Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
20 January 2016

In this week’s magazine | The Middle East’s 30 Years War

A first look at this week's issue.

By New Statesman

22 – 28 January 2016
The Middle East’s 30 Years War

 

Cover story: The new Thirty Years War.
Brendan Simms
, Michael Axworthy and Patrick Milton on lessons from the Peace of Westphalia – does the answer to the world’s worst conflict lie in Europe’s past?

George Eaton: Scotland’s economy has slowed but sovereignty, not prosperity, is the preoccupation north of the border.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Stephen Bush: How a sluggish Labour machine is letting David Cameron off the hook.

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas

The lion, the unicorn and Labour: John King on why patriotism is a dirty word for so many on the left.

Tehran comes in from the cold: David Patrikarakos on the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

Tim Wigmore talks to the would-be Green Party MP Larry Sanders about his brother, Bernie.

The NS Interview: Helen Lewis visits the Val McDermid Mortuary in Dundee to meet the forensic anthropologist Sue Black.

Laurie Penny: If we believe in justice – even justice dressed in ridiculous wigs – we must stand up for legal aid.

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: the prognosis is bleak for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt – might Boris have a better bedside manner?

****

Cover story: The new Thirty Years War.
Brendan Simms
, Michael Axworthy and Patrick Milton explore what the Peace of Westphalia can teach the Middle East today.

The Thirty Years War has been adduced as an early copy of the current situation in the Middle East by a range of foreign policy practitioners, including Henry Kissinger. Can the Peace of Westphalia, which ended this conflict in 17th-century Europe, offer a model for bringing stability to the Middle East?

In this week’s cover story, three experts on geopolitics consider how appropriate it is to make a historical comparison:

Like the original Thirty Years War, which was in fact a series of separate but interconnected struggles, recent conflict in the Middle East has included fighting in Israel, the occupied territories and Lebanon, the long and bloody Iran-Iraq War, the two Gulf wars, and now civil wars in Iraq and Syria. As with the Thirty Years War, events in Iraq and Syria have been marked by sectarian conflict and intervention by peripheral states (and still more distant countries) fighting proxy wars. Both the Thirty Years War and the present Middle Eastern conflicts have been hugely costly in human life. The Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War in 1648 has also featured in comment of late, usually along with the observation that recent events have brought about the collapse, at least in parts of the Middle East, of ideas of state sovereignty that supposedly originated with Westphalia.

Yet that is a myth, a serious and perhaps fatal misunderstanding of the Westphalian treaties. The provisions of the treaties in fact set up a structure for the legal settlement of disputes both within and beyond the German statelets that had been the focus of the conflict, and for the intervention of guarantor powers outside Germany to uphold the peace settlement. The real history of Westphalia has much to tell us in the present about the resolution and prevention of complex conflicts.

Among the lessons to be learned from the Peace of Westphalia is the need for patience and a long view, the authors argue:

There will be no a “quick fix”; the Westphalia negotiations took five years and ultimately failed to end the related war between Spain and France (which lasted until 1659). By 1648 the various warring parties in central Europe had reached a state of general exhaustion, and disillusionment with religious extremism.

But the lessons of the real treaties of Westphalia, which provided means for the legal resolution of disputes and showed ways to turn external interference in conflict into external guarantees for peace, could be a significant contribution to eventual settlement of the Middle East’s problems.

Bringing peace to the Middle East will not be easy, and many have failed before. Yet if it could be done in mid-17th-century Germany, a problem no less intractable, then anything is possible.

 

George Eaton: Scottish voters have crossed the Rubicon – sovereignty, not prosperity is the abiding preoccupation.

In his column this week, the NS political editor, George Eaton, notes that even the parlous state of Scotland’s public finances is not affecting the SNP’s hold, because voters north of the border have crossed an “emotional bridge”:

Had the Yes side won the referendum, the new state would have begun life in fraught circumstances. The price of oil, forecast by the SNP’s independence white paper to be $110, has fallen to below $30 – the lowest figure in 12 years. Rather than the “second oil boom” that the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, predicted in August 2014, the commodity is enduring a slump.

[. . .]

In normal times, some say, the nationalists would struggle to secure a third term this May – but, they emphasise, these are not normal times.

“The poll numbers aren’t shifting, because we’re in post-referendum politics,” Ian Murray, the shadow Scotland secretary and Labour’s last surviving MP north of the border, told me. The defining divide is no longer between left and right but between unionist and nationalist. As the only major party that advocates independence, the SNP has a hegemony that will endure. A Survation poll published on 14 January suggested that 52 per cent would vote for it in the forthcoming Holyrood election, while just 21 per cent would vote Labour.

Nationalist logic says there is no reason why Scotland’s worsening fiscal position should shift opinion. Sovereignty, rather than prosperity, is the preoccupation. For others, the diminishing value of oil only intensifies their resentment of Westminster. It was the Thatcher government that squandered the black gold on tax cuts and unemployment benefits, rather than investing in a sovereign wealth fund.

 

Stephen Bush: A sluggish Labour machine is missing golden political opportunities.

The editor of The Staggers, Stephen Bush, argues that slow reflexes are costing the Labour Party precious chances for political point-scoring:

This week, David Cameron announced that some immigrants (particularly Muslim women) need to learn English, under a programme to combat the rising threat of jihadism and extremism. Unfortunately, someone or other presided over a swingeing cut to funds for Esol (English for speakers of other languages) – oh, it was one David Cameron. The announcement was therefore a lose-lose for him: either he was wrong to cut the money then, or he is wrong to say that it’s needed now.

This was a golden opportunity for Labour to point out how austerity is often g. But finding a frontbencher to write about it on the New Statesman’s politics blog, which I edit, was like getting blood from a stone. It took Labour HQ until just before midday to issue a press release – some three and a half hours after Cameron appeared on the Today programme and almost two hours after the Liberal Democrats had attacked the speech.

This experience is not unique. The new model Labour Party is generally sluggish in attacking the Tories.

In some areas the Labour machine is working at a still more glacial pace: Bush notes that “a friend at another left-leaning publication is still waiting for a promised response from John McDonnell to the Autumn Statement”.

PLUS: Read Stephen Bush on the battle in Labour for control of the National Executive Committee as the Parliamentary Labour Party ejects a Corbyn ally.

 

The lion, the unicorn and Labour: John King on the left’s patriotism problem.

Recalling the moment when Jeremy Corbyn marked his election as leader of the Labour Party with a rendition of “The Red Flag” – and then refused to sing the national anthem at St Paul’s Cathedral – the author John King argues that “Labour’s iconography is all wrong”:

Corbyn is a decent man, part of a maverick English Labour tradition that includes Michael Foot, Tony Benn and perhaps Ed Miliband, but all four of them are metropolitan intellectuals who could never or never will understand why so many ordinary people are passionate about their country. Patriotism is a dirty word for those of an internationalist persuasion, which means they remain out of tune with much of the electorate. Like Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage, Corbyn says most of what he believes, and this is an attractive quality. He will naturally draw people to him, but the wider electorate wants something more. Songs, gestures and symbols matter, and Labour’s iconography is all wrong.

King identifies Corbyn with a long-standing Labour tradition – one described by George Orwell 75 years ago in his essay “The Lion and the Unicorn” – which “hates the idea of Britain in general and England in particular”. King contends that a willingness to “understand the patriotism of the people it aspires to speak for and represent” is critical if Labour is to succeed again.

 

Tehran comes in from the cold: David Patrikarakos on the lifting of sanctions on Iran.

The lifting of Western, nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran will precipitate a new set of problems in the Middle East, warns David Patrikarakos:

Washington’s rocky détente with Iran has been one of the most important geopolitical stories of the 21st century. The non-existent relations between Washington and Tehran that continued for over three decades were both unique (the US maintained an embassy in the USSR throughout the Cold War) and bad for the region and for international security as a whole.

What comes next, however, is unlikely to be uniformly positive. First, there are the economic consequences. The BBC estimates that now Iran can sell its oil on the international market again, it could soon be exporting 300,000 barrels a day. This considerable influx of oil on to the market will inevitably drive the price of oil – already sitting at a long-term low of less than $30 a barrel – even lower.

Weak oil prices will do little for Middle East stability, Patrikarakos observes. Furthermore, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has made it clear that a wider détente between Iran and the US “is not on the table” and he is likely to become more, not less, intractable now the sanctions deal is done. Patrikarakos feels an inescapable sense of déjà vu, because no sooner had one set of sanctions against Iran been lifted than Washington imposed a new set – on Iran’s ballistic missile programme. Tehran railed against Washington, claiming that these sanctions had “no legal or moral legitimacy”.

 

Laurie Penny: If we believe in justice – even justice dressed in ridiculous wigs – we must stand up for legal aid.

The NS contributing editor Laurie Penny asks who will defend Britain’s lawyers as Justice Secretary Michael Gove makes further cuts to legal aid:

Granted, the legal system is not the easiest client to defend, especially not when Tory austerity is already brutalising health care, welfare and education. But good lawyers don’t only take cases that are easy to win. Public-service lawyers take every case that deserves defending. And right now legal aid needs defending, or there’s going to be a miscarriage of justice that will stain our conscience for generations.

Defending doctors is hard enough these days, and most of us can imagine, however nervously, a time when we might need one of those. Nobody likes to envision needing a lawyer. And yet legal aid lawyers are to their corporate counterparts precisely what harassed GPs are to private plastic surgeons. While the top tier of the profession gets paid to make the rich look less monstrous, thousands of public servants are doggedly setting broken limbs, wiping brows and patching up the sucking chest wound of the welfare state.

Nobody goes into legal aid law for the money. Graduates go into it because they believe in social justice more than they believe there ought to be a yacht in their future. But that choice is now getting harder, as firms around the country close following Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s cuts to the tendering process for service provision contracts. A 2013 report showed that 50 per cent of young legal aid lawyers earn less than £20,000 a year. Young people who leave law school with enormous debts (thanks again, Michael Gove) are finding that they simply cannot afford to dedicate their lives to the public good.

 

The NS Interview: Helen Lewis meets the forensic anthropologist Sue Black.

The NS deputy editor, Helen Lewis, meets Sue Black, Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee, and one of Britain’s leading experts in human identification:

When I visit Dundee on a wind-whipped December day, the department is humming with quiet industry: there are students (95 per cent of them female), mortuary assistants and colleagues in Christmas jumpers. And there are bodies.

When Black arrived at Dundee in 2005, anatomy departments were in decline – they were either closing down altogether, or moving to “prosection”, in which an instructor dissects a cadaver in front of the class. But she is an evangelist for the importance of hands-on experience, and the department receives 80 new bodies every year for its students to cut into and explore.

Val McDermid was one of a group of crime writers who agreed to help Black raise the funds for a new mortuary a few years ago. They asked their fans to vote for a room to be named after them and to pay a pound to do so. It’s clear who won, as Sue Black guides me into the “Val McDermid Mortuary” and then to the “Stuart MacBride Dissecting Room”. The other eight writers each got their name on an embalming tank, with the exception of Lee Child, who decided to use that of his lead character Jack Reacher instead. “We realised early on we couldn’t have the Child Mortuary,” says Black dispassionately.

 

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential.

The NS’s chief snout in Westminster, Kevin Maguire, hears rumours that “Head of Personnel” George Osborne may be about to give the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the political equivalent of “a full bedpan on the head”:

Whispers around the Treasury that Jeremy Hunt’s star is fading fast in the eyes of George Osborne are unlikely to improve the mood of the Health Secretary, suffering from the twin ailments of striking doctors and another financial crisis in the NHS.

Mr Osborne is head of personnel. Tearoom talk suggests that Boris Johnson, with his chummy bedside manner, might replace the tetchy Hunt before long.

[. . .]

Osborne, by the way, is telling anybody who will listen – plus a few who overhear – that he watches the ITV news these days because he can’t stand the BBC. It didn’t stop him schmoozing heartily at a Today leaving bash for Jim Naughtie in Auntie’s council chamber. Or popping up on Newsnight, caked in make-up for his chat with Evan Davis.

Plus

Letter from Beijing: Zoe Alsop on how China’s slowdown seems very far away to those living in the city’s bubble.

Books: Leo Robson on The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, Alexander McCall Smith reviews Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being by the late Henning Mankell, and Melissa Benn on conflicting loyalties at work in Party Animals: My Family and Other Communists by David Aaronovitch.

A new poem by Simon Armitage: “On the Existing State of Things”.

Erica Wagner finds social comment behind the laughs in Dad’s Army.

Rachel Cooke on the extraordinary legacy of Mary Seton Watts.

Ed Smith on David Bowie: In our rush to worship innovators, we often overlook “mere” excellence.

Will Self’s Real Meals: Polyfilla cereal and curry swarming with parasites – feast your eyes on my most disgusting meals ever.

For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: anya.matthews@newstatesman.co.uk / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396