Beholding 2014

3 Jan


2013 was not a happy year in the chronicles of human history, yet there were a few moves in the directions of peace and justice. What follows are some notes that respond to the mingling of light and shadows that are flickering on the global stage, with a spotlight placed on the main war zone of the 21st century—the Middle East, recalling that Europe had this negative honor for most of the modern era except for the long 19th century, and that the several killing fields of sub-Saharan Africa are located at the periphery of political vision, and thus their reality remains blurred for distant observers. Also relevant are the flaring tensions in the waters around China in relation to territorial disputes about island ownership, especially Diaoyu/Senkaku  pitting China against Japan, and reminding us that some old wounds remain unhealed.


Many persons in many places suffered greatly, and often with no better prospects in 2014, although our capacity to project a dismal present into the future is so modest as to make dramatic changes in direction quite plausible.

While highlighting some particularly troubled countries, we should not overlook those tens of millions throughout the world living in dire poverty, without healthy drinking water, sufficient food, adequate medical facilities, lacking proper housing, and deprived of education and employment opportunities. These chronic conditions of acute suffering generate migration flows, and underscore the terrible ordeal worldwide of economic migrants and refugees, always at risk, often living ‘unlawful’ lives of unbearable vulnerability. Such a general reflection on the human condition is meant to encourage serious reflections and commentary about whether the current state-centric structures of global governance deserve to be considered legitimate, and if not, what sorts of alternative arrangements can be envisioned to raise hopes for a better future.


What follows is a brief look at some of those situations of conflict that generate particular concern at this time:


            –the Syrian plight has been situated in the realm of the unspeakable for almost three years, and although punitive bombing was avoided in 2013 and chemical weapons arsenals destroyed, the killing (now far in excess of 100,000; some speculate 73,000 in 2013 alone), refugee exodus (2.3 million out of a population of 22.4 million), massive internal displacement (with estimates running as high as 6.3 million), and extreme material hardships are increasingly prevalent (with latest estimates that basic needs are unmet for as many as 9.6 million); what is also illuminating in a negative way is the incapacity of the UN and external actors to bring the political violence to an end, much less to find a solution to the conflict that protects minorities and enhances more generally the lives of the Syrian people; perhaps proxy antagonist states will act less irresponsibly in 2014, perhaps international relief efforts will increase; perhaps, the prospects of some kind of accountability for endless crimes against humanity will have some bearing on how the various participants work toward a just peace; at least, we must not avert our gaze from the slaughterhouse that Syria has become, and at least do what can be done to mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold there and inhibit its already disastrous spillover effects in such countries as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey;


            –the Palestinian plight persists in Gaza most disturbingly where underlying political and environmental challenges of viability involving water, food, and medical supplies have been cruelly aggravated by disastrous storms, polluted waters, fuel shortages, power failures, political antagonisms creating a humanitarian emergency that persists virtually unnoticed, and threatens to become even more horrendous; Palestinians throughout Palestine are also enduring a continuous  process of encroachment upon their most basic rights in relation to land, residence, water, settlements, wall, Jerusalem, refugees; the persistence of belligerent occupation for more than 45 years should not be tolerated, especially if the wellbeing of the civilian population is being continuously undermined, but under present circumstances this unfortunate set conditions cannot be effectively challenged directly; more promising is the widening Legitimacy War being waged to mobilize civil society and win the battle to sway the public mind by the imagery of Palestinian victimization and peaceful struggle, as well as the degree to which both sides fare in the underlying debate about who is right and who is wrong; it is important that in a Legitimacy War the target is definitely not the state of israel, but rather the policies and practices of the Israeli government; the end sought in this Legitimacy War is a just, inclusive, and sustainable peace for both peoples, but with the contours of peace fixed more by rights than by interplay of hard power capabilities;


            –the Egyptian people who had so illuminated the darkness three years ago by their remarkable rising in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country, now face a darker future than even during the bleak Mubarak years. As grim as this unfinished revolutionary process is in Egypt, not less discouraging has been the silence, or worse, of neighboring governments who poured in funds after a military coup, undeterred by subsequent bloody massacres that exhibit the features of crimes against humanity, and have now been outrageously extended by declaring a civic organization that fairly won democratic elections to be ‘a terrorist organization’ despite its long sustained pledge of nonviolent political engagement, implying that mere membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is itself a serious form of criminality; that such extreme behavior by the el-Sisi post-coup leadership can pass beneath the geopolitical radar screen of the liberal democracies in Europe and North America is also cause for lament, and further proof that 21st century global governance is afflicted with double standards, hypocritical condemnations, malign neglect, and a multitude of unholy alliances;


            –the Arab Spring that brought such hope and joy three years ago to many peoples entrapped in the cramped political space provided by authoritarian regimes now seems entrapped anew, whether in atrocity-laden  civil strife as in Syria or in militia-dominated chaos as in Libya or in reworking

of the non-accountable oppressive state as in Egypt or in the sectarian strife that still daily torments the people of Iraq; these regional patterns are not yet firm, and there remains a plausible basis for not renouncing all hopes that made the upheavals so promising in 2011;


            –the Turkish domestic downward spiral is also a cause for deep concern as 2013 draws to a close: the lethal dynamics of polarization took an unexpected turn, swerving from the apparent confrontations of the summer in Gezi Park that pitted the forces of a severely alienated secularist opposition, including new youth elements, against the entrenched AKP establishment that reacted with excessive force and political insensitivity; now attention has turned to the split between two leading forces previously united but newly warring: the Fetullah Gulen hizmet movement versus the Erdogan-led AKP now fighting it out in relation to corruption charges, but also each seeking to gain the upper hand in a nasty struggle to sway public opinion to their side; the Kemalist old order embodied in the CHP is presently sidelined, but likely waiting in a mood of excited anticipation for the principal gladiators to exhaust themselves on the field of battle, creating a political vacuum that could then be filled. In the background is the ‘zero problems’ approach to foreign policy so ingeniously constructed a few years ago by the energy and brilliance of Ahmet Davutoglu, the great Turkish Foreign Minister, which showed the world how soft power can gain ascendancy, then moved into a shadowland of disillusionment after a series of Syrian miscalculations, and now seems to be reemerging in more selective and principled form in improving relations with Iran, Iraq, Israel, and the United States, although the situation remains precarious so long as the Turkish currency sinks to new lows against the dollar and the domestic confrontation remains far from resolved;


            –Europe should not be forgotten. The economic downturn of recent years as well as the uneven recovery of the various EU members has exposed the follies of premature enlargement after the end of the Cold War and the problems associated with proceeding too quickly on the economic track of integration and too slowly on the political track; also, at risk, is the European reorientation of its global engagement by way of soft power geopolitics; despite the difficulties, the EU undertaking remains the most ambitious world order innovation since the birth of the modern state system in the middle of the 17th century, and its success in establishing ‘a culture of peace’ in Europe that had been for centuries the cockpit of warring states is an extraordinary achievement; at the same time, without a renewed commitment to going forward, risks of regression, even collapse, remain cause for worry;


            –and then there is the United States, which has had a somewhat mixed year, finally ending its combat relationship to Iraq, overriding the Israel’s objections to  dealing constructively with the new leadership and mood in Iran through interim arrangements relating to Iran’s nuclear program, and winding down its military operations in Afghanistan; but there were many problematic sides of America’s global role: drones; chasing Snowden; abusing Chelsea Manning, threatening Assange, and not facing up to the foreboding consequences of totalizing the global security state in the 12 years since 9/11—the new formula for democracy in the United States: making the lives of the citizenry as transparent as possible while keeping key government operations and policies shrouded in layers of secrecy. This is why the ‘crimes’ of WikiLeaks, Snowden, and Manning are seen as so subversive of public order by the new security entrepreneurs that unfortunately seem to include the top elected leaders. We the people are asked to throw caution aside, and despite acknowledged governmental lying and doctrines of deniability, put our trust in governmental prudence, integrity, and self-restraint. At the same time, the leaders, starting with Barack Obama, act as if this new dystopia of drones and the NSA panopticon is nothing other than business as usual, branding those who express doubts as suspicious characters, forcing brave journalists to behave like spies or Mafia operatives to get the truth out, as in the case of Glenn Greenwald.  There is also the disappointing abandonment by the supposedly less constrained second term Obama presidency of the first term visionary commitments to work toward a world without nuclear weaponry and to turn a new page toward reconciliation in addressing the grievances of the Muslim world, with especial attention to the Palestinian struggle to achieve self-determination and end the cardinal ordeal of prolonged occupation.


Looking ahead, there are several salient, although contradictory, realities that should help direct political energies and shape hopes for the future:

            –the inability of existing problem-solving mechanisms to find satisfactory responses to collective action challenges: climate change, nuclear weaponry, drone warfare, economic migration;

            –the failures of military intervention as a protective approach to

humanitarian catastrophe in tension with the futility of relying on diplomacy;

            –the growing importance of global civil society activism in promoting global justice, nonviolence, and sustainable development;

            –the increasing promise of soft power geopolitics in overcoming realist skepticism about compliance with international law and reliance on international cooperation.     

19 Responses to “Beholding 2014”

  1. Gene Schulman January 3, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    ” …….. and then there is the United States.”

    That says it all!

    • Albert January 3, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

      Where before there was a struggle between capitalism and communism, after the fall of the Soviet Union, China adopted a form of capitalism, that seems eons ahead of the American version. China embraced state capitalism, which is for the benefit of the people, whereas the US tries to cling to its casino capitalism, which caters to the most basic instinct of the human animal. The one works for the ninety nine percent and the other for the one percent. Only extreme cruelty and total disregard for human rights can maintain this atrocious imbalance. Maybe we should redefine slavery, because it is worse now, than it has ever been in history.

      • Richard Falk January 4, 2014 at 12:37 am #

        An interesting comment, but I think you give China too much credit. It too has its emerging 1%, and severe constraints on its citizenry that the US does not, as yet at least, have..HNY.

      • Gene Schulman January 4, 2014 at 6:42 am #

        Richard has taken the words right out of my mouth. Just because the US seems to be declining we shouldn’t be too sanguine about the rise of China. Its moral behavior is no better than the US, and may be even still much worse. We haven’t seen any cases of slavery in the US, yet. There are plenty of examples in China.

    • Karl Frigga January 6, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      I always enjoy your articles, because they are guided by the most honorable human feelings of justice and compassion, and as an expert of Human Rights and International Law you fight for a future which our human societies imagine for our children.
      This fight is very necessary to keep the world’s politics within the civilized frame and should us avoid the return to ancient barbarism.
      Big power and money often turn decision makers into madness (dissociation with the society) and innocent people are thrown therefore into unpronounceable suffering.
      I just read your article ‘Beholding 2014’. When you mentioned ‘the Middle East, recalling that Europe had this negative honor for most of the modern era except for the long 19th century’
      I think that even in that time European powers (especially Great Britain and Austria-Hungaria had war with Muhammad Ali, the Egyptian ruler (1805 – 1848) who had been broken in his panache to bring the Middle East into a modern society. The then European powers preferred a week Ottoman Empire than a great and strong Middle East.
      Yes, I completely agree with you that the most urgent problem is to end the cardinal ordeal of prolonged occupation in Palestine.

  2. Michael January 3, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    No mention of the lack of nationhood for the Kurds, a people with a distinct language, culture, and ethnicity, that number 25-30 million people.

    • Richard Falk January 4, 2014 at 12:38 am #

      It is an issue that deserves attention, but the complexities of Kurdish self-determination leads me to be reluctant to comment, given its impact on at least four sovereign states.

  3. Francis Oeser January 3, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    a readable piece differentiating countries and details. BUT underlying all areas is a lawlessness (you describe the situation in US well), a lack of respect both for policy and for acting on policy. This is exemplified in US by (say) drones and security – as you say; in Europe by the hypochrisy about unity, banking and civil management overshadowing greedy expectations of individual nations and contempt for poorer weaker ones; in Turkey their ‘war’ is couched in Islamic terms, probably incorrectly, as the issues in Turkey are as about power and territory as they are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.
    The underlying crisis for 2014 is better managing corporate influence, secrecy, the contemptuousness of most leading organisations, the endemic blindness about our whole climate-warmed world.
    A SHARED MORALITY must fashion 2014 if there is to be any real improvement.
    Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!


    • Richard Falk January 4, 2014 at 12:34 am #

      Francis: HNY. Very perceptive comment as usual!

    • Paul Blythe January 5, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

      It is hugely inspiring by these remarks because “news viewers” need a sense that their sentiments are not irrelevant but we each can DO SOMETHING about these incessant injustices and we individuals do may a difference, when we decide that “enough is enough. This is what happened during WWII when apathy prevailed until the situation became intolerable. The reward here is to feel a part of the community.
      Thank God that Richard Falk, said “enough is enough!

  4. Nancy Rowe January 3, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Yes Professor, The Cardinal Ordeal… lack of problem solving mechanisms, knee-jerk use of military might, disrespect for International Law, Tribalism(s). Could we dream of a global justice movement, perhaps led by an uncompromisingly moral person?

    Thank you for being that kind of man, your contribution stands as a beacon of integrity during this lamentable period of history.

    • Richard Falk January 4, 2014 at 12:35 am #

      Agreed, Nancy. Thanks for your generous and gracious comment. HNY.

  5. notwnadmin January 4, 2014 at 2:27 am #

    Reblogged this on News of the World.

  6. jg January 5, 2014 at 1:40 am #

    Kind regards and in gratitude for you and all you do and have done for advancing peace and understanding.
    Thank you!

    poire frais

  7. monalisa January 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    Dear Richard,

    A Very Happy and Healthy Year 2014 for you and your family !

    Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of oppressed people and for bringing injustice into awareness of our global community !

    You are one of these extremely scarce wonderful extraordinary personalities we have on our earth and I still admire you for your steadfastness when adverse tidings turn up and border even on the lowest level of primitive personal attacks !

    Take care of yourself,


    • Richard Falk January 5, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

      Thanks, as always, for your encouragement and your concern. Wishing you the best possible
      year in 2014, and all of us, a less tormented world! Warm greetings, Richard

  8. Kata Fisher January 7, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    I have a reflection over things that professor Falk wrote about:

    I believe that UN has to have increased activity, based on increased capability.

    One thing I am reflecting on is “FDP Development Pipeline” which already has taken place in servile stages, accomplished right here in this setting. Still, looking at leaders from different perspective remains a challenge. Meaning, it is difficult to transition people’s perspective from single to a double loop learning mode.

    Further, there are limitations to UN based on limited capabilities, and often impossible to do anything about a situation regardless of distinguished capabilities.
    Problem solving can be accomplished, within a model-mode in overlap in leadership and management. Likewise, the problems can be resolved/ solved by overlaps of UN and Church diplomats authority. There are answers for all issues, and valid approach, as well.

    I believe that Fr. Calrlo Maria Vigano (Apostolic nuncio to US) is available along with other distinguished Church diplomats that he may know to be valid, and are equipped to any task ahead that UN can’t solve. They can deliver models, strategies and all possible goods in form of service to aid the UN mission with great accuracy, and very limited errors.

    What professor Falk has outlined should and can be done and more than that should and can be done. Meaning, problems outlined can be solved with a legitimate undertaking and overlaps in authority, with foundation principle that their mandate is to assist, and it has to be legitimate needs of UN that they will assist, and in legitimate frame/structure.

    Now, abut UN Watch – they are exercising same work that exercised by “Church dictatorship”/authority (abusing diplomatic access/power) to/over UN/Un officials active and not active. They (as an NGO attachment to UN) have to clean up their act, and someone has to be sent to them so that they may transition from illegitimate areas of appointment into legitimate one.

    We do not want lay-people to be in undertaking that may or may not be appropriate for them. Meaning, engaging people in authority-coercive for an impact on individual, organization, society may not be necessary for masses, as all in right conscience would already know their valid area of appointment. Authority-coercive is for the masses/lay-people without understanding that is valid, and is in grave harm to themselves and other.

    Pope Francis violated Canon Law of the Church when he invited Catholic-Church masses/lay-people to shake dioceses. I reject that call (specifically that one, yet not all of his calls) because engaging Church masses into individual, social/world-change can be dangerous and not appropriate, as lay-people would have to be in Church oversight in all that they do in order to strong-hold their illegitimate acts, otherwise the order of the Church would be shaking, and diminish—with that, the grave harm to other individuals and society can take place. In addition to that, lay-people would fall under enormous spiritual attack that they cannot sustain over themselves. The Church Order and Church’s teaching office can be violated by immature inclinations. The Pope, however, is a priest and his position is valid in the Church Catholic—not sufficient to leadership of the Church and world in times of trouble and change. He is not the priest, and the prophet, and the king in natural and spiritual (all of that has to be in one person that is Pope-appointed in order to make ALL of his calls valid in the Church and the world). I am not sure who gives council to the Pope, and the council to the mission of the Pope Francis would be appropriate to spend liquid and stashed up assets of Rome, to be flushed into the society’s, aiding the poor. We say, “Bake/brake your bank, Pope Francis as it is right and just, and you have full authority to do that—you are the priest!” Heart of the priest, and the Church should honor that. We say, “All assets to be gone, and be aiding the poor-the priest want his money for the poor.”

    I would be certain that there is a priest, the prophet and the king o be available in natural and spiritual when UN and Church diplomats are brought together in order to solve the problems.

    This is what I understand about Professor Falk:

    Understanding leadership is not enough, understanding leader is what must take place in order for one to interpret the vision that is followed by the organization. The quality of the vision will be centered on ethical convictions of the organization: their position. Position of the leader that is ethically effective will give the organization stability and allow for his flexibility. A leader will not step out of his appointed area of expertise; however, he will be flexible to examine all other areas that may be relevant to his position.
    Leadership effectiveness will depend on personal characteristics and ethics of leader—or a personal way of the leader that will affect his sufficiency to lead. There is no certainty of position in this area of proposition; however, ethics is central to all. Leader will be faithful to himself (his personal conviction), and he will be faithful to others trough those convictions.
    With that, when comes to the challenges of leadership, he is an expert in his area of functioning, first: accomplishing the goals of the organization, fulfilling the vision will be ethical in his expert ability. This is a strategic quality of a leader and is anchored in a personal ethics that is connected to the organization and society. He will be sustaining his way anchored between disciplines of leadership and management.

    Many blessings,


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