Saturday, May 28, 2011

Arab Spring May Cause Instability

One of national democratization's effects was the intensification of warfare.  Under the medieval system wars were limited in nature and were chiefly of concern to aristocrats.  Protestantism, the democratization of religion,  led to the Thirty Years War that took place in Germany from 1618 to 1648.  As well, the excesses of the French Revolution led to Napoleon. His conquest of Europe was the first modern war.  The democratization of Germany following World War I led to Hitler and the worst war in history.  Since World War II American democracy has led to several wars, such as the Vietnam War, which involved more than three million deaths.

One reason why democracy leads to war is the galvanizing effects of war. A mediocre leader can inspire renewed commitment through war.  A failing leader can revive his popularity. Another reason is that democracy enhances public commitment to the state.  Whereas kings could fight only through contractually obligated vassals who had limited commitment to battle, there was no limit to a Frenchman's loyalty to the French nation, which he believed reflected his own aims and beliefs.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran have seen democratization, but the Sunni-Shia conflict, which parallels the Catholic-Protestant conflicts of the 16th century and later (continuing into this century in Ireland), presents a context for potential total war, much like the Thirty Years War. The Wall Street Journal  reports that in aiming to limit democratization, Saudi Arabia is creating an informal alliance against Iran. The reason is that a Sunni majority in Bahrain governs a Shiite majority.  Saudi officials have approached Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Central Asian states to lend support to Bahrain's government against the Shiite majority who live there. Recall that a month ago Pakistani Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani told Afghan officials to dump the US.  Now, Saudi officials are organizing an alliance that could thwart US objectives in the Middle East.

Religious conflict can be severe.  Even if the US is able to quell Saudi Arabia's current thrust to prevent democracy, the Middle East seems to be a region of Medieval levels of religious commitment. This may lead to instability in the oil supply.  Saudi Arabia's efforts to stop democracy in the Middle East are reminiscent of the Congress of Vienna and Metternich, who aimed to stop democratization in Europe. Here, though, there is the emotional issue of religious difference.

Added to the instability in global financial systems, due largely to the Federal Reserve, the instability in the Middle East says to me that commodity investments are here to stay.

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