Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Eight Percent Solution

Last month's Israeli pullout from Gaza and its aftermath underscored the difficulties of a two-state settlement in Israel/Palestine. None of the incidental obstructions thrown up in the path of "disengagement" can change an unalterable truth, however- Zionist principles require a two-state solution if Israel is to survive and remain true to itself. The "Jewishness" of the Jewish state is not enshrined in iron-clad draconian laws. Israel is, as the Zionist founders intended it to be, a liberal democracy- its Jewishness is purely a function of demography. The moment that Jews are no longer a majority in Israel it ceases to be a Jewish state. Were Israel to simply annex the Occupied Territories and declare all residents citizens Israel would no longer be a demographically Jewish State (this new Greater Israel would have roughly 4.8 million Jews and 5 million Muslims, Christians, and Druze). Current demographic trends would quickly make Arab Muslims the plurality among Israeli voters. These hard facts leave Israel only two options- pursue a two-state solution or perpetuate a limbo state that subverts all the democratic principles upon which Israel is founded, in which the 4 million+ residents of the Occupied Territories are denied the rights of citizenship.

The closest Israelis and Palestinians have come to a two-state solution was the Camp David Summit of 2000. The basic framework for a Palestinian State conceeded by Ehud Barak at that summit was the most practicable and fair- a Palestine situated within the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem with Israel's borders returned to the so-called "Green Line" of occupation. Though other issues stirred controversy, the 2000 Summit foundered over departures of Barak's proposal from the basic Green Line framework.

Barak's proposed Palestine could not claim sovereignty over all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem because 350,000+ Israeli have settled in parts of those territories in the last twenty+ years. Unlike the settler movement in Gaza, which was always a limited affair, many of the Israeli settelments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are profoundly substantial. Billions of dollars of real estate development and infrastructural investment have created communities with a climate of solidity and permanency, their deep economic and institutional roots would make any attempt at "Gaza-style" disengagement a grotesquely violent affair.

The 2000 Summit proposal suggested that 92% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem could come under Palestinian authority while the 8% of territory that contained untransplantable Israeli settlements would be annexed to Israel. Palestine would be compensated for these concessions with "land swaps" of Israeli territory from inside the Green Line. Palestinian negotiators rejected this proposal on the grounds that it would result in a geographically irrational and ungovernable Palestinian state. Long "islands" of Israeli territory would divide critical sections of Palestinian sovereignty from one-another, creating insurmountable difficulties in communication and resource management. The peace process is thus at an impasse. Disengagement is impossible on the Israeli side, extreme concessions on the geographic parameters of sovereignty are impossible on the Palestinian side.

Given the urgency of the peace process for both Israelis and Palestinians, it is surely worth considering one albeit radical solution. Palestinian nationhood will only come about in tandem with a basic treaty securing Israeli recognition of Palestinian sovereignty and establishing definite protections for the security and welfare of both parties. Thus rather than contorting the map to accomodate intractable pragmatic concerns, the Green Line should be affirmed as the rightful boundary between Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty. Included in the basic treaty securing Israeli recognition of Palestine should be a clause guaranteeing Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem bestowal of Resident Alien status and rights from the new Palestinian government. These settlers could choose to remain in their homes and retain Israeli citizenship, in return they would only have to apply for a Resident Alien permit, submit to Palestinian law, and pay Palestinian taxes.

While seemingly simple on the surface, this type of solution would in fact be excruciatingly complex and contingent on a comprehensive and detailed set of safeguards and protocols hammered out in advance and committed to in writing. For example, a ban on all transfers of real property owned by Resident Aliens for an interim "stabilizing period" (20-30 years) would likely be required, to assure Israeli settlers that they could not be coerced to sell their homes or stripped of property through the exercise of "eminent domain." Practical political conditions would also make this policy extremely dangerous. Radicals on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide would seize upon the situation to incite violence and subvert the peace. Relatively small provocations could quite easily snowball into open war- the utmost diligence, forbearance and diplomacy would be required of both governments to make the peace win through.

Given all these legal and practical difficulties, however, I would still venture that a "Resident Alien" compromise holds out the best hope for peace. The abstract possibility of peace hinges on the hope that Israel and Palestine could be good neighbors in a common region. What better way to embody and nurture that hope than to require Israelis and Palestinians be good neighbors in a common country?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A "Deep Historical" View of Chinese Expansionism

Kate Marie over at "What's the Rumpus" tipped me off to an interview with Lee Kuan Yew, former President of Singapore, in the current issue of Der Spiegel. Lee speaks with real depth and insight about the future trajectory of Chinese prosperity and power. He is, for the most part, optimistic about the prospect for peace, but he expresses one qualifying reservation:

"Mr. Lee: I don't know whether the next generation will stay on this course. After 15 or 20 years they may feel their muscles are very powerful. We know the mind of the leaders but the mood of the people on the ground is another matter. Because there's no more communist ideology to hold the people together, the ground is now galvanised by Chinese patriotism and nationalism. Look at the anti-Japanese demonstrations."

Like Lee Kuan Yew, many US defense and diplomacy analysts are concerned about the short-term consequences of China's rise. The particular conditions under which any nation will undertake aggression are not easy to enumerate, the raw fact that a nation enters upon a period of newfound power is no clear sign that it will embark upon a predictable program of military expansionism. While it is true that most weapons are made to be used, the concentration of military might in the hands of a particular state provides no clear indication of when, where, or how it will be used. Lee gives a very plausible short-term scenario for Chinese aggression, one impelled by burgeoning nationalism and decline in the unifying ideology of Communism. Though there is some merit to Lee's concerns, I would argue that a "deep historical" perspective makes Chinese aggression a less pressing long-term concern for global peace and stability than internicine strife within China itself.

The question of Chinese "expansionism" is complicated by the fact that the scope of Chinese culture has been expanding throughout recorded history in a clearly observable progress. Chroniclers in the time of Confucius described the people of Wu as foreign barbarians who tatooed their bodies and spoke a tongue unintelligible to "civilized" people. Wu then encompassed the location of Shanghai, modern China's largest metropolis. By the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) the Yangtze River delta had become fully integrated into the Sinic world, but even then the region that now holds Canton and Hong Kong sat beyond the civilized pale. That region only became integrated into the Chinese empire during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), which is why southern Cantonese speakers refer to themselves as "Tang people" while northern Mandarin speakers denote ethnic Chinese as "Han people."

The steady outward expansion of Chinese culture and polity was sometimes violent, but historical evidence shows that this process was as often as not engendered by peaceful trade, migration, and conversion as by conquest. This truth is underscored by the fact that many aspects of Chinese culture expanded beyond the scope of Chinese imperial political control. Vietnam and Korea adopted Chinese script, religion, and political forms wholesale (the kingdoms of Korea and Vietnam were virtual simulacra of the Chinese imperial government) even as they violently resisted total absorption into the administrative matrix of successive Chinese empires. Despite China's immense prestige and powers of cultural suasion, by the seventh or eighth century C.E. Chinese political power had reached its greatest natural extent at its eastern and southern frontiers.

The current boundaries of the People's Republic of China embody this deep-historical pattern. PRC territory extends to limits established by the last imperial dynasty, the Qing. The Qing rulers were able, by virtue of being an Inner Asian people with allies among the steppe tribes, to extend the frontiers of imperial power further west and north than any prior Chinese dynasty had accomplished, encompassing Tibet, East Turkestan and Mongolia (regions that native Chinese dynasties had never subdued). Even with such military successes in hand, the Qing were never able to expand Beijing's power beyond the frontiers that seperated its imperial domain from the dynastic realms of Vietnam and Korea, otherwise the boundaries of the PRC might be quite different today.

Though certain "core" heartlands always rested securely within the orbit of Chinese imperial power, the outer scope of imperial political control tended to expand and contract (sometimes splintering between two or more competing dynastic centers) over the long term. The Qing was an expansionary era in Chinese history, though even that expansion was unable to transgress certain natural limits. By Qing terms the current era is already a "contractionary" one- the independent Republic of Mongolia was the vassalage of Outer Mongolia during Qing times. Moving forward, the prospects for further expansion of Beijing's military sway are dubious. The PRC does not possess the cultural resources that helped keep Tibet and Mongolia compliant within Qing suzerainity, and emergent nationalism among East Turkestan's Uighur minority make the continued tight integration of that region into PRC sovereignty unpredictable at best. With the real difficulties it faces in consolidating and maintaining the expanded territorial parameters of the Qing, it is difficult to see how the PRC can hope to accomplish what the Qing did not in regions like Vietnam or Korea.

Moreover, the internal integrity of the Chinese polity has always been vulnerable to powerful centripetal forces. Violent regional schisms plagued every dynasty, like the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 which brought China's wealthiest southern commercial district under the sway of a crypto-Christian monarchy and took as many as 20 million lives. The hegemonic status of nation-state thinking lulls analysts and observers into accepting China's sovereign unity as a given, but this is far from an axiomatic truth. The same forces that tore at the fabric of imperial unity still pulse beneath the surface of the PRC's nationalistic facade. In the final analysis the greatest deterrent to Chinese expansionism is not US military power but the intrinsic fragility of China's internal political coherence. Beijing must work hard and constantly to maintain control over the regions currently "securely" within its recognized domain. Any attempt to expand the scope of its control outward might jeapordize that carefully cultivated homeostasis.

The exception that proves this rule is Taiwan. Pronouncements on Taiwan (like the recently-passed anti-secession law) are often held up as an example of China's aggressive tendencies. It is precisely because Beijing's reins of control are so tenuous, however, that it cannot afford to give up any degree of sovereignty over any square-foot of territory. Even though Beijing's claims over Taiwan are purely symbolic, the dissolution of those claims might precipitate a "stampede toward the exits" upon the part of regions that chafe under Beijing's control. Breakaways might not be limited to "frontier" areas like Tibet and Mongolia, moreover, but might include wealthy southern regions like Guangdong and Shanghai who would happily keep tax revenues that flow northward under the status quo.

If historical events like the Taiping Rebellion provide any gauge, a breakup of Chinese sovereignty would not be a kind or happy affair. Any significant challenge to Chinese sovereign unity would undoubtedly portend a terrible civil war. Such an event would not only create great misery for a world ever more economically interdependent, in an age of nuclear weaponry it would almost certainly have tragic and direct human consequences that spread far beyond China's borders.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Oil-Spot Strategy

Andrew J. Krepenevich, Jr.'s article in the most recent Foreign Affairs, "How to Win in Iraq," prescribes an "oil spot strategy" as the best hope for Coalition success. The oil-spot strategy dictates that US forces should no longer be deployed in search-and-destroy missions against insurgents, but should be assigned strictly security duty, protecting Iraq's people and property from insurgent mayhem. Once a security cordon is placed around key areas economic and social development programs should be funneled in, creating islands of order and prosperity that would then seep outward like an "oil spot" spreading ever wider through a piece of fabric.

I would agree with Krepinevich that this is the best and most hopeful strategy in Iraq. His detractors assert that this "oil spot" strategy is built on false analogies to the Malaysian counterinsurgency and overlooks the failure of counterinsurgent operations like the "strategic hamlet" program in South Vietnam. Though such criticisms have merit, they are not damning of Krepenevich's basic premise. It is true that ethnic divisions between Malay farmers and the largely Chinese communist guerillas made security cordons easier to build and maintain in Malaysia. Political conditions in Iraq, however, could create similar popular sympathy for the Coalition mission if correctly capitalized upon (the fact that many insurgents are either foreign jihadists or agents of Saddam's regime, for example). Moreover, what Krepenevich proposes does not involve displacing large segments of population as the "strategic hamlet" program did.

I would take issue with one basic assertion Krepenevich makes, however. He claims that an "oil spot" strategy could be pursued with even fewer troops than are currently serving in Iraq. In this he is mistaken. The low number of US troops currently serving in Iraq works hand-in-hand with the Coalition's preference for a search-and-destroy counterinsurgency strategy, as this strategy hinges upon the superior firepower and mobility of US troops. The task of establishing a security cordon of any meaningful resilience drastically attenuates these advantages of the US combat soldier, however. In preventing attacks against civilians, officials, diplomats, and infrastructure no amount of mobility or firepower can replace eyes and ears and boots on the ground. If the US is to have any prayer of creating a cordon of order and security within which economic and social development can take root at least twice the number of soldiers now serving in Iraq would be required.

This is the fatal flaw of the "oil spot" strategy, and the reason it is not likely to be adopted. This is not to say that it could not work if the US had the political will to carry it out, but such will does not exist. Doubling the number of troops would no doubt increase security in cities like Baghdad and Mosul, but it would also double the number of US targets on the ground in Iraq, and lead to twice the number of casualties. The US public has already lost patience with the pace of loss in Iraq, an increase in casualty numbers would likely cause a radical collapse of public faith in the administration. Even Krepenevich acknowledges that his "oil spot" strategy would require a decade-long commitment on the part of the US, one which is not realistic given the current political mood. I would agree with Krepenevich that the oil spot strategy (perfect or no) is the only feasible one the US could pursue. Because the Bush administration failed to cultivate the necessary political will to carry it out, the US is left without effective strategic options in Iraq.