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Two Interviews on Palestine

14 Nov

(Prefatory Note: Two recent interviews seek to assess the Palestinian national movement as it is unfolding at this critical time.)

 

 

Interview with R. Falk by Chronis Polychroniou, published Truth Out, Nov 6, 2014

 

  1. With the collapse of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in April there is increasing doubts about the diplomatic approach to resolving the conflict that is associated with the Oslo Approach. What is the Oslo Approach? Do these doubts lead us to believe that the Oslo approach is dead?

 

The Oslo Approach was initiated in 1993 when both Israel and the PLO accepted the Oslo Declaration of Principles as the diplomatic basis of resolving the conflict between the two peoples. It was iconically endorsed by the famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House Lawn. It was a flawed approach from the Palestinian perspective for several main reasons: it never confirmed the existence of the Palestinian right of self-determination; it excluded the relevance of international law from what came to be known as ‘the peace process,’ it designated the United States despite its alignment with Israel as the exclusive intermediary, and it fragmented the Palestinian territory under occupation in ways that made the day to day life of Palestinians an ordeal.

 

From the Israeli perspective Oslo was highly advantageous: it gave Israel over 20 years to continue the unlawful settlement building and expansion process; by excluding international law, it produced a diplomacy based on bargaining and power disparities in which Israel possessed decisive advantages; it delegated to the Palestinian Authority responsibility for many of the security functions previously the responsibility of Israel; and it contained no commitment to respect Palestinian rights under international law; as time never neutral, it allowed Israel to create abundant ‘facts on the ground’ (better interpreted as a series of unlawful acts) that could be later validated by diplomatic ratification.

 

Doubts about the Oslo Approach have grown in recent years, and have been reflected in indications that even the patience of the Palestinian Authority has begun to be exhausted. The last effort at direct negotiations within the Oslo framework collapsed last April despite strong American efforts to seek some progress toward an agreement. Israel’s behavior indicated a disinterest in negotiations, and a disposition toward imposing a unilateral solution to the conflict. The PA has introduced the text of a propose Security Council resolution that calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank by November 2016, and although it is expected to be blocked by the United States, it suggests a new direction of Palestinian diplomacy. The flaws of the Oslo Approach are becoming more widely recognized in Europe and by world public opinion.

 

  1. After the 50 day Israel military operation in Gaza of this past summer, given           the name Protective Edge by the IDF, has anything changed in relation to the       underlying conflict?

 

The fundamentals on the ground remain the same, although some of the psycho-political dimensions have changed in important ways. On the Israeli side, there were contradictory indications of both incitements to genocide, destroying the civilian population of Gaza in the belief that this was the only way to overcome the resistance of Hamas, and a sense that Israel had lost its way in the world by engaging in such a military campaign that had devastating impacts upon both the civilian population and its infrastructure. The new Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, spoke of Israel ‘as a sick society’ that needed to recover a willingness to treat diverse ethnicities and religions with dignity.

 

From a Palestinian point of view, Protective Edge also had important effects. From the Palestinian activist public mounting pressure to join the International Criminal Court and press charges against Israel. Also, the effect of the military operation was the opposite of what was intended as it increased the popularity of Hamas, at least temporarily, especially in the West Bank, and to a lesser extent in Gaza. In effect, the resistance and resilience of Hamas was contrasted with the quasi-collaborationist postures so often struck by the Palestinian Authority. The casualties on both sides also destabilized the notion of ‘terrorism’ as solely attributable to Hamas: of the 70 Israelis killed, 65 were IDF soldiers, while of the more than 2100 Palestinians killed, more than 70% were civilians. It would seemthat ‘state terrorism’ is the main culprit in such a conflict.

 

At the same time more informed commentators recognized that Hamas wanted to perform as a political actor rather than to act as an armed resistance group treated by Israel and the United States as a terrorist entity excluded from diplomatic venues. Hamas has been making it clear ever since it won elections in 2006 that it was prepared to co-exist peacefully with Israel on a long-term basis, and has observed ceasefire agreements along its border, which were on each occasion broken by Israeli violent provocations. There was formed a few months ago a technocratic unity government that overcame the divisions between the Fatah and Hamas, and was bitterly opposed by Israel, perhaps the real explanation of the July attacks on Gaza as an expression of this opposition.

 

  1. There has been discussion as to whether the Palestinian Authority, now recognized as a state by the UN, should seek to join the International Criminal Court, and bring its grievances before this tribunal. Is this a good idea? What will it accomplish?

 

There is much discussion as to the pros and cons of seeking to adhere to the Rome Statute that underpins the International Criminal Court by Palestine now that its statehood has been confirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2012. Palestine now has the UN status of being ‘a non-member observer state.’ It has joined UNESCO as a member and adhered to several international treaties.

 

The ‘cons’ of recourse to the ICC can be summarized: provoking hostile reactions from Israel, and possibly the United States; threatening the fragile unity arrangements between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, especially if the ICC chooses to focus on allegations of war crimes against Hamas; inability to secure Israeli cooperation with the proceedings, and hence an absence of any way to make those accused accountable due to the absence of enforcement capabilities.

 

The ‘pros’ of going to the ICC are the effects on world public opinion, raising the morale of the Palestinians seeking to make use of their soft power advantages in the conflict, and above all the opportunity to reinforce the Palestinian narrative that challenges Israel’s occupation policies (especially reliance on excessive force and the settlement phenomenon) as violations of international criminal law.

 

On balance, it would seem advantageous for Palestine to seek an investigation of allegations by recourse to the ICC, and the failure to do so would confirm those who attack the PA as lacking credibility to represent the Palestinian people in their quest for a just and sustainable peace.

 

  1. Recently Sweden pledged to recognize Palestinian statehood and the British House of Commons also urged the government to extend recognition. Are such diplomatic gestures of any importance and relevance to the Palestinian struggle?

 

It is too soon to assess the importance of these diplomatic gestures, which I would interpret as an indication of dissatisfaction with any further reliance on the Oslo Approach, especially its reliance on the role of the United States as exclusively entitled to serve as a diplomatic third party. The Swedish pledge to recognize Palestinian statehood is also important because it is accompanied by a call for resumed negotiations in accord with international law. To inject international law into the diplomatic process would be of utmost significance, offsetting Israeli hard power dominance, and allowing for Palestine to press forward in asserting their rights under international law.

 

If additional countries follow Sweden and the House of Commons, it will create a trend that might produce a greater role for Europe or the EU to act as a successor intermediary to the U.S. in the search for a solution. In this sense these European moves, which were greeted antagonistically in Tel Aviv and Washington, exhibit an impatience with the evident futility of pretending that Oslo still provided the best path to peace.

 

  1. If armed struggle has failed the Palestinians, international law has been ignored, and diplomacy has not worked, what is left for the Palestinians to do so as to carry on their struggle?

 

For several years, the Palestinian national movement has moved its center from the formal leadership provided by the PA and Hamas, to Palestinian civil society initiatives that seem to represent the real aspirations of the Palestinian people. The call for a BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign in 2005 by 170 Palestinian civil society actors has been gaining momentum throughout the world, including the United States, in recent years. This civil society coalition also puts forward a three-part political program of greater relevance to a solution than anything that has emerged from the Oslo Approach: 1) withdrawal of Israel from all occupied Arab lands (including Golan Heights, fragment of Lebanon); 2) human rights based on full equality for the Palestinian minority living within Israel; 3) right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in accordance with international law as set forth in General Assembly Resolution 194 .

 

In this period of international relations, increasingly it is evident that states can no longer monopolize diplomacy. Not only are non-state actors such as the Taliban, Hamas, and others formidable participants indispensable to overcome conflict, but also civil society initiatives provide ways to achieve justice and peace with greater flexibility and legitimacy than state actors in a growing number of conflict situations.

 

  1. Some analysts have noted a change in public opinion on the conflict in the United States, but not reflected in Congress or U.S. policy of unconditional support. Why is this?

 

This mismatch between an American public that would welcome a more balanced approach to Israel and the conflict and the U.S. Congress that is uncritically and unconditionally supportive of Israel has become a dark shadow cast over the democratic process in the United States. It reflects in part the strength of the Israeli lobby and also the military prowess of Israel both as a strategic partner in the region but also as a valued arms supplier of an increasing number of countries. It also results from the inability of Palestinian constituencies in the United States to mobilize support sufficient to create countervailing influence in Washington. This one-sided political atmosphere makes members of Congress realize that any lessening of support for Israel will be disastrous for the political career and of no real policy significance in relation to the government approach. Despite this unfortunate mismatch, an upsurge of civil society activism, especially on university campuses and among mainstream religious organizations, is again an indication that politics is being made informally within civil society, and is more expressive of democratic sentiments and ethical principles, than are the activities of formal governmental institutions.

 

  1. In light of developments can Europe play a bigger role in shifting the balance of diplomatic forces bearing on the conflict?

 

Europe has an opportunity to play a much more active role in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, and has begun to do so by way of its recent moves to recognize Palestinian statehood and by governmental pronouncements that remind corporations and financial institutions that commercial dealings with Israeli settlements is ‘problematic under international law.’

 

Israel seems to be moving toward a unilateral resolution of the conflict by taking substantial control over the West Bank and Jerusalem, and leaving Gaza as a hostile alien territory, which may make international diplomacy useless at this stage. In any event, Israel and the United States will use all the leverage at their disposal to prevent any move away from the Oslo Approach that continues to serve their somewhat divergent purposes. The US Government is primarily interested in keeping ‘the game’ of Oslo going to uphold their claim that a viable peace process continues to exist. For Israel, retaining Oslo is also helpful as part of a favorable scenario of delay that serves expansionist purposes until Tel Aviv explicitly declares ‘game over,’ and converts the occupation of Palestine into a full-scale or partial annexation of what is called by Israeli law experts ‘disputed sovereignty.’

 

  1. Why did the Arab neighbors of Israel, especially Saudi Arabia, seem to support Israel during the recent attack on Gaza?

 

The regional situation in the Arab world has changed dramatically since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011. The Iraqi occupation tactics of the United States rested on regime change with a sectarian orientation, shifting leadership of the country from its Sunni identity in the Saddam Hussein period to that of Shiite dominance. This shift, including the purge of the Iraqi armed forces of its Sunni corps, leading indirectly also to Islamic extremism in the region, especially the emergence in 2014 of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria that is partially staffed by former Iraqi military officers dismissed as a result of American occupation policy.

 

The Arab Spring upheavals had a second effect, which was to overthrow authoritarian leadership that had long suppressed political Islam as powerful domestic presences. Especially in Egypt, but also in several other countries, the anti-authoritarian movements, resulted in a political situation where in the new political setting, the strongest national political presence was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, were deeply threatened by these changes, and despite their own Islamic orientation, preferred secular leadership in the region to political Islam that emerged democratically. In this sense, Israel’s effort to crush Hamas, viewed by the threatened monarchies as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, corresponded with the priorities of most Arab governments in the region. Israel was the enemy of their primary enemy, and hence ‘a friend,’ at least temporarily.

 

Whether this situation persists is uncertain. What seems clear at present is that two separate strands of transnational tension exist in the region: first, the Sunni-Shiite divide; and secondly, the tensions between established governments and political Islam that is based on a societal movement. Surprisingly, the second concerns outweighs the first. Saudi Arabia supported strongly the 2013 coup led by General Sisi against the elected Sunni oriented leadership of Mohammed Morsi.

 

 

Süreç Analiz (Süreç Research Centter in Istanbul)

In Dubious Battle: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Interview Questions for R. Falk

 

  • How do you assess the essential dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Which forces of internal and external nature did make the conflict more problematic and enigmatic?

I think it is important to appreciate that the conflict has reached a new stage with two important developments. First, the Oslo Approach based on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the United States as the exclusive intermediary, after more than 20 years of futile diplomacy has lost its relevance; secondly, both sides are taking unilateral steps to attain their goals, Israel by continuing to expand the settlements and consolidating control over the whole of Jerusalem, and the PA by moving toward establishing Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, with the symbolic endorsement of the international community.

 

  • Do you think a great opportunity for the resolution of Palestinian- Israeli conflict was missed as the Oslo peace process remained inconclusive?

Israel for some years uses the Oslo peace process as a delaying tactic while it pursues the maximal version of the Zionist Project. As such, it harms the Palestinians, and helps the Israelis. Time is not neutral. Israel poses unrealistic demands that if accepted would leave the Palestinians with a Bantustan that would not satisfy even minimal claims for Palestinian self-determination, which depend on a viable sovereign state with 1967 borders and some acknowledgement the right of refugees to return to their homes.

 

  • After the end of Oslo peace process, we see greater influence of Hamas in Palestinian politics. How do you explain the growing influence of Hamas in the Palestinian political scene?

The surge of Hamas popularity is partly a reflection of the failures of PA quasi-collaborationist diplomacy and partly an expression of solidarity with Hamas because of their impressive posture of resistance during the Israeli attacks of July and August. In actuality, the leadership of the Palestinian national struggle has been moving toward recognition of Palestinian civil society, and building support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

 

  • This summer’s war between Israel and Hamas is the third violent conflict between them since 2008. How do you explain these frequent cycles of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas?

Israel has provoked tensions in relation to each of these three military operations, and has maintained for the past seven years a regime of sustained collective punishment that has cruelly locked the civilian population of Gaza into the combat zone. When the periodic massacres of the sort that occurred this past summer take place even women and children are denied the default option of becoming refugees or seeking a sanctuary outside the combat zone. When they took shelter in UN buildings these structures were attacked. Israeli justifications for such action purport to be ‘defensive,’ but such claims overlook the refusal of Israel to abide by ceasefire arrangements or to offer responses to Hamas proposals for long-term peaceful coexistence. Israel relies on keeping its own people in a constant state of fear and of projecting their force disproportionately as a deterrent to other political actors that might at some future time contemplate an attack.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Around 75% of the casualties of the latest conflict were civilians according to UN data. As Hamas blames Israel for directly targeting civilians, Israel blames Hamas for using civilians as human shields. What is your opinion about this issue?

The facts are difficult to obtain as there are conflicting contentions. As far as I can tell both sides made some use of human shields in combat situations, but Israel did so more frequently. The casualty ratio of civilians to military personnel is more objective, and illuminating. Not only were 75% of Palestinian casualties civilians, with over 500 children killed, but Israeli casualties of 70 killed were composed of 65 IDF soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians. If the essence of terrorism is violence against civilians, then it raises the question as to why Israeli state terrorism receives so little attention. In this recent military confrontation the terrorist tactics of Israel were far more lethal than those of Hamas.

 

  • After the ceasefire was achieved via the mediation of Egypt, both Israel and Hamas declared that they were ‘victorious’. Who do you think has won the war and what do you think the reason is behind both sides declaring victory?

Each side uses different measures to evaluate the outcome. Israel uses its capability to inflict death and destruction, and stop Hamas from firing rockets. Hamas uses more symbolic criteria such as world public opinion and its own political stature associated with refusing to give in and obtaining a ceasefire agreement that appears to be favorable to its claims, and avoids Israel’s demands for the demilitarization of Hamas.

 

  • How do you evaluate the ceasefire conditions?

Israel is supposed to lift the blockade and loosen restrictions on fishing off the Gaza coast, as well as shrink the buffer zone on the Gazan side of the border. Whether it will comply is doubtful, given its failure to uphold similar commitments after the 2012 ceasefire. It seems that Israeli policy continues to be based on ‘mowing the lawn’ every couple of years, a grotesque metaphor to describe military massacres inflicted on a totally vulnerable population.

  • Do you think the unity government formed by Hamas and Fatah will be successful and sustainable? Why?

It is difficult to tell. It seemed to withstand Israeli pressure. One interpretation of the Protective Edge attack is as a reprisal for the PA defiance of Israel’s opposition to such a unity government and all moves to incorporate Hamas into the Palestinian governing process. At the same time, strains persist. Hamas leadership neither trust nor agree with the American oriented approach favored by Ramallah, and reject passivity in the face of Israeli provocations.

 

  • How do you evaluate the response of the international organizations and Arab and Muslim countries response towards the latest round of conflict?

This realignment of the Arab world is problematic from the Palestinian perspective. It expresses the political priority given by the Gulf monarchies and Egypt, in particular, to the destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force. In this sense, Arab countries seem to make regime stability for themselves a higher policy priority than solidarity with the Palestinian struggle or the wellbeing of Muslim political entities. The monarchies, although Islamic in orientation, are deeply opposed to political Islam that bases its claims on grassroots or popular support. Only Islam from above is acceptable.

 

  • Do you think a just and peaceful solution can be achieved for the Palestinian- Israeli conflict in the future? What kind of a solution do you think can be accepted by the both sides?

A political solution is not presently apparent on the political horizon. Both sides are moving in unilateral and contradictory directions, especially in relation to territory, with Israel seeking to annex substantial portions of the West Bank and the PA seeking to expel Israel from the West Bank and establish a state of their own. It may be that the best solution will be fashioned by Palestinian civil society activism that is leaning toward the establishment of a bi-national secular state based on the equality of the two peoples. I have outlined my belief that the only solution that can be envisioned must be preceded by a recalculation of interests on the part of the Israeli leadership, a dynamic that took place unexpectedly in South Africa to make possible a peaceful transformation from apartheid to constitutional democracy. Each situation is different, but it would appear that Israel will not budge until the global solidarity movement together with Palestinian resilience imposes unacceptable costs on Zionist maximalism. In the end, the Zionist insistence on ‘a Jewish state’ will have to be abandoned, and replaced by homelands of equal receptivity to Jews and Palestinians wherever they may fine themselves.

***

 

 

Looking Back on World War I One Hundred Years Later: Four Mixed Messages

10 Nov

[Prefatory Note: A few days ago I gave a lecture in that was the second annual occasion honoring the memory of a beloved New Zealand peace activist, Dorothy Brown. My host for the occasion was the National Centre of Peace and International Studies, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ, where two days later I gave another lecture, “Obstacles to Peace in the Middle East.”]

 

 

Looking Back on World War I One Hundred Years Later: Four Mixed Messages

(Dorothy Brown Memorial Lecture, Auckland, New Zealand, November 8, 2014)

 

Identity Politics a Century Later

 

I admit to surprise that a place as distant from Europe as New Zealand would have had such a strong interest in World War I until I looked a bit deeper into its relationship to that war and to the country’s place sense of imperial duty or citizenship at that time. Discovering that more that 100,000 New Zealanders participated in the Great War as either soldiers or nurses in a population of just over a million exhibited the extraordinary bonds prevailing between the people and government of NZ and Great Britain, a monarchy acenter of a global empire that still was widely accepted as the mother country, exercising control over its foreign dominions that were neither fully colonies nor yet completely independent states. Such an appreciation of the bond is further strengthened by the realization that of those New Zealanders who went to war 16,697 died and another 41,317 were wounded resulting in an astounding casualty rate of 58%, which was considerably higher than either Canada or Australia. In view of such losses it is hardly surprising that Auckland built an imposing war memorial museum honoring the memory of those who fought in World War I.

 

New Zealand also participated in World War II in a similar spirit of Commonwealth solidarity despite the formal loosening of the imperial ties as a result of the 1931 Statute of Westminster. It may have been relevant that the Pacific dimension of the war made the prospect of a Japanese victory appear dangerous for the security of New Zealand, and hence posed the kind of direct threat to both New Zealand and Australia that was not present in 1914. This security dimension validated New Zealand’s involvement in World War II from a realist perspective of state interests, reinforcing the psychological identification of the interests of the two countries. I wonder what New Zealand would do if Britain become engaged in a future major war. It raises questions of whether national values, sentimental memories, and current identity has moved away from what might call ‘the settler colonial stage’ to an outlook weighing national interests, which is the more typical approach of sovereign states confronting the momentous choice of assessing its security interests in wartime situations. It is a deep challenge for democratic societies, especially when account that any such an engagement in non-defensive wars is a call upon citizens to risk their life and limb on behalf of the nation, sometimes for might seem to many a remote, and even dubious, political cause. I cannot help but wonder whether New Zealand continues to possess this mentality of unquestioning solidarity and deference that in the past has so automatically linked its national destiny with that of Britain considering differences in national consciousness and threat perceptions, as well as the changed status of war in international law? Or is there a divided consciousness present in the country between conservatives who continue to give great weight to the empire rechristened as ‘the Commonwealth’ years ago and more liberal or progressively minded New Zealanders who think either more nationally or even may be beginning to view themselves as global citizens.

 

It occurs to me as an outsider that a comparison of national identity in 1914 and 2014 must be quite illuminating in relation to such issues of shifts in prevailing national identity as would such a comparison be for my country where the shift from isolationism to globalism has been so dramatic, and in many respects, disastrous. It seems also that the enduring impact of the Cold War has been to move both Australia and New Zealand a bit further from Britain and closer to America, illustrating a sense of increased dependence on American military prowess should New Zealand’s security ever become directly threatened.

 

I think also of the orientation of American foreign policy that continues to give some weight to Anglo-American traditions of solidarity that developed over the course of the last century, but mainly conditions its involvements in war on the basis of self-interested realist calculations of national interest combined with strategic concerns associated with geopolitical ambition. It should be remembered that unlike New Zealand, in the world of 1914, the United States had to overcome its break with Britain in its war of independence as well as its strong traditional stance of noninvolvement in European wars. The U.S. did not enter the war until towards the end of 1917 and then when provoked, in part, by unrestricted German submarine warfare, as well as being disturbed by the ideological consequences of a German victory. Of course, in this cross-Atlantic relationship, it has for decades become Britain that subordinated its normalcy as a state to what became in Britain an unpopular willingness to follow wherever the United States leads, as in the disastrous Iraq War during which the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was often derided as ‘Bush’s poodle.’ It is also relevant to recall that back in 2013, the House of Commons refused to back Prime Minister Cameron’s call for air strikes in Syria in response to an alleged major use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and just recently has again annoyed Washington by calling on the British Government to recognize Palestinian statehood.

 

I raise these preliminary questions mainly in the spirit of curiosity as to how those living in this country now view their past history in relation to the imperatives national and human security in the present global context. In my visit to the country more 30 years ago, I became involved in the then controversial policy of disallowing American naval vessels suspected of carrying nuclear weapons to make use of NZ ports, and recall that the debate centered on an interplay of benefits and detriments to NZ as a member of ANZUS, the Pacific alliance that was part of an American-led network of alliances, as well as the status under international law and morality of this weaponry of mass destruction. It is worth contemplating whether in this century alliance geopolitics and regional trade and investment relations has gradually come to overwhelm the more ethnically and historically valued multi-state frameworks of the Commonwealth. Now that New Zealand has been recently elected to the UN Security Council, which is itself a notable achievement for a small state in a hotly contested competition, might not the stage be set for a move toward a more cosmopolitan worldview to take hold here in the country? Such a posture would be widely appreciated in other parts of the world, especially if New Zealand began to act as a global voice of conscience that was as concerned with promoting the human interest as it is with protecting its national interest.

 

Learning from the First World War

 

Let me make a confession of sorts. When I was first told that the subject of this talk should be a set of reflections on memories of the First World War I had a mild panic attack, realizing that my historical knowledge of the period was grossly inadequate to fulfill such an assignment. I conveyed my anxiety to the conveners who thankfully took pity, allowing me to consider the legacies of the First World War rather than to reflect on how we now remember these momentous events of a century ago. I found this altered challenge more to my likely. I came to realize that the enduring reverberations of World War I tell us far more about present trials and tribulations in world politics than most of us appreciate. I was struck in this regard by a passage in Hannah Arendt’s great book The Origins of Totalitarianism: “The days before and the days after the first World War are separated not like the end of an old and beginning of a new period, but like the day before and the day after an explosion. Yet this figure of speech is as inaccurate as are all others, because the quiet which settles down after a catastrophe has never come to pass. The first explosion set off a chain reaction in which we have been caught ever since and which nobody seems able to stop. The first World War exploded the European comity of nations beyond repair, something which no other war had ever done.” [267] This is an extraordinary statement that seems an exaggeration when we first take account of its grandiose claims, but as I will try to show, this assessment remains essentially accurate more than fifty years after Arendt’s book was published. For most of us the impacts of World War I are still grossly under-appreciated. So much has changed in the world that such a a distant war is mainly regarded as one more historical occasion buried in the realities of its time. In my view such a perception should be corrected. As I will argue, for instance, the terrifying turmoil now going on in the Middle East can be traced back to some fundamentally wrong decisions made in the peace diplomacy that followed the war, and cannot be properly understood or addressed without appreciating its World War I roots.

 

There is one misleading dimension of Arendt’s words, the implied Euro-centric character of world order as an enduring reality. In important respects, Europe since losing her colonies after World War II has become marginalized as a major participant in shaping world history. This assertion is not meant to deny that Europe was clearly responsible for setting in motion the events that shook the foundations that existed a hundred years ago, and then and now pose obstacles in the search for peace, justice, and even stability. Such global developments as the world hegemonic role of the United States, the rise of China, neoliberal globalization, the emergence of the BRICS makes any projection of a Euro-centric world as simplistic and not very relevant in 2014. Despite this it remains crucially relevant to grasp even if belatedly, the 1914 reverberations that persist. Achieving a better understanding of these reverberations may help to make our world a bit more secure, more just, and less prone to violence.

 

In this spirit, I have chosen four sets of developments that owe their origins and unfolding to the disruptive impacts of World War I. In part, these developments arose because of various efforts to vindicate the immense suffering and sense of loss resulting from the war. Both idealists and realists strained to make the peoples of Europe and their allies feel that the sacrifices made in the war would be justified by the gains associated with the peace. For some this involved enjoying the spoils of victory as measured mainly be extending the colonial reach. For others, a pattern also present following the Second World War, but revealingly not after the Cold War, to build a future world order that would discourage, if not prevent, the recurrence of major wars in the future.

 

Political Extremism. First of all, was the recognition that World War I and its aftermath had profoundly dislocating effects on societal coherence and political authority throughout Europe. The war is widely believe to be responsible for unleashing polarizing social forces dedicated to overturning the established order, pointing in the opposite political directions of revolutionary change from below and totalitarian rule from above. These strong political demands exhibited the extreme and complex alienation of contending social classes in several of the countries experiencing the traumas of war. What eventuated were a lethal mixture of domestic and international ideological orientations associated with a variety of fascist and communist political movements, most dramatically producing both the Russian Revolution and the rise in Germany of National Socialism. The messianic militarism of fascism (and Japanese imperialism) produced confrontations with the liberal democracies and with Soviet communism that reached a climax with the outbreak of World War II. This rise of extremisms created as its dialectical legacy a political resolve by the victors, aside from the Soviet Union, to do their best to avoid embittering the defeated nations. The Western allies went further by making a strong effort to restore these devastated countries to economic and political normalcy as soon as possible. In this regard the occupations of Germany and Japan, absorbing the lessons associated with some of the mistakes made in the aftermath of World War I exerted their influence in such a way as to nurture political moderation and hostility toward extremism in the defeated countries. With sensitivity to the culture of these defeated countries, making such moves as retaining the emperor system in Japan, the enemies of yesterday quickly and willingly became friends and allies in the conflict patterns taking shape after 1945. Such a reversal was prompted by the second phase of the struggle of moderate governments against political extremism, this time taking the form of the long Cold War, whose conduct managed to avoid the curse of a third world war that would likely have been fought with nuclear weapons. With the collapse of Communism and the disintegration of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe, and the accompanying triumph of Liberalism, there occurred in the West a brief exultant mood of triumphalism captured best by Francis Fukuyama’s striking image of ‘the end of history.’ Such a West-centric Hegelian interpretation of the outcome of the Cold War enjoyed a bit of added plausibility when China’s drive toward modernization under Deng Chau Ping bought this gigantic country into the neoliberal world order, which the Brizilian leader Fernando Henrique Cardozo acknowledged to be ‘the only game in town.” That is, the victory over Communism was understood as facilitating a globalized world economy that was guided by a market-driven ideology that is most commonly identified as ‘neo-liberal.’

 

Leaving aside the anti-Western extremisms that came to the surface in the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a cost of this complacent celebration of Western liberalism was to foster an intolerant attitude toward visionary politics, whether of a radical or utopian variety. The politically influential classes endorsed the belief that only incremental change is constructive and feasible, and that any greater political ambition necessarily plunges society, if not the world, into a descending spiral that inevitably produces terrorism and extremism. This reading of history goes back to the French Revolution as well as forward to an account of the Soviet experience, referencing Nazism along the way. Over-learning this initial lesson of the First World War is very disempowering in the present global setting where it is only ‘a necessary utopianism’ that might meet the challenges of nuclear weapons and climate change.

 

Unlike the rise of extremisms in the aftermath of World War I there was no comparable experience after World II. This undoubtedly partly a reflection of the reality that a large proportion of public in the occupied countries felt that their extremist leaders had brought destruction upon the country by the embrace of morally unacceptable and politically imprudent policies. It is also partly resulted from success of the United States as the prime victor quickly recasting itself in the role of principal protector against the unfinished agenda of defeating expansionist extremism. On the basis of such a feeling the Soviet Union after World War II was quickly seen to be a surviving extremism with values and goals that were antithetical to Western liberal individualism, a reality supposedly confirmed by the Soviet moves to exert permanent control over Eastern Europe. Left European intellectuals themselves later turned against the excesses Stalinism, a collection of essays by prominent personalities, and published under the intriguing title, The God that Failed.

In an important respect, the Cold War can be viewed as the final stage of an ongoing global war of being waged by moderates and capitalists against socialists and extremists, or liberals against totalitarians, that began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo and ended with the breaking of the Berlin Wall.

 

 

Flawed Accountability. A second somewhat ambiguous reverberation from First World War were ideas about imposing some kind of accountability for violations of international law by those acting in the name of the state. The seemingly progressive idea was that there needed to be a law that overrode sovereign claims of being only accountable internally, especially in the context of aggressive war.

 

The impulse was confused and controversial from the outset as the insistence on accountability became intertwined with the eagerness of the winner to demonstrate that it deserve to win. In its initial expression, which seemed dubious given the origins and character of the First World War, was the idea that losers in a major war should be held collectively responsible for causing the damage and suffering and that, correspondingly, the behavior winners should not be scrutinized. The victorious governments should be at liberty to determine the punishment to be imposed. In the Versailles arrangements this took the form of requiring Germany to pay significant reparations to offset the damage its war machine had caused and to accept strict limitations on the form of military capabilities that it would be allowed to develop and possess in the future. Such a punitive peace as embodied in the Versailles Peace Treaty definitely accelerated the German descent into a struggle between extremisms, and created a national mentality of defiance and wounded pride. Such a German reaction seemed understandable as it was difficult to draw a sharp moral line between the military behavior of victors and vanquished other than by reference to the way the conflict was resolved on the battlefield, which seemed quite detached from questions of moral and legal responsibility for the war and its conduct. As a result, Germans felt bitterly betrayed by emergent political order that seemed to reject that principle of comity among sovereign states that Arendt referred, which had in the European setting treated losing states in war as no more morally reprehensible or politically dangerous than the winner.

 

Yet this idea that there was a moral and legal dimension to warfare that must be factored into post-war arrangements survived to live another day. It surfaced in the war crimes trials held in Germany and Japan after the Second World War, most spectacularly in the prosecution of the surviving leaders of the two countries in the much studied Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. The Nuremberg approach was generally vindicated by the consensus view that the Nazi experience was such an unprecedented assault on European values, first by so overtly launching a major aggressive warf and then by the commission of numerous atrocities in its course, especially genocide against Jews and other minorities. The Tokyo trials were far more controversial as the onset of the Pacific theater of warfare was as prompted by the deliberate encirclement and squeezing of the Japanese economy as it was by the surprise attack in 1941 on Pearl Harbor. This moral and political ambiguity is heightened as soon as one takes into consideration the failure to impose any accountability on the victors for the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or for the fire-bombing of Tokyo. The cry of ‘victors’ justice,’ the title of a book by the historian Richard Minear, seemed understandable, if not justifiable. In the German case the American prosecutor, Robert Jackson, tried to soften the one-sided approach toward individual criminal responsibility taken after World War II by declaring a Nuremberg Promise, namely that in all future wars those governments sitting in judgment in relation to the Germans would submit themselves to the same discipline of international criminal law. This Nuremberg Promise was broken by each of the victors, none of whom have ever accepted the application of a procedure of criminal accountability being applied to themselves, and have opted out to the extent possible from the activities of the International Criminal Court. The United States and Europe continue to make a political use of international criminal law by staging prosecutions of their recent enemies, including Slobadan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Muamar Qadaffi, and finance the ICC in its focus upon the criminal wrongdoing of sub-Saharan African leaders while granting de facto impunity to the West.

 

In effect, the idea of criminality associated with war could have taken either of two forms, as an emergent branch of the rule of law that would apply the same standard of accountability and judgment to the victors as to the vanquished or it could accept the double standards of imposing accountability on the defeated and granting impunity to the victor. Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” expresses such a choice in more personal and universalistic language:

 

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

 

 

Unlike the poet, the statesmen of the world have chosen the more traveled road of political realism and geopolitics, which had long been accustomed to the amoral dualism of one law for the strong, another for the weak. This realist was concisely set forth long ago by Thucydides in the Melian Dialogue in his History of the Peloponesian Wars: “The strong do what they will, the weak what they must.” What World War I initiated was a moral/legal translation of this political tendency that liberals viewed as a step forward, conservatives generally regarded as a risky departure from realism, and progressives viewed as an hypocritical and misleading effort to seize the high moral and legal ground. The impulse was renewed after World War II, but individualized by way of war crimes trials thus abandoning the war-provoking practice of World War I that consisted of imposing onerous burdens on a defeated country at the very time when its population was struggling with the urgencies of survival in the ravaged conditions of post-war realities. It is regrettable that this idea of a punitive peace was revived in dealing with Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991 as if the lesson of World War I’s misbegotten breach of comity was irrelevant when dealing with the global South that never had enjoyed the benefits of comity.

Global Institutions. Thirdly, the horrors of warfare that caused millions of casualties and destroyed economies in the period 1914-1918, gave rise to a vibrant peace movement, and to the willingness of the peoples of Europe to look with favor toward a fundamental revision of world order based on the institutionalization of peace and security at a global level. The establishment of the League of Nations was the result, but hampered from the outset by the sovereignty oriented statesmen who dominated diplomacy, as well as by an American leadership that was ambivalent about giving up America’s traditional non-involvement in European conflicts and its related posture of isolationism based on the insulating presence of oceans on either coast. Of course, there was more to the American position as it combined this non-interference in Europe with a determination to resist European interference anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. The enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 gave tangible expression to this two-sided American diplomacy.

 

After every major war in Europe there have been attempts to learn from the experience and avoid the recurrence of such a traumatizing and dislocating experience that had given rise to such massive suffering. This tendency was evident in every major post-war instance of diplomacy since the birth of the modern European state system in 1648. In part this was a reaction to the tendency of political leaders to fail to anticipate the true costs and harmful societal impacts of war, whatever its outcome, inducing to a concerted effort to insulate Europe from future mistakes of the same kind.

 

The Thirty Years War led to the Westphalian framework based on territorial sovereignty in 1648, later reinforced by legally acknowledging the right of the sovereign to determine the religion of the state. The Napoleonic Wars led to the Concert of Europe in 1815, which attempted to create collective mechanisms for resolving disputes by diplomatic negotiation rather than war and through a consensus as to the nature of legitimate government that would act collectively against the sort of revolutionary challenges posed by Napoleon. World War I produced the League of Nations and World II the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions, and encouraged the establishment of collective mechanism for mutual cooperation that evolved into the European Union.

 

In contrast, the Cold War produced nothing at all, perhaps demonstrating that since it was never really a war, there were no mistakes to be overcome. In retrospect this seems like a tragic failure to use the atmosphere of relief and liberation to achieve nuclear disarmament and a stronger UN. What was revealed, instead, was a geopolitical complacency and a preoccupation with taking advantage of the globalization of the world economy in line with neoliberal capitalism. The political leadership in the United States lacked imagination and the public lacked motivation. There may be a species destiny contained in this regressive learning curve. At present, the world system seems incapable of meeting any formidable global challenges to human wellbeing except during that brief window of opportunity that is opened in the immediate aftermath of a major hot war. We notice that despite widespread scientific and public agreement on the dangers posed by nuclear weaponry and climate change, the problem-solving mechanisms available in the world have not been responsive, and show no signs of being able to surmount the peaceful obstacles posed by vested bureaucratic and private sector interests. We must ask ourselves whether it would require yet another war of global proportions to shake off this disabling lethargy that is literally endangering the very survival of the human species. And given the weaponry with which such a war would likely be fought, and its dire environmental impact, whether the human race confronts the unprecedented dilemma of being unable to act effectively without a war and likely being too devastated if such a war should occur to act reconstructively.

 

Returning to our focus on the legacies of World War I it is certainly appropriate to note that for the first time in history the impetus to form a global institutional mechanism with the overriding mission of preventing future wars entered the mainstream, at least rhetorically. The extraordinary suffering, devastation, and societal dislocation of a long war that accomplished very little that could be called positive led to social demands to ensure that less destructive means of achieving international peace and security could be developed. As well, the missionary vision of Woodrow Wilson that called for organizing the peace in durable ways captured the imagination of the European public in ways that helped make the establishment of the League of Nations a realistic project. The concrete implementation of such a vision was obstructed by the thinly disguised colonial ambitions of Britain and France, abetted by the secret machinations of diplomats and also by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that threatened the European established order to such an extent that a counter-revolutionary intervention was organized to reverse the outcome. Globalist impulses were also captive to American ambivalence that could not decide whether to abandon the tradition of avoiding entangling alliances, especially centered in Europe, and assert itself internationally as a global leader in peacetime as well as during large wars. The U.S. failure to join the League was certainly a blow to the hopes of those who believed that peace and security could only be preserved in the future by establishing alternatives to balance of power geopolitics, and was a deficiency corrected after World War II, but with the debilitating concession of a veto to the victorious powers who were self-anointed as the peace enforcers, except against each other, which meant that the step forward from the view of participation was nullified by the step backward in relation to political effectiveness.

 

Mark Mazower in his perceptive book Governing the World confirms the view that the birth of the League was “abrupt” and that war served as its “midwife.” [v] For Mazower who does not discuss the prior contributions of post-war statecraft to global reform, poses as the central question for those planning the peace after World War I, how to explain the birth of a new political idea. He considers the critical question to be why the dominance of statist views of world order seemed to give way with so little opposition to the sort of internationalism embodied in the League concept. He wants to know “why, in other words, some of the most powerful states in the world threw their weight behind the construction of a permanent peacetime world security organization and built the League of Nations.” [117] Perhaps, as Mazower doesn’t consider, the embrace of the League project was facilitated by the realization that such a feeble form of institutionalization was nothing more than window dressing that would neither inhibit colonialist diplomacy or confuse realist political leaders.

 

In the background were ideological issues that pointed in both directions. The League as established was at once perceived as a threat to sovereignty oriented nationalists and as too weak to carry out its mission of preserving the peace if a strong state emerged with a serious set of grievances about the status quo together with the means and will to mount a challenge by force of arms. As we all know both Germany and Italy in Europe and Japan in Asia did emerge with a revisionist agenda that could only be met by countervailing power, which underscored what was already known, that the League was useless when it came to containing aggressor states. The real test was posed by Fascism, especially as it manifested itself in the Nazi rise to power in Germany.

 

 

 

Destabilizing the Middle East. Fourthly, and least commonly acknowledged, was the degree to which the ‘peace’ concluded after the First World War contributed over the decades to ‘war’ in the Middle East region. This outcome resulted from the unwillingness of the European colonial powers to abide by their promise made during the war of independence for Arab peoples in exchange for their support of the Allied war effort by rising up and fighting against the Ottoman Empire. Instead, Britain and France through secret diplomacy, highlighted by the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, plotted behind the scenes to achieve a distribution of Ottoman lands between themselves without regard either to their earlier commitment or to the dynamics of self-determination. This diplomatic process was responsible for the emergence of a series of particularly artificial states with borders drawn to reflect colonial ambitions relating to the location of oil and other strategic interests such as protecting navigational security in the Suez Canal. This approach to the Middle East has been responsible for successive waves of instability and suppression of minorities, as well as perceptions of illegitimacy by those affected and intense conflict.

Among the most anguishing legacies of the First World War is the current acute turmoil that afflicts almost the entire Middle East. Of course there are many intervening developments during the past hundred years that are relevant to explain the specific patterns of conflict that are present in the region. Nevertheless, as the perceptive regional expert, Mohammed Ayoob argues, it is the colonialist aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that constitutes “the primary factor” in accounting for “the mayhem and anarchy” in the region. [158] Ayoob is critical of those who are content to attribute these regional torments to Islamic radicalism and sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shi’ia believers. He believes that this substitution of proximate for the more illuminating root causes leads to a faulty understanding of the underlying situation and what must be done about it. An earlier line of explanation associated with Bernard Lewis attributed the problems of the region to Islamic cultural resistance to a transition to Western style modernity. Of course, the importance of Middle Eastern oil to keep the world stable is a central part of the regional drama, and linked closely to such other concerns as American interventions in the region, preoccupation with the spread of radical Islam, the avoidance of the spread of nuclear weapons, and the destabilizing Israeli claims to uphold its security by periodic aggression and disproportionate reliance on force. In one way or another each of these issues can be traced back to the difficulties associated with the collapse of Ottoman rule as the occasion for the arrangements put in place after World War I.

 

The diplomacy of World War I was rather confusing and contradictory when it came to the Middle East. As mentioned, particularly Britain encouraged Arab leaders to revolt against Ottoman rule, promising postwar independence in the form of a regional Arab state. At the same time Woodrow Wilson was advocating a quite different approach, proposing the establishment of a series of successor states to the Ottoman control of the region based on the principle of nationality as the means to realize his overriding goal, the self-determination of peoples. In opposition to this the British and French were secretly plotting to divide up the region without regard to such considerations, but rather to satisfy their overriding interest in gaining control over territories that contained oil and satisfied certain strategic interests. The British were preoccupied with safeguarding the Suez Canal, staking claims for countries nearby including Jordan, Palestine, while the French wanted to be near the old Silk road to facilitate trade with Asia by overland routes, and were eager to create a distinct Christian state that would satisfy Maronite aspirations. However, there were also some relevant anti-colonial influences at work in the Versailles peace negotiations associated with American influence, yielding a compromise taking the form of the mandates system. This upheld the British/French ideas about post-Ottoman territorial delimitations, but instead of giving colonial title, these two governments were given unrestricted administrative control over these territories as ‘a sacred trust of civilization’ that included a vague commitment to grant independence at a future time. Without the impact of World War II on the colonial system it is doubtful that political independence would have been achieved without greater struggles against British and French tutelary administrative regimes throughout the region.

 

As Ayoob persuasively points out, the legacy of these arrangements was the creation of a series of artificial states that experienced great difficulty in governing effectively. Ayoob identifies what followed as ‘state failures’ that have generated the extremism and sectarianism that continues to afflict the region, not the reverse. It seems correct that when sovereign states are not natural political communities severe inner tension and instability inevitably results. The denial to the Kurds of a state of their own has created very disruptive issues of minority and self-determination challenges to state legitimacy that constitute one dimension of persisting problems in Iraq, Syria, with spillovers to Turkey and Iran. What has recently become evident is the capacity of non-state actors to ‘outgovern’ the formal governance institutions of the state. This extraordinary development has been recently acknowledged in relation to the extensive areas under the undeniably harsh and brutal control of the IS, and also in Afghanistan where from the perspective of human security of the people, the Taliban is doing a better job of meeting the daily health and security needs in Afghanistan than is the heavily subsidized government in Kabul. [See “Pakistan’s parallel justice system proves Taliban are ‘out-governing’ the state,”] This radical form of state failure has given well-organized and dedicated Islamic civil society actors a political base that includes a reputation for getting things done without corruption, and contrasts with governmental practice that is perceived as being both corrupt and incompetent.

The other source of fundamental difficulty in the region is associated with the Israel-Palestine conflict that also emanated from a colonial gesture during the final stages of World War I. In 1917 Lord Balfour made an initially secret commitment to the Zionist Movement that Britain would look with favor at the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine. The population of Palestine was never consulted, and much conflict has resulted with no present end in sight. Understandably many Arab scholars are outraged by this colonialist intrusion on the political development of the Middle East. Walid Khalidi, the noted Arabist, recently called the Balfour Declaration “..the single most destructive document in the twentieth century.” This may be hyperbole, but there is no doubt that the unresolved Palestinian quest for self-determination has caused frequent wars, as well as inflicted on the Palestinian people both the catastrophic dispossession of 1948, the nakba, and a brutal occupation that has continued since 1967, increasingly assuming an apartheid structure of military administration. The United States has assumed the role earlier played by Britain in protecting Israel’s interests in what has been a hostile environment regardless of Israel’s frequent violation of international law and elemental morality, above all, its unwillingness to cooperate in reaching agreement with Palestinians based on equality of rights as the foundation for a sustainable and just peace.

 

Conclusion

 For several reasons it seems correct to view World War I as the biggest rupture in global history since the French Revolution, and more revolutionary in its impact than subsequent major wars. Perhaps, most notable is the degree to which World War I exhibited interconnections between mobilizing the resources and enthusiasm of national societies for engaging in war and the decline of the capacity to rely on diplomatic compromises to bring wars to an end in a manner that minimizes the suffering experienced and the dislocation caused. As Raymond Aron expresses this idea, “..it was peculiarly difficult to end by negotiation in the traditional way a war that had become a war of peoples and of ideas.” [The Century of Total War, 27] The public had to believe in the war, which fed the claims that the issues in contention were of fundamental importance and that the enemy was pursuing evil ends, and this is what Arendt meant by the end of European comity.

 In line with this observation are the elaborate commentary of Gabriel Kolko set forth in his important study, Century of War. Kolko insisted that the World War I initiated a process of war making in which the leaders and citizens anticipate and plan for a short war, and instead experience a long and far more destructive, alienating, and costly war that brings vast human suffering, creating serious societal dislocations. Kolko writes of both the specific deforming impacts of the conflict and its patterning of the successive major wars that have subsequently taken. He writes, “..it is so desperately imperative that we escape from the present uneven yet steady descent along the path of war on which the mankind has been locked since 1914.” [453] He indicts political leaders for their “ignorance that has cost humanity a price in suffering beyond

 

Any measure.” [454] In effect, World War I initiated a modern tendency for what Kolko calls “the consummate irresponsibility” of leaders who are “playing with the lives of anonymous people..who are sent off to die” without any appreciation of or concern about the societal costs that will be incurred.

We in America remember the anger aroused caused by the Bush presidency promising that the Iraq War would be a cakewalk in which the American occupiers would be welcomed as liberators. It was an arduous decade long campaign that ended in failure and there was no welcome in Iraq despite widespread opposition in the country to the autocratic regime of Saddam Hussein.

 

In effect, the kind of war making that occurred in World War I and took new technological forms in World War II is a virus that continues to lie dormant in the body politic. It is exhibited by the refusal to seek the abolition of nuclear weaponry or the globalizing of the rule of law, and by the insistence that our side in every war is essentially innocent and good and our adversary is evil, even barbaric.

 

The current global war on terror is inscribed in public consciousness in accordance with the kind of moralizing self-assurance that guided the peacemakers at Versailles almost a century ago. Unfortunately, the imperative lesson involving the dysfunctionality of war has not yet been learned by either the leaders of the most important sovereign states or their publics. The only useful thing that has been learned about war is the importance of exercising caution in the nuclear age whenever a crisis in international relations occurs. We must pause and ask ourselves what seems to be a decisive moral and political question, which may also be an ultimate survival question: ‘is caution enough?’ And if not, ‘What must be done?’ We certainly do not want people coming together one hundred years hence to lament the persistence of war as the defining feature of world history.

 

Why Foreign Military Intervention Usually Fails in the 21st Century

1 Nov

 

 

When Nehru was taking a train on his return to India after studying abroad when he read of the Japanese victory over Russia in the 1904-05 Russo Japanese War. At that moment he had an epiphany, realizing the hitherto unthinkable, that the British Empire was vulnerable to Indian nationalism. An earlier understanding of the colonial reality by native peoples generally subscribed to the postulates of hard power primacy making it futile or worse to challenge a colonial master, although throughout history there were always pockets of resistance. This soft power attribute of colonial hard power by way of intimidation and a façade of invincibility is what made colonialism efficient and profitable for so long at the great expense of colonized peoples.

 

A traditional colonial occupation assumes that the foreign domineering presence, while oppressive and exploitative, refrains from ethnic cleansing or genocide in relation to the indigenous population. When settler versions of colonialism emerged in relation to the Western Hemisphere and regions occupied by traditional peoples that were without either population density or some kind of industrial capability, the occupier managed to achieve enduring control typically relying on brutal means to establish its state-building claim via some form of dispossession that successfully superseded indigenous identities. Thus the indigenous identity is marginalized or extinguished, and the settler identity is legitimized as the ‘true’ identity.

 

There is still a mysterious connection between military inferiority and political victory. It seems to defy common sense and the pragmatic wisdom of political elites that believe in the historical agency of hard power long after the empirical record casts severe doubt on such ‘realist’ claims. Of course, and it should not be overlooked, if an occupied people mistakenly chooses to risk its future by militarily challenging the occupier on the battlefield it is likely to lose, and may suffer extreme losses. Military resistance is possible, but it needs to be calibrated to the interplay of unequal capabilities and take advantage of elements of conflict that favor the militarily weaker side.

 

As Tolstoy portrays in War and Peace the extraordinary Russian resilience displayed in defeating and expeling the superior military forces of Napoleon’s France, it was a matter of tactically retreating to the point that French supply lines were stretched beyond their capacities to maintain their alien and foreign presence, especially given the rigors of the Russian winter; Hitler’s war machine experienced a similar devastating defeat at the hands of the outgunned Soviet defensive forces who also understood the benefits of withdrawal. In effect, there are tactical, geographical, ideological, normative dimensions of conflict that when intelligently activated can neutralize the seemingly decisive advantages of the militarily superior side that has the best weaponry. The history of imperial decline also illustrates the eventual neutralization of the sharp realist edge that had been earlier achieved through battlefield dominance.

 

The architects of colonial expansion made ideological claims that were able to give their economic and political ambitions a kind of moral justification. It was Europe’s moral hubris to insist upon an imperial entitlement premised on the supposed civilizational and racial superiority of Western peoples. Such a rationale for conquest and occupation put forward an apparent normative claim to govern backward peoples, and additionally argued that more advanced industrial practice make more efficient use of resources than did the native population.

 

In the period since World War II, considering the weakening of the European colonial powers, a determined drive for nationalist self-empowerment spread to all of Asia and Africa. Each situation was different, and in some the colonial power left more or less willingly after a period of struggle, as in India, while in others long wars ensued as in Indochina and Algeria. The wave of anti-colonial successes politically transformed world order, creating dozens of new states that reshaped the political landscape of the United Nations. The anti-colonial movement enjoyed extraordinary success in achieving formal independence for colonized people, but it did not end the role of hierarchy in structuring international relations and the world economy. The geopolitical ascendancy of the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as the capitalist world economy sustained on a material basis the exploitative and dominant relationship of the West to the non-West.

 

During the Cold War, geopolitical rivalry and American efforts at counter-revolution directed at left-oriented political developments, led to military interventions designed to impose limits on the exercise of the right of self-determination. The Soviet interventions in East Europe, such as Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 were emblematic of such a pattern within the state socialist bloc of countries. The United States relied on covert interventions whenever possible (as in Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954), and resorted to military interventions when necessary to uphold its strategic and ideological interests. The Vietnam War was the most important example of a full-fledged intervention designed to prevent the emergence of a left-leaning government that would strengthen Communist influence in South Asia.

 

The United States enjoyed complete military dominance in Vietnam throughout the decade long war, having mastery of air, sea, and land, yet proved vulnerable to certain defensive tactics of guerrilla warfare. The war was lost by the United States in the end because its political system lost patience with its inability to establish stability in support of a Vietnamese leadership that was anti-Communist and dependent on the West. Some militarists contend that the war was lost on TV in American living rooms (seeing the body bags of Americans killed in Vietnam swayed public opinion) or because the military presence that reached a half million relied on conscripted troops that gave rise to a student led anti-war movement. In other words, the war was lost politically, not militarily.

 

Such an understanding is partly true, but it overlooks the role of national resistance in Vietnam, and attributes the outcome to the faltering political will of the intervening side. The great advantage of those national forces seeking to expel foreign occupation, even if indirect as in Vietnam where the United States was nominally supporting one side in a civil war, is its familiarity with the terrain and its far greater stake in the outcome. Henry Kissinger made the apt observation that in a counterinsurgency war if the counterinsurgent side doesn’t win, it loses, while if the insurgent side doesn’t lose, it wins. Such a statement, not surprisingly considering its source, overlooks the role of people, especially the greater steadfastness of those fighting for the independence of their country as compared with those seeking to impose an alien or foreign solution on a conflict. The foreign intervener calculates whether it is worth the cost, and in a democratic society, the mixture of casualties and the absence of a timely victory, gradually undermines the popular enthusiasm that may have accompanied the earliest expressions of support. Patience among the citizenry runs out when the foreign war does not seem to be closely connected with the defense of the national homeland. This became especially clear in the United States during the latter stages of the Vietnam War when the American public began to perceive a ‘credibility gap’ between the government’s claim that it was winning the war and a more sober account of a stalemate without a victorious end in sight. For the Vietnamese, this was not a matter of whether to give up or not, but how to continue their struggle despite their material inferiority and the adversities associated with the devastation of their country. The Vietnamese leadership was prepared for every eventuality, including a 50-year retreat to mountainous regions, being convinced that at some point the foreigners would tire of the conflict and go home.

 

The United States as global hegemon is incapable of learning such lessons or accepting the ethos of self-determination that has such salience in the post-colonial world. Instead it tries over and over again to reinvent counterinsurgency warfare, hoping finally to discover the path leading to victory. The American strategic community believed the lessons of Vietnam were to build better support at home for the war effort, embark on war with sufficient force to achieve victory quickly, and abandon the drafting of its military personnel from among its youth. The warmakers also tried to design weaponry and tactics so as minimize casualties in these one-sided wars for the intervening side. At first, the adjustments seemed to work as the adversary was foolish enough to meet the foreign challenge on the battlefield as in the 1991 Iraq War or where the military intervention was itself seeking to remove Serbian foreign rule as in Kosovo in 1999. There was enthusiasm in the Washington think tanks for what were thought to be a new triumphal era of ‘zero casualty wars.’ Of course, there were zero (or very low) casualties, as in these two wars, but only for the foreign intervener; the society being attacked from the air endured heavy casualties, and much devastation, as well as the demoralizing experience of total helplessness.

 

In the post-9/11 atmosphere of ‘a global war on terrorism’ this same geopolitical logic applies. The violence is carried to wherever on the planet a threat is perceived, and the victims are not only those who are perceived, whether rightly or wrongly as posing the threat, but also to the innocent civilians that happen to be living in the same vicinity. There is no deference to the sovereignty of other countries or to civilian innocence, and a unilateral right of preemptive attack is claimed in a manner that would be refused to any adversary of the West. The weaponry is designed to minimize political friction at home, exemplified by the growing reliance on attack drones that can inflict strikes without ever risking casualties for the attacker. Such weaponry allows war to persist almost permanently, especially as it serves both bureaucratic and private sector interests, and produces an almost enveloping securitization of the political atmosphere, destroying democratic freedoms in the process.

 

As the outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq show, despite the enormous military and economic effort by the United States, the political outcome was disappointing, if not yet clearly a defeat. And the results are strategically worse from an American perspective than the original provocation and goals.Putting the point provocatively, many in the Washington policymaking world would be secretly glad if there occurred a second coming in Iraq of Saddam Hussein who alone could restore unity and order to the country. The American version of a civilizing mission was ‘democracy promotion,’ which proved just as unpalatable to the population being attacked and occupied as were the earlier moral claims of outright colonial administrations. Indirect adverse consequences from a U.S. perspective of these failed intervention included the intensification of Sunni/Shi’ia sectarian tensions throughout the region and the establishment of fertile breeding grounds for anti-Western political extremism.

 

The West also builds support for its militarist approaches to contemporary forms of conflict by demonizing its adversary, ignoring their grievances, whether legitimate or not. The politics of demonization that fits so neatly with ascribing terrorist behavior to the other also has the effect of rejecting diplomacy and compromise. Yet interestingly, there is a willingness to regard yesterday’s demon as today’s ally. This shuffling of ‘the enemy’ has been happening constantly in the setting of Iraq and Syria. The abrupt entry of IS on the scene is the most spectacular example of such a shuffling of alignments, having the effect of suspending the anti-Assad efforts of the United States and Europe.

 

There is more to these unlearned lessons than strategic failures, and being on the wrong side of history. These venture cause millions of ordinary people in distant countries to bear the terrifying brunt of modern weaponry that kills, wounds, displaces, and traumatizes. For the intervener the outcome is at worst a regrettable or even tragic mistake, but the society back home persists in its complacent affluence; but for the target societies, in contrast, the experience of such foreign military encroachment is experienced as swallowing a massive dose of criminality in a global setting in which the criminals scandalously enjoy total impunity.

 

Given the way elites think and militarism is structured into the bloodstream of major states, foreign military intervention is intrinsic to the war system. We must work now as hard to eliminate war as earlier centuries worked to eliminate slavery. Nothing less will suffice to rescue the planet from free fall to disaster.

 

In the end, we have reached a stage in the political development of life on the planet where civilizational and species survival itself depends on the urgency of building an effective movement against the war system that remains indispensable to sustain hierarchy and exploitation, wastes huge amounts of resources, and dangerously diverts problem-solving priorities from climate change and the elimination of nuclear weaponry. Unless such a radical transformation of the way life on the planet is undertaken in the decades ahead, two intertwined developments are likely to make the future inhospitable to human habitation even if the worst catastrophes can be avoided: globalization morphing into various forms of authoritarian and oppressive political leadership intertwined with extremist movements of resistance that have no vision beyond that of striking back at the oppressors. How to evade such a dark future is what should be everywhere preoccupying persons of good will.

 

 

 

           

Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo! The UK House of Commons Supports Diplomatic Recognition of Palestine

19 Oct

(Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified version, especially the ending, of a piece published online two days ago in AlJazeera English.  While appreciating the importance of the European moves to endorse Palestinian statehood, seeks a more definitive repudiation of the Oslo Approach. It calls for an end to the U.S. role as exclusive intermediary and the presumed outcome of a peace process being two states without indicating the character of the Palestinian states. So far, the two-state mantra has been cut back to allow Israel to retain at least the unlawful settlement blocs and to insist on arrangements that uphold their security against unforeseen threats, while granting not a word of acknowledgement to Palestinian security concerns. My own strong belief is that unless the two peoples are treated with full equality in seeking a solution, the result will not be sustainable or just even in the unlikely event that some sort of agreement is reached.)

 

 

 

 

Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo! The UK House of Commons Supports Diplomatic Recognition of Palestine

 

On October 13 the House of Commons by an overwhelming vote of 274-12 urged the British government to extend diplomatic recognition to Palestine.

At first glance, it would seem a rather meaningless gesture. It is a non-binding resolution, and Prime Minister David Cameron has already declared that this expression of parliamentary opinion will have no effect whatever on existing government policy. So far Britain along with the states in Western Europe adhere to Israel’s stubborn insistence, echoed by Washington, that Palestinian statehood can only be established through a solution to the conflict negotiated by the parties.

 

Even if the British vote was binding, why should it be seen as a dramatic move in Palestine’s favor? After all, Palestine has already been accorded recognition by 134 states since Yasir Arafat declared the existence of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders back in 1988.

 

Such downgrading of the significance of what took place is also part of the Israel tactical response. Its ambassador in London now declining even to comment on the decision after earlier indicating extreme disapproval with the evident hope of discouraging affirmative votes. Before the vote Israeli leaders used their levers of strong influence to discourage the vote. Netanyahu even insisted that such a step would seriously diminish prospects for resumed negotiations and would seriously harm peace prospects. After losing out, the Israeli tone changed, now calling the vote meaningless and devoid of importance.

 

In actuality, the UK initiative is an important symbolic victory for the Palestinians. Until the recently when the elected Swedish government indicated its intention to recognize Palestine as a state at some future undesignated time, no Western European government had broken ranks on the Oslo approach as interpreted by Israel and the United States. It is this approach that has put a straightjacket on diplomacy, requiring any progress toward a solution to be exclusively through direct negotiations for a Palestinian in which the U.S. acts as the one and only intermediary.

 

At stake, then, is not only the momentum building for European countries to extend recognition to Palestine, but also a belated admission that this Oslo approach after more than 20 years of futility should no longer be respected as the consensus foundation of Israel-Palestine conflict resolution. The UK action needs to be joined with the recent diplomacy of the Palestinian Authority, first the Fatah/Hamas agreement of April to form a unity government, and even more so, the resolution to be submitted to the Security Council on behalf of the Palestinian Authority that calls for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, no later than November 2016. It is expected that the U.S. will veto this resolution if it is unable to mount enough pressure to prevent nine SC members from voting affirmatively. Such an initiative by Ramallah further signals that the PA is no longer willing to play the waiting game that has given Israel ample time for settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem past points of no return.

 

In Mahmoud Abbas’ speech of September 26th to the General Assembly he clearly indicated that he was refusing to cooperate any longer with these diplomatic maneuvers facilitated by the Oslo framework. Responding to Palestinian pressures from below, Abbas left no doubt that he would not pretend that he had ‘a partner for peace,’ thereby turning the tables on Tel Aviv. He signaled this clearly when he described Israel’s 50-day military operation against Gaza this past summer as “a genocidal war.” The G-word was bound to elicit an angry Israeli response, which Netanyahu provided a few days later in the same UN venue, calling Abbas’ speech “shameless.”

 

There still remains a lingering and unfortunate ambiguity in these developments suggesting we have not yet truly arrived at a post-Oslo phase of diplomacy. The UK resolution accepted an amendment stating that its purpose was “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” The former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, elaborated on this, suggesting that was being done was to exert additional pressure on the parties to get on with negotiating a two-state outcome. This tail wagging the dog is a regression, sustaining the illusion that Israel, whatever the context, is at all willing at this stage to allow an independent sovereign Palestinian state to be established within 1967 borders, even if these are slightly modified. In effect, “Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo!”

 

Since the latest Gaza war there have been two developments of lasting significance : first, the inter-governmental diplomacy is slowly moving away from the Oslo approach, and Western Europe is beginning to fill the diplomatic vacuum created by the April collapse of the Kerry round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And Secondly, civil society nonviolent militancy and political leadership is beginning to occupy center stage in Palestinian hopes and dreams, particularly taking the form of the growing BDS campaign, but also visible in the refusal of Oakland, California workers to unload an Israeli cargo ship.

 

This latter fulcrum of resistance within Palestine and without raises serious leadership and representation questions—who now speaks with authority and authenticity on behalf of the Palestinian people? how can this question be answered given the statist manner in which the world is organized? Let me put my own understanding of this issue more directly: I find that the voices of Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah to be more authoritative and authentic than are those of the diplomats from Ramallah who a few years ago showed themselves ready to give the store away in the Palestine Papers and on other occasions. They couldn’t manage such a transaction since Israel apparently felt it already owned the store and was not ready to show gratitude even for a political outcome heavily slanted in their favor.

Questioning Sweden’s ‘Bold’ Diplomatic Initiative

11 Oct

 

 

 

It was a welcome move, but only in some respects. The new center-left Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, in his inaugural speech to Parliament indicated on October 3rd the intention of the Swedish government to recognize Palestinian statehood. He explained that such a move mentioned in the platform of his party is in accord with promoting a two-state solution, and more significantly, that is to be “negotiated in accordance with international law.” The call for adherence to international law in future diplomacy is actually more of a step forward than is the announced intention of future recognition, which has so far received all the media attention and incurred the wrath of Tel Aviv. To bring international law into future negotiations would amount to a radical modication of the ‘peace process’ that came into being with the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993. The Israel/United States view was to allow any agreements between the parties to arise from a bargaining process, which is a shorthand for acknowledging the primacy of power, taking account of ‘facts on the ground’ (that is, the unlawful settlements) and diplomatic leverage (allowing the United States to fake the role of ‘honest broker’ while at the same time making sure that Israel’s interests are protected).

 

I suspect that this hopeful language suggesting the relevance of international law was inserted without any awareness of its importance or relevance. Such an interpretation is in line with Swedish official explanations of their initiative as a way of helping ‘moderate’ Palestinian leaders gain control of diplomacy, thereby facilitating the eventual goal of mutual coexistence based on two states. It was presumed by Stockholm without any supportive reasoning, and against the weight of evidence and experience, that a Palestine state could emerge from a reinvigorated diplomacy. No mention was made of the settlements, separation wall, road network that have cut so deeply into the Palestinian remnant, which as of the 1967 borders was already 22% of historic Palestine, and less than half of what the UN partition plan had offered the Palestinians in 1947, which at the time seemed unfair and inconsistent with Palestinian rights under international law.

 

The United States Government spokesperson, Jan Paski, was careful to confirm the Oslo approach adopted by Washington that has been so harmful to Palestinian prospects for a viable state: “We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can come only through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognition by both parties.” Note the pointed absence of any reference to international law. Beyond this, there is less and less reason to suppose that the Israeli government supports a process that leads to Palestinian statehood in any meaningful sense, although Netanyahu repeats in international settings the sterile mantra of saying that any such results can only come from direct negotiations between the parties, and he adds the Swedish initiative if carried out, is declared to be an obstacle to such an outcome. So as not to arouse hopes, Netanyahu adds that no agreement will be reached that does not protect the national interests of Israel and ensure the security of Israeli citizens. When he speaks at home in Hebrew the prospect of a Palestinian state becomes as remote as the establishment of  world government.

 

Unsurprisingly, the head of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, was active in reinforcing Netanyahu’s objection to Sweden’s proposed course of action. Herzog in conversation with Lofven sought to dissuade Sweden from acting ‘unilaterally,’ suggesting that such a move was likely to produce undisclosed ‘undesirable consequences.’ So much for the Israeli ‘peace camp’ that now seems content to act as errand boy for state policy as led by the right-wing Likud.

 

The Palestinian Authority, short on good news since the Gaza attacks, at its highest levels (Abbas, Erakat) greeted the Swedish move as ‘remarkable and courageous,’ as well as ‘great.’ The PA leadership even suggested that recognition of Palestinian statehood could build pressure for a resumption of talks on a two-state solution as if that would be beneficial for Palestine. Such sentiments turn a blind eye toward the Oslo record of failure from a Palestinian point of view, and quite the opposite for Israel.

 

What is the value of the Swedish proposed step, assuming that it takes place? Israel and the United States seemed poised to use full court pressure to persuade Sweden to delay indefinitely making the move, and Sweden has retreated to the extent that it has reassured the world that it is not planning to act ‘tomorrow morning’ and hopes to listen to the views of all interested governments and engage in dialogue before moving forward. At the same time, the British Parliament is set to vote on October 13 on a non-binding resolution urging recognition by Britain of Palestinian statehood.

 

Even proposing recognition of Palestinian statehood is definitely a psychological boost for the Palestinian Authority, but it changes nothing on the ground, and likely makes Israel take some defiant steps such as provocatively issuing permits for additional housing units in the settlements, which it did in 2012 as retaliation for Palestine’s successful bid to be recognized by the UN General Assembly as a non-member observer state (similar to the status enjoyed by the Vatican). Recognition also gives Palestine potential access to the International Criminal Court, which again worries Israel as it should, although the Palestinian Authority has so far held back from seeking to become a party to the ICC, and by so doing gain the capacity to request the prosecutor to investigate various allegations of Israeli war crimes, including the settlements.

 

In international law diplomatic recognition by states has been traditionally viewed as largely a matter of discretion. The United States withheld recognition from mainland China for decades after it had consolidated its governmental control over the territory and its population. Palestine has been long recognized by at least 125 states, and enjoys diplomatic relations as if a state. UN membership presupposes statehood, but it is also highly politicized and subject to the veto by any permanent member of the Security Council. Indications are that, if necessary, the United States will stand alone in using its veto to block Palestine from becoming a member.

 

But why does Israel care so much as nothing changes on the ground? There would seem to be three reasons, none very persuasive. Firstly, since Palestine badly wants to be a sovereign state and a UN member, it would make further concessions to Israel to obtain such a status in the event of further negotiations. Secondly, Israel seems eager to have the formal capacity to deny Palestinian statehood in a full sense so as to allow for the future likely incorporation the West Bank into Israel when the opportune moment arrives. This is a course of action favored by the recently elected Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, who offers Palestinians a supposedly benevolent ‘economic peace’ in exchange if they swallow their political pride. Thirdly, recognition might give the Palestinian Authority more leverage at the UN and the ICC, and self-esteem in Palestinian circles, especially if other European Union members to follow the Swedish example. At some point down the line Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine would under these conditions come under increasing legal, moral, and political fire.

 

Yet from the perspective of the Palestinian people as distinct from the Palestinian Authority, does it make sense at this stage in their struggle to continue to act as if the two-state solution could still bring peace? Israel’s feverish settlement activity of recent years seems to be a clear message that a viable sovereign Palestinian state is no longer in the cards. In fact, Sweden seems to be playing the Oslo game after the game has ended for all practical purposes.

 

In other words, if Sweden’s act of recognition had been linked to Oslo’s failure it would be pointing the way toward a constructive turn in peace diplomacy, but to justify it as a step toward the two-state solution achieved by direct negotiations of the sort that has failed repeatedly for more than 20 years seems an ill-considered expression of political innocence on the part of the inexperienced new leadership in Stockholm, a gesture for peace undoubtedly meant in good faith, but seemingly without any awareness that the sick patient died years ago.

 

Did Israel Commit Genocide in Gaza?

9 Oct

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a somewhat revised version of a text published by The Nation, and to be found at the following link. I should also point out that in these proceedings in Brussels under the auspices of the Russell Tribunal I served as a member of the jury]

 

 

In a special session of the Russell Tribunal held in Brussels on September 24th, Israel’s military operation Protective Edge was critically scrutinized from the perspective of international law, including the core allegation of genocide. The process featured a series of testimonies by legal and weapons experts, health workers, journalists and others most of whom had experienced the 50 days of military assault.

 

A jury composed of prominent individuals from around the world, known for their moral engagement with issues of the day that concerned their societies, and also the wellbeing of humanity, assessed the evidence with the help of an expert legal team of volunteers that helped with the preparation of the findings and analysis for consideration by the jury, which deliberated and debated all relevant issues of fact and law, above all the question of how to respond to the charge of genocide.

 

 

It should be acknowledged that this undertaking was never intended to be a neutral inquiry without any predispositions. It was brought into being because of the enormity of the devastation caused by Protective Edge and the spectacle of horror associated with deploying a high technology weaponry to attack a vulnerable civilian population of Gaza locked into the combat zone that left no place to hide. It also responded to the failures of the international community to do more to stop the carnage, and condemn Israel’s disproportionate uses of force against this essentially helpless and beleaguered civilian population. Israel’s contested military operations targeted many legally forbidden targets, including UN buildings used as shelters, residential neighborhoods, hospitals and clinics, and mosques. In defense of these tactics, Israel claimed that rockets and ammunition were stored in these buildings and that Hamas rocket launchers were deliberately placed in the structures that had been singled out for attack. The evidence presented did not confirm these Israeli claims.

 

Although the Russell Tribunal proceeded from the presumed sense that Israel was responsible for severe wrongdoing, it made every effort to be scrupulous in the presentation of evidence and the interpretation of applicable international law, and relied on testimony from individuals with established reputations as persons of integrity and conscience. Among the highlights of the testimony were a report on damage to hospitals and clinics given by Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor serving in a Gaza hospital during the attacks, Mohammed Omer, a widely respected  journalist who daily reported from the combat zone, Max Blumenthal, the prize winning journalist who was in Gaza throughout Protective Edge and analyzed for the jury the overall political design that appeared to explain the civilian targeting patterns, and David Sheen, who reported in agonizing detail on the racist hatred exhibited by prominent Israelis during the period of combat, widely echoed by Israelis in the social media, and never repudiated by the leadership or public in Tel Aviv.

 

The jury had little difficulty concluding that the pattern of attack, as well as the targeting, amounted to a series of war crimes that were aggravated by the commission of crimes against humanity, most centrally the imposition of a multi-faceted regime of collective punishment upon the entire civilian population of Gaza in flagrant and sustained violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. A further notable legal finding was the rejection of the central Israel claim of acting in self-defense against rocket attacks directed at Israel.

 

There were several reasons given for reaching this conclusion: the claim of self-defense does not exist in relation to resistance mounted by an occupied people, and Gaza from the perspective of international law remains occupied due to Israeli persisting effective control despite Israel’s purported disengagement in 2005 (more properly characterized as a military redployment); the rockets fired from Gaza were partly at least in response to prior Israeli unlawful provocations, including the mass detention of several hundred persons loosely associated with Hamas in the West Bank and incitement to violence against Palestinians as revenge for the murder of the three kidnapped Israeli settler children; and finally, the minimal damage done by the rockets, seven civilian deaths over the entire period, is too small a security threat to qualify as “an armed attack” as is required by the UN Charter to uphold a claim of self-defense. At the same time, despite these mitigating factors, the jury did not doubt the unlawfulness of firing of numerous rockets into Israel that were incapable of distinguishing between military and civilian targets. This form of unlawful resistance was attributed to both Hamas and independent Palestinian militias operating within the Gaza Strip.

 

A focus of concern in the jury deliberations before and after the proceedings themselves was how to address the allegation of ‘genocide,’ which has been described as ‘the crimes of crimes.’ The jury was sensitive to the differences between the journalistic and political uses of the word ‘genocide’ to describe various forms of collective violence directed at ethnic and religious minorities, and the more demanding legal definition of genocide that requires compelling and unambiguous evidence of a specific ‘intent to destroy’.

 

The testimony made this issue complex and sensitive. It produced a consensus on the jury that the evidence of genocide was sufficient to make it appropriate and responsible to give careful consideration as to whether the crime of genocide had actually been committed by Israel in the course of carrying out Protective Edge. This was itself an acknowledgement that there was a genocidal atmosphere in Israel in which high officials made statements supporting the destruction, elimination, and subjugation of Gazans as a people, and such inflammatory assertions were at no time repudiated by the Netanyahu leadership or subject to criminal investigation, let alone any legal proceedings. Furthermore, the sustained bombardment of Gaza under circumstances where the population had no opportunity to leave or to seek sanctuary within the Gaza Strip lent further credibility to the charge of genocide. The fact that Protective Edge was the third large-scale, sustained military assault on this unlawfully blockaded, impoverished, and endangered population, also formed part of the larger genocidal context.

 

Further in the background, yet perhaps most relevant consideration of all, Israel failed to exhaust diplomatic remedies before its recourse to force, as required by international law and the UN Charter. Israel had the option of lifting the blockade and exploring the prospects for long-term arrangements for peaceful co-existence that Hamas had proposed numerous times in recent years. Such initiatives were spurned by Israel on the ground that it would not

deal with a terrorist organization.

 

Despite the incriminating weight of these factors, there were legal doubts as to the crime of genocide. The political and military leaders of Israel never explicitly endorsed the pursuit of genocidal goals, and purported to seek a ceasefire during the military campaign. There was absent a clear official expression of intent to commit genocide as distinct from the intensification of the regime of collective punishment that was convincingly documented. The presence of genocidal behavior and language even if used in government circles is not by itself sufficient to conclude that Protective Edge, despite its scale and fury, amounted to the commission of the crime of genocide.

 

What the jury did agree upon, however, was that Israeli citizens, including officials, appear to have been guilty in several instances of the separate crime of Incitement to Genocide that is specified in Article 3(c) of the Genocide Convention. It also agreed that the additional duty of Israel and others, especially the United States and Europe, to act to prevent genocide was definitely engaged by Israeli behavior. In this regard the Tribunal is sending an urgent message of warning to Israel and an appeal to the UN and the international community to uphold the Genocide Convention, and act to prevent any further behavior by Israel that would cross the line, and satisfy the difficult burden of proof that must be met if the conclusion is to be reached that the crime of genocide is being committed. At some point, the accumulation of genocidal acts will be reasonably understood as satisfying the high evidentiary bar that must be reached so as to conclude that Israel had committed genocide.

 

Many will react to this assessment of Protective Edge as lacking legal authority and dismiss the finding of the jury as merely recording the predictable views of a biased ‘kangaroo court.’ Such allegations have been directed at the Russell Tribunal ever since its establishment in the mid-1960s by the great English philosopher, Bertrand Russell, in the midst of the Vietnam War. These first sessions of the Russell Tribunal similarly assessed charges of war crimes associated with U.S. tactics in Vietnam, and in Russell’s words, represented a stand of citizens of conscience ‘against the crime of silence.’ This latest venture of the tribunal has a similar mission in relation to Israel’s actions in Gaza, although less against silence than the crime of indifference.

 

It is my view that such tribunals, created almost always in exceptional circumstances of defiance of the most elemental constraints of international law, make crucial contributions to public awareness in situations of moral and legal outrage where geopolitical realities preclude established institutional procedures such as recourse to the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council and General Assembly. That is, these kind of self-constituted tribunals only come into being when two conditions exist: first, a circumstance of extreme and sustained violation of fundamental norms of morality and international law and secondly, a political setting in which governmental procedures and UN procedures are inoperative.

 

When the interests of the West are at stake, as in the Ukraine, there is no need to activate unofficial international law initiatives through the agency of civil society. However in circumstances involving Israel and Palestine, with the United States Government and most of Western Europe standing fully behind whatever Israel chooses to do, the need for a legal and moral accounting is particularly compelling even if the prospects for accountability are virtually nil. The long suffering people of Gaza have endured three criminal assaults in the past six years, and it has left virtually the whole of the population, especially young children, traumatized by the experience of such sustained military operations.

 

It should be acknowledged that the UN Human Rights Council has appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of war crimes associated with Protective Edge, but its report is not due for several months, Israel has indicated its unwillingness to cooperate with this official UN initiative, and it is almost certain that any findings of criminality and related recommendations will not be implemented due to the exercise of a geopolitical veto by the United States, and perhaps, other members of the Security Council. In view of these circumstances, the argument for convening the Russell Tribunal remains strong, especially if one recalls the fate of the Goldstone Report prepared in analogous conditions after the 2008-09 Israeli attacks on Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead.

 

The Russell Tribunal is filling a normative vacuum in the world. It does not pretend to be a court. In fact, among its recommendations is a call on the Palestinian Authority to join the International Criminal Court, and present Palestinian grievances to the authorities in The Hague for their investigation and possible indictments. Even then the realities of the world are such that prosecution will be impossible as Israel is not a party to the treaty establishing the ICC and would certainly refuse to honor any arrest warrants issued in The Hague, and no trial could be held without the physical presence of those accused. The value of an ICC proceeding would be symbolic and psychological, which in a legitimacy war would amount to a major ‘battlefield’ victory. It is notable that Hamas has joined in urging recourse to the ICC despite facing the distinct possibility that allegations against its launch of rockets would also be investigated and its officials indicted for its alleged war crimes.

 

As with the Nuremberg Judgment that documented the criminality of the Nazi experience, the process was flawed, especially by the exclusion of any consideration of the crimes committed by the victors in World War II, the Russell Tribunal can be criticized as one-sided in its undertaking. At the same time it seems virtually certain that on balance this assessment of Israel’s behavior toward the people of Gaza will be viewed as supportive of the long struggle to make the rule of law applicable to the strong as well as the weak. It is also reflective in the disparity of responsibility for the harm done by the two sides.

 

I recall some illuminating words of Edward Said uttered in the course of an interview with Bruce Robbins, published in Social Text (1998): “The major task of the American or the Palestinian or the Israeli intellectual of the left is to reveal the disparity between the so-called two sides, which appear to be rhetorically and ideologically to be in perfect balance, but are not in fact. To reveal that there is an oppressed and an oppressor, a victim and a victimizer, and unless we recognize that, we’re nowhere.”

 

Changing the Political Climate: A Transitional Imperative

5 Oct

[Prefatory Note: The text below was originally published in Great Transition Initiative

 an online journal of the Tellus Institue, Boston, MA; the best link is: 

(http://greattransition.org/publication/changing-the-political-climate-a-transitional-imperative)

My hope is to encourage discussion of these ideas. Four comments were also

published in Great Transition Project.]

 

 

 

 

 

                        After the final no there comes a yes

                        And on that yes the future of the world depends.

                       

Wallace Stevens, “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard,”

                        Selected Poems (New York: Vintage, ed. H. Stevens, 1972)190

 

Points of Departure

 

            The most daunting challenging of adapting to the realities of the anthropocene era is achieving a soft transition from state-centric world order to a geo-centric reconfiguring of political community to enable the emergence of effective and humane global governance. The dominant existing framework for transnational and global political action is mainly still entrapped in old habits of thought and action tied to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state and myopic time horizons that are too short to shape adequate responses to the deepest challenges to the human future.

 

Empowering these actors to be more humanly and globally oriented and farsighted in their pursuits would generate hopes for a brighter future.[1] Such empowerment depends on a reorientation of individual identities on a sufficiently widespread basis as to create a new type of citizen, called here ‘a citizen pilgrim’ whose principal affinities are with the species and its natural surroundings rather than to any specific state, ethnicity, nationality, civilization, and religion. The hopes and expectations of citizen pilgrims rests on the quest for a sustainable and spiritually fulfilling future for all, and in sustainable harmony with nature. In this respect, humanity is confronting by a combination of unprecedented opportunity and danger: the practical and urgent imperative of fundamental change to meet existing threats and challenges and the prospect of catastrophic harm if an adaptive transition of sufficient magnitude does not occur in a timely fashion.

 

The outlook of the great transition involves two possible successful paths to the future: (1) the reorientation of the policies and practices of governance at all levels, and particularly those of sovereign states and their interaction;[2] or (2) a revolutionary change in the state system

This inquiry presupposes that a ‘great transition’ is necessary, possible, and desirable, but that at present, paradoxically, does not seem feasible. Proposing with all seriousness what is possible, yet not widely seen as feasible, is one way of ‘thinking outside the box.’ More responsively to a concern with world order there is contemplated two transitional paths to the future: (1) a revolutionary change in the political consciousness that shapes and statecraft that facilitates the pursuit of human and global interests. It is also possible that (1) and (2) could up being blended in various waysT. (1) is actor oriented, achieving transition without changing the structure of world order, whereas (2) is system or structure oriented, insisting that needed behavioral changes will not happen without altering the institutional and ideational context within which policies and practices are currently shaped.

 

Citizens and States

 

            The originality of our age is best interpreted by contrasting the identities associated with being a citizen of a sovereign state and successfully addressing the main challenges confronting humanity as a whole. The horizons of citizenship for most persons on the planet generally coincide with [1]the territorial boundaries of the state and are reflections of the related sovereignty-oriented ideology of nationalism. Security for societies and individuals is mainly understood to be the responsibility of the governing authorities of states. Efforts to entrust international institutions with some of this responsibility has not been successful, especially for problems of global scope in the context of war/peace issues and managing the world economy.[3]

 

            There is an historical transition underway that can be expressed as movement from structures and ideologies that serve the part to those that serve the whole. The political actors representing various parts include

persons, corporations, NGOs, international institutions, religious organization, and states. The whole whether conceived to be humanity conceived of as a species or the global being thought about as to what will sustain life on earth in benevolent ways.[4] Their outlook tends to be dominated by a fragmentary consciousness that seeks answers to various questions about ‘what is good for the part,’ and at best, assumes this will be of benefit to the whole. Such actors do not generally waste their time on questions about ‘what is good for the whole,’ which are most often dismissed as being meaninglessly abstract or piously sentimental. It should be stressed that such trends toward a global polity do not at all ensure a positive outcome from the perspectives taken here; it is helpful to realize that various forms of oppressive centralized governance are also seeking historical relevance.[5]

 

            What is more most people do not want or expect the perspective of the whole to be the basis of policy and action by decision-makers that represent the state, but are insistent that those who decide do their best to protect and promote what will most help the part whether it be country, corporation, religion, or group interests. Citizenship is conferred by the state, which in return expects and demands loyalty, and even a readiness to sacrifice lives for the sake of the nation-state, and certainly the obligation to pay taxes and uphold laws. Citizenship is very much bound up with ideas of a social contract between state and citizen, that is, an exchange of benefits and duties.

 

            Yet we are increasingly aware that the wellbeing of the part cannot be preserved under contemporary conditions without taking proper account of the wellbeing of the whole. The citizen of a democratic state is a composite of juridical and psychological forms. The state confers citizenship through its laws, enabling participation in elections, acquiring a passport, offering some protection abroad; citizenship in this conventional sense is a status that varies from state to state in its particulars. There is also legally grounded expectations of loyalty, the radical deviation from which can be the occasion for accusations of the capital crime of ‘treason.’ At the same time, the citizen of a constitutional democracy enjoys the right to dissent and oppose within the framework of the law and through competitive elections, and as such the identity of a ‘citizen’ contrast with that of a ‘subject’ of an absolute monarchy where obedience is the major political norm.[6] A constitutional state struggles to maintain this delicate balance between the rights and duties of a citizen, especially in times of internal stress.[7]

 

            The crime of treason, giving tangible aid and comfort to an enemy state, highlights the interface between conscience and loyalty in the conventional life of a modern citizen. The second face of citizenship is psycho-political, the sense of loyalty as an existential reality, not a juridical category. When Palestinian citizens of Israel oppose the policies of their government toward the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, they are reflecting a state of mind. Many minorities feel alienated from the state of which they are citizens to varying degrees, and are in effect, ‘captive nations’ resident in states that do not command their loyalty. Treason and espionage pose these issues vividly. When Edward Snowden violated American security regulations by releasing many documents of the National Security Agency and disclosed its surveillance operations he claimed to be acting on the basis of conscience but in a manner that the official leaders of the state viewed as dangerous to the general wellbeing of society. In a globalizing world, in which ethnicities and religions are mixed and interactive, the tensions between the juridical and existential demands of citizenship are intensifying. A poignant example is the plight of Mordecai Vanunu, a worker in the Israeli nuclear facility who many years ago confirmed the reality of Israel’s suspected arsenal of nuclear weaponry, and has been since treated both as an enemy of the state and a hero of humanity, serving 18 years in prison, and even after being released, placed under house arrest in Israel.

 

            What is new is that these struggles between dissent and loyalty is that the issues have now an agenda and context that is beyond the borders of the state. Some political innovations have acknowledged this, especially the idea of European citizenship being superimposed on the citizenship conferred by sovereign governments. So far there is little evidence that those living in Europe are more likely to be loyal to their regional than to the traditional state affiliations, but at least this idea of European citizenship illustrates the layering of citizenship, enabling a person to be a legal and psychological participant in polities bigger (and smaller) than the territorial state that alone qualifies for membership in the United Nations and most international institutions. The layering of regional identities seems beneficial from the perspective of encouraging the development of the European Union as an instrument of cooperation and participation more effective than principally relying on inter-governmental patterns, but it does not meet the most urgent challenges of a planet in crisis.

 

Why Global Citizenship is not Enough

 

Some years ago I was chatting with a stranger on a long international flight. He was a businessman who traveled the world to find markets for his products. His home was in Copenhagen. He spoke very positively about the European Union as overcoming boundaries and national antagonisms. I asked him at that point in our conversation, “Does that make you feel like a European citizen?” His response, “Oh no, I am a world citizen.” I asked him what he meant by that and his reply was revealing: “Wherever I travel in the world I stay in the same kind of hotel. It makes no difference where I am, everywhere I go in the world seems the same to me.”

 

Such an apolitical conception of world citizenship is a direct consequence of economic globalization and franchise capitalism. It is true that if you choose Westin or Interncontinental hotels in the main world cities you can travel the globe without ever leaving home, but this is a rather sterile view of what are the hopes and fears associated with the transition from a world of bounded nation-states absorbed by territorial concerns to a new world without boundaries. It surely leads to a weakening of the bonds of traditional citizenship without generating any new and broader sense of solidarity and community.

 

At the other extreme, is the more familiar image of world citizen as the idealist who experiences and celebrates the oneness of the planet and of humanity, overriding fragmented identities associated with the privileging of particular nations, ethnicities, religions, and civilizations. As with the businessman’s image of being a world citizen the idealist also is embracing an apolitical conception of citizenship in which sentiments are affirmed as the basis of identity and the hard political work of transformation is evaded. For such a world citizen all that needs to be created is presupposed. The struggles of transition, as if by magic wand, are waved out of existence.

 

These conceptions of what it is to be a ‘world citizen’ possess an underdeveloped view as to the nature and value of citizenship. To be a proper citizen implies being an active participant in a democratic political community, extending loyalty, exhibiting approval and disapproval, voting, paying taxes, resonating to cultural expressions of unity by way of song, dance, and poetry, and having certain entitlements relating to reasonable expectations of human security. There is no possibility of having any of these attributes of citizenship fulfilled on a global scale given the way the world is currently governed. Prematurely proclaiming oneself a world citizen if other than as an expression of aspiration, is an empty gesture that misleads more than it instructs.

 

To think of oneself as a European citizen is somewhat more meaningful, although still, on balance, more confusing than clarifying. To be sure Europe has virtually abolished internal borders, war between European states verges on the unthinkable, the Euro acts a common currency for the entire continent, European institutions have broad authority to override national policies and laws under many circumstances, Europe has a regional framework setting forth binding human rights standards and a tribunal to resolve conflicts as to their interpretation, and finally, Europe has a parliament of its own that is now elected by direct votes of people. Yet Europe, too, has failed to establish a political community that elicits widespread loyalty or exhibits much unity under stress, except in relation to an external enemy. Most Europeans remain overwhelming nationalistic in their loyalties, and seek their national government to do what is best for their country, and not give any priority to European interests should they clash with national interests. European citizenship, as conferred by the Maastricht Treaty is at this point more a still unfulfilled promise than a meaningful status in either a juridical or an existential sense.

 

The reality of citizenship is best displayed during periods of crisis, and the European recession of recent years has made people far more aware of the fragility of the regional experiment as it bears on the future of Europe. As the Mediterranean members of the EU succumbed to the economic crisis, the northern European states, especially Germany, began to exhibit discomfort and express condescension. Laments in Berlin were bemoaning why hard-working and prudent Germans should be helping lazy, indulgent Greeks live a decadent life beyond their means. In their turn offended Greeks ask, why should Greeks forfeit their autonomy and mortgage their future to an anal retentive German fiscal policy that has learned none of the lessons of economic recovery from the experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

 

In contrast during the same experience of sharp recession in the United States, the debate centered on such issues as banks being too big to fail or why Wall Street rather than Main Street should receive bailout billions, rather than on the recklessness of Alabama as compared to say Connecticut. The point being, that in the United States, despite its deep federal structure, there is an overriding sense of community at the national level. American citizenship is meaningful in ways that European citizenship falls short, and world citizenship can hardly even perceive the problem.[8]

 

In other words, some of the political preconditions for European citizenship are present but the most vital are still absent, while the political preconditions for world citizenship are almost totally missing.

There are some good reasons to be confused about this latter reality. After all the United Nations was established to prevent war among nations, and we indulge language games that allow us to talk about ‘the world community’ as if there was one. A closer look at the way the world works makes us realize that the United Nations, despite the rhetorical pretensions of its Charter, is much more an instrument of statecraft than an alternative to it. We also need to be aware that almost all governments continue to be led by political realists who view their role as serving short-term national interests and are privately dismissive of any encroachment on these priorities that derive from notions of ‘world community,’ even if based on international law and morality.

 

            Within this framing of global policy, the UN, international law, even international criminal law, and moralizing rhetoric, are all instrumentally and selectively useful in the pursuit of foreign policy goals. The selective application of supposedly global norms makes transparent the state-centric underpinning of world order. For instance, the double standards associated with the implementation of international criminal law suggests that up to now there is accountability for the weak and vulnerable, impunity for the strong, a pattern described as ‘victors’ justice’ after World War II. There has been established in the interim an International Criminal Court (ICC), although the most dangerous political actors forego the option to join. The ICC pursues wrongdoers in Sudan and Libya, while turning a blind eye toward the United States, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom, and their closest allies. There are two clarifications of citizenship present: first, there is no global reach for the implementation of global norms relating to fundamental issues of human security, and therefore no bonds of community binding the person to the world by way of citizenship; second, the directives of the UN and international law are manipulated by major states to serve their national interests, sometimes implemented and sometimes blocked, which represents the working of a geopolitical regime of power rather than a global rule of law regime that would above all treat equals equally. Without a trusted system of laws no sustainable community can be brought into being, and hence no genuine bonds of citizenship can be established.

 

            Such a critique expresses the dilemmas of citizenship in this time of great transition. The most fundamental missing element in this premature projection of world citizenship is time. It is possible to wish for, and even affirm, human solidarity, and to highlight the commonalities of the human species under conditions of heightened interaction and interdependence. Yet such feelings by themselves are incapable of creating the basis for acting collectively in response to urgent challenges of global scope. Such behavior requires the emergence on the grassroots and elite levels of a widespread recognition that the only viable governance process for the planet is one that greatly enhances capabilities to serve human and global interests. The transition is about moving from the here of egoistic state-centrism to the there of humane geo-centrism, which implies a journey and a struggle against social forces that are threatened by or opposed to such a transformation of ‘the real.’ In this undertaking, the citizen pilgrim combines the identity of a participant in a community and the acknowledgement that the desired community does not presently exist, that its essential nature is to bond with a community that is in the midst of a birth process.[9]

 

Material Conditions of Urgency

 

            Throughout human experience there was a strong case for adopting the identity of ‘citizen pilgrim,’ and many spiritually motivated individuals did so in their own ways. What is historically unique about the present time is that the challenge of transformation is rooted in fundamental material conditions relating to human activities, which are the outcome of technological innovations and earlier progress that now is threatening apocalyptic blowback. In other words, it has always been true from an ethical perspective that there better ways for people to live together on the planet, especially under conditions of mutual respect and without collective violence. At times, the failure to adapt to challenges either from natural causes or resulting from conflict led to the collapse of communities or even entire civilizations, but never before has the species as such been confronted by challenges of global scale.[10] There have always been risks of planetary events such as collisions with giant meteors or an unexpected shift in the orbit of the sun that are beyond human agency, and could at some point doom the species. My focus is upon the accumulation of dangerous material conditions that have been generated by human agency, and could be addressed in a manner that is beneficial for the survival, wellbeing, and happiness of the species.

 

            The two sets of circumstances that are the most dramatic examples of such realities are associated with the dangers of nuclear war and climate change. The nature of these two sources of extreme danger are quite different, although both reflect the technological evolution of human society that is associated with modernity, and an outcome of scientific discovery and the human search for wealth and dominion. Along the lines of the argument presented here neither of these dangers can be sufficiently reduced without significant progress with respect to the transition from state-centric to geo-centric world order. At the level of ideology and ideas that requires a ‘new realism’ informing those with governing authority. Above all, this new realism involves a readiness to uphold commitments to serve human and global interests as necessary, even if requires subordinating or defining currently incompatible national and an array of private sector interests.

 

            The further assertion being made is that ‘new realism’ can only be brought into being by drastic shifts in political consciousness that informs citizenship in such a manner that the wellbeing of the species and a collaborative relationship restored between human activities and the surrounding environment. Such a relationship existed to an impressive degree in many pre-modern societies where there existed a sense of mutual dependence in relations between human activities and natural surroundings, and often as well a sensitivity to seven generations past and future that is absent from the modernist sensibility that has tended to take nature for granted, there to be exploited or tamed. Nature being mainly valued either for its resources, as a sink for the free discharge of wastes, and as a retreat from the rigors of ‘civilization.’[11] With scarcities, pollution, and climate change there is emerging a realization that without a comprehensive post-modern equilibrium between human activity and the natural surroundings the future prospects of the species are rather grim.[12] The phantasies of modernity persist in the form of utopian geo-engineering schemes that represent efforts by the old realism to find technological solutions for the problems generated by technology, which is itself is raising serious concern and posing severe additional risks of its own.[13]

 

            The imperatives of transition to a safer, more sustainable world are resisted by the embedded assumptions of the old realism to the effect that military capabilities and war making remain the keys to security, that GNP growth is the indispensable foundation of political stability and economic contentment, that technology and market will find solutions for any challenges that arise before serious threats materialize, and that the correct role of governments of sovereign states is to manage this set of relationships on behalf of national political communities variously situated. As argued here, such an orientation is not so much wrong, as it is anachronistic, and in need of fundamental adjustment. Further that such adjustment is much more likely to take place in a non-traumatic modes, if the expectations of many citizens are altered according to the precepts of citizen pilgrims who subscribe to various interpretations of what being called here the new realism.

 

            It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the obstacles that lie ahead, and currently seem to lock societies into a civilizational orientation that falls far short of the bio-political potential and survival needs of the human species. At present governments seem unable to address the practical challenges posed by such features of the contemporary world as nuclear weaponry, climate change, poverty, political violence, and human security. Existing governance structures and ideological worldviews of both officials and society seem stuck in past modes of problem-solving and are failing to meet expectations of the citizenry.[14] Such a failure is exhibited by such widespread collective behavior as despair, denial, and alienation.

 

 

 

 

Recreating Political Community

 

            The calling of the citizen pilgrim is not meant to be a lonely journey toward a better future. It is intended as a call for an engaged citizenry responsive to the need and desire for a reconstituted future as well as a repaired present. As earlier indicated the commitment to navigating the transition can be conceived of by way of infusing political leadership and the electorate with the values and perceptions of the new realism. Transition can be achieved through a shift in governance structures such that state-centric world order is superseded by a geo-centric world order. Such a reorientation implies stronger globally oriented institutionalization by way of United Nations reform. Alternatively, a geo-centric world order could emerge as the self-conscious result of establishing a new framework for cooperative action that is capable of providing the world with the level of centralized governance that is required, while exhibiting sensitivity to ideas of subsidiarity, decentralization, dispersal of authority, and even philosophical anarchism.[15]

 

            In this respect, the engaged citizen pilgrim is devoted to the here and now of political action (as well as pursuing a visionary future), whether by way of exhibiting empathy and solidarity with the sufferings of those most vulnerable or by working toward innovative steps serving human and global interests. Such steps should to the extent possible reflect the interpretations and understandings of the new realism. Illustrative projects include the establishment of a global peoples parliament with an assigned mission of articulating interests from the perspective of people rather than of governments.[16] Other familiar proposals along the same line are a global tax of some kind, levied on currency transactions or international flights or casino and lottery profits, which would loosen the geopolitical leash that now limits international institutions in their capacity to serve human and global interests. Along these lines also would be the establishment of an independent emergency force capable of quick reactions to natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes without being subject to funding by states or the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. These initiatives are not new, but their active promotion alongside avowals of   citizen pilgrimages would manifest modes of participation in political life whose aim was to achieve humane global governance in accordance with the precepts of the new realist.[17]

 

            Such innovations are directed toward overcoming the design deficiencies of state-centric world order, given the current array of global challenges. Because of the still dominant influence of old realism such innovations are vulnerable to various degrees of what might be called geopolitical cooption. The United Nations itself is undoubtedly the best example of an institutional innovation with a geo-centric mandate that has gone awry almost from its inception. The UN that has been geopolitically coopted over the period of its existence in such fundamental respects as to make its defining role being that of stabilizing state-centric world order rather than of war prevention and facilitating transition to a geo-centric

future. This assessment is most evident in the double standards evident in the pattern of UN responses to emergency situations, for instance, in the diplomacy surrounding the application of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm or in relation to the management of nuclear weaponry as between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states.

 

            Another revealing instance concerns the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 over the resistance of the largest and most dangerous states in the world. The fact that a tribunal could be established to assess the individual criminal responsibility of political and military leaders of sovereign states seemed like an important move toward creating a global rule of law in relation to war/peace and human rights issues,

and it was, although its performance has so far been disappointing. The work of the ICC has exhibited the same double standards that infuses the entire edifice of state-centric world order, resulting in a pattern of impunity for the West and accountability for leaders in the South. As such the ICC is ambivalent in its contributions to peace and justice, yet its own institutional destiny is being formed by the uncertain flow of events, and can yet become more attuned to human and global interests. It is that attunement that distinguishes the citizen pilgrim from what might be called ‘a liberal internationalist’ who favors stronger global governance capacity, but lives within a bubble of the old realism and its questionable reconciliation of global reform and geopolitics.

 

Citizen Pilgrims as Nonviolent Warriors of the Great Transition

 

            Prospects for the future depend on altering the outlook and performance of governments representing states, as well as the expectations of their citizenry. This is particularly true for constitutional democracies with strong private sector interest groups. Authoritarian states, especially with control over the economic infrastructure, do not require the consent of the governed to nearly the same extent, and can act or not more freely for better and worse to take account of rapidly changing perceptions. In constitutional democracies the relationship of leadership to the citizenry is very direct, although not necessarily reflecting the will of the people. Special interest lobbying, extensive secrecy and surveillance, and corporatized media all deflect government from a rational calculation of national interests, and tend to obstruct policy deference to long term considerations or to human and global interests. In relation to our two litmus issues it is clear that ‘the military-industrial-think tank complex’ has over the decades protected the nuclear weapons establishment from disarmament advocacy and that the fossil fuel campaign has lent a measure of credibility to climate skepticism despite its rejection by 97% of climate experts.

 

            Experience confirms that government policy will not shift against such

entrenched policy without a popular mobilization that alters the political climate sufficiently to allow change to happen. In the 1980s this happened in the United States and the United Kingdom in relation to apartheid South Africa. In this case, the ethical repudiation of official racism provided the basis for altering the political climate to such an extent that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both conservative leaders who valued strategic and economic cooperation with South Africa, were led to endorse sanctions that were important contributions to the eventual success of the anti-apartheid campaign. Nuclear weaponry does pose an ethical challenge, but its main challenge is a prudential one of resting the security of major states and their friends on a conditional commitments to destroy tens of millions of innocent persons in a global setting where conflict and irrational behavior have been recurrent features. It would thus appear to be the case that both ethics and rationality favor phased and verified nuclear disarmament as had been legally stipulated by the nuclear weapons states in the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968.[18]

 

            The global challenge of climate change is more complex, and in some ways exposes more directly the limits of globally oriented problem-solving in a state-centric framework. Unlike nuclear weaponry, there is strong inter-governmental support for the scientific consensus as to the need for mandatory regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (especially carbon) emissions so as to prevent further harmful global warming. For the past twenty years the UN has sponsored conferences that bring together annually most governments in the world to move toward implementing the scientific consensus, and yet little happens. Rationality gives way to special interests and short-term calculations of advantage are given precedence in the policy arenas of government, which means little is achieved. The state system seems stuck, and the old realism seems set to shape human destiny in adverse ways for the foreseeable future.

 

            In such settings the citizen pilgrim offers society a voice of sanity that speaks from the liberated isolation of the wilderness. It envisions a future responsive to the long-term survival of the human species, and maximizing its wellbeing and pursuit of global justice. Some citizen pilgrims may be seeking a drastic revision of the worldview of the national leadership cadres of society in the form of embraces of the new realism of human and global interests, pursued within an enlarged sphere of temporal accountability. Other citizen pilgrims may be thinking of a political community that is planetary in scope that organizes its activities to serve all peoples on the basis of individual and collective human dignity and envisions the replacement of a world of sovereign states with a democratically constituted geo-centric framework of governance—norms, institutions, procedures, and actors.

 

            The citizen pilgrim is not primarily motivated by averting danger and mitigating injustice on a global scale, although such concerns occupy the foreground of her political consciousness. The most basic drive is spiritual, to pursue the unattainable, to affirm the perfection of the human experience within the diverse settings present in the world. As Goethe said, “him who strives he we may save.” By striving, the sense of time comes alive in citizenship and political participation, as it must, if the Mount Everest challenges of the great transition are to be successfully traversed.

           

 

           

[1] I rely upon a distinction between ‘human’ and ‘global’ to underscore the interactive duality of human and earth interests, what is beneficial for the human species and what is beneficial for nature and the environment, implying a fundamental commitment to achieving their collaboration and reconciliation. In other words, the ideological posture recommended and adopted can be described as eco-humanism.

See Robert C. Johansen’s breakthrough contribution seeking to overcome the tetension destructive dualism between the national interest and the human

interest. See National and the Human Interest: An Analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).

[2] Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York: Penguin, 2014). The authors persuasively demonstrate the resilience of the European state through time, responding non-incrementally, or by revolutionary leaps, to accumulated challenges

  1. For an intriguing interpretation of the evolution of the modern state and the state system since the mid-seventeenth century see John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolridge, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (New York:

Penguin Press, 2014). The book examines past reinventions of the state in the face of challengesthat have in the past threatened its viability as a source of human contentment. Their thesis is that such a challenge is currently present as evidenced by the widespread dissatisfaction with government in even prosperous and democratic countries. On this basis they draw this conclusion: “The main political challenge of the next decade will be fixing government.” (p.4) What the authors mean by this is mainly a scaling back of the governmental role and a scaling up of its efficient performance of core security and managerial roles. This is different than what is being argued here, which is enabling government to become responsive to global challenges.

 

[3] For one view of how the state is ‘disaggregating’ in ways that enable it to cope with the challenges of an increasingly interactive world, see Anne-Marie Slaughter, The New World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); there are also many instances of cooperation among states for the sake of mutual benefit, especially in relation to the management of the global commons.

[4] The writings of James Lovelock on the Gaia balances of the earth are relevant, as are the speculations that human activities are undermining the equilibrium that has for many centuries allowed plants and animals to live comfortably on the planet. It is the dawn of the age of the anthropocene that is threatening to disrupt this balance that has facilitated biological evolution since the first glimmers of habitation on planet earth. Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

[5] I would include here various anti-democratic forms of imperial and hegemonic governance. See, among others, Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Reality and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002; and especially Michael Mandelbaum’s Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-first century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

[6] For wide ranging defense of democracy along these lines see Daniele Archibugi’s important study, Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[7] Such a struggle has been evident in the United States in the period since the 9/11 attacks. For a critical account of the mismanagement of the balance see David Cole & Jules Lobel, Less Secure, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007).

[8] But see California chapter in Micklethlwait & Woolridge for an attempt to ‘federalize’ their critique of what has gone wrong with governance in the United States.

[9] The idea of ‘citizen pilgrim’ is inspired by Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews in which he talks of the pilgrim as someone animated by faith in that which is not seen, and does not exist as yet, and yet embarks on a journey dedicated to a better future in which that vision will be realized, not as an earthly city but as a heavenly city.

[10] The issue of civilizational collapse, and its avoidance, have been influentially explored in Collapse; the question of the risks to the species arising from human activities is addressed in Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change (London: Pluto, 2004); see also Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).

[11] See Richard Falk, This Endangered Planet: Prospects and Proposals for Human Survival (New York: Random House, 1972); on the orientation of indigenous peoples, thinking ahead and looking back seven generations, see Maivan Lam, At the Edge of the State: Indigenous Peoples and Self-Determination (Ardsley, NY: Transnational, 2000)

[12] One of the most comprehensive appreciations of the approaching limits of modernity as a legacy of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution is found in James Lee Kunstler;

[13] Clive Hamilton critically explores this search for a technological escape via geo-engineering from the dilemmas posed by adherence ‘the iron law of growth’ (Paelke), population increase, and continuously rising living standards.

[14] Micklethwait & Woolridge, Note 1, are persuasive that national governments are generating widespread dissatisfaction among their citizens, although their focus is upon issues of efficiency and scale as the source of this public mood of alienation.

[15] Some suggestions along these lines are contained in Falk, “Anarchism without Anarchism,” Millennium

[16] See Richard Falk & Andrew Strauss, A Global Parliament: essays and articles (Berlin: Committee for a Democratic UN, 2011).

[17] For elaboration see Falk, On Humane Global Governance (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1995).

[18] See for development of these themes Falk & David Krieger, The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012); but see Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Nuclear Ethics (New York: Free Press, 1986) for a contrary view.

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