Monday, March 13, 2017

Better Explanation of Conflicts

13 March 2017

Better Explanation of Conflicts

By: Karsten Riise

There is no point in public security analyses, if they are unhelpful for policy makers, citizens and companies. Better explanation of conflicts is needed.

Western analysts sometimes serve the public with nearly cartoon-like explanations of complicated conflicts - read for example this: 

The Middle East will in the long-term be marked by instability and conflict.

"Repressive regimes cannot solve the fundamental political and economic problems".

It almost resembles an ideologic statement - very Western.

The citation above is from Denmark's Military Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE) latest yearly risk assessment, issued 20 December 2016. I will here contend, that Western countries need a much, much better understanding of security issues - especially in other cultures.

To illustrate my point, I will add new and missing aspects to the understanding four well-known examples of "instability and conflict" in the Middle East. I will demonstrate, that contrary to the opinions of well-paid Western military intelligence analysts, the four so-called "repressive regimes" were actually quite successful in solving some fundamental political and economic problems. 

Because the term "repressive regime" is too often just used in official statements as a trick to blacklist countries which are not favored by the West at the moment (but maybe tomorrow, if they obey), I will simply use the neutral term "government" for the countries, I take a look at.

The countries of this study are the four countries of the upheavals of the "Arab Spring" which began late 2010 in Tunisia, and then spread to Egypt, Libya and Syria. 

Success solving fundamental economic problems

Contrary to the description by Western analysts (ref. above) ALL of the four governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria were not just "failures", but had remarkable success in solving fundamental economic problems of creating a higher standard of living for their inhabitants - see figure 1 below:

Figure 1

In the preceding 8 years from 2002 up to the year where upheaveals started in 2010, the living standard (purchase-power per person) had increased immensely in all four countries: By 68% in Libya - by 59% in Tunisia - by 52% in Egypt - and by 37% in Syria. 

In Libya and Syria, terrible wars now continue. In Syria, this has turned about 5 million people, (nearly 25% of the population) into international refugees - to this must be added internal refugees. I will therefore give an additional informative comparison between Syria and a comparable country, which (at least so far) has continued very peacefully, namely Morocco - see figure 2:

Figure 2


It is thought-provoking, and difficult to give a simple explanation, why Syria has become a chaos, and Morocco has continued on a stable path up. Both countries have had centralized, less-than-fully-"Democratic", governments, and both countries had (Syria until 2010) successfully solved very "fundamental economic problems". The flat and simplified explanation given by Western security analysts (ref. introduction above) goes against facts.
Before his overturn, Ben Ali had for more than 20 years led Tunisia far ahead in economic development. Maybe not equally for all, but probably Tunisia never was egalitarian. Before Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt, he also had for 30 years been at in leadership of remarkable economic development. After sanctions were lifted against Libya, Gaddafi had great economic progress for 8 years before his fall. Libya had under Gaddafi established Africa's highest standard of living, with widespread school system and health. This is smashed to ruins now. Instead, three governments plus violent extremists are now "cooperating" with their fighting to tear Libya further apart, see green line in figure 1 after 2010. Few Libyans are probably much happier today than before.

I have seen economic literature from before 2010, which at the time showcased exactly Tunisia under Ben Ali and Syria under al-Assad, as two examples of successful economic development. Western security analysts maybe know very little about economics.

Success solving fundamental social problems

All the four governments also had been remarkable in reducing fundamental social problems - see figure 3 below:

Figure 3:
Social facts leading to the "Arab Spring" 

Popul. Mill.
Share of Muslims in pct.
Max. Fertility
Year of max. Fertility
Fertility 2005
Change in fertility pct.pts.
Child mortality
Urban popul. in pct.
20-24 yr
20-24 yr

Source: Youssef Courbage & Emmanuel Todd: A Convergence of Civilizations, Columbia University Press, NY 2007
For comparison: 

Fertility in
Year 2011


Faroe Islands


Source of comparison Denmark, Faroes and Greenland: UN Demographic Yearbook 2015

Population fertility transition - achieved
In figure 3 (columns 4-7) we see how fertility (number of births per woman) had fallen dramatically by year 2005 in all four countries. The birth rates (fertility) for Denmark have been included for comparison. Fertility rates (and hence population increase) in Gaddafi's Libya and Ben Ali's Tunisia were on comparable levels with Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are both part of Denmark.

Health - up
The besieged leaders Ben Ali in Tunisia, Gaddafi in Libya and al-Assad in Syria had also achieved results in general health, as indicated by child mortality figures (fig.3, column 8) on level with comparable countries. 

Education - up 
Figure 3 documents (columns 9-10), that in 2005 (only five years before the upheaveals) all four governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria had achieved great results by increasing reading skills (literacy) of the young generation in the direction of 100% - against all western prejudice about "Islam" and "Arabs", reading skills are also high for women. And compared to the history of Europe, the introduction of reading skills for women comes up fewer years later than for men. 

Urbanization - up
The social-economic development of Ben Ali's Tunisia, Gaddafi's Libya, and al-Assad's Syria had all reached a crucial point where 50% or more of all residents live in cities - ref. figure 3, column right. These countries are no longer rural societies. They have become "modern". I put the word "modern" in quotation marks, because it may be discussed by some, what it means to be "modern", and whether it is "good" or "not-so-good" to be "modern". 

Taken together, hard data demonstrate, that the countries first affected by "Arab Spring" were not simply victims of "regimes" or of "Islamic extremism". 

These societies and political-economic systems have reached some difficult phases of development, which Europe itself has also experienced, in the transition from a traditional agricultural society to a "modern" society.

 => I do not here take position for or against any government - I merely supply information missing in the debate

Western security analysts maybe know very little about sociology.

The West - unsuccessful role in conflicts

When Western military analysts point their fingers and without reservations blame legal governments of countries harmed by conflicts, they disguise their own military responsibility. The meddling of the "Liberal" and "Democratic" West into countries under pressure may sometimes be the very thing, which turns internal tensions into violent conflicts or unnecessarily increases the amount of suffering. For documentation of this point, I will just point to one article by Allan J. Kuperman in Harvard Kennedy's School's Belfer Center, Quarterly Policy Brief, September 2013: "Lessons from Libya - how NOT to intervene".  
The avoidance by Western military of a critical appraisal of their own actions is self-harming. The Western intervention in Libya probably spread terrorism and refugees across the Sahara to Mali, and from there down to the Ivory Coast - 3,500 km away. Refugees now flow from Libya to the EU. In Tunisia, after Ben Ali, the people elected a new government, friendly to Western ideas and influence, and transition could continue. In Egypt, however, Democracy elected a "wrong" government, a more Muslim government, and the West supported a reversal and continuation of the previous political system. Change will again come to Egypt, and it may be very big next time. In Libya and Syria, Western intervention (directly or through its partners in the Region) does not seem to have achieved anything but more extremism and violence.

Better understanding the conflicts

When people learn to read - when traditional family ties and social ties come under stress, also because families due to fewer births become smaller in size - when more people (men and women) achieve an economic level, education and status which give them more autonomy, opportunities, incl. movement and travel - when fewer people live isolated in villages, but start to live in big communities (cities) where communication is more intense - and they get internet, mobile. and TV - then new expectations increase. 

The youth revolts in USA and Europe of 1968 were also the consequence of economic and social success - and of learning. Exactly like the more recent demonstrations in Turkey, Egypt and Brazil. Many countries may today be experiencing greater risks of conflict, not due to failure, but because they successfully have arrived at critical development-points. Due to this, some countries, which West security "experts" believe are stable, may in fact be at risk of conflict.

New public expectations and aspirations in other countries are not necessarily a copy of the boastful definitions of "Democracy" or "Freedom" - in the form in which the West evangelizes them today. Looking back at Europe's own history, the ideals and aspirations of people in the West have also changed - very much, actually. Some wanted (or want) "religion" like Reformation or Catholicism - very often the names of old religions are actually used for projecting new ideas back into an "historic past".  In Europe, many public aspirations arising from difficult transitions (before WW II) wanted authoritarian rule in Italy, France, Spain, Poland and Hungary. In countries of transition, popular voices may turn national, tribe or clan identities into a "semi-religion" (Ersatz-Religion). Some become "Feminists", imposing their evangelical ideals into an often hypocritical "universal equality", to be forced on everybody. In reaction to Western imposed versions of "Feminism", public sentiments in some other countries may even seek its contradiction. Connected with the development of higher education, conflicts appeared again in the 60'ies in the USA and Europe. Peaceful protests against racism broke-out in the USA, but were violently subdued, when that country developed. As the West developed, many started to worship "Communist revolution" (with its Atheism), or hippie-anarchy with peace-now and even drugs. Recently, we have seen developments in Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro, which may be compared to the USA or Europe in the 60'ies. They are results of successful societal change - not of failure. Even Israel has had upheaveals from immigrant rights and settlers movement. When regions develop, other groups in other places, will want something tenth or eleventh, things not yet seen (at least in that form) in the West. When the West sees something which they don't easily recognize, they may become antipathetic to it. 

Western tradition (Liberal and Communist) has become materialistic - often attributing most (or nearly all) of human development to physical conditions. But much physical change (including growth - or conflict) is due to a development of the collective mind - learning, smaller families etc. Thanks to work of Emmanuel Todd and Youssef Courbage (2007) for demonstrating that. Often, conflict is by the West unfairly "explained" with this-or-that "religion". I want to caution against that. In Ireland and Poland, "Catholicism", instead of "just" being a religion, became the facilitator for resistance to external forces (from England and Russia, respetively). The same can also happen within Islam. A religion which the West may speak negatively of today, may well be a religion with a widely constructive role. 

In Zbigniew Brzezinski's words, we live in times when there are more politically active people on Earth than ever before. This is due to a lot of successful social change - not just a sign of failure. The kind of government has importance, but simply to explain away violent conflicts as due to "regimes" misses fatally the point, why some governments after decades of stable development suddenly come under pressure.

We need better political-social-economic-philosophic-security models to understand what drives physical and mental human development (successes and less-so-successful) - and conflicts.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fractal world

The UK wants to leave the regional cooperation of the EU. Scotland responds by wanting to leave the "regional cooperation" inside of the UK. A similar effect, repeating the next level of scale. That is the essence of fractals.

20 July 2016

World politics - fractal characteristics

By: Karsten Riise

World politics has fractal characteristics. The same pattern is repeated on different scales.

A coastline is an object in nature with fractal characteristics. A typical rugged coast line will look the same kind of pattern (seen from above) over a wide range of different scales.

Traditionally, politics were divided into a micro-level of“politics of the state” with one set of rules and characteristics – and a macro-level“international relations”where states were viewed as identical units (billiard-ball theory) but different size as the building block of international politics. Typically, the intermediate level consisting of the political order of regions is jumped (no place for “regions” as international building blocks) and going directly from the intra-state level to the international level. Very simplistic.

On the contrary to traditional theory, the multiplex political order exhibits similar characteristics on a variety of scales.

Let me exemplify this:

On a global scale, the Multiplex world order consists of a an interaction of political units much more different in scale than hitherto theorized – going from conglomeration of state-actor units (“regions”) to single states, even some sub-states and cities with global power and down to non-state actors and super-influential individuals. So the sub-levels mix up into the supra-level of the global. This is a totally different, and most more complex, picture than traditional international theory a-lá Kenneth Waltz.

On a more “detailed” regional scale, the Multiplex regional order looks nearly exact the same as the global multiplex world order: A totality of different unlike units, from sub-regions of states, regions and cities within state playing a role on state level. Units of the “global” scale even mix directly down into the “regional” scale – making it very difficult or near impossible to keep those two level “global” and “regional” truly apart.’

The new EU will be truly Multiplex – even perhaps with a state UK of which some substate actors (England) will be outside, but other parts (Scotland) may be inside. And with the Parliament in Westminster in a truly new role which has in that form never has existed before in history. Denmark already has to manage a “realm’s commonwealth” where Greenland has its own government inside Denmark, but outside the EU, but the British experience will be a much more drastic turn.

Now going down to the “state” level – again we see the same picture as above: Sub-subentities, i.e. entities below the substate entities, mix into the multiplex state order, and again in very different non-symmetrical ways. Take the United Kingdom. Since 1700 the United Kingdom was a unitary state with only on acknowledge nationality: “British”. But since 1998, both Scotland, Northern Ireland (even with a say through an accord with another state unit, the Republic of Ireland) and Wales have through devolution got their own parliaments, even with different asymmetrical levels of competence, whereas England has no such “English Parliament”. Being British is no longer unitary – the Scotch have their own nationality, and the North Irish have special rights and duties and a totally different (very special) rule of government. We see that the Multiplex“state-level”is even interfered legally by an international level, through the Good Friday Accord of Northern Ireland in 1998, which entitles the Republic of Ireland to have a say in intra-state matters of the UK in Northern Ireland.

Regions within regions within regions....

The EU is a region... and now regions of countries are forming within the region of EU:

Within the above regions within the region of EU... other regions form. Also this way, the new Multiplex world exhibits fractal patterns. Fractal patterns look similar across different scales of detail.

Precedence for fractal structures within social sciences

Stock-exchange prices are fractal.

If you take a historic chart of the development in the US-dollar to Canadian-dollar exchange rate (or take the price of oil, IBM shares, whatever)  - if you take away the numbers of scale of amount and time, and just look at the graph as a pattern, you cannot say if that graphic pattern you see is by month, by week, by day, by hour or by minute. The same type of fractured pattern on all levels of scale.

The political world has the same fractal characteristics.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Monday, November 30, 2015


30 November 2015

End of History - or Interaction of Civilizations?

By: Karsten Riise

Starting with Fukuyama

I read Fukuyama’s book ”End of History” – unlike you I found it disappointing and thin.

The fame of “End of History” is not earned by its erudition, strong argument or any deep insight, but simply by its simplistic coca-cola slogan easiness of being comprehended by a (still) dominating Western world narcissistically in love with itself and its espoused values (which may not be the same as the real values working underneath): That the Western self-conception of “liberal democracy” has prevailed once and for all.

My counter argument to “End of History” in short goes like this:

Also Fukuyama concerned himself with “identity” – however his conception of identity was ideological, in continuation of the ideological divide between liberal-democratic identity versus communist identity. I posit, that these identities are becoming less relevant – which is NOT the same as to posit that any one of them (“liberalism-democratism”) has prevailed to a degree to “finish history”.

Democracy must rightly be labeld democratism. Democratism is an “ism” just like islamism, fascism, zionism, nazism, communism, feminism, monarchism (not monarchy), etc … (finish the endless list of “isms” if you possible, as you please). In a way, these “isms” are all ideological variations of some basic themes of (1) one-person rule (monarchy/tyranny) (2) small-group rule (aristocracy/oligarchy), and (3) many-person rule (democracy/anarchy). You see – we are back to Plato and Aristotle. Readine Sabine’s “Political History”, Aristotle himself identified at least four different kinds of monarchy - this demonstrates amply, that the 3x2 kinds of rule (Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democrac and their negative variants) treated by Aristotle are just a short list – the real list goes much longer. What these two gentlemen didn’t foresee in Greece 400 BC were some later forms of rule, especially the type of rule which is today known as “Bureaucracy” (which incidentally is difficult to define as an “ism” because in spite of its ubiquity, nobody will admit to professing “Bureaucratism” as ideology – except, of course, the witty-sharp 1st Secretary Sir Humphrey in Antony Jay’s genius BBC TV-series “Yes Minister”. Sir Humphrey persistently argues why the bureaucrats in his view are the only fit to rule, they are more clever and powerful than the politicians, and the top-Bureaucrats stay for life as the elected politicians come and go).

The point of Plato and Aristotle is that any kind of rule can be either beneficial or detrimental – depending on place, situation, practical organization, moral standards, and professional level of competence. Undoubtedly, democracy has often been optimal. Maybe it is even most of the time. But hardly ever always in all places – neither past, present, or future. Therefore, believing that democracy as “the final answer” turns democracy into democratism, a near religious belief that democracy is the final answer, just like communism and other ideologies have also been claimed to be the final answer, the end of history.

Because I am an economist, I am interested in development studies, so I studied some economic successes. Many the most astonishing economic developments have happened under non-democratic rule: France under Napoleon III. Germany under Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Taiwan after 1945 was ruled by the semi-fascist Guomindang one-party rule of Shang-Kai-Check. South Korea after the Korean War was ruled by a former WWII Japanese collaborator. The system of Japan after 1945, ostensibly a democracy, was (and is still probably) in reality a one-party rule. Most schocking of all, I found, that the brutal, bloody and in many ways unsavoury dictatorship of Pinochet resulted in Chile becoming probably the biggest economic (and today democratic) stable, low-corrupt, and well-functioning success in all Latin America. However, to stress my point that no type of rule is automatically ideal, the dictatorship of Videla in Argentina was largely contemporary to Pinochet, but fell exactly because it was not only bloody and unjust – it was also incompetent and running Argentina into the ground.

Going to the Muslim world, we see two ambiguities. First, we see the ambiguity of different segments of Muslim people: Many prefer democracy, many others do not. I think they ought to find out themselves. Secondly, the West, as always, wants to believe it knows best what is best for other people: So the West tries to implement democratism in Iraq, Egypt, Gaza and elsewhere. But in reality, when the People vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamaz, or some Theocrats, the West renounces its own ideology of democratism, and prefers often the worst kind of dictators instead to implement Western will on Muslim peoples. As long as a dictators like the Shah, Saddam Hussein, or Mubarak serve Western interests, the West prefers to talk about democracy, but in practice the West prefers tyranny for a number of other peoples. These other people can think too – manuy of these people see naked Western hypocrisy about “democratism” as a sure recipe for oppression and catastrophe. This problem is put under the carpet by Fukuyama – Fukuyama’s talk about “liberal democracy” talking over the Earth is not to be taken seriously.

The strategist John Boyd stressed that wars a fought by humans, not by machines. Similarly, polities are run by people – not just by systems running themselves. These people may use ideologi and/or framed within the ideology of some kind of “system” (including democracy or something else), but it is not the ism that runs the polity – people do. These people may be righteous, competent, and rightly guided – or they may be immoral and incompetent catastrophies. If the ruling people are a catastrophy, including maybe the People (with capital P) itself - no system of ism – also not democratism or liberalism - can produce a good outcome.

Interaction of Civilizations

Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” is clearly the only interesting one of the pair Fukuyama-Huntington. The “Clash of Civilization” (especially the book, not the article) is simplistic – but contrary to Fukuyama it really points to a most relevant current for the Future of Security.

As mentioned above, also Fukuyama concerned himself with “identity” – however his conception of identity was along old ideological fault lines and not along cultural lines. We must, however, be open for new and emerging identity fault-lines in the Future of Security.

As the power of USA is about to become non-global, the external top-down pressure and manipulation by USA on the world’s regions (“overlay” in the term coined by Buzan & Wæver, “Regions and Powers”, 2003) will dissipate, and instead we will see how the internal security dynamics of these world-regions come up and to the fore.

I see Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” as just the first humble attempt to begin building a new regional security theory. Buzan & Wæver (2003) tried to make a comprehensive regional security theory. Some of their regional divisions are interesting, but the theory they develop is itself faulty, ill-defined and even misconceived. But at least they have tried, and Buzan & Wæver also cover some interesting ground. Your countryman Emanuel Adler even so has covered some more important ground (Adler & Barnett, Security Communities, 2000). Also we need to combine with ideas from Alexsander Wendt and even cross-check with realist concepts by Kenneth Walt.

In short, Hunting points out identities as a main dimension for regionalization of security. During the cold war, ideological identities (liberal-democracy vs. communism) were dominating, especially because these ideological identities were dominating the thinking and antagonism of the two superpowers. As Huntington points out, today other types of identities come to the fore. However, where Huntington jumps to conclusion is, when he only imagines “civilizational” identities as a “clash” between each others. Foreign Policy magazine issued a small booklet “Clash of Civilizations – the Debate” where one writer points out, that some of the worst clashes in history have happened WITHIN “civilizations” – you might call it a “civil war of civilizations” for control and supremacy within a particular civilization. So – what Huntington does NOT discuss (though he ought to have done so) is whether the civilizations he draws up will be zones of internal Peace (“Kantian” in Alexander Wendt’s terminology) or rather zones of rivalry or even enmity (“Lockeyan” or “Hobbesian” in Alexander Wendt’s terminology). We cannot say that “civilizations” are about to clash – but we do not, that they are about to become a very important fault line for interaction.

The above must be seen in the context, that economic power since 1945 has been diffusing away from USA and the West. With the long-term diffusion of economic power to Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Muslim countries comes also the difusion of the capacity to buy or produce military capabilities. With a difusion of economic and military capabilities to the world’s regions also comes increased self-assertiveness, or ambition.

We may soon discern some important fault lines or sub-divisions WITHIN civilizations (e.g. within “Islam”). We may also envisage how “civilizations” (in Huntington’s sense) can connect with each others as alliances or other peaceful super-structures of security communities (ref. Adler & Barnett) BETWEEN each others. In other words: The Future of Security will have “civilization” as ONE important parameter, geography (regions/non-contiguous country-groups) another, maybe ideology (liberalism-democratism) surviving as a third parameter – and as always the fluctuating perception of “national interest” as a fourth parameter. What we also must investigate, is the concept of “power” and “poles”. In that connection I could take as a starting point the theoretic definitions of “powers” and “poles” in different sizes by Barry Buzan.

The learning

I consider the subject of Fukuyama’s “End of History” to, if not fully, then at least to a large extend, dealt with above.

Huntington – on the other hand – has with his provocative text opened a much longer and fruitful debate about the regionalization of security and international relations. The issue of the Future of Security – the regionalization of security –  is a subject that I currently work on. As you already see in the neighborhbood of Israel, the power and relevance of USA and the West in regional security dynamics – including Syria and the Middle East - is waning. Also in Europe/Russia, Afghanistan, and East Asia we see, how USAs influence is slipping – which may result in desperate and dangerous measures from USA to hold on until a bang instead of letting go with a whimper

Finally, I may want to go against the consensus of around Walt’s security and international relations theory, and instead I might want to point out structures within the international political system that are NOT anarchical, but rather hierarchical and/or network-based. States are NOT just different sizes of plastic billard-balls, but much more complex structures linked in clusters, layers and networks.

States are semi-permeable and multi-connectional, living in a mixture of state/non-state actors. As known from metallurgy or biology, even adding a even a microscopic amount of a new thing, can create a system with radically different qualities. States are but one species of complex living biological organisms. They may be highly different on important charcteristics, and the addition of a few important non-state actors, though minor these may seem compared to the “mighty” states, can like a microscopic additive in metallurgy or a virus in biology change the whole dynamic of the international system. This is something Waltz and the academic community within foreign relations studies have never really contemplated. Biological systems are – as everyone knows – highly complex, dynamic, ever evolving, new life-forms come and go, and because of surprising feedback structures often chaotic with no static equilibrium.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor