Editorial – Storms and floods, harbinger of multifaceted changes: While the US knows a very cold winter, Western Europe is hit by the ninth storm since 17 December 2013, each bringing destruction and floods in its wake. This shows first, in a somehow novel way, that so-called “rich and developed”countries can be relentlessly hit by what is most probably a consequence of climate change. Here we are faced with storms and related floods, but other types of extreme weather events could also occur. Second, these storms start giving us an idea of how this vulnerability will most probably have multifaceted and mammoth impacts.
Actually, this issue is far from being completely new. We have already underlined the high likelihood to see this issue coming to the fore in “A road to hell” and have explored with a scenario in The Chronicles of Everstate some of its potential impact (read 2018 – 2023 EVT – Complex catastrophes and following posts). Yet, monitoring undeniable indications (signals) that the problem is happening here and now is a novelty.
The polemic that the floods in the UK generated, as reported by the Huffington Post in “Foreign Aid Or Flood Relief?“, as well as the very heated debates we can read in the comments following the article, exemplifies what is also most probably at stake here: a potential redefinition of foreign policy, notably in its aid and development component, and a change of the normative setting presiding to the world order.
As more people are directly impacted in their everyday lives by climate change, they will expect their political authorities to ensure their security first. As the overall resources of the state will also be hit by extreme weather events (would it be only through a loss of economic activity, to say nothing of the net loss of wealth) and as public deficit are already straining public policies, cut will have to be made in budgets, and aid and development is a very likely target for this.
Actors benefiting and living from the old order, not only people receiving aid but also IGOs, NGOs, consultants, experts, specific businesses, etc. will most certainly fight not to see their livelihood dwindle, which means that we shall see heated ideological debates and polarization. Short of a miracle or real black swan event, maybe of a grey swan event (and making one happen would be a smart strategy for those living of aid and cooperation), it is most likely that they will lose this battle, as the mission of political authorities is to ensure the security of their citizens, not of other countries’ populations. For example, in democracies, people will vote for those who will offer solutions to their problems, not for those who promise to help far away people.
As a result, the humanitarian norms that have been embedded in the international system will most probably change, assuming they are not just abandoned, which in turn will have strong impact on the way to define and conduct international policy.
Meanwhile, this week is also rich with signals on lasting, spreading or renewed issues, such as tension in East Asia, doubts on global financial health and related economic issues, crisis in Ukraine, Greece, Bosnia, and now Venezuela, war in Syria, etc. This is almost “business as usual”, although the piling up of signals, week after week, shows escalation and global instability.
Editorial – A window of opportunity to regain some legitimacy? What do Hansen’s new study on the inanity of the current goals of the international community to mitigate climate change and the Council of Europe report regarding the terrible impact of austerity measures on European citizens have in common? The answer is legitimacy, or rather illegitimacy and is emphasized by Hansen: “We started this paper to provide a basis for legal actions against governments in not doing their jobs in protecting the rights of young people and future generations,” he said.” Governments and state or quasi-state administrations have lost a large part of their legitimacy, and by the actions and decisions that led to this dire situation have started a worrying vicious spiral: lack of legitimacy means that it is increasingly difficult to govern and thus to be efficient in ensuring the security of citizens, which in turns leads to even less legitimacy. If this spiral is not stopped at some point, then even Hansen’s goal could “relatively quickly” become obsolete: to take a legal action against a government demands to use the judicial system, which is also part of the system that is being increasingly delegitimized. More constructively, Hansen’s threat and the Council of Europe’s report, by openly, clearly and loudly saying what so many citizens think also open a window of opportunity for governments and states to start working towards reconstructing the legitimacy they have lost, which will also means confronting divergent interests… a difficult and challenging but also potentially mobilizing task.
Editorial – This week, three main themes stand out. They are unsurprising as we have been following them for a while, yet they show how difficult it may be to warn about an issue, i.e. to convince a client or an audience that a signal is neither noise nor anymore weak but strong (e.g. changes in the Middle-East for the U.S.), that warning may not be properly heard for self-interested reasons, but then with potentially more serious consequences (the crisis and legitimacy), and how (relatively) new signals may start emerging from older ones (e.g. Climate change, science and religion).
First of all, there is the Middle-East and the North-African region, which is definitely being redrawn, with an increasingly denounced blindness by the U.S. – which, of course, participates actively in the strategic evolution. I particularly recommend “Obama’s Middle East Debacle” by Michael Doran (Brookings). The uncertainties in Egypt and the increasingly worrying situation in Libya only add to the generalizing changes.
Then, we have the overall loss of legitimacy of the political elite and of governments that goes with the political aftermath of the financial crisis and the ongoing changes that were decided to answer it… despite ongoing beliefs that the crisis is over. This may well be the case, financially, both for a narrowing global class of happy few and for the enlarged, no less global, number of poor, as the two groups are now experiencing new opposite continuous realities. Yet, if the price to pay to obtain this new order was a loss of legitimacy, a new crisis, of a different kind, may well be looming, and the order may not last long.
Finally, there is climate change, extreme weather events, natural catastrophes and their multi-dimensional impacts, including – and this is where this week articles are so interesting – on the values and norms that are fundamentally legitimizing modernity, thus our political systems. The revival of religion versus, or maybe alongside, science is an important trend that should be integrated in our foresight and warning efforts, as a crucial factor.
Interestingly too, all of those themes interact and contribute to create the new strategic landscape in the making.
(see last update, 27 January 2014 for the Syrian Sunni Factions here - Note that major changes have taken place since the initial State of Play was written, hence reading also the update in crucial and 24 February 2014 for the Jihadis, here).
This post will be the last one that presents the current state of play and the five categories of actors fighting in and over Syria.
The rise of the two groups of factions presented below – the Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria and the Sunni extremist factions with a global jihadi agenda – as well as their mobilization power has been, first, eased by the protracted quality of the conflict and the despair it implied among Syrian people. It was then facilitated by the initial inability of the moderates to find support in the West, thus to demonstrate their power.
Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria
The first nexus is composed of more extreme Islamist groups – compared with those seen previously – and of “Nationalist Salafis” groups – to use Lund (2013:14) terminology, noting that scholar of Jihad in Syria, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi questions the very dichotomy between Nationalist Salafis and Jihadi Salafis (see below update 8 July).
(Updated 10 February 2014 – click here to reach the update directly) The Kurds in Syria have their own agenda, which will determine their actions. As the other Kurdish communities in the region, their priority is to create a semi-autonomous Kurdistan where they live, notably in the NorthEast of Syria. Kurdish enclaves in Syria can also be found around Jarabulus – North – and Afrin – Northwest, North of Aleppo (Tejel, 2009: xiii). As analyzed by Spyer, their recent history tells the Kurds in Syria that mastering their own destiny is the only way to live decently and according to their own way of life, thus benefiting for once from the bounty of their land, in terms of oil and crops (Spyer, March 9 2013). The Syrian Kurds’ objective was again reasserted by Sipan Hamo, commander-in-chief of the People’s Protection Committees or People’s Defense Units (YPG - the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish political force in Syria, see below), in a statement on 4 April 2013: “We will not bargain with any side at the expense of the Kurdish people.” (van Wilgenburg, April 5 2013, AlMonitor).
The Syrian Kurds have already achieved an important part of their goal as they are largely Continue reading →
Last week, we suggested that looking at a past protest movement, why it was born, how demonstrators mobilised and according to which space-time pattern, could help us understanding better what is happening nowadays in many countries. As the current protest movements spread, multiply and recur, it is most likely that we are faced with escalating situations. Understanding how political authorities, in the past, managed to stabilize a protest movement could shed light on the political decisions taken in the present. This knowledge gives us tools and indicators to assess and monitor various contemporary situations and evaluate their future dynamics.
Blind first response: escalating a protest movement
Then, the political authorities initial feedback actions occurred as soon as the movement appeared, in November 1915. They were not stabilising but escalating, as they did not end the protest but, on the contrary, increased it. Indeed, the answers dealt with only one part (the 1915 prestations) of the multiple motivations for escalation (all the issues that created the rising inequalities, as well as the related resentment and feelings of injustice), and were built upon the complete lack of understanding of the situation. They incorporated the belief in a potential plot, rather than considering the real causes for grievances.
This underlines that stabilising actions must be related to the reasons for escalation, and adds that partial solutions are not stabilising. It thus emphasises the crucial importance of understanding and the difficulty to obtain a realistic analysis when one is prey to biases and when one does not have time to reflect but must act immediately.
Stabilisation phase 1: Listening and immediate feasible redress
The first phase of the stabilising actions was to increase the authority’s understanding of the ‘opposition’ and of the situation, while taking immediate measures to show protestors they had been heard and taken seriously. Throughout January 1916, the peaceful and mainly non-violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh on the one hand, the dual authority willingness to listen and understand, on the other, allowed for real communication (i.e. exchange and listening truly to others, not communication campaigns created by advertisers and spin doctors) and consequent understanding to arise, with the exception of the Prey Veng Resident caught up in his anti-German fears. The authorities took note of the various reasons for discontent and gave immediate satisfaction to the protestors on the feasible and most urgent points, such as the buy-back of prestations done by a 22 January 1916 Royal Ordinance. By 1st February, the number of demonstrators reaching Phnom Penh had decreased to a few hundred.
Nowadays, hardly anyone truly listens to demonstrators. At best, some quick anti-austerity, stimulus packages are constructed, according to old recipe, but demands and grievances are usually dismissed, when the protests are not completely ignored. The responses that are given are done according to the wishes of the most powerful actors and lobbyists, and following cognitive models that may not reflect anymore the entire reality.
Stabilisation phase 2: Rebuilding trust and asserting legitimate authority
The second phase was to increase the feeling of understanding and communication and to build trust to permit in-depth work towards reforms. The permanent commission of the council of ministers under leadership of the Résident Supérieur began to reflect on the peasants’ grievances. The King, after having condemned violence, abuse and the massive protests in Phnom Penh because they favoured unrest, issued a proclamation that detailed all grievances and announced that they would be seriously examined. Thus, by 10 February, the situation in Phnom Penh was judged normal.
A reassertion of the authority’s monopoly of violence through selective and just use of force accompanied these two phases. In the provinces, as the authorities had understood the three phases of the movement, it had the possibility to discriminate between different kinds of leaders and to know where and how violence originated. Thus, the state could reassert its monopoly of violence in a selective and proper way. The central authority struggled against any provincial authorities’ unjustified use of violence and against excessive and unfair punishment (all intrinsically escalating) and penalised them when they happened.
Thus, the means of violence remained in the hands of the authorities, which prevented the perception of a waning authority that would have led to more escalation. For example, towards the end of the movement, the villagers helped the authorities to suppress agitation and arrest agitating leaders.
The fundamental beliefs of the population and the specific structure of religious institutions and practices were understood and considered. Escalating ways to take advantage of the latter were prevented: in agreement with the heads of the two Buddhist branches (Mohanikay and Thommayut), all travels by monks to Siam were suspended and all pagodas informed of this measure to prevent rebellious leaders using Buddhist robes and Pagodas networks to escape the authorities.
In the meantime, from the second part of February 1916 onwards, the King and the ministers, representing respectively the symbolic and acting parts of the Kampuchean authority, toured the most agitated provinces, explaining the proclamation, and the reforms on the one hand, scolding villagers for their behaviour, on the other. These tours first reinforced the feeling of communication and understanding and second lent legitimacy to the authorities’ actions and declaration of future actions. Third, they contributed to ensure that potentially remaining demonstrators would not travel to Phnom Penh and that they would not drag along other villagers, thus decreasing opportunities for violence. Residents similarly toured the less agitated provinces.
By the end of February 1916, the movement had ended.
Compared with our present, the difference is that, in many countries, even if national, regional and international political authorities travel frequently, they do so without the first phase of stabilisation having taken place, without grievances having being heard and without true communication. The shell, the appearance of communication has been kept but is the substance still there?
Disregard for historically constructed beliefs and norms, including fundamental respect for others (see below the video produced by the Greek Omikron Project struggling against constant slights), as not only religious ideas must be considered, also have the potential for transforming what should have been stabilising in escalating actions, witness, for example, Mrs Lagarde outraging comment on Greek citizens, or, more recently, Mrs Merkel’s trip to Greece and Ireland. Even if reactions are not – or not yet – mainstream and widely shared, the fact that they already exist collectively is a signal that something is amiss, as the master work of political scientist James Scott emphasises.
The means of violence definitely remain in the hand of the political authorities, but is their use perceived as just and legitimate, considering the fact that the other stabilising elements tend, so far, to be lacking?
Then, symbolic and coercive power interacted, mutually reinforced each other and lent legitimacy to the authority-system. Now, they do not.
Stabilisation phase 3: in-depth reforms
In Cambodia, the third phase, in-depth reforms, could now begin, as promises had been made with the King’s proclamation that had to be held. The Résident Supérieur took immediate measures aimed at reducing abusive or erroneous practices in tax collection, prestations and requisitions. For example, he recommended that Residents get closer to the population by multiplying tours to ensure effective control of the lower levels of the Kampuchean administrative apparatus, while posters were put up in all villages to explain to the inhabitants which taxes were owed by whom. Meanwhile, the dual authority had to examine the validity of the other complaints and to propose reforms, that were studied, discussed, enacted and applied by the end of 1917.
Thus, we can see first that communication and pooling of resources at all levels of the politico-administrative apparatus in a bottom-up and horizontal fashion were necessary to permit stabilising actions. The authority worked in a dual fashion and, even if final decision-making power remained vested in the French, it still reflected joint work, as the Resident did not discard the suggestions of the Assembly, but incorporated most of them into the final decisions.
Second, the speed with which actions were taken and the visibility of the first phase of actions that compensated for those that had to be delayed probably strongly contributed to the stabilisation.
Finally, this case confirms the necessity of multi-dimensional actions truly addressing the grievances of the protestors, selective and fair use of force and the importance of sustained and persistent efforts. The dual authority had taken the measure of the discontent and consequent risks, persisted in its stabilising efforts, and thus stabilised the situation for the next twenty years.
Why is it not happening today?
Many factors come to mind. Among the most obvious, first, we must recall that the 1915-1916 Cambodian protests movement was very large, relatively, and thus the shock for and risk to the political authorities was important. Most movements nowadays do not meet this criteria (see previous post). The incentives to truly consider protestors’ grievances and to actively endeavour the various phases necessary for a stabilisation thus lack. Furthermore, many of the countries where the protests take place are liberal democracies. In the shallow understanding of Democracy (contrasted with what Kant’s political writings taught us and that Doyle reminds us), the election process mainly, or even only, is understood as granting legitimacy to citizens’ representatives and the resulting government. The latter may thus believe it is enough to be elected or re-elected to be fully legitimate. As hypothesized earlier, the type of political regime into which protests take place may affect the credibility of the movement and its dynamics.
Second, the Cambodian peasants showed their willingness to use violence. Currently, save, so far, for Syria and Libya, and for short outbursts of violence elsewhere, most of the movements are not only peaceful but also underline this aspect as one of their ideals. In terms of political dynamics, this begs the question of the possibility of successful completely peaceful political actions. To take an example further away from revolutions and escalation towards civil war, unions’ movements and actions involved much violence. The success of Gandhi non-violent movement springs to mind here, but it took place against the backdrop of other very violent actions, while the overall situation was largely different.
Last but not least, we are probably in an overall escalating phase, where the various institutions that have been built in the past are not anymore fully adequate to deal with the reality of a transformed present, of a potential paradigm shift, of the multiple pressures that we must face while having largely contributed to create them. It is thus hardly surprising that actions grounded in the past lack a stabilizing character, as everything, from capacities to understanding and beliefs, must be adapted, transformed, sometimes created if we want to properly handle changes and be ready for the future. In this framework, protest movements are a constructive and crucial component of ours societies’ evolutions as it is only through the interactions they prompt, through the change they impose that a new better adapted system may hope to emerge.
Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT,Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Everstate is plagued by a deepening budget deficit and an increasing need for liquidity, with a related creeping appropriation of resources while the strength of central public power weakens to the profit of various elite groups. An outdated world-view that promotes misunderstanding, disconnect and thus inadequate actions presides to its destiny. Henceforth, the political authorities are increasingly unable to deliver the security citizens seek. Risks to the legitimacy of the whole system increases. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something. Of the three potential scenarios or stories that follow, we now start the second, “Panglossy: Same Old, Same Old,”* after having seen the end of “Mamominarch: Off with the State.”
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab - a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading).
In 2012 EVT, as Everstate’s governing authorities and more specifically national representatives start thinking they should do something to face the various difficulties they meet and notably the rising discontent, a new period of elections opens up. Thus, what matters to the national representatives now is to win the elections for a new term. It is not anymore a fear of losing power because their legitimacy as efficient rulers (being able to deliver what they have been elected for) is questioned. They need now to convince citizens that they are the best to represent the nation and govern it and that they are better than their usual competitors.
As political parties are built around a programme and according to specific lines of thoughts, the rationale of the electoral competition asks them to follow the core of those programmes to demarcate themselves from their adversaries. When each party was formed, this formation led to the construction of a unique program upon which various national representatives and parliamentary groupings agreed. This program was also built to allow for the mobilization of electors needed to see the representatives elected. However, as with the way ideological and normative belief systems and socio-political models are constructed, this mobilisation was done in the past. The problems it sought to answer are past challenges. Furthermore, it could only be built according to the socio-political model and normative framework of that time. Over time, with each election, each of the two programmes has evolved but could do so only within relatively tight boundaries. Hence, the two main parties about to dispute the elections in Everstate are both abiding by the modernizing norm, constructed around materialistic improvement, each representing, as in most of the liberal world, two ends of the same spectrum, one of social-democrat inspiration, the other with a more conservative stance.
Thus, now, if the real severe problems faced by the nation must be considered, solutions can nevertheless only be envisioned within the framework of those existing programmes, as well as within the existing socio-political model and norms. For the two major classical parties, trying to change their framework and their programme in a very substantial way would mean risking changing the existing mobilisation forces and upsetting existing parliamentary groupings, thus risking losing the elections, which, ultimately would imply not being in power.
Battles are thus pitched on relatively minor points, when seen from the point of view of the huge challenges the nation must face. From the point of view of many people who are not only electors, but also those very people who seek security, experience pressures in their everyday life and are increasingly dissatisfied, such battles contribute to further de-legitimise whoever will become the nation’s representatives, thus the government, and indeed the existing parties’ system.
Meanwhile, a combination of apparent renewed optimism, notably expressed through better statistics, for example a slightly rising consumers’ spending, especially abroad, through bullish financial markets and stock exchanges worldwide, a slow down of protests both within Everstate and worldwide, with a fear that those protests could start again, tends to comfort the potential nation’s representatives in the validity of their old aims and programmes and in their wish to come back to the situation ante, i.e. before everything started to unravel. Chief among those aims, Everstate must obtain economic growth again. The crisis is severe, indeed, but it is certainly temporary as those optimistic signs show. Unfavourable, negative trends are still at work, and those must be faced and stopped. But the goal is clear and the framework for doing so is pristine, and it may only work, as it has always worked since the parties were created.
The rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), prompted by the current modernising and materialistic paradigm, only fuels this vision. Be they upheld as a threat against which one must struggle or as new partners with whom one must cooperate, their recent success is one more evidence of the correctness of the existing system. As a result, the awareness of the new pressures that had started to emerge recedes and those are considered as not really important or, if they are, their timing is uncertain, thus, if ever such threats materialise, it will be later.**
Hence, nothing fundamentally changes. On the contrary, habits and the existing system, once the new national representatives are elected and the new government starts ruling are even more entrenched, almost ossified.
Yet, something unexpected, dismissed by observers, is also happening during the months leading to the election. To be continued…
* The name for this scenario, Panglossy, comes from the famous character Pangloss in Voltaire‘s work Candide ou l’Optimisme (Candid : or, All for the Best – 1759). Candide is an attack on Leibniz’s optimism, seen as absurd in the light of the many ills of the world. The absurdity of optimism is notably conveyed through the explanations for the series of catastrophes met that Pangloss, Candide’s preceptor, gives and that always emphasise that “all is for the best.”
** Note that the absence of interest existing on timing and the sparse research on this factor may only ease the ability to deny reality.
A frontispiece of Voltaire’s Candide (Paris : Sirène, 1759). It reads, “Candide, or the Optimism. Translated from the German by Dr. Ralph.” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.