Peace process at risk from whom?

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Actually, the Provos pretty much have gone away.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams warned today that any coalition deal between Britain’s grievously wounded Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party would put the Northern Ireland peace process at risk.

Given that the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which Adams denies ever being part of despite all evidence to the contrary, has been on ceasefire for more than 20 years, to call this a hollow threat seems generous at best.

Or, as Adams frequent critic, former Republican prisoner and blanket man Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliot, put it on Twitter:

Certainly there was a time when the kind of warning Adams gave carried real menace. But that was before 2005, when the Provos stood the vast majority of their activists down and dismantled the bulk of the operational capabilities that allowed them to prosecute their war against Britain and the Northern Irish statelet.

While command, intelligence, and internal security structures were allowed to be remain mostly intact after 2005, as British security services were compelled to acknowledge in 2015, what armed capability the PIRA retained in the years since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has been largely used to cow – and occasionally quiet – opposition to the political direction taken by Adams and the leadership of Provisional Republican Movement.¹

None of this is to say that a deal between the Tories and the DUP is a good thing for Northern Ireland in general or for the stability of the Six Counties in particular.  It’s just that the time is long past when Adams or any other leading figure in the Provisional Movement could credibly warn that  peace there is threatened if they don’t get their way.

This is not to say that the peace that has held for two decades is assured. There are any number of armed Republican dissident groups (sometimes derisively referred to as “alphabet soup” IRAs) fully capable of causing some degree of mayhem even if not on the horrific scale of the Troubles. And Loyalist paramilitaries like the Ulster Defense Association, while also on ceasefire, never went so far as the PIRA in dismantling their structures and remain active to this day, primarily menacing their own communities.

But it’s really hard to say what Adams is driving at in his warning. The Provisionals are not about go back to war, and Adams and his comrades neither speak for nor have influence over the armed groups that could.

So while Sinn Fein and its supporters have good reason to vigorously protest any arrangement that further empowers the DUP, they have little actual leverage to apply.  Claims of a threatened peace process hardly qualify anymore.

¹I go into some detail on this in research I published last summer in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence.

Punks against the Troubles

Image: Ricky Adams/mediadrumworld.com
Image: Ricky Adam/mediadrumworld.com

 

On one of my first research trips to Belfast, back in 2010, I was in a conversation with a fellow about my own age (at the time mid-40s) and the topic turned, as it often does in these circumstances, to what it was like growing up in a place being torn apart by brutal civil violence.

As a working class teenager in the early 1980s living in North Belfast, he was of an age and from a place in which it would have been all too easy to get drawn into the turmoil of the times, winding up with a gun in his hand, probably landing in jail, maybe ending up dead. So I asked him how he managed to stay out of things.

“Simple,” he said, “I was a punk.”

N7J0179 - Duckies Awards Web Badges-2The punks stood apart.

I was reminded of this conversation today when I came across a set of photos taken in one of Belfast’s storied punk venues, a community center called, fittingly, the “Warzone Centre.”  The photos are from a recently published book by photographer Ricky Adams, Belfast Punk, which captures the era as it was drawing to a close.

The Guardian last month posted images from the book, with the photographer giving some commentary and context on each of the shots. In his review of Belfast Punk, writer Mark McConville emphasizes punk culture as a unifying force in a divided city and society:

PUNK is most often associated with anarchy but rare pictures have revealed unifying power of punk culture to bring together those from both sides of the conflict during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Rather than attempted to destroy society as the 1980s anarchists are usually portrayed, stunning images show Catholic and Protestant punks overcoming the problems of their community by mixing amicably and enjoying themselves at a Belfast youth and community centre, appropriately called “the Warzone Centre”.

In a long essay published by the Irish Times last December, Timothy Heron described Northern Ireland’s punk music culture as a nonsectarian common ground that allowed Protestant and Catholic youth to reject the violence and repression that surrounded them:

It is that ‘‘other nation” of ordinary individuals struggling to cope with the pressures of life which is the focus of this paper, or, more accurately, the ordinary youths, many of them school-age teenagers, who took part in an extraordinary musical subculture which helped them construct their everyday lives in the midst of the Troubles in ways which would conflict with and sometimes subvert the codes of the society they lived in: punk.

It is worth remembering that even under the worst conditions, people can often find ways to push back against the circumstances that might otherwise crush their spirits if not their lives.

The video below, for the Stiff Little Fingers (a legendary Belfast punk band formed in 1977 at the height of the Troubles) song “Alternative Ulster,” gives you an idea of what they and the other punks were rebelling against.

“Study the world!”

Screenshot from Charli Carpenter's ISA2017 presentation.
Screenshot from Charli Carpenter’s ISA2017 presentation.

 

Last month Donald Trump actually tweeted something that I can take to heart:

“Study the world!” says the president, who admittedly doesn’t read books. Hey, I’ve been studying the world for most of my adult life, starting way back in the olden days (that’s the 1980s) when I was an undergraduate International Relations major. Now I do it professionally as a scholar and professor of International Relations at Oakland University where I devote a lot of energy toward doing just what the president is calling for.

I just spent the better part of the last week in Baltimore with 6,500 other people who study the world at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association. I wrote about my initial thoughts about the conference here. One of those smart folks, my friend Steve Saideman of Carleton University in Canada, already posted his take on the conference here.

More of those smart folks appear in the presentation below that Charli Carpenter, a super smart professor at the University of Massachusetts, gave on Thursday evening.

Take four minutes and watch it:

A whole bunch of those smart people also took a stand in solidarity with colleagues around the world who were unable, or unwilling to travel to the United States as a result of Pres. Trump’s immigration policies and documented cases of harassment and intimidation directed against Muslim travelers trying to enter the country.

And during the conference, even more of these smart people signed an open letter to the American people in response to the president’s call. (Full disclosure, I have asked to have my name added to the list of signatories as the letter continues to circulate in academic circles.)

Here’s how that letter begins:

Dear Fellow Americans,

Recently, President Trump tweeted that people should “Study the world!” to understand his foreign policy. As scholars of international relations, we have studied the world, and we are concerned that the actions of the President undermine rather than enhance America’s national security.

We agree it is important for any President to protect US citizens from extremist violence, ensure America is respected abroad, and prioritize American interests. But our knowledge of global affairs, based on history, scientific fact and experience, tells us that many of the policies Trump has undertaken thus far do not advance these goals. Instead, they have made Americans less safe.

You can read the full text here, and if you are a PhD in International Relations or a related field and would like to have your name added to the letter, there are instructions how to do so.

#ISA2017: Drive-by edition

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I’m in Baltimore for the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, a four-day respite from the drudgery of spring break research conference when those of us who can afford to travel the sharpest minds in my profession come  together when hotel costs are cheap in the dead of winter to share their latest work.

If you must, you can follow the fun on Twitter. Just search for #ISA2017 and let the hilarity ensue.

Since I’ve been here all of four hours now, it’s time to post some initial thoughts and give a look at the week ahead:

Women will be woefully underrepresented on virtually every panel over the next four days. Despite the fact that women know stuff too.

If you walk far enough from the conference hotels, you can drink fairly priced Irish whiskey at a quiet bar without having to overhear conversations about: 1) the horrible job market: 2) pompous senior scholars who suck all the oxygen out of panel presentations; 3) pompous newly minted PhDs who do the same; 4) insecure grad students asking each other how they think it went; 5) any mention of post-modern anything.

You will inevitably see, in the first 15 minutes of walking around the conference, most of the friends you wanted to see anyway, making the next three days a little anticlimactic.

My professional obligations begin this evening with drinking. No, really. Social get-togethers and networking are a critical part of the conference experience. That we can’t expense.

My real work starts at 8:15 tomorrow morning when I get to reprise my role as Syrian Pres. Bashar Assad in a simulation of negotiations to try to resolve the Syrian civil war. News flash: I’ve not been all that interested in a negotiated settlement. That won’t change tomorrow.

During the online part of the simulation I was mean to my friend who got stuck playing Donald Trump. I intend to be mean again tomorrow.

Afterwards, in the debriefing panel, I get to explain why I was such a dick.

Later in the day I get to play senior scholar and give the kind of research presentation I always hated listening to at earlier stages in my career: lots of big ideas without a lot behind them. Yet. The good news is that my co-author is way smarter than me, so the project might have real legs.

In the evening I’m getting an award for this blog. Which means from here on out I will always refer to myself as an award-winning blogger, and this blog as an award-winning blog. You’ve been warned.

Friday I get to meet with more smart people and try to get them to let me free-ride on research projects that I wouldn’t be able to do by myself. I will contribute good ideas …

Saturday I get to present yet another research project, this one with actual data, but which made me depressed in the process of writing since I was reading foreign policy speeches made by actually literate presidents.

And with that, the annual dip into the glamorous world of the annual conference will come to an end, and each of us will return to our respective campuses to resume the daily work of trying to get 19-year-olds to care about international affairs.