Contributions for this issue were received from Alessandra Bertino, Mirca Brancaleone, Michele Comelli, Carolina De Simone, Federica Di Camillo, Miriam Mafai, Raffaello Matarazzo, Paolo Natali, Sergio Ortino and Pamela Preschern.
The United States and ...
Come cambia l'America : politica e società ai tempi di Obama / di Mattia Diletti, Martino Mazzonis e Mattia Toaldo. - [Roma] : Edizioni dell'asino, c2009. - 148 p. - (I libri necessari). - ISBN 978-88-6357-009-0
Has the long conservative political cycle that started in the eighties - encapsulating the Clinton presidency - and left a profound mark on US and world history come to an end with the election of Barack Obama on 4 November 2008? Is the broad social base that elected the new president with the largest turnout in the last forty years really so different from the past? Finally, what lessons can 'old Europe' draw from the important technical and political innovations experimented by both candidates during what has been called the first real election campaign of the 21st century?
These are the ambitious questions addressed in this book, a slim volume by three young Italian researchers written at the end of a long experience 'in the field'. Their detailed analysis of US electoral flows reveals that women, minorities and young professionals were the drivers of the democratic election campaign which brought the new president into office. In 'normal times', the ties between these emerging categories of voters and more traditional strata of Democratic voters (the urban electorate on the two coasts, Afro-Americans and white unionised workers) would have guaranteed a long stay in government. While Bill Clinton aimed at the centre of the political spectrum to build his success at the polls, Obama had to attempt a new political-electoral coalition that was functional to his platform.
If this analysis were impeccable, the United States today would be a country ready to let the new leader guide it through the impervious and uncertain paths of the crisis. And perhaps also a country ready to cope with a possible reduction in its overall wealth and international role. What makes the picture painted by Diletti, Mazzonis and Toaldo less likely is that the social classes making up the supposedly new Democratic coalition are those most exposed to the current economic upheaval. And they are also among those who could be most strongly affected by negative fallout from the great expectations fuelled by Obama. The US president is the first to realise the fine line he is treading.
It is extremely difficult to assess whether a long political cycle is coming to an end in the US today and whether the Democrats have really managed to open a new one. The 45 percent received by Republican McCain, even after Bush's popularity had dropped to an all-time low and in the wake of the Wall Street crash, indicates that conservatives are still a strong force in the United States and that it might not take them too long to revive. The words of Republican strategist Karl Rove after the 2004 elections should remind everyone not to give in to the temptation to be triumphant: "we built a permanent Republican majority".
While Diletti, Mazzonis and Toaldo are not completely unmoved by the "Obamamania" still raging in Europe today, they are right when they say that this "fascination" derives from the absence on this side of the Atlantic of leaders who have the audacity to propose clear alternative policies. Europe will not find the answer to its anxieties, the authors conclude, by either imitating a phenomenon like Obama, deeply rooted in the history, values and experience of the United States, or continuing to wait for the salvation of a 'messiah' coming from the other side of the Atlantic. Only by making use of the best of its constitutive values and openly tackling the great challenges facing it, can the old continent hope to find a way out of its profound crisis and not fall apart. (Raffaello Matarazzo, also in Italian)
Great powers and regional orders : the United States and the Persian Gulf / edited by Markus Kaim. - Aldershot ; Burlington : Ashgate, c2008. - vi, 279 p. - (US foreign policy and conflict in the Islamic world). - ISBN 978-0-7546-7197-8
As the title indicates, most of the essays included in this book provide an in-depth analysis of US policy towards the Persian Gulf, seen as a regional security complex in which intra-regional dynamics and the involvement of other states must be taken into consideration.
The book is divided into four sections. Moving from the historical roots of US strategy towards the Persian Gulf in the seventies to the profound crisis that followed the 9/11 attacks when attention shifted from 'rogue states' to 'failed states', and 'regime change' began to be considered the best way to bring democracy into the area (as in Afghanistan and Iraq), the first section focuses on the three main features of US Persian Gulf policy: security, oil and democracy promotion. Here, the key question is whether the US can balance its short-term interests related to energy security (meaning sustainable flow of crude oil at reasonable prices and efforts to reduce its dependence on the area), with counter-terrorism and the rebuilding of Iraq. The contributions suggest that democratic reforms would be the most effective means to ensure US interests and that different policy options, such as the linkage between bilateral free trade agreements and domestic reforms, could accelerate this internal dynamic. But the question is whether US dependence on Persian Gulf oil reserves would not be an obstacle to these policy options.
The second section analyses some of the determinants of US Gulf policy, which derive from intra-regional dynamics and are characterised by a balance of power and limited cooperation between the different actors. No chapter specifically discusses this question or the impact of the distrustful atmosphere between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Iran on regional security issues, but all contributors agree that the US has an obvious interest in improving the quality of the Persian Gulf order to secure its long-term influence in the region.
The third section uses two case studies to analyse the effects produced by domestic policy on the US Gulf policy: Saudi Arabia and Iraq. In the first, the worsening of Saudi Arabia's social and economic situation could represent an obstacle both to the relationship with the United States and to the transformation of Gulf security in accordance with the US interests. In the case of Iraq, instead, the focus is on the failure of the US nation-building effort and on the disastrous consequences of the Iraqi civil war for US strategic interests and the entire region.
In the last section, other states' influence on the Persian Gulf and on the US role in the region are discussed considering, in particular, the interests of the European Union and its member states in an area where they have long-standing relations, the role of Russia and its contradictory foreign policy towards the region and the US, China's growing oil imports from this area and the consequent rising concerns about energy security, which could lead to a collision in Sino-American relations.
Framing the situation in the Persian Gulf, the book does not explain whether the action of the GCC makes any difference in this context, and does not discuss the impact that the distrust between the GCC and Iran has on regional security issues. However, the analysis developed in the chapters is useful for understanding that the specific conditions and circumstances of US action in the different regions has to be conceptualised if more effective policy proposals are to be formulated to improve the quality of the regional order to secure long-term US influence. (Mirca Brancaleone)
A hybrid relationship : transatlantic security cooperation beyond NATO / Peter Schmidt (ed.). - Frankfurt am Main ; Oxford : Peter Lang, c2008. - 336 p. - (Internationale Sicherheit ; 7). - ISBN 978-3-631-57236-8
With the emergence after the Cold War of the global challenges of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, climate change, poverty and civil and regional conflicts, transatlantic relations have to be redefined to be able to provide the concerted action needed to tackle them. But these issues can also be considered an opportunity to improve multilateral cooperation, especially the transatlantic partnership, adapt the main transatlantic institution (NATO), and seek new flexible frameworks for alternative forms of cooperation.
This collective book, the output of two workshops held in Berlin and Washington, includes contributions from academics and experts. Its main aim is to engage decisionmakers and opinion leaders from the US and Europe in an exchange of ideas on transatlantic relations. The thesis that emerges is that there is no single framework in which to build current transatlantic relations: the EU is unable to speak with a common voice in the security domain and NATO is no longer a strategic interlocutor between the US and Europe. Since neither a bilateral US-EU relationship nor a return to the 'old NATO' are possible because of the two actors' difficulties in defining their approaches, only a pragmatic, case-by-case line of action is left. That is why today's new informal cooperative tools, unlike the traditional ones, provide an opportunity to establish networks for tackling the current challenges; examples are the Berlin Plus arrangement, the E-3 and the Quartet platform.
The book consists of four main parts, beginning with a historical overview of both US and European conceptions of the transatlantic relationship since the end of World War II. After dealing with different periods and events which influenced both EU and US positions regarding their relationship, the first part ends by suggesting that features of a 'new Atlanticism' exist alongside those of multilateralism: the result is a hybrid structure. This concept is strengthened by the analysis, in the second part, of new transatlantic platforms: the EU-3, European initiatives regarding the Iranian issue, cooperation in the Balkans and Darfur in the framework of the Berlin Plus arrangements and the Quartet, dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However these fora, which clearly demonstrate how the transatlantic liaison has become a hybrid relationship, have to be related to formal structures and should not be used as an excuse for avoiding reform of the traditional transatlantic institutions, above all NATO. The third part focuses on the positions of those countries which most strongly influence the transatlantic relationship: France, UK, Germany, Poland, Turkey and the former neutral countries (Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland). Finally the book considers some proposals aimed at improving transatlantic relations: common criteria for stability operations in the NATO framework, a reverse Berlin Plus arrangement and a bipolar approach that would give the EU a single voice. These suggestions, although they could improve the US-EU relationship to some extent, leave some questions unresolved and, once again, reveal the need for pragmatic cooperation.
The book's structure and line of argument are clear. Considering that transatlantic relations is a broad area of research among academics and experts, the book's value lies above all in its format, that is, an open exchange of ideas resulting from two workshops. Easy to read the book is full of detailed case studies that provide good examples of what the authors intend to say. (Pamela Preschern)
U.S. foreign policy and Islamist politics / Ahmad S. Moussalli. - Gainesville [etc.] : University of Florida Press, 2008. - 224 p. - ISBN 978-0-8130-3149-1
In the last twenty years, the author, who teaches at the American University of Beirut, has published numerous essays on the history and theory of political Islam and the ideologies of Islamist movements, dedicating special attention to the differences between moderate and radical movements. This experience lends weight to the arguments he uses to throw into question the US perception of Islamic fundamentalism as a single bloc, without distinctions between the minority of violent 'rejectionist' groups and the majority of non-violent 'accomodationist' groups, basically popular mass movements seeking the empowerment of the people. According to the author, this limited and stereotyped view is increasingly a problem, especially given the growing popularity of fundamentalism in the Muslim world.
In the first chapter, Moussalli describes the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism by discussing the theses of several scholars. He argues that the weakening of jihadist groups is not a sign that fundamentalism is progressively declining, but rather that it is reaching maturity because it is now accompanied by the growth of moderate and reformist groups, such as those that led to the election of Khatami or which spurred Hezbollah's transformation into a political movement.
The author emphasizes that Western policies have basically remained unchanged despite this evolution in Islamist movements. He goes over the various phases of US policy towards them from the 1940s to date and points to the persistent diffidence towards any popular movements and the uninterrupted support for Israel and the authoritarian Arab regimes. In the author's opinion, the occasional US support for fundamentalists from the 1960s to the 1980s (in Afghanistan against the USSR or in some Arab countries to groups opposing secular nationalism) was always dictated by the priority of containing Soviet expansion.
In the second chapter, the author illustrates how the image of a 'green threat' was produced in the East by a few Arab regimes and Israel and in the West, notably in the United States. After criticizing the way in which all Islamic fundamentalist movements have been put into the same pot, he presents and refutes the various theories spread by US influential media commentators, academics and policymakers alleging that Islam is incompatible with Western values (democracy, pluralism, respect for human rights) and claims that the Islamic threat originates not only from politics of fundamentalism but also from its ideologies.
Analysis of these ideologies is the core of the third chapter, but the author warns that in order to understand the nature and diversity of fundamentalisms, the political practice and thought of Islamist movements has to be contextualized. He points to the socio-economic nature of the popularity of Islamic fundamentalism in Arab countries. Above all, the role of Islamic fundamentalist movements has to be put into relation with the regimes' behaviour towards them. In the 1980s and 1990s, the clashes of fundamentalist movements with the Arab regimes led to their transformation, while the repression did not change.
After analysis of the four doctrines that form the theoretical framework of world order for radical fundamentalists, the author points out that the moderates have a pro-inclusion discourse that permits them to put a political agenda into practice. The radicals' exclusivist arguments, on the other hand, substitute idealistic interpretations of the development of Islam for the need to understand world politics, undermining their possibility to act.
In the second part of the book, attention shifts to the fundamentalists' perceptions of international relations, in particular the role of the United States. Moussalli claims that the positions of most fundamentalist movements are a response to US support of authoritarian regimes and, above all, to the Arab-Israeli conflict and its linkage to the total US bias in favour of Israel.
In the fourth chapter, the author gives a brief description of some Islamist movements (in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), all brought together by their opposition to Israel. The final chapter is dedicated to foreign policy of Iran and its relations with the United States and with Shia fundamentalism in Lebanon and Iraq. The book was first published in Arabic in 2006. The author's disappointment over the return of a conservative president in Iran and concern for the threatening rigidity of relations between Washington and Tehran are evident in this last chapter and in the closing policy recommendations: he urges the US to deal with the major obstacles that hinder the start of a dialogue with Islamic movements and states (stalled peace process, tensions with Iran and occupation of Iraq). (Alessandra Bertino)
The European Union
The European Union and crisis management : policy and legal aspects / edited by Steven Blockmans. - The Hague : T.M.C. Asser Press, c2008. - xxvii, 429 p. - ISBN 978- 90-6704-286-4
In recent years, the European Union has tried to downsize the well-known 'capabilities-expectations gap' in its European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The most relevant outcome of this process has been the introduction of new political and military structures and procedures and more incisive measures to increase its military and civilian capabilities, the agreement for cooperation with other international organisations and the adoption of an acquis sécuritaire, including a European Security Strategy.
With the launching of twenty operations in scarcely five years (2002-07), the EU has affirmed its operational capacity in ESDP both in its neighbourhood and further afield. This renewed activism in crisis management has raised a series of legal and policy questions that were addressed at the 37th edition of the Tobias Michaël Carel Asser Institute's Colloquium on European Law in 2007. The contributions offered by prominent academics and officials were then expanded and updated in light of the Lisbon Treaty and gathered together in this compilation edited by Steven Blockmans, Senior research fellow in EU law and Deputy Head of Research at the Tobias Michaël Carel Asser Institute in The Hague.
The volume is divided into an introductory chapter and six parts. The introduction provides, among other things, some insight into the terminological confusion and the consequent legal uncertainty surrounding concepts such as 'international security' and 'crisis management'. The first part gives a historical survey of the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and ESDP, while the second deals with their peculiar political and military structures and procedures and the overall civilian and military capacity of the EU in crisis management. Exploring the sensitive issue of inter-pillar coherence and consistency - the former term being preferred to the latter, rather than used interchangeably as is generally done in the EU - in a system of multi-level governance like the EU, the third part examines the different roles of EU institutions, with special emphasis on the Council, and provides an interesting over- view of the possible future role of the European Court of Justice after its recent judgment in the Small and Light Weapons/Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) case. In the fourth part, five essays comprehensively analyse EU relations with other international organisations and third countries (United Nations, NATO, OSCE, African Union, ASEAN, etc) with the aim of asses- sing the degree of effective multilateralism. Contributions in the fifth part offer a kind of wrap-up assessment of the EU's crisis management activity to date in three different geographic areas, the Balkans, Africa and Asia, followed by a quick glance at the essential nexus between this activity and counter-terrorism. The sixth and last part is concerned with the generally overestimated issue of the accountability of EU forces under international humanitarian law and human rights law.
While its dual academic and operational nature provides a useful policy-oriented tool for scholars, decision-makers and officials, the book presents various lessons which should be taken into account now that the EU is facing its 'maturity test' as an international crisis manager. On one hand, attention is given to the positive effects that certain 'viruses' coming from Community law bring to the Union. On the other hand, most of the contributions show that the intergovernmental nature of CSFP and ESDP can sometimes have a positive impact in that it provides the EU with the flexibility to create practice - and law through that practice - which would be impossible in the Community system. This rather broad room for man- oeuvre could prove especially useful in the current period of non-Lisbon Treaty enforcement.
What stands out in this volume is its rather optimistic view of the future. Although there are realists among the contributors who argue that the EU is not yet working at full speed, the final impression is that it is unlikely that the continuity shown by the overall spectacular development of CSFP and ESPD can suddenly be stopped by the Irish referendum. (Carolina De Simone)
The European Union at the United Nations : the functioning and coherence of EU external representation in a state-centric environment / by Maximilian B. Rasch. - Leiden ; Boston : Martinus Nijhoff, 2007. - xxii, 360 p. - (Studies in EU external relations ; 1). - ISBN 978-90-04- 16714-8
The book analyses the relationship between the global governance of the United Nations and the regional governance of the European Union using the parameter of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) or, more specifically, considering the EU's policy as expressed in a context based on the concept of state, such as the UN.
The 'qualitative' analysis mainly considers the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the principal sub-committees, demonstrating that convergence is easier in consensus-oriented bodies (like the UNGA, the EU's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) or specialised UN agencies) and more problematic in confrontational bodies like the UNSC.
The institutional mechanisms and the informal dynamics reveal different problems for which detailed improvements in UN mechanisms as well as in EU internal mechanisms are provided. One condition for achieving coherency and acquiring more influence in the UN is to provide the CFSP with a more 'shared' basis. Yet the kind of progress in coordination - including of mentalities - achieved in Brussels can hardly be sought in the UN where the domination of Realpolitik makes it hard to 'Brusselise' it.
Two other factors impact on the coherence of CFSP: enlargement and reform of the Treaties. The legal base has a strong influence on the EU's external action and indirectly on the coherence (or lack of it) of the EU in the UN. Ending the rotating Presidency, establishing an EU "Foreign Minister" [according to the original draft], and granting the EU legal personality would end the EU/Commission duality and would have high potential for unpredictable future developments.
While it has been demonstrated that is common institutions rather than intergovernmental cooperation that determines the success of European integration and identity, some initiatives, such as the "vademecum for streamlining EU coordination" for the 59th UNGA session, have gone in the direction of expanding more informal initiatives. Political credibility is at stake: the UNGA does not have much impact on action, but the incoherence within the EU in that forum throws discredit upon CFSP. Nevertheless, institutional mechanisms, both in the UN and the EU, cannot replace the political assessments of national interests which alone drive the choices of the individual EU member states, which then decide case-by-case whether or not to pursue their interests within or outside of the CFSP framework.
This is followed by a 'quantitative' analysis of the votes expressed (by the EU) in the UNGA from 1988 to 2005 (a period therefore in part preceding the creation of the CFSP). Convergence, when it took place, was mainly on issues of limited political importance, while it was infrequent on questions of international security, disarmament, decolonisation and self-determination. Things have not changed much since CFSP is in place: the driver continues to be national interest, and EU coherence, where noted, is actually less marked than in other regional organisations and political groups.
The analysis moves easily through a subject that is in constant evolution both within and outside the normative and institutional domains, making it difficult to assess the coherency and influence of the EU in the UN. One of the book's strong points is the thoroughness with which the thesis is argued, supported by a wealth of accurate data and sources, and the realistic approach provided by interviews with officials from the bodies studied. An important part containing proposals and projections completes the work, making it both an outstanding point of reference and a comprehensive starting point for further research.(Federica Di Camillo)
Law and practice of EU external relations : salient features of a changing landscape / edited by Alan Dashwood and Marc Maresceau. - Cambridge [etc.] : Cambridge University Press, 2008. - xix, 484 p. - ISBN 978-0-521-89923-9
The extraordinarily rapid expansion of the European Union's activity on the inter- national scene and the correspondingly rapid development of the legal concepts, principles and rules that are needed to organise it have resulted in a lively debate among legal scholars in the field of EU external relations. The recent book edited by Alan Dashwood and Marc Maresceau, respectively Professor of European Law at the University of Cambridge and Director of the European Institute at the University of Ghent, constitutes a high-profile contribution to this debate. It provides an authoritative and rigorous legal analysis of the most recent developments in the EC/EU's external relations law and practice, including the new legal provisions established by the Lisbon Treaty, and inquires into the increasing interaction between these different fields of EU competence.
The book is broken down into three distinct sections, of which the first and largest is devoted to constitutional and institutional questions. Of particular interest is the chapter by Marise Cremona, who argues that the long process of Treaty reform, culminating in the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, which was supposed to bring more clarity in terms of a better definition of competences, both explicit and implicit, and a better division of competences among the EU, the EC and the member states, only partially fulfills these objectives. In particular, she analyses the problems of the legal base which will not be removed by the merger of the Union and the Community into one single organisation and legal person, as provided for by the Lisbon Treaty. Equally interesting is the chapter by Alain Dashwood, who analyses the extent of the protection provided to the external Community acquis by Article 47 and how this is likely to be affected by the new Article 40 of the EU Treaty as amended by the Lisbon Treaty.
The second part deals with substantive external relations, particularly those with neighbouring Eastern and Mediterranean/ Middle East countries, considered from a geographical and geopolitical perspective. The most significant recent trends and developments in the EU's bilateral and regional-multilateral approach to third countries and regions are assessed, combining rigorous legal analysis with a political and economic perspective to overcome the difficulty in placing the EU's substantive external relations in precise and accurate legal frameworks. This approach is adopted to avoid the risk of not fully grasping the overall implications of some recent EU initiatives launched in the field of external relations, such as the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The chapter on the ENP towards Eastern Europe by Christophe Hillion is a successful case in point.
The third and final section analyses two more specific substantive law areas: intellectual property law and environmental law, emphasising the specific relationship between domestic policy and external relations. Unfortunately, this section is considerably shorter than the other two. Extending the analysis to other areas would have been useful and would have made the book more comprehensive and its various sections better balanced. (Michele Comelli)
Mondo privato e altre storie : taccuino poco diplomatico / Marta Dassù. - Torino : Bollati Boringhieri, 2009. - 149 p. - (Incipit ; 37). - ISBN 978-88-3391989-8
Marta Dassù's Mondo privato e altre storie [Private world and other stories] is a delightful book or, rather, two books in one, in which family memories, confessions, political analysis and fantasies intermingle. Marta Dassù moves in and out of these pages as if through a revolving door. Now she's the daughter of a fascinating mother "who had fun being anti-conformist", now she's the brilliant history and international institutions student in Florence and Berkeley, now the mother of a surly daughter who loves going out at night and coming home at dawn, now the foreign policy advisor of two prime ministers, Massimo D'Alema and Giuliano Amato. She moves in and out in blue jeans and a T-shirt, with her large handbag half-open but concealing, if necessary, a yogurt for those sudden hunger pangs. She is a terribly messy, terribly anxious young lady, always suffering from an obscure feeling of guilt. And Marta is looking for the cause of those painful, persistent guilt feelings, common to so many women of her generation. Finally she finds it. "What have we done that's wrong?... But of course, it's obvious: we prefer to work. It's not just that we have to work to make ends meet. Or that we can work because we're lucky enough to find a paying job. It's that we actually prefer to work. We wake up in the morning, say bye bye to the family and plunge into our separate world. This upsets everybody: those that have to deal with this unbearable workaholic and those that remain at home, orphans."
Mondo privato e altre storie has the pace, the uncertainties and the peaks of a confession offered to an analyst, a confession that comfortably intertwines public and private stories. Thus there is Massimo D'Alema who, just named prime minister in October 1998, invites her to take on the prestigious post of foreign policy advisor and especially to handle relations with the United States, a delicate matter since D'Alema is the first Italian prime minister to have a Communist Party background. Things go fine, also because in their meeting on 5 March 1999 D'Alema gains the trust of Bill Clinton by promising that Italy will be on NATO's side in the war in Kosovo. Clinton actually offered D'Alema another possibility: not to participate directly in the bombings, merely guaranteeing NATO logistic support. But the Italian prime minister "answered that he considered it the worst hypothesis: our country is not an aircraft carrier, Mr. President. If we decide, as an alliance, to undertake a military intervention, it is our duty to participate. And we will." And Italy did. The bombing of Serbia lasted much longer than the White House had predicted; the 78 days "were days of extreme suffering for D'Alema". Today, Dassù's opinion on the way the war was conducted and its outcome has changed. "Was the war in Kosovo the last of the Balkan wars or the first of the new wars on the borders of an enlarged Europe? [...] I wonder whether the frontiers of the conflict with Moscow have not simply been shifter further eastward." To answer these and other questions (Why did the idea of a European Constitution fail? How much does and will our 'old Europe' count now and in the future? Is the United States really in decline?), Dassù enters the revolving door once more, leaving behind the politologist and picking a book off her bookshelf at home. It is an exchange of letters between Einstein and Freud in 1932, in which the former, tasked by the Society of Nations to open a debate on the subject, asks the latter if there is a way to free human beings of the fatality of war. Mankind, Freud replies, has two fundamental drives: one that tends towards conserving and uniting, and one that tends towards destroying and killing. But these drives are not the only things that count, perceptions count, too, the way in which we interpret the drives of the others and on which we base our reaction. Perceptions and drives which, Marta adds, can help us in international politics to understand respective reactions in a framework that is neither a pure game of interests nor a clash of values. All told, the psychologies of states, their complexes, their discontents and their memories count - especially in a world that is more interconnected than ever before. (Miriam Mafai, also in Italian)
La questione tibetana : autonomia non indipendenza : una proposta realistica / Eva Pföstl ; prefazione del Dalai Lama. - Venezia : Marsilio, 2009. - 156 p. - (I libri di Reset). - ISBN 978- 88-317-9718-4
This book has a number of qualities. World public opinion is devoting increasing attention to the vicissitudes of the Tibetan population and the Dalai Lama, living respectively on the world's highest plateau as a minority within China, the most ancient and populous state in the world, and Dharamsala in the southern foothills of the Himalayas as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan government in exile. The Sino-Tibetan question can be traced back to the differences between a materialist conception of the Communist Chinese state and a culture deeply rooted in the spiritual principles of Buddhism. Among the many populations in the world, tensions of this kind are not rare, but the renewed public interest in the Tibetan question is the result not only of a need to take sides between the two contenders, but also to overcome this existential conflict once and for all so that the material and the spiritual sides of our lives can live together harmoniously.
Another one of the book's good points is the author's ability to deal with such a complex matter in a synthetic and clear way. In only 156 pages, Pföstl tackles, in the first part, the centuries old history of the difficult co-existence between Tibet and China, starting from the situation of de facto relations between the two entities and going right up to Tibet's current status within the Chinese People's Republic. The second part looks into what real autonomy would mean for Tibet and whether it can ensure the values of the Tibetan culture and thus sweep aside requests for independence for the region.
The book's third merit is the realistic proposal put forward to find a peaceful and definitive solution to the Tibet question. For many years now, numerous minorities have considered the statute of autonomy of the Alto Adige/Sud Tyrol region as a model for allowing different languages and cultures to live peacefully within one state. While a successful model cannot simply be exported from one context to another, Pföstl considers it useful to proceed in a comparative way, trying to draw lessons from the history and the experience matured in a similar context of conflict - a method that she has put into practice, having been part of various delegations of experts that have collaborated with the Tibetan government in exile to try to develop a statute of autonomy modelled on the Italian experience in Alto Adige/Sud Tyrol.
Finally, we have to be grateful to the author for letting us know in a clear and concise manner what the Dalai Lama's thoughts are on the Tibetan question. In the preface to the book, he states that he agrees with the Tibetan people's strategic plan for the future, and this was the basis for the author's research. This means that the Dalai Lama accepts autonomy not for purely opportunistic reasons since Tibet's chances of achieving independence are becoming increasingly slim, but as the result of political reasonings on the present decline of the nation state. In a globalised world of individual, social and institutional connections, "autonomy rather than sovereignty will have to become the fundamental principle for organising political communities". And this is true not only for Tibet, but also for China, which has everything to gain from realising that the model of the sovereign nation state, centralised and bureaucratic, will soon be a thing of the past. There is a corollary to this far-sighted vision that not only eliminates the ambiguities that have poisoned relations between Asia and the West in recent years, but also opens a window for reasonable optimism. Genuine autonomy for Tibet will not necessarily have to wait for China to adopt Western democratic values: it will start when China has to - probably sooner than it thinks - give up the centralised and bureaucratic state structure to handle the challenges of globalisation. At that time, the government in Beijing will see the Dalai Lama not as an adversary to be routed, but as a precious ally from whom to receive ideas and values in order to solve, through devolution and decentralisation, questions that interest not only six million Tibetans, but also one billion threehundredthousand Chinese. (Sergio Ortino, also in Italian)
Energy victory : winning the war on terror by breaking free of oil / Robert Zubrin. - Amherst : Prometheus Books, 2007. - 336 p. - ISBN 978-1-591-02591-7
"America is losing the war on terror." Taken together with the title, this sentence in the preface presents some overarching assumptions that are never questioned in the book: (1) the source of terrorism is known (you can only go to war against a known enemy); (2) combatting terrorism equals being at war; and (3) there is a close connection between terrorism and the West's energy dependence. Before looking at the weaknesses of this work, it may be best to start out with its one, uncontested strength, namely, that its key point is extremely straightforward: Muslim terrorists are financed by oil revenues, therefore the West needs to break free of its oil dependency for security rather than environmental reasons. The book then goes into alternative sources of energy, surveying the pros and cons of different homemade recipes for breaking the dependency on Middle Eastern oil and gas, to reach the conclusion that the West's salvation lies in a transition to an "alcohol society", dominated by alcohol-based fuels. Robert Zubrin, a much read American engineer who previously promoted causes such as the manned exploration of Mars, describes the technicalities of oil production and gas transformation, the limits of hydroelectric power generation, the ups and downs of wind energy, and finally the great potential (and drawbacks) of biofuels, along with some diversions (such as a comprehensive history of the Wahab dynasty and the fluctuations in public funding for nuclear fusion during the 1980s and 1990s), to create a patchy, yet convincing, narrative that guides the reader towards the desired conclusion.
A number of problems remain, however. Most importantly, many of the author's suggestions constitute a gross underestimation of the complexity of world politics. For example, he shows how the ranking of countries according to their energy import-export balance would be turned upside down if one could simply change the main energy source. But his suggestions seems to overlook how difficult it would be to impose an alcohol standard on the West, bypassing the huge vested interests involved. Moreover, unexpected negative consequences could arise at any point in the transition to the "alcohol society", look at the way biofuels have impacted on food prices. Nor does the author look into sustainability concerns as possible limits to his proposal.
None of his ideas are new, only his lack of political correctness is. If anyone is wondering what steps Zubrin would take to tackle the terrorist threat - linked up with the Iranian nuclear program - here's the author's solution; it requires no comment: once the West frees itself of Middle Eastern oil, "the entire nuclear program could be rapidly shut down - along with the rest of the Iranian government - by cutting off the oil income that is paying for it. This could readily be accomplished by launching a modest air strike on Iran's oil export terminal on Kharg Island. Since this facility is replete with large thin-walled tanks filled with very flammable petroleum, the delivery of a dozen precision-guided bombs would probably suffice to do the job." (245) The same fate could be reserved for the Saudi oil export system by "simply" bombing the Ras Tanura oil terminal. Geopolitical consequences? Not a word on that. This course of action, Zubrin says, "would present no difficulties whatsoever". Science fiction is good reading, but international politics definitely requires a softer approach. (Paolo Natali)