Archive | October, 2018

The Loss of Two Unsung Heroes of International Relations

21 Oct

The Loss of Two Unsung Heroes of International Relations: A Tales of Two ‘Bobs’

 

In the recent past two giants of International Relations (IR) scholarship died,

leaving behind a corpus of work and a legacy of influence, especially among their talented and devoted followers in the academic world. I was fortunate to have enjoyed the friendship of both Robert Gilpin and Robert W. Cox, learning from both of these masters of the field despite their seemingly divergent worldviews. My connection with the two Bobs’ was quite different, Bob G. being my departmental colleague at Princeton for almost 40 years, while Bob C. more am intellectual and political comrade with whom I only rarely interacted with personally. This greater intimacy with scholarship than the person mainly reflects living and working so distantly from one another.

 

Why I pair these two academic figures is because for me their similarities, additional to their births and deaths being so close together, outweigh their differences, making the comparison intriguing for me. For many their stark differences in intellectual style, ideological stance, and political lineage would strike the inquiring eye first, and the similarities would be unnoticed.

 

Gilpin was a self-proclaimed conservative, holding an endowed chair honoring Dwight Eisenhower, and somewhat expressive of his moderate Republican, rural Vermont outlook that valued individual integrity and family closeness above all else. When it came to his scholarly approach Bob self-identified with ‘classical realism’ viewing hard power and economic capabilities as the forces dominating the annals of world history. His mission was to understand how the world order works in relation to its two key dimensions—war and political economy. His books War and Change in World Politics (1981) and The Political Economy of International Relations (1987), along with Global Political Economy  (2001) will deservedly be long remembered and actively studied. Their conceptual clarity, lucid prose, and soft erudition make these scholarly contributions enjoyable to read, itself a rarity for such subject-matter. Gilpin was in many ways an American analogue to Hedley Bull, and not surprisingly they were friends and shared a common frame of reference that went against the pretensions of social scientific approaches to IR. To validate the claim of being ‘classical’ realists Gilpin and Bull both regarded history and philosophy as more instructive than social science when it came to understanding international relations. Later in his career Gilpin became conversant with the work of economists, and even applied rational choice theory to his effort to grasp the essence of war and change in international society.

 

Gilpin’s central linkage between war-proneness and hegemonic decline could be published today to acclaim as it casts a bright light on the seemingly irrational belligerent behavior of the United States. This hegemonic actor seems to be inviting the outbreak of war with an almost mindless disregard of its catastrophic dangers in the nuclear age. In War and ChangeGilpin develops an illuminating set of explanations for why hegemonic powers almost always decline, and resort to war in a vain effort to halt their slide. Gilpin’s political economy writing delineated a new sub-field for mainstream IR, drawing on contemporary economic thought and an Enlightenment confidence in the rationality of human behavior, while at the same time being informed by the Marxist line of critique of capitalism. It was illuminating without in any way challenging the established world economic order, which he praised as having produced unprecedented prosperity and stability since established after the Second World War.

 

Cox’s concerns and experience were was different. Working with the International Labor Organization (ILO) as a senior civil servant for 25 years, living in the vicinity of Geneva, and developing a feeling for the formative historical agency of people mobilized for change and behaving in ways that reflect their material conditions. His books, Production Power and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History (1989)and Approaches to World Order (with Timothy J. Sinclair, 1996)contain the essential pillars of his critical theory of international relations and his assessment of the current global situation. While Gilpin devoted his energies to understandingthe way the world of sovereign states and geopolitics works, Cox wanted to devote his understanding to the challenge of transformingthe world.  In a rather profound sense, were the legitimate children of revolution: Cox being a child of the French Revolution while Gilpin of the American Revolution. These contrasting influences continue to work their way into practice and expectations of the West two centuries later.

 

Drawing heavily on the thought of Antonio Gramsci, it was Cox’s mission to demonstrate that the state system was presently entrapped, which presaged regression, and even collapse, unless popular energies could be mobilized around an appropriate transformative vision. While Gilpin observed change, Cox was intent on identifying the social forces that might achieve emancipatory change. Neither was hopeful about the future, Gilpin because of hegemonic decline, Cox because of the absence of a clear alternative to disastrous patterns of hegemonic governance.

 

Once Cox left the ILO late in life he embarked upon an academic career yet attained almost instant prominence.  He became a professor at York University in Toronto, which provided a supportive progressive setting. His work there on international political economy, was definitely in the critical tradition associated with neo-Marxist thought, and was often associated with Susan Strange’s contributions. They were viewed often as co-founders of the British School of Political Economy.

 

Both Cox and Gilpin deserve our admiration as among the most significant thinkers that international relations has produced in the period since the end of World War II. While many insiders are attuned to the value of their contributions, the wider world has given greater attention to the intellectually flashy, and policy relevant, of such academic writers as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. These ambitious individuals gave the impression of marking time while waiting for a call to Washington.  They were well vetted by the Council of Foreign Relation, the informal headhunting undertaking that was effective until recently in staffing the higher echelons of the State Department. Perhaps, making the point too strongly, whereas Cox and Gilpin lasting contributions are located in the sphere of knowledge, Kissinger and Brzezinski will be remembered primarily as controversial academic superstars in the sphere of power.

 

 

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Trump’s Idea of World Order Endangers the Human Future

12 Oct

[Prefatory Note: This post is an interview with Daniel Falcone that was published in slightly modified form in Counterpunch on October 4, 2018]

 

Trump’s Idea of World Order Endangers the Human Future

 Q 1. What are your general thoughts on Trump’s recent UN talk and how world opinion received it?

 

A: The Trump speech at the UN this year was a virtual mirror image of Trump’s overall political profile, slightly embellished by some idealistic sentiments of an abstract and vague character, and if the content is analyzed, revealing glaring tensions between the banal abstractions and the concrete lines of policy being advocated by the American president. However, if Trump’s remarks are compared with his first speech to the General Assembly a year earlier, except for the warmongering toward Iran, it was less belligerent, and a bit more ingratiating to other members and to the UN as an organization, yet essentially unchanged so far as its essential features affirming nationalist policy, values, and prescriptions are concerned. It was a speech that not only subscribed to the premises of a state-centric world order, but celebrated sovereignty as the best and only reliable foundation for security on a global level.

 

A central theme articulated by Trump throughout the speech and strongly stressed at the beginning and end was the primacy of a sovereignty-centered world order based on territorial nation-states. This amounts to a strong affirmation of Westphalian ideas of world order as these have evolved in Europe since the middle of the 17thcentury. The essential tone of the speech was awkwardly encapsulated in this pithy statement: “We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the doctrine of patriotism.” Throughout the speech this notion of patriotism was kept obscure unless thought of as an emotional attachment to sovereign rights that reinforced its rational claim to loyalty of individuals.

 

It is far from clear what is meant by ‘the ideology of globalism,’ although it can be inferred from other formulations in the text, and elsewhere, that for Trump it means rejecting any policy prescription that puts the wellbeing of the region or world ahead of the interests of individual sovereign states. Trump leaves no doubt about this: “Sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived, democracy has ever endured, or peace has ever prospered. And so we must protect our sovereignty and our cherished independence above all.” Quite a lot of history is overlooked in this sweeping generalization, although its descriptive weight may depend on how ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are understood. At least with regard to ‘peace’ empires have done better for longer time intervals than have sovereign states.

 

The emotive embodiment of such a state-centric worldview is conveyed by Trump’s stress, unusual in statements by leaders at the UN, on ‘the doctrine of partriotism.’ Again, the meaning is clear even if the words chosen are rather odd, even out of place. There is no doctrine of patriotism in either the annals of diplomacy or in scholarly writing lying about waiting to be explained. A claim of patriotism is normally associated with expressions of overriding, sometime blind, loyalty to a particular national political community, especially in relation to war and ideology. Patriotism is also invoked to justify the sacrifices made by citizens, even unto life itself, and to explain the bestowal of unconditional support to one’s own country in situations of international conflict or ideological conflict. In the Cold War period it was a common slogan among anti-Communist self-proclaimed patriots to shout at ideological critics of capitalism or national policy: “America, love it or leave it.”

 

Against such a background, Trump’s next moves in his address to this UN audience is exactly what we have come to expect from him. First, he puts America forward as a model nation that demonstrates to the world what achievements can be had with respect to constitutional stability and prosperity, giving other states a blueprint to mimic if they seek the best possible future for their respective societies. And secondly, insisting that America will respect the sovereignty of others and cooperate for mutual benefits, but only on the basis of reciprocity and as measured by what the U.S. government deems as fair, which Trump insisted would require several drastic course corrections within and without the UN. Trump in his now familiar framing contends that the U.S. has in the past borne a disproportionate share of financial burdens at the UN, and elsewhere in its international relationship, but vows that this pattern will not be allowed to continue in the future. Whether in trade relations or foreign economic assistance, the United States will demand not only good balance sheet results as assessed by a transactional logic, but shows of political support in international venues from those governments that are beneficiaries of American largesse.

 

Where Trump tramples on normal diplomatic decorum, so much so that his comments provoke derisive laughter from the assembled delegates, occurs when he boasts so grossly about the accomplishments of his presidency. “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any other administration in the history of our country.” To give more tangible grounds for this extraordinary moment of self-congratulation with representatives of the governments of the entire world sitting in front of him, Trump claims “America’s economy is booming as never before.” To substantiate such a boast Trump points to the record highs of the stock market and historic lows for unemployment, especially for minorities. He also points to counterterrorism successes in Syria and Afghanistan, and to border security in relation to illegal migration.

Maybe most distressing in the context of telling this global audience about how well the United States is doing under his leadership is Trump’s unabashed embrace of militarism as if it is a sign of the virtuous character of the United States. He speaks with pride, rather than shame, of record spending of $700 billion for the military budget, to be increased in the following year to $716 billion. Such expenditures are announced with no felt need for a security justification beyond the bald assertion “[o]ur military will soon be more powerful than it has ever been.” There is no explanation given for why such gigantic sums are needed or how they will be used.

 

Trump gives here an unintended hint of a globalist element. He resorts to the familiar trope that “[w]e are standing up for America and for the American people. And we are also standing up for the world.” In other words, American militarism is a win/win proposition for all nations, provided, of course, that they are not identified as enemies to be sanctioned and destabilized from within and without.

 

The UN was affirmed by Trump so long as it operated according to this template based on the interaction of sovereign states that were dedicated above all to maximizing the benefits of international cooperation for their own national societies. Two caveats along the way qualified this endorsement of sovereign rights. First, respect for the sovereign rights of others does not apply to ideological and geopolitical adversaries of the United States and its allies. Hence, sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, regimes which were singled out to express Trump’s view that socialism inevitably produces misery are justified as such states deserve no respect for their sovereignty. This ideological provincialism, which hearkens back to the worst of hawkish ideologues during the Cold War Era, is coupled with the vitriolic repudiation of the sovereign rights of Iran, which is blamed for exporting terrorism throughout the Middle East and ruling its own people with an iron fist. What follows is not a statement of grudging respect for the sovereignty of such miscreant states, but escalating sanctions, and harsh threats of confrontation and destabilization.

 

Secondly, Trump claims, with reference to the UN, that the U.S. has in the past borne an unfair share of UN expenses, and as with trade and other international arrangements, argues that this must stop. In the Trump future cooperation will only be possible if this situation is corrected, while at the same time making sure that the Organization behaves in ways that correspond with the wishes of its largest financial contributor. Trump singled out the UN Human Rights Council [HRC] and the International Criminal Court [ICC] for fierce condemnation, alleging that such institutions fall far below his criteria of acceptable behavior. Trump refers to the embarrassment associated with the fact that the elected membership of the HRC includes governments with terrible human rights records, one of his few observations that has merit. For the ICC no words of rejection are strong enough for Trump, but he chooses the following language to make his point: “As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureau.” Such sentiments amount to the death knell of all prospects for a global rule of law if American geopolitical leverage is sufficiently strong.

 

I was also struck by what Trump left unsaid in his speech. There was no reference to his supposed ‘deal of the century’ with its pledge to deliver an enduring peace to Israel and Palestine. I can only wonder whether the evident content of the approach being long prepared by the White House seems so politically unacceptable that it has either been shelved or is in the process of being repackaged. Although it is probably foolish to speculate, the Kushner/Greenblatt/Friedman plan according to what is known, involved an unpalatable mixture of ‘economic peace’ incentives for the Palestinians with some sort of arrangement to transfer Gaza to the governmental authority of Jordan and Egypt. In effect, this strikes me as a pseudo-diplomatic version of the ‘Victory Caucus’ promoted so vigorously by Daniel Pipes and the Middle East Forum, but for the sake of appearances made by the Kushner group to seem as if a new peace process. For Pipes, the road to peace is based on the prior renunciation of Palestinian political aspirations coupled with the acknowledgement both that Israel is the state of the Jewish people and that international diplomacy had been tried within the Oslo framework for more than 20 years, and failed.

 

The Trump approach appears to want a similar outcome to that put forward by Pipes, but seeks to reach such a diplomatic finishing line by creating in advance a set of political conditions favorable to Israel and offering a different set of inducements to the Palestinians if they will kneel down politically. This approach had been signaled by adopting the Israeli line on Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, UNRWA, and Gaza, yet in UN venues Trump uses uncharacteristically cautious language, expressing only the faintest hope that some kind of solution will mysteriously issue forth: “The United States is committed to a future of peace and stability in the region, including peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That aim is advanced, not harmed, by acknowledging the obvious facts.” Among the most ‘obvious facts’ is the provocative announcement of the intention to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem last December.

 

Perhaps, the most notable change from Trump’s remarks of the prior year is his praise of Kim Jung-un for taking denuclearizing steps. The prior year Kim was insultingly called ‘the rocket man’ and his government demeaned as a ‘depraved regime.’ This year Trump seemed to be suggesting, and even thanking neighboring countries for their support, that there exists, thanks of course to Washinton’s bold diplomacy, the best chance ever that a peaceful transition will occur, leading to a unified Korea devoid of any threat of a war on the peninsula fought with nuclear weaponry. 

 

Not surprisingly, also, there was not a word mentioned in Trump’s lengthy speech about climate change, or the need for enhanced lawmaking treaties to solve global challenges. Trump’s implicit message is that the UN should not try to do more than provide meeting places for geopolitical leaders to address the peoples of the world while enjoying what the great city of New York has to offer by way of restaurants and culture. In this view the real role of the UN is to give geopolitical actors a convenient venue to pursue their foreign policy ambitions, but to step aside when it comes to prescriptions for behavior in accord with international law, or even its own Charter.

 

To give an inevitable Orwellian spin to a speech that at several points lauds democratic forms of governance as the only legitimate way to structure state/society relations, Trump singles out four countries with notably autocratic leaders for positive recognition near the close of his remarks: India, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Poland in that order. If we ask ‘what do these otherwise dissimilar states have in common’? The answer is certainly not democracy, as none are ‘democatic’ in any satisfactory sense. Periodic elections are not enough. The obvious answer to the question is ‘having autocratic leadership.’ Perhaps an even more instructive answer is ‘they all have favorable relations with Trump’s America.’ This is certainly not due to their democratic credentials. Indians refer to Modi as ‘our Trump,’ Saudi Arabia is as repressive and atrocity-prone as any state on earth, Israel maintains an apartheid state to keep Palestinians under oppressive control while it establishes an exclusivist Jewish state in what was not so long ago a non-Jewish society, and Poland is harsh toward refugees and generally repressive toward dissent.

 

Apart from Netanyahu and other authoritarian leaders, there was little in Trump’s speech that would appeal to foreign leaders, other than perhaps his show of selective respect for the sovereign rights of other states, which was incidentally the only applause line of the entire speech. It was essentially a speech telling the world that it had taken Trump only two years to make America great again. And if other states seek greatness, their leaders should follow along by relying on the Trump’s simple formula: abandon globalism, choose patriotism. Such an empty, anachronistic message was properly unheeded by those who quietly stayed in their seats throughout the speech except for the delegates from countries where Trumpism already controlled the government.

 

Q 2. Can you talk about how Trump manages to be such an effective politician at his rallies yet fails to parlay this to successful UN addresses?

 

A: At his rallies, Trump performs as a fiery demagogue to the delight of his populist base drawn from right-wing America. His audience consists mainly of white working class supporters who have reason to feel enraged and victimized by the regressive internationalism of the American political establishment, whether Democratic or Republican. Despite his wealth Trump successfully projects an anti-establishment posture that has even managed to captured the Republican internationalist mainstream, partly by promoting economic nationalism, and has effectively neutralized the neoliberal internationalism of Wall Street by claiming credit for the stock market rise while tearing down the pillars of the liberal global order so carefully constructed by bankers and corporate giants ever since 1945.

 

This demagogic appeal is furthered bolstered by promising a robust sovereignty-oriented nationalism in which the rights and interests of Americans will be given the highest priorities, illegals deported, Muslims kept out, and dog whistles of approval given to white supremism. Trump promises that these policies will be embodied in economic arrangements that are capable of keeping jobs in America, employment low, and encouraging capital investment to stay at home to reap tax benefits and windfall profits to entrepreneurs by way of environmental deregulation and the weakening of social protection for the poor and homeless.

 

Such an abandonment of internationalism in rhetoric and policy is rather displeasing to most other countries, including the Atlantic coalition that had been the mainstay of American foreign policy until Trump came along. The Trump engagement with the world is backed up by blunt forms of  militarism, and pledges to back up its threats with missiles if resistance is met, and ultimately playing the role of geopolitical bully at the UN and elsewhere. This is a departure from the avowals of American leaders since World War II to provide enlightened global leadership that is beneficial to the whole world, which can fairly be described as a brand of globalism with the military instrument present but used sparingly, although still excessively. 

Q 3. Trump might feed his base by disrespecting the international community but at some point this is not sustainable correct?

 

So far Trump has not paid a high price for ignoring global challenges such as climate change, nuclearism, famine, global migration, refugee flows, and global inequalities, but days of reckoning will come, and when they do the costs of his version of militant nationalism will be extremely high, and likely unmanageable without bringing chaos and catastrophe. In this basic sense, the reaffirmation of nationalism as the only acceptable political model for this century is a way of fiddling madly while the planet bursts into devastating flames. Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and Iran Nuclear Program Agreement, as well as his denunciation of the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council are normative retreats from the fledgling efforts to construct a world community based on the rule of law and respect for human dignity.

Q 4. Trump continues to shock and frighten the world regarding Cuba and Iran with antiquated threats of sanctions and continued hostility.     Furthermore, Trump has no method to the madness re: China and Canada in terms of trade. Can you discuss theses matters respectively and how we we’ve become a laughing stock on a world stage?

 

Instead of being a laughing stock, it is more realistic to view Trump’s America as bringing tears to the eyes of those who care about present human suffering and future prospects for peace, human rights, global justice, economic stability and equity, and ecological sustainability. What we need is an equitable globalismthat is dedicated to safeguarding and promotinghuman interests. What we don’t need is a militarized patriotism that builds walls of exclusion and criminalizes socialist governments while turning a blind eye to bloody autocrats and coal emissions, which seems to be the rough guidelines shaping Trump’s language, and most of his policies. It is not a good time for those who seek the present and future wellbeing of the human species and co-evolutionary relations with the surrounding natural environment. In contrast, citizen pilgrims seeking a world community, are dedicated to a peaceful transitions to an ecologically sensitive and equitable planetary civilization that incorporates empathy as a core value. 

 

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

7 Oct

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

 

Ever since I started this blog I have wrestled with the question of whether unrestricted free expression should be favored over a preferred atmosphere of civility. My inclination is to allow diverse views to be expressed in harsh ways, provided interactions among those submitting comments do not degenerate into a toxic blend of insult and propaganda.

 

What I have experienced is that those most dogmatically insistent on defending Israel regardless of its behavior as viewed from the perspectives of international law and international morality rely on a discourse that is quick to call critics Jew haters or anti-Semites, or to demean the professional competence of their opponents. This puts those who seek serious dialogue and responsible conversation in an awkward position. Either we withdraw to the sidelines and let the hostile comments slip through with out silent disapproval, or we respond and face repetitive cycles of further insult, which includes a questioning of motives.

 

It is fair to acknowledge that these determined apologists for Israel, despite the evidence, contend that they are doing nothing more than turning the tables on the critics. They claim that we are as insulting as they are, or more so, and that they are merely meeting fire with fire, and in the end expressing a more objective and correct view of the situation arising from Israel’s security challenges. They contend, to give just one example, that my refusal to debate with Alan Dershowitz is based on my fear of being exposed or humbled, when in reality it is a lack of respect for his demeanor and unscrupulous behavior in using his status to harm those he believes go over a line drawn by him in exposing Israel’s wrongdoing.

 

I have throughout my teaching and writing career found it useful to listen carefully to those with whom I disagree so long as they do not set forth views that echo the propaganda of governments engaged in unacceptable behavior and mix their espousal of such positions with insulting responses to their opponent. Many years ago I had such an experience in a public debate with a South African apologist for the apartheid regime that was then in control of the country. The gap in morality and civility between us was too great, and I felt degraded by my participation, which seemed to produce a kind of moral equivalence in a situation where I was convinced that there was no justification whatsoever for hiding the cruelty of apartheid as it operated in South Africa, and even less for claiming that it was an enlightened manner of addressing racial diversity. The debate degenerated into vehement denunciations of one another, which some in the audience might have found entertaining, but no one could learned anything or changed their views on iota.. In contrast I had a long debate in Wisconsin with Samuel Huntington of ‘clash of civilizations’ fame in which we deeply disagreed, but spoke with mutual respect and the audience after this event that lasted the whole day seemed grateful for the experience.

 

During the life of this blog, which began in 2010, civility has prevailed except in the context of Israel/Palestine. I would not overstate this assertion. Sometimes, comments are tasteless, irrelevant, foolish, including my own.

And I have no doubt that some subscribers or readers find my posts either too opinionated or not balanced and fair. I welcome feedback that would enable me to do better. My goal is to communicate effectively within a framework of

reasoned discourse that is also respectful of the relevance of emotion and belief. It is in this space of controversy and disagreement that the ethos of civility is most needed if communication is to be fruitful.

 

One of the liabilities of incivility is its contagious effect on those who are normally and naturally civil. Of course, it is part of the polemical atmosphere to allege that it was the other side that first breached the boundaries of civility. I admit that my sympathies are with the Palestinian struggle for their basic rights. I reject both the ultra-nationalism of Israeli apologists and the ideology and tactics of Zionist extremists. At the same time, my abiding wish is for a sustainable and just peace that benefits both peoples and is guided by the spirit and substance of equality, and welcome all those that share in some way these sentiments.

 

I suppose I am at this moment also responding to the dismal outcome of the just concluded Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. I was dismayed that party discipline and white male privilege prevailed over truth and accountability in such circumstance. One result is the further weakening of the highest judicial body in America while inflicting pain on women who have endured sexual abuse or fear it. Such a development confirms the Trumpist poisoning of the democratic process and the subversion of republican principles that depend for their vitality on conscience and trust more than party affiliation and demagogic leadership. I cannot hope to control civility and truthfulness in public space, but I am able to exert some influence in private space.

 

This may be a pompous way of communicating my frustration with the recent wave of comments, some of which I have blocked in recent days. I began re-re-blocking those most illustrative of extreme incivility. For the present, I will again become more vigilant in monitoring comments, blocking those that abandon the ethos of civility. I keep hoping that my task will become easier over time either as a result of futility by those angry propagandists or by a recognition that a civil tone is a more effective way of engaging the other unless the substantive position being defended is so weak.

 

I have noticed for some time that the rise of smear tactics aimed at activists and critics who deplore Israel’s policies and practices is directly proportional

to the weakening of Israel’s explanations as to legality, moreality, and political intention. There was a time defenders of Israel welcomed the give and take of serious discussion but no longer. With Trump in the White House it is a time for a victory dance not for diplomacy, and certainly not for dialogue.

 

As I have in the past, I invite those at odds with my views to devote their attention to some among many websites dedicated to promoting Israel’s priorities. Among these, the most influential these days may be the Middle East Forum, a vehicle for the views of Daniel Pipes, and the Gatestone Institute that was formerly a mouthpiece for John Bolton, and all along a friendly venue for Dershowitz. To avoid voices such as mine, these websites do  not pretend an openness to dialogue. There is no comments section.

 

I suppose that closing down the comments section is an alternative. I resist such an alternative as I welcome interaction and communication with likeminded and with adversaries ready to listen and reluctant to denounce and impugn. As my disposition is toward openness, I will probably become again soon permissive, and so disappoint, and even antagonize, both sides.

Rethinking Nuclearism

6 Oct

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is the writeup of a presentation in Lund, Sweden at a peace gathering organized and moderated by Stefan Andersson on Oct. 3, 2018.]

 

Rethinking Nuclearism: Thirty Years Later

 

 

More than thirty years ago I applied the term ‘nuclearism’ to the association between the hardware dimensions of the weaponry and their various software dimensions ranging from strategic doctrine to the infatuations of powerful men with their awesome destructive capabilities. This weaponry gave humanity limitless power, not only potentially destructive of a civilization or many civilizations, but threatening the future viability of human and non-human species alike. Such a capacity to wreak destruction had previously belonged in the province of apocalyptic myth and religious foreboding. So when actualized by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the results of breathtaking technological breakthroughs., the effects recast the very essence of human condition. Myth and religion lost much of their historical agency, with final agency over human destiny seemingly transferred from God (or the gods) to ordinary human beings.

 

Yet those atomic explosions also challenged the rationality of the modern world, which supposedly replaced superstition and faith as the foundation for action and security in the world. Why retain a weaponry with such irrational properties now, which would only get worse in the future? The early reaction to nuclear weapons was accompanied by this rational imperative, which at first was widely endorsed by many political leaders, as well as the public. The vision of a world without nuclear weapons was at first not a dream of global idealists but viewed as a rational necessity if the modern world was going to survive and flourish. Before long this mood of foreboding was overcome by realists who managed to build a rational edifice encompassing enough to house nuclear weaponry, initially against the geopolitical background of the emerging Cold War. This grand exercise in establishing the rationality of irrationality was given the name ‘deterrence,’ and despite many changes in the global setting has persisted in a variety of formulations until today.

 

At the same time, there needed to be ways to reduce the dangers of geopolitical challenges, expensive and risky extensions of nuclearism, and above all, a way found to curtail the spread of such equalizing power to other states. In effect, it was recognized early on that nuclearism, to be sustainable, needed to be managed.To achieve this goal required a Faustian Bargain was needed to induce the great majority of non-nuclear states to forego a nuclear option in a manner that did not compromise their rights as sovereign states. The silver bullet of constructing a management system was nonproliferation, formalized in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that entered into force in 1968.  The inducements for the non-nuclear states seemed substantial: unrestricted access to the benefits of what were called ‘peaceful uses’ of nuclear technology (Article IV) and a right to withdraw from the treaty on three months notice if ‘supreme interests’ reflecting the occurrence of ‘extraordinary events’ so dictated (Article X). The biggest inducement of all was a pledge by the nuclear weapons states, as a matter of urgency and good faith, to agree to pursue nuclear disarmament, and beyond this, general and complete disarmament (Article VI). It should be noted that the NPT fully respected the sovereign rights of non-nuclear states to pursue their security as a matter of national policy, including even the right to withdraw from the treaty, and provided no enforcement mechanisms for verifying non-compliance or providing enforcement in the event of serious violations by either taking steps to acquire the weaponry or through a refusal to negotiate disarmament in good faith.

 

What has happened since in the 50 years since the NPT was negotiated is both startling and almost totally overlooked even by the most severe critics of nuclearism. The NPT framework has been unilaterally supplemented by a geopolitical regimeof Western powers, headed by the United States. This regime undertakes to enforce the NPT against actual and potential violators, that is, exceeding the obligations accepted by the parties to the NPT. As the attack on Iraq in 2003, the coercive diplomacy directed at North Korea, and especially Iran, has shown, this geopolitical regime takes precedence over international law restraints on the use of force in international disputes, and overrides claims of sovereign rights. At the same time, the nuclear weapons states, without renouncing Article VI, have completely failed to fulfill their commitment to seek nuclear disarmament, a failure that the International Court of Justice identified in its 1996 Advisory Opinion. There is no clearer or more significant demonstration of the primacy of geopolitics in the current enactment of state-centric world order. This impression is reinforced by the refusal of the United States to allow parties to the NPT to exercise their legal right of withdrawal in accord with Article X of the treaty. Compliance with the NPT should be demanded and the geopolitical regime of selective enforcement should be abandoned.

 

These extremely serious unilateral modifications of the NPT bargain has met with relatively little formal opposition from the affected non-nuclear states and the peoples of the world. The nuclear weapons states have been successful in diverting attention from these modifications by introducing arms controlas a complement to deterrence,even presenting arms control arrangements as steps toward disarmament. Actually, the opposite is true. Arms control is dedicated to cutting risks and costs associated with nuclearism. Its core claim is ‘to make the world safe with nuclear weapons’ rather than the transformativeidea of ‘a world without nuclear weapons.’ These steps involve various international agreements designed to avoid unintended or accidental uses of nuclear weapons. Their dominant goal is to stabilize the managerial approach while treating transformative or abolitionist demands that the weapons be eliminated in a reliably supervised manner as utopian and imprudent.  

 

The confusion that arises from the failure to distinguish these two approaches has helped explain the neutralization of anti-nuclear forces over the decades, despite their enjoyment of overwhelming popular support. The anti-nuclear movement has been unable to mount and sustain a focused campaign against nuclearism. My view is that until this antagonism between management of nuclearism is understood and overcome, there will be no meaningful denuclearization of world politics. Until the managerial approach is directed challenged and repudiated, anti-nuclear forces will be frustrated, forever beating their heads against an iron wall of resistance by the politics of nuclearism. In other words, to move toward a world without nuclear weapons requires an initial conceptual clarity that has so far been lacking. It may, of course, continue to be prudent for intrinsic reasons to adopt certain arms control measures, but to do so now with eyes wide open, which means recognizing that such a step is likely to be a step awayfrom adopting a transformative approach to nuclearism.

 

What is wrong with this reliance on the managerial approach to regulating nuclearism based on the NPT, the NPT geopolitical regime, and arms control, especially given the apparent political unattainability of nuclear disarmament? I believe a series of strong critical assessments make the managerial approach ethical unacceptable and politically flawed:

 

–by adopting a geopolitical solution to nuclearism the reliance is placed on hierarchyor nuclear apartheid rather than on equalityamong states and norms that treat equals equally;

 

–by relying on deterrence, premised on assumptions of strategic infallibility and unconditional rationality the weight of human experience is ignored, which in contrast exhibits pervasive fallibility and sporadic irrationality;

 

–by prohibiting some states (e.g. Iran) while permitting other states (e.g. Israel) to acquire nuclear weapons the geopolitical regime also suffers from unprincipled discrimination;

 

–by claiming rights to enforce the NPT, the geopolitical regime violates the UN Charter, authorizes aggression, and specific Charter norms prohibiting non-defensive threats and uses of international force;

 

–by rejecting a reactive approach to violations of the NPT, the geopolitical enforcers adopt a preemptive war/preventive war rationale that is inconsistent with contemporary international law;

 

–by threatening massive retaliation and avoiding no first use commitments, nuclear weapons states violate prohibitions against disproportionate, indiscriminate, and inhumane uses of force as embodied in customary international law and international humanitarian law (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocols of 1977);

 

–by relying on a managerial approach to nuclearism the NPT/AC approach as enhanced by the geopolitical regime evades the bioethical challenges associated with civilizational and survival threats directed at the human species as a whole;

 

–by overriding the explicit obligations of an international treaty through the imposition of a geopolitical regime, the approach taken diminishes respect for international agreements, political compromise, and the role of international norms of morality and law.

 

 

Concluding Concern. If transformational approach is unattainable and the managerial approach deeply flawed, what does that suggest about the current phase of the struggle of the peoples of the world and their governmental allies against nuclearism? It implies, first of all, clarity of analysis so that false hopes are not raised. Secondly, by exposing the serious flaws of the managerial approach there are many reasons to explore and revive support for a transformational approach. Thirdly, in responding to specific initiatives, their relationship to stabilizing the management of nuclearism should be taken into account. Fourthly, a group of BAN states should consider submitting a complaint to the International Court of Justice alleging violations of Articles VI and X of the NPT, as well as organizing in the General Assembly a request for an Advisory Opinion on whether the management of nuclearism is consistent with international law.

 

As has been the case ever since 1945 ‘living with nuclear weapons’ has been problematic, although the political context has varied over time.  The most effective tactics at the present time is to promote an educational understanding of why transformation is necessary and desirable, while management is unacceptable. Additionally, it is vital to mount sustained pressure by the governments of non-nuclear states and international civil society on nuclear weapons states to comply with all the material provisions of the NPT and abandon the geopolitical option of unlawful enforcement that is selective and discriminatory, besides being unlawful, dangerous, and a major cause of international tensions and warfare.