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Joint Declaration by International Law Experts on Israel’s Gaza Offensive

28 Jul

(Prefatory Note: Posted here is a Joint Declaration of international law experts from around the world who are listed below as endorsers. I am among the endorsers, and the text was initially drafted by several international law scholars. We welcome additional signatures that can be sent to me in the comments section, with affiliation noted for identification, and names will be periodically added to the text. I view this as an important expression of professional judgment and individual conscience relating to Israeli behavior in Gaza commencing on 8 July that has already taken so many innocent lives and caused such widespread devastation. Please join us and spread the word!)  

The International Community Must End Israel’s Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population in the Gaza Strip

As international and criminal law scholars, human rights defenders, legal experts and individuals who firmly believe in the rule of law and in the necessity for its respect in times of peace and more so in times of war, we feel the intellectual and moral duty to denounce the grave violations, mystification and disrespect of the most basic principles of the laws of armed conflict and of the fundamental human rights of the entire Palestinian population committed during the ongoing Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip. We also condemn the launch of rockets from the Gaza Strip, as every indiscriminate attack against civilians, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, is not only illegal under international law but also morally intolerable. However, as also implicitly noted by the UN Human Rights Council in its Resolution of the 23th July 2014, the two parties to the conflict cannot be considered equal, and their actions – once again – appear to be of incomparable magnitude.

Once again it is the unarmed civilian population, the ‘protected persons’ under International humanitarian law (IHL), who is in the eye of the storm. Gaza’s civilian population has been victimized in the name of a falsely construed right to self-defence, in the midst of an escalation of violence provoked in the face of the entire international community. The so-called Operation Protective Edge erupted during an ongoing armed conflict, in the context of a prolonged belligerent occupation that commenced in 1967. In the course of this ongoing conflict thousands of Palestinians have been killed and injured in the Gaza Strip during recurrent and ostensible ‘ceasefire’ periods since 2005, after Israel’s unilateral ‘disengagement’ from the Gaza Strip. The deaths caused by Israel’s provocative actions in the Gaza Strip prior to the latest escalation of hostilities must not be ignored as well.

According to UN sources, over the last two weeks, nearly 800 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and more than 4,000 injured, of whom the vast majority were civilians. Several independent sources indicate that only 15 per cent of the casualties were combatants. Entire families have been murdered. Hospitals, clinics, as well as a rehabilitation centre for disabled persons have been targeted and severely damaged. During one single day, on Sunday 20th July, more than 100 Palestinian civilians were killed in Shuga’iya, a residential neighbourhood of Gaza City. This was one of the bloodiest and most aggressive operations ever conducted by Israel in the Gaza Strip, a form of urban violence constituting a total disrespect of civilian innocence. Sadly, this was followed only a couple of days later by an equally destructive attack on Khuza’a, East of Khan Younis.

Additionally, the offensive has already caused widespread destruction of buildings and infrastructure: according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 3,300 houses have been targeted resulting in their destruction or severe damage.

As denounced by the UN Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the Gaza conflict in the aftermath of Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-2009: “While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: The people of Gaza as a whole” (A/HRC/12/48, par. 1680). The same can be said for the current Israeli offensive.

The civilian population in the Gaza Strip is under direct attack and many are forced to leave their homes. What was already a refugee and humanitarian crisis has worsened with a new wave of mass displacement of civilians: the number of IDPs has reached nearly 150,000, many of whom have obtained shelter in overcrowded UNRWA schools, which unfortunately are no safe areas as demonstrated by the repeated attacks on the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun. Everyone in Gaza is traumatized and living in a state of constant terror. This result is intentional, as Israel is again relying on the ‘Dahiya doctrine’, which deliberately has recourse to disproportionate force to inflict suffering on the civilian population in order to achieve political (to exert pressure on the Hamas Government) rather than military goals.

In so doing, Israel is repeatedly and flagrantly violating the law of armed conflict, which establishes that combatants and military objectives may be targeted, i.e. ‘those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.’ Most of the recent heavy bombings in Gaza lack an acceptable military justification and, instead, appear to be designed to terrorize the civilian population. As the ICRC clarifies, deliberately causing terror is unequivocally illegal under customary international law.

 

In its Advisory Opinion in the Nuclear Weapons case, the ICJ stated that the principle of distinction, which requires belligerent States to distinguish between civilian and combatants, is one of the “cardinal principles” of international humanitarian law and one of the “intransgressible principles of international customary law”.

 

The principle of distinction is codified in Articles 48, 51(2) and 52(2) of the Additional Protocol I of 1977 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, to which no reservations have been made. According to Additional Protocol I, “attacks” refer to “acts of violence against the adversary, whether in offence or in defence” (Article 49). Under both customary international law and treaty law, the prohibition on directing attacks against the civilian population or civilian objects is absolute. There is no discretion available to invoke military necessity as a justification.

 

Contrary to Israel’s claims, mistakes resulting in civilian casualties cannot be justified: in case of doubt as to the nature of the target, the law clearly establishes that an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes (such as schools, houses, places of worship and medical facilities), are presumed as not being used for military purposes. During these past weeks, UN officials and representatives have repeatedly called on Israel to strictly abide by the principle of precaution in carrying out attacks in the Gaza Strip, where risks are greatly aggravated by the very high population density, and maximum restraint must be exercised to avoid civilian casualties. HRW has noted that these rules exist to minimize mistakes “when such mistakes are repeated, it raises the concern of whether the rules are being disregarded.”

 

Moreover, even when targeting clear military objectives, Israel consistently violates the principle of proportionality: this is particularly evident with regard to the hundreds of civilian houses destroyed by the Israeli army during the current military operation in Gaza. With the declared intention to target a single member of Hamas, Israeli forces have bombed and destroyed houses although occupied as residencies by dozens of civilians, including women, children, and entire families.

 

It is inherently illegal under customary international law to intentionally target civilian objects, and the violation of such a fundamental tenet of law can amount to a war crime. Issuing a ‘warning’ – such as Israel’s so-called roof knocking technique, or sending an SMS five minutes before the attack – does not mitigate this: it remains illegal to wilfully attack a civilian home without a demonstration of military necessity as it amounts to a violation of the principle of proportionality. Moreover, not only are these ‘warnings’ generally ineffective, and can even result in further fatalities, they appear to be a pre-fabricated excuse by Israel to portray people who remain in their homes as ‘human shields’.

 

The indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the targeting of objectives providing no effective military advantage, and the intentional targeting of civilians and civilian houses have been persistent features of Israel’s long-standing policy of punishing the entire population of the Gaza Strip, which, for over seven years, has been virtually imprisoned by Israeli imposed closure. Such a regime amounts to a form of collective punishment, which violates the unconditional prohibition set forth in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and has been internationally condemned for its illegality. However, far from being effectively opposed international actors, Israel’s illegal policy of absolute closure imposed on the Gaza Strip has relentlessly continued, under the complicit gaze of the international community of States.

 

***

As affirmed in 2009 by the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict: “Justice and respect for the rule of law are the indispensable basis for peace. The prolonged situation has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action” (A/HRC/12/48, para. 1958) Indeed: “long-standing impunity has been a key factor in the perpetuation of violence in the region and in the reoccurrence of violations, as well as in the erosion of confidence among Palestinians and many Israelis concerning prospects for justice and a peaceful solution to the conflict”. (A/HRC/12/48, para. 1964)

Therefore,

 

  • We welcome the Resolution adopted on 23 July 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council, in which an independent, international commission of inquiry was established to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

 

  • We call upon the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, individual States, in particular the United States of America, and the international community in its entirety and with its collective power to take action in the spirit of the utmost urgency to put an end to the escalation of violence against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, and to activate procedures to hold accountable all those responsible for violations of international law, including political leaders and military commanders. In particular:
  • All regional and international actors should support the immediate conclusion of a durable, comprehensive, and mutually agreed ceasefire agreement, which must secure the rapid facilitation and access of humanitarian aid and the opening of borders to and from Gaza;
  • All High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions must be urgently and unconditionally called upon to comply with their fundamental obligations, binding at all times, and to act under common Article 1, to take all measures necessary for the suppression of grave breaches, as clearly imposed by Article 146 and Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; these rules are applicable by all interested parties as well;
  • Moreover, we denounce the shameful political pressures exerted by several UN Member States and the UN on President Mahmoud Abbas, to discourage recourse to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and we urge the Governmental leaders of Palestine to invoke the jurisdiction of the ICC, by ratifying the ICC treaty and in the interim by resubmitting the declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, in order to investigate and prosecute the serious international crimes committed on the Palestinian territory by all parties to the conflict; and
  • The UN Security Council must finally exercise its responsibilities in relation to peace and justice by referring the situation in Palestine to the Prosecutor of the ICC.

 

 

***

 

Please note that institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only.

 

 

  1. John Dugard, Former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
  2. Richard Falk, Former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
  3. Alain Pellet, Professor of Public International Law, University Paris Ouest, former Member of the United Nations International Law Commission, France
  4. Georges Abi-Saab, Emeritus Professor of International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Former Judge on the ICTY
  5. Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Emeritus Professor of International Law, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland
  6. Chantal Meloni, Adjunct Professor of International Criminal Law, University of Milan, Italy (Rapporteur, Joint Declaration)

 

 

  1. Roy Abbott, Consultant in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, Australia
  2. Lama Abu-Odeh, Law Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, USA
  3. Susan M. Akram, Clinical Professor and supervising attorney, International Human rights Program, Boston University School of Law, USA
  4. Taris Ahmad, Solicitor at Jones Day, London, UK
  5. Maria Anagnostaki, PhD candidate, Law School University of Athens, Greece
  6. Antony Anghie, Professor of Law, University of Utah, USA
  7. Nizar Ayoub, Director, Al-Marsad, Arab Human Rights Centre in Golan Heights
  8. Valentina Azarov, Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law, Al Quds Bard College, Palestine
  9. Ammar Bajboj, Lecturer in Law, University of Damascus, Syria
  10. Samia Bano, SOAS School of Law, London, UK
  11. Asli Ü Bali, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law, USA
  12. Jakub Michał Baranowski, Phd Candidate, Universita’ degli Studi Roma Tre, Italy
  13. Frank Barat, Russell Tribunal on Palestine
  14. Emma Bell, Coordinator of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control, Université de Savoie, France
  15. Barbara Giovanna Bello, Post-doc Fellow, University of Milan, Italy
  16. Brenna Bhandar, Senior lecturer in Law, SOAS School of Law, London, UK
  17. George Bisharat, Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of Law, USA
  18. Barbara Blok, LLM Candidate, University of Essex, UK
  19. John Braithwaite, Professor of Criminology, Australian National University, Australia
  20. Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, lecturer in international law, University of Edinburgh, UK
  21. Eddie Bruce-Jones, Lecturer in Law, University of London, Birkbeck College, UK
  22. Sandy Camlann, LLM Candidate, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France
  23. Grazia Careccia, Human Rights Advocate, London, UK
  24. Baris Cayli, Impact Fellow, University of Stirling, UK
  25. Antonio Cavaliere, Professor of Criminal Law, University Federico II, Naples, Italy
  26. Kathleen Cavanaugh, Senior Lecturer, Irish Center for Human Rights, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
  27. Elizabeth Chadwick, Reader in International Law, Nottingham, UK
  28. Donna R. Cline, Attorney at Law, USA
  29. Karen Corteen, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Chester, UK
  30. Andrew Dahdal, Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Economics, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
  31. Teresa Dagenhardt, Reader in Criminology, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  32. Luigi Daniele, PhD candidate in Law, Italy
  33. Alessandro De Giorgi, Professor of Justice Studies, San Josè State University, USA
  34. Paul de Waart, Professor Emeritus of International Law, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  35. Gabriele della Morte, Senior Lecturer in International Law, University Cattolica, Milan, Italy
  36. Max du Plessis, Professor of Law, University of Kwazulu-Natal, and Barrister, South Africa and London, UK
  37. Noura Erakat, Georgetown University, USA
  38. Mohammad Fadel, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, Canada
  39. Mireille Fanon-Mendés France, Independent Expert UNO, Frantz Fanon Foundation, France
  40. Michelle Farrell, lecturer in law, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool, UK
  41. Daniel Feierstein, Professor and President International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), Argentina
  42. Eleonor Fernández Muñoz, Costa Rica
  43. Tenny Fernando, Attorney at Law, Sri Lanka
  44. Amelia Festa, LLM Candidate, University of Naples Federico II, Italy
  45. Katherine Franke, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, USA
  46. Jacques Gaillot, Bishop in partibus of Patenia
  47. Katherine Gallagher, Vice President FIDH, senior attorney, Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), New York, USA
  48. Avo Sevag Garabet, LLM, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
  49. Jose Garcia Anon, Professor of Law, Human Rights Institute, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
  50. Irene Gasparini, PhD candidate, Universitá Cattolica, Milan, Italy
  51. Stratos Georgoulas, Assistant Professor, University of the Aegean, Greece
  52. Haluk Gerger, Professor, Turkey
  53. Hedda Giersten, Professor, Universitet I Oslo, Norway
  54. Javier Giraldo, Director Banco de Datos CINEP, Colombia
  55. Carmen G. Gonzales, Professor of Law, Seattle University School of Law, USA
  56. Penny Green, Professor of Law and Criminology, Director of the State Crime Initiative, King’s College London, UK
  57. Katy Hayward, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  58. Andrew Henley, PhD candidate, Keele University, UK
  59. Christiane Hessel, Paris, France
  60. Paddy Hillyard, Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  61. Ata Hindi, Institute of Law, Birzeit University, Palestine
  62. Francois Houtart, Professor, National Institute of Higher Studies, Quito, Ecuador
  63. Deena R. Hurwitz, Professor, General Faculty, Director International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of Virginia School of Law, USA
  64. Perfecto Andrés Ibánes, Magistrado Tribunal Supremo de Espagna, Spain
  65. Franco Ippolito, President of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, Italy
  66. Ruth Jamieson, Honorary Lecturer, School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland
  67. Helen Jarvis, former member Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), member of IAGS, Cambodia
  68. Ioannis Kalpouzos, Lecturer in Law, City Law School, London, UK
  69. Victor Kattan, post-doctoral fellow, Law Faculty, National University of Singapore
  70. Michael Kearney, PhD, Lecturer in Law, University of Sussex, UK
  71. Yousuf Syed Khan, USA
  72. Tarik Kochi, Senior Lecturer in Law, School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex, UK
  73. Anna Koppel, MSt Candidate in International Human Rights Law, University of Oxford, UK
  74. Karim Lahidji, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and lawyer
  75. Giulia Lanza, PhD Candidate, Università degli Studi di Verona, Italy
  76. Daniel Machover, solicitor, Hickman & Rose, London, UK
  77. Tayyab Mahmud, Professor of Law, Director of the Centre for Global Justice, Seattle University School of Law, USA
  78. Maria C. LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney, CCR, New York, USA
  79. Louise Mallinder, Reader in Human Rights and International Law, University of Ulster, UK
  80. Triestino Mariniello, Lecturer in International Criminal Law, Edge Hill University, UK
  81. Mazen Masri, Lecturer in Law, The City Law School, City University, London, UK
  82. Siobhan McAlister, School of Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  83. Liam McCann, Principal Lecturer in Criminology, University of Lincoln, UK
  84. Jude McCulloch, Professor of Criminology, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
  85. Yvonne McDermott Rees, Lecturer in Law, University of Bangor, UK
  86. Cahal McLaughlin, Professor, School of Creative Arts, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  87. Araks Melkonyan, LLM Candidate, University of Essex, UK
  88. Antonio Menna, PhD Candidate, Second University of Naples, Caserta, Italy
  89. Naomi Mezey, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, USA
  90. Michele Miravalle, PhD candidate, University of Torino, Italy
  91. Sergio Moccia, Professor of Criminal Law, University Federico II, Naples, Italy
  92. Kerry Moore, Lecturer, Cardiff University
  93. Giuseppe Mosconi, Professor of Sociology, University of Padova, Italy
  94. Usha Natarajan, Assistant Professor, Department of Law & Centre for Migration and Refugee Studies, The American University in Cairo, Egypt
  95. Miren Odriozola Gurrutxaga, PhD Candidate, University of the Basque Country, Donostia – San Sebastián, Spain
  96. Georgios Papanicolaou, Reader in Criminology, Teesside University, UK
  97. Marco Pertile, Senior Lecturer in International Law,
    Faculty of Law, University of Trento, Italy
  98. Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Professor of Law and Theory, LLM, The Westminster Law and Theory Centre, UK
  99. Antoni Pigrau Solé, Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona, Spain
  100. Joseph Powderly, Assistant Professor of Public International Law, Leiden University, The Netherlands
  101. Tony Platt, Visiting Professor of Justice Studies, San Jose State University, USA
  102. Scott Poynting, Professor in Criminology, University of Auckland, New Zeeland
  103. Chris Powell, Professor of Criminology, University S.Maine, USA
  104. Bill Quigley, Professor, Loyola University, New Orleans College of Law, USA
  105. John Quigley, Professor of Law, Ohio State University
  106. Zouhair Racheha, PhD Candidate, University Jean Moulin Lyon 3, France
  107. Laura Raymond, International Human Rights Advocacy Program Manager, CCR, New York, USA
  108. Véronique Rocheleau-Brosseau, LLM candidate, Laval University, Canada
  109. David Rodríguez Goyes, Lecturer, Antonio Nariño and Santo Tomás Universities, Colombia
  110. Alessandro Rosanò, PhD Candidate, Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy
  111. Jamil Salem, Director Institute of Law, Birzeit University, Palestine
  112. Mahmood Salimi, LLM Candidate, Moofid University, Iran
  113. Nahed Samour, doctoral fellow, Humboldt University, Faculty of Law, Berlin, Germany
  114. Iain GM Scobbie, Professor of Public International Law, University of Manchester, UK
  115. David Scott, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Liverpool John Moores University, UK
  116. Phil Scraton, Professor of Criminology, Belfast, Ireland
  117. Rachel Seoighe, PhD Candidate, Legal Consultant, King’s College London, UK
  118. Tanya Serisier, School of Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  119. Mohammad Shahabuddin, PdD, Visiting researcher, Graduate School of International Social Sciences, Yokohama National University, Japan
  120. Dean Spade, Seattle University School of Law, USA
  121. Per Stadig, lawyer, Sweden
  122. Chantal Thomas, Professor of Law, Cornell University, USA
  123. Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law, Columbia University, USA
  124. Gianni Tognoni, Lelio Basso Foundation, Rome, Italy
  125. Steve Tombs, Professor of Criminology, The Open University, UK
  126. Paul Troop, Barrister, Garden Court Chambers, UK
  127. Valeria Verdolini, Reader in Sociology, University of Milan, Italy
  128. Francesca Vianello, University of Padova, Italy
  129. Aimilia Voulvouli, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Fatih University, Turkey
  130. Namita Wahi, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, Dharma Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India
  131. Sharon Weill, PhD, Science Po, Paris/ CERAH, Geneva, Switzerland
  132. Peter Weiss, Vice President of Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), New York, USA
  133. David Whyte, Reader in Sociology, University of Liverpool, UK
  134. Jeanne M. Woods, Henry F. Bonura, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law, Loyola University College of Law, New Orleans, USA
  135. William Thomas Worster, Lecturer, International Law, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
  136. Maung Zarni, Judge, PPT on Sri Lanka and Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy

27 Jul

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a revised text of an article published in AlJazeera America on July 26, 2014. Devastation and violence has continued in Gaza, with Palestinians deaths now numbering over 1000 (overwhelmingly civilians) and Israeli deaths latest reported at being 43 (almost all military personnel). Such casualty figures and disparities raise questions of state terrorism in a stark manner. Also, it should be appreciated that if Israel were to do what it is required by international law to do there would be no rockets directed at its population centers--lift the blockade, negotiate peace on the basis of the 2002 Arab proposals and Security Council 242. Yet this would require Israel to give up once and for all its expansionist vision embedded in the settlement phenomenon and the version of Zionism embraced by its leaders and reigning political parties. The best that the UN has been able to do is to call for an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire" to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council; such an unseemly balancing act is not what the UN Charter had in mind by aligning the international community in opposition to states that break the peace and act aggressively in disregard of international law; a victimized people deserves protection, not some sort of display of deforming geopolitical symmetry.]

 

So far, the diplomatic effort to end the violence in Gaza has failed miserably, most recently with Israel’s cabinet rejecting a ceasefire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. This attempt by Washington is representative of the overall failure of American policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, only on this occasion the consequences can be measured in the growing pile of dead bodies and the widespread devastation that includes numerous homes, public buildings and even artillery damage to several United Nations schools sheltering Palestinian civilians.

 

The U.S. approach fails because it exhibits extreme partisanship in a setting where trust, credibility and reciprocity are crucial if the proclaimed aim of ending the violence is the true objective of this exhibition of statecraft. Kerry is undoubtedly dedicated to achieving a cease-fire, just as he demonstrated for most of the past year a sincerity of commitment in pushing so hard for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet throughout the failed peace process the United States exhibited all along this discrediting extreme partisanship, never more blatantly than when it designated Martin Indyk, a former staff member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and former ambassador to Israel, to serve as the U.S. special envoy throughout the peace talks.

 

The U.S. approach up to this point to achieving a ceasefire in Gaza has been undertaken in a manner that is either woefully ignorant of the real constraints or callously cynical about their relevance. This is especially clear from the initial attempt to bring about a cease-fire by consulting only one side, Israel — the party bearing the major responsibility for causing massive casualties and damage — and leaving Hamas out in the cold. Even if this is a unavoidable consequence of Hamas being treated as “a terrorist entity,” it still makes no sense in the midst of such carnage to handle diplomacy in such a reckless manner when lives were daily at stake. When Israel itself has wanted to deal with Hamas in the past, it had no trouble doing so — for instance, when it arranged the prisoner exchange that led to the release of the single captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit back in 2011.

 

The basic facts seem so calculated to end in diplomatic failure that it is difficult to explain how they could have happened: The U.S. relied on Egypt as the broker of a proposal it vetted, supposedly with the approved text delivered personally by Tony Blair to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, secreted endorsed by the Netanyahu government, and then publicly announced on July 15 via the media as a ceasefire proposal accepted by Israel, without Hamas having been consulted, or even previously informed. It’s a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd. Last July, then-General Sisi was the Egyptian mastermind of a coup that brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized the entire organization. The Sisi government has made no secret of its unrelenting hostility to Hamas, which it views as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged responsibility for insurgent violence in the Sinai. Egypt destroyed the extensive tunnel network connecting Gaza with the outside world created to circumvent the punitive Israeli blockade that has been maintained since 2007. Was there ever any reason for Hamas to accept such a humiliating ceasefire arrangement? As some respected Israeli commentators have suggested, most prominently Amira Hass, the “normalization” of the occupation is what the Israeli military operation Protective Edge is all about. What Hass suggests is that Israel is seeking a compliant Palestinian response to an occupation that has for all intents and purposes become permanent, and seems to believe that such periodic shows of force will finally break once and for all the will to resist, symbolized by Hamas and its rockets, and now its tunnels. In this respect, the recent move to establish a unity government reconciling the Palestinian Authority with Hamas was a setback for the normalization policy, especially suggesting that even the PA could no longer be taken for granted as an acceptably compliant ‘partner,’ not for peace, but for occupation.

 

Whatever ambiguity might surround the Kerry diplomacy, the fact that the cease-fire’s terms were communicated to Hamas via the media, made the proposal a “take it or leave it” clearly designed to show the world that Hamas would never be treated as a political actor with grievances of its own. Such a way of proceeding also ignored the reasonable conditions Hamas had posited as the basis of a cease-fire it could accept. These conditions included an unwavering insistence on ending the unlawful seven-year siege of Gaza, releasing prisoners arrested in the anti-Hamas campaign in the West Bank prior to launching the military operation on July 8, and stopping interference with the unity government that brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority together on June 3. Kerry, by contrast, was urging both sides to restore the cease-fire text that had been accepted in November 2012 after the previous major Israeli military attack upon Gaza, but relevantly, had never been fully implemented producing continuous tensions.

 

Hamas’ chief leader, Khaled Meshaal, has been called “defiant” by Kerry because he would not go along with this tilted diplomacy. “Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights,” Meshaal said. This was tried by Hamas in 2012 and didn’t work. As soon as the violence ceased, Israel refused to follow through on the cease-fire agreement that had promised negotiations seeking an end of the blockade and an immediate expansion of Gazan fishing rights.

 

In the aftermath of Protective Edge is it not reasonable, even mandatory, for Hamas to demand a firm commitment to end the siege of Gaza, which has been flagrantly unlawful since it was first imposed in mid-2007? Israel as the occupying power has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population of an occupied people. Israel claims that its “disengagement” in 2005, involving the withdrawal of security forces and the dismantling of settlements, ended such obligations. Such a position is legally (and morally) unacceptable, a view almost universally shared in the international community, since the persistence of effective Israeli control of entry and exit, as well as air and sea, and violent incursions amounts to a shift in the form of occupation — not its end. Israel is certainly justified in complaining about the rockets, but the maintenance of an oppressive regime of collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza is an ongoing crime. And it should be appreciated that more often than not, Israel provokes the rockets by recourse to aggressive policies of one sort or another or that most primitive rockets are fired by breakaway militia groups that Hamas struggles to control. A full and unbiased account of the interaction of violence across the Gaza border would not find that Israel was innocent and only Hamas was at fault. The story is far more complicated, and not an occasion for judging which side is entitled to be seen as acting in self-defense.

 

In “Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror,” an insightful July 23 article in The New York Times, the influential Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol drew from the experience of his country in ending decades of violent struggle between the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state. Akyol “congratulated” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (while taking critical note of his “growing authoritarianism”) for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the “terrorist” label. Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.

 

Just as with the peace process itself, the time has surely come for a credible ceasefire to take account of the views and interests of both sides, and bring this sustained surge of barbaric violence to an end. International law and balanced diplomacy are available to do this if the political will were to emerge on the Israeli side, which seems all but impossible without the combination of continuing Palestinian resistance and mounting pressure from outside by way of the BDS campaign and the tactics of a militant, nonviolent global solidarity movement.

 

 

When BBC Calls, Don’t Expect Love

25 Jul

[Prefatory Note: A slight rethinking of an earlier post, with a different assessment of what to do. Spurning BBC, however much we deplore their bias and malignant spins, is not sensible; we live in this media framed global space, for better and mainly worse, and to spurn it as I earlier proposed is immature posturing. The alternative of being possibly a dissident whisper in the wind is only slightly to be preferred, but as long as we are breathing such noxious media fumes, do we really have a choice?]

 

 

When BBC Calls, Should you Answer?

 

That is, don’t expect love, if you are a certified critic of Israeli policies and practices,  and prepare yourself for rejection.

 

The siren lure of big time media is partly a romancing of the ego, partly a rare moment to intrude a moment or two of truthfulness into the endless spinning of the Israel’s narrative that stresses its extravagantly humane response to Hamas flurries of rockets and alleged human shield tactics.

 

Four times in the past week I have received invitations to be a guest on BBC programs dealing with Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Each time the female producer, with charming British intonation, expressed her strong interest in arranging my participation at such and such a time. And each time I agreed, although my presence in a Turkish village with limited Internet access made it logistically awkward to do so, yet far from impossible to make the necessary arrangements, usually with the kind cooperation of a neighbor with superior digital facilities.

 

Each time I was ready at the appointed hour, and each time I was given a last minute explanation for why my appearance was cancelled—a couple of times I was told that I was a casualty of ‘breaking news,’ and the other two times, there was no embellishment, merely “we apologize, but we have to cancel today’s appearance.” And on each occasion, as if part of how producers are trained, I was told that those in charge of planning the program were eager to have me appear as soon as possible, and that I would hear in a day or so. On the basis of my past experience on the few occasions when such last minute news altered programming, I was shifted to later in the program or rescheduled for the next day. My BBC experience in this respect was ‘terminal’ as in disease.

 

Needless to say, the phone lines have been quiet since each of these ‘dumping’ incidents. I wonder about this pattern of invitation and cancellation. I am quite sure that these was quite separate programming for each of the invitations with no coordination among them. Was there some master censor at the BBC that reviewed the guest list just prior to the scheduled broadcast, somewhat in the manner that an ethical submarine commander might review the manifest of an enemy passenger ship wartime? Perhaps, BBC was rightly concerned that there might be a faint and ugly stain of balance that would tarnish their unsullied reputation of pro-Israeli partisanship. I will probably be forever reliant on such conjectures unless a BBC Snowden steps out of the shadows of deception and into the sunlight of disclosure.

 

I feel self-conscious relating this little saga at a time when so many in Gaza are dying and bleeding, and all of us should be grieving. As I write I feel humble, not arrogant. It seems that somewhere buried in these trivial rejections there is occasion for concern that the media claim of objectivity in liberal societies is above all else a sham. That even powerful players such as BBC are secretly captive, and its reportage and commentary qualifies less as news than as Hasbara, at least when it comes to Israel-Palestine.

 

In any event, my advice to the media savvy, is that if you have caller ID, and you can tell that it is BBC calling, don’t bother answering. I hope I have the good sense to follow my own advice should the phone ever ring again!

But I am not even sure I should prolong such childish pique! How can we turn our backs on the opportunity, however slim, to weigh in for a minute or two on the side of those being so cruelly victimized? So more soberly considered, I hope that I will have the maturity to answer the BBC call, and even keep showing up however many times I am brushed off at the last minute. By the way, I have yet to be put to the test.  Maybe in the interval BBC staffers have been handed a blacklist to avoid the slight tremors of embarrassment associated with last minute cancellations. I am not vain enough to suppose that my earlier post was passed around as a negative guideline on how to avoid inviting the wrong people to appear on news programs dealing with the Middle East.

The New Interventionists: Civil Society Activists

19 Apr

[This essay is a revised and reoriented version of a text that was published online at the Global Policy Website on April 14, 2014 with the title "A Presumption Against Intervention."]

 

 

            Participating in the intervention debates that have raged periodically in the United States ever since the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, and of course earlier in less contested settings, and elsewhere, I have been struck by a defining encounter between those who are dogmatically opposed to intervention per se and those who rarely confront a call for intervention that they do not feel persuaded by. The traditional focus of policy discussion proceeds on the assumption that what is controversial concerns the forcible character of a proposed intervention by governmental actors to coerce some kind of major change in the regime or policies of a foreign sovereign state. Other lesser forms of intervention, often called ‘interference’ rarely are the subject of public debate, although covert regime-changing intervention is a a crucial exception. Those favoring a particular intervention usually rely, at least in part, on a rationale that such an undertaking is necessary and desirable as it would rescue a captive people from a regime responsible for massive crimes against humanity or genocide or overcome a humanitarian emergency. There are also complexities in analysis if the regime has dubious legitimacy and consents to ‘intervention’ to suppress an insurgent challenge.

 

  1. Systemic Developments

 

            Four developments over the course of the last half century are radically reshape debates about intervention. The first, and most important, is the collapse of European colonialism, which has often motivated the West, and especially the United States, to assert their goals and protect their interests by way of intervention in what were formerly colonies or states whose sovereignty was curtailed by hegemonic authority. A feature of this post-colonial global setting is that the intervening state, if Western, will tend to justify its actions by setting forth an altruistic and unselfish rationale. Related to this matter of motivation on the side of the intervener is the prospect of effective and persevering national resistance creating obstacles to succeeding with an intervention. The combination of motivation and anticipated resistance helps explain why so few major interventions in the recent past have been viewed as successful as compared to earlier. One notable continuity linking colonial memories to post-colonial realities is the invariable geographical locations of the intervener in the West and the target society being in the non-West.

 

            The second development is the rise of human rights as a dimension of world order and a central feature of the foreign policy of liberal democracies, which in a globalizing world makes sovereign boundaries seem less inhibiting from the perspective of international law for a prospective intervener. The implicit major premise of the human rights framework is an affirmation of species solidarity. This means that responsibilities for the wellbeing of others extends beyond the boundaries of one’s own state, and encompasses the most remote parts of the planet. In other words, intervention is supposedly undertaken for the sake of securing the rights of others, and denies territorial ambitions and the quest for economic benefits. The 21st century intervener claims a purity of intentions, but the configuration of interventions and non-interventions is far more ambiguous in its linkages to strategic and material interests.

 

            The third development is the increased reliance on military weaponry and combat tactics that reduce sharply the casualties of the intervener while shifting as much of the burden of death and devastation as possible to the target society. This reflects thin political support in the intervening society that usually accompanies subjecting citizens of Western countries to risks of dying, placing a premium on weaponry and forms of warfare that minimizes the likelihood of casualties even if at the cost of battlefield effectiveness. The Kosovo intervention under NATO auspices in 1999 was characteristic of this pattern, with the military campaign consisting exclusively of air attacks from fairly high altitudes that apparently increased the casualties on the ground but spared the interveners from incurring losses. The attacks launched in 2001 against the al-Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan were notoriously ineffective in attaining their military objectives despite complete battlefield dominance. A similar pattern was present in Libya in 2013 employing NATO airpower to tip the internal balance of forces in favor of an anti-regime uprising while avoiding tactics that might place the intervening forces at high risk.

 

            A fourth development is the acceptance of the validity of a general international law rule prohibiting intervention regardless of justifying circumstances. The only exceptions to this prohibition involve a use of force that can be persuasively justified as self-defense against a prior armed attack or that has been mandated by a Security Council decision. Almost all controversial interventions involve non-defensive uses of force that have not been neither authorized by UN procedures, and are vulnerable to legalistic criticism as violations of international law.

 

II. Assessing the Debate

 

            Participants in debates about a prospective intervention are generally influenced by the presence or absence of a variety of considerations that shape their assessments. The pro-interventionists who rest their case mainly or exclusively on humanitarian concerns believe that when a state severely abuses its own people, intervention should follow regardless of its country of origin or motivation. Ideally, such an intervention should be mandated by the United Nations so as to comply with international law, but if political obstacles prevent such a green light from being obtained, intervention should go ahead anyway if seen as likely effective in ending a pattern of severe abuse. Such North American liberal hawks as Samantha Power, Michael Ignatieff, Susan Rice, and Anne-Marie Slaughter are among the most ardent and intelligent exponents of interventionary diplomacy. One characteristic of these pro-interventionists is their unquestioning good faith of the claims put forward by the U.S. Government that the intervention is truly about helping vulnerable or suffering people, and that allegations by critics about protecting access to oil reserves or ensuring market access should be dismissed as leftist polemics. Another feature of such advocacy is its rather blind confidence that if American military superiority is brought to bear it can be translated into a desired political outcome at an acceptable cost in lives and costs.

 

            The anti-interventionists approach these policy issues entirely differently, essentially on the basis of an ethic of suspicion. They look below the surface of humanitarian rationalizations for unlawful uses of force to discern what they believe to be the real motives. They are quick to doubt the humanitarian explanations offered for an intervention, and instead search for the presence of strategic and material interests. Most anti-interventionists reject the justifications given by the pro-interventionists, especially those put forward by government officials, and are skeptical about claims that positive results will be achieved by an intervention even if the question of strategic interests is put to one side. Such skeptics do often self-identify as left or progressive. They are likely to refer to past failures of intervention such as Vietnam, or more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. These historical cases are offered as cautionary reminders of how often intervention as a political undertaking has gone wrong. They also sharply criticize advocates of intervention for their willful failure to consider the past and for their near exclusive focus on questions of feasibility, which overlooks the terrible track record of interventions after 1945. Since the end of World War II, few interventions have come close to attaining the goals set by their advocates, especially if the target country has a population of over three million.

 

            For dedicated anti-interventionists, such as Noam Chomsky, nearly every intervention that is politically endorsed by the West is a poorly disguised example of ‘military humanism,’ and as a result, unacceptably weakens international law and the UN, erodes respect for the sovereign rights of smaller and weaker states, and is deeply compromised by the ‘double standards’ that pervade the practice of intervention. Chomsky, for instance, asks rhetorically why intervention was undertaken in Kosovo but not on behalf of the large Kurdish minority in Turkey who during roughly the same time period were enduring a cruel counterinsurgency campaign conducted by the Turkish government. In other words, the suspicion of the anti-interventionists is reinforced by the contradictions in the practice of the intervening states and in the mix of advocacy and silence on the part of the pro-interventionists.

 

            The pro-interventionist tends to believe in the moral contributions of the United States as a global leader that uses its military power for generally benevolent purposes. In contrast, the anti-interventionist generally dismisses such moral claims as a cover story for the pursuit of strategic interests in a post-colonial world order where the rules of the game are the same, or similar, and only the language of justification has changed to require an ethical rationalization to legitimize non-defensive uses of international force. It is no longer permissible or prudent to admit selfish national motivations, and for this reason a humanitarian and human rights discourse has become fashionable, but it has also obscured the true wellsprings of policy. Anti-interventionists captive to their suspicions about the maneuvers of the powerful are on occasion insensitive to the depth and reality of suffering or the severity of abuse being experienced by a people entrapped in genocidal circumstances. Such dogmatic anti-interventionism shoves aside practical pleas to rescue entrapped and victimized peoples even in situation of genuine emergency. They are so distrustful of authorizing uses of force by those few political actors that possess long distance force projection capabilities that they refuse to consider the context or weigh the pros and cons of each particular case, and remain content with a reject of intervention on a purely abstract and dogmatic basis.

 

            Against such a background of polarized views about interventionary diplomacy, I would support several general propositions in seeking to develop an approach that was not ideologically predetermined, but leans toward the anti-interventionist position:

 

            –assess the pros and cons relating to a given situation, including taking due account of the radical uncertainty that arises from unknown and unknowable aspects of the national context and an inability to assess accurately the risks associated with a prospect of national resistance to intervention; the net effect of such an approach is to give rise to a presumption against intervention;

            –such a presumption can be overcome by solid evidence suggesting that a true humanitarian emergency exists, that the persons facing a dire threat can be effectively rescued by the proposed scale of intervention, and that the intervening political actor receives authorization from the UN Security Council;

            –in situations of exceptional danger to a civilian population as posed by a genocidal campaign the presumption should be overcome even without UNSC authorization, provided there exists a strong regional consensus supportive of intervention as emerged in the Middle East in reaction to Iraq’s occupation and annexation of Kuwait in 1990 and in Europe in relation to Kosovo in 1999; the quality of the regional consensus is inescapably a matter of interpretation, although formal endorsement of or opposition to a proposed intervention by a constituted regional organization deserves serious respect in the absence of clear signals at the global level from the UN Security Council;

            –such a presumption should not be put aside if the intervention seems contrary to the wishes of the people engaged in an ongoing struggle to promote change in the target country or if the intervention will tip the internal balance in civil strife contra popular will and the dynamics of self-determination;

            –if the intervention is carried out nonviolently as a civil society initiative, the presumption against intervention should be reversed, provided that the evidence of a humanitarian crisis is clearly established and the territorial government is incapable of acting or is guilty of crimes against humanity; an influential precedent for such an intervention from below was provided by the global anti-apartheid campaign that exerted major pressures on South Africa in the early 1990s; a more controversial example is the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement challenging certain Israeli policies and practices, and is currently directed mainly at Israel’s unlawful settlements and continued occupation of Palestine.

 

            These five propositions are guidelines for reaching a contextual assessment in relation to any debate proposing intervention aimed at achieving change in a foreign state. By their nature, there is an imprecision associated with such a framework, but it is an alternative to the sort of doctrinaire approach that has been so common in the public debates about intervention in the past 20 years. Relying on these guidelines I favored a limited intervention in Rwanda in 1994 while opposing the 2003 intervention in Iraq because of the failure to obtain authorization from the Security Council despite a major effort, the fabrication of a counter-proliferation justification, the absence of an existing humanitarian emergency, and the likely prospect of a surge of national resistance. In relation to Libya in 2013, I favored a limited humanitarian intervention to protect the civilian population of the city of Benghazi because there was a UN authorization and a genuine humanitarian emergency, but opposed the NATO enlargement of the mandate to encompass a regime-changing mission.

 

            Syria has been the most daunting of recent cases as there has existed for several years a severe humanitarian emergency, but there is neither a global nor regional consensus supportive of military intervention. Beyond this, the uncertainty factors depicted in the first guideline have made it impossible to have confidence that any foreign military intervention in Syria would not intensify the violence and work against the dynamics of self-determination, the most significant anti-intervention norm in a post-colonial global setting that has so often been disastrously violated in the Middle East.

 

            Debates about intervention are inevitable in an interdependent world order in which ideals of territorial sovereignty clash with the interests and values of hegemonic political actors. There are no either/or solution for the dilemmas posed. What seems preferable is a contextual assessment tempered by humility arising from the experience of past interventions. Such an outlook is consistent with attitudes of overall respect for international law as binding on the strong as well as the weak. But consistency must yield on rare occasions to conditions of acute emergency even if the motivations of the intervening side are impure and the UN is unwilling to give its approval. And the peoples of the world must shoulder more responsibility via civil society initiatives that have a far cleaner record, both in relation to motivation and results, than do governments when it comes to intervention, which may be deliberately coercive but is not violent.  

           

The New World Order?

10 Apr

[a revised version of a previous post and AlJazeera article with a stress on the relationship between the Russian annexation of Crimea and a world order based on adherence to international law and the quest for global justice]

 

            There is no more reliable guardian of entrenched conventional wisdom than The Economist. And so when its cover proclaims ‘the new world order,’ and removes any ambiguity from its intentions, by its portrayal of Putin as a shirtless tank commander with menacing features. No such iconography accompanied the last notable invocation of the phrase by George H. W. Bush in mobilizing support at home and abroad for a forcible response to the Iraqi invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990, the dirty work of Saddam Hussein. Here the elder Bush was suggesting that with the Cold War winding down that finally the UN Security Council could act, as originally intended, and meet Iraqi aggression with a collective response from the international community. For the first time since 1945 the UN would then be acting as it was intended to in response to aggression committed against a sovereign state. With only slight hesitation, the Security Council mandated the use of force to repel Iraq, and in the ensuring military operation fully restored Kuwaiti sovereignty.

 

            In this central respect, there was some merit in treating Russia’s move to annex the Crimea as a distinctive 21st century challenge to international stability. In the Cold War period, it is unlikely that Baghdad would have dared to annex Kuwait without a prior green light from Moscow, and it is even more unlikely that the Kremlin would have allowed its junior ally to embark on such a predictably provocative adventure. In the highly improbable event that Iraq would have acted on its own or could have won approval from Moscow, the resulting crisis would have been of a purely geopolitical character with no claim to initiate ‘the new world order.’ It would have meant confrontation, escalation, and likely produced a frightening showdown similar to that which almost led to a nuclear World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

 

            As it unfolded, this so-called First Gulf War of 1991 resulted in a relatively successful launch of this earlier edition of the new world order. The Security Council mandate was quickly fulfilled in a one-sided desert war, Saddam Hussein surrendered, agreeing to abide by the most punitive peace imposed upon a defeated country since the burdens accepted by Germany in the Versailles Treaty after World War I. We should recall that the Versailles approach was discredited. It came to be regarded as an international arrangement often given a large share of the blame for tipping the internal German political balance in extremist directions that ended up with Hitler coming to power. Bush claimed victory over Iraq in 1991, making what I found at the time a chilling geopolitically boast: ‘finally, we kicked the ‘Vietnam Syndrome.’ He meant by this that America could again believe that it had the tactics and technology to win wars quickly and at an acceptable cost in lives and treasure. Some ventured to suggest that this renewed confidence in militarism was the real new world order.

 

            There were questions raised at the time about whether this use of UN authority to wage war really was compatible with the Charter of the Organization. Was the ‘shock and awe’ attack on Iraq really, as required by international law and the UN Charter, an instance of a defensive war undertaken as a last resort? Were all peaceful options truly exhausted? The argument of critics (and I was among them) was that the sanctions agreed upon after Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait some months early were working and deserved a longer time to achieve results without war. There were also credible reports that Saddam Hussein was ready to withdraw prior to being attacked if assured that an attack on his country would not occur in any event. The United States and its coalition partners never gave Baghdad such an assurance, but on the contrary, only sent the UN Secretary General on a constrained diplomatic mission to deliver an ultimatum to withdraw, which disallowed any response to Saddam Hussein’s inquiry about whether there would be an attack even if there was a full withdrawal from Kuwait.

 

            Also, serious questions were raised about the failure of the American led military campaign to give the Security Council a supervisory role in relation to the scope and nature of the military undertaking during its operational phases. Questions were raised as to whether the United States command had used excessive force well beyond the limits of ‘military necessity,’ an allegation given weight by a respected UN report concluding that the industrial infrastructure of Iraq had been destroyed and the country bombed back ‘to the stone age.’ And then there were further questions raised repeatedly about maintaining for 12 years harsh comprehensive sanctions on a defeated country with a badly damaged water treatment systems. In the decade following the war as many as 700,000 Iraqi civilians died due to these vindictive post-war sanctions, which was quite widely condemned as an undeclared form of indiscriminate warfare that was not consistent with international customary law or international morality, and turned their back on the lessons of Versailles.

 

            As well, the idealistic side of the new world order was quickly put back ‘on the shelf’ in the words of Thomas Pickering a prominent diplomat who represented the United States in the Security Council during the leadup to the 1991 Iraq War. In effect, Pickering insisted the United States was not prepared to repel aggression in the future in cooperation with the UN unless the exercise of collective security was consistent with national and strategic interests. The country was certainly not willing to allow the UNSC to make the call as to when international force should be used, or to play a role as the responsible leader in making the UN structure the foundation of a new post-Cold War framework for peace and security guided by international law.

 

            In effect, it was a return to business as usual! in relation to peace and security, and in this fundamental sense, a reaffirmation of the old world order. James Baker visiting Princeton for an off the record meeting on foreign policy not more than a year after this war in the Middle East, gave invited faculty the chance to ask questions. When my turn came, I asked,”What ever happened to ‘the new world order’?” His response was interesting: “We made a mistake. We should not have associated the new world order with the UN, but with the fact that the whole world would like to have an open economy and constitutional democracy like ours.” For Baker what was worth defending was a neoliberal globalizing world economy, not a law-oriented system of collective security. In effect, for Baker, Bush Sr’s able Secretary of State, the ‘new’ world order was not much different than the fashionable idea being disseminated by Francis Fukuyama on the theme of ‘the end of history,’ that is, the universal triumph of the liberal ideas of governance best embodied in the United States, but the now revealed as the purpose of the long historical journey into the present. Baker was invoking this vision of an integrated global capitalist economy in the context of waging a successful war, although he perceptively viewed the real calling of the United States was to ensure the stability of the world economy.

 

            Of course, invoking ‘the new world order’ also had some uglier earlier resonances, especially, its association with the extravagant claims made on behalf of the Nazi version of fascism during its triumphant phases in Europe up through the early phases of World War II.

 

            So what shall we make of this invocation of ‘new world order’ as descriptive of Putin vision in the aftermath of the Ukrainian intervention, followed by the Crimean annexation carried out by the combination of pre-deployed Russian ragtag military units and local pro-Russian militias that played a role in blocking Ukrainian military installations in Crimea. There is no doubt that from a statist perspective, Russia violated international law by non-defensively using force to acquire territory belonging to another sovereign state, international legal wrongs accentuated by breaking a treaty signed by Russia with Ukraine in 1994 to respect existing borders. This agreement was also regarded as notable because it included the commitment by Ukraine to transfer their stockpile of nuclear weapons to Russia for safekeeping following the breakup of the Soviet Union. If thinking as a Ukrainian nationalist, I would wonder at this point whether the Ukrainian borders might have been more respected had the Kiev government retained this weaponry. Thus what Putin might have unwittingly done is to rekindle an interest in nuclear weaponry as a security deterrent beneficial to secondary states. Thinking back to the Iraq War of 2003, it seems rather unlikely that Iraq would have been attacked if it had nuclear weapons, an assessment strengthened by the cautious response to North Korea’s acquisition.

 

            By and large the Economist berates the vision thrust upon the world by Putin as a dangerous repudiation of international agreements upon which international law rests, and a kind of ‘revanchism’ in which hard power is relied upon to challenge the territorial integrity and political independence of a neighboring country. It is alleged that Russia’s argument for intervention could be used in many national setting throughout the world to rescue unhappy minorities that find themselves subject to a national governance structure that is not to their liking. In The Economist’s call for firm leadership by Obama that takes the form of imposing heavy costs on Russia the stated purpose of the editorial writer is to salvage for people spread around the planet “the kind of world order they want to live under.” The magazine expresses its understanding of the central issues at stake in the following passage: “Would they [the attitudes of people toward world order] prefer one in which states by and large respect international agreements and borders? Or one in which words are bent, agreements are borders ignored and agreements broken at will?” [March 22, 2014, 9] This choice is put rhetorically, and avoids the observational outlook that seems to suggest that a widespread public interest exists in having Russia obedient to the discipline of international law while keeping the options of the West open and unconstrained.

 

            There are two clusters of issues raised—conceptual choices and policy options. On conceptual matters, there is the matter of coherence. Should Russia be expected to abide by agreements when the West seeks to challenge the internal dynamics of self-determination in an important country on its border? The Economist makes no mention of a variety of covert efforts to destabilize the admittedly corrupt Ukrainian government headed by Yukanovych and entice the Ukraine to accept Western credit arrangements and a European alignment. In turn, such a move is a reinforcement of the incorporation of East Europe into the European Union and NATO via ‘enlargement’ and to deploy defensive missile systems in countries surrounding Russia. To have a world order based on international law that The Economist and the West abstractly favors in this context would seem to imply that these advocates are prepared to live by a similar set of rules and agreements, but there is no indication of such reciprocity. Putin referred to the Kosovo precedent as a quasi-legal justification for acting in Crimea, and this has some plausibility, although there was a strong argument that Serbia had over a period of years forfeited its sovereign rights in Kosovo by the commission of crimes against humanity in the course of resisting the breakup of former Yugoslavia.

 

            The better precedent to test what the West really wants in relation to world order is undoubtedly the invasion and occupation of Iraq after being rebuffed by the UN Security Council in 2003. Here was an instance of blatant aggression justified by fabricated evidence and trumped up false premises, an intrusive regime-changing occupation, and the deliberate subsequent manipulation of religious and ethnic tensions by the occupying power so as to create the kind of neoliberal Iraq that it wanted to emerge. Is this the world that The Economist, and those of similar inclinations, have in mind, which resembles James Baker’s proposed new world order? When done by Putin behavior is seen as disruptive, but when done by the United States, uses of force are benignly described as “the aggressive pursuit of American values.” Such a pattern it seems to me set a worse precedent than the Putin worldview as exhibited so far in relation to Ukraine. When it comes to the Iraq War, the editorial writer for The Economist doesn’t ignore it, but air brushes the precedent by dismissing it as a momentary diversion, an ill-advised move “puffed up by the hubris of George Bush” in “’the unilateral world’” that followed upon the Soviet collapse, a venture that “choked in the dust of Iraq.” But is Iraq such a deviation from American approaches to the use of force ever since the Vietnam War? And don’t overlook the oppressive and bloody consequences of earlier covert interventions in a host of countries, including Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Chile (1973)? And what about the unleashing of lethal drone warfare in such countries as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia? In the end, then, we have to ask the question as to what kind of world order has the United States pursued over the course of recent decades, and is it the same one that The Economist seems to be promoting. In light of such a reconstruction can it be claimed that pre-Putin, the dominant states in the West had displayed a consistent respect for international law. The Economist would have been more persuasive had it given a lecture to Washington as well as to Moscow

 

            Of course, international law is habitually invoked as a matter of diplomatic convenience whenever it seems to support foreign policy, and avoided like the plague when it doesn’t. The United States is adept at mounting both kinds of arguments. The real test of adherence to international law, however, is the behavior of a leading government when international law poses an obstacle to its preferred course of action. To insist that the adversary adhere, while claiming discretion to act on interest, is a hegemonic form of world order that accepts as a prime norm, the inequality of states, and thus goes against the major premise of international law as presupposing the equality of states when it comes to applying codes of behavior. It is the leading state or states that sets the rules of the game in a statist structure, which either establishes a law-oriented world order or subverts it. The United States, and to a lesser extent Europe, have since 1945, and especially since 1991, wanted it both ways: freedom of action for themselves, rule of law for their adversaries. The Ukraine illustrates both sides of the argument, as well as its pitfalls.

 

            In the current setting, ‘American exceptionalism’ has been unashamed of mounting a patently hypocritical argument. Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, explains the G-7 banishment of Russia from economic summit events for “as long as Russia is flagrantly violating international law.” Until Russia is willing to reverse its policy on Ukraine it is, according to Mr. Rhodes, “outside the rules of the road.” [International New York Times, March 25, 2014] This is highly misleading. Russia is within the rules of the road so far as the geopolitical game is concerned, but if it were the case that international law sets the rules, then Russia is acting outside the rules, but so are those who now object to its behavior, and purport to act as impartial enforcers. Nothing is more corrosive of respect for international law over time than reliance on double standards, which is the hallmark of geopolitics, but also of hypocrisy in relation to the application of international law in relation to peace and security.

 

            What remains to be considered is the policy response to the Putin moves. Here the facts and complications make any firm set of conclusions an expression of dogma rather than a nuanced interpretation of context. In truth, there are no guidelines, or rules of the road, when external actors destabilize and silently intervene on one side, and the other side reacts more overtly. The people are caught in between. As the African proverb puts it: “When two elephants fight the grass is destroyed.”

 

            I believe that the sort of posturing that has been generated by the Ukraine crisis works against responding to the question put by The EconomistWhat kind of world order have we had, and what kind do we want and need? A more humane future could result from adopting an international law approach to peace and justice. but only if compliance is consistent and reciprocal. As matters now stand, the foreign policy of major states continues to be principally dictated by perceptions of vital national interests, and not by the obligation to obey the rules of the road as set by international law, and administered by the United Nations. The geopolitical logic at play is not only hypocritical, but tends toward producing escalating conflict spirals. In the current setting we hear loose talk about organizing the West to embark upon a second cold war, with all the embedded dangers, including the potential horror that nuclear weapons might be threatened and used in some future conflict. It seems strange that our most heralded realist gurus do not dare even explore whether nuclear disarmament offers a process that could greatly contribute to the avoidance of a catastrophic future, and erect a firm safety barrier for the containment of future wars.

 

            All things considered, rather than view the recent events involving the Ukraine as a sign of ‘the new world order’ it would be more appropriate to regard these developments as depressing evidence of the persistence of ‘the old world order.’ And it is this continuity that we should be deploring. It is not only provocative behavior in violation of basic rules of international order, but it is a system of sovereign states preoccupied with the pursuit of national interests that encourages violence and predatory behavior, lacking a moral, spiritual, and vital institutional center capable of protecting globlal human interests whether the concern is territorial integrity of weaker states or the protection of the planet against the growing menace of climate change.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nonviolent Geopolitics: Law, Politics, and 21st Century Security*

4 Apr

Nonviolent Geopolitics: Law, Politics, and 21st Century Security*           

 

 

In this short essay, my attempt will be to articulate a conception of a world order premised on nonviolent geopolitics, as well as to consider some obstacles to its realization. By focusing on the interplay of “law” and “geopolitics” the intention is to consider the role played both by normative traditions of law and morality and the “geopolitical” orientation that continue to guide dominant political actors on the global stage. Such an approach challenges the major premise of realism that security, leadership, stability, and influence in the 21st century continue to rest primarily on military power, or what is sometimes described as “hard power” capabilities.[1] From such a perspective international law plays a marginal role, useful for challenging the behavior of adversaries, but not to be relied upon in calculating the national interest of one’s own country. As such, the principal contribution of international law, aside from its utility in facilitating cooperation in situations where national interests converge, is to provide rhetoric that rationalizes controversial foreign policy initiatives undertaken by one’s own country and to demonize comparable behavior by an enemy state. This discursive role is not to be minimized, but neither should it be confused with exerting norms of restraint in a consistent and fair manner.

 

In this chapter my intention is to do three things:

 

  • to show the degree to which the victors in World War II crafted via the UN Charter essentially a world order, which if behaviorally implemented, would have marginalized war, and encoded by indirection a system of nonviolent geopolitics; in other words, the constitutional and institutional foundations already exist, but inert form;
  • to [criticize] [provide a critique of] the realist paradigm that never relinquished its hold over the imagination of dominant political elites, and an approach has not acknowledged the obsolescence and dangers associated with the war system;
  • and, finally, to consider some trends in international life that make it rational to work toward the embodiment of nonviolent geopolitics in practice and belief, as well as in the formalities of international law.

 

I. The UN Charter and a Legalistic Approach to Nonviolent Geopolitics

 

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, particularly in light of the horrendous atomic bombings of Japanese cities, even those of realist disposition were deeply worried by what it might portend for the future, and without much reflection agreed to a constitutional framing of world politics that contained most of the elements of nonviolent geopolitics. In one respect, this was a continuation of a trend that started after World War I with the establishment of the League of Nations, reflecting a half-hearted endorsement of the Woodrow Wilson sentiment that such a conflagration amounted to ‘a war to end all wars.’ Yet the European colonial governments humored Wilson, and continued to believe that the war system was viable and integral to maintaining Western hegemony, and the League of Nations proved to be irrelevant in avoiding the onset of World War II. But World War II was different because it offered the political leaders both a grim warning of what a future war among major states would likely entail and it seemed to be entrusting the future to a coalition of victorious powers that had cooperated against the menace posed by Fascism, and in the view of the American leader Franklin Roosevelt, could just as well cooperate to maintain the peace. Beyond this, the memories of the Great Depression and the realization that the punitive peace imposed on Germany in the Versailles Treaty had encouraged the rise of Hitler, gave the global leadership in the world at that time an incentive to facilitate cooperation in trade and investment, and to see the importance of restoring the economies of defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan so as to avoid the recurrence of another cataclysmic depression.

 

It was in this atmosphere that the UN Charter was agreed upon with its cardinal principles based on the following: (1) the unconditional prohibition of recourse to force in international relations except in self-defense against a prior armed attack, which meant the outlawry of war as an instrument of national policy; (2) the reinforcement of this prohibition with a collective commitment of the UN membership to support any state that was the target of non-defensive force, including acting forcibly under UN auspices to restore the territorial integrity and political independence of such a violated state; under no conditions was it to be legally acceptable for a state to acquire territory by recourse to force; (3) the further reinforcement of this attitude by the precedents set at Nuremberg and Tokyo that held leaders who engage in aggressive warfare criminally responsible on an individual basis, and by ‘the Nuremberg promise’ that made the pledge that in the future all political leaders would be subject to criminal accountability, and not those who lost wars (‘victors’ justice); (4) the commitment to respect the internal sovereignty of all states whether large or small, via the acceptance of an unconditional obligation to refrain from any interference in matters essentially within domestic jurisdiction.

 

Such a legal framework, if implemented, would have effectively eliminated international warfare and military intervention, preserved the statist structure of world order, and created a robust set of collective security mechanisms to inhibit aggression and defeat and punish any government and its leaders who engaged in aggressive warfare. It is important to realize that this legalistic vision of world order assumed that it was politically possible to establish such a warless world, and that rationality would prevail in the nuclear age to redefine the approach taken to security by ‘realists.’ It is also relevant to observe that the nonviolent geopolitics embedded in the UN Charter never involved an overall embrace of nonviolence as a precondition of political life. It was understood that within states violent insurgent politics and various forms of civil strife would occur, without violating international norms. By the Charter scheme internal wars were beyond the writ of the social contract made by states to renounce recourse to international violence. In this respect even an internal war, unless it spilled over boundaries to become a species of international warfare, was not to be addressed by the UN.

 

Even within this legalistic conception of nonviolent geopolitics there are significant difficulties. First of all, the conferral of a right of veto on the five permanent members of the Security Council, which meant that no decision adverse to the vital interests of the most dangerous political actors in the world could be reached, and that this de facto exemption from the commitment to nonviolent geopolitics greatly compromised the value of the legal framing, making the optimistic assumption of an enduring alliance for peace absolutely crucial to achieving the security claims being posited by the UN. Secondly, the acceptance of internal sovereignty as legally absolute meant that there would be no legal basis for effectively challenging the recurrence of genocide, or severe crimes against humanity and other catastrophic circumstances confronting a society caught in civil strife of the sort currently afflicting Syria.

 

Of course, these legal shortcomings seem almost irrelevant in view of the lack of political will to implement the Charter vision of nonviolent geopolitics. In retrospect, it seems clear that before the Charter had even been ratified governing elites in the United States and the Soviet Union reaffirmed their reliance on their military capabilities, political alliances, and deterrent doctrines to ground their security on the logic of countervailing hard power. Also, the anti-fascist alliance so effective in wartime, collapsed quickly in the absence of a common enemy, and the long Cold War ensued, which ensured that the collective security dimensions of the Charter vision would remain a dead letter, although this is not meant to imply that the UN was a failure overall. Actually, its positive contributions were associated with facilitating international cooperation whenever a political consensus was present and working at the normative margins of the prevailing hard power worldview.

 

These legal gaps could have been overcome if the worldview of the leading political actors truly embraced nonviolent geopolitics as more than a kind of vague aspirational framing of security that must never be allowed to interfere with the realist faith in deterrence and military strength once the initial shock of the dawning of the nuclear age subsided. There was a historical factor that worked against any serious effort to curtail this realist approach to security: the so-called ‘lesson of Munich’ to the effect that German aggression was encouraged by the appeasement policies of the European liberal democracies, which in turn reflected military weakness due to substantial disarmament after World War I. Such a view of the recent past translated into an almost irresistible argument supportive of a militarist approach to world order, which was reinforced by the ideological and geopolitical challenge attributed to the Soviet Union.

 

What this meant in relation to the position advocated here is that violent or war-prone geopolitics was fully restored, arguably universalized, and restrained only by a quality of enhanced prudence in relation to great power confrontations, as during the various Berlin crises and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Prudence had always been a cardinal political virtue of the classical realist approach, but was not elevated to a central role in balancing the pursuit of vital interests against the risks of catastrophic warfare. (Aron 1966 best articulates this realist approach).

 

II. The Political/Ethical Argument for Nonviolent Geopolitcs

 

The contrasting argument presented here is that political outcomes since the end of World War II have been primarily shaped by soft power ingenuity that has rather consistently overcome a condition of military inferiority to achieve its desired political outcomes. The United States completely controlled land, air, and sea throughout the Vietnam war, winning every battle, and yet eventually losing the war, killing as many as 5 million Vietnamese on the road to the failure of its military intervention. Ironically, the US government went on to engage the victorious Vietnam government, and currently enjoys a friendly and productive diplomatic and economic relationship. In this sense, the strategic difference between defeat and victory is almost unnoticeable, making the wartime casualties and devastation even more tragic, as being pointless from every perspective.

 

Nevertheless, US militarists refused to learn from the outcome, treating the impact of this defeat as a kind of geopolitical disease, the “Vietnam Syndrome,” rather than as a reflection of a historical trend supportive of the legitimate claims of self-determination despite the military vulnerability of such nationalist movements. The mainstream realists drew the wrong lesson, insisting that the outcome was an exception rather than the rule, a case of demoralizing the domestic support for the war, not a matter of losing to a stronger adversar.[2] In effect, overcoming the Vietnam Syndrome meant restoring confidence in hard power geopolitics and thereby neutralizing domestic opposition to war making. This militarist revived control over the shaping of American foreign policy was proclaimed as an achievement of the Gulf War in 1991, which revealingly prompted the American president at the time George H.W. Bush to utter these memorable words in the immediate aftermath of this military victory on desert battlefield of Kuwait: “We finally kicked the Vietnam Syndrome.” Meaning of course that the United States demonstrated it could wage and win wars at acceptable costs, not pausing to notice that such victories were obtained only where the terrain was suited for a purely military encounter or the capability and will of the enemy to resist was minimal or non-existent. It is not that hard power is obsolete, but rather that it is not able to shape the outcomes in the most characteristic conflicts of the period since 1945, namely, the political struggle to expel oppressive forces that represent a foreign imperial power or to resist military intervention. Hard power is still decisive in encounters with hard power, or in situations where the weaker side is defenseless, and the stronger side is prepared to carry its military dominance to genocidal extremes.

 

It is hardly surprising that the excessive and anachronistic reliance on hard power solutions in situations of conflict has led to a series of failures, both acknowledged (Iraq War) and unacknowledged (Afghanistan War; Libyan War). As long as the United States invests so much more heavily in military capabilities than any other state it is bound to respond to threats or pursue its interests along a hard power path, thereby refusing to reckon with clear historical trends favoring soft power dominance in conflict situations.

Israel also has adopted a similar approach, relying on its military superiority to destroy and kill, but not being able to control the political results of the wars it embarks upon (e.g. Lebanon War of 2006, Gaza Attacks of 2008-09). One other cost of hard power or violent geopolitics is to undermine respect for the rule of law in global politics and for the authority of the United Nations.

A second demonstration of the anachronistic reliance on a violence-based system of security was associated with the response to the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the dual symbols of the US imperium. A feature of this event was the exposure of the extreme vulnerability of the most militarily dominant state in the whole of human history to attack by a non-state actor without significant weaponry and lacking in major resources. In the aftermath it became clear that the enormous US investment in achieving “full spectrum dominance” had not brought enhanced security, but the most acute sense of insecurity in the history of the country. Once again the wrong lesson was drawn, namely, that the way to restore security was to wage war regardless of the distinctive nature of this new kind of threat, to make mindless use of the military machine abroad and the curtailment of liberties at home despite the absence of a territorial adversary or any plausible means/ends relationship between recourse to war and reduction of the threat.[3] The appropriate lesson, borne out by experience, is that such a security threat can best be addressed by a combination of transnational law enforcement and through addressing the legitimate grievances of the political extremists who launched the attacks. The Spanish response to the Madrid attacks of March 11, 2004 seemed sensitive to these new realities: withdrawal from involvement in the Iraq war while enhancing police efforts to identify and arrest violent extremists, and joining in the dialogic attempts to lessen tension between Islam and the West.[4] In another setting, the former British prime minister, John Major, observed that he only began to make progress in ending the violence in Northern Ireland when he stopped thinking of the IRA as a terrorist organisation and began treating it a political actor with real grievances and its own motivations in reaching accommodation and peace.

 

The right lesson is to recognise the extremely limited utility of military power in conflict situations within the postcolonial world, grasping the extent to which popular struggle has exerted historical agency during the last 60 years. It has shaped numerous outcomes of conflicts that could not be understood if assessed only through a hard power lens that interprets history as almost always determined by wars being won by the stronger military side that then gets to shape the peace.[5] Every anti-colonial war in the latter half of the 20th century was won by the militarily weaker side, which prevailed in the end despite suffering disproportionate losses along its way to victory. It won because the people were mobilised on behalf of independence against foreign colonial forces, and their resistance included gaining complete control of the high moral ground. It won because of the political truth embodied in the Afghan saying: “You have the watches, we have the time.” Gaining the high moral ground both delegitimised colonial rule and legitimised anti-colonial struggle; in the end even the state-centric and initially empire-friendly UN was induced to endorse anticolonial struggles by reference to the right of self-determination, which was proclaimed to be an inalienable right of all peoples.

 

This ascendancy of soft power capabilities in political struggles was not always the case. Throughout the colonial era, and until the mid-20th century, hard power was generally effective and efficient, as expressed by the colonial conquests of the Western hemisphere with small numbers of well-armed troops, British control of India with a few thousand soldiers or the success of “gunboat diplomacy” in supporting US economic imperialism in Central America and the Caribbean. What turned the historical tide against militarism was the rise of national and cultural self-consciousness in the countries of the South, most dramatically in India under the inspired leadership of Gandhi, where coercive nonviolent forms of soft power first revealed their potency. More recently, abetted by the communications revolution, resistance to oppressive regimes based on human rights has demonstrated the limits of hard power governance in a globalised world. The anti-apartheid campaign extended the struggle against the racist regime that governed South Africa to a symbolic global battlefield where the weapons were coercive nonviolent reliance on boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. The collapse of apartheid in South Africa was largely achieved by developments outside of the sovereign territory, a pattern that is now being repeated in the Palestinian “legitimacy war” being waged against Israel. The outcome is not assured, and it is possible for the legitimacy war to be won, and yet the oppressive conditions sustained, as seems to be currently the case with respect to Tibet.

 

Against this background, it is notable, and even bewildering, that geopolitics continues to be driven by a realist consensus that ahistorically believes that history continues to be determined by the grand strategy of hard power dominant state actors.[6] In effect, realists have lost touch with reality. It seems correct to acknowledge that there remains a rational role for hard power, as a defensive hedge against residual statist militarism, but even here the economic and political gains of demilitarisation would seem to far outweigh the benefits of an anachronistic dependence on hard power forms of self-defence, especially those that risk wars fought with weaponry of mass destruction. With respect to non-state political violence, hard power capabilities are of little or no relevance, and security can be best achieved by accommodation, intelligence and transnational law enforcement. The US recourse to war in addressing the Al Qaeda threat, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has proved to be costly, and misdirected. [7] Just as the US defeat in Vietnam reproduced the French defeats in their colonial wars waged in Indochina and Algeria, the cycle of failure is being renewed in the post-9/11 global setting. Why do such lessons bearing on the changing balance between hard and soft power remain unlearned in the imperial centre of geopolitical manoeuvre?

 

It is of great importance to pose this question even if no definitive answer can be forthcoming at this time. There are some suggestive leads that relate to both material and ideological explanations. On the materialist side, there are deeply embedded governmental and societal structures whose identity and narrow self-interests are bound up with a maximal reliance upon and projection of hard power. These structures have been identified in various ways in the US setting: “national security state”, “military-industrial complex”, “military Keynesianism”, and “the war system”. It was Dwight Eisenhower who more than 50 years ago warned of the military-industrial complex in his farewell speech, notably making the observation after he no longer was able to exert influence on governmental policy.[8] In 2010 there seems to be a more deeply rooted structure of support for militarism that extends to the mainstream media, conservative think tanks, an army of highly paid lobbyists, and a deeply compromised Congress whose majority of members have substituted money for conscience. This politically entrenched paradigm linking realism and militarism makes it virtually impossible to challenge a military budget even at a time of fiscal deficits that are acknowledged by conservative observers to endanger the viability of the US empire (Ferguson 2010). The scale of the military budget, combined with navies in every ocean, more than 700 foreign military bases, and a huge investment in the militarisation of space exhibit the self-fulfilling inability to acknowledge the dysfunctionality of such a global posture.[9] The US spends almost as much as the entire world put together on its military machine, and more than double what the next 10 leading states spend. And for what benefit to either the national or global interest?

 

The most that can be expected by way of adjustment of the realist consensus under these conditions is a certain softening of the hard power emphasis. In this respect, one notes that several influential adherents of the realist consensus have recently called attention to the rising importance of non-military elements of power in the rational pursuit of a grand strategy that continues to frame geopolitics by reference to presumed hard power “realities”, but are at the same time critical of arch militarism attributed to neoconservatives (see Nye 1990; Gelb 2009; Walt 2005).[10] This same tone pervades the speech of Barack Obama at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. This realist refusal to comprehend a largely post-militarist global setting is exceedingly dangerous given the continuing hold of realism on the shaping of policy by governmental and market/finance forces.[11] Such an outmoded realism not only engages in imprudent military undertakings; it tends also to overlook a range of deeper issues bearing on security, survival and human wellbeing, including climate change, peak oil, water scarcities, fiscal fragility and market freefall. As such, this kind of policy orientation is incapable of formulating the priorities associated with sustainable and benevolent forms of global governance.

 

In addition, to the structural rigidity that results from the entrenched militarist paradigm, there arises a systemic learning disability that is incapable of analysing the main causes of past failures. As a practical matter, this leads policy options to be too often shaped by unimaginative thinking trapped within a militarist box. In recent international policy experience, thinking mainly confined to the military box has led the Obama administration to escalate US involvement in an internal struggle for the future of Afghanistan and to leave the so-called military option on the table for dealing with the prospect of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. An attractive alternative policy approach in Afghanistan would be based on the recognition that the Taliban is a movement seeking nationalist objectives amid raging ethnic conflict. As a result it would tend towards a conclusion that the US security interests would benefit from an end of combat operations, followed by the phased withdrawal of NATO forces, a major increase in developmental assistance that avoids channelling funds through a corrupted Kabul government, and a genuine shift in US foreign policy towards respect for the politics of self-determination. Similarly, in relation to Iran, instead of threatening a military strike and advocating punitive measures, a call for regional denuclearisation, which insisted on the inclusion of Israel, would be expressive of both thinking outside the militarist box, and the existence of more hopeful non-military responses to admittedly genuine security concerns.

 

III. Concluding Observations: Opportunities, Challenges, Tendencies

 

In conclusion, some form of geopolitics is almost bound to occur, given the gross inequality of states and the weakness of the United Nations as the institutional expression of unified governance for the planet. Especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union the primacy of the United States has resulted inevitably in its geopolitical ascendancy. Unfortunately, this position has been premised upon an unreconstructed confidence in the hard power paradigm, which combines militarism and realism, producing violent geopolitics in relation to critical unresolved conflicts. The experience of the past 60 years shows clearly that this paradigm is untenable from both pragmatic and principled perspectives. It fails to achieve its goals at acceptable costs, if at all. It relies on immoral practices that involve massive killing of innocent persons and colossal waste of resources.

 

Perhaps the leading test of the thesis of this essay is the ongoing struggle for self-determination of the Palestinian people, whether in the form of a single secular state encompassing the whole of historic Palestine or an independent and viable state of their own existing alongside the Israeli state. As matters now stand, after decades of occupation, the Palestinian struggle is relying mainly on a legitimacy war relying on an array of soft power instruments, including diplomacy and lawfare, a non-violent coercive boycott and divestment campaign, and a variety of civil society initiatives challenging Israeli policies. Uncertainty exists as to the future outcome. The whole soft power orientation has taken a giant leap forward as a result of ‘the Arab spring’ in which unarmed popular movements challenged dictatorial and oppressive regimes with some notable successes, especially Egypt and Tunisia, but elsewhere at least achieving promises of extensive reforms. Increasingly, I think the potentialities of constructing a world order on the basis of soft power principles is gaining support, moving the idea of nonviolent geopolitics from the domain of utopianism to become a genuine political project. Of course, there is resistance, most especially from the hard power holdouts led by the United States and Israel.

 

Those political forces relying on the alternative of nonviolent practices and principles, in contrast, have shown the capacity to achieve political goals and a willingness to pursue their goals by ethical means, sometimes at great personal risk. The Gandhi movement resulting in Indian independence, the Mandela-led transformation of apartheid South Africa, people power in the Philippines and the soft revolutions of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s are exemplary instances of domestic transformations based on nonviolent struggle that entailed dangers for militants and resulted in some high profile bloody sacrifices. None of these soft power victories has produced entirely just societies or addressed the entire agenda of social and political concerns, often leaving untouched exploitative class relations and bitter societal tensions, but they have managed to overcome immediate situations of oppressive state/society relations without significant reliance on violence.

 

Turning to the global setting, there exist analogous opportunities for the application of nonviolent geopolitics. There is a widespread recognition that war between large states is not a rational option as it is almost certain to involve huge costs in blood and treasure, and reach mutual destructive results rather as in former times of a clear winner and loser. The opportunities for a nonviolent geopolitics are also grounded in the willingness of government to accept of the increasingly practical self-constraining discipline of international law as reinforced by widely endorsed moral principles embodied in the great religions and world civilizations. A further step in this direction would be a repudiation by the nine nuclear weapons states of weaponry of mass destruction, starting with an announced declaration of no first use of nuclear weaponry, and moving on to an immediate and urgent negotiation of a nuclear disarmament treaty that posits as a non-utopian goal “a world without nuclear weapons” (Krieger 2009). The essential second step is liberating the moral and political imagination from the confines of militarism, and consequent thinking within that dysfunctional box that still remains a staple component of the realist mindset among the leading countries in the West, especially the United States. This psycho-political challenge to move away from reliance on war making capabilities as the cornerstone of security is made more difficult by the bureaucratic and private sector entrenched interests in a militarist framing of security policy.

 

 

References

 

David Ray Griffin and others, American Empire and the Commonwealth of God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

 

Jorgen Johansen & John Y. Jones, eds,, Experiments with Peace (Cape Town, South Africa: Pambazuka Press, 2010).

 

Raymond Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (Garden City, NY: Doublday, 1966).

 

 

Johan Galtung, The True Worlds: A Transnational Perspective (New York: Free Press, 1980).

 

Johan Galtung, “Searching for peace in a world of terrorism and state terrorism,” in Shin Chiba and Thomas J. Schoenbaum, eds., Peace Movements and Pacifism after September 11 (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2008) 32-48.

 

 

Richard Rosecrance, The Rise of the Virtual State: Wealth and power in the coming century (New York: Basic, 2002).

 

David Cole and Julius Lobel, eds., Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007)

 

Richard Falk, The Great Terror War (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2003).

 

 

Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (New York: Henry Holt, 2003).

 

Richard J. Barnet, The Roots of War (New York,: Atheneum, 1972)

 

Leonard C. Lewin (for Special Study Group), Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace (London: Macdonald, 1968).

 

Niall Ferguson, “The Fragile Empire- Here today, gone tomorrow—could the United States fall fast?” LA Times, Feb. 28, 2010.

 

Chalmers Johnson. The Sorrows of Empire: militarism, secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan, 2004).

 

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 1990

 

Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004)

 

Leslie H. Gelb, Power Rules: How common sense can rescue American foreign policy (New York: Harper-Collins, 2009)

 

Stephen M. Walt, Taming American Power: The global response to American power (New York: Norton, 2005).

 

Gabriel Kolko, The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006).

 

 

Ken Booth, Theory of World Security (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

 

Joe Camilleri and Jim Falk, Worlds in Transition: Evolving Governance Across a Stressed Planet (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2009)

 

James H. Mittelman, Hyperconflict: Globalization and Insecurity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010).

 

David Krieger, ed., The Challenge of Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2009).

 

 

 

* Some of the ideas in sections II and III of the article have been earlier developed in “Renouncing Wars of Choice: Toward a Geopolitics of Nonviolence” in Griffin and others, 2006, 69-85 and “Nonviolent Geopolitics,” Johansen & Jones, eds., 2010, 33-40.

[1] A mainstream exception is Rosecrance 2002.

[2] Significantly, every US leader after Nixon did his best to eliminate the Vietnam syndrome, which was perceived by the Pentagon as an unwanted inhibitor of the use of aggressive force in world politics. After the end of the Gulf war in 2001, the first words of President George H. W. Bush were “We have finally kicked the Vietnam syndrome,” meaning, of course, that the United States was again able to fight ‘wars of choice’.

[3] Well depicted in Cole and Lobel 2007; see also my own attempt, Falk 2003.

[4] This comparison is analysed in a similar manner by Galtung 2008.

[5] Significantly documented in Schell 2003.

[6] It is notable that the changes in the global geopolitical landscape associated with the rise of China, India, Brazil and Russia are largely to do with their economic rise, and not at all with their military capabilities, which remain trivial compared to those of the United States.

[7] As interventionary struggles go on year after year with inconclusive results, but mounting costs in lives and resources, the intervening sides contradicts their own war rationale, searching for compromises, and even inviting the participation of the enemy

in the governing process. This has been attempted in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but

only after inflicting huge damage, and enduring major loss of life among their own troops and incurring great expense.

[8] Among the valuable studies are Barnet 1972 and Lewin 1968.

[9] Most convincingly demonstrated in a series of books by Chalmers Johnson. See especially the first of his three books on the theme (2004).

[10] For a progressive critique of American imperial militarism see Kolko 2006.

[11] Several leading scholars have long been sensitive to the disconnect that separates even relatively prudent realists from reality. For a still relevant major work see Galtung 1980. For other recent perceptive studies along these lines see Booth 2007, especially the section on ‘emancipatory realism’, pp. 87-91; Camilleri and Falk 2009; Mittelman 2010.

A SHORT MORATORIUM ON COMMENTS ADDRESSING ISRAEL/PALESTINE STRUGGLE

26 Mar

 

 

            It has always been my intention to make the tiny fragment of the blogosphere that I inhabit a site for civil discourse on a wide spectrum of concerns, issue oriented interpretations of what is transpiring in the world.

 

            Recently the comments sections has narrowed from this perspective into a dialogue between adversaries, several of whom seem preoccupied with, if not obsessed by, Israel, the Jewish experience, Zionism, and the Palestinian/Arab narrative and counter-narrative. Some of the contributions have been learned and sensitive to the reality that there are many diverse voices that need to be heard on this inflamed subject-matter, yet others have been intolerant, launched repeated personal attacks questioning motives and motivations, and have created a polemical aura at the site that has inhibited participation by those with other interests, concerns, and style.

 

            For these reasons, I have decided to have a moratorium on all comments relating to this subject-matter until May 1, 2014. I expect this might be troublesome for several faithful readers of my posts. Please bear with me, and understand this to be an effort to encourage more varied and less antagonistic exchanges. I am suspending this portion of the comments section at a moment that coincides with the ending of my six-year term as Special Rapporteur on Palestine for the UN Human Rights Commission. Let me add that I will continue to do my best to remain engaged in the struggle to find a just and sustainable peace for both peoples premised upon their equality.

The Obsolescence of Ideology: Debating Syria and Ukraine

23 Mar

 

            I have been struck by the unhelpfulness of ideology to my own efforts to think through the complexities of recommended or preferred policy in relation to Syria, and more recently, the Ukraine. There is no obvious posture to be struck by referencing a ‘left’ or ‘right’ identity. A convincing policy proposal depends on sensitivity to context and the particulars of the conflict.

 

            To insist that the left/right distinction obscures more than it reveals is not the end of the story. To contend that ideology is unhelpful as a guide for action is not the same as saying that it is irrelevant to the public debate. In the American context, to be on the left generally implies an anti-interventionist stance, while being on the right is usually associated with being pro-interventionist. Yet, these first approximations can be misleading, even ideologically. Liberals, who are deliberately and consigned to the left by the mainstream media, often favor intervention if the rationale for military force is primarily humanitarian.

 

            Likewise, the neocon right is often opposed to intervention if it is not persuasively justified on the basis of strategic interests, which could include promoting ideological affinities. The neocon leitmotif is global leadership via military strength, force projection, friends and enemies, and the assertion and enforcement of red lines. When Obama failed to bomb Syria in 2013 after earlier declaring that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was for him a red line this supposedly undermined the credibility of American power.  My point is that ideology remains a helpful predictor of how people line up with respect to controversial uses of force, although relying on ideology is a lazy way to think if the purpose is to decide on the best course of action to take, which requires a sensitivity to the concrete realities of a particular situation. Such an analysis depends on context, and may include acknowledging the difficulties of intervention, and the moral unacceptability of nonintervention.  

 

            On a high level of abstraction, it is true that the hard right tends to find a justification for military action as the preferred solvent for any challenge to American foreign policy and the hard left is equally disposed to dismiss all calls for humanitarian intervention as sly anti-imperialist maneuvers, recalling Noam Chomsky’s dismissal of the Kosovo War in 1999 as ‘miltary humanism.’ In this sense it seems easier to proceed by dogma than to engage seriously with the existential complexities and uncertainties of the specifics pertaining to a conflict setting, and thus be willing to conclude either that ‘the situation is horrible, and something must be done’ and yet still believe that ‘the situation is horrible, but military intervention will only make it worse.’ This is the kind of conundrum that has perplexed and troubled me ever since the Syrian uprising in 2011 turned violent, unleashing the criminal fury of the Damascus regime, and attracting a variety of predatory outside forces on both sides. Often those on one side or the other of the debate fail to recognize the consequences of either a failed intervention or a refusal to intervene.

 

            There are at least two problems that bedevil interpretation in these setting. To assess particularities of context requires a genuine familiarity with the specifics and changing dynamics of a conflict if persuasive policy recommendations are to be grounded in relevant knowledge rather than on knee jerk reactions. And secondly, no matter how expert, core uncertainties will persist, and the difficulties of making choices that involve killing and dying of others is a huge weight of responsibility if the policy risks and alternatives are carefully weighed.

 

            I would add a third caveat—in the last fifty years military intervention has rarely worked out well for the target society or for the intervener; that is, historical experience would seem to call for what lawyers call ‘a presumption against intervention.’ This presumption is not intended as an absolute prohibition, but it does impose a burden of persuasion on the advocates of intervention. Often, also, the evidence pro and con intervention is doctored and manipulated one way or another to reflect the views of the government or of special interests.  This was spectacularly illustrated by the lead up to the U.S. led attack on Iraq in 2003 where governmental efforts to strengthen the public case for intervention produced notorious fabrications. Rwanda in 1994, did present an exceptionally strong humanitarian case supportive of a limited military intervention with operational responsibility entrusted to the United Nations, but the bad experience of the Clinton presidency with the Somalia intervention during the prior year led the United States to oppose effectively a UN effort to prevent, or at least mitigate, a genocidal onslaught.

 

            It would seem against such a background that the best solution in such situations might be procedural, that is, leaving the final policy decision in each instance up to a determination by the UN Security Council. If the Bush Administration had accepted the outcome of the Security Council vote that withheld approval for intervening in Iraq it would have been spared a humiliating strategic defeat that damaged America’s status as world leader. Allowing the Security Council to decide whether or not international force is required and justified also is consistent with the presumption against intervention due to the possibility that any of the five permanent members casting a negative vote counts as a veto.

 

            The Obama approach has not fared much better than that of Bush. It induced members of the Security Council opposed to military intervention to accept the plea of NATO countries in 2011 to engage in a humanitarian operation to save the besieged civilian population of the Libyan city of Benghazi by way of establishing a No Fly Zone. Once the operation got underway, it completely ignored these UN guidelines, and used its air dominance to widen the scope of violence and carry out an unauthorized mission of regime-change. The aftermath in Libya casts further doubt on the overall wisdom of authorizing intervention in such a circumstance of internal strife. As well, the spillover from the refusal of the interveners to adhere to the limited UN mandate has been to undermine trust in such a way as to weaken any prospect for the UN to play a more robust role in resolving the Syrian conflict where the case for interference has become stronger than it ever was in Libya.

 

            Beyond this issue of trust are questions of geopolitical alignment, especially encounters that align the U.S. and NATO on one side and Russia and/or China on the other. As yet, fortunately, there is no second cold war, although the neocons, and some in Europe, are beating the war drums in relation to the Ukraine in such a way as to point in that most unwelcome and totally unjustified direction.  Russia’s sensitivity to hostile developments on its borders, previously expressed a few years ago in the 2008 crisis over Georgia, is now more potently evident in relation to the Ukraine and  breakaway Crimea, which contains a strategic Russian naval base at Sevastopol that is the only Russian warm water port, as well as home to their Black Sea naval fleet.

 

            American exceptionalism, or put differently, the geopolitical asymmetry that generates one set of rules for the United States and another for secondary geopolitical actors such as Russia, pushes the United States to claim a license to act against Russian borderland encroachments that would never be tolerated in reverse, if say a radical anti-American takeover took place in Mexico, and Russia was audacious enough to object to American extra-territorial interference, dire consequences would follow. Recall the American readiness to risk World War III to prevent the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba back in 1962. The problems of both Syria and Ukraine are intensified by geopolitical antagonism that restricts the UN role to the margins and prevents a diplomatic consensus from allowing international cooperation to bring pressure to bear that will move parties away from violence and toward a political settlement.

 

            It is true that geopolitical antagonism is not an absolute political obstacle to intervention. The Kosovo War was undertaken despite the perceived inability to gain authorization from the Security Council due to anticipated Russian and Chinese opposition. The interveners relied on the combined legitimating weight of ‘a coalition of the willing’ and a regional consensus that favored intervention to protect the endangered Albanian majority population. A further legitimating factor in Kosovo was the plausibility of undertaking a military operation that could probably succeed quickly, and not produce many casualties on the intervening side. An important additional justification for intervention was the credible prospect of ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces of the sort that had actually taken place in Srebrenica a few years earlier in the midst of Bosnian strife. Finally, in light of this Serbian prior criminal behavior, the aspirations of the Kosovars for an independent political community seemed reasonable. A further post hoc vindication of intervention resulted from the large-scale return to Kosovo of most Albanian refugees after the Serbian control ended, reinforcing the interventionist rationale after the fact by showing its consistency with the dynamics of self-determination.

 

            Nevertheless, a questionable precedent was set in Kosovo by bypassing the Security Council. In effect, the Kosovo intervention involved recourse to non-defensive force without a mandate from the UN, and thus amounted to a deliberate violation of the core articles of the UN Charter and international law that unconditionally prohibits non-defensive threats or uses of force. An effort was made in the Kosovo context by the interveners to stress emergency conditions: the harsh memories associated with inaction in relation to Srebrenica and Rwanda were strong inducements to act beyond the law, and a quasi-legal reliance on a NATO consensus were argued as sufficient to prevent the formation of an unfortunate precedent. When a few years later, the United States, with only the United Kingdom as a credible ally, invaded and occupied Iraq, some negative implications of the Kosovo circumvention of international law became evident, and led the anti-interventionists to reassert their skepticism.

 

            Putting ideology to one side, the question of what is to be done is daunting in the very different challenges poses by Syria and Ukraine. Syria is above all a horrifying humanitarian catastrophe that is also destroying some of the country’s ancient and most cherished cities. It is a situation in which the opposition to the regime is disunited and itself guilty of atrocities, and in which both the governing authorities and insurgency are supported by external actors that treat the civil strife as primarily a proxy war engaging regional interests, and these external forces seem unlikely to yield significantly to their adversary regardless of the humanitarian ordeal being inflicted on the Syrian people. In this respect Syria illustrates regional and global geopolitics in its most cynical and destructive form. One revealing aspect of the disheartening complexity has led the anti-Assad governments to exclude Iran from the Geneva diplomacy that is supposed to be dedicated to finding a war-ending transition to a terrain of political competition. Iran’s exclusion seems irresponsibly submissive to the views of America’s regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and works against surmounting the admittedly difficult set of diplomatic obstacles in the quest for peace and political compromise relating to Syria.

 

             The geopolitical realities of the Ukraine are totally different, raising risks of a new cold war, or at least renewed great power rivalry, and is threatening to produce an uneven military encounter between Russia and the Ukraine over moves by Moscow to annex Crimea on the basis of a hastily arranged referendum that went, as expected Russia’s way by an overwhelming (95%) of the vote. Even if the lopsided outcome partly reflected pro-Russian intimidation there is little doubt that the people of Crimea strongly prefer being part of Russia than remaining an autonomous province in the Ukraine. The Western media gives little attention to the strong historical and cultural affinities between Russia and Crimea. It should be remembered that the Crimea had long been part of Russia, its population mostly Russian speaking, and its shift to the Ukraine accomplished by a capricious Kremlin decree in 1954 issued under the authority of Nikita Khrushchev who himself was part Ukrainian. From an international law standpoint the applicability of self-determination is ambiguous in light of this background. From a Ukrainian point of view, the transfer of Crimean sovereignty was a valid legal act 60 years ago, and the population of Crimea do not seem to qualify as ‘a people’ entitled to claim a right of self-determination. Besides, self-determination is not applicable if its exercise fragments an existing state, in this case Ukraine. But as we have seen, when self-determination is asserted successfully, as in former Yugoslavia, the resulting political entities, although fragmenting an existing state, which was a member of the United Nations, the political outcome will be generally accepted, although maybe not formalized immediately.

 

            Putting aside the geopolitical dimension, there are other problems with action (granting the unacceptability of inaction) in the Syria setting. First of all, the regime is not isolated from popular support, although the breadth and depth of the support is controversial, and probably belongs in the domain of the unknowable. Secondly, because the regime is well armed, it would require a major undertaking to have any assurance that intervention would produce regime change, security, and political transition rather than escalation. As recent history has demonstrated over and over again, in the post-colonial era a Western intervention is likely to provoke prolonged, and in the end, effective national territorial resistance, with highly unpredictable political consequences. In Syria, with minimal strategic interests of the United States at stake, the difficulties of achieving regime change by intervention seem too great, especially, as is the case, tactics would be relied upon that cut the casualties on the intervening side to an absolute minimum.  

 

            We are left, then, with the other part of the challenge: the unacceptability of doing nothing in relation to Syria, and a debate about what could be done to promote a more sustainable and satisfactory outcome in Ukraine.  It has been proposed for some time to undertake a series of humanitarian initiatives on behalf of the Syrian people, including a No Fly Zone to protect a humanitarian corridor that would be capable of delivering food and medicine to beleaguered communities in Syria. Such a course of action is beset with problems stemming from a lack of trust giving rise to suspicions about the authenticity of the humanitarian motivations. Concerns also exist as to the control of the scope and magnitude of the forcible action once undertaken, as well as about the genuine difficulties of making such a zone secure without expanding the scale and scope of the use of force.

 

            In the Ukraine, there seems to be no constructive role for the West to play at this stage. Granting that anti-Russian sentiments prevail in the Ukrainian speaking, Catholic, portions of Ukraine, it seems that the upheaval that led the Viktor Yanukovych government to collapse can be viewed as consistent with the internal sovereignty of the country, although not without some inappropriate Western encouragement of destabilizing political opposition. Even granting this kind of interference, it does not create an occasion justifying Russian intervention, and this is so, regardless of the degree to which the new leadership includes a strong fascist component. Fortunately, there is no current prospect of a Russian intervention designed to break up Ukraine, but the impact of Western anger, expressed by the imposition of sanctions personally directed at Putin and some of his close associates seems designed to hurt Russian investment and trade. Such hostile moves could easily trigger Russian retaliation, and give rise to an unpredictable and dangerous escalation of tensions. Given the way the world is organized on the basis of statist logic, reinforced by geopolitical zones of influence, it would be a major move in the direction of global hegemony if the West were to mount a provocative challenge to Russia’s relationship to what was previously known as their ‘near abroad,’ and from any point of view threatened vital Russian security interests.

 

            In relation to both Syria and Ukraine there are internationalist frustrations because of the inability to protect vulnerable people in severe distress. At stake are opposing principles of respect for sovereignty and  human rights, as well as the hostile interplay of dangerous geopolitical rivalries. The effort to uphold the collective rights of weaker countries and their peoples is opportunistically pursued, making current frustrations mainly a reflection of the dysfunctional operations of a structure of hard power world order that accords primacy to state sovereignty, the pursuit of national interests, and the hegemonic claims and conflicts of geopolitical actors having varying ambitions, claims under international law, and diplomatic and military capabilities.

 

            Further in the background is the presence of weapons arsenals filled with nuclear weapons that makes hardly any political or moral goal worth the risk of major inter-governmental military encounters. Until the political cultures of the main countries in the world are prepared to reorient their priorities around concerns with a species sense of identity and solidarity we are stuck with this territorially delimited structure that was initially established in 17th century Europe and then over time exported to the rest of the world. Such a world order is being challenged by functional considerations of sustainability, climate change, and weaponry of mass destruction, as well as by normative considerations associated with human rights, equity, and species survival. The breakdowns of such an order in Syria and Ukraine are emblematic failures of this system, but also in many respects, human tragedies entailing massive suffering and trauma.

Why Do I Persist?

12 Mar

 

 

I have been asked recently why do I persist in working hard for the things that I believe in, knowing that I will die in the next several years, and am almost certain not to be around for the catastrophic future that seems to cast its dark shadow across the road ahead, and can only be removed by a major transnational movement of the peoples of the world. Similarly, why do I accept the defamation and related unpleasantness that accompanies my efforts to be a truthful witness of the sufferings endured by the Palestinian people in the course of their struggle for freedom and in violation of their fundamental rights? Some friends pointedly suggest ‘why don’t you just sit back, enjoy the pleasures of an easy life, and if still restless and alert enough, devote yourself to the narcissisms of producing a memoir?’ Or at least, why not at least indulge the self-exploratory pleasures of proving to myself that I am a decent poet or that I can still improve my chess or that, appearances to the contrary, I am still not too old to learn Turkish? At worst, I could continue to write barbed comments on the passing scene from the relative safety and comfort of the blogosphere, and to relieve the monotony of a virtual life, take occasional cruises to exotic destinations seeking out ‘ships of fools.’

 

Several prominent philosophers have attempted to answer such generic questions in a book recently published with the alluring title of Death and the Afterlife (Oxford University Press, 2013). It contains three lectures given by Samuel Scheffler, two at the Berkeley campus of the University of California and the third at the University of Utah, as well as a series of generally laudatory commentaries by four other distinguished philosophers and a response at the end by Scheffler. The core argument developed by Scheffler is that human beings care more about the collective survival of humanity than they do about either their own personal immortality or even about the survival of those that they love and befriend, that is, those who are closest to us in our present life.

 

This rather novel line of inquiry investigates the implications of a thought experiment that supposes the extinction of the human species either due to ‘a doomsday scenario’ in which life on the planet is brought to an end or ‘an infertility scenario’ in which all women stop having the capacity to bear children. On this basis the contention is made by Scheffler that most of what we value in our present lives would be undermined as we act on the assumption that life will go on after we die more or less in the same manner than it has while we were alive. Why work toward a cure for cancer or climate change when there is no humanity around to benefit from such developments? I suspect that the appeal of such an argument is its cerebral fascination for philosophers, and others who seem to me to often confuse ‘the life of the mind’ with ‘life.’ I find very little illumination relevant to genuine existential questions from the elaborate back and forth between these ratiocinating philosophers who make many fine points of assessment, but seem to miss altogether the question of why caring for the future of humanity motivates someone such as myself, or for that matter might be quite irrelevant to my motivation.

 

In the end, and maybe admitting my own limitations and prejudices as a thinker, I find this contemporary Anglo-American philosophical approach to be unhelpful, and not very interesting, in fact trivializing of the dilemmas of old age and the latter stages of life. I do not doubt that such analytic fine tuning seems intrinsically stimulating to members of this particular philosophical fraternity even though it flies well beneath my radar screen.

 

My own reflections on why I persist in doing what I am doing are more simplistic, less sophisticated, and maybe no less trivializing, but also more satisfying to me as explanations that connect with my experience. In contrast to ScheffIer I would emphasize three distinct lines of explanation that are each experiential, and hopefully not sentimental: lifetime habit, being on the right side of history, and the inherent pleasures of intellectual life.

 

Habit. There is a tendency to feel comfortable doing what has formed part of your daily life so long as physically and mentally able. Despite bad knees that impair my mobility on a tennis court, and can make descending steep slopes rather painful, I continue to play tennis and table tennis as often as the opportunity presents itself, which is generally three times a week at minimum. Writing on topics that engage me is similar to this sports life, although less therapeutic. I have written almost daily for the past 60 years, and continue to do so giving almost no consideration to whether there is an afterlife, personal or collective. Admittedly, if there was assured knowledge of the end of humanity looming in the near future, I would undoubtedly be profoundly affected in my daily routine. Experientially, we cannot have such knowledge. This is the point, and accounts for why Scheffler’s entire inquiry into the afterlife must be posited as a thought experiment, a harmless philosophical fiction that intensely engages the highly trained rational intellect, and can turn up some intriguing speculations, such as the enjoyment of music being independent of our afterlife prospects. By the way, I have no expectation of an afterlife, but in my current life proceed on the assumption that the collective life of humanity is more dangerously threatened than ever before, but for my purposes, I assume it will continue as far ahead as I am capable of envisioning, and certainly, of living.

 

History. The claim of being on the right side of history is a matter of ethics and interpretation, but since I thought about the world at all, it has been important for me to align my work as best I could, with the pursuit of justice. In these regards, I have been inspired by the struggles of those enduring injustice, and generally have sided with the underdog in conflict situations. In this regard, I felt solidarity decades ago with the anti-colonial movements, and believed that their favorable outcome suggested a positive historical trend that was given further concrete validation in the American civil rights movement led by the charismatic figure of Martin Luther King and by South African anti-apartheid campaign and struggle symbolized by that most extraordinary personage, Nelson Mandela. For me, in recent years, the epic ordeal and struggle of the Palestinian people is of the same lineage, and its recent flourishing in a global solidarity movement of growing scope and intensity, has shaped my evolving political sensibility to a considerable extent. My sadness as a lifelong American is associated, I believe, with the realization that ever since the Vietnam War, and possibly earlier if I had been more attentive, this country has been on the wrong side of history, exerting its might to stem the global emancipatory tide, although not altogether: its belated and reluctant stand against fascism and later Stalinist totalitarianism have certainly made better the history of the last hundred years. Domestically, as well, the national record is mixed, with racism and homophobia somewhat eclipsed during my lifetime by robust challenges based on American ideals, but gun culture and macho geopolitics being embedded in political culture more than ever, and recently accentuated by a dive into the dangerously dark waters of Islamophobia. Returning to the theme of this essay, I remain deeply motivated by the gravitational force of struggles for justice, and feel such an attraction independent of any reflections on the impacts of mortality on my work and hopes, and still less of the relevance of post-mortality, whatever that might mean. Do I want to be remembered positively by those I love, or by a wider community, is an issue that neither motivates nor sparks much curiosity, although I suppose it is true if I pause to think about it, and respond honestly, I would not want the defamers of UN Watch to have the last word as to my character, beliefs, and public role. In this weak sense, it is important that those for whom I care do not conceive of me negatively by situating me on the wrong side of history. At the same time, I have no illusions or ambitions that my contributions will make any historical difference, although I feel vindicated if even one student, reader, or listener responds favorably.

 

Satisfaction. Enabling me to sustain this life of work and activism through the decades has been the inherent satisfactions associated with the academic life of teaching and scholarship. I have been blessed with an excellent education, and good fortune with respect to career and health. As a mediocre high school student it never occurred to me that I would have a lifetime that revolved around intellectual activity, and when I discovered, first, after barely surviving a first year college experience of ‘academic probation’ that I loved classroom learning, and then, when a series of accidents led me to be a one year replacement teacher for an ill member of the Ohio State University law faculty, I came to the realization that a professorial life was a privileged existence in most of its dimensions (except of course for faculty meetings): setting your own work agenda and schedule, doing no harm, lifelong learning, interaction with young sensibilities, open spaces between semesters allowing ample time for travel and reflection, and participating a community with many likeminded folks. I never lost a sense of being blessed with this opportunity to live a decent life doing what was most enjoyable for me, although my own trajectory of preoccupations led me into domains of controversy from the mid-1960s until this very day. What bears on my theme here is that the pleasures of writing, reading, conversing, and speaking have been the self-justifying nutrients of my life, although always tinged with an awareness of contingency (of death, disease, misfortune), and a sense of dependence on the material foundations of normalcy, with perhaps a degree of self-indulgence that it is best not to think too closely about. When younger I was more troubled by the gaps between my beliefs and my life style, the hope for a world where everyone could lead a life of dignity and my own failure to devote the resources I possessed beyond those needed for subsistence to relieve the sufferings of those enduring extreme poverty. Putting such considerations to one side, recognizing that I do not respond to such an extreme calling, I affirm that the academic life, despite disappointments here and there, has fulfilled my dreams of pleasurable living without any pronounced feeling that it is incomplete unless justified by the symbolic immortality of being remembered in the future as a result of scholarly achievements. It doesn’t really matter to me whether my books will be read and appreciated, although I write them with that ambition although not in relation to whether their impact is prior or subsequent to my death.

 

In the end, I thank Samuel Scheffler for stimulating these counter-thoughts to his general thesis. Perhaps, the clarity of his probing inquiries, and the unexpected tenor of his argument about valuing of a collective afterlife more than most of us realize or would care to admit, had the dialectical effect of leading me experientially in the opposite direction. If this is so, it would be less than gracious, not to give my thanks.

Breaking Free: Choosing a Better Human Future

8 Mar

 

I have long believed that prospects for a hopeful human future depend on radical and visionary feelings, thought, and action. Such an outlook reflects my view that the major challenges of our time cannot be met by thinking within the box, or implementing the realist agenda of doing what it is feasible while disregarding what is necessary and desirable. For instance, with respect to climate change such a conventional approach avoids asking what needs to be done to give future generations positive life prospects, but seeks, at best, to do what seems politically feasible at the moment, that is, far too little. This means not putting a cap on energy or water use, not limiting carbon emissions or prohibiting fracking, continuing to encourage economic growth, and refusing to question consumerism. In effect, this conventional approach does not meet challenges, but at most seeks to defer and mitigate harmful effects to the extent possible. In effect, it opts for a worse human future, and remains in bondage to the deformities wrought by clearly deficient neoliberal prescriptions for human fulfillment.

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Against this background, it was a personal breakthrough to meet Jeff Wilson who is, of all things, a dean of the arts college and faculty member in environmental and biological sciences at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. This is a small mainly undergraduate university with about 900 students, and is what is called a ‘historically black’ college, established in 1881 by some Christian initiatives, with the specific mission of providing higher educational opportunities for former slaves freed in the course of the Civil War. What makes Jeff charismatic is his radical sensibility that has crafted a most unlikely project that has been receiving increasing media attention—converting a trash dumpster into a place of residence, not in the name of austerity, but all in the name of promoting a vision of sustainable living. For those like me unfamiliar with dumpsters, other than as an annoyance if driving behind a garbage pickup vehicle in a crowded city, the idea of living in a 33 square foot enclosure that must be climbed to enter or leave struck me as a kind of ecological stunt when I first heard about it. Like many first impressions this one was quickly superseded by a sense of awe almost at the point of contact.

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That is, until visiting the site, which is on the campus, and actually a project of a student group, intriguingly named “Green is the New Black,” and part of a vision, appropriately radical, to make black colleges take a national lead in the years ahead in producing green campuses throughout the country in every black school. Getting back to Wilson, it is obvious from appearance and style that he strikes his own pose: he is unusual in dress and deeply engaging and infectionously friendly when it comes to sociability, with lively wit and a robust sense of self-irony. He did not come to this experiment in sustainable living overnight. He had earned a PhD at the University of Canterbury and did post-doctoral work at Harvard, he has written numerous papers published in scientific journals on environmental and biological issues, and won an award as the outstanding teacher in all of Texas when he was still an assistant professor. Through it all, he realized that the academic career of a typical scholar, however dedicated, was not going to get done the job of sustainability given the obstacles.

 

As his girlfriend, Clara Benson, a writer by trade, remembers her first impression of Jeff, “This guy was trouble of the best variety.” And speaking of their affinity transcending differing personalities and vocations, she writes, “We live for the unexpected, the experimental, and the subtly disruptive.” My only skeptical reaction is the use of the word ‘subtly’! Jeff and Clara, as is increasingly customary in our digitized era met in cyberspace, via social media, and before long embarked on a most usual ice-breaking three week adventure journey through the Middle East and Europe with no luggage or even a change of clothing. Obviously, the idea of reinventing how we live together happily on the planet has been gestating in Jeff’s restless mind for some time.  Clara’s wonderfully witty and lucid narrative of their trip together was published on November 11, 2013 by Salon.com, and won such a huge audience that a book and film are presently in the works.

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The Dumpster Project is, first of all, a vivid reminder of unsustainability. It is also a carefully conceived way of showing that there are other alternative ways to organize society. Jeff started living in the dumpster on February 4, 2013, and he and students will continue to camp out there in sleeping bags for a year, relying on solar light and water hauled and then filtered from a nearby river, subsisting without any normal links to water or electric supply. This phase will be followed by adapting the dumpster to the energy and water use of the average American, getting all the appliances to be found in the average home, and measuring their environmental footprints in relation to energy and water use, with the expressed intent of dramatizing the gap between what is possible and what is necessary. And there is the third phase described as the ‘Ultimate Dumpster Home,’ which will incorporate the best of design and innovation to show that life can be fulfilling within drastically scaled down proportions, with the goal being one of creating a net-zero energy home that still manages to enjoy the comforts of a normal home. For further exposition I recommend Jeff’s website <www.dumpsterproject.org><info@dumpsterproject.org>

 

The overall focus, and inspiring imagery, is captured by Jeff’s slogan, “We are the new 1%!” The dumpster takes up 1% of the living space used by the average American family. Further, the energy/water regime is shaped by getting along on 1% or less of what is currently the fashion in America. At a deeper level the new 1% is based on a different kind of leadership—toward a sustainable and hopeful future—that contrasts with the old 1% that feasts on a hyper-consumptive life style, portrayed as decadent and dehumanizing in the recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a matter of repudiating the elites of wealth while celebrating emergent elites of sustainability, worthy ecological pilgrims of our time. As well, the activist challenges posed by the Occupy Movement’s claim in 2012 that “we are 99%” resonates with the conviction that change comes from the people, and not from governments and bureaucracies. Despite the smallness of the dumpster, the scope of the message is as large as the planet, or perhaps, even the universe.

 

I was drawn to the inspirational value of this brave trust in the power of imagination once it is made actual! In the past, I have written about the importance of engaged citizenship to heal the wounds of the planet, and praised particularly, ‘the citizen pilgrim,’ those who have embarked on a life journey in search of a better future. Citizenship, then, becomes enacted in time and is not conceived only as a dimension of space as, for instance, in opting to be ‘a world citizen.’ It is in this spirit that I acknowledge Jeff Wilson as an exemplary citizen pilgrim! 

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