(POMEPS Briefing) Syria’s ongoing existential conflict is arguably related to its nation-building trajectory starting in the beginning of the twentieth century. What can theories of nation-building and state formation tell us about the origins of conflict as well as future of the Syrian state?  

I have recently argued that the way a nation-state treats a non-core group within its own borders is determined largely by whether the state’s foreign policy is revisionist or cleaves to the international status quo, and whether it is allied or in rivalry with that group’s external patrons. However, as I admit in the book, my argument does not travel to all states at all times. In particular, it should apply to countries that 1) are driven from a homogenizing imperative, 2) have non-assimilated segments of the population and no caste system in place, 3) have the capacity to directly rule the population, and 4) have a ruling political elite representing a core group with a clear “national type”. In what follows, I explore how my work illuminates some of the challenges of nation-building in the Syrian case.

Arguably, the Syrian government has not been motivated by a homogenizing imperative. In The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and MinoritiesI suggest that the main reason that leaders adopt the “nation-building option” is the reality, or anticipation, of other powers manipulating non-core groups in their state to undermine their stability or annex parts of their territory. This process is particularly conspicuous in situations where the ruling elites perceive their borders to be challenged. While this process worked in Tilly’s account of Europe[1] and fits the pattern I narrate in the interwar Balkans, it does not seem to fit so much the story in Syria. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and after a brief interlude of direct rule by Ibrahim in the mid-19th century, the territories of contemporary Syria were divided up by decree through a series of treaties. Syria was under the French Mandate since 1920 and after a tumultuous history gained independence in 1946. As it is often the case, colonial powers had to rely on local elites coming from specific groups for political and economic control. Syria was no exception and the role of the Alawis and Christian minorities was vital for the French from the beginning of their Mandate. As Wendt and Barnett put it,

“Lacking political legitimacy, the colonial state’s power was always underwritten by the actual or threatened use of force. Significant military resources were typically not available from the centre, however, and since mass mobilization was not viable for an army of occupation, colonial states tended to militarize coopted groups or ethnic minorities. A similar process occurred in colonial bureaucracies, which were staffed by persons with a vested interest in upholding the authority of an alien state. The character of colonial military and bureaucratic development, in other words, was shaped by the security needs of foreign actors and their domestic clients rather than of the mass population.” [2]

As a result of this legacy, as well as the geopolitical situation in the region, this system of choosing a loyal local ethnic group and ruling the rest of the population through it–that has its roots to the French colonial period–was perpetuated. The various military coups following independence until Hafez al-Assad consolidated his rule on the country in 1970 solidified this outcome. The legitimating principle of the Assad regime has not been state-level nationalism. In fact, repression and a carefully constructed network of informants were the basis for legitimacy in Syria for the past four decades—if not longer. To complement this apparatus Lisa Wedeen revealed a cult that the Assad regime—father and son—designed which operated as a disciplinary device. [3] For decades citizens acted as if they revered their leader. “The cult works to enforce obedience, induce complicity, isolate Syrians from one another, and set guidelines for public speech and behavior” as Wedeen put it in 1999.[4]

Another set of conditions for my argument to be applicable is that part of the population has not yet been successfully assimilated and there is no “caste structure” in place since in caste systems assimilation is by definition impossible.[5] Syria is definitely a heterogenous society, but the heterogeneity is more pronounced depending on which cleavage dimension is salient at each historical moment. In terms of ethnicity, about 90% of the population was Arab before the civil war—including about 500,000 Palestinians and up to 1.3 million Iraqi refugees—while there were about 9% Kurds and smaller groups of Armenians, Circassians, and Turkomans. In terms of religion, based on 2005 estimates 74% of the population were Sunni Muslims, Alawis were about 12%, Druze 3%, while there are also some small numbers of other Muslim sects, Christians 10%, about 200 Jews, and Yazidis.[6] Finally, in terms of mother tongue we find the vast majority speaking Arabic, and then Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian being used by the respective non-core groups. Moreover, although this was not a caste system the mode of rule was definitely blocking social mobility and especially political clout for non-Alawis and their close allies and informants. The rule of the Alawi controlled Baath party coupled with the state of emergency that had been in force since 1963 had decisively alienated the Arab Sunni majority. But following the Arab Spring and coupled with past violence, inequalities, and repression that many reportedly felt in Syria, resistance against the regime grew and by now it has turned into a multiparty civil war. The opposition is fragmented but defections from the Assad side have also been plentiful. The lack of any national cohesion is apparent.

Nation-building cannot be pursued by a failed state that cannot directly rule its population. Assad’s regime clearly did not suffer from this problem. Syria was far from a failed state. In fact, it is a state with high literacy rates– 88% for males and 74%for females. But even if Syrian ruling elites faced the pressures I described above and had the capacity to do so, they would have had a hard time to nation-build. For nation-building to occur, the ruling political elites of the state must represent a core group that is well defined and has a clear criterion of inclusion—a “ national type” in what Eric Hobsbawm called the age of nationalism. In Syria, the closest thing we can find to a constitutive story in Assad’s Syria has to do with a Pan-Arab identity. Particularly, a version of baathist ideology that combines a supranational form of nationalism that calls for the unity of Arabs with anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism and secular socialism.[7] Arab nationalism, a form of unification nationalism,[8] was vital in the struggle for independence—a by-product of British machinations against the Ottoman Empire—as well as the decolonization movement against the French. Thus, the state-level type of nationalism that dominated Europe, did not manage to emerge in much of the Arab Middle East, since such a unification was opposed by multiple great and regional powers. The short experiment of the United Arab Republic that brought Egypt and Syria together in a union between 1958 and 1961 was stillborn but characteristic of the supranational character of the constitutive story that motivated Syrian leadership.  Given this configuration, it is really hard to identify a Syrian constitutive story and this is reflected in the school curriculum that primarily emphasizes anti-Zionist ideas, Pan-Arab ideas, and ironically, Sunni Islam.[9] Thus, while linguistically and ethnically there could be an overwhelming majority constructed–that of Arabs and Arabic–if one had to decide what constitutes the core group in Assad’s Syria, they would most likely suggest that it is the Alawis – together with other minorities – in the exclusion of the Sunni Arab majority.

Despite the well-known arguments that territory is becoming increasingly less important in our globalized world, myriad of territorial disputes, dozens of border changes and the long list of “nations without a state,” or “stateless nations,” point to a more sobering picture. For the past couple of years, several external state and non-state actors are aligning themselves with internal factions or non-core groups in Syria. However, the most powerful regional states Turkey, Iran, and Israel – all non-Arab– are unable to dominate Syria through these local alliances. The USA can be an arbiter of the conflict by intervening with Sunni, which would please Turkey and the Gulf states along with Sunni populations in Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt—each for different reasons.  Alternatively, if Iran prevails, Alawis in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia minorities in the Gulf States, and the Shia majority of Iraq would rejoice. But a more cynical point of view, one perhaps best summarized by Ed Luttwak,[10] suggests that the USA—and even Israel —should allow this war to go on since it is in their strategic benefit for the factions to fight each other thus preventing the emergence of a strong and unified Arab state, or a victorious Iran.  A note of caution flows from my work in the Balkans. Shifting alliances in the context of the current multiparty civil war with ample external backing, coupled with the rapid changes in control over territory already have lead and will continue to lead to repeated instances of violent exclusionary policies, since non-core groups that are perceived as enemy-backed, or collaborating with the enemy, are going to be targeted by the respective sides of the conflict.

A version of this essay was first published atThe Political Science of Syria’s War, POMEPS Briefing #22, on December 18, 2013.

[1] Tilly, Charles (ed.). 1975. The Formation of National States in Western Europe.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press; Tilly, Charles. 1990. Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1990. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell. Tilly, Charles and Wim P. Blockmans (eds.). 1994. Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, AD 1000 to 1800. Boulder: Westview Press.

[2] Wendt, Alexander and Michael Barnett. 1993. “Dependent State Formation and Third World Militarization”,Review of International Studies 19: 321-47, p. 331.

[3] Whitman, Elizabeth. “Stalemate in Syria,” The Nation, April 23, 2012.

[4] Wedeen, Lisa. 1999. Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[5] They involve an “ideology of inferiority for the subordinate groups” and thus an almost fixed ethnic structure that is perceived as natural. For more on hierarchical systems, see Horowitz, Donald. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. University of California Press, pp. 21–32.

[7] It is characteristic that both in 1982 when the regime violently crushed the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in Hama and in mid-March 2011 following the brutal response of the regime to the protests in Daraa, the conflict was attributed to Zionists and Americans intervening in Syrian internal affairs using fifth columns as agents of Western imperialism. See Wedeen 1999 and Seale, Patrick. “The Syrian Time Bomb Forget Libya”, Foreign Policy, March 28, 2011.

[8] Hechter, Michael. 2000. Containing Nationalism. Oxford University Press.

[9] Landis, Joshua M.  2003. “Islamic Education in Syria: Undoing Secularism,” presented at the conference onConstructs of Inclusion and Exclusion: Religion and Identity Formation in Middle Eastern School Curricula, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University.

[10] Luttwak, Edward. “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins,” The New York Times, August 24, 2013.

In my book, The Politics of Nation-Building, I explore the reasons behind a state’s choice to assimilate, accommodate, or exclude ethnic groups within its territory.[1] I develop a theory that focuses on the international politics of nation-building arguing that a state’s nation-building policies toward non-core groups — any aggregation of individuals perceived as an unassimilated ethnic group by the ruling elite of a state — are influenced by both its foreign policy goals and its relations with the external patrons of these groups. Through a detailed study of the interwar Balkans, I conclude that the way a state treats a non-core group within its own borders is determined largely by whether the state’s foreign policy is revisionist or cleaves to the international status quo, and whether it is allied or in rivalry with that group’s external patrons. However, as I admit in the book, this argument does not travel to states where the ruling elites are not motivated by a homogenizing imperative.

Some places in the world are run by core groups consisting of apparent minimum winning coalitions,[2] others by elites that go at great lengths to establish national states.[3] Why do some countries have leaders that try to make the national and the political unit overlap and others that opt to rule with a minimum winning coalition? One argument suggests that maybe the degree of diversity prevents the nation-building path in some cases, other arguments focus on the pattern of spread of nationalist ideology and/or the prevalence of competing ideologies such as communism, yet others put forth the importance of war-making and imitation of successful military tactics as a mechanism that accounts for the spread of nationalism and the nation-state system.[4] In The Politics of Nation-Building I build on some of these and suggest that the main reason that leaders adopt the nation-building option is the reality, or anticipation, of other powers using non-core groups in their state to undermine their stability or even annex parts of their territory.

The European story is well known and so are the interactions between the Russians and the Europeans. Tilly’s argument that war made the modern national state may be correct but it is also based on an understood reality: borders were constantly changing during the centuries that modern European states developed.[5] But the Westphalian principles have been adhered to more in some parts of the world than others.[6] Border fixity did not only vary tremendously over time but it also significantly varied crossnationally across the globe.[7] For example, following the Treaty of Berlin in the end of the 19th century the borders of Africa “froze” after the decision of the Great Powers.[8] This led to a completely different incentive structure for both ruling elites and counterhegemonic elites in countries with “fixed borders”. Beyond the case of Africa, however, we can point to other places with similar levels of border fixity that resulted from different geopolitical configurations, such as Latin America—the back yard of the USA—or the Middle East, where the colonial powers also left their mark on the demarcation of borderlines.[9]

Overall, areas that were part of a geopolitical configuration that guaranteed border fixity had less of an incentive to pursue nation-building policies. Within these cases the only countries that I would expect to see nation-building policies emerging involve cases where an external power (major power, regional power, neighboring state, diaspora group and so forth) attempted to cultivate a fifth column within their territorial boundaries. Moreover, it would not be surprising if this phenomenon of external backing of non-core groups would be less pronounced in regions where border fixity was perceived to be really high. However, this ‘equilibrium’ becomes more or less sustainable based on the structure of the international system and the ability—real and/or perceived—of regional actors to defy these geopolitical configurations I described above.

The crucial question today is: What is the future of border fixity in today’s world? More importantly, what is the perception of the relevant actors across the world with respect to this question? The list of border changes is longer than we want to admit. One just needs to cite former Yugoslavia and USSR;[10] but more recently we find cases beyond the traditional spaces where nation-building has already made its mark like Sudan.[11]Discussion of border changes has also emerged in the case of Iraq, Mali, and even Syria. It remains to be seen if any such plans will materialize. Granted the list of cases could have been much longer if nationalist principles were to be fully operative but this is not a satisfactory answer. Even if we only get a few dozen of the hundreds of border changes we would get based on nationalist principles, the reverberations will be felt globally. Moreover, such a situation would further push the spread of nationalism, encourage external involvement, and boost nation-building projects across these areas. We are already observing manifestations of this dynamic, but more border changes would certainly intensify it. This in turn will have the direst consequences for the well being of ethnic groups that are perceived as having ties with external powers that are perceived as enemies by core elites. Shi’as in various Sunni dominated states in the Middle East are a case in point.

What can be done? The International community can impact perceptions of border fixity by either investing resources in upholding the norm of territorial sovereignty or by promoting regional integration schemes around the globe that would indirectly guarantee existing borders and, according to The Politics of Nation-Building, would also lead to accommodationist policies. However, neither of the two solutions is sufficient without important investments in economic and political development.


 The article was published at e-IR on May 8, 2013 | © e-International Relations (e-IR)

Harris Mylonas got his Ph.D. at Yale University in 2008 and then joined the Political Science department at George Washington University as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2009. He was also an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 academic years.


[1] Harris Mylonas, The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[2] William H. Riker, The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962; Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, James D. Morrow, Randolph M. Siverson and Alastair Smith, “Political Institutions, Policy Choice and the Survival of Leaders,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), pp. 559-590; Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce; Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson and James D. Morrow. The Logic of Political Survival. The MIT Press, 2003.

[3] Eugen Weber. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976; Ernest GellnerNations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983; Smith, Anthony. 1986. “State-Making and Nation-Building,” in John Hall (ed.), States in History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 228–263; Rogers Smith. Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Memberships. Cambridge University Press, 2003; Keith Darden and Anna Maria Grzymała-Busse. “The Great Divide: Literacy, Nationalism, and the Communist Collapse,” World Politics – Volume 59, Number 1 (2006): 83-115.

[4] Connor, Walker. The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984Barry Posen. “Nationalism, the Mass Army and Military Power,” International Security, 18, 2 (1993): 80-124; Andreas Wimmer. Waves of War: Nationalism, State Formation and Ethnic Exclusion in the Modern World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

[5] Charles Tilly (ed.). The Formation of National States in Western Europe.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975; Charles Tilly.Coercion, Capital and European States: AD 990-1990. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990. Charles Tilly and Wim P. Blockmans (eds.). Cities and the Rise of States in. Europe, AD 1000 to 1800. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

[6] Leo Gross. “The Peace of Westphalia, 1648-1948,” The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1948), pp. 20-41.

[7] Boaz Atzili. Good Fences, Bad Neighbors: Border Fixity and International Conflict. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2012.

[8] Förster, Stig, Wolfgang J. Mommsen, and Ronald Edward Robinson. Bismarck, Europe, and Africa: The Berlin Africa Conference 1884–1885 and the Onset of Partition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

[9] Livingstone, Grace. America’s backyard: the United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror. London; New York: Zed Books, 2009.

[10] Rogers Brubaker. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996; Ronald Grigor Suny. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford University Press, 1993.

[11] Andrew Natsios. Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2012.

The killing of the US Ambassador last week in Benghazi and the recent wave of attacks on NATO personnel by uniformed Afghan police and military highlight the perils of international efforts to build states and societies on foreign soil. Why is it that the people we arm and assist keep on turning those weapons against us?

The New York Times, CBSnews, Washington Postall reported on Sept 17, 2012 that the number of NATO personnel killed in Afghanistan by uniformed Afghan military and police is already at 51 this year, up from a total of 35 for all of last year. Approximately one in six of the NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year were killed by our local allies and trainees. And this only counts those who killed while in uniform. The attrition and desertion rate from the Afghan National Army and police forces is exceptionally high and many have joined the ranks of the Taliban.  If we consider the number of allied personnel killed by soldiers and police who have been armed and trained by coalition forces, the number is certainly much higher.

The US has wisely put the training of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) on hold for a month until it can improve procedures for vetting its recruits, but the problem runs much deeper.

In a symposium published recently in Ethnopolitics we debated the merits of international state-building efforts.  Our main lesson: There is more to state-building than simply expanding the ranks of the army and police.  Expanding the army and police may be state-building, but it might just as easily be insurgency-building if it is not preceded by systematic efforts to build loyalty and to carefully select recruits. If you are unsure of the loyalties of the recruits who you are training, it’s best not to train them at all.

Here is the link to our piece, which was followed by some responses (Erin JenneFotini Christia,Gordon BardosDavid Siroky & Yoav Gortzak) and our reply to their thoughtful comments.

Keith Darden and Harris MylonasThis post first appeared on The Monkey Cage (September 20, 2012).

Building democratic states is a complex and challenging task at the best of times. After violent conflict this task is additionally complicated by the fact that peace needs to be secured, institutions need to be comprehensively reformed, if not built from scratch, civil society and political culture need to be reinvigorated, and economies need to be put back on a path to sustainable growth.  All these tasks are urgent and success (and failure) across the state-building agenda mutually reinforcing.

Sustainable peace, democracy and prosperity depend crucially on choosing the right institutions, but these institutions cannot flourish unless there is security. For Libya, this means first and foremost putting an end to the current violence resulting from the resistance that the old regime is still offering. It also means ensuring that law and order are restored quickly, weapons collected, rebels demobilised and reintegrated. Given the brevity of the revolution, the latter should be relatively easy to accomplish without leaving the new transitional government defenceless. In the medium-term, a proper security sector reform needs to occur, establishing full democratic control over all armed and other security forces.

As the new government assumes responsibility for running the country, a functioning system of law and order needs to be established, including mechanisms to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by the Gaddafi regime and to ensure that justice is also accessible to those who came to harm during the revolution, regardless of who the perpetrators were. This will require a carefully balanced approach that is neither equivalent to wholesale criminalisation of former members and supporters of the regime nor offers a blanket amnesty for past crimes. As the National Transitional Council has already made clear, justice needs to enable reconciliation.

A stable, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Libya can only be built with international support, especially in the short-term. This will require financial and technical assistance, especially when it comes to rebuilding the economy, formulate a sound economic and fiscal policy, restore sources of government revenue, and avoid long-term dependency on international aid. A secure environment and international assistance are crucial factors to rebuild public finances, create a climate in which economic growth can be fostered, and gradually enable states recovering from conflict to become less aid-dependent and provide a range of public services that, in turn, will contribute to greater legitimacy of their institutional framework. Libya’s hydrocarbon wealth should make this task easier, but here, too, pitfalls exist. As the haggling over Iraq’s oil and gas law has demonstrated, managing resource wealth and sharing it fairly are demanding tasks that require balancing local, national, and international individual, state and corporate interests.

State-building also requires nation-building, or more precisely establishing a vibrant civil society and a political and media culture that can sustain peace and democracy by promoting cooperation and trust between different segments of society. This process can be facilitated by international actors, but it needs to be organic and bottom-up if it is to succeed. It is important that political institutions are built with the input from all local and civil society actors, that institutions are built which enable civil society and media to develop and to shape the nature of the state that is being built in the long-term as well. The legitimacy of the state that now emerges in post-Gaddafi Libya will crucially depend on the ability of institutions to facilitate the growth of civil society and truly free and independent media.

In the short-term, and beyond, however, the most crucial link is that between security and legitimacy. Any post-conflict state’s capacity to provide security for its citizens determines its legitimacy. Vice versa the legitimacy the state has (in terms of elections, the participation of key stakeholders and elites in decision-making) conditions the degree to which security is seen by citizens as protecting them rather than a new regime. The new government will need to consider carefully its options: ensuring a broad-based transitional government, preparing elections in which all political actors committed to a political, democratic process can participate, and containing those forces within the country that are set to disrupt this process. This is unlikely to be a smooth process, but nonetheless one which can succeed if all actors agree to a set of basic principles of political conduct, enshrine them in institutions, and remain united against anyone violating this consensus.

Building a secure and stable, democratic and prosperous Libya will not be easy or quick to accomplish. If local leaders realise this, and make an effort to explain the complexity and length of the task ahead to their constituents, if the international community musters the resources, stamina, and enthusiasm to support Libya on its difficult road ahead, and if the institutions being built now establish inclusive, transparent and accountable government, Libya might well turn into a case of successful democratic state-building.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is www.stefanwolff.com.

(1) If Gaddafi supporters in/outside the regime did not fight, where are they and what are their plans?

Resistance collapsed relatively quickly on the road to, and in, Tripoli, but that does not mean that the regime as a whole and across the country has been comprehensively defeated. The rebels clearly have the upper hand now and momentum is on their side, but there is a danger of setbacks. Looking at the most recent, and most traumatic, transitions of a similar kind, in both Iraq and Afghanistan regime loyalists of varying kinds resurfaced. In Iraq, they were partly defeated and partly co-opted after a very violent civil war drawing in significant foreign forces; in Afghanistan this process is still far from resolved. Both cases also demonstrate that al-Qaeda and its upshots are very adept at exploiting the instability that usually follows violent regime collapse, if only to establish (temporary) alliances of convenience to further their own agenda.

(2) How united are the rebel forces and who is in overall command?

Rebel forces have advanced on Tripoli from three sides—this does not only reflect geographical divisions. United by the will to oust Gaddafi, it is not clear how much of a common vision for a new Libya there is among the diverse rebel forces, how much they trust each other, and the extent to which the transitional council is recognised widely inside Libya (as opposed to internationally) as the new legitimate government. Rebel unity is not about an identical political agenda shared by all, but about a basic agreement on ground rules. This needs to include a commitment to an inclusive political process, to institutions for a transitional period before elections, and to respect for the rule of law rather than wanton retribution on former members and supporters of the Gaddafi regime. Some thought also needs to be given on how to deal with those who are unable or unwilling to sign up to such basic principles. The rebel leadership needs to manage this transitional period carefully, they need to accept the principle of inclusive government, and step back from maximalist demands. This will also require managing the expectations of their own constituencies and respecting the need for their allies in the movement to do the same. If this can be achieved, it will lay a significant foundation for a new political culture in Libya.

(3) Who will lead the international post-conflict reconstruction effort in support of a new Libya?

So far only vague statements have emerged about learning the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, about existing preparations, about the need for the UN and the contact group to lead, and about NATO willing to continue protecting civilians. This does not amount to a coherent and coordinated strategy even for the short term when the foundations will be laid for the new Libya that will emerge. The nature, level, and sustainability of a civilian international effort in the aftermath of the fighting in Libya will be important for the country itself, but no less impactful for the region as a whole. Making a success of Libya’s revolution will primarily depend on Libyans, but also on the kind of support they receive internationally. In many a country, internationally-led post-war reconstruction has not completely failed, but it has not had a stellar record of achieving sustainable peace, development and democracy either. The lessons are there, ready to be learned—as are, unfortunately, the mistakes to be repeated. International support is not only a Western ‘business’. Libya’s neighbours (and that includes the European Union) and the Arab world as a whole will want, and need, to play a role, as will China and Russia. Overall UN leadership is likely to provide legitimacy, but not necessarily effectiveness. While a joint UN-EU-AU-Arab-League mission is conceivable, it is important to bear in mind that the multi-organisational effort in Kosovo headed by the UN and involving the European Union, NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe offered more problems than solutions.

(4) What do developments in Libya mean for the Arab Spring and the Middle East more broadly?

While Libya has commanded much media attention over the past 2-3 days, it is not the only country experiencing significant upheaval. In Syria, the regime appears to be firmly in control—unsurprisingly given the lack of a similarly well-organized and armed opposition and the absence of NATO military support. Yet it is not clear how sustainable Assad’s rule is especially if Saudi Arabia and Turkey increase pressure. A transition here might still be possible, although probably in the form of a more gradual, negotiated process. In Yemen, President Saleh has been out of the country for more than a month, but the opposition is deeply divided and has very different aims. The Houthi rebellion in the North and the secessionist movement in the South precede the democratic opposition by years, al-Qaeda has a very strong base in the country now, but, despite its alliance with the southern secessionists, shares otherwise very little with the forces confronting the Saleh regime. A regime collapse here is unlikely to usher in either democracy or stability in this strategically important country. At the same time and in the shadow cast by the events in Libya, there has been a significant escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—Israeli approval of expanded settlements, Palestinian attacks in Eilat and Israeli counter-attacks, the latter also leading to the killing of several Egyptian border guards and a consequential deterioration of relations between Egypt (another Arab Spring country) and Israel. In the run-up to a Palestinian push to achieve UN recognition as a non-state member at the General Assembly in September, this is hardly helpful, albeit not utterly surprising as the sides stake out their positions.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is www.stefanwolff.com. 



The ongoing events in London and other cities in the UK have forced those of us who research mobilizations to re-examine some of our generally-held ideas. One refrain that seems to be increasingly deployed by politicians regards that of simple “criminality.” This is a comforting and quick explanation that, absorbed easily, might help someone sleep better at night, reassured also with their own law-abiding nature. As such, it serves a useful function, but will likely be less useful as a basis for policies to address the complexity of what has just happened.

A second line of thought invokes race, an explanation that easily resonates with those with origins or training in the US – a country that exhibits a very high level of racial categorization in its politics. At first glance, the notion of race could make sense to an analyst given the shooting that sparked the riots. But it quickly became clear in the scale of events that this was about much more. A look at the photos of looters in the newspaper quite plainly reveals that there are no clear patterns of race, and there are plenty of shots of “whites” robbing stores and “non-white” store owners trying to defend them. The television news has been using the word “youths” to describe the looter demographic. While not a usual social science category, the photos show that this is a pretty good approximation of who they are. While the US has high racial categorization, the UK has a high degree of cleavage on a generational basis. The word “yob,” or boy spelled backwards, is a UK word to indicate a young man who gets into trouble. This is a concept that is relatively stronger in the UK than in other European countries.

A quite fruitful line of thought is developing around the psychology of those engaged in the violence and looting, exploring in particular the imperative of commercialism that seems to drive some of the actions. These ideas comprise a sophisticated turn on some of the socio-psychological ideas in mobilization theory, forcing us to think carefully about basing economic stability on the requirement of consumerism. Journalists on the streets are also probing these “why” questions in interviewing those involved. This has produced a series of quotes and video or radio clips that are disturbing for many reasons, one being a lack of a truly coherent explanation. This kind of frustrating set of answers by participants to the “why” question is not unique – it seems to crop up in a diverse array of riot studies, ranging from Bangladesh and India to Tulsa. That does not mean that participants should not be asked why they engaged; simply that their answers may not produce the information that we want for a policy-informing explanation.

What kind of information can we reliably draw from riots? One thing we do know is what people do. A focus on observables can tell us a great deal about mobilizations even if we have a hard time getting inside the heads of rioters. For example, actions do not happen in a vacuum. They are followed by reactions. This is no less the case for the UK events, where some social mobilizations have started to emerge in response to the events of the past few days. A focus on politicians alone would miss these mobilizations. Some of these counter-mobilizations include individuals who decided to band together to protect their shops or neighborhoods in light of what was perceived as a low police response in London’s Monday events. In East London, Turkish shop owners mobilized  to protect their stores. In Southall, a group of Sikh men mobilized to protect a Sikh temple. In Enfield, a group of 300 men gathered to form a “vigilante” group to protect their neighborhood against looters’ potential return. These gatherings prompted a worried police department to warn that violence could increase with such groups to counter looters. While the diversity of these counter-mobilizations is obvious (and should serve as additional caution against a race reading of events), the Enfield vigilante group is mentioned by some as potentially leaning towards a racial response. A racial reading of the riots is likely to become a political project for various actors to construe for their own political benefit (watch this space).

Our theoretical abilities to understand the dynamics of bilateral mobilizations such as these are remarkably weak. One reason for this is that social movement theories developed primarily to explain protest against states and state repression. Social movement theories are thus useful to examine conditions of mobilization against a repressive state, and as such they have produced some interesting insights when applied to varied authoritarian settings such as Eastern Europe in 1989 and the recent Arab Spring. Some analysts apply these insights to democratic contexts, while others view this practice as politically motivated. Wherever one stands on this issue, one thing is certain: social movements insights fall down if the state is largely absent in events. It is simply a fact that there just weren’t enough police to contain the hundreds of violent looters in some of these events, thus the state was largely absent as an actor in some of them. Moreover, social movement theory has not really considered the potential of mal-intentioned masses. But this is the combination that produced the ugly scenes in London on Monday night and in other cities on Tuesday.

This is where bilateral mobilization comes in. Those of us working on ethnic politics and nationalism have noticed that groups don’t tend to simply accept the domination of another. As stated by one Manchester man protecting his shop, “Rather than goin’ hiding lettin’ them take everything we’re gonna stand up and fight. What [else are] ya gonna do?”  In a study of mobilization events involving Hungarians and Romanians in Romania, I found that a pattern of emulative mobilization is quite common. Similar to the London events on Monday, the politics of ethnic tensions between masses may not involve the state. They thus take on certain characteristics that can be missed by social movement theory, such as emulative mobilizations across groups as a general dynamic. In their focus on the state, social movements theories don’t strongly consider what can happen if groups might mobilize against each other. Where states, armies or police do get involved, the dynamics are quite different. But in bilateral mobilizations with a low state presence, what one finds is the following pattern: one group mobilizes, invoking grievances, and then the other group responds with an emulative mobilization. The pattern of joint mobilizations can easily spiral unless it is ended with either a jointly-recognized involvement by the state or brokerage and negotiation between respected elites of each group.

What can these emulative dynamics tell us about the London riots? Well, there is a very real danger that without a continued police presence, vigilantes might clash with perceived or real looters. While the outcome of such clashes would be less violent in the UK than in a country in which gun ownership is less controlled, spirals remain a real possibility. This potential is augmented by the fact that right-wing parties such as the BNP are intent on making as much political hay out of the riots and looting as they can, and some of the current government rhetoric is feeding into this discourse. Interpreting the situation is one thing, while admittedly addressing the problem is harder. Unlike an ethnic riot, it is not clear that there are any leaders for the rioters with which negotiations could take place. It is possible that “community leaders” could become proxies for such brokers, but this presents a problem for which hopefully those engaged in UK politics might have some creative ideas. What will not be helpful is identifying a platitude instead of a real explanation, just because it is easier to seem to address.

Fortunately, there is one crucial difference between bilateral ethnic mobilizations and the UK events. In addition to the groups of men mobilizing to protect their neighborhoods, there is an entirely different kind of responsive  mobilization that has emerged as well: a broad-based cleanup effort. Cleverly called the RiotWombles, their loose name refers to a children’s TV series about creatures on Wimbledon Common that pick up objects left by messy human beings. Within the last 24 hours, hundreds of people have shown up in various neighborhoods as part of this effort, hoisting brooms in the air as a symbol of tidiness, and well, frankly, also of strength. The presence of hundreds of broom-wielders in some of these areas should serve as a likely deterrent to would-be looters, in contrast to Monday’s empty streets – illustrating one of the logics of bilateral mobilzations. One hopes that it is the RiotWombles, rather than the vigilantes, that might remain the most visible form of counter-mobilization.

Sherrill Stroschein is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics  at the Department of Political Science, School of Public Policy University College London

Winning a war and winning the peace afterwards are two different things. Banal as this may sound, the track record of international efforts at peace building would suggest that even such a banality is worth repeating over and over in the hope that one day success rather than failure becomes the rule, and that the violence and instability that have been (and are) characteristic of Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia and Kosovo, Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo does not remain the hallmark of post-war reconstruction. Yet, even though the balance sheet of internationalised peace and state building is less than stellar it offers important lessons—lessons that become ever more relevant as the conflict in Libya seems to edge towards some sort of negotiated settlement.

Assuming that Gaddafi will exit from a position of relative strength with core elements of his regime still largely intact, one issue is how to handle the transition of power in such a way that real and sustainable change occurs. For a transitional period, this will almost certainly mean continued participation of Gaddafi ‘loyalists’ in governing institutions. They must not be allowed to bloc change, nor must they be deprived of the opportunity to embrace it. The whole-sale dismissal of Saddam Hussein’s army in post-war Iraq serves as a warning of the dire consequences of such a move.

Legitimate and inclusive governing institutions, rightly emphasised as key to stability in the UK government’s recent Building Stability Overseas Strategy, can be achieved through free and fair elections. However, early elections after civil wars are not only likely to deepen divisions and to polarise and radicalise societies, they are often also flawed because they take place before there is anything akin to a functioning civil society, free media, and institutions that make the electoral process work—from electoral commissions to political parties and a judicial system respected and capable of resolving disputes before and after elections. Elections cannot and should not be delayed forever and a day, but scheduled too soon, they are likely to do more harm than good.

Yet the challenges are unlikely to stop there. Gaddafi’s exit from power is likely to trigger some sort of a succession struggle. This will weaken regime camp, but it will equally increase instability and make it more difficult to maintain whatever fractious consensus on a transitional, post-Gaddafi period might emerge over the coming weeks (or months). Equally, the opposition movement, loosely held together in the Libyan Interim National Council will soon come to realise that apart from their desire to get rid of Gaddafi and his regime there is little that unites them in terms of substantive policies. The current anti-Gaddafi consensus is sure to give way quickly to internal struggles for power and positions. While it would be foolish to speculate about how violent potential in-fighting will be among regime loyalists and the opposition, neither bodes well for post-Gaddafi stability in Libya.

Another recurring issue in many post-war situations has to do with transitional justice. Already there are signs, albeit few, of extra-judicial retribution on the rebel side. Revenge attacks are common once the tables have turned, and history is littered with incidents of spontaneous and systematic reprisals—killings, torture, rape, and expulsions are phenomena that are all too common to be ignored. Not only do they cause immediate human suffering but they also contribute to instability further down the line, creating an environment for social and political divisions to consolidate and for hatreds to deepen. A stable political, let alone inclusive democratic process in such situations is difficult at best. Even where proper judicial processes are in place—in country or in international institutions—it is difficult for members and supporters of a former regime not to see them as ‘victor’s justice’. This is not to say that serious crimes should go unpunished but that a balance needs to be struck between dealing with the past and building a sustainable future. The former Yugoslavia, South Africa, and Rwanda, to name just a few recent examples, have all approached this issue differently, and their successes and failures offer some food for thought.

At the core of these issues lies the question of institution building in the post-Gaddafi era. This will be a complex undertaking, involving reforms of existing institutions and the establishment of new ones, as well as a whole host of staffing decisions. Such institutions will have to be representative of the diversity of Libya. They will derive their legitimacy in part from the degree to which they are representative, but equally from their ability to deliver security, justice, prosperity, and democracy.


Libya will face profound challenges on the day after Gaddafi is gone, challenges that will not be easy or quick to address. But as the signs increase that this day may be nearing, now is the time to think about the post-Gaddafi era and how the knowledge and understanding that has accumulated on how to deal with post-war situations can be put to good use. Even though Libya does not lend itself to an international UN or AU-led model of international administration, this does not mean that the international community has no role to play. Helping Libyans to build institutions and institutional capacity will be the most valuable contribution that the international community can make in assisting that country to avoid the mistakes made elsewhere and build the foundations of a democratic society.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is www.stefanwolff.com. 

On July 22, 2011, horrific news from Norway shattered the world. In two acts of terror targeting the government building in Oslo and a youth political camp of the Labour party held on the Utoya island, 76 individuals lost their lives. The perpetrator and his motifs are well known by now: it was Anders Breivik, a self-proclaimed modern day Crusader, who went on a rampage against his political opponents, frustrated with what he saw as silent facilitation of the Islamization of Europe.

“DO NOT for the love of God aim your rage and frustration at Muslims. […] ALL our efforts must be aimed at […] traitors. We will focus on the Muslims AFTER we have seized political and military control. At that point, we will start deportation campaigns.”

The quotation above is an excerpt from a document Breivik disseminated shortly before he commenced with the attacks, an 1500-pages-long manuscript titled “”2083: A European Declaration of Independence” in which he thoroughly explained his political beliefs and the motives for the crimes he committed.

One recurring question these days is if it is worth analyzing his “Manifesto” at all? Do we actually need to ponder upon his ideology? Aren’t we doing a bad thing by repeatedly debating his musings, thus reiterating his messages? At the end of the day, isn’t he just another sociopath and a person with troubled childhood, who resorted to violence as a remedy for his personal frustrations (allegedly being dumped by a girl who fell for a Muslim man)? His political views provide many grounds for disqualifying him as irrelevant to the political debate indeed. The Manifesto shows that his Holy War is driven by Breivik’s narcissism and self-righteousness as well as his delusion of historic mission. He adopts a highly selective approach to seeing the world, makes arbitrary assessments of good and bad, and is in fact excessively judgmental, confronting most of the contemporary values of society (for instance, gender equality). When it comes to his acts, on the other hand, he straightforwardly takes mass murder as a problem-solving technique. Such ideas should primarily concern law enforcement. But how should they be addressed in the political debate?


What makes Breivik different from typical mass murderers and terrorists is that his words (and consequently, his actions – a mere frontal attack on the political opponent) are not only political, but astonishingly rooted in the contemporary political debates in Europe and beyond. Reading the direct and semi-formal text of “2083,” one gets the idea that we have heard many of this claims and arguments before. It can easily be a football hooligan, a drunk man yelling in a smoky tavern or some anonymous who replied to our comments online. It can easily be the hosts of a local TV or radio show that scaremonger on the loss of European identity before the invasion of foreigners. It can be indeed, a representative of any far right political association.

The very ideas that Breivik was advocating for  – alarmism regarding the loss of traditional values, vilification of traitors, preaching homogenization through un-mixing (deportation) and curtailing immigration, as well as expressing deep solidarity with non-western nations perceived as struggling with Islamic terror) are the pillars of various ideologies shared by thousands of Europeans (and Americans). Meticulously pointing out his influences and beliefs, the former member of Norway’s second largest political party, the Progress Party, declares himself as “Western Europe patriot,” nationalist/conservative and cultural Christian who fights the Islamization of Europe and especially its enablers (multiculturalism, political correctness, “cultural Marxism”). He builds upon the ideas of the Dutch radical far righter Geert Wilders, the English Defence League and he would like to meet the glorious Vladimir Putin in person. He sees the EU as an “unelected and unaccountable government for nearly half a billion people” and argues that he and his supporters have allies in the US (“a sizable faction of the Republican Party,” presumably the Tea Party). Hence, understanding Breivik and his political beliefs is crucial for understanding the prospects of the far right. The “2083” Manifesto shows that albeit the diffusion and the divergent conceptions among the far right, their beliefs are inter-related and complementary to each other and they share the sense of a common mission. For now, it is their methods that make them different.


Unlike fellow right wingers, Breivik advocates violence. He does that primarily because he is openly disillusioned with the merits of democracy. Unlike his political idols that participate in elections and engage into institutional debates, Breivik saw democracy as an unfair system that suppresses his fellow patriots from having a say in policymaking, a system that is biased towards liberals and the Left. In his words, in such a system “even if a moderate right wing political party […] manages to gain certain influence […] they will not be able to accomplish anything unless they get more than 50% of the votes.” This “injustice” was the very reason why he left mainstream politics. Even though his former party was “the most successful anti-Islamisation party in Europe,” it could not make a significant change because the 22% of support were simply not enough to push their hundreds of bills against radical Islam taking over. Same goes with civic or at least non-violent activism, as Breivik sees “unnacountable NGOs” as part of the cultural Marxist coalition that undermines national sovereignty and the preservation of European culture.

The Oslo and Utoya attacks were part of Breivik’s master plan to bully his opponents and through shock and blood to affect the status quo of Norwegian and European politics; eventually to outrage Muslims and to cause a religious war. The Norwegian scholar on nationalism, Thomas Hylland  Eriksen argues that the very nature of the radical act of terror committed by Breivik resembles a natural disaster – we could not anticipate it and therefore, were unable to protect ourselves from it, and we can not protect ourselves from similar acts in the future. Yet, this is only partially true.

In the post – 23 July debates, authors seem to forget one very important fact regarding political terror: resorting to violence is not uncommon when radicals are in question. Terror is part of European history, and moreover, part of Europe’s present. The politics of the violent direct action that marked a whole era of European and global politics (one such act was the casus belli for the outbreak of the First World War). Today, even though terror has significantly decreased, it still persists. In 2009, out of 294 terrorists attacks in Europe, only one was carried by Islamists, and the rest by European radicals, especially by extreme nationalists and separatists. Therefore, Breivik’s acts should remind us that violence of this kind, unthinkable before July 23 and unthinkable for Norweigans, might just happen very soon again. Breivik knew that radicals and his fellow “Western European Patriots” can and will opt for violence – and that is what made him say that he is optimistic of the future of his “Holy War.”

The questions we need to answer

The question that can hardly be answered, of course is, how can European governments respond to the ferocious attack, both in terms of security and discursively? How can they protect their people from future attacks carried  by extreme far righters and how can they combat the burgeoning hateful rhetoric that stimulates that type of actions? Introducing frequent check ups on blonde guys wearing branded polo shirts who exhibit high level of etiquette is certainly not an alternative to be considered (part of Breivik’s suggestions are to dress neatly and behave accordingly in order to trick authorities). As Prime Minister Stoltenberg said, the response must follow the ideals of the open and tolerant society. The outrage, the fear and the anguish of this moment have to be overcome.

One powerful mechanism democratic societies of today have is deliberation. And before contemplating any possible solutions, we need to take a step back and reflect on ourselves for a moment. In that respect, there are topics that we will need to discuss in order to maintain the pillars of openness and tolerance.

In Breivik’s case, we have an obvious example of how anti-Islam, far right rhetoric inspires terror (the same goes for any extremist rhetoric). To paraphrase Karl Frisch, while it would be senseless to blame a whole political movement for the acts of an individual, his enablers and idols should be held accountable. “There is a high bar between […] religious extremist and a religious extremist capable of killing someone […]. But [far right ideologues] lower that bar when they paint the Islamic faith with a broad brush and give anti-Muslim bigotry an audience of millions.”  In fact, while his far right heroes condemn Breivik’s methods in the aftermath of the Oslo and Utoya bloodbaths, they did not miss the opportunity to repeat their views that the alleged threat from radical Islam persists and the debate should not be deflected because this individual act. That is the politically correct way (the way Breivik despised) to say that the motives behind the July 23 attacks were in fact justified.

Not only anti-Islam discourse should be tackled on formal grounds, there needs to be a persistent effort to diffuse prejudices, through, for instance, reframing “Muslim questions” as questions of social exclusion/inclusion, while maintaining the secular and liberal-democratic perspective. Same goes with migration – we need to facilitate a shift of the focus of the debate from security issues to the challenges of integration and social cohesion (and target both the immigrants and the native population). Moreover, we need individualization of the discourse – meaning departure from debating religions, cultures and communities as if they were strictly bound and homogenous actors (a self-critical remark is that this should be applied when discussing the far right as well). Finally, we need to agree with Breivik’s assessment that the current political order is ideologically colored, and moreover, that it is tailored to discourage hatred towards individuals and whole categories of the population. In order to make this less outrageous and more plausible for far right extremists, we need to repeat the fact that it is in order to protect their comfort as well.

Anastas Vangeli is a Research Analyst at the Center for Research and Policy Making, Skopje

June 2011 marked the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Polish–German Treaty of Good Neighbourly Relations and Friendly Cooperation (in German, in Polish), designed to signal a new start between two states, whose relations in the twentieth century had degenerated to the point of fatal toxicity. All the more remarkable is thus the astonishing success that the treaty had in resetting German-Polish relations and bringing them to an unprecedented level of constructive and mutually beneficial engagement across all levels of government, business and society.

Today, this is widely recognised in Poland and Germany, but is hardly appreciated outside these two countries. During the course of a state visit to Germany on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the treaty’s signature, the current Polish president, Bronisław Komorowski remarked that of all the reconciliation projects in Europe, the Polish-German case was by the far the most significant and that the goals set in 1991 had largely been achieved. There is a great deal of truth in Komorowski’s words, but it has taken years of painstaking work to relieve Polish-German relations of the poison in which they were enveloped, particularly during World War Two and its aftermath. During the period of communist rule in Poland negative stereotypes of Germany and the Germans were used to buttress an unpopular regime within a society that was conscious of its own history and which was conscious of its role of victim. In light of this legacy, one cannot but acknowledge the importance of memory in shaping perceptions of Germany and the Germans in Poland. The stereotypes that resulted are still there, but they are less prevalent and less widely spread, notably because both sides have worked hard to overcome them.

Central to this process, and intrinsically linked to each other, have been the status of the German minority in Poland and the country’s endeavour to ‘Return to Europe’ as both have resulted in a re-appraisal of Poland’s historic encounters with Germany and the Germans. This can be easily illustrated by looking at the changed status of the German minority in Opole Silesia, the only region in Poland with a sizeable German community. In recent years the German minority in Poland has become successfully embedded within the politics of the Opole Voivodship. In the late 1980s the German minority in Poland was largely estranged from wider Polish society and was essentially backward–looking and nostalgic towards a past of uncertain provenance. However, as part and parcel of the wider re-appraisal within Polish society with regard to all things German, the German minority in Poland has also sought to re-visit the past and as a result has been able to confront and overcome its own stereotypes. Without the positive steps—taken by successive German and Polish governments alike and since the late 1980s in particular—to encourage, support and sustain this process this re-appraisal of historical memory could not have taken place and Poland’s endeavours to engineer the ‘Return to Europe’ would in all likelihood have been futile.

The changes that have occurred in Poland and in bilateral Polish-German relations since the signing of the Treaty of Good Neighbourly Relations in June 1991 have been momentous. However, it is important to bear in mind that the signing of treaties and international agreements can but be a framework for more fundamental changes in attitude at every level of society that has been essential to lift German-Polish relations to the level where they are today. The road there was paved with serious obstacles at times and not without setbacks, but eventually it was the individual and joint efforts of both governments that brought the success that both sides sought: Poland’s ‘Return to Europe’.

For the Polish government, this meant acknowledgement of the fact that its indigenous German minority was much larger than the claimed 3,500 of the mid-1980s. It meant recognition of the fact that that despite the atrocities visited upon Poland by the Nazis, the wholesale forcible expropriation and expulsion of ethnic Germans between 1945-49 was neither solely the work of the Soviet Union nor “an orderly and humane transfer according to the norms of the Potsdam Agreement”. And it necessitated the establishment of a minority rights regime for the German and other minorities, in accordance with EU and Council of Europe norms.

For the German government it meant according definitive recognition of Poland’s western border and combating stereotypes of ‘polnische Wirtschaft’ and of Poles as argumentative incorrigible drunks. It also meant working with the German minority in Poland and the politically vocal and not always conciliatory community of German post-1945 expellees and refugees from Poland to bring them to accept that the border was fixed, that no special territorial status would be accorded to the minority, and that claims for restitution would have to be abandoned and replaced by an approach that shifted from an obsession with a selective interpretation of the past to the articulation of a political, social and cultural programme firmly directed toward the needs of the community itself. It was only with the common realisation that the pursuit of these and other maximal aims, which themselves had been generated by the memory of past events, had to be abandoned that strategies of rapprochement could be implemented in Opole Silesia itself.

In sum, this change in attitudes has come about as a result of the exploration of memory, its re-interpretation and the application of this re-interpreted memory to the contemporary context. Problems do still remain, as is evidenced to this day by the antics of the national conservative right in Poland and the more antediluvian of some in the expellee community. Yet, the message they articulate has less and less purchase among the wider population. It is the treaty of 1991 and the message behind it that counts today. In other words, Germany and Poland have become genuine partners in Europe and have left behind them, but neither forgotten nor denied, a painful history in which they and/or outsiders decided each other’s fate: from the partitions of the eighteenth century, to the Treaty of Versailles, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, to the agreements of Yalta and Potsdam. The changes to this pattern of relationships carry a broader lesson. Perceptions of the past govern contemporary attitudes, and in so doing can constrain opportunities for reconciliation whilst simultaneously entrenching the rule of authoritarian elites. It is necessary to challenge established negative stereotypes in order to break free of both such stereotypes and authoritarianism. The changed nature of the relationship between Poland and Germany demonstrates how transitions coupled with the re-appraisal of memory can create new opportunity structures for the re-shaping of bilateral relations that in turn can improve the position of ordinary citizens and allow them to become full members of the societies in which they reside. Above all, the success of the Polish–German Treaty of Good Neighbourly Relations and Friendly Cooperation, signed two decades ago, demonstrates that no matter how painful a common history may be, it need not be repeated over and over again.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is www.stefanwolff.com. Karl Cordell is Professor of Politics at the University of Plymouth, UK, and is co-editor of Ethnopolitics.

On 25 May 2011, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Commission Vice-President, Baroness Catherine Ashton, and the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, presented a new communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Boldly entitled ‘A new response to a changing neighbourhood’, the document is the outcome of a review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) begun in summer 2010 in response to the changes of the Union’s new foreign affairs set-up under the Lisbon Treaty. It proclaims the need for a new approach to build and consolidate healthy democracies, pursue sustainable economic growth and manage cross-border links and specifically mentions ‘stronger political cooperation on … security [and] conflict resolution matters’.

Comprising the countries on the southern and eastern Mediterranean shores—Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt; and the Palestinian Territories, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—the Southern Neighbourhood faces no shortage of security and conflict-related challenges. In order to assess how well the revamped ENP is likely to perform in addressing them, these challenges first need to be identified. They fall into two broad categories, the first of them being issues related to instability and insecurity IN the Southern Neighbourhood itself:

  • Latent/unresolved conflicts between states, primarily evolving around borders in the Middle East between Israel and Syria and Lebanon
  • Communal/sectarian/secessionist civil wars, primarily the (currently suspended) power struggles in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, as well as the self-determination struggle in Morocco/Western Sahara
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict which combines elements of inter-state and intra-state conflicts linked to the broader regional setting of the Arab-Israeli conflict
  • The so-called ‘Arab Spring’, i.e., the popular uprisings against a widely perceived lack of economic opportunity, freedom and dignity in a number of the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa—with their largely unpredictable outcomes and consequences

All of these conflicts pose a serious humanitarian challenge (and have in many instances done so for years if not decades), but they also constitute a security challenge to the EU (and more broadly) in that they are an essential part of an environment that is conducive to the proliferation of cross-border security threats. In this second category of security challenges, the issues are of more immediate and direct impact on the EU itself:

  • Illegal (trans-) migration to EU member states
  • Transnational organised crime, especially related to smuggling of goods and trafficking in humans, arms, and drugs
  • International terrorism
  • Supply and transit dimensions of European energy security

The new ENP mission statement recognises that addressing these threats is a shared interest with the countries of the Southern Neighbourhood, and at least implicitly, also makes a connection between the two categories in seeing problems IN the Neighbourhood among the causes of security threats BEYOND its geographical boundaries. More to the point organised crime, international terrorism, etc., are, to some extent, symptoms of underlying problems in the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

Looking back over more than half a decade of ENP, the track record of the policy to achieve its strategic goals of strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of the EU and its neighbours is less than stellar. Among all the countries of the Southern Neighbourhood, only two—Morocco and Jordan—have fully implemented, and moved beyond, their original action plans. In recognition of this, the EU granted them ‘advanced status’ in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Yet, one might question, for example, how much Morocco really has advanced since the inauguration of the ENP in 2003: the conflict in the Western Sahara—after all, one of the security challenges in the Southern Neighbourhood constantly referred to in EU documents—is nowhere nearer a resolution than it was eight years ago.

Is this likely to change now? The ‘new response to a changing neighbourhood’ signifies a certain degree of continuity in its commitment to democracy, economic development, sub-regional cooperation and regional differentiation that has characterised the ENP since 2003. What is if not new, so at least far more explicit, is a greater emphasis on conditionality and political and security cooperation. Thus, the EU seeks to ‘enhance [its] involvement in solving protracted conflicts’. However, rather than outlining concrete steps that go beyond the implementation of ENP (and CFSP) to date, the emphasis is on continuing what already happens (and has arguably not been very effective): membership in the Middle East Quartet, opposition to violent border changes, using operational presence through existing missions to back reform efforts, and employing instruments that promote economic integration and sectoral reform to support confidence-building measures and conflict resolution objectives. The only, partially innovative new initiative is an emphasis of the EU’s preparedness to develop post-conflict reconstruction scenarios as incentives for conflict settlement.

While the EU recognises that ‘more continuous and more intimate political dialogue’ is necessary to ‘tackle the sources of instability and conflict’ in the Southern Neighbourhood, the section in the new ENP strategy on ‘Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity in the Southern Mediterranean’ (originally launched by Ashton and Commission President Barroso on 8 March 2011 in response to the ‘Arab Spring’) is rather silent on political and security cooperation in this respect, as is the ‘Dialogue for migration, mobility and security with the Southern Mediterranean Countries’ (released on 24 May 2011). It thus remains unclear how the EU will translate is aspirations for more security and stability into the fast-changing reality of the Southern Neighbourhood. How can we explain this?


There are a number of problems that have beset the ENP from the very start:

  • Member states still find it hard to speak with a common voice on foreign and security policy matters, they are often divided among themselves, and rifts also frequently emerge between member states and the EU institutions, and among EU institutions. Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more recently on Libya provides ample illustration for that.
  • The EU’s (and its member states’) internal security agenda often dominates, thus privileging the treatment of symptoms (organised crime, terrorism, illegal migration) over a more comprehensive approach to their causes.
  • EU capacity to develop and implement an effective security and conflict resolution policy remains underdeveloped, especially as far as human resources are concerned—in the institutions in Brussels and in the delegations on the ground.


More fundamentally perhaps, however, the EU seems to have ‘bought’ too much of its own narrative about the all-persuasive power and cure of democracy and economic development as sufficiently effective substitutes for a more strategic and powerful security and conflict resolution policy. To the credit of the Union, the stronger emphasis on conditionality indicates that democracy and economic development will not always be readily embraced by everyone in the neighbourhood. The jury is still out on whether tougher conditionality can deliver the reforms that the EU, correctly, believes to be necessary to tackle not only the symptoms but also the root causes of conflict and instability. It may not work in every case, but even it works in only a few countries in the Southern Neighbourhood, this would be much needed, significant and welcome progress.

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham, England, UK.  His website is www.stefanwolff.com.