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An Anecdote About Fascism

19 Apr

 

 

Recently I participated in a conference on global inequality and human rights held at the University of Texas in Austin, a lively quite cosmopolitan city. During the lunch break I was talking with a young PhD student from Israel who had just presented an informative paper on inequality in the Philippines. I asked her about her career plans and how it was like to be living in Israel these days. She told me that she was married to an Israeli and planned to return to finish her studies in Tel Aviv after a fellowship year at UT.

 

I tried to engage her in conversation about evolving Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinians and the related failed diplomacy, but she seemed rather uninformed and perhaps even disinterested as if the peace agenda was not really present in her active consciousness. Then all at once she said something that surprised me. “I am not looking forward to returning to Israel, it is becoming a fascist state.”

 

What made this strong statement surprising was that it contrasted with the blandness of everything that had preceded it. I asked inquisitively, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, “What makes you say that?”

 

She pondered the question as if it had come to her from the wild blue yonder. It seemed as if she had never thought about it before, and maybe it was just a spontaneous assertion that she was articulating for the first time. After a pause, she answered somewhat hesitantly: “Because the army is the most powerful and admired institution in Israel, and the government controls everything, it is acting as a totalizing force.” I suppose that gets you to Franco style fascism that prevailed for so long in Spain, but not the more virulent forms of fascism associated with Mussolini’s Italy and especially Hitler’s Germany.

 

I agreed with the young woman about the hegemony of the armed forces, both institutionally and psychologically, but I was less sure about the totalizing reach of the government. After all, Haaretz continues to publish Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, and they are both outspoken critics of Israeli policies and leaders, but then again there seems to be mounting pressure in Israel against human rights NGOs and peaceful protests, and an official tone of belligerence toward the BDS movement that even South African apartheid racists never exhibited.

 

The Israeli young woman in Texas never mentioned the oppression of the Palestinians as one dimension of this Israeli drift from democracy to fascism, although many progressive Israelis believe that it is the prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory that has pushed the country toward or over the precipice of fascism. Jeff Halper, author of War Against the People: Israel, Palestinians, and Global Pacification (2015), a leading Israeli activist scholar who emigrated from the U.S. decades ago and has fearlessly placed his body in front of bulldozers to block the demolitions of Palestinian homes, has a different way of putting his concerns about what is happening to the Israeli governing process. “Israel is a vibrant democracy if you are Jewish.” But even for Jews there is pushback, according to Halper, making it “harder and harder to protest.”

 

What of others living in Israel, especially the Palestinians? Those living in Israel or under occupation are given a fugitive identity by being called ‘Arabs,’  a designation that functions as a way of denying nationalist claims based on a ‘Palestinian’ primary identity. As is well known, Israel uses the legalities of citizenship strategically. It has been recently offering the 25,000 Druze residents of the Golan Heights Israeli citizenship, apparently to neutralize their antagonism toward Netanyahu’s land grab, which defies international law by insisting on permanent Israeli sovereignty over conquered and occupied Syrian territory. So far few Druze have accepted this offer of Israeli citizenship, but this could change if Israel is able to sustain its claim.

 

As Palestinians know from bitter experience, the privileged societal status of Jews within and without Israel is mostly achieved by way of nationality laws that are ethnically framed to favor Jews, while Israeli citizens, whether or not Jewish, enjoy formal equality that doesn’t count for much when it comes to rights and legal protection. The most notorious of the many ethnographic discriminations in Israeli law is between Jews who are granted an unlimited right of return wherever they live in the world and however tenuous their links to Israel, while Palestinians and other minorities do not have any right of return even if the Palestinian roots of their families go back many generations. Israeli apologists contend that as a Jewish state Israel can do what many other states do, and be selective about its policies toward immigration, and privilege whoever it wishes, and further that the historical context of Zionist was shaped by the aspiration to create a sanctuary for Jews so long targeted for persecution. What this rationale leaves out is that this sanctuary was created by the displacement of the majority of the indigenous population of Palestine, and surely those Palestinians who remain in Israel should not be disadvantaged in their own homeland.

 

There are other ways in which the fascist tendency toward racism and purification are manifest. The apartheid structures of occupation, differently maintained in the West Bank and Gaza impose systematic and severe discrimination and a miserable status of stateless rightlessness on the Palestinians while according internationally unlawful Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem the full panoply of rights associated with ‘the rule of law’ as bestowed by most constitutional democracies. Also, Israel’s consistent reliance on excessive force against Palestinian protests and resistance activities is also a sign of fascist disrespect for adversary ethnic and religious identities, and even of the right to dissent and display a posture of opposition to the state.

 

Of course, whether Israel is or is becoming fascist or not in the end is a matter of interpretation, but sadly, it is no longer an extremist assertion or a sign of anti-Semitism to regard Israel as a fascist state. And by way of contrast, it is extreme whitewashing to keep insisting that Israel is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’

 

Some years ago, Henry Seigman, seemed to imply a similar set of circumstances when he argued that Israel had become an ‘ethnocracy,’ that is, a Jewish state in which non-Jews were at best subordinated, and at worst scapegoated in such a way as to make involuntary population transfers an increasingly popular option with the public. Seigman, former head of the American Jewish Congress, also wrote that instead of being the only democracy Israel has become the ‘only apartheid regime in the Western world.”

 

Of course, the question of the American drift toward fascism has also been noted for several decades. To some extent, the awareness that ‘perpetual war’ is incompatible with the maintenance of real democracy was part of this concern. Peter Dale Scott’s explorations of ‘the deep state’ with its unaccountable dark forces of secrecy that pulled the strings of the national security was an indictment of the merger of covert intelligence and special ops with the underworld of crime and drugs that have intensified fears of the erosion of democratic governance. And we not must overlook Edward Snowden’s brave disclosures of the webs spun by the surveillance state that potentially entangle every person on the face of the earth or the special bonds connections the hedge fund moguls of Wall Street with the bureaucratic elites in Washington that are doing their assigned job of keeping the citizenry on an extremely short leash. This may help explain the anger in America bubbling to the surface during a time when profits continue to rise geometrically while wages remain either flat or keep declining in constant dollars.

 

And then came Trump, unleashing the dormant underbelly of populist fascism in America, surfacing in various virulent forms: Islamophobia and xenophobia being the most obvious. Just as some understanding of white racism was finally seeping into liberal consciousness by the much belated recognition that ‘black lives matter,’ it was also becoming clear that Muslim lives don’t matter, or matter even less, and Latino lives were becoming problematized by the sudden passion for upholding the law that was sweeping across the American plains, lending strident support to those calling for the punishment, and the massive deportation of those categorized as ‘the illegals.’

 

The caustic cultural critic and ardent American Zionist, Leon Wieseltier, recently commented on Trump: “Someone asked me if I thought he was a fascist, and I said, ‘he says fascistic things, but to call him a fascist imputes too great a degree of intellectual coherence to him.” And then condescendingly added, “There is no belief system there. I mean he is not wrong. He’s pre-wrong.” He went on to say that Clinton also worried him as a candidate, not because of her hawkish views and record, but people might not vote for her because she was unlovable. As Wieseltier caustically put it, “I’m getting exceedingly nervous about her ability to beat that monster Trump. She’s not very nimble and nobody loves her.” Of course, no mention of Sanders as a glimmer of light, at least on the American horizon.

 

Instead Wieseltier instructs his 13-year old son “that presidential elections are lesser of evil exercises. I have never once voted happily.” Of course, this is not such an outlandish assessment, although as a candidate eight years ago, I still feel that Barack Obama was not the lesser of evils, but his candidacy represented an extraordinary breakthrough. Although often deeply disappointing later, as president, especially in the domains of security, neoliberalism, and the Middle East, the Republican extreme antipathy toward the man and his policies has fascist, as well as racist, undertones. And why wouldn’t even Wieseltier want to cheer his son up a bit by mentioning Bernie Sanders, who may not be the revolutionary he claims to be, but he is authentically talking some truth to power in ways that defy the mores of the American plutocracy? The American media and liberal mainstream, especially among older folks, is understandably preoccupied with the rightest surge, and is unabashedly counting on a Clinton victory. It is not nearly ready to ditch Democrats linked to Wall Street, Pentagon, and Israel in the manner of Clinton. In fact, most Clinton supporters see little, if any, substantive problem with her, but if critical at all, lament her lack of charm or go ‘tut, tut’ if anyone brings up her past support for the Iraq War, the Libyan intervention, and various authoritarian moves in Central America, most notably Honduras.

 

Robert Paxton, the author of one of the best books on fascism, The Anatomy of Fascism (2004), is reluctant to give a definition of fascism, both because there are many varieties and because it tends to essentialize fascism, which is better comprehended, he believes, as a process that evolves rather than as a system with certain defining attributes. Paxton at the very end of his book relents, offering a list of characteristics that he believes are shared by historical instances of fascism. I believe it is worth reproducing Paxton’s list [219-220], although its application to the U.S. and Israel depends on nuanced interpretation:

 

–“a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solution;”

–“the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;;”

–“the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;”

–“dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;”

–“the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, by exclusionary violence if necessary;”

–“the need for authority by natural chiefs (always male(, culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s historical destiny;”

–“the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;”

–“the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;”

–“the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterior of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.”

 

It makes little difference as to whether we explain this militarist drift observed in Israel and the United States as the outcome of decades of high alert geopolitics or the impoverishment of tens of millions due to the cruel dynamics of neoliberal capitalism or primarily as a response to the changing paradigm of global conflict with its borderless battlefields and extremist non-state, transnational political actors. Widespread violent discontent and highly coercive security structures of state power seem here to stay, and so it becomes prudent to fear resurgent forms of fascism reconfigured to correspond with the parameters of the digital age. Reading through Paxton’s list is a chilling reminder of how fascist regimes destroy the fabric of humane societies, but the list also may be read as a cautionary reminder that what exists in Israel and the United States is best understood as pre-fascist, and that there remain anti-fascist political spaces to turn the tide of events in more progressive directions.

Reading Jeff Halper’s ‘War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification’

7 Apr

 

[Prefatory Note: The review below was published in the current issue of Journal of the Society for Contemporary Thought and Islamicate World. I am posting it here because I believe that Jeff Halper’s book deserves the widest possible reading. It explains clearly and convincingly one of the deepest and least understood roots of Israel’s diplomatic support throughout the world, which is its role as a niche arms supplier and influential tactical specialist in waging wars against peoples who dare offer resistance to state power as variously deployed against them. The Israeli experience in exerting oppressive control of the Palestinian people provides the foundation of Israel’s international credibility and perceptions of effectiveness in disseminating for economic and political profit its hardware and software associated with managing and suppressing the resistance of popular movements fighting for their rights. The Israel stress on pacification rather than victory exposes the true nature of what Halper identifies so vividly and comprehensively as the distinctive character of waging ‘war against the people.’ ]

Jeff Halper, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification, Pluto Press, 2015, 296 pp., $25.00 US (pbk), ISBN 9780745334301.

Jeff Halper is an unusual hybrid presence on both the scholarly and political scene. He describes himself as an “activist-scholar” (6), which adopts a controversial self-identification. The conventional stance erects a high wall between scholarship and activism. To his credit and for our benefit, Halper excels almost equally in both roles. He is one of the most lucid speakers on the lecture circuit combining clarity with wisdom and a rich fund of information and firsthand experience, and his work as a writer is influential and widely known. His activist credentials have been built up over many years, especially in his work as co-founder and leader of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, which has bravely confronted Israeli demolition crews and IDF soldiers, helped Palestinians on multiple occasions to rebuild their destroyed homes, thereby responding humanely to one of Israel’s cruelest occupation practices, an instance of unlawful collective punishment. Halper has estimated that less than 2% of demolitions can lay claim to a credible security justification (the respected Israeli human rights NGO, B’Tselem, estimates 1.3% of demolitions are justified by security, while the rest are punitive or 621 of 47,000 since 1967). As an author his main prior book makes an unsurprisingly strong pitch for activism as the most reliable foundation for analysis and prescription. His important and incisive title gave the theme away—An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel.1 This earlier book remains valuable as testimony by a progressive Zionist in Israel that with good faith Jews and Palestinians might yet learn to live together, including finding a formula for sharing the land.

Halper’s own life experience makes this blend of scholarship and activism particularly compelling. He is an American born Jew who grew up in the Midwest and studied anthropology in Wisconsin, taught at a Quaker university for several years, and then moved to Israel where he married an Israeli and has three grown children. What particularly sets Halper apart from most other principled Jews in the ranks of critics of Israel is the striking combination of the radicalism of his opposition to the policies and practices of the Israeli state together with his evident commitment to remain in Israel no matter how far right the governing process drifts. Most other prominent Jewish critics of Israel have remained outside the country throughout their life (e.g. Noam Chomsky) or were born in Israel and then chose to become expatriate critical voices (e.g. Daniel Levy, Ilan Pappé, Gilad Azmun). There are a few internationally prominent Israeli journalists and cultural figures who have sustained sharply critical commentary (e.g. Gideon Levy, Amira Hass) and kept their Israeli residence despite harassment and threats.

In the book under review Halper broadens his own distinctive identity while enlarging the apertures of perception by which he views the Israeli state. He focuses attention on the Israeli arms industry, security doctrines, and policies, and examines Israel’s acquisition of formidable diplomatic influence grossly disproportionate to its size and capabilities. It is this gap between Israel’s significant impact on current world history and the modest scale of its territorial reality and its outsider status in most global settings that is the core mystery being explicated by Halper. He starts the book with some provocative questions that put the underlying puzzle before us in vivid language: “How does Israel get away with it? In a decidedly post-colonial age, how is Israel able to sustain a half-century occupation over the Palestinians, a people violently displaced in 1948, in the face of almost unanimous international opposition” (1)? He indicates that this phenomenon cannot be adequately “explained by normal international relations” nor by the strength of the Israel lobby in the United States nor by strong Israeli pushback to discredit critics by invoking the Holocaust as an indefinite source of impunity (3). What the book demonstrates very persuasively is that Israeli influence is a result of its extraordinary, partially hidden and understated role as arms supplier to more than 130 countries and as an increasingly significant mentor of national police forces and counter-terrorist operations and practices in many countries, including the United States.

Israel as Arms Merchant and Pacification Ideologue

Without exaggeration, War Against the People, is really three books in one. It is first of all a comprehensive and detailed look at the elaborate Israeli arms industry, including the extensive network of private companies engaged in arms production. Halper explores how Israel managed to become such a valued producer of sophisticated weaponry that so many governments have come to depend upon. Part of Israel’s success in the highly competitive international arms market is to identify and develop niches for itself in the wider global arms market that allows it to compete successfully for market share with companies backed by several of the world’s largest states by supplying specific kinds of weaponry that outperform the alternatives available for purchase. By so serving as an arms merchant to no less than 130 countries gives Israel a powerful unacknowledged source of leverage throughout the entire world. An aspect of Israel’s success is to be apolitical in its operations as an arms supplier, provided only that the foreign government poses no security threat to Israel.

Secondly, the book is a detailed examination of the specific ways that Israel has adapted its security doctrine and practice to the varieties of Palestinian resistance over the decades. The Israeli approach rests on adopting a goal toward internal security that seeks to achieve a tolerable level of “pacification” of the Palestinian population. As such it does not seek to “defeat” the Palestinians, including even Hamas, and is content with keeping violent resistance contained so that Israelis can go about their lives with reasonable security and the economy can prosper. At the same time, the threat of violent resistance never entirely disappears or is absent from the political consciousness and experience of Israeli society, and the fear factor keeps Israelis supportive of oppressive internal policies. Pacification in the face of a potentially very hostile minority Palestinian presence in pre-1967 Israel has presupposed a fusing of Israel’s military, paramilitary, police, and intelligence capabilities, but also a less understood Israeli politics of restraint. The capabilities to sustain pacifications must be continuously updated and adapted to evolving circumstances, including shifts in Palestinian tactics of resistance.

This mental shift from “victory” over the natives to their relentless “pacification” to some extent reflects the ethical orientation of a post-colonial world. In many respects Israel represents a species of settler colonialism, but it takes the form of seeking some kind of imposed accommodation with the native population rather than their extinction or spatial marginalization. Actually, as Israeli politics have moved further and further to the right, the tactics of pacification have become more coercive and brutal, and do seem to push the original dispossession of the nakba toward some kind of “final solution” by way of settlement expansion as likely supplemented at some point by population transfer and by periodic massive military operations of the sort that have occurred in Gaza in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014. In other words, pacification as conceived in the 1950s has become quite something more ominous for the Palestinians in the twenty-first century as “Palestine” shrinks in size and diminishes in threat while Israel’s territorial ambitions continue to expand and seem to be within reach.

The Israel/Palestine encounter is certainly unique in several of its aspects, yet it bears sufficient similarity to a range of threats facing many governments in the world to allow the Israeli government to serve as an exemplary practitioner of counterinsurgency war/politics. It is precisely the generality of contemporary security challenges situated within society that makes the Israeli experience seem so valuable to others, especially when reinforced by the widespread impression that Israel’s security policies have succeeded in the face of difficult challenges over an extended period. This combination of considerations gives Israel’s weapons, training programs, and security doctrines their global resonance. Especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the long-term character of the Israeli experience became a strong credential on the arms market and among strategy-minded think tanks. Israel’s perceived counterinsurgency record has even led other governments to mute or even abandon their criticisms of the manner in which Israel suppresses Palestinians and flaunts international law. In this way, the Israeli network of arms sales arrangements has not only functioned as direct sources of influence and economic benefit to Israel, but also contributed a political payoff by weakening motivations at the UN and elsewhere in the world to exert meaningful pressure on Israel to modify its policies and uphold its obligations under international law. What Halper helps us to understand is this rarely discussed relationship between the arms trade and what might be called an international diplomacy of pacification. In effect, Israel has quietly bought off most of its potentially most dangerous governmental adversaries by making itself an invaluable collaborator in the security domain, which is given priority by every government when it comes to shaping its foreign policy. The reach of this weapons diplomacy is further extended due to Israel’s willingness to do arms deals discreetly with the most repressive of regimes around the world even while at the same time it takes great pains to substantiate the claim that Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East.

Thirdly, this long experience of coping with Palestinian resistance has given Israel continuing field experience with tactics and weapons useful to subdue a non-state adversary, including convincing demonstrations of what works and what doesn’t. In fundamental respects the work of pacification is never finished, and so Israel continuously modifies its weapons mix to take account of battlefield lessons and technological innovations, and this is of great value to governments that were seeking to choose among several alternatives to meet the requirements of their particular security challenges. Israel can claim both the reliability of its weaponry through their field testing in response to varying conditions and success in adapting to ever changing tactics of Palestinian resistance. No other country has achieved this mastery over the hardware and software of a pacification approach to internal security.

Halper also makes us aware that pacification is what also best explains the hegemonic ambitions of America’s securitizing approach to world order. What Israel has achieved on a small scale, the United States is managing on a large scale. In other words the several hundred American foreign military bases together with navies patrolling all of the world’s oceans, further reinforced by satellite militarization of space for purposes of intelligence and possible attack are the coercive infrastructure of both neoliberal globalization and American global leadership. The objective is to keep those dissatisfied with this established order under sufficient control so that trade, investment, and basic security relations are not deeply disturbed. Part of Halper’s argument is that Israel understands the dynamics of an effective regime of global pacification better than any other country, and has done its best to be useful to the United States and Europe by providing niche support in terms of weaponry (say for border barriers, surveillance, and control) and doctrine (say targeted assassinations by drone strikes and collective blockades).

Matrix of Control

Halper relies upon an illuminating style of conceptualization to develop his basic analysis. For instance, one of his important contributions is to specify global pacification by reference to a “Matrix of Control.” The basic argument of the book is that the most defining “wars” of our times involve using state violence against a mobilized population that mounts threats against the established economic and political order. The matrix of control is the complex interaction of weapons, policies, practices, and ideas that make this project a reality. The paradigmatic case is the Israeli pacification of the Palestinians, which is less than their defeat or annihilation, but something other than sustained warfare; it is doing enough by way of forcible action to punish, terrorize, and suppress without clearly crossing the line drawn by legal prohibitions on mass atrocity and genocide. It is damping down the fires of Palestinian resistance into a smoldering mass of tensions and resentments that every so often bursts into flames, offering pretexts for launching a new campaign of devastation. The pattern of periodic onslaughts against Gaza since 2008 is indicative of the broader policies, with three massive attacks every 2-3 years, what Israeli officials are comfortable describing as “mowing the lawn” (146), which incidentally stimulates a new round of arms sales.

The Israeli matrix of control (143-190) is specified by reference to its various main components, forming an integrated and distinctive form of what Halper describes as “urban warfare” resting on the premise of “domestic securitization,” that is, conceiving of the enemy as mainly operating within the boundaries of the state, ultimately to be contained rather than defeated. Such an integrated approach relies on walls to keep the unwanted from entering, surveillance, fragmenting the population to be controlled, periodic and punitive violent suppression designed to prevent, preempt, and demoralize, and proactive intelligence that seeks to gain access to the inner circles of militant opposition forces. Such a matrix of control both deploys a mixture of traditional counterterrorist measures and the latest innovations in sophisticated technology, including armed robotics, drones, and a variety of overlapping surveillance techniques. The approach relies on a vertical layering of security measures that rests on redundancy to ensure effective control. What is original about this approach is its conscious realization that “victory” over hostile subjugated forces is not an acceptable or realizable policy option, and what works best is a system of permanent control sustained by a mix of coercive and psychological instruments.

Pacifying Palestinians and Pacifying the World

Halper shows how this matrix of control, which developed to enable Israeli settler society to achieve a tolerable level of security with respect to the indigenous Palestinian population, seeks to fulfill an elusive requirement. It maintains security without resorting to genocide or to the kind of destructive forms of mass slaughter that characterized earlier experiences of settler colonialism where the land occupied was cleared of natives. At the same time, it pacifies in a post-colonial era where the power of the colonial master has been effectively challenged throughout the world. It is no longer possible to beat the native population into a condition of passive resignation as had been the case so often during the heyday of the extensive European colonial empires. These two considerations suggest a policy puzzle for the pacifier who must avoid extreme violence and yet depends on a sufficient degree of violence to intimidate a restive population that believes resistance is justified and currently accords with the flow of history.

The Israeli answer in a variety of acknowledged and disguised forms is best understood by reference to the Dahiya Doctrine, which incorporates a logic of disproportionate retaliation (174-176). In effect, for every Israeli killed or home damaged or destroyed, a far greater number of Palestinians will be killed and entire residential neighborhoods destroyed. The Dahiya Docrtine was proclaimed originally to justify the destruction of the Dahiya neighborhood in south Beirut during the Lebanon War of 2006. The people living in densely populated Dahiya were viewed by Israel as supportive of Hezbollah, but it is descriptive of Israeli behavior generally with respect to Palestinian acts of resistance, particularly with respect to Gaza since falling under Hamas’s control. The supposedly centrist Tzipi Livni, the Israeli political leader who served as Foreign Minister during the massive attack on Gaza at the end of 2008, expressed this Israeli way of dealing with Palestinian resistance in Gaza in the following chilling words: “Hamas now understands that when you fire on its [Israel’s] citizens it responds by going wild—and this is a good thing” (quoted in Halper, 175). I would add that “going wild” is a euphemism for rejecting the efforts of international humanitarian law and the just war tradition to constrain the intensity of violence and suffering by insisting on proportional responses. In effect, to reject so overtly this admittedly vague effort of international law to impose limits on the conduct of warfare, Israel is incorporating into the core of its security approach a repudiation of the humanizing ambition of international law, and implicitly claiming the right on its own to use force as it wishes. This is a step back from the extensive attempt during the prior century to put the genie of war, if not back in its bottle, at least to gesture toward that end. With Israel’s concept of securitization, also descriptive of the approach taken by the United States, as well as such other countries as Russia, France, and China, it is arguable that international society has turned the normative clock back to a nihilistic zero.

There is another crucial feature of the matrix of control that is of wider relevance than Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that Halper associates with “Framing: A Tendentious Definition of ‘Terrorism’” (149-151). This framing idea is to make it appear that “the terrorists” are always those resisting control by the established political order, and never those that are exercising authority however oppressively. As Halper points out, the IDF may kill over 2,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of whom are civilians, in the course of an armed confrontation in Gaza, as opposed to Hamas killing five Israeli civilians, but Hamas will still be depicted as the practitioner of terror and Israel’s violence will be put forward as defensive measures that are reasonable and necessary for the protection of the civilian population of Israel. The Israeli government will describe Palestinian civilian deaths as regrettable collateral damage, while attributing Hamas’s comparatively trivial lethality to a deliberate intention to kill Israeli civilians. The final step in the ideologizing process is to make this construction of the respective intentions of the two sides hinge on the question of deliberate intention, and since Hamas’s rockets are fired in the general direction of civilian populations the intention is declared to be deliberate, while Israel is seeking to destroy militarily relevant personnel and weaponry. This kind of manipulative framing by Israel has been borrowed by the United States and other governments to lend moral authority to the form of disproportionate violence that has characterized counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-9/11 era as well as lesser military operations around the world in the course of “the war on terror.”

What Israel has been doing within Palestinian territory it is seeking to control, the United States does globally. The introduction of drone warfare and special ops covert forces into dozens of countries throughout the world is an extension of the matrix of control as perfected by Israel within its limited field of operations. It also reformulates the parameters of permissible violence without regard to the limitations of international law, regarding any point of suspected adversaries throughout the planet as subject to deadly attack, borrowing notions of targeted assassination from the repertoire of Israeli practices. As with Israel, the operative goal of the so-called long war is not victory in the World War II sense, but rather the exercise of a sufficiency of control that is able to establish tolerable levels of security for Western societies and transnational economic activity. It is worth pointing out that as with Israel, the United States is unwilling to pay the costs in reputation and resources that would be required to achieve victory, although in the Iraq occupation as earlier in Vietnam it did seek to do more than pacify but in the end found the costs too high, and abandoned the undertaking.

Halper’s book gives essential insights to a key set of interrelated concerns: the political benefits to Israel arising from its dual role as quality arms supplier and counterinsurgency mentor; the degree to which Israel’s success in managing a hostile Palestinian population as well as a series of dangerous regional threats offers the United States a model for global securitization with a primary objective of preempting threats to the American homeland and safeguarding neoliberal global markets and trade routes from hostile forces; as also noted, the Israeli domestic security apparatus has been influential in the equipping and training of American and other national police forces. Additionally, Isreali technologies and knowhow have been relied upon to monitor borders and to erect barriers against unwanted entry; the advantages of having a seemingly permanent combat zone such as Gaza for field testing weapons and tactics increases the attractiveness of Israel as supplier of choice. This kind of combat zone is real world simulation that has many experimental advantages over the sorts of war games that are used to assess the effectiveness of weapons and tactics. Without incoming rockets from Gaza it would be impossible to reliably test the effectiveness of a defensive system such as the Iron Dome.

Concluding Comments

In the end, Halper answers the question as to why Israel’s seeming international unpopularity based of its long-term suppression of the Palestinian people does not harm its image or status. Israel manages to get away with its abusive human rights record while a more powerful and populous country such as apartheid South Africa was sanctioned and censured repeatedly. Of course, U.S. geopolitical muscle is part of the answer, but what Halper adds to our understanding in an insightful and factually supported manner is an appreciation of Israel’s extraordinary usefulness as arms supplier and counterinsurgency guru. A further implication of Israeli usefulness is a realization that governments give much more weight to relationships that bolster their security capabilities than they do to matters of international morality and law. Given these realities, it remains clear that the Palestinian national movement will have to wage its struggle on its own with principal support coming from civil society. Israel, it must be acknowledged has substantially neutralized both the UN and the foreign policy of most important countries, although public opinion around the world is moving in directions that could exert mounting pressure on Israel in the years to come.

As the title of Halper’s book suggests, what is transpiring worldwide, and is epitomized by the Israeli response to Palestinian opposition, can be best understood as part of a wider shift in the nature of global conflict in the post-Cold War period. Instead of most attention being given by security bureaucracies to rivalries and warfare among leading states, the most salient, dangerous, and cruelest conflicts are between state and society, or wars waged against people. There are no significant international wars between two or more states taking place now, while at least 30 internal wars are raging in different parts of the world. To be sure there have been a series of military interventions as part of the global pacification project under the direction of the United States and proxy wars in the Middle East in which major states intervene on opposite sides of a civil war. Yet whether we think of Syria as the paradigm of twenty-first century warfare or the Israeli matrix of control, it is “the people,” or a mobilized segment, that is being victimized. Halper’s book does the best job so far of depicting this new cartography of warfare, and deserves to be widely read and its main theses debated.

 

 

Reflections on the Brussels Attack

26 Mar

 

[Prefatory Note: A much abbreviated version of this post was published in Al Jazeera English on March 24, 2016. Although the essential analysis is the same, the reasoning here is greatly elaborated. The themes addressed and the policies proposed are advanced in a tentative spirit. Debate and reflection are urgently needed with respect to the political violence that is being unleashed in various forms in the West and non-West.]

 

This latest terrorist outrage for which ISIS claimed responsibility exhibits the new face of 21st century warfare for which there are no front

lines, no path to military victory, and acute civilian vulnerability. As such, it represents a radical challenge to our traditional understanding of warfare, and unless responses are shaped by these realities, it could drive Western democracies step by step into an enthused political embrace and revived actuality of fascist politics. Already the virulence of the fascist virus dormant in every body politic in the West has disclosed its potency in the surprisingly robust Trump/Cruz run to become the Republican candidate in the next American presidential election.

 

Perhaps, the most important dimension of this 21st century pattern of warfare, especially as it is playing out in the Middle East, is the will and capacity of violent extremists to extend the battlefield to those perceived to be their enemies, and to rely on acutely alienated Europeans and North Americans to undertake the suicidal bloody tasks. The British Independent struck the right note in its commentary, almost alone among media commentary that went beyond condolences, denunciations, and statements of resolve to defeat and destroy ISIS. It included a quote from the ISIS statement claiming responsibility for the Brussels attack: : ‘Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake part in the crusader campaign … [with] their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets.’ … ISIS also released an undated video today threatening to attack France if it continued intervention in Iraq and Syria. ‘As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear traveling to the market,’ said one of the militants, identified as ‘Abu Maryam the Frenchman.'” It follows this statement with the report that there have been 11,111 air strikes launched by Western and Gulf states against targets in Syria and Iraq, causing massive casualties, human displacement, and great devastation, especially in areas controlled by ISIS. Evidently, given the Belgian attack, for ISIS European unity if accepted as a given, making France as a

locater of an epicenter, but Europe as a whole as circumscribing one crucial combat zone

 

Noticing this reality is not meant to diminish or offer a rationalization for the barbarism involved in the Brussels attacks, as well as the earlier Paris attacks, but it does make clear that intervening in the Middle East, and conceivably elsewhere in the Global South, no longer ensures that the intervening societies will remain outside the combat zone and continue to enjoy what might be called ‘battlefield impunity.’ By and large the sustained violence of the major anti-colonial wars, even the long Vietnam War, were confined to the colonized society, at most affecting its geographic neighbors. In the 1970s and 1980s there were sporadic signs of such a tactical shift: the IRA extended their struggle in Northern Ireland to Britain, and the PLO via airplane hijacking, Libyan explosions in a German disco frequented by American soldiers, and the PLO Munich attack on Israeli Olympic athletes also prefigured efforts to strike back at foreign hostile sources believed to be responsible for the failure to achieve political goals. ISIS seems more sophisticated in the execution of such operations, has the advantages of home grown adherents willing to engage in suicide missions that is often accompanied by a religious motivation that validates the most extremist disregard of civilian innocence.

 

As in any armed confrontation, it is essential to take account of innovative features and opt for policies that seem to offer the most hope of success. So far the public Western responses have failed to appreciate what is the true novelty and challenge associated with the adoption by ISIS of these tactics involving mega-terrorism in the homeland of their Western adversaries as asymmetric ways of extending the battlefield.

 

 

The Attack

 

The attacks of March 22 in Belgium occurred in the departure area of the international airport located in the town of Zaventem, seven miles from Brussels and in the Maelbeek metro station in the heart of the city, nearby the headquarters of European Union. Reports indicate over 30 persons were killed and as many as 250 wounded. The timing of the attack made the motivation at first seem like revenge for the capture a few days earlier in Brussels of Salah Abdelslam, the accused mastermind of the Paris attack of November 13, 2015. It hardly matters whether this line of interpretation is accurate or not. It is known for sure that there are clear links between the Paris events and what took place in Brussels, and the scale of the operation depended on weeks, if not months, of planning and preparation.

 

The essence of the event is one more deeply distressing challenge to the maintenance of domestic public order in democratic space as the conflict that becomes ever more horrible, with ominous overtones for the future of human security in urban environments throughout the world. The hysterical surge of xenophobia is one expression of fear and hate as American politicians debate closing off national access to all Muslims and Europeans pay a large ransom Turkey to confine Syrian refugees within their borders. We are not supposed to notice that recent terrorist acts are mainly the work of those living, and often born, within the society closing its doors to outsiders, moves likely to deepen the angry alienation of those insiders whose ethnic and religious identity makes them targets of suspicion and discrimination.

 

So far, the official statements of the political leaders have adhered to familiar anti-terrorist lines, disclosing little indication of an understanding of the distinctive realities of the events and how best to cope with the various challenges being posed. For instance, the Prime Minister of Belgium described the attacks as “blind, violent, cowardly,” and added a Belgian promise of the resolve needed to defeat ISIS and the threat it poses. François Hollande of France, never missing an opportunity to utter the obvious irrelevance, simply vowed “to relentlessly fight terrorism, both internationally and internally.” And using the occasion for the recovery of European unity so visibly weakened by the recent dangerous tensions generated in bitter conflicts over fiscal policy and the search for a common policy on migrants, Hollande added, “Through the Brussels attack, it is the whole of Europe that is hit.” Whether such appeals to unity will lead anywhere beyond flags lowered and empathetic rhetoric seems doubtful. What should be evident now is that it that not only Europe that is under constant threat, and understandably troubled by the prospect of future attacks, worrying aloud about such menacing relatively soft targets as nuclear power plants. It is virtually the entire world that has become vulnerable to violent disruption from these contradictory sources of intervention and terrorism.

 

 

President Obama offered sensitive condolences to the bereaved families of the victims and expressed solidarity with Europe on the basis of “our shared commitment to defeat the scourge of terrorism.” Again it is disappointing that there is not more understanding displayed that this is a kind of war in which the violence on both sides profoundly violates the security and sovereignty of the other. Until this awareness emerges, we will continue to expect that ‘legitimate violence’ is properly limited to the territories of non-Western societies as it was in the colonial era, and insist that retaliatory strikes constitute terrorism, that is, ‘illegitimate violence.’

What is so far missing from these responses is both a conceptual sensitivity to the originality and nature of the threat and a related willingness to engage in the kind of minimal self-scrutiny that is responsive to the ISIS statement that appears to express its motivation. It is not a matter of giving credence to such a rationalization for criminality, but rather finding out how best to realize what might be described as ‘enlightened self-interest’ in view of the disturbing surrounding circumstances, which might well begin with a review of the compatibility of domestic racism and interventionary diplomacy with the ethics, law, and values of this post-colonial era.

 

From this perspective the iconic conservative magazine, The Economist, does far better than political leaders by at least emphasizing nonviolent steps that can be taken to improve preventive law enforcement. The magazine points out that the significance of the Brussels attack should be interpreted from a crucial policy perspective: the current limitations of national intelligence services to take preventive action that would alone protect society by identifying and removing threats in advance. The Economist correctly stresses that it has become more important than ever to maximize international efforts to share all intelligence pertaining to the activities of violent extremists, although it too avoids a consideration of root causes that can alone restore normalcy and achieve human security.

 

This shift from reactive to preventive approaches to defending the domestic social order represents a fundamental reorientation toward the nature of security threats, and how to minimize their escalating lethality. There are three novel aspects of this type of postmodern warfare: striking fear into the whole of society; creating a huge opening for repressive and irresponsible demagogues in targeted societies; and mindlessly unleashing excessive amounts of reactive force in distant countries that tends to spread the virus of violent extremism throughout the planet more than it eradicates it. As has been widely observed, there is no way to know whether drones and air strikes kill more dangerous adversaries than have the effect of actually expanding the ranks of the terrorists by way of alienation and increased recruitment.

 

It is not yet sufficiently appreciated that the state terror spread by drones and missiles extends to the entire civilian society of a city or even country under attack, making it extremely misleading to treat the lethal impact as properly measured by counting the dead. People living in targeted communities or states all live in dread once a missile from afar has struck, an anxiety aggravated by the realization that those targeted have no way to strike back. The United States reliance on drone warfare in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa has recklessly set a precedent that future generations in the West and elsewhere may come to regret deeply. Unlike nuclear weaponry, there is no likely equivalent for drones to a regime of non-proliferation and there is nothing similar to the doctrine of deterrence to discourage use, and even these instruments of nuclear management, although successful in avoiding the worst, are far from acceptable.

 

 

This New War

 

These deeper overlooked aspects of the Brussels attack that need to be grasped with humility, and responded to by summoning the moral and political imagination to identify what works and what fails in this new era that places such a high priority on atrocity prevention as an explanation of the most widespread, growing, and intense forms of human insecurity.

 

First, and most significantly, this is an encounter between two sides that ignores boundaries, is not properly equated with traditional warfare between states, and is being waged by new types of hybrid political actors. On one side is a confusing combination of transnational networks of Islamic extremists and in one instance (ISIS) a self-proclaimed territorial caliphate retaliating against the most sensitive civilian targets in the West, thereby adopting a doctrine that explicitly proclaims a strategy exalting crimes against humanity. On the other side, is a coalition of states led by the United States, which has foreign bases and navies spread around the world that seeks to destroy ISIS and kindred jihadists wherever they are found with scant regard for the sovereignty of foreign countries. The United States has long ceased to be a normal state defined by territorial borders, and for more than half a century has acted as ‘a global state’ whose writ the entirety of land, sea, and air of the planet.

 

Secondly, it is crucial to acknowledge that Western drones and paramilitary special forces operating in more than a hundred states is an inherently imprecise and often indiscriminate form of state violence that spreads its own versions of terror among civilian populations in various countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. It is time to admit that civilians in the West and the Global South are both victims of terror in this kind of warfare, which will continue to fuel the kind of mutual hatred and fervent self-righteousness toward the enemy that offers a frightening pretext for what now seems destined to be a condition of perpetual war.

 

What has totally changed, and is beginning to traumatize the West, is the retaliatory capacities and strategy of these non-Western, non-state and quasi-state adversaries. The colonial, and even post-colonial patterns of intervention were all one-sided with the combat zone reliably confined to the distant other, thereby avoiding any threat to the security and serenity of Western societies. Now that the violence is reciprocal, if asymmetrical (that is, each side employs tactics corresponding to its technological and imaginative capabilities) the balance of forces has fundamentally changed, and so must our thinking and acting, if we are to break the circle of violence and ever again live in secure peace. The stakes are high. Either break with obsolete conceptions of warfare or discover a diplomacy that can accommodate the rough and tumble of the 21st century.

 

Whether a creative and covert diplomacy can emerge from this tangled web that somehow exchanges an end terrorism from above for an end to terrorism from below is the haunting question that hangs over the human future. If this radical conceptual leap is to be made, it is not likely to result from the initiative of government bureaucracies, but rather from intense pressures mounted by the beleaguered peoples of the world.

 

Part of what is required, strangely enough given the borderless compulsion of the digital age and the dynamics of economic globalization, is a return to the security structures of the Westphalian framework of territorial sovereign states. Perhaps, these structures never actually prevailed in the past, given the maneuvers of geopolitical actors and the hierarchical relations of colonial systems and regional empires, but their ideal was the shared constitutional basis of world order. With the advent of the global battlefield this ideal must now become the existential foundation of relations among states, stressing the inviolability of norms of non-intervention in a new territorially based global security system. This will not overnight solve the problem, and certainly only indirectly overcomes the internal challenges posed by alienated minorities.

 

Obviously, this recommended approach could adversely affect the international protection of human rights and weaken global procedures of sanctuary for those displaced by civil strife, impoverishment, and climate change. These issues deserve concerted attention, but the immediate priority is the restoration of minimum order without which no consensual and normatively acceptable political order can persist. And this can only happen, if at all, by de facto or de jure arrangements that renounce all forms of terror, whether the work of states or radical movements.

 

The Yemen Catastrophe: Beset by Contradictions of Will and Intellect

28 Sep

[Prefatory Note: This post modifies an article published in Middle East Eye on September 21, 2015, with title, “Yemen pays the price for Saudis’ sectarian paranoia.” Whether the Saudis are being paranoid about political developments in their neighbors (Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen) or prudent in view of regional threats to the stability of the Kingdom is difficult to ascertain. However this issue is resolved, portraying what has gone wrong as a consequence of sectarianism or an expansionist Iran, evades the real challenges being posed in Yemen, in Syria, and elsewhere in the region. Only in Iraq, where American occupation policy injected

a self-defeating sectarianism as the centerpiece of its post-Saddam Hussein state-building project, does this optic misused when applied to Middle East conflict seem to explain the course of developments, including the alignment of Iraq’s current leaders with Iran rather than with their supposed liberators from the West!]

 

 

 

Yemen Catastrophe: Beset by Contradictions of Will and Intellect

 

Any attempt to provide a coherent account of the political strife afflicting Yemen is bound to fail. The country is crucible of contradictions that defy normal categories of rational analysis. If we look beyond the political fog that envelops the conflict the tragic circumstances of acute suffering imposed on the civilian population do emerge with stark clarity. Long before the outbreak of civil warfare, Yemen was known to be the poorest country in the region, faced with looming food and water scarcities. The UN estimates 80% of the population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, 40% live on less than $2 per day. Further there are high risks of mass famine and epidemic outbreaks of disease will occur, while continuing chaos is a near certainty, with the prospect of yet another wave of desperate migrants swept ashore in Europe.

 

Against this background, the UN Security Council seems shockingly supportive of a major Saudi military intervention via sustained air attacks that started in March 2015, severely aggravating the overall situation by unanimously adopting a one-sided anti-Houthi Resolution 2216. This Saudi use of force is contrary to international law, violates the core principle of the UN Charter, and magnifies the violent disruption of Yemeni society. The success of the Houthi insurgency from the north that swept the Yemeni leadership from power, taking over the capital city of Sanaa, was perversely treated by the Security Council as a military coup somehow justifying the intervention by a Saudi led coalition of Gulf countries pledged to restore the ‘legitimate’ government to power. To grasp the geopolitics at play it is clarifying to recall that the 2013 blatant military coup in Egypt, with much bloodier reprisals against the displaced elected rulers, aroused not a murmur of protest in the halls of the UN. Once more the primacy of geopolitics is showcased in the Middle East. It’s not what you do, but who does it, that matters when it comes to a UN response.

 

What makes it even more difficult to make sense of developments in Yemen is the geopolitical tendency, as abetted by the media, to reduce incredibly complex national histories and the interplay of multiple contending forces to a simplistic story of Sunni versus Shia rivalry for the control of the country. Such a prism of interpretation, above all, allows Saudi Arabia to portray once again the strife in Yemen as another theater of the wider region proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against Iran, which is a guaranteed way of securing U.S. and Israeli backing. The same rationale has served the Kingdom well (and the world badly) in explaining why it supports anti-Assad forces in Syria during the last several years. It also was the pretext for intervening in Bahrain in 2011 to crush a popular pro-democracy uprising. If considered more objectively we begin to understand that this sectarian optic obscures more than it reveals, and not accidentally.

 

For instance, when it came to Egypt, however, the sectarian template was completely discarded, and the Saudis immediately used their financial muscle to help the anti-Muslim Brotherhood coup in 2012 led by General Sisi to consolidate its control over the country. Even when Israel attacked Gaza a year ago, seeking to destroy Hamas, a Sunni Islamic version of the Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia made no secret of the startling fact that it gave Tel Aviv a green light. What emerges, then, is not a regional politics based on sectarian priorities, but rather a pathological preoccupation with regime stability in the Saudi monarchy, with anxieties arising whenever political tendencies emerge in the region that elude its control, and are perceived as threatening. Part of the truer explanation of Saudi pattern of behavior also has to do with the Faustian Bargain struck with the powerful Wahabi establishment, which has allowed the Saud royal clan to flourish at home while spending billions to spread the most repressive version of Islam far and wide to madrassas throughout Asia. The fact that the application of Wahabism at home, including more than 100 beheadings already this year and confinement of women to an extent that makes the Islamic Republic of Iran appear liberal by comparison, is a further sign that international clamor of human rights is selective to put it mildly.

 

The people of Yemen are paying a huge price for this brand of Saudi violent security politics. Whether it is paranoia at work or a healthy respect for the mass unpopularity of its policies, or some mixture, is difficult to assess. Yet what seems clear is that much of the world is lulled to sleep, not taking the trouble to peer below this sectarian cover story. Only scant account taken of the fact that the real threats to regional order in Yemen do not come from a reasonable Houthi insistence on power-sharing political arrangements, but mainly arise from the presence in Yemen of Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS that have been long targeted by American drones as part of the war of the terror ever since 2007. So while the West supports the Saudi fight against the Shia Houthis at the same time it does its best to weaken their most formidable domestic opposition, and in the process further alienates the Yemeni civilian population by its military tactics, which recruits more extremists committed to fighting against this second form of external intervention that finds no basis in international law and enjoys the tacit support of the UN Security Council.

 

If this was not enough to make the Yemeni crystal ball opaque, there is the internal alignment of forces. On the one side, the 2012 successor regime to the corrupt dictatorial rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh that is headed by its equally corrupt former vice president, Abd Rabbaah Mansour Hadi, now apparently ‘governing’ from exile, although rumored to be seeking a return to Aden. On the anti-regime side, in addition to the Houthis, are the main military and police forces that still respond to the authority of the ousted leader, Saleh, who has returned to the Yemen struggle to oppose the Saudi intervention and have helped turn the tide of battle on the ground against the Hadi-led government. Despite this adverse battlefield reality, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, was quoted as saying “We will do whatever it takes to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling.” Tragically, what this seems to mean, is reducing the country to a shambles that brings starvation and disease to the population, and possibly escalating at some future point of frustration by the launch of a ground offensive. There are confirmed reports of a massing of Saudi troops close to the Yemen border.

 

At this point, it is difficult to know what would bring some kind of peace and stability to Yemen. What we do know is that both the sectarian optic, Saudi intervention, and American drone warfare are dead end options. The beginning of a constructive approach is to take root causes of the current conflict into account. Several need to be considered. There is a long experience of division in the country between the north and the south, and this means that any unity government for the whole of Yemen can only be sustained by an iron-fisted dictator like Saleh or through a genuine power-sharing federalist kind of arrangement based on decentralized autonomy and a weak central governmental structure. Beyond this, the country bears the scars of Ottoman rule intermixed with a British presence in Aden and the surrounding area, vital to earlier colonial priorities of controlling the Suez and the trade routes to the East.

 

Additionally, and often forgotten and ignored, Yemen remains a composite of tribes that still command the major loyalty of people and reign supreme in many locales. The modern European insistence on sovereign states in the Middle East never succeeded in overcoming the primacy of Yemeni tribal identities. Any possibility of political stability requires subsidizing and respecting Yemen’s tribes as Saudi Arabia did during Saleh’s dictatorship (1990-2012) or creating a multi-colored quilt of autonomous tribal polities. When the background of the north/south split and persisting tribalism are taken into account recourse to the Shia/Sunni divide or the Riyadh/Tehran rivalry as an explanation of Yemen’s strife-ridden country is more than a simplistic evasion of a far more complicated reality. It is a cruel and futile fantasy.

 

What should be done, given this overall situation? One potential key to achieving some kind of peace in Yemen is held by policymakers in Washington. So long as the U.S. Government remains beholden to the rulers in Saudi monarchy, to the extremists running Israel, and insistent on striking at AQAP targets with drone missiles, this key is unusable. This combination of factors is what makes the wider political turmoil in the Middle East stuck on a lethal fast moving treadmill. How to get off the treadmill, that is the question for which there answers, but as yet no relevant political will.

 

There are two obvious moves, neither ideal, but with the modest goal of a first step in creating a new political order: first, negotiate a ceasefire that includes an end to the Saudi intervention; secondly, establish a more credible revival of the National Dialogue Conference that two years ago made a failed attempt at Gulf initiative in Sanaa to find a power-sharing arrangement. It did not help matters then that two successive Houthi representatives at the diplomatic discussions were assassinated on their way to participate. What is needed is establishing a political transition sensitive both to the north/south split and the strength of Yemeni tribes coupled with massive economic assistance from outside, as well as the establishment of a UN peacekeeping presence tasked with implementation and the termination of all forms of external armed intervention. Nothing less has any chance of working.

 

Such a rational path is currently blocked, especially by the intense militancy of the aggressive Saudi leadership of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Secretary of Defense, the apparent champion of military intervention. The United States, with its special relationship to Israel, its strong ties to Saudi Arabia, and faith in drone led counterterrorism seems to be swallowing the central contradiction between opposing both its real adversaries, AQAP and ISIS, and its implicit ally, the Houthis. Instead of treating the enemy of their enemy as a friend, Washington has reversed the proverb. This Gordian Knot is strangling the people of Yemen. Cutting it will require a drastic break with current policy. The way forward is evident, but how to get there is not, in the meantime the bodies pile up in what has long been considered the poorest country in the region severely stressed by the prospect of severe water scarcities.

  

The Nuclear Challenge (9): Relying on International Law: Nuclear Zero Litigation

8 Sep

 

The Nuclear Challenge (9): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear Zero Litigation


 

[Prefatory Note: Two prior posts, The Nuclear Challenge (1) & (2) address indirectly the efforts of international law and lawyers to highlight the clash between international law and nuclear weapons. In this post I combine a focus on international law with a continuation of the inquiry into the role of civil society activism that was the theme of The Nuclear Challenge (8). Here I attempt a more concrete gaze at the promise and limitations of international law as a policy instrument available to governments and citizens committed to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Zero Lawsuits filed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands on April 24, 2014 provide an occasion for such an appraisal. This litigation reflects opposed counter-currents. It is both an encounter with geopolitical nuclearism and a mode of global consciousness-raising at a time of dangerous complacency about the threats posed by the continuing possession and deployment of nuclear weaponry, as well as the warping of the security mind by supposing that human security can ever be ethically and effectively safeguarded by current strategic thinking surrounding the varying roles assigned to this weaponry by the military planners and political leaders of the nine nuclear weapons states. The text below contains some revisions and corrections of the original post, mainly reflecting my attempt to take account of constructive feedback.]

 

From the time of the atomic explosions at the end of World War II there have been two contradictory sets of tendencies at work: the repudiation of the weaponry and its contemplated uses as ultimate criminality and the secret feverish refinement of the weaponry to enhance its precision, destructive effects, battlefield capabilities, and delivery systems. To date, the latter tendency has prevailed, but so far, contrary to the worst fears, avoiding uses (but not without unlawful threats to use, think tank proposals for use, and high alert international crises containing unseemly dangers of nuclear war).

 

From the beginning international law was a tool relied upon by those who challenged the legitimacy of both the atomic attacks themselves and the later developments and doctrines associated with the weaponry and its central role in the superpower rivalry at the core of the Cold War. In the immediate aftermath of the atomic attacks on Japan, there were many governmental pronouncements in the West about nuclear disarmament as an imperative of human survival, and it was widely assumed in the public that international law through the medium of a negotiated treaty containing procedures to assure compliance by all parties was the correct approach to unconditional declearization and principled repudiation of the weaponry, and this remains the consensus view of pro-disarmers at present.

 

Especially the UN General Assembly from the outset of the nuclear age was a political venue within which the criminality of the weaponry was confirmed, although gradually the impact of nuclear geopolitics moved disarmament off-stage and shifted policy attention to the supposedly more realistic goals of managing the nonproliferation regime and minimizing the spread of the weaponry. As discussed in previous posts, whatever political energy for a world without nuclear weaponry existed has been transferred over time to a variety of civil society venues. During the Cold War, Europe was the most likely military theater for a nuclear confrontation, accounting for a variety of anti-nuclear movements and initiatives. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Britain being the best known, but also the German Green Party gained anti-nuclear prominence. Since the end of the Cold War the most activist anti-nuclearism has been associated with advocacy and educational efforts that were oriented around the presumed authoritativeness of international law as reinforced by political commitment and international morality in two major respects:

                        –the unconditional unlawfulness of the weaponry with respect to threat, use, deployment, possession, and development;

                        –a reliance on a treaty-making approach to achieve nuclear disarmament by carefully calibrated stages, and subject to monitoring, verification, compliance, and dispute settlement procedures, and containing robust response mechanisms in the event of non-compliance or cheating.

In other words, both the case against all facets of nuclearism as presently operative and the framework proposed for its elimination through a process of total denuclearization are both guided and governed by international law.

 

At the same time, there are difficulties with an uncritical acceptance of this centrality of international law. First, the evidence is strong that the nuclear weapons states, above all the United States, will not override its security policies as related to nuclear weapons or other vital concerns of foreign policy out of deference to international law. This official lawlessness exists even in the face of assessments of international law enjoying the strong backing of the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest judicial body. The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the ICJ reached two conclusions that should have led to operational adjustments in the announced doctrine and political behavior of governments possessing nuclear weapons: (1) nuclear weapons were only lawfully usable, if ever, when the survival of the state was credibly at issue; and (2) a unanimous views among the judges that the nuclear powers had a good faith obligation to negotiate both an end to the arms race and a disarmament plan, and what is more, and should not be overlooked, that these governments had “an obligation..to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.”

 

True, this was an advisory opinion, not formally binding on the parties, leading to diverse views as to legal weight of the findings. Also it was the case that the ICJ judges were badly divided, with a slim majority (and even that resting on the President’s second casting vote to break a tie) favoring the view of conditional unlawfulness of the weaponry. Actually, the unlawfulness side was stronger than it seemed by looking only at the vote on the central finding of severely qualified legality as three of the ICJ judges were so committed to unconditional unlawfulness that they refused to support the majority conclusion, which was deliberately made consistent with a very narrowly construed deterrence doctrine. What is more notable is that the nuclear weapons states paid not the slightest operational attention to what these most distinguished judges from the world’s main legal system had determined in the only systematic international review of the arguments about legality that had gone on since the first atomic explosion in wartime (a persuasive national review was set by a Japanese court in the important Shimoda case) . This disdain for the relevance of international law was apparent even before the ICJ issued its advisory opinion, taking the form of the vigorous opposition led by the United States to the General Assembly referral of the question of legality to the World Court, insisting, in effect, that a judicial interpretation of international law was not relevant to the status of nuclear weapons. The substantive claim being made was that the U.S. Government was as it was doing all that it could reasonably do to reduce risks of nuclear war, through arms control, nonproliferation, and deployment policies. Any more foundational judgment was thus deemed inappropriate and misleading. Further, that the ICJ was a judicial body not equipped to evaluate security policy, and thus at best relying on ‘moral’ and ‘political’ considerations couched in legal language.

 

The same line of reasoning was relevant with respect to the second conclusion relating to the NPT obligation to negotiate in good faith and with an end in view. What was already being done supposedly fulfilled the Article VI obligation of the nuclear weapons states, and the Court had neither the information or the expert competence to pronounce otherwise, although the judges unanimously acted as if they did have the needed knowledge, and hence an institutional responsibility to pronounce their views as to the legality of nuclear weaponry and the requirements of compliance with the NPT.

 

I think a clear picture evolves. The nuclear weapons states accord primacy to geopolitical policies when in tension with international law, especially on crucial issues bearing on the conduct of warfare and the shaping of peacetime security policies. The geopolitical consensus accepted by all nine weapons states is to disregard or sideline the purported relevance of international law. In reaction to this consensus there is some huffing and puffing by nonnuclear governments, but no political will to mount a challenge on even such a tangential issue as non-compliance with the Article VI obligation, a clear material breach of the NPT. This combination of geopolitical nuclearism and passivity by the members of international society other than ‘the nuclear nine’ has meant that it is up to each of this latter group of states, as a matter of sovereign discretion, to determine what its policies on deployment, threat, and use will be, and whether it will agree or not to specific arms control measures. And because government security policies are treated as the most carefully guarded of all state secrets, there is no meaningful democratic participation, including even by most elected or appointed government officials, and neither knowledge nor leverage by the citizenry. Every government possessing nuclear weapons is authoritarian, with only the head of state having the non-reviewable and unaccountable authority to decide whether and when to use nuclear weaponry against which targets and with what magnitudes of destructive power.

 

Left to carry on the campaign to rid humanity of the nuclear menace are the disparate and somewhat incoherent forces of civil society as receiving varying degrees of encouragement from non-nuclear states. At times of global crisis, as occurred periodically during the Cold War, these forces from below can be aroused to sound a loud alarm that has some resonance at the political center, but mainly this kind of societal pressure demands prudence and restraint rather than compliance with international law, and gains satisfaction from tiny incremental moves taken to step back from the nuclear precipice. With the decline of anxieties about possible confrontations between major nuclear weapons states after the end of the Cold War, there is mostly evident a mainstream law emphasis on the ‘enforcement’ of the NPT directed at non-nuclear states perceived as seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

 

Behind these developments, off to one side, are persevering efforts to insist on the unlawfulness of the weaponry and on gaining support for using the existing legal machinery of states and world society to push harder on the arguments of illegality. As has been pointed out, such efforts even if successful, are unlikely to make the steep climb up the geopolitical mountains on top of which are located the nuclear weapons arsenals. Yet that does not make the struggle to empower law with respect to nuclear weaponry without meaning or irrelevant to a survivable future. The outcome of the ICJ Advisory Opinion on legality, despite the unwelcome outcome of being defiantly deflected by the nuclear weapons states, did have the positive effects of strengthening the political will and morale of anti-nuclear activists and their organizations throughout the world, and even making non-nuclear governments more aware that the nuclear nine were not fulfilling their part of the NPT bargain.

 

One notable expression of this heightened political will was the initiation of litigation in ICJ and American federal courts by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) based on the alleged treaty failure to implement Article VI of the NPT by the nuclear weapons states that are parties to the treaty, and by customary international law for India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea (having withdrawn from the treaty in 2003) that are not. Such litigation was grounded in the unanimous conclusion of the ICJ that good faith obligation to negotiate a nuclear disarmament arrangement that needed to be brought to a conclusion. In the 19 years since the Advisory Opinion there have been persuasive confirmations that the nuclear nine were not at all disposed to seek nuclear disarmament, making it highly reasonable for any non-nuclear party to the NPT to mount such a legal argument based on non-compliance, and indeed material breach of treat obligations.

 

And what country, other than Japan, had a greater moral and political entitlement to do so than the Marshall Islands? RMI lacks a legal entitlement due to Compact of Free Association, and that creates a certain awkwardness in putting forward the allegations of non-compliance with the disarmament obligations of Article VI as the real motivation arising from the legacy, harm, and memories of the nuclear testing cannot be relied upon it putting forward its legal arguments. In an important respect the past matters less than the future, and the only reason to invoke RMI vicitimization as a result of the testing is to create a stronger atmosphere of receptivity in the International Court of Justice in deliberating on the subtleties of the jurisdictional controversy and to pay a deserved homage to those from RMI who paid such heavy costs due to the harm inflicted by the tests.

 

This archipelago of 1156 islands and islets occupying 750,000 square miles of ocean space in the Pacific was taken over from Japan by the United States after World War II, and formally given the status of Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (a political entity that included several other Pacific island groups) by the United Nations in 1947. The tiny population of 68,480 lives on 29 coral atolls. In a most dramatic betrayal of trust imaginable the United States used the Marshall Islands as the principal test site without consulting the indigenous population or seeking their consent. 67 atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted between 1946 and 1958. The largest was code named Castle Bravo and had an explosive magnitude of 15 megatons, which is 1000 times the force of the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. As a result of this nuclear testing the people of the Marshall Islands have endured a variety of severe harms, ranging from forced evacuation and displacement, radiation sickness that continues to be prevalent, and environmental damage that appears to be permanent. There is a mechanism that has allowed Marshall Islanders to gain compensation from the United States for harm that can be persuasively attributed to the nuclear tests, but at the cost of waiving the pursuit of claims elsewhere as a result of the Compact of Free Association linking RMI to the United States. This mechanism continues to operate as a consequence of the fact that the effects of exposure to high doses of radiation may now result in cancer or genetic defects for many years.

 

The legal theory behind the case rests on the legal proposition that the Marshall Islands in common with all other parties to the NPT have a legal right to insist on compliance with Article VI. This provides RMI with a basis for arguing that a legal dispute exists with the nuclear weapons states emanating from this alleged treaty breach. RMI contends also as with every state in the world that if a nuclear war occurs, it would be severely harmed as the detrimental effects would be global, impacting upon the security and wellbeing of the Marshall Islands, and indeed of all peoples living on the planet. For the case to be accepted for adjudication by the ICJ a majority of the 15 judges must agree that a ‘legal dispute’ exists between the complaining state and the states accused of being in breach. The wheels of international justice turn slowly, if at all, and it remains to be determined, and I can only hope that the legal team representing the RMI will convince enough of these judges sitting in The Hague to clear this high jurisdictional hurdle. Only then can the court proceed to hear arguments and render a judgment on the merits. This litigation before the ICJ if it goes forward will result in ‘a decision,’ which unlike the 1996 Advisory Opinion is obligatory, and can in theory be enforced by the Security Council acting under Article 94. Any enforcement attempt along these lines could be vetoed by one of the five permanent members, and almost certainly would be. The NPT gives states that are parties the legal option to bring a legal dispute before the ICJ, and every state in the world, including the four nuclear powers that are not parties to the NPT are allegedly also subject to its authority by way of customary international law, which may seem a stretch given the jurisprudential conservatism of the ICJ in the past. The legal reasoning supportive of this extension of customary international law is based on the proposition that the NPT has been so widely adhered to and so fundamental to world order that it has become binding whether or not a country is a party, that it is ‘a lawmaking treaty’ on matters vital to the wellbeing of humanity and that it is obligatory for the entire community of states.

 

This line of argument raises a complex jurisprudential issue for the ICJ as the legal reasoning goes against the earlier consensus that an attribute of national sovereignty is the option to remain outside of an international legal framework, and even to dissent from it. From the development of progressive international law, this litigation presents a great opportunity for the ICJ to align itself with the authority of international law in the area of war and peace, as well as with respect to  global security and human wellbeing in the nuclear age.

 

The companion case filed by the Marshall Islands in a Federal District Court resulted in a dismissal on February 3, 2015 resting on the highly questionable notion that the alleged damage to the Marshall Islands was too speculative to qualify as a legal interest that a court of law should adjudicate, and that the issue raised was, in any event, precluded by judicial review as a result of the Political Question Doctrine (PQD), which has led past courts to dismiss international law claims bearing on national security and foreign policy.

 

Such dismissals invoked separation of powers reasoning and regressively ignores the relevance of international law to the lawfulness of foreign policy, which occurred in stages since the initial formulations of PQD in a period when recourse to war was not covered by international law. Unfortunately, PQD has been interpreted by American courts to mean that such issues are not for the courts to decide, but are matters of foreign policy that should be resolved within the exclusive domain of the executive branch. Accordingly, the judiciary should not venture an assessment of this kind of challenge to security policy even if formulated by reference to a treaty obligation, which the U.S. Constitution explicitly avows as ‘the supreme law of the land.’ This dismissal of the RMI initiative has been appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco for review and decision. The continuing invocation of PQD in cases of this kind is to restrict severely the prerogatives of the citizenry to ensure that their elected representatives uphold international law and accept the applicability of a global rule of law when it comes to foreign policy.

 

Whatever the eventual outcome of these parallel judicial initiatives, the cases have already had a significant civil society impact, which has been galvanized by the law suits, acting to raise public awareness of their potential importance. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has played a central role in this undertaking in the realm of public education. It has taken the lead in fashioning a consortium of more than 90 civil society organizations supportive of the litigation, and through its websites it has tracked the progress of the cases through the courts in a manner that is both educative and energizing. Whether this litigation can ignite the sort of transnational collaboration between governments and civil society organization in the manner that proved so successful in generating support for an anti-personnel land mines treaty and for the International Criminal Court remains to be seen. Such a positive outcome for an anti-nuclear grassroots and moderate government coalition can only be conjectured at this point, but such a result would be no more surprising than establishing the ICC over the objections of the world’s leading geopolitical actors. 

 

These law suits have also brought much wider and overdue attention to the nuclear exploitation of the Marshall Islanders, as well as admiration for the willingness of this tiny stressed and subordinated polity to put forward such a controversial legal argument, especially considering that their own security and economic viability is so linked to the good will of the United States embodied in a paternalistic ‘compact’ (Compact of Free Association with the United States) that entered into force as the trust status was superseded in 1988 when the Marshall Island became “a presidential republic in free association with the United States.” In tangible terms this has meant that the United States has accepted responsibility for the defense and protection of the Marshall Islands and for granting a range of economic subsidies, and in exchange retains use of a missile test site on Kwajalein Atoll, undoubtedly a reminder of the years when the island group was the principal site for developing new generations of nuclear weaponry.

 

It is pathetic that it has taken so many decades to mount this very limited legal challenge to nuclearism and that the challenge is being made by this small and vulnerable republic while the rest of the governments throughout the world continue to sit on their hands while nuclearism remains essentially unchallenged. To remove all doubts as to its future expectations, the U.S. Government has budgeted $1 trillion over the next thirty years to keep its superior nuclear capabilities up to date so as to ensure its continuing dominance of the outer frontiers of nuclear security strategy. We can only at this stage be thankful to the RMI for embarking on these nuclear lawsuits, and wish that the judicial bodies given this great opportunity to apply international law in a manner directly related to the wellbeing, and indeed the survival, of humanity, will respond appropriately.

 

The Nuclear Challenge (4): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki-The Iran Agreement in Perspective

24 Aug

The Nuclear Challenge (4): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki-The Iran Agreement in Perspective

 

Without question the P5 +1 nuclear agreement with Iran is a vital move toward peace and stability in the Middle East, a step back from the maelstrom of conflict that is roiling much of the region, and leaving what stability there is among sovereign states under the control of various absolutisms that repress and exploit their own populations.

 

At the same time before congratulating the negotiators and building a strong rationale for yet another Nobel Peace Prize given to architects of Western diplomacy, we should pause and peer behind the curtain of hegemonic confusion embellishing a more dubious statecraft by an ever compliant mainstream media. If we pull back the curtain, what do we see?

 

First of all, we should immediately recognize that the most sensible agreement for the region and the world would have included Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal in the negotiating mix, and yielded a unanimous call for responding to nuclear anxieties with a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. As far I know, every government but Israel in the region, and this includes Iran and Saudi Arabia, favors regional nuclear disarmament, and is decidely uncomfortable with Israel as the sole nuclear weapons state in the region.

 

Many may feel that I am dreaming when I raise this point, but without the clarifying impact of dreams, political reality remains an opaque spin chamber. In a decent world order that was built on a foundation of law and equality among sovereign states with respect to the challenge of nuclear weapons there would be no double standards and no discriminatory policies. When reflecting on the current emphasis on reaching an agreement with Iran there is a political unwillingness to widen the optic for discussion, much less for implementation, of the most rational and ethically coherent approach to denuclearization of the Middle East.

 

If we are so obtuse or arrogant to ask ‘why?’ this is so there are several explanations. Undoubtedly, the most illuminating response is to point out that to include Israel’s nuclear weaponry in denuclearization diplomacy would violate ‘the special relationship’ binding the United State to Israel, although not vice versa as the Netanyahu/AIPAC outrageous campaign to undermine the P5 +1 initiative unmistakably demonstrates. Obama’s refusal to go along with Israel’s insistence on far tighter restraints on Iran as a precondition for its acceptance of an agreement is straining the special relationship and weakening the overwhelming support it had previously enjoyed among Jews in the United States. These tensions also reveal that even this most special of special arrangements has its outer limits! Yet it seems evident that these have yet to be discovered by the majority of the U.S. Congress.

 

Secondly, Iran is targeted by the agreement as a pariah state that is being subjected to a more stringent regime of inspection and restraint than has ever been imposed on any other non-nuclear state. Yet what has Iran done internationally to deserve such harsh treatment? In the period since the Islamic Republic took control of the country in 1979, Iran was aggressively attacked by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1980 with the encouragement and blessings of the United States Government, resulting in approximately one million battlefield deaths in the eight-year war to both sides. In the last decade or so, Iran has been the acknowledged target of destabilizing covert violent acts by the United States and Israel, including targeted assassinations of nuclear scientists and cyber efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, Israel has made a series of unlawful threats of military attack and the United States has exhibits Martian solidarity by uttering somewhat more veiled assertions of its residual reliance on a military option, recently rearticulated by Obama as ‘war’ being the only alternative to the agreement should it be rejected by the United States.

 

We should not forget that Iran that is surrounded by belligerent adversaries openly talking about the feasibility of military attacks upon their country under present world conditions. From a purely realist perspective it is Iran that has one of the most credible security claims ever made to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent weapon in response to Israeli aggressiveness reinforced by American backing. After all, it has been reliably disclosed and documented that Israel on more than one occasion was on the verge of attacking Iraq, backing off at the last minute due only to splits within the Israeli cabinet over issues of feasibility and fears of adverse consequences.

 

This whole discourse on Iran’s nuclear program is notable for presuming that policy options can be selected by its adversaries without any consideration of the relevance of international law. Even supposing that Iran was, in fact, overtly seeking a nuclear weapon, and approaching a threshold of acquisition, this set of conditions would not validate recourse to force. There is no foundation whatsoever in international law for launching an attack to preempt another country from acquiring nuclear weapons. The U.S. relied on such a pretext to justify its attack on Iraq in 2003, but such an argument was rejected by the UN Security Council, and the American led attack and occupation were widely viewed as contrary to international law and the UN Charter. To launch a non-defensive attack on Iran would be a flagrant violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and of the norm prohibiting recourse to aggressive war used to convict German and Japanese surviving leaders after World War II of state crime. It is well to acknowledge that Iran succumbed to a kind of geopolitical blackmail by accepting this one-sided agreement. It is hardly surprising that the logic of geopolitics triumphed over respect for international law, and yet the fact that the liberal media and world public opinion smile so gratefully, apparently not realizing what an unhealthy an atmosphere exists, is discouraging, and not a good omen for the future.

 

Maybe there could be a case for bending, or even breaking international law, if Iran was genuinely posing a plausible threat that could not be met through diplomacy and defensive capabilities. But the realities are quite different. Iran has been the target of unlawful threats and various forms of covert intervention, and has responded with responsible caution, if at all. To reinforce this one-sided experience of insecurity with this kind of agreement sets the unfortunate perverse precedent of treating the victim of an unlawful intervention as the culprit justifying international sanctions, and possibly a future military onslaught. This represents a perversion of justice, as well as exhibiting a fundamental disregard of international law.

 

This reasoning is not meant to exonerate Iran from severe criticism for its internal failures to uphold the human rights of its citizens or for its continued punitive action against the leaders of the Green Revolution. It is important to realize that regulating recourse to international uses of force has been deliberately separated in the UN Charter from interfering in state/society relations absent the commission of severe crimes against humanity or genocide, and a green light is given by the UN Security Council for what amounts to ‘humanitarian intervention,’ recently justified by reference to the emergent international norm of a ‘right to protect’ or R2P. Such a R2P justification was put forward and controversially enacted in Libya in 2011.

 

True, during the Ahmedinejad years irresponsible fiery and provocative language was used by Tehran with reference to Israel, including repeated calls for the abolition of the Zionist project. The language used by Ahmedinejad was given its most inflammatory twist by Israeli translations of the Farsi original. Read more objectively, it was not Jews as such that were the subject of the invective, or even Israel, but Zionism and its belligerent behavior in the region, especially its refusal over the course of decades to achieve a sustainable peace with the Palestinian people, and on the contrary, its policy of continual land grabbing in Palestine to make peace between the two peoples an increasingly distant prospect of diminishing relevance in the domains of practical diplomacy.

 

The principal point of this analysis is to show that this agreement reflects the primacy of geopolitics, the neglect of international law, the impact of the US/Israel special relationship, and yet despite these drawbacks, it is still the best that supporters of peace and stability can hope for under present conditions of world order. Such a reality is occluded by the presentation of the debate in the United States as mainly the exaggerated mini-dramas associated with pressuring key members of Congress to vote for or against the agreement and engaging in sophisticated discussions as to whether the constraints imposed by the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, although the strongest ever imposed, are still as strong as Obama claims or as some uncertain Congress people demand. As argued here, support for the agreement is overwhelmingly in the national, global, regional, and human interest, but this assessment does not mean we should view world order through the distorting lens of heavily rose-tinted glasses.

 

This nuclear agreement reflects where we are in dealing with global crises, not where we should be. It is this distinction that is suppressed by the liberal media and government spokespersons that tout the agreement as an extraordinary achievement of international diplomacy. If we value international law, global justice, and indeed the future of the human species, then the distinction between the realm of the ‘feasible’ and the realm of the ‘desirable’ deserves energetic critical exposure by all of us who fancy ourselves as citizen pilgrims, that is, devotees of human and natural survival, as well as of global justice and human rights.

The Nuclear Challenge: 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1)

18 Aug

 

[Prefatory Note: I have been preoccupied for many years with the multiple challenges posed by nuclear weapons, initially from the perspective of international law and morality, later with regard to prudence diplomacy and political survival in international relations, and in all instances, with an eye favoring deep denuclearization associated in my mind with an abiding abhorrence over the use of atomic bombs against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II and with the avoidance of any future use of nuclear weaponry or even threatened use. The annual observance of these terrible events encourages reflection and commentary on this darkest of legacies. Zero nuclear weapons is the unconditional goal that I affirm, achieved in a manner that creates as much public confidence as possible that the eliminations of weaponry and enriched uranium stockpiles are being faithfully carried out.

 

In this spirit, I want to call attention to a notable volume on the continuing menace posed by nuclear weapons that has just been published under the editorship of Geoffrey Darnton, bearing the title Nuclear Weapons and International Law, and available via Amazon or the bookseller Ingrams. The book contains the entire text of the judgment issued by the London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal (1985), a civil society initiative presided over by four judges, three of whom were Nobel Prize winners, the great dissenting opinion of C.G. Weeramantry in the Advisory Opinion on The Legality of Nuclear Weapons issued in 1996 by the International Court of Justice, and other documents and texts discussing the continuing imperative of nuclear disarmament. I recommend the book highly to all those who seek a broad understanding of why the citizen pilgrims of the world should unite in an urgent effort to create a climate of public awareness that pushes governments to make a genuine effort to fulfill by way of a practical disarming process the often articulated and affirmed vision of a world without nuclear weaponry. What is crucial is to shift the discourse from affirming the elimination of nuclear weaponry as an ultimate goal to the adoption of nuclear disarmament as a programmatic goal of practical politics, especially in the nine nuclear weapons states. Whether this entails a simultaneous partial disarmament of conventional weaponry by some states, especially the United States, is a further issue to consider.

 

At the invitation of Geoffrey Darnton, David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Foundation (NAPF), and I contributed a jointly authored foreword to the volume as well as a dialogue on nuclear weapons and international law. Krieger, a lifelong advocate of a zero nuclear world, as well as a poet whose poems are often responsive to his humane concerns, has devoted his professional life to the attainment of this goal, traveling throughout around the globe to reach diverse audiences and take part in a variety of NGO anti-nuclear efforts. The NAPF heads a coalition of civil society support for the historic Marshall Islands legal initiative currently under consideration in the International Court of Justice and in American federal courts that demands fulfillment of the nuclear disarmament provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. More information about the NAPF and the Marshall Islands litigation can be found at the NAPF website. A second post will contain our foreword together with David’s poem, “A Short History Lesson: 1945” that raises in the most pointed form the moral tensions and civilizational hypocrisies that related the atomic bombing to the Nuremberg Judgment that held surviving Nazi leaders accountable for their complicity in state crime.]

 

There are many reasons why nuclear weapons have been retained and acquired by sovereign states, and it is an instructive insight into the workings of the war system at the core of state-centric world order that the first five nuclear weapons states happened to be the five states given preeminent status in the United Nations by being made permanent members of the Security Council with a right of veto. Because of the devastating potentialities of nuclear weaponry to destroy the human future there was from the start of ‘the nuclear age’ a public outcry against their retention and widespread revulsion about dropping atomic bombs on densely populated Japanese cities. This dialectic between hard power maximization and public canons of sensitivity to state-sanctioned atrocity has been evident ever since 1945. The outcome has been the retention and development of the weaponry with related efforts to limit access to the extent possible (the ethos of nonproliferation) and vague affirmations of a commitment to seek nuclear disarmament as a matter of policy and even law. This asymmetry of goals has given us the situation pertaining to the weaponry that haunts the future of humanity. It is epitomized by the geopolitical energies devoted to implementing the nonproliferation provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (1970; 190 states), as evidenced by making the feared apprehension of future acquisition a casus belli in Iraq (2003) and with respect to Iran, hopefully a second nonproliferation war being averted by the Iranian willingness to limit their nuclear program in such a way as to minimize any prospect of acquiring ‘the bomb.’ In contrast, the nuclear disarmament provision, Article VI, of the NPT is treated by the nuclear weapons states as pure window dressing, having the outward appearance of being a bargain reached between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, but in reality a commitment by the latter to forego the weaponry in exchange for an empty promise that has been discredited by the absence of credible efforts at implementation over a period of almost half a century. Part of this reality is the unwillingness of the non-nuclear states to raise their voices in concerted opposition to the one-sided implementation of the NPT, exhibiting their reality as states but without geopolitical leverage.

 

The liberal version of this deceptive Faustian Bargain is the claim that the NPT and nuclear disarmament are complementary to one another, and should be linked in thought and action. The statist reasoning that offers a rationale stresses the desirability of limiting the number of nuclear weapons states while efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament move forward. Among the world’s most astute commentators on nuclear weapons policy is Ramesh Thakur, who heads the Secretariat on the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. In a recent article in The Japan Times [“Link Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation Efforts,” Aug. 12, 2015] Thakur tells us that “there is an inalienable and symbiotic link between nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.” He regards “[t]he key challenge..is to how to protect the political gains and security benefits of the NPT, while also working around it to impart momentum into the disarmament process leading to the total abolition of all nuclear weapons.” From this perspective, Thakur laments the failures of the nuclear weapons states to embrace this linkage in a credible manner, and worries that non-nuclear states are threatening to disrupt the benevolent NPT regime that he credits with greatly restricted the number of states possessing the bomb and has helped avoid any recourse to the weaponry over the 70 years that have elapsed since Nagasaki: “Globally, more and more countries are coming around to the conclusion that the NPT is being used cynically by the nuclear powers not to advance but to frustrate disarmament.”

 

What is surprising is that it has taken so long for the non-nuclear governments to reach this conclusion, or at least to acknowledge their disaffection in a public space. The mind game played so well by the nuclear weapons states, above all, the United States, rests on the proposition that the main threat posed by the existence and possession of the weaponry is its spread to additional states, not the weaponry itself, and certainly not the nuclear weapons states themselves. This inversion of the real priorities has shifted the policy focus away from disarmament for decades and put the spotlight on proliferation dangers where it doesn’t belong, Iran being the current preoccupation resulting from this way of thinking. The geopolitical discriminatory nature of this mind game is further revealed by the treatment of Israel, what Thakur calls “The global double standards” that are “reinforced by regional hypocrisy, in which all sides stayed studiously silent on Israel’s bombs. ”Sanctions and war threats directed at Iran, silence and denial conferred on Israel.

 

My disagreement with Thakur rests on his central assertion of linkage. In my view, the NPT regime has been posited for its own sake (operationalizing the sensible global consensus that the fewer nuclear weapons states, the better) but even more robustly, and here is the unacknowledged rub, as a long-term alternative to nuclear disarmament. In other words, while it is theoretically possible that the NPT regime could have been established as a holding operation to give time for a nuclear disarmament process to be negotiated and acted upon, it has been obvious from an early stage that the government bureaucracies of the leading nuclear powers had no intention of accepting an arrangement that would deprive themselves of the bomb. What the Faustian Bargain imposed was the false pretension that nuclear disarmament was integral to the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states. From time to time political leaders, usually with sincerity, express their commitment to nuclear disarmament. At various times, several American presidents, including even Ronald Reagan, have affirmed their dedication to such a nuclear free future, most recently Barack Obama at his Prague speech in 2009, but after a flourish of attention, nothing happens.

 

Understanding why nothing happens is the real challenge facing the global disarmament movement. It is here that attention should be given to the ideologies of realist geopolitics that shapes the worldview of the policy elites that control the formation government policies and the supportive self-interested bureaucracies deeply entrenched in the media, think tanks, weapons labs, and private sector (the phenomenon Eisenhower flagged as ‘the military-industrial-complex’ in his Jan. 17, 1961 Farewell Address). It is these ideological and structural factors that explain why nothing happens, and is never allowed to happen. In what should have been treated as a startling confirmation of this disheartening assessment occurred when four former top government officials with impeccable hard power realist credentials decided a couple of years ago that the only way to uphold U.S. security dominance in the future was to abolish nuclear weapons, even their eminence did not prevent their hard power arguments for nuclear disarmament being shunted to one side by the nuclear weapons establishment. [See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2007; see also Shultz et al., “Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation,”Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2011.]

 

Winning the mind game is a process that needs periodic diversions from the actuality of the global apartheid approach to nuclear weaponry that has never been seriously challenged, but is deeply antithetical to Western professed repudiation of genocidal tactics and ethos. When fears mounted of a breakdown in the bipolar standoff during the Cold War there did take place a popular mobilization of opposition to nuclearism. The anti-nuclear movement reached peaks in Europe after the scares of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and in response to some of the weapons deployment decisions by NATO. (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND). The main ground of anti-nuclear opposition was fear, although the most articulate leader of CND, E.P. Thompson expressed antipathy to nuclear weapons and doctrine on essentially ethical grounds. Thompson argued on the basis of an illuminating analysis that the culture that embraced the then prevailing policies of mutual deterrence was already an active accomplice of Satan by its announced willingness to annihilate tens of millions of innocent people should its will to survive as a state be tested by an unacceptable enemy provocation. [See “Notes on Exterminism: The Last Stage of Civilization,” New Left Review I/121 , May-June 1980] It is indicative that the governments of the nuclear weapons states, and here most notably again the United States was most adamant, never were unequivocally willing to commit themselves to ‘no first use policies’ even in relation to non-nuclear adversaries. In other words, nuclear weapons were treated as instrumental to foreign policy contingencies, and not tainted with illegitimacy based on the supposed ‘nuclear taboo.’

 

Nonproliferation was the most brilliant of all diversions from the transparent acknowledgement that, whatever rhetoric was used to the contrary, the lead states never accepted nuclear disarmament as a genuine goal of their foreign policy. Quite the contrary. All moves to manage the arms race, including reductions in the size of nuclear arsenals and arrangements about communications during times of crisis, were also designed to reduce public fears of nuclear war and thereby weaken anti-nuclear movements—first, through the message that steps were being taken to minimize risks of an unintended or accidental nuclear war, and secondly, that these steps were steps on a path leading to eventual nuclear disarmament.

 

This double coded message providing the policy rationale for arms control. Militarist contributors to this process, raising their doubts about whether risks were in fact being reduced if military options were being constrained by arms control measures. But it was the second element in the arms control approach that enjoyed tacit and sometimes explicit bipartisan support in the United States where this kind of debate mainly took place. The entire spectrum of policymaking elites agreed that the enactment of nuclear disarmament was both unrealistic and dangerous, and if a visionary president allowed his moral enthusiasm to get the better of him the backlash was swift and decisive as even Reagan found out after informally agreeing with Mikhail Gorbachev at their Reykjavik summit in 1986 on a treaty framework that was premised on getting to zero. In reaction, even liberal democrats in the political establishment chided Reagan for being naïve and insufficiently informed when he was blamed for mindlessly stepping across the invisible but rigorously enforced red line that separates managerial arms control from transformational nuclear disarmament. The lesson was learned, as the next presidential administration headed by George H.W. Bush, adopted as a cautionary internal slogan ‘no more Reykjaviks.’ The ‘No’ of the American establishment to nuclear disarmament could not be clearer, nor could the belligerent ‘Yes’ to upholding by war if necessary the NPT regime.

 

With such an understanding, my disagreement with Ramesh Thakur becomes clear and fundamental, and to make it unmistakable, I would conclude by saying the time is now ripe for the total de-linkage of nonproliferation from disarmament with respect to nuclear weapons policy. Without such a de-linkage false consciousness and confusion are unavoidable. It is time to generate populist impatience with the refusal of decades by government establishment to act on the basis of reason, ethics, and prudence: this requires the adoption of policies truly committed to the total abolition of nuclear weaponry in a period of not more than seven years.

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