Thursday, October 20, 2011

How many ceasefire declarations does it take to end a conflict?

My guess is more than three. At least in Spain.

ETA today announced "the definitive cessation of its armed activity." This is effectively the third such declaration in the last 13 months. On September 5, 2010, the group called a ceasefire saying that they would no longer "carry out offensive armed actions." In January of this year, ETA declared that the ceasefire was to be "permanent." The Spanish government responded to these moves with arrests and the banning of the the newly-formed radical nationalist party Sortu.

Today's announcement, coming on the heels of the international peace conference in San Sebastian held on Monday, is likely an effort to garner some publicity for the moribund peace process in the Basque Country and to put some international pressure on the Spanish government, which has thus far show no interest in pursuing peace talks.

Of course, this isn't surprising. Prime Minister Zapatero was burned in the last attempt at peace in 2006, when ETA (or a hardline faction within the group) responded to the slow pace of talks by bombing a parking terminal at the Madird-Barajas airport in December of that year, killing two Ecuadorian citizens.

I was in the Basque Country last September when the ceasefire was announced. Watching Spanish TV that day I learned a new word: "insufficiente." My guess is that term is being bandied about tonight on news programs and talk shows throughout Spain.

Here's the full text of today's announcement (from The Guardian):

With this declaration, Euskadi ta Askatasuna, the Basque socialist revolutionary organisation for national liberation, wishes to give news of its decision:
Eta considers that the international conference that has recently taken place in the Basque country is an initiative of enormous significance. The agreed resolution includes all the elements for an integral solution of the conflict, and it has attained the support of a wide spectrum of the Basque society and the international community.
A new political time is emerging in the Basque country. We have an historical opportunity to find a just and democratic solution for the centuries old political conflict. Dialogue and agreement should outline the new cycle, over violence and repression. The recognition of the Basque country and the respect for the will of the people should prevail over imposition.
This has not been an easy road. The cruelty of the fight has taken away the lives of many comrades. Many others are still suffering in prison and in exile. Our recognition and deepest tribute goes out to them.
From here on the road will not be easy either. Facing the imposition that still exists, every step, every achievement, will be the result of the effort and fight of Basque citizens. During these years the Basque country has accumulated the necessary experience and strength to address this path and it also has the determination for doing it. It is time to look at the future with hope. It is also time to act with responsibility and courage.
Therefore, Eta has decided the definitive cessation of its armed activity. Eta calls upon the Spanish and French governments to open a process of direct dialogue with the aim of addressing the resolution of the consequences of the conflict and, thus, to overcome the armed confrontation. Thorough this historical declaration, Eta shows its clear, solid and definitive commitment.
Lastly, Eta calls upon the Basque society to commit to this process until freedom and peace are achieved.
Long live the free Euskal Herria! Long live Basque socialism! No rest until independence and socialism!
Basque country, 20 October 2011
Euskadi ta Askatasuna

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In the News

Kurdish Militant Attack Kills 24 Tin Turkey (Wall Street Journal): Well, this doesn't bode well for peace talks. An interesting tidbit buried in the story: 
    Turkish media speculated widely in recent weeks that Iran is now supporting the PKK against Turkey. PKK officials said they negotiated a cease-fire with Iran earlier this month, under which Iran agreed not to support Turkish efforts against the organization. Neither Turkey nor Iran have commented on the alleged deal. 
Iranian media, however, is claiming that the PJAK (effectively the Iranian PKK) has been neutralized as a result of Iranian counterterrorism efforts. As always, I remain skeptical.

Peace Talks Pressure Basque Separatist to Disarm, New York Times: An international peace conference was held Monday in San Sebastian. I have had some issues in the past with the Times reporting on the Basque conflict, and today is no exception. The headline tells us that the conference is putting "pressure" on ETA to disband. In fact, since ETA has maintained its ceasefire since September, 2010, the target of this "pressure" is the Spanish government. Madrid has spent the last year arresting activists (all of whom, we've been assured, are "terrorists") and trying to prevent radical Basque nationalists from forming a legal political party. But, the Times would have us believe that it is "ETA" who is being pressed by Gerry Adams and Kofi Annan. Naturally, the reporter did not provide any evidence of such pressure emanating from the conference toward ETA.

Mysterious al Qaeda 'Envoy' Dispense Aid in Somalia, CNN: This "aid" is interpreted in the article as a publicity ploy: al-Shabaab is unpopular, so they call on al Qaeda to shore up their support. However, charity work is often a crucial goal of many Islamist insurgent organizations, e.g. Hezbollah and Hamas. Though Osama bin Ladin used his personal finances to fund road-building in Afghanistan and the Sudan during the nineties, as far as I know (which ain't a whole lot) al Qaeda as an "organization" has not been directly involved in dispensing aid. Generally, the group has used Islamic charitable organizations as a front for their logistical and military operations. This story may indicate that, in the aftermath of bin Ladin's death and in the context of the Arab revolutions, the group is trying to rebrand itself along the lines of the Hezbollah model. A publicity ploy? Yes. But on whose part?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Trouble with Nationalism

The ABC News website ran an article recently entitled "Tamil Tigers Still Active in Europe." The gist of the article is that overseas Tamils are actively engaged in maintaining the terrorist organization and restarting the LTTE’s war against the Sri Lankan state, though very little is presented to back up this claim. (In the logic of the GWOT Era, ideology is enough of a link: Tamil separatism = terrorism much as political Islam = terrorism.) Though I’ve no opinion on whether or not this conflict will begin anew, I will take this article as an opportunity to discuss the protracted nature of nationalist conflicts.

As political scientist Audrey Cronin argues, nationalist struggles are often characterized by their periodic nature: they begin, decline, then begin again. The Palestinian conflict is emblematic of this trajectory: in the late 1950s, Fatah began guerilla attacks within the Occupied Territories; in the 1970s, new actors like the PFLP and the Abu Nidal Organization escalated and internationalized the conflict; and following the First Intifada of the late ‘80s, Islamic Jihad and Hamas took the violence to new levels. Irish history also demonstrates the longevity of such conflicts. Since its founding in the ‘20s, the IRA has engaged in numerous episodes of violence: bombings in England during the late forties; the1957-62 Border Campaign; the “long war” of the Provisional IRA beginning in the late 1960s and lasting until 1997; and the post-Good Friday efforts of the Real and Continuity IRAs.

Unlike properly political movements—i.e. those rooted in class or in ideology—nationalist movements endure in part because of the deep attachments that nationalism produces. One’s nationality, so the argument goes, is a much stronger aspect of one’s identity than is class or political beliefs. This explanation is problematic, though, because ideologies—including nationalism—wax and wane. Consider the former Yugoslavia: for much of the nation-state’s existence, Serbian or Croatian nationalism took a back seat politically. And since the wars of the nineties ended, these nationalisms have lessened in intensity. Moreover, non-ethnic ideologies and identities can be incredibly salient on an individual and collective level.

A more properly sociological explanation for the persistence of nationalist conflicts centers on the depths and durability of ethnic/nationalist networks that keep movements going from generation to generation. A purely political or class-based movement often lacks such deep networks. Consider the leftist movements of the sixties, which were embedded within universities. Such networks rarely continue on after graduation, thus they were hardly the ideal terrain for fighting a protracted war against the state. Nationalist groups operate within much more durable social sites, such as Palestinian refugee camps or rural Basque villages. Insurgency in such contexts often becomes a family tradition passed down from parent to child.

Another explanation for the protracted nature of such conflicts is that nationalists rarely achieve their goals, largely because states are loathe to give up any of their territory. Often there’s fear of a domino effect. Consider Spain or Russia: If either state were to give in to one set of nationalist agitators—allowing the Basque Country or Chechnya independence—they may then have to concede to the demands of other nationalists, such as those in Catalonia or Dagestan.

Unfortunately for separatist hopefuls, new states rarely come into existence. Indeed, looking at the formation of new nation-states over the last two hundred years, Andreas Wimmer and Brian Min found that new states tend to emerge in clusters from the ashes of empires and colonial systems. Consider the states that emerged from the demise of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires; from the dismantling of the Spanish, English, and French colonies; and from the fall of the Soviet Union.

Such trends don’t bode well for today’s nationalists.