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Ed Webb

Failing to forecast the Israeli-Palestinian crisis - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Auguste Comte’s 19th century dream of a “social physics” that would “enquire into the present, in order to foresee the future, and to discover the means of improving it.” Historic events like the escalation of conflict and the achievement of peace, in the view of political forecasters, are just as predictable as more routine phenomena like election results or traffic patterns. They all obey the laws of political and social life, analogous to the laws of the natural world – or do they?
  • sophisticated vector-autoregression (VAR) models predicted routine events fairly accurately, but were far less accurate in predicting historic episodes like wars, uprisings and peace accords – the very events that political forecasters are most eager to anticipate.
  • Many of those historic moments involved “structural breaks,” a technical term that indicates shifts in the underlying parameters of the statistical model. These shocks to the system could not be extrapolated from prior data – they could only be identified as they occurred. All of this suggests that major historic events may not obey the same laws as the more routine events that precede them. Instead, major events can dissolve seemingly permanent laws of political and social life, initiating new patterns of interaction, for better or for worse.
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  • When this sense of novelty becomes widespread, it can erase aspects of prior patterns of interaction, catching everybody by surprise. That is what happened during the Iranian Revolution. It happened again during the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011.
  • These momentous breaks from routine mark the limits of social-scientific knowledge. They stubbornly resist domestication in social-scientific models. What remains, I have proposed, is to study the experience of wildness. What does it feel like to live through such moments, to participate or avoid participation, to make history?
Ed Webb

Turkey's Invasion of Syria Makes the Kurds the Latest Victims of the Nation-State - 0 views

  • The global system is built around sovereign states, and it shows. This is an enormous problem for groups that define themselves, or are defined by others, as distinct from the country within whose borders they happen to reside, and it’s also terrible as a framework for navigating the global politics of a rapidly changing world.
  • Sovereignty is usually traced back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which was pivotal in shifting conceptions of government toward a secular state with entire authority inside inviolable territorial borders. Designed as a diplomatic solution to catastrophic religious wars among feudal, monarchical territories, its tenets have persisted into the modern world largely due to the entrenched power of those states, jealously guarding their unfettered rule over their slice of geography.
  • as the power of monarchy eroded and European countries needed something else to inspire loyalty among their citizens, the ideal of the nation-state—that the people within those arbitrary borders would feel some sort of collective identity—became popular. This led to more wars as European states expelled or converted anyone who didn’t fit their concept of nation: not French enough, not German enough, not Italian enough. They also spread this idea to their colonies, exporting successive waves of destructive conflicts.
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  • governments still harass, expel, and attempt to exterminate minority groups in the name of the nation-state ideal, and sovereignty still gives them carte blanche to do so
  • insistence on the nation-state as the only legitimate and legal actor on the world stage leaves substate groups vulnerable to exploitation, attack, and shady dealing
  • the issue isn’t limited to the Kurds. In the news this week are Rohingya refugees stuck between two countries that don’t want them, Uighurs forced into detention camps, and Catalan protests for independence. History offers even more parallels, from the United States repeatedly breaking treaties with Native Americans to World War II, in which the United States was willing to go to war to protect the territorial integrity of France along with the people in it but was not willing to accept refugees fleeing the Holocaust. The nation-state system is designed to protect itself and its members, rather than people
  • nonstate groups are at a particular disadvantage. Though they may hold de facto territory, they don’t hold it legally; they have no international rights to a military or to self-defense. They have no seat in international or supranational organizations, leaving them outside global decision-making and with no recourse in attempting to hold states accountable for their actions. Their leaders are not accorded head of state status, and they have no official diplomats. Since even the most generous autonomy statutes don’t confer the protections of statehood, separatist groups are often willing to risk high losses to win independence, fueling conflicts
  • While interstate conflicts have fallen over the past 50 years, intrastate fighting has soared. These wars disrupt trade and world politics, weaken countries, and raise uncertainty in neighboring states. On the other hand, states have proved themselves adept at using substate actors to further their own interests within foreign countries while evading responsibility for it, from the United States arming the Contras in Nicaragua to Sudan and Chad supporting each other’s rebel movements.
  • States remain reluctant to break the collective agreement on the legitimacy of sovereignty. They are similarly reticent about adding more states to their exclusive club, in part because it might suggest to dissidents within their own area that renegotiation of borders is possible
  • it remains difficult to garner international recognition for a new state. That leaves mediators attempting to convince vulnerable groups to settle for something less, in the face of all evidence that a recognized state is their best chance for security and self-determination.
  • Substate groups are not the only example that the system is failing. Nonstate actors from terrorist groups to multinational corporations have increasing impacts on global politics, and traditional geopolitical theory does not do a great job of dealing with them. Even for bilateral issues, the nation-state is not always the most useful unit of analysis.
  • Russian elites attempted to tip the scales of U.S. leadership in order to win more modern spoils: unfettered soft power in their region, access to trade, and, notably, the ability to infringe on other countries’ sovereignty without consequences.
  • the United States—and other nation-states—has little or no control over multinational corporations, with their complex legal structures and tenuous ties to geography
  • we need to recognize both the rights of substate groups and the legal responsibilities of extrastate entities and create mechanisms in the international system to include them in the halls of power
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