Saturday, 21 September 2013

Foreign Policy: The art of the contradictory

I have argued previously on this blog that the morally correct action for the international community, in response to the recent crackdown on Gay Rights in Russia, is to boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year. I still hold to this, indeed I see no contradiction between my stance on Sochi and my stance on Syria, where I have argued for a non-interventionist approach. There is a world of difference between nations choosing to boycott a sporting and recreational entertainment event, and choosing to inflict death and destruction on another nation. It is this point, the different effects and consequences of foreign policy and how they affect its implementation that I wish to explore in this post.

Boycotting Sochi might have mild diplomatic repercussions, but it is unlikely that the fallout from nations not participating in a sporting event will be significant. Even if he is extremely sensitive to himself or Russia being made to look bad on the world stage, Vladimir Putin is unlikely to start a game of diplomatic tit-for-tat over Sochi. On the other hand, a military intervention in Syria, which is thankfully starting to look less likely, would have dire diplomatic consequences. Given Russia and Iran’s outright support of the Assad regime, and Russia and China’s strong objections to Western military interventions, to over-ride their wishes, along with the UN, would be a disaster in foreign policy, inflicting huge damage on relations between the interventionist countries (i.e. America, Britain and France) and the rest of the world. Leaving aside the fact that even if there were no diplomatic consequences, intervention through high explosive violence in Syria is morally unjustifiable, it is clear that with Sochi and Syria, the very different backlash in both cases means that each must be treated differently.

While this does not leave much room for absolute moral principles or an absolutely consistent approach to different situations like those in Syria and Russia, it is the only approach that can realistically be taken. Adopting a completely consistent line on foreign policy leads to chaos. If we say that situations like Syria are abhorrent and must be dealt with by military force, than its not just Syria that American should be pointing its cruise missiles at. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Libya (again), North and South Sudan, North Korea, Bahrain, Iran and even China and Russia all have similar internal situations which satisfy the same moral criteria as Syria. In each of these countries there is violence, usually government sponsored or enabled, being directed against particular groups or many groups of people, based on ethnic, religious or political affiliations. Obviously intervening in all these countries would be an act of insanity, and yet the principals being touted as justifying intervention in Syria also demand similar intervention in these other nations too.

Even more importantly, intervention in these countries carries the risk of massive and uncontrolled diplomatic and military fallout. For instance, if Western forces decided to intervene in South Sudan, who do they assist? The South Sudanese who have only just shaken off rule by the North, or the tribes in the border area who are fighting the two governments and in some cases may be receiving assistance from them? There are no answers in a situation like this, only death and mayhem. Even more horrifying is the thought of Western intervention against somewhere like North Korea. In this case there would not just be diplomatic consequences; North Korea’s enormous armed forces and nuclear arsenal mean that there would be immediate and fatal consequences for a very large number of people in South Korea and beyond.

Simply put it is a truly reprehensible act for any national government to endanger its own citizens (let alone the citizens of other countries) for the sake of soothing an uneasy conscience. To use the most obvious example, if America was to intervene in Syria directly, the potential backlash by the Syrian government against American bases in the middle east, and the potential for terrorists gaining a presence in a subsequently destabilised Syria and attacking American targets represent true “moral hazard”. America’s potential involvement in Syria puts its citizens, both military and civilian alike in danger. This is an unacceptable risk to take for the sake of any principle. The American government’s first duty, like all national governments, is to its own people. To endanger their lives through reckless foreign escapades like Syria, even for the most impeccable humanitarian reasons, is a violation of this duty.

This is my argument at its simplest. The diplomatic, political and military hazards of any foreign policy effort must be weighed up, and their cost to the nation assessed. If these costs are too high, the true moral imperative is for governments to stay out and protect their own citizens. Hence, while boycotting Sochi is a relatively risk free exercise and an good opportunity to avoid tarnishing the west’s most dearly held values, in Syria the risks are simply too high. In a general sense, Sochi is a low risk endeavour, while Syria and other situations like it are just too risky. To avoid these risks, it is necessary to sacrifice consistency in foreign policy. In the end, foreign policy is all about taking calculated risks, and so it is filled with contradictions. The only principle that cannot be contradicted is that of protecting your own citizens.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Syria Redux: The consequences of intervention

The latest reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria are another instance where taking a moment to step back and think about the conflict is the best thing we can do. A few things to consider:

1) Chemical weapons change nothing.

In a conflict which has already claimed over 100,000 lives, fatalities from chemical weapons are a drop in the ocean. Chemical weapons are horrific. Bombs, bullets, shrapnel, artillery shells and sniper fire are equally horrific, and they are already being used on a vast scale in the Syrian conflict. To pretend that somehow chemical weapons are “worse” than conventional ones is a travesty. War, violence and death are uniform horrors, irrespective of how they are inflicted. The Syrian conflict has been horrendous from day one, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. Chemical weapons are simply another facet of this awful conflict.

2) Even more important, the West/UN/whoever cannot get international backing to intervene.

The Chinese and Russian governments have made it absolutely clear they will neither support nor tolerate any attempt to effect a regime change in Syria, even under the guise of “peacekeeping”. This is not going to change today, tomorrow, next month, next year or ever. The Chinese and Russian governments are committed to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. This is mainly because they have some questionable domestic policies of their own that would make them vulnerable if such interventions became common place. This means that they are absolutely opposed to any UN action that would involve intervention in Syria. There will be no UN sanctioned “liberation” of Syria while China and Russia hold seats on the security council. Moreover, the Assad regime’s allies in the region, particularly Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon will oppose, possibly with military force, any intervention, and we can be sure that regimes like that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Omar al Bashir in Sudan and a host of other petty dictatorships will strenuously oppose intervention on pretexts that could just as easily be used against them.

Which brings me to my third and most important point.

3) Any intervention in Syria will be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

There are so many ways in which a Western intervention in Syria will go wrong that I cannot do justice to them here, but a brief overview will do.

Hezbollah and Iran have actively and in Hezbollah’s case directly intervened in Syria. They literally have “skin in the game”. Any Western intervention, and that includes airstrikes, will involve direct military action against Hezbollah troops and Iranian assets in Syria. This will instantaneously kill any chance of Iran agreeing to negotiate over its nuclear programme, reignite the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict in southern Lebanon and kill the recently revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process stone dead. Renewed conflict on Israel’s border with Lebanon will inevitably spread to its border with Syria, drawing Israel, with its undisclosed nuclear arsenal and legion of enemies in the Islamic world into the conflict.

Moreover, even if Iran does not respond directly by military means to a Western strike/invasion of Syria, the Islamic Republic will surely take steps to retaliate against the West, including possibly attempting to interdict oil shipments through the strait of Hormuz. Western intervention in Syria also has the potential to exacerbate conflict in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq will be given a new lease of life by a fresh Western act of aggression against an Islamic country, and it already has allies among the more extreme elements of the Syrian rebel groups. The prospect of Iraq based militants getting involved in Syria on a large scale against Western troops raises the spectre of the chaos in Syria spreading to Iraq. In which case, in a cruel irony, Western troops may find themselves back in Iraq having only recently declared the country “secure” and left in a hurry.

Finally, Western intervention in Syria will severely complicate the West’s relationship with other countries, particularly Egypt. If Western powers will intervene on the side of Islamist rebels against a brutal military dictatorship in Syria, why not in Egypt, which is heading towards an identical situation? How will the Muslim Brotherhood and the military in Egypt react if Western forces attack Syria? How will other regional players, like Hamas in Gaza, Al Qaeda in Yemen, the Taliban in Pakistan/Afghanistan and the Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq react? There are a lot of vested interests at play in Syria, and a ham-fisted intervention by the West could quite possibly bring them all into the conflict.

Finally, an intervention by Western armies with their immensely powerful air forces, armies and copious amounts of high explosives will trigger another exodus of refugees from Syria that will dwarf the current one. Thousands of people have crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan in the last week alone. Over a million Syrians have fled the country already. Another spike in numbers could overwhelm neighbouring countries like Jordan, which are already struggling to cope with the influx.

As I have said previously, bombs and bullets added to yet more bombs and bullets will not solve anything. Western military action will just get more people, and potentially many many more people killed. If other countries wish to act to help the Syrian people, they can do genuinely good things, like assisting the refugees from the conflict, and the countries that have take them in. Let the West and the world build roads, schools, hospitals and sadly, orphanages for the victims of the conflict. Let them send doctors, nurses, teachers and aid workers instead of soldiers, fighter pilots and more death. Help is something you give people, not something you fire at them. We can only hope that the countries currently calling for “intervention” in Syria will learn this lesson sooner rather than later.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Jordan: The forgotten sanctuary

In all the recent talk and debate around arming some of the multiple Syrian rebel groupings fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, the discussion has focused on military issues. How to get the weapons in? How to prevent them falling into the wrong hands? Will they be enough to topple Assad? Indeed, from the very start of the Syrian conflict, the focus especially by the West has been on its military aspects. All talk of helping the Syrian people and alleviating the suffering caused by the conflict has focused on fighting, on arming people, on trying to affect change by force as quickly as possible. At some point, helping other countries has become synonymous with violence.

There are, at last estimate, 1.7 million Syrians living as refugees outside their country, mainly in Turkey and Jordan, along with Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon currently hosts the most displaced Syrians, with Jordan and Turkey close behind. Of the three however, Jordan faces the most serious problems arising from the influx of refugees. This is in no small part because Jordan already houses 1.9 million Palestinians and nearly half a million Iraqis, refugees from earlier conflicts. For decades, since its unsuccessful participation in the Six Day War in 1967, Jordan has been a haven of tranquility in the Middle East. The country has repaired its relationship with Israel and maintained good relations with the outside world. Until recently the economy was growing and prosperity expanding to more of the population. But there are also serious problems.

Jordan’s refugee influx from its neighbours has strained already overstretched water supplies, along with the provision of healthcare, education and basic amenities like electricity and energy. Jordan’s stability and open border policy have made it a very attractive destination for refugees, and now all the things which made Jordan a success story in the region are starting to drag it under, as more and more people flood across the country’s borders. The Jordanian population is only 6 million, barely more than Ireland’s, yet by some estimates by the end of this year over a million Syrians will be added to that. Jordan simply cannot cope with this quantity of refugees.

Rather than sending more guns to perpetrate more violence and more death in Syria, the international community, especially those countries like the US who seem to be getting more and more involved in the conflict, should focus on making a positive difference to the situation by helping these refugees and the countries sheltering them. According to a recent report by the Guardian, the United States has given $228.5 million spread across all the countries in the region dealing with refugees from Syria. Given that by some estimates the US spent over $1 Trillion on the war in Iraq, surely it can afford to give even a fraction of a percent of this sum to help Jordan, and make a real, positive contribution to a regional crisis.

If the last decade of strife in the Middle East has proved anything, it has proved that violence is never an answer to internal conflicts in other countries. The international community can make a difference right now, by sending real aid to all the countries in the region, but especially to Jordan, who are actually helping the Syrian people by sheltering them from the conflict.
The Jordanian people have opened their borders and their homes to refugees from surrounding regions. They have not turned people away at the border, despite the intense pressure being placed on their economy and their public services. And despite the fact that they are making the most constructive and positive contribution to the Syrian conflict, all the West wants to focus on is sending in guns to Syria, rather than helping them.

Jordan, along with other countries in the Middle East, is helping in a very real sense to lessen the suffering and death caused by the Syrian conflict, at great cost to itself. The real heroes of the Syrian civil war will not be the rebels, or the government, or the outside powers who armed them, they will be the countries who let in tens of thousand of frightened refugees, who clothed and fed them, who cared for them, who tried to give them the same services they give their own citizens.

If the international community and especially the West, wish to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and help to limit the damage caused by the conflict, they only need to look to Jordan. The means to make a difference are already there. All the Jordanian people need is help to do it.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Stephen Fry, Sochi and Stalin 2.0

Stephen Fry is right when he calls Vladimir Putin’s regime the “new autocracy” of Russia. Putin’s dictatorial repressions extend beyond Russia’s embattled LGBT community. His suppression of dissent and opposition, the suspicious deaths of journalists and activists under his regime and the politically motivated trials of Alexei Navalny and others are all part of his regime's efforts to keep itself in power and in control. And behind it all is Putin himself.

Vladimir Putin is Josef Stalin 2.0. He’s smarter, more subtle and less paranoid, but equally brutal, equally savage and equally dangerous. Where Stalin had show trials, mass purges and collectivisation, Putin has corruption charges, disappearances and manipulative nationalistic slogans. Vladimir Putin is a 21st century dictator. He has learned the crucial lesson that his 20th century predecessor never learned. You don’t need to have all of the power in the state, or to silence all of your critics. You just need to have enough of the power, in the right areas, and to neutralise only those critics you can’t buy off, smear or paint as being unpatriotic.

Putin is at the centre of a power network that embraces both state repression and state corruption. Roubles serve where the secret police might be too obvious. Fabricated charges are used instead of regime show trials. And the regime’s most serious foes die in fortuitous accidents, in cases that are never properly investigated. Putin doesn’t need to use the police to suppress dissent, he just needs them not to do their job when he has it silenced by other means.

I have always held that getting involved with dubious dictators and autocrats like Putin is not the business or in the interest of the West. It leads to what can only be described as morally compromising situations. Russia is a case in point. By engaging with Putin and sending delegations to the Games in Sochi, Western governments are saying that the values they hold dear like equal rights, equality before the law, transparent government and at a basic level some semblance of democracy are just talking points, and that dictators like Putin can do as they please and still get to preen and prance on the world stage.

While Western governments have no business getting involved in the internal affairs of other countries (see my posts on Syria and Iraq for that particular can of worms) non-involvement most definitely includes not giving despots like Putin a platform like the Olympics. As Stephen Fry points out, witness Berlin 1936 for the results appeasement of this sort. When I say don’t engage with Russia, I mean it in the fullest sense of the word. For obvious reasons, its enormous nuclear arsenal being the main one, Russia is in no danger of military intervention by the West. That does not mean the default position should be to ignore the Putin regime's appalling crimes and blithely give them carte blanche in Sochi.

All nations who value human dignity should boycott the Winter Games of 2014. Putin’s particular brand of despotism should not be given international sanction with such a high profile event. We cannot realistically influence what happens inside Russia, not with Putin’s iron grip on power. But we can deny him the exposure and international approval that he craves. Let him fume and rant, and claim that there is a western conspiracy against Russia. But let him do it without a world stage to do it from.

The world should disengage from Russia in every sense. Boycott Sochi. Downgrade Russia’s membership of the UN and other global organisations. Putin’s thuggish regime is so far gone that Russia’s membership of these bodies is not only hopeless in terms of changing anything, it is downright farcical. Stop holding international summits in Russia, and start making its participation in others like the G8 and G20 dependent on reforms. Of course Putin, much like his dictatorial predecessors won’t reform. But thats the point. If someone won’t change their ways, you stop engaging with them. You isolate them.

Putin is a dictator, and like all dictators he will be hard if not impossible to dislodge. His crimes will undoubtedly continue. By boycotting the Sochi Games, the international community can start disentangling itself from Putin’s crimes, and stop giving Russia’s latest autocrat a platform for his tyranny.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Syria and Iraq: Painful lessons in history and restraint

Syria and Iraq share many things in addition to an extensive and poorly policed border. They are both post-colonial states, constructed arbitrarily from an eclectic mix of racial and religious groups. They both suffer from serious tensions between these different groups, and have a history of repression by one or more of these groups. In the case of Iraq it was the repression of the Shia Muslims majority and Kurdish minority by another minority, the Sunni Muslims. In the case of Syria it was a neat reversal, with a Shia led “coalition of minorities” repressing the Sunni majority. Of course, this is a simplification. Inter-ethnic and religious relations in both nations are complicated and fraught, with questionable acts on both sides. In both cases however, pre-existing conflict between factions has been immeasurably worsened by outside intervention.

Iraq is the more well known and spectacular case. The US led invasion of 2003 was supposed to topple the dictator Saddam Hussein and establish democracy. What it succeeded in doing was lift the lid on simmering tensions, which Hussein had, with unquestionably vile methods, successfully repressed.  The result was a bloody civil conflict from the invasion on, with a series of peaks and lulls, and which now looks as though it is reigniting. The repression by the Sunni minority Hussein led has been replaced by savage all out conflict, and the fragmentation of Iraq. Far from building the country into a liberal, democratic society, Western intervention may in the long term have succeeded only in destroying it altogether.

The intervention in Iraq has not only failed to meet any of its objectives, it has made the situation worse. To the horrific death toll of the Iraqis themselves, the Western forces have managed to add thousands of their own troops. The brutality of Saddam Hussein has been replaced by the chaotic, dysfunctional and semi-despotic regime of Nouri al-Maliki. Violence, which under Hussein was kept in the hands of the state, is now in the hands of any and all groups who have an axe to grind. Coalition troops have died in vain, and the horrendous violence now unfolding in Iraq is potentially worse than anything Hussein’s regime could have done.

This leads us to Syria, where western intervention is again being mooted, albeit in a more limited fashion. Britain, France and factions within the American government seem to believe that if they simply outsource their intervention by arming the Syrian rebels, they will avoid all of the disasters of Iraq. This is, quite simply, a complete inability to understand the nature of their failure in Iraq. Iraq was a failure not because the right side didn't win; Iraq was a failure because western countries got involved in a conflict they did not understand. There were no right sides in Iraq, just competing factions looking for an advantage by any means necessary.

Likewise in Syria, there are no “good guys” or “bad guys”. There are simply competing factions, with their own goals, agendas and particular ideologies. The obsession with whether or not any arms sent over might fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or its affiliates misses the point entirely. Whoever gets the arms, be it the Free Syrian Army, the al-Nusra Front or any of the other multifarious rebel groups in Syria, will use them to carve out their own victory at the expense of all the other factions. The civil war in Syria is not a conflict between the government of Bashar al-Assad and a rebel movement. It is a multi-sided free for all, with ethnic and religious complexities that makes the Balkans conflict look clear cut by comparison.

Sending weapons in isn’t going to hasten a rebel victory, it will just add more bullets to the fighting, and get more people, including civilians killed. Even if by some miracle the particular group of Syrian rebels which the West has arbitrarily chosen to favour get all of the weapons and don’t lose any of them, they will promptly use them to establish their own political solution, at the expense of all the other factions. Western bullets will be used to achieve decidedly non-Western goals. When you attempt to break up a bar fight, you don’t just give the one guy you happen to like a baseball bat to try and end it quickly. In the case of Syria, the West has stepped into the bar, looked around, and started tossing in meat cleavers randomly.

This kind of misguided policy has two outcomes. Either the those intervening (i.e. the West) get stuck in wholesale and end up adding their own casualties to an already bloody conflict (as happened in Iraq), or they stand back, add more guns to the situation and then watch as yet again the violence and suffering spike. Given the stubborn refusal of the Western powers to learn from their mistakes, we can dread equally fruitless attempts at making things better in the rapidly deteriorating situations in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and possibly Tunisia and Lebanon. Let us hope, for the sake of all the innocent victims of the Middle Eastern conflicts, the people of the West chose to learn the lessons their governments won’t.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The NCT and the evils of too much government

The NCT and the evils of too much government

I’m not usually a fanatic about the growth of government and its increasing role in our lives. I like low college fees (by the standards of other countries), I like public transport for all its flaws and I even have a soft spot for TV Licence inspectors (if only because of the advertisements). But one particular government intervention in our lives has the capacity to turn me into a full frontal anarchist. One particular bureaucratic irritation drives so far up the wall I feel the overwhelming urge to break out my balaclava and molotov cocktail kit and smash the system. Its not the ever increasing bus fares, its not aggravating array of household charges, taxes and fees and its not even the wretched property tax. No, the government imposition which truly makes me angrier than a bear with a toothache is the National Car Test, the NCT.

Where I a more paranoid man I would see the NCT as an unholy plot by the government and car dealerships and auto-repair shops to squeeze the poor defenceless punter for all he is worth. A sort of big oil conspiracy only with medium to large auto sales and repair instead. However, leaving aside my fears of a money making ploy instigated by an alliance of car dealerships in conjunction with the Road Safety Authority, there are plenty of other reasons to loathe the NCT. The first is the unspeakable nanny state feel of it all. Suddenly, us poor foolish commuters and recreational drivers are simply too irresponsible to look after our own cars, and need the government to legally bind us to get them checked, and then charge us for the privilege. Its a sort of Orwellian take on a grown up version of the “Look, Listen, Live” road safety campaign, only with ridiculous charges and spurious criteria for what qualifies as ‘safe’.

A second reason to abhor the NCT in all its bureaucratic horror is this very issue of a car ‘failing’. For a test which purports to try and lower road accidents by reducing the number of mechanically suspect cars still driving on them, to fail a vehicle for having a rear reflector light missing or less than fully inflated tyres is galling in its triviality. Surely, a simple recommendation to repair such minor flaws will suffice rather than forcing the owner to sit through another test complete with extortionate fee? As a money making scam, it is offensive in its grasping attempts to wring every cent from the poor driver. It is also insulting for the government to make us get our cars tested for mechanical faults, which common sense tells us the owner(s) will be looking for all on their own. No sensible or even insensible person is going to drive for very long if they suspect that their brake cables or drive shaft are faulty, let alone if they have an engine problem. Either the government believes we are so irrational that we need our hand held while going through a traditional adult activity, the maintenance of one’s own car, or else it is so cash strapped it is willing to engage in this kind of backdoor taxation.

This is the final grasping cherry on top of this unwholesome revenue scrounging desert, that it is something we must pay for. If ensuring the mechanical integrity of vehicles is so important to our safety, surely this a service the government should be providing free of charge. What do our motor taxes pay for if not the upkeep and safety of our national roads and the cars that drive on them? If the government wishes to involve itself in the maintenance of our nations cars, surely we should not have to pay for this involvement having already paid our taxes? In the same way that after paying our taxes we are not expected to pay tolls on public roads (leaving the issue of Public Private Partnerships to one side) why should we pay for a service which should already be paid for through our motor taxes? Especially as this is a function the government has only recently intruded itself into and one in which it traditionally has no place.

The NCT is an example of the worst kind of ‘big government’. It is a government intrusion into an area where it has no place, as we have private auto-repair providers to help us maintain our cars. The government is just acting as an unnecessary middleman, telling us what we already know in most cases and then fleecing us for it. And even if such mandatory testing saves lives, since when is it expected that the already heavily taxed punter should pay for potentially life saving services outside of regular taxation? Being forced to pay for visits to to the emergency room is bad enough, being forced to pay for completely spurious government mandated safety tests is just downright insulting.

P.S. Hermes at Rest is a new blog myself and my brothers have set up, we've been having some technical difficulties but hopefully this is the start of bug free content!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Test post

Test post to see if our fancy social media set up works #techfail

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Anglo tapes, recessions and illegitimate agreements

The current controversy with the Anglo tapes is revealing just how much the executives at the bank knew about the true state of affairs within the banking sector at the time the bank guarantee was agreed. These revelations come just as the CSO releases figures showing that the Irish economy is once again officially in recession. By being the good boys of Europe and introducing all of the required austerity measures, Ireland was supposed to return to growth. Instead, there has been near continuous economic stagnation.

In light of these developments, the question might once again be asked whether these deals, made with the banks and with the Troika on behalf of the Irish people, are fair. And if they are not, can the contracts still be held to be legitimate?

Michael Sandel is an American political philosopher from Harvard, and one of my favourite thinkers in the world today. He proposes two criteria by which we may judge the fairness and moral legitimacy of a contract: autonomy and reciprocity. Autonomy asks, was the contract freely and willingly agreed to by all parties? Reciprocity, on the other hand, asks, was the contract of benefit to all parties? It is these two conditions that bring moral weight to a contract.

A contract fails to meet the condition of autonomy when one party is forced, tricked or coerced into agreeing to it. This includes coercion stemming from an inferior bargaining position. A contract fails to meet the condition of reciprocity when, for example, one party has greater knowledge about the the objects involved, and hence makes a deal that is not mutually beneficial.

With these conditions in mind, how does the government's guarantee of the banks fare? First of all, autonomy. The deal was made by the government on behalf of the people, as is fitting in a democratic society. However, the circumstances surrounding the night on which the bank guarantee was agreed are well known. The government acted under threats of bank closures and potential repercussions in the bond markets. As the Anglo tapes reveal, they were also deliberately misled by the bankers, who knowingly understated the true extent of their losses and exposure.

What about reciprocity? The tapes released this week put it beyond any doubt that the bankers did not act in the best interests of the Irish people, and that they used asymmetric information to get a better deal for themselves, at the expense of the people. The bank guarantee clearly didn't fulfil the requirements of autonomy and reciprocity, and was therefore neither a fair nor legitimate contract.

There is of course nothing that can be done to rectify the injustice of the guarantee at this stage, other than perhaps criminal charges against those complicit in it. What about, however, the subsequent bail-out Ireland received from the Troika? Was this contract fair? The need for this bail-out, as we have seen, stemmed from a morally illegitimate agreement. After the bail-out, Ireland instituted the austerity requirements placed on it by the terms of the agreement. The return to growth expected for Ireland, however, has not occurred.

The Irish government, in negotiating the agreement, in many ways had an inferior bargaining position. This position was weakened further by the actions of central bank governor Patrick Honohan, who disclosed the fact that the government was in negotiations about a possible bail-out. This might call into question whether or not the agreement was fully autonomous. It is not enough, however, to show that the agreement was illegitimate.

The central question here is whether the terms of the bail-out were agreed with the best interests of the Irish people in mind, or whether, as has been claimed, they were mainly concerned with saving German banks. Was the austerity program designed to benefit the Irish people? The answer to these questions are unclear at the moment, and the true impact of these policy decisions may not be known for many years down the line. It looks unlikely, however, that the growth at the end of the austerity rainbow is going to come any time soon.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013


Welcome to our blog, Hermes at Rest.

We are three brothers from Dublin, Ireland. We've started this blog to write about politics and current affairs, both international and domestic, as well as whatever else might take our fancy.

In Greek mythology, Hermes is the messenger and herald of the gods, the conductor of souls into the afterlife and the protector of the agora. He is the intermediary between mortals and gods, the bringer of information to mankind. He is also the patron of writers, orators and composers. We are sure that he will also guide our efforts here.

We all attend(ed) university in Trinity College, Dublin. Our backgrounds are in science and history (Niall), geography and German (Shane), and philosophy and economics (Conor). As such, we can hopefully bring a diverse set of viewpoints to the topics on which we expound.

If there is one overarching principle guiding our writings here, let it be a healthy distrust of the dominant consensus. Too often we encounter people claiming to be sceptical towards political and religious ideologies, who are yet uncritical in their acceptance of a wide range of popular political beliefs. We will try to be the voice of reason and dissent on the issues of the day. We will also do our best to ensure that you enjoy reading our work.

Beir bua,

Niall, Shane & Conor