Józef Czapski, an essential Polish diplomat who opposed totalitarianism

If you don’t know who Czapski was, you must. An important artist capable of “bringing Proust to life,”  a national hero, and a public intellectual. He stands as an essential Polish writer and diplomat who sought to change the world through deep engagement with ideas (Proust), history, and sheer spiritual strength in dark times.

On his mission to determine what happened to Polands Reserve leaders during World War II. The answer? Katyń.

“Inhuman Land” is not an easy read. It is not meant to be. It is an exhaustive 435-page witness to official lies and evasions and the methodical murder of Poland’s ruling class, as well as the spiritual and material degradation Communism had wrought on millions of Soviet denizens. Czapski says he had “more and more precise information about those missing, and less and less hope that the Soviet authorities were willing to take an interest in these people’s fate.” Later, he recounts the multilateral betrayal of Poland by its “allies.” Nevertheless, he finds moral action even in the darkest corners of human history.

via Book Review: Shouldering the Century’s Burden – WSJ


Writing in the introduction to Inhuman Land, Timothy Snyder writes:

In communist Poland, as in the Soviet Union, it was illegal to write about the Katyn massacre. Under communism, Czapski’s name was on a special list of those not permitted to publish under any circumstances. Today Poland is sovereign, the truth about Katyn is known, and Czapski is receiving some of the attention he deserves. Some Polish politicians now err in the opposite direction, suggesting that an air accident that killed Poles traveling to commemorate Katyn in 2010 confirmed the eternal martyrdom of the Polish nation. Czapski’s position about Polish suffering was different: rather than treating the victimhood of other Poles as an authorization for falsehood, he turned his own suffering into a search for the truth about those who suffered more than he. He quoted Proust: “Perhaps a great artist serves his fatherland — but can only do so by seeing truth, which means forgetting everything else, including the fatherland.” [22]

When Local Politics Drive Global Policy



If you want to understand what was happening beneath the headlines on Secretary Kerry’s Israel speech, you need to think domestic politics, namely, those in Israel. The meaning behind the words contained in the speech (and their veracity) are also important, but that’s another discussion.

In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.

And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”

Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation—but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.

via Greg Carlstrom in Politco, “Trump Could Be Israel’s Worst Nightmare

The NYT reported that across the Middle East the speech was received with some interest, but with shrugs, too. And Robert Danin, writing on CFR’s Middle East blog said that “what was striking about Kerry’s 75-minute long address was not what was new, but rather how little new there really was for him to say.”

You can read the full transcript on Vox.

The Disadvantages of Peace (According to Michael Desch)

Thanks to Professor Walt, we get this interesting peace on academic research by Michael Desch in International Organization in 1996 on why giving peace a chance may not work.

Don’t get me wrong: I think peace is wonderful, and I wish more politicians talked about it openly and did more to further it. But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen.But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen. Even worse, they may eventually drive the world back toward war.

Source: The Case Against Peace | Foreign Policy

Over the last two decades, Walt sees this idea as better than other IR standards such as the “end of history” or “clash of civilizations”.

Why Civil Wars are So Tough to Solve

The headlines reveal (and will continue to show) the failures and stumbles with Geneva II. Careful and insightful reporting by Somini Sengupta this week shows exactly how “time, words, and ultimately, trust” shaped the invitation process that included the ultimate exclusion of Iran.

Research in 2010 by Monica Duffy Toft shows that civil wars ending with rebel victors lead to a greater stability. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards in Syria. And a “failed peace implementation can lead to more deaths than the conflict the agreement was meant to end.”

Even so, there are serious diplomatic efforts to end the killing–even if they fail.  Behind the scenes there is an enormous amount of effort among key states such as the U.S. and Russia and the UN to find a solution to the Syrian civil war. There are many sad precedents:

What are the lessons? If there is a general one from Bosnia for the parties meeting in Switzerland, it is the need for humility. As determined as the international community may be to resolve conflict, civil war is extraordinarily resistant to outside intervention. This has three important implications.

via Bosnia’s Lessons for Syria – NYTimes.com.

As Philippe Leroux-Martin further notes, “The Dayton agreement was far from perfect…but Mr. Holbrooke’s strategy did succeed in creating the conditions required to enforce a settlement.”

Rebel Rifts on Island Confound Philippines – NYTimes.com

Peacemaking among clans in the Philippines is hard work.  New fighting threatens an October 2012 framework with the Muslim separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front:

‘At the root of the problem is a belief by many Muslims in the southern part of the country that Christians in the north have oppressed them and exploited their resources. Well-armed Muslim clans have fought government forces since the American military quelled the Moro insurrectionists in 1899, when the Philippines was under colonial rule by the United States. Every government in Manila since independence in 1946 has struggled to bring peace to Mindanao.

Any peace deal is complicated by factionalism, with ancient roots, among the political and rebel organizations involved, said Ramon C. Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila.

via Rebel Rifts on Island Confound Philippines – NYTimes.com.

George Mitchell and the Nuts & Bolts of Peacemaking in Northern Ireland

Terms like “negotiation,” “peace,” and “diplomacy” are grandiose and frequently used  without a clear definition.  The reality of a peace agreement in Northern Ireland is fact and how that process occurred–despite enmity, politics, culture, and history, is the story of George Mitchell, a U.S. special envoy:

The true art of peace, negotiators know, lies in our ability to deal with the mighty weapon of language.

Mr. Mitchell’s great skill was that he learned to embrace silence. He sat at his table, listening to speech after speech. He soon found out that perhaps no other culture in the world has as many skilled and loquacious loudmouths as Ireland, north and south. (The old joke goes that Irish people with Alzheimer’s forget everything except the grudge.) He pitched himself against the tenacity of the fanatics.

He was unpaid and initially unheralded, but he fell in love with the people and allowed them to talk through their vitriol. He tried never to take sides — he split a feather down the middle and encouraged both halves to take flight.

via Remembering an Easter Miracle in Northern Ireland – NYTimes.com.