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The Future of NATO: An Interview

11 Aug

The Future of NATO: An Interview with Daniel Falcone

 

[Prefatory Note: An interview with Daniel Falcone on the future of NATO that considers Trump’s brazen challenges and the tepid responses of European political leaders, and what this interplay signifies for the future of world order. At least, Trump’s approach has so far avoided the drift toward Cold War 2 that might have happened had Hillary Clinton become president, but Trump’s trade war mentality may hasten the advent of a different kind of second Cold War, with China and Europe at its epicenter, that is, if the Trump presidency is not undermined in the November elections or otherwise. We should be puzzled by the seeming passivity of the deep state in the U.S. Does it not exist after all?]

 

 

 

 

Q1. What are the reasons for Trump’s insistence that NATO is just another extension of corruption and an institutional burden for the United States?

 

It is difficult to evaluate Trump’s particular moves from coherent rational perspectives. He seems driven by narcissistic motivations of various sorts that have little to do with any overall grand strategy, and a diplomatic style that he has managed to impose on the conduct of American foreign policy that consists of provocative bluster and insults of respected foreign leaders, a continuation of the sort of vulgar irreverence that brought him unexpected success on the presidential campaign trail in 2016 and earlier celebrity in the deal-making world of real estate, gambling casinos, beauty pageants, professional boxing, and reality TV (“The Apprentice”). Explaining Trump’s recent confrontational focus on financial contributions by NATO members seems as simple as this at first glance, but of course, such assessments based on personality never tell the whole story in the complex unfolding political narrative. Undoubtedly, another part of the story can be associated with the insistence during a Trump’s interview that Europe is a trade rival of the United States. A further conjecture may be a geopolitical ‘peace’ framework based on Russia, China, and the U.S..

 

With regard to NATO, Trump has a clear target related to two things he seems to love, and admittedly such affections were not alien to the foreign policy he inherited from his predecessors: money and weapons. By showing that he can gain what Obama failed to achieve with respect to meeting the agreed 2% of GDP goal set for NATO members, he can, and certainly will, boast of his greater effectiveness in protecting America’s material interests than prior presidents. As suggested he measures foreign policy success by reference to monetary returns and America, First (and Me, First) criteria, and tends to put to one side the solidarities of friendship among countries sharing a common cultural identity and mutual respect that have been at the core of the alliance ethos over the decades, especially in relations with Western Europe since World War II. For Trump it appears that alliances, including even NATO, are to be treated as nothing more than business arrangements that are only worthwhile so long as their profit margins hold up. This means that financial contributions become the clearest test of whether cooperative frameworks makes sense in present settings. Interests and values are put to one side while the bundles of cash are counted. In such a process, the circumstances that brought the alliance into being, or justify its continuation, are ignored. Actually, Trump could make a credible case for withdrawing from or greatly downsizing the alliance, given present world conditions, which would help reduce the U.S. fiscal deficit, as well as easing the burdens of security that fall to Washington.

 

In the end, Trump could credibly claim a narrow victory for himself at this recent NATO summit in the transactional sense of gaining assurances from the European governments that they will be increasing their defense budgets.In return Trump reaffirmed continuing U.S. support for the NATO alliance. Like a Mafioso family gathering when the cash flow is restored, friendship between European governments and Trump’s America becomes again possible, providing foreign leaders are prepared to continue absorbing the insults Trump delivers along the way, and then when they create awkward moments, as with Teresa May in Helsinki, are curtly dismissed as his own ‘fake news.’ When ‘fake’ is used to discredit the truth, trust vanishes, and one of the pillars of a healthy democracy is destroyed. We gradually lose our understanding of what is truth, and worse, no longer care or hold leaders accountable by reference to reality.

 

There is no indication of any attention given by Trump to the crucial question: whether NATO serves sufficient useful purposes in the post-Cold War world to be worth the economic costs, let alone the political costs associated with spending on weapons rather than the wellbeing of people and their natural surroundings. Would not the long overdue transition to a real peacetime security posture have many positive advantages for the U.S. and Europe, including exploring prospects for a mutually beneficial cooperative relationships with Russia and China? We have reached a stage in world history where we should be asking whether NATO might be abandoned altogether or drastically redesigned in light of the current agenda of actual global policy challenges. If NATO were converted into a vehicle for the realization of humansecurity, setting its new agenda by reference to the wellbeing of people, it would be a genuine triumph for Trump and the global public interest, but such an orientations seems well outside the boundaries of his political imagination. In fairness, no American leader has dared to adopt the discourse of human security, or questioned the continued viability of Cold War alliances and accompanying strategic doctrine, and it would be pure wishful thinking to expect such demilitarizing words to issue from the lips or mind  of Donald Trump. At least those of us who watch the Trump spectacle in bemused fear should more than ever put forward our own hopes and beliefs in broad gauged cooperation between North America and Europe based on a commitment to  peace, justice, and security, and demand that discussion of the future of the relationship between Europe and North America not be reduced to a demeaning debate about how to raise the level of military spending or keep obsolete alliances in being by the artifice of worrying only about whether particular governments are meeting the 2% goal, which seems like an arbitrary number that is unrelated to the actuality of security challenges..

Q2. How do you forecast the European reaction to the Trump commentary on NATO and could you explain how this might impact key portions of US foreign affairs?

 

Europe’s governmental response to the Trump onslaught so far has been very disappointing, while recent civil society responses in Europe has been generally encouraging. On the one side, NATO leaders seem to pout like aggrieved children, angered and humiliated, but too frightened of the uncertainties associated with confronting Trump to raise their objections above the level of a whisper. On the other side, their acquiescence to the Trump insistence that NATO viability is to be measured in dollars or maybe Euros, unaccompanied by even a pretense of putting forward a relevant substantive rationale for Cold War levesl of spending. Such passive aggressive behavior by European leaders is likely best understood as a sullen endorsement of Trumpism. In effect, the Europeans are muttering “yes, we in Europe should be allocating more of our resources to the defense budget and begin to live up to our 2% commitment” so as to keep a renewed watchful eye on Russia and go along with the slouch toward a Second Cold War. There is no justification given for supposing that Europe will be safer if more heavily invested in military equipment, and my view is that Europe would be far safer, more secure, and more serene if it instead invested these additional funds in helping alleviate the refugee challenge at both the asylum end and at its various sources where combat and climate change have made some national habitats virtually unlivable. It might be emphasized that these habitants from which people are escaping to Europe most commonly at great risk to themselves, have been rendered uninhabitable partly by industrialization in the West and by the bloody aftermath of European colonialism that left behind arbitrary borders that did not correspond to natural communities.

 

Responding to the root causes of refugee and migration pressures should be seen as a matter of long deferred collective responsibility, and not as charity or as exercises of discretion. Furthermore, if NATO were responsive to real threats to the security of Europe, including to its democratic way of life, it would focus its attention with a sense of urgency on these issues instead of implicitly preparing the continent for a new Cold War that an anti-Russian weaponized foreign policy will, ironically, help bring about, initially no doubt in the form of a destablizing arms race, and calls for raising defense spending to even higher levels.

 

Here Trump seems to have his priorities confused. At times, for instance in supporting Brexit, and now endorsing a hard Brexit and the Boris Johnson approach, Trump seems to be furthering Moscow’s prime aim of weakening the unity of Europe, while at the same time by rallying NATO members to increase military spending Trump seems to be lending credibility to Russian worries of a new Cold War.

 

Whether for personal reasons associated with his shady financial dealings and his vulnerability to blackmail or a sense that the way to bring stability to the world is to have strong leaders work together, and establish a grand alliance of autocrats, Trump’s soft spot for Putin may be preferable to what a hard-edged, NATO enthusiast like Hilary Clinton would have brought to the White House had she won the election. A Clinton presidency would almost certainly have gone easy on NATO when it comes to the economics and politics of burden-sharing while insisting on the adoption of a hardline on such geopolitical issues as Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Given the recent show of timidity by NATO leaders scared to cut the umbilical cord that has tied their security policies to the diktats of Washington ever since 1945 (with the notable exception of DeGaulle’s ‘France, First’/. leadership). We sometimes forget that aspiring to the role of global leader has always come with a high price tag, but the expense involved is more than offset by the benefits of status, heightened influence in global arenas, and a favorable positioning in the world economy, or so it seemed to the political elites of both parties until Trump through handfuls of sand into the intricate machinery of the national security state..

Q3. In the past US led and authorized NATO bombings are criticized rather easily and justifiably from the left, but what is the danger of the Trump mentality to foster a disregard for global order from the reactionary right wing? And does resistance to Trump cynicism put NATO skeptics on the left in a difficult position in your view?

 

I think that the ideological discourse has definitely been altered by Trump’s  alt-right approach to NATO. The left, such as it is, has refocused its energies on resisting what it believes to be a slide toward fascism at home arising from its correct perceptions of the Trump presidency as racist, ultra-nationalist, chauvinist, Islamophobic, subverting constitutionalism, and haunted by demagogic leadership. Those most upset with the attacks on the alliance underpinnings of NATO are not the left, but rather the more centrist liberalconstituencies encompassing moderate Republicans as well as mainstream Democrats. These are persons likely as upset by the challenge mounted by the mildly insurgent left-leaning politics of Bernie Sanders as by Trump, perhaps more so. Trump is ardently pro-business, pushed through Congress tax reform that mainly benefits those, like himself, who are part of a tiny billionaire class. What remains of the liberal establishment, whether on Wall Street or situated in the dark inner and hidden recesses of the deep state, is on the verge of tears in the aftermath of Trump’s assault on the NATO anchoring of the Atlanticist approach to American foreign policy that became so iconic for the political classes comprising the bipartisan American establishment ever since 1945.

Q4. Trump was elected partly because of what amounts to his “Me First” Doctrine as well as his “Make America Great Again” slogan. Does he in your estimation fully intend to utilize NATO in the background while appeasing his rabid anti institution base?

 

Trump and his fanatical base in the U.S. never seem far apart. Even in pursuing trade wars around the world, especially with China, that harm many of those who voted for him, his rationalizations, invoking the ‘America, First’ language and jobs rhetoric whether or not the evidence supports such claims. Apparently, so far, a relentless demagogue can fool many of the people all the time, especially by the rants of a populist politic that takes delight in scapegoating outsiders and arousing rage against the insiders who are portrayed as reaping the benefits of the international liberalism that gave us both the Cold War world economy and produced a neoliberal predatory aftermath identified in the 1990s as ‘globalization’, a view of political legitimacy that combines a private sector economy with some minimal form of democracy.

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How NATO will eventuallu fit within this Trump scheme is not yet clear, and may never be so. It seems a blustery sideshow at this point as NATO does not seem to have clear missions in post-Cold War Europe except to be a rallying center for counterterrorist tactics, which operationally depend on national policing and paramilitary capabilities. It seems that Europe is willing to pay up to sustain the NATO status quo, allowing Trump to laugh his way to the bank. NATO’s leading members are most worried these days about keeping the EU together in the face of various stresses associated with Brexit, refugees, a far right anti-immigration resurgence, and some loss of confidence in the EURO and austerity fiscal discipline. Handling Trump is an unpleasant additional chore for European leaders, but it is so far treated more in the spirit of the London protesters’ giant baby balloon, a matter of parenting, lacking real substantive weight, or so it seems. Aside from Turkey no European government seems to be considering alternative alignments now.

On the broader posture of anti-institutionalism and anti-multilateralism, Trump has kept faith with his pre-Fascist base by bullying tactics at the UN, repudiating the Nuclear Agreement with Iran, and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. These are big ticket items that represent extremely serious setbacks for responsible efforts to address challenges of regional and global scale that pose severe threats to peace and ecological stability.

Q5. Trump likes to portray himself as a populist alternative to the Bushes and Clintons and their reckless foreign policy while questioning our “exceptionalism.” In reality however we have broadened and expanded our presence around the world under Trump. Can you talk about the Trump foreign policy and how’d you categorize it?

 

Trump foreign policy, such as it is, seeks to diminish engagement with international institutions, including treaty regimes, and retain greater freedom of maneuver for the U.S. Government in international relations. It seems also to deny the reality of such global challenges as climate change, global migrations, genocidal behavior, and extreme poverty. It is definitely statist in outlook, both because of a belief in nationalism as the best guide to policymaking and problem solving, and because the United States as the richest and most powerful of states can supposedly gain greater advantages for itself by reliance on its superior bargaining leverage in any bilateral bargaining process. Borrowing from his deal-making past, Trump seems convinced that the U.S. will get more of what it wants when it deals bilaterally than in hemmed in my multilateral frameworks as in trade relations or environmental protection.

 

Beyond this kind of transactional search for material advantages, oblivious to substantive realities that make cooperative approaches more likely to achieve beneficial results, Trump has been consistent in promoting reactionary issues at home and abroad whenever given the chance, whether by tweeting or issuing executive orders. While in Europe he gave public voice via TV to an anti-immigration screed, telling Europeans that immigrants were ruining Europe, bringing to the continent crime and terrorism, a malicious argument similar to the slander of undocumented Hispanic immigrants present in the United States, some long in the country, and making laudable contributions.

 

Trump’s silences are also important. He seems determined to ignore crimes against humanity if committed by states against people subject to its authority, whether the Rohingya in Myanmar or Palestinians in Gaza. American support for human rights, always subject to geopolitical manipulation, is now a thing of the past so long as Trump hangs around, although such considerations may be cynically invoked when helpful to strengthen arguments for sanctions and uses of force against adversery states.

 

Whether wittingly or not, Trump seems determined to shatter the legacy of the Bushes and Clinton built around an American led liberal international order, but without any real alternative conception of global governance to put in its place. So far this has produced an ad hoc approach, beset by contradiction, which one day can veer in the direction of confrontation as with Iran or North Korea, or on another day seem to seek some sort of long-term accommodation with Russia and North Korea, and sometimes even China. Also evident is the extent to which Trump’s foreign policy initiatives are designed to please Israel, as with the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem announced last December, or the heightened tensions with Iran, or have no justification other than to uphold the expectations of billionaire domestic donors of his presidential campaign. And finally, there is the search for the grandiose, ‘the deal of the century,’ a breakthrough that will make Trump great for once and for many, but when more closely considered the deal, as the one in the offing to end the Israel/Palestine struggle turns out to be a house of cards, so one-sided that it effectively collapses before its absurdly pro-Israeli contents have been officially disclosed.

 

Whether by his blunt actions sowing discord or his silent acquiescence in the face of atrocities, we have reason to fear the trajectory of the Trump presidency. In this sense, the NATO performance was just a tip of a dangerous iceberg imperiling world order, but also the future of responsible and responsive governance in a period of grave danger and intense turmoil. As with the weak response of European governments to Trumpism, there is reason for disappointment about the resilience of republican institutions within the United States, including such stalwarts as separation of powers and the constitutional integrity of political parties. Alarm bells should be ringing through the night at maximum volume, but so far the silences outweigh the noise as the world slouches toward catastrophe, chaos, and cruelty.

 

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Wider Consequences of U.S. Withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council

7 Jul

Interview with Daniel Falcone, June 21, 2018, initially published in TruthOut, July 3, 2018

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Questions on U.S. Withdrawal from UNHRC

 

  1. What are your thoughts on the US pulling out of the UNHRC and how are Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley’s disparaging and overly defensive claims different from what is taking place in the background? They’ve remarked how the UNHRC is “hypocritical and self-serving” and remarked of its “chronic anti-Israel bias.” What is it about the UNHRC that compels the US to disengage?

 

I think the superficial response to this latest de-internationalizing move is the tendency of the Trump Administration to align its policies in conformity with Israeli priorities and preferences, which have long focused on the Human Rights Council (HRC) as a venue hostile to their policies and practices. HRC is the most important actor in the UN System in which geopolitical pressures can be largely neutralized, partly because there is no veto, and partly because it is representative of the frustrations that the world as a whole has felt for decades in response to the dual Israel posture of defying international law while constantly expanding their grip on what was internationally widely understood after the 1967 War as territory set aside for a Palestinian sovereign state. This interactive process has gone on so long as to seem irreversible at this point, making the two-state solution reflective of the international consensus no longer a realistic option, which appears to leave open the path to an Israeli one-state solution that corresponds with the maximal Zionist vision of establishing a Jewish state with sovereignty over the whole of Palestine, which from the Zionist perspective is ‘the promised land’ of Jews by virtue of a biblical entitlement. Such a rationalization completely ignores the normative primacy in the 21stcentury of the right of self-determination to be exercised by the majority resident population and its legitimate representatives. This circumstances helps explain both Palestinian resistance and Israeli reliance on an apartheid matrix of control to shatter opposition to its goals.

 

Rather than an anti-Israeli bias, the UN as a whole, and the HRC in particular, have done too little rather than too much with respect to expressing disapproval of Israel’s policies and practices in Palestine. It should be recalled that after the British gave up their Mandatory status as administrator of Palestine after World War II, the UN was tasked with finding a solution to the tensions between the majority Palestinian population and the Jewish minority (of about 30% in 1947). It came up with a partition plan embodied in General Assembly Resolution 181, which when rejected by the Palestinians produced the Partition War resulting in the removal, mostly by force, of about 750,000 Palestinians from the area set aside for a Jewish state, and the prolonged occupation of 22% of the territory that remained of the Palestine Mandated territory, governed by Jordan until 1967, and subsequently militarily administered by Israel. In other words, the UN has failed to produce a sustainable solution that protects minimal Palestinian rights, much less its fundamental right of self-determination, and has been unable to curb Israeli behavior to conform to the constraints of international humanitarian law. It should be understood that the UN has no comparable unfulfilled responsibility with respect to any other territory in the world, and its attention to Israeli defiance is more of an expression of institutional frustration and futility than it meant to mount a serious challenge to Israeli behavior, including its flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. To the extent Israel is challenged it comes from Palestinian resistance initiatives, as witnessed recently in the lengthy demonstrations and killings associated with the Great Return March, and secondarily, from the intensifying global solidarity movement highlighted by the growing success of the BDS Campaign. It is this success that is much more threatening to Israel than anything that happens at the UN, and helps explain their frantic effort to criminalize and penalize those that are active BDS supporters.

 

 

  1. How can you describe the current reputation of the United States in world affairs? There was talk of the US pulling out preemptively as to avoid a embarrassing condemnation from the UN for the US/Israel treatment of Gaza.

 

The U.S. by design and incompetence has pushed itself increasingly into a sterile ‘America, First’ corner that has increased tensions in several regions of the world, loosened long-term alliance relations, weakened multilateral lawmaking, and raised risks of nuclear and regional warfare. Instead of seeking to overcome the turmoil that is causing massive suffering in the Middle East, the United States has lent material and diplomatic support to genocidal war making directed at Yemen and joined with Israel and Saudi Arabia in pushing toward a regime-changing intervention in Iran with dire potential consequences both for the Iranian people and the region, and possibly the world. The Trump repudiation of the 2015 nuclear agreement reached with Iran and the Paris climate change agreement is to retreat from positive internationalismand its global leadership role exercised since 1945, as well as to disrupt the institutional and treaty frameworks facilitating global trade and investment. This combination of warmongering militarism and exclusionary nationalism is generating a new American foreign policy that might be identified as illiberal internationalism, or maybe more graphically as negative internationalism. It is not only causing dangerous forms of confrontation, it is also acting as a catastrophic distraction from urgent problem-solving imperatives of this period of world history, especially, meeting the challenges of climate change, biodiversity, nuclearism, migration, and extreme poverty.

 

 

  1. Real Clear Politics asserted that, “the international community stokes Gazans’ ruinous belief that Israel belongs to them and fuels their delusive dream of return. On May 18, for example, the U.N. Human Rights Council again improperly intervened in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of Hamas.” This outlet is called “ideologically diverse.” How crucial is Israel’s role in the US pullout?

 

It is difficult to assess the motivational calculus that prompted the U.S. withdrawal from the HRC. It seems over-determined, especially consistent with this pattern during the Trump presidency of withdrawing from otherpositive internationalistarrangements mentioned earlier. Surely, Israeli hostility to the HRC, which I experienced personally while serving as HRC Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine, is a factor, but to what extent, is impossible to say. In some respects, the HRC withdrawal seems parallel to the provocative move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem. In effect, we think we are punishing the world by our refusal to participate in these international arrangements, but in reality we are harming ourselves.

 

 

4.Describe the structure of US geopolitics at the moment and how are allies reacting to this unclear and confusing period? Also, do you see any good press coverage?

 

I think the Trump pattern is so erratic and dangerously destabilizing that it impairs our capacity to acknowledge positive initiatives even if narcissistically or defensively motivated. I find the liberal Democratic criticism of the Korean nuclear accommodation as the prime example, but another is the indistinct effort to normalize relations with Russia, avoiding a second Cold War. As suggested, Trump may be seeking glory for the Korean diplomacy and his fears of Moscow disclosures about his finances might drive his approach to Putin and Russia, but even such dubious and dark motives should not color our judgment of the policy? The mainstream media seems so polarized with respect to the Trump presidency, and thus tends mindlessly to condemn or applaud, with little by way of effort to disentangle the policy from the person.

 

Trump’s crude pushback against European allies has generated confusion. On the one side, there is a European sense that the time has come to cut free from the epoch of Cold War dependence on Washington, and forge security and economic policy more independently in accord with the social democratic spirit of ‘Europe, First.’ At the same time, there is a reluctance to risk breaking up a familiar framework that has brought Europe a long period of relative stability and mostly healthy economic development to Europe. Such considerations create a mood of ambivalence and uncertainty, perhaps thinking that Trump is a temporary aberration from reestablishing a more durable framework versus the idea that Trumpism has given Europe and the separate states an opportunity to achieve a political future more in accord with the values and interests of the region and its member states than its longtime deference to the shifting moods and priorities of Washington. Also, Europe is now facing its own rising forms of right-wing populism, chauvinistic nationalism, and a resulting crisis of confidence in the viability of the European Union under pressures from the refugee influx and the unevenness of economic conditions in northern Europe as distinct from Mediterranean Europe.

 

Finally, the Asian context is different. Trump has sought to focus on revising the economic relationship with China in ways that supposedly help American business and consumers. In this pursuit, it would be helpful to stabilize the Korean peninsula and keep firm the relationship with Japan. So far, this pattern seems to describe the present approach, but given the clumsy impulsiveness of Trump when it comes to abrupt shifts in policy it is hazardous to make predictions as to the future course of American behavior in the Asian context. Maybe, just maybe, the absence of the Israeli dimension, may give Asian policy more flavor of coherence and rationality, yet such a possibility still involves a radical repudiation of the earlier promotion of neoliberal globalization and international liberalism, and a return to mercantilist approaches to economic nationalism.

 

 

  1. Is there a strategy to this exit because of the Republican Party base in your view? How much of this, like Iran perhaps is for electoral politics?

 

Earlier in the Trump presidency seemed the Republican Party seemed divided, and there was more tension between the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress than recently. Especially after the passage of the pro-rich, pro-business tax bill in 2107, the Trump hold on the Republican Party strengthened to the point that an astonishing 89% of Republicans, according to recent polls, now approve of his presidential leadership. This is profoundly worrisome, and at the same time, revealing that any serious Republican departure from the Trump approach to major political issues will be viewed as virtual political suicide by career-minded Republicans.

 

As for Trump himself, his motivations are hard to assess as he proceeds by intuition, demagogic self-confidence, and unparalleled narcissism, which means no accountability, no truthfulness, and no coherence. Intellectuals tend, as they did with Reagan, to underestimate Trump’s capacity to connect with the raw feelings of ‘ordinary’ Americans, especially those feeling left out. This Trump appeal becomes formidable when bolstered by right-wing financial and ideological support.

 

I feel it is not too alarmist or misleading to talk of the present era of American political life as ‘pre-fascist,’ posing the formidable challenge of reversing the political current in the country as rapidly as possible to avoid any transition from pre-fascism to fascism (in some distinctly American form that refuses the language of fascism while implementing its worldview).

Transforming World Order?

20 May

 

[Prefatory Note:  This post is my review of an important critical study of the deplorable conditions of law and politics in the current global setting. The author grounds his diagnosis and proposals on a philosophical interpretation of this subject-matter, but the radical vision although appealing gives little attention to how such a vision can become a political project, and so this learned text creates an impression of apolitical utopianism. This review will be shortly published in the American Journal of International Law.]

 

 

 

TRANSFORMING WORLD ORDER?

 

Eutopia: New Philosophy and New Law for a Troubled World.By Philip Allott. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2016, Pp. xi, 368. Index. $135.

 

Grasping Allott’s Ambitious Undertaking

 

It is not by chance that Philip Allott, professor emeritus of international public law and fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, UK,offers unusual guidance to readers in the opening sentence of the Preface to Eutopia: “The reader may want to read this book more than once, and to read it with unusual care” (p. vi). If anything, this advice is understated. Allott has written a learned, conceptually intense, and wildly ambitious book that demands the most dedicated attention taxing the perseverance of even the most diligent of readers. Allott challenges us on every page, really on each of its paragraphs given a systematic inflection by being numbered as if elements of a mathematical proof. Putting the bar of comprehension so high raises preliminary awkward questions—is the immense burden imposed on the reader sufficiently rewarded by the contribution that Allott makes to our understanding of the human condition? There is a second subsidiary question—is Allott’s distinctive methodology an effective and necessary means by which to raise and resolve such fundamental issues? and for what audience is this undertaking intended? I will return to these matters at the end of my attempt to assess Allott’s undertaking, which by any measure is extraordinary. It is nothing less than a philosophically coherent depiction of a comprehensive and desirable future for humanity designed to do nothing less than achieve the totality of human potentiality if properly enacted.

Allott attributes his sense of profound concern with the way the world was organized to his experience decades ago as a legal advisor in the British Foreign Office (1960–1973). It was there that he became aware of “all significant aspects of international government” leading him to the “settled moral conviction—that the nature of so-called international relations must be changed fundamentally and, with it, the nature of international law.”[1]Although the argument put forward is expressed abstractly, without civilizational specificity or very much by way of policy critique and example, there is no doubt that Allott is deeply offended and worried by his various encounters with political realism while serving the British crown. In a strong passage Allott vigorously rejects the major premise of the nuclear age, which he decries as “the development of the grotesquely named strategic nuclear weapons, as if mass murder and mass destruction could be strategies adopted by rational human beings.”[2]Such strong language suggests Allott’s repudiation of conventional wisdom in the world that he inhabits, which stands in stark contrast to the world that he believes can be brought into being by new thinking responsive to the overriding moral and political imperative of seeking a new world order in which all human beings can flourish, and find happiness, as well as address the formidable challenges of global scope that threaten the survival of the human species and much of its natural habitat.[3]

To begin with, it is important to realize that Eutopiais a sequel to an equally challenging and ambitious earlier work, Eunomia: New Order for a New World, published in 1990.[4]In a long Preface written especially for the 2001 publication of a paperback version, Allott gives readers important clues to what led his thinking in such radical directions, including his disdainful treatment of incremental global reform steps advocated by liberal internationalists that he believes irrelevant, given the magnitude of the challenges facing humanity. Allott is convinced that only a revolutionaryprocess can generate the capacity needed to enable humanity to produce a positive future for itself. Clarifying this orientation, Allott writes,

 

We are people with a permanent revolutionary possibility, the power to make a revolution, not in the streets but in the mind. And the long journey of revolutionary change begins with a single revolutionary step. We can, if we wish, choose the human future. We, the people, can say what the human future will be, and what it will not be.[5]

 

This appears to be affirming a radical form of political agency vested in the people, that is, change from below, although this is never asserted in this form or as an ingredient of democracy or transformative populism.

This crucial matter of orientation and perspective, with its Hegelian confidence in the power of ideas to transform and regulate behavior, leads Allott to distance himself from those who insist that “practicality” in the domain of politics is the only responsible approach to the advocacy of change and reform. Allott rejects the mainstream consensus that constrains debate within the confines of feasibility as interpreted by the powers that be: “To disprove a claim that a set of ideas is merely Utopian, it is useful simply to recall that those ideas contain a future which is not only possible but also necessary, and that the human future is always an imaginary potentiality until it becomes a present actuality.”[6]As Allott puts it elsewhere, “We make the human world, including human institutions, through the power of the human mind. What we have made by thinking we can make new by new thinking.”[7]This theme pervades Allott’s entire undertaking, but such an unconditional statement of benign mental potency seems to be oblivious to the darker forces of the unconscious that drive human behavior in destructive and self-destructive directions. The dominance of these darker forces has, in my view, entrapped the political imagination in an iron cage, accounting for the widespread feelings of despair on the part of those who confront the future with eyes wide open.[8]Allott is fully aware of this, shares this foreboding, but offers us the redemptive possibility of this mental revolution.

Allott writes in the Preface to his present book,

 

Since Eunomia was published, the globalising of human social and mental existence has proceeded at a pace and in ways that could not have been predicted then, and with ever more troubling consequences, and ever more serious threats and challenges. Chaotic globalizing is even negating humanity’s tentative unity-in-diversity. (P. viii)

 

We should appreciate that Eunomiaand Eutopiaasserted this dramatic diagnosis well before Donald Trump’s “America First” approach has aggravated the world order situation by a series of dramatic withdrawals of America’s engagement in cooperative forms of globalization with respect to such crucial policy contexts as climate change, international trade, global migration, and arms control (currently most pointedly, the decertification of the 2015 5+1 Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program). I think it is safe to assume that Allott’s worldview as of 2018 would move closer to moral panic, given Trump’s intensifications of “chaotic globalizing.” In the Foreword to Eutopia,Allott contrasts his earlier effort as one of meeting a “global socialchallenge” with the more momentous current undertaking in the book under review of overcoming “a universal humanchallenge” (p. ix). Putting this progression of perspective in relation to knowledge systems, Allott has shifted his outlook from that of social and jurisprudential engineer to that of global anthropologist or planetary ethnographer.

In Allott’s work the reader encounters a perplexing blend of pessimism about the existing human condition and of optimism about the limitless potentiality of the human species. In stirring words, “We are a species with unlimited potentiality that is failing in crucial aspects of its self-evolving and self-perfecting” (p. ix). What gives direction to Allott’s radical way of thinking is a post-Enlightenment belief in thought, reason, and knowledge as guiding action, best exemplified by the great philosophical traditions in the West that have been appraising the human condition for centuries. In this spirit he laments, as he rejects, the contemporary Anglo-American philosophic turn against its own tradition, uselessly shifting its energies to arcane language puzzles and esoteric logical quirks while abandoning reflections on and prescriptions for the desirable unfolding of humanity in light of its surrounding human circumstances.

In a short Afterword, Allott makes plain his oppositional stance to the hegemony of science and engineering modes of thought in the public domain where governments act and citizens form their policy preferences. Allott categorizes his own work as exhibited in a private domain and premised on what he calls “humanist thinking” (p. 341), that is shaped by values, wisdom, and erudition. At the same time, he asserts a positive role for such thought against the grain, needed in his view, to enable “the human mind . . . to imagine a better human future” and to activate “the human will” so as to “mak[e] a better future happen” (id.). He follows this with the haunting exposure of his own foreboding about the human future, ending the book with these words: “For how much longer?” (id.). As a reader I would say that the main message left behind here by Allott is the urgency associated with a revival of humanist thinking as a necessary precondition for meeting the challenges of our historical circumstance as a profoundly threatened species.

 

Sources of Inspiration

 

Allott is forthright about acknowledging three inspirational points of departure for Eutopia. Allott roots his extraordinary exploration of prospects for radical change in the utopian tradition of Thomas More who “enabled his readers to see their own social life with new eyes, and to judge it, and to imagine other ways of life” (p. vii). In effect, this kind of utopianism creatively provides a stimulus for critical reflections on the world as it is, as well as unleashing imaginative efforts to project on the screen of human expectations more satisfying and uplifting alternatives as potentially attainable.

Francis Bacon is his second inspirational spark, by way of his foundational anticipation of the degree to which scientific and technological innovation—in effect, “revolutions”—would open the doors of human understanding in dramatic new ways that led in the past to drastic forms of societal restructuring. Bacon “saw that a revolution in our understanding of the human mind could produce every other kind of revolution. He saw that the human mind can transform the human world. We are his beneficiaries to this day” (pp. vii–viii). Allott definitely follows Bacon in believing that altering authoritative templates of human subjectivity has the potential for unleashing transformative forces, and given his severe indictment of how human coexistence is currently (mis)managed on all levels of social interactions, he leaves the reader with this urgent sense of “revolution or doom.” The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, raises comparable questions, yet without any prospect of revolutionary closure with a focus on what “living together well” might mean and what “democracy to come” could achieve.[9]Allott comes close to Derrida’s approach in a chapter entitled “New Society: Living the Good Life Together.”

Allott’s undertaking bears comparison with the World Order Models Project (WOMP), which proceeded from a comparable diagnosis to prescribe a series of “relevant utopias” or “preferred worlds” as necessary, desirable, and achievable.[10]It grounds its hope for the human future on the emergence of what might be called ethical universality(shared values associated with minimizing collective violence, social and economic well-being, humane governance, and ecological sustainability) that could foster collaborative undertakings of sufficient scope and depth.[11]By so doing it would become possible to overcome both the political fragmentation of state-centric world order and the civilizational diversity of post-colonial identity patterns. Such a relevant utopia depends more humbly than Allott’s revolution in the mind on a retuning of the rational mind and the sharpening of normative sensibilities to take account of the globalizing pressures being exerted by nuclearism, neoliberalism, and digitized networks.

The third source of inspiration affirmed by Allott is the canon of Western philosophy as a response to “a miasma of nihilism and despair, unable to comprehend or to redeem terrible real-world events that the human mind itself had caused” (p. ix). Only by turning to philosophizing in the classic tradition can there be any hope for “the necessary and urgent revolution in the human mind” (p. ix). Allott invests philosophical inquiry with an incredible capacity of human empowerment: “Without philosophy, we have little or no control over the making and the remaking of a better human future. Without philosophy, now and hereafter, the human species may not survive” (p. ix). He underscores this rather dismaying observation with the assertion that Eutopiais designed with no less an objective than bringing “the great and ancient existential debate back to life, before it is too late . . . the permanent possibility of making the human world into ‘a place of happiness’” (p. ix). I wonder whether this is a proper reading of the philosophic canon in which the warnings and admonitions of St. Augustine, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer unaccompanied by the view that history can be reshaped by a revolution in the precincts of the human mind. At the same time each of these thinkers, except Schopenhauer, did at least endorse a vision of a better human future, but not as an achievement of the creativity and normative capabilities of the rational mind.

 

Allott’s Distinctive Methodology

 

It should be understood that unlike Eunomia, which drew on Allott’s professional experience and academic specialty (international public law), Eutopia is a remarkable achievement of amateurship, that is, an immersion in philosophic thought for which the author had neither evident training nor prior publications, but great love and intimacy. In this regard it is informed by the philosophic canon of the West, especially as developed by British philosophers, but with its own rather peculiar and somewhat questionable methodology. In clusters of chapters entitled “The Human Condition,” “Human Power,” and “Human Will,” Allott sets forth the grounds and components of his belief in the potency of the human mind. Each chapter is, in turn, divided in two parts, with the first part consisting of numbered paragraphs containing in logical sequence, fundamental elements of the human mind such as memory, imagination, knowledge, and emotions. The second part of each chapter consists of a series of quotes from a wide spectrum of thinkers, mainly philosophers, from Plato and Aristotle to Marx, Lenin, and Karl Popper, and many, many others. Despite impressions of inclusiveness, there are some surprising names missing. For instance, for me none of three twentieth century philosophers who shed the most light on the human condition are even mentioned once: Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, and Martin Heidegger. As well, non-Western thought is touched on very lightly both in the text and the complement of philosophical quotations: The Buddha and Gandhi are never mentioned, Confucius once.

I have no doubt that Allott is a learned student of philosophy who has developed more or less on his own, without specific debts in the course of his argument to earlier thinkers, a coherent cartography of the human mind as possessed of great agency. At the same time, this dualist methodology of putting the argument one place and the philosophic sources in an entirely separate place without any explicit effort to establish a linkage between the two seems questionable to me, and neither rationalized nor explained by Allott. Either the section of quotations is to be read as conveying somewhat randomly the spirit of philosophical conjecture with regard to a theme covered by the argumentative text, or the reader is left to do the immense work of finding for herself connections between an individual quoted passage and the argument of the text, which I can report in my case to have been a daunting, time-consuming, and not very rewarding, challenge.

There are other issues raised by this methodology. Allott does not explain his reasons for inclusion and exclusion. Also, his conception of philosophy is very capacious, extending to literary figures (Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Goethe, and T.S. Eliot), social and natural scientists (Durkheim, Max Weber, Harold Lasswell, and E.O. Wilson), and even cultural and political critics (Marshall McLuhan, Ruskin, and Thomas Paine). If each of these quotes was tied to passages in Allott’s text even as footnotes, or given a distinct commentary that explicated their linkage, I would likely applaud the approach. Left alone as distinct items to be read in sequence following the chapter text, seems either without redeeming value or requiring too much of an effort for the reward. In Eunomiawhere Allott is on much firmer ground in terms of professional competence, the methodology is more conventional, and although demanding because of the abstractness and systematic quality of the thought, and more effective in conveying a distinct critique and way forward. In this earlier book Allott’s chapters contain only the numbered paragraphs of argument with no second part that gives sources.

 

The Essential Role of Law

 

Allott’s vision is very much influenced by his appreciation of law as a fundamental ordering device with respect to all that transpires in the universe. In this regard “the laws of nature” and “scientific laws” are seen as achieving results that human-created law can only aspire to produce, especially with respect to international law. What underlies this emphasis on law is the fact that all activities in the cosmos exhibit for Allott a tendency to exhibit orderas a fundamental reaction to the alternative of chaos.In Allott’s view order is the result of law governed behavior.

In EunomiaAllott makes clear that the two modern theorists of international law who make contributions along the lines of a systemic reworking of law as constitutive of world order are Hans Kelsen and Myres McDougal.[12]What they have done to merit this affirmation is “to elevate international law on to a plane appropriate to a true legal system.” In Kelsen’s case, it involved detaching law from its social and political infrastructure so as to create an autonomous legal order of encompassing generality, with international law a derivative subsystem. While in McDougal’s case, the effort was almost opposite to that of Kelsen, integrating and connecting international law with the underlying social, economic, and political processes, and disciplining its operations by reference to what Allott calls “value-processing,” a phenomenon that is present in all forms of social activity.[13]

Allott calls McDougal “ahead of his time,” especially by undertaking the prophetic task of “preaching a new dispensation to a recalcitrant group of human beings who were almost beyond redemption, the participants in international relations” (p. IX). It is clear from a broader exposure to Allott’s thinking that he is referring to the hard power realists who exclude values from international relations, and thus marginalize international law, and whose operating procedures can perhaps be most easily comprehended by reference to Henry Kissinger’s theory and practice of international relations.[14]Allott concludes that neither Kelson nor McDougal reshaped the manner with which international relations, with its race to the bottom of human endeavor, was being conducted.

Nevertheless, Allott regards the challenge confronting him is to integrate a philosophically coherent and grounded legal order in the manner of Kelsen with a normatively driven legal order geared to the most general features of international life in the spirit of McDougal, and considered his earlier book as having such a purpose by proposing “a general theory of society and law which is potentially universal” (p. IX). He faults McDougal as rooting his approach too parochially in the distinctively Western democratic experience to be universally acceptable. These ideas about law are carried forward in Eutopia, but under the North Star of fear and trembling about the human future.

For Allott, “[l]aw is the primary social system serving the survival and flourishing of the human species” (p. 210). In a somewhat grandiose assertion he writes, “[b]y means of the idea of law we human being have taken power over everything, not least power over ourselves” (p. 209). In this era of seeming powerlessness against the pushbacks of nature or the eruption of irrational politics among publics and leaders, it becomes difficult to comprehend such celebrations of the role of law in regulating the human condition. So as to align lawmaking and rule of law with the present, Allott insists “[i]t is time for human beings to become a kind of philosopher” (p. 210). Presumably, such a sentiment should be read as his kind of philosopher who would tie the rule of law, constitutionalism, and international law to human survival and flourishing, the normative goals affirmed throughout as vital within our historical situation.

In a comprehensive chapter on law as a generic dimension of the human condition Allott gives his ideas about the functioning of law and order, as well as law and custom, law and power, law as a system, and law and value (pp. 210–31). With respect to international law discussed as a distinct system, “a primary purpose of the present volume,” Allott argues that it is necessary to promote “a fundamental reconstituting of international society, including the reimagining and remaking of the international legal system,” giving special attention to the relations between law and power (p. 215).

After reviewing the existing theories of law as applied to the international situation Allott is convinced that international law must be fundamentally changed so that it can serve the goals of human survival and flourishing, but how, and by whom? Allott calls for new law that is based on the primacy of these goals, reaffirming human agency in controlling the role of law, contending that we are the makers of law as “the supreme judges of the common good” (p. 232). In some tautological sense, yes, but as an existential matter of politics, psychology, history, and social structure, I would say, no to such an outpouring of anthropomorphic enthusiasm.

 

Conclusion

 

For anyone seeking a comprehensive world order vision of what exists and what might be, this book is definitely worth the effort, even if the result, as in my case, is to feel that its value is mainly the focus on the centrality of the law phenomenon rather than on depicting a plausible path to a desirable human future. I find Allott’s call for a revolution of the human mind as itself the means for asserting benign control over the human condition now so imperiled to be “whistling in the dark.” The structures of power and wealth are entrenched in support of the worst features of “lawlessness.” We are in the midst of a regressive era in which we, as a species, are losing the ecological, geopolitical, and ethical struggles for a benign human future.

There has been much discussion in scientific circles as to whether it is appropriate to label our age as that of the “anthropocene,” given the impact that human activity has on the sustainability of life on planet earth. Allott converts this acknowledgement into a hyperbolic version of anthropomorphism in which the human mind is crowned as supreme ruler over all that transpires on earth. I find this points our worried sensibilities in the wrong direction.

Although agreeing with Allott on the dangers of state-centricism and political realism, as well as on the goals of species survival and flourishing, I disagree on the dynamics of collective awakening. I would urge “humility” and “compassion” as the guiding values in any constructive reappropriation of the human future motivated by the desire to ensure survival and promote goals of living together happily as a species.

In the end, we can thank Allott for providing us with a vision that is rich in conceptual content and moral energy, a philosophic manual for the job that needs to be done. But even after a close reading, the roadmap is missing, and we are left with the imperative of providing one as a civilizational priority. We can agree with Allott that a new international law that is guided by human well-being rather than the old international law catering to the power/wealth lusts of powerful states is essential, but to identify such a need is far removed from its satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Philip Allot, Eunomia: New Order for a New World, at xli (2001).

[2]Id.at lii.

[3]Allott sets forth his purpose in writingEutopiaalong these lines at several points (pp. 215, 260, 269, 296, 312–13).

[4]Indeed, it is not possible to ignore the first book in approaching the even more elaborate framework of Eutopia.

[5]Allott, Eunomia,supra note 1, at xxxiv.

[6]Id.at xxvii.

[7]Id.

[8]My formulation of the human non-responsiveness to these darker forces that currently pose such formidable challenges of global scope is set forth in an essay, Richard Falk, Does the Human Species Wish to Survive?,inRichard Falk, Power Shift: On the New Global Order253–62 (2016).

[9]See discussions of Derrida’s focus on living together in Living Together: Jacques Derrida’s Communities of Violence and Peace(Elisabeth Weber ed., 2012); also Fred Dallmayr, Democracy to Come: Politics as Relational Praxis(2017).

[10]SeeSaul H. Mendlovitz, On the Creation of a Just World Order: Preferred Worlds for the 1990s(1975);Richard Falk, A Study of Future Worlds(1975).

[11]SeeHans Küng. A Global Ethic for a Global Politics and Economics(1998).

[12]SeeAllott, Eunomia, supranote 1, at xlvii.

[13]All references in this and succeeding paragraphs are to id.at xlviii.

[14]SeeHenry Kissinger, World Order(2014). For critique, see Richard Falk, Henry Kissinger: Hero of Our Time, 40 Millennium155–64 (July 6, 2015).

The End of Democracy?

8 May

[Prefatory Note: This post is an expanded and somewhat modified version of an opinion piece published by the online publication, global-e on May 1, 2018. It seeks to raise questions and suggest different ways of conceiving of democratic governance.]

 

The End of Democracy?

As demagogic leaders with popular approval or at least acquiescence now dominate the political process of several important ‘democratic’ states, questions about the core or indispensable content of democracy are more appropriate than ever. How should we understand the meaning of democracy in a variety of national circumstances? Is democracy, as properly defined, the best mode of governance under all conditions for every society enjoying sovereign rights? Or in the more reserved spirit of Churchill’s quip, is democracy just ‘the least bad?” Do China or Singapore offer the world, or at least certain societies, a preferred alternative compared to democracy as it evolved and perceived in the West?

 

Many states seek the imprimatur of ‘democracy’ but limit drastically the choices open to the citizenry or proclaim themselves ‘a Jewish state’ or ‘an Islamic Republic,’ which means they are more accurately regarded as an ethnocracy(Israel) or theocracy(Iran). The legitimating imprimatur of democracy should be based on something more objective than the language of self-identification, that is, claiming to be a democracy because the governing arrangements have a formal appearance that resembles what is expected in a democracy, nothing more, nothing less. Instead, it seems an opportune time to delineate the particular institutions, values, and practices that identify the distinctive features of democratic forms of governance.

 

It is not only a matter of taking note of the weakening of the democratic character of ‘democracies’ in recent decades. It is also the attractiveness of China as an efficient developmental model and functional problem-solving mechanism. This Chinese political system is recently being identified as ‘pragmatic authoritatianism.’ Such a comparison of political systems is currently of particular interest because of the disturbing behavior of the United States in this period, both its repudiation of liberalism at home when it comes to the protection of human rights and a kind of blustering militarism abroad that is accentuated by Trump’s retreat from responsible global leadership that had previously given American foreign policy a certain legitimacy despite being the first ‘global state’ in world history. In this regard it is notable that China has shaped its ascendancy in recent decades by mastering soft power diplomacy while the U.S. decline has been accompanied by costly demonstrations of the growing deficiencies of continued reliance on the hard power geopolitics, unsuccessfully defying the realities of the post-colonial world in the early 21stcentury.

 

Against this background, the remainder of this essay explores the notion of democracy from a number of perspectives, seeking to distinguish between political arrangements that serve their citizens normatively as well as materially. There are also historical questions about whether democracy can flourish in an atmosphere in which intense stresses are generated by wide inequalities in circumstances that produce hardships and resentments, creating a susceptibility to opportunistic politicians who scapegoat outsiders and vulnerable groups. Such a pattern has surfaced in the West, increasingly so after the declaration of ‘the war on terror’ that has contributed to the massive generation of refugees, especially as a consequence of prolonged warfare and chaos in the Middle East. This has itself exerted pressures on humane governance by pushing political parties and publics further and further to the right, creating a populist base for fascism if the system becomes further stressed by economic crisis or through fears of terrorism, whether real or contrived.

 

Procedural and Republican Democracy

The idea of ‘free elections’ is certainly a prerequisite of a governing process in which the leadership is somehow accountable to the citizenry. It is not possible to think of a political system as democratic if it does not allow its citizens to select, without fear or interference, among a wide range of candidates of their choice, even if the process is filtered through political parties or primaries or otherwise. What qualifies as a free election can be debated endlessly, but it seems enough to suggest that candidates should represent significantly divergent societal viewpoints on major issues that compete for support, that votes are counted honestly, and no obstacles are intentionally placed in the path of those in the electorate who are poor, less educated, and not fluent in the native language.

 

The relationship of money to the electoral process is increasingly problematic, and abetted by well-funded lobbying. As might be expected, the configuration of these issues varies from state to state. A crisis of democracy in the United States has highlighted these issues. On the one side, many, perhaps most, qualified candidates are discouraged from taking part in the political process or are subjected to defamatory treatment if they do. On the other side, NGOs such as the NRA and AIPAC distort the political process, making it politically impossible to serve the public interest, for instance, by rendering unlawful the sale and possession of assault weaponry and in the case of AIPAC making it as difficult for the United States to pursue foreign policies in the Middle East that reflect the national interest of the country and the global interest of people due to the overwhelming and often mindless pressures to follow Israel’s policy priorities no matter where they might lead. The pressure exerted to repudiate the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration in 2015 illustrates the way lobbying obstructs the implementation of the public interest. In some sense, it is this interplay of money, influence, and regressive policies that raise fundamental questions about the political and moral legitimacy of governing process. A clouding of public interest in democratic practiceresults from this lethal mixture of private sector money and a frustrated public that poses fundamental threats to American democracy as it formerly operated, and in different ways, to other political systems that purport to retain a democratic system jiust because they hold periodic, free elections. 

 

Looked at from a different angle, a state should not necessarily jeopardize its democratic credentials if it disqualifies candidates and parties that deny basic human rights to segments of the citizenry on some principled basis or espouse fascist agendas, or if rights are somewhat abridged during periods of national emergency as during wartime. This contingent dimension of democratic governance is almost always controversial. It can be discussed in relation to specific instances by reference to the acceptable limits that can be imposed on the practice of procedural democracy. Such a form of government is sensitive to the dangers of abuses and corruptions when power becomes too concentrated, invoking ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ as institutional bulwarks of restraint on ‘the tyranny of the mob’ or the predatory behavior of the tyrant. To the extent that such restraints are regularized the governmental form is more precisely identified if labeled asrepublican democracy.’ There is some concern that minorities with strong agendas can encroach on free speech by overreaching by suppressing dissident views of contested historical happenings, as with the Holocaust denial laws of several European countries and in relation to the effort by Armenian communities to make it a hate crime to question the description of the 1915 massacres in turkey as ‘genocide.’

 

Such restraints on the capricious exercise of power tend to be challenged, however, by technological legerdemain and excessive government classification procedures that seriously undermine political transparency and the constitutional constraints on war making by leaders if present, leaving weighty decisions in the hands of an unaccountable few. Without democratic accountability in such instances, democracies lose legitimacy, especially considering the risks and dangers of the nuclear age. Whistleblowers, although often subjected to a criminalizing backlash, are an indispensable resource of contemporary democracy.

 

It may be that only the elimination of nuclear weapons from the arsenals ofallcountries can restore a semblance of substantive reality to a procedural or republican understanding of democracy, and the primacy that could then be again accorded ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers.’ There is growing concern that what Bruce Franklin and Chas Freeman call ‘the forever war’ can be reconciled with the political freedom of the citizenry. Security concerns are now associated with the behavior of persons not necessarily associated with formal military or intel activities, putting the whole society perpetually under suspicion, a condition that provides pretexts for pervasive intrusions on privacy and technically feasible totalizing surveillance.

 

Liberal versions of democracy—especially in their republican form—almost always includes a guaranty of intra-governmental friction and judicial protection of civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression and the right of assembly, but not necessarily (and likely not at all) social and economic rights. In this sense, these seemingly unresolvable tensions between neoliberal versions of capitalism and political democracy are of paramount importance in many societies widely regarded as ‘democratic.’

 

Normative Democracy

To achieve an inclusive political order a substantive commitment to deal with basic social and economic rights is essential, although infrequently acknowledged. This raises questions about the potential compatibility of real democracy with contemporary forms of capitalism. The protection of social and economic rights are necessary so as to satisfy the material needs of all people under sovereign control, especially with respect to food, health, shelter, education, environmental protection, responsibility to future generations. Yet a market-driven ethos has not been effectively challenged in ideologically or behaviorally even by large-scale homelessness or extreme poverty so long as the gates of opportunity pretend to be available to all. This dimension of democratic governance is rarely analyzed, and is best considered by reference to values-driven, inclusive, andnormative democracy. A society should also be protected against war-prone leadership that defies transparency by relying on claims of secrecy and national security, and authorizes leaders to engage in reckless coercive diplomacy and even to make war on their own without the participation of other branches of government.

 

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

 

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

 

Majoritarian Democracy

It becomes increasingly evident that in some political systems free elections occur, demagogues participate—and sometimes prevail—and a majority of the citizenry is either submissive or supportive. In this kind of atmosphere toxic, win/lose polarizations develop, with extremist and paranoid rhetoric justifying suppression and demonization of undocumented immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers. Walls are proposed and built; borders are militarized; and exclusionary ideas of political community gain traction in the marketplace of ideas. One result is that the values, views, and security of vulnerable and oppositional populations are ignored or even condemned. Genuine news is dismissed as fake news, and vice versa, creating fact-free political leadership. This kind of political order can be termedmajoritarian democracy, and contains worrisome attitudes that are pre-fascist in character.It also generates a mirror-image opposition that demonizes the leadership, as in Turkey, in ways that grossly exaggerate wrongdoing, generating a vicious circle of denunciation and abuse.

 

This majoritarian form of democracy tends to rest its claims on passion and a perversion of Rousseau’s ‘general will’ rather than on reason and evidence, and is contemptuous of limits on the exercise of state power on behalf of the nation, especially if directed against foreign or domestic ‘enemies.’ As a result, the rule of law and, especially, respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations are weakened, while deference to the ruler increases in conjunction with claims of indefinite tenure atop the political pyramid, ratified by periodic votes of approval in which the opposition is ineffectual, being demoralized, split, suppressed, and disfavored by most of the mainstream media. Such leaders as Putin, Xi, Trump, Erdoğan, Sisi, Modi, and Abe manifest the trend, remaining popular while often treating ‘citizens’ as if they were ‘subjects’, thereby blurring the distinction between democracy and authoritarianism when it comes to state/society relations.

 

Aspirational Democracy

In opposition to these disturbing trends are more humanistic and spiritual concerns that focus attention on the protection of human rights, especially of those who are vulnerable and poor. The idea of ‘democracy to come’ as depicted by the deceased French philosopher Jacques Derrida, and recently developed further by Fred Dallmayr, is being taken more seriously by those dedicated to achieving genuine democratic forms of governance.

 

This idea centers on the belief that democracy in all its manifestations, even at its best, remains an unfinished project with unfulfilled normative potential. It represents a call to work toward an inclusive democracy based on the serious implementation of ‘the spirit of equality’ (Dallmayr), the goal of humane governance best articulated by Montesquieu. Such a political order goes beyond upholding the rule of law by seeking to promote justice within and beyond sovereign borders. Such a democratic political order would now subordinatenationalinterests tohumanandglobalinterests as necessary in relation to climate change, nuclear weaponry, migration, disease control, peace and security, and the regulation of the world economy. No democracy of this kind has so far existed, but as a goal and ideal this political vision of democratic fulfillment can be understood asaspirational democracy, and might take different forms depending on the societal context and civilizational orientation.

 

Concluding Comments

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

 

Because of globalization in its manifest forms, it is no longer tenable to confine the ambitions of democracy to national spaces. Global democracy has become, is becoming, a matter of ultimate concern. Issues raised concern transparency, accountability, participation, and responsiveness of global policy processes, and of course, how the global is to be linked to the regional and national so as to pursue the goal of global humane governance: equitable, stable, sustainable, peaceful, compassionate, and attentive to threats, challenges, and policy choices.

 

 

 

 

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).

 

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.