27 July 2008

Cease-fire in Korea lives on

Back in the dark ages of my youth (read: about three years ago), I wrote up a paper analyzing why it took more than two years of wrangling to get a cease-fire drawn up to end the Korean War. That document was signed, finally, 55 years ago today, but the process had begun -- initiated by the Soviets, ironically -- in 1951 before the conflict was even a year old.

The standard argument I found at the time (read this for a good example, I have yet to read a more recent account that may find otherwise) was that negotiating over the exchange of prisoners of war was an exceptionally contentious point. Generally, POW exchanges are all-for-all, but it was well known that North Korean and Chinese forces had impressed men into service during both of their major advances into the South, and those on the United Nations side thought it would be improper to return combatants to a country that had not willingly fought for. A rather elaborate evaluation scheme was eventually set up, though it was never carried out quite properly. Anyhow, that score settled, the fighting could be ended. Or so the story goes.

My thesis, though, is that the domestic political situation within the U.S. slow eddown the talks. President Truman and his State Department were on the defensive against Senator Joseph McCarthy's rampant accusations of communist infiltration in the government. After the "fall" of China in the late 1940s, State's East Asia bureau came under particular assault. Militarily speaking, an end to the Korean War that maintained the status quo antebellum was about the best that could be hoped for, as Chinese forces dramatically outnumbered UN forces, in spite of the latter's technical superiority. Without going nuclear, stalemate was about the best that could be acheived. But Truman and his crew realized that by throwing in the towel, they would be seen as being weak on communism at a time when that was a politically lethal charge. They raised the prisoner of war issue, then, as firm stance against returning "free" people (Syngmhan Rhee's South Korea was hardly unoppressive) to the "slavery" of the communist North.

Immediately after his election to the presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower took a pre-inauguration trip to Korea to meet with commanders and see the situation for himself. His belief that the war needed to end was confirmed by the trip, and he said so publicly, which infuriated Truman. By early 1953, too, McCarthy was losing influence, and Eisenhower made it clear to the Senator that as President, he would tolerate no baseless attacks on his administration. Thus with Eisenhower's ascent, the political space was created to actually sign a deal (various drafts similar to the final piece had circulated for some time).

Of course, the "political parley" to take place following the cease-fire never ocurred, and on paper anyway, the official war continues, the demilitarized zone is still enforced, and fighting could theoretically resume at a moment's notice. There are positive signs, though, that progress can be made, as sustainable peace (contrary to some observers) this most definitely is not.

Curious Approach to Development in Liberia

BET founder Robert L. Johnson's plan to build a luxury hotel in Liberia strikes me as a particularly strange approach to post-conflict development. On one hand, his assessment that providing would be investors with a posh place to sleep will probably help convince them to spend their money in Liberia is probably not far off the mark. Yet on the other hand, this project probably won't do much for Liberians in the area of the hotel.

Arguments against the project would probably include the following:
  • Yes, it will create short-term construction jobs, but long-term will likely only offer a relatively small number of low-paying service jobs, which won't do much to foster economic growth.
  • Think of how many schools that could be built and wells that could be dug with $8 million.
  • Isn't it just downright offensive to build a place that luxurious that is surrounded by so much poverty?
Then again, maybe he's onto something here. No, this project may not in itself do much to boost the Liberian economy, and because it will employ mostly service workers, won't do a whole lot to boost educational and thus economic achievement in the surrounding area. Then again, jobs are still hard to come by in Liberia, and people will probably take what they can get. Furthermore, as an exceptionally wealthy corporate executive himself, Johnson probably knows how to entertain his peers. He may be quite correct in his belief that without a nice place to stay, would-be investors would never come for a visit, and thus probably would spend their money and build their projects in other countries. Is this, then, a backdoor approach to development, or is it just the precursor to the development of another Western enclave in a non-Western country -- self-contained and disinterested in its surroundings? Time will tell, but one can only hope it works.

25 July 2008

Shameless plug: Go read Practical Peaceniks

Yesterday some friends and I launched Practical Peaceniks, a new blog aimed at "promoting peace with a bent towards reality." I definitely encourage you to check it out and subscribe via whatever medium you prefer.

I'll still be blogging here too, and as you might have noticed, I'm trying to get back into the swing of posting regularly. So look forward to more of my rants, now with two homes.

24 July 2008

A too familiar storyline

Yesterday's IRIN article, "Homophobia fuelling the spread of HIV," outlines an eerily familiar course of events surrounding HIV transmission rates among African men who have sex with men (MSM).

To be blunt, the situation sounds remarkably like that in the United States in the 1980s, right down to the criminalization of gay sex part. You have governments that don't act (though admittedly most African states lack the public health resources the U.S. had even 20 years ago), politicians who don't care, and a small but fierce group of activists trying hard to make a dent in the problem.

In short, the story was tragic in this country then (and still is), and the same is true in Africa and elsewhere. It's times like these when the international development community could probably make some significant impacts, but seems disinterested. Somebody prove me wrong. Please.

Minor crow eating

So remember last week how I got all uppity about the ridiculousness of planning the presidential transition while the campaign was still ongoing?

Apparently I underestimated the Obama monolith.

[Hat Tip: Passport]

23 July 2008

Welcome to Practical Peaceniks!

You have stumbled upon the Web's newest voice discussing promoting peace, justice and understanding in the world. But we're not your ordinary peaceniks, we're the Practical Peaceniks. We realize that building peace is like building a house, and you have to start with the foundation. In a world where there are usually at least 60 armed conflicts going on at any one time, we realize that the road to peace is challenging, and frought with difficult -- even unpleasant -- decisions. Yes, we may sing a little Kum-bah-ya every now and again, but we also recognize that singing with warlords probably won't get many negotiators very far. We are pragmatists with a purpose, and that's why we're the Practical Peaceniks.

This blog was conceived by five graduates of the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University's School of International Service. We each come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives on what a peaceful world looks like, and how we get there. In time, we might add some other voices, but for now, your contributors are:

Over the coming weeks, months, and years, we will be sharing our views on peace and conflict issues and events throughout the world. Each week we'll also provide an in-depth look at a particular issue that we think is worthwhile and perhaps doesn't garner much attention in other spheres. Diana got us off to a great start yesterday, and we hope you'll join us in our conversation as we move forward. We hope you'll enjoy the ride as much as we will.

22 July 2008

I leave town for 36 hours

... And all this happens.

On the first thing, good. About time. Curious to see if he makes it to The Hague though.

On the second thing, I'm not holding my breath.

And on the third thing, I'm wondering what happens next, as this is a thing I don't know much about but has piqued my interest.

18 July 2008

The media and torture

This morning I was glumly reading the NYT's article about the Hamdan case moving forward (an issue which I won't weigh in on as I lack sufficient knowledge of the relevant laws) when I stumbled upon this lovely gem of a quote in the bit covering former attorney general John Ashcroft's testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday:
“I don’t know of any acts of torture that have been committed,” [Ashcroft] said, adding that all the techniques fell within legally approved guidelines, including waterboarding, in which water is poured into the mouth and nose to produce a feeling of drowning.
My beef isn't with Ashcroft's denial of authorizing or know about acts of torture taking place -- that's to be expected from current and former members of the Sleaze Administration. What bothers me is the part that goes "to produce a feeling of drowning."

Let's be clear, waterboarding doesn't cause "a feeling of drowning." It actually entails drowning someone, hopefully stopping before someone has actually fully drowned, and is thus deceased. How many more journalists have to volunteer to get waterboarded (Christopher Hitchens being the most recent example) and how many more videos of 16-year-old kids held at Guantanamo do we have to release before the media actually stops believing whatever horse swill Bush and company throw at them?

Maybe this person will be a helpful critic of this kind of crap. Time will tell.

17 July 2008

Is the world really that scary?

The NYT ran a curious op-ed this morning by Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, formerly of the 9/11 Commission, calling for a complete rethink/reallignment of the current presidential transition process (to the extent that any real process exists). While the idea of having presidential nominees line up people for key national security posts before they've won the election, and having those people be given access to lots of sensitive information well before November sounds nice at first blush, I wonder if the proposal is worthwhile or even plausible.

Candidates at this juncture are rightly concerned with campaigning. To be able to name their future cabinets in the summer before the election, they would have to expend incredible resources and take time off the trail, when they should be meeting with the American people writ-large, and not a few bright national security and foreign policy luminaries. Both McCain and Obama had difficult primary campaigns to endure, and it just doesn't strike me as realistic that they could name a whole slate of people for cabinet posts when it takes a few months just to identify a running mate. This is not to say that presidential candidates shouldn't think about who their final teams should be -- indeed, their campaigns likely reflect the inner circle that will follow into an administration -- but the timing may not be right. Further, is it a good idea to name the cabinet early on, and thus create bad blood among those who might be useful for the campaign?

The other major question I have about the proposal is whether or not it's smart to be doling out sensitive information to two potential National Security Councils before the election takes place. While I'm no fan of the Bush administration's secretive policies, at the same time there is some intelligence information out there that is rightly distributed to a limited audience. It seems to me that the dangers of leaks and all the rest grows higher if you put highly politicized people (campaigning campaign advisors/cabinet members to be) into that fray.

I do agree, though, that key posts need to be filled early on, and that the Senate should confirm as many nominees as possible on January 20. Yet doesn't this usually happen? Have we ever really gone weeks without a Secretary of State or Defense in recent memory?

The proposal has good ideas, I guess, but is maybe a little too far removed from reality to be useful.

11 July 2008

Who knew clean water could be so easy?

This little tidbit yesterday caught my eye. Apparently scientists in Switzerland have discovered that you can get clean, drinkable water by simply sticking it in a bottle outside.

Ok, there's more to it than that. The bottle has to be clean, clear plastic, no larger than three liters. It needs lots of sunlight and heat, which can be enhanced by setting the bottle on a sheet of corrugated iron, steel or aluminum. The variable then is the amount of sun the bottle catches. The process can take anywhere from six to 48 hours.

Nonetheless, a fascinating development for development.

Sudan and the ICC

As expected, we learned today that the International Criminal Court will indeed bring charges of genocide against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. Part of me says "fantastic!" Yet my more pragmatic side thinks that the road ahead will be fraught with disaster.

For some far more detailed analysis than I could ever hope to provide, see this post by Alex de Waal over at Making Sense of Darfur. It includes a synthesis of the posts he solicited last month on what might happen if Bashir is indicted. Very much worth taking a look at.

We're all still monkeys

A friend of mine sent me this terribly fascinating piece today. Here's a quote to lure you in:
And although human males might not be inflexibly polygamous or come with bright red butts and six-inch canines designed for tooth-to-tooth combat, it was clear that our species had at least as much in common with the violent primates as with the gentle ones.
Basically, the author, Robert M. Sapolsky, tries to establish a biological history of peace and conflict in primates, including human beings. I'll admit to having been in the "we're the only beasts in the forest that line up and kill each other" camp, but have realized over time that's incorrect. Sapolsky goes on to explore not only instances of violence in different primate species, but also forms of conflict resolution, including this teaser line:
And then there is the sex.
The piece is long, but worth the read. It certainly casts a unique perspective on this whole peace business.

09 July 2008

About Jason

Jason currently works in the wonderful world of international education and exchange. He holds an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University, with a focus in peacebuilding in Sub-Saharan Africa. His graduate field work involved working on a community reconciliation project for Liberian refugees at the Buduburam camp in Ghana. Jason received his bachelor's degree in history and political science from Guilford College. He also has a long history in working with Model United Nations programs, and blogs at Is that a gavel in your pants?

Areas of interest:
  • Peace education
  • Peace operations
  • Promoting the rule of law
  • Refugees
  • Transitional justice and reconciliation