The general idea was pretty clear, but the reality might not match up to the expectation. That could be political nitroglycerin.

Last Summer, the United Kingdom voted for a new idea. There was not a lot of detail, but the headlines were clear – an end to bureaucratic Brussels interfering in Britain, less immigration, and a reassertion of a perceived native identity. One year on, the project is in crisis as those who support it attempt to define what it actually means, often contradicting themselves in the process, and dumbfounding their incredulous European Union partners. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a mess. New words are being used to help understand both the process and the objective. The objective (Brexit) was originally defined simply as Brexit, the implication being that ‘you all know what it means, even if we can’t put words on it’. While that had the benefit of keeping everyone at least superficially happy (ah, so the Prime Minister agrees with me!) it belied a hidden and constitutionally awkward acknowledgement: Brexit meant different things to everyone.

It may be in Britain’s interests to damage Ireland disproportionately in the Brexit process.

Attending for a while to more immediate political concerns: Brexit. A story today suggested that Ireland should plan to leave the EU should Brexit be as hard and as cold as it promises to be. It struck me that it is in Britain’s interests to inflict significant damage on Ireland for several reasons. Primary amongst them is the rationale that Britain needs to divide Europe in order to find the best deal for itself. A divided and fractured Europe will make those who wish to defend the union more disposed to compromise. Therefore its strategies for dealing with the marginal nations – with Greece, with the Netherlands, and with Portugal – will be just as important as those strategies for dealing with France and Germany. Ireland is special, in that it shares a land border, and where there remains the possibility of terrorism – even if diminished – from a history all too recent.

lemass-on-time
Lemass committed Ireland’s future to one of sovereign compromise. He had no choice.

The international system is a complex and convoluted thing, and sets the framework against which States are measured for their effectiveness, righteousness, or other measures that could serve as proxies for legitimacy: transparency, robustness, even happiness, or goodness. According to these indices, Ireland performs reasonably well – very well actually. It is the seventh most ‘unfragile’ country in the world; the eleventh most ‘good’; the 18th most transparent; and the 19th happiest. Most of these indices combine different metrics such as GDP, social metrics like unemployment, education rates, and so on, which tend to mean that Ireland – and other countries – won’t deviate too much from one ranking to the next. So Ireland performs well as a country. However, the combination of the EU Crisis, Brexit, and Trump’s America seem to represent a trifecta of bad things over which Ireland has little or no control, and could send the country hurtling down those indices. So if Ireland has so little control over these shaping factors, is Ireland in fact a legitimate country, a genuinely sovereign power?

Stuart Hall, who died earlier this year
Stuart Hall, who died earlier this year

So let’s say the State becomes a platform, like we talked about in the last post.  In order to participate in the State, in order to pay taxes, and get educational accreditation, access healthcare, and to get licensed to own dogs, own a gun, or drive a car, you need to subscribe to the platform.  Let’s say then that the platform allows for commercial entities to participate, to advertise their wares on the State Platform, to ‘compete’ for consumer attention based on big data analysis of citizen behaviour and experience.  What are the other things that are happening with technology that impact upon the evolution of the state?

kerry, brahimi
Tough Job: US Secretary of State John Kerry next to United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Twelve months ago it seemed inevitable that Bashar Al-Assad had no future in Syria, that it was merely a matter of time before his reign – and his dynasty – came to an end.  What has been consistent also, however, is that there has been no clarity in terms of who should replace him.  Furthermore, this has never been an internalised, isolated civil war; it is regional, strategic, and symbolic.

isolationismIn the early part of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson‘s America decided upon an Isolationist Foreign Policy concentrating their efforts on the battles at home. It wasn’t a new strategy – since the days of George Washington, the country as it emerged tried to distance itself from foreign entanglements, notwithstanding repeated encroachment on its borders by regional competitors and the death throes of European Power. The German ascendancy in the Atlantic finally forced their hand, and in order to protect the interests of America the country was forced into the war, and away from its isolationism. America, it appeared, could only advance her domestic interests if actively engaged on the International Stage.

euro-meltdown
This is not going well.

The coalition negotiations in Germany appear to have stalled on the question of whether Chancellor Merkel will authorize further European capital (read: German capital) for Irish banks.  Further more, the SDP is trying to force Ireland to raise its corporation tax rate, an incentive that has diverted investments away from the rest of Europe in key areas such as the Internet and Biotechnology.  This is not the first time that Germany has taken on the appearance of a reluctant bully in Europe, forcing itself on the weaker nations who are not deserving of its largesse.  It is of course symptom, not cause, and the true reason for the current difficulties – perpetuated now for five years or so – is the structural failure of the European project to manage economic diversity.

There is some great wealth in Europe, concentrated in pockets such as the Ruhr valley, Northern Italy, Southern England, and other places.  Big industries such as auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals employ hundreds of thousands, while financial services help to facilitate the trade of those products all over the world.  The wealth, however, is poorly distributed if we consider the wider context.