Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Insurgency Closer to Home

Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only countries with insurgencies complicated by U.S. involvement. Closer to home is Colombia, a country Congress is about to focus on, at least for a moment. A little theory may help put this half-century-long civil war in perspective...

We may all agree that instability read as chaos, disease, and war is bad, while stability read as peace, progress, economic development is good. Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between saying:

A.) that stability requires that the current leaders, current customs, and current inequities remain in place and

B.) that stability permits all desired changes at whatever desired speed in leadership, custom, law, power relationships as long as those changes are achieved peacefully and with tolerance.

Recognition that stability need not mean stasis opens the door to fundamentally new policies. Dictatorships no longer need to be propped up by foreign powers interested in establishing commercial or military ties because one’s imagination is opened to the possibility of a new system that would both address the desires of the population for, say, social justice or political participation and address the foreign power’s interests:

  • An oppressed population helped to gain social justice by a foreign power might well find it had no problem selling oil to that power;
  • A foreign power that chose to support a rise in the wages of banana pickers against the wishes of international corporations might find the new country a much more stable source of bananas.

Colombia is a case in point. Half a decade ago, all sides in the endless Colombian civil violence, which in its current formulation has continued for four decades but really began at the end of the century – the 19th century, agreed to join together to negotiate a solution. After nearly four years of trying, the negotiations failed.

Among the many reasons for the failure of those negotiations and the continuation of the civil war up to today, with no end in sight, was a seeming closedmindedness about the definition of stability. There does not seem to have been any general recognition among the key participants in the negotiations of the wide range of possible changes in how economic resources and political power are apportioned in Colombia that could have been encompassed within the meaning of a stable, negotiated settlement of the Colombian civil war. Many are now dying in Colombia, in part as a result of how the key actors define the word "stability."

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