Another of these tiresome sessions with Simon, though fortunately Louise did not come in with him this time. I’ve got it all verbatim, because Karela had left her voice recorder on while she slipped out for a refreshing morning bottle or two in what she assures me is the slivovitz capital of the island.
Simon: Er, sorry, can I disturb you, Ed?
Self: Without even trying, I’d say. But ask away.
Simon: I was reading on this website and it said that the whole of a place called Kiribati is going to be under water at high tide within fourteen years. Does that mean it will be a failed state?
Self: Hmm! I don’t think so. There’s no fighting going on there. But I don’t think it will count as a failed state. It just won’t be a state at all.
Simon: Well, what is a failed state then?
Self: Basically it’s a state where most of the country is out of the control of the central government, and if there’s any sort of law and order at all outside the capital, it’ll be run by warlords or local tribal groups or something like that, and the ordinary people are short of food or medical supplies, and so on.
Simon: Like Afghanistan, you mean?
Self: Well, no. Afghanistan is basically on the path to being a responsible democracy, with successful presidential elections. In fact the last election produced not one but two presidents. And order is being restored. It just has some localised problems in the south, and the north, and the areas bordering Pakistan, and some other areas.
Simon: So why is NATO – that’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – sending in 12,000 troops, marines I suppose?
Self: I know perfectly well what NATO stands for, thank you very much. And why the hell do you suppose they would be marines? Anyway, those troops are not going to do any fighting. They’re going only to train the loyal Afghan forces, to fight the insurgents.
Simon: But the ones doing the insurging are all Afghans aren’t they? So if they’re all loyal too isn’t there a risk they’ll all insurge against the troops coming into their country who aren’t Afghan, just like the French resisted when the Germans…
Self: That’s enough of that. Quite different situation. Anyway, you were asking what counts as a…
Simon: failed state. Yes, that was what I –
Self: No, shut up and listen. Yemen could be pretty close to that now. Their president was holed up in Saudi Arabia, because there was a huge rebellion of the Houthis. Blest if I could tell you what the exact differences are between the Houthis and whoever it was who was on the president’s side. Anyway he escaped to Saudi, last year I think it was. He’s only just gone back, and he’s still keeping well away from where the Houthis are, which includes the capital. He and the Saudis got up a coalition consisting mainly of Saudis and, er, other Saudis, to bomb Yemen to restore peace. Been going on a few months now. Quite unpleasant, hospital-bombing there too. United Nations reckon by now at least 80% of the population are in need or urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Simon: So that really is a failed state?
Self: Actually, I’m still not sure it is. You see it hasn’t been like that very long, and anyway the president is firmly pro-west and once he can get a government together he’ll be running things pro-west, just like the Saudis. So it won’t be a failed state.
Simon: What about Iraq, then? Most of the country is not even nearly under government control, hundreds of people are being killed every month, and it’s been going on for more than ten years, and when the Americans announced they’re sending in Special Forces the government said ‘No way, we don’t want foreign troops in Iraq’.
Self: No. There may be some short-term disagreements about the best way to fight the insurgents, but longer term Iraq is on the path to being a responsible democracy and order is being restored. That’s been the situation ever since Bush was president.
If you wanted a copybook example of a failed state it always used to be Somalia, for a long time after the Somalis got fed up with Siad Barre. That was a really bad time with lots of fighting until an islamic organisation called the Courts took over. Then for a while things were apparently tickety-boo until the west realised these fellows were running things according to an agenda of their own. This got alarm bells ringing, and in fairly short order, the Ethiopian army – that’s a christian outfit, and Ethiopia may be pretty rough and ready but it knows which side its bread is buttered, so with a bit of help the Ethiopians were soon in there and threw them out. Didn’t last long, though. When the Ethiopians moved back out, somehow it all fell apart again with fighting and refugees and general chaos again like before, for several years. But the good news now is, with lots of help from the right quarters, they seem to have wised up at last, and the story is most of the insurgents have given up and moved to Kenya. The bad news is, just as we take Somalia off the list, it looks as if we have to put Libya on. And of course, there’s Syria there all the time.
Simon: But there’s something I can’t help noticing. Is there any special sort of qualification for being a failed state? I mean, do you have to have once been part of the Ottoman empire? Or something else?
Self: That’s enough! You’ve wasted half my morning already. You can make up for it by going and fixing my morning coffee. Jump to it!
Quotation of the week: ‘Yet another wonderful development in the field of living technologies’. Announced by Dr Adamatzky, of the Unconventional Computing Lab at the University of the West of England, acclaiming the success of an experiment to use the structure of a natural plant as the framework on which to build a conducting circuit. A necessary preliminary to the process was cutting the stem, and thus killing the plant.
Query of the week: It was touching to see Obama placing flowers in homage in Paris. Does anyone know if he has ever done that for the women and children killed in the drone attacks he has ordered?
Thought for the week: When your government tells you that you are at war with some other state, or some movement, or idea, remember that in war, truth like many other commodities, is rationed so as to give the people just so much as is considered to be necessary for them – and good for the government.