Saturday, January 30, 2010

'Arming the Dragon: U.S. Security Ties with the People’s Republic of China'

Today's news reports about controversial arms sales to Taiwan from the United States -- resulting in a negative reaction from China -- sent me looking for this book review, which appeared originally in the New York City Tribune on Wednesday, March 2, 1988.

Let’s Not Spite Our Allies to Appease Beijing
Arming the Dragon: U.S. Security Ties with the People’s Republic of China, by A. James Gregor, Ethics and Public Public Center, Washington, D.C., $7.95, paperback, 111 pp.

American sailors in the Persian Gulf today are in danger, partly because of the sale of Silkworm missiles from the People’s Republic of China to Iran. The Silkworms, like our Stinger missiles, are devastatingly accurate weapons for destroying ships — including the oil tankers and merchant ships that belong to countries that have not taken sides in the war between Iraq and Iran. There is broad agreement that no outsiders should sell such modern weapons to either Iraq or Iran. Yet China continues to sell the Silkworms.

This brings home to us in a sharp and timely fashion why the United States should be wary of pursuing closer military ties to China. The same point is made in a scholarly way in the new book Arming the Dragon: U.S. Security Ties with the People’s Republic of China by Prof. A. James Gregor of the University of California at Berkeley.

His argument is fairly straightforward: Essentially, the strategy seems simple enough — the most significant military and political threat to U.S. interests in the Western Pacific comes from the Soviet Union; the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a clear adversary of the Soviet Union; this creates a convergence of U.S. and Chinese interests in the region; therefore, the United States should provide military assistance to the Chinese.

Gregor shows persuasively that this syllogism of appealing simplicity has a very real shortcoming: it quite likely is wrong. Instead of syllogistic simplicity, the triangular political and military relationship between the United States, China, and the Soviet Union in the Western Pacific is far more complex than some of our strategic thinkers seem willing to acknowledge. Some military planners seem to take a perverse glee in the idea of arming China as a way to “get” the Soviet Union, a glee that is glaringly shortsighted.

In Arming the Dragon, Gregor notes that the existence of Communist China alone complicates Soviet strategic planning. Half a million Soviet troops are tied down at the Chinese border. Were there no threat from China, those troops would be free to make mischief in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, or elsewhere in the world. It does not follow, argues Gregor, that the United States should sell arms or give military aid to Beijing, particularly since U.S. allies in the region believe China is a greater threat to them than the Soviet Union is.

It is clear that as long as Moscow and Beijing are at odds with each other, there is little chance that the Soviet border forces will be freed to unbalance the delicate equilibrium between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Europe. Thus, the United States should pursue political, economic and cultural rapprochement with China. But does it mean that closer military ties should be sought as well?

No, not at all. The selling of arms to the PRC, the provision of military technology, and the training of members of the People’s Liberation Army in the West are misguided efforts. Policies such as these generate suspicion and ill will among our allies in the Western Pacific — particularly the Republic of China on Taiwan, but also Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan. When a tiny nation like Singapore, for instance, feels that the PRC threatens it more than the Soviet Union, and that the United States tilts toward the PRC, it may be more inclined to seek Soviet support or at least to resist Soviet overtures less forcefully.

Our friends in the Western Pacific — particularly the Republic of China on Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, and Japan deserve to have their needs and perceptions treated with respect in Washington. A cavalier attitude that places Beijing’s desires above those of our other, more reliable friends and allies will, in the long run, work against U.S. interests. The Silkworm missiles provide just one such example. With a broader perspective, Gregor’s book teaches that lesson quite clearly.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based foreign policy analyst and writer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Mad Dreams, Saving Graces'

Although I believe this book review was published in the International Freedom Review in 1989 or 1990, I have been unable to find that particular volume in my library. What did turn up in a file box was a typescript that shows its age simply by the fact that it was produced on a dot-matrix printer.

Mad Dreams, Saving Graces – Poland: A Nation in Conspiracy, by Michael T. Kaufman. New York: Random House, 1989. Pages: 270. Price: $19.95 (hardcover). 

Reviewed by Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

For the Polish people, the month of September 1989 resonates with history — past, present, and future. It was fifty years ago this month that Hitler’s forces, in cooperation with Stalin’s Red Army, dismembered Poland less than twenty years after it had achieved independence upon the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian empires. September 1989 will be the first full month in more than forty years that Poland’s government is headed by a non-Communist, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. The new prime minister is an unassuming intellectual, a newspaper editor who only a few years ago was jailed by the order of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the man who last month requested that Mazowiecki form a government under the umbrella of Solidarity, the free trade union movement banned from 1981 until last year. What the future holds is anybody’s guess, but given the rapidity of events that were unpredictable even eighteen months ago, for many people, optimism hard to avoid.

Michael T. Kaufman, an American reporter born of Polish parents in exile just before the Second World War, returned to his ancestral land as a New York Times correspondent in 1984.

What he discovered was a country living in conspiracy -- consciously, surreptitiously, historically living in a conspiracy designed to show that no totalitarian government whether Nazi orCommunist can keep the Polish people down.

Kaufman’s account of the underground Solidarity movement in the years following the declaration of martial law in December 1981 is full of tales of personal heroism. The heroes, however, are modest. What they do, they say, is only what is necessary to maintain their own dignity and that of their nation. Whether running from gun-toting secret police or editing underground newspapers, the conspirators felt that their conspiracy was nothing out of the ordinary, only the honest efforts of honest people to keep their heads above water. In Polish, writes Kaufman, “the word conspiracy has absolutely no negative connotation. A Pole will say, ‘I was a conspirator,’ in the same way a Frenchman might say, ‘I was with the wartime resistance.” It is a matter of pride.

It has become a commonplace among both travel writers arid political analysts to describe a nation as being filled with paradox. For Poland, however, this cliché is undoubtedly true. Kaufman writes that Poland’s “social landscape” is dominated by “tragic though sometimes ludicrous paradoxes. Almost everyone in Poland knew that what was economically necessary was politically impossible, that what was required was forbidden. The government knew this, the party knew this, the nation knew it.” He cites a Polish writer whom he had called absurdist in the tradition of Eugene Ionesco. The writer’s reaction to this characterization? “I am a realist like Zola. It is just Poland that is absurd.”

In Poland, merely not to lose is to win. This seems a paradox to us, because, as Kaufman explains, “For those brought up in pragmatic Western cultures, a system that accepts stalemate as the best possible substitute for success seems like a Wonderland absurdity.” Kaufman reminds us of the modest aspirations apparent in the Polish national anthem, which unlike national hymns that lay claim to God’s bounty or military victories, merely states, “Jeszcze Polska nie zginela" [“Poland has not yet perished”].

Poland is a police state like other Communist countries. It is just that the police are not quite so effective at stifling dissent and the underground conspiracy. The police are held in widespread disdain. One common joke in Warsaw asks: “Why do policemen here walk in threes?” Answer: “Well, the first is there because he can read, the second, because he can add, and the third, to keep tabs on the two intellectuals.” And are Poles proud that one of their countrymen, Feliks Dzierzynski, founded the Soviet secret police (forerunner of today’s KGB) arid participated in Stalin’s bloody purges? Well, in a manner of speaking. In one story about the monument to Dzierzynski in Warsaw, “an old peasant visits the statue, crosses himself, and tells a passerby that Dzierzynski was one of the greatest Poles who ever lived. When the stunned stranger asks why, the peasant tells him, ‘Because he killed more Communists and more Russians than vodka and winter.”

Poles are more aware of their history than perhaps any other European society. A university lecturer told Kaufman that “everywhere else, people think history is something that happens to strangers, while here it is what happens to our mothers and fathers and what is happening to us and our friends.”

What is happening now is the gradual transformation of a Communist police state into a democratic republic. The underground movement that arose spontaneously after martial law was declared in 1981 was not violent but intellectual. Said Solidarity leader Zbigniew Bujak, “Once resistance had meant taking up a gun. Now, people instinctively took up typewriters.” The underground consisted of “firms” of people engaged in political propaganda activities: newspapers, books, plays, musical performances, debates. The result was stimulation of political ideas and, finally, forcing the government to hold genuinely free elections in which Solidarity candidates won every seat that they contested.

Although Kaufman’s book necessarily ends its chronology of events some months before the most recent occurrences, it is interesting to note his guarded optimism about Poland’s future. Polish hopes for economic rescue by the West, he says, are “politically unrealistic. Some limited growth in capital from abroad [is] probable, particularly if state and society established a truce, but full-scale rescue by a consortium of benefactors seem[s] a chimera.” Moreover, the Polish example poses a threat to Soviet domination over its own republics, particularly Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where clamor for independence is loud today, and in the Ukraine and elsewhere farther down the road. How far will Gorbachev allow the Poles to go before saying “Enough!”?

It is far too early to make an accurate assessment of Poland’s economic and political future. What is clear to me, at least, is that the hard-won status now enjoyed by Solidarity is Solidarity’s to lose. Economic or political failure is the unfortunate likely outcome for a government made up of people who have never before held responsible public offices. The hard choices necessary to reform the Polish economy will come down most severely on Solidarity’s own constituents, the workers: higher food prices, layoffs, closing plants and industries. In fact, it may be necessary, on the basis of economic realities, to close down the inefficient and archaic Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, which besides being totally non-competitive with foreign shipbuilders, is the birthplace of Solidarity. What an ironic, paradoxical grace note to accompany Solidarity’s triumph!

Richard Sincere, a Washington-based issues analyst, is an American of Polish descent.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'The Wayward Professor' by Joel J. Gold

I found the typescript for this book review in a long-neglected file box. It was written in 1989 or 1990 but has not been previously published.

“Hail the Wayward Professor!”
A Book Review by Richard Sincere

The Wayward Professor by Joel J. Gold; illustrations by Vivian S. Hixson. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. Publication date: April 1, 1989. 191 pages; $14.95, cloth.

A delightful new book from a most unlikely publisher — the University Press of Kansas — promises to be a good bet for the beach-reading set this summer.

Readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education (there are more of us than you might imagine!) are already familiar with the humorous essays of Joel J. Gold, a fiftysomething professor of English literature at the University of Kansas. Gold, who specializes in eighteenth century works by rakes and rogues, has delivered a rakish and roguish look at academic life and politics, foreign travel, and even the CIA and the IRS.

Gold approaches what might in other circumstances be mundane, even boring, subjects with wry panache — late papers, faculty dinner parties, dealing with insurance adjustors.

Take, for instance, his story about “smuggling” cut-rate liquor from Missouri to Kansas (which was a “dry” state). Gold begins the essay thus: “I would like to tell you about one of my earliest adventures in Kansas when I boldly outwitted the law, smuggled contraband liquor across the state line, and raced down the Kansas Turnpike with the aplomb of Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. I would like to tell you that story. Unfortunately, what actually happened will sound more like Don Knotts in The Panicky Professor.”

Not a few of the stories hinge on liquor, its uses and abuses. As an eighteenth- century scholar, Gold had discovered an anecdote about Benjamin Franklin, who claimed to have brought back to life several flies that had been preserved in a bottle of madeira. His curiosity got the better of him, so Gold the humanities professor sought out (some rather wary) biology professors to help him try a little experiment to verify Franklin’s strange claim. The results? Inconclusive.

Then there was the “Naked Lunch" party sponsored by some graduate students to honor visiting author William Burroughs. Under the gaze of guests under the influence of a potent punch (four parts gin to one part creme de menthe) that “carried an overwhelming taste of mothballs,” a living centerpiece lay among the canapes. Periodically, this non-speaking young man would rise, enter the men’s room, and emerge wearing one less piece of clothing than before. By the end of the afternoon, he was fully unclothed. It took more than a few moments for the guests, sensorily deprived by “Essence of Mothballs,” to see the connection: naked centerpiece = Naked Lunch (Burroughs’ most famous novel)!

Gold’s tales of travel abroad are equally compelling and quite amusing. Anyone who has had an extended stay in Europe for business or academic reasons will be able to identify with the plights of Professor Gold and his family. There was the time, driving through Italy, that the family car broke down. As it happened, Mrs. Gold was driving at the time, leading Professor Gold to repeat wearily and haplessly to the nearly uncomprehending Italian mechanic, “Mi sposi condotti.” (Roughly, “Blame my wife — she was driving!”)

This was only after the professor, rather confused, drove five times around Venice looking for the proper bridge to cross into the City of Canals, never realizing that all cars must be parked in Mestre for the passengers to embark, by boat, to Venice itself. By the third or fourth pass, smiling Italians were waving and applauding the little Gold vehicle.

Gold has not had much luck with cars. When he purchased a very nice automobile in Europe, he decided to keep it after his trip was over. He sent it across the Atlantic by ship while he returned by plane. After some time had passed, he began to worry about the car’s safe arrival. His worry was due — the car had been crushed by a load of steel girders that fell loose during the crossing. Try explaining that one to your insurance company!

Other stories relate the different methods of bureaucracy at the British Library and similar French institutions. True glimpses of humanity also are found. At a small provincial museum in England, Gold went searching for some letters by the eighteenth-century politician and satirist John Wilkes (one of the rogues in which he specializes). To his dismay, after the long train journey, he discovered that the entire box of letters consisted of photocopies of originals that were kept at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He had seen them all, But then, at the bottom of the pile, he found one that was not a photocopy. It was an original! Not only that, it was an original that no one else knew about. It was not listed in any existing index of Wilkes memorabilia. Fleetingly, Professor Gold considered purloining the letter and making himself a rich man. (Such a find could surely bring a small fortune at Sotheby’s.) His honesty got the better of him. He wrote down the letter’s contents and handed it to the librarian, explaining its value and walking away guiltless rather than famous.

It is impossible to convey the true flavor of a book of essays like this. Believe me when I say that you will laugh out loud from the moment you pick up the book. Complementing the jocularity of the text are the amusingly Thurberesque illustrations by Vivian Hixson, whose drawings often accompany Professor Gold’s work in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In this age of criticism and distress over the state of the academy, it is a real pleasure to come across an academic who can rise above the fray through wit instead of venom, with wisdom instead of sophistry. With his tongue firmly in cheek, The Wayward Professor shows that Joel J. Gold is a credit to his profession. If his students leave college with just a jot of his humor, that should be enough to get them through life on an even keel.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based free-lance writer and editor.

'Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique'

This book review was published in Volume 3, Number 2, of International Freedom Review (Winter 1990).


Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique 
edited by Richard J. Bloomfield.
(Reference Publications, Inc.: Algonac, Mich., 1988. 261 pp., $24.95 hdcvr, $12.95 ppb)
Reviewed by Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

Sometimes even well-informed Americans have trouble understanding the differences between Angola and Mozambique, despite their location on opposite sides of the southern African continent. The similarities are readily apparent: Angola and Mozambique were Portuguese colonies from the late fifteenth century until 1975. Both are poor. Both are in Africa. Both have had troubled relations with neighboring South Africa. Moreover, both have been ruled by Marxist-Leninist parties since independence.

However, the similarities do not go much beyond these few points, especially since after independence Angola and Mozambique have followed different paths and have come upon unique problems and opportunities. Each will have a decidedly different future.

The World Peace Foundation, which describes itself as “a private, non-profit foundation based in Boston that conducts studies of international issues,” has collected a number of essays on Angola and Mozambique in Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique, edited by Richard J. Bloomfield, the World Peace Foundation’s executive director. Bloomfield served as the U.S. ambassador to Portugal from 1978 to 1982. Strangely enough, considering Portugal’s ongoing (if uneven) ties with its former African colonies, Ambassador Bloomfield confesses In the Introduction to being “a neophyte” in the region, an odd position for a former U.S. envoy to Lisbon to invoke.

The essay contributions to this book vary in quality and substance and there is also a certain imbalance in the collection. For instance, an excellent and comprehensive survey of Mozambican history by Gillian Gunn does not have any counterpart dealing with Angolan history, a lacuna that really should have been addressed by the editor.

Moreover, as a book, this anthology is poorly produced. There are numerous typographical and editing errors, there is inconsistency in the typefaces and type-styles used, the leading (space between lines) on some pages is tighter than on others, and the text on some pages is longer than on others for no apparent reason (such as the beginning of a new section or chapter). Overall, this book gives the impression of being someone’s first effort at desktop publishing.

The contributors, for the most part, represent the best of liberal and center-left thinking on African issues. Their names are recognizable to anyone who deals with these issues frequently:  Gerald Bender, Kurt Campbell, Carlos Gaspar, Kenneth Maxwell, Robert I. Rotberg, Wayne S. Smith, in addition to the previously mentioned Gillian Gunn and Richard J. Bloomfield.

In his opening essay, “The Legacy of Decolonization,” Kenneth Maxwell, director of the Camões Center for the Portuguese Speaking World at Columbia University, makes a valid criticism that many analysts of African issues often overlook because they themselves are guilty of the sin he identifies. The literature on decolonization falls into two categories, he says: either it has been “classically Africanist” or it has been “overly concerned with grand strategy—with East-West Issues and foreign interventionism.”

Consequently, the Africanists tend to see all events through the prism of “Africa” (in the abstract), undiluted by other considerations, while the other group focuses “almost exclusively on the actions of the superpowers and their allies.” Since the twain seldom meet, there is little interaction or understanding between the two groups. Rarely, Maxwell asserts, “does either side listen to the other, let alone accept that in both positions there is much truth.”

Certainly, this condition has affected the way American analysts and policymakers have approached Angola and Mozambique. There are some people who refuse to believe, for instance, that the MPLA and Frelimo (the Marxist parties ruling Angola and Mozambique) are driven by anything other than their Marxist ideology and therefore there should be no accommodation with them even in the interests of regional stability. There are others who think that the Marxist nature of the governments of Angola and Mozambique should be no cause for concern at all and that Americans should continue “business as usual.” Still others, wearing the blinders of anti-apartheid activism, think that Washington should ally itself with Luanda and Maputo against the aggressive-imperialist-racist South African state: their feeling is, “Any enemy of Pretoria is a friend of ours.”

Long-Standing Communist Ties
It is nevertheless difficult to set aside superpower considerations when dealing with Mozambique and, especially, Angola. Leaders of the future Marxist governments in Portuguese Africa were active members of the Portuguese Communist party and its allies during Portugal’s fascist period. These included Marcelino dos Santos of Frelimo and the MPLA’s Agostino Neto, who, according to Maxwell, “knew the Portuguese Left from the inside,” a characteristic lacking in rivals Holden Roberto of the FNLA and Jonas Savlmbi of UNITA.

From the beginning, Moscow supported the anti-Portuguese liberation movements. Maxwell reports:
[T]heir support for the MPLA went back to 1958; and despite a cooling of the’ Soviet relationship with Neto during the 1970s, Soviet support went to one or the other of MPLA’s factions throughout the period of armed struggle against the Portuguese.
This Soviet connection was sufficient to stimulate U.S. concern. He cites Helmut Sonnenfeldt’s view that the United States had had “no intrinsic interest In Angola” but that even a remote and unimportant territory acquires American interest once it “becomes a focal point for Soviet, and in this Instance, Soviet-supported Cuban military action.” The derivative U.S. interest that results is something “which we simply cannot avoid.”

Maxwell’s account of Soviet interests in southern Africa differs in tone if not in fact from that of Kurt Campbell, whose essay in this volume has also been published, in slightly different form, as an Adelphi Paper by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Campbell notes from the outset, however, the significant difference between U.S. and Soviet interests in the region:
Since its dramatic entrance into southern Africa in 1975 to bolster the MPLA during the fractious Angolan civil war, the Soviet Union has played a central role in the military affairs of the region. While the counsel and pressure of both the United States and Britain have been heeded in various southern African capitals and boardrooms, only the Soviet Union, with Its allies Cuba and East Germany, has made its influence felt and demonstrated its commitment on the battlefield.
Campbell adds that “Angola and Mozambique are the Soviet Union’s oldest surviving allies in black Africa, and have been the primary focus of Moscow’s energies to date.” Nonetheless, over the past three decades, Soviet moral, political, financial, and military support has benefited the African National Congress in South Africa, Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army, and the South West African People’s Organization. Angola and Mozambique merely represent the Kremlin’s first successes In installing revolutionary governments in southern Africa.

Mozambique, however, has not turned out to be quite the success the Soviets had hoped for. Frelimo came to power in 1975, essentially unopposed during its struggle against Portuguese colonialism, and in 1977 signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. Frelimo promised to become an orthodox “Marxist-Leninist vanguard party” (no small task in a country with no industrial proletariat to speak of) and by 1978 Soviet, East German, and Cuban advisors “were busy shaping Mozambique’s internal political system, assisting in party organization, ideological education, propaganda coordination, and the training of the internal security police.” The Soviets offered substantial military assistance, and Samora Machel, Frelimo’s chief, followed the Moscow line in international forums on all manner of issues unrelated to southern African politics.

Not ten years later, Campbell reports, despite this Soviet assistance:
Mozambique was in a shambles—the result of a concerted South African policy to destabilize the country, combined with a lethally incompetent Marxist economic system.... Currently, the Soviets stationed In Mozambique behave more as prisoners than as protectors of the faltering regime.
What had happened was that the Soviet Union was unable or unwilling to deliver on its promises, particularly in the area of economic assistance. Although Joaquim Chissano, Machel’s successor, has maintained good relations with the Soviets, he “himself appears to look more to the West rather than to the East for economic assistance.”

Indeed, it seems that the Soviets were the exploiters rather than the saviors of Angola and Mozambique. For instance, Campbell points out:
[I]n the late 1980s the Soviet Union was taking 75 percent of the fish catch from the territorial waters of Angola and Mozambique, even while both countries were suffering from serious food shortages.
The Cuban Connection
Wayne S. Smith made a name for himself in 1982 when, as head of the U.S. interests section in Havana, he publicly dissented from Reagan administration policy toward Central America. His essay in this book, “The Cuban Role in Angola,” argues the case that the Cubans are not Soviet puppets but are conscientiously pursuing their own interests in Angola. He blames the United States for “shattering the Alvor agreement” (which was supposed to provide for free and open elections among the three competing liberation movements in Angola upon independence) despite the admissions of Admiral Rosa Coutinho, Portugal’s last colonial governor, that he had himself gone to Havana to get the go-ahead to install the MPLA as the post-independence government in Luanda in direct violation of the Alvor agreement.

The crux of Smith’s argument is this: Fidel Castro wanted to revivify his revolution and strengthen his position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Smith says:

Castro was -- had always been -- interested in winning political influence, and In that sense Cuba’s intervention was perfectly consistent with the policies and objectives it had pursued in Africa since the early years of the Revolution.. . . Cuba was suddenly—if briefly—seen as a major Third World power to which other progressive but weaker governments could turn in times of trouble…. Thus, Castro doubtless calculated, if Cuba could save the day in Angola, that would strengthen its bargaining power with Moscow. Cuba would have advanced the cause of socialism and thus would be in a strong position to ask for better terms of trade and increased assistance from Moscow.

Smith concludes from this that Castro acted on his own, without Soviet prodding. In a sense, that is probably true. Yet the reason for his action — sending 30,000 troops to Angola between November 8, 1975, and March 1976— was part of his traditional and necessary kowtow to the Kremlin. Interfering in Angola’s internal affairs was Fidel Castro’s way of toadying up to Leonid Brezhnev, so that Cuba could get a better deal on its sugar and gasoline to run its 1955 Buicks.

In defending Cuba’s continued military presence in Angola, Smith castigates the United States and South Africa for prolonging the war by supporting Jonas Savimbi and UNITA. “One can hardly imagine greater folly,” Smith writes. “Such an undertaking serves to help South Africa perpetuate the fighting In Angola. It Is a prescription for continuing the turmoil and bloodshed, not for ending them.” He does not seem willing to accept the suggestion that Savimbi and his Angolan supporters have legitimate grievances and a right to participate in a unified Angolan government, free of outside interference. Like other contributors to this volume, Smith believes that the United States should recognize the MPLA regime in Luanda and abandon the UNITA Freedom Fighters, in deference to Cuba’s wish for “a secure Angola. . . at peace with its neighbors, with its civil conflict resolved, and with its doors open to Western economic influence.."

Focus on Mozambique
Easily the best contribution to this collection is Gillian Gunn’s tightly-packed essay on the history of Mozambique, “Learning from Adversity: The Mozambican Experience.” Tracing developments In Mozambique from the early fifteenth century to the present, Gunn demonstrates how a confluence of regional and East-West interests affect Mozambique today.

One important difference between Angola and Mozambique is that in Angola there were three major liberation movements struggling against Portuguese rule (FNLA, MPLA, UNITA), while in Mozambique there was only one, Frelimo. As a result, the transition from colonial rule to independence was much smoother. At the time of independence, there was no organized resistance to Frelimo’s control of the government. It did not take long, however, for a resistance movement to come about, thanks in part to the connivance of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia (then fighting its own guerrilla war and fearful of Marxist neighbors). However, Gunn points out, there were internal considerations as well:
Three developments had created the conditions for the growth of an armed dissident movement should Frelimo gain power. First, factional fighting had led a number of middle and low level ex-Frelimo members to feel they had been badly treated. Second, the leaders of the defeated conservative movement stood ready to mobilize this anti-Frelimo sentiment. And third, Rhodesian intelligence had started to formulate the mechanism to organize and arm these elements.

Renamo, as the resistance group came to be known, had fertile ground on which to operate. Frelimo became ideology-ridden and, as a result, Mozambique’s economy and political stability suffered. As Gunn writes:

By the end of 1977 Frelimo was drifting away from the traditions it had developed in the guerrilla war [against Portugal]. Instead of developing ideology from experience, a process which at least ensured some link between policy and reality, it began to impose ideology upon reality.

The consequence? “The balance of payments fell from its 1976 surplus of $41 million down to a 1978 deficit of $244 million, and an even more serious $360 million deficit in 1980.” The story observed in nearly every Communist country repeated itself in Mozambique. For example, Gunn writes,

[T]he ideologically motivated emphasis on mechanized state farms. . . was disastrous.... It came to cost more foreign exchange for a state farm to produce a ton of grain than it would have cost simply to import the crop.

In any case, a good many fanners were intelligent enough to by-pass the official, ideology-driven market, for “by 1982 one half of all peasant production was being sold on the black market.”

So the resistance movement had plenty of reasons to gain support in the countryside. Unfortunately, several self-generated factors worked against Renamo’s interests. One was its brutality. Gunn asserts that Renamo’s “behavior hampered the development of true popular support. Rape and severing of breasts, ears, and lips in retaliation for non-cooperation became common.” Perhaps more important, “Renamo’s inability to articulate a coherent political platform, beyond anti-communist rhetoric, also lessened its chances of developing firm grassroots support.” (And, I might add, its chances of acquiring support from democratic countries abroad. The same people who unstintingly support UNITA or the mujahideen in Afghanistan hesitate to do the same for Renamo.)

Gunn concludes that “Mozarnbique is not a classic Marxist state serving Soviet interests” because Frelimo has gradually returned to “its pragmatic habits.” The belief of many (on the American right, for instance) “that continuation of Frelimo in power means expansion of Soviet influence in the region is not supported by the recent factual record.” The character of Renamo—its lack of credentials as an indigenous movement, its brutality—lead to severe questions about its ability to lead. A Renamo-run Mozambique, says Gunn. “has little chance of being more stable than a Frelimo-run Mozambique.”

Gunn makes the case for increasing U.S. economic aid to Mozambique, because without such aid, “Mozambique is more likely to remain chronically unstable, and therefore unable to control ANC guerrilla infiltration into South Africa.” She asserts that “on several issues that really matter to the West,” such as excluding Cuban troops from Africa, “Frelimo has already shown that its definition of national Interest can overlap with the definition by the United States of Western interests.”

The Trouble with Ideology
The title of UCLA Professor Gerald J. Bender’s essay sums up his thesis: “Washington’s Quest for Enemies in Angola.” He argues, for instance, that Angola under the MPLA is more pluralist and freer than pro-Western neighbors.

It would appeal that In Angola under dos Santos there is greater freedom to criticize the party and government without suffering arbitrary arrest, torture, or death than Is the case in the six non-Marxist states [of Gabon, Zaire, Togo, Malawi, Cote d’Ivoire, and Kenya].

In his conclusion, Bender criticizes U.S. policy toward Angola as confused. “What is clear,” he argues, “is that not only has there been a great divergence of perceptions about whether the Angolan government represents a danger to the United States but there have also been diametrically opposed policies proposed to address the situation.” Various parts of the Executive Branch and Congress have pursued policies “that reflect little, If any, consideration” of the policies pursued by other offices and agencies. He continues,

The result has been a series of confusing, contradictory, and futile policies that have displeased Americans from left to right and that have had almost no impact on engendering change in Angola. Clearly, this state of affairs is good neither for the United States nor for Angola.

Editor Richard Bloomfield takes as his task the distillation of the wisdom imparted by his fellow contributors In a concluding essay, “U. S. Policy: Doctrine Versus Interests.” His views become clear early on when he asks, “Why should normal relations with Angola depend on a Namibia settlement? South Africa is the outlaw in Namibia, not Angola. Why should normal relations with Angola depend on the withdrawal of Cuban combat forces from Angola? These forces play a defensive role.”

Bloomfield seems to believe that ideology and political doctrine are opposed to U.S. national interests, rather than elements that inform interests and strategy. If that is the case, then the whole Carterite structure of human rights and democracy opposed to “an inordinate fear of Communism” that informed U.S. strategic interests from 1977 to 1981 comes tumbling down. From the very beginning, American values—political, moral, and economic— have helped to shape the national interest and national strategy.

Bloomfield turns the whole issue of U.S. relations with Angola and Mozambique into a stalking horse for U.S. attitudes toward apartheid in South Africa. He writes:
Let us imagine that the regime in Pretoria were one that accorded political rights to the black majority. If that were the case, it is likely that the guerrilla movements in Angola and Mozambique would be weak, if they existed at all. There would be no Cuban troops in Angola and the Soviet bloc presence in both countries would in all likelihood be minimal and largely civilian.

This is, if nothing else, a non-sequitor. The existence or nonexistence of apartheid in South Africa is irrelevant as far as the political rights of Angolans and Mozambicns go. The dos Santos regime in Luanda does not exclude Jonas Savimbi and his supporters from political participation because whites control the government in South Africa. He excludes Savimbi because he and the MPLA covet their currently held political power and fear losing It. Joaquim Chissano has adjusted his economy and relations with the West not because of apartheid in South Africa, but because his reliance on Soviet assistance and Marxist ideology proved disastrous.

For Bloomfield, U.S. policy toward Angola and Mozambique should be motivated as much by how it will affect American goals for the elimination of apartheid as it is by U.S. relations with the Soviet Union or U.S. disdain for Cuban imperialism in Africa. He argues:
U.S. objectives in each country must be consistent with U.S. interests. This seems obvious, but in the policy debate it is often as not disregarded. Thus, the objective of replacing governments that are ‘Marxist’ and friendly to the Soviet Union with their enemies in these two instances would only lead to governments that would be even less likely to cooperate with U.S. policy vis-à-vis South Africa.

This may be true with Renamo, but it certainly is not true with UNITA. Jonas Savimbi has long been on record in opposition to apartheid and even, at one time, supported the African National Congress. His acceptance of military and financial assistance from South Africa was a prudential move designed to advance his interests in Angola. Similarly, the United States allied itself with the Soviet Union during World War II in order to defeat Hitler; that alliance did not imply approval for Stalin’s purges or any Marxist policy. A truly democratic government in Angola featuring Savimbi’s participation would probably support U.S. goals in South Africa without the baggage of ties with the Kremlin and an ideological need to undermine liberal democracy in post-apartheid South Africa.

The Quickening Pace of Events
Events in southern Africa have caught up with, and, in some cases, passed by the analysis presented in this book. The independence of Namibia is just around the corner. Election results announced in November 1989 indicated that SWAPO garnered just 57 per cent of the vote in elections for a constituent assembly; 67 per cent was needed to bulldoze through its own constitution. The peaceful transition to independence in Namibia is supposed to be accompanied by the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. There may be good reason to adopt a policy of “watchful waiting” as far as that goes. Castro does not especially want to take back these troops, some of whom have contracted the AIDS virus, and may send them on some other mischievous adventure In Africa or elsewhere before he throws them a ticker-tape parade in Havana. American policymakers should beware of any Cuban adventurism in the future.

There is some hope for a negotiated settlement in Angola, too. Savimbi and dos Santos shook hands at a meeting of African heads of state and government in Gbadolite, Zaire, in mid-1989. Though a disagreement arose over just what transpired at Gbadolite*, pressure from the United States and its friends in Africa may just force dos Santos to agree to meet Savimbi at the bargaining table.

In Mozambique, the Chissano government continues to seek and receive Western economic, and even military, aid. Despite Renamo’s lack of ideological bearings, it has had some military successes that are worrisome for the Frelimo regime. David Hoile reports (in The World & I, December 1989) that Renamo “now probably controls more than 50 per cent of Mozambique and operates in some 80 per cent of the country,” adding that “factions within Frelimo itself have conceded the legitimacy of negotiating with Renamo.” So there is plenty to watch in Mozambique as well.

Regional Conflict and U.S. Policy: Angola and Mozambique is not the best book on the region. Neither is it the worst. The essays by Kurt Campbell and Gillian Gunn may be, as they say, worth the price of the volume But except for those with a die-hard interest in southern African affairs this is probably a book that can be passed up.

* See 1FF publication Angola Peace Monitor, Volume 1, Number 2—Ed.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based issues analyst and author of The Politics of Sentiment: Churches and Foreign Investment in South Africa (Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1987).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

'Europe's Neutral States: Partners or Profiteers in Western Security?'

This book review appeared in the Fall 1987 edition of Strategic Review, a publication of the United States Strategic Institute. A shorter version was published in the Spring 1988 edition of Millennium: Journal of International Studies (Vol. 17, No. 1).

Balance-Sheets of Nonalignment

EUROPE’S NEUTRAL STATES: Partners or Profiteers in Western Security?

By Stephan Kux
London: Institute for European Defense and Strategic Studies
1986. 42 pages. $8.00

Reviewed by Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

What is the role played by neutral states in the international political system? Is the concept of neutrality still a truly meaningful one in contemporary international politics? Or has neutrality become merely a narrowly legal (and convenient) concept bereft of any real political cutting-edge?

If, as Professor Roderick Ogley asserts, neutrality is “an enormous subject, almost coterminous with world politics as a whole,” these questions deserve further exploration. What surprises the student of international relations today is the absence of relevant material. While descriptive analyses of the politics of individual neutral states are plentiful, no substantial, book-length study of neutrality has been published during the past twenty years — at least in the English language. There certainly have been no new challengers to Philip Jessup’s comprehensive, four-volume study of neutrality published in the mid-1930s.

This short monograph by Stephan Kux, a Swiss political analyst, makes a concise contribution to the literature on neutrality by focusing on Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland. He asks if these four countries are getting a “free ride” for their security on the back of the Western Alliance. He concludes that, except for Switzerland, none of them can adequately provide for their own defense, and that they lean instead on mutual nuclear deterrence between the superpowers and their alliances as their principal pillar of security.

Two of Kux’s examples best illuminate the phenomenon. One is Ireland. There is broad domestic-political support for Ireland’s neutrality, and public opinion in its favor hovers around 85 per cent. Neutrality is not rigorously defined in Irish law or politics, however, and it has “come to be regarded by the general public as an essentially nationalistic symbol, fraught with nostalgia toward a hard-won independence and with a persistently anti-British flavor arising from its irredentist claim to a united Ireland.”

Ireland is much too weak to defend its territorial integrity in the event of a major war. This is clear from the “strength” of the Navy of this island nation, which consists of approximately 1,500 men in 7 offshore patrol vessels and 3 helicopters, operating from a single base in Cork with a mandate to cover all of Ireland’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The Air Force features less than 900 personnel manning but 15 combat aircraft. According to Kux, “by far the greatest part of the country’s defense expenditure” — amounting to only 1.8 per cent of the gross national product and 3.1 per cent of the government budget — “is devoted to assistance of the civil power in policing the Irish conflict,” with much of the rest going to sections of the 12,000-strong Irish Army seconded to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Ireland’s hope for resisting invasion is vested not in the military defense of its integrity and neutrality but in the presumption that its territory will not be considered a prize by either NATO or the Warsaw Pact in the event of war. There are two geostrategic perspectives on Ireland’s importance. One argues that the country is unimportant and that any needs that NATO may have in the region are covered by permanent access to British bases in Northern Ireland. The second perspective sees Ireland as a “missing link” in the defense of the North Atlantic, because the country could “provide the opportunity for extending the reach of electronic surveillance systems, anti-submarine warfare and air defense systems.” The island would also provide a useful logistics base for resupplying NATO forces in the event of a protracted conflict on the continent.

The ambiguity of this geostrategic role has to some extent made Ireland’s neutrality a bargaining chip for Dublin. As early as 1940, Winston Churchill suggested that unification could be the reward for Irish participation in the war against Nazi Germany. The offer was repeated, sotto voce, upon the formation of NATO. On the latter occasion, the Irish refusal was accepted easily because it appeared that the Alliance’s strategic needs could be fulfilled without Irish membership in the Alliance.

Yet, the topic continues to be raised. Enoch Powell, the former Conservative Member of Parliament for South Down in Ulster, told a reporter for the Financial Times in May 1987:  “Without the island of Ireland there is a yawning gap in NATO.... NATO strategists have never been satisfied that Ireland is absent from their ring.” Powell believes that the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 (the so-called Hillsborough Agreement) was the consequence of pressures from Washington designed to get the British to disengage from Northern Ireland, speed up the process of Irish unification, and in the end deliver a united Ireland for membership in the Atlantic Alliance. That none of this was discussed publicly by either Dublin or Westminster escapes Powell’s argument, which thus rings hollow. Nevertheless, the fact that the point is raised at all indicates both the sensitivity and continued liveliness of the issue.

Kux’s other telling case study is Sweden. Since 1815 Sweden has managed to stay neutral in all wars and to follow a policy of what is now called nonalignment. In the Twentieth Century invitations to join military alliances have never found a strong resonance among Swedish political leaders. Membership in NATO was firmly refused by Sweden. Immediately after the war, serious consideration was given to Swedish participation in a Nordic neutrality pact, but the idea was stillborn when Norway and Denmark joined the Atlantic Alliance

Swedish national security policy is geared to military defense of the nation’s neutrality and territorial integrity. It seeks to employ a defense force adequate to deter any potential attacker. Whether or not Sweden has that capability is moot.

The series of violations of Swedish territorial waters by Soviet submarines over the past six years has brought some of the inadequacies of Swedish territorial defense into focus. It has also brought an impetus to defense spending. There will be a rise in spending over the next ten years to begin to compensate for the steady decline between 1966 and 1986, when defense spending as a proportion of gross national product fell from 4.2 to 2.9 per cent. Nonetheless, Swedish Commander-in-Chief General Bengt Gustafsson has quipped: “We are still going to become gradually weaker, but more slowly than before.” He expects defense spending to rise to 3 or 3.5 per cent of GNP in the 1990s.

In response partly to the intruding Soviet submarines but also other developments, the recognition has grown in Sweden that its northern region holds more strategic value than it did twenty or thirty years ago. Indeed, George Richey of the Institute for European Defense and Strategic Studies has posited that “Sweden is the key to the northern flank, and the northern flank is the key to Central Europe.” This view reflects the Soviet buildup in the Baltic and on the Kola Peninsula, and the construction of the world’s largest naval base at Murmansk.

Pending the proposed increase in defense spending — and provided that it is allocated to an optimal mix of manpower and weaponry — it is unlikely that Sweden will be capable of a viable defense of its neutrality in any general European conflict. As former Commander-in-Chief General Lennart Ljung has admitted: “There is a growing gap between the demands which have been placed on us and our actual capabilities.” An annual increase of 3 per cent over five years, he told a parliamentary committee, would be sufficient to redress the erosion of the past two decades. Certainly the infrastructure is there to inspire confidence — an arms industry of growing sophistication, a civil defense program that is nearly the equal of Switzerland’s, and 30 new Gripen multirole aircraft now on line. The details remain to be debated and implemented.

Notwithstanding these defense deficiencies and their strategic implications for NATO — which apply also in one measure or another to the other neutrals — any effort to steer these countries into an explicit embrace by the Atlantic Alliance may not be wise, let alone promising. Kux notes that “to exert direct pressure upon them to develop a closer relationship with NATO and the European Community could well prove counterproductive.” It is better, he believes, to accept the neutrals as “very much a part of the wider Western community.” As long as they share Western political values and practices, “the Western democracies should assist them in every appropriate way to maintain robust and credible defenses, and to pursue assertive but realistic foreign policies based upon a mature and informed public opinion.”

One drawback to this study is the author’s choice not to include Finland as one of Europe’s neutral states. The relations of Finland with the Soviet Union on the one hand, and with the West on the other, have strongly influenced some views of Europe’s future evolution. Indeed, Helmut Sonnenfeldt has spoken of possible “Finlandization of Eastern Europe,” just as other Western analysts have speculated fearfully about a subtle process of “Finlandization” in Western Europe. At any rate, Finland certainly meets the criteria of neutrality, and thus should have been included in Kux’s lineup.

This omission notwithstanding, Stephan Kux has given us a good, if brief, introduction to the problems and prospects of neutrality in Europe in the late Twentieth Century. Hopefully it will inspire more comprehensive and searching inquiry into these important but neglected factors of Europe’s geostrategic and political equation.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based foreign policy consultant.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Middle Passage,' by Charles Johnson

Despite my protestations that I had never before reviewed a book of fiction, the late Colin Walters, then books editor at the Washington Times, insisted that I try my hand at reviewing Charles Johnson’s novel, Middle Passage, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction.

This book review appeared in The Washington Times on Monday, July 23, 1990. I believe it was the last occasion (among many) when that newspaper published one of my book reviews.

High-seas adventure for a freedman stowaway on a slave trader’s ship

By Charles Johnson
Atheneum, $17.95, 209 pages

A blend of mysticism and historical realism, Charles Johnson’s third novel, “Middle Passage,” has the potential to be some Hollywood scenarist’s movie blockbuster.

Though it lacks a hero like Indiana Jones or a villain like Darth Vader, it has all the other elements — love and romance, high-seas adventure and cannibalism — that provide an evening of light entertainment.

Set in 1830, the tale begins in New Orleans, where Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who has turned thief and vagabond, stows away aboard a ship in order to escape a shotgun marriage arranged by the local gangland boss, Papa Zeringue.

The ship turns out to be the Republic, bound for Senegambia to pick up a cargo of slaves — and much more. Like other novels that deposit their protagonists in unlikely, uncivilized situations, “Middle Passage” shows the literal sea change that Calhoun, the protagonist and narrator, undergoes as he learns cooperation, responsibility and comradeship after an earlier life as a ne’er-do-well.

Throughout, Mr. Johnson draws together disparate and seemingly unrelated plot strands into a Dickensian web of coincidence that unpredictably brings us back full circle.

The novelist says in the book’s press release that his intention in writing the novel was to create “a genuinely philosophical black American fiction." This book certainly contributes to that goal.

While one might expect salty speech from sea dogs and gangsters, one does not expect a discourse on metaphysics. Hence Calhoun can discuss the German idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and the cosmos with the Republic’s captain, Ebenezer Falcon, a dwarf with an overpowering and driven personality — a 3-foot-3-inch Capt. Ahab.

Mr. Johnson has quite consciously chosen to ignore the expectations (should we say prejudices?) of readers by drawing characters who are well-read, well-traveled, well-mannered and well-moneyed — despite their origins as slaves or children of slaves, or their descent into drunkenness and despair.

The writer is also a master of irony and measured understatement. Take this passage, in which Calhoun is seeking a tavern, to drown his sorrows before he marches unwillingly up the wedding aisle:

“The place was packed with seamen. All armed to the eyeballs with pistols and cutlasses, scowling and jabbering like pirates, squirting jets of brown tobacco juice everywhere except in the spittoons — a den of Chinese assassins, scowling Moors, English scoundrels, Yankee adventurers and evil-looking Arabs. Naturally, I felt pretty much at home.”

Later, upon being discovered on board the Republic, Calhoun is confronted with the ship’s first mate: “Of all the faces present his seemed the most sympathetic. In other words, his was the only one not pitted by smallpox, split by Saturday night knifescar, disfigured by Polynesian tattoos, or distorted by dropsy.”

Despite his diligent attention to historical detail, Mr. Johnson has marred the narrative slightly by a few anachronisms that a sharp editor should have caught.

Though the story is meant to have been written in the summer of 1830, there are references to “the Missing Link between man and monkey” (Charles Darwin’s fame was some 30 years away); to a man with “more wives than a Mormon elder” (Joseph Smith was just getting started in upstate New York in 1830); and to “time zones,” a concept not introduced until 1883.

Remarkably, despite the overarching presence of the slave trade and the vivid depictions of the mistreatment of Africans by their captors, Mr. Johnson has little that is explicitly negative to say about race relations in the antebellum American republic.

Despite his black skin, Calhoun is treated as an equal by his shipmates, so long as he can do the job he is assigned. Calhoun’s erstwhile fiancée, though black, travels in polite-society circles. Calhoun’s ex-master, a Protestant clergyman steeped in Thomist philosophy, treats his two favorite slaves (Calhoun and his brother) as sons. Blacks and whites interact untroubled aboard a cruise ship.

Nonetheless, Mr. Johnson does make some subtle comments about modern issues. Is it an accident that the ill-fated vessel of “Middle Passage” is christened the Republic? Could the following lines about the black mob boss Papa Zeringue have any bearing in contemporary urban society?

“For some blacks back home, those who did not know the full extent of his crimes, Papa was, if not a hero, then a Race Man to be admired. ... Once he bought a business, he never — absolutely never — sold it back to white men, because he feared if it left black hands it might never return.

“Aye, for many he was a patron of the race, a man who lent money to other blacks, and sometimes backed stage plays written by Negro playwrights in New Orleans. Could evil such as his actually produce good? Could money earned from murder, lies, and slave trading be used for civic service?”

“Middle Passage” is not easy to read. It is intellectually challenging and purposefully complex. Charles Johnson has made a fine contribution to historical fiction with this tragicomic treatment of our national shame, slavery.

Richard E. Sincere Jr. is a Washington free-lance writer and critic.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

'The Mind of South Africa'

This book review appeared first in the New York City Tribune on Thursday, August 2, 1990.

Author’s Sweeping Work Opens Gate To Understanding South Africa

The Mind of South Africa, by Allister Sparks, Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95, 424 pp.

The fallout from Nelson Mandela’s triumphal tour of nine North American cities will be with us for some time to come. For better or for worse, Mandela has raised American consciousness about South Africa in a way no South African politician, black or white, has ever been able to do before and it is unlikely anyone will be able to match him in years to come.

The adulation heaped upon Mandela a tickertape parade in New York City, an address before a joint meeting of Congress, stadium rallies that were strange hybrids of rock concerts and papal liturgies overshadowed the message Mandela brought to the United States by several orders of magnitude. The evocations of saintliness one hawker of Mandela mugs and T-shirts said that Mandela “is the closest thing we have to a living saint, except for Mother Teresa” are belied by the man’s friendships with butchers like Castro and Qaddafi.

Nonetheless, Mandela’s supporters tried to immunize him from criticism in two ways: first, by limiting the number of encounters with the press in which difficult questions might be asked and second, by continually focusing attention on Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment in South African jails, always attributing it to his “beliefs” and “anti- apartheid activism,” rather than to the charges of sabotage on which he was actually convicted.

There is no doubt that, if his health holds up, Mandela will be the principal personality in South African politics during the 1990s, a period journalist Allister Sparks characterizes as a “decade of transition,” following up on the 1970s, a decade that “witnessed the death of apartheid ideology” and the 1980s, a decade of “massive black revolt.”

Even though Sparks wrote The Mind of South Africa before South African President F.W. De Klerk had unbanned the African National Congress and freed Mandela and other ANC leaders from prison, he emphasizes Mandela’s importance to the transition.

Sparks asks whether De Klerk has “the will and capacity to lead South Africa through this difficult transition,” answering that De Klerk “is an able man but not a great one.” The great leader, he suggests, is “Mandela, whose public image, and thus his power to act boldly, has grown during his long incarceration to messianic proportions.”

This assessment has surely been proven true, if not in South Africa, then in the United States, where Mandela has been hailed as a statesman without equal in the contemporary world.

Sparks warns that the ANC may be limited in its ability to play the leading role as the government’s interlocutor in the transition to fuller, non-racial democracy. He writes that the government might offer deals that amount to co-optation — that is, constitutional structures that mask the absence of genuine change and that “the ANC may then come under heavy international pressure to accept them and continue its struggle within the political framework established by the government, thereby suffering a serious loss of credibility and the likelihood of being replaced by more radical elements.” Of course, if the ANC does not accept offers that seem conciliatory, “it would look like the unreasonable party and be in danger of losing international support.”

This dilemma is more apparent than real, If the ANC is genuinely committed to a democratic transition through talks rather than armed struggle, it — and the government and other parties as well — should be prepared to sacrifice some prestige and some international support and some credibility among marginal constituents. South Africans alone possess the power to achieve their new society and political system, regardless of the views of outsiders. While fringe elements on both left, and right will doubtless clamor to have some input in the process, it is the broad middle (which now includes, to the surprise of many South Africa watchers, both the ANC and the Nationalists) that must hammer out the details in the long negotiations.

In The Mind of South Africa, Sparks traces the current political turmoil to the very beginnings of European settlement at the Cape of Good Hope, using as a thematic symbol a hedge of bitter almond, planted by Jan van Riebeeck in the 1650s to separate the settlers (civilized white society) from the indigenous San and Khoi peoples (dark-skinned barbarians). Portions of it still exist in Cape Town, a physical reminder of 350 years of racism, discrimination, and intolerance.

Whether De Klerk and Mandela and other South African leaders can succeed in steering the transition from limited to full democracy, without also sparking the Lebanonization of South Africa, remains to be seen. Turmoil in Natal has taken more than 3,500 black lives in the past few years, and the prospect of white-on-white violence looms larger every day, as radical whites opposed to reform threaten to overthrow de Klerk’s government. In that atmosphere, it may not be possible to create a truly democratic form of government that will also promote prosperity, protect individual rights and liberties, and normalize South Africa’s relations with the outside world.

For those seeking a better understanding of South Africa’s vast cultural and political complexities, Allister Sparks’ The Mind of South Africa is a good place to start.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based issues analyst and author of Sowing the Seeds of Free Enterprise: The Politics of U.S. Economic Aid in Africa.

Friday, January 15, 2010

'Elections and Democracy in Central America'

This book review ran originally in the New York City Tribune on Wednesday, August 9, 1989.

Scholars See More to a Real Democracy Than Just Elections 

Elections and Democracy in Central America, edited by John A. Booth and Mitchell A. Seligson, The University of North Carolina Press, $29.95 cloth, $10.95, 214 pp. 

Elections alone do not a democracy make. From Moscow to Monrovia, grand and petty dictators use elections as a tool to legitimize their totalitarian or kleptocratic regimes. It was just a few years ago that the Soviet press tried to assure the Kremlin’s subjects that Communist Party leader Konstantin Chernenko was in good health by broadcasting a photograph of him casting his vote in a Soviet parliamentary election. A few months later, Chernenko was dead — a bad cold, they said — and Mikhail Gorbachev became party leader. Just a few months ago, he was “elected” president with nary a dissenting vote in the Supreme Soviet.

Sham elections do not just take place in established communist states. Central America has had its share of them in the 150 years since the five states of the region declared their independence from Spain. The most stolidly democratic of the Central American countries, Costa Rica, has a remarkable record: almost 100 years of popular rule, interrupted by just one brief period of civil strife in 1948-49.

In this slim volume of collected essays, the electoral experience of the Central American countries is discussed by a handful of scholars who have been studying the region since before it inserted itself into American consciousness 10 years ago. The authors were members of a discussion panel at the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association. Each of the panelists, writes co-editor Mitchell Seligson in the introduction, “had been studying Central American politics for nearly 20 years, and some longer. While the length of their experience does not make them wiser than newcomers, it does give them a sense of perspective possibly lacking among scholars who began studying the region only after Central America became front-page news.”

These scholars had an experience at that conference that other Latin American experts, notably Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute, have also reported. In Seligson’s words: “It was with a certain sense of wry amusement that the panelists looked out upon a standing-room-only audience at the panel; these same scholars had grown accustomed to presenting papers on Central Ameirca only a decade before to audiences that were sometimes smaller than the number of panelists.”

It is unfortunate that North Americans have been so oblivious to Central America. Certainly, the United States looms large in the minds of Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans. Their recent history only underscores the long-standing mutual relationship that, for good and ill, extends back to the 1830s.

The study of Central American elections is not a parochial proposition. The Central American countries have much in common with other developing democracies around the globe, elsewhere in Latin America, in Africa, in the Caribbean, and in Asia. Experience in electoral democracy in Central America can teach us much about the means to imbed democratic traditions in a country’s political culture. It can teach us what works and what does not work, because in Central America there are examples of both success and failure.

As co-editor John Booth writes in an essay providing a framework for analysis, “Democratic values and support for civil liberties develop among populations through participation. A series of fair and free elections could increase popular confidence in elections per se, in participatory norms, and in a regime [an explicit or implied contract about the rules of the game worked out by the nation’s political elites].”

Booth goes on to note something that is quite important, if we want o contribute to the building of foundations for democracy throughout Third World countries that lack the basic framework or democratic culture necessary for fully participatory democracy. ‘It is also true, however,” he writes, “that other types of political participation, particularly those that are more continuous or relevant to ongoing and immediately important activities in the everyday lives of citizens, may be more likely than electoral participation to build participatory norms and support for civil liberties.”

For example, participating in decision-making in the workplace — through management or labor unions — is an important teaching forum for democratic values. This has been a motivating idea in the philosophy of the National Endowment for Democracy, which channels its monies to labor unions, small businesses, and the press as well as political institutions like opposition parties.

Some of the contributors to this volume have had an obvious adversarial view toward the policies of the Reagan Administration in Central America. There are accusations that the U.S. government has tried to manipulate elections there (in Guatemala and El Salvador, for instance) while trying to discredit valid elections (in Nicaragua).

There is room for debate on these points, but the behavior of the Sandinista junta under Daniel Ortega surely points to the conclusion that there is little possibility that the democratic opposition can gain power through a free election in Nicaragua.

Because Nicaragua is so much in the public eye, there will no doubt be plenty of readers who can dispute the authors’ views there. Knowledge of the other countries — especially Guatemala and Honduras — is harder to come by, so it will be up to Central American experts in the press, in the government, and in the universities to engage the authors in a continuing debate on this and other topics of importance.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based analyst and writer.