Saturday, February 19, 2005

Racism and Foreign Relations (Responses to Comments)

About 12 days ago, I put up a post called Racism and Foreign Relations on which I got a very good comment from Optimistic Cynic, who also has his own blog. I love getting detailed comments like this: it shows that at least one person out there has really thought about what I wrote, and analyzed it enough to produce a well thought-out reply. Certainly deserving of a detailed reply from me:

Optimistic Cynic wrote: Sending troops into the Congo/Rwanda to cleave apart warring ethnic groups would have been a complicated and difficult exercise. Say hundreds of thousands of troops had gone in. Whose troops would they have been? As crass as it might be to suggest the following: who would have paid for them to go? Can a foreign nation be expected to foot a multi-billion dollar intervention when it's interests aren't remotely involved? Who gets to pick which conflicts to solve?

You hit the magic word here: "interests". Countries today do not seem to have "friends", or even "concerns", they simply have "interests". The term "interests" is a purely self-absorbed term, where if something does not have a direct impact on your own life, you do not care even slightly about it.

The business world, especially here in the United States, tends to be a "dog eat dog" world that can be very caught up on "interests". It seems many American companies would do anything to get a little bit ahead, and many American businessmen would gladly screw over their own mothers to make a few dollars.

Personally, I think "interests" are important, but should take a back-seat to honor and integrity. In my opinion, a business that is is profitable, while maintaining a sense of honor and integrity is the epitome of success. Likewise, in foreign relations, we should sometimes look beyond our immediate interests and consider what is morally right.

Optimistic Cynic wrote: Continuing the example - would the interdiction force have been given permission to engage? Would the world have stomached the site of UN blue helmets firing on the native population? How could they have distinguished friend from foe? It is too simplistic to say the world could have stopped it completely.

In a situation like Rwanda, I think the world would have stomached the blue helmeted soldiers shooting a few hundred armed butchers more than they would have tolerated letting the armed butchers slaughter over 800,000 people with machetes. They wouldn't have needed to shoot more than a few hundred - just enough that the rest would get the point that the blue-helmeted soldiers meant business.

In the Rwanda conflict distinguishing friend from foe would not be that hard: foes are people carrying weapons around and murdering people, and neutrals are everyone else. (you don't really have "friends" in a conflict like that, since if one of the people picks up a weapon, he/she becomes a "foe").

Optimistic Cynic wrote: General Dallaire himself will tell you (in his book or hearing him speak) that the UN's lack of rules of engagement sunk the mission. But say the UN's troops had started shooting - how quickly would they have been overrun by the Hutu militias? Once the UN was out of the picture how would resources have been moved into the country to stop things?

The main problem in my opinion was a lack of mandate and adequate resources to fulfil that mandate, not a lack of rules of engagement. If the UN troops had started shooting, they probably would have been overrun, simply because they were not properly equipped for the mandate of stopping the genocide. If you consider the first Gulf War in 1991, where the UN drove Saddam Hussein's Iraq out of Kuwait, troops can be quite effective under a UN banner if they are given the mandate, and the appropriate resources to carry it out. In Rwanda, quite simply, the political will did not exist within the UN to do what was necessary to stop the massacre.

Optimistic Cynic wrote: Having spent some time travelling in Africa, I see the biggest obstacle to Africa's turnaround being lack of good governance. If you don't have a structure to work through and with - it won't matter how much money and effort you put in. Put simply, most of Africa's governments are horribly corrupt and unable to administer the programs we take for granted. Is that a racist thing to say? I don't know. Unfortunately for Africans, their national liberation movements in the 60s were largely Marxist, and not at all suitable for development. Zimbabwe, for example, was self-sustaining food-wise and had a stable government until Mugabe and his thugs took over in 1980. Pour money into most African governments and a few at the top will use that money to further entrench themselves in power - often along tribal or ethnic lines.
In my opinion, what the West needs to do is forgive African debt - but stipulate that moneys saved from not having to pay that debt be spent on education and healthcare. Especially education about AIDS.

Corruption in Africa is a major issue. I am not even slightly suggesting we should hand money over like that. In fact, many African governments have proven themselves quite incapable of managing money. Any debt we forgive them now enables them to borrow more money from some other sucker who they may again expect to forgive their debt later. It boggles my imagination to read news stories about an African leader buying himself palaces or a private presidential jet with donated money while his countrymen are starving.

A key problem with any form of lending is that many African countries balk at the conditions that are often attached to some lending (by the IMF, World Bank, etc.).

Optimistic Cynic wrote: Western nations can also eliminate farm subsides - so sub-Saharan farmers have a crop to sell in the world market. The Doha round of trade talks has made some progress in this area.
I generally agree with you here (you're actually giving me an idea for a future post....).

However, one long-term negative effect of limiting farm subsidies is it would make the United States (and other western countries) dependent on foreign food, much like it is currently dependent on foreign oil. The labor cost in the United States is considerably higher than in most developing countries, and as a result, many American farms would be unable to compete in the absence of subsidies.

An additional problem with eliminating farm subsidies, at least here in the United States, is the country's political structure: the US Senate has two senators from each state, even though the rural states (Wyoming, Idaho, etc.) tend to have smaller populations. And, since there is a large number of these rural states, there are actually more senators representing these rural states than there are from the main urban centers (New York, California, Illinois, etc.). As a result, the likelihood of getting a bill eliminating farm subsidies through the US Senate would be slim to none, and even attempting it would be political suicide for whoever wrote the bill.