Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Tell When a Country Is in Trouble

A good indicator that the government of a country is floundering is when they gin up nationalist hysteria. This idea was satirized a few years back in a movie (which I never saw) called Wag the Dog. As I understand it, the plot of the movie revolves around a US president who is facing domestic difficulties and starts a war to distract attention.

(Shortly after the movie came out, the Lewinsky scandal erupted, and a few days after Clinton admitted he had been lying about it, he bombed the Sudan. But that was no doubt a coincidence).

The Falkland Islands serve as a great barometer of conditions in Argentina. In the early eighties, when the military junta was in trouble, they invaded the Falklands, and all of a sudden, the people of Argentina were backing the government. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is only a short-term fix, and when Britain kicked Argentina’s butt, the junta was overthrown.

Now Argentina is in financial trouble (again), with soaring inflation (again), and facing the possibility of defaulting on their debts (again), and guess what’s happening? The president is trying to distract the public by talking about the Falklands (again)
Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner fired off a stream of angry tweets Wednesday night after a United Nations meeting where she championed the cause of wresting the Falkland Islands from British rule.

The Twitter rant follows a referendum in which Falkland Islanders voted overwhelmingly to continue under the empire of the Union Jack.
I’m guessing that Bolivia must be having problems these days, because their president is complaining about a piece of land that Chile took from them in a war 130 years ago.
Bolivia's president said Saturday he would file a suit against Chile at the International Court of Justice "in the coming days" in a bid to reclaim access to the sea lost in a 19th century war. […]

Bolivia lost its access to the sea in the 1879-1884 War of the Pacific and today is the poorest country in South America. Previous attempts to negotiate the redrawing of the border have failed.

Morales said earlier this month that bilateral negotiations with Chile over the border dispute would be a "waste of time."
There was an interesting contrast here in the Philippines recently. The Philippines has a similar dispute with Malaysia over the province of Sabah: Filipinos say ‘It’s ours’, Malaysians say, ‘Tough, we’ve got it’.

Recently, in a story the background of which is too long and complicated to explain, a group of Filipinos invaded Sabah and apparently tried to take it over (or something). The whole thing would have been funny, except that a bunch of people died.

The most interesting thing about the whole mess to me, though, was the reaction of the Philippine government. At present the economy here is going reasonably well (by Philippine standards), and the official response by the Philippine government was mostly embarrassment. Other than urging that the Malaysian government exercise restraint in dealing with the invaders, the government pretty much took a hands-off approach.

Besides the fact that things are going relatively smoothly, the Philippine government had another good reason for wanting to keep things calm with Malaysia. China claims that virtually every island in the South China Sea (known here as the West Philippine Sea) and its other coastal waters belongs to it. In regard to the Philippines, China is claiming a group of uninhabited (but possibly oil-bearing) islands called the Spratleys. China is also claiming islands belonging to other neighbors, including Malaysia. If China tries to enforce its claims, the Philippines will need every friend it can get.   

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