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Colombia’s Path to Peace

REUTERS/John Vizcaino

REUTERS/John Vizcaino

By Swati Sudhakaran

The historic collapse of an almost-historic peace accord

A mere formality gone wrong?

The citizens of Colombia just voted out what could have been an historic peace accord to end the war ravaging their country for the last 50 years. The plebiscite was supposedly just another box to be ticked in the checklist to get the peace accord in action – a fait accompli. The result however, makes one question if the aggressive selling of the plebiscite is what led to its defeat. The dismal voter turnout –less than 37%– and the ‘No’ camp’s victory by a slight martin says a lot about people’s perceptions on the decision making process and its execution in the country.

What was the war about?

The war began as a tussle between the Colombian government and the left wing guerrilla group FARC – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. FARC rose from the remnants of La Violencia period of agrarian rural warfare that gripped Colombia in the 1920s. Although the conflict had its share of socio-political and economic factors, the aim of achieving social justice led the communist FARC to adopt gruesome tactics like drug trafficking and child soldiering, which eventually resulted in their loss of popularity.

The American government, then led by President John. F. Kennedy, established a Peace Corp to counter the civil disturbance in the country. This move became highly counterproductive as ‘volunteers’ of the Corp, who were tasked to help the natives in education and agricultural development, began collaborating with American mafia, leading to a growth of cocaine and narcotics.

The network and the will of FARC soldiers to keep the fight on however has seen significant downfall in recent years. In 2002, the number of FARC soldiers was near 20,000 but recent studies show them to have dwindled down to 6000-7000. Discontent and hope to rejoin the society is high among FARC soldiers who just want to lead ‘normal lives’ again.

REUTERS/Juan B. Diaz

REUTERS/Juan B. Diaz

The Peace Accord

The peace talks began in 2012 in Cuba, between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader and negotiator Timoleon Jiminez. After going back and forth for 4 years, both parties reached consensus in 2016. They finally arrived at a 6-point plan to formalise the ceasefire, which would have confirmed that the weapons possessed by FARC would be “beyond use”.

According to the 297-page agreement, the FARC leaders had agreed to handover their weapons and be monitored by UN inspectors. Additionally, a political party would be formed which would have 10 seats assured in the Congress during the 2018 and 2022 elections.

Amnesty would be granted to FARC members who confessed their crimes i.e. instead of facing prison, they would engage in social work – helping victims, de-mining war zones, repairing damaged infrastructure etc.

So why did the people vote No?

The ‘No’ wasn’t a denial for the peace accord but for the terms under which it was being finalized. The local phrase in trend to comment on the accord was “swallowing toads”. People felt betrayed by the thought that the FARC leaders who committed grave crimes against humanity would not serve any jail time.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, leader of the ‘No’ campaign whose father was slain by the FARC, said that people wanted justice and not impunity for FARC leaders. While his military approach to deal with the rebels was the reason they agreed to the peace talks in the first place, Uribe feels that the present accord is in need of major corrections to serve the interests of citizens.

Social media also played a huge role in yielding influence. Many have blamed it for being a platform of misinformation spreading false stories that the state of Colombia, post the accord, would be much like Venezuela where narco-traffickers work hand in hand with the government or that it would usher in a communist regime in Colombia.

Homophobia and gender insensitivity could also be a reason, as many voters were supposedly against the gender provisions made in the accord, especially the LGBTQ segments. A sub-commission on gender and women issues had submitted its suggestions on reintegration methods of female FARC soldiers into society. Their points had found a place in the accord but the strong opinion circulating in the media was that these issues were not urgent and could be tackled under a separate slab.

The campaigning style of the two camps was a crucial factor. The Santos government actually put forth questions that were biased to the accord and increased pressure by retorting to statements in ads, that those voting No would be supporting the continuation of war.

The No camp could effectively communicate to people, in simple messages about the dangers of the peace accord while the Yes camp could never really portray its benefits. This goes on to show how manipulation works in modern democracy. Under the garb of political assertion of masses, leaders work the questions in a certain way to elicit certain responses.

The Nobel Twist

The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize just days after the failure of the peace accord is a positive development for Santos. Awarded in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to Colombia, the Nobel provides much needed strength to his cause. The award is also a tribute to the victims of the conflict and to all parties that cooperated in the peace talks. The Nobel Prize also implicitly shows the support of the international community to be with the Santos government.

What Next?

As uncertainty looms over the next course of action for the Colombian government, the FARC-EP has maintained its stance on keeping peace. However, with FARC leaders thinking that they have already given too many concessions, the possibility of them agreeing for jail term for their members seems highly unlikely.

Though the Santos government is quite unpopular now, Santos still has command over the congress and can still garner support with the right strategy. The recent meeting of Uribe and Santos after almost 6 years to discuss the changes in the accord is a major step-up in the process.

Even if the renegotiated peace accord gets voted through by the people, problems for the government won’t stop there. There are numerous issues to be confronted even then such as reintegration of FARC soldiers, some of them children, into society. To make those who have only known a life of violence abide by rules and follow societal norms will be a mammoth task.

But let’s not jump the gun. This time the government must keep aside the haste and arrogance portrayed last time and work on an inclusive accord and democratically fair plebiscite.

Swati Sudhakaran is a student of the Masters in Public Policy Programme, jointly run by the Takshashila Institution and Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.

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When Internationalism Fails

By Ramanjit (@patialablue)

While International bodies enable cooperation, sharing of resources and compatibility of laws, there exist inherent perils of bureaucracy without democracy. In the absence of transparent communication and channels of participation, international bodies might be seen as authoritarian.

Brexit is a stunning example of failure of a supra-state, the European Union. 28 diverse nation states constitute this confederation that facilitate a common currency, cross border mobility and free trade. The union’s constitution and parliament set a basis and framework for political cohesiveness. The EU was seen by many as a model of global integration. Jeremy Rifkin, author of The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, predicted EU to be a future world superpower.

Alas, the European Union is far from perfect. And it just got even further from it. An influential member, Britain recently voted decisively to exit the union. A referendum to leave Europe was won by those who voted to leave by 52% to 48% for stay. The referendum turnout was 71.8%. There could be more exits. France, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Finland, and Hungary might run the idea of holding referendums in the future to reconsider their membership in the Union.

The above challenges in the EU point to serious fault lines of international organizations. EU is almost perfect with its arrangement of institutions like the Parliament, the central bank and Court of Justice of the European Union. But starkly wanting is demos — the people. EU easily comes across as a super-nation without people of its own. While the structure of EU allow for extreme mobility across nations, this automatically does not bring people together. An Italian might still see a French as one his own. A European Union will not necessarily create conditions for a deeper “European” identity.

But an Italian might find himself among Polish or Greeks competing for his jobs or public goods. And it is not a hard guess that he might feel a sense of resentment. His resentment is an easy political capital for ultra nationalist political parties that build narrative against migrants and evoke fears that they will take over the country. The success of such a narrative was well demonstrated during Brexit.

A citizen has almost no influence over the international body that his country might be a member of. However, his life is impacted by the decisions taken by that international body. The EU model includes a European parliament, however the parliament does not have the right to frame legislations. The International body then appears as authoritarian.

Political mediation and communication are key to balance the bureaucratic isolation and autonomy of international institutions. A fine balance of fulfilling the demands of international institutions and aspirations of the home constituencies is not just desirable but pertinent. The argument is not against internationalism but for creating institutions that don’t derive their legitimacy merely from the consent of member nations but also through sturdy mechanics of accountability and transparency.

In conclusion, the answer to the fear of authoritarian Internationalism is not less internationalism. There is no one answer but it will be good to explore methods that allow citizens to participate in the organisations that exist for them.

Ramanjit is a Research analyst with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @patialablue

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Nuclear War: Is Our Complacency Misplaced?

By Ganesh Chakravarthi (@crg_takshashila)

The Cold War taught us many things. It compelled nations to judge every action against potential worldwide consequences. Most importantly, it taught us that  nuclear arms should never be taken lightly.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain the whole world breathed a sigh of relief. However, neither the end of the Cold War nor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have stopped nations from developing new nuclear weapon systems. With countries increasing their nuclear arsenals and non-proliferation talks faltering, one has to wonder if a sense of complacency now permeates the global nuclear scenario.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent international institute dedicated to researching conflicts, armaments, arms control and disarmament, conducted research which revealed that there are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world and that about 1800 of them are always kept in a state of ‘high operational alert.’ SIPRI further states that all nations with nuclear capabilities are developing new technologies or upgrading their current nuclear weapon systems. This brings forth the question of the relevance that a traditional treaty like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation holds in the current global order.

No nation seems to be heading towards disarmament. The rise of Asian powers, the tensions between India and Pakistan, and China advancing its nuclear arsenal are all pressing concerns. There is also the growing discontent in the Middle East where Israel is already a nuclear power and there are suspicions that Iran is on the road to becoming one.  The situation is only compounded by the fact that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are vying to gain political supremacy in the region, which has resulted a dangerous balance of power in the Middle East.

The Cold War created a bipolar situation between two major superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, potentially pitching their arsenals against one another. This concept of duality has been transplanted on to other players in the game i.e. India-Pakistan, Iran-Israel and so on. The question is, is this bipolar approach still relevant in a post-Cold War era?

The time has now come to not be limited by this bipolar framework and consider analytical models that have more stakeholders. This may be essential considering the threat of a nuclear Armageddon in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent. Although the concept of a ‘world state’ seems far away, there is a pressing need to develop more effective measures for cooperative security to ensure nuclear safety. Disarmament is central to the entire process while security cooperation and arms control are categorical imperatives.

Given the failing non-proliferation talks, the world needs to look at potential new treaties which can take into account emerging nuclear powers as well as offer methods for non-nuclear nations to have a say in the process and potentially take part in the codification of nuclear disarmament norms.

A number of countries across the world have divested landmines and cluster munition producers. A potential road to disarmament could be the adoption of divestment in the production of nuclear weapon components. For instance, the Norwegian and New Zealand Government Pension funds have already implemented such schemes. Additionally, the Swiss War Materials Act has been revised very recently which prohibits the financing of nuclear weapon producers.

The stigmatising of nuclear weapons and the potential release of large financial streams tied to their production could compel several countries to go towards disarmament. All this underlies a democratisation of the disarmament process which has not happened yet.

The Cold War saw the world almost resigning to the inevitability of a nuclear Armageddon. It is up to us now to ensure that the world is not as helpless as it once was.

Ganesh Chakravarthi is the Web Editor at The Takshashila Institution and tweets at (@crg_takshashila)

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