Secret deals old & new


Monty Skew writes

A desire to conduct negotiations in secret is a common characteristic of bank robbers, kidnappers (of at least average levels of competence), and military officers planning a coup d’état. Also apparently of those preparing international reshapings of international trade arrangments, such as Tafta, the TTIP, and the TiSA. (We can leave the negotiations for the Southeast Asian Economic Community on one side, since war between any two or more of its members may well intervene before any serious change in the previous labyrinthine, sometimes subterranean, and certainly not always wholly ethical practices can take place.) The need for secrecy in all these cases is both evidence that the plans are likely to face resistance, and reason for suspicion that what is planned is contrary to established law and to the interests of those who will be affected by the changes. These two aspects are of course entirely distinct. A coup d’état is not necessarily bad for a nation’s inhabitants, Thomas Sankara’s name being one to cite. Likewise, it is at least theoretically possible to devise a national police force where all members would impartially support their judicial system while allowing minor derelictions in favour of mercy. (It is a rather remarkable observation that throughout history so few revolutionaries have grasped the idiocy of taking on the governing power by attacking its servants rather than seeking to enlist them.) Nevertheless many, including myself, would be willing to go out on a limb and say that negotiations affecting large numbers of human beings (we leave animals out of this, even though bringing them in might shine a bright and useful light on the moral issues) which are carried on in secret are so likely so often to be against the interests of those affected by the plans that they should be disallowed on principle by any person, group or power able to stop them. All the more so when many negotiators themselves are largely affiliated to or friendly with those who will benefit from the changes. Even more when the benefits will flow not to the poor and needy but largely to organisations which are already overendowed with assets. And unquestionably, when the plans include – an indication by itself that there is an unpleasing odour to these ideas – stipulations that would explicitly forbid anulment of the changes.


A hasty footnote, unconnected with the above. While, like virtually everyone else outside the hermit people’s republic I feel that North Korea’s launching a long-range missile adds a twilight shade to the visions of the future, it may not be an entirely unalloyed case of mindless militarism with added aggressivity that we witness. (It has been a busy week – judging a contest for mechanical sharks not far from the Arctic Circle to begin with – and as I entered the office, our Editor seized me by the collar and shouted ‘500 words before 11.30am!’ in my ear.) But I seem to remember that there were negotiations (not particularly secret) between the West and North Korea with a view to ending the latter’s nuclear plans. Agreement was reached, and formally approved. However, a major part of the deal was that compensation for ending the nuclear programme was that two (?) of the Canadian model nuclear power stations were to be delivered to North Korea. They never arrived and in 1994 (?) North Korea declared the deal cancelled on the grounds of bad faith of the other party. If my memory is correct, that may have been a point where Pyongyang took a resolution never to trust the West. My immediate checks at this point have not turned up any relevant information. Can any reader help?


Karela who has just returned from a brief visit home, comes back with renewed dislike of both existence in the Balkans and international airports. The former may appear at some point in a posting. The latter cannot wait, she said, so we were going to let her share this posting, until we saw her draft. (Without her permission I quote ‘it looks like the airports have a worldwide conspiracy to flood the minds of the travelling public with right-wing propaganda, which is all carried on by most airlines with the inflight ‘entertainment’. And remember they have all your personal data’…) We have decided to allow her a little more time to adjust to our house style, as the Economist might put it, and, partly for that reason, encouraged her to rout around in the archives of a sister publication now in our possession for something which might be of interest to the public while expressing views with which she might sympathise, and written in the sort of style to which we too aspire. She came up, fairly enthusiastically, with what appears to have been part of a letter.


Where you may well be wrong, my old friend, is first in assuming that bureaucracy needs literacy, and second in not taking account of the continuity in human societies, irrespective of changes of régime and even revolutions of independence. Look at the confections consumed with such avidity by the Greeks; don’t say it in front of them, but these were all introduced to them by the Turks. It is simply unfair to blame poor patient Ivan for a racial addiction to bureaucracy, which after all prevails with equal vigour in Romania. Have you forgotten that the whole region up to the Danube was long ruled by emperors in Byzantium, legendary home of bureaucracy, while their influence plainly extended wider still. Do you find it so difficult to picture a mediaeval peasant having to stand before an agent of his headman, reporting, as he is obliged to do, his harvest for the year, not later than the autumn equinox, knowing that failure to give a full account, before two witnesses of sound hearing, would lead him straight to the stocks; or obsequiously presenting the skins required, in triplicate, as the fee for a licence, in the shape of a curiously carved stick, entitling him to hunt the pine martens which actually swarm in great numbers in his part of the swamp, and agreeing that loss of the stick will result in a penalty of fifteen strokes of the knout or a fine not exceeding two goats?


Berthold Featherstonehaugh-Cheems:

Since our political correspondent has been permitted a footnote, which might conceivably be held to trespass on my sphere of interest, may I too be allowed a brief comment: the strenuous efforts of the French government to lay the foundations of a police state starting from the present état d’urgence must be causing great delight to Marine LePen as she contemplates the possibility of victory in the presidential of 2017.