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Attacking Syria

18 Apr

Attacking Syria

 

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

 

 

Preliminary Reflections

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Doubting the Facts

 

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

 

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

 

 

Remnants of Colonialism

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Violating International Law, Undermining the UN

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Charter Framework is Not Obsolete

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Fudging Constitutional Authorization

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Where Does This Leave Us?

 

There are several levels of response:

 

–with respect to Syria, nothing has changed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Toward the Creation of a World Parliament: Strongly Recommended Reading  

13 Apr

Toward the Creation of a World Parliament: Strongly Recommended Reading

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Detailed Contents of A WORLD PARLIAMENT

 

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

 

PART I

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

of humanity’ 25—The end of cosmopolitanism 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arguments emerging out of the German peace movement 39

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

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

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

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

Nations 46

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

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

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

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

Detailed Contents ix

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

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

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

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

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

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

for a world federation 65

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

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

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

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

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

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

initiative 76

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

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

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

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

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

Commission on Culture and Development 87

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

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

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

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

initiatives towards a world parliament and a UNPA 98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PART II

 

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

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

commons ………………………………………………………………… 132

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

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

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

The tragedy of international law 143

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

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

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

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

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

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

149—A global eco-social market economy 150

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

as the goal of the counter-movement 165

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

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

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

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

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

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

of global tax revenues 176

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed Contents xi

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

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

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

188—Reprogenetics 189—Transhumanism and artificial intelligence 190—

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

The need for regulation under global law 194

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

disenfranchisement 219—Global data protection legislation 221

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

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

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

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

prosecuting powers of the ICC 227—Strengthening international criminal prosecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

democratic deficit in water governance and a World Parliament 259

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

apparatus 280—The interconnections between transnational corporations 281—The

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

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

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

World Parliament 287—A new global class compromise 289

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The standard reactionary arguments 305

  1. The third democratic transformation and the global democratic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International parliamentary institutions 328

Detailed Contents xiii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

of modernity 362—The new global Enlightenment 365

 

PART III

 

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

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

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

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

The allocation of seats 376

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

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

A world constitutional court 382

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

The structural conditions for institutional change 384—A cosmopolitan movement

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

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

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

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

 

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

The UN: Instrumental or Normative?

21 Mar

The UN: Instrumental or Normative?

 

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

 

 A Renewed Crisis of Confidence

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Four Ways of Looking at the UN

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

What the UN Contributes

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Conclusion

 

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

 

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

 

 

Book Launch: Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, edited by Stefan Andersson

2 Mar

Book Launch: Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, edited by Stefan Andersson, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

 

 

Why the Legal and Political Debate on the Vietnam War Still Matters

 

 

[Prefatory Note: There has been recently a revival of interest in the Vietnam War, perhaps most notably as a result of the quite extraordinary Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s ten-part, eighteen hour documentary film as aired on PBS, which although somewhat ideologically slanted toward an American audience has much illuminating footage, especially bearing on various Vietnamese perceptions of the war experience. I would also call attention to a series of articles by Matthew Stevenson describing his recent visit to Vietnam, which combines acute journalistic observation with impressive commentary on the war experience and the problematics of contemporary Vietnam. Stevenson’s valuable contributions are being serially published in Counterpunch, so far two of a promised eight.

 

I visited Vietnam in November of 2017 for ten days, and met with some Vietnamese officials I had known during the war, as well as with journalists and friends, seeking, especially, to understand whether the present generally harsh criticisms of suppression of dissent and authoritarian governance were justified, and came to mixed conclusions.

 

On human rights my suspicions of Western bias seemed entirely vindicated, that is, by reducing the effective scope of international human rights criteria to civil and political rights, and completely ignoring successes or failures in social and economic rights. Vietnam is illustrative of this pattern of claiming the high moral ground for the West in the post-colonial era by pointing to their human rights failings, completely overlooking Vietnam’s remarkable achievements of poverty reduction resulting from the pursuit of a needs based development strategy up to this point. With tens of millions of Americans and Europeans enduring varying degrees of material deprivation relating to food, health care, shelter, and jobs, their boastfulness about human rights has an increasingly hollow, even macabre, sound. Indeed, given the wealth of these societies and the scandalous disparities between rich and poor, it would be more reasonable to single out these countries for censure as notable laggards when it comes to human rights provided that economic and social rights are included in the mix. I am not minimizing the importance of civil and political rights, but for the majority of the population these rights pale in day to day significance if compared to failings in the domain of economic and social rights.

 

These comments introduce an online launch my own book, Revisiting the Vietnam War: The Views and Interpretations of Richard Falk, published by Cambridge University Press at the end of 2017. In fact, it is not really my book, but as much or more the work of my friend and colleague, Stefan Andersson who edited the text, supervised the production process, arranged for the blurbs, and above all, overcame my own lethargy. I add the newly written preface that I contributed to this collection of my past writings. After the post the back cover containing blurbs is shamelessly included to induce readers to rush to order the book from Amazon or your bookseller of choice.

 

The preface essentially expresses my view that the wrong lessons have been learned by the United States from its failure in Vietnam, and thus the cycle of regressive violence continues to torment vulnerable peoples in the non-Western world. This geopolitical and normative learning disability is at its core an effort to particularize the Vietnam experience, and allowing policy planners and think tank analysts to propose a series of tactical adjustments that will ensure that future Vietnams result in successful outcomes. Such a (mis) reading of Vietnam has contributed to the more recent counterinsurgency failures as in Afghanistan and Iraq, confirming the my central assessment that the real lessons of post-colonial world order are resisted because their proper interpretation would substantially discredit American reliance on global militarism as the foundation of its grand strategy around the world. Perhaps, most troubling to me, especially in light of this commentary on the evasion of international law throughout the Vietnam War, is the new more drastic set of evasions of international law that have followed ‘the war on terror’ initiated in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

 

In any event, my book, as well as the current flurry of interest in Vietnam, seeks to encourage citizens pilgrims throughout the world to remember Vietnam as a culmination of the anti-colonial wars and as the basis for a revisionist view of the agency of hard power in the 21st century. I ask indulgence for my miserable attempt to add a photo of the cover below, which is an injustice to the talented Canadian artist, Julianne Allmand. who created it under the title, ‘Sticky Fire.’ I am painfully aware that I could have done far better as a photographer had I entered the digital age twenty years earlier.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Harmful Legacy of Lawlessness in Vietnam

 

More than 40 years after the defeat of the United States in Vietnam the central lessons of that war remain unlearned. Even worse, the mistakes made and crimes committed in Vietnam have been repeated at great human, material, and strategic cost in several subsequent national settings. The central unlearned lesson in Vietnam is that the collapse of the European colonial order fundamentally changed the effective balance of power in a variety of North/South conflict situations that reduce the agency of military superiority in a variety of ways.[1]

What makes this change elusive is that it reflected developments that fall outside the policy parameters influential in the leadership circles of most governments for a cluster of reasons. Most fundamentally, governmental geopolitical calculations relating to world order continue to be based on attributing a decisive causal influence to relative military capabilities, an understanding at the core of ‘realist’ thinking and behavior. Within this paradigm military superiority is regarded as the main driver of conflict resolution, and the winners in wars are thought to reflect the advantages of hard power differentials. The efficiency and rewards of military conquest in the colonial era vindicated this kind of realist thinking. Europe with its dominant military technology was able to control the political life and exploit the resources of populous countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America with a minimum of expenditure and casualties, encountering manageable resistance, while reaping the rewards of empire. The outcomes of World War I and II further vindicated the wider orbit of the realist way of thinking and acting, with military superiority based on technological innovation, quantitative measures, and doctrinal adaptation to new circumstances of conflict receiving most of the credit for achieving political victories.

The Vietnam War was a dramatic and radical challenge to the realist consensus on how the world works, continuing a pattern already evident in nationalist victories in several earlier colonial wars, which were won against earlier expectations by anti-colonial forces. Despite these illuminating results of colonial wars after World War II the American defeat in Vietnam came as a shock. The candid acknowledgement of this defeat has been twisted out of recognition to this day by the interpretive spins placed upon the Vietnam experience by the American political establishment. The main motive of such partisan thinking was to avoid discrediting reliance on military power in the conduct of American foreign policy and to overcome political reluctance in the American public to fund high levels of military spending. Until the deceptive military victory in the First Gulf War of 1991, the policy community in the United States bemoaned what it described as ‘the Vietnam Syndrome,’ which was a shorthand designation for the supposedly unfortunate antipathy among the American citizenry to uses of hard power by the United States to uphold American geopolitical primacy throughout the world.

The quick and decisive desert victory against the imprudently exposed Iraqi armed forces massed on the desert frontier compelled Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, which it had recently conquered and annexed. This result of war making was construed to vindicate and thus restore realist confidence in American war making as a crucial instrument of world order. On closer examination, this enthusiasm for war generated by the almost costless victory in the desert terrain of the First Gulf War involved a category mistake on the part of American leaders, or so it seems. It confused the continuing relevance of military capabilities in conventional war encounters between sovereign states with the declining utility of military supremacy in wars of intervention or counterinsurgency wars, that is, violent conflicts between a foreign adversary and a national resistance movement. It should have been clear to expert commentators that the Vietnam War was an example of a massive foreign intervention being defeated by a skillfully mobilized and efficiently led national movement, and in this respect totally different from First Gulf War with respect to terrain of battle and what was at stake politically for the two sides.

Comprehending why the United States mishandled not only the war in Vietnam but misconstrued its result, is associated with earlier unlearned lessons that involved a misinterpretation of the lost colonial wars, most relevantly, the French defeat in the Indochina War despite the long and deep French presence. In retrospect it was evident to all that the French had failed to grasp the extraordinary resolve that informed the nationalist motivations of the Vietnamese and more than compensated for their military weaknesses, empowering Vietnamese society to endure severe and prolonged suffering to achieve eventual political independence and national sovereignty, and the accompanying collective sense of national pride. Under the inspirational leadership of Gandhi, India achieved independence and recovered sovereignty through a militant nonviolent struggle that by heroic perseverance overcame the grim and unscrupulous determination of 10 Downing Street to retain ‘the jewel’ in the crown of the British Empire whatever the costs of doing so might turn out to be. Whether articulated as the rise of ‘soft power’ or explained by reference to the imbalance between imperial commitments and nationalist perseverance and local knowledge, the story line is the same. The intervening foreign or alien power has lower stakes in such struggles than does an indigenous population effectively mobilized as a movement of national resistance. Colonial powers were slow to recognize that moral and political resistance to their presence was growing more formidable as the ideology of nationalism spread around the world. Resistance become more credible, and withstood a series of prodigious colonial efforts to retain control over colonized peoples, but as these struggles proceeded the former colonial overlords were at varying stages forced to recalculate their interests, and mostly decided that it was better to give up their colonial claims and withdraw militarily than further commit to what had become a lost cause.

We can also interpret this historical turn as reflecting the disparities between the political will of a people fighting for self-determination and a foreign government linked to private sector interests that are trying to retain the benefits of control over a distant country for the sake of resources, prestige, settler pressures, geopolitical rivalry, or a combination of these factors. From the end of World War II onwards, this imbalance of political wills seems to offer the best predictor of the outcome of colonial wars or military interventions in counterinsurgency struggles. In this regard, the French defeat in Indochina should have delivered a cautionary message to the Americans. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the French themselves didn’t learn much from their Indochina defeat, going on to wage and lose an even more damaging colonial war in Algeria eight years later. The noted French journalist, Bernard Fall tried hard to warn the Americans of the great difficulty of achieving a reversal of the French experience in its Indochina War.[2] The French had higher than normal stakes in Indochina. It was to a significant extent ‘a settler colonial’ state, meaning that the French human and cultural presence had sunk deep roots that raised the stakes of withdrawal for France, an experience repeated on a larger scale in Algeria, but producing the same outcome but only after inflicting massive suffering on the native population. The American intervention in Vietnam was primarily motivated by the ideological rivalry of the Cold War, and did not have the high level of material and human interests that led the French to fight so hard to crush the Vietnamese and Algerian challenges to their colonial rule.

The ‘settler colonial’ situation of Algeria, and even more so, South Africa and Israel, complicate the overall analysis. In the event of settler control of the colonial state, the issue of foreign or alien rule becomes blurred, and the question of the identity of ‘the nation’ is itself contested in ways that are very different from the situation of a colonial administration governing on behalf of a European home country or metropole without any pretension of belonging to the occupied nation as if it was one’s own. Each situation has its own originality. For Jews in Israel who claim a biblical and ancestral mandate, and lacking a default homeland option in a distinct territory possess an intense political will to preserve their control of Palestine. The indigenous Arab population of Palestine also has a near absolute will to resist dispossession from their native lands, and are unwelcome elsewhere in the region, having experienced vulnerability to changes in local circumstances and discrimination in neighboring Arab countries. For this reason, as reinforced by the special relationship of Israel with the United States, the Palestinians are waging an uphill battle in which their supposedly inalienable rights of self-determination have been for decades squeezed almost beyond recognition.[3]

Against this background, American reasoning about the Vietnam War displayed what later would be called ‘the arrogance of power,’ that is, the blind faith in the efficacy of its hard power superiority in conflict situations, whether nuclear, conventional, or counterinsurgent.[4] The United States emerged from World War II as the dominant geopolitical actor in the world, having turned the tide of battle against Germany and Japan, as well as developing and using its monopoly over the ultimate weapon against Japan at the end the Pacific war by dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities. If Germany and Japan could not resist the American juggernaut, who could expect a country that Lyndon Johnson and Henry Kissinger called ‘a fourth rate Asian power’ to resist and repel the American military machine? In the end, it was the greater Vietnamese will to persevere and their cultural resilience that overcame American firepower, as well as the unsurpassed anti-colonial legitimacy of the Vietnamese struggle, which contributed to the rise of a robust worldwide anti-war movement of solidarity, including within the United States. By the mid-1960s it had become increasingly evident that the side that won the legitimacy war would prevail politically even if compelled to endure devastating losses on the battlefield and throughout the country.[5]

The most serious blind spot of the realist paradigm is its inability to take account of its weaknesses with respect to legitimacy as a dimension of political life. This became manifest in the Vietnam setting. The American claims with respect to its presence in Vietnam were essentially ideological and geopolitical, the importance of avoiding the spread of Communism and thus containing the expansionist challenge being allegedly mounted by the Soviet Union and China. In opposition to such reasoning were the historically more influential claims in support of nationalism and the right of self-determination, especially in contexts involving struggles of a colonized people against their colonial masters. Vietnamese legitimacy claims with respect to the United States were further validated by the flagrant disregard of international law constraints and the impact of this disregard on world public opinion, which contributed to mounting American domestic opposition to continuing the war.[6]

This collection of essays written in support of the relevance of international law to the shaping of American foreign policy during the Vietnam Era remains instructive as the 21st century unfolds. The United States has continued to pursue a dubious diplomacy punctuated by military interventions in distant countries, fighting a series of losing counterinsurgency wars after Vietnam, remaining unresponsive to the constraints on recourse to war and war fighting embodied in international law and the UN Charter. The realist consensus, regarding law and morality as dispensable and marginal impediments to sustaining geopolitical effectiveness in world politics, continues to govern the policymaking entourage that shapes war/peace decisions, and has produced a string of costly defeats (especially, Afghanistan and Iraq) as well as badly damaged America’s reputation as a global leader, which in the end depends far more on its legitimacy credentials than on its battlefield prowess, but suffers most when it both loses on the battlefield and should lose if law and morality are taken into account. It is the contention of these essays that adherence to international law is vital for world peace and in the national interest of all countries on all occasions, and this includes the United States.

So-called ‘American exceptionalism’ operates as a free pass in Washington to disregard the rules applicable to other sovereign states, but as the recent history of international conflicts reveal, it does no favors to the United States or its people, although it may further the careers of diplomats and enhance the profits of special interests. Further, it seems evident that the continuing exercise of discretion to ignore legal constraints on the use of international force will be accompanied by repeated disappointments in the conduct of foreign policy for this most mighty country in all of world history and will also continue to erode its legitimacy credentials.

 

The 9/11 attacks gave the United States a chance to start over, undertaking a response to mega-terrorism within the framework of the rule of law that would have been a great contribution to building up the global rule of law and charting a new path toward sustainable global governance. Instead, a ‘war on terror’ was immediately launched that amounted to a declaration of permanent warfare, undermining the authority of international law and the UN, and perversely leading to the spread and intensification of terrorist activities. The defaming scandals of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and ‘enhanced interrogation’ together with the failure to prosecute those responsible for authorizing and perpetrating ‘torture’ during the presidency of George W. Bush confirm the deeply entrenched refusal of the U.S. Government to self-enforce minimum standards of international criminal accountability, and its obvious endorsement of a flawed international criminal law regime that currently rests on the major premise of geopolitical impunity as interpreted by way of American exceptionalism. The emergence of ISIS, as had been prefigured in Afghanistan by the rise of Al Qaeda and occasioned by American occupation policies in Iraq, is the ultimate blowback experience betokening an erroneous hard power opportunism in Washington misleadingly chosen as the best approach to national and global security.

The essays in the volume also explore the failure to abide by the experience after World War II, which included imposing criminal accountability on those surviving German and Japanese military and political leaders responsible for the commission of state crime centering on the recourse to and prosecution of aggressive warfare, as well as the mass atrocities epitomized by the death camps. By now it is confirmed that the Nuremberg and Tokyo Judgments although respectful of defendants’ rights and substantively justified were in a larger sense ‘victors’ justice’ by exempting the crimes of the winners from legal scrutiny.[7] The principles of law applied to the losers at Nuremberg and Tokyo were never intended to be applied to the winners, or to those who would after 1945 control the geopolitical dimensions of world politics and dominate its various episodes of warfare.[8] Criminal accountability in relation to warfare was cynically applied to the losers and those in subordinate positions of state power throughout the world, and still is.

Into this normative vacuum stepped the rising activism of civil society, and this became initially disclosed as part of the rising opposition to the Vietnam War. The great British philosopher and political activist, Bertrand Russell, convened a tribunal of conscience composed of moral and cultural authority figures with international stature to gather the best evidence available of American criminality in the ongoing Vietnam War. This bold initative filled the institutional vacuum created by the lack of political will among governments or at the UN to carry forward the Nuremberg impulse with respect to accountability of individuals.[9] In effect, the project of imposing criminal accountability on the strong has become an exclusive undertaking of global civil society, although with some collaboration from moderate governments that do not enjoy the status of being geopolitical actors. It was this transnational collaboration between governments and civil society actors that generated the momentum leading to the unexpected establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, but as yet this new institution has given little indication that it possesses the capacity and even the mandate to extend the logic of accountability to geopolitical actors, above all the United States and its closest friends.

Reviewing the international law debates that took place during the Vietnam War remains critically relevant to any reform of American foreign policy relating to these war/peace issues. As in Vietnam, adherence to international law would have been consistently beneficial normatively (upholding law, protecting the vulnerable, avoiding casualties), geopolitically (respecting support for the ethos of self-determination and human rights as evidenced by the flow of history since 1945), and ideologically (recognizing that ‘terrorism’ is a law enforcement issue, not an occasion for war making; realizing that nationalist ideology does not translate into neighbors becoming ‘falling dominos’).

The lesson that most needed to be learned in the Vietnam Era, and remains unlearned 40 years after the ending of war, is the practical and principled desirability of adherence to international law in war/peace situations. Systemic violations of international law lead to geopolitical disappointment, human suffering, societal devastation, and a nihilistic atmosphere of international lawlessness. In contrast, habits and policies of adherence to international law, especially with respect to war/peace issues and matters of national and global security, privileges an emphasis on diplomacy, international cooperation, law enforcement, UN authority, as well as generates the self-confidence of political communities to be respectful of prudent restraint and develop greater reliance in pursuit of national goals on international procedures, norms, and institutions. Such a shift away from lawlessness is, of course, by no means a guaranty of peace and justice, but it provides the crucial foundation for creating better prospects for human wellbeing in the 21st Century.

In my preoccupation during the years between 1963 and 1975 I became obsessed with the Vietnam War, and how I might act as a scholar and citizen to bring this imprudent, unlawful, and immoral war to an end. My writing in this period reflects a process of deepening engagement, and an evolving shift of focus and orientation. In my initial articles on the war I was seeking to demonstrate the unlawfulness of the underlying intervention in Vietnam, with a special emphasis on the American expansion of the war from a struggle for control of the state in what was then treated as ‘South Vietnam’ to a conflict that included then ‘North Vietnam,’ which altered the nature of the war from an internal war in the South to a war between the two political communities that comprised Vietnam after the French defeat in 1954, and persisted until the American defeat in 1975. In the early selections represented here, the international law arguments were underpinned by a realist assessment that rested on the informed belief that this was an ill-considered commitment of U.S. military forces for the sake of a very dubious conception of national interests, which centered on an imprudent opposition to the anti-colonial and pro-nationalist flow of history.

My attitudes toward the war, while never losing the central conviction that the United States was engaged in Vietnam in a manner that violated the most fundamental norms of international law, shifted in the direction of viewing the tactical conduct of the war as increasingly raising questions of international criminal accountability. This shift is reflected in the later selections from my writing that emphasize the relevance of the Nuremberg Principles to the American involvement in Vietnam.[10] I became convinced that a one-sided war in which high technology weaponry was deployed against a totally vulnerable peasant society was an intrinsically criminal enterprise, and additionally almost inevitably gave rise to battlefield atrocities as mythified through treating the My Lai massacre as a singular event.[11] I was also struck by the degree to which the geopolitical status of the United States marginalized the United Nations and limited the relevance of international law to a domestic debate within the United States between the government and its critics in Congress and throughout American society.

One enduring effect of this debate was to give the American anti-war movement the confidence to challenge government policy despite the inhibitions of the Cold War that made any seeming sympathy for the Communist side in the Vietnamese struggle grounds for suspicion and media hostility, particularly in the early years of the war. It is only toward the end of the Vietnam War when the government lost the trust of a large portion of the citizenry and split the foreign policy establishment, as well as becoming clear that the sacrifice of young American lives was not going to end in a military victory, that the prudential arguments against continuing the war began to outweigh the ideological case for its prosecution. This development also had the effect of pushing public opinion in an anti-war direction.[12]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In the midst of the Vietnam War I edited a four volume series on the relevance of international law to the policies guiding decision makers and policy advocates on both sides of the debate that raged throughout the war.

[2] See Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1961).

[3] For a range of views see Jeremy R. Hammond, Obstacle to Peace: The U.S. Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Worldview Publications, forthcoming 2015); Rashid Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013); Peter Bauck & Mohammed Omer, eds., The Oslo Accords, 1993-2013 (Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2013); For the U.S. /Israeli spin on the peace process see Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2004).

[4] J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power (New York: Random House, 1966).

 

[5] As argued in Richard Falk, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope (Washington, D.C.: Just World Books, 2014).

 

[6] In the Name of America (New York: Clergy & Laity Concerned About Vietnam, 1968).

[7] An important early account along these lines in the Japanese context is Richard H. Minear, Victors’ Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971).

[8] Justice Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor, did argue to the tribunal in Nuremberg that the legitimacy of the judgment against the German defendants depended upon the victors in the future accepting the same framework of accountability, but such words fell on deaf ears in the capitals of the world powers.

[9]The proceedings of the Russell Tribunal can be found in John Duffett, ed., Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, Stockholm-Copenhagen (New York: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 1968).

[10] These issues were fully explored in Richard Falk, Gabriel Kolko, and Robert Jay Lifton, eds., Crimes of War: A legal, political-documentary, and psychological inquiry into the responsibility of leaders, citizens, and soldiers (New York: Random House, 1971).

 

[11] For the initial expose see Seymour M. Hersh, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and its Aftermath (New York: Random House, 1970). See also Kendrick Oliver, The My Lai Massacre in American history and memory, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006).

 

[12] The release of the Pentagon Papers was a milestone along the path that led from a pro-war consensus to a rising tide of opposition. See interpretation by Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (New York: Penguin Books, 2002).

 

Trump, the UN, and the Future of Jerusalem

31 Dec

 

Trump, the UN, and the Future of Jerusalem

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is the modified text of an interview on behalf of the Tasnim News Agency in Iran as conducted by Mohammed Hassani. It tries to assess the wider implications of the UN reaction to Trump’s December 6th decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to follow this by relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.]

 

Q1: As you know, nearly 130 countries recently voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem (al-Quds) as the capital of the Israeli regime. What message does the vote signal to the world’ public opinion?

The main message of this overwhelming rejection of the Trump recognition of al-Quds as the capital of Israel by the UN General Assembly is to disclose that the Palestinian national movement continues to enjoy strong support from each and every important country in the world, thereby rejecting the current Israeli approach, supported by the United States, to impose unilaterally a solution of the long struggle over land and rights on the Palestinian people. Such a solution would foreclose both a sovereign Palestine, deny the Palestinian people the most fundamental of all rights, that of self-determination, and preclude any fair and just arrangement of shared sovereignty between the two people.

A secondary message was the consensus in the General Assembly that on this issue of Jerusalem matters of global justice take precedence over geopolitical maneuvers. There can also be read into the vote the growing erosion of global leadership that had been exercised by Washington since the end of World War II. This erosion reflects the rise of China, and its advocacy, along with that of Russia, and maybe also even leading countries in Europe, of a multipolar approach to the formation and implementation of global policy with respect to security issues, environmental policies, and economic governance. The fact that America’s closest allies, including France, United Kingdom, and Japan voted for the resolution condemning the effort of the U.S. Government to legitimize the establishment of Jerusalem (al-Quds) as Israel’s capital is also of considerable significance. What remains to be seen is how the future of Jerusalem will unfold in light of these dramatic developments. There are currently visible two tendencies—first, the handful of negative votes by tiny island countries and a few minor and dependent Central American countries to follow the lead of the U.S. and move their embassy to Jerusalem; secondly, the counter-initiative of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, given concrete expression by the Turkish decision to establish its embassy for Palestine in East Jerusalem.

What remains to be seen is whether the Trump presidency softens its stand on these issues or doubles or even triples down by defiantly moving its embassy to Jerusalem, withholding economic assistance from countries that voted for the resolution, and reducing its financial contributions to the UN in a vindictive display of hostility at the various actors viewed as responsible for humiliating the U.S. Government, thereby pleasing those pro-Israeli forces that insist that the UN is primarily a venue for Israel-bashing.

Q2: Prior to the UN vote on Jerusalem, US President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution. It seems that his warning has been ineffective. What do you think?

Yes, the ineffectiveness of such an unprecedented overt threat at the UN, abetted by back channel pressures, is definitely a sign that U.S. soft power leadership in the world is experiencing a sharp decline if measured against its reality in the years after World War II, and extending throughout the Cold War Era. More generally, the failure of Haley’s threats to influence the vote of a single country of stature in the world is also indicative of a parallel decline of geopolitical capabilities to control global policy at least on the key issue of the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly in the context of Jerusalem, which has a strong symbolic significance for many countries. What is unclear is whether this vote exhibits a broader trend among states to pursue foreign policies that exhibit their sovereign independence and distinct views of global policy, rather than as in the past, displaying a strong tendency to defer to the views of a globally dominant state(s). In this context, the radical character of Trump’s presidency may be having the effect of fracturing hegemonic structures of control in contemporary world order that were in any event faced with accumulating skepticism since the end of the Cold War, and the breakdown of the bipolar structure that had shaped much of global policy between 1945 and 1992. What Trump has done is to intensify pre-existing pressures for global restructuring, a dynamic also reinforced by the rejectionist approach taken by the United States on other key issues of global concern, including climate change, the Iran Nuclear Program (5 + 1) Agreement, global migration, ad international trade. The Trump slogan of ‘America, First’ has to be coupled with ‘World, Last,’ to grasp the extent to which the United States invites by its own initiatives a reaction against its outlier policies at odds with strong countervailing views of the international community of states as to desirable forms of global cooperation for the public good. At the very historical moment when the future of humanity depends on unprecedented action on behalf of human, habitat, and global wellbeing, the leading political actor not only withdraws from the effort, but does its best to obstruct constructive behavior. It is as if the United States Government has become a deadly virus attacking the fabric of the global body politic.

 

 

Q3: In a speech at the White House on December 6, Trump said his administration would also begin a years-long process of moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to the holy city of Jerusalem. Do you see any chance that Trump would press ahead with his plan to relocate the embassy given the widespread international opposition? 

 

My guess at this point is that the U.S. Government will definitely implement its decision to relocate the embassy, but will probably do so in a gradual manner that does not provoke a major subsequent reaction, especially if implementation is entrusted to the State Department. Of course, any steps taken to relocate the American Embassy in Jerusalem will be correctly perceived as a defiant and provocative rejection of the conclusions set forth in the GA Resolution. In this sense, the quality and impact of reactions will depend on the political will of the Palestinian Authority, the OIC, the UN, and world public opinion. At stake, is whether the United States further produces an adverse international reaction to its behavior and whether governments seek to engage further on the issue to preserve the rights of the Palestinian people with respect to Jerusalem. The future interaction with respect to Jerusalem will be very revealing as to both the responsiveness of the United States to the rejection of its approach to the recognition of the Israeli capital at this time and as to the energy of those that supported the resolution to take further steps in the direction of achieving compliance. There is little doubt that a test of wills is likely to emerge in the months ahead that will reveal whether the Jerusalem resolution was a mere gesture or a tipping point.

 

The fact that the al-Quds resolution was itself based on The Uniting for Peace Resolution (GA Res. 377 A (V), 1950) gives its text a special status, both as the outcome of a rare Emergency Session of the General Assembly and as a truly responsible reaction on behalf of peace and security to an irresponsible use of the veto in the Security Council to block its decision of condemnation backed by a 14-1 vote, that is, all other members. This status gives the General Assembly response on Jerusalem an authoritativeness that should extend far beyond its normal recommendatory capabilities, but as earlier indicated there are few guidelines as to how such an initiative will be implemented if defied.

At stake is the larger issue of whether this path taken to circumvent a P-5 veto in the Security Council might produce a shift in UN authority to the more representative General Assembly.

 

In any event, it may well be that whatever course of action ensues will exert an important influence on how well the UN in the future can serve the human and global interest, as well as take account of distinct and aggregate national interests as opportunities present themselves. The Trump phenomenon gives a pointedness to fundamental issues of world order viability, especially a capacity to address challenges of global scope in the course of the first biopolitical moment, confronting humanity as such with a prospect of its own mortality.

The Jerusalem Votes at the UN

23 Dec

 

 

What struck me as the most significant dimension of the Jerusalem votes in the Security Council and General Assembly has been oddly overlooked by most commentary in the media. The public discourse has, of course, been correct to identify the isolation of the United States with respect to the rest of the world as well as regarding the majority position as a defiant rejection of Trump’s leadership and bullying tactics. Although as some have noted, without the bullying by Ambassador Haley (including, I will report yes votes to the president; those that vote for the resolution will not receive economic assistance in the future; we are watching; “America will remember this day;” “the vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN.”), there might been as many as 150 positive votes for the resolution instead of 128, with fewer abstentions (35) and fewer absences from the vote (21).

 

Nevertheless, 128-9 is a clear expression of an overwhelming moral and legal sentiment, and deserves to be respected by any government that values the role of the General Assembly as the arbiter of legitimacy with respect to sensitive global issues. Although far weaker and more subject to geopolitical manipulation than is desirable, these main political organs of the UN provide the best guide that currently exists as to what global policy should be if the global and human interest is to be protected, and not merely an array of national interests and their multilateral aggregation to achieve cooperative results.

 

What this discussion glosses over in this instance without stopping to observe its significance is the degree to which issues of substance prevailed over matters of geopolitical alignment. Not one of America’s closest allies (UK, France, Germany, and Japan) heeded the fervent arguments and pleas of Haley and Trump. Beyond this, every important country in the world backed the General Assembly Resolution on December 21, 2017 regardless of geography or political orientation (China, Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran). This unanimity enhances the quality of the consensus supportive of the resolution repudiating Trump’s arrogant decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as ‘null and void.’ Such an impression is strengthened by listing the nine governments that voted against the resolution (Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Israel, Miscronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, and the U.S.).

 

Should these striking results be interpreted as the demise, or at least twilight, of geopolitics? Any such speculation would be wildly premature. What seems to have swayed many governments in this case is the negative fallout expected to follow from Trump’s unilateralism that disregards decades of international practice and agreement about the status and treatment of Jerusalem, as well as the gratuitous neglect of Palestinian rights and aspirations by taking such an initiative without even pretending to take account of Palestinian grievances. In this regard, Trump’s poor international reputation as a result of pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, decertification of the Nuclear Agreement with Iran, and withdrawal from negotiations to fashion an agreed approach to the global migration crisis undoubtedly help tip the scales on the Jerusalem resolution, especially among European governments. Trump’s unpopular implementation of his diplomacy of ‘America, First’ is arguably morphing into the disturbing perception of ‘America, Last’ or the United States as ‘rogue superpower.’ Consciously or not, the UN vote was a distress signal directed at Washington by friends and adversaries alike, but as near as can be told, it will be disregarded or angrily rebuffed by the White House and its spokespersons unless they decide to pass over these happenings in silence.

 

As has been observed, the Jerusalem decision was not part of a carefully crafted international approach to the Israel/Palestine struggle. It seemed mainly to be a payoff to domestic support groups of Trump’s presidential campaign in the United States (large pro-Israeli donors and Christian Evangelists wedded to a (mis)reading of the Book of Revelations), as well as a further display of post-Obama affection for Bibi Netanyahu. Apparently, for Trump being adored in Tel Aviv seems worth being discredited with allies and leading states throughout the rest of the world. As for the threatened major aid recipients (Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa; Kenya was absent during the vote); it was impressive that all of these states ignored the threat and voted for the resolution. If Washington follows through on withholding aid it will certainly not serve America’s strategic interests as previously understood, particularly in the Middle East, but also in Africa. Yet if it fails to carry its threat, its diplomatic posture will be seen as that of a novice poker player whose untimely bluff has been called.

 

There is also the question of ‘what next?’ Will the Jerusalem resolution be remembered as a moment in time to be superseded by contrary behavioral trends? In this regard, the U.S. now has its own chance to exhibit defiance and disrespect by quickly and ostentatiously moving its embassy to Jerusalem, which will of course give rise to further anger. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already seized the occasion to reassert its prominence in the Muslim world, first by co-sponsoring (with Yemen) the resolution, and then by explicitly calling on the U.S. Government to rescind its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I would darkly imagine that the Trump presidency would opt for World War III before it backed down on Jerusalem.

 

As widely reported, the Jerusalem resolution is symbolic in nature, and yet it does have serious political consequences for all relevant political actors. Does it clear a political space for the European Union to play a central role in seeking to revive a diplomatic approach on a more balanced basis than what could have been expected from Washington? How does the U.S. Government negotiate the fine line between disregarding the resolution and harming its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East? How unyielding should the Palestinian Authority be about insisting on a parallel recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine before it agrees to participate in negotiations with Israel? Will Turkey seek further steps at the UN and elsewhere to back up the resolution, including possibly fashioning realignments throughout the Middle East? Will the second tier of officials in the Trump Administration create pressure to create a foreign policy that more closely reflects U.S. national interests by taking better account of the many dimensions (digital, economic, security) of global integration?

Democracy, Development, and Reputation: Vietnam and Turkey

17 Dec

 

 

More than 25 years ago I took part in a major conference in Kuala Lumpur affirming the importance of human rights. At the end of the second day, the convener of the conference, Chandra Muzaffar, a leading advocate of human rights and democracy in Malaysia, arranged for a few of the speakers to meet with the controversial leader of the country, Prime Minister, Mahathir. I was the only Westerner among the 4 or 5 of us given this opportunity. As soon as we entered the room Mahathir looked straight at me while posing a rhetorical question: “Why do Western human rights NGOs and experts look only at our performance with respect to civil and political rights when our natural preoccupation is the promotion of economic and social rights?” Of course, his assertion was meant to challenge the complacent Orientalizing conventional wisdom, reducing the practice of human rights to whether or not a government is doing well or poorly on such issues as free elections and freedom of expression. No one denies the relevance and core vitality of rights, but not more so than whether the bottom strata of the citizenry, as measured by standard of living, can meet their basic material needs. This outlook remains dominant in the West, coloring condescending comments on non-Western human rights failures,, and persisting despite the West’s own downward spiral into the dark domains of illiberalism.

 

I was reminded of this meeting while in Vietnam for two weeks recently. Several Vietnamese intellectuals as well as the rather large Western expat community contended that the government of Vietnam had become repressive in the period since its extraordinarily victory in the Vietnam War. It was accused of harshly punishing critics and dissenters as if more scared of domestic protest than they had been of American B-52 carpet bombing. Such critics were right, of course, to lament this fall from grace on the part of Vietnam’s leaders, who also lacked the charisma and inspirational leadership of their wartime predecessors. At the same time it was unfortunate to fall into the Western trap of focusing on the failures of glasnost, while overlooking the achievements of perestroika, that is, judging political performance as the ACLU might rather than by reference to the overall wellbeing of the Vietnamese people.

 

What I am trying to draw attention to is the remarkable story of Vietnamese economic and social achievements, which center on drastically reducing extreme poverty and stimulating agricultural growth to such a level that Vietnam, previously frequently at the edge of massive famine, had become the third leading rice exporter in the world (after the U.S. and Thailand). In effect, the government of Vietnam, while failing to live up to expectations when it comes to such liberal ideals as transparency, participation, and accountability of their citizenry, was nevertheless successfully building a needs based economy in which there were relatively few below the poverty line and where almost everyone had their health, education, and housing needs met by the state. Not only was this an impressive profile of current Vietnamese society, but it represented a trajectory of steadily improving achievement. Since the 1990s, Vietnamese poverty rate had fallen from about 50% to 7% in 2015 in a period during which roughly 1/3 of the population overcame conditions of food insecurity, according to the UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food.

 

These Vietnamese national accomplishments are the normative realities obscured or ignored by the regressive kinds of thinking that validates and invalidates performance in leading capitalist societies of the West—selective quantitative indicators of economic growth and stock market performance. Let us remember that rich countries in the West are at ease living with large pockets of extreme poverty in their own affluent societies as measured by homelessness and extreme poverty, including the absence of health care, educational opportunity, and even food and housing necessities. Shocking figures of inequality are hardly ever taken into serious account. For example, the fact that the three richest Americans—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet—possess wealth that exceeds the earnings of the entire American working class should occasion revolutionary incitement, but actually it is put to one side as a neutral outcome of moving beyond industrial capitalism.

 

The same one-sidedness is present in the discussion of another of my favorite countries in the world: Turkey—where I have spent several months each year for the last twenty. Of course, the dynamics are very adifferent within each national setting. The discourse in Turkey resembles that of Vietnam far more than that of the United States. The critical focus of anti-government forces has been the democratic failings of AKP since it assumed power in 2002; this criticism has sharpened since a drift toward more authoritarian rule in 2011, the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations, and spiked sharply, especially in international circles, after the failed FETO coup of 2016 and the often crude and often cruelly implemented overreactions of the Erdogan government to threats that it was entitled to perceive as dangerous. The purge in universities and media of those whose views and activities were deemed unacceptable by the Turkish government, as well as the moves against specific journalists and politicians, especially those associated with supporting the struggle of the Kurdish people, are deeply troubling developments, should worry the society as a whole, and do warrant international criticism.

 

But these negative developments should not be presented as the whole story about Turkey and the AKP/Erdogan leadership. Part of the Turkish problem of perception and accuracy is a tendency of debate toward polarizations of good and evil, secular and religious, and even truth and falsity. This has led negative criticism of Turkish governmental behavior to be misleadingly expressed in the form of unbalanced criticism. In the early phase of AKP governance of the country the standard complaints of an unrelenting opposition were directed at Erdogan as dictatorial and leading the country away from Ataturk secular legacy and toward a religious polity similar to that in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, this line of attack was totally wrong. The early policy priority of the AKP consisted of satisfying European Union criteria for membership, which was actually a major step in the Ataturk direction of Europeanizing the country as the best path to economic modernization. During these early AKP years, the government in Ankara made a parallel effort to get the military out of politics and back in their barracks. Fairly considered, the first decade of AKP leadership dating from say 2002 was notable for achieving fundamental democratizing reforms that many knowledgeable observers of the country could never happen in Turkey. For example, Eric Rouleau, the eminent French journalist of Middle Eastern politics and later French ambassador to Turkey believed that the Turkish military would never give up its tutelage role that was not only well entrenched in the government bureaucracy, but also considered part of the hallowed legacy of Ataturk, as to be unchallengeable. Erdogan’s leadership achieved the impossible. Additionally in this period Turkey managed to break free of its Cold War straight jacket as a NATO pawn pursuing an independent and sensibly assertive foreign policy throughout the Middle East and beyond. The country also achieved a series of successes in trade and investment that led Turkey to be considered one of the most promising of emerging economies.

 

As things got worse from the perspective of political and civil rights, it was difficult for critics to express accurately these disappointments and criticism because the earlier negative comments of the opposition had earlier been so exaggerated. Some of the harshest critics, claiming with varying degrees of accuracy that they had applauded ed what the Erdogan leadership achieved in its early years, but in recent years the management of the Turkish state had fallen from grace. Recent exaggerations claim ‘there are no longer any newspapers in Turkey worth reading’ and the like. I would argue that there has been some decline in the range of media coverage and some lessening of criticism, yet several English language newspapers, including Sabah and Daily Hurryiet remain well worth reading, have useful critical commentaries on government policies and are informative about the major issues of domestic and international policy facing the country.

 

If international assessments were more balanced and less polarized, the AKP leadership would receive considerable credit in domestic and foreign policy from better educated and informed observers of the political scene in Turkey. Criticisms of Turkey’s failed Syrian policies would be set off against the success of Ankara’s African diplomacy, the vitality of its economy despite the obstacles created by the anti-Turkish international campaign, the robustness of its foreign assistance program (second only to that of the U.S., and highest in per capita terms), the care it has accorded over 3 million Syrian (and some Iraqi) refugees, the global attention it has brought to the plight of the Rohingya, and its various regional efforts at conflict resolution (including Cyprus; Israel/Syria; Iran’s nuclear program; Balkan and Caucuses internal relations within their respective regions). Turkey, unlike either Saudi Arabia or Iran, has mostly promoted a politics of reconciliation in the region, and unlike Egypt has done a great deal to help raise the standard of living of its most disadvantaged citizenry. The Turkish government has made Istanbul a global city in many respects, a center for inter-civilizational dialogue and alliance, and a sponsor of conferences dedicated to a more peaceful, prosperous, and humane global future. The TRT World Forum a couple of months ago in Istanbul featured presentations at the opening by the Turkish Prime Minister and at the closing by Erdogan, and in between panels on a variety of world order issues with a fairly wide range of speakers (including myself).

 

My most basic criticism of the anti-government discourse in and about Turkey is along the lines of my sense of what is right in Vietnam. For the bottom 50% or so of Turks the policies of the government have enhanced greatly their material life circumstances when it comes to health, security, housing, public transportation, as well as improved participatory rights of those outside the Western urban sectors. Talking with ‘ordinary’ Turkish workers during this period, such as private car drivers, apartment managers, barbers, fruit sellers, suggest that since the AKP has governed, their lives and that of their families has steadily improved, especially with respect to basic material needs, daily life, and enjoyment of what a modern society has to offer. Often ‘secularists’ deride these AKP supporters, and Erdogan enthusiasts, as uneducated and stupid. Their response when asked why they vote Erdogan adopts the opposite line: ‘Are we stupid?’ Many of these persons actually dislike the Islamic edge of the government identity or think the Syrian policies were a huge mistake, but for what is important for them, the AKP is far superior to alternatives. In effect, there’s nothing the matter with Anatolia, unlike Kansas!

 

It is not at all like the Trump base in America where the policies adopt by the elected leaders are in general materially harmful to much of this angry and alienated American underclass, and what they get from Trump are signals encouraging racism, xenophobia, and nativist patriotism, which seem to generate strong feelings of cultural satisfaction, especially when he punctures political balloons, many of which in any event were filled                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with liberal hot air as suggested by the many glaring human rights failures during the long period of secular hegemony.

 

In the end we would all like to live in humane societies but in the interim it would diminish polarization and enhance understanding to balance strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced manner, especially with respect to class interests. The weakening of free expression, especially by punishing dissent and

treating criticism as subversion, has horrible effects for the intellectual and creative life that affects especially the sense of wellbeing of the upper echelons of society, but also weakens the innovativeness of those working in the private sector. The material neglect of the underclass causes fundamental deprivations in the daily life of the most economically marginalized portions of societies, hitting minorities especially hard. What I am objecting to is the invisibility of the suffering of the very poor (as in America) and the refusals to acknowledge the public achievement of their improved circumstances (as in Turkey or Vietnam).

 

My argument is not meant to be a reworking of the Huntington argument in the 1970s that developmental priorities tend to make authoritarian rule a palatable prelude to democratically oriented modes of governance. I am not suggesting that it makes sense to defer concerns with democratic practices and human rights, but that normative backsliding should not be the occasion for overlooking how well or badly a government behaves in other spheres of activity. In a sense, this is a search for balance and moderation, and a plea against using ideological brickbats to tear down legitimate governing processes, which undoubtedly need reforms, but do not deserve to be blacklisted except in the most extreme cases, and this is not happening. For instance, the human rights record of Turkey and Vietnam is the target of far more insistent criticism and attack than is the far worse records of Saudi Arabia or Sisi’s Egypt. Again, it is not that being worse elsewhere does not excuse being bad, but it does raise questions about motivation and geopolitical motivation. Vietnam is in a more fortunate position that Turkey because it is valued as part of the U.S. effort to contain Chinese influence, while Turkey is increasingly seen as a thorn in the side of such American allies in the region as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. In effect, bashing countries for their poor human rights records needs to be geopolitically decoded if it is to be taken seriously.