Friday, December 19, 2014

A Tale of Two (Art) Installations

This is another post about the centennial of the First World War, so anyone looking for a happy pre-Christmas uplift should probably look elsewhere.

In this, the hundredth anniversary year of the beginning of the War to End All Wars, two major art installations were commissioned and executed here in London.  Both went public on the 4th of August, the date in 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on the German Empire.

The first, and better known if only because it recently concluded, was the installation at the Tower of London of 888,246 ceramic red poppies -- one for each British Empire fatality during the war --  entitled "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red".

In designing a torrent of red which swept outward from the Tower into the ancient moat surrounding its walls, artist Paul Cummin clearly understood the visual impact which would lead over 4 million visitors to view his work. Cummin is also arguably privy to a little secret about the poppy which Canadian medical officer Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields, also knew -- poppies grow where the earth is overturned, as with the digging of graves. For those in the know, this bit of horticultural insight transformed each brightly shining ceramic flower into a corpse, rotting unquietly beneath a hastily erected cross. For this reason alone, Cummin is my nominee for Artist Who Really Gets World War One.

There is, however, the other installation to consider -- "spectra" by Japan's Ryoji Ikeda. Before I describe this pillar of light which caught London by surprise on the night of August 4, I should point out the close linguistic relationship between "spectra" as plural of "spectrum", and a separate singular form from the same Latin root: "specter", or ghost. Although most onlookers missed this point, there were indeed specters haunting London during the seven nights the 49 powerful spotlights shot their illumination some 15 kilometers into the heavens.

I first noticed "spectra" through a window in my sitting room, shortly after it was turned on.  Although I had not heard about it in advance, a quick check of the calendar confirmed my hunch that it was some sort of memorial to the opening of hostilities in 1914; indeed, the similarities to the 9/11 memorial Tribute in Light were fairly obvious, if lovely and seemingly appropriate.

Then I saw the angels.

A close examination of this photo, taken August 4 from my balcony, reveals white spots outlined by the glare of the installation's spotlights.  At the time, I could see them circling within the glare of the high-powered beams, and seriously wondered what I was looking at.  It soon became clear that my "angels" were in fact large white birds -- seagulls -- but what attracted them to the light?

A story from across the Channel provided a clue: even as lights were turned off all over Britain on the night of 4th August to commemorate British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey's prophetic "The lamps are going out all over Europe", the dazzling beams from "spectra" drew insects by the thousands into the warm updraft of the spotlights.

That's right.  Ikeda's war-memorial installation, with its spectral play-on-words title, drew thousands of insects.  Moths. As in, to a flame. To be eaten by seagulls. Of angelic aspect.

How many layers of irony are possible in one art installation?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

1914 And All That...

This is the first of a number of posts dedicated to a CAART-based dissection of the First World War.

To that end, I will begin by quoting Herbert Butterfield, co-progenitor of the English School of "diplomatics" and international relations, on the grave conceptual flaw which underlay the "War to End All Wars":

The struggle which began in 1914...was fought on a basis that was bound to give the maximum scope to the hysterias and frenzies associated with the fury of battle. Precisely because it was conducted as a war "for righteousness", a war "for the destruction of the wicked", that whole conflict was turned into one that could admit of no compromise.
Precisely because of the myth of "the war to end all war", we made it more true than it had been for centuries that war breeds war, provokes revolution, generates new causes of conflict, deepens resentments, and produces those reversions which we call modern barbarism.
The decision to fight an unlimited war, for the vindication of morality as such, amounted to a decision to give war a greatly enhanced role in history, but it did not alter the dreadful character of the role which warfare always plays.  And since we cannot yet say that we have produced a world in which the possibility of war is at all ruled out, it is a question whether the more terrible moral responsibility does not lie upon those who insist on war à outrance than on those who had perhaps only the marginal responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities in the first place.
(Sir Herbert Butterfield, Christianity, Diplomacy and War, 1953, p. 17.)
This is a massively important statement of culpability, not only for The Great War, but for all the major conflicts which have followed.  It allows us to comprehend the threat of nuclear war in its proper perspective, and to see the futility of neo-realistic approaches to conflict resolution which effectively ignore the other side's concerns and interests -- a path we appear to be following right now in Ukraine with regard to the Russian Federation.

More to follow, about 1914 and especially about the implications of Butterfield's work. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Scotland, You Have Been Duped

With one month to go before voting begins for the Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, opinion polls appear to show a stable lead for the No campaign, led by the Better Together organization.

Which is all well and good, but not the whole story -- not by a long shot.

There is no nice way to say this -- Scots have been lied to, systematically and for many years, by the British government.  And the evidence extends beyond the highly respected government economist who, in addition to giving the linked interview to BBC Radio in 2008, penned this report on North Sea oil revenues in 1975 (here it is, re-typed and searchable).  See, for example, what former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey has to say about Westminster burying the evidence on Scottish nationalism, North Sea oil, and what was obvious to him as the only moral path to follow – Scottish independence.

(Nor did the deception inherent in the classification of the McCrone Report go unnoticed by UK media when it was declassified in 2005 following a FOIA request.)

Since this blog is dedicated to an exposition of my Conflict Avoidance, Amelioration and Resolution Theory (CAART), I’d like to take a look at the various actors in this sordid little story and see if Thucydides’ three causative factors for conflict can help to explain how and why events unfolded as they have.

Phobos:  How has fear motivated the various parties involved?

UK government(s):  Obviously, the Labour government of Harold Wilson was afraid of something – quite likely the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its unprecedented 30% share of the Scottish vote in 1974.  Governments since then have not seen fit to declassify the McCrone Report, either, especially not while billions of pounds sterling were pouring into Westminster’s coffers from North Sea oil pumped from Scottish waters.  Evidently, that fear is still in effect – otherwise, why would UK government offices be predicting a massive tail-off in North Sea oil revenues in the near future?  The truth appears to be otherwise – including the possibility of new exploitation in other oil fields.

Labour Party:  Labour has a slight problem with Scottish independence: 250,000 additional votes south of the England/Scotland border, to be precise.  That’s how many more voters Labour will have to convince in future UK elections in order to win government if Scotland votes for its own independence.  That Labour’s Alistair Darling is the face and voice of Better Together during a series of debates with Scotland’s First Minister, the SNP’s Alex Salmond, is no accident, despite the perception that it is David Cameron’s Tories who are the principal backers of the No campaign.

BBC:  As above.  Seriously, Auntie appears to be well aware that Labour needs Scotland more than Scotland needs Labour.

Kerdos:  The discussion of fear above should inform quite a bit of our next topic, self-interest.

UK government(s), Labour Party, BBC: As above.

SNP: It is in the SNP’s best interest that the full & timely truth on North Sea oil and other key issues be revealed before September 18; sadly, they appear to be alone in this.

Doxa: In its original translation, “honor”, it appears to be broadly lacking in this debate – with the exception of the SNP and its leader.  A more modern translation of the concept, and one preferred by the University of Reading’s Colin Gray, however, is “culture” – and we have noted above where the culture at the BBC, for example, is aiming in this debate.

Conclusions: Only an overly slick and glib U.S.-style Better Together campaign may be able to save SNP from a No-vote spending onslaught, as well as from a virtual vital-issue blackout by UK media.  Nevertheless, don’t believe for one minute that Yes voters are telling the whole truth to pollsters – theirs is the transgressive vote, after all.

And here is one final thought for Scottish voters:  Does anyone really believe that, having hidden the truth about North Sea oil revenues for several decades, the UK government would hesitate to classify information about, say, other lucrative seabed-based resources (link requires free registration to read article) lying underneath Scotland’s territorial waters in the same manner that the McCrone Report on North Sea oil revenues was suppressed in 1975?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Where the CAART Was Built: The Wild Bunch Football Offense

 I came to conflict theory at an early age, having coached American football since 1974. (And yes, American football, unlike soccer and other "target-ball" codes, is a war game.)

The breakthrough moment for me, however, when a study of football merged with my "work" as an arms control and disarmament specialist with the U.S. Foreign Service, came in 2007 when I revised, for the third time, my 1999 "Wild Bunch" football offense text.  In addition to the usual plays and formation specifics, I included some thoughts on the nature of (football) conflict and how to approach it as a coach.  I plan to start a revision soon, which will draw even more explicitly the parallels between CAART and American football.

The current version can be found here -- Chapters 2 and 11 will be of greatest interest to CAARTesians who neither know nor care about American football (be careful, though -- I've snagged your like before...)

An Independent Scotland in NATO? Are you kidding???

So Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and head of the Scottish National Party (SNP), has a wee problem on his hands:  Even as the "Yes" campaign of the September 18 referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom gains further ground, his pledge to get Scotland into NATO despite the SNP's firm anti-nuclear stance is generating heat.

All of which begs an important question:  Why NATO?  Why push for membership in a military alliance which "does not consider any country to be its adversary", costs a great deal to join and stay in, and represents 60% of the officially-recognized Nuclear Weapons States (France, UK, U.S.) globally?  (Making sense of the "no adversary" statement is easier than it seems, by the way -- NATO works by consensus among its 28 members, and there is no agreement that Russia, for example, remains even a potential enemy of the Alliance:
Allies generally either view Moscow as a potential partner and friend, or as NATO’s once-and-future nuclear-armed foe. Negotiations within NATO revolve around the demands of countries such as the Baltic republics for various assurances from NATO that Russia will not be allowed to dominate them through political and military pressure. Others, such as Germany, have a very hard time publicly imputing ill intentions to Moscow, reflecting both historical concerns and modern economic realities. The United States finds itself balancing a delicate and unstable equilibrium between these partners, while also paying some attention to the impact of its guarantees upon its Russian negotiating partners.  -- "Dissecting the DDPR", p. 2.)
What exactly would Scotland have to pay to join NATO? Assuming its share of the NATO budget were around 2% (putting it in the same class as Belgium, whose GDP comes closest among Allies to the figures the SNP has been bandying about for an independent Scotland), Scotland's annual share of NATO's three commonly funded budgets (i.e., the minimum it would be expected to pay each year) would currently run as follows:

Civil Budget:  €4,309,460/£3,515,050

Military Budget:  €28,975,995/£23,634,600

NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP):  €14,000,000/£11,419,200

Total annual Scottish share of commonly funded NATO budget:  €47,285,455/£38,568,850

So -- for an annual layout of over £38 million, what would Scotland be purchasing?


Buel--did someone say "security"?  OK -- great.  Security from whom?  In what form?

No takers?  Wait -- did I hear "goodwill for burdensharing"?  Interesting answer -- and more than a bit pricey for value received, wouldn't you agree?

There, in the back -- "extended nuclear deterrence"?  NOW we're cooking -- here we have the heart of the NATO agreement -- Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty pledges mutual defense against attack on any Ally (actually, it merely promises that each Ally will take "such action as it deems necessary" -- but that's political realism for you).  

The nuclear forces of, first, the U.S., then the UK, then France, were at one point or another considered to offer "extended deterrence" to other NATO Allies in the face of the overwhelming threat of superior Soviet conventional forces in Europe.  Since 1953, in fact, the U.S. has based part of its nuclear arsenal in Europe -- there are currently about 180 B61 nuclear gravity bombs located in 5 Allied countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

So where would this leave an independent Scotland?  Unfortunately for Mr. Salmond, Trident is not the only nuclear program in which the UK participates: As a NATO Ally, the UK is an active part of the consensus which maintains those B61s in Europe, despite their total lack of military utility and an unbreakable political deadlock within NATO over their potential use in time of crisis.

So perhaps £38+ million per year for NATO membership is not such a bargain after all.  The alternative is simple: Join the European Union as an independent nation, and take up an appropriate role within the Union's Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).  Minimal disruption from the status quo, no need for questionable spending on NATO membership, and -- best of all from an SNP perspective -- no nukes.