948 with 48 votes in favour and 8 abstentions (Soviet Union, and its allies, South Africa and Saudi Arabia).
It is obviously not true that human rights are violated with the same frequency in North America and in Asia, in Europe and in Africa - but a clear conscience is not just a luxury for those who hold close to their hearts the defence of human rights. Having turned sixty, the danger now is that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can actually take early retirement as the nations that have sponsored it have shown themselves incapable of respecting it.
This discredit is commonly associated with the Presidency of George W. Bush and a well-grounded promise has been made that a radical change of direction will occur with Barack Obama. However, the degeneration under the Bush administration is in truth simply evidence of a much deeper western problem that involves Europe and the United States, both progressives and conservatives. The West believed that, since it had considered itself the bearer of the values stated in the Universal Declaration, it didn't really need to consider itself to be subject to it and consequently approached the problem of human rights as an exclusively foreign policy issue. In a large part of the world this meant that human rights rhetoric was perceived as a new form of colonial domination by the West rather than an instrument of emancipation available to peoples against their home-grown despots.
It is still not clear in what direction the United States will move as far as human rights are concerned. The closure of Guantanamo and the abolishing of extraordinary rendition will be viewed as fundamental signals indicating that the change promised by Obama will also include human rights. And yet the main lesson to be drawn is that the cause of human rights can never again be entrusted to the hands of a single country - however efficient its internal system of democratic checks and balances. On the contrary, some external control must be added, which is exercised by impartial institutions that are independent of the ruling governments.Daniele Archibugi is Professor of Innovation, Governance and Public Policy at the University of London, Birkbeck College and is the author of The Global Commonwealth of Citizens. Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton University Press)
It is certainly encouraging that a vast majority of the world population endorses the idea that the UN should take an active role in the protection of human rights (see the poll by "World Public Opinion"), but any UN action will become more authoritative if it is supported by citizens and their representatives rather than just by government's ambassadors. If, on this anniversary, western governments aim to regain the high ground, they must have the courage to go beyond the essentially inter-governmental logic that has dominated the human rights regime to date and actively promote global checks and balances which are based on a greater degree of participation.
What does this mean in practice?
ICC: bring the US back in; define state aggression
First of all, the International Criminal Court, established five years ago for the purpose of prosecuting those responsible for the more serious violations of human rights, must be strengthened (a periodic assessment is carried out by the Global Policy Forum). The Court has neither the remit nor the resources to concern itself with everything, although it does have a great advantage over other inter-governmental agencies: it has the formal independence that is enjoyed by the judiciary. While the European Union recognizes the Court, the United States (under Bush) has withdrawn from it, undoing the progress made under the preceding administration. Even during the Clinton administration, the European countries had to sweat blood to persuade the United States to join. And even then it was not possible to get it ratified by the Senate. If the United States is really serious about adopting a status of equality with the other countries, it should accept the Court fully with all that this entails.
The member states of the Court must also accurately define and introduce the crime of state aggression, the only offence that could effectively be of concern to western governments (any surprise that this idea has so far gained no traction?). At this stage it is also essential that the Review Conference scheduled for 2009 be in a position to achieve a definition of this crime - to serve as a deterrent for all statesmen, including those from the West.
UNHRC: break the inter-governmental character
Secondly, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, which arose phoenix-like from the inglorious ashes of the old Human Rights Commission has inherited the latter's principal defect - being limited by a substantially inter-governmental approach. Only government representatives may sit on the Council and its investigations are slow and ineffective, while its indictments are couched in diplomatic terms. Such a body may certainly be useful as a practice ground for jurisprudence but is of no use to the victims of violations. It has now become necessary to find the courage to break the fetters of inter-governmental logic and to give institutional clout to civil society, including non governmental organizations and victims' associations, which have so far been only wallflowers. The institutional procedures required to achieve this may be of various kinds - provided there is the will to ensure that ‘Universal periodic review' does not degenerate into an empty gesture, in which the government representatives end up by mutually absolving each other.
Thirdly, we need to finally allow citizens to become the main players in the production and protection of rights. The current legislative framework means that individuals are in possession of rights they have received from others without themselves having any institutional channel (other than their own governments) through which to demand them. It is thus not surprising that most of the inhabitants of the planet perceive them as abstract concepts that are remote from their own lives. One way of enshrining political equality in the demand for human rights could be to have a world parliamentary assembly directly elected by individuals, as requested today by a transnational coalition.. A world parliament could represent the first seeds of political representation given to oppressed peoples - to empower them to protect themselves, by themselves.
We should not, of course, expect that a fresh world parliament will have powers comparable to the national ones, but it might be a very important institution in signaling how each country could improve its human rights record, in denouncing gross violations, and in providing concrete solidarity to the abused individuals and groups.
Commemorations of the Universal Declaration often end up by merely lauding lofty principles and expressing righteous indignation over the violations committed. However, neither exaltation nor indignation do much to help the violated or to reduce the violations. After Obama's election, a West that is, we hope, no longer divided has an opportunity to redraft the human rights agenda on the basis of the participation and equality of peoples. We can only hope that this second opportunity is not missed.
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openDemocracy is sponsoring The Convention on Modern Liberty which will be debating the threats to fundamental rights and freedoms in Britain