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Contesting Nuclearism: Management or Transformation? An Urgent Challenge

22 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The essay below, longer than most of my posts, started off as a tribute to my friend David Krieger, serving as a chapter in a forthcoming book honoring his dedication to the abolition of nuclear weaponry by way of a treaty regime being prepared under the editorship of Rick Wayman, now President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Krieger’s successor. In the modified form published below the essay calls attention to the generally unappreciated tensions between managing nuclear weapons and eliminating them altogether. It stresses the crucial point that management inevitably produces a structure of ‘nuclear apartheid’ that is to some extent ‘legalized’ by way of the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1961, and depends for implementation, not on law, but on geopolitical muscle, including war. This geopolitical pattern of NPT enforcement has been mainly undertaken by the United States, but is generally supported by most of the other nuclear weapons states. I write in opposition to such a management arrangement for moral, legal, political, and prudential reasons, and believe that total nuclear disarmament is attainable and would be beneficially transformative if achieved.]

 

 Contesting Nuclearism: Management or Transformation?

 I feel privileged to have shared with David Krieger an unwavering anti-nuclear commitment, mainly under the auspices of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation of which he served for so long as the founding President. We worked collaboratively on several books that sought to balance abiding nuclear fears against our equally persisting hopes for a denuclearizing world order. [At The Nuclear Precipice: Catastrophe or Transformation, ed. with David Krieger, 2007; Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers, written with David Krieger, 2012] Although we share a big picture consensus with respect to the nuclear policy agenda, we have some conceptual and tactical differences, which  gave rise to creative tension more than to arguments and disagreements.

 

In such a complex and uncertain world, it may help to think like a Hindu, and accept contradiction as more in keeping with social and political reality than is finding a right answer to complex policy puzzles. What is almost impossible for those trained within Western frames of reference is to grasp that there are diverse perspectives of understanding that may result in seemingly contradictory recommendations despite shared values and goals. Civilizational perspectives and personal experience inevitably color what we feel, think, and do, and so being likeminded when it comes abolishing nuclear weapons is often coupled with somewhat divergent views on what to advocate when it comes to tactics and priorities.

 

In this spirit, this essay tries to depict a set of reasons why the goal of nuclear disarmament will never be reached so long as arms control and nonproliferation of nuclear weaponry are seen as the pillars of global stability in the nuclear age. [For a comprehensive presentation of my approach see Falk, ed. By Stefan. Andersson & Curt Dahlgren, On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament, 2019. By this focus on points of differing policy emphasis and tactical disagreement I do not want to neglect the significance of the similarities that seem more organic and foundational. As I understand these similarities, some main tenets can be identified: the desirability of a world without any nuclear weapons to be pursued by way of an intergovernmental treaty negotiated among the existing nuclear weapons states that achieves nuclear zero by stages of successful implementation, a process formally endorsed by  non-nuclear states; such a treaty would unconditionally prohibit possession and further development of the weaponry, reinforce existing prohibitions on threat or use of nuclear weapons, and reduce existing nuclear arsenals by a phased, monitored, and. verified procedures with levels of confidence and ample mechanisms for complaint and dispute-settlement; there are many confidence-building steps that could be taken along the way, either unilaterally or by agreement with other nuclear weapons states, including de-alerting of existing weapons, redefining strategic deterrence doctrine in minimalist and purely defensive terms, and adapting doctrine and deployments in accord with a formally declared adoption of a No First Use Policy, supporting the UN Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) [The 2017 treaty enters into force 90 days after the formal receipt of 50 ratifications by signatory states; as of 25 November 2019, 34 states have deposited notifications of ratification with the UN]

 

Another area of convergence is with respect to the status of nuclear weapons from the perspective of international law. Most advocates of total disarmament, even if arms control friendly, agree that nuclear weaponry is intrinsically unlawful under existing international law, that is, without the desirable reinforcement provided by the TPNW, and that any threat or use of a nuclear weapon would be an international crime for which accountability should attach. Such a consensus affirms the classic dissenting opinion of Judge Christopher Weeramantry in the Advisory Opinion of addressing the legality of nuclear weapons in the International Court of Justice. [See “The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Advisory Opinion, International Court of Justice (1996); see also Shimoda case decided in 1963 by the Tokyo District Court as interpreted, Falk, “The Shimoda Case,” American Journal of International Law, Vol. 51, 759-793]

 

There is also widespread agreement that maintaining confidence in such a denuclearizing world would require the parallel phasing out of nuclear energy capabilities. Nuclear power facilities as themselves too dangerous to be tolerable, despite those that claim their necessity for realistic project to reduce carbon emissions in accord with the scientific consensus. Events such as the accident at Chernobyl or the tsunami that caused the disruption of the Fukushima facilities are illustrative of the dangers arising from accidents and extreme natural events. Nuclear power plants provide targets for political extremists and disposal of nuclear waste pose major health threats. As well, sophisticated nuclear technology is susceptible to dual use, would feed suspicions that could easily cause disenchantment with nuclear disarmament, and give rise to international tensions, even war-threatening crises. The allegations and conflict potential associated with Iran’s nuclear program is indicative of the problems that would face a world monitoring and verifying disarmament commitments where a breakout from an agreement would likely cause dangerous reactions in an atmosphere of geopolitical panic.

 

 (1) The Incompatibility of Arms Control and Disarmament

 Perhaps, my biggest divergence with Krieger arises with respect to addressing the relevance of arms control in relation to our shared goals of denuclearization and a commitment to achieved total nuclear disarmament. I have long advocated drawing a sharp distinction between arms control as managerial and geopolitical in its nature and disarmament as transformative and juridical in character. By managerial I mean that the primary purpose of a given measure is to reduce risks posed by and costs associated with the nuclear status quo. Typical arms control proposals involve de-alerting weapons systems, agreeing to forego certain modernizing technologies, avoiding provocative doctrines and deployments, and reducing numbers of warheads and missile launchers.

 

By geopolitical I reference the fact that the intended and actual effect of most managerial initiatives is to stabilize the nuclear status quo, including not challenging the possession, control, and legitimacy of the weaponry as currently exercised by the main nuclear weapons states. An arms control approach also helps explain the priorities accorded to nonproliferation and counter-proliferation policies as in the dealing by the nuclear weapons states alleged to be a supposed nuclear aspirant as Iran or such a pariah state as North Korea. Indeed, in mainstream media and political discourse the challenge of nuclear weaponry is reduced to strengthening, stabilizing, and enforcing the nonproliferation regime, and nuclear disarmament is clearly struck from the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states.

 

My view is that the endorsement of arms control approaches subtly and indirectly substitutes management for transformation, and leaves the world facing unacceptable risks of intended and unintended uses of nuclear weapons for the indefinite future, as well as ‘the nuclear apartheid’ structure of allowing possession, development, and deployment by the nuclear weapons states and prohibiting it for all others. Beyond this, it overlooks the cultural and collective legal/ethical/spiritual (normative) costs associated with deterrence strategies that regard retaliatory uses of nuclear weapons as a legal and ethical security policy despite their indiscriminate, toxic, genocidal, catastrophic, and possibly omnicidal characteristics. [E.P. Thompson, “Notes on Exterminism: The Last Stage of Civilization,” New Left Review, May/June, 1980.]

 

Geopolitical factors are not generally considered in discussions of these issues, but given my world order interests I regard geopolitics as subverting the major premise of state-centric world order, namely, the equality of sovereign states.[UN Charter, Article 2(1): “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all of its members.”] Of course, this formulation in the UN Charter is mendacious language that cannot be reconciled with the P-5 permanent membership and right of veto in the Security Council. A prime ingredient of national sovereignty is the unconditional authority of states to determine their own security policy when it comes to self-defense, especially in response to threats. The irony of the managerial approach is that the two states with the most plausible security justifications for recourse to nuclear deterrence, Iran and North Korea, are the only states under pressure to forego or renounce all intentions of acquiring such weaponry. Even worse, this policy of denial is not a decision of the world community at the UN. It is a self-serving policy articulated by the nuclear weapons states, especially the United States, the UK, and France, geopolitical players that have assumed the role of nuclear gatekeepers while keeping their own nuclear options discretionary and secret. Instead of juridical equality, nuclear weapons policy is geopolitically hierarchical.

 

I acknowledge that drawing this sharp line between arms control and disarmament has some drawbacks. Perhaps, the most important of these is to make the goals of anti-nuclear activism seem unattainable and utopian because of the weak political will present to challenge the nuclear status quo, a political reality that has persisted since 1945 without any further weapons use. It can be argued in favor of arms control, that its measures are inherently valuable, and raise the anti-nuclear morale by demonstrating that concrete steps can be taken to reduce overall risks and costs of nuclearism, that something positive is happening in response to these concerns. Further, that when and if a more peace-oriented political atmosphere emerges, it would be a simple matter to advocate total nuclear disarmament, and on this basis strengthen the political will to encourage political leaders that the time has come to pursue transformative initiatives. In effect, as matters now stand, arms control seems better than nothing, and in this period, it is prudent to get what is possible, while maintaining the expectation that at some time under conditions impossible to anticipate, nuclear disarmament would rise to the top of the political agenda.

 

 I entertain these expectations to a certain extent. I continue to hope that a transformative agenda will at some point (other than a post-catastrophe context) be supported by an insistent public opinion and by responsive political leaders. In the 1990s I had the hope that at the end of the Cold War, especially as coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there would be an irresistible surge of support for seeking nuclear disarmament. After all, political events had undermined the main deterrence rationale for retaining and developing the weaponry, and there seemed no reason to retain such potentially catastrophic weaponry. I thought both leaders and citizens would seize the opportunity to work toward a nuclear-free world.  Sadly, it didn’t happen, and was not even seriously considered. There was no push from below, and no interest from above. We should all be asking ourselves why such a mood of nuclear complacency prevailed when there seemed so much to gain by working toward an attainable and historic agreement to rid future generations of the fear that somewhere, somehow this infernal weaponry would again wreak havoc. One part of an explanation is that the nuclear dimension of the militarized bureaucracy in the United States, and elsewhere, is sufficiently influential to inhibit any concerted political moves to rid the world of nuclear weaponry.

 

Resuming my effort to show that although my views of this arm control/ disarmament interface have significant differences from what Krieger has emphasized both in the outlook of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and through his own work, our differences should be understood as the adversary of complementary approaches. I want to stress my perception that the driving force behind arms control is to enhance the stability of the nuclear environment and save money. In my view, foregoing certain nuclear innovations and deployments makes nuclear disarmament seem less necessary rather than more attainable. In this regard, arms control falls within the domain of political liberalism, which is itself under attack from neoconservative militarists who regard any international arrangements designed to reduce the risks associated with nuclear weaponry as a snare and delusion, and definitely not in the national security interest of the United States, and maybe some other nuclear weapons states.

 

Such a mainstream debate on the pros and cons of arms control needs to be understood as most essentially about the managerial form. The geopolitical hawks are arguing in favor of national management of nuclearism with due regard for the pursuit of strategic national interests. Most liberals favor negotiated international management arrangements that limit geopolitical options, including the avoidance of nuclear arms races. Arms control liberals also seek to minimize costs and risks of the nuclear status quo, giving a strong priority to keeping the nonproliferation regime alive and well. The most idealistic arms controllers feel that success with partial measures would build confidence of governments needed to take more ambitious denuclearizing steps in the future.

 

As suggested, our divergence of views can be viewed as complementary rather than posing an either/or choice.[Falk/Krieger, Path to Zero; Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers(2016).] I regard it as useful to understand that arms control generally tends to work, at least for the foreseeable future, against rather than in support of nuclear disarmament. I understand Krieger to be suggesting that while abolition is the primary goal, during the foreseeable it is desirable to do whatever becomes politically feasible by way of reducing risks and costs associated with the existing nuclear arms environment. This outlook may help explain why Krieger is reluctant to make the point that while a given arms control measure may be a constructive contribution in some respects, it has the unacknowledged effect of moving the world further from nuclear disarmament rather than closer to it.

 

 In both our positions there is room for convergence. Krieger’s position does not oblige him to regard every arms control measure under consideration as beneficial, nor am I committed to rejecting automatically every arms control measure that comes along. For instance, I would guess that we would both favor a declaratory No First Use policy either unilaterally undertaken or adopted by agreement among nuclear weapons states. Contrariwise, we would likely both oppose an international agreement that permitted the development of defense systems that would have the likely effect of making First Strike Options more attractive while claiming to make a rogue surprise attack less likely.  

 

I do feel strongly that we who seek permanent nuclear peace need to understand that the denuclearizing struggle must confront the bipartisan national consensus on these issues in the United States, which has survived without controversy despite the end of the Cold War. The consensus holds that the existing nuclear weapons regime needs to be managed, but never disassembled. The consensus is split as to who should do the managing, and what should be the role of geopolitics in the overall scheme. It regressively excludes from political imagination any endorsement of nuclear disarmament as a matter of principle. The Statement of US, UK, and France expressing their reasons of these governments for rejection of TPNW makes this clear. The main contention of this Statement is that even after the Cold War nuclear weapons enhance national security rather than erode it. By such reasoning, all sovereign states should have a legal entitlement to acquire the weaponry, and hence it becomes reckless for a government not to become a nuclear weapons state, exercising their right of withdrawal from the NPT.

 

(2) The Normative Ambiguity of Non-Proliferation and Counter Proliferation Policies

 

As earlier indicated, the geopolitical essence of the managerial approach is shaped by the nuclear governmental oligarchs rather than by the world community as problematically represented by the UN. In other settings. I have argued that the weakness of community at the global level makes it unrealistic to expect the UN to be effective or even influential whenever a policy issue collides with geopolitical interests. This difficulty was compounded by vesting veto power in the governments of the first five states to acquire nuclear weapons. In other words when it comes to matters of peace and security geopolitics has been written into the constitutional fabric of the UN System with juridical considerations based on sovereign equality put aside at least so far as the Security Council is concerned.

 

To achieve a world order bargain, a deal of sort was struck, and incorporated into the text of the NPT. Non-nuclear states would receive the technology needed for what was put forward as a good faith pledge would be written into the treaty obliging the governments of the nuclear weapons states to seek nuclear disarmament through international negotiations, and even more ambitiously, general and complete disarmament.[See Articles IV, VII NPT] This tradeoff was flawed in conception and execution. It was flawed because it was based on vague and unmonitored commitments that were almost impossible to interpret, much less implement. It was flawed in practice by discrimination among states, by facilitating covert acquisition of nuclear weapons by Israel, while waging an aggressive war in Iraq that was partly justified on counter proliferation grounds and subsequently relying on irresponsible coercive diplomacy to threaten Iran and North Korea with potentially grave repercussions.

 

The fundamental flaw of the approach taken in the NPT became increasingly evident over time. It became clear that the nuclear weapons states without exception were not interested in pursuing nuclear disarmament as policy objectives. Occasionally, politicians would put forward their belief in nuclear disarmament. But it was at best an empty wish that lacked political traction, and at worst was a public relations stunt used to gain a propaganda or partisan advantage.

 

 

 

(3) Should the NPT be repudiated in view of the flagrant breach of Article VI by the nuclear weapons states?

 

The issue of nonproliferation is central to my understanding of the challenge of nuclearism.[See Robert J. Lifton & Richard Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Legal and Political Case Against Nuclearism (1982)] It is central because the establishment of a nonproliferation regime is what has linked geopolitical interests to the retention of nuclear weapons by a small number of countries, above all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It sets these five states apart even in relation to the other four nuclear weapons states for whom the weaponry is more closely connected with a more specific search for security, status, and regional influence (Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea). I believe it is important to expose these unacceptable geopolitical links between nuclear weaponry, nonproliferation, and world peace and security. Liberal anti-nuclearists are either take no notice of these geopolitical dimensions of nuclear policy, and tend to support the  nonproliferation regime based on their assumption that the world becomes that much more dangerous as each new political actor acquires nuclear weapons. To take note of the problem is a far cry from finding a solution.

 

As with arms control, the policy issue raised by nonproliferation is complicated, defies any dogmatic view, and cannot be resolved by rational analysis or even by recourse to moral and legal considerations. I share the view that any sane person would like to live in a world with as few governments having access to nuclear weapons as possible. Seen in isolation, this is a desirable goal. But just how desirable is nonproliferation policy if other considerations are taken into consideration? Among these considerations is the realization that incentives to seek nuclear disarmament are greatly diminished if the nuclear club can be kept small as it allows the nuclear weapons states to retain their security options and geopolitical status associated with the possession of the weaponry, as well as to threaten other states with annihilation without fearing retaliation.

 

Another important consideration is the distinction between the nonproliferation treaty instrument (NPT) and the implementation of the treaty by way of the establishment of a nonproliferation regime (NPR) devised by and under the control of the United States, and not the UN. Note that the NPT purports, at least, to be based on the formal equality of states, and supposedly relied on a logic of reciprocity with respect to obligations. The nonproliferation regime, in contrast, proceeds from assumptions of inequality, claiming for nuclear weapons states a responsibility for preventing or even reversing proliferation, while imposing no denuclearizing responsibilities on any nuclear weapons state except possibly North Korea. In this sense, due to geopolitics, nonproliferation rather than denuclearization becomes the operative manner of partially integrating or normalizing the weaponry with respect to world order. This means that geopolitics is given precedence over international law and global justice, and few seem to notice, and even fewer appear to care.  By treating nonproliferation as independent from the broader issues of peace and justice, the nuclear policy question is reduced to whether if country X acquires the bomb will the world or region be safer or more dangerous. This kind of reasoning has provided the justification for insisting that Iran demonstrate to the world that it does not possess nuclear weapons, and is not seeking to produce despite its technological capacity and infrastructure that confers the potentiality. Geopolitical prerogatives authorize the nuclear weapons states to overlook the unlawfulness of threats to the security of these potential proliferators that seem to explain their temptations to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

 

There are further concerns about burying these issues beneath the banner of national nuclear bipartisanship.[By bipartisanship I am referring to the consensus that has generally transcended party differences in the formulation and carrying out of foreign policy, including adherence to the logic of nuclearism, which includes the management of the counterproliferation regime.] For one thing, the counterproliferation regime tacitly authorizes threats and uses of force to carry out its nonproliferation missions. Such threats and uses of force have been relied upon to uphold to case for attacking and occupying  Iraq since 2003 despite the refusal of the UN Security Council to accept the argument or authorize the undertaking. Since this undertaking could not be validated by reference to self-defense as defined in Article 51, it must be considered a violation of the core norm of the UN Charter (Article 2 (4)) and thus appears to qualify as  a war of aggression, which was treated as the most severe of international war crimes at the Nuremberg trials held after World War II as well as being a damaging show of disrespect for the authority of the United Nations given that authorization was requested and denied. The same dynamic is at play with regard to Iran at the present time. Threats and sanctions, without any UN authorization have been directed at Iran, a state that seems at the mercy of geopolitical instability, further accentuated by Trump irresponsible repudiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated during Obama’s term as president. The main conclusion to be reached is that implementing nonproliferation has been achieved at the expense of international law and even the UN Charter, and by relying on a one-sided interpretation of the NPT that grants impunity to the nuclear weapons states while enacting unlawful punitive measures against non-nuclear states, especially those that are targets of geopolitical enmity. My impression is that advocates of continuing validity of the NPT arrangement are insensitive or ignorant toward this double standard relating to compliance.

 

A second intrusion by geopolitical manipulation is the manner in which countries outside the P-5 are treated when it comes to nuclear weaponry. It seems evident that Israel was given entry to the club despite its covert means of acquiring the capability, even receiving secret technological assistance from several P-5 nuclear weapons states.  Whether by agreement or choice Israel has maintained a formal posture of neither admitting nor denying the existence of its weapons arsenal, although it is widely accepted that it possesses the weaponry and continues with further development activities.  [Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal & American Foreign Policy 1991] What is clear is that the NPR discriminates among states based on their international alignments and size, allowing Israel in, while keeping Iraq and Iran out. This discriminatory practice illustrates the geopolitical tendency to divide the world into friends and enemies when allocating rights and duties among sovereign states. In other words, geopolitical rather than legal criteria are relied upon to establish the policy interface between nuclear haves and have nots.

 

A third intrusion is the effect of allowing the NPR to override the treaty without any attempt at reconciling the two sources of normative order, or even to alter the NPT so that it conforms to the practices of NPR. The NPT imposes a solemn obligation on nuclear weapons states to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith with an intention to conclude an agreement. [See unanimous finding of ICJ in the Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion. The language used by the 14-0 vote, which included the American judge, is suggestive: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” The finding in the Advisory Opinion follows closely the wording and spirit of Article VI of the NPT: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”]

These states are parties to the NPT, and yet they have joined in the virtual negation of this most fundamental feature of the treaty text that undoubtedly explains the willingness of most non-nuclear states to become parties to the treaty. We can only speculate as to whether the NPT would have ever come into force without having this reciprocal feature that bound the two states in an encompassing agreement. The NPT seemed to have the intrinsic merit of seeking to rid the world of nuclear weapons by negotiation while freezing nuclear membership. The treaty has been reasonably successful in inhibiting further acquisition of this highly dangerous and legally dubious category of weaponry, while being an unacknowledged failure so far as its reciprocal goal of denuclearization.

 

In the end, this double standard raises the question as to whether the NPT should be repudiated, or at the very least subjected to sharp criticism by non-nuclear parties. From a legal point of view the nuclear weapons states appear to have violated material provisions of the treaty, giving non-nuclear parties an option to void the agreement. As matters now stand, the NPT provides a legal rationale. for the claims put forward by the NPR. Yet the repudiation of the NPT could be interpreted as a green light to acquisition of the weaponry as an insurance policy. In view of such a dilemma, the best response might be a heightened effort to apply the treaty as drafted, especially insisting on compliance with Article VI, and further construed by seeking a second Advisory Opinion from the World Court.

The NWPT is another sort of pushback against both NPT and NPR, as well. It obviously challenges the legality and legitimacy of the geopolitical nuclear apartheid as pertains to the control of nuclear weaponry by putting forward a treaty seeking a wide-ranging normative prohibition of nuclear weaponry that is applicable to all states.  

 

Alongside concerns about proliferation is the absence of concern in response to the maneuvers of geopolitics as these bear on the sovereign right of states to uphold their security and to exercise their inherent right of self-defense. Actually, Iran and North Korea have far more reasonable security arguments for acquiring nuclear weapons than do any of the other nuclear weapons states. This recognition does not justify acquiring the weaponry, but it helps explain the reasonableness of their behavior as compared the examples being set by leading states. Such vulnerable states are faced with defending their territorial sovereignty against coercive diplomacy and possible interventions and encroachments on their security carried out and promoted by neighboring political actors controlling vastly superior military forces, and in these instances allied with nuclear weapons states.

 

By this pronounced unwillingness of the NPR to allow certain states to determine their own security needs if it undermines efforts to prevent further proliferation, unaccountable and often irresponsible geopolitical managers of NPR are effectively given the authority to override national security policy of these weaker states. For instance, Iran is threatened with military attack if it crosses certain technological thresholds. As significant, geopolitical forces make no effort to take steps to reassure Iran with respect to security or to replace a nonproliferation approach by pushing for the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. There has been no response by the West to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who presented a peace plan for the Persian Gulf in 2019 at the UN General Assembly, given the name Hormuz Peace Endeavor with the fitting acronym of HOPE.

 

The example of Libya haunts this topic of forgoing the nuclear weapons option, as many believe that if Muammar Qaddafi had not abandoned plans to acquire nuclear weapons, he would be alive today. Similarly, if Saddam Hussein had really possessed a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, many believe that Iraq would never have been attacked in 2003. In other words, nuclear deterrence is possibly a more effective approach to national security if invoked by relatively weaker nuclear states. The NPR offers no compensatory steps to offset security concerns of such obviously vulnerable states as Iran beyond their rather tenuous conditional willingness to remove sanctions, and thus it is not surprising that nonproliferation is tied to militarism.

 

It is also notable that the most prominent instance in which hawkish foreign policy establishment figures advocated nuclear disarmament was in reaction to their skepticism about the viability of NPR in containing future proliferation. [George P. Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2007; see by same authors, “Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation,” WSJ, March 7, 2011.]. In effect, these geopolitically oriented political figures, influential former holders of high-profile security positions, favored nuclear disarmament not because of any moral scruples or fear of an impending apocalypse, but because of their worries that the NPR was breaking down. In effect, their belief that further proliferation would likely occur, and make it so much more difficult to achieve geopolitical political goals that they were uncharacteristically willing to recommend phased denuclearization as a grand strategy. They did this in the belief that the West would enjoy military dominance in a denuclearizing world through their retention of far superior non-nuclear capabilities, which were in any event, more usable in the course of foreign policy if there seemed to be no risk of an unwanted escalation above the nuclear threshold. I believe these complexities need to be discussed, while arms control proponents tend to believe that such issues are often ‘academic’ distractions that fail to keep the proper focus on what is wrong about the weaponry and how to get rid of the weapons before they get rid of humanity.

 

 

(4) Can we have Stage III nuclear disarmament without non-nuclear demilitarization?

A final issue touched upon is whether a credible posture toward a disarmament process for nuclear weapons must at some stage also address issues relating to non-nuclear demilitarization, and indeed war itself. Arms control oriented thinkers place more stress than I would on the distinctive policy priority arising from the acute dangers posed by nuclear war. Those who favor nuclear disarmament tend to focus more on the obstacles to nuclear disarmament created by existing levels of militarism as well as by the role of war and nuclear apartheid in international relations, and as embedded in the political realist mentality that continues to regulate the behavior of national leaders.

.

 

There is a practical argument about inducing the weaker nuclear states to enter into a treaty framework that leaves them more vulnerable after giving up their arsenal of nuclear weapons. The governments of such states to the extent that their leaders believe that exposure to hostile states wielding superior conventional weaponry would discourage any effort to tamper with the nuclear status quo. Such security minded states likely include Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and possibly India (in relation to China).

 

As a nuclear disarmament process deepened, there would be more attention given to a denuclearizing security environment. To achieve the goal of total abolition, the only acceptable outcome of a denuclearizing process, parallel steps would need to be taken to reduce non-defensive armaments, which might be difficult with the emergence of drones and accurate long-range missile technology.

 

 

 

Concluding Note

 

Some anti-nuclear moderates believe that the most promising way to reach a world without nuclear weapons is to convince society that fears of a nuclear war are well-founded, that the results of a war fought with nuclear weapons would be unimaginably horrible in its devastation and aftermath, and that phased, verified nuclear disarmament offers a safer and more humane alternative that would give permanent nuclear peace its best chance. [See Daniel Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (2017)]

 

I do not agree. In contrast, I am convinced that to move forward toward total nuclear disarmament we need to take much better account of the obstacles, frictions, and nuances, explaining why the anti-nuclear movement has so far failed to challenge effectively the nuclear weapons establishment. This position is open to criticism as being overly concerned with obstacles, and less focused on issues of morality, prudence, political action, and war prevention (relating to the implicit arms control claim that nuclear deterrence has prevented all major wars for more than 75 years, including those that might have been fought had nuclear weapons not existed).

 

In the end, I think we need to continue to have dialogues between those anti-nuclearists who are uncritical about the friction between pursuing arms control and disarmament, and those who believe that their antagonisms must be addressed. It remains crucial

to keep mobilizing moral outrage as the foundation for political action. By contrast, I believe that ant-nuclearism will not get far until it clarifies the tensions between seeking arms control and favoring nuclear disarmament. It seems a serious confusion to suppose that arms control is a halfway house and a serious moral and political failure not to critique the nonproliferation regime that sustains nuclear apartheid which is self-servingly asserted to be the only path to global security.[See George W. Bush, U.S. National Security Strategy, 2002, an important interpretation of global security that fails even to acknowledge nuclear disarmament as a desirable goal].

 

My assessment of the arms control/disarmament interface can be summarized in a series of propositions:

         –that it is morally, legally, politically, and prudentially imperative to rid the world of nuclear weaponry through a verified

nuclear disarmament treaty and accompanying implementation regime, and this should be regarded as the paramount goal of anti-nuclearism, taking precedence over other goals;

         –that arms control approaches must be explicitly understood as managing nuclear weapons, which is often not consistent with achieving the paramount goal, and may actually make the goal of total nuclear disarmament less attainable;

          –that the two top priorities of the managerial approach to nuclear weaponry are to prevent a major war and to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weaponry to additional sovereign states, and especially to those potential nuclear weapons states that have adversary relationship to regional and global geopolitical regimes;

         –that despite the NPT, avoiding further proliferation of nuclear weaponry requires reliance on implementation by geopolitical regimes, by threats, and if necessary, by military action;

         –that the coercive maintenance of non-proliferation has produced a structure of nuclear apartheid, which is inconsistent with the world order premise of the equality of sovereign states and will be resisted from time to time by states whose security is under threat or who harbor hegemonic ambitions;

         –that the final stages in any disarmament process must also address global militarism in general and reduce non-nuclear military capabilities;

         –that overcoming current high levels of complacency about the risks and effects of a nuclear war will depend on civil society activism and a more peace literate public opinion, and will not be achieved by normal diplomacy.

 

 

Facing the Global Crisis

16 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a somewhat amplified version of an interview with C. J. Polychroniou, journalist and professor of political economy at West Chester University, which was published on January 7, 2020 in the online journal, Global Policy. As the interview was conducted in December 2019, it fails to address the various disruptive consequences of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, including the violation of Iraqi sovereignty, Baghdad being the site of the drone attack, as well as the risks of war arising from an escalating tit-for-tat cycle of actions and reactions. Given growing tensions between the interconnectedness of the world and the state-centric character of international law, including contradictions between totalizing and disregarding territorial sovereignty, state-centric world order is being increasingly marginalized by geopolitical behavior that both generates and suppresses transnational political violence. A normative crisis with structural implications exists, and is not even being widely appreciated much less adequately addressed. The continuing disregard of this crisis adds to grave risks of aa catastrophic future for humanity, with severe spillover to the natural surroundings shared with non-human species.]

 

Facing the Global Crisis

 Q1. I want to start this interview on the state of global affairs near the end of the second decade of the 21st century by moving from the abstract to the concrete. To begin with, it’s regarded as axiomatic that the postwar international liberal order is fracturing and that we are at the same time in the midst of a geopolitical transition where the most prominent characteristic seems to be the decline of the United States as a global superpower. With that in mind, can you offer us a panoramic perspective on the contemporary state of global affairs? What do you consider to be the primary changes under way, and the emerging challenges and threats to global peace and stability?

 Response: There are many crosscutting tendencies now evident at the global level. At the very time when globalizing challenges are intensifying, the mechanisms available for regional and global cooperation are becoming dangerously less effective. The failure to address climate change, so clearly in the global public interest, is emblematic of a dysfunctional world order system. This failure can be further delineated by reference to two distinct, yet interrelated developments. The first characterized by a vacuum in global leadership, which reflects both the overall decline of the United States as well as its explicit renunciation of such a role by the Trump presidency. Trump proudly proclaims that his political agenda is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of American national interests, declaring defiantly he was elected president of the United States, and not of the world. The second broader development is the rise of autocrats in almost every important sovereign state, whether by popular will or through imposed rule, resulting in the affirmation of ultra-nationalist approaches to foreign policy, given ideological intensity by chauvinistic and ethnic hostility toward migrants and internal minorities. This kind of exclusionary statism contributes to the emergence of what might be called ‘global Trumpism’ further obstructing global problem-solving, shared solutions to common problems, and global expressions of empathy for human suffering. A discernable effect of these two dimensions of world order is to diminish the relevance and authority of the United Nations and of international law, as well as exhibiting a decline in respect for standards of international human rights and a disturbing indifference to global warming and other global scale challenges, including toward maintaining biodiversity and upholding the stability of major global rainforests.

 

Overall, what has been emerging globally is a reinvigoration of the seventeenth century Westphalian regional system of sovereign states that arose in Europe after more than a century of devastating religious wars, but under vastly different conditions of connectivity that now pose dire threats to maintaining minimum world order and to the wellbeing of peoples throughout the world. Among these differences are the dependence upon responsible internal behavior by governing processes at all levels of social interaction in an era of growing ecological interdependence. The tolerance of fires in the Amazon rainforest by the Brazilian government, supposedly for the sake of economic growth, by indulging the interests of agrobusiness and logging, endangers a vital global source of biodiversity as well as depletes essential carbon capturing capabilities of this vast forest area, yet there is no way under existing international norms to challenge Brazil’s sovereign prerogative to set its own policy agenda, however irresponsible with respect to its own ecological future, as well as that of its region and the world.  

 

At the same time, there has emerged doctrine and technology that defies territorial constraints, and gives rise to contradictory pressures that subvert the traditional capabilities of states to uphold national security on the basis of territorial defense. On the one side, transnational extremism and criminality exposes the symbolic and material vulnerability of the most militarily powerful states as the United States discovered on 9/11 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were allegedly attacked by a small group of unarmed individuals. Added to this are threats to all people from hacking and surveillance technologies that are not subject to territorial regulation. Responses by way of retaliatory strikes or covert operations directed at the supposed extraterritorial source of these attacks and threats, according to a global mandate associated with counterterrorist warfare and transnational law enforcement generate new patterns of lawlessness in the conduct of international relations. Technological and doctrinal innovations associated with the use of precision guided missiles, cyberspace, and pilotless drones, as well as satellite surveillance are producing new conceptions and experiences of boundaryless war zones. The world is becoming a battlefield for both geopolitical actors and a variety of non-state actors in a series of unresolved transnational struggles and undertakings. Additionally, there are opening new uncertain frontiers for 21st century warfare involving cyber assaults of various kinds, evidently already tested and used by the U.S. and Israel in their efforts to destabilize Iran, as well as new initiatives by a few states to militarize space in ways that seem capable of threatening any society on the face of the planet with instant and total devastation. One salient feature of these developments is the unacknowledged significance of neither adversary being a Westphalian sovereign state as generally understood by international relations theory and practice, while ‘political realism,’ which remains largely unchallenged, is more and more out of touch with these political realities subverting statst world order.

 

Under analogous pressures, the world economy is also fragmenting and seeking a reterritorialization of trade and investment, not only behaviorally but doctrinally. Trump’s transactional mode of operations challenges the rule-governed global system established after World War II, which relied on the Bretton Woods institutions and the World Trade Organization. The economic dimensions of resurgent nationalism also give rise to trade tensions, with real prospects of major trade wars, reminding expert observers of the ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ atmosphere in the early 1930s that gave rise to the Great Depression. Underneath this reterritorialized approach to political economy seems to be what amounts to a mostly silent revolt against neoliberal globalization, and its encouragement of transnational trade and investments based on market-based opportunities, as guided by the transnational efficiency of capital and openness of national markets rather than the wellbeing of people, including environmental protection. A major source of dissatisfaction with traditional politics in democratic societies seems associated with increasing economic inequality, causing stagnation, or worse, of middle and lower class living standards, while producing incredible accumulations of wealth at the very apex of society. These trends have unleashed an enraged populist assault on establishment institutions, including traditional political parties, being blamed for enriching upper elites while suppressing the wellbeing of almost entire societies, with an astonishing 99% being left behind. In the American setting, the left/right expression of this new classism is reflected in the Trump proto-fascist base and the Sanders mobilization among youth and disaffected constituencies.

 

In this downward global spiral, additional negative factors are associated with poor management of ending the Cold War, and the accompanying collapse of the Soviet Union. I would point to three principal negative impacts: (1) the failure of the United States as triumphant global leader to seize the opportunity during the 1990s to move the world toward greater peace, justice, and prosperity by strengthening the UN, by reallocating resources from defense to civilian infrastructure, and by initiating denuclearization and demilitarizing policies regionally and worldwide; (2) the degree to which the Soviet collapse led to a world economic order without ideological choices for political actors (‘there is no alternative’ mentality). This pushed the logic of capitalism toward the kind of inhumane extremes that had existed in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. As long as socialism was associated with Soviet leadership it offered an ideological alternative to alienated segments of society, which created strong political incentives in the West to exhibit ethical concerns for human wellbeing, and social protection frameworks moderating the cruelty of minimally regulated market forces; in effect, for its own sake capitalism needed the rivalry with socialism to maintain an ethically acceptable ideological composure; (3) the sudden withdrawal of Soviet balancing influence in several regions of the world, especially the Middle East, led to order-maintaining cycles of oppressive patterns of governance, U.S. regime changing interventions, and political turmoil and prolonged strife causing massive suffering, famine, and devastation.

 

This combination of domestic authoritarianism, transnational conflict configuratons, and state-centric foreign policy is inclining the world toward ecological catastrophe and geopolitical uncertainty, even chaos. This pattern is accentuated by world economic orientations that are oblivious to human and global interests, while slanting national interests toward the ultra-rich. In effect, the political future for formerly leading democratic states is now more accurately described as a mixture of autocracy and plutocracy with fascist overtones of the strong leader and the stereotyping of ‘the other’ as an enemy to be excluded or destroyed.

 

One symptom of these implosive developments is to call attention to the altered role of the United States in this overall conjuncture of historical forces. On the one side, is the reality of U.S. decline, accentuated by the behavior of Trump since 2016 and the rise of China, which reflects the impact of this impulsive and anti-globalist leader and national mood, but also exhibits some longer deeper trends that transcend his demagogic impact. The most important of these is the failure to learn from the reduced effectiveness of military force with respect to the pursuit of foreign policy goals, given changes in the nature of political power and international status, especially in relations between the West and non-West. Costly interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all ended in political failure, despite U.S. military and battlefield dominance and a strong political commitment to the mission. The U.S. reaction has been to reframe tactics rather than to appreciate the enhanced capabilities in the post-colonial world of militarily vulnerable countries to mobilize prolonged and eventually effective resistance to interventions from the West. Such reframing has led to the repetition of failed interventions in new contexts. In this narrow regard, Trump’s seeming repudiation of regime-changing wars was and is more realistic than the Pentagon’s tendency to return to the drawing counterinsurgency and counterterrorist drawing boards to figure out how to do the job better next time.

 

Yet Trump’s militarism is evident in other forms, including seeking to extend military frontiers to outer space, by boasts about investing in producing the most powerful military machine in human history, and by the reckless war-mongering diplomacy toward Iran. In this respect, the U.S. not only is increasing risks of global catastrophe, but also inadvertently helping its international rivals to gain relative economic and diplomatic advantages. A crucial explanation of America’s likely continuing decline results from two refusals: first, a recognition of the neutralization of military power among major states by the mutually destructive character of warfare and secondly, an appreciation of the nature of asymmetric conflicts resulting from the rising capabilities of national resistance frustrating, and generally defeating, what had once been relatively routine and cost-effective colonial and imperial operations.

 

Another source of decline is that the kind of confrontations that existed during the Cold War no longer seems to exert nearly as much influence on security dimensions of world order as previously. Most European states feel less need for the American nuclear umbrella and the safety afforded by close alliance relations, which translates into reduced U.S. influence. This shift can be observed by the degree to which most states currently entrust their defensive security needs to national capabilities, somewhat marginalizing alliances that had been formally identified with U.S. leadership. In this regard, the bipolar and unipolar conceptions of world order have been superseded by both multipolarity and statism in the dynamic restructuring of world order since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of China.

 

The profile of American decline, with respect to the international policy agenda could be rather abruptly altered, if not reversed, by an internationalist post-Trump foreign policy. This would be particularly evident, in all likelihood, with respect to reaffirming cooperative efforts regarding climate change, reviving the 2015 Paris Agreement, and calling for a more obligatory approach to international regulatory arrangements. Of course, a revived American bid for global leadership would be further exhibited by certain foreign policy moves such as seeking balance in addressing Israel/Palestine relations, lifting economic sanctions from such countries as Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, renewing adherence to the JCPOA (Nuclear Agreement) with Iran, and urgent calls for strengthening the role and relevance of the United Nations and respect for a global rule of law reconfigured to take account of the transnational features of the digital age with its connectivities and networks joining non-state actors.

 

In a sense, the assessment and contours of American decline, reflective of so many factors, will become clearer after the 2020 elections. If Trump prevails, the decline thesis will be confirmed. If a centrist Democrat, say Biden, prevails, it will likely create a sense of relief internationally, along with a temporary suspension of doubt about the reality of U.S. decline, but will not end the credibility of the longer run decline hypothesis as a Democratic Party president, such as Biden, will not challenge the Pentagon budget or the militarism that underpins American policy for the past 75 years. If, as now seems highly unlikely, the Democrats nominate a progressive candidate, say Sanders or Warren, and (s)he is able to gain enough support in Congress, the trends pointing to further decline might not only be suspended, but possibly reversed. Addressing inequality arising from the plutocratic allocation of benefits resulting from neoliberal globalization and undoing the excessive reliance on military approaches to foreign policy are the only two paths leading to a sustainable renewal of American global leadership and prospects for a benevolent national future.     

 

 

 

Q2. Do you detect any similarities between the current global geopolitical condition and that of the era of imperial rivalries prior to the outbreak of World War I?

 Response: The imperial rivalries, at the root of the stumble into major warfare, were much more overt in the period preceding World War I than is the case today. Now imperial strategies are more disguised by soft power expansionism as is the case with China or geopolitical security arrangements and normative claims as is the American approach, but the possibility of an unwanted escalation in areas of strategic interaction are present, especially in areas surrounding China. Confrontations and crises can be anticipated in coming years, and without skillful diplomacy a war could result that could be more destructive and transformative of world order than was World War I.

 

There is also the possibility of hegemonic rivalry producing a major war in the Middle East, as between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States on one side and Iran and Russia on the other side. The Syrian War prefigured on a national scale such hegemonic rivalry that could now recur on a regional scale. A more optimistic interpretation of developments in the Middle East is to suggest that the stability of the Cold War era might soon reemerge in light of Russian reengagement, which could restore the balance imposed earlier, and seems preferable to the turmoil and confrontations of the last 25 years. It would be prudent to take note of the World War I context to remind political leaders that they risk unwanted sequences of events if promoting aggressive challenges to the established order in regional or global settings. Yet the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in early January 2020 came close to setting off a chain reaction of escalating violent incidents that could have ended in a major war between Iran and the United States of intensity and indefinite scope.

 

Of course, triggering conditions prior to World War I were concentrated in Europe, whereas now it could be argued that the most dangerous situations are either geographically concentrated in the Middle East or in a variety of regional circumstances where coercive diplomacy could trigger an unintended war either  on the Korean Peninsula or in relation to China where interests and ambitions collide in the Western Pacific and South China Sea.

 

Graham Allison has written a widely discussed book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap?(2017), which argues that throughout history when the dominance of a state is challenged by a rising power a major war has frequently resulted to establish geopolitical ranking. Of course, circumstances have changed drastically since the time of Thucydides, due to the possession of nuclear weapons on both sides, a fact that is likely to encourage geopolitical caution as risks of mutual catastrophe are quite evident. At the same time complacency is not warranted as governments have not changed their reliance on threats and bluffs to achieve their goals, and the possibility of miscalculation is present as antagonisms climb escalation ladders.

 

More broadly, the existence of nuclear weapons, their deployment, and doctrines leading to their use in certain situations create conditions that are very different than what existed in Europe more than a century ago. Yet there is one rather frightening similarity. Threat diplomacy tends to produce conflict spirals that can produce wars based on misperception and miscalculation, as well as accident, rogue behavior, and pathological leadership. In other words, the world as now  constituted, as occurred in 1914, stumble into an unwanted war, and this time with casualties, devastation, and unanticipated side effects occurring on a far greater scale.

 

Finally, there were no serious ecological issues confronting the world in 1914 as there are at present. Any war fought with nuclear weapons can alter the weather for up to ten years in disastrous ways. There is the fear validated by careful scholarly study that ‘a nuclear famine’ could be produced by stagnant clouds of smoke that would deprive the earth of the sunlight needed for agriculture for a period of years. In other words, the consequences of a major war are so much more serious that its avoidance should be a top priority of any responsible leader. Yet, with so many irresponsible leaders, typified by Donald Trump, the rationality of caution and that would seem to prevent large scale war may not be sufficient to avoid its occurrence. Also, the mobilization of resources and the focus of attention on an ongoing war, or even its threat, would be so occupying as almost certainly to preclude efforts, however urgent, to address global warming and other ecological challenges.

 

Q3. Given that the historical conditions and factors that gave rise to Cold War policies and institutions have vanished, what purpose does NATO serve today?

 

Response: Although the conditions that explained the formation and persistence of NATO were overcome by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and of the Soviet Union a few years later, NATO remained useful to some of its members for several reasons. For the United States, it kept the U.S. engaged in Europe, and sustained its role as alliance leader. For the major European powers, it represented a security guaranty in the event of a revived Russian threat, and lessened internal pressures to develop expensive European military capabilities that did not depend on American participation. The Kosovo War in 1999 displayed a European consensus to transform NATO into an intra-European peace force, while the Libyan War of 2011 displayed a misleading willingness to manipulate the UN into authorizing NATO to engage in a regime-changing out of area military intervention that not only weakened the legitimacy of the post-Cold War UN and harmed Libya, but also understandably eroded trust in UN procedures on the part of Russia and China that had been persuaded not to oppose a decision at the Security Council for a strictly limited humanitarian intervention but not for NATO sponsored regime change.

 

The NATO alliance should be disbanded in the interest of world peace and stability. Its only real function since 1989 has been to further the geopolitical goals of the United States, and to a lesser extent, France and the UK. The persistence of NATO after its Cold War rationalization was undercut exemplifies the refusal of the West to make the structural adjustments that could have expressed an intention to make a transition from a pre-war environment of strategic confrontation that characterized the Cold War to a post-war atmosphere of dealignment and demilitarization. Had such a transition occurred, or even been attempted, we would now most likely be living in more positive historical circumstances with attention to the real economic, political, and ecological challenges to human wellbeing now and in the future being addressed. We would not need the awakening alarms being set off by a 16 year old Swedish girl!   

 

Q4. Trump’s foreign policy towards the Middle East is unabashedly pro-Israel, while also supportive of Erdogan’s grand vision for Turkey and the Arab world. Can you explain for us this apparent anomaly?

 

Response: It may be intellectually satisfying to give a coherent spin to Trump’s seemingly antagonistic policies in the Middle East, but I feel it conveys a false sense of plan and strategy beyond the play of personality and ad hoc circumstance. The most that can be claimed it that there is a kind of hierarchy in arranging American foreign policies priorities, yet overall, lacking any sense of regional grand strategy. At the top of the Trump policy pyramid seem to be upholding the two ‘special relationships’ with Israel, first, and Saudi Arabia, second. Turkey is somewhat supported because of the seeming personal rapport between Erdogan and Trump, and partly also for reasons of continuity of alignment and economic trade relations. Iran is a perfect regional enemy for the United States, which helps us understand why it have been demonized and subjected to crippling sanctions and war threats for the past 40 years. Iran is antagonistic to Saudi ambitions to assert its regional hegemony and to Israel because of its pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist stance, and not a trading partner or strategic ally with the United States ever since the revolutionary overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Besides, Iran as the leading Shi’a state in the region is a sectarian foil for the Gulf/Egyptian Sunni affinities. Besides, Trump’s insistence on repudiating Obama’s initiatives in the region led to the American withdrawal from the Nuclear Program Agreement negotiated in 2015 (JCPOA, that is, Joint Comprehensive Program of Action), has led to the collapse of an agreement that seemed a breakthrough for peace at the time. This anti-Iran agenda is being carried forward at considerable risk and expense, as well as producing mass hardship for the Iranian people over a period of many decades.

 

Although Trump campaigned on a pledge of disengagement from senseless regime-changing interventions of the past in the Middle East, especially the attack on and occupation of Iraq since 2003, it has been a difficult policy to implement, especially in relation to Iran, and to some extent Syria. This seems to reflect\ American deep state resistance to all demilitarizing moves in the Middle East for strategic reasons, as well as Trump’s quixotic and ambivalent style of diplomacy.

 

As far as Turkey is concerned, there seems to be some continuity in Erdogan’s foreign policy, which is to support the Palestinian national struggle and to favor democratizing movements from below, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, but to avoid entanglements of the sort that led to a major foreign policy failure in Syria after 2011, and recently, an announced willingness to support the Libyan government against insurgency. Also Turkey has under Erdogan’s leadership supported major institutional reform at the UN by questioning the hold of the permanent members of the Security Council on UN decision-making, typified by the slogan ‘the world is greater than five.’).

 

  Q5. Do you see China as emerging any time in the near future as a global superpower?

 Response: I think China is already a global superpower in some fundamental respects, although not a global leader in the manner of the United States in the period between 1945-2016. Whether it has the political will to play a geopolitical role beyond its East and South Asian nearby regions is difficult to predict. The top Chinese officials seem to sense a dangerous vacuum and inviting opportunity resulting from the withdrawal of the United States from its leadership position. At the same time, the Chinese themselves seem aware of their lack of experience beyond the Asian context outside of the economic sector, are preoccupied with domestic challenges, and are aware that Chinese is not a global language nor the renminbi a global currency. For these reasons, I expect China to stay largely passive, or at most defensive, when it comes to the global geopolitical agenda, and use its considerable leverage to promote multipolarity and restraint in most international venues.

 

At the same time, China’s superpower status can be affirmed in two different fundamental respects: as the only credible adversary of the United States in a major war and as a soft power giant when it comes to spreading its influence beyond its territorial limits by a variety of non-military means, most spectacularly by its Road and Belt Initiative, the largest investment in an integrative undertaking in the world. If soft power status is the best measure of influence in a post-political world order, then China may have already achieved global leadership if history is at the dawn of a new period in which the role of military power and conquest as the principal agent of change is morphing toward obsolescence. Arguably the most telling symptom of American decline is its gross over-investment in military capabilities despite enduring a series of political setbacks in situations where it dominated the battlefield, which when coupled with the failure to address the decaying domestic infrastructure and refusing to fill the gaps of social protection. Perhaps, the Vietnam War is the clearest instance of total military superiority resulting in the loss of a war, but there are other notable instances (Afghanistan, Iraq).

 

 

Q6. If you were asked to provide a radical vision of the world order in the 21st cedntury, what would it look like?

 

Response:This is a difficult assignment. I would offer two sets of response, but with a realization of the radical uncertainty associated with any conjectures about the future of world order. My responses depend on some separation between considerations of policy and of structure. I respond on the basis of my tentative diagnosis of the present reality as posing the first bio-ethical-ecological crisis in world history.

 

With respect to policy, I would emphasize the systemic nature of distinctive present challenges, global in scale and scope. The most severe of these challenges relate to the advent of nuclear weapons, and the related geopolitical policy consensus that has opted for a nonproliferation regime rather than a denuclearizing disarmament alternative. Such a regime contradicts the fundamental principle of world order based on the equality of states, large or small, when it comes to rights and duties under international law. It does, however, reflect adherence to the fundamental norm of geopolitics that is itself embedded in the UN Charter, which acknowledges inequality with respect to rights and duties, evident in other spheres of international life, including accountability for international crimes, as acknowledged by the demeaning phrase, ‘victors’ justice.’

 

To address the challenges to world order that threaten the peoples of the world does not require overcoming political inequality altogether, but it does require attaining two goals that involve radical changes in political behavior: 1) respect for and adherence to international law and the UN Charter by all states, especially the most powerful, which would at least entail national self-discipline and the elimination of the right of veto at the UN, but not necessarily permanent membership in the Security Council; 2) the strengthening of the autonomy of the United Nations in relation to the peace and security agenda by creating an independent funding arrangement based on imposing taxes on transnational travel, military expenditures, and luxury items. The objectives would be to move toward a global organization that was dedicated to the global and human interest as well as to the promotion of national  interests as is now the case, which would depend on vesting implementing authority in the UN Secretary General as well as the acceptance of a degree of demilitarization by current geopolitical actors, with the proclamation of shared goals of making national security unambiguously defensive, and globally regulated in accord with international law.

 

In effect, the policy priorities to be served by such a radical reordering of global relations, shifting authority and power from its present geopolitical nexus to a multiplicity of hubs of influence that sought global justice and ecological sustainability, and were more institutionally situated in global networks and arrangements. In the scheme depicted above it would mean a rather dramatic shift from geopolitical autonomy to a more law-governed world order with the establishment of effective mechanisms to serve the whole of humanity rather than being focused on the wellbeing of its distinct territorial parts. In the process, accompanying social democratic arrangements for trade, investment, and development would need to be adjusted to serve the attainment of basic economic and social rights as implemented by monitoring and regulatory transnational procedures that were also sensitive to ecological sustainability.

 

It hard to imagine such policy and structural modifications taking place without a renewed confidence in democratic, ethically grounded, and generally progressive styles of governance at the national level, protective of vulnerable people, accountable to future generations, as well as acting without total deference to short-term electoral cycles. In other words, the behavioral tendencies and values that are now dominating most political arenas by dangerously myopic approaches to policy and structures of accountability would have to be transformed on the basis of ecological consciousness, respect for human rights and international law, and an international institutional structure oriented around the protection of human and global interests in addition to national rights.

 

There is no plausible political path visible to such a future at present, although there is a growing sense of panic, especially among youth, as recently epitomized by the charismatic impact and impressive insight of Greta Thunberg. What is altogether missing from the present setting are credible sources of revolutionary energy guided by such a vision of a necessary and desirable future, which would entail the rejection of autocratic governance of sovereign states and of apartheid geopolitical regimes (as with nuclear weapons, accountability to international criminal law, and double standards). In effect, a drastic shift from a zero-sum world of destructive rivalry, exploitation, intervention, and political egoism to a win/win world based on the emergence of a sense of global community and ecological unity accompanied by the mechanisms and structures to convert policy directives into behavioral conformity.

 

2020 U.S. Presidential Elections: Reflections Outside the Box

14 Jan

Four Reflections on What Would Help Democrats Defeat Trump

 

 

It is time to consider how the Democrats might win back the presidency and gain control of both houses of Congress. With the recent near stumble into a major disruptive war, with high risks of escalation beyond the Middle East, this election may well determine the future of the United States as a constitutional democracy as well as whether regional and global peace, security, and stability will be restored in coming years. It is time to think outside the box, or at least enlarge its contents. The ‘electability’ tactic should not be used  to throw the nomination to a candidate who will demobilize and dilute a part of the anti-Trump consensus or alienate American youth upon whom the future depends. 

 

Here are a few ideas that seem worth discussing:

 

  • Can Michelle Obama be persuaded to enter the race for the Democratic Party nomination? She seems to possess the qualities of leadership and the unifying values that are needed at this time, and none of the existing candidates possess to a similar degree. Although holding no prior political position, and never running an organization, she seems to possess the strength of character and access to the best advice that would compensate for this gap in experience. She also has the benefit of being in the White House during the eight years of the Barack Obama presidency.

 

  • Can Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren be persuaded to merge their candidacies by one dropping out, and swinging support to the other. My preference would be for Warren to withdraw, especially if she doesn’t do well as Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, and endorse Sanders, especially if he does well in Iowa. If she makes such a laudable move, it is hoped that Warren would be promised the top economic policy position in a Sanders presidency.

 

  • Induce Barack Obama to enter the fray by highlighting the danger of a second Trump term, by pointing to the erosion of democracy by voter suppression of various kinds, and through gerrymandering that deliberately distorts representation in local, state, and federal government. This is not a time for a former president to defer to the decorum of silence. Jimmy Carter has been addressing these issues, but Obama is certain to draw more favorable attention, especially if Michelle Obama remains on the sidelines. George W. Bush could further redeem himself if willing to call upon Republican senators to respect the Constitution rather than their partisan loyalties.

 

  • Can ways be found to heed the anti-war and anti-nuclear admonitions of Tulsi Gabbard, the only primary candidate, with the partial exception of Sanders, who has addressed meaningfully these issues, and in the process proposing a less militarist image of a future U.S. global role. Gabbard comes with the baggage of some unfortunate past interventions in public debate on controversial policy issues (for instance, Syria, India), and even withheld her vote on Trump’s impeachment in the House. Nevertheless, she had demonstrated intelligence, courage, independence, and a willingness to revise her positions, and deserves a place on the stage, which the MSM and the hard left have effectively denied her. Money and media editorializing should not have the last word if we seek to restore a flourishing democracy. It is worth recalling that she resigned from the Democratic National Committee so that she might support Sanders in the 2016 primary battle.

 

 

Open Letter to Members of the U.S. Congress

8 Jan

[Prefatory Note: Below is a Letter to Members of Congress with an initial group of signatories; there are many more that have been gathered but not listed here. If you wish to add your signature, please send your name and affiliation to Vida Samiian, vidasamiian@gmail.com who helped compose the original text, and now with the logistics of the initiative. If you agree with the argument, please do join us by adding your name.

The Letter was composed prior to the Iranian missile attacks on two American military bases in Iraq and before Trump made his formal statement the following day, January 8th.  Although his statement can is being read in many ways, including the suggestion that Trump’s intention was to step back from the brink of a devastating war. I listened to Trump from my own perspective and with an attempt to hear his words as if I were an Iranian living in Iran. I found the statement belligerent, and formulated in an imperialist/hegemonic language, avoiding a diplomatic sequel, and instead resuming the ‘maximum pressure’ approach involving threats and further intensified sanctions and other coercive moves that will bring additional suffering to the Iranian people. Perhaps, the only hopeful element was the suggestion that Trump would seek greater NATO involvement coupled with the assertion of American energy independence. This may possibly have been a geopolitical prelude to partial disengagement in the region by the United States, but more likely was telling European countries that they should bear a greater part of the economic burden of upholding Western interests In the region since they remain dependent on Middle Eastern energy to meet their needs, while the United States no longer does. In any event, the Trump moves would undoubtedly be viewed as provocative, unacceptable, and aggressive by Iranians.

Among the most distasteful aspects of Trump’s speech was his castigation of Barack Obama’s laudable attempt to negotiate a tension-reducing agreement with Iran on its nuclear program that had the support of France, UK, as well as China, Russia, and Germany. To deride such a major breakthrough for a better future for the region, while perpetuating a war-mongering approach underscores why it continues to be so urgent for Congress to act.

This is the latest update with additional signatories.]

 

OPEN LETTER TO MEMBERS OF THE U.S. CONGRESS[1]

January 7, 2020

To Members of the United States Congress:

The unlawful and provocative assassination of Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, has already given rise to an escalating spiral of lethal events. The greatest risks are to stumble escalating into a devastating war in the Middle East with grave consequences for the peoples of Iran and Iraq and likely across the region. Such a war would have disastrous effects for this country, for the region and the world. It is certain to do further harm to the reputation of the United States, which already is perceived in much of the world as an irresponsible and criminal political actor in the region, using military force in ways that have made already difficult situations catastrophic by taking various dangerous military, economic and quasi-diplomatic initiatives misleadingly presented as “maximum pressure.”

It is imperative for the well-being of our country, and indeed the world, that the Congress of the United States fulfill its most solemn constitutional responsibility, and impose effective restraints on the war-making actions of this impeached president. This is a moment when partisan politics should be put aside, not only for the sake of national interests but for the benefit of humanity – -we should realize that these unilateral actions by the United States have put the entire world at risk. It is also a moment when Republicans as well as Democrats must stand up for a sane foreign policy, and for diplomacy and peace instead of aggression and war, and fulfill their duties as Members of Congress.

The Iranian people have endured decades of economic warfare waged by the US and its allies. Since the revolution of 1979 in Iran and the end of a mutually beneficial relationship between the US and Iran’s autocratic leader, the Shah, the US has imposed numerous sanctions on Iran under various guises, threatened it with war and inflicted pain and suffering on its people. What is desperately needed with respect to Iran is not any further recourse to coercive diplomacy based on escalating threats, crippling sanctions, and tit-for-tat military actions. What is urgently needed is an immediate shift to restorative diplomacy based on mutual respect for international and domestic law, with the objective of peace, stability, and cooperation.

From all what we now know, General Soleimani had come to Iraq without stealth on a commercial plane.  He came to Iraq on a diplomatic peacemaking mission at the invitation of the Baghdad Government, and with a meeting scheduled on the following day with the Prime Minister that was part of an ongoing effort to seek a lessening of tensions between Iran and

Saudi Arabia. In reaction to major violations of its sovereignty, the Iraqi Parliament has voted to expel U.S. troops from their country. In place of what seemed a promising regional initiative the assassination of General Soleimani has resulted in an intensification of conflict, further massive suffering, and the likelihood of dangerous escalation.

We call on Congress to act with urgency to stem this slide toward war and regional chaos.

We urge you to consider imposing ironclad restraints on the authority of the President to make any further use of international force without a clear and definite authorization by the U.S. Congress, which itself should respect the relevant prohibitions of international law and the provisions and procedures of the UN Charter.

Richard Falk

Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law

Princeton University

Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies

Noam Chomsky

Laureate Professor of Linguistics, Agnese Nelms Haury Chair University of Arizona

Daniel Ellsberg

Former Official of State & Defense Department

Whistleblower, Pentagon Papers

Judith Butler

Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California, Berkeley

Medea Benjamin

Founder, Code Pink Author

Phyllis Bennis

Institute for Policy Studies and Jewish Voice for Peace

Professor Hilal Elver

Research Fellow, University of California, Santa Barbara

Vida Samiian

Visiting Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles

Professor of Linguistics and Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

Antonio C. S. Rosa, M.A. Editor, TRANSCEND Media Service

Ira Helfand, M.D.

Co-President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

1985 Nobel Peace Prize recipient

Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility

Celso Amorim

Author and retired Diplomat

Brazil

Christine Ahn

Executive Director

Women Cross DMZ

Rick Wayman

President & CEO

Nuclear Age peace Foundation

Frank Bognar, D.P.A.

Vice Chair, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Douglas Roche, O.C.

Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament

David Krieger, President Emeritus Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History

Director, Institute of Nuclear Studies American University

Biljana Vankovska, Professor

University of Skopje, Macedonia

Bogdan Bogdanov, Professor

University of Skopje, Macedonia

Ahmad Abbas, Mathematician

Research Director at CNRS, France

Maria Stern, Professor

School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg

Gothenburg, Sweden

Joel Beinin

Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus

Stanford University

Stephan Andersson

Independent Bertrand Russell scholar, Lund, Sweden John Scales Avery, Ph.D.

Associate Professor Emeritus

University of Copenhagen

Chairman, Danish National Group

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs

Rev. Kil Sang Yoon

Executive Advisor

Korean American national Coordinating Council, Inc.

Jeremy R. Hammond

Independent journalist Editor of Foreign Policy Journal Author of Obstacle to Peace:

The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Maxine Fookson, RN

Board member of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

Western Executive Committee of American Friends Service Committee

Frederik S. Heffermehl

Oslo Lawyer/author

Nobel Peace Prize Watch

Vincent Stanley Author, Poet

David Hillstrom, Author

Rabbi Linda Holtzman

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Thomas G. Weiss

Distinguished Fellow, Global Governance. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Presidential Professor of Political Science

The CUNY Graduate Center

Ervand Abrahamian

Professor Emeritus

City University of New York

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi

Director and Senior Scholar

Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies

San Francisco State University

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl

Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law

UCLA School of Law

Olga Abella

Emeritus Professor of English

Eastern Illinois University

Suzanne Adely

National Lawyers Guild

International Association of Democratic Lawyers

Stephan Andersson

Independent Bertrand Russell scholar

Lund, Sweden

Walid Afifi

Professor of Communication

University of California Santa Barbara

Kevin B. Anderson

University of California, Santa Barbara

Richard Appelbaum, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus and

Former MacArthur Chair in Sociology and Global & International Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

Mohammad Azadpur

Professor of Philosophy San Francisco State University

Bahar Bastani, M.D.

Professor of Medicine

School of Medicine, Saint Louis University

Dr. Hatem Bazian

UC Berkeley and Zaytuna College

Eileen Boris

Hull Professor and Distinguished Professor

Department of Feminist Studies

Professor of History, Black Studies and Global Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

Dr. Jaap C. Bos

Professor of Psychology Utrecht University

Marian and Leslie Bravery

Palestinian Human Rights Campaign

Aotearoa, New Zealand

Carole H. Browner

Distinguished Research Professor

Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

Center for Culture and Health

Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

University of California, Los Angeles

Edmund Burke III

Professor Emeritus of History

University of California, Santa Cruz

Karen Brodkin

Professor Emerita of Anthropology

University of California, Los Angeles

Sara Cvetkovska

ERCOMER, Utrecht University

Valentina Capurri

Instructor, Ryerson University Toronto, Canada

Swati Chattopadhyay

University of California, Santa Barbara

Maivan Clech Lam

Professor Emerita

City University of New York Graduate Center

Margery Cohen

Professor Emerita

Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Carla Coco

University of California, Santa Barbara

Dr. Ali Dabiri

Founder and President of Dr. Modjtahedi Foundation Retired Professor of Sharif University of Technology of Iran

Diana G. Darab, Ph.D.

Health Research for Action

University of California, Berkeley

Natalie Z. Davis

Professor Emeritus

Princeton University

James Deutsch MD, PhD, FRCPC

Faculty of Medicine

University of Toronto

Judith Deutsch, President

Science for Peace

Julie Diamond

Center for Worker Education, CCNY New York

Gordon Doctorow, Ed.D. Toronto, Canada

Dr. Vincent Duindam, Ph.D.

Psychologist, Utrecht University

Omnia El Shakry

Professor of History

University of California, Davis

Sasan Fayazmanesh

Professor Emeritus of Economics

California State University, Fresno

Faramarz Farbod

Writer and editor at Left Turn

Adjunct faculty of Political Science

Moravian College

Nina Farnia

Past President

National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

Gary Fields, Professor of Communication University of California, San Diego

Shepard Forman, Founding Director

Center for International Cooperation New York University

Manzar Foroohar, Professor Emerita

History and Latin American Studies

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Margaret Ferguson

Distinguished Professor of English, Emerita

University of California, Davis

Aranye Fradenburg Joy

Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature

University of California, Santa Barbara

Nancy Gallagher

Professor Emerita of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

Jolien Geerlings

Utrecht University

The Netherlands

Jila Ghomeshi, Professor and Department Head

Department of Linguistics University of Manitoba

Professor Penny Green

Head of Department of Law

Professor of Law and Globalisation

Director, International State Crime Initiative

Queen Mary University of London

Magda Gilewicz

Professor of English

California State University, Fresno

Avery F. Gordon

Professor of Sociology

University of California, Santa Barbara

Visiting Professor, School of Law

Birkbeck University of London

William Hastings

Assoc Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Fordham University

Maryam Shayegan Hastings

Emerita Professor of Mathematics

Fordham University

Ivan Huber

Professor Emeritus of Biology Fairleigh Dickinson University

Professor George Hunsinger

Princeton Theological Seminary

Suad Joseph

University of California, Davis

Prya Kapoor

Portland State University

David Kinsella

Portland State University

David Klein

Professor of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

Dennis Kortheuer

Department of History, Emeritus

California State University, Long Beach

Richard K. Larson

Professor of Linguistics

Stony Brook University

Professor Anna Leander

The Graduate Institute

Dept. of International Relations and Political Science

Chenin Eugene Rigot 2, Geneva

Mark Levine

University of California, Irvine

David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor of English

University of California, Riverside

Dr. Brooke Lober

Scholar-in-Residence, Gender and Women’s Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Paul M Lubeck

Johns Hopkins University, SAIS

Afshin Matin-Asgari

Professor of Middle East History

California State University, Los Angeles

Blanca Misse

Department of Modern Languages and Literatures

San Francisco State University

Akbar Montaser

Professor Emeritus

The George Washington University

Kathleen Moore

Professor of Religious Studies

UC Santa Barbara

Patricia Morton

University of California, Riverside

Radmila Nakarada

Professor of Peace Studies University of Belgrade

Jamal R. Nassar

Professor of Political Science and Dean Emeritus

California State University, San Bernardino

Srkja Pavlovic

Department of History and Classics

University of Alberta

Ismail Poonawala

Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Islamic Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Elisabeth Prugl

Professor of International Relations

Graduate Institute, Geneva

David N. Rahni

Professor of Chemistry

Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopal

Law and Urban Planning

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Craig Reinarman

Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Legal Studies

University of California, Santa Cruz

Rush Rehm

Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies and Classics

Artistic Director, Stanford Repertory Theater

Stanford University

Stephen Roddy

Professor of Chinese Studies

San Francisco State University

Lisa Rofel

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology

Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California Santa Cruz

Co-Director, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Cesar “che” Rodriguez, Ph.D

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Studies

San Francisco State University

Muhammad Sahimi

Professor of Chemical Engineering University of Southern California

Professor William Spence, QMUL

Carole Saltz

Director (retired)

Teachers College Press

Leyli Shayegan

Retired Assistant Director

Teachers College Press

Carole Snee,

Retired Director of ESL

California State University, Fresno

Baki Tezcan

University of California, Davis

Azadeh Saljooghi, Ph.D., MFA

Retired faculty of Communications and Film Studies

Mark Lewis Taylor

Maxwell M. Professor of Theology and Culture

Princeton Theological Seminary

Devra Weber

Emerita Professor of History

University of California, Riverside

Ryan J. Fisher

University of California, Santa Barbara

Eve Hershcopf

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace- Bay Area

Penny Rosenwasser

Author, Instructor, Interdisciplinary Studies

City College of San Francisco

Marlena Santoyo

Greater Philadelphia Branch

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Outreach Coordinator

Kelly Patrick Gerling, Seattle

Judy Neunuebel

Jewish Voice for Peace

 

George Marx

Chicago, IL

Beth Harris

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace National Board

Janet Kobren

Human Rights Activist

Susan Shawl

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace, Bay Area chapter

David L. Mandel, Sacramento

Human rights attorney

Chapter leader, Jewish Voice for Peace

Elected member, California Democratic Party Central Committee

Sophie Moradi

An opponent of never-ending wars

Henry Norr

Activist and retired Journalist

Mario Galvan

Board member, Sacramento Area Peace Action

Pathma Venasithamby

Jewish Voice for Peace

Carol Sanders

Retired Attorney

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace

Elizabeth Block

Member of Independent Jewish Voice

Molly Hogan

Jewish Voice for Peace

Martha Roth

Independent Jewish Voices

Pam Rogers

Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

Jewish Voice for Peace

Linval R. DePass

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace

Angela Price

Fresno Center for Nonviolence

Masoud Chamasemani

Actor and TV Producer

Pauline M. Coffman Oak Park, IL

Eve Darian-Smith

Layla Darwish

Palestine Freedom Project

Shahla Dashtaki Fulton, MO

Natalie Z. Davis

Marcela Jurado

Priscilla Read

Chicago

Gertrude Reagan

Palo Alto Friends Meeting

Bob Aldridge

World War II Veteran

Newland F. Smith, 3rd

Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Ned Rosch

Human Rights Activist who lived and worked in Iran

Parizad Torgoli

Rev. Don Wagner

Friends of Sabeel-North America

Parisa Afshar

American-Iranian who opposes any kind of war with Iran

Richard Lew Independent Contractor Reza Sheybani, M.D.

Eugene Schulman

Independent dissident

Susan Stout

Activist, Vancouver

Mark Winterrowd

John Whitbeck

International Law Expert

Cindy Shamban

Member of Jewish Voice for Peace, Bay Area

Nancy Murray

Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

Marge Sussman

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace, Bay Area

[1] Although members of the U.S. Congress formally represent citizens of the United States, the global role and activities of the United States are such that the peoples of the world are often directly impacted. As a result nonAmericans have a vital stake in the adherence of American foreign policy to international law and the Charter of The United Nations, and were invited to sign our Open Letter and join in this appeal to Congress.

Forgetting 2019: A Poem

31 Dec

[Prefatory Note: At this age, having exhausted prose options, I indulge myself during holidays, by sharing poems that seek also your indulgence. I searched 2019 forsome glimmers of good news, and felt stymied. Of course, here, there, everywhere there were glorious private exceptions, yet hovering over the public marketplaces ofthe world I cringe beneath menacing storm clouds and below chaos and misery, and catastrophes waiting to happen. It is this spirit that I looked back on 2019, and yet reject despair, and pledge to fight for what I believe in 2020 with the conviction that it can happen, and of course should happen.]

 

 

 

Forgetting 2019

 

asphalt rain

 

darkens green fields

 

eco-extinction

 

flares Amazon skies

 

fake leaders slithering

 

toward real dangers

 

hither and yon

 

seek safe havens

 

gated nations

 

hiding from truth

 

screaming ‘no’

 

migrants fleeing despair

 

pleading ‘please’

 

hiding from evils

 

Aung San Suu Kyi

 

defending genocide

 

this fallen Nobelist

 

broadcasting abroad

 

her deadly message

 

two centuries ago

 

Walt Whitman

 

arrived in our midst

 

singing aloud

 

bewilderingly

 

of America’s future

 

later lost to predators

 

seizing their loot

 

robbing the land

 

turning dreams

 

to wilting flowers

 

our grief becomes

 

a betrayed destiny

 

tainted at birth

 

natives driven

 

off their sacred land

 

of holy innocence

 

the trusted voice

 

of Toni Morrison

 

is gone not lost

 

if we listen

 

if we listen

 

if we listen

 

all not yet all

 

lost futureless

 

nested eggs contain

 

our only hope

 

of what may yet come

 

of what to renounce

 

let’s start with gold

 

then learn not to hate

 

keep love joy truth

 

if we listen

 

if we listen

 

if we listen

 

 

 

Richard Falk

Santa Barbara, CA

 

December 31, 2019

 

What Drives Anti-Semitism? The Authentic and the Spurious 

24 Dec

[Prefatory Note: This is a modified version of an earlier text published in TMS (Transcend Media Service) in the December 23-29, 2019 edition. For the sake of discouraging anti-Semitism and restoring freedom of expression in Western constitutional democracies denouncing the branding of those in solidarity with struggles for justice and rights on behalf of the Palestinian people should be high on the policy agenda of 2020, and yet we have so far heard only the silence of the lambs in the debates of Democrats seeking the presidential nomination.]

 

What Drives Anti-Semitism? The Authentic and the Spurious 

Only the most regressive rendering of tribalist solidarity can explain labeling those

who oppose Israel’s abusive treatment of the Palestinian people as ‘anti-Semites.’

We look upon Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn the Myanmar abuse

of the Rohingya as casting the darkest of clouds over her Nobel Peace Prize. It

is an insult to Jews and others to allow Zionists, Evangelical, and Trumpsters to brand solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, or even empathy with the Palestinian people long enduring the denial of their most basic rights as a new species of anti-Semitism.

 

There is little doubt that real anti-Semitism, in the sense of hatred of Jews, has increased

in Europe and North America in the last decade of so. But the nature of why this is happening, and what is its true nature, are especially obscure, and subject to manipulations. Part of this obscurity is deliberate, arising from orchestrated efforts to label criticism of Israel or Zionist tactics and ideology as anti-Semitic, or in some usages as expressive of the ‘New Anti-Semitism.’ This extension of the scope of anti-Semitism seems designed to inhibit responsible opposition to Israel’s conduct in defiance of international law and, further, to make European Jews feel insecure enough in their country of residence so that they would consider emigrating to Israel, which in recent years has experienced a net outflow of Jews.

 

The essence of the new anti-Semitism is rooted in the definition proposed by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (or IHRA), which blends strong criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews or the Jewish people. President Donald Trump incorporated this IHRA definition into his Executive Order issued on Dec. 11, 2019 that is coupled with lawfare assaults by the US Government and right-wing Zionist organizations on respected American campus initiatives that critically address the Israel/Palestine conflict, including having students and faculty actively engaged in such nonviolent solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian quest for basic rights as the BDS Campaign. One recent example of this government pushback are calls for an investigation of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University because some of its members are BDS supporters.

 

The IHRA definition is elaborated in terms of signs of anti-Semitism as supposedly manifested in criticism of Israel. One of these signs set forth to illustrate the scope of the IHRA definition is singling out of Israel for criticism or coercive acts when its behavior is not worse than that of other human rights violators. This is the basis for the alleged link between BDS and anti-Semitism. Yet in no other context is this kind of test administered, nor is the severity of Israeli wrongdoing ever mentioned or taken into account. Recalling the anti-apartheid campaign against South Africa of 30 years ago, it should be remembered that apologists for apartheid then similarly contended that conditions for black Africans in South Africa were better than elsewhere in the sub-Saharan region. Such contentions were argumentative, but were never used to stifle anti-apartheid activism in foreign countries, including a robust anti-apartheid BDS Campaign in North America and Europe, which many observers believe contributed to the unexpected reversal of course by the Afrikaner leadership in Pretoria that opened gates to achieving transition to a peaceful post-apartheid South Africa, constitutionally premised on racial equality and human dignity for all.

 

In my experience, the worst overall effects of this effort to stigmatize anti-Israeli speech and activism as anti-Semitism is not its punitive dimensions that target programs and individuals in unfair and harmful ways, but the larger informal and mostly invisible atmosphere of intimidation and silent discrimination that is produced. Already timid academic and institutional administrators are alerted to avoid conference proposals, speaker invitations, and faculty appointments if there exists a plausible prospect of attack, or even criticism, by Zionist watchdog groups. I am sure others have tales along these lines to tell, but in my own case, I have experienced and heard about many such instances. Only a few attain visibility, which can happen when a previously arranged meeting space is cancelled due to backroom pressure or an event is called off because of alleged security concerns. This happened to me in relation to a London launch tour of my book on Israel/Palestine two years ago when stories were circulated, and threats made, of planned disruptions as a way of inducing cancellations, which did occur at two universities. Some of these planned events did go forward, including a somewhat stormy session at the London School of Economics where during the discussion period shouting and hostile behavior by supporters and critics of Israel in the audience were viewed as threatening public order, but the meeting went on to its end. I was told that later on, LSE reacted by adopting stricter regulations to ensure balance in presentations and an entirely neutral identity of the moderator, which is an institutional signal designed to discourage controversial subject-matter. This is bad enough, but I think the real effect of these experiences is to make faculty and administrators think twice before supporting events perceived as critical of Israel or in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. My impression is that the indirect effects of this Zionist pushback is having a more significant inhibiting impact on academic freedom and freedom of expression than the shockingly suppressive initiatives being adopted by legislative bodies in such leading countries as France, Germany, and soon Britain, as well as the United States.

 

One of the supposed anti-Semitic tropes has been the contention over the centuries that Jews exercise disproportionate influence on public policy in ways that are harmful to the general wellbeing of society. It hard to interpret the success of concerted Zionist and Israeli efforts to adopt the IHRA definition and approach as other than a confirmation of this charge, validating grounds for public concern about the excessive influence wielded by Jews. Two prominent centrist political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a very academic study a decade ago to show how the Israeli Lobby in the United States was influencing foreign policy undertakings in ways inimical to national interests. (The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007)) Whether true or not, and I believe it was true, the authors were unjustly vilified even in 2003 for daring to raise such questions about the extent, character, and policy effects of Jewish influence, and although leaders in their field, undoubtedly paid for ever more, subtle hidden career prices. It should be noted that targeting Muslims, which is more common and vicious in Europe and North America, than what has been experienced by Jews, has produced no comparable official condemnations of Islamophobia.

 

More to the point in any effort to penetrate the penumbra of confusion surrounding this subject-matter is the near fanatical support of certain right-wing political orientations for Israel, while simultaneously pursuing an anti-Semitic agenda. This is the widely known case for many Christian evangelical groups who read the Book of Revelations as promising a Second Coming of Jesus once Israel is reestablished and Jews return, then being given an option of converting or facing damnation. Actually, this seeming tension, almost the opposite of the supposed fusion of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attitudes in the IHRA approach, actually has deep roots in the pre-Israeli experience of the Zionist Movement. From the start of the British Mandate the Jewish minority in Palestine was under 10%, hardly the basis for a feasible basis to establish a Jewish state in an essentially Arab society in a historical period in which European colonialism was being widely discredited, and starting to collapses. Zionists appreciated the odds against realizing their goals, and resolved by all means to overcome thiis disabling demographic inferiority, especially as national legitimacy seemed connected in both their vision and wider international public opinion with democratic procedures of governance, which in this instance, presupposed a Jewish voting majority.

 

As a result, Zionists did everything in their power to induce diaspora Jews to move to Palestine, even resorting to striking Faustian Bargains with outrageously anti-Semitic regimes in Europe, including even the Nazi government in Germany. This dynamic of coerced and induced population transfer of Jews is documented on the basis of archival research in The State of Terror (2016) by Thomas Suarez. Against this background the anti-Semitic card has been played in contradictory ways by Zionist hardliners, earlier useful to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel and recently to inhibit criticism of Israel, with the common element being opportunism, entailing a disregard of principle.

 

There is another reinforcing dimension of such policies that further discredits the IHRA approach. Israeli foreign policy even in circumstances where a Jewish state of Israel exists, and has been given constitutional status by the 2018 Basic Law: “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” there continues to be an Israeli willingness to overlook overt anti-Semitism in a foreign leader provided diplomatic friendship is accorded to Israel, or economic gains can be achieved. Viktor Orban of Hungary is the example most often cited, but the pattern seems to explain the choice of Modi, Bolsonaro, and Trump as Israel’s preferred benefactors. Netanyahu’s Israel reciprocates this friendship with arms deals and military/policy training to governments on the far right, and its ambassador to Myanmar recently went so far as to lend psychological support to the Myanmar Government’s legal defense at the World Court against overwhelming evidence of genocide against the Muslim minority, Rohingya. While the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is justified as a check on forgetting the Holocaust, when non-Jews are the victims of genocide a quite different ethical calculus apparently applies. Forgetting genocides, while remembering the Holocaust, seems the tangled message that Israel and Zionist enforcers are sending to the world.

 

I think these various considerations make it plain that the current surge of emphasis on anti-Semitism is being driven by a combination of many crosscutting factors, some genuine, some fake. One of the more malignant developments in recent years is centered on this attempt to extend the scope of anti-Semitism beyond its core reference to hatred of and hostility toward Jews. In this broad sense, by classifying supporters of the human rights of the Palestinian peoples as anti-Semites there is both a loss of focus on hatred of Jews, combined with a deliberately misleading insistence that those who oppose Israeli apartheid and oppression are anti-Semitic. It seems evident that such distortions of the anti-Semitic discourse reflect the growth of civil society activism, critical of Israel, and reactive to Israel’s expansionism and pointedly defiant posture toward criticisms by the UN and human rights organizations. The disgraceful effort to brand Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party as anti-Semitic inserted an irrelevant toxic element into an electoral process in a leading democratic country, and is suggestive of the radiating implications of this irresponsible IHRA approach to anti-Semitism.

 

A final ground for suspicion about such tactics is the seemingly unconditional disregard of

Israel’s behavior. Without such an inquiry, to brand opposition to Israel or solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as anti-Semitic is to engage in a destructive form of anti-democratic polemics that has the perverse secondary effect of encouraging real anti-Semitic behavior that deserves condemnation. Even the notoriously cautious prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has just announced that an investigation of criminal allegations relating to Israel’s settlement activities on the West Bank and Gaza. Beyond this there is a growing consensus among those informed about the overall relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people (including those in refugee camps and exile) is accurately understood as based on apartheid structures of control. If this is a reasonable perception, then BDS and other solidarity initiatives are justifiable responses that deserve and need support and protection rather than being shamefully stigmatized as anti-Semitism, and compensate for the inability and unwillingness of established institutions to protect the basic rights of vulnerable people.

 

 

 

Reconciling Ecological Imperatives and the Right to Food at a Time of Bio-Ethical Crisis

15 Dec

Reconciling Ecological Imperatives and the Right to Food at a Time of Bio-Ethical Crisis[1]

 

 

A Perspective

 

Humanity faces an unprecedented challenge in the coming decades that threatens the foundations of life itself, and yet to date societal reactions have been disappointingly weak and evasive, aside from voices in the wilderness. Despite expertly documented studies from the most qualified climate scientists, the overall response of supposedly responsible political and economic elites has been tepid, escapist, and even denialist. The United State Government has led the way toward doom by withdrawing from the 2015 UN Paris Climate Change Agreement, an international agreement that did not go far enough to meet the challenges of climate change, but it was an encouraging step in the right direction that was taken by virtually every government on the face of the earth. With nihilistic audacity the American president, Donald Trump, has formally withdrawn American participation in this international framework that mandates national reductions in carbon emissions with the overall objective of keeping global warming from increases above 2%, which is higher than the 1.5% that the scientific consensus proposes as necessary, but far lower than what we can expect if present emissions trends continue without significant cutbacks and regulatory oversight.

 

I wish to give attention to this extremely disturbing evolving situation by labeling it ‘the first bio-ethical crisis to confront humanity.’ It is bio-ethical in the primary sense that the challenges posed are fundamentally directed at the wellbeing and even survival of the species as a whole, which is a new occurrence for the human species. The crisis has an ethical character because knowledge and resources exist to overcome these challenges, and yet such suitable action is not taken. We need to ask ‘why?’ to discern the obstacles. In essence, these challenges to our human future could be addressed within the broad framework of a feasible reconfiguring of the industrial foundations and ethical outlook of modernity, and yet it is not happening. By having the knowledge of such a menacing future and yet choosing not to act is itself an ethical choice of the greatest magnitude. It is not as if a gigantic meteor was hurtling toward the earth with no known way of diverting its path or cushioning its impact. We know, and yet we lack the fortitude to act even for the sake of future generations that will suffer the main consequences of our profound irresponsibility.

 

Putting these concerns in the context of the right to food and food security generally, we are keenly aware that food and water are the most indispensable aspects to the right to life itself. We also realize that rights to material necessities are drained of meaning if extreme poverty deprives the poorest among us the purchasing power to purchase food that is affordable, sufficient, and nutritious. Although some governments are more protective of the vulnerable segments of their population than others, experience teaches us that social protection cannot be left to the good will of governments. Rights must be reinforced by practical remedies that are accessible to ordinary people, and can be successfully implemented. In many countries of the West where capitalism and fiscal austerity prevail, there is an ethically deficient ideological insistence on allowing the market to decide on the wellbeing of the members of society. This sends a perverse ethical message: the rich deserve their bounty, while the poor deserve their hardships. From such a strictly capitalist standpoint, pleading for the intervention of the state is alleged to make matters worse by imposing restraints on economic growth.

 

My attempt is to identify the obstacles, and suggest how these might be overcome. Put differently, we know what is wrong, we know what should be done, and yet it does not happen.

Further, the longer that it doesn’t happen the more burdensome will be the adjustment, and there are risks that by not acting responsibly in the present, tipping points of irreversibility will be crossed making societal adjustments if not impossible, almost so. Illustratively, if diets now limited meat consumption by one or two meatless days a week, there might be some prospect of achieving ecological balance by gradual measures, but if diets are unregulated for the next two decades, adjustment to avert catastrophe may require a mandatory vegetarian diet.

 

 

Confronting the Obstacles: These obstacles overlap and reinforce one another, and should not be regarded as entirely distinct. Such an assessment suggest that an integrated and transformative approach should be developed to comprehend these four types of obstacles in an integrated and comprehensive manner, and what might be done to overcome them.

 

Ideological (1)

 

Our social relationship to food and agriculture deeply reflect the interplay of capitalism—maximizing profits and consumerism—which includes maximizing choice, identified positively  as freedom. Interferences by governing authorities occur only if overwhelming demonstrations of adverse health effects can be demonstrated, but usually only after costly delays resulting from ‘expert’ reassurances on food safety given by corporate high paid consultants. Such market-driven patterns, fueled by advertising and addictive products produce unhealthy dietary habits throughout society, causing epidemics of obesity and many serious health issues.

Social concerns on an international level are understandably focused on avoiding humanitarian catastrophes in the form of mass starvation or famine. This kind of preoccupation places an emphasis on disaster relief and response to emergencies while ignoring the underlying ideological problem arising from distorted priorities of profits and unregulated markets over human health and ecological stability. The same forces that suppress and distort information pertaining to health are irresponsible abusers of environment, and disrupters of ecological balance. A vivid recent example is the burning of the Brazilian rainforest to satisfy market demands for high-yield logging and livestock farming, while undermining the viability of the rainforest as a major carbon capture resource and a precious storehouse of biodiversity.

 

 

 

Structural (2)

 

Seeking to balance food security against these ecological concerns is often at odds with the human and global interest. The structures of authority that shape global policy are overwhelming responsive to national interests, and this includes the UN System. Again, using the example of Brazil giving priority to development over planetary dimensions with respect to the Amazon rainforest by deferring to claims of national sovereignty so as to override objections about the dangerous impacts of this behavior on global warming and ecological equilibrium. Despite the global scale of the effects of agriculture, particularly agro-business, there is no effective international mechanisms to achieve responsible behavior on a national level.

 

Even when governments cooperate for the public common good, as was the case with the Paris Climate Change Agreement (2015), the commitment is framed in an unenforceable and sovereignty respecting manner. This means that even if the pledges of reductions in carbon emissions were to be fulfilled, it would still fall short of what the respected IPCC Panel prescribes as essential to avoid dangerous, possibly catastrophic effects of further global warming. Similar considerations bear on meat consumption undertaken without any effort at achieving a global regulatory perspective. Such an approach is also shaken by irresponsible global leadership as currently exercised by the United States, epitomized by its recent support of Brazil’s sovereignty claims with respect to the management of the Amazon rainforest and by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, creating dreadful precedents that will certainly affect poorer, more economically stressed countries, and eventually the rest of us. Why should a country confronted by a food and agriculture crisis, for instance, Zimbabwe, forego developmental opportunities by acting more ecologically responsible when the world’s largest per capita carbon emitter is behaving so irresponsibly?

 

 

(3) Temporal

 

The most influential sources and structures of influence and authority have evolved in the modern period by being excessively attentive to short-term results. Such short-termism is associated with holding political leaders and corporate executives accountable to citizens and shareholder. Democracy rests on this proposition that voters get the chance every four years to heed the call that “it time for a change,” or more crudely, ‘throw the bastards out.’ This pattern can be observed in the preoccupation of political leaders with the electoral cycles, which are seen as decisive when it comes to assessing performance. Even for non-democratic forms of governance short-term results shape views of whether the leadership should be supported and given signs of approval.

 

It is no different for the economy, which exhibits an even more pronounced tendency toward short-termism. Most corporate and financial executives are judged by quarterly balance sheets when it comes to performance, and given little or no credit by shareholders and hedge fund managers for normative achievements relating to health, safety, and environment.

 

The importance of longer horizons of accountability is a consequence of the character of current world order challenges, with preservation of environment, avoidance of human-generated climate change, and maintenance of ecosystem stability being illustrative of the growing importance of thinking further ahead than in the past, especially when it comes to government and private sector behavior. Yet to propose such an adjustment is far easier than it is to envision how such temporal adjustments to human and ecological wellbeing could be brought about. These clusters of concerns bear directly on all dimensions of food and agricultural policy. In earlier periods adverse change from mismanagement and shortsightedness led to relatively local and national, or at most regional, harm, but the threats at this time are more systemic, totalistic, and more costly to reverse or correct. Such issues as land use, pesticides, herbicides, soil preservation, genetically modified foods, and agricultural production priorities suggest how crucial it has become to plan in a time frame that is as sensitive as possible to the precautionary principle as it applies to risk management, and thus relates to all aspects of food policy.

 

 

(4) Normative

 

In considering these broad issues of risk and choice in a food context we encounter a distinctive array of normative concerns of an ethical, legal, and even spiritual character. At issue most basically is the way humanity interacts with nature. Modernity, with its vision of progress resting on science and technology, regarded the natural surrounding as a series of venues useful for exploitation to enrich human society. That path brought us many interim benefits and pleasures, but it also set in motion trends that over time have produced the current bio-ethical crisis that challenges, as never before, the future wellbeing and even survival of the human species. It is relevant even in this circumstance of bio-ethical crisis to alter our way of seeing so that it encompasses ecological wellbeing in addition to human wellbeing. It is my belief that this kind of ecological consciousness as an alternative to anthropocentric orientations will provide human society with also yield benefits of a spiritual nature that go beyond meeting the materialist challenges of human existence, thus reenchanting the human experience with meaning and purpose in ways that the great religions did in the past.

 

Food and agriculture provide the vital linkages between this search for better forms of coexistence between nature and human experience, what pre-modern society often achieved but lost with the advent of modernity. Translating such a vision into practical policies is the work of specialists and those who are attuned both to human and ecological imperatives, but whose guidance will fail unless leaders in all spheres of collective existence are held accountable by popular will, strengthened by activism and education, so as to be properly attuned to the complex interplay of human activity and the sustainable carrying capacity of the earth.

 

 

 

A Concluding Plea

 

Pointing toward a desired reconciliation between ecological imperatives and the fulfillment of the right to food requires our attention, as well as our moral and political imagination. From such a perspective I offer these suggestions:

 

–applying the precautionary principle in all policymaking arenas with an awareness of the need to reconcile food and agricultural policy with ecological imperatives;

 

–identify the obstacles to such a reconciliation with a stress on the human as distinct from the national, on the ecological as distinct from the anthropocentric, on the intermediate and long-term as distinct from the short-term;

 

–without minimizing the magnitude of the challenges or the resistance of the obstacles find hope in ‘a politics of impossibility’; many historical developments from the collapse of colonialism to the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and repressive communism in Soviet Russia demonstrate that ‘the impossible happens.’ As a result, the future is uncertain to the extent that we have an opportunity and a related responsibility to act as if what seems impossible can still be made to happen. Such is our situation, such is our hope.

 

 

[1] Remarks as modified, first presented at “The 2nd International Agricultural & Food Congress,”

25 October 2019, Izmir, Turkey.