Israel and Syria once again Negotiating over Golan Heights

In intro to IR on Wednesday we addressed global environmental issues and we went over this chart outlining Thomas Homer-Dixon’s overview regarding the link between environmental scarcity and security. According to Homer-Dixon, environmental degradation is not only an important economic, social, and health issue, it is crucially an issue of importance for global security.

We see the important link between increased environmental scarcity and social effects (like ethnic conflicts, deprivation conflicts and coups d’etat), facilitated indirectly at times by the conditions of weakened states.

Homer-Dixon argues that these environmentally-driven conflicts will increase the more the environment degrades. Moreover, it is just those places in the world that have the least capacity to deal with the potentially negative effects of environmental degradation whose environments will be most likely to suffer.

In the far left column is “unequal resource access”. One of the most important resources to humankind is water. The conflict between Syria and Israel over the Golan Heights is crucially linked to water. As we learn from the New York Times:

JERUSALEM — Peace overtures between Israel and Syria moved up a gear on Wednesday when a Syrian cabinet minister said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel had sent a message to President Bashar al-Assad to the effect that Israel would be willing to withdraw from all the Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria.

The Syrian expatriate affairs minister, Buthaina Shaaban, told Al Jazeera television, “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions; on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria.” She said that Turkey had conveyed the message.

Israeli officials did not deny the statement from Damascus but would not confirm it either, offering a more general, positive reaction. “Israel wants peace with Syria; we are interested in a negotiated process,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert. “The Syrians know well our expectations, and we know well their expectations…”

“…Withdrawal from the Golan Heights is a contentious issue in Israel. The territory is a strategic plateau that overlooks a large swath of northern Israel. Israel has objected to past Syrian demands for access to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a main water source for Israel.

Yehuda Raizner/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An Indian member of the United Nations force in the Golan Heights, a strategic

plateau that overlooks a swath of northern Israel.

Risk, Uncertainty–From Governor Weld to the Modern Financial System

Canadian academic Thomas Homer-Dixon (we will read one of his papers this semester in Intro to IR) has written a piece for Canada’s “paper of record”–the Globe and Mail, which is titled “From Risk to Uncertainty.”  Those of you in my intro to comparative politics class will surely recognize immediately the difference between the tho concepts.

Remember when we read the first two chapter of Shepsle and Bonchek on instrumental rationality, the authors used the example of then-Massachusetts Governor Weld.  Weld had to decide whether to run for Governor again, or to commit to challenging Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.  A win there would have given him a nice platform for an eventual presidential run.  Weld, as we know, was operating in a world or risk rather than uncertainty when making his decision, given that there were public opinion polls published that estimated his chances of winning in either election.

What is the difference between risk and uncertainty and how does it apply to the contemporary global financial system (which, by the way, for those of you not paying attention is precariously teetering on the edge of meltdown–you heard it here first!)?

So the rules of the game have now fundamentally changed. Our global financial system has become so staggeringly complex and opaque that we’ve moved from a world of risk to a world of uncertainty. In a world of risk, we can judge dangers and opportunities by using the best evidence at hand [what Shepsle and Bonchek call beliefs] to estimate the probability of a particular outcome. But in a world of uncertainty, we can’t estimate probabilities, because we don’t have any clear basis for making such a judgment. In fact, we might not even know what the possible outcomes are. Surprises keep coming out of the blue, because we’re fundamentally ignorant of our own ignorance. We’re surrounded by unknown unknowns.