Peace Time: November 3, 1999


The International Federation of Journalists has protested that the US and NATO deliberately targeted Serbian media (i.e., radio and television stations), warning that this set a dangerous precedent. NATO responded that Serbian media was an arm of the government used for propaganda and to inspire repression and ethnic cleansing. As a part of Serbia's overall war effort, NATO insisted, the television and radio stations were legitimate targets. Such attacks were part of information warfare, and after Serbian radio and television was interrupted, US electronic warfare planes were able to beam their own signals into Serbian homes via their existing radio and television receivers.--Stephen V Cole

October 31; Colonialism has returned. Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and many others are now colonies of; the United Nations. With increasing frequency, the call is going out to keep the peace in out of the way places, and bring the benefits of civilization along as well. The last time this happened, during the 19th century, the approach was a little different. Industrialized nations just went into unruly places, restored order and set up a colonial government. The locals, who had long been fighting each other, were less enthusiastic about taking on the better organized and armed European armies. 
It didn't last. Between 1946 and 1966, most of the colonies were set free. And over the next few decades many slipped back into anarchy. The locals now want the foreign armies back to restore order, and many Somalis openly asked, in the mid-1990s, that they be turned into a colony again.
But that won't happen. The colonial powers discovered, much to their dismay, that colonies were money losing propositions. But there is still an economic, as well as a moral, argument to peacekeeping. Many unruly nations possess valuable natural resources that the colonial nations need. Or the unrest in an economically worthless nation might cause problems in a neighboring area that a useful trading partner. 

And colonialism lives, if only on a temporary basis. Thousands of years ago, empires learned that, while troublesome neighbors might be calmed down by violent visit from the imperial army, the troubles soon returned. So eventually the troublemakers were turned into a colony. But a colony with a difference. While your troops cowed the population, the local form of government would be reorganized. Groups more likely to keep the peace, or at least not bother their more powerful neighbors, were put in power. Bribes and death sentences were given out as needed, and soon the imperial troops went home, leaving a less troublesome kingdom behind them. 
We no longer have empires, but we do have the United Nations. Many accuse the UN of imperial ambitions. But in fact the UN serves a useful purpose by being the colonial power in an era when colonies are out of fashion. Let the UN set up the new government and do the dirty work of sorting out the good from the evil among the locals. The colony is less likely to rebel against the colonizing power, because the UN is not seen as a foreign country but, rather, the UN. That may change as the UN runs more and more colonies, but for the moment, the UN takes less heat for running a colony than America or some other industrialized nation might.

Naturally, we don't call what the UN does colonialism, for the UN is only supposed to be there long enough for the colony to turn into an independent country. That's a fiction fostered by journalists (and diplomats) who flunked history and logic. The new colonialism has only been in use since the end of the Cold War. Give it time and see how many colonies come back for seconds and thirds. By the UN's definition of who should be an independent nation, there are over 500 parts of other countries that qualify for statehood. Most of these areas are not in open rebellion. But those that do rise up, and issue enough bombs and press releases to get the UN's attention, will find many calling for something to be done. Send in the troops, call out the UN, establish a UN protectorate. Or, to put it less gently, "get this mess out of the news, it's giving politics a bad name."

Much of the new, and old, colonialism, was driven by the mass media. It was the new mass market newspapers during the 19th century that got the colonial movement going. Until then, most people only heard of unrest in far off places long after it had settled down. There wasn't enough time to do anything about it. That changed with first mass media; the 19th century newspaper. Today the news travels, and escalates, much faster. The troops can move to a trouble spot more quickly as well, and the media can provide live coverage of what is happening out there (or at least whatever the media chooses to showcase.) This produces quite a different dynamic than what was seen in the 19th century. We want solutions faster. We now have instant colonies. But the problems that caused the colonies to be formed in the first place, tend to keep coming back. Colonies, as history shows, are nothing but trouble. We are about to learn this lesson all over again.


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