Archive | April, 2012

Opening the Other Eye: Charles Taylor and Selective Criminal Accountability

27 Apr

This post is a corrected and modified version of my earlier text with the same title; this version is published in AJE today, 1 May 2012




            From all that we know Charles Taylor deserves to be held criminally accountable for his role in the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the period 1998-2002. Taylor was then President of Liberia, and did his best to encourage violent uprisings against the governments in neighboring countries so as to finance his own bloody schemes and extend his regional influence. It was in Sierra Leone that ‘blood diamonds,’ later more judiciously called ‘conflict diamonds’ were to be found in such abundance as to enter into the lucrative world trade, with many of these diamonds finding their way eventually onto the shelves of such signature jewelry stores as Cartier, Bulgari, and Harry Winston, and thereby circumventing some rather weak international initiatives designed to protect what was then considered the legitimate diamond trade.


            It is fine that Charles Taylor was convicted of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity of the rebel militias that committed atrocities of an unspeakable nature, and that he will be sentenced in early May. And it may further impress liberal commentators that fair legal procedures and diligent judicial oversight led to Taylor’s acquittal with respect to the more serious charges of ‘command responsibility’ or ‘joint criminal enterprise.’ Surely, the circumstantial evidence sufficiently implicated Taylor in a knowing micromanaging of the crimes that it would have seemed reasonable to hold him criminally responsible for the acts performed, and not just for aiding and abetting in their commission. I share the view that it is desirable to lean over backwards to establish a reputation of fairness in dealing with accusations under international criminal law. It is better not to convict defendants involving crimes of state when strong evidence is absent to uphold specific charges beyond any reasonable doubt. In this respect, the Taylor conviction seems restrained, professional, and not vindictive or politically motivated.


            But as Christine Cheng has shown in a perceptive article published online in Al Jazeera (27 April 2012) there are some elements of this conviction that feed the suspicion that the West is up to its old hypocritical tricks of seizing the high moral ground while pursuing its own exploitative economic and geopolitical goals that obstruct the political independence and sovereignty of countries that were once their colonies. As Cheng points out the financing of the Special Court on Sierra Leone was almost totally handled by the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Canada. In addition, there were pragmatic reasons to make sure that Taylor was never allowed to return to Liberia where he retained a strong following. It was feared that if Taylor was back in Liberia he would likely again foment trouble in the Liberian sub-region, and this would make it impossible to restore stability, and begin ‘legitimate’ mining operations, which is what the West apparently wanted to have happen in Sierra Leone.


            What is dramatically ironic about the whole picture is that the United States is the number one advocate of international criminal justice for others. President Obama has even taken the unprecedented step on 23 April 2012 of establishing an Atrocity Prevention Board under the authority of the National Security Council, and headed by Samantha Power a prominent human rights activist that has been serving in his administration. In his speech of 23 April at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum announcing the formation of the Board Obama said that atrocity prevention and response was a ‘core national interest of and core moral responsibility’ of the United States. It is hard to fault such an initiative in light of the faltering American (and UN) response to recent allegations of mass atrocity in Syria and Sudan, and against the background of refusing to be more pro-active back in 1994 as a grotesque and preventable genocide unfolded in Rwanda. At the same time, there is an impression, the essence of the liberal mentality, of Uncle Sam surveying the world with a blinkered vision, seeing all that is horrible while overlooking his own deeds and those of such friends as Israel or Bahrain.


            Heeding the sound of one hand clapping it might be well to remember that the United States more than any country in the world holds itself self-righteously aloof from accountability on the main ground that any international judicial process might be tainted by politicized motivations! Congress has even threatened that it would use military force to rescue any Americans that were somehow called to account by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and has signed agreements with over 100 governments pledging them not to hand over American citizens to the ICC. And yet it is American international criminal lawyers and human rights NGOs that have been most loudly applauding the outcome in the Taylor case, without even a whimper of acknowledgement that there may be some issues relating to double standards. If international criminal adjudication is so benevolent when prominent Africans are convicted, why does the same not hold for Americans? Given the structure of influence in the world there exists more reason for Africans to be suspicious of such procedures than Americans who fund such efforts, and are so influential behind the scenes.


            If aiding and abetting is what the evidence demonstrates, then should there not be at least discussion of whether international diamond merchants and jewelry retailers making huge profits by selling these tainted diamonds should not have investigated, and even prosecuted? There was a voluntary, self-regulating certification procedure was established, the Kimberly Process (2001) named after the city in South Africa where the meeting of concerned governments, corporate leaders, and civil society representatives took place. This joint initiative was especially pushed by large diamond sellers, such as the notorious De Beers cartel of South Africa, that were distressed by the downward effect on world prices by the availability of blood diamonds. A British NGO, Global Witness, reports that almost none of the prominent diamond retailers took any notice of this cooperative effort to restrict the flow of blood diamonds, and seemingly purchased diamonds at the lowest price without inquiring too much as to their origins or complying with the certification requirement established by the Kimberly Process.  The latter process was partly developed to avoid a civil society backlash protesting this indirect support of atrocities, as well as protect the market shares and control of the established international companies that had long dominated the lucrative trade in diamonds. But isn’t revealing that Western corporations are asked to act in a morally responsible manner by way of a voluntary undertaking while political leaders of sovereign states in Africa are subject to the draconian rigor of international criminal law?


            These issues are absent from the Western public discourse. Take the self-satisfied editorial appearing in the Financial Times (April 27, 2012). It starts with words affirming the larger meaning of Taylor’s conviction: “A strong message was sent to tyrants and warlords around the world yesterday. International law may be slow, but even those in the higher ranks of power can be held to account for atrocities committed against the innocent.” And the editorially ends even more triumphantly, and without noticing the elephant standing in the middle of the room, that leaders “ states weak and strong—now know that there can be no impunity for national leaders when it comes to human rights.” Such language needs to be decoded to convey its real message as follows: “national leaders of non-Western countries should realize that if their operations henceforth stand interfere with geopolitical priorities, they might well be held criminally responsible.”


            There are several observations that follow: (1) if non-Western leaders are supportive of Western interests, their atrocities will be overlooked, but if there is a direct confrontation, then the liberal establishment will be encouraged to start ‘war crimes talk’ (thus Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Qaddafi (with the latter killed before proceedings couild be initiated) were charged with crimes, while the crimes of those governing Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Israel[1] were ignored); (2) the great majority of cases dealing with international crimes have been up to this point are associated with events and alleged criminality in sub-Saharan Africa, confirming the extent to which this region has been devastated by bitter conflicts, many of which are attributable to the remnants of colonialism (divide and rule; slave trade; arbitrary boundaries separating tribal and ethnic communities; apartheid; continuing quest for valuable mineral resources by international business interests); (3) the Western mind is trained not to notice, much less acknowledge, either the historical responsibility of the colonial powers or the unwillingness of the West to submit to the same accountability procedures that are being relied upon to impose criminal responsibility on those who are perceived to be blocking Western economic and political interests.


            The United States is particularly vulnerable from these perspectives. When we hear the names of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib the immediate association is with American war crimes. When American leaders openly endorse reliance on interrogation techniques that are generally condemned as ‘torture’ we should be commenting harshly on the wide chasm separating ‘law’ from its consistent implementation. When a soldier, such as Bradley Manning, exposes the atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars he is held in humiliating prison circumstances and prosecuted for breaching secrecy, with suggestions that his intent was ‘treasonous,’ that is, intended to help enemies. At least, if there was a measure of good faith in Washington, it should have been possible to move forward on parallel paths: hold Manning nominally responsible for releasing classified materials, mitigated by his motives and absence of private gain, but vigorously repudiate and investigate the horrible crimes being committed against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the battlefield practices and training programs that give rise to such atrocities.


            The Western powers have gone significantly further in sculpting international law to their liking. They have excluded ‘aggressive war’ from the list of international crimes contained in the Rome Treaty that governs the scope of ICC jurisdiction. When the defendants were the losers in World War II, aggressive war was treated at Nuremberg (and Tokyo) as the supreme war crime as it was declared to encompass the others, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN Charter was drafted to reflect this outlook by unconditionally prohibiting any recourse to force by a state except in self-defense narrowly defined as a response to a prior armed attack. But in the decades that followed each of the countries that sat in judgment at Nuremberg engaged in aggressive war and made non-defensive uses of force, and so the concept became too contested by practice to be any longer codified as law. This reversal and regression exemplifies the Janus face of geopolitics when it comes to criminal accountability: when the application of international criminal law serves the cause of the powerful, it will be invoked, extended, celebrated, even institutionalized, but only so long as it is not turned against the powerful. One face of Janus is that of international justice and the rule of law, the other is one of a martial look that glorifies the rule of power on behalf of the war gods.


            Where does this line of reasoning end? Should we be hypocrites and punish those whose crimes offend the geopolitical gatekeepers? Or should we insist that law to be law must be applied consistently? At least these questions should be asked, inviting a spirit of humility to emerge, especially among liberals in the West.


[1] Of course, Israel is only geographically non-Western, and its leadership enjoys the same kind of impunity available to American leaders and those of allied countries.

Choosing a President for the World Bank: West Centrism Prevails over Global Democracy

22 Apr

This post is a revised version of a text that appeared a few days ago in Al Jazeera English, and seeks to use the selection of an American as the new President of the World Bank both to expose the fraudulent claim of a merit-based selection process and to insist indirectly that the future peace and justice of the world requires a more democratic and legitimate structure of global governance that reflects the post-colonial rise of the non-West, a rise that is not reflected in antiquated structures that persist despite changed conditions.



            The unsurprising announcement that the Board of the World Bank had voted in favor of the American candidate, Jim Yong Kim, presents an opportune moment to reflect upon the soft power structures that shape global public policy in the early 21st Century inside the UN system and beyond. It is necessary to draw a distinction between Mr. Kim’s substantive qualifications and the procedure by which he was selected. Substantively, although lacking in either financial or diplomatic experience, Dr. Kim is in certain respects an interesting choice because of his lifelong dedication to improving the health of the very poor in the global South, as well as his training in medicine and PhD in anthropology. He has had extensive relevant experience on the ground, and in working with NGOs (he co-founded the widely admired Partners in Health) and in institutional settings (for some years he directed the HIV/AIDs program for the World Health Organization) and has been president of Dartmouth University for the past three years, although stirring controversy during his brief period of administrative tenure. It may be still wondered whether Dr. Kim understands sufficiently the economic dimensions of World Bank policy to enjoy the respect of the professional staff, and might have been more appropriately chosen to head an enhanced program of the Bank devoted to health and poverty. Overall, still, the substantive case for the appointment is relatively strong, although the two opposing candidates, both former finance ministers of developing countries, certainly had equally impressive substantive résumés and ethical profiles, and were plausible choices for this position.


            The procedural criticisms of the appointment process are far more serious, and raise fundamental questions about the legitimacy of global institutions in the post-colonial period. It was not surprising that Dr. Kim’s two opponents, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigera and José Antonio Ocampo of Colombia, openly expressed their disgust with the process, complaining that the most qualified candidate had not been chosen despite the institutional promise of a ‘merit-based’ selection process. Ms Okonjo-Iweala uttered a truism when she said that selecting the Bank president was not “open, transparent and merit-based.” Mr. Ocampo was even more direct, saying, “[Y]ou know this thing is not really being decided on merit.”  In this fundamental respect, the supposed international search for a director was a charade. It became clear as other candidate were put forward by their respective governments that the decision would be made in Washington and that the person proposed would be, as in every instance, since the World Bank was established would be an American (just as every Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund has been a European. This is a quid pro quo never formalized but decreasingly legitimate given the new deWesternized geopolitical landscape that is becoming the most prominent reality of the early 21st century).


            More specifically, this vote was a foregone conclusion, despite some mutterings to the effect that this World Bank search would be open as compared to the past, because Europe had bargained away their independence with respect to the Bank some months earlier so as to secure American support for Christine Lagarde’s appointment to head of the IMF. She too had been faced with non-Western well qualified candidates for the position that she now occupies. In fact, there were feeble boasts made in Western circles that at least this time there were non-Western candidates for these positions would be considered fairly.


            In a letter to The Financial Times (April 19, 2012), Mr. Moen Qureshi, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, expresses his annoyance with this new assertion of American ‘old boy’ privileges in staffing the top positions in world order.  He does not offer

criticisms in the wider context of a dysfunctional institutional rigidities that fail to register historical changes, and instead makes the temporizing suggestion that the World Bank establish a new No. 2 position who would be a person with banking experience and knowledge of the World Bank, allowing the Bank to clarify its role in a global setting with changing priorities. He proposes that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala be given the job, partially to overcome the injustice of her losing out in the competition for top position, but also to bring into the World Bank a person of stature and experience who can offset the limitations of Kim’s background.  Of course, even in the unlikely event that Qureshi’s sensible advice is followed, it fails to address the fundamental issue of creating a more legitimate, just, and effective structure of global governance.


            If the credibility of global financial leadership is considered more critically, given American responsibility for the global meltdown and recession going back to 2008 and the ongoing failed European efforts to solve the sovereign debt problems and internal budgetary, and taking account, in contrast, of how well the leading emerging economies handled the crisis of the last several years, this would have seemed to be an ideal moment to acknowledge the globalization of economic knowhow and competence, and pick a non-Westerner to head the Bank. President Obama might even have restored some of his tarnished reputation as a visionary and post-nationalist global citizen if he had gratuitously given up this informal prerogative enjoyed by the United States ever since the end of World War II, although those who preside over the erosion of imperial prerogatives are invariably appreciated at home for accommodating changing realities that downgrade the role of their own country, however compelling the case for such an overdue adjustment may be. Arguably, the more overdue the adjustment, the more intense the likely backlash from those with strong ideological affinities and entrenched interests in maintaining the old order as long as possible. It certainly would not have been a wise tactical move for Obama to make in an election year, but at anytime any gesture toward a more globally democratic structure for global public policy in the economic realm would have elicited a bitter screed from the likes of the Wall Street Journal.


            The informal lock on Western domination of the Bretton Woods institutions continues without much challenge. It is reported that both China and India supported the selection of Dr. Kim, apparently not wanting to alter expectations about the locus of global economic leadership, and even Russia and Mexico apparently voted for the American candidate (the votes are cast by secret ballot, and so their attribution is based on leaks and speculation). It seems that the geopolitical comfort level of the BRIC countries remains largely accommodationist in character, suggesting that decolonizing the mind of the global South has a long way to go. It would seem almost self-evident that the informal power/prestige sharing that might have appeared natural in 1945 when access to American capital markets were crucial for the success of international financial initiatives should no longer govern behavior more than 65 years later when the United States is close to being a failed state when it comes to financial viability having even suffered the indignity of having its credit rating downgraded by an independent market-oriented private agency.  As it is, despite broadening the G-8 to the G-20 with regard to some global economic issues, the governance of the world economy remains determinedly neoliberal and West-centric, and for this reason less than legitimate, especially when consideration is given to widening disparities of wealth and income within and between countries and the persistence of high levels of deep poverty and material deprivation. The geopolitical passivity of the BRICs is not encouraging from the perspective either of the wellbeing of the peoples of the world or the prospects for global democracy. It is notable that such passivity is also evident in other policy domains: climate change, control of nuclear weaponry and even recourse to military intervention (the most that BRIC countries were willing to do to express their opposition to the NATO intervention in Libya was to abstain when it came to the crucial March 2011 vote in the Security Council, although Russia and China deceived in the Libyan setting have refused to go along with R2P approach in the Syrian context).


            Undoubtedly, the most vivid institutional effort to achieve global reform that reflects the world we now live in rather than the one that existed at the end of World War II when most of the non-West was formally or informally operating under Western surveillance and control, has been the endlessly frustrating struggle to broaden and reconstitute the membership in the UN Security Council. It is scandalously anachronistic that the United Kingdom and France, at best secondary countries in the present global hierarchy, both hold permanent seats in the Security Council and enjoy a veto right, while countries such as Brazil, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey must compete for the nine seats with two-year terms that are shared with the other 189 members of the UN. It is not only a problem of representation for important states, but also the fact that there is no Muslim or Hindu majority state that is permanently represented in the supposedly global body. At least with the UN there is an excuse that the Charter makes amendments almost impossible, prescribing that there must be total acquiescence in any change in the composition of the Security Council by all five of its permanent members, as well as two-thirds of the overall membership. I suppose it is far too much to expect that France and the UK would accept a single rotating European permanent seat, and relinquish their dysfunctional separate membership on the Council. In the meantime, the UN System is largely frozen in time, and the world is deprived of a more legitimate and effective global problem-solving capability that is desperately needed at this time.


            It is important to move toward the achievement of global democracy for the sake of both global policymaking and the overall legitimacy of world order. To move away from violent geopolitics, acknowledging changes in the status of governments by reliance on soft power criteria leadership of international institutions has never been more useful. From this perspective the selection of Dr. Kim, even if he lives up to his considerable potential for a turn toward global empathy, is one more lost opportunity to move beyond the West-centric structuring of world order after World War II.




Nuclear Weapons are not Instruments of Peace!

10 Apr


            A few days ago I was a participant in a well-attended academic panel on ‘the decline of violence and warfare’ at the International Studies Association’s Annual Meeting held this year in San Diego, California. The two-part panel featured appraisal of the common argument of two prominent recent publications: Steven Pinker’s best-selling The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined and Joshua Goldstein’s well-researched, informative, and provocative Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide. Both books are disposed to rely upon quantitative data to back up their optimistic assessments of international and domestic political behavior, which if persuasive, offer humanity important reasons to be hopeful about the future. Much of their argument depends on an acceptance of their interpretation of battlefield deaths worldwide, which according to their assessments have declined dramatically in recent decades. But do battlefield deaths tell the whole story, or even the real story, about the role and dangers of political violence and war in our collective lives?


            My role was to be a member of the Goldstein half of the panel. Although I had never previously met Joshua Goldstein I was familiar with his work and reputation as a well regarded scholar in the field of international relations.  To offer my response in the few minutes available to me I relied on a metaphor that drew a distinction between a ‘picture’ and its ‘frame.’ I found the picture of war and warfare presented by Goldstein as both persuasive and illuminating, conveying in authoritative detail information about the good work being doing by UN peacekeeping forces in a variety of conflict settings around the world, as well as a careful crediting of peace movements with a variety of contributions to conflict resolution and war avoidance. Perhaps, the most enduringly valuable part of the book is its critical debunking of prevalent myths about the supposedly rising proportion of civilian casualties in recent wars and inflated reports of casualties and sexual violence in the Congo Wars of 1998-2003. These distortions, corrected by Goldstein, have led to a false public perception that wars and warfare are growing more indiscriminate and brutal in recent years, while the most reliable evidence points in the opposite direction.


            Goldstein is convincing in correcting such common mistakes about political violence and war in the contemporary world, but less so when it comes to the frame and framing of this picture that is conveyed by his title ‘winning the war on war’ and the arguments to this effect that is the centerpiece of his book, and accounts for the interest that it is arousing. For one thing the quantitative measures relied upon do not come to terms with the heightened qualitative risks of catastrophic warfare or the continued willingness of leading societies to anchor their security on credible threats to annihilate tens of millions of innocent persons, which if taking the form of a moderate scale nuclear exchange (less than 1% of the world’s stockpile of weapons) is likely to cause, according to reliable scientific analysis, what has been called ‘a nuclear famine’ resulting in a sharp drop in agricultural output that could last as long as ten years and could be brought about by the release of dense clouds of smoke blocking incoming sunlight.  <;


            Also on the panel were such influential international relations scholars as John Mearsheimer who shared with me the view that the evidence in Goldstein’s book did not establish that, as Mearsheimer put it, ‘war had been burned out of the system,’ or that even such a trend meaningfully could be inferred from recent experience. Mearsheimer widely known for his powerful realist critique of the Israeli Lobby (in collaboration with Stephen Walt) did make the important point that the United States suffers from ‘an addiction to war.’ Mearsheimer did not seem responsive to my insistence on the panel that part of this American addiction to war arose from role being played by entrenched domestic militarism a byproduct of the permanent war economy that disposed policy makers and politicians in Washington to treat most security issues as worthy of resolution only by considering the options offered by thinking within militarist box of violence and sanctions, a viewpoint utterly resistant to learning from past militarist failures (as in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Iran). In my view the war addiction is real, but can only be treated significantly if understood to be a consequence of this blinkering of policy choice by a militarized bureaucracy in nation’s capital that is daily reinforced by a compliant media and a misguided hard power realist worldview sustained by high paid private sector lobbyists and the lure of corporate profits, and continuously rationalized by well funded subsidized think tanks such as The Hoover Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and The American Enterprise Institute. Dwight Eisenhower in his presidential farewell speech famously drew attention to the problem that has grown far worse through the years when he warned the country about ‘the military-industrial complex’ back in 1961.


            What to me was most shocking about the panel was not its overstated claims that political violence was declining and war on the brink of disappearing, but the unqualified endorsement of nuclear weapons as deserving credit for keeping the peace during Cold War and beyond. Nuclear weapons were portrayed as if generally positive contributors to establishing a peaceful and just world, provided only that they do not fall into unwanted hands (which means ‘adversaries of the West,’ or more colorfully phrased by George W. Bush as ‘the axis of evil’) as a result of proliferation. In this sense, although not made explicit in the conversation, Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons set forth at Prague on April 5, 2009 seems irresponsible from the perspective of achieving a less war-prone world. I had been previously aware of Mearsheimer’s support for this position in his hyper-realist account of how World War III was avoided in the period between 1945-1989, but I was not prepared for Goldstein and the well regarded peace researcher, Andrew Mack, blandly to endorse such a conclusion without taking note of the drawbacks of such ‘a nuclear peace.’ Goldstein in his book writes on p.42, “[n]uclear deterrence may in fact help to explain why World War III did not occur during the Cold War—certainly an important accomplishment.” Goldstein does insist that this role of nuclear weapons has problematic aspects associated with some risk of unintended or accidental use and cannot by itself explain other dimensions of the decline of political violence, which rests on a broader set of developments that are usefully depicted elsewhere in the book. These qualifications are welcome but do not offset a seeming willingness to agree that nuclear weapons seemed partly responsible for the avoidance of World War III or the liberal internationalist view, perhaps most fully articulated by Joseph Nye, that an arms control approach is a sufficient indication that the threat posed by the possession and deployment of nuclear weaponry is being responsibly addressed. [Nye, Nuclear Ethics(New York: Free Press, 1986)]  


            Steven Pinker in his book takes a more nuanced position on nuclear weapons, arguing that if it were indeed correct to credit nuclear weapons with the avoidance of World War III, there would be grounds for serious concern. He correctly asserts that such a structure of peace would be “a fool’s paradise, because an accident, a miscommunication, or an air force general obsessed with precious bodily fluids could set off an apocalypse.”  Pinker goes on to conclude that “[t]hankfully, a closer look suggests that the threat of nuclear annihilation deserves little credit for the Long Peace.” (p.268) Instead, Pinker persuasively emphasizes the degree to which World War III was discouraged by memories of the devastation experienced in World War II combined with the realization that advances in conventional weaponry would make a major war among leading states far more deadly than any past war even if no nuclear weapons were used.


            Pinker also believes that a ‘nuclear taboo’ developed after World War II to inhibit recourse to nuclear weapons in all but the most extreme situations, and that this is the primary explanation of why the weapons were not used in a variety of combat settings during the 67 years that have passed since a single atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. But Pinker does not raise deeply disturbing questions about the continued possession and threat to use such weaponry that is retained by a few of the world’s states. Or if the taboo was so strong, why this weaponry remains on hair trigger alert more than 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and why on several occasions a threat to use nuclear weapons was used to discourage an adversary from taking certain actions. (see for instance, Steven Starr, “On the overwhelming urgency of de-alerting US & Russian missiles, And it the taboo was so valued, why did the United States fight so hard, it turns out unsuccessfully, to avoid having the International Court of Justice pronounce on the legality of nuclear weapons? (see ICJ Advisory Opinion, 8 July 1996; <>) And why has the United States, along with some of the other nuclear weapons states, refused to declare ‘a no first use policy.’ The taboo exists, to be sure, but it is conditional and has been contested in times of international crisis, and its strength rests on the costs associated with any further use of nuclear weapons, including creating a precedent that might work against future interests.


            Most surprising than these comments on how the presence of nuclear weapons dissuaded the United States and the Soviet Union from going to war, was the failure of my co-panelists to surround their endorsement of the war-avoiding presence of nuclear weapons with moral and prudential qualifiers. At minimum, they might have acknowledged the costs and risks of tying strategic peace so closely to threatened mass devastation and civilizational, and perhaps species, catastrophe, a realization given sardonic recognition in the Cold War by the widely used acronym MAD (mutually assured destruction). The questions put by the audience also avoided this zone of acute moral and prudential insensitivity, revealing the limits of rational intelligence in addressing this most formidable challenge if social and political construction of a humane world order was recognized as a shared goal of decent people. It is unimaginable to reach any plateau of global justice without acting with resolve to rid the world of nuclear weaponry; the geopolitical ploy of shifting attention from disarmament to proliferation does not address the moral depravity of relying on genocidal capabilities and threats to uphold vital strategic interests of a West-centric world (Chinese nuclear weapons, and even those few possessed by North Korea, although dangerous and morally objectionable, at least seem acquired solely for defensive and deterrent purposes).


            I doubt very much that such a discussion of the decline of war and political violence could take place anywhere in the world other than North America, and possibly Western Europe and Japan. Of course, this does not by itself invalidate its central message, but it does raise questions about what is included and what is excluded in an Americans only debate (Mack is an Australian). Aside from the U.S. being addicted to war I heard no references in the course of the panel and discussion to the new hierarchies in the world being resurrected by indirect forms of violence and intervention after the collapse of colonialism, or of structural violence that shortens life by poverty, disease, and human insecurity. I cannot help but wonder whether some subtle corruption has seeped into the academy over the years, especially at elite universities whose faculty received invitations to work as prestigious consultants by the Washington security establishment, or in extreme cases, were hosts to lucrative arrangements that included giving weapons labs a university home and many faculty members a salary surge. Princeton, where I taught for 40 years, was in many respects during the Cold War an academic extension of the military-industrial complex, with humanists advising the CIA, a dean recruiting on behalf of the CIA, a branch of the Institute for Defense Analysis on campus doing secret contract work on counterinsurgency warfare, and a variety of activities grouped under the anodyne heading of ‘security studies’ being sponsored by outside financing. Perhaps, such connections did not spillover into the classroom or induce self-censorship in writing and lecturing, but this is difficult to assess.


            The significance of this professional discussion of nuclear weaponry in 2012, that is, long after the militarized atmosphere of the Cold War period has happily passed from the scene, can be summarized: To witness otherwise perceptive and morally motivated scholars succumbing to the demons of nuclearism is a bad omen; for me this nuclearist complacency is an unmistakable sign of cultural decadence that can only bring on disaster for the society, the species, and the world at some indeterminate future point. We cannot count on our geopolitical luck lasting forever! And we Americans, cannot possibly retain the dubious advantages of targeting the entire world with these weapons of mass destruction without experiencing the effects of a profound spiritual decline, which throughout human history, has always been the prelude to political decline, if not collapse. David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and I explore this range of issues in our recently published book, The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012).

Why Europe is not yet ‘A Culture of Peace’

5 Apr

             It is undoubtedly true that the greatest unacknowledged achievement of the European Union (EU) is to establish ‘a culture of peace’ within its regional enclosure for the 68 years since 1944. This has meant not only the absence of war in Europe, but also the absence of ‘war talk,’ threats, crises, and sanctions, with the single important exception of the NATO War of 1999 that was part of the fallout from the breakup of former Yugoslavia. This was undertaken by the American-led alliance both to accomplish the de facto independence of Kosovo from Serbian rule, to ensure the post-Cold War viability of NATO, to reinforce the lesson of the Gulf War (1991) that the West could win wars at low costs due to their military superiority, and to rescue Albanian Kosovars from a possible humanitarian catastrophe at the hands of their Serb oppressors.  The contrast with the first half of the 20th century is stark when Europe seemed definitely the global cockpit of the war system in the East-West struggle for global supremacy.  Millions of soldiers and civilian died in response to the two German attempts by force of arms to gain a bigger role within this European core of West-centric geopolitics. Germany challenged the established order not only by recourse to massive aggressive wars in the form of World War I and II, but also by establishing a diabolical political infrastructure that gave rise in the 1930s to the violently genocidal ideologies of Nazism and fascism.


Even during the Cold War decades, Europe was not really at peace, but always at the edge of yet another devastating. For the four decades of the Cold War there existed a constant threat of a war fought with nuclear weapons, a conflict that could have produced totally devastating warfare at any point resulting from provocative American-led deployments of nuclear weapons or inflammatory Soviet interventions in Eastern Europe, or from the periodically tense relations in the divided city of Berlin. Also, to some extent the Soviet Union, with its totalitarian variant of state socialism, was as much European as it was Asian, and thus to a degree the Cold War was being fought within Europe, although its violent dimensions were prudently limited to the global periphery. Despite the current plans to surround Russia with defensive missile systems, supposedly to construct a shield to stop Iranian missiles, there seems little threat of any war being fought within European space, and even a diplomatic confrontation seems improbable at this point. In many respects, the EU culture of peace, although partial and precarious, has been transformative for Europeans even if this most daring post-Westphalia experiment in regional integration and sovereignty has been wrongly assessed almost exclusively from an economistic perspective as measured by trade and investment statistics, and the strength of the Euro and the rate of economic growth. The deep financial crises afflicting its Mediterranean members captures the public imagination without any appreciation of this European contribution to peaceful regional governance.


Many foreign policy experts are tend to discount this claim of an internally peaceful Europe. First because it had the benefit of an external Soviet adversary that made a political consensus among European elites appear to be a condition of physical and ideological survival. Secondly, because it could count on the American military presence, hegemonically instrumentalized via NATO, to protect Europe and to soften the edges of any intra-European disagreements. This latter role helps us understand the deployment in Europe of American forces so long after the fighting stopped, even if gradually reduced from troop levels of over 300,000 to the present 50,000. Even this smaller military presence is maintained at high cost to the United States, but it is widely seen in Washington as both a guarantor of peace in Europe and as an expression of America’s global engagement and permanent repudiation of its earlier geopolitical stance toward Europe of what was called ‘isolationism.’ Such a stance was never truly descriptive of American foreign policy, which was almost from its time of independence was expansionist and disposed toward intervention in hemispheric affairs.


            While I would with some qualifications affirm the European experience with regionalism as a step forward from the perspective of global governance, there are some darker features of European behavior that need to be taken into account. The colonial powers did not give up their empires without a fight. While the EU was emerging from the wreckage of World War II, European powers fought some dirty wars in futile efforts to hold onto their overseas empires in such countries as Malaya, Indonesia, Indochina, and Algeria. In a sense, the European culture of violence toward non-Europeans was taken over by the United States in its almost continuous engagement in counterinsurgency warfare against the peoples and nations of the South, a mode of one-sided warfare that reached its climate during the Cold War in Vietnam and has risen to alarming levels of destructiveness in Afghanistan and Iraq.


            There are also some broader matters of global policy involved.  After the end of the Cold War, the Western security priorities shifted from the defense of Europe against a Soviet threat to an ongoing campaign led by the United States to control the geopolitics of energy. This refocusing shifted the fulcrum of world conflict from Europe to the Middle East, a process strongly reinforced by Washington’s willingness to follow Israel’s lead on most matter of regional security. In such settings external to the territorial domain of the EU, the approach adopted under American leadership has been premised on discretionary recourse to violence under NATO banners, as in Afghanistan and Libya, especially following the American resecuritization of world politics along liberal internationalist lines since the NATO War in Kosovo, and even more so after the 9/11 attacks. The recent buildup toward war against Iran, allegedly because it is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, is a further demonstration of the contrast between the EU as a European regional arrangement based on the rejection of war as a foreign policy option and NATO as a Western hierarchal alliance that performs as a discretionary mechanism of military intervention in the non-Western world, especially in the energy-rich countries of the Muslim Middle East.


Iran is the poster child of such separation of Europe as a zone of peace and the Islamic world as a zone of war. It is notable that the threats to attack Iran in the coming months and the imposition of four stages of crippling sanctions are premised on the unacceptability of Iran’s nuclear program, which is allegedly moving close to the threshold of nuclear weaponry. It could certainly be doubted whether if Iran was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, and thereby violating its pledge under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it would be grounds for recourse to force.  If the issue were to be more reasonably contextualized it would make us more aware of the relevance of Israel’s stealth acquisition and development of nuclear weapons, accumulating an arsenal estimated to exceed 300 warheads. The exclusions of geopolitical discourse, facilitated by a compliant media, allow Israel to lead the charge against Iran’s supposed quest for nuclear weapons without even an acknowledgement that in light of the overall realities the most prudent and equitable approach would be for all states in the region to unconditionally renounce their intention to acquire or possess this infernal weaponry of mass destruction.


But the situation is even more distressing than this shocking embrace of double standards. The available evidence makes it doubtful that Iran is even trying to become a nuclear weapons state. This conclusion is supported by an apparent agreement of all 16 American intelligence agencies that share the view that a high probability exists that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and has not resumed it. This intelligence consensus corresponds with the Iranian contention that it is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. The moves toward war against Iran have been amplified by repeated threats of attack in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, as well as by deliberately imposing punitive sanctions of intensifying severity and by engaging in provocative destabilizing intrusions on Iranian sovereignty taking the form of targeted killings of nuclear scientists and the encouragement of anti-regime violence. Europe is a willing junior partner of the United States in this post-colonial reassertion of Western interests in the oil-rich Middle East, and thus complements its imperfect regional culture of peace with a dangerous global culture of war and hegemony.


            As might be expected, this kind of European role external to Europe has sparked a variety of anti-European acts of violent opposition. In turn, Europe has turned in an Islamophobic direction, giving rise to anti-immigrant reactionary politics that are mainly directed against Islamic minorities living within its midst, to a reluctance to move down the road leading to Turkish accession to EU membership, and to various restrictions of religious freedom associated with the practice of religious Islamic women such as wearing a headscarf or burka.


            What is striking here is the dedication by the West to sustain by relying on its military superiority the colonial hierarchy of North/South relations in the post-colonial world order. The state system has been universalized since 1945, but the countries of the North, under American leadership, have continuously intervened to promote Western interests at the cost of millions of lives, first as an aspect of worldwide anti-Soviet and anti-Chinese geopolitics, and more recently, to secure oil reserves and to counter Islamic political moves to control national governance structures, as in Afghanistan. The West no longer seeks to fly its flag over the governmental buildings of non-Western countries, but it as hungry as ever for their resources, as well as to ensure receptivity to Western foreign investment and trade interests. Whether to slay the dragons of Communism or Islam, or to satisfy the bloodthirsty appetites of liberal internationalists that champion ‘humanitarian interventions,’ the dogs of war are still howling in the West. The doctrinal masks of law and a UN mandate obscure the realities of aggressive war making, but should not be allowed to deceive those genuinely dedicated to a peaceful and just world.  For one thing, we should not be fooled by belligerent governments relying on legitimizing imprimatur of the Responsibility to Protect—R2P—norm, as in Libya or Syria, to mount their military operations, while at the same time adhering to a non-interventionary ethos when it comes to Gaza, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kurdistan, Tibet). Of course, consistency is not the whole story, but it does penetrate the thick haze of geopolitical hypocrisy. More basic is the renunciation of violent geopolitics and reliance for social and political change on the dynamics of self-determination. Let us appreciate the biggest successes in the Arab Spring took place where the uprising were essentially non-violent and there was minimal external interference, and the most dubious outcomes have occurred where the anti-regime movement was violent and received decisive military assistance from without.


            Unfortunately, despite the complexities involved we cannot count on the United Nations partly because the veto creates a possibility to preclude appropriate responses (as in relation to Israeli abuses of Palestinians) or its failure to be used due to geopolitical pressures authorizes essentially unlawful warfare (as in relation to the Libyan intervention where opponents abstained rather than block military action). True, the UN can sometimes withhold its certification for aggression, as it did in 2003 when it rejected the American appeal for a mandate to invade and occupy Iraq, but even then it stood aside when the aggression took place, and even entered Iraq to take part in consolidating the outcome of the unlawful attacks. The UN can be useful in certain peacemaking and peacekeeping settings, but when it comes to war prevention it has lost credibility because tied too closely to the lingering dominance of Western geopolitics.

            These critical assessments highlight the need of persons seeking peace and justice to work within and beyond the established channels of institutional governance. And more specifically, to take note of what Europe has achieved, and might yet achieve, without overlooking past and present colonial and colonialist wrongdoing. In this respect, we need both a UN that becomes as detached as possible from its geopolitical minders and a robust global Occupy Movement that works to provide the peoples of the world with a democratic public order that protects our lives and is respectful of nature’s limits.