Posted on openDemocracy.net The Ukraine and Gaza crises alike demonstrate the risks of aggressive policy based on short-term calculations. Vladimir Putin and Binyamin Netanyahu’s war-as-politics invites damaging long-term consequences.

The slaughters in Ukraine and Gaza have one thing in common. Both result from governments authorising violence which is overwhelmingly motivated by domestic politics and appears almost gratuitous from a strategic point of view. Such policies promise short-term domestic popularity, but risk losing international credibility and producing serious blowback. Vladimir Putin is now finding this out. Binyamin Netanyahu should take note: the blowback for Israel could be far more serious.

Putin’s nemesis

Putin began his capricious military intervention in Ukraine to offset the humiliation of the Maidan protestors’ overthrow of the kleptocratic president Viktor Yanukovych, the day after Russia had endorsed the European Union foreign ministers’ deal for a gradual transition. Putin’s initial intervention secured total control over Crimea with its Russian naval bases, though these (like Russian speakers in Crimea) had never seriously been threatened. Putin, emboldened by a success which played to the nationalist gallery, then promoted the transformation of eastern Ukrainians’ political opposition to the new Kiev regime into armed rebellion, and followed up by sending Russian officers and weapons and encouraging Russian as well as local activists.

The strategy had the domestic effect of boosting Putin’s popularity. But it imposed a high cost in life and disruption on the people he claimed to be helping, provoked great western hostility, and did not stop Kiev gradually reasserting some control.

Now, however, the shooting-down on 17 July of a Malaysian Airways plane with 298 international travellers on board – to all appearances by pro-Russian separatists – raises the stakes to an entirely new level. This outrage can fairly be painted as the outcome of Putin’s adventure and is leading to worldwide condemnation of his regime. This could have serious consequences for Russia’s global economic as well political position. In the longer run it could certainly translate into domestic political costs for Putin.

Netanyahu’s gamble

Where Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government is concerned, it almost certainly knew that the three teenagers whose kidnap led to its army’s rampage through the West Bank were already dead. More children were killed in the army operation, houses blown up and hundreds arrested (including many previously released Hamas supporters). The government definitely knew that, in response, Hamas would have every reason to escalate its rocket attacks. Partly to keep extreme right-wing, pro-settler elements within the governing coalition, Netanyahu calculated that Israel’s public, outraged by media hysteria over the murdered teenagers, would rally to whatever violence its military inflicted, not just on Hamas, but on Palestinian civilians.

There are conventional military elements to Israel’s attack on Gaza, but it is difficult to dignify them as strategic. These amount to inflicting short-term damage on Hamas’s economic and political as well as military infrastructure. However as the obscene euphemism “mowing the lawn” suggests, these gains are recognised as short-term. In any case the starting-point of this campaign, and its larger purpose as it continues, is surely to punish Palestinians as a whole for the delectation of an Israeli public opinion desensitised to dead bodies which are not their own. In this purpose, too, the gains can only be short-term, as once Gazans emerge from the rubble they will surely be radicalised by the new outrage that Israel has committed on them. The signs of this are already apparent.

Netanyahu’s blowback problem is not just Hamas: its political reinforcement is a predictable consequence of what he is doing, just as the continuing dominance of the aggressive Israeli right is a predictable consequence of Hamas’s rocket campaigns. The real problem is the extreme instability of the wider Middle East, with long-term wars raging in Syria and Iraq, in which the stability of Jordan – absolutely crucial to Israel’s own – is increasingly at risk. The gain to Israel of the brutal new, anti-Hamas Egyptian government is small in comparison.

Israel could find itself, not too far ahead, facing an opposition far worse than Hamas, which cannot be contained by the quick-fix punitive expeditions that Israel has practised in Gaza and Lebanon in the last decade, and which are easily sold to a domestic public and tolerated by western governments. Indeed these assaults, which Israelis now think of as routine, could contribute to a radicalisation beyond Gaza, and beyond as well as within Israel-Palestine, which will genuinely threaten their security in a way in which Hamas can never do.

Israeli adventurism: the real stakes

This is Netanyahu’s real gamble. For small, encircled Israel, dependent on United States and western support, the stakes of adventurism are far higher than they are for a great power like Russia, secure in its own borders and facing no real military threats. Israeli leaders, relentlessly focused on the short term (as their unstable electoral-coalition system dictates) could be making a historic blunder by ignoring the strategic advantages of a settlement with the existing Palestinian political forces – including Hamas.

The outlines of a deal, overwhelmingly on Israel’s terms even if requiring some difficult concessions, have been on the table for a long time. Peaceful Israeli and Palestinian states alongside each other, with cooperative economic arrangements and even a fraction of the western aid now buttressing Israel’s military stance, would offer a bulwark of stability which military occupation and violent collective punishment can never provide. In ten or twenty years’ time, the world might ask how Israeli leaders could possibly have indulged this dangerous temptation of short-term military gratification at the cost of a political and strategic solution.

The problem of war-as-politics

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) famously claimed that war is the continuation of Politik by other means. The word is usually translated as “policy”, but sometimes as “politics”. In the 21st century, however, war is increasingly the continuation of domestic politics, with geopolitical policy and military strategy subordinated to domestic goals.

Since Margaret Thatcher salvaged her deep domestic unpopularity by successfully avenging the Argentine invasion of the Falkland/Malvinas islands in 1982, governments have increasingly factored electoral calculations into military decisions. Western leaders over the last three decades – like Netanyahu today – have been tempted by quick-fix wars with minimal political risks, in which few of “our” soldiers are killed and the life-costs are mainly transferred to innocent civilians in the war-zone. (see The New Western Way of War, where I call this “risk-transfer war”).

Such wars have worked only for short periods. In an extreme but relevant case, George W Bush’s hubris in declaring “major combat over” in Iraq in 2003 was exposed by the unending, low-level genocidal civil war that continues to this day. Despite Tony Blair’s protests, this war did not just introduce “terrorism” and al-Qaida to Iraq, but has led ultimately to ISIS and the new “Islamic State”. Even electorally, although Bush may have scraped re-election, his presidency ended in ignominy and the defeat of his party, while Blair has of course become a pariah in Europe.

Netanyahu should heed not only Putin’s, but also Bush’s nemesis. He may keep his show on the road for a while longer as a result of the latest assault, but the new, much more aggressive and unpredictable Islamists which Bush’s policies helped to unleash are not far from Jordan and even Israel itself. It is a mark of the extreme short-termism which characterises Israeli, like most governments’, policies that few are thinking of the dramatically different stakes that would arise if the Palestinian crisis should be connected to the wider instability, as the Iraqi crisis has been dramatically connected to the Syrian war.

The Gaza war is meant to be, like Israel’s and other western wars, a contained exercise. But what if Clausewitz’s law of escalation should assert itself in currently unforeseen ways?

Genocide, Risk and Resilience

Posted: December 4, 2013 in genocide

I have a chapter, ‘The Concept of Genocide: What Are We Preventing?’ in a new book edited by Bert Ingelaere, Stephan Parmentier, Jacques Haers and Barbara Segaert, GENOCIDE, RISK AND RESILIENCE: An Interdisciplinary Approach, just out from Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978 1 137 33242 4

UCSIA Genocide book cover‘This collection adopts an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand the various factors at work in genocidal processes and their aftermath. The strong emphasis on legal norms, legal concepts and legal measures in other studies fails to consider further significant issues in relation to genocide. This book aims to redress this balance exploring social dynamics and human behaviour as well as the interplay of various psychological, political, sociological, anthropological and historical factors at work in genocidal processes. With contributions from top international scholars, this volume provides an integrated perspective on risk and resilience, acknowledging the importance of mitigating factors in understanding and preventing genocide. It explores a range of issues including the conceptual definition of genocide, the notion of intent, preventive measures, transitional justice, the importance of property, the role of memory, self or national interest and principles of social existence. Genocide, Risk and Resilience aims to cross conceptual, disciplinary and temporal boundaries and in doing so, provides rich insights for scholars from across political science, history, law, philosophy, anthropology and theology.’

This publication is the result of the international workshop on the topic of Preventing Genocide: Root Causes and Coping Strategies organized in Antwerp in 2011.

Entry on Genocide in Oxford Bibliographies, now online http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756384/obo-9780199756384-0029.xml?rskey=vzO6sR&result=3&q=.

Prize-winning article!

Posted: October 6, 2013 in genocide

One of my articles has won a prize for the best article in the European Journal of International Relations between 2010 and 2013. From comparative to international genocide studies: The international production of genocide in 20th-century Europe was published in 2012, and covers some of the same ground as my new book Genocide and International Relations: Changing Patterns in the Transitions of the Late Modern World, just published. The prize was awarded at the 8th Pan-European IR conference in Warsaw.

EJIR cover

Abstract: Genocide is widely seen as a phenomenon of domestic politics, which becomes of international significance because it offends against international law. Hence there are as yet inadequate International Relations analyses of the production of genocide. This article challenges the idea of the domestic genesis of genocide, and critiques the corresponding approach of ‘comparative genocide studies’ which is dominant in the field. It analyses the emergence of more fruitful ‘relational’ and ‘international’ approaches in critical genocide studies, while identifying the limitations of their accounts of the ‘international system’. As first steps towards an adequate international account, the article then explores questions of the international meaning and construction of genocidal relations, and of international relations as the context of genocide. It argues for a historical and sociological approach to the international relations of genocide, and examines 20th-century European genocide in this light. Arguing for a broader conception of this historical experience than is suggested by an exclusive focus on the Holocaust, the article offers an interpretation of genocide as increasingly endemic and systemic in international relations in the first half of the century. It concludes by arguing that this account offers a starting point, but not a model, for analyses of genocide in global international relations in the 21st century.

My personal take on the Ralph and Ed Miliband saga. A version has also been published on openDemocracy.

It is ironic as well as objectionable that the Daily Mail’s notorious piece on the late Ralph Miliband, which has so rebounded on the paper, should have brought into question his British identity. Not only did Ralph, as Ed Miliband was rightly quick to point out, fight with British forces in the Second World War. But Ralph’s intellectual and political projects, while framed within Marxist theory and socialist internationalism, were also in very important senses British.

The radical student response to Ralph Miliband

I went to the London School of Economics, where Ralph Miliband taught, in 1965 to study Sociology. While at school, I had been involved in Labour politics in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency of Stephen Swingler, a left-wing MP who had been prominent in the Victory for Socialism movement within the party. At LSE, I moved rapidly to the left in opposition to the Labour government’s backing for the US war in Vietnam, its anti-trade union policies and the appeasement of racism in its immigration policies. Swingler’s support for the latter – he had been co-opted by Harold Wilson who made him a transport minister – was a turning point in my own rejection of the Labour Party and movement towards the emerging far left.

As I abandoned the LSE Labour Club for the more radical Socialist Society, fellow students quickly pointed me in the direction of Miliband’s lectures. His authoritative, reasoned exposition of a Marxist perspective on power, soon to be published as The State in Capitalist Society (1969), was enormously impressive. As a lecturer, he had an open, relaxed but very careful manner that was very attractive; even a former Tory cabinet minister, Lord Moore, has testified to the integrity manifested in his teaching.

However Ralph Miliband’s bonds with his left-wing students were soon to be tested. Parliamentary Socialism (1964), which demonstrated the limits of reformism in practice, was already a classic in our eyes. It underpinned our rejection of Labour, as The State soon gave wider backing to our Marxist perspective. However as our theoretical perspectives transformed, Ralph’s works quickly came to appear too narrow, both in their overwhelmingly British basis and in their more general empiricism. (Although I should add that this does not mean that we uncritically embraced the French structuralism of Nicos Poulantzas, in the Miliband-Poulantzas debate of the 1970s.)

Moreover since ‘empiricism’ was well known to be a peculiarly British sin, the Miliband oeuvre was increasingly pigeonholed as a very British contribution to the burgeoning Marxism of the 1960s, even if it would be more accurate to say that it was closer to the radical Sociology of the non-Marxist American, C. Wright Mills. Indeed, Ralph was part of the formidable cohort of anti-Stalinist socialists, with generally loose and ambiguous relationships to Marxism as such, who clustered in the New Left of the late 1950s.

Within this very British phenomenon, Edward Thompson spoke for a distinctively English radicalism and Raymond Williams for working-class experience grounded in his Welsh border background. These local identities were not available, however, to a refugee like Ralph, however – or indeed to Stuart Hall who had come to Britain from Jamaica. The post-imperial British identity not only provided the overarching frame for the New Left but a specific reference point for those who were not English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish by background. It is an interesting counter-point to the Mail’s narrow casting of Britishness to reflect on the fact that part of the contemporary meaning of ‘British’ is its greater inclusiveness – for example we have British, but not English, Asians and Muslims.

It was not, however, Britishness that most tested Ralph Miliband’s relationship with the student left of the late 1960s. Although Ralph’s long-term collaborator John Saville wrote in his 1994 obituary, helpfully reposted by the Guardian this week, that ‘during the 1968 troubles at LSE he was outstanding in his defence of the students’ positions’, Miliband’s stance, like that of most of the left-wing academics, inevitably fell short of the radical students’ expectations. I mention this because it led my 20-year-old self to publish a name-calling criticism of Ralph in the International Socialist paper, Labour Worker – for which I was rightly slapped down by some more mature comrades. Ralph must have been aware of this, but with typical generosity never alluded to it in our later dealings.

Ralph Miliband and a political alternative to Labourism

Ralph welcomed student radicalism but was obviously wary of its excesses. Likewise, as one would expect from his critique of parliamentarism, he engaged with the anti-parliamentary left of the late 1960s and early 1970s but did not join any of its groupuscules. Empiricism could also be read as groundedness: Ralph was strongly rooted in British politics – indeed he had engaged with Victory for Socialism and was friendly with Swingler. He could tell the difference between small organisations whose narrow ideological stances would always limit their mass appeal, and a movement with the real promise of creating a real party to the left of Labour.

Even after this radical period, Ralph continued to argue for an alternative to Labourism and was always interested in any initiatives that seemed to promise movement in that direction. When I left the International Socialists after a decade, in frustration at their attitudes to democracy both in general and within their own organisation, he and Saville published my critical history of IS in The Socialist Register 1978. Ralph took a keen interest in the subsequent Socialist Unity movement, in which Socialist Challenge under Tariq Ali’s editorship joined with former IS members and the Big Flame group, but rightly intuited that this too was too narrowly based to lead to a breakthrough.

Later Ralph involved himself in a variety of socialist initiatives across the Labour/non-Labour left divide. His guiding line seemed to be to foster a vigorous, democratic and non-sectarian socialist current, whether inside or outside the party. Unlike many Marxist academics, he constantly involved himself in – Daily Mail please note – British politics.

Over to Ed

All of this is relevant now, of course, only because the Mail is taking aim at Ed Miliband, in the light of his successful Labour conference and popular proposal to control energy prices. Ed naturally, and accurately, emphasises that his politics are very different from his father’s. Yet the fact that Ed and David Miliband have become leading Labour politicians, often seen as supremely ironic, is not quite so surprising when we consider Ralph’s own trajectory and experience.

Ralph Miliband may have shown in Parliamentary Socialism that Labour, hidebound by parliamentarism, would prove incapable of achieving socialism. But his advocacy of an independent British socialist party failed to make a strong impact, and all the efforts in his lifetime to achieve something like that proved deeply unsuccessful. British politics have fractured and mutated over the last half century, but the beneficiaries have been sundry centrists, nationalists, greens and now (with UKIP) the reactionary right – everyone indeed except the socialist left. And this seems unlikely to change.

Where does that leave those motivated, as Ed Miliband claims to be, by the democratic socialist values that Ralph embraced? There are of course many extra-parliamentary means by which they can make a difference, within a capitalist society. But in a parliamentary democracy, it matters who wins elections and runs the government. It is a reasonable conclusion that we should try to use the major existing centre-left political force to make a difference too, and to find new ways of linking parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles which will reinforce both. In this sense, Ed Miliband’s political project is both coherent in its own terms and a logical conclusion from the failure of his father’s. Moreover Ed seems to possess Ralph’s guts, integrity and honesty, which puts him (in personal terms) well ahead of the Labour leaders of the last two decades.

None of this is to say that Ed Miliband has shown a clear and coherent medium-term strategy for achieving reform. Nor is it to say that the Labour Party, in its present state, is a promising instrument for achieving even those modest goals which Ed Miliband has advanced. Evidently, forging credible social-democratic policies from the present position, starting from the dispiriting legacy of the Blair-Brown governments, and in the face of Tory-Lib Dem and press attacks, and winning the 2015 election with a real majority, are a tall order. The electoral odds – the negative experience of Tory rule, the pro-Labour bias of the electoral system, the UKIP drag on the Tory vote – suggest Labour will probably be the largest party. But anything more than that will require a serious shift in popular opinion, which so far Ed Miliband is far from achieving.

My new book is out (even if the Cambridge website still says ‘not yet published’, it’s on Amazon UK including Kindle)! The North American edition will be published next month and you can pre-order now.

Martin Shaw, Genocide and International Relations cover

‘Genocide and International Relations lays the foundations for a new perspective on genocide in the modern world. Genocide studies have been influenced, negatively as well as positively, by the political and cultural context in which the field has developed. In particular, a narrow vision of comparative studies has been influential in which genocide is viewed mainly as a ‘domestic’ phenomenon of states. This book emphasizes the international context of genocide, seeking to specify more precisely the relationships between genocide and the international system. Shaw aims to re-interpret the classical European context of genocide in this frame, to provide a comprehensive international perspective on Cold War and post-Cold War genocide, and to re-evaluate the key transitions of the end of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War.’

An excellent institute in Europe’s most attractive city – the ideal place to study! Foreign Affairs has just published an interview with me about the Master’s programmes at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, where I am Research Professor.