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August 18, 2006


james higham

Yes, it is exactly so. The grandstanding rhetoric will not disguise the dearth of genuine reasons to police the peace and so it must fail.

Could it be that old-style colonialism contained more economic logic than multilateralism does?

In terms of prserving your own patch - yes. And perhaps Israel already knows full well about the tragedy of the commons.


Another point is that the kind of countries who often contribute to classic UN peacekeeping tasks have an incentive - the money comes from the UN budget, so it's a good way of paying your soldiers. Overseas tax breaks also assist in this coup-prevention process.

Bob B

Much as I esteem Mancur Olson's insights, we do have a problem explaining why so many countries are apparently differentially reluctant to contribute contingents to this particular UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon now. After all, many countries were willing to contribute (often significant) armed contingents to UN forces during the Korean War of 1950-53 when, presumably, the same considerations applied.

Unless government cabinets and ministeries of defence around the world have recently taken to reading Olson - which seems unlikely - I think we do have to consider other possible motives, notably so among EU governments. Of course, some, like Britain and Germany, are already committed to NATO forces in Afghanistan and Britain is heavily committed in Iraq too. Even so, we are challenged to explain why France, after initially taking a lead in the protracted negotiations with America over drafting the UN Security Council resolution, is now only willing to contribute 200 engineers to UN peacekeeing in Lebanon.

How so? According to the reported official explanation:

"France . . has become increasingly concerned about the exact rules of engagement for the troops. According to Le Monde, Paris wants 'guarantees' for its soldiers and is worried it will face reprisals from Iran and Syria - supporters of Hezbollah."

Another credible consideration is that some governments are worried least their contributed contingents to a UN force come to be regarded as protecting Israel's northern border from attack while Israel completes its annexation of the West Bank.

Today's The Economist carries a frontpage banner: Nasrallah wins the war. Several columnists in the press have already conjectured that after what has followed Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 (after 18 years of occupation) and Gaza recently, Olmert's government will find it politically impossible to withdraw from the West Bank. I doubt many governments, beyond Israel and the US, would want to be pushed into the position of reinforcing armed contingents to defend that course.

Bob B

The latest news on contributors to the UN peacekeeping force for Lebanon adds an intriguing extra dimension:

"Israel says it would be 'difficult if not inconceivable' to accept nations which do not recognise its right to exist as part of a UN force in Lebanon. Israeli UN envoy Dan Gillerman was speaking after Indonesia and Malaysia, which do not recognise Israel, pledged troops for the UN deployment. Malaysia said Israel should have no say in the make-up of the force."

Aide memoire: The then British government abstained in the UN debate on the future of Palestine in November 1947 saying that partition of Palestine would lead to continuing conflict, an insight that has proved remarkably prescient for the time since.

Bob B

Update to previous post on, inter alia, the political problems for the Olmert government in Israel in proceeding with its earlier commitment to withdraw from the West Bank:

"JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has put his proposal for an Israeli pullout from parts of the occupied West Bank on hold for now following the war in Lebanon, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

"The Haaretz daily, citing what it said were private conversations between Olmert and other ministers and party members, quoted the prime minister as saying the issue was no longer at the top of his government's agenda."


"The solution here is to turn the land over to private ownership, say by selling it to the highest bidder, who then rents it out."

I wouldn't have thought that was the only solution. The problem is that no-one has an incentive to manage whatever it is that is held in common responsibly. One way of providing that incentive is to privatise ownership, but other methods do exist: appointing an accountable administration charged with ensuring responsible use, or even socialising people into believing they have a duty to responsible use (think of attitudes towards litter, for example: I doubt every society has required the same number of street-sweepers).

Bob B

I've seen statements in highly reputable history texts reporting that as early as 1500 half the land in England (note, that's excluding Scotland, Wales and Ireland) was already enclosed. It seems that our illustrious ancestors were already well aware of the tragedy of the commons.

Laurent GUERBY

Peace does not benefit those who sell weapon and "security" services, hence we have wars, basic profit seeking.

What was the country that built the missile that nearly sank an Israel warship?


"...many countries were willing to contribute (often significant) armed contingents to UN forces during the Korean War of 1950-53 when, presumably, the same considerations applied."

Not really. Things were reported differently then - and public opinion played a very different role in policy formation anyway.

I'd also sugest that Olsen's book isn't as relevant to this instance. This is not simply a failure to callibrate incentives properly - one of those "two men agree to feed a donkey = starved donkey" stories. It is possible, surely, that a failure of collective action is the desired outcome in some quarters? Don't ask me which quarters though...

Bob B

I wondered whether there is another of Mancur Olson's insights to illuminate the motivation in these recent news items relating to Haim Ramon, until recently the Justice Minister in Ehud Olmert's government:

"Israel also hoped to score geopolitical points with the United States by delivering debilitating blows against Hezbollah, a US-blacklisted 'international terrorist organization' on par with al-Qaeda. A 15-nation high-level conference in Rome on July 15 on the crisis ended in disagreement, with most European leaders urging an immediate ceasefire, but the US willing to give Israel more time to destroy the guerrilla group. Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon boasted to the press that Israel had been given 'international authorization' by the Rome conference to continue its attacks 'until Hezbollah is no longer present in southern Lebanon'. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier immediately characterized the statement as a gross distortion of the failed Rome conference."

"Israel's justice minister has announced he is to resign, clearing the way for a trial on charges of sexual misconduct. The announcement by Haim Ramon comes a day after Israel's attorney general said he wanted to indict the minister over the allegations. Mr Ramon is accused of forcibly kissing a government employee at a party - an accusation he strongly denies."


Bob, if you want to see how commons were managed, as opposed to economists' vain speculations about how they might perhaps have been managed, try Oliver Rackham's "The History of the Countryside": a stunningly good read.

Bob B

dearieme - Many thanks for the recommendation: I didn't know about that book. I've just ordered it.

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