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Peace in Aceh

December 31st, 2005

The long-running guerilla war in the Indonesian province of Aceh is finally over. Indonesian troops (other than those recruited locally) have been withdrawn, and the military wing of the Free Aceh Movement has been disbanded and disarmed. The pointlessness of this long war was brought home to both sides by the catastrophic tsunami a year earlier, which killed 170 000 people and forced everyone to co-operate in rescue and rebuilding.

Sadly, a similar impetus towards peace in Sri Lanka, appears to have faded. And of course the slaughter just goes on in places like Iraq and Darfur.

Overall, though, it’s Aceh that is representative of the trend. The number and severity of wars and conflicts has declined greatly since the end of the Cold War.

It would be a salutory effort to look over the wars, revolutions and civil strife of the last sixty years and see how many of the participants got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation. Given the massively negative-sum nature of war, I suspect the answer is “Few, if any”.

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  1. December 31st, 2005 at 20:30 | #1

    I’m sure JQ was just as sanguine about the Sinhalese initiatives in their day. He’s been told before, but he just won’t learn and keeps indulging in this angels fear to tread stuff. Without going so far as to impute the other half of that old saying to him, I will say – to misquote P.G.Wodehouse – that he is as foul an optimist as ever bit a tiger.

    But I just don’t see why he doesn’t get any cognitive dissonance from cases like Sri Lanka, which show that this sort of initiative is far too early a point to declare victory. He really doesn’t see any discrepancy between what he reports in his second paragraph and the almost Bush-like triumphalism of his first paragraph. I hope he never has to learn the hard way – and that he is never in a situation to do anything to make others learn the hard way. (My father had a high opinion of Conor Cruise O’Brien until he got involved in the Congo – my father found out the hard way.)

  2. December 31st, 2005 at 22:02 | #2

    The short answer is “impossible to know”. What would the outcome have been gfor Aceh without the fighting before the negotiations? Who could possibly tell, the two are inextricably intertwined facts of history.

    Would the people of Aceh have done better to have negotiated rather than fought, would the govt of Indonesia have bothered to listen to them?

  3. jquiggin
    December 31st, 2005 at 22:29 | #3

    PML, rather than simply claiming, routinely, that everything is worse than it looks, maybe you’d like to respond to the statistical evidence quoted in the linked article by Mack.

    And rather than imputing views to me, why don’t you use the search facility. You’ll find that my comment a year ago actually erred on the pessimistic side regarding Aceh and was correctly gloomy regarding Sri Lanka.

    John H. do you really think 15 000 deaths and 30 years of war are justified by the achievement of a slightly higher level of provincial autonomy (which was what they got)? On this basis, an Australian civil war would look like a pretty good idea every time COAG broke up without agreement.

  4. December 31st, 2005 at 22:31 | #4

    JQ —

    Your last paragraph ignore the fact that negotiation requires two parties, not one. It may be that, on average, violence yields no better result than would “negotiation and peaceful agitation”. But just how do you get the other side to sit down at the negotiating table when they do not even acknowledge your right to negotiate? The African National Congress, for example, was formed in 1912, and only adopted a strategy of violence after 50 years of unsuccessful attempts at negotiation. Their experiences included being charged in 1956 with treason (penalty: the death sentence) for peaceful agitation. A similar story applies to ZANU and ZAPU, Frelimo, SWAPO, the MPLA, KANU, the IRA, the PLO. In each case, the other side has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the negotiating table, and the only way this has been achieved at all is through violence or the threat of violence.

    And this analysis ignores the violence and denial of human rights exercised by the other side, which (in the case of Southern Africa and Ireland, for example) preceeded any acts of violence by the parties seeking majority rule.

    There have been political movements engaged in terrorist violence which are not apparently fighting for any redeeming political agenda, and which have embarked on violence as a first rather than as a last resort: Peru’s Shining Path, the Khmer Rouge, and the Baader-Meinhof Gang come to mind. But these are exceptions rather than the rule.

  5. jquiggin
    December 31st, 2005 at 23:03 | #5

    You have a case with the ANC, Peter, but most of the other examples support my claim.

    To take the first example on your list, Peter, it’s far from clear that the supporters of ZANU (as opposed to the top leadership around Mugabe) have gained from armed struggle, and pretty clear that the supporters of ZAPU are worse off now than they were under Smith, being both much poorer and just as completely excluded from any share of power in a dictatorial regime.

    MPLA and its rivals (notably UNITA) were a disaster for the people of Angola, who would certainly have gained independence anyway once the dictatorship in Portugal collapsed.

    The IRA (I assume you refer to the Provos and not to the 1916 Rising) has achieved nothing except to turn NI over to rival groups of gangsters, of which it is the worst.

    And that’s before we get to the many outright failures, whose wars of liberation achieved nothing except to intensify repression.

  6. January 1st, 2006 at 01:02 | #6

    Well, I have to disagree with you, John, on every example you cite.

    I was referring to the original IRA.

    In Zimbabwe, the armed struggle of ZANU and ZAPU began in 1967 and ended with Zimbabwean Independence in 1980. With Indepedence, the supporters of both parties achieved full citizenship and voting rights, denied them before then. Both parties became part of the Government, along with two former ministers in the Smith regime. (Arguably, full equality only came about with the abolition of the reserved white seats in the House of Assembly in 1990.)

    The people of Zimbabwe may, now, 25 years later, be worse off economically than they were in 1980, and even perhaps worse off economically than they would have been had white minority rule persisted up to now. But I read your original post to be about violence to achieve political ends, not about what happens after these ends have been achieved. You appear to be arguing that a Zimbabwean, faced in 1967 with a choice of accepting minority rule or fighting against it, should consider what life will be like after 25 years of majority rule. But 1967 was only 44 years from the imposition of white self-government in Southern Rhodesia (in 1923), well within living memory, and so I venture that a majority of black citizens could well compare life before and after white rule, and the comparison would not have favoured Smith, even if only economic factors were considered.

    And on Angola, surely you know how surprising and sudden was the Portuguese coup of April 1975? Are you saying that the people of Angola should have put their hopes on sudden perestroika in the metropolitan centre, something which came as a surprise to most eveyone else? Not only does this seem an unreasonable request to ask of a subject people, it also ignores the influence that the lusophone liberation movements (MPLA, Frelimo, Fretilin) had on Portugal itself. The Portuguese dictatorship collapsed in large part because the middle ranking military officers had seen the evils of colonialism in their tours of duty defending the Portuguese empire, and saw the justice of the rebels’ case.

    (A similar case has been made for the impact, on politics at the centre, of war experience by the French military during Algeria’s war of independence, and by the Soviet military during Afghanistan.)

    In other words, armed struggle for Independence in Angola and Mozambique not only got the other side to the negotiating table, but ensured that the people on that other side were not unsympathetic to the aims of the resisters. Could a campaign of passive resistence have achieved this? I doubt it.

  7. January 1st, 2006 at 01:32 | #7

    JQ, I do not routinely claim things – I routinely reserve judgment until I actually know, and when I spot you jumping the gun I point out that you do so routinely (exceptions moted, but that does not disprove the routine).

    It’s part of the same puzzle that you routinely take my suggestions as pessimistic claims rather than as advice to reserve judgment, not leap before you look and so on.

    For what it’s worth, your generalisation about how things usually work out is wrong. Here are a couple of cases I spotted when I was comparatively young: East Pakistan as was, and Nicaragua. Both experienced major natural disasters, but did that make everyone get along fine afterwards? Did it hell. The Nicaraguan dictator was overthrown despite having tried to gain credit for releief efforts, and East Pakistan seceded. (I really can’t take “since the end of the cold war” as a meaningful period – look at how long intervals of comparative peace have been on other occasions.)

    Moral: natural disasters may lead to retiring and regrouping, but they don’t usually solve underlying problems. I suppose if the potato famine had killed enough Irish, that might have had enough of a silver lining to solve the land question, but is that really a good idea? (Whewell records an economist, perhaps Nassau Senior, deploring the insufficient mortality.)

  8. jquiggin
    January 1st, 2006 at 07:27 | #8

    PML, can you point to an instance where I’ve said something pessimistic and you’ve offered your routine advice to reserve judgement?

    In any case, I can’t see how a blog would work on the basis you suggest. A generic entry saying “It’s too early to tell”?

    Finally, I didn’t make a general claim that natural disasters promote peace. I suspect that, where there is a general trend towards peace, the “retiring and regrouping” you mention often leads to the recognition that long-standing disputes are in fact silly squabbles over nothing much.

  9. January 1st, 2006 at 08:41 | #9

    Just curious, but how to you break the vicious circles that seem locked in wherever tribalism, corruption and patronage systems are entrenched?

    We may not like it when politicians from the Opposing Party get into office but don’t riot in the streets because we know it won’t seriously harm us. In tribal societies (including New Jersey, USA where I grew up) everyone knows that everyone takes care of his own, and only his own–kin, tribesmates and family clients. Liberal cosmopolitans may hate the system but they know that most people are not liberal cosmopolitans, that the tribal/kinship/patronage system is in force, and that like it or not they and their families will be identified as Serbs, Croats or Bosnians, Kikuyus or Luos, Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds, etc. and that if competing tribes get into power they will be screwed.

    So, regardless of their liberal cosmopolitan personal committments, out of self-interest they have to vote–and when it comes to the crunch, fight–along tribal lines. So the system tribal patronage system perpetuates itself even where a substantial minority, or majority, of citizens are liberal cosmopolitans. I guess it’s a Prisoners’ Dilemma.

    Occasionally you get tribal coalitions when the local demogogue is just too awful–like the Rainbow Coalition in Kenya that got Moi out. But they’re fragile, the race/kinship/tribe card is still there to play, almost invariably will be played and then it’s back to business as usual.

    I’m posting this on your personal blog rather than Crooked Timber where I initially picked up this post because I’m dead curious about an answer to this puzzle. After growing up in a multicultural enclave where everyone was classified as Italian, Jewish, Polish, German, Dutch, etc. and where everyone out of rational self-interest bloc-voted for fellow tribesmen (or members of other tribes who cut deals with representatives of their own tribe) I spent my adult life in places where this dynamic didn’t figure significantly–an incredible relief. But how do you get from the tribal/patronage system to one where there’s more transparency, less corruption and patronage, where individuals don’t have such a big stake in getting their kin and tribesmates into power?

  10. January 1st, 2006 at 10:34 | #10

    JQ wrote: “The number and severity of wars and conflicts has declined greatly since the end of the Cold War.”

    Seems to basically parallel Francis Fukuyama’s thesis in “The End of History and the Last Man”

  11. jquiggin
    January 1st, 2006 at 12:04 | #11

    WbW, I’ve always thought Fukuyama was largely correct, though he overstated his case in a way that first helped to sell a lot of books then made it appear that he had been refuted by events.

    LogicGuru, I’ll need more time to think, but the question you raise is certainly an important one.

  12. conrad
    January 1st, 2006 at 12:52 | #12

    Perhaps the last 60 years were not a good example of what you can achieve via fighting for it, but we only know that in hindsight.

    There are two current examples of ongoing civil wars that come to mind where violence might help :

    1) The Karen in Burma. How far would they have got without violence ? (even in terms of international publicity for their cause)

    2) The Maoist rebels in Nepal. If it wasn’t for India helping the Nepalese monarchy/dictatorship, these guys might have won already.

  13. January 1st, 2006 at 20:25 | #13

    The Aceh situation was in simple terms a conflict between a secular state (Jakarta) imposing control over a region (at least in terms of the rebels) who wanted to impose a sharia based system.

    Its a decade long conflict in Islamic countries, and appears to only be intensifying. Eg take a look at the attempts by the Arab League to get the Danish government to have the Jyllands-Posten newspaper remove its cartoons supposedly offending Mohammed.


  14. January 1st, 2006 at 23:21 | #14

    John H. do you really think 15 000 deaths and 30 years of war are justified by the achievement of a slightly higher level of provincial autonomy (which was what they got)?

    It’s certainly not a pretty outcome but it’s still better than the diddly squat that would have been the outcome via “negotiation and peaceful agitation” with the Suharto and successor regimes.

    Of course, if it had been known in advance that the dictatorship in Jakarta would one day fall, then the Acehnese might not have chosen armed struggle thirty years ago. Retrospective hindsight is a wonderful thing and all that.

  15. January 1st, 2006 at 23:24 | #15

    My point is that the Acehnese were forced to fight for their place at the negotiating table.

  16. January 2nd, 2006 at 05:13 | #16

    John Hardy: My point also, regarding every case I mentioned earlier.

    I know of only two examples of a political group holding power and voluntarily entering negotiations to give that power away without the weaker side having to undertake or threaten violence: the independence of Norway from Sweden in 1905, and the velvet divorce in Czechoslovakia after the fall of Communism. In both these cases, the two societies were (and are still) closely inter-connected and inter-married; maybe having cousins and in-laws on the other side of the table makes one more willing to negotiate.

    Not only is the argument for passive resistance unrealistic (since violence or its threat is the only way to get the powerful side to the table), it is also morally repugnant. Telling an oppressed people to wait until their oppressors are willing to talk things over I think is patronising.

  17. jquiggin
    January 2nd, 2006 at 06:38 | #17

    “I know of only two examples of a political group holding power and voluntarily entering negotiations to give that power away without the weaker side having to undertake or threaten violence: the independence of Norway from Sweden in 1905, and the velvet divorce in Czechoslovakia after the fall of Communism.”

    There are many more examples involving peaceful transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and the end of colonial rule in many countries. To take the most obvious examples at hand, Australia was once a British colony and is now an independent nation. Indonesia was a dictatorship and is now a democracy. I could list a dozen examples in each category without any effort, and many more if I made a systematic effort.

    To respond directly to John Hardy, do you think the gains the Acehnese made at the negotiating table (a higher level of autonomy than other Indonesian provinces) were worth the thirty years of war and 15 000 dead it took to get there?

    Coming to the “retrospective hindsight” issue in relation to the collapse of dictatorships, withdrawal of colonial powers and so on, it’s been raised several times as if this is a special case. The whole point of the argument is that dictatorships eventually collapse under their own weight, and that it is better to work peacefully towards this outcome than to engage in armed struggle. This is perhaps more obvious now than it was forty years ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that the advocates of armed struggle have backed the wrong horse.

  18. conrad
    January 2nd, 2006 at 08:44 | #18

    Why just include groups fighting for democracy ?

    If you include groups fighting for something else, then you have a much more decent selection of winners — some of which changed the world as we know it, like the Chinese Communist Party.

  19. Paul Kelly
    January 2nd, 2006 at 08:51 | #19

    Afraid I have to agree with the (slightly pompous) PML. As the Achenese have been trying to shake free from Indonesia (or Dutch East Indies) since way before Indonesian Independence, and bits of paper don’t mean much, the most realistic assumption is that the fighting will continue … at some stage.

  20. January 2nd, 2006 at 10:08 | #20

    In response to John’s examples of peaceful transition from colonial rule to self-government: The various British colonies (Australia, Canada et al) got our self-government after a war was fought for independence in what is now the USA. The British came to the negotiating tables in their other colonies because violence had been successfully used against them in North America, and (with a later generation in charge of Britain) they realized that taxation without representation was not a position they could sustain. So I don’t think any former British colony qualifies as evidence for the peaceful transition argument you make, but rather as evidence against it.

    And, the settlers in the Australian colonies had to agitate and lobby London immensely even just to get elected assemblies. No power was given voluntarily, all had to be taken.

  21. jquiggin
    January 2nd, 2006 at 10:19 | #21

    “So I don’t think any former British colony qualifies as evidence for the peaceful transition argument you make, but rather as evidence against it.”

    This seems an extreme stretch to me. After all, the American colonies achieved independence before most of the others were even occupied. But, I agree, most countries and groups that have reached the conclusion that war is futile have been taught by bitter experience and not by the light or reason.

    “And, the settlers in the Australian colonies had to agitate and lobby London immensely even just to get elected assemblies. No power was given voluntarily, all had to be taken.”

    We’re now back at my starting point. Peaceful but vigorous agitation worked in this case.

    In any case, looking forward, we now have all the examples we need and can therefore learn the correct lessons from them.

  22. Hal9000
    January 2nd, 2006 at 10:21 | #22

    The posts thus far have focused, as Prof Q’s original did, on the ‘rebels’ ie those taking up arms against authority, and the gains made in the end. I think to make sense of armed ‘liberation’ struggles the focus needs to be on the authority and how it mediates conflict. In most of the cases discussed so far, authority regarded the subject peoples with contempt and reacted with extreme violence to any suggestion of public disagreement with official policy. In the context of theft (call it exploitation without compensation if that suits you better) of natural resources and/or labour by authority or associated interests, something eventually has to give. Manifestly unjust policy imposed violently on a whole people is like a pressure cooker, where violent resistance is the safety valve.

    Provided authority is determined (and well resourced) enough, the situation can go on for a long time. Britain held down India with violence and famine for a century and a half. The Spartan enslavement of the Mycaeneans went on for centuries, although eventually the helots overthrew their war-weakened warrior-owners. Israel shows no sign whatever of lifting the occupation of the Palestinians or of being prepared to negotiate a withdrawal to the Green Line after half a century.

    In short, while the costs (economic, social and psychological) of maintaining a system through violent oppression are less than the perceived benefits of recognising the legitimacy of the other side through negotiation, there will be no negotiation. Violent struggle puts a significant cost burden on authority – other (perhaps unrelated) costs may also impel authority to seek negotiation.

    In Aceh we had a disaster wrecking among other things the infrastructure needed to maintain military oppression – notably roads – and the bright light of international media scrutiny suddenly focused on this forgotten corner of the Indonesian archipelagic empire. The Acehnese rebels were the least affected by the disaster because they were hiding in huts in the mountains. Had the Indonesian authority sought to continue its longstanding policies, it could have faced military reversals that in the face of international scrutiny would have seriously destabilised imperial rule in other restive corners of the archipelago. The costs suddenly outweighed the benefits derived from exploiting the province’s resources for the enrichment of the army, the Suharto family and their various cronies. The Acehnese deal may not look like the maximal demands of GAM for the return of the Sultanate, but it secures 2 central demands – withdrawal of the army and control over resources. The Indonesial authority had to make it look like small beer so that the real magnitude of the defeat did not reverberate elsewhere in the archipelago. A large element in the longevity of the Indonesian kleptocracy has been its ability to cloak its atrocities from the western media – with the active connivance of US and Australian intelligence agencies. Remember this was a regime born, in an horrific parody of Botticelli, out of an ocean of blood – it would be difficult to separate Suharto and Pol Pot as the worse genocidaire.

  23. Hal9000
    January 2nd, 2006 at 10:32 | #23

    Oops, hit the send button in error. I was just going to conclude by saying that I agree with Prof Q’s central point that war ruins all its participants. A successful violent struggle necessarily involves its leadership as well as its foot-soldiery in atrocities. By the time victory has been achieved, as Mugabe eloquently exemplifies, the leadership is usually debauched.

    One last quibble, however. UNITA in Angola was established, armed and funded by the South African and US intelligence services. It more closely resembled a Liberian or Sierra Leonian militia than a liberation army, and Savimbi a warlord not a national resistance leader. it was an artifact of the cold war, as was its Mozambique equivalent RENAMO.

  24. jquiggin
    January 2nd, 2006 at 10:55 | #24

    Actually, I think UNITA started out as a legitimate group, lost out to MPLA in the post-independence struggle, then turned to the US and South Africa for backing. Wikipedia seems to back this.

  25. Hal9000
    January 2nd, 2006 at 11:28 | #25

    I stand corrected! To be sure, MPLA and its counterparts also found ready backers in Moscow and Beijing also. There are no Platonic ideals of national liberation struggles… even the American revolutionaries were supported by the French who wished to inconvenience their British imperial rivals.

  26. Katz
    January 2nd, 2006 at 11:30 | #26

    “The number and severity of wars and conflicts has declined greatly since the end of the Cold War.”

    This is undoubtedly true, although it is only fifteen years since the Cold War ended. And it could be said that the Cold War began in 1918 and thus lasted (with a hiatus between 1941 and 1945) for more than 70 years. Therefore its a bit soon to be definitve about this observation.

    There are at least two major reasons for the violence of the later Cold War era.

    1. Communist powers underwrote and supported violent movements.

    2. Many colonised peoples wanted to get rid of their colonial overlords, who were not keen to leave.

    The absurdity of the US misadventure in Vietnam was the assumption that communist support precluded the possibility of independent nationalism.

    Whatever, traditional European-style colonialism is over. So no more nationalist movements.

    So why may it be too early to proclaim “the end of history”?

    1. Pax Americana has never really existed, and US attempts to impose it have provided motives for other interests (Russia, China, India and perhaps even Japan) to construct alternative centres of power. Oil politics in Central Asia, for example, are the opening moves in this realignment of forces.

    2. Islamism is likely to become more firmly entrenched in Central Asia, just as it is becoming more entrenched in Iraq since the removal of Saddam. This is beyond the ability of the US or any other combination of powers to control by military or quasi-military means. Surrogacy is the only workable method. And surrogacy often means civil violence. This is power politics as usual. So no end of history.

    Recent developments in Latin America, where democracy has paved the way for the rise of anti-Americanism, serves as the model for coming events in Central Asia — a heady mixture of democracy and illiberalism.

    I predict a bullish future for the manufacturers of AK47s.

  27. Z
    January 2nd, 2006 at 21:27 | #27

    I wholeheartedly agree with you John that “vigorous but peaceful agitation” is by far the most effective means of achieving liberation or social change of any kind (I don’t doubt for a second, for instance, that non-violent agitation could terminate israeli occupation very quickly). From a cost/benefit analysis point of view, the discussion is easy. From a moral point of view, however, I would say that the most important question is “Does the stronger side allow the weaker side to adopt the peaceful alternative?” and if not “What can be done to compell it to do so?”. It is my impression that the answer to this question would be a clear no in most historical cases (France in Algeria and Indochina to provide clear examples).

    It also seems to me that the way you phrased your question is peculiar, to say the least. Any successful resort to force (or even the threat of it) is an example of what you are looking for, isn’t it? Take any successful invasion. It can be argued that the initiators “got an outcome […] better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation” since presumably they would have obtained nothing through peaceful negociation. Maybe this ceases to be true if we choose to identify the people actually fighting (and dying) to conquer a territory with those that will benefit from it, but that seems extremely spurious to me. To substantiate what I write, I believe the US governement “got an outcome better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation” in the Iraq invasion, same with France with respect to its numerous criminal interventions in Africa. Or take any situation where the stronger side adopts the old athenian stance against Melos (that the weak suffer what they must). I believe Australia “got an outcome (taking account of war casualties and so on) better than the worst they could conceivably have obtained through negotiation and peaceful agitation” with respect to the exploitation of natural resources on the coastlines of East Timor. I could go on with dozen of examples.

  28. January 2nd, 2006 at 22:23 | #28

    Hal9000 says: “By the time victory has been achieved, as Mugabe eloquently exemplifies, the leadership is usually debauched. “

    It is possible that Mugabe was debauched at Zimbabwean Independence in 1980, but I think all the evidence is against this. Mugabe’s early post-Independence policies were considered wise and tempered by most observers, including western Governments, who showered him with aid and praise. He adopted a policy of inter-racial reconciliation; he refused to allow retaliation for white war crimes (in contrast to the vengeful policy adopted by the Kohl Government after German unification); he did not nationalize white-owned farms or companies; indeed, he allowed free market entry in many areas which the Smith Government had controlled (eg, meat processing); he dramatically raised the purchasing price of crops which peasant farmers grew, thereby creating an immediate boom in farm output; he liberalized the censorship laws; he did not sack civil servants from the previous regime (as any incoming US administration does); he even introduced religious education into state schools, something the supposedly christian Smith Government never did. None of these actions are those of a debauched or ruthless dictator, and, by all accounts, all followed debate within his multi-racial, multi-party Cabinet.

    It is to be remembered, also, that throughout the first few years of Zimbabwean Independence, the country suffered bomb attacks by disgruntled whites and military raids from South Africa, including the cold-blooded murder of the ANC representative in Salisbury (as it then still was) by South African agents, bombing of the first arch built to celebrate Indepedence, and destruction by planted bombs of the country’s air force. Mugabe’s tempered and gradualist policies received great provocation in this period.

    This is not to justify the evil he has perpetrated since, but to note that few reasonable people considered Mugable or his Government evil in 1980-1981. Any fair assessment of the utility of armed struggle vs. peaceful resistance in Zimbabwe would come down firmly on the side of armed struggle, if the assessment was done in 1980-81.

  29. January 2nd, 2006 at 22:32 | #29

    JQ — A few comments back you cite Indonesia as an example of a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy. I guess this assessment depends on when you think the struggle began. Last time I checked, I believe there about 500,000 people killed in struggling against dictatorship in Indonesia, just in 1965.

  30. jquiggin
    January 3rd, 2006 at 05:31 | #30

    While the pretext of the mass murder in 1965 was an attempted Communist coup, many of those killed (as usual) were innocent of any political involvement.

    Still, this instance certainly seems to be a prominent example of the futility of violence.

  31. Hal9000
    January 3rd, 2006 at 05:44 | #31

    The attempted coup story has always looked pretty suss to me. The military officers slain in the alleged coup just happened to be those loyal to Sukarno and who could have kept the soldiery on a leash. The CIA was on the ground bankrolling Suharto and had recent form in the assassination of Diem in Vietnam. Compare and contrast also the assassination of the head of the Chilean military shortly before the Pinochet coup. If the PKI were plotting a coup, why were its cadres so ill-prepared, as against the genocidaires who were all too prepared? Cui bono?

  32. January 3rd, 2006 at 22:32 | #32

    JQ, I’m all for your putting forward your own optimism, I’m just against your asserting that it’s all over when we should all appreciate by now that there is a way to hell even from the gates of heaven. This article acknowledges as much in the case of Aceh, though not in those words.

    What I’d prefer to see is your stating your hope, but not falling uncritically into the trap of supposing it’s already realised. I’ll give an example of my learning about these things myself, when I was growing up. I was in the UK, and I had just realised that if I was agreeing with the Daily Express so much, given that I didn’t yet know everything, then the odds were that they were being shallow themselves. Then along came some “good news” from Africa. A particularly unpleasant dictator had just been overthrown non-violently, by a coup while he was out of the country. Most British papers acclaimed this as positive, but one (I forget which) acclaimed it as full of hope, but pointed out as a note of caution that recent African experience had shown that things could always get worse.

    I took their note of caution to heart, particularly since I had myself had direct experience of Africa to compare it with. It was a sound judgment. The overthrown dictator was Milton Obote, and his replacement was Idi Amin.

    So I suppose I’m suggesting that you be less like the Daily Express and more like the other newspaper, expressing your hopes but not confusing the early signs of them with actual attainments.

    On the “general trend” business, I wasn’t getting at that just there, just showing how you couldn’t infer a silver lining of this sort from this particular natural disaster (late 2004’s Tsunami). On the matter of general trends, I was only trying to show that in this area we just don’t have anything like enough to draw out any solid trends.

    As for people seeing that they were fighting over nothing, well, very often they aren’t – it’s merely nonsense according to certain sets of values, but utterly rational in their own terms. It would often be rational in ours as well, if only we knew the whole story (think how so many Americans suppose that the Palestinians were offered everything they could reasonably want, and merely turned it down irrationally). It’s not a peculiarly American failing, it’s what happens to anybody who counts chickens before they are hatched or otherwise assumes results in advance.

    I just don’t like to see you suffering like this from premature expostulation.

  33. January 3rd, 2006 at 22:47 | #33

    Oh, I tend to get “pompous” and long winded when I am struggling hard to avoid being painfully blunt. I don’t think I need to with the following stuff.

    The Portuguese domestic opposition to colonialism did indeed get going and powerful in the middle class professional group. But this wasn’t because their consciences had been triggered, it was because Portugal had a double-dip conscription system that caught professionals in early middle age to supply more than just cannon fodder for the colonial struggle (I’ve researched this a bit, and in fact I mention it in an article I wrote for the Australia Defence Association which I have up at my publications page).

    India’s involvement in the Himalayan Kingdoms isn’t aimed at propping them up, except temporarily for strategic buffer reasons. It’s aimed at assimilating them, just as it did Sikkim and those princely states that opted not to join it at independence. India happens to prefer a softly softly approach, with infiltrators and suchlike, but will resort to violent means if others fail. Goa also comes under this heading.

    JQ is being over optimistic about British peaceful decolonisation. It was hurried under US diplomatic pressure and post-1945 economic pressure, and the earlier plans – including Canada and Australia – were for a sort of super-Nato with effective autonomy making the units self funding. That’s also why responsible self government was urged on Australasian colonies faster than they actually sought it. And, of course, Britain had learned lessons from the American rebels (that taxation without representation was red herring – some always wanted independence, and the rest just didn’t want taxation and hung what they thought was a good excuse on their demands). There was lobbying in London, but not over the principle, it was over the particular form things should take (including how many concealed strings were to be attached, of course).

  34. Paul Arrighi
    January 4th, 2006 at 10:16 | #34

    Peter Says:

    January 2nd, 2006 at 10:08 am
    In response to John’s examples of peaceful transition from colonial rule to self-government: The various British colonies (Australia, Canada et al) got our self-government after a war was fought for independence in what is now the USA.

    Peter is wrong here, Britain started using Australia as a penal colony because they lost the USA in the War of Independence. Britain needed a new place to send their convicts with the US no longer an option. Australia is an excellent example of peaceful transition from colonial rule to self government.

    Alternately, Hawaiians have been struggling to restore their government since 1893 when the USA overthrew the Hawaiian government to gain control of Pearl Harbor and protect the business interests of 5 Americans. Shortly after the overthrow, 90% of the population of Hawaii signed a petition opposing the overthrow and the US government ignored it. The Hawaiian struggle continues today, at present the Akaka Bill (which seeks to grant Hawaiians the same recognition as the Native Americans) has been continually stalled in the US congress for 5 years, despite the Clinton administrations apology for the overthrow.

    In this context, a war would have more likely have produced a faster outcome for the Hawaiians to regain their independence.

  35. Hal9000
    January 4th, 2006 at 11:54 | #35

    More on Savimbi…

    My recollection about the CIA setting up an ‘independence’ movement in Angola is partly correct – it wasn’t UNITA, which had a largely tribal/regional base centred around the diamond resources of Angola, but FNLA. The two became united after the MPLA declared itself the national government in 1975. Savimbi ended up, as I correctly stated, as a warlord funded and personally enriched by the illicit diamond trade. Repeated UN-brokered deals with the MPLA national government collapsed in the main because Savimbi was reluctant to part with the fabulous wealth he and his cronies derived from the diamond trade.



  36. Ian Gould
    January 4th, 2006 at 13:54 | #36

    >It is possible that Mugabe was debauched at Zimbabwean Independence in 1980, but I think all the evidence is against this. Mugabe’s early post-Independence policies were considered wise and tempered by most observers, including western Governments…

    Those “wise and tempered” policies included turning loose his North Korean trained elite units on his political opponents and the ethnic groups that supported them causing far more casualties than in his recent land appropriation campaign.

    I’m sure the west’s muted response to this had nothing to do with his victims back then being black Marxists rather than white capitalists.

  37. January 4th, 2006 at 19:06 | #37

    Ian — You did not read my post carefully enough. I referred to Mugabe’s policies in 1980-81. The Army’s North-Korean trained 5th Brigade was only loosed upon Matabeleland in 1982, AFTER ZAPU Ministers had been dismissed from the Government, and AFTER Joshua Nkomo, ZAPU’s leader, had admitted in a press conference that he had sought South African help to stage a coup against the Mugabe Government while he was a Minister.

  38. January 4th, 2006 at 21:38 | #38

    Ian said: I’m sure the west’s muted response to this had nothing to do with his victims back then being black Marxists rather than white capitalists.

    I don’t think the majority of people killed or maltreated in Zimbabwe by the 5th Brigade were Marxists. They were supporters of ZAPU, which had been aligned with and funded by the Soviet Union, but nobody seriously considered ZAPU would have adopted Marxist policies if it had been in power. They were a traditional, Big-Man, African political party, and a Zimbabwe led by Nkoma and ZAPU would have looked similar to Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda or Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta — corrupt, crony-capitalist, and with a gradual loss of civil rights.

    However, I agree that the West’s muted response was indeed strange, given that, at the time (1982), Britain was led by Margaret Thatcher and the US by Ronald Reagan. At Zimbabwean Independence, the domestic intelligence-gathering section of the Zimbabwean Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), led by Ken Flower (who had also led it under Smith), was re-organized into two groups — one monitoring South African activities within Zimbabwe and the other watching Soviet activities. The Soviets were not permitted to open an embassy in Zimbabwe for a couple of years after Independence. There was no monitoring of American or British activities by the CIO because, as Flower himself once told me, the Mugabe Government did not believe that the USA or the UK posed any threat to Zimbabwe.

    Perhaps relatedly, Mrs Thatcher’s Government was providing aid and military training to the Mozambiquean army, led by Frelimo, which was then still a Marxist party. Some of this military training of Mozambicans took place in Zimbabwe — in Manicaland, the same region of the country where ruthless North Korean armed judokas were training the 5th Brigade.

    While a conspiracy theorist could have field day with this, it is worth noting that the West’s muted response to Mugabe’s atrocities in Matabeleland in 1982-83 led him to think he could get away with anything, and that no one would protest much if he deliberately emiserated his country to stay in power. I guess he calculated right on that one.

  39. January 5th, 2006 at 01:00 | #39

    Since 1945, the British approach to granting independence has always been like the used car salesman who, knowing that a particular car has a defective reverse gear, parks it so it won’t have to reverse during manoeuvres to get out of his yard. Problems thereafter don’t come under his notice, any more than patients who die at home after early release from hospital make the hospital mortality statistics. Independence was always done well, but viability wasn’t a priority. Think coffin ship.

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