Tag Archives: American foreign policy

Three Unshakeable Pillars of American Foreign Policy

3 Apr

 

 

It deserves to be noticed that it is only the two anti-establishment candidates who have challenged the foreign policy consensus that has guided American politicians ever since the end of World War II: consistently express unconditional support for the Pentagon, Wall Street, and Israel (especially since the 1967 War).

 

Bernie Sanders has been the first serious presidential aspirant for several decades to challenge directly and unabashedly at least one of these pillars by way of his principled and concerted attacks on Wall Street, on the billionaire class, on the exploitative 1%. Although moderate overall, Sanders has been respectfully deferential to the other two pillars, Pentagon and Israel. Because he has mobilized an intense following among all categories of American youth there has been a media reluctance to assault his substantive views frontally, except to offer a variety of snide remarks that cast doubt on his ‘electability.’

 

Such a dismissal pretends to be pragmatic, but the polls indicate that Sanders would do better against likely Republicans than Clinton. This leads me to interpret the refusal of the corporatized mainstream to take Sanders seriously, at least so far, as a coded ideological attack, basically a reaction to his anti-Wall Street stand that can be viewed as the opening salvo of class warfare.

 

Donald Trump has encountered a somewhat different firestorm but with a similar intent. At first, when the cognoscenti dismissed him as a serious candidate, he was welcomed as a source of entertainment. When his popularity with primary voters could no longer be overlooked, he was challenged by a steady flow of condescending rebukes that question his competence to govern (rather than his electability) or to be a commander in chief. Again his cardinal sin, in my judgment, is not the extraordinary mobilization of a proto-fascist populism that relishes his anti-Muslim immigration stand, his xenophobic call for a high wall on the Mexican border paid for by Mexico, and his proposed revival of torture as a necessary instrument of anti-terrorism. Most hard core Trump supporters have been long hiding out in a closet until The Donald stepped forward with aplomb and a strident willingness to be politically incorrect. As with Sanders, but seemingly more capriciously and less convincingly, Trump has agitated the guardians of all three pillars, unlike Sanders with a programmatic assault, but more obliquely with provocative comments here and there. He manages to convey, although by way of his many off hand and unrehearsed asides, a heretical state of mind with respect to the received wisdom that has been guiding the country since World War II regardless of which party’s president sits in the oval office.

 

Of the Pentagon, his heretical views seem spontaneous challenges to settled policies. Trump appears to look with some indifference, if not outright approval, at the prospect for further proliferation of nuclear weapons, specifically in relation to Japan and South Korea. Such a comment is regarded as imprudent even if never meant to be acted upon as it makes the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’ seem leaky to those accustomed to its protection, and more importantly, casts some doubt on American global commitments around the world.

 

Similarly, casting doubt on the role of NATO in a post-Cold War world, asking for the Europeans to pay more, is seen by the Beltway wonks, as both an unacceptable public rebuke to allies and an even more unacceptable failure to take seriously the threat being posed by a newly belligerent Russia that flexed its muscles in the Ukraine, and then Syria. Trump’s skeptical attitude toward NATO was particularly resented as it seemed insensitive to the bellicose slide toward a new cold war that had been gathering bipartisan momentum in Washington.

 

Beyond this, Trump showed little appreciation of the way the Pentagon community views the war on terror. Although war planners likely welcomed the Trump promise to rebuild America’s armed forces so as overcome their alleged decline during the Obama presidency. What bothered the Washington policy community was Trump’s skepticism about such mainstays of American foreign policy as military intervention and regime-changing missions. At one heretical high point Trump even hinted that it would be a good idea to divert Pentagon dollars into infrastructure investment here in America. Annoyed listeners among the guardians might have detected in such a sweeping assertion a disguised, if confused, nostalgia for a revival of American isolationism.

 

Of the Wall Street pillar, Trump is perhaps more seriously worrisome, although not at all in the Sanders’ mode. Trump trashes the international trading regime that has been such an article of faith at the core of ‘the Washington consensus’ that gave substance and direction to neoliberal globalization in the latter stages of the prior century. His views of the world economy clearly favor the nationalist sort of protectionism that is widely held responsible for the Great Depression. Beyond this, Trump seems intent on challenging the terms of trade with China in ways that could expose a disastrous American vulnerability to Chinese countermeasures, especially given their enormous dollar holdings. Although the foreign policy approach to China endorsed by the guardians is ready, if not eager, to confront China on the island disputes in the South China Sea, it does not want to disrupt the enormous economic benefits and continuing potential of orderly relations with the Chinese market. From this perspective, Trump’s aggressive deal-making approach to global economic policy is viewed as highly dangerous.

 

Trump has even made the Israeli pillar quiver ever so slightly by suggesting at one point that he favored neutrality in approaching the relations between Israel and Palestine. He sought to override this unwelcome and uncharacteristic display of judiciousness, by making a fawning speech at the AIPAC annual conference. Yet Trump’s willingness to follow the intimations of his gut must have probably made ardent Israeli advocates yearn for the likes of Clinton and Cruz who have mortgaged what’s left of their soul on the altar of subservience to the lordship of Netanyahu and his extremist cohorts.

 

The candidates who pass the litmus test associated with the three pillars approach are clearly Clinton and Kasich, with Ryan on the sidelines waiting to be called if gridlock ensues at the Republican Convention. Cruz would also be treated as an outlier if it were not for Trump preempting him by this assault on the three pillars. Cruz is hardly the kind of candidate that the guardians prefer. His evangelical religiosity is outside the political box, as is his imprudent stance toward engaging international adversaries, crushing enemies, patrolling Muslim communities, and endorsements of waterboarding. It is not the sort of image of America that the guardians wish to convey to the rest of the world.

 

Sanders is grudgingly admired for his authenticity, but grounded politically for assailing Wall Street and cruel capitalism in ways that threaten the established economic order (universal health care, free public university tuition) with initiatives popular with many voters.

 

For months the guardians assumed that Trump would self-destruct but instead he kept dominating the field of presidential hopefuls among the Republican ranks. Unlike the Clinton control of the Democratic Party machine, the Republican Party bureaucracy has been ineffectual in stemming the Trump tide. For this reason media and establishment reinforcements were called upon, and even President Obama joined the chorus of Trump detractors, not because he overtly opposed to the activation of fascist populism but to relieve pressures on the three pillars consensus.

 

The voters in Wisconsin and elsewhere still have an opportunity to push back. If Sanders should win by double digits on Tuesday, it will create a quandary for the guardians. To have to depend on Clinton’s support among the super delegates for the nomination would be such an anti-democratic rebuff of the Sanders’ constituency that not even Sanders could effectively control the backlash. Many of the Sanders’ faithful would sit out the election no matter what their leader urged, rejecting the lesser of evils plea.

 

If Trump should prevail, even narrowly, it looks as though the Republicans will find themselves swallowing hard while being forced to select a candidate unacceptable to themselves. Such an outcome would also probably mean kissing goodbye to any hope of regaining the White House, leading the main party effort to be directed at holding on to control of Congress.

 

Actually, this primary campaign reveals a dismal underlying situation: in a healthy democracy all three pillars should long ago have been shaken at least as hard as Sanders is currently challenging Wall Street. This benevolent challenge mounted by Sanders is a sign that America may be finally getting ready for a genuinely revolutionary challenge, although the grassroots strength of the Trump legions creates the menacing alternative possibility of a fascist counterrevolution. Such radical options are at this point no more than remote possibilities. The persisting probability is more of the same, most likely under Democratic Party auspices. In this respect, the three pillars seem secure in their dysfunction for the foreseeable future. We who lament this can only wish that this dysfunction does not achieve political maturity in the form of global catastrophe.

 

I have not dwelled on the lesser of evils argument that makes Clinton seem a vastly preferable alternative to a wannabe reactionary like Trump or Cruz. Even if we fear Clinton’s warmongering past, we could at least expect better judicial appointments, more positive initiatives on health care and women’s rights, and more informed and balanced assessment of foreign economic policy. Whether this is enough to overcome our distaste for Clinton’s wanton opportunism and instinctive militarism, is something every citizen will have to ponder on her own if the choice comes down to this next November.                            

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Responding to Megaterrorism after Paris

6 Dec

 

[Prefatory Note: the post below is based on an opinion piece published by Middle East Eye on December 1, 2015 under the title “A Different Response to ISIS after Paris.” My modified text places its focus on the originality of megaterrorism and its distinctive challenges, suggesting that the choice of response needs to be extended beyond the iron cage of militarism and vengeance. Also, it is essential for analysts and leaders to envision the response to the response as well as being preoccupied with how best to hit back. Increasingly, American politicians treat the challenge as if playing poker whereas the realities of the situation call for a chess players’ natural disposition to think ahead as many moves as possible. Finally, given the religious and civilizational dimensions of current versions of megaterrorism, it is vital to guard against various manifestations of Islamophobia.]

 

What separates megaterrorism from other more customary forms of terrorism is the theme of this post. It is not possible to give a precise definition of megaterrorism by pointing to a threshold of casualties or the magnitude of response. Each megaterrorist event is decisively shaped by its distinctive sociopolitical and psychological context. The focus here is take account of this radical new category of threat posed in a variety of settings, critique the ‘war’ reflex and the war/crime binary, briefly consider alternate paths of response, and recommend risk  and cost assessments that take into account adversary responses to the prescribed response. The 21st century experience with responding to megaterrorist events does not create confidence in either most conceptualizations of the challenges being posed or the responsive strategies chosen to be implemented.   

 

 

The horrific Paris attacks of November 13th challenge the West more deeply in some ways than did the 9/11 attacks 14 years ago. The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center mounted by al-Qaeda were directed at the twin centers of American power: global military dominance, and were in reaction to especially large-scale deployments of American armed forces near the holiest of Islamic religious sites in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s. There was a terrorist logic associated with striking such symbolic blows, although it aroused an American led unified Western response that was relied upon as a mandate for intervention in Afghanistan and then started to fracture when extended to Iraq after failing to win approval from the UN Security Council. These wars have had the major ‘blowback’ effect contributing to the origins and emergence of the current primary menace of ISIS, above all by its willingness to send suicide bombers to attack ‘soft targets’ of ordinary people that included in Paris a sports arena, a music hall, and several neighborhood restaurants in the city center. In other words, to a greater extent than even was the case with Osama Bin Laden’s manifestos, ISIS has initiated a merciless totalizing campaign against the West, soliciting followers and recruits from around the world, and appears to have the will and capability to continue the effort for the foreseeable future no matter what retaliatory blows it receives as a result of intensified Western military efforts.

 

Such a grave crisis is deepened, rather than mitigated, by the bellicose stupidity of François Hollande who immediately after the event declared ‘war’ on ISIS, promising to be unremittingly merciless in response. Hollande’s words to the French Parliament: The acts committed on Friday night in Paris and at the Stade are acts of war. This constitutes an attack against our country, against its values, against its youth, against its way of life.” In so framing the French response Hollande repeats the muscular mistakes of George W. Bush. It should be clear by now that ‘war’ with the West is not only what these movements claim and seek, but its nature is such that the capabilities at the disposal of the West, magnify rather than reduce or eliminate the threats posed. Or as maybe more precise, seemingly at first effectively reduce the threat, but later on find that the original threat has somewhat changed and been displaced, and is emergent anew in a somewhat altered, yet even more extreme form. In this regard, there was the belief that when Osama Bin Laden was found and executed, al-Qaeda had been most destroyed and substantially contained, Yet it did not take long that the earlier megaterrorist threat had shifted its locus to ISIS and its various ‘cosmic warriors’ (Mark Juergensmeyer) spread around the world who make it their mission to resort to mass indiscriminate violence against purely civilian targets as a matter of religious devotion.

 

One alternative response available to Hollande was to denounce the acts of 11/13 as a monstrous ‘crime’ that called for an unprecedented national and international law enforcement effort. This is the manner in which such non-state violence of political extremists has been addressed before 9/11 and should at least be considered in response to a metaterrorist event before leaping into the fires of war. It remains instructive to examine the Spanish response to the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, a megaterrorist event as measured by the scale of the casualties and the fear generated. The political leader in Spain at the time, José Maria Asner, a junior coalition partner of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq defying Spanish public opinion that opposed such involvement. After the Madrid bombing Asner immediately pointed an accusatory finger at the Basque Separatist movement, ETA, which turned out to be wrong, and his fear-mongering was evidently resented by many Spaniards. The real culprits turned out to be Moroccan Muslim extremists. It happened that there was a national election in Spain a few days after the bombing, Asner was defeated, and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party prevailed, resulting in José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero becoming the new head of state. As the new leadership promised in its electoral campaign, the Spanish government quickly announced the removal of its troops from Iraq and simultaneously embarked on an all out hunt for the criminals. In effect, by removing Spanish troops, the Spanish government was not only respecting the public will of its citizens but also indirectly acknowledging the legitimate grievances associated with the unlawful regime-changing attack and occupation of Iraq. This response to the megaterrorist challenge in Spain could not, of course, remove the deep and tragic personal losses resulting from the attacks, but Spanish society was allowed to move away from shadows of fear, and has not experienced subsequent major terrorist events.

 

This conjunction of circumstances in Spain will not always be present, and the originality of the megaterrorist challenge, neither can often not be met by the mechanical application of either paradigms of war or crime as traditionally understood. We lack the language or the public awareness needed to capture the dark originality of megaterrorism, and hence often seem to be acting ineffectively or even in a manner that increases the threats of recurrence. At times, the gravity of the event is so great that an aroused and frightened citizenry demands and expects an immediate and proportionate response that usually cannot be generated by acting within the crime paradigm, and yet the war paradigm while responding to public outrage tends to produce policies that spread havoc, expand the zone of strife and devastation, and in the name of security encroach excessively on domestic freedoms at home.  This combination of action and reaction is descriptive of the American experience post-9/11. This American case was further complicated by the fact that neoconservative political leadership controlled the U.S. Government response, and as a result the counter-terrorist response became intertwined with quite distinct and controversial grand strategy goals in the Middle East that largely account for the American led decision to attack and then occupy Iraq in 2003.

 

The American Vice President, Joe Biden, seemed recently to retreat from ‘the war on terror’ discourse, but only slightly. Biden argued not for war, but unconvincingly urged raising the level of interventionary violence higher against ISIS as the right course of action after Paris, above all, to demonstrate an enhanced commitment to the defeat of ISIS. Biden believeseveryone knows what needs to be done and there’s no doubt we’ll prevail, but we need to do a hell of a lot more. We all have to step up our level of engagement: more troops, more planes, more money. This thing will go on for years unless we do.” Depressingly, the Democratic presidential hopeful, Hilary Clinton, told the Council of Foreign Relations more or less the same thing a few weeks ago, just prior to the Paris attacks. Obama as is his way, seemed to recognize the undesirability of an open ended or permanent war posture without altering the analysis and essential response of his neocon predecessor in the White House. [See speech defending drone warfare at the National Defense University, May 23, 2013] After Paris, and in response to the shooting in San Bernadino, California there is a renewed insistence by the Republican opposition that America is ‘at war’ whether its elected leader acknowledges it or not.

 

All of these views, despite covering a range of tactical positions, hold in common a shared militarist definition of the proper response to the ISIS threat. Further the response is exclusively focused on offensive tactics and weaponry that are intended to destroy this elusive enemy, but without much prospect of doing so. There is no commitment discussed or made to defending those minorities that are threatened with ‘boots on the ground’ or exploring what kind of political options might make sense. It should not be forgotten that the core capabilities of ISIS arose in response to the anti-Sunni and oppressive tenor of the American led regime-destroying occupation of Iraq that lasted for more than a decade and had been preceded by a devastating UN authorized air war in 1991 that was followed by a punitive peace, featuring a sanctions regime imposed for over ten years that is believed responsible for several hundred thousand Iraqi civilian deaths.

 

 

The fact that some of the elements of this enormous crime  committed in Paris were transnational is not decisive in altering its character. By elevating the status of ISIS to that of a belligerent against whom it is necessary to mobilize the society that was targeted perversely adds to the gains of the attacker, and creates incentives for it to do more of the same. If handled as a version of the most dangerous type of crime that deeply threatens human and state security, the society would still be fully mobilized to protect itself as fully as practicable, and other governments would become more inclined to do whatever they can by way of cooperative criminal law enforcement. The magnitude of the crime could be further recognized by prosecuting the Paris attacks as an international crime against humanity as well as the most serious of violations of French criminal law. This was the approach taken centuries earlier by many governments to international piracy. The entire world was presumed to have a shared interest in suppressing piracy, and many governments cooperated to prevent and punish, and continue to do so in response to modern piracy. The realization that the criminals engaged in the Paris attacks had grown up in the heart of Europe further compounds the mistake of externalizing the evil, situating the threat in the Arab World, antagonizing even more the people suffering in that already inflamed region, and in the process inflating the stature of the criminals as combatants in a war.

 

The Bush/Hollande way of reacting also is harmful in two other fundamental respects: it precludes attention being given to root causes and steadfastly refuses self-scrutiny that might lead to some acknowledgement that extremist motivations of the criminal perpetrators might have taken shape in reaction wholly or partly to legitimate grievances. The best sustainable remedy for terrorist violence, whether large or small, is to address its root causes and legitimate grievances. Otherwise, as even some conservative and militarist political figures have admitted (including Rumsfeld, Mubarak), recourse to warfare, whether by war through a concerted campaign (e.g. Iraq) or by a program of targeted assassinations (e.g. drones) quite possibly generates many more militants than it eliminates, and certainly spreads the zone of violence and devastation more widely causing massive displacements of people, generating refugee flows that give rise to the sort of deep alienation and anger that creates a new pool of recruits that can be attracted to extremist causes, as well as encourages a reactionary backlash in whatever countries are chosen as sanctuaries.

 

To consider the Paris attacks by a reductio of good versus evil has the further consequence of excluding diplomacy and political accommodation as instruments useful in restoring stability and human security. How many of the supposedly intractable conflicts of the past, including the conflict with Britain that occasioned the American Revolution, were resolved by bringing the terrorists in from the cold? I would not suggest that this is currently a plausible option with ISIS, but keeping open this possibility, however remote and distasteful it now seems, is to be sensitive to the ‘lessons of history.’

 

More significantly, to avoid self-scrutiny by opting for unconditional war is to miss the best opportunity to undercut in the long-term the extremist rationale for attacking the West. It needs to be better appreciated that extremism does not flourish in a political and moral vacuum. It is probably the case that ISIS cannot be fully explained as a reaction to regional sectarianism, the Palestinian ordeal, and the mayhem brought to the people of Iraq, but absent the widespread sense of injustice associated with Israel’s regional role and millions resultant deaths and displacements, which partly embody the outcomes of the U.S. geopolitical agenda, the emergence of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, and ISIS might never have happened, at least in their present form. Such a conclusion is reinforced when it is appreciated that the Arab governments, dependent on American protection, proved incapable, and in the end unwilling, to secure even the most minimal post-colonial interests and honor the values of Islamic and Arab peoples, including the provision of jobs and the elimination of extreme poverty. Arguably, given the Sykes-Picot legacies, including the artificial state formations of a century ago, the region has never yet managed to cast off the colonial mantle.

 

In conclusion, when dealing with the traumas and threats posed by megaterrorist movements it seems appropriate to acknowledge that neither the war nor the crime template as conventionally understood is capable of providing satisfactory answers. The context must be considered, and like skillful chess players a response should not be undertaken without evaluating the likely range of responses of ISIS and others to a range of possible Western responses. It is easy long after the fact to critique what the Bush presidency started to do on 9/12, but doing this in retrospect overlooks the actuality and intensity of the 9/11 challenge. Of course, when the Iraq War was folded into the counter-terrorist rationale that was initially internationally accepted with respect to launching an attack on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it became obvious that other controversial American strategic goals were being pursued, and that the likely result would be a major foreign policy failure as well as an aggravation of the megaterrorist challenge. Beyond this, an unlawful invasion of a sovereign state by the leading member of the UN strikes a severe blow at the authority of UN Charter and the core norms of international law limiting force to situations of self-defense absent Security Council authorization.

 

As the French response to 11/13 confirms, nothing much has been learned about how to address the distinctive challenges of mega-terrorism. To encourage such learning four preliminary policy prescriptions can be endorsed: (1) the importance of restoring respect for UN authority and international law in the shaping of responses to megaterrorist challenges, including some further development of international law; (2) the need to develop a template for addressing megaterrorism that is more sophisticated than mechanically than opting for either/or logic of war or crime; (3) the revision of tactical and strategic thinking to include a process of looking ahead beyond the response to a megaterrorist event to envision as well as possible the chain of responses and counter-responses likely to ensue; (4) the practical desirability of making and taking account of assessments of root causes and legitimate grievances in clarifying the interpretation of the motivation of those who support, plan, and enact megaterrorism and with an emphasis on the reduction and eventual elimination of such threats to societal wellbeing.

 

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

4 Apr

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

 

 

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

 

In this chapter my intention is to do three things:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

II. The Political/Ethical Argument for Nonviolent Geopolitcs

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

III. Concluding Observations: Opportunities, Challenges, Tendencies

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

References

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

[1] A mainstream exception is Rosecrance 2002.

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

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

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

[5] Significantly documented in Schell 2003.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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