August 29, 2016
from WorldPoliticsReview Website
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
gives Senate President Mauricio Lizcano
the peace deal with FARC rebels,
Bogota, Colombia, Aug. 25, 2016
(AP photo by Felipe Caicedo).
This is a useful question, because it is a rough description of the actual world we live in. Most of the planet is pretty stable these days.
Last week, the cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker
and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
underscored this point in an opinion piece celebrating
Colombia's peace deal with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC.
But this is 'the new normal':
As Pinker has
argued elsewhere, the recent upsurge of violence
in the Middle East and Africa should not distract us from the good
news that most of the world is seeing historic declines in political
It underestimates the risk of new conflicts in many regions, they say. While Colombia moved toward peace this year, for example, neighboring Venezuela has slid into chaos.
In other cases, such as Ukraine and
South Asia, flare-ups of violence threaten to bring nuclear powers
into conflict, potentially initiating massive killings.
On this at least, it is hard to
While the global number of fatalities
declined slightly from 2014, there were significant rises in
Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.
President Barack Obama hinted at this counsel of despair in a widely cited interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year, in which he called for more focus on the successes of Latin America and Asia,
There is a moral peril
in emphasizing that "only" a sixth
of the global population
has to live with war.
This is at least half-right...
The U.S. president, or any other 'serious' leader, should engage with successful and hopeful parts of the globe.
But if we attribute the persistence of
violence in other parts of the globe to a mix of malice and
nihilism, policymakers have an excuse to accept second-best options
- or worse - for managing or stabilizing them, on the grounds that
they are fundamentally beyond redemption.
Washington and its allies have also backed-up Saudi Arabia's equally ham-fisted intervention in Yemen.
As I have argued elsewhere, the European
seems to be sliding toward a "post-humanitarian" mentality in
which it focuses on patrolling its borders, rather than striving to
halt wars in Africa or the Arab world.
Commentators have battened onto the argument that Arab states are now fighting their version of the Thirty Years' War that wrecked Europe in the 1600s.
This is a falsely reassuring comparison, as a more stable European states system finally emerged from that particular cataclysm, but it is not obvious that it would pass muster in an undergraduate history seminar.
As one academic has complained, it,
It is typically a bad idea to build policies on a mix of attractive statistics, dodgy historical analogies and ruminations on human nature.
In the 1990s, analysts attributed the Balkan wars to "ancient ethnic hatreds," justifying inaction in the face of the collapse of Yugoslavia. Current discussions about politics, religion and order in the Middle East and Africa often seem stuck in the same gear.
The net result is to offer us a
collective alibi for giving up on serious efforts to stabilize "the
zone from Nigeria to Pakistan," and sitting back and hoping that
local forces will battle each other into stalemates, leaving the
rest of the world in peace.
Instead, they believe that Colombia's peace process is evidence that,
Sadly, many decision-makers living in the peaceful majority of the world seem happy to let the unstable rump remain chaotic.