Amidst all the nationalisation and money printing, fiscal policy now regularly sees previously unthinkable measures. Might the same become true of foreign policy? Two seemingly out-of-bounds ideas peek through our opinions section this month, from Harvard’s Monica Toft and from Oxford’s Paul Collier.
Toft is one of the world’s leading experts on civil wars. In the aftermath of the minor resurgence of violence in Northern Ireland—and the current rumblings in Sri Lanka, Sudan and Iraq—we asked her to go over what made civil wars stop and start. Her conclusion is challenging: in the post-cold war era, identity-driven civil wars are much nastier than those of the 1945-1989 era. This in in part because squeemish international powers refuse either to weigh in and help one side win, or to stand aside as one is allowed to win by force. What tends to happen, instead, is just as one side looks like winning (and thus wiping the other side out) the international community steps in and forces a negotiated solution, which in turn is more likely to break down. The nasty, long-term solution? Let one side win.
Paul Collier’s idea isn’t much more palatable to mainstream thought. His new book, Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, lays out the failure of African countries in particular to democratise, with corrupt dictators taking much of the blame. His solution? The west should develop a new mechanism for “green lighting” coup attempts, especially in clear cut cases like Zimbabwe, in which the army could take power without threat of any liberal intervention in response. More coups and bloodshed, but in the cause of longterm peace and harmony. Realpolitik at its best.