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THE PALESTINIAN HUNGER STRIKE: “Our chains will be broken before we are..”

16 May

 

 

On April 17th at least 1500 Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike of indefinite duration, responding to a call from Israel’s most famous Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti. It also happens to be that Barghouti is the most popular political leader, far more liked, trusted, and admired that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Barghouti is serving a series of lifetime terms for his alleged role in directing an operation during the Second Intifada in which five Israelis were killed.

 

Barghouti who has been in prison for fifteen years, gave his reasons for the strike as “torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence,” as well as a failure to abide by international legal standards pertaining to prison conditions during a military occupation. Even the normally timid International Committee of the Red Cross acknowledged prisoner demands by issuing a public statement asserting that the denial of family visits and moving Palestinian prisoners and detainees outside of the occupied territory to Israeli jails were violations of international treaty norms set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation.

 

Because Barghouti expressed his grievances in an article somewhat surprisingly published by the NY Times on April 16th. Surprising because the Times, an influential media outlet, has over the years been reliably deferential to the Israeli rationalizations for Israeli contested policies and behavior. It turns out that the newspaper was nervous about this departure from its normal operating mode. Barghouti’s piece only appeared in its international edition, and had a qualifying editorial note appended: “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.” [italics in the original]

 

In retaliation for daring to publish this opinion piece Barghouti was severely punished. He was immediately placed in solitary confinement, has not been allowed to change his clothes for the past month, and is inspected by prison guards four times a day.

 

The notorious Canadian ultra Zionist media watchdog, Honest Reporting, explains on its website that its goal is “defending Israel from media bias.” Honest Reporting expressed its outrage by condemning the NY Times for opening its pages to a convicted Palestinian ‘terrorist.’ It is Orwellinan to so describe Barghouti, a political leader courageously defending his people against an unlawful and oppressive occupation that is approaching its 50th anniversary, and is now best understood as a crime against humanity taking the form of apartheid victimizing the Palestinian people as a whole, and not just those living under occupation. If the Honest Reporting was indeed honest it would expose the pronounced media bias in the West shielding Israel from international accountability and obscuring the severity of Palestinian grievances under international law and morality.

 

The world media treatment of this massive Palestinian strike is typical, although nevertheless disappointing. It gives meager attention to the dramatic character of such a prison protest that has continued for over a month, stimulating many solidarity demonstrations throughout occupied Palestine, a sympathy 24-hour hunger strike by South Africans including the prominent Deputy President Cyril Rhamaposa, and widespread shows of support throughout the Palestinian diaspora. The reaction of the Palestinian Authority has been evasive, with Abbas giving a token show of public support for prisoner goals, while letting it be known privately that he hopes the strike will end as soon as possible.

 

The behavior of the Israeli Prison Service is an indirect confirmation of prisoner discontent. In a sadistic taunt, Israeli settlers were allowed to have a barbecue in the parking lot in front of one of the prisons, apparently mocking the hunger strikers with the pungent aroma of meat being grilled. Worse than this, a fake video was distributed by prison official purporting to show Barghouti having a snack in his cell. This effort to discredit the strike and its leader has been angrily denied. Khader Shkirat, Barghouti’s lawyer, explained that there was no way food could be smuggled to someone in solitary, especially with frequent room searches. It was finally conceded by prison officials that food was delivered to Barghouti’s cell by prison guards trying unsuccessfully to tempt him to break the fast. Barghouti on his side responded via his lawyer, “I plan to escalate my hunger strike soon. There is no backtracking. We will continue until the end.” Barghouti, 58, has according to the last report has lost 29 pounds since the start of the strike, and now weighs 119, planning to refuse even water.

 

Even if this dire commitment is not carried through to a potentially grim finality it will not tarnish the significance of what has been undertaken, and the great reluctance of the world to focus its attention on such a display of nonviolent martyrdom. This is not the first Palestinian prison strike motivated by abusive prison conditions and instances of administrative detention, arresting and jailing without any formal charges. But it appears to be the most consequential due to the participation of Marwan Barghouti along with so many other Palestinian prisoners as well as producing many displays of solidarity beyond the prison walls.

 

As Ramzy Baroud has pointed out in an Al Jazeera article published on May 10, 2017, the strike, although putting forth demands relating to prison conditions, is really a reflection of the underlying ordeal, what he refers to as “the very reality of Palestinian life”; it is above all “a call for unity against factionalism and Israeli occupation.” The distractions created by the Trump presidency, Brexit and the rise of the European right-wing, and turmoil in the Middle East have given Israel’s leadership the political space to push their expansionist agenda toward an imposed outcome of one Jewish state imposing its will on two distinct peoples. Such an endgame for this version of colonialist displacement and subjugation of the indigenous majority population will extend Palestinian suffering in the short-run, but will over time undermine Israeli security and stability, and bring the long Palestine nightmare to an end.

 

The British leadership finally appreciated their own interests, forging a political compromise in Northern Ireland in the form of the Good Friday Agreement, which while fragile and imperfect, has mostly spared Catholics and Protestants further bloodshed. Will the Israeli and U.S. leadership grow responsive to the moral and legal imperatives that call for a sustainable and just peace between these two peoples before the political imperative of such an essential outcome assume more menacing forms?

 

Against all expectations, the South African leadership did eventually become so responsive, but only after enough pressure was exerted internally and internationally. The South African leadership produced a new dawn by releasing its prime ‘terrorist’ inmate, Nelson Mandela, from prison, and the rest is history. Marwan Barghouti is clearly available to play such an historical role in relation to Israel. It will be a tragedy if Zionist ambitions and American led geopolitics preclude this from happening! The road to peace for Israel is the similar to the road to peace for apartheid South Africa: dismantle the apartheid regime that now dominates and discriminates against the Palestinian people on a systematic and totalizing basis. Such a projected future may seem a dream, but dreams can be made to come true through the dynamics of a struggle for justice. If so, we may look back on Barghouti’s hunger strike as the beginning of a winning Palestinian endgame.

 

It is important that we appreciate that a hunger strike is not only a pure form of nonviolence, but is also a self-inflicted sacrifice by those who seek to exhibit their opposition to the existing state of affairs in this manner, hoping to create conditions that produce change. It is an extreme type of resistance that in its essence is an appeal to the conscience and compassion of its opponents and public opinion generally. As Gandhi found out in racist South Africa, if that conscience and compassion are not sufficiently present within a given society such tactics are futile, and violent resistance becomes the only alternative to submission and despair. Israel has been repeatedly challenged by the Palestinians to do the right thing, but responds increasingly by treating all of its adversaries as ‘terrorists’ regardless of their behavior, while itself continuing to defy international law thereby denying the most fundamental rights to the Palestinian people and repeatedly relying on excessive force to safeguard its dominance.

The Nuclear Challenge 70 Years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki (7): Nuclear Civil Disobedience

4 Sep

 

In the years after World War II there was a widespread belief that rational minds would prevail, and that nuclear weapons would not be further developed, and their possession as well as their threat or use prohibited. The onset of the Cold War, the Soviet acquisition of the bomb, and the Eisenhower threat to use nuclear weapons if necessary to end the Korean War basically extinguished any real prospect of nuclear disarmament. Of course, the diplomacy of peace advocacy and of nuclear nonproliferation made it expedient to continue to affirm nuclear disarmament as a goal of foreign policy. And indeed up through the 1960s both Washington and Moscow tabled disarmament proposals with some fanfare, yet clearly lacked the political will to confront what had already become the powerful nuclear establishment that was a principal component of the military-industrial-complex that was so memorably depicted in Eisenhower’s still relevant Farewell Address.

 

It is against this background that it became increasingly clear that nuclear weapons would remain part of the geopolitical scene so long as their role was left to governments and normal statecraft. Before long all five permanent members of the UN Security Council opted for possession of nuclear weapons, which as a result seemed to connect great power status on a global level with entry into the nuclear club. Its expansion beyond this circle of World War II victors was more problematic as the further spread of the weaponry collided with the geopolitical priority of nonproliferation and with the oligopolistic mentality that was shared by the nuclear weapons states, and belied the central claim of the West that nuclear weapons were needed and effective in a deterrent posture, keeping the peace by discouraging attacks and provocative international initiatives. The strategic rationale for nuclear weaponry relied upon by the United States and Europe stressed the need to offset Soviet superiority in conventional weaponry and territorial access from their base in the Asian landmass.

 

Ever since the 1980s peace activists, especially those with deep religious convictions, have mounted civil society campaigns centered on the immorality of threatening or using nuclear weapons, and even on possessing and contemplating possible use. Those activists with the deepest convictions have repeatedly resorted to nonviolence civil disobedience, sometimes in provocative forms (spilling their own blood at nuclear facilities, damaging warheads, blocking trains carrying missiles), to communicate the depth of their opposition, and their own willingness to accept prison sentences to get their message better heard. I was deeply moved and influenced by the purity of several of the leading personalities who followed this line of thought and action, and participated in a supportive role by being an expert witness in several high profile legal cases. Among those I came to know through this contact, and particularly admired, were the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, Elizabeth McAlister, and James Douglass. They were and remain for me among the most charismatic and inspirational figures in my life experience, not only for their anti-nuclear clarity (accompanied by strong earlier stands against the Vietnam War and wider commitments of service to the poor), but for the ways they connected such strong spiritual identities with their daily life styles and citizen engagements that harmoniously fused religious values with deeply felt and reflected upon moral/political understanding of how to live in the world.

 

I was particularly drawn to the work and outlook of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Protest founded by James and Shelley Douglass in Bangor, Washington and reaching out to many in the greater Seattle area with their uncompromising and sustained opposition to nuclearism, with a focus on so-called first-strike weapons. There worldview combined their embrace of pre-Constantine Christianity, the early pacifist Christian communities that were persecuted and yet adhered to their beliefs and practices, and Gandhi whose life, work, and thought established the radical transformative potentiality of militant nonviolence. I was impressed during my years of contact with the people of Ground Zero by their deep belief that the point of confrontation is always conversion to truth and right action, and not passing judgment as to evil. By virtue of such efforts they managed to generate widespread sympathy with their work, eventually persuading the formerly apolitical Archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, to join them in nonviolent civil disobedience and gaining the respect and even the support of some local prosecutors.

 

An important element in their dedicated lives was the strong belief in living up to the Nuremberg ethos, including respect for the UN Charter and for international law generally. It was my role to show that their beliefs in what I called ‘the Nuremberg obligation’ created a civic, if not a legal, duty to oppose within reasonable bounds policies and behavior by a government if it directly violated international law, and the more so, if the context involved warmaking. I also gave my opinion that it was reasonable for individuals to believe that all activities associated with nuclear weapons involved or were leading to the commission of the most severe of war crimes, and that these persons being prosecuted did so believe.

 

From a somewhat more secular point of view, Daniel Ellsberg, followed in these footsteps, taking a journey that has led him from the pinnacles of state power in Washington as a top level strategic advisor to his brave and precedent-setting decision to release the Pentagon Papers that divulged the secrets wrongly withheld from the American public, a shocking documentary record of the policies and conduct of the U.S. Government in relation to the Vietnam War.

I have known Ellsberg since we were both students at Harvard in the 1950s, and were originally at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Dan was a starstudent of Cold War strategy within the reigning realist paradigm and I was an obscure and alienated critic, but we managed to keep some contact in subsequent years, and I was one of those who Dan entrusted with the cache of top secret documents that constituted the Pentagon Papers, and was later called to testify before the Boston Grand Jury (convened to investigate the criminality of the release) and later as an expert in the criminal trial that the government started and lost with respect to Ellsberg and the NY Times.

 

Ellsberg also has worked while at the Pentagon on nuclear war plans, the secret of secrets, irresponsibly sharable over the years with such reckless military adventurers as Curtis LeMay and Dick Cheney, and their less extremist colleagues. It is a wonder that with this kind of incubated knowledge of the most deadly reality the human species has ever confronted, that species endangering catastrophes have not yet darkened the horizon.

 

Ellsberg’s perseverance with respect to nuclear weaponry has become iconic. Besides, lucidly lecturing throughout the world he has committed civil disobedience about 100 times, engaged in long vigils and fasts devoted to dramatizing the failures of the UN and U.S. Government to achieve nuclear disarmament. Most recently, at an event on August 7th observing the 70th anniversary of the nuclear attacks, Ellsberg joined with 50 other protesters in a ‘die-in,’ outside of Lawrence Livermore Labs where nuclear warheads have for decades being continuously developed to attain ever higher levels of annihilating perfection. It is worth observing that the Livermore Labs are located in Livermore, California, which is in the Bay Area, and that the large budget for work on weapons, often more than $1 billion is federally funded by Department of Energy, and the operation is carried on as a partnership between the University of California and several large corporations, an alliance suggestive of the bondings between the government, universities, and the private sector. Ellsberg’s words at Livermore deserve contemplating and heeding as best we can however we are situated:

 

“The killing at Hiroshima was mass murder.… In the target plans that I worked on, and ones I worked on in Russia, the smoke will go into the stratosphere as it did in Hiroshima by higher firestorm. But simultaneously, thousands of cities, with pillars of smoke, will join around the globe blotting out the sunlight sufficiently to kill harvests around the world, and condemn nearly the entire population of the world to death. It’s the Doomsday Machine, The End. We’ve known that, not at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but for the last twenty-five years, and yet these threats go on; the threats go on. They are threats of ending nearly all life. It’s never a good day to die, but it is a good day to get arrested.”

 

It is a somber message, but an informed recognition of where we are as a nation, and what this portends for species vulnerability, but also what it means culturally when national security is unethically conflated with a latent threat to commit a massive genocide, even omnicide.

 

70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is lamentable that more than ever it is the voices in the wilderness that speak most clearly to those who are the global managers of security for the peoples of the world. We can be thankful for those who have put their bodies on the line in this unbroken tradition of anti-nuclear civil obedience. An aspect of the problem has followed from the fact that the media puts almost all of its weight on the side of the nuclear militarists, and refuses to give attention or space to those who for decades selflessly seek to awaken us from this lengthy, hazardous, and immoral ‘nuclear sleep.’

 

Nonviolent Geopolitics: Law, Politics, and 21st Century Security*

4 Apr

Nonviolent Geopolitics: Law, Politics, and 21st Century Security*           

 

 

In this short essay, my attempt will be to articulate a conception of a world order premised on nonviolent geopolitics, as well as to consider some obstacles to its realization. By focusing on the interplay of “law” and “geopolitics” the intention is to consider the role played both by normative traditions of law and morality and the “geopolitical” orientation that continue to guide dominant political actors on the global stage. Such an approach challenges the major premise of realism that security, leadership, stability, and influence in the 21st century continue to rest primarily on military power, or what is sometimes described as “hard power” capabilities.[1] From such a perspective international law plays a marginal role, useful for challenging the behavior of adversaries, but not to be relied upon in calculating the national interest of one’s own country. As such, the principal contribution of international law, aside from its utility in facilitating cooperation in situations where national interests converge, is to provide rhetoric that rationalizes controversial foreign policy initiatives undertaken by one’s own country and to demonize comparable behavior by an enemy state. This discursive role is not to be minimized, but neither should it be confused with exerting norms of restraint in a consistent and fair manner.

 

In this chapter my intention is to do three things:

 

  • to show the degree to which the victors in World War II crafted via the UN Charter essentially a world order, which if behaviorally implemented, would have marginalized war, and encoded by indirection a system of nonviolent geopolitics; in other words, the constitutional and institutional foundations already exist, but inert form;
  • to [criticize] [provide a critique of] the realist paradigm that never relinquished its hold over the imagination of dominant political elites, and an approach has not acknowledged the obsolescence and dangers associated with the war system;
  • and, finally, to consider some trends in international life that make it rational to work toward the embodiment of nonviolent geopolitics in practice and belief, as well as in the formalities of international law.

 

I. The UN Charter and a Legalistic Approach to Nonviolent Geopolitics

 

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, particularly in light of the horrendous atomic bombings of Japanese cities, even those of realist disposition were deeply worried by what it might portend for the future, and without much reflection agreed to a constitutional framing of world politics that contained most of the elements of nonviolent geopolitics. In one respect, this was a continuation of a trend that started after World War I with the establishment of the League of Nations, reflecting a half-hearted endorsement of the Woodrow Wilson sentiment that such a conflagration amounted to ‘a war to end all wars.’ Yet the European colonial governments humored Wilson, and continued to believe that the war system was viable and integral to maintaining Western hegemony, and the League of Nations proved to be irrelevant in avoiding the onset of World War II. But World War II was different because it offered the political leaders both a grim warning of what a future war among major states would likely entail and it seemed to be entrusting the future to a coalition of victorious powers that had cooperated against the menace posed by Fascism, and in the view of the American leader Franklin Roosevelt, could just as well cooperate to maintain the peace. Beyond this, the memories of the Great Depression and the realization that the punitive peace imposed on Germany in the Versailles Treaty had encouraged the rise of Hitler, gave the global leadership in the world at that time an incentive to facilitate cooperation in trade and investment, and to see the importance of restoring the economies of defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan so as to avoid the recurrence of another cataclysmic depression.

 

It was in this atmosphere that the UN Charter was agreed upon with its cardinal principles based on the following: (1) the unconditional prohibition of recourse to force in international relations except in self-defense against a prior armed attack, which meant the outlawry of war as an instrument of national policy; (2) the reinforcement of this prohibition with a collective commitment of the UN membership to support any state that was the target of non-defensive force, including acting forcibly under UN auspices to restore the territorial integrity and political independence of such a violated state; under no conditions was it to be legally acceptable for a state to acquire territory by recourse to force; (3) the further reinforcement of this attitude by the precedents set at Nuremberg and Tokyo that held leaders who engage in aggressive warfare criminally responsible on an individual basis, and by ‘the Nuremberg promise’ that made the pledge that in the future all political leaders would be subject to criminal accountability, and not those who lost wars (‘victors’ justice); (4) the commitment to respect the internal sovereignty of all states whether large or small, via the acceptance of an unconditional obligation to refrain from any interference in matters essentially within domestic jurisdiction.

 

Such a legal framework, if implemented, would have effectively eliminated international warfare and military intervention, preserved the statist structure of world order, and created a robust set of collective security mechanisms to inhibit aggression and defeat and punish any government and its leaders who engaged in aggressive warfare. It is important to realize that this legalistic vision of world order assumed that it was politically possible to establish such a warless world, and that rationality would prevail in the nuclear age to redefine the approach taken to security by ‘realists.’ It is also relevant to observe that the nonviolent geopolitics embedded in the UN Charter never involved an overall embrace of nonviolence as a precondition of political life. It was understood that within states violent insurgent politics and various forms of civil strife would occur, without violating international norms. By the Charter scheme internal wars were beyond the writ of the social contract made by states to renounce recourse to international violence. In this respect even an internal war, unless it spilled over boundaries to become a species of international warfare, was not to be addressed by the UN.

 

Even within this legalistic conception of nonviolent geopolitics there are significant difficulties. First of all, the conferral of a right of veto on the five permanent members of the Security Council, which meant that no decision adverse to the vital interests of the most dangerous political actors in the world could be reached, and that this de facto exemption from the commitment to nonviolent geopolitics greatly compromised the value of the legal framing, making the optimistic assumption of an enduring alliance for peace absolutely crucial to achieving the security claims being posited by the UN. Secondly, the acceptance of internal sovereignty as legally absolute meant that there would be no legal basis for effectively challenging the recurrence of genocide, or severe crimes against humanity and other catastrophic circumstances confronting a society caught in civil strife of the sort currently afflicting Syria.

 

Of course, these legal shortcomings seem almost irrelevant in view of the lack of political will to implement the Charter vision of nonviolent geopolitics. In retrospect, it seems clear that before the Charter had even been ratified governing elites in the United States and the Soviet Union reaffirmed their reliance on their military capabilities, political alliances, and deterrent doctrines to ground their security on the logic of countervailing hard power. Also, the anti-fascist alliance so effective in wartime, collapsed quickly in the absence of a common enemy, and the long Cold War ensued, which ensured that the collective security dimensions of the Charter vision would remain a dead letter, although this is not meant to imply that the UN was a failure overall. Actually, its positive contributions were associated with facilitating international cooperation whenever a political consensus was present and working at the normative margins of the prevailing hard power worldview.

 

These legal gaps could have been overcome if the worldview of the leading political actors truly embraced nonviolent geopolitics as more than a kind of vague aspirational framing of security that must never be allowed to interfere with the realist faith in deterrence and military strength once the initial shock of the dawning of the nuclear age subsided. There was a historical factor that worked against any serious effort to curtail this realist approach to security: the so-called ‘lesson of Munich’ to the effect that German aggression was encouraged by the appeasement policies of the European liberal democracies, which in turn reflected military weakness due to substantial disarmament after World War I. Such a view of the recent past translated into an almost irresistible argument supportive of a militarist approach to world order, which was reinforced by the ideological and geopolitical challenge attributed to the Soviet Union.

 

What this meant in relation to the position advocated here is that violent or war-prone geopolitics was fully restored, arguably universalized, and restrained only by a quality of enhanced prudence in relation to great power confrontations, as during the various Berlin crises and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Prudence had always been a cardinal political virtue of the classical realist approach, but was not elevated to a central role in balancing the pursuit of vital interests against the risks of catastrophic warfare. (Aron 1966 best articulates this realist approach).

 

II. The Political/Ethical Argument for Nonviolent Geopolitcs

 

The contrasting argument presented here is that political outcomes since the end of World War II have been primarily shaped by soft power ingenuity that has rather consistently overcome a condition of military inferiority to achieve its desired political outcomes. The United States completely controlled land, air, and sea throughout the Vietnam war, winning every battle, and yet eventually losing the war, killing as many as 5 million Vietnamese on the road to the failure of its military intervention. Ironically, the US government went on to engage the victorious Vietnam government, and currently enjoys a friendly and productive diplomatic and economic relationship. In this sense, the strategic difference between defeat and victory is almost unnoticeable, making the wartime casualties and devastation even more tragic, as being pointless from every perspective.

 

Nevertheless, US militarists refused to learn from the outcome, treating the impact of this defeat as a kind of geopolitical disease, the “Vietnam Syndrome,” rather than as a reflection of a historical trend supportive of the legitimate claims of self-determination despite the military vulnerability of such nationalist movements. The mainstream realists drew the wrong lesson, insisting that the outcome was an exception rather than the rule, a case of demoralizing the domestic support for the war, not a matter of losing to a stronger adversar.[2] In effect, overcoming the Vietnam Syndrome meant restoring confidence in hard power geopolitics and thereby neutralizing domestic opposition to war making. This militarist revived control over the shaping of American foreign policy was proclaimed as an achievement of the Gulf War in 1991, which revealingly prompted the American president at the time George H.W. Bush to utter these memorable words in the immediate aftermath of this military victory on desert battlefield of Kuwait: “We finally kicked the Vietnam Syndrome.” Meaning of course that the United States demonstrated it could wage and win wars at acceptable costs, not pausing to notice that such victories were obtained only where the terrain was suited for a purely military encounter or the capability and will of the enemy to resist was minimal or non-existent. It is not that hard power is obsolete, but rather that it is not able to shape the outcomes in the most characteristic conflicts of the period since 1945, namely, the political struggle to expel oppressive forces that represent a foreign imperial power or to resist military intervention. Hard power is still decisive in encounters with hard power, or in situations where the weaker side is defenseless, and the stronger side is prepared to carry its military dominance to genocidal extremes.

 

It is hardly surprising that the excessive and anachronistic reliance on hard power solutions in situations of conflict has led to a series of failures, both acknowledged (Iraq War) and unacknowledged (Afghanistan War; Libyan War). As long as the United States invests so much more heavily in military capabilities than any other state it is bound to respond to threats or pursue its interests along a hard power path, thereby refusing to reckon with clear historical trends favoring soft power dominance in conflict situations.

Israel also has adopted a similar approach, relying on its military superiority to destroy and kill, but not being able to control the political results of the wars it embarks upon (e.g. Lebanon War of 2006, Gaza Attacks of 2008-09). One other cost of hard power or violent geopolitics is to undermine respect for the rule of law in global politics and for the authority of the United Nations.

A second demonstration of the anachronistic reliance on a violence-based system of security was associated with the response to the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the dual symbols of the US imperium. A feature of this event was the exposure of the extreme vulnerability of the most militarily dominant state in the whole of human history to attack by a non-state actor without significant weaponry and lacking in major resources. In the aftermath it became clear that the enormous US investment in achieving “full spectrum dominance” had not brought enhanced security, but the most acute sense of insecurity in the history of the country. Once again the wrong lesson was drawn, namely, that the way to restore security was to wage war regardless of the distinctive nature of this new kind of threat, to make mindless use of the military machine abroad and the curtailment of liberties at home despite the absence of a territorial adversary or any plausible means/ends relationship between recourse to war and reduction of the threat.[3] The appropriate lesson, borne out by experience, is that such a security threat can best be addressed by a combination of transnational law enforcement and through addressing the legitimate grievances of the political extremists who launched the attacks. The Spanish response to the Madrid attacks of March 11, 2004 seemed sensitive to these new realities: withdrawal from involvement in the Iraq war while enhancing police efforts to identify and arrest violent extremists, and joining in the dialogic attempts to lessen tension between Islam and the West.[4] In another setting, the former British prime minister, John Major, observed that he only began to make progress in ending the violence in Northern Ireland when he stopped thinking of the IRA as a terrorist organisation and began treating it a political actor with real grievances and its own motivations in reaching accommodation and peace.

 

The right lesson is to recognise the extremely limited utility of military power in conflict situations within the postcolonial world, grasping the extent to which popular struggle has exerted historical agency during the last 60 years. It has shaped numerous outcomes of conflicts that could not be understood if assessed only through a hard power lens that interprets history as almost always determined by wars being won by the stronger military side that then gets to shape the peace.[5] Every anti-colonial war in the latter half of the 20th century was won by the militarily weaker side, which prevailed in the end despite suffering disproportionate losses along its way to victory. It won because the people were mobilised on behalf of independence against foreign colonial forces, and their resistance included gaining complete control of the high moral ground. It won because of the political truth embodied in the Afghan saying: “You have the watches, we have the time.” Gaining the high moral ground both delegitimised colonial rule and legitimised anti-colonial struggle; in the end even the state-centric and initially empire-friendly UN was induced to endorse anticolonial struggles by reference to the right of self-determination, which was proclaimed to be an inalienable right of all peoples.

 

This ascendancy of soft power capabilities in political struggles was not always the case. Throughout the colonial era, and until the mid-20th century, hard power was generally effective and efficient, as expressed by the colonial conquests of the Western hemisphere with small numbers of well-armed troops, British control of India with a few thousand soldiers or the success of “gunboat diplomacy” in supporting US economic imperialism in Central America and the Caribbean. What turned the historical tide against militarism was the rise of national and cultural self-consciousness in the countries of the South, most dramatically in India under the inspired leadership of Gandhi, where coercive nonviolent forms of soft power first revealed their potency. More recently, abetted by the communications revolution, resistance to oppressive regimes based on human rights has demonstrated the limits of hard power governance in a globalised world. The anti-apartheid campaign extended the struggle against the racist regime that governed South Africa to a symbolic global battlefield where the weapons were coercive nonviolent reliance on boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. The collapse of apartheid in South Africa was largely achieved by developments outside of the sovereign territory, a pattern that is now being repeated in the Palestinian “legitimacy war” being waged against Israel. The outcome is not assured, and it is possible for the legitimacy war to be won, and yet the oppressive conditions sustained, as seems to be currently the case with respect to Tibet.

 

Against this background, it is notable, and even bewildering, that geopolitics continues to be driven by a realist consensus that ahistorically believes that history continues to be determined by the grand strategy of hard power dominant state actors.[6] In effect, realists have lost touch with reality. It seems correct to acknowledge that there remains a rational role for hard power, as a defensive hedge against residual statist militarism, but even here the economic and political gains of demilitarisation would seem to far outweigh the benefits of an anachronistic dependence on hard power forms of self-defence, especially those that risk wars fought with weaponry of mass destruction. With respect to non-state political violence, hard power capabilities are of little or no relevance, and security can be best achieved by accommodation, intelligence and transnational law enforcement. The US recourse to war in addressing the Al Qaeda threat, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has proved to be costly, and misdirected. [7] Just as the US defeat in Vietnam reproduced the French defeats in their colonial wars waged in Indochina and Algeria, the cycle of failure is being renewed in the post-9/11 global setting. Why do such lessons bearing on the changing balance between hard and soft power remain unlearned in the imperial centre of geopolitical manoeuvre?

 

It is of great importance to pose this question even if no definitive answer can be forthcoming at this time. There are some suggestive leads that relate to both material and ideological explanations. On the materialist side, there are deeply embedded governmental and societal structures whose identity and narrow self-interests are bound up with a maximal reliance upon and projection of hard power. These structures have been identified in various ways in the US setting: “national security state”, “military-industrial complex”, “military Keynesianism”, and “the war system”. It was Dwight Eisenhower who more than 50 years ago warned of the military-industrial complex in his farewell speech, notably making the observation after he no longer was able to exert influence on governmental policy.[8] In 2010 there seems to be a more deeply rooted structure of support for militarism that extends to the mainstream media, conservative think tanks, an army of highly paid lobbyists, and a deeply compromised Congress whose majority of members have substituted money for conscience. This politically entrenched paradigm linking realism and militarism makes it virtually impossible to challenge a military budget even at a time of fiscal deficits that are acknowledged by conservative observers to endanger the viability of the US empire (Ferguson 2010). The scale of the military budget, combined with navies in every ocean, more than 700 foreign military bases, and a huge investment in the militarisation of space exhibit the self-fulfilling inability to acknowledge the dysfunctionality of such a global posture.[9] The US spends almost as much as the entire world put together on its military machine, and more than double what the next 10 leading states spend. And for what benefit to either the national or global interest?

 

The most that can be expected by way of adjustment of the realist consensus under these conditions is a certain softening of the hard power emphasis. In this respect, one notes that several influential adherents of the realist consensus have recently called attention to the rising importance of non-military elements of power in the rational pursuit of a grand strategy that continues to frame geopolitics by reference to presumed hard power “realities”, but are at the same time critical of arch militarism attributed to neoconservatives (see Nye 1990; Gelb 2009; Walt 2005).[10] This same tone pervades the speech of Barack Obama at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. This realist refusal to comprehend a largely post-militarist global setting is exceedingly dangerous given the continuing hold of realism on the shaping of policy by governmental and market/finance forces.[11] Such an outmoded realism not only engages in imprudent military undertakings; it tends also to overlook a range of deeper issues bearing on security, survival and human wellbeing, including climate change, peak oil, water scarcities, fiscal fragility and market freefall. As such, this kind of policy orientation is incapable of formulating the priorities associated with sustainable and benevolent forms of global governance.

 

In addition, to the structural rigidity that results from the entrenched militarist paradigm, there arises a systemic learning disability that is incapable of analysing the main causes of past failures. As a practical matter, this leads policy options to be too often shaped by unimaginative thinking trapped within a militarist box. In recent international policy experience, thinking mainly confined to the military box has led the Obama administration to escalate US involvement in an internal struggle for the future of Afghanistan and to leave the so-called military option on the table for dealing with the prospect of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. An attractive alternative policy approach in Afghanistan would be based on the recognition that the Taliban is a movement seeking nationalist objectives amid raging ethnic conflict. As a result it would tend towards a conclusion that the US security interests would benefit from an end of combat operations, followed by the phased withdrawal of NATO forces, a major increase in developmental assistance that avoids channelling funds through a corrupted Kabul government, and a genuine shift in US foreign policy towards respect for the politics of self-determination. Similarly, in relation to Iran, instead of threatening a military strike and advocating punitive measures, a call for regional denuclearisation, which insisted on the inclusion of Israel, would be expressive of both thinking outside the militarist box, and the existence of more hopeful non-military responses to admittedly genuine security concerns.

 

III. Concluding Observations: Opportunities, Challenges, Tendencies

 

In conclusion, some form of geopolitics is almost bound to occur, given the gross inequality of states and the weakness of the United Nations as the institutional expression of unified governance for the planet. Especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union the primacy of the United States has resulted inevitably in its geopolitical ascendancy. Unfortunately, this position has been premised upon an unreconstructed confidence in the hard power paradigm, which combines militarism and realism, producing violent geopolitics in relation to critical unresolved conflicts. The experience of the past 60 years shows clearly that this paradigm is untenable from both pragmatic and principled perspectives. It fails to achieve its goals at acceptable costs, if at all. It relies on immoral practices that involve massive killing of innocent persons and colossal waste of resources.

 

Perhaps the leading test of the thesis of this essay is the ongoing struggle for self-determination of the Palestinian people, whether in the form of a single secular state encompassing the whole of historic Palestine or an independent and viable state of their own existing alongside the Israeli state. As matters now stand, after decades of occupation, the Palestinian struggle is relying mainly on a legitimacy war relying on an array of soft power instruments, including diplomacy and lawfare, a non-violent coercive boycott and divestment campaign, and a variety of civil society initiatives challenging Israeli policies. Uncertainty exists as to the future outcome. The whole soft power orientation has taken a giant leap forward as a result of ‘the Arab spring’ in which unarmed popular movements challenged dictatorial and oppressive regimes with some notable successes, especially Egypt and Tunisia, but elsewhere at least achieving promises of extensive reforms. Increasingly, I think the potentialities of constructing a world order on the basis of soft power principles is gaining support, moving the idea of nonviolent geopolitics from the domain of utopianism to become a genuine political project. Of course, there is resistance, most especially from the hard power holdouts led by the United States and Israel.

 

Those political forces relying on the alternative of nonviolent practices and principles, in contrast, have shown the capacity to achieve political goals and a willingness to pursue their goals by ethical means, sometimes at great personal risk. The Gandhi movement resulting in Indian independence, the Mandela-led transformation of apartheid South Africa, people power in the Philippines and the soft revolutions of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s are exemplary instances of domestic transformations based on nonviolent struggle that entailed dangers for militants and resulted in some high profile bloody sacrifices. None of these soft power victories has produced entirely just societies or addressed the entire agenda of social and political concerns, often leaving untouched exploitative class relations and bitter societal tensions, but they have managed to overcome immediate situations of oppressive state/society relations without significant reliance on violence.

 

Turning to the global setting, there exist analogous opportunities for the application of nonviolent geopolitics. There is a widespread recognition that war between large states is not a rational option as it is almost certain to involve huge costs in blood and treasure, and reach mutual destructive results rather as in former times of a clear winner and loser. The opportunities for a nonviolent geopolitics are also grounded in the willingness of government to accept of the increasingly practical self-constraining discipline of international law as reinforced by widely endorsed moral principles embodied in the great religions and world civilizations. A further step in this direction would be a repudiation by the nine nuclear weapons states of weaponry of mass destruction, starting with an announced declaration of no first use of nuclear weaponry, and moving on to an immediate and urgent negotiation of a nuclear disarmament treaty that posits as a non-utopian goal “a world without nuclear weapons” (Krieger 2009). The essential second step is liberating the moral and political imagination from the confines of militarism, and consequent thinking within that dysfunctional box that still remains a staple component of the realist mindset among the leading countries in the West, especially the United States. This psycho-political challenge to move away from reliance on war making capabilities as the cornerstone of security is made more difficult by the bureaucratic and private sector entrenched interests in a militarist framing of security policy.

 

 

References

 

David Ray Griffin and others, American Empire and the Commonwealth of God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

 

Jorgen Johansen & John Y. Jones, eds,, Experiments with Peace (Cape Town, South Africa: Pambazuka Press, 2010).

 

Raymond Aron, Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (Garden City, NY: Doublday, 1966).

 

 

Johan Galtung, The True Worlds: A Transnational Perspective (New York: Free Press, 1980).

 

Johan Galtung, “Searching for peace in a world of terrorism and state terrorism,” in Shin Chiba and Thomas J. Schoenbaum, eds., Peace Movements and Pacifism after September 11 (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2008) 32-48.

 

 

Richard Rosecrance, The Rise of the Virtual State: Wealth and power in the coming century (New York: Basic, 2002).

 

David Cole and Julius Lobel, eds., Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New York: New Press, 2007)

 

Richard Falk, The Great Terror War (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2003).

 

 

Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (New York: Henry Holt, 2003).

 

Richard J. Barnet, The Roots of War (New York,: Atheneum, 1972)

 

Leonard C. Lewin (for Special Study Group), Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace (London: Macdonald, 1968).

 

Niall Ferguson, “The Fragile Empire- Here today, gone tomorrow—could the United States fall fast?” LA Times, Feb. 28, 2010.

 

Chalmers Johnson. The Sorrows of Empire: militarism, secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan, 2004).

 

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 1990

 

Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004)

 

Leslie H. Gelb, Power Rules: How common sense can rescue American foreign policy (New York: Harper-Collins, 2009)

 

Stephen M. Walt, Taming American Power: The global response to American power (New York: Norton, 2005).

 

Gabriel Kolko, The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006).

 

 

Ken Booth, Theory of World Security (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

 

Joe Camilleri and Jim Falk, Worlds in Transition: Evolving Governance Across a Stressed Planet (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2009)

 

James H. Mittelman, Hyperconflict: Globalization and Insecurity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010).

 

David Krieger, ed., The Challenge of Abolishing Nuclear Weapons (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2009).

 

 

 

* Some of the ideas in sections II and III of the article have been earlier developed in “Renouncing Wars of Choice: Toward a Geopolitics of Nonviolence” in Griffin and others, 2006, 69-85 and “Nonviolent Geopolitics,” Johansen & Jones, eds., 2010, 33-40.

[1] A mainstream exception is Rosecrance 2002.

[2] Significantly, every US leader after Nixon did his best to eliminate the Vietnam syndrome, which was perceived by the Pentagon as an unwanted inhibitor of the use of aggressive force in world politics. After the end of the Gulf war in 2001, the first words of President George H. W. Bush were “We have finally kicked the Vietnam syndrome,” meaning, of course, that the United States was again able to fight ‘wars of choice’.

[3] Well depicted in Cole and Lobel 2007; see also my own attempt, Falk 2003.

[4] This comparison is analysed in a similar manner by Galtung 2008.

[5] Significantly documented in Schell 2003.

[6] It is notable that the changes in the global geopolitical landscape associated with the rise of China, India, Brazil and Russia are largely to do with their economic rise, and not at all with their military capabilities, which remain trivial compared to those of the United States.

[7] As interventionary struggles go on year after year with inconclusive results, but mounting costs in lives and resources, the intervening sides contradicts their own war rationale, searching for compromises, and even inviting the participation of the enemy

in the governing process. This has been attempted in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but

only after inflicting huge damage, and enduring major loss of life among their own troops and incurring great expense.

[8] Among the valuable studies are Barnet 1972 and Lewin 1968.

[9] Most convincingly demonstrated in a series of books by Chalmers Johnson. See especially the first of his three books on the theme (2004).

[10] For a progressive critique of American imperial militarism see Kolko 2006.

[11] Several leading scholars have long been sensitive to the disconnect that separates even relatively prudent realists from reality. For a still relevant major work see Galtung 1980. For other recent perceptive studies along these lines see Booth 2007, especially the section on ‘emancipatory realism’, pp. 87-91; Camilleri and Falk 2009; Mittelman 2010.