Tag Archives: International Court of Justice

The Spiritual Sources of Legal Creativity: The Legacy of Father Miguel d

31 Oct

 

[Preliminary Remarks: What follows is the modified transcript of a talk given at Fordham University School of Law honoring the memory of the recently deceased Maryknoll priest, Father Miguel d’Escoto, who had been both the Foreign Minister of Sandinista Nicaragua and President of the UN General Assembly, as well as pastor to the poor in the spirit of Pope Francis, an extraordinary person who fused a practical engagement in the world with a deeply spiritual nature that affected all who were privileged to know and work with him.]

 

THE INAUGURAL FR. MIGUEL D’ESCOTO

MEMORIAL LECTURE: “THE SPIRITUAL SOURCES OF LEGAL CREATIVITY”

October 24, 2017

Program

Fordham University School of Law

150 West 62nd Street Room 3-03

 

Chair:

Kevin M. Cahill, M.D.

University Professor, IIHA, Fordham University

Lecturer:

Richard A. Falk

Professor Emeritus, Princeton University School of Law

 

Discussant:

Martin S. Flaherty

Leitner Family Professor of Law, Fordham Law School

 

************************************************************************

 

It is a humbling honor to speak at this gathering of remembrance dedicated to a truly great human being who inspired and touched the lives and activities of so many of us in this room. Kevin Cahill is among those here who had such an intimate and sustained friendship with Father Miguel. Kevin is also a person with his own abundant inspirational gifts, and I remain deeply grateful to him for originally bringing me into contact with Miguel.

 

Others here today could assuredly speak more knowingly about the person. I will only offer this personal observation: Miguel exhibited a remarkable quality of moral radiance that was immediately apparent to all those fortunate enough to cross his path. The only person in my experience who possessed a comparable depth of ethical being was Nelson Mandela with whom I had a single and brief, yet memorable, encounter.

 

The title given to my remarks is something I admit imposing upon myself, and now at this moment of delivery strikes me now as far too ambitious. I chose such a theme because it does reflect the most enduring and empowering dimension of my association with Miguel, and seemed appropriate to reflect upon in the venerable academic venue of the Fordham School of Law.

 

My point of departure is this: if we believe, which many do not, that justice is the proper end of law, then we must struggle to overcome the calculative or transactional mentality that dominates our legal culture, restricting our attitudes and endeavors involving law to the domain of the feasible. I am fully aware that I am endorsing an unconventional outlook by elevating the moral imagination and what I would call ‘utopian realism.’ This kind of formulation disregards the conventional understanding of law as essentially offering a suite of techniques for problem-solving that presupposes a view of politics as ‘the art of the possible.’

 

It is this kind of ethical radicalism that made the life of Father Miguel so exemplary, and in the best sense, ‘revolutionary,’ for all those whose lives he affected whether in ministering to the poor or challenging the high and mighty, whether acting in a pastoral capacity or as a man of the world. It is important to appreciate that Miguel was both an ardent Nicaraguan nationalist and a passionate citizen of the world, what I call a ‘citizen pilgrim,’ embarked on a pilgrimage to a global future that embodies peace with justice.

Let me preface this inquiry into the spiritual sources of legal creativity with a general remark that pertains particularly to international law. I may be almost alone among law professors in believing that that international law is the field of law that is most relevant to the ultimate survival of the human species. The sad reality is that international law continues to struggle for survival as a field of study, being often denigrated, evaded, and violated by the most powerful governments on the planet whenever law is seen as blocking a preferred policy and there are always many apologists among the ranks of legal experts and diplomats ready to offer a comforting rationalization.

 

And yet viewed from a perspective other than war/peace and security, international law in relation to trade and investment has basically served to protect the interests of the rich and powerful, while shackling the poor and vulnerable. In other words, international law has this dual face: it bends to the geopolitical will of the militarily powerful while often cruelly imposing accountability on the weak. At the founding of the UN a Mexican diplomat caustically observed that ‘we have created an organization that regulates the mice while the tigers roam freely.’ And so it is.

 

It is against this background that Miguel d’Escoto’s spiritual wisdom creates a contrast with business as usual in the world of real politik. Even for most global reformers, the criterion for constructive action is a realistic appreciation of achievable limits, what I would identify as horizons of feasibility. We are living increasingly in a world in which there are growing gaps between what is feasible and what is necessary, what I identify as horizons of necessity. Adapting to climate change in the Age of Trump underscores this menacing gap between feasibility and necessity. As a diplomat Father Miguel was almost unconcerned with feasibility as conventionally understood if it stood in the way of necessity or desirability. He was deeply sensitive to the imperatives of necessity, and even more so to the moral and spiritual imperatives of doing what is right under a particular set of circumstances, and for this reason alone he was most responsive to what I identify here as horizons of spirituality.

 

He was motivated by a belief, undoubtedly reflecting his religious faith, in the potency of right reason, and on this basis conceived of international law as a crucial vehicle for realizing such a vision, embracing with moral enthusiasm a kind of ‘politics of impossibility’ in which considerations of justice outweighed calculations of feasibility or the obstacles associated with geopolitics. It is with an awareness of the trials and tribulation of Nicaragua and its long suffering population that Father Miguel turned to law as an imaginative means of empowerment.

 

Let me illustrate by reference to the historic case that Nicaragua brought against the United States in the early 1980s at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It was a daring legal flight of moral fancy to suppose that tiny and beleaguered Nicaragua could shift its struggle from the bloody battlefields of U.S. armed intervention and a mercenary insurgency against the Sandinista Government of which he was then Foreign Minister to the lofty legal terrain that itself had been originally crafted to reflect the values and interests of dominant states, the geopolitical players on the global stage. But more than this it was a brilliant leap of political imagination to envision the soft power of law neutralizing the hard power of high tech weaponry in a high stakes ideological struggle being waged in the midst of the Cold War.

 

Such an attempt to shift the balance of forces in an ongoing conflict by recourse to international law and the World Court had never before been made in any serious way. It was a David and Goliath challenge that the World Court as the highest judicial institution in the UN System had yet to face in a war/peace context, and it turned out to be a test of the integrity of the institution.

 

Let me recall the situation in Nicaragua briefly. The United States was supporting a right-wing insurgency, the counterrevolutionary remnant of the Somoza dictatorship, a single family that had cruelly and corruptly ruled Nicaragua between 1936 and 1974 on behalf of corporate America (the era of ‘banana republics’), leaving the country in impoverished ruins when the Somoza dynasty finally collapsed. The Somoza-oriented insurgents were known as the Contras, and were called ‘freedom fighters’ by their American sponsors and paymaster because they were opposing the Sandinista Government that had won a war of national liberation in 1979, but was accused by its detractors of leftist tendencies and Soviet sympathies, which was the right-wing ideological way of obscuring the true affinity of the Sandinista leadership with the teachings of Liberation Theology rather than with the secular dogmatics of Marxism. It was a way of depriving the people of Nicaragua of their inalienable right of self-determination. The United States Government via the CIA was training and equipping the Contras, and quite overtly committing acts of war by mining and blockading Managua, Nicaragua’s main harbor and its lifeline to the world.

 

It was these interventionary undertakings that flouted the authority of international law and the UN Charter. Father Miguel’s addressed the UN General Assembly in his capacity as Nicaragua’s acting Foreign Minister, vividly describing the conflict with some well-chosen provocative words: “It is obvious that the war to which Nicaragua is being subjected is a U.S. war, and the so-called Contras are merely hired hands serving the diabolical objectives of the Reagan Administration.” Later in the same speech he condemned the U.S. Government for recently appropriating an additional $100 million “to finance genocide against our people.” [Address to UNGA, Nov. 3, 1986]

 

I quote this robust language partly to show that Father Miguel’s spiritual nature did not always mean a gentle demeanor or denote the absence of a fighting spirit. As here, when deemed appropriate to the situation, Miguel readily relied on undiplomatic candor to get his point across. He was also insistent on using such occasions to talk truth to power and to lay blame and responsibility for the torment of the Nicaraguan people where it belonged, however impolitic it was to do so.

 

Without going into the details of the case, it was possible for Nicaragua to lodge such a complaint against the United States because the U.S. Government had earlier agreed to accept the authority of the ICJ if the other side in an international conflict had been similarly committed. With this awareness, Father Miguel in his role as Foreign Minister (1979-90) realized two things: that the sovereign rights of Nicaragua were being overridden in a manner in flagrant violation of international law and that the World Court was supposed to provide countries with a nonviolent option of resolving international legal disputes, seen as an important contribution to maintaining world peace that the U.S. had itself strongly championed throughout most of the 20th century.

 

It may not seem so unusual for a small country to take advantage of a potential judicial remedy, but in fact it had never happened—no small state had ever gone to the World Court to protect itself against such military intervention, and to do so on behalf of a progressive government in the Third World in the midst of the Cold War seemed to many at the time like a waste of time and money that Nicaragua could ill afford.

 

It is here where one begins to grasp this potentially revolutionary idea of relying upon the spiritual sources of legal creativity. Father Miguel was convinced that what the United States Government was doing was legally and morally wrong, and that it was an opportune time for the mice to fight back against the predator tiger. It was an apt occasion to act by reference to horizons of spirituality.

 

Yet this did not mean that Miguel would ignore the pragmatic dimensions of effectiveness. Nicaragua managed to persuade Harvard law professor, Abram Chayes, to act on their behalf as head legal counsel. This was a brilliant tactical move that I applauded at the time (even though it meant that as Nicaragua’s second choice I lost out). Aside from being a first-class international lawyer with a high global profile, Chayes had previously served as John F. Kennedy’s Legal Advisor and close confidant at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The symbolism could not have been more pointed, underlining the fact that Chayes was committed to upholding international law rather than being a combatant in the ideological sideshow carried on throughout the Cold War. Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal audaciously described Chayes as ‘a traitor’ for accepting such a role.

 

I had the opportunity to work with Chayes and Father Miguel in the American Irish Historical Society here in Manhattan that was operating under the benign tutelage of none other than Dr. Kevin Cahill. We worked hard for several days as a team developing the arguments both as to the authority of the ICJ to adjudicate, what we lawyers call ‘jurisdiction,’ to be decided in a separate preliminary decision, as well as on the substance of Nicaragua’s allegations, which constituted the second phase of the litigation. What was so impressive to me then, and even now, almost 40 years later, is that this effort to combine a somewhat utopian motivated legal undertaking with a practical mastery of the technical dimensions of the case illustrated for me the extraordinary blending of spiritually grounded, yet worldly wisdom with the down to earth skills of legal craft.

 

The outcome of the Nicaragua narrative is too complicated to describe properly, but in short—counsel for Nicaragua persuaded the Court that it had jurisdictional authority, at which point the United States petulantly, yet not unexpectedly, withdrew from the proceedings correctly realizing that if it could not prevail at this jurisdictional phase it had virtually no chance to have its legal arguments accepted at the merits phase of the case. Further, the U.S. Government was so displeased with the ICJ that it seized the occasion to renounce its earlier formal acceptance of what is technically referred to as ‘compulsory jurisdiction,’ which meant that no state could commence such an action against the USG in the future, and that the U.S. was itself permanently foreclosed from proceeding against a state against which it had legal grievances unless that state gave its consent.

 

This retreat from adjudicating international legal disputes has been an unintended and unfortunate lasting effect of the Nicaragua case. The American stance of viewing international law as only viable when it supports its geopolitical tactics has sent a damaging message to the world. It has definitely weakened the role and potential of the ICJ and of international judicial authority generally. In one sense, the US withdrawal was understandable for those who are driven to shape foreign policy by feasibility calculations rather than by certain abiding values such as, here, adhering to the rule of law. It hardly required a legal genius in the State Department to anticipate that if the Court upheld its legal authority to pronounce upon the controversy, then it would almost certainly rule in favor of Nicaragua on the substantive issues. Despite some technical issues involving the selection of the applicable legal authority, given the sweeping prohibitions of international law and the UN Charter against uses of force except in situations of self-defense against a prior armed attack, the pro-Nicaragua outcome was entirely predictable.

 

What was rather intriguing from a jurisprudential point of view was that despite its much hyped boycott of the proceedings and accompanying denunciation of the jurisdictional finding, the U.S. in the end quietly complied with the principal finding in The Hague, namely, that the naval blockade of Nicaragua’s harbors was unlawful. As would be expected, the USG never acknowledged that it was complying, nor did Nicaragua dance in the streets of Managua, but the cause/effect relationship between the judicial decision and compliant behavior was clear to any close observer.

 

There was then some reality to the expression ‘the force of law,’ and the USG, even during the Reagan presidency, did not want to stand before the world as openly defying the law, even international law. Such an assessment may have reflected the fact that the U.S. Government was in the midst of a struggle to win the legitimacy war being waged against the Soviet Union, which partly hinged on the relative reputation of these two dueling superpowers in relation to respect for international law and human rights, signature issues of ‘the free world.’

 

For me this Nicaragua experience was a compelling example of Father Miguel’s achievements that followed directly from his deep commitment to the horizons of spirituality and decency. It was far from the only instance. Let me mention two others very quickly. One of my other connections with Father Miguel was to serve as one of his Special Advisors during his year as President of the UN General Assembly thoughout its 63rd session, 2008-09. As continues to be the case, life could become difficult for any leading UN official who openly opposed Israel. Father Miguel was deeply aware of the Palestinian ordeal and unabashedly supportive of my contested role as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. When I was detained in an Israeli prison and then expelled from Israel at the end of 2008, Father Miguel wanted to organize a press conference in NYC to give me an opportunity to explain what had happened and defend my position. I declined his initiative, perhaps unadvisedly, as I didn’t want to place Miguel in the line of fire sure to follow.

 

At the end of 2008 Israel launched a massive attack against Gaza, known as Cast Lead, and Father Miguel sought to have the General Assembly condemn the attack and call for an immediate ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal. It was a difficult moment for Father Miguel, feeling certain that this was the legally and morally the right thing to do. Yet as events proceeded and diplomatic positions were disclosed, Miguel was forced to recognize that the logic of geopolitics worked differently, in fact so starkly differently that even the diplomat representing the Palestinian Authority at the UN intervened to support a milder reaction than what Miguel deemed appropriate. Unlike his Nicaraguan experience, here the backers of feasibility prevailed, but in a manner that Father Miguel could never reconcile himself to accept.

 

I met many diplomats at UN Headquarters here in NY who said that no one had ever occupied a high position at the UN with Father Miguel’s manifest quality as someone so passionately dedicated to righteous principle. Pondering this, it occurred to me that one possible exception was Dag Hammarskjöld, an early outstanding UN Secretary General, who died in a plane crash, apparently assassinated in 1961 for his principled, yet geopolitically inconvenient, dedication to peace and justice. From his private writings we know that Hammarskjöld’s UN efforts also sprung from wellsprings of spirituality.

 

Most GA presidents take the post as an honorific feather in their cap, the symbolic culmination of a public sector career, and spend the year presiding over numerous tedious meetings and hosting an endless series of afternoon receptions, but never make any effort to influence, much less enhance, the role of the General Assembly or otherwise strengthen the UN as an institution of potential global governance. Miguel, in contrast worked tirelessly to make the UN more effective, more respectful of law, more democratic, and above all, more sensitive to claims reflective of global justice.

 

Miguel took full advantage of his term as president of the General Assembly to provide venues within the Organization that offered humane alternatives to neoliberal economic globalization. He sponsored and organized meetings at the UN designed to overcome current patterns of economic and ecological injustice, making use of the presence in New York City of such non-mainstream economists as Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz, and the prominent Canadian activist author, Maude Barlow. Here again Father Miguel demonstrated his grounded spirituality by once more combining the visionary with the practical.

 

I had the opportunity to work with Father Miguel on several proposals to raise the profile and role of the General Assembly as the most representative and democratic organ of the UN. This initiative was rather strategic and partly meant to counter the US-led campaign to concentrate UN authority in Security Council so that Third World aspirations and demands could be effectively thwarted, and the primacy of geopolitics reestablished after the assault mounted in the 1970s by the then ascendant Nonaligned Movement.

 

What I have tried to describe is this deep bond in the life and work of Father Miguel between the spirituality of his character and motivations and the practicality of his involvement in what the German philosopher, Habermas, calls ‘the lifeworld.’ I find it indicative of Father Miguel’s deep spiritual identity that he suffered a punitive response to his life’s work from the institution he loved and dedicated his life to serving, being suspended in 1985 by Pope John Paul II from the priesthood because of his involvement in the Nicaraguan Revolution. Miguel was reinstated 29 years later by Pope Francis, who many view as a kindred spirit to Miguel.

 

There is an object lesson here for all of us: in a political crisis the moral imperative of service to people and ideals deserves precedence over blind obedience to even a cherished and hallowed institution. This would undoubtedly almost always pose a difficult and painful choice, but it was one that defined Father Miguel d’Escoto at the core of his being, which he expressed over and over by doing the right thing in a spirit of love and humility, but also in a manner that left no one doubting his firmness, his affinities and commitments, as well as his unwavering and abiding convictions.

 

As I suggested at the outset, the daring and creativity that Father Miguel brought to the law and to his work at the UN sprung from spiritual roots that were deeply grounded in both religious tradition and in an unshakable solidarity with those among us who are poor, vulnerable, oppressed, and victimized. For Miguel spirituality did not primarily equate with peace, but rather with justice and an accompanying uncompromising and lifelong struggle on behalf of what was right and righteous in every social context, whether personal or global.

 

 

There is no assurance that this way of believing and acting will control every development in the world or even control the ultimate destiny of the human species. Humanity retains the freedom to fail, which could mean extinction in the foreseeable future.The happy ending of the Nicaragua case needs to be balanced against the prolonged and tragic ordeal of the Palestinian people for which there is still no end in sight. Beyond wins and losses, what I think should be clear is that unless many more of us become attentive to the horizons of spirituality and necessity the outlook for the human future is presently bleak. Father Miguel d’Escoto’s disavowal of the domain of the feasible is assuredly not the only way to serve humanity, but it is a most inspiring way, and points us all in a direction that is underrepresented in the operations of governments and other public institutions, not to mention during the speculative frenzies on Wall Street and the backrooms of hedge fund offices.

 

In my language, Father Miguel d’Escoto was one of the great citizen pilgrims of our time. His life was a continuous journey toward what St. Paul called ‘a better city, a heavenly city’ to manage and shape the totality of life on Planet Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Nuclear Challenge (9): Relying on International Law: Nuclear Zero Litigation

8 Sep

 

The Nuclear Challenge (9): 70 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear Zero Litigation


 

[Prefatory Note: Two prior posts, The Nuclear Challenge (1) & (2) address indirectly the efforts of international law and lawyers to highlight the clash between international law and nuclear weapons. In this post I combine a focus on international law with a continuation of the inquiry into the role of civil society activism that was the theme of The Nuclear Challenge (8). Here I attempt a more concrete gaze at the promise and limitations of international law as a policy instrument available to governments and citizens committed to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Zero Lawsuits filed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands on April 24, 2014 provide an occasion for such an appraisal. This litigation reflects opposed counter-currents. It is both an encounter with geopolitical nuclearism and a mode of global consciousness-raising at a time of dangerous complacency about the threats posed by the continuing possession and deployment of nuclear weaponry, as well as the warping of the security mind by supposing that human security can ever be ethically and effectively safeguarded by current strategic thinking surrounding the varying roles assigned to this weaponry by the military planners and political leaders of the nine nuclear weapons states. The text below contains some revisions and corrections of the original post, mainly reflecting my attempt to take account of constructive feedback.]

 

From the time of the atomic explosions at the end of World War II there have been two contradictory sets of tendencies at work: the repudiation of the weaponry and its contemplated uses as ultimate criminality and the secret feverish refinement of the weaponry to enhance its precision, destructive effects, battlefield capabilities, and delivery systems. To date, the latter tendency has prevailed, but so far, contrary to the worst fears, avoiding uses (but not without unlawful threats to use, think tank proposals for use, and high alert international crises containing unseemly dangers of nuclear war).

 

From the beginning international law was a tool relied upon by those who challenged the legitimacy of both the atomic attacks themselves and the later developments and doctrines associated with the weaponry and its central role in the superpower rivalry at the core of the Cold War. In the immediate aftermath of the atomic attacks on Japan, there were many governmental pronouncements in the West about nuclear disarmament as an imperative of human survival, and it was widely assumed in the public that international law through the medium of a negotiated treaty containing procedures to assure compliance by all parties was the correct approach to unconditional declearization and principled repudiation of the weaponry, and this remains the consensus view of pro-disarmers at present.

 

Especially the UN General Assembly from the outset of the nuclear age was a political venue within which the criminality of the weaponry was confirmed, although gradually the impact of nuclear geopolitics moved disarmament off-stage and shifted policy attention to the supposedly more realistic goals of managing the nonproliferation regime and minimizing the spread of the weaponry. As discussed in previous posts, whatever political energy for a world without nuclear weaponry existed has been transferred over time to a variety of civil society venues. During the Cold War, Europe was the most likely military theater for a nuclear confrontation, accounting for a variety of anti-nuclear movements and initiatives. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Britain being the best known, but also the German Green Party gained anti-nuclear prominence. Since the end of the Cold War the most activist anti-nuclearism has been associated with advocacy and educational efforts that were oriented around the presumed authoritativeness of international law as reinforced by political commitment and international morality in two major respects:

                        –the unconditional unlawfulness of the weaponry with respect to threat, use, deployment, possession, and development;

                        –a reliance on a treaty-making approach to achieve nuclear disarmament by carefully calibrated stages, and subject to monitoring, verification, compliance, and dispute settlement procedures, and containing robust response mechanisms in the event of non-compliance or cheating.

In other words, both the case against all facets of nuclearism as presently operative and the framework proposed for its elimination through a process of total denuclearization are both guided and governed by international law.

 

At the same time, there are difficulties with an uncritical acceptance of this centrality of international law. First, the evidence is strong that the nuclear weapons states, above all the United States, will not override its security policies as related to nuclear weapons or other vital concerns of foreign policy out of deference to international law. This official lawlessness exists even in the face of assessments of international law enjoying the strong backing of the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest judicial body. The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the ICJ reached two conclusions that should have led to operational adjustments in the announced doctrine and political behavior of governments possessing nuclear weapons: (1) nuclear weapons were only lawfully usable, if ever, when the survival of the state was credibly at issue; and (2) a unanimous views among the judges that the nuclear powers had a good faith obligation to negotiate both an end to the arms race and a disarmament plan, and what is more, and should not be overlooked, that these governments had “an obligation..to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.”

 

True, this was an advisory opinion, not formally binding on the parties, leading to diverse views as to legal weight of the findings. Also it was the case that the ICJ judges were badly divided, with a slim majority (and even that resting on the President’s second casting vote to break a tie) favoring the view of conditional unlawfulness of the weaponry. Actually, the unlawfulness side was stronger than it seemed by looking only at the vote on the central finding of severely qualified legality as three of the ICJ judges were so committed to unconditional unlawfulness that they refused to support the majority conclusion, which was deliberately made consistent with a very narrowly construed deterrence doctrine. What is more notable is that the nuclear weapons states paid not the slightest operational attention to what these most distinguished judges from the world’s main legal system had determined in the only systematic international review of the arguments about legality that had gone on since the first atomic explosion in wartime (a persuasive national review was set by a Japanese court in the important Shimoda case) . This disdain for the relevance of international law was apparent even before the ICJ issued its advisory opinion, taking the form of the vigorous opposition led by the United States to the General Assembly referral of the question of legality to the World Court, insisting, in effect, that a judicial interpretation of international law was not relevant to the status of nuclear weapons. The substantive claim being made was that the U.S. Government was as it was doing all that it could reasonably do to reduce risks of nuclear war, through arms control, nonproliferation, and deployment policies. Any more foundational judgment was thus deemed inappropriate and misleading. Further, that the ICJ was a judicial body not equipped to evaluate security policy, and thus at best relying on ‘moral’ and ‘political’ considerations couched in legal language.

 

The same line of reasoning was relevant with respect to the second conclusion relating to the NPT obligation to negotiate in good faith and with an end in view. What was already being done supposedly fulfilled the Article VI obligation of the nuclear weapons states, and the Court had neither the information or the expert competence to pronounce otherwise, although the judges unanimously acted as if they did have the needed knowledge, and hence an institutional responsibility to pronounce their views as to the legality of nuclear weaponry and the requirements of compliance with the NPT.

 

I think a clear picture evolves. The nuclear weapons states accord primacy to geopolitical policies when in tension with international law, especially on crucial issues bearing on the conduct of warfare and the shaping of peacetime security policies. The geopolitical consensus accepted by all nine weapons states is to disregard or sideline the purported relevance of international law. In reaction to this consensus there is some huffing and puffing by nonnuclear governments, but no political will to mount a challenge on even such a tangential issue as non-compliance with the Article VI obligation, a clear material breach of the NPT. This combination of geopolitical nuclearism and passivity by the members of international society other than ‘the nuclear nine’ has meant that it is up to each of this latter group of states, as a matter of sovereign discretion, to determine what its policies on deployment, threat, and use will be, and whether it will agree or not to specific arms control measures. And because government security policies are treated as the most carefully guarded of all state secrets, there is no meaningful democratic participation, including even by most elected or appointed government officials, and neither knowledge nor leverage by the citizenry. Every government possessing nuclear weapons is authoritarian, with only the head of state having the non-reviewable and unaccountable authority to decide whether and when to use nuclear weaponry against which targets and with what magnitudes of destructive power.

 

Left to carry on the campaign to rid humanity of the nuclear menace are the disparate and somewhat incoherent forces of civil society as receiving varying degrees of encouragement from non-nuclear states. At times of global crisis, as occurred periodically during the Cold War, these forces from below can be aroused to sound a loud alarm that has some resonance at the political center, but mainly this kind of societal pressure demands prudence and restraint rather than compliance with international law, and gains satisfaction from tiny incremental moves taken to step back from the nuclear precipice. With the decline of anxieties about possible confrontations between major nuclear weapons states after the end of the Cold War, there is mostly evident a mainstream law emphasis on the ‘enforcement’ of the NPT directed at non-nuclear states perceived as seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

 

Behind these developments, off to one side, are persevering efforts to insist on the unlawfulness of the weaponry and on gaining support for using the existing legal machinery of states and world society to push harder on the arguments of illegality. As has been pointed out, such efforts even if successful, are unlikely to make the steep climb up the geopolitical mountains on top of which are located the nuclear weapons arsenals. Yet that does not make the struggle to empower law with respect to nuclear weaponry without meaning or irrelevant to a survivable future. The outcome of the ICJ Advisory Opinion on legality, despite the unwelcome outcome of being defiantly deflected by the nuclear weapons states, did have the positive effects of strengthening the political will and morale of anti-nuclear activists and their organizations throughout the world, and even making non-nuclear governments more aware that the nuclear nine were not fulfilling their part of the NPT bargain.

 

One notable expression of this heightened political will was the initiation of litigation in ICJ and American federal courts by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) based on the alleged treaty failure to implement Article VI of the NPT by the nuclear weapons states that are parties to the treaty, and by customary international law for India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea (having withdrawn from the treaty in 2003) that are not. Such litigation was grounded in the unanimous conclusion of the ICJ that good faith obligation to negotiate a nuclear disarmament arrangement that needed to be brought to a conclusion. In the 19 years since the Advisory Opinion there have been persuasive confirmations that the nuclear nine were not at all disposed to seek nuclear disarmament, making it highly reasonable for any non-nuclear party to the NPT to mount such a legal argument based on non-compliance, and indeed material breach of treat obligations.

 

And what country, other than Japan, had a greater moral and political entitlement to do so than the Marshall Islands? RMI lacks a legal entitlement due to Compact of Free Association, and that creates a certain awkwardness in putting forward the allegations of non-compliance with the disarmament obligations of Article VI as the real motivation arising from the legacy, harm, and memories of the nuclear testing cannot be relied upon it putting forward its legal arguments. In an important respect the past matters less than the future, and the only reason to invoke RMI vicitimization as a result of the testing is to create a stronger atmosphere of receptivity in the International Court of Justice in deliberating on the subtleties of the jurisdictional controversy and to pay a deserved homage to those from RMI who paid such heavy costs due to the harm inflicted by the tests.

 

This archipelago of 1156 islands and islets occupying 750,000 square miles of ocean space in the Pacific was taken over from Japan by the United States after World War II, and formally given the status of Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (a political entity that included several other Pacific island groups) by the United Nations in 1947. The tiny population of 68,480 lives on 29 coral atolls. In a most dramatic betrayal of trust imaginable the United States used the Marshall Islands as the principal test site without consulting the indigenous population or seeking their consent. 67 atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted between 1946 and 1958. The largest was code named Castle Bravo and had an explosive magnitude of 15 megatons, which is 1000 times the force of the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. As a result of this nuclear testing the people of the Marshall Islands have endured a variety of severe harms, ranging from forced evacuation and displacement, radiation sickness that continues to be prevalent, and environmental damage that appears to be permanent. There is a mechanism that has allowed Marshall Islanders to gain compensation from the United States for harm that can be persuasively attributed to the nuclear tests, but at the cost of waiving the pursuit of claims elsewhere as a result of the Compact of Free Association linking RMI to the United States. This mechanism continues to operate as a consequence of the fact that the effects of exposure to high doses of radiation may now result in cancer or genetic defects for many years.

 

The legal theory behind the case rests on the legal proposition that the Marshall Islands in common with all other parties to the NPT have a legal right to insist on compliance with Article VI. This provides RMI with a basis for arguing that a legal dispute exists with the nuclear weapons states emanating from this alleged treaty breach. RMI contends also as with every state in the world that if a nuclear war occurs, it would be severely harmed as the detrimental effects would be global, impacting upon the security and wellbeing of the Marshall Islands, and indeed of all peoples living on the planet. For the case to be accepted for adjudication by the ICJ a majority of the 15 judges must agree that a ‘legal dispute’ exists between the complaining state and the states accused of being in breach. The wheels of international justice turn slowly, if at all, and it remains to be determined, and I can only hope that the legal team representing the RMI will convince enough of these judges sitting in The Hague to clear this high jurisdictional hurdle. Only then can the court proceed to hear arguments and render a judgment on the merits. This litigation before the ICJ if it goes forward will result in ‘a decision,’ which unlike the 1996 Advisory Opinion is obligatory, and can in theory be enforced by the Security Council acting under Article 94. Any enforcement attempt along these lines could be vetoed by one of the five permanent members, and almost certainly would be. The NPT gives states that are parties the legal option to bring a legal dispute before the ICJ, and every state in the world, including the four nuclear powers that are not parties to the NPT are allegedly also subject to its authority by way of customary international law, which may seem a stretch given the jurisprudential conservatism of the ICJ in the past. The legal reasoning supportive of this extension of customary international law is based on the proposition that the NPT has been so widely adhered to and so fundamental to world order that it has become binding whether or not a country is a party, that it is ‘a lawmaking treaty’ on matters vital to the wellbeing of humanity and that it is obligatory for the entire community of states.

 

This line of argument raises a complex jurisprudential issue for the ICJ as the legal reasoning goes against the earlier consensus that an attribute of national sovereignty is the option to remain outside of an international legal framework, and even to dissent from it. From the development of progressive international law, this litigation presents a great opportunity for the ICJ to align itself with the authority of international law in the area of war and peace, as well as with respect to  global security and human wellbeing in the nuclear age.

 

The companion case filed by the Marshall Islands in a Federal District Court resulted in a dismissal on February 3, 2015 resting on the highly questionable notion that the alleged damage to the Marshall Islands was too speculative to qualify as a legal interest that a court of law should adjudicate, and that the issue raised was, in any event, precluded by judicial review as a result of the Political Question Doctrine (PQD), which has led past courts to dismiss international law claims bearing on national security and foreign policy.

 

Such dismissals invoked separation of powers reasoning and regressively ignores the relevance of international law to the lawfulness of foreign policy, which occurred in stages since the initial formulations of PQD in a period when recourse to war was not covered by international law. Unfortunately, PQD has been interpreted by American courts to mean that such issues are not for the courts to decide, but are matters of foreign policy that should be resolved within the exclusive domain of the executive branch. Accordingly, the judiciary should not venture an assessment of this kind of challenge to security policy even if formulated by reference to a treaty obligation, which the U.S. Constitution explicitly avows as ‘the supreme law of the land.’ This dismissal of the RMI initiative has been appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco for review and decision. The continuing invocation of PQD in cases of this kind is to restrict severely the prerogatives of the citizenry to ensure that their elected representatives uphold international law and accept the applicability of a global rule of law when it comes to foreign policy.

 

Whatever the eventual outcome of these parallel judicial initiatives, the cases have already had a significant civil society impact, which has been galvanized by the law suits, acting to raise public awareness of their potential importance. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has played a central role in this undertaking in the realm of public education. It has taken the lead in fashioning a consortium of more than 90 civil society organizations supportive of the litigation, and through its websites it has tracked the progress of the cases through the courts in a manner that is both educative and energizing. Whether this litigation can ignite the sort of transnational collaboration between governments and civil society organization in the manner that proved so successful in generating support for an anti-personnel land mines treaty and for the International Criminal Court remains to be seen. Such a positive outcome for an anti-nuclear grassroots and moderate government coalition can only be conjectured at this point, but such a result would be no more surprising than establishing the ICC over the objections of the world’s leading geopolitical actors. 

 

These law suits have also brought much wider and overdue attention to the nuclear exploitation of the Marshall Islanders, as well as admiration for the willingness of this tiny stressed and subordinated polity to put forward such a controversial legal argument, especially considering that their own security and economic viability is so linked to the good will of the United States embodied in a paternalistic ‘compact’ (Compact of Free Association with the United States) that entered into force as the trust status was superseded in 1988 when the Marshall Island became “a presidential republic in free association with the United States.” In tangible terms this has meant that the United States has accepted responsibility for the defense and protection of the Marshall Islands and for granting a range of economic subsidies, and in exchange retains use of a missile test site on Kwajalein Atoll, undoubtedly a reminder of the years when the island group was the principal site for developing new generations of nuclear weaponry.

 

It is pathetic that it has taken so many decades to mount this very limited legal challenge to nuclearism and that the challenge is being made by this small and vulnerable republic while the rest of the governments throughout the world continue to sit on their hands while nuclearism remains essentially unchallenged. To remove all doubts as to its future expectations, the U.S. Government has budgeted $1 trillion over the next thirty years to keep its superior nuclear capabilities up to date so as to ensure its continuing dominance of the outer frontiers of nuclear security strategy. We can only at this stage be thankful to the RMI for embarking on these nuclear lawsuits, and wish that the judicial bodies given this great opportunity to apply international law in a manner directly related to the wellbeing, and indeed the survival, of humanity, will respond appropriately.

 

Israel’s Politics of Deflection

30 Sep

 

Israel’s Politics of Deflection: Theory and Practice

 

General Observations

 

During my period as the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council I have been struck by the persistent efforts of Israel and its strong civil society adjuncts to divert attention from the substance of Palestinian grievances or the consideration of the respective rights of Israel and Palestine under international law. I have also observed that many, but by not means all of those who represent the Palestinians seem strangely reluctant to focus on substance or to take full advantage of opportunities to use UN mechanisms to challenge Israel on the terrain of international law and morality.

 

            This Palestinian reluctance is more baffling than are the Israeli diversionary tactics. It seems clear that international law supports Palestinian claims on the major issues in contention: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, resources (water, land), statehood, and human rights. Then why not insist on resolving the conflict by reference to international law with such modifications as seem mutually beneficial? Of course, those representing the Palestinians in international venues are aware of these opportunities, and are acting on the basis of considerations that in their view deserve priority.  It is disturbing that this passivity on the Palestinian side persists year after year, decade after decade. There are partial exceptions: support for recourse to the International Court of Justice to contest the construction of the separation wall, encouragement of the establishment of the Goldstone Fact-finding Inquiry investigating Israeli crimes after the 2008-09 attacks on Gaza, and the Human Rights Council’ Independent International Fact-finding Mission on  Isreali settlement expansion (report 22 March 2012). But even here, Palestinian officialdom will not push hard to have these symbolic victories implemented in ways that alter the behavioral realities on the ground, and maybe even if they did do their best, nothing would change.

 

             On the Israeli side, diversion and the muting of legal and legitimacy claims, is fully understandable as a way to blunt challenges from adversary sources: seeking to have the normative weakness of the Israeli side offset by an insistence that if there is to be a solution it must be based on the facts on the ground, whether these are lawful or not, and upon comparative diplomatic leverage and negotiating skill in a framework that is structurally biased in favor of Israel. The recently exhumed direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel exemplify this approach: proceeding despite the absence of preconditions as to compliance with international law even during the negotiations, reliance on the United States as the convening intermediary, and the appointment by President Obama of an AIPAC anointed Special Envoy (Martin Indyk), the latter underscoring the absurd one-sidedness of the diplomatic framework. It would seem that the Palestinians are too weak and infirm to cry ‘foul,’ but merely play along as if good natured, obedient, and frightened schoolchildren while the bullies rule the schoolyard.

 

           Such a pattern is discouraging for many reasons: it weights the diplomatic process hopelessly in favor of the materially stronger side that has taken full advantage of the failure to resolve the conflict by grabbing more and more land and resources; it makes it virtually impossible to imagine a just and sustainable peace emerging out of such a process at this stage; it plays a cruel game in which the weaker side is almost certain to be made to seem unreasonable because it will not accept what the stronger side is prepared to offer, which is insultingly little; and it allows the stronger side to use the process and time interval of the negotiations as an opportunity to consolidate its unlawful claims,  benefitting from the diversion of attention.

 

          There are two interwoven concerns present: the pernicious impacts of the politics of deflection as an aspect of conflictual behavior in many settings, especially where there are gross disparities in hard power and material position; the specific politics of deflection as a set of strategies devised and deployed with great effectiveness by Israel in its effort to attain goals with respect to historic Palestine that far exceed what the UN and the international community had conferred. The section that follows deals with the politics of deflection only in the Israel/Palestine context

 

 

The Specific Dynamics of the Politics of Deflection

 

            —anti-Semitism: undoubtedly the most disturbing behavior by Israel and its supporters is to deflect attention from substance in the conflict and the abuses of the occupation is to dismiss criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism or to defame the critic as an anti-Semite. This is pernicious for two reasons: first, because it exerts a huge influence because anti-Semitism has been so totally discredited, even criminalized, in the aftermath of World War II that featured the exposure and repudiation of the Holocaust; secondly, because by extending the reach of anti-Semitism to address hostile commentary on Israel a shift of attention occurs—away from the core evil of ethnic and racial hatred to encompass the quite reasonable highly critical appraisal of Israeli behavior toward the Palestinian people by reference to overarching norms of law and morality.

 

              This misuse of language to attack Jewish critics of Israel by  irresponsible characterizations of critics as  ‘self-hating Jews.’ Such persons might exist, but to infer their existence because of their criticisms of Israel or opposition to the Zionist Project functions as a means to move inhibit open discussion and debate, and to avoid substantive issues. It tends to be effective as a tactic as few people are prepared to take the time and trouble to investigate the fairness and accuracy of such allegations, and so once the shadow is cast, many stay clear of the conflict or come to believe that  criticism of Israel is of less interest than are the pros and cons of the personal accusations.  Strong Zionist credentials will not insulate a Jew from such allegations as Richard Goldstone discovered when he was vilified by the top  tier of Israeli leadership after chairing a fact-finding inquiry that confirmed allegations of Israeli war crimes in the course of Operation Cast Lead. Even the much publicized subsequent Goldstone ‘retraction’ did little to rehabilitate the reputation of the man in Israeli eyes, although his change of heart as to the main allegation of his own report (a change rejected by the other three members of the inquiry group), was successfully used by Israeli apologists to discredit and bury the report, again illustrating a preference for deflection as opposed to substance.

 

            Even such global moral authority figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have been called anti-Semites because they dared to raise their voices about the wrongs that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian people, specifically identifying the discriminatory legal structures of the occupation as an incipient form of apartheid.

 

            In the unpleasant course of being myself a frequent target of such vilifying techniques, I have discovered that it is difficult to make reasoned responses that do not have the effect of accentuating my plight. To fail to respond leaves an impression among some bystanders that there must be something to the accusations or else there would be forthcoming a reasoned and well-evidenced response. To answer such charges is to encourage continuing attention to the allegations, provides the accusing side with another occasion to repeat the charges by again cherry picking the evidence. NGOs such as UN Watch and UN Monitor specialize in managing such hatchet jobs.

 

            What is more disturbing than the attacks themselves than their resonance among those holding responsible positions in government and international institutions, as well as widely respected liberal organizations. In my case, the UN Secretary General, the U.S. ambassadors at the UN in New York and Geneva, the British Prime Minister, and the Canadian Foreign Minister. Not one of these individuals bothered to check with me as to my response to the defamatory allegations or apparently took the trouble to check on whether there was a credible basis for such damaging personal attacks. Even the liberal mainstream human rights powerhouse, Human Rights Watch, buckled under when pressured by UN Watch, invoking a long neglected technical rule to obtain my immediate removal from a committee, and then lacked the decency to explain that my removal was not ‘a dismissal’ when

UN Watch claimed ‘victory,’ and proceeded to tell the UN and other bodies that if Human Rights Watch had expelled me, surely I should be expelled elsewhere. I learned, somewhat bitterly, that HRW has feet of clay when it came to standing on principle in relation to someone like myself who has

been the victim of repeated calumnies because of an effort to report honestly and accurately on Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

 

            —Auspices/Messenger: A favorite tactic of those practicing the politics of deflection is to contend that the auspices are biased, and thus whatever substantive criticisms might issue from such an organization should be disregarded. Israel and the United States frequently use this tactic to deflect criticism of Israel that is made in the UN System, especially if it emanates from the Human Rights Council in Geneva or the General Assembly. The argument is reinforced by the similarly diversionary claim that Israeli violations are given a disproportionately large share of attention compared to worse abuses in other countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa. Also, there is the complementary complaint that some of the members of the Human Rights Council themselves have appalling human rights records that disqualify them from passing judgment, thereby exhibiting the hypocrisy of criticisms directed at Israel.

 

            It is tiresome to respond to such lines of attack, but important to do so.

First of all, in my experience, the UN has always made fact-based criticisms of Israeli policies and practices, appointed individuals with strong professional credentials and personal integrity, and painstakingly reviewed written material prior to publication to avoid inflammatory or inaccurate criticisms. Beyond this, Israel is almost always given an opportunity to review material critical of its behavior before it is released, and almost never avails itself of this chance to object substantively. In my experience, the UN, including the Human Rights Council, leans over backwards to be fair to Israel, and to take account of Israeli arguments even when Israel declines to make a case on its own behalf.

 

            Further, the heightened attention given to Palestinian grievances is a justified result of the background of the conflict. It needs to be remembered that it was the UN that took over historic Palestine from the United Kingdom after World War II, decreeing a partition solution in GA Resolution 181 without ever consulting the indigenous population, much less obtaining their consent. The UN approach in 1947 failed to solve the problem, consigning Palestinians to decades of misery due to the deprivation of their fundamental rights as of 1948, the year of the nakba, a national experience of catastrophic dispossession. Through the years the UN has provided guidelines for behavior and a peaceful solution of the conflict, most notably Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which have not been implemented. The UN has for more than a decade participated in The Quartet tasked with implementing ‘the roadmap’ designed to achieve peace, but not followed, allowing Israel to encroach more and more on the remnant of Palestinian rights via settlement expansions, wall construction, residence manipulations, apartheid administrative structures, land confiscations, house demolitions. The UN has been consistently frustrated in relation to Palestine in a manner that is unique in UN experience, making the issue a litmus test of UN credibility to promote global justice and overcome the suffering of a dispossessed and occupied people.

 

            Usually, the attack on the sponsorship of a critical initiative is reinforced by scathing screed directed at anyone prominently associated with the undertaking. The attacks on the legendary Edward Said, the one Palestinian voice in America that could not be ignored, were rather vicious, often characterizing this most humanist among public intellectuals, as the ‘Professor of Terror.’ The most dogmatic defenders of Israel never tired of trying to make this label stick by showing a misleadingly presented picture of Said harmlessly throwing a stone at an abandoned guard house during a visit to southern Lebanon not long before his death as if a heinous act of violence against a vulnerable Israeli soldier. This effort to find something, however dubious, that could be used to discredit an influential critic disregard the ethics of fairness and decency. In my case, an accidentally posted cartoon, with

an anti-Semitic angle has been endlessly relied upon by my most mean-spirited detractors, although any fair reading of my past and present scholarship, together with the blog psot in which it appeared in which Israel is not even mentioned, would conclude that its sole purpose of highlighting the cartoon was to defame, and by so doing, deflect.

 

            In like manner, the use of the label ‘terrorist’ has been successfully manipulated by Israel in relation to Hamas to avoid dealing with its presence as the elected governing authority in Gaza or in responding to its offers of long-term coexistence provided the blockade of Gaza is ended and Israeli forces withdraw to 1967 borders. The Hamas demands are really nothing more than a call for the implementation of international law and UNSC resolutions, and thus highly reasonable from the perspective of fairness to both sides, but Israel is not interested in such fairness, and hence avoids responding to the substance of the Hamas proposals by insisting that it is unwilling to respond to a terrorist organization. Such a stubborn position is maintained, and supported by the United States and EU, despite Hamas’ successful participation in an electoral process, its virtual abandonment of violent resistance, and its declared readiness for diplomatic accommodations with Israel and the United States.

 

            If the messenger delivering the unwelcome message lacks prominence or the campaign of vilification does not altogether succeed, then at governmental levels, Israel, and the United States as well, will do its best to show contempt for criticism for the whole process by boycotting proceedings at which the material  is presented. This has been my

experience at recent meetings of the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly where my reports are presented on a semi-annual basis and Israel and the United States make it a point to be absent. There is an allocation of the work of deflection: at the governmental end substance is often evaded by pretending not to notice, while pro-Israeli NGOs pound away, shamelessly repeating over and over the same quarter truths, which often are not even related to their main contention of biased reporting. In my case, UN Watch harps on my supposed membership in the ranks of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, an allegation that I have constantly explained to be contrary to my frequently articulated views on the 9/11 attacks. It makes no difference what I say or what are the facts of my position

once the defamatory attack has been launched.

 

            Diplomatic Deflection: The entire Oslo peace process, with its periodically revived negotiations, has served as an essential instrument of deflection for the past twenty years. It diverts the media from any consideration of Israel’s expansionist practices during the period that the parties are futilely negotiating, and succeeds in making critics and criticism of Israel’s occupation policies seem obstructive of the overarching goal of ending the conflict and bringing peace to the two peoples.

 

            Geopolitical Deflection: Although not solely motivated by the goals of deflection, the bellicose focus by Israel on Iran’s nuclear program, has seemed so dangerous for the region and the world that it has made Palestinian grievances appear trivial by comparison. It has also led outside political actors to believe that it would be provocative to antagonize Israeli leadership in relation to Palestine at a time when there were such strong worries that Israel might attack Iran or push the United States in such a direction. To a lesser extent the preoccupations with the effects of the Arab upheavals, especially in Syria and Egypt, have had the incidental benefit for Israel of diminishing still further regional and global pressures relating to Palestinian grievances and rights. This distraction, a kind of spontaneous deflection, has given Israel more time to consolidate their annexationist plans in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which makes the still lingering peace image of a two-state solution a convenient mirage, no more, no less.

 

 

A Concluding Comment: Overall, the politics of deflection is a repertoire of techniques used to shift the gaze away from the merits of a dispute. Israel has relied on these techniques with devastating effects for the Palestinians. The purpose of my analysis is to encourage Palestinians in all settings to do their best to keep the focus on substance and respective rights. Perhaps, it is time for all of us to learn from the brave Palestinian hunger strikers whose nonviolent defiance of Israeli detention abuse operated with laser like intensity to call attention to prison and administrative injustice. Unfortunately, the media of the world was silent, including those self-righteous liberal pundits who had for years urged the Palestinians to confront Israel nonviolently, and then sit back, and find satisfaction in the response from Tel Aviv. Waiting for Godot is not a matter of patience, but of ignorance!

 

 

  

Forget ‘Normal’ Politics

5 Feb

 

 

            Political life is filled with policy choices that are made mainly on the basis of calculations of advantage, as well as reflecting priorities and values of those with the power of decision. In a constitutional framework of governance the rule of law sets outer limits as to permissible outcomes. The legitimacy of the decision depends on adhering to these procedural guidelines, and the fact that if the societal effects turn out badly it can be corrected by altering the ‘law.’ Of course, all sorts of special interests behind the scene manipulate this process, and the public debate mirrors these pressures. The results of highly contested policy choices usually reflect the power structure (class, race, ideology) more than they do the outcome of rational detached assessments of the public good. At present, the national public good in the United States is being held hostage to the lethal extremism of the gun lobby as led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which combines special interest politics with a political culture that is violent and militarist. Such a political culture seems unlikely to be able to prohibit the sale of automatic assault weaponry to private citizens even in the immediate aftermath of a series of horrific shootings in American schools and public spaces by individuals gaining access to assault rifles and pistols.

 

            If we agree with this line of interpretation, we must have the courage to raise radical questions as to whether under these conditions a flawed democracy is any longer capable of serving the national public good in fundamental respects. In my view, the only morally responsible position is to mobilize the citizenry around the need for drastic reform of American democracy. At the very least, the role of big money in shaping policy choices and the electoral process must be ended, and the glorification of violence and militarism must be repudiated. To seek such results a reliance on  normal politics is to inhabit the land of illusion. In some respects, a revolutionary situation is present in the country but a revolutionary movement is no where to be seen. Only utopian reasoning can be hopeful about the future of the country, and it is the case of hope against hope. 

 

            This politicization of policy choice is to some extent inevitable, and is usually not so threatening to the wellbeing of a country, but at present there are increasingly harmful repercussions that follow, also with respect to global stability and security. Within societies where policy choice depends on governmental action there is a play of contending forces, but the outcome is at least coherently oriented around a shared commitment to the national public good. Internationally, in contrast, there are no social forces, other than transnational civil society actors (NGOs), that are dedicated to the global public good. Governments, including that of the United States, determine and justify national policy choices by reference to the pursuit of national interests. When a dominant state opts to play a global leadership role as the United States did after 1945, it can sometimes promote a type of imperial world order that is beneficial to itself, but also at the same time helpful to most other states and to the human community generally. Such initiatives as financing the economic reconstruction of Western Europe, the establishment of the United Nations, and the promotion of international human rights illustrate such a convergence of national and global interests. But note that global interests, aside from civil society advocacy groups, have no independent base of support. Even the United Nations, which is supposed to promote peace and justice for the whole of humanity is little more than a collection of unequal states each jealous of its sovereign prerogatives. In addition, the UN gives an unrestricted special blocking power (veto) to the five permanent members of the Security Council. The UN despite its many contributions has been unable to become effective in curtailing violations of international law by leading states and their friends and has not been able to meet such global challenges as ridding the world of nuclear weaponry or fashioning a constructive response to climate change.

 

            In relation to climate change there has been an overwhelming consensus among relevant experts for over two decades that global warming is causing severe harm to the ecology of the planet, and that this situation is likely to reach an irreversible tipping point if the average temperature on the earth rises above a 2°C level compared to what it was at the start of the industrial age. This knowledge had been irresponsibly contested by a well-funded campaign of climate skeptics that has been especially effective in the United States in hijacking the public debate, and undermining policy choices that are in accord with the scientific consensus. The skeptic undertaking is funded by fossil fuel interests, and is being managed by some of the same public relations firms that delayed public appreciation of the link between cancer and cigarette smoking by several decades. This campaign has destroyed the capacity of the United States to play a constructive leadership role needed to establish an obligatory framework for prudent restrictions on the level of greenhouse gas emissions. Without U.S. leadership there is lacking the political will on a global level to act with sufficient seriousness to protect the global interest, and human destiny becomes jeopardized in a highly destructive manner from the perspective of species survival.

 

             Just as national democracy needs drastic reform, so do the structures and procedures of world order. One direction of reform would be to establish institutions with resources and capabilities to serve distinctively global interests. Steps in such a direction would include a global revenue producing mechanism, a global peoples parliament, an independent UN peace and emergency relief force, a repeal of the veto right in the Security Council, a revision of the authority of the International Court of Justice by converting current ‘advisory opinions’ into binding enforceable decisions, convening a nuclear disarmament process, and upgrading the existing UN Environmental Program (UNEP) to the status of super-agency called UN Agency on Environmental Protection and Climate Change.

 

            Such a thought experiment as this is oblivious to horizons of feasibility that befuddle politicians and set artificial parameters limiting responsible debate.  My diagnosis is anchored in an interpretation of horizons of necessity. By recognizing this huge gap between feasibility and necessity it is implied that normal politics are futile, and in their place we are forced to embrace utopian politics, which can be described as horizons of desire, faith, and hope.

 

Missing the Point Twice: International Law as Empire’s Sunday Suit

15 Oct


 

            In a recent speech at the Harvard Law School, John Brennan, President Obama’s chief advisor on counterterrorism and homeland security, boldly declared: “I’ve developed a profound appreciation for the role that our values, especially the rule of law, play in keeping our country safe.”  The most notable feature of the remarks that followed was the legal rationalization put forth for targeting killing of civilian terrorist suspects distant from ‘the hot battlefield’ even if not engaged in activities that could be reasonably viewed as posing an imminent threat to security of the United States.

 

In effect, post-9/11 American ideas of self-defense incorporate by stealth the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war used to justify aggression against Iraq in 2003, which had seemed discredited in international until quietly revived by the Obama presidency. The entire world is treated as part of the operational battlefield in the so-called ‘long war,’ and civilians, such as the religious ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, killed on September 30, 2011 in a remote region of Yemen as if he was a soldier at war. This purported legalization of drone attacks carried out in foreign countries represents a unilateral extension of international law, as well as establishes a precedent that would not be tolerated if claimed by any country hostile to the United States. Involved here is the de facto amendment of the right of self-defense in a manner inconsistent with both the understanding embedded in Articles 2(4) and 51 of the UN Charter and of contemporary international law as interpreted by a majority in the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua case decided in 1986. The United States now sets the new rules that override the old rules, and then limits their availability to others by restrictions based on geopolitical criteria of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy.’

 

            All that Brennan offered in support of such an imperial claim was the assurance that the United States is careful in the execution of these attacks, seeking to minimize the risk of mistaken identity and taking steps to ensure that the attacks take place in situations where the risks of unintended ‘collateral damage’ are reduced to the minimum. The credibility of this reassurance is insulated from inquiry by secrecy, a total lack of transparency that is supposedly justified by the need to protect intelligence sources. There is also no independent post-attack independent inquiry as to whether the targeted individual might have captured rather than executed, whether there existed a sufficient threat of involvement in dangerous activities to warrant such at attack, whether the government of the country involved gave its consent voluntarily, and whether there is or should be accountability for errors. Such a procedure can only be understood as an effort to establish a system of imperial global governance in relation to the use of force.  If this constitutes the way American ‘values’ deploy ‘the rule of law’ it would seem to reflect the most cynical reliance on ‘law’ as propaganda, while at the same time discarding the proper role of law as a constraint on violence. It is also relevant that the unusual amount of attention given to the al-Awlaki execution results from his American citizenship, which implies the regressive understanding of law that there are no grounds for a serious American concern if the target is non-American regardless of the innocence of the person or the fact that he or she are being killed in their homeland and citizenship. Such a world we are making for ourselves and others.

 

            In March of 2011, in a spirited address to the American Society of International Law, Harold Koh, Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State, also spoke glowingly about the commitment of the United States during the Obama presidency of “living our values by respecting the role of law.” He went on to explain that this mean “following universal standards, not double standards.”

These legalist sentiments were deemed by Koh to be so central to his argument as to be printed in bold lettering for emphasis.

 

What should strike any reasonably objective person is the crude hypocrisy of an American government official rejecting double standards while simultaneously engaging in political gymnastics to avoid acknowledging the unlawfulness of Israel’s behavior: the United States stands practically alone in the world in refusing to condemn Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, in denying Palestinian statehood at the UN, in endorsing the collective punishment inflicted on the civilian population of Gaza for more than four years; in repudiating the recommendations of the Goldstone Report. Indeed, U.S. foreign policy toward Israel is the most glaring and punitive instance of double standards with respect to international law that exists in the world today.  But it far from the only example. Other prominent instances exist in many crucial domains of global policy: as with the nuclear weapons states that maintain arsenals of weapons without accepting restrictions on their use and non-nuclear pariah states that under the geopolitically managed NPT regime are threatened with military attack for supposedly seeking such weapons; as with the identity of those political leaders and military commanders who are prosecuted for international crimes and those who enjoy a condition of de facto impunity; and as to states that could be invaded by reliance on the norm of ‘responsibility to protect’ and those against which such action is inconceivable however much the territorial population is confronted by dire threats to its wellbeing and survival.

 

I am less shocked by the behavior of the United States, which reflects its grand strategy, than by this insistence on stretching the meaning of the most fundamental legal rules and principles to satisfy foreign policy priorities.

For esteemed international law figures such as Harold Koh, formerly a distinguished human rights scholar and dean of the Yale Law School, to make such bold assertions about the post-9/11 law, validating drone warfare, without even bothering to acknowledge doubts as to the wisdom and acceptability of such a course is to embrace jurisprudential nihilism in two senses—first, by undermining the authority of international law by showing that it can always be extended unilaterally to serve the interests of the powerful, and operates otherwise to discipline weak states; and secondly, by creating a precedent that will not be honored as ‘law’ if invoked by others- witness the hysterical reaction to the shaky claim that Iran was plotting the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. What is sauce for the geopolitical goose seems to be poison for the pariah gander!

 

            There are respectable reasons to suggest that international law of war and peace that has evolved over the centuries to deal with conflict among states, and as such needs to be revised to take account of non-state actors and networks, as well as in response to the global horizoning of many interactions in the world of the 21st century. But there are no respectable reasons to contend that dominant states can exercise a military option wherever they choose, and then have the temerity to call this behavior ‘lawful.’

 

Michael Rosen, an ideological apologist for the executions of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Awlaki, writing in The American, the magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute (the right-wing think tank) put his support for drone military activity this way: “But in the civilized world..increasingly.. targeted by Islamist terror, we must continue to return fire by robustly targeting the terror masters.” At least such an assertion

does not pretend to provide an international law justification, although it does stretch the U.S. Congress’s 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force, designed to reach those involved in the 9/11 attacks, to validate the execution Al-Awlaki who has never been accused of having any relationship to 9/11. It also most unacceptably sets up this long repudiated moral contrast between ‘the civilized world’ and the rest that has so often in modern times been used to justify violence by the West against the non-West. I had hoped that the collapse of colonialism would have at least discouraged the use of such a tasteless rhetoric of comparison.

 

            There is a final point. Living in a region that is subject to drone attacks as in the tribal areas of Waziristan is terrifying for the population as a whole. This ill-defined vulnerability helps explain the severe hostility to the United States that exists among the Pakistani people and led to a unanimous resolution adopted on May 14, 2011 by the Pakistan parliament demanding that the executive branch uphold Pakistan’s sovereignty by disallowing any future drone strikes on its territory, and if they continue to cut off NATO supplies destined for the Afghanistan War. Supporters of the resolution have sought implementation through the courts, and a Lahore judge has ordered Pakistan foreign minister to submit detailed responses to issues raised. It is one thing to assess the reasonableness and proportionality of a targeted killing, including by reference to collateral damage by reference to the person(s) targeted, but such an appraisal fails to take any account of the more pervasive and inevitable collateral damage caused by producing intense insecurity on the part of an utterly defenseless civilian population as a whole.  As far as I have seen this latter dimension of state terror associated with these new modalities of surveillance, intelligence operations, and robotic militarism never considers the psychological harm being done to the people of the targeted country. This raises issues bearing on the right to life as a fundamental right of all persons under international human rights law.

Israel’s Violence Against Separation Wall Protests: Along the Road of STATE TERRORISM

7 Jan


One of the flashpoints in Occupied Palestine in recent years has involved non-violent weekly protests against continued Israeli construction of a separation wall extending throughout the whole of the West Bank. A particularly active site for these protests has been the village of Bi’lin near the city of Ramallah, and it is here where the Israeli penchant to use deadly force to disrupt nonviolent demonstrations raises deep legal and moral concerns. These concerns are accentuated when it is realized that way back in 2004 the International Court of Justice (the highest judicial body in the UN System) in a rare near unanimous ruling declared the construction of the wall on occupied Palestinian territory to be unlawful, and reached findings ordering Israel to dismantle the wall and compensate Palestinians for the harm done. Israel has defied this ruling, and so the wall remains, and work continues on segments yet to be completed.


It is against this background that the world should take note of the shocking death of Jawaher Abu Rahma on the first day of 2011 as a result of suffocation resulting from tear gas inhalation while not even being part of the Bi’lin demonstration. Witnesses confirm that she was standing above the actual demonstration as an interested spectator. It was a large year end demonstration that included the participation of 350 Israeli and international activists. There was no excuse for the use of such a harsh method of disrupting a protest against a feature of the occupation that had been pronounced to be unlawful by an authoritative international body. As it happens the brother of Ms. Rahman had been killed a few months earlier by a tear gas canister fired with a high velocity from a close range. And there are many other reports of casualties caused by Israel’s extreme methods of crowd control. International activists have also been injured and harshly detained in the past, including the Irish Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire. Together these deaths exhibit a general unacceptable Israeli disposition to use excessive force against Palestinians living under occupation. Just a day later an unarmed young Palestinian, Ahmed Maslamany, peacefully on his way to work was shot to death at a West Bank checkpoint because he failed to follow an instruction given in Hebrew, a language he did not understand.


When this lethal violence is directed against unarmed civilians seeking to uphold fundamental rights to land, routine mobility, and self-determination  it dramatizes just how lawless a state Israel has become and how justifiable and necessary is the growing world campaign of delegitimation centered upon the boycott, disvestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). Each instance of Israeli excessive and criminal violence inflicts suffering on innocent Palestinian civilians, but it also is a form of martyrdom in the nonviolent Legitimacy War that the Palestinians have been waging within Palestine and on the symbolic global battlefields of world public opinion with growing success.

Israel knows very well how to control unruly crowds with a minimum of violence. It has demonstrated this frequently by the way it gently deals, if it deals at all, with a variety of settler demonstrations that pose far greater threats to social peace than do these anti-wall demonstrations. It is impossible to separate this excessive use of force by Israel on the ground against Palestinians from the indiscriminate use of force against civilians in Israel’s larger occupation policy, as illustrated by the cruel punitive blockade that has been imposed on the people of Gaza for more than three years and by the criminal manner in which carried out attacks for three weeks on the defenseless population in Gaza exactly two years ago. Is it not time for the international community to step in and offer this long vulnerable Palestinian population protection against Israeli violence?

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Underneath Israel’s reliance on excessive force as a matter of strategic doctrine are thinly disguised racist ideas: Israeli lives are worth many times the value of Palestinian lives and Palestinians, like all Arabs, only understand the language of force (an essentially genocidal idea launched influentially years ago in a notorious book The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai published in 1973. It is also part of a punitive approach to the occupation, especially in Gaza, where WikiLeaks cables confirm what was long suspected: “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to [U.S, Embassy economic officers] on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gaza economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” (cable reported on Jan. 5, 2011, Norwegian daily) Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a speech delivered in January 2008 said of the blockade: “We will not harm the supply of food for children, medecine for those who need it and fuel to save lives..But there is no justification for demanding we allow residents of Gaza to live normal live while shells and rockets are fired from their streets and courtyards (at southern Israel).”

This is a clear confession of collective punishment of a civilian population by Israel’s political leader at the time, violating the unconditional prohibition of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such gross criminality should subject Israeli political leaders to international mechanisms designed to impose accountability on individuals responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity. It also makes it evident that the blockade is punitive, not responsive to cross-border violence that incidentally at all times was far more destructive of Palestinian lives and property than that of Israelis. Beyond this, the Hamas leadership in Gaza had since its election repeatedly attempted to establish a ceasefire along its border, which when agreed upon with the help of Egypt reduced casualties on both sides to almost zero after being establishment in mid-2008. This ceasefire was provocatively disrupted by Israel on November 5, 2008 to set the stage for launching of the massive attacks on Gaza, lasting for three weeks after being initiated on December 27th of 2008.

In that war, if such a one-sided conflict should be so described, the criminality of the tactics relied upon by the Israeli Defense Forces has been abundantly documented by The Goldstone Report, by a comprehensive fact-finding mission headed by John Dugard under the auspices of the Arab League, and by detailed reports issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. There is no reasonable basis for any longer doubting the substance of the allegations of criminality associated with those three weeks of all out attacks on the people and civilian infrastructure, including UN schools and buildings.

The Goldstone Report correctly noted that the overall impression left by the attacks was an extension of the Dahiya Doctrine attributed to an Israeli general during the Lebanon War 2006 in which the Israeli destruction from the air of a district in South Beirut was a deliberately excessive response, at the expense of civilian society, because of being an alleged Hezbollah stronghold, and in response to a border incident in which ten Israeli soldiers lost their lives in an encounter with Hezbollah combatants. The 2009 Goldstone report quoted IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot, who said, “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.” In effect, the civilian infrastructure of adversaries such as Hamas or Hezbollah are treated as permissible military targets, which is not only an overt violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war and of universal morality, but an avowal of a doctrine of violence that needs to be called by its proper name: STATE TERRORISM.

We have reached a stage where the oppressiveness of the Israeli occupation, extending now for more than 43 years and maintained in multiple daily violations of international humanitarian law.  In its essence and by design the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip should be understood and condemned as STATE TERRORISM as exhibited both in structure and practice.