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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Geopolitics of Emotion

Dominique Moïsi proposes a new theory of international relations in his book The Geopolitics of Emotion  - How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World. Ok, it's not really a developed new theory and I also did not find it convincing overall nor even as a coherent argument, but that it is a theory is the idea behind it.

Moïsi starts out from a commonplace perspective that I - but not Realists - very much agree with: "This book is formed on a [...] conviction [...] one cannot fully understand the world in which we live without trying to integrate and understand its emotions." From there he essentially argues that three broad strains of emotions govern whole world regions (hope: Asia; humiliation: the Arab world; and fear: the West).

The simplicity of the argument is almost stunning. It first of all is almost necessarily inductive, broad political developments are retrospectively grouped under one fitting emotion while contrary changes or motivating emotions are being ignored. It second of all groups a variety of countries together that is confounding. Sure, both Dubai and Yemen are Arabic countries, but are both 'humiliated'? Thirdly, complex human reasoning is broken down to one determining emotional factor. To ignore that al-Qaeda has a deep ideological foundation and even had an explicit strategic plan to draw the United States into battle in a Muslim country is incredibly reductive, yet it is what Moïsi does when ascribing the attacks of 9/11 to Arabs' humiliation on the hands of the West.

Let me end with one citation, which showcases well why I find it extremely difficult to take the whole argument serious:
It can be argued that the first Asian economic miracle in the 1980s was at least in part a triumphant response to national feelings of humiliation. Countries such as South Korea and even Taiwan wanted to prove to Japan, their former occupying power, that they too could perform well on the global economic stage. An initial feeling of defiance has also been one of the motors of the current Chinese renaissance. Thus the humiliation inflicted by the Japanese on the rest of Asia has constituted and energizing drug for the entire region.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Post-American World

In one of the more hyped books of the political science literature, Fareed Zakaria, explains The Post-American World, which were to follow the United States unipolar moment during the late 20th/early 21st century. For Zakaria this is not so much due to "the decline of America but rather about the rise of the everyone else." The economic success and increasing geopolitical importance of "the rest," the non-Western world, has been "most visible in Asia but it is no longer confined to it" with the rest of the BRICs but also large parts of Africa having made tremendous progress.

Zakaria goes then on to detail to some extent the rise of China and India contrasting their respective economic and political (dis)advantages - democratic governance vs efficient decision-making to sum it up really concisely. His final chapter then deals with the US again and effectively proposes policy but also cultural or societal changes that would help the country, which for the coming decades undoubtedly will remain the major player in a multipolarizing world, adapt to its relative decline in a constructive manner as the UK did in the early 20th century.

While I am very much in agreement with most of what Zakaria puts forward in his book, which I am wary to truly consider part of the political science canon, his argument feels slightly redundant or rather commonplace in today's world. He wrote it in 2007/2008, so maybe he was more of an outlier at the time, yet arguably his stance and book has only become such a modern, classic of political commentary literature because of the American insularity that he decries himself. Essentially, knowledge of other languages, other cultures, other political system, other economic success stories in the US remains astonishingly limited - or is belittled in any case. Movements in the tectonic plates of global power politics are noticed slower than in the US as they are in culturally more internationally aware and open societies. The Post-American World provides little added-value to the politically- and economically-informed reader of news and - non-scientific - analysis.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin made a lot of noise when it came out in 2010, mostly because of its perceived moral equation of Hitler's and Stalin's crimes. Personally, I am not sure Snyder is even interested in the moral question though, for me he simply states that there is a striking geographic overlap in the areas where both Soviet Communists and German Nazis had most of their victims. 

These Bloodlands - between Eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltics and Western Russia - suffered from the Ukrainian famine, the concomitant invasion and occupation by Germany and the USSR in 1939, followed by a second invasion for the formerly USSR-occupied regions in 1941, the starvation of millions of Soviet soldiers, the Holocaust in both its early (bullets) as well as late (gas) stages, and finally reconquest by the Red Army with the Wehrmacht leaving a bloody trail on its way back to Germany.

It's essentially an absolutely horrifying account of the unprovoked killings of 14 million civilians in a 12-year span.

There is little that I feel I can truly contribute to this debate, which involves far too many outlets and national perceptions as it is (hier in der Zeit, the NYRB, ou Le Monde) and I will let historians figure out whether Snyder's Fascism-Communism comparison holds true or not:
Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative Utopia, a group to be blamed when its realisation proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory. (Wikipedia)
Let me just say that as someone possessing slightly above average knowledge of the history of the Third Reich I discovered relatively little new in Bloodlands concerning the atrocities committed by the Germans - and, yet, even there specific events especially in Belarus and Warsaw I was little familiar with - while the account of the Soviet crimes perpetrated during those years were revelatory and for the most part completely new to me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Vie et Mort du bloc soviétique

La Vie et Mort du bloc soviétique de Georges Mink est un court ouvrage moyennant récent qui se concentre surtout sur l'histoire de l'Europe central - Pologne, Tchécoslovaquie, Hongrie, Bulgarie et Roumanie mais aussi à un moindre degré l’Albanie et Yougoslavie.

L'auteur discerne deux grandes lignes dans l'histoire post-guerre de cette région la soviétisation - ce qui est la transplantation du modèle soviétique dans sa zone d'influence - de 1947 jusqu'aux milieu des années 1950 et la désoviétisation à partir de ce moment jusqu'à la fin de l'empire soviétique.

Après-guerre la plupart des pays libéré par l'Armée rouge - comme en France vraiment - ont été gouverné par une vaste coalition des partis politiques divers. Ce dualisme des politiques est remplacé par une soviétisation de la politique et par une prise de pouvoir des partis communistes (voire commune socialiste et communiste) par différents moyens - semi-révolution, semi-coup de d'Etat en Tchécoslovaquie, des élections faussées en Pologne.

Suivi la tactique du salami qui consistait dans l'élimination de l'opposition politique commençant par l’extrême droite - souvent les collaborateurs avec des Allemands - et passant par le centre jusqu'aux politiciens de gauche trop social-démocrates voire indépendants vu leur engagement individuel au sein par exemple de la guerre civile en Espagne. Ces purges aurait été nécessaire pour réaliser une soviétisation parfaite, condition sine qua non de l'homogénéité du bloc.

Les nouveaux régimes profitaient d'une certaine légitime politique voire soutien populaire basée sur ceux qui profitaient du nouveau système. Effectivement la situation d'économies sous-développées [...] encore sous-industrialisés, à dominante agricole, avec une population habitant majoritairement les zones rurales, employés dans une agriculture d'autosubsistance se prêtait aisément à un "capital-based" développement de l'industrie lourde, technologiquement peu avancé. Ce soutien s'est basé alors à la fois sur les nouvelles élites ayant remplacées celles victimes de la purge et les anciens paysans devenu travailleur.

Mais, la soviétisation [...] provoque la naissance de [...] la désoviétisation à cause de sa nature trop rigide et doctrinaire. La désoviétisation décrit un ensemble de mécanismes [...] qui permettent au régime communiste de perdurer.
Surtout au niveau économique se présentait des problèmes à cause d'une croissance économique extensive - c'est à dire basée sur une augmentation d'"input" (travailleurs et capital) - qui fallait être remplacée par une croissance intensive - c'est à dire basée sur une augmentation de la productivité. Un besoin économique voire financière qui n'était augmenté par le mal du bloc soviétique de maintenir leurs dépenses militaires élèves.

Suite vient la tentative de sauvetage du bloc par sa modernisation et sa relégitimation [qui finalement] échouera. Cet effet Gorbachev consiste en partie de l'idée de faire de la Pologne (et de la Hongrie) un modèle réformateur mais pas de faire du table rond - pour juste citer un exemple - un modèle de la sortie du communisme pour le pays de l'Europe central en grande partie à cause du fait que la certitude que les moyens de coercition internes étaient hors d'image devait être confortée par la preuve que le centre de l'empire ne réagissait pas non plus.

Ce qui nous laisse avec une réfolution (contraction des mots évolution et reforme) en Europe central qui menait à une passation du pouvoir - à l'exception de la Roumanie - négociée.