Archive by Author

Attacking Syria

18 Apr

Attacking Syria

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is an assessment of the recent Syrian missile attack by the armed forces of the U.S., UK, and France from a variety of perspectives. It is a modified and expanded version of a text earlier published in The Wire  (Delhi) and Il Manifesto(Rome). I intend to write two further posts suggested by the controversy generated by the airstrikes of April 14, 2018 against sites associated with Syria’s alleged chemical weapons capabilities. These strikes raise questions of international law, domestic constitutional authorization for international uses of force, strategic logic, and moral imperatives and rationalizations. Each of these issues is capable of multiple interpretations raising further concerns about the appropriate location of the authority to decide given the nature of world order in the 21stcentury.]

 

 

Preliminary Reflections

 

At this stage it seems reasonable to wonder whether Syria was attacked because it didn’tuse chemical weapons rather than because it did. That may seem strange until we remember rather weighty suspicions surrounding the main accusers, especially the White Helmets with their long standing links to the U.S. Government, and past skepticism about their inflammatory accusations that critics claim reflect fabricated evidence conveniently available at crisis moments.

 

A second irreverent puzzle is whether the dominant motive for the attack was not really about what was happening in Syria, but rather what was nothappening in the domestic politics of the attacking countries. Every student of world politics knows that when the leadership of strong states feel stressed or cornered, they look outside their borders for enemies to blame and slay, counting on transcendent feelings of national pride and patriotic unity associated with international displays of military prowess to distract the discontented folks at home, at least for awhile. All three leaders of the attacking coalition were beset by rather severe tremors of domestic discontent, making attractive the occasion for a cheap shot at Syria at the expense of international law and the UN, just to strike a responsive populist chord with their own citizenry—above all, to show the world that the West remains willing and able to strike violently at Islamic countries without fearing retaliation. Beleaguered Trump, unpopular Macron, and post-Brexit May all have low approval ratings among their own voters, and seem in free fall as leaders making them particularly dangerous internationally.

 

Of course, this last point requires clarification, and some qualification to explain the strictly limited nature of the military strike. Although the attackers wanted to claim the high moral ground as defenders of civilized limits on military actions in wartime, itself an oxymoron, they wanted even more crucially (and sensibly) to avoid escalation, carrying risks of a dangerous military encounter with Russia, and possibly Iran. As Syrian pro-interventionists have angrily pointed out in their disappointment, the attack was more in the nature of a gesture than a credible effort to influence the future behavior of the Bashar al-Assad government, much less tip the balance in the Syrian struggle against the government. As such, it strengthens the argument of those who interpret the attack as more about domestic crises of legitimacy unfolding in these illiberal democraciesthan it is about any reshaping of the Syrian ordeal, or a commitment to upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention.

 

A third line of interpretation insisting that what was said in public by the leaders and representatives of the three attacking Western powers was not the real reason that the attack was undertaken. In this optic, it is pressure from Israel to mute President Trump’s feared slide toward disengagement from Syria as a prelude to a wider strategic withdrawal from the Middle East as a whole, a region that Trump in his speech justifying the attack calls ‘troubled’ beyond the capacity of the United States to fix. At least temporarily, from Israel’s point of view, the air strikes sent a signal to Moscow that the United States was not ready to accept Syria becoming a geopolitical pawn of Russia and Iran. Supposedly, the Netanyahu entourage, although pleased by the Jerusalem move, the challenge to the Iran Nuclear Agreement, and silence about the IDF lethal responses to the Gaza Great Return March, have new worries that when it comes to regional belligerence and overall military engagement, Trump will be no more help than Obama, who quite irrationally became their nightmare American president.

 

And if that is not enough to ponder, consider that Iraq was savagely attacked in 2003 by a U.S./UK coalition under similar circumstances, that is, without either an international law justification or authorization by the UN Security Council, the only two ways that international force can be lawfully employed, and even then only as a last resort after sanctions and diplomatic avenues have been tried and failed. It turned out that the political rationale for recourse to aggressive war against Iraq, its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was totally false, either building the case for war on the elaborately orchestrated presentation of false evidence or more generously, as awkwardly victimized by a hugely embarrassing intelligence lapse.

 

To be fair, this Syrian military caper could have turned out far worse from the perspective of world peace and regional security. The 105 missile attack war over in 3 minutes, no civilian casualties have been reported, and thankfully, any challenge to the Russian and Iranian military presence in Syria was deliberately excluded from the targeting plan, or to the Syrian government, thus taking precautions to avoidT setting in motion the rightly feared retaliation and escalation cycle. This was not an idle worry. More than at any time since the end of the Cold War sober concerns abounded preceding the attack that a clash of political wills or an accidental targeting mistake could cause geopolitical stumbles culminating in World War III.

 

Historically minded observers pointed out alarming parallels with the confusions and exaggerated responses that led directly to the prolonged horror of World War I. The relevant restraint of the April 14thmissile attacks seems to be the work of the Pentagon, and certainly not the hawk-infested White House. Military planners designed the attack to minimize risks of escalation, and possibly even reaching behind the scenes an undisclosed negotiated understanding with the Russians. In effect, Trump’s red line on chemical weapons was supposedly defended, and redrawn at the UN as a warning to Damascus, but as suggested above this was the public face of the attack, not its principal motivations, which remain unacknowledged.

 

 

Doubting the Facts

 

Yet can we be sure at this stage that at least the factual basis of this aggressive move accurately portrayed Syria as having launched a lethal chlorine and likely nerve gas attack on the people of Douma, killing at least 40? On the basis of available evidence, the facts have not yet been established beyond reasonable doubt. We have been fooled too often in the past by the confident claims of the intelligence services working for these same countries that sent this last wave of missiles to Syria. International maneuvering for instant support of a punitive response to Douma seemed a rush to judgment amid an array of strident, yet credible, voices of doubt, including from UN sources. The most cynical observers are suggesting that the timing of the attack, if not its real purpose other than the vindication of Trump’s red line, is to destroy evidence that might incriminate others than the Syrian government as the responsible party. Such suspicions are fueled by the refusal to wait until the factual claims could be validated. As matters stand, the airstrike seem hastened to make sure that the respected Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), when finally carrying out its fact finding mission would have nothing to find.

 

To allay reactions that these are ideologically driven criticisms, it is notable that the Wall Street Journal, never a voice for peace and moderation, put forward its view that it was not “clear who carried out the attack” on Douma, a view shared by several mainstream media outlets including the Associated Press. Blaming Syria, much less attacking, was definitely premature, and quite possibly altogether false, undermining the essential factual foundation of the coalition claim without even reaching the formidable doubts associated with issues of the unlawfulness and illegitimacy of an international use of non-defensive force without authorization by the United Nations.

 

 

Remnants of Colonialism

 

Less noticed, but starkly relevant, is the intriguing reality that the identity of the three states responsible for this aggressive act share strong colonialist credentials that expose the deep roots of the turmoil afflicting in different ways the entire Middle East. It is relevant to recall that it was British and French colonial ambitions in 1916 that established the blueprint for carving up the collapsed Ottoman Empire, imposing artificial political communities with borders reflecting European priorities not natural affinities, and taking no account of the preferences of the resident population. This colonial plot foiled Woodrow Wilson’s more positive proposal to implement self-determination based on affinities of ethnicity, tradition, and religion of those formerly living under Ottoman rule.

 

The United States fully supplanted this colonial duopoly as the colonial sun was setting around the world, especially after the Europeans faltered in the 1956 Suez Crisis. At the same time the U.S. quickly made its own heavy footprint known, feared, and resented throughout the region with an updated imperial agenda featuring Soviet containment, oil geopolitics, and untethered support for Israel. Even earlier in 1953 the Truman Doctrine and CIA support for the overthrow of the democratically elected and nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh disclosed the extent of U.S. involvement in the region.  These strategic priorities were later supplemented by worries after 1979 about the spread of Islam and fears after 2001 that nuclear weaponry could fall into the wrong political hands. After a century of exploitation, intervention, and betrayal by the West, it should come as no surprise that anti-Western extremist movements have surfaced throughout the Arab World, and engendered some populist sympathies despite their barbaric tactics.

 

 

 

Violating International Law, Undermining the UN

 

It is helpful to recall the Kosovo War (1999) and the Libyan War (2011), both managed as NATO operations carried out in defiance of international law and the UN Charter. Because of an anticipated Russian veto, NATO, with strong regional backing in Europe launched a punishing air attack that drove Serbia out of Kosovo. Despite the presence of a strong case for humanitarian intervention within the Kosovo context it set a dangerous precedent, which advocates of a regime-changing intervention in Iraq found convenient to invoke a few years later. In effect the U.S. found itself backed into insisting on an absurd position, to the effect, that the veto should be respected without any questioning when the West uses it, most arbitrarily and frequently to protect Israel from much more trivial, yet justifiable, challenges than what this missile attack on the basic sovereign rights of the internationally legitimate government of Syria signifies.

 

American diplomats do not try to justify, or even explain, their inconsistent attitudes toward the authority of the UN veto, despite the starkness of the contradiction. Perhaps, it is a textbook example of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. More accessibly, it is a prime instance of a continued reliance on the benefits of American exceptionalism. As the self-anointed guarantor of virtue and perpetual innocence in world politics the United States is not bound by the rules and standards by which its leaders judge the conduct of others, especially adversaries.

 

As a personal aside, with some apologies owed, I was the main author of the section of the report in my role as a member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, which put forth the rationale of ‘illegal but legitimate’ with respect to the Kosovo intervention. I had misgivings at the time, but was swayed by the shadow of Srebrenica and the difficulties of finding a consensus among the members of the Commission to put forth this line of argument, qualified to an extent in the text of the report, by invoking the exceptional facts and expressing what turned out to be the vain hope that the UNSC would itself create greater flexibility in responding to humanitarian crises of this kind and overcome what seemed at the time giving credibility to a pattern of justification for war making that could in the future be twisted out of shape by geopolitical opportunism. My fears have been realized, and I would now be very reluctant to endorse my own formulations that seemed, on balance the right way to go back in the year 2000. Now I lose sleep whenever I recall that I was responsible for what has become an insidious conceptual innovation, ‘illegal but legitimate,’ which in unscrupulous geopolitical hands operates as an ‘open Sesame’ rendering irrelevant Charter constraints.

 

The Libyan precedent is also relevant, although in a different way, to the marginalization of the UN and international law to which this latest Syrian action is a grim addition. Because the people of the Libyan city of Benghazi truly faced an imminent humanitarian emergency in March of 2011 the argument for lending UN protection seemed strong. Russia and China, permanent members of the UNSC, and other skeptical members, were persuaded to suspend their suspicions about Western motives and abstained from a resolution specifically authorizing the establishment of a No Fly Zone to protect Benghazi. It didn’t take long to disabuse Russia and China, mocking their trust in assurances by the NATO states that their objective were limited and strictly humanitarian. They were quickly shocked into the realization that actual NATO mission in Libya was regime change, not humanitarian relief. In other words, these same Western powers who are currently claiming at the UN that international law is on their side with regard to Syria, have themselves a terrible record of flouting and manipulating UN authority whenever convenient and insisting on their full panoply of obstructive rights under the Charter when Israel’s wrongdoing is under review.

 

Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s flamethrower at the UN, arrogantly reminded members of the Security Council that the U.S. would carry out a military strike against Syria whether or not  it was permitted by the Organization. In effect, even the veto as a shield is not sufficient to quench Washington’s geopolitical thirst. It also claims the disruptive option of the sword of American exceptionalism to circumvent the veto when it anticipates being blocked by the veto of an adversary. Such duplicity with respect to legal procedures at the UN puts the world back on square one when it comes to restraining the international use of force by geopolitical actors. Imagine the indignation that the U.S. would muster if Russia or China proposed at the Security Council a long overdue peacekeeping (R2P) mission to protect the multiply abused population of Gaza. And if these countries went further, and had the geopolitical gall to act outside the UN because of an expected veto by NATO members of the Security Council and the urgency of the humanitarian justification, the world would almost certainly experience the bitter taste of apocalyptic warfare.

 

 

The Charter Framework is Not Obsolete

 

The Charter framework makes as much sense, or more, than when crafted in 1945. Recourse to force is only permissible as an act of self-defense against a prior armed attack, and then only until the Security Council has time to act. In non-defensive situations, such as the Syrian case, the Charter makes clear beyond reasonable doubt that the Security Council alone possesses the authority to mandate the use of force, including even in response to an ongoing humanitarian emergency. The breakthrough idea in the Charter is to limit as much as language can, discretion by states to decide on their own when to have recourse to acts of war. Syria is the latest indication that this hopeful idea has been crudely cast in the geopolitical wastebasket.

 

It will be up to the multitudes to challenge these developments, and use their mobilized influence to reverse the decline of international law and the authority of the UN. Most members of the UN are themselves so beholden to the realist premises of the system that they will never do more than squawk from time to time.

 

Ending Trump’s boastful tweet about the Syrian airstrike with the words ‘mission accomplished’ unwittingly reminds us of the time in 2003 when the same phrase was on a banner behind George W. Bush as he spoke of victory in Iraq from the deck of an aircraft carrier with the sun setting behind him. Those words soon came back to haunt Bush, and if Trump were capable of irony, he might have realized that he is likely to endure an even more humbling fate, while lacking Bush’s willingness to later acknowledge his laughable mistake.

 

 

Fudging Constitutional Authorization

 

Each of the attacking countries claims impeccable democratic credentials, except when their effect is to impede war lust. Each purports to give its legislative branch the option of withholding approval for any contemplated recourse to military action, except in the case that the homeland is under attack. Yet here, where there was no attack by Syria and no imminent security threat of any kind each of these governments joined in an internationallyunlawful attack without even bothering to seek domesticlegislative approval, claiming only that the undertaking served the national interest of their governments by enforcing the norms of prohibition contained in the Chemical Weapons Convention.

 

The American attempts to supply flimsy domestic justifications are decisively refuted by two widely respected international jurists, including one, Jack Goldsmith, who was a leading neoconservative legal advisor in the early years of the George W. Bush presidency. [Jack Goldsmith & Oona Hathaway, “Bad Legal Arguments for the Syria Airstrikes,” Lawfare website, Aprile 14, 2018]  Their article rejects arguments based on theAuthorization for the Use of Military Force, which in 2001 gave broad authority to use military force in response to the 9/11 attacks, but has no bearing here as Syria has never been accused of any link. The other legal claim that has been brought forward argues that the airstrikes are expressions of the president’s authority under Article II of the Constitution to serve as Commander in Chief, but any freshman law student knows, or should know, that this authority is available only if the use of force has been previously validated by Congress or is in response to an attack or a plausible argument of the perceived imminence of such an attack. Revealingly, the internal justification for Trump’s authority has not been disclosed as yet, and has been heavily classified, showing once again that government secrets in wartime are not primarily kept to prevent adversaries from finding things out, but as with the Pentagon Papers, are useful mainly to keep Americans in the dark about policies that affect their wellbeing and possibly their survival. It also gives the leadership more space for deception and outright lies.

 

It has been reliably reported that the Trump White House preferred to act without seeking Congressional approval, presumably to uphold the trend toward establishing an ‘executive presidency’ when it comes to war/peace issues, thereby effectively negating a principal objective of the U.S. Constitution to apply the separation of powers doctrine to any recourse to war. This also marginalizes the War Powers Act enacted into law in the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the vain attempt to restore the Constitutional arrangement after a period during which the President arrogated power to wage war and the policy acted upon produced the worst foreign policy failure in all of American history.

 

 

Where Does This Leave Us?

 

There are several levels of response:

 

–with respect to Syria, nothing has changed.

 

–with respect to the UN and international law, a damaging blow was struck.

 

–with respect to constitutionalism, a further move away from respect for separation of powers, thus marginalizing the legislative branch with respect to war/peace policies.

 

–with respect to oppositional politics, citizen protest, and media reactions, an apathetic atmosphere of acquiescence, with debate shifting to questions of purpose and effectiveness without virtually no reference to legality, and quite little, even to legitimacy (that is, moral and political justifications).

 

Advertisements

Toward the Creation of a World Parliament: Strongly Recommended Reading  

13 Apr

Toward the Creation of a World Parliament: Strongly Recommended Reading

 

This is a brief promotional comment to call attention to the publication of a truly outstanding contribution to creative and restorative world order thinking. The book is entitled A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21stCenturyby Jo Leinen and Andreas Bummel, translated from German by Ray Cunningham, and published in 2018 in Berlin under the imprint of Democracy Without Borders. The book is currently available for purchase from Amazon.

 

I hope at a later time to do a serious review of this urgent plea for what might be called ‘cosmopolitan rationalism,’ the undergirding of a populist movement dedicated to overcoming the menace of the war system and predatory capitalism, placing a great emphasis on the potential of institutional innovation beyond the level of the state, above all, through the establishment of a world parliament with legislative authority. This would be a revolutionary step in the governance of humanity, and if it happens, is likely to be preceded in the evolutionary agenda of the authors by a global assembly endowed with recommendatory powers but lacking a mandate to make and implement binding decisions, and hence incapable of resolving conflicts or solving challenges of global scope.

 

The authors are both dedicated advocates of the institutionalization of governmental authority of regional and global scope. Leinen

has been a leading member of the European Parliament since 1999 as well as a German government official. Bummel is an internationally known and respected champion of world federalism incorporating democratic values. He is co-founder and director of the NGO, Democracy Without Borders.

 

What makes this book a great gift to humanity at a time of global emergency, is what I would call its ‘informed global humanism’ that sheds light on the long and distinguished history of proposals for global parliamentary authority.  The institutional focus is greatly expanded and deepened by an erudite consideration of why global problems, as varied as food, water, environment, climate change, and economic justice cannot be solved without the presence and help of a world parliament capable of generating enforceable law. The authors bring to bear an astonishing range of knowledge to support their conclusions, drawing on the accumulated wisdom of philosophers, scientists, social scientists, moral authority figures, and statesmen to illuminate the question of how to meet the formidable challenges of the age. This enlargement of concerns lends weight to their commitment to clear the path of obstacles currently blocking the formation of a world parliament.

 

Indeed, while building their central case for a world parliament, Leinen and Bummel, have authored a book that tells you all you need to know to understand with some depth what is wrong with the world as it now functions, how it can best be fixed, and by whom. Their central political faith is rooted in an espousal of democratic values that they project as a positive global trend. Only here do I have some reservations, reflecting my reactions to the militarization of democracy in the United States and to the strong trends favoring autocracy in most leading countries. I do share with the authors a skepticism about the capacity of existing elites to promote the necessary reforms, as well as their sense that the time of a transnational revolution of the industrial proletariat has passed, with hopes now resting in the eruption of a transnational democratic and cosmopolitan democratic movement promoting progressive and humane forms of global governance.

 

I strongly recommend this book as a source of wisdom, thought, and the fashioning of a positive vision of the human future. Pasted below is the table of contents of A World Parliament to give a more concrete picture of the scope and grandeur of this extraordinary scholarly contribution with manifold activist implications for those of us who consider themselves citizen pilgrims.

 

 

Detailed Contents of A WORLD PARLIAMENT

 

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………. 1

 

PART I

 

The idea of a world parliament: its history and pioneers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

  1. From the Stoics to Kant: cosmopolitanism, natural law, and the idea

of a contract ………………………………………………………………… 8

Cosmopolitanism in ancient Greece 8—Cosmopolitan roots in India and China 9—

Vitoria’s ‘republic of the whole world’ 10—Conceptions of peace under ‘the sovereign

power of the state’ 12—The idea of the social contract in Hobbes and Locke 13—The

social contract and Wolff’s ‘V.lkerstaat’ 16—Kant’s cosmopolitan project 17

  1. The 18th century: enlightenment, revolutions, and parliamentarism ….. 20

The American federal state and representative democracy 20—The historical roots of

parliamentarism 22—Cosmopolitanism in the French Revolution 24—Cloots’ ‘republic

of humanity’ 25—The end of cosmopolitanism 26

  1. From Vienna to The Hague: the dynamics of integration and the

inter-parliamentary movement ………………………………………….. 27

Sartorius’ ‘peoples’ republic’ 27—Pecqueur’s concept of worldwide integration 28—

Pecqueur’s world federation and world parliament 29—Tennyson’s ‘Parliament of

Man’ 31—The long struggle to extend the right to vote 32—The birth of the inter-parliamentary

movement 33—The establishment of the IPU 34—The Hague Peace Conferences

as a catalyst 35—Internationalism in the USA 36—An initiative at the IPU 37—

Arguments emerging out of the German peace movement 39

  1. World War and the League of Nations ………………………………….. 42

The programme of the ‘Round Table’ group 42—The theory of sociocultural evolution

and a world federation 43—A world parliament on the Versailles agenda 44—The ‘German

Plan’ for the constitution of the League 46—Disappointment over the League of

Nations 46

  1. The Second World War and the atomic bomb: World Federalism in

the early days of the UN ………………………………………………….. 50

Federalism under pressure from fascism 50—The growth of world federalism 51—

Planning the post-war order 53—Fundamental criticism of the UN, and the shock of

Detailed Contents ix

the atom bomb 54—Prominent support for a federal world order 55—Reves’ critique

of democracy, the nation state and sovereignty 56—Albert Einstein and Albert Camus

as advocates 57—The position of the Catholic Church 58—The British initiative of Nov.

1945 59—The issue of a Charter review conference 60—The foundation of the Council

of Europe 62—Sohn’s proposal for a parliamentary assembly at the UN 62—Models for

a world constitution 63—The Clark and Sohn model 64—Parliamentary cooperation

for a world federation 65

  1. Bloc confrontation and the rise of the NGOs …………………………… 68

World federalism caught between the fronts in the Cold War 68—The federalist movement

and the founding of NATO 68—The declining popularity of world federalism

and a world parliament 69—The World Order Models Project 71—The growing importance

of NGOs 71—The idea of a ‘second chamber’ 73—The issue of weighted voting

in the UN General Assembly 74—Bertrand’s report 75— Perestroika and Gorbachev’s

initiative 76

  1. The end of the Cold War: the democratization wave, and the

revitalization of the debate ……………………………………………….. 79

The democratization wave 79—The revitalization of the debate 80—A UN parliamentary

assembly as a strategic concept 81—Support for a world parliament and a UNPA 82—

The report by the Commission on Global Governance 85—The report by the World

Commission on Culture and Development 87

  1. Democracy in the era of globalization …………………………………… 88

Globalization and the nation state 88—The theory of ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ 90—

The Falk and Strauss essays 93—A community of the democracies? 94— H.ffe’s federal

world republic 95—The call for a WTO parliament and the role of the IPU 97—Other

initiatives towards a world parliament and a UNPA 98

  1. The ‘War on Terror’, the role of the IPU, and the Campaign for a

UN Parliamentary Assembly ……………………………………………. 102

The ban on landmines, the International Criminal Court and the World Social

Forum 102—New contributions on the idea of a global parliament 103—The Lucknow

conferences 104—9/11 and global democracy 105—The report by the German Bundestag‘

s Enquete Commission 106—The report by the World Commission on the Social

Dimension of Globalization 107—The Ubuntu Forum campaign 108—The Cardoso

panel report 108—Growing support for a UNPA 111—The international campaign

for a UNPA 114—Calls for a UNPA since 2007 117—The third World Conference of

Speakers of Parliament 120—The European Parliament Resolution of 2011 121—The

de Zayas recommendations 123—Later developments 124—The report by the

Albright-Gambari Commission 126—The election of Trump and ongoing efforts 127

 

 

PART II

 

Governance and democracy in the 21st century . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

  1. The Anthropocene, planetary boundaries, and the tragedy of the

commons ………………………………………………………………… 132

The era of humankind 132—Earth system boundaries 133—The problem of voluntarism

135—The ‘tragedy of the commons’ 137—The management of global common

goods 139—The problem of the generations 140—Global majority decision-making 141—

The tragedy of international law 143

  1. Overshoot, the ‘Great Transformation’, and a global eco-social

market economy …………………………………………………………. 144

Overshoot and ecological footprint 144—The end of the Utopia of growth 145—The

challenge of global eco-social development 146—‘Political barriers’ as the main obstacle

to transformation 147—The process of state formation and the rise of the market economy

148—The ‘double movement’ between market fundamentalism and state interventionism

149—A global eco-social market economy 150

  1. Turbo-capitalism, the financial crisis, and countering global

deregulation ……………………………………………………………… 153

The relevance of the ‘double movement’ and the emancipation question 153—The

financial crisis and the continuing systemic risk 154—State intervention to stabilize the

financial system 156—The financial system as a ‘priority global public good’ 157—The

anarchic system of international law 158—Liberalism, Laissez-faire and the question of

a world state 159—The global race to deregulate 160—The key role of tax havens and

anonymous shell companies 161—The hidden trillions 164—Global state formation

as the goal of the counter-movement 165

  1. A world currency, global taxation, and fiscal federalism ………………. 167

A world currency and a world central bank 167—The impact of national monetary policy

and currency wars 168—Recent proposals for a world reserve currency 169—The

fiscal race to the bottom 170—Uniform taxation of multinational corporations 172—

Rejection by the OECD 173—Global fiscal federalism and the restitution of fiscal sovereignty

174—Ideas for global taxes 175—The management, supervision and expenditure

of global tax revenues 176

  1. World domestic policy, trans-sovereign problems, and complex

interdependence …………………………………………………………. 179

‘Trans-sovereign problems’ 179—The concept of interdependence 180—Transgovernmental

networks and the merging of domestic and foreign policy 181—The evolutionary

phases of the international order 183—Sovereignty and the era of ‘implosion’ 184

Detailed Contents xi

  1. The fragility of world civilization, existential risks, and human

evolution …………………………………………………………………. 187

The potential for worldwide collapse 187—The Genome as part of the heritage of humankind

188—Reprogenetics 189—Transhumanism and artificial intelligence 190—

Autonomous weapons systems 191—Bioterrorism, nanobots and new pathogens 193—

The need for regulation under global law 194

  1. The threat of nuclear weapons, disarmament, and collective security … 196

Nulcear war as ‘the end of all things’ 196—The danger of nuclear war 197—The risk of

nuclear accidents 198—The unfulfilled commitment to general and complete disarmament

200—The architecture of nuclear disarmament 202—The link between nuclear

and conventional disarmament 204—The McCloy-Zorin Accords 206—The unrealized

peace concept of the UN Charter, and UN armed forces 207—The four pillars of a

world peace order 209—The role of a World Parliament 210

  1. Fighting terrorism, ‘blowback’, and data protection …………………… 212

The ‘war on terror’ as an end in itself 212—The covert warfare of the USA 212—The

consequences of US foreign policy and the ‘war against terror’ 213—Human rights violations

and the USA’s drone warfare 215—The roots of transnational terrorism and

the relevance of a World Parliament 216—The global surveillance system and universal

disenfranchisement 219—Global data protection legislation 221

  1. A world law enforcement system, criminal prosecution, and the

post-American era ………………………………………………………. 223

The need for world police law and a supranational police authority 223—The failure of

classical sanctions 224—A supranational police to support the ICC 225—Extending the

prosecuting powers of the ICC 227—Strengthening international criminal prosecution

and a World Parliament 229—Interpol and accountability 231—A World Parliament as

an element of world police law 232—The role and significance of the USA 235

  1. Global food security and the political economy of hunger …………….. 238

The extent of worldwide hunger and the right to adequate nutrition 238—Population

growth and food production 240—The fragility of global food supply 242—Dependence

on oil and phosphates 244—Hunger as a problem of political economy 244—

The relevance of democracy and the international system 245—Agricultural subsidies,

the WTO and food security 247—Commodity markets and financial speculation 248—

Food security as a global public good and the failure of the G20 249—The FAO, a World

Food Board and global food reserves 250—Free trade, food security and a world peace

order 252—Democratising global food policy and a World Parliament 253

  1. Global water policy ……………………………………………………… 256

The state of drinking water supply 256—Water security as a global concern 257—The

democratic deficit in water governance and a World Parliament 259

  1. The elimination of poverty, and basic social security for all …………… 262

Poverty as a key issue 262—Extreme poverty and the right to an adequate standard of

living 262—The need for a new approach to international development 265—

Economic growth is not enough 266—Social security as the foundation of a planetary

social contract 267—A global basic income 268—Universal access to the global commons

270—The dream of a life free from economic compulsion 270

  1. Global class formation, the ‘super class’, and global inequality ………… 272

The emergence of global class conflicts and the role of the middle class 272—The

global precariat 274—The concept of the Multitude 275—The super rich and global

power structures 277—The transnational capitalist class 279—A transnational state

apparatus 280—The interconnections between transnational corporations 281—The

need for a global antitrust authority 282—Global inequality and instability 284—

Inequality as the cause of the financial crisis 285—The growth of capital investments

and a global tax on capital 286—The need for global public policy instruments and a

World Parliament 287—A new global class compromise 289

  1. The debate on world government, the age of entropy, and

federalism ………………………………………………………………… 290

The global elite and the question of a world government 290—The spectre of a

global Leviathan 292—Hierarchical order and complexity 294—Different types of

hierarchies 294—The principle of subsidiarity 295—The fragmentation of global governance

and international law 296—Coherent world law and a World Parliament 298—

The bewildering world order and the ‘age of entropy’ 298—The entropic decline of

world civilization? 300—World federalism as a means of reducing complexity 301—A

world state as a taboo topic 302—The teetering paradigm of intergovernmentalism 303—

The standard reactionary arguments 305

  1. The third democratic transformation and the global democratic

deficit …………………………………………………………………….. 307

The waves of democratization 307—Economic development and democracy 309—The

post-industrial transformation in values 310—Democracy as a universal value 312—

The right to democracy 313—The undermining of democracy by intergovernmentalism

315—The influence of transnational corporations 317—The example of the Codex

Commission 317—Fragmentation as a problem of democracy 319—The dilemma of

scale 320—The concept of a chain of legitimation 320—Output legitimation 321—

Accountability to the world’s citizens 323—Equality and representation in international

law and world law 324—The third democratic transformation 326—

International parliamentary institutions 328

Detailed Contents xiii

  1. The development of a planetary consciousness, and a new global

enlightenment …………………………………………………………… 330

War and socio-political evolution 331—The decline of violence 333—The development

of reason, empathy, and morality 333—The origin of morality in group selection 336—

In-group morality and humanity’s crisis of adolescence 337—Sociogenesis and psychogenesis

340—The widening circle of empathy 340—The transition to an integral consciousness

343—Group narcissm and the Promethean gap 345—The problem of cultural

lag 347—Global identity and the Other 349—The ‘Overview Effect’ and a planetary

worldview 351—Identity, demos, and state formation 353—The progressive

attitude of the world population 357—Global history and world citizenship education

359—‘Big History’ as a modern creation story 360—The continuation of the project

of modernity 362—The new global Enlightenment 365

 

PART III

 

Shaping the future: the design and realization of world democracy . . . . 367

  1. Building a world parliament …………………………………………….. 369

The example of the European Parliament 369—The proposal for a UNPA 370—The

extension of powers and responsibilities 371—Growing democratic challenges 374—

The allocation of seats 376

  1. Creating world law ………………………………………………………. 379

International law and world law compared 379—A bicameral world legislature 381—

A world constitutional court 382

  1. The necessary conditions for the transformation ………………………. 384

The structural conditions for institutional change 384—A cosmopolitan movement

386—The role of NGOs 388—A UNPA as a catalyst for change 389—Four

factors 391—The stealthy revolution 391—The revolution from below 392—The revolution

from above 393—The trigger 394—Anticipating and averting the horror 395—

Climate-induced events 396—A democratic China 397—In the beginning 399

 

Index …………………………………………………………………………. 401

Will Democracy Survive?

7 Apr

Will ‘Democracy’ Survive? How? Whether? Hard Questions in Dark Times

 

As demagogic leaders with popular approval or at least acquiescence dominate the political process of several important ‘democratic’ states questions need to be asked about the core or indispensable content of democracy. Other states seek the imprimatur of ‘democracy’ but limit drastically the choices open to the citizenry or proclaim themselves ‘a Jewish state’ or ‘an Islamic Republic,’ and are more accurately regarded as an ‘ethnocracy'(Israel) or ‘theocracy'(Iran).  The legitimating impact of being a democracy should be based on something more objective than the language of self-identification, that is, claiming that we are a democracy because we describe our governing arrangements as a democracy, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Procedural and Republican Democracy

The idea of ‘free elections’ is certainly a prerequisite. It is not possible to think of a political system as democratic if it does not allow its citizens to choose without fear or interference among a wide range of candidates of their choice whether the process is filtered through political parties or primaries or otherwise. What qualifies as a free election can be debated endlessly, but it seems enough to suggest that candidates representing significant divergent societal viewpoints compete for support, and that votes are counted honestly. A state should not necessarily lose its democratic credentials if it disqualifies candidates and parties that deny basic human rights to segments of the citizenry or espouse fascist agendas, or if rights are somewhat abridged during periods of national emergency as during wartime. This dimension of democratic governance can be discussed in relation to specific instances by reference to the acceptable limits on the practice of procedural democracy. Such a form of government is sensitive to the dangers of abuses and corruptions of power, invoking ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ as institutional bulwarks of restraint on ‘the tyranny of the mob’ or the predatory behavior of the tyrant, and can be better identified as republican democracy.

 In the contemporary world, due to technology and government ‘secrets’ the constitutional constraints on war making by leaders even if present, tend to be increasingly inoperative. Without democratic accountability in the war/peace agenda democracies lose legitimacy, especially considering the risks and dangers of the nuclear age. It may be that only the elimination of nuclear weapons from the arsenals of all countries can restore a semblance of substantive reality to a procedural or republican understanding of democracy.

 In its liberal versions, democracy in its republican form almost always includes a guaranty and judicial protection of civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression and the right of assembly, but not necessarily, and likely not at all, social and economic rights. In this sense, the tensions between neoliberal versions of capitalism and political democracy are of paramount importance in many societies widely regarded as ‘democratic.’

 

Normative Democacy

 To achieve an inclusive political order a substantive commitment to deal with social and economic basic rights is essential, although infrequently acknowledged, which raises questions about the compatibility of real democracy with contemporary forms of capitalism. The protection of social and economic rights are necessary so as to satisfy the material needs of all people under sovereign control, especially with respect to food, health, shelter, education, environmental protection, responsibility to future generations. Yet a market-driven ethos is not challenged in principle by large-scale homelessness or extreme poverty so long as the gates of opportunity are available to all. This dimension of democratic governance is rarely realized, and is best considered by reference to values-driven, inclusive, and normative democracy. A society also should be protected against war-prone leadership that defies transparency by relying on claims of secrecy and national security.

 

Somewhere in between selecting leaders, upholding rights, and ensuring a minimal standard of living that entrenches human dignity and enables a humane society are considerations of internal and external security. Meeting the threats from within and without while avoiding hysteria, paranoia, and different forms of suppression is a fundamental responsibility of every legitimate state, including those that claim a democratic pedigree. There is no satisfactory label, but since a state unable to protect sovereign rights and political order loses the respect and lacks the discipline of its citizenry, the security dimension can be associated with effective democracy, as without political order and a capability to address external threats and internal order, no form of governance can avoid chaos and foreign penetration, although assessments of this kind involve subjective appreciations of capabilities and political will.

 

There are increasing critiques of democratic states as having weakened the bonds between what citizens seek and what the government does. In the United States, for instance, special interests inflate pharmaceutical products to astronomical heights, insulate gun control from public opinion to absurd degrees, and allow corporations and banks to contribute unlimited amounts to (mis)shape political campaigns. Markets are further distorted by corruption of various kinds that undermine the capabilities of government to serve the people. This dimension of democratic governance can be considered under the rubric of responsive democracy. Without a high degree of responsiveness on central policy issues, a governing process will steadily lose legitimacy, especially if seen as deferring to special interests.

 

Majoritarian Democracy 

There is, increasingly evident, political systems where free elections occur, demagogues participate, often prevailing in recent elections, and a majority of the citizenry is either submissive or supportive. In this kind of atmosphere toxic, win/lose polarizations develop, with extremist and paranoid rhetoric justifying suppression and demonization of undocumented immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers, walls are proposed and built, borders are militarized, and exclusionary ideas of political community gain traction in the marketplace of ideas. One result is that the values, views, and security of those vulnerable or opposed are ignored, condemned. Genuine news is dismissed as fake news, and vice versa, creating fact-free political leadership. This kind of political order can be termed majoritarian democracy.

It tends to rest its claims on passion and a perversion of Rousseau’s ‘general will’ rather than reason and evidence, and is contemptuous of limits on the exercise of state power on behalf of the nation, especially if directed against foreign or domestic ‘enemies.’ As a result of the rise of such forms of governance, the rule of law has weakened, and especially, respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations while deference to the ruler increases, coupled by claims of indefinite tenure atop the political pyramid, ratified by periodic votes of approval. Such leaders as Putin, Xi, Trump, Erdoğan, Modi, Abe manifest the trend, treat ‘citizens’ as if ‘subjects’ thereby blurring the distinction between democracy and monarchy when it comes to state/society relations.

 

Aspirational Democracy

 In opposition, are more humanistic concerns that focus attention on the protection of human rights, especially of those who are vulnerable and poor. The idea of ‘democracy to come’ as depicted by the deceased French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, and recently developed further by Fred Dallmayr is being taken more seriously. This idea centers on the belief that democracy in all its manifestations, even at its best, remains an unfinished project with unfulfilled normative potential. It represents a call to work toward an inclusive democracy based on the serious implementation of ‘the spirit of equality’ (Dallmayr) the goal of humane governance as associated with Montesquieu. Such a political order goes beyond upholding the rule of law by seeking to promote justice within and without of sovereign borders. Such a democratic political order would now subordinate, as necessary, national interests to human and global interests in relation to climate change, nuclear weaponry, migration, disease control, peace and security, and the regulation of the world economy. No such democracy has so far existed, but as a goal and ideal this political possibility can be identified as aspirational democracy.

 

Concluding Comments

 These different forms of democracy overlap, and are matters of degree, but do call attention to various and variable features of political life that rest on the shared proposition that ‘the people’ should be regarded as the source of political authority and legitimacy. Yet such a mandate for democracy as flowing upwards from the people, superseding God-given authority figures anointed by ritual and reinforced by claims of a monarchical or divine aura of absolutism, is in many societies again being scrutinized. Many informed and concerned persons are asking whether democracy is any longer the least bad system of governance, yet seem at a loss to propose an alternative. In this setting, the question posed for many of us is whether democracy, as now practiced and constituted, can be revitalized by legitimating reforms. As engaged citizens we must accept this challenge in forms sensitive to the particularities of time, place, challenge, and opportunities.

 Because of globalization in its manifest forms, it is no longer tenable to confine the ambitions of democracy to national spaces. Global democracy has become, is becoming, a matter of ultimate concern. Issues raised concern transparency, accountability, participation, and responsiveness of global policy processes, and of course, how the global is to be linked with the regional and national so as to pursue the goal of global humane governance: equitable, stable, sustainable, peaceful, compassionate, and above all, mindfulness. These concerns will be left for contemplation, and discussion on another day.

Interview: Middle East Turmoil: Israeli Massacre, Palestinian Grievances

3 Apr

The Middle East is Heating Up — Again: An Interview with Richard Falk (with C.J. Polychroniou)

 

[Prefatory Note: This is a somewhat modified text of an interview of two weeks ago conducted by the Greek journalist and author, C.J Polychroniou. Since then several developments have occurred, none more significant than the Return Home Land Day demonstrations of March 30, 2018. The original interview appeared in several online publications. The format is altered to make somewhat more reader friendly.]

 

CJP: Richard, let’s start with Donald Trump’s decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy there by May of this year. First, is this legal from the standpoint of international law, and, second, what are likely to be the long-term effects of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on the region as a whole?

 

RF: There is no question, Chronis, that Trump’s Jerusalem policy relating to recognition and the move of the American embassy is regionally and religiously provocative and disruptive, underscoring the abandonment by Washington of even the pretense of being a trustworthy intermediary that can be relied upon by both sides to work for a sustainable peace between the two peoples. Some critics of the initiative are saying that the U.S. is free to situate its embassy in Jerusalem, but the whole of Jerusalem isn’t Israel. The status of this holy city remains to be determined and East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, which for the present is considered to be an ‘occupied territory’ in international humanitarian law.

 

Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, which rests on the central proposition that an occupied territory should not be altered in any way that changes its status and character without the consent of the occupied society. It also is a unilateral rejection of a near unanimous international consensus, endorsed by the United Nations, that the future of Jerusalem should be settled by negotiations between the parties as a part of a broader peacemaking process. Israel had much earlier violated both international law and breached this international consensus by unilaterally annexing an enlarged Jerusalem, and declared that the whole city, within expanded boundaries, would be the ‘undivided, eternal capital’ of Israel. It is notable that the General Assembly on December 21, 2017 approved by an overwhelming majority of 128-8 (35 abstentions) a strong condemnation of the U.S. move on Jerusalem, with even America’s closest allies joining in this vote of censure.

 

It is difficult to predict the long-term consequences of this diplomatic rupture. It depends, above all, on whether the U.S. Government acts convincily to restore its claim to act as a conflict-resolving intermediary. The Trump administration continues to insist that it is working on a peace plan that will require painful compromises by both Palestine and Israel. Of course, given the unconditional alignment of Washington with Netanyahu’s views of Israel and the Palestinian future, as well as the orientation of those entrusted with drafting the plan, it is highly unlikely that even Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, generally accommodationist will be inclined to enter a diplomatic process that is virtually certain to be weighted so heavily in favor of Israel. Yet as many have come to appreciate, nothing is harder to predict than the future of Middle Eastern politics.

At the same time, Jerusalem has an abiding significance for both Islam and Christianity that makes it almost certain for the indefinite future that there will be formidable regional and civilizational resistance to subsuming Jerusalem under Israeli sovereign control.

 

******************

 

CJP: Israel appears bent on restricting Iran’s rising influence as a regional power in the Middle East. How far do you think the US can go in assisting Israel to contain Tehran’s strategy for empowering Shia’s?

 

Richard Falk: Israel and Saudi Arabia are both for different reasons determined to confront Iran, and quite possibly, initiate a military encounter with potentially widespread ramifications for the entire region, if not the world. A quick glance at the Syrian conflict suggests how complex and dangerous is this effort to destabilize the Iranian governing process, with the dual objectives of destabilizing the governing process mixed with the more ambitious goal of causing civil strife of sufficient magnitude as to produce a civil war, and ideally from the perspectives of Iran’s adversaries, regime change.

 

The Israeli adherence to this recklessness seems partly motivated by its overall security policy of seeking to weaken any country in the region that is hostile to its presence and has the potential military capability to threaten Israeli security and regional role in a serious manner. Israel has been so far successful in neutralizing each of its credible adversaries in the region (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Syria) with the exception of Iran. In this sense, Iran stands out as the last large unfinished item on Israel’s post-1967 geopolitical agenda. Israel’s real intentions are difficult to pin down, shifting with context and perceived opportunity. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders frequently manipulate the alleged Iranian threat to cause fear among Israelis. Their goal seems to be the mobilization of domestic support for adhering to an aggressive foreign policy. This manipulation panics many Israeli security specialists who express are more alert to the risks of an actual military confrontation with Iran than are political leaders.

 

Saudi motivations are quite different, associated with a fierce regional rivalry that is articulated in terms of a sectarian clash between Shia and Sunni Islam, aggravated by a concern that Iran’s influence increased as a result of the Iraq and Syrian Wars, which both seem to have outcomes favorable to Tehran. The sectarian rationale of the conflict seems intended to disguise the more fundamental explanation, which is that there is a power struggle between these two sovereign states to determine which one will achieve regional ascendancy. The sectarian explanation was also somewhat undermined by the intensity with which the Saudis and other Gulf monarchies used their financial and diplomatic resources to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt despite its strong Sunni identity. From the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 Tehran looked upon the monarchy governing Saudi Arabia as corrupt and decadent in the same manner as it regarded the Shah’s dynastic rule in Iran as politically illegitimate.

 

Your focus on how far the U.S. can go in restricting Iran’s influence is difficult to assess at this point. Trump’s virtual repudiation of the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program seems to express a commitment to join with Israel and Saudi Arabia to engage in coercive diplomacy, consisting of intensifying sanctions, covert operations to encourage internal opposition, and a variety of military threats. Where this will lead, if indeed it goes forward in defiance of the other parties to the agreement and almost all UN members, is anybody’s guess, but it is a highly irresponsible diplomatic gambit that risks a deadly ‘war of choice.’

 

Trump’s regional diplomacy, such as it is, has been most notable for giving even greater emphasis to the ‘special relationships’ with Israel and Saudi Arabia than earlier American leaders. Even previously, under Obama, George W. Bush, and prior presidents, the subordination of American strategic interests and national values to this posture of unquestioning support, which is the operational significance of designating these links as special relationships.

 

 

 

CJP: Syria’s civil war not only continues unabated but the country has become a battlefield for the spread of the influence of various powers in the region, including Turkey and Russia. Do you see a way out of this mess?

 

Richard Falk: The Syrian War is among the most complex conflict patterns in the history of warfare. Not only is there an internal struggle for control of the Syrian state that has been waged by not one, but by several insurgent movements that are not even compatible with one another. There is also a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar against Iran, with Turkey playing a confusing role that sometimes seems guided by anti-Damascus goals but at other times is preoccupied with curtailing the Kurdish challenge. The various national struggles of the Kurds for autonomous rights, possibly independent political communities, threatens the territorial integrity of several Middle Eastern states, as well as Syria. In addition to all of this there are major multi-faceted and fluid Russian and American involvements on opposite sides, although not even this opposition is clear cut and consistent. For a time there was an almost collaborative effort to defeat ISIS and obtain a Syrian ceasefire, although the basic involvement has been to put Russia on the side of the Damascus government and the U.S. as aligned with the insurgencies.

 

Because the anti-ISIS dimension of the conflict is at odds with the anti-Damascus dimension, depending on the priority accorded to one rather than the other, alignments are contradictory and shifted over time. Sometimes precedence has been given to achieving regime-change in Damascus by removing Assad from power, and in such contexts, it was acknowledged silently that ISIS was the most effective military challenge on the ground being mounted against the Syrian government. At other times, the counterterrorist campaign against ISIS was given uppermost prominence, and there was even high-level indications that Washington was willing to live with the Assad regime, a position given added credence recently due to the success of the Syrian government in quelling its opposition, making continued opposition futile politically and irresponsible ethically. Whenever pragmatism gained the upper hand, Russia and Iran were accepted as partners in these efforts to defeat and destroy ISIS.

 

All wars eventually come to an end, and I am sure Syria will not be an exception. Yet it difficult at present to project a solution that brings about more than a ceasefire, and even this kind of ending of what has become an orgy of senseless killing is highly elusive, as each of the many parties to the conflict jockeys violently for minor positional advantages to improve its bargaining leverage when the conflict enters some kind of negotiating phase. Although all wars end eventually, internal wars of this kind, especially with such complex regional and international aspects, can simmer for decades with no clear winner or loser as has been the case in the Philippines and Colombia. It seems as if at present the Syrian government believes it is on the verge of victory, and is pressing for an outcome in East Ghouta and Idlib such that it will not be expected to make significant concessions.

 

The best hope, which has been the case for several years, is that the various parties will recognize that the situation is indeed a mess that is causing mass suffering and widespread devastation without producing political gains. Yet translating that recognition into a formula that produces an end to the violence has so far proved futile and frustrating as each party sees the conflict from its partisan perspective of gain and loss.

 

 CJP: With the two-state solution having ceased long ago being a viable alternative, what are the most likely prospects for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations?

 

Richard Falk: The safest response is to anticipate a persistence of the present status quo, which involves continuing Israeli expansionism by way of the settlements and the persistence of the Palestinian ordeal, with some resistance in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and a growing global solidarity movement exerting pressure on Israel in the form of the BDS campaign. There may be some attention given to a variety of proposals to end the conflict by revived diplomacy. The Trump blustery promise of ‘a deal of the century’ has received skeptical attention, but its likely one-sidedness makes it almost certain to be a non-starter, especially as the Israeli government feels insufficient pressure to produce a peaceful solution based on a genuine political compromise and the Palestinian Authority remains unwilling to accept a demilitarized statelet as a token Palestine state, or even to participate in negotiations that are so obviously stacked against it. For public relations reasons, the international consensus clings to the two-state solution even though, as your question suggests, its viability has long been superseded by Israeli expansionist policies intended to fulfill the Zionist goal of making the boundaries of Israel coterminous with the whole of the Jewish biblical conception of the ‘promised land.’

 

There are other outcomes that are possible. Daniel Pipes has been promoting what he dubbed ‘the victory caucus,’ which posits Israel as the victor in the struggle to establish a Jewish state and Palestine the loser. Pipes argues that diplomacy has failed to resolve the conflict after years of effort, and hence that the only alternative is for one side to win and the other to lose if peace is to be established. He encourages Israel to escalate pressure on the Palestinians to make them see the light, accept the reality of a Jewish state, and move on. Such an initiative is distasteful to those who support the Palestinian struggle, and it seems oblivious to the claims of international law and international morality as these are generally understood in the 21st century when colonialism and ethnic nationalism are illegitimate forms of political control and the right of self-determination has become universally accepted as an inalienable right of an oppressed people in the circumstances of the Palestinians.

 

In my view, neither the two-state nor a consensual one-state outcome of the struggle is currently within the realm of political feasibility. We are necessarily speculating about future political scenarios within the domain of ‘political impossibility.’ Yet the impossible sometimes happens. Colonialism was successfully challenged, the Soviet Union collapsed, South Africa renounced apartheid, the Arab Spring erupted. In none of these cases did such occurrences seem possible except in retrospect. After the events, as expected, experts appeared who explained why these impossible developments were, if closely considered, inevitable.

 

In this spirit, I think it useful to acknowledge the limits of rational assessment, and either remain silent, or offer for consideration, a solution that is ‘impossible,’ yet ‘desirable’ from the perspective of humane values, which in this case involves a secure, equitable, and sustainable peace for both peoples that is, above all, sensitive to their equality and to their distinct, yet legitimate, claims to self-determination. I find it unimaginable to realize such a peace within the current structure of the Middle East, which consists of a group of artificial and autocratic states held together by varying mixtures of coercion, corruption, and external military assistance. Israel/Palestine peace cannot unfold in a benevolent manner without a structural return to the Ottoman framework of regional unity and ethnic community, and possibly Islamic caliphate, adapted to post-colonial realities. Such a stateless Middle East would reverse the harm inflicted on the region by the imposition of European territorial states through the infamous Sykes-Picot diplomacy.

 

 CJP: South Africa’s former apartheid system has been employed analytically by many to describe the current status of the state of Israel with regard to it’s treatment towards Palestinians. Indeed, it is from such a comparison that the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement was borne, but to what extent are the two cases compatible? South Africa was pretty much isolated by the early 1980s, but the same cannot be said about Israel today. In fact, Israel has even managed to expand recently it’s network of allies with Greece and the Sunni states. So, what are your thoughts on the comparison between the former South African apartheid regime and Israel and the effectiveness of the strategy of BDS?

 

RF: Your question raises two distinct issues: Is Israel responsibly regarded as an ‘apartheid state’? If so, is Israeli apartheid similar to South African apartheid?

 

Prior to responding to these questions, it seems helpful to clarify the status of the international crime of apartheid as it has evolved in international law, taking particular note of the fact that although the name and core idea is based on the specific condemnation of South African racism, the international crime is detached from this precedent. The essence of the international crime is any form of discriminatory domination by one race over another that relies on ‘inhuman acts’ to sustain its purposes. In this important sense, Israeli forms of domination over the Palestinian people may be quite different than the domination of whites over blacks in South Africa and yet constitute the international crime of apartheid. Treating apartheid as an international crime is based both on the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and on the 2002 Rome Statute governing the operations of the International Criminal Court that categorizes ‘apartheid’ in Article 7 as one of eleven types of Crime Against Humanity.

 

In a study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission, Virginia Tilley and I concluded that the policies and practices of Israel toward the Palestinian people as a whole satisfy the requirements of the international crime of apartheid. Our conclusion is based on the view that Israel, to maintain an expanding Jewish state has subjected the Palestinian people to structures of subjugation and victimization that are sustained by excessive violence and other inhuman means. It was our judgment that Jews and Palestinians are distinct ‘races’ as the term is understood in international law. The scope of Israeli apartheid is based on coherent strategies designed to subjugate the Palestinian people whether they are living under occupation, the most obvious case, or as a discriminated minority within Israel or as residents in refugee camps in neighboring countries or living is a global diaspora as involuntary exiles. Each of these domains is connected with the Israeli efforts to ensure not only the prevalence of a Jewish state, but also a secure Jewish majority population that could only be achieved by a process of dispossession, dispersion, and fragmentation, as well as by the denial of any right of return.

 

South African apartheid was very different in its operation as compared to Israeli apartheid. For one thing, white South Africa was a minority demographic in the country and critically dependent on black labor. For another, the South African concept of law, citizenship, and democracy was delineated along racial lines, while Israel claims to be an inclusive democracy, although is more accurately understood to be an ethnocracy. Despite these fundamental differences, the core reality of ‘inhuman acts’ and ‘discriminatory structures of domination’ are present, although distinctly enacted, in both national settings.

 

Finally, it should be understood that such allegations of Israeli apartheid are made on the basis of academic study, and while they may be persuasive morally and politically, it is also true that until a valid tribunal passes judgment on such allegations, the legal status of the allegations remains unresolved, and is of course feverishly contested by Israel and its supporters.

 

CJP: Overall, what are the prospects for restored stability and a positive future for the countries in the Middle East?

 

RF: Without the intervention of unanticipated developments, the prospects are poor. On one level, the extreme turmoil in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and neighboring Libya are likely to continue and could spread to additional states. On a second level, the regional rivalries between Iran and a Saudi led coalition on the one side and Israel on the other, seem likely to intensify. On a third level, there is no plausible scenario for establishing a sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. On a fourth level, with the reassertion of Russian engagement and the U.S. pursuit of a strategic agenda related to Israel, oil, political Islam, Iran, and nuclear nonproliferation, the region has as in the Cold War become a site of dangerous geopolitical maneuver and confrontation. On a fifth level, perhaps less serious than the others, is the sort of intra-regional tensions that have given rise to the Gulf Crisis centered upon the relations of Qatar to other Gulf countries, and to the role of Turkey as partner and antagonist, especially in relation to the continuing search of the Kurdish peoples for self-determination. Finally, on a sixth level, there is almost certain to be new expressions of internal strife and various extremisms that strike against the West, inviting retaliation, which will probably be accompanied by further migratory flows that aggravate relations between the Middle East and Europe.

 

The drastic and prolonged victimization of the Middle East also exhibits the failure of the West to understand, much less address, the root causes of conflict and chaos that have produced mass suffering and material deprivations throughout the region. These root causes can be traced back at least a century to the imposition of European style states on the region, reflecting colonial ambitions, in the aftermath of World War I and by way of a colonial pledge to the world Zionist movement to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then inhabited by a Jewish minority not larger than 6%. The other principal root cause related to the abundance of oil in several parts of the Middle East, which created rentier mentalities in development contexts and provided strong strategic motivations for intervention and control by global political actors.

 

In the end, this complexity joining the historical past to the tormented past creates a dismal set of prospects for the future of the Middle East. At this point, only paradoxical, although unrealistic, hopes for prudence and moderation can make the portrayal of the situation less gloomy than the evidence and trajectory suggest.

 

**********************************************************************************

 

After the Interview: A Postscript on the Land Day Massacre (‘Great March of Return’)

 

The precise statistics remain inconclusive, although there exists general agreement that more than 15 Palestinians were killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli snipers stationed at the border with Gaza, another estimated 750 Palestinians were injured by ammo and rubber bullets resulting in an estimated total of 1,500 injuries, including from tear gas dropped on the largely unarmed demonstration. Whether the Israeli behavior should be viewed as ‘excessive force’ or ‘collective punishment,’ or both, is a matter for debate, but there is no question that the killings and firepower were in direct conflict with Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power as specified in the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel’s ‘disengagement’ in 2005 did not end the occupation from the perspective of international humanitarian law, but rather rearranged its management, with control and deployments being concentrated on the borders rather than throughout Gaza, and reinforced by periodic massive military incursions causing large numbers of civilian casualties and widespread devastation.

 

This latest interaction returned the Palestinian litany of grievances to the front pages of the world’s media often accompanied by gruesome pictures, but also revealed two kinds of gaps: between the Western and non-Western media and between the mainstream media response and that of civil society. The mainstream media worries that this is a public relations setback for Israel and urges restraint on both sides. In contrast, the activist segment of civil society condemns the Israeli tactics as constituting a massacre, and calls for an arms embargo. This distinction at the level of response is revealing, with the mainstream and almost every Western government pinning their public hopes on reviving negotiations aiming at a political solution based on the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestine. Engaged civil society has lost all faith in diplomacy under current conditions, believes only escalating nonviolent pressure can change the political climate sufficiently to make negotiations sufficiently promising to undertake, and then only if the two-state mantra is abandoned once and for all.

 

 

 

 

The Banality of Evil: Diverting the Palestinian Struggle

28 Mar

The Banality of Evil: Language Entrapment or Political Malevolence?

 

It seems a language game is being played. Or is it better understood as a political maneuver suffused with bad intentions?

 

Governments and international institutions with the wonders of modern information-gathering technology at their disposal continue to endorse the ‘two-state solution’ while civil society observers on all sides of the conflict mostly realize that as matters now stand Israel is adamant in its refusal to allow an independent Palestinian state to emerge and feels no pressure from the Trump White House to feel otherwise. Regardless of feelings, with an estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers living in unlawful settlements, the obstacles to creating the sort of Palestinian sovereign state that was supposed to emerge from Oslo diplomacy, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet Roadmap has long ago evaporated into thin air with hardly a whimper of outrage, or even disappointment, from even the Palestinian official representatives at the UN or the PLO directorate in Ramallah.

 

Daniel Pipes, always at the service of Zionist ambitions, has been beating the drums for an iron-fisted end game that resolves the conflict with the clarity of an acknowledged Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat. As for the two-state solution, it is ironic that Pipes words ring truer than those that emanate from the capitals of the world, Speaking plainly, Pipes says “(t)he two-state solution, an absurdity at present (it means asking Israel to strengthen its mortal enemy) will make good sense after a Palestinian defeat.” One can only imagine the paltry reality of what Israeli ‘good sense’ will produce after a Palestinian surrender! But the question that interests me here is why Pipes can be clear eyed about a reality that the UN and inter-governmental discourse are unwilling to admit. Trump, forever the outlier, is so far forthright enough to refuse to endorse the two-state solution, thus breaking, at least implicitly, with the inter-governmental/UN consensus that other recent American presidents have all pledged to their utmost to implement. Of course, Trump’s defection is best explained as his docile readiness to take his marching orders from domestic Zionist maximalists who helped bankroll his campaign for the presidency.

 

On a recent visit to Israel for a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, reaffirmed the zombie international consensus as if was an alive political option, declaring that the new German government remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such an assertion can be better understood if decoded—the German government has no intention of exerting any pressure on Israel to reach a political compromise, and he seems to be urging the Palestinian leadership to adopt a similar line.

 

At the UN the harshest criticisms of Israel continue to be its tendency to hamper progress toward a two-state solution, which would be notable if anyone in the know believed it to be a viable political option. For instance, in the important Security Council censure of Israeli settlement behavior (SC 2334. 23 December 2016) the Preamble wrote these words of explanation: “Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.” “Dangerously imperiling,” as if the solution was not long since defunct. On what planet are these governmental representatives living? Or do these governments know better, but have secondary reasons for pretending differently?

 

In operative paragraph 3 of the General Assembly resolution (21 Deember 2017, A/ES-10/L.22) overwhelmingly condemning (128-9, with 35 abstentions) the provocative Trump move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to so relocate the American embassy, a similarly misleading assertion is made: the GA “Reiterates its call for reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.” I would be rude enough to say, ‘wake up, world,’ the two-state solution is not in the peace picture any longer, and maybe never really was.

 

The new call for peace that has real potential political traction, and is increasingly endorsed throughout civil society is ‘End Apartheid,” superseding the earlier effort to achieve by direct action an outcome that could be converted into a de facto Palestinian state: ‘End the Occupation.” For several reasons, this emphasis on withdrawal from occupied Palestine was always insufficiently responsive to the full reality of Palestinian suffering and struggle. It failed to emphasize the long-term plight of Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles, and omitted mention of the discriminatory and in many ways worsening daily reality of the Palestinian minority in Israel.

 

In some respects the most dismaying statement of all along these lines was issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in their rebuke of Trump’s Jerusalem initiative that was just now disseminated with the evident approval of the Palestinian National Council:  “The IPU noted that the resolution undermines the legal and political status of a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine and any hopes for a two-state solution. The IPU stressed that it would continue to pursue its efforts to promote dialogue and peace between the two parties, Israel and Palestine, and in the Middle East region. What is distressing about such a statement is that it seems to suppose that Israel is in the slightest degree interested in participating in a dialogue on the conditions of peace if that means walking a path leading to the emergence of a Palestinian state. The minimum requirement for dialogue is some degree of mutuality, which has not existed on the Israeli side for some years, and to pretend that it does is a way of sidestepping the real challenge—do nothing but watch while Israel moves ahead with its unilateral end game or join the struggle to prevent a culminating Palestinian tragedy by moving out of the diplomatic shadows and into the political arena of coercive politics.

This is not the time for dialogue and displays of good will. That time has long passed. Now is the time for engagement, for pressure, for boycott, and for sanctions. When governments are serious about pursuing elusive goals, whether these are benevolent or not, they choose sanctions, coercive diplomacy, and leave the military option on the table. I am only too glad to leave the military option off the table, while insisting upon a post-diplomatic posture of militant nonviolence. The Palestinian people have suffered long enough! They should not be further enticed to rely on tactics of futility. Not only is silence in the face of evil and suffering unacceptable, so is passivity, and even more, false consciousness.

Finally, we should ponder why the civil society focus on the BDS Campaign is so much more attuned to the Palestinian ordeal than is this nonsesnsical inter-governmental and UN two-state discourse. My reference to Hannah Arendt’s influential, if controversial, treatment of the Eichmann trial, was not lacking in forethought. Governments, and the UN as a global network of governments, is not inclined to confront seriously the suffering of others unless vital national interests and geopolitical priorities of its principal members so decree. Here, considering that Israel has become a regional powerhouse, backed unconditionally by the United States, conditionally by the West as a whole, and now opportunistically even by most Arab governments, the geopolitical realities favor an international posture of hands, given deceptive twists by moralizing rhetoric, occasional slaps on the Israeli wrist, and a garland of illusions in the ritual form of pledging a meaningless allegiance to the continuing vitality of the two-state solution. We need to muster clarity of will to declare that affirming the two-state solution under present conditions is proof that the banality of evil lives on in our time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation

24 Mar

Renaming the 1948 War: Partition, Dispossession, and Fragmentation- On the Politics of Language

 

Controlling the Discourse

 

Israel has been brilliant over the years in shaping and misdirecting the public discourse on the future of Palestine. Among its earliest achievement along these lines was the crucial propaganda victory by having the 1948 War known internationally as the ‘War of Independence.’ Such a designation erases the Palestinians from political consciousness, and distorts the deeper human and political consequences of the war. Language matters, especially in vital circumstances where there are winners and losers, a reality that applies above all to a war of displacement.

 

It took decades for the Palestinians to elevate their experience of the 1948 war to even the consciousness of those on an international level who supported the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination. Even now more than 50 years after the war, the ‘Nakba’ by which the 1948 war is known to Palestinians remains internationally obscure. The word signifies ‘catastrophe,’ which is associated principally with the dispossession of at least 700,000 non-Jewish residents of Palestine, what became the state of Israel after 1948, and subsequently, with the denial by Israel of any right of return for those Palestinians who abandoned their homes and villages out of fear or as a result of Israeli coercion. This double process of dispossession and erasure was reinforced powerfully by the bulldozing and utter destruction of 400-600 Palestinian villages in the new state of Israel.

 

Even those who have this revisionist awareness rarely convey a sense of the Nakba as a process, not just a calamitous event. For those Palestinians dispossessed of home, property, community, employment, and dignity, their life, that of their families, and that of subsequent generations has been generally ‘a living hell’ as a consequence of either enduring the misery and humiliation of long-term residence in refugee camps or experiencing the various vulnerabilities and rootlessness of involuntary and permanent exile. In other words, the tragedy of the Nakba began and did not end with the traumas of dispossession, but rather continued in the ordeals that followed, which must be considered as inseparable from the originating catastrophe.

 

 

The UN Partition Resolution

 

For many reflective Palestinians, the decades since 1948 have intensified the ordeal that followed from the struggle for control of territory and elemental rights that followed from GA Resolution 181 adopted by a vote of 33-13 (with ten abstentions, one absent), in November 29, 1947. The Israeli mastery of the public international discourse was expressed by dramatizing the Zionist acceptance (as represented by the Jewish Agency for Palestine) of the proposed partition of historic Palestine while the Palestinians, their Arab neighbors, as well as India and Pakistan, rejected it declaring above all that partition without the consent of the inhabitants of Palestine was a flagrant violation of the UN Charter promise of the right of self-determination, entailing peoples choosing their own political destiny.

 

This clash of attitudes was then interpreted in the West as demonstrating the reasonableness of the Zionist approach to the complexities associated with two contradictory claims of right regarding self-determination and territorial sovereignty. The Zionist/Israeli spin claimed a readiness to resolve the conflict by way of political compromise while contrasting and denigrating the Palestinian approach to the future of the country as exclusivist and rejectionist, even as genocidal, implying an alleged Arab resolve to throw Jews into the sea, a contention that naturally agitated an extremely sensitive post-Holocaust Western liberal political consciousness. A more objective rendering of the opposed viewpoints of the two sides supports a set of conclusions almost totally the opposite of what has been sold to the world by an Israeli narrative of the UN partition initiative and its aftermath that despite these contrary considerations remains dominant.

 

After an understandable initial Palestinian reflex to repel Jewish intruders intent on occupying and dividing their homeland of centuries, it has been the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who have been proposing a comprensive compromise and it is the Israelis who, by and large, subscribe to the view that the Jewish ‘promised land’ incorporates the West Bank and the unified city of Jerusalem, and any dilution of these goals would be a fundamental betrayal of the Zionist project to restore fully a mythic ‘biblical Israel’ in the form of a sovereign state. The more ideological Israelis, including Menachem Begin, (commander of the Zvai Leumi Irgun, 6th prime minister of Israel, 1977-83) were outspoken critics of partition in 1947, anticipating correctly that it would produce violence, and believing that Israel would only achieve its security and complete the Zionist Project by engaging in military operations with the object of territorial expansion. David Ben-Gurion, the master Zionist tactician and the first and foremost Israeli leader, shared Begin’s skepticism about partition, but favored it for pragmatic reasons as a step toward the fulfillment of the Zionist Project, but not the end of it. Partition was provisional, to be followed by seeking to complete the Zionist agenda, which is precisely what unfolded ever since 1947.

 

Partition was a familiar British colonial tactic that complemented their ‘divide and rule’ strategy of occupation was proposed for Palestine as early as 1937 in the report of the Peel Commission, but in view of the desire for Arab cooperation in World War II, the UK uncharacteristically backed away from their advocacy of partition for Palestine. In a later white paper the British declared partition to be ‘impractical’ as applied to Palestine, and somewhat surprisingly abstained from the vote on GA Res. 181.

 

Prolonging the Palestinian Ordeal

 At least since the PLO decision in 1988 to accept Israel as a legitimate state and offer normalization of relations if Israel followed the prescriptive provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242, that is, withdrawing to the 1967 green line borders and agreeing on arrangements for an effective resolution of the refugee issue. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 added regional inducements to the PLO offer of political compromise, and this too was met by Israeli silence and a lackluster response in the West. The Oslo diplomacy was a one-sided failure. It never produced proposals on the disputed issues in ways that contained any reasonable prospect of bringing the conflict to a sustainable end while allowing Israel valuable time to keep expanding their network of unlawful settlements, a form of creeping annexation that served, as well, to make the two-state mantra more and more of a cruel chimera, useful to pacify international public opinion that sought a sustainable peace for both peoples and an end to the conflict..

 

More objectively considered, these dual reactions to the partition solution can be deconstructed. The Zionist movement at every stage took what it could get, and then went about creating conditions on the ground and diplomatically for getting more, by expanding their political demands and expectations, or as sometimes observed, ‘shifting the goalposts.’ Reliance on such ‘salami tactics’ can be traced back at least as far as the Balfour Declaration when Zionists accepted the terminology of ’national home’ despite their aspirations from the outset to establish a Jewish state that disregarded Palestinian moral, legal, and political rights. Recent archival research has made it increasingly clear that the real Zionist goal all along was the imagined Israel of biblical tradition, ‘the promised land’ that deemed to encompass all of the city of Jerusalem, as well as the area known internationally as ‘the West Bank’ and in Israel as ‘Judea and Samaria.’

 

And with respect to the Palestinian response, initially ardently supported by the entire Arab world, as well as most countries with majority Muslim populations, rejection of the UN approach was based on the extent to which partition bisected Palestine without any process of consent by, or even consultation with, the majority resident population. It was an arrogant effort by the UN, then under Western control, to dictate a solution that was not sensitive to Palestinian concerns or in keeping with the spirit or letter of its own Charter. To treat Palestinian rejection of GA Res. 181 as indicative of anti-Semitism or even rejectionism is to accept an explanation of the disastrous legacy of partition that conforms to the Israeli narrative that misses the real dynamic at work that has kept the conflict alive all these decades. To this day Israel continues to create conditions that diminish Palestinian prospects while subtly depicting the Zionist Project as in reasonable pursuit of previously undisclosed ambitions with greater clarity.

 

This leads to the central question that also includes reasons why the Israelis did also not want partition, but felt correctly that its provisional and temporary acceptance was a way of gaining more political space both for maneuvering and for showing the world its reasonable face that included a commitment to peace. In contract, the Palestinians felt shut out and humiliated by the way the future of their society was treated by the UN and the West, and yet didn’t want to alienate the international community, especially Washington. This kind of attitude meant lending credence to the 1993 Oslo Framework of Principles, and acting as if the ‘peace process’ had something to do with ‘peace.’ This accommodationist mode of diplomacy practiced by the Palestinian Authority over the course of the last 25 years while Israel annexed and Judaized East Jerusalem and penetrated more and deeply into the West Bank created the impression in many circles, including Palestinian and others, that the Palestinian Authority was not nearly rejectionist enough, and either naively playing a losing hand or completely failing to understand the real Zionist game plan.

 

 

‘The Partition War’

 

To circle back to the contention that language is itself a site of struggle, it become desirable, even now, more than 70 years later, to call the 1948 War by a name that reveals more clearly its essential and flawed character, and this name is The Partition War. Only by such a linguistic move can we begin to understand the extent to which the international community, as embodied in the UN, was guilty of original sin with respect to the Palestinian people, and their natural rights, as well as their legal entitlements and reasonable political expectations. Endorsing the partition of Palestine was what I would describe as a ‘geopolitical crime.’

 

 

The UN: Instrumental or Normative?

21 Mar

The UN: Instrumental or Normative?

 

[Prefatory Note: A greatly modified version of this post was published in Middle East Eye on March 12, 2018, under the title, “The UN: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”]

 

 A Renewed Crisis of Confidence

 

During the Cold War, the UN frequently disappointed even its most ardent followers because it seemed paralyzed by the rivalry between East and West whenever a political crisis threatened world peace. Giving the veto power to the five permanent members of the Security Council almost assured that when ideological and geopolitical views clashed, which was virtually all the time, during the first 40 years after 1945, the UN would watch unfolding war-threatening events and violent encounters between ideological adversaries from the sidelines.

 

Then in 1989-1991 the Cold War abruptly ended, and the UN seemed to function for a short while as a Western-led alliance, dramatized by the Security Council support for the First Iraq War that restored Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1992 after Iraq’s aggression the prior year with a show of high technology American military power. Such a use of the UN was hailed at the time by the U.S. Government as signaling the birth of ‘a new world order’ based on the implementation of the UN Charter, and making use of the Security Council as the bastion of world order, which was at last made possible by the Soviet collapse and its acceptance of a Westernized spin on global policy issues. Yet this image of the convergence of the geopolitical agenda and the UN Charter was soon criticized as ‘hegemonic’ and began to be questioned by Russia and China. Even an independent minded UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, let it be known that the unconditional mandate given to allied powers in the Gulf War was not in keeping with the role envisioned for the UN as keeping a watchful eye on any use of force that the Security Council had authorized. The Secretary General at the time, Perez de Cuellar went further, suggesting the Iraq was ready to withdraw from Kuwait prior to being attacked if only given an assurance that it would not in any event , which was never given, suggesting that even this supposed triumph of UN peace diplomacy was a sham, disguising a geopolitical war of choice.

 

The misleading plea at the Security Council in 2011 for a strictly limited humanitarian intervention in Libya under the auspices of NATO to protect the people of Benghazi from an onslaught was used as a blatant pretext to achieve regime change in Libya by an all out military attack. It succeeded in ridding the country of Qaddafi, replacing his brutal dictatorship with an undeliverable promise to instill a democratic political order. Instead of order what NATO brought to Libya, with Obama’s White House ‘leading from behind,’ was prolonged chaos and strife, and a set of actions that far the initial, quite ambivalent (five absentions, including Russia, China, and Germany) Security Council mandate, the West eventually paid a heavy price, and the UN an even heavier one. The Libyan deception undermined the trust of Russia and China, and others, in the good faith of the West, incapacitating the UN in future crisis situations where it might have played a constructive humanitarian role, most notably Syria, and also Yemen.

 

Arguably, the tragic ordeal of Syria epitomizes the inability of the UN to uphold even the most minimal interests of humanity, saving civilians from deliberate slaughter and atrocity. Even when ceasefires were belatedly agreed upon, they were almost immediately ignored, making a sad mockery of UN authority, and leaving for the world public to witness a gory spectacle of the most inhumane warfare that went on and on without the will or capacity of the UN to do anything about it. For this reason it is not surprising that the UN is currently belittled and widely seen as irrelevant to the deeper challenges facing the world, whether in combat zones, climate change, human rights, or even threats of nuclear conflagration.

 

Such a dismissive view of the UN is understandable, in view of these recent developments, but it is clearly mistaken, and even dangerously wrong. The world needs, more even than in 1945 when governments established the UN as a global problem-solving mechanism with the overriding objective of avoiding future major wars, an objective given urgent poignancy by the atomic bombings of Japanese cities. The UN despite failing badly in the context of war/peace has reinvented itself, providing a variety of vital services to the world community, especially valuable for the less developed, smaller, and poorer countries. The UN retains the potential to do more, really much more, but in the end the UN role and contributions are dependent upon the political will of its five permanent members, the so-called p-5, which amount to requiring a geopolitical consensus, which in the current world setting seems almost as elusive as during the Cold War, although for somewhat different reasons.  

 

 

 

Four Ways of Looking at the UN

 

Since its origins there have been four main attitudes toward the UN. When considered together these four overlapping viewpoints help explain why the UN remains controversial in achievement even after more than 70 years of existence. The fact that the Organization is still there, and it is notable that every sovereign state, without exception, values the benefits of membership even if the target of censure or sanctions. This should tell us something about the degree to which governments value participation in the UN and the services that it provides. These four attitudes are not distinct, and do overlap to varying degrees, yet each captures an aspect of the overall debate that has swirled about appraisals of the UN ever since its founding.

 

First, there are the idealists who want to believe the stirring pledge of the Preamble to the UN Charter “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Such persons believe that a new era of law-based global security was launched when the UN was established in 1945, thinking that the Organization would be ready and able to prevent the recurrence of major war as even leading governments had become scared of future warfare, and it was shown during the anti-Fascist war that ideological and geopolitical adversaries could cooperate when their interests converged. These idealists, although disappointed over the years, continue to hope that at some point the leaders of the big states will strengthen the capabilities of the UN so that it can fulfill this original lofty aspiration of securing a peaceful and just world order and stand ready to meet whatever global challenges arise in the future. In some helpful sense we can think of these UN idealists as ‘incurable optimists,’ given the accumulated experience since 1945.

 

Then there are the realists who dominate governments and think tanks, and were worried in the immediate aftermath of World War II that the idealists would lead the world astray by raising expectations of great power restraint and cooperation beyond reason and the lessons of history. The realists believe that international history was, and always will be a narrative of military power and powerlessness, with war, war making, and coercive diplomacy a permanent part of the global setting regardless of drastc changes in technology and global power balances. For realists the UN can be of occaisonal use to its dominant members in shaping global policy, provided its limitations are properly understood. The UN offers world leaders a talk shop in a complex world and discussion can sometimes be helpful in swaying international public opinion in the direction being advocated by a government or even in uncovering common ground. Realists adopt an essentially instrumental and marginalizing view of the UN, in effect believing that major political action on security and economic matters will always be shaped in venues under the discretionary control of sovereign states represented by governments that make security policy with blinders that ignore, or at lest minimize, non-military approaches to conflict resolutions. In essence, realists embrace a tragic sense of life, and can be regarded as ‘incurable pessimists,’ who however catastrophic the costs, continue to rely on war and threats to keep the peace.

 

A third set of attitudes is that of cynics who regard the UN as a hypocritical and dangerous distraction from serious global problem-solving. The UN has neither power nor authority to take action to keep the peace except in the rare instances when major players agree on what to do. In effect, the UN was always irrelevant and worthless from the perspective of shaping a peaceful and just world, and to believe otherwise is to be naïve about the workings of world politics in a state-centric system. From this cynical perspective the UN is a wasteful and misleading public relations stunt that diverts energy and clear thought from prudent present behavior, and even more so, from the kind of radical political action that would be needed to make the world secure and just. The UN cynics are essentially the gadflies who remind the public that it is foolish, or worse, to invest hope in the UN on the big challenges facing humanity.

 

Finally, there are the opponents, who oppose the whole idea of the UN as a world organization, and fear that it poses a threat to the primacy of national sovereignty and the pursuit of national interests and grand strategy. Opponents are hostile to the UN, often susceptible to conspiracy theories warning that there are social forces plotting to turn the UN into a world government, which they consider a prelude to global tyranny. The paranoia of the opponents is the furthest removed from reality among these four viewpoints, but remains influential as shaping populist attitudes toward the UN and internationalism generally in the present era where democratic forms of governance are giving way to a variety of autocracies that have in common a refusal to meet global challenges by reliance on the UN or other cooperative mechanisms, including even in the domain of trade, investment, and environmental protection. Trump’s ‘America First’ chant is emblematic of this outlook, which exerts political pressures, using funding as leverage, on the UN to serve the national interests of its leading members. It is illustrative of this atmosphere that the UN is being attacked as an Israel-bashing organization rather than being criticized for its failure to respond to well-grounded Palestinian grievances. These opponents are not reality-based, but rather are faith-based, and can be considered as ‘rejectionists’ when it comes to respect for the authority of the UN, or for that matter, of international law in general.

 

If we ask who has gotten the better of the implicit argument between these four ways of perceiving the UN, it is hard to avoid giving the prize to the realists. In a way this is not surprising. As realists dominate all public and private institutions, their dominant tendency is to treat the UN as a site of struggle that can be most useful in all out efforts to mobilize support for a controversial policy—for instance, sanctions against North Korea or Iran. Yet the most effective realists do not wish to appear as cynics or rejectionists, and so often hide their instrumental moves behind idealistic rhetoric. The realists are able to impose their view of the UN role on the operations of the Organization, but at the same time, realists are at a loss as to the nature of ‘the real,’ and thus seem oblivious to the need for a stronger UN to address global challenges, including climate change, nuclear crises, humanitarian catastrophes, and natural disasters.

 

In contrast, the cynics want to pierce illusions, not only of the idealists, but also of the realists, especially when their voices seek to cloak power moves in the sweeter language of human rights, democracy, and peace. Idealists also struggle to gain relevance by claiming that their views are more realistic than those of the realists, pointing to the looming urgencies of nuclear war and climate change. And, of course, opponents see these differences about the UN role as a dangerous smokescreen hiding the never ending plot to hijack the UN to establish a world government or to serve the nefarious interests of global adversaries.

 

 

What the UN Contributes

 

These perspectives, while illuminating general attitudes, are too crude to tell the whole story of what the UN can and cannot accomplish First of all, there is the question of organizational complexity. The UN is composed of many institutions with very different agendas and budgets, many of which are either technical or removed from the everyday scrutiny of diplomats and experts. Most people when they think of the UN are mainly concerned with what the Security Council does with respect to the main war/peace issues of the day, maybe a bit attentive to action taken by the General Assembly, especially if it collides with geopolitical priorities, and sometimes responsive to what the UN Secretary General says or does.

 

There is only interest, for instance, in the Human Rights Council in Geneva when it reinforces or thwarts some kind of foreign policy consensus of big powers or issues a report critical of Israel. In the early 1970s countries from the Global South wanted to reform trade and investment patterns, mounting a campaign in the General Assembly, which led them to be slapped down by the West that wanted above all to insulate the operations of the world economy from any reforms that would diminish their advantageous positions in global trading and investment contexts.

 

The UN is exceedingly valuable, especially for poorer countries, as a source of information and guidance on crucial matters of health, food policy, environment, human rights, protection of children and refugees, and preservation of cultural heritage. Its specialized agencies provide reliable policy guidance and offer governments help in promoting economic development, and set humane policy targets for the world in the form of Sustainable Development Goals. In effect, the UN quietly performs a wide array of service functions that enable governments to pursue their national policies in a more effective and humane manner, and operates within a normative setting that is best characterized as ‘global humanism.’

 

Perhaps even more significantly, the UN has greater authority than any political actor in determining whether certain claims by states or peoples are legitimate or not. UN responses to the legitimacy of a national struggle is an important expression of soft power that often contributes to shaping the political outcome of conflicts. In effect, the UN is influential in the waging of Legitimacy Wars that are fought on the symbolic battlefields of such principal UN organs as the Security Council and General Assembly. Contrary to what realists profess, most international conflicts since 1945 have been resolved in favor of the side that prevails in a Legitimacy War rather than the winner of hard power struggles on the battlefield. The UN played a crucial role in supporting the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles, as well as setting forth normative standards supportive of the Right to Development and Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources, and also in promoting public order of the oceans and Antarctica. Despite its shortcomings in directly upholding peace and promoting justice, the UN remains, on balance, a vital presence in international life even with respect to conflict and peacekeeping, its potential to do much more remains as great as the day it was established.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The UN has been disappointing in implementing its Charter in relation to the P-5, and has not overcome the double standards that apply to upholding international law. The weak are held potentially accountable, while the strong enjoy impunity almost without exception. Nevertheless, the UN is indispensable as a soft power actor that helps the weaker side prevail in Legitimacy Wars. The UN seems helpless to stop the carnage in Syria or Yemen yet it can identify wrongdoing and frequently mobilize public opinion on behalf of the victims of abusive behavior. We can hope for more, but we should not overlook, or fail to appreciate, the significant positive accomplishments of the UN over the years.

 

If we seek a stronger more effective UN, the path is clear. Make the Organization more detached from geopolitics, abolish the veto, establish independent funding by a global tax, and elect a Secretary General without P-5 vetting. There was a golden opportunity to do this in the decade of the 1990s was never acted upon. American global leadership failed, being focused on a triumphalist reading of the end of the Cold War, and directed its attention to maximizing neoliberal globalization and liberal forms of democratic governance around the world, believing that states so organized do not wage war against one another. This refusal to adopt a normative approach based on shared values, goals, and challenges has marginalized the UN that continues to be dominated by the instrumental tactics of its main members.