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The New World Order?

10 Apr

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Obsolescence of Ideology: Debating Syria and Ukraine

23 Mar

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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