APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

28 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of six segments devoted to relations of the West to Iran, centering on whether the United States post-Trump will attempt to reduce tensions with Iran or opt for continuity, and greater policy coordination with Israel’s new post-Netanyahu leadership. Naphtali Bennett, Israel’s new Prime Minister, has already made clear that he views Iran no differently than Netanyahu, opposes a return to the 2015 Nuclear Program Agreement (JCPOA) and seems to have authorized at unprovoked attack on the Karaj facility on June 23rd that produces centrifuges needed to obtain enriched uranium.

When the U.S. Government withdrew from the hard bargained Obama Era nuclear agreement in 2018 accompanied by a revamping of sanctions against Iran, tensions once again dangerously escalated. Biden pledged as a candidate for the American presidency to restore JCPOA, but has so far shown only a limited commitment to rejoin the earlier agreement, and seems to be insisting on a new agreement that is more restrictive of Iran’s nuclear program and even its regional political activity. The U.S. Government seems to forget that it was its actions that led to the breakdown of the agreement, and that Iran continued to comply for an entire year before embarking upon a more ambitious program of nuclear enrichment, accumulating three tons above the agreed limits, ten times the amount allowed by the lapsed agreement, yet still short of the level of enrichment need to produce nuclear weapons. Six rounds of negotiations have taken place during recent months in Vienna among the five remaining parties to the 2015 agreement (China, Russia, France, UK, Germany) and Iran, as well as indirect negotiations between Iran and the U.S. with the other governments serving as intermediaries.

Authoritative voices from Vienna tell us that an agreement is ‘within reach,’ whatever that may mean, yet they also say its restoration remains uncertain due to Israeli pressures, the recent election of a hardline Iranian President—Ebrahim Raisi, and the American insistence on a longer timeline for the agreement as well as a reported demand that Iran cease its support for ‘terrorist’ entities in the region and reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The Western media fails to understand the relevance of Iranian grievances with respect to its nuclear program, seems totally insensitive to double standards in its reportage, and so the issue is portrayed to the public in an exceedingly misleading manner. Among Iranian grievances the following are especially important: Iran is portrayed as a supporter of terrorism in the region while there is virtually no mention of the blatant pattern of Israel ‘terrorism’ against Iran, and specifically against its nuclear program that has breached no international norms. In the period 2010-2012 four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated by Israel: Masoud Alimohammedi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad, Mostafa Ahmed Roshan. As recently as November 2020 Iran’s leading nuclear scientist associated with Iran’s program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed by a Mossad operation while driving in a car near Tehran. The U.S. has done its share of state-sponsored terrorism: disabling 1,000 centrifuges by cyber Stuxnet attacks back in 2010 and assassinating a leading military and political figure, Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 while he was on a diplomatic peace mission in Iraq. Israel also seems responsible for periodic attacks on the Natanz nuclears facility, as well.

For further contextualization it is well to recall that it was Trump who ruptured JCPOA when it was working well, which was confirmed by assessments of U.S. intelligence reports. Maybe even more important was the U.S. failure to object to such Israeli violation of Iranian sovereign rights, as well as aggressive acts that violated the basic norms of the UN Charter, as well as to curb its own recourse to overt and covert violations of Iran’s legal rights.

Despite this abusive pattern Iran refrained from challenging the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, or even coupling its commitment to refrain from acquiring the weapons or even the capability to produce the weaponry with a demand for a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone. This pattern should remind us that Western colonialism is largely dead, yet Western imperialism persists almost undetected by the normative radar by which international behavior should be judged. Antony Blinken’s ‘rules-governed’ international order has some gaping black holes, and Iran continues to be victimized in the process, while Blinken’s silence is totally overlooked.

Finally, two statements indicative of Israel’s rogue behavioral ethos toward Iran. The Defense Minister, and alternate opponent of Netanyahu, Benny Gantz speaking on June 24, 2021 put his view of Iran in direct language: “..a murderous and dangerous enemy, building arms of terror around the State of Israel, seeks to acquire a nuclear weapon to threaten Israel, and the stability of the entire region.” Iran’s ‘arms of terror’ presumably contrast with Israel’s ‘weapons of self-defense,’ such are the distortions of hegemonic political discourse. Allon Ben David writing in Ma’ariv on the same day as Gantz spoke was engagingly candid in masking Israeli embrace of terror as a peacetime tactic: “..the Mossad and IDF will contribute in their quiet way part of the effort to delay Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.” The word ‘quiet’ is code talk for ‘secret,’ and the quiet work consists of killing scientists and planting explosives in Iran’s nuclear facilities, or even sending drones on armed missions carried out in Iranian or Syrian territory.

Two interviews are also included that address Iranian leadership issues. It is almost comical that one hears shouts of indignation about an extremist leader being elected in Iran, whereas discussing Bennett’s extremist support of the unlawful encroachment of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories or refusal to support the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state is hardly mentioned, or set off against Biden’s endorsement of a two-state solution.]

APPROACHING IRAN: THE FLAWS OF IMPERIAL DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

(1) Responses of Richard Falk to Interview Questions of journalist Niloofar Adibnia (19 April 2021)

What is your analysis of the Vienna meeting?

The so-called ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna likely have several distinct goals. (1) Holding the talks include the purpose of involving the four other P5 (Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in the process of restoring American participation in and Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, known as JCPOA, and also, as the ‘5 +1 Agreement’; the U.S. and Iran separately interact with representatives of these five governments, which in turn inform U.S. and Iran, which then in turn provide responses; it is a dialogue with intermediaries; (2) The indirectness of the process allows each side to make an assessment as to whether it is worth the risks of international failure and domestic backlash as a result of disagreements as to the respective expectations of the two sides in a high profile diplomatic effort at restoring JCPOA along the lines of its original character in 2015; (3) The Vienna process also should be helpful in identifying sticking points with respect to the removal of sanctions on Iran, the restraint of Iranian regional diplomacy in the Middle East, and any further adjustments such as reparations for ‘nuclear terrorism’ or agreed ceilings on uranium enrichment, allowing both countries to decide how serious these gaps are.

Will the Vienna Summit Lead to the Revival of the Nuclear Deal?

I think part of the purpose of the Vienna talks is to allow the parties to determine whether the timing is right at present for a renewal of JCPOA. The U.S. is under pressure from Israel, and some Arab states not to participate again within the JCPOA framework unless new burdensome conditions are imposed on Iran. On its side, Iran is likely unwilling to alter its enrichment levels without assurances that ‘nuclear terrorism’ will be treated as a criminal disruption in the future, and appropriate steps taken including reparations. Iran may also insist upon unconditional removal of sanctions in view of its experience during the Trump presidency. In opposition, Biden may insist on flexibility with respect to sanctions relief in the event that Iran enriches uranium beyond agreed levels.

Will the US lift sanctions?

I think the sanctions will be lifted by stages if Iran agrees to return to the 2015 enrichment levels, and perhaps, agrees to transfer any stockpile of enriched uranium beyond these levels in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 to an international depository or placed in a depot subject to periodic inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear agreement is not likely to become again operative unless the U.S. sanctions are completely removed. It is assumed that Iran learned its lesson of relying on the U.S. commitment to lift sanctions when Obama was president, while experiencing their reinstatement in harsher form when Trump became president. Undoubtedly, this sequence partly explains the discrediting of the so-called ‘moderates’ in Iran and their replacement by the ‘hardline’ faction, making diplomatic de-escalation seem somewhat more problematic

Do you think the nuclear deal will be revived?

It seems as though there exists a political will on both sides to proceed cautiously in that direction, with the intention of reviving the 2015 arrangements regulating Iran’s nuclear program. Whether this political will is strong enough on both sides remains to be seen as does whether some of the issues turn out to be non-negotiable, and hence deal breakers. Such include enrichment ceilings, treatment of ‘nuclear terrorism. There is also some uncertainty arising from domestic politics in both countries. Will Biden give priority to satisfying Israeli concerns or to reaching a major diplomatic goal of reviving JCPOA? Will Iran insist on a clear pledge of unconditional irreversible removal of the sanctions?

Is there a determination to keep the nuclear deal alive?

I think there is a widespread desire on both sides to give renewed life and relevance to the nuclear agreement,
But there are competing forces on both sides that are more ambivalent about the agreement or are even opposed to its existence. At this point it is difficult to determine with any confidence whether the pro-agreement forces in both countries are strong enough to withstand pressures from anti-agreement forces. The impact of other issues may turn out to be decisive. Will the Natanz attack harden Iran’s demands or soften the U.S. diplomatic stance? So far the indications are not encouraging, and even less so after the Karaj attack on Iran centrifuge production facility. The American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has called Iran’s lifting of the enrichment ceiling from 20% to 60% as ‘provocative’ without putting forth the slightest gesture of criticism of its Natanz attack, widely presumed to have been carried out by Mossad operatives acting on Israel’s behalf.

Will Iran return to full implementation of its nuclear obligations in the nuclear deal?

I cannot imagine the revival of JCPOA unless Iran agrees to comply, and maintains compliance. The more important question is whether Iranian compliance requirements will be set by reference to the initial standards agreed upon in 2015 or whether there will be new standards reflecting intervening developments and to some extent negotiating demands accepted, and. going into effect when the agreement is again operative.

what is your analysis about sabotage on natanz? can it derail vienna negotiation?can it lead to war?

It would seem that Israel intended the attack on the Natanz underground facility as a provocation that would by inducing a major Iranian retaliation and make progress in the Vienna talks problematic. Some have thought that the attack was only designed to give Israel a seat at the Vienna table. The attack should be internationally condemned as a form of ‘nuclear terrorism’ as well as a serious violation of Iran’s sovereign rights. The relative international silence, including by the IAEA is disappointing, and the Blinken response referred to above is unacceptable.

I do not think this event will lead either to the breakdown of the Vienna indirect talks or to regional war, although both possibilities certainly exist. It may delay reaching an agreement in Vienna, and has already raised regional tensions. My view is that with tensions rising in relation to China and Russia, the U.S. will not irresponsibly escalate the conflict dimensions of its relations with Iran, but there are many surrounding complications that
make such speculation unreliable.

We can only hope that peace-oriented pressures on both sides hold sway, and JCPOA again becomes operative. Many will hail this as a diplomatic breakthrough if this happens, and when sanctions are removed, Iranian societal life will benefit greatly, improving the regional and international atmosphere.

(2) Responses of Richard Falk to Amir Mohadded Ismaeli Questions for Mehr News Agency (April 14, 2021)

Q1: Who’s behind Natanz sabotage?

At this point, we have only the uncontested reports that Israel is responsible, having virtually confessed as much. Apparently Israel used Mossad to carry out the attack on the Natanz underground nuclear enrichment facility on April 10, 2021. The attack came only a day after new more advanced cetrifuges began operating at Natanz. The attack took the form of a major explosion 65 meters below the ground. The explosives used are believed to have been smuggled past security guards by being sealed within a steel table and then detonated from a remote location. The complete destruction of the power distribution supply system used to make the centrifuges work has been confirmed as the main damage. It has been estimated by Israelis that it might take Iran as long as nine months to make the facility operational again.

The United States has officially declared that it had no role in this act of sabotage, but it is hard to believe that Washington did not have advance knowledge, and there is no evidence of any attempt to prevent the attack from being carried out or complaints after the fact. Israel leaders although evasive, seemed to justify the attack as part of the country’s defense against the controversial assumption that despite Tehran assurances, Iran is developing the capacity to produce nuclear warheads that could be attached to missiles or rockets, posing dire threats to Israeli security. Iran continues to deny that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capacity. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has vowed unspecified ‘revenge’ for the attack on Natanz, but there is no indication that this is meant to signal a reversal of Iran’s policy toward the acquisition of the weaponry.

In the background, is the reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal that seems to stay below the radar of proliferation concerns and overlooks Iran’s reasonable apprehension of what this could mean in the future for its own security.

Q2: In your view, what purposes are behind this sabotage?

On the basis of circumstantial evidence, contrary to the posture taken by Israel that the Natanz incident was directed at slowing Iran race to the nuclear weapons threshold, I believe the attack had as its primary purpose, a provocation designed to escalate tensions between Iran and Israel, and encourage the U.S. to stick with the Trump approach to relations with Iran. More immediately, the attack is sure to complicate current efforts in Vienna to create the conditions leading to the resumption of U.S. participation in JCPOA through direct negotiations. As is widely understood, Iran has been demanding that its compliance with JCPOA depends upon an American commitment to terminate the sanctions imposed during the Trump presidency in conjunction with its unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

This hypothesis of provocation is reinforced by the highly belligerent statements made by Netanyahu when asked about the Natanz attack. Instead of a denial or even a claim of Israeli worries, he chose to treat the relationship between the two countries as a relation between two enemies poised to destroy one another. He is quoted as claiming that the ‘fanatical regime’ governing Iran without doubt intends to acquire nuclear weapons so as to destroy Israel in pursuit of their ‘genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.” Netanyahu added that Israel would continue ‘to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism’ as if Iran was the provocateur. Such language offers an official indirect justification for what happened an Natanz, as well uses warlike language of implacable hostility.

I suspect that Israel by such high-profile sabotage and incendiary language is doing its best to tie the hands of the Biden presidency, agitate pro-Israeli sentiments in the U.S. Congress and Western media. The secondary objective is to obstruct the Iranian nuclear program, which is consistent with such past acts of aggression as the disabling of centrifuges through the insertion of the Stuxnet virus back in 2010 as well as through targeted assassination of leading nuclear scientists, including Iran’s leading nuclear specialist, Mohsen Fakhrizadez in November 2020. This pattern of covert violence has long violated Iran’s sovereign rights and has been understandably denounced by Iranian officials as ‘nuclear terrorism.’

What is uncertain at this time is whether Israel will commit further provocations, how Iran will react, and whether the United States will take the bait, and either delay JCPOA negotiations or demand Iranian compliance with new conditions beyond the original agreement before it lifts or even eases the sanctions or resumes its own participation.

Q3: Do you think there is a coordination between the US and Israel for implementing the sabotage?

It is difficult to say. There is some reason to believe that if there was such coordination it would not be necessary for Israel to take the risks arising from such serious provocations. As with the Obama diplomacy that led to the agreement in 2015, there are differences between the U.S. interest in regional stability and the Israeli determination to keep destabilizing Iran so as to realize at some point its undisguised goal of regime change.

At the same time, with the COVID challenge uppermost as a policy priority for Biden, there may be some level of coordination, involving reassurances to Israel that it will not make things easy for Iran with respect to the sanctions or JCPOA. Biden seems eager to avoid diversionary issues in America that would allege that the U.S. is failing to uphold reasonable Israeli security demands.

As of now, resort to the ‘indirect talks’ in Vienna suggest that both sides are proceeding cautiously, keeping their options open. The next month or so will make clearer whether the U.S. will separate its search for normalization with Iran due to pressures arising from its special relationship with Israel or will pursue a diplomatic course in accord with its national interest. It will never be able to satisfy Israel and reach a negotiated agreement with Iran. It must choose, and hopefully opting for peace and diplomacy rather than coercion and hostility.

Q4: Some scholars believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency and JCPOA parties should clarify their stances and condemn this sabotage, as it’s been done while Iran has been trying to revive the agreement in Vienna. What do you think?

I do believe that if an investigation confirms Israeli responsibility for the Natanz attack it should be condemned by the International Atomic Energy Agency and by the parties to JCPOA (that is, the five Permanent Members of the Security Council and Germany). Such a step would be a major step toward depoliticization of regional tensions, and offer some hope that the current crisis atmosphere can be overcome. What is being called ‘the shadow war’ between Israel and Iran is dangerous and every effort should be made to end it. It also should be acknowledged as widely as possible that Israel has the main responsibility for recourse to this surge of war-mongering propaganda and acts of aggression that violate international law and the UN Charter. The UN should stop watching such dangerous and unlawful events in a spirit of silent detachment, and take its own Charter responsibilities seriously.

(3)Zahra Mirzafarjouyan interview questions, May 30, 2021, Mehr News Agency

1- An Israeli leader described Islamic revolution as “earthquake of century”. What have been the effects of the Imam Khomeini-lead revolution in the region that worried Israelis?

Imam Khomeini made clear his opposition to Israel and the Zionist Project of establishing a Jewish state inside the Islamic World, although he was also clear that he regarded Judaism as an authentic religion deserving respect. When I had a meeting with Imam Khomeini in Paris days before he returned to Iran, he said explicitly that so long as Jews were not active in supporting Israel, it would be ‘a tragedy for us if they left Iran after the revolution.’ His outlook was anti-Israeli, but not anti-Semitic.

I am not familiar with this quote although it makes sense. Israel had enjoyed positive relations with Iran during the period of the Shah’s rule. The Islamic Revolution was perceived as an immediate threat to Israel because it sought to reclaim political control for the ancestral peoples, long resident in the region under the auspices of a political movement espousing Islamic principles and opposed to all forms of secular and Western penetration, especially in the form of a settler colonial state. And such a movement had successfully challenged the Pahlavi regime in Iran, which had the most elaborate modernized internal security apparatus in the region. If it could in Iran, it was supposed that such revolutionary movements could and would succeed elsewhere in the region.

Whether ‘earthquake of the century’ is an overstatement can be discussed, and challenged. It competes with the Russian and Chinese Revolutions and the rise of Hitler, World Wars I & II as alternative candidates for such an assertion. Possibly, seen in the context of the Middle East, and from the perspective of Israel, it was seen as an extreme disruptive event, with an anti-Israeli mobilizing potential that would influence the peoples of the region, and at the same time deprived Israel of its most sympathetic support as centered previously in Iran.

2- What features of the Islamic Revolution have worried the western powers?

I suppose the most worrisome aspect of the Islamic Revolution from the perspective of the West was its resolve to eliminate all forms of Western influence—geopolitical, political, economic, and cultural. In this sense, the events in Iran could be interpreted as anti-imperial as well as anti-colonial, that is, not only opposing European colonialism but its sequel taking the form of the project of U.S. influence in strategic partnership with the hostile regimes and Israel.

A second source of concern was the rejection of Western ideas about governance and the place of religion in the life of society. Western ideas of political legitimacy rested on a premise of separating church and state, while the Islamic Revolution favored their organic connection, giving primacy to religious leadership, although accompanied by a political sphere that was legitimated by periodic free elections.

Other issues involved imposing religious traditions contrary to Western cultural ideas. This can be observed, especially, in relation to the dress and appearance of women, and with respect to education, social life, and entertainment.

The West celebrates ‘freedom’ by reference to social practices, including music, consumption of alcohol, pornography, and tolerance of anti-religious ideas. It perceived Iran after the Islamic Revolution as prohibiting what in the West were regarded as achievements of the Enlightenment and modernity.

In the end, the most fundamental opposition to the Islamic Revolution arose from the belief that political Islam would be resistant to Western penetration and hegemonic control after the collapse of European colonialism, and thus threatened crucial Western strategic interests, including access to energy, security of Israel, ideological anti-Marxist solidarity, and neoliberal globalization.

3- How do you see the role of Imam Khomeini in uniting the Muslim world?

I believe that Imam Khomeini had a major impact in demonstrating to the Muslim world
the mobilization of national populations could be effective in challenging corrupt and decadent forms of political leadership. It gave rise to Islamic activism and extremism, which in turn produced Islamophobic reactions in Europe and North America. Iran itself
opposed such Sunni extremism associated with ISIS and the Taliban as in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Imam Khomeini has so far failed in uniting the Muslim world, especially if measured by the outlook of governing elites. Indeed, it seems more reasonable to conclude that his
Influence has led to deeper divisions and a rise in sectarian rivalries, especially in the Middle East. Imam Khomeini was as opposed to the Gulf dynasties, especially Saudi Arabia, than he was about Israel, secularism, and Western influence. In turn, these conservative monarchies, although purporting to adhere to Islamic law and practices,
were severely threatened by populist advocacy of an Islamic orientation of government. It is no secret that Gulf monarchies, along with Israel, opposed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region, especially Egypt. Islam from below, as in Iran, was
consistently opposed by Sunni elites in the region.

4- Imam Khomeini always hated compromising with arrogant powers and Zionists and believed in resistance. How has the culture of resistance been able to change the balance of power in the region?

Except for Iran itself, I do not see any shift in the balance of power in the region arising from Imam Khomeini’s support for a culture of resistance. It could be argued that the Arab uprising of 2010-11 reflected a certain influence of the Imam and the Iranian experience of revolutionary success inspired people to act collectively in mounting challenges to the status quo. Even if this is so it must be offset by counter-revolutionary moves that followed these uprisings, producing chaos in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and intensifications of the harsh rule of Arab monarchies. It may be correct that Western influence has somewhat declined, and is being now challenged by other extra-regional forces, China and Russia. These changes are affecting the role of global geopolitics in the Islamic world, but I don’t associate these developments with manifestations of a culture of resistance.

Iran’s foreign policy has enjoyed a measure of success in Lebanon, Palestine, and above all, Syria, but it seems premature to speak of a new balance of power in the region. The Palestinian resistance is the most impressive example of a culture of
resistance that is active in the region. Although the Palestinian struggle has been led for 20 years by Hamas, its movement of resistance seems remote from any direct influence by Imam Khomeini, whom I believe would be disappointed that his legacy has not extended beyond Iran.

(5) Responses of Richard Falk to Questions posed by Javad Arab Shirazi(May 9, 2021) (Press TV)
Q#1: Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Friday marked the International Quds Day, voicing confidence that the downward movement of the Zionist regime has already started and “it will never stop”. What do you think?
I agree with the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Israeli apartheid state has suffered a series of defeats in the symbolic domain of politics in the first months of 2021: the preliminary decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that the Prosecutor possesses the legal authority to investigate allegations of Israel’s criminality in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem that occurred after 2015; influential reports by the Israeli NGO, B’Tselem and by the leading U.S. NGO, Human Rights Watch conclude that the practices and policies of Israel throughout Israel and occupied Palestine constitute the international crime of apartheid; and significant worldwide increases in global solidarity initiatives in support of the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination enjoyed by every people.

These symbolic advances suggest that Palestine is winning the Legitimacy War fought between Israel and Palestine over the relative legal, moral, and spiritual entitlements in their struggle. The record of the struggles against colonial rule since 1945 suggest that the side that prevails in a Legitimacy War eventually controls the political outcome. In this respect, the statement of Ayatollah Khamenei about a downward Israeli spiral accords with the flow of history.
At the same time Israel will not easily accept defeat. It has tried to deflect attention by accusing individuals and even institutions, such as the UN and ICC, of being ‘antisemitic.’ This is a display of ‘the politics of deflection.’ Such deflection attempts to wound the messenger rather than heed the message. Israel also enjoys the geopolitical backing of the United States and to a lesser extent, the European Union, and has benefitted from ‘the normalization agreements’ reached in 2020 with several Arab governments as encouraged by the Trump presidency during its last months. These factors suggest that it will be a difficult and likely prolonged struggle.
In the meantime, the Palestinian people are being severely subjugated in their own homeland, including ever since the Nakba in 1948 being victimized by ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. It is necessary to appreciate that symbolic successes do not translate immediately into substantive results, and often have the opposite short-term effects because the oppressor senses its vulnerability. Such an experience is currently the fate of the Palestinian people.

Q#2: The Leader said the policies of the oppressive and cruel capitalism “have driven a people out of their homes, their homeland and their ancestral roots and instead, it has installed a terrorist regime and has housed a foreign people therein.” What are your thoughts on this?
My response to the prior question addresses this language on the level of the existential suffering of the Palestinian people within and outside their homeland, including in refugee camps in neighboring countries and through the dispersion of Palestinians in involuntary exile around the world.
I think that the abuses of capitalism are not essential aspects of the basic crimes of displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people so as to enable the Zionist Project to succeed in establishing a Jewish state in the Palestinian homeland. These crimes are virtually acknowledged in Israel’s Basic Law of 2018. Capitalist patterns of exploitation of Palestinian labor and resources are part of this overall picture but incidental to the apartheid and colonial structures that exert comprehensive control over Palestinian activities.

Q#3: “Today, the situation in the world is not like those days. We should keep this reality within sight. Today, the balance of power has swung in favor of the world of Islam. Various political and social incidents in Europe and in the United States have laid bare the weaknesses and the deep structural, managerial and moral conflicts among westerners. The electoral events in the US and the notoriously scandalous failures of the hubristic and arrogant managers in that country, the unsuccessful one-year fight against the pandemic in the US and Europe and the embarrassing incidents that ensued, and also the recent political and social instabilities in the most important European countries are all signs of the downward movement of the western camp”, the Leader said. What do you think?

There is much evidence of Western decline as the quoted language of Ayatollah Khamanei suggests, but the world future remains obscure. Historical tendencies appear to favor the rise of Asia and a more multipolar world order. There are also indications of Western, particularly U.S. decline, as in its handling of the COVID pandemic and prolonged failure to update and improve the quality of its infrastructure, spending excessively on armaments instead of investing
in a sustainable and equitable future.

Yet there are some contradictions that prevent any assured image of the future. At present, there are prospects of a dangerous confrontation between China and the United States, which could confirm Chinese ascendency or lead to regional conflict, and possibly wider tensions in the form of a second cold war. It is also possible that prudence and humane judgment will lead to a geopolitics of accommodation, allowing proper attention being given to managing global challenges of unprecedented magnitude.

It is not clear to me that the Islamic world can escape from the constraining logic of statism, particularly in the Middle East where sectarian strains and regional rivalries appear stronger at present than religious and civilizational bonds.

There is also uncertainty arising from the novelty of global scale challenges amid many inequalities causing both impulses toward cooperation and withdrawals from internationalism in the form of exclusive forms of statism. The modern world system has never been challenged as a totality by anything like climate change in the past, and whether it has the flexibility and resilience to adapt remains to be seen, although the evidence to date is not encouraging. The failures to suspend sanctions during the pandemic in response to humanitarian appeals and the vaccine diplomacy emphasizing profits over people that accompanied the COVID suggest that the political elites have not caught up with history, and are ill-equipped to conceive of national wellbeing beneath the bluer skies of human wellbeing.

There is a need for forward-looking global leadership that is informed by a commitment to the global public good. It may be that this leadership could emerge from below, from a transnational movement animated by a struggle for ecological balance and species identity.
Instead of patriots of the nation or state, patriots of humanity; instead of entrepreneurs for profit, guardians of nature. New values and new identities to sustain a responsible anthropocentrism.

(5)Interview Questions from Javad Arabshirazi, Press TV on domain seizures (June 23, 2021)

Q#1: In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message has appeared on the websites of a series of Iranian and regional television networks that claims their domains have been “seized by the United States Government.” The notice, which appeared late Tuesday on the website of English-language television news network Press TV as well as a number of other Iranian and regional news channels, cited US sanctions laws for the seizure and was accompanied by the seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Department of Commerce. What is your take on this?

A#1: It is important to recall that a similar seizure of Iran-related news sites occurred on October 7, 2020. It was justified at the time as the implementation of U.S. sanctions and directed at preventing alleged dissemination of ‘disinformation.’ It was further claimed that the step was taken in response to threatss to U.S. national security and its ‘democratic process.’ Significantly, the identification of the seized website domains was a result of cooperation between the U.S. Government and the high tech giants Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Such a move was seen in 2020 as an effort to increase pressure on Iran by way of improper interference with its sovereign rights, an intensifying of coercive pressures.

The rationale of this latest phase of domain seizures repeats the earlier pattern of justification, again with accusations that these supposed Iranian news outlets were disguised governmental operations that used their media platforms to subvert democratic procedures in the United States. Again this time the seizures were presented as implementations of the U.S. sanctions procedures. The timing is suspicious, coming a few days after a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected and just prior to the resumption of a seventh round of talks in Vienna to negotiate indirectly the restoration of U.S. participation in the Iran Nuclear Program deal of 2016 coupled with a phasing out of the sanctions.

These developments raise crucial questions about motivation and goals: does it reflect Israeli influence designed to prevent restoring U.S. participation in and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, the technical name of the nuclear deal? Or is it a reaction to the outcome of the Iranian presidential election, which resulted in a landslide victory for a candidate presented as hostile to the West, and particularly to Israel and the United States? Perhaps, the best answer is to postulate a combination of factors. It should be noted that an American spokesperson for the government in Washington claims that the election of Ayatollah Raisi is not relevant to the Vienna diplomacy as whoever was president of Iran, it was asserted, the final decision on such issues of vital policy would be made not by an elected official but by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Q#2: Do you believe that the move shows Washington’s selective view towards freedom of speech and democracy?

A#2: If the seizures turn out to be official acts of the U.S. Government, it would express a serious moral hypocrisy and double standards, and unlawful encroachment on sovereign rights. The U.S. seeks to control the public discourse on matters of international concern, especially if part of the background is conflict and strife as here. There are also in the U.S. ongoing struggles behind the scene between moderate and hardline attitudes toward Iran, which also reflects degrees of direct and indirect Israeli influence. The more aggressive tendencies opposes moves toward normalization, favoring high tensions. Having one-sided presentations of conflictual situations tends to inhibit compromise and normalization of relations among states, producing an atmosphere of might makes right.

Q#3: The US is in possession of the mainstream media and can easily change and distort narratives around the world. What has irked the US government? Why do you think a TV network like Press TV should be seized by the US government?

Control of the political narrative is an important dimension of geopolitics in the digital age. Fake news and manipulation of reality are coercive means if deployed in uncontested political settings. By shutting down Press TV the US is attempting to deprive Iran of its capacity to challenge hostile propaganda, and put forth its own counter-narrative of controversial events, and more generally of peace, justice, and democratic governance. In effect, being able to exercise monopoly control of media platforms is a crucial representation of power, as important in some settings as guns and missiles. Underneath this manipulation of information is an extremely dangerous tendency to substitute one-sides propaganda for truth and dialogue.

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

9 Oct

[Prefatory Note: Responses to an Iranian journalist, Javad Heiran-Nia Interview Questions on U.S. Elections (8 Oct 2020).]

Why Biden Must Win: It is not about Democracy, its about Fascism

  1. What is the most important issue affecting the upcoming US presidential election? (Economy; Foreign Policy; Domestic Policy; etc.)

For the voters in America the most important issues at this time are the (mis)management of the health crisis by Trump and the impact on the recovery of the U.S. economy. At this point there is a surge of criticism directed at the present U.S. leadership with respect to the Coronavirus pandemic: more infections and deaths per capita than almost any country in the world, intentional disregard of guidance by health specialists, dishonest and irresponsible reassurances, and economic relief favoring the rich and influential while understating the economic distress caused others by the loss of jobs, food insecurities, and threats of eviction. There is little interest, at least up to this point, in foreign policy with the single exception of international economic relations and geopolitical tensions with China. Both candidates for the presidency seem to adopt anti-Chinese positions, but Biden seems less militaristic and provocative than Trump. Biden refrains from blaming China for the virus, and seems somewhat less likely to embrace a strategy in East Asia that will lead to a second cold war.

For the peoples of the Middle East and elsewhere, the foreign policy implications of the elections assume greater importance. As with China, Trump seems more inclined than Biden to push the anti-Iran coalition of Israel, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia toward the brink of war, with the hope that the persistence of ‘maximum pressure’ will cause destabilization in Iran, and if possible, regime change. Biden would not likely change very much in terms of alignment, but might be expected to be more cautious in endorsing aggressive policies, and might even restore the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program negotiated toward the end of the Obama presidency. At the same time, Biden might be more inclined than Trump to push an anti-Russian approach that could take the form of regional and global confrontations, as well as arms races in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Europe.  

One cost of such foreign policy initiatives is to weaken the attention given to challenges  that can only be solved by multilateral cooperation at a time when it is most needed, especially in relation to climate change, the control of nuclear weaponry, migration flows, and health issues. As noted above, Biden is much more likely to renew American support for ‘liberal internationalism’ than Trump, and can almost certainly be expected to do so unless geopolitically distracted.

There are other hot spots around the world that are capable of generating dangerous foreign policy crises, especially in relation to Korea or India/Pakistan.

2. Which candidate has the best chance of winning? (Trump or Biden)

As of now, it appears that Biden will win the election rather decisively, but in 2016 there existed a comparable clear outlook close to vote, reinforced by public opinion polls. It created a strong impression that Hillary Clinton would win easily over Donald Trump, a view almost universally shared by the media, and reportedly even by the Trump campaign. The American political mood is unstable, and could be influenced by developments in the coming weeks as the date of the election approaches that are supportive of Trump’s campaign for reelection as, for example, violent riots in American cities, a further surge in the financial markets, a crisis in the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula. .

Additionally, there are a series of factors that sow doubt about present expectations of a Biden victory that go beyond which candidate will gain the most votess: first of all, Biden could win the popular vote by a wide margin, and yet lose the election because of the way in which the peculiar American institution of the Electoral College determines the outcome of presidential elections by counting the results on a federal state by state basis rather than nationally. This happened in 2016, Hillary Clinton winning by wide margins in New York and California, but losing close votes in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan. According to the Electoral College a candidate receives the same number of electoral votes assigned to a state if he wins by one vote or 10 million votes. The value of the vote in states where one party dominates, an individual vote becomes of diluted value, whereas if both parties are more or less of similar popularity, the value of an individual vote is inflated. The question posed is whether the Electoral College vote will again override the popular vote as it did in 2106.

Secondly, it is well known that Republican control of governments in the 50 states making up the U.S. has resulted in a variety of voter suppression schemes that make it harder to vote, and particularly affects African Americans and the very poor, making voting more difficult i cities and the rural South. Trump has also attacked mail-in voting as subject to mass fraud although the evidence in no way supports the accusation. Less votes are seen as helping Trump. Republicans are better organized and more disciplined than Democrats, although the Democrats have devoted great energy this year to getting out the vote.

Thirdly, Trump has intimated that he can only lose the election if it is has been ‘rigged’ by the Democrats. The reality seems to justify a different complaint that targets the Republicans. Much of the rigging that occurred in 2016 was attributable to Russia, and definitely worked in Trump’s favor, being intended to do so. Back then such partisan interference seemed welcomed by the Republican campaign, and likely would be again.  There are concerns that similar interferences might occur again this time around as Russia continues to prefer Trump to Biden, although there seems to be a greater effort in 2020 to insulate the election process from outside interferences, especially in relation to social media.

It is important to grasp a basic ideological feature of recent American elections of the presidency. Ever since the unified response to fascism during World War II the political parties have accepted a ‘bipartisan consensus’ that almost completely excludes certain crucial policy commitments from political controversy. The most important of these is overinvestment in the military, the predatory features of global capitalism, and so-called ‘special relationships’ with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and European alliance partners. This consensus held up throughout the Cold War, was sustained during the banner years of neoliberal globalization in the decade of the 1990s, and reinvigorated after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon after George W. Bush launched the war on terror, and Barack Obama continued it. 

Bernie Sanders challenged this consensus as it impacted upon policy discourse during his two campaigns to obtain the Democratic Party nomination, but his efforts were rejected by the party elite because he threatened the consensus, defied the ‘deep state,’ worried the Washington foreign policy establishment, and frightened the large private sector donors whose funding support depended on respecting the bipartisan consensus. In this sense, the Democrats successfully subordinated in their own party all radical elements that enjoyed movement support, especially among youth. The Republicans sidelined their moderate leadership, giving over control of the party to extremists that formed the base of Trump support. And so while the Democratic Party establishment neutralized the progressive Sanders’ challenge the Republican Party was radicalized from the right giving Trump control over all mechanism.

In part, it is this issue of party identity, and its relation to the governmental structures of power, that may be the most important effect of the November elections. If Biden wins, the bipartisan consensus is reaffirmed, while if Trump somehow prevails, the bipartisan will be further weakened, and even threatened by replacing the consensus with a right-wing policy agenda. If Biden loses, the consensus will be further discredited by its mistaken view that moving toward the political center is what wins election. What evidence exists by polls and other measurements of public opinion suggest that Sanders would have been a stronger candidate than Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020, but for reasons suggested above, adhering to the bipartisan consensus was more important or Democrats than winning elections. 

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Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age

24 May

[Prefatory Note: The following post was published in a somewhat modified form in COUTERPUNCH, May 20, 2022. Its main theme is the contrasting normative logics derived from law (Westphalian logic)  on one side, and power politics (geopolitical logic) on the other side. The regulatory guidance of law derives from agreement and interpretation, and that of power politics, from what the Quincy Institute calls ‘responsible statecraft’ and I refer to as ‘responsible statecraft’ that under contemporary circumstances should involve voluntary compliance with international law, that is, in the nuclear age law and geopolitics often converge in their commitments to regulatory rationality.] 

Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age

The Ukraine War, its complexities and global spillover effects, have not been adequately

depicted by either political leaders or the more influential media. Most commonly, the Ukraine War has been narrowly and reductively depicted as a simple matter of defending Ukraine against Russian aggression. Sometimes this standard portrayal is somewhat enlarged by demonizing Putin as criminally committed to the grandiose project of restoring the full spectrum of Soviet boundaries of post-1994 Russia by force as necessary. What tends to be excluded from almost all presentations of the Ukrainian struggle is the rather distinct U.S. Government policy  agenda of inflicting a humiliating defeat on Russia which purports to be related to the defense and in the interests of Ukraine yet is unfolding in a quite separate manner that seems to depart from the best interest of Ukraine and the wellbeing of its people. 

This geopolitical agenda replicates Cold War confrontations, and in the global setting, seeks to remind China as well as Russia, that only the United States possesses the will, authority, and capabilities to act as the guardian of global security with respect to the maintenance or modification of international boundaries of sovereign states anywhere on the planet. Illustratively, Israel has been given a tacit green light by Washington to annex the Golan Heights, an integral part of Syria until the 1967 War, while Russia remains sanctioned for its annexation of Crimea and its current claims to incorporate parts of the Dombas region of Ukraine have been met with harsh punitive sanctions and allegations of war crimes by the U.S. president, Joe Biden. Additionally, Biden has officially and publicly committed the United States to the military defense of Taiwan in the event of an attack by China.

The most influential Western media platforms, including CNN, BBC, NY Times, The Economist, with few exceptions, have largely supported one-dimensional governmental narrative accounts of the Ukraine War, which leaves the misleading impression that U.S./NATO involvement is strictly responsive to the Russian attack on Ukraine with no broader policy objective in play. The views of progressive and anti-war critics of the manner that American foreign policy has handled the Ukraine crisis are almost totally unrepresented. At the same time, some elements of the extremist right is castigated for daring to oppose the national consensus as if only the only dissenters are conspiracy inclined fascists or those motivated by treasonous sentiments. Almost no attention given by these powerful media outlets to understanding either the buildup of tensions relating to Ukraine in the years preceding the Russian attack or the wider security rationale that could partially explain (although not justify) Putin’s resolve to reassert its former authority in the Ukraine. Similarly, there was virtually no mainstream discussion of or support for ceasefire/diplomatic options, favored by many peace and religious groups, that sought to give priority to ending the killing, coupled with a search for possible reconciling formulas that combined Ukrainian sovereign entitlements with some adjustments taking account of Russian security concerns. 

The most trusted and influential media in the West functioned largely as a war-mongering propaganda machine that was only slightly more nuanced in its support for the official line of the government than what one would expect from unambiguously autocratic regimes. Coverage highlighted visual portrayals of the daily brutalities of the war coupled with a steady stream of condemnations of Russian behavior, detailed reportage on the devastation and civilian suffering endured by Ukrainians in the combat zone, and a tactical overview of how the fighting was proceeding in various parts of the country. These bellicose narratives were repeatedly reinforced by expert commentary from retired generals and intelligence officials, and never subjected to challenge from peace advocates, much less political dissenters and critics. I have yet to hear the voice or read texts on these mainstream media platforms from the most celebrated public intellectuals, Noam Chomsky or Daniel Ellsberg, or even from independent minded high-level former diplomats like Chas Freeman. Of course, these individuals are talking and writing but to learn their views you generally have

to navigate the internet in search of such online websites as COUNTERPUNCH and Common Dreams.

The fog of war has been replaced by a war fever while making the transition from helping Ukraine defend itself against aggression to pursuing a victory over Russia increasingly heedless of nuclear dangers and worldwide economic dislocations that threatened many millions with famine, acute insecurity, and destitution. The shrill assured voices of generals and think tank security gurus dominated commentary, while pleas for peace from the UN Secretary General, the Dalai Lama, and Pope Francis, if reported ed at all, were confined to the outer margins of public awareness.

This unfortunate absence of reasoned and responsible debate was further distorted by dangerously misleading statements made by the highest public official responsible for the formation and explanation of American foreign policy, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Whether out of ignorance or the convenience of the moment, Secretary Blinken has been widely quoted as explaining to the public here and abroad in prime time that the U.S. does not recognize ‘spheres of influence,’ an idea “that should have been retired after World War II.” Really! Without mutual respect for spheres of influence throughout the Cold War it is probable that World War III would have been ignited by Soviet interventions in East Europe, most notoriously in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). Similar deference was exhibited by Moscow. U.S. interferences in Western Europe as well as the Soviet Bloc defection of Yugoslavia were tolerated by the Kremlin. Some of the most dangerous armed confrontations occurred during the Cold War Era were revealingly located  in the three divided country of Germany, Korea, and Vietnam where norms of self-determination exerted continuous pressures on boundaries artificially imposed on these countries for reasons of geopolitical convenience. 

Since the end of the Cold War, Blinken should be embarrassed about telling the peoples of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela that the idea of spheres of influence is no longer descriptive of how the U.S. shapes its policy in the Western Hemisphere. Decades age Octavio Paz, the Mexican author found vivid words to express the reality of such spheres: “The tragedy of Mexico is to be so far from God and so near to the United States.”  As has been observed, the Russian assertion of a traditional spheres of influence has more continuity with the past than does respect for territorial sovereignty of the countries that have regained statehood within such spheres after the Soviet collapse. This recognition is not meant to express approval of such spheres, serving only as a realization of geopolitical practice that has persisted through the whole of modernity and a further sense that mounting a challenge in light of this practice is almost certain to produce friction and heighten risks of major warfare., which in relations among states armed with nuclear weapons should induce extreme caution on the part of prudent actors. To pretend that spheres of influence are a thing of the past, as Blinken seems to be doing in relation to Ukraine, is doubly unfortunate—it is mindless about the relevance of geopolitical prudence in the nuclear age and it either ignorantly or maliciously condemns behavior of others while overlooking the analogous behavior of his own country, thereby adopting a U.S. posture of geopolitical hubris ill-suited to human survival in the nuclear age.

In the months before it became politically convenient to throw spheres of influence into the dustbin of history, Blinken was lecturing the Chinese about adhering to a ‘rule-governed’ international order that he contended was descriptive of U.S. behavior. Such an invidious comparison was a cover for confronting the quite different Chinese challenge to unipolarity being mounted as a result of China’s growing competitive edge in economic and diplomatic influence and technological breakthroughs. A puzzle for Washington arose because it could not complain that the Chinese ascent was due to posing a security threat due to its military capabilities and its aggressive uses of force (except, interestingly, within its traditional coastal and territorial spheres of influence). And so, the claim centered on the rather original allegation that China was not playing the game of power with respect to intellectual property rights by the ‘rules,’ but what are these rules and where does their authority derive from? Blinken was careful in his complaints about Chinese violations not to identify the rules with international law or decisions of the United Nations. Wherefrom then? Most probably Blinken has in mind a self-serving interpretation of the Breton Woods neoliberal framework associated with the operations of the World Bank and IMF, but refrained from saying so.

There is, to be sure, a subtle complexity about rules of order in international relations, especially on matters bearing on the use of force in international relations. A normative dividing line can be identified as 1928 when many leading governments, including the U.S., signed on to the Pact of Paris outlawing war as an instrument of national policy, [see Oona A. Hathaway & Scott Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017)]. This ambitious norm, was then turned into the formulation of a Crime Against Peace in the London Agreement of 1945 by the victorious powers in World War II that set forth the War Crimes Charter that provided the jurisprudential foundation for the Nuremberg and Tokyo criminal prosecutions of surviving German and Japanese political leaders and military commanders. These legal innovations, although treated as major milestones in the development of international law, were never meant to constitute new rules of order and accountability that would bind sovereign states enjoying geopolitical stature as made plain in the UN Charter. Probably that should have been evident given the supreme irony of the London Agreement being formally signed by these governments on August 8, 1945, two days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima and one day prior to the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Otherwise, how could one explain the conferral of a right of veto on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which can only be viewed as a geopolitical right of exception, at the very least within the UN context. Apologists for this seeming repudiation of a law-oriented approach when it came to the most dangerous states at the time point to the need to give the Soviet Union assurances that it would not be outvoted by the West, or otherwise it would be unwilling to participate in the UN, and the Organization would wither on the vine in the manner of the League of Nations. But if this was truly the dominant reason for the veto, a less obtrusive could have been chosen as the way of providing reassurance, such as requiring decisions of the Security Council opposed by the Soviet Union to be supported by all non-permanent members. There would be no comparable need to give the four other states the veto unless there was an overriding motive to entrench in the UN Charter the prerogatives of geopolitical leverage as measured by being on the winning side in World War II.

Such an observation makes us aware that there exists more than one source of normative authority in the sphere of international relations. and at least two. There is the fundamental idea deriving from the origins of the modern states system identified with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which accorded equality to sovereign states. And then there is a second source of largely unwritten and rarely spoken about normative authority that regulates those few states that are freed from the constraints of international law and enjoy impunity for their actions. These are the states given the veto power, and among these states are those that seek the added discretion of being non-accountable for their acts. This deference to power and national supremacy, undermines fidelity to law where it seems most needed, and has long been a fundamental deficiency of sustaining peace in a nuclear-armed world. Yet geopolitics, like international law itself, possesses a normative order that is designed to impose certain limits on these geopolitical actors that if responsibly applied serves the public good. The Quincy Institute recognizes this vital feature of international relations by its positive emphasis on ‘responsible statecraft,’ which is roughly equivalent to my call for ‘geopolitical prudence.’

A crucial geopolitical prescription along these lines was the appreciation of spheres of influence as delimiting extraterritorial zones of exclusive influence, which might include ‘unlawful’ interventions and exploitations of weaker states (e.g. ‘banana republics’). As abusive as the diplomacy of spheres has been for targeted societies it has also been a way of discouraging competitive interventions that might otherwise lead to intensive wars between the Great Powers, and as mentioned, plays an indispensable role in reducing the prospect of dangerous escalations in the nuclear age. How Blinken can be so myopic in addressing this essential feature of world order is stunning, and is paralleled by the failure of the media to expose such dangerous and self-serving nonsense.

To be sure international law is itself subject to geopolitical influence in the formation and interpretation of its rules and their unequal implementation, and is far from serving justice or even public order in many critical circumstances, including its validation of settler colonialism. [See Noura Erakat, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine(2019)] Yet when it comes to upholding the prohibition on non-defensive uses of force and accountability for war crimes, it has sought to uphold the norms unless violated by major geopolitical actors and their special friends. The ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, established by the UN, did not distinguish between winners and losers in the manner of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals or for that matter the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (2005-06), which imposed a death sentence on Saddam Hussein while ignoring the U.S./UK crimes of aggression in the Iraq War of 2003.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the interplay of international law and the geopolitical normative order. The former rests on agreement of juridically equal states as to norms and customary practice. International law also increasingly rests on voluntary compliance as illustrated by the World Court being confined in its law-declaring role to issuing ‘Advisory Opinion’ that states and international institution are permitted to disregard. Or more substantively, in relation to compliance with carbon emission pledges of parties to the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015.

The geopolitical normative order depends on prudence along the lines of the precautionary principle, its norms being self-interpreted, best guided by past experience, tradition, mutuality, and common sense. It should be understood that geopolitical status of the Permanent Members of the Security Council is not reflective of their de facto role in international relations. At present, only the United States, China, and Russia enjoy an existential geopolitical status; France and the UK do not, and perhaps, India, Nigeria/South Africa, Brazil possess some de facto geopolitical attributes, but lack a corresponding de jure recognition.

In the context of the Ukraine War Russia is to be faulted for its flagrant violation of the prohibition of aggressive war and its war crimes in Ukrainian combat zones, and for intimating

a willingness to have recourse to nuclear weapons if its vital interests are threatened. The United States is to be faulted for irresponsible statecraft or imprudent geopolitics by its replacement of a defensive role of support for Ukrainian resistance by more recently pushing for the defeat of Russia through the massive increases of aid, encouragement of enlarged Ukrainian goals, supplying offensive weaponry, continuation of demonizing Putin, absence of advocacy of ceasefire and peace diplomacy, inattentiveness to escalation risks especially in relation to nuclear dangers, and overall manipulation of Ukraine Crisis as part of its strategic commitment to the sort of unipolar geopolitics that has emerged during the aftermath of the Cold War. Unipolarity entails a repudiation of Chinese and Russian efforts to achieve a multipolar management of global governance. It is this latter tension that if not addressed points to a second Cold War more dangerous than its predecessor, feverish arms races, periodic crises, and the diversion of resources and energies from such urgent global challenges as climate change, food security, and humane migration policies.  

A Ukraine Peoples Tribunal?

7 May

[Prefatory Note: A somewhat modified version of this pose was published online in CounterPunch on May 6, 2022 under the title “Toward a Ukraine Wars Peoples Tribunal. The most important change is the insistence that the Geopolitical War taking place under the rubric of the Ukraine War is different and farmore dangerous than what is being described as a ‘proxy war.’ Also important is the growingevidence that the inflammatory nature of Biden’s tactics in the Geopolitical War, especially the endorsement of ‘a victory scenario’ compounds the dangers, including heightening the risk that nuclear weapons will be used. What is needed is for civil society to frame with a sense of urgency ‘a peace scenario’ with as many specifications of its character as possible. I consider the proposal to form a civil society tribunal a step in this direction.]

Toward a Peoples Ukraine Wars Tribunal

The deepening current Ukraine Crisis is properly linked to the Russian aggression that commenced with a massive military attack against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, although it should not cover up the provocative developments of preceding years that prepared the way for what has erupted. The Russian attack has continued to ravage the country since, including inducing a refugee flow numbering several million. There is a broad consensus around the world that such aggression is a criminal violation of international law, and while noting the irresponsible nature of NATO provocations, it is widely agreed, fail to provide Russia with a legally, morally, or even politically persuasive rationale with respect to accountability for such a violent encroachment on Ukrainian sovereign rights and territorial integrity. At the same time, from the outset of these events there was much more limited international support for the American led punitive response by NATO featuring harsh comprehensive sanctions amounting to ‘economic warfare,’ shipment of weaponry to the beleaguered country, dehumanization of Putin and Russo-phobic propaganda, along with silence about recourse to a diplomacy directed at stopping the killing and devastation. In the background of the two-level war was the related internal struggle within Ukraine between dominant indigenous forces in the Western part of the country and the Russian-speaking Ukrainians who are the majority in the industrial heartland of the country in the Dombas East.

As Russian military operations proceeded, perceptions of the core conflict began to change. What seemed at first a simple war of aggression, to be followed by belligerent operation, became by successive phases a geopolitical war between the United States and Russia, with strategic goals quite apart from the outcome of events in Ukraine, as well as heightening costs of the encounter for the entire world, including the people of Ukraine and especially the extreme poor everywhere. And while Washington bears the main responsibility for this shift, the Russian response was also irresponsible– not compromising war goals and recourse to veiled threats of nuclear warfare emanating from Moscow and Putin. Yet the essential character in this elevation of the war strategy to a geopolitical level of engagement is the rather explicit American shift in its policy entailing less of an emphasis upon bolstering Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression and far more about inflicting a stunning geopolitical defeat on Russia and at the same time revitalizing post-Cold War transatlantic unity through a reaffirmation of the benefits of the NATO alliance in a global text where Russia is once more cast as the enemy of Western democracy. 

It is important to understand that this Geopolitical War raises the stakes in Ukraine much higher than the prevailing tendency to view the second level war between the U.S. and Russia as a ‘proxy war.’ A proxy war conceives of the strategic stakes in terms of the outcome of the conflict on the ground, whose overt antagonists are Russia and Ukraine. Conceiving of this confrontation as a geopolitical war calls attention to the much larger strategic consequences and risks because what is at stake is the structure of power on a global scale, specifically this Geopolitical War will influence the struggle between the U.S., Russia, and China as to whether the global security will reflect unipolarity or multipolarity. It is easier for a country to accept defeat in a proxy war than in a geopolitical war, and herein lies embedded grave dangers of escalation.

Given such developments, the time has come for civil society initiatives to counter the disastrous global confrontation that is now endangering the world, and indeed even species survival prospects, in the pursuit of these geopolitical goals by the United States disguised somewhat by media complicity that continues to convey the impression that the Ukraine War is still only about the defense of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the daily war crimes attributable to the Russians, and the heroic and increasingly successful efforts of the Zelensky leadership and the courageous national unity of the Ukrainian people. I believe this is a basically deceptive and potentially dangerous image, including for Ukraine, and even for the main disseminator of hostile geopolitical propaganda, the U.S. Government and consequently, the American people. Perhaps, it comes as a disturbing surprise that only the political extremes of right and left are interpreting the Ukraine War as producing a global disaster that begun to spill across the borders of Ukraine, with far worse to come without even taking full account of the growing nuclear dangers. What has also become evident is the helplessness of peace-oriented approaches. Such voices are being shut out by mainstream media platforms, which is reinforced by the inability of the UN to act independently of a geopolitical consensus, and by inter-governmental impotence to safeguard human interest in face of the menacing moves by the most powerful states motivated by strong contradictory geopolitical goals.

In light of this line of interpretation, I am proposing the establishment of a civil society tribunal along the lines of the Russell Tribunal that brought independent critical voices to the fore during the Vietnam War, which has become the principal combat theater of the Cold War in 1966-67. Although the tribunal was controversial at the time and of questionable relevance to ending that war, the Russell undertaking inspired many notable efforts along the same lines, most notably organized under the sponsorship of the Lelio Basso Foundation in Rome. Perhaps, most notable was the elaborate series of such initiatives in response to U.S. aggression against Iraq in 2003 culminating in the very significant Iraq War Tribunal of 2005. The proceedings of that event, appropriately held in Istanbul, can be beneficially studies to cast light on the policy dilemmas of the Ukraine Crisis. This self-funded event in Istanbul orchestrated brilliantly by a group of Turkish progressive women citizens brought together internationally prominent jurists and moral authority figures including Arundhati Roy who served as the chair of the jury of conscience that sat in judgment, and rendered an opinion of lasting significance, especially for anti-war world tendencies. 

It is my belief that such a tribunal devoted to passing judgment of the Ukraine Wars, constituted as a matter of urgency, is more important than any of these previous comparable civic events because the stakes for humanity are higher. The use of the plural for what is happening in Ukraine is not a typo, but reflects the view explained in my prior articles that the Ukraine Crisis can only be properly understood if interpreted as three interrelated wars with contradictory features: Level 1: Russia vs. Ukraine; Level: 2: U.S. vs. Russia; Level 3: Western Ukraine vs. Dombas. It is for this reason that I am proposing here that the tribunal named Peoples Tribunal on the Ukraine Wars, despite its awkwardness.

The case for such an initiative is not only to give expression to views of the Ukraine Crisis that take international law, geopolitical crime, and nuclear dangers seriously, but also in view of the political incapacity of the UN to act effectively and responsibly when geopolitical actors get heavily embroiled in such a violent conflict which threatens world peace generally and causes massive suffering throughout the world, especially in the least developed countries or in societies dependent on import of basic foodstuffs and energy for reliable supplies at affordable prices. Most of the people vulnerable to such a mega-crisis live in states that have hardly any influence in the formation of global policy, but often bear the heaviest weight of its shortcomings. At present a normative vacuum exists in response to the Ukraine Crisis. This leaves transnational civil society as the last, best hope to exert a responsibility to act, and indeed seize the opportunity to goad the formal political actors on the global stage to operationalize a peace scenario before it is too late

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Clarifying the Background

First, when it comes to war/peace issues there exist two operational sets of norms with respect to international relations: (1) International Law, binding of all sovereign states; (2) Geopolitics that privileges a few powerful states. The identity of geopolitical actors is not as clearly identified as is that of sovereign states, which is rather clearly signified by internationally recognized territorial boundaries and access to membership in the UN, now numbering 193, that is, virtually all. The most influential, yet still misleading, guideline as to geopolitical stature is contained in the UN Charter, taking the form of the right of veto conferred on the five Permanent Members of the Security Council (also known as the P-5) who happened to be the winners in World War II and also the five countries first to acquire nuclear weapons. As the composition of the P-5 has remained frozen in time for more than 77 years it is no longer descriptive of the geopolitical landscape, and never was. For this reason alone geopolitical identity is currently more blurred and problematic than earlier. Some P-5 members have declined in both hard and soft power since 1945, such as the UK and France, and seem to lack the capabilities and stature to qualify any longer as first tier geopolitical actors. In contrast, countries such as India, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa have increased their capabilities and raised their stature in such ways as to seem existentially entitled to the status of ‘geopolitical actors’ at least regionally, and in some instances, globally.

From a normative point of view the distinction between international law and geopolitics is fundamental, and again is made clear by the significance of P-5 status within the UN framework which was designed to keep the peace after World War II. International law is applicable to every state, but is explicitly not obligatory for the P-5, which is what has made the UN so limited in its operational ability to provide humanity with a globally supervised war prevention system based on compliance with international law. Giving the Western states a veto was tantamount to acknowledging, as had been true for international relations in prior centuries, that the UN could not be expected to implement its own Charter norms if they collided with strategic interests of the P-5, but that compliance with these norms, if forthcoming at all would depend on geopolitical self-restraint or the counterforce of adversary geopolitical actors exerted outside the UN. A similar pattern of obstruction existed when Russia was the Soviet Union, yet its participation that was seen as vital in 1945 if the UN was to enjoy global legitimacy premised on universal membership. Granting the USSR a right of veto was also a matter of protecting the country against its understandable anxiety about facing a Western majority on vital issues. As the decades have shown, the U.S. in particular has used the veto (e.g. to shield Israel) or avoided the UN (as in the Vietnam War, NATO Kosovo War, and Iraq War of 2003) when it thought its proposed plan of action would be vetoed, or otherwise not supported. The UN was deliberately disempowered from any legal attempt to implement compliance with the UN Charter in relation to geopolitical actors, and the existential reality was not dissimilar from the pre-UN Westphalian structure of and experience with world order since the mid-17th century. Regulation of the use of force by the Great Powers, as they were formerly called, depended on a mixture of their self-restraint and what came to be known as ‘the balance of power,’ redesigned in the nuclear age as ‘deterrence.’ These nuclear dimensions are under challenge from many non-geopolitical states and world public opinion, most recently in the form of the 2021 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TCNP). This initiative is so far limited in its impacts due to the distressing non-participation of any of the nine nuclear states, as well as their allies staking their security on the reliability of the ‘the nuclear prrotectorate’ provided by geopolitical actors. 

A second set of related considerations can be identified as the ‘Nuremberg Exception,’ which can be interpreted as follows: a geopolitical actor loses its impunity with respect to international law if it is defeated in a major war. This attitude is evident in the course of the unfolding two-level war in Ukraine. The U.S. at the highest level of its government has been condemning the Russian attack as a war crime that should engage criminal accountability of Putin, and others, if the International Criminal Court acts to fulfill its mandate. This can be viewed from one angle as a kind of ‘winner takes all’ feature of geopolitical order, or from another as gross hypocrisy by recourse to one-sided (in)justice beneath the banner of ‘Victors’ Justice.’ Nuremberg would enjoy somewhat increased jurisprudential credibility if the U.S. had demonstrated post-Nuremberg its own willingness to be held accountable under the frameworks of international criminal law or the codified version of the Nuremberg Principles, which do not acknowledge that a Nuremberg Exception exists, despite its persisting reality.

Thirdly, what is missing in this recital of the jurisprudential realities of international relations is the availability of a venue capable of a legitimate normative assessment of the behavior of geopolitical actors whether they are on the winning or losing side in a major war. It is evident that the UN lacks the constitutional mandate and political independence to undertake such a challenge without a thorough overhaul in its authority structure. Such reforms would require the approval of the very actors whose behavior would then become subject to international law, and these actors show no readiness to curtail their discretion. It is for this reason that the only way to close the accountability gap is to rely on civil society activism as a legitimate source of normative authority. One such responsive effort, used in the past, has been to convene a tribunal based on the authority of ordinary people as representatives of society to uphold international law in the event of the failure of the UN or governments to do so. In the setting of the Ukraine Crisis such a tribunal could be entrusted with investigating the three levels of the war from the perspective of international law, with the addition of an aspirational norm that extends the reach of the tribunal to the geopolitical domain. 

At present, inter-governmentally generated international law not surprisingly fails to criminalize geopolitical wrongdoing. It is not surprising because throughout modern history geopolitical actors have been the principal architects of international law and vigilant about protecting their freedom of action along with their national interest more generally. I believe it has become desirable to posit the existence of a residual civil society legislative capacity somewhat analogous to the residual role of the General Assembly of the UN if at an impasse is present in the Security Council with respect to a serious threat to international peace and security. On this basis a civil society endorsement of the concept of ‘geopolitical crime’ is justified to bring the US/Russia Geopolitical War within the ambit of the authority of The Ukraine Wars Tribunal.

There are two obvious weaknesses of this line of thinking that should be acknowledged. First, the Tribunal lacks any formal enforcement capability, although it could call for civil society boycotts and divestments that were effective in exerting transformative pressure on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Secondly, the activist impulses that fund and make operational The Ukrainian Wars Tribunal are themselves self-consciously partisan or reflect the outlook of social movement, which is of course not qualitative different than the deep biases intergovernmental institutions. Such partisanship of this radical civic action will be subject to criticism from start to finish, which may yield a helpful debate about war, law, and accountability.

It is evident that this proposal is principally an undertaking whose effectiveness will in the first instance registered symbolically rather than substantively in the sense that nothing immediate will change behaviorally in the prosecution and conduct of the three Ukrainian wars. Symbolic impacts should not be underestimated. The political outcomes in the most salient wars since 1945, including the epic struggles against colonialism, were politically controlled, often after many years of devastating warfare, by the weaker side if measured by material, especially military capabilities. I recall hearing the American president, Lyndon Johnson, in the mid-1960s boast that there was no way the United States could lose the war to Vietnam, ‘a tenth-rate Asian power.’ Symbolic venues shift power balances due to the commitments of people, and even alter the impacts of material interests over time. The struggles against slavery, racism, and patriarchy each manifest this dynamic. What at first seemed futile somehow became history!

In concluding, I hope some readers throughout the world will feel motivated enough to make the Peoples Ukraine Wars Tribunal a reality! It should be thought about as contributing to the imperative of framing A Peace Scenario that challenges the now ascendant Victory Scenario.

The Second Level Geopolitical War in Ukraine Takes Over

30 Apr

[Prefatory Note: A slightly modified version was published in CounterPunch, 4/29/2022; the recent acknowledgement that U.S. goals are, at best, secondarily related to the wellbeing of Ukraine, and primarily by the dangerously regressive goals of taking on challengers to the major premise of unipolarity, which has guided U.S. grand strategy since the end of the Cold War. First China, and now Russia, are strategic rivals, with the proclaimed goals of multipolarity. In the Cold War the battlelines were drawn between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, giving rise to the practice of bipolarity, which was epitomized by two features: mutual assured destruction (or MAD) identifying the nuclear dimension of the rivalry and respect for offsetting spheres of influence in Europe between the two ‘superpowers.’]

The Second Level Geopolitical War in Ukraine Takes Over

It has become increasingly clear to the world that there is not one, but two, actually three, distinct levels of conflict embedded in what the world’s media and political leadership deceptively insist on calling the ‘Ukraine War.’ The first level was initiated on February 24, 2022 when Russia launched an aggressive war against Ukraine imperiling the country’s most basic sovereign rights as well as its territorial integrity. The second level was difficult to discern in the first weeks of the war, but became soon evident as the NATO countries led by the United States placed an increasing emphasis on lending escalating support to Ukraine’s adopted goals of achieving an unexpected military victory. This support took various forms including the steady supply of heavy weaponry, robust financial assistance, punitive sanctions, and a drumbeat of ‘official’ demonization of Russia and its leadership. In the beginning it seemed appropriate to lend support to Ukraine as the target of aggression, and hail the resistance efforts led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, in defense of a relatively small country being overrun by a large neighbor. 

Even this widely endorsed narrative was deceptive and one-sided as it overlooked the provocative nature of NATO expansion, abetted in Ukraine’s case by American interference in the internal politics of the country to help turn the political tide against Russia. It is in this internal setting that on which the third level of the war persists as there is no doubt that anti-Russian elements in Western Ukraine were deeply abusive toward the majority Russian speaking population in Eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas region. The non-implementation of the Minsk Agreements negotiated in 2014-15 to protect the Ukrainians in the East and accept a high degree of autonomy led to oppressive policies by the Kyiv government giving added strength to separatist aspirations. It remains uncertain as whether the Russia/Ukraine level of combat can be resolved without serious addressing Russian and Dombas concerns at the core of this third level of conflict.

What has been apparent to critics for some time is that Western diplomacy has increasingly become primarily committed to the second level Geopolitical War even at the cost of greatly prolonging and aggravating the Ukrainian war on the ground and producing growing risks of a wider war. Only in the past few days has this priority been more or less acknowledged by high officials in the U.S. Government, most dramatically in the visit of Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, and Austin, Secretary of Defense to Ukraine and later in their meeting with NATO counterparts in Europe. What was revealed was that the number one policy goal of the U.S. was ‘the weakening of Russia’ made to military planners a credible undertaking by the unexpected resistance capabilities of Ukrainian armed forces bolstered by a show unified nationalist resolve. In keeping with this line of thinking, arms shipments to Ukraine were steadily increased in quantity and quality. More tellingly, so-called heavy armaments with offensive capabilities began to be supplied to Ukraine, with militarists in NATO countries even proposing attacking targets in Russia. As this dynamic unfolded, Germany joined in by dramatically reversed its proclaimed policy of not providing heavy weaponry. The whole tenor of assistance from NATO countries shifted from helping Ukraine resist to addressing the geopolitical agenda with its two goals: inflicting a humiliating defeat on Russia and signaling China not to indulge any doubts about Western resolve to defend Taiwan. 

Despite this shift in emphasis, earlier concerns with escalating the Geopolitical War with Russia have not been entirely abandoned. Efforts continue to be made to ensure that U.S. and Russia to not engage in direct combat with opposing weapons system and to not produce situations that push Russian toward a reliance on nuclear weapons to avoid battlefield defeat. White House perceptions of what will cause such recourse to nuclear weaponry at this point seems dangerous divergent. It is widely reported that the Biden presidency continues to resist pressures to establish No Fly Zone in Ukraine because it would greatly heighten prospects for direct combat encounters between the NATO and Russia, and with it risks of this new species of cold war turning uncontrollably hot. But what of Biden’s demonization of Russia as guilty of genocide and Putin as a war criminal who should be driven from power? And what of the continuous increases of political, financial, and military assistance to Ukraine coupled with the absence of any hint that a diplomatic alternative exists that would stop the killing. This has been missing all along. There have been no indications by Washington of receptivity to a diplomacy emphasizing the primary humanitarian imperative of an immediate ceasefire and a political process of compromise and mutual security between Russia and Ukraine the overt international antagonists. It is missing because the U.S. on prosecuting the Geopolitical War as long as necessary, and this  takes precedence over the wellbeing of the Ukrainian people, or even the rationally conceived self-interest of the NATO powers.  

Zelensky early in the war indicated receptivity to a ceasefire and political compromise, including an acceptance of permanent neutrality for Ukraine, signaled his willingness to meet with Putin to agree upon a process. As time passes, however, Zelensky has pulled back from this dual stance of armed resistance and peace diplomacy, and come to adopt a position that appears seamless with that of the U.S. as if his priority had also shifted to the level 2 Geopolitical War.

My conjecture is that Zelensky, although displaying great talents as a wartime resistance leader has very little sophistication about international relations in general, and seems susceptible to this more militarist line bolstered by promises of decisive support from Washington and possible pressures from his own supposedly hawkish general staff. After all, Zelensky’s background is in theater, until recently he was a performing comedian without any signs of awareness of the wider risks to Ukraine if it subordinates its national interests to the logic of going on with the Geopolitical War wherever it might lead. 

As expected, Moscow has already reacted to this escalation of this second level war by warning that it will not back down, but will take all necessary steps to protect its national security interests, intimating if it comes to that, a readiness to have recourse to nuclear weapons. Such inflamed atmospherics can easily produce accidental or preemptive acts that accelerate escalation, which is especially serious in the current context that lacks crisis management links of the sort established between Moscow and Washington in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It took that close encounter back in 1962 with its apocalyptic war scenario that led these superpower antagonists to understand that they had averted a monumental mutual catastrophe by sheer luck, and must take steps to avoid future drifts toward nuclear war however great the crisis in their relationship.

While most attention is focused on the inter-governmental play of forces it is helpful to take account of other perspectives: civil society peace initiatives, the views of the Global South, and the initiatives of the UN Secretary General. These perspectives call attention to the startling fact that alternatives to aggressive war and geopolitical ambition exist. The Western media blithely hides the awkward fact that Russia is more globally supported in the Geopolitical War than is the United States, preferring the balances of multipolarity to the hegemonies of unipolarity. The Global North controls the discourse prevailing on the most influential media platforms, creating the misleading impression that the whole world, except the outliers, are content with U.S. leadership.

Civil Society Initiatives

Almost from the day the Russian attack began, peace activists and NGOs concerned in some way with peace, security, and humanitarianism urged an end to the killing by way of a ceasefire and some political process that dealt with the level 1 and 3 grievances. This is not to say there were not sharp tensions within civil society, especially surrounding how to interpret the pre-war NATO maneuvers  or the Russian manipulation of the strife in Dombas. By and large the liberal and left liberal mainstream supported outright condemnation of Russian aggression, but favored an immediate ceasefire and diplomacy to ending the war and mitigating the humanitarian emergency of death, devastation, and displacement. Those who can be crudely identified as the anti-imperial left tended to excuse or at least place major responsibility for the outbreak of war on the context largely fashioned by Western provocations (especially NATO expansion) and interference in Ukraine’s internal politics since 2014 as did some on the extreme right who identified with Putin’s authoritarianism as future wave of world politics.

What contrasted the civil society perspectives in spite of their diversity, with NATO/mainstream media postures, was their shared stress on stopping the killing, the relevance of diplomacy, and their implicit or explicit refusal to condone recourse to the Level 2 Geopolitical War. Typical examples of civil society proposals can be found in the Pugwash Peace Proposal and the Just World Education booklet distributed under the title “Ukraine: Stop the Carnage, Build the Peace”(available from Amazon or from www.justworldeducational.org, containing eight policy recommendations). 

The Voice of the Global South

Given little notice in the Global North was the refusal of the greater part of the Global South to support the mobilization of coercive and punitive sanctions diplomacy directed at Russia and its leader. This split from the West first became evident in the two votes on Ukraine in the UN General Assembly. The entire world including the most of the main countries in the Global South supported the condemnation of the Level 1 Russian aggression, but either abstained or opposed support for the Level 2 Geopolitical War Initiated by the U.S. against Russia in the early stages of the attack on Ukraine. As Trita Parti of the Washington-based think tank, Quincy Institute, pointed out much of the Global South actually supported Russia in the Geopolitical War context, which was interpreted as the U.S. commitment to extending the mandate contained in a unipolar world order of the sort it had acted upon since the Soviet collapse and the end of the Cold War. The Global South greatly preferred the dynamics of a multipolar world, and regarded Russia as seeking in Ukraine to reassert its traditional geopolitical suzerainty over its ‘near abroad,’ a stand against the U.S. as the unopposed guardian of security throughout the planet. It should be appreciated that the U.S. has 97% of overseas military bases and accounts for 40% of the world’s military expenditures, greater than that of the next 11 countries. 

The U.S. position is no way renounces traditional geopolitics but seeks to monopolize its implementation. In that spirit it views the attempted reassertion by China and Russia of traditional spheres of influence as an intrusion on international law, while the U.S. at the same time defends its practice of managing the first global sphere of influence in world history. Blinken has said as much, declaring spheres of influence as contrary to international law ever since World War II while simultaneously upholding the sole prerogative of the U.S. when it comes to managing security throughout such a rule-governed world (not to be confused with international law, and its efforts at rule- governance). The UN or international law are marginalized with respect to peace and security in the face of this assumption of geopolitical dominance resting on a mixture of political ambition and military capabilities.

The UN Secretary General

Throughout the Ukraine crisis Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, has articulated a point of view toward the Ukraine Crisis that contrasts in fundamental ways from the positions taken by the political actors on the three levels of conflict. His words and proposals are much closer in spirit to the calls emanating from civil society and the Global South. He expressed the spirit of his endeavors concisely shortly after Russia attacked: “End the hostilities now. Silence the guns now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy.” “The ticking clock is a time bomb.” 

Traveling in Moscow to meet with Putin and the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, the SG’s message was more in keeping with diplomatic style, yet similar in content: Focus on ways to end war, and desist from carrying the fight against Russia a day longer. He told Lavrov that “We are extremely interested in finding ways to create the conditions for effective dialogue, create conditions for a ceasefire as soon as possible, create conditions for a peaceful solution.” Putin in the one-on-one meeting with Guterres given the aggressiveness of his counterpart in Washington seemed guardedly receptive to allowing the UN and Red Cross to play a humanitarian role in Ukraine and seemed cautiously receptive to seeking a negotiated end to the conflict on the ground. Of course, it would be premature to have much confidence in any assessment until deeds follow words. At the same time we seem entitled to lament the failure to hear a comparable level of peace-mindedness in Biden’s public statements, which so far seem calculated to stir anti-Russian fury and war-mindedness rather than to set the stage for ending this frightening multi-level conflict.

The stark difference between the UN SG’s approach and that of the geopolitical leadership of the world, should make many persons dedicated to a better future initiate a campaign to set the UN free from its Charter framework that accords primacy explicit primacy to its geopolitical actors.

Concluding Observation

Unraveling the intertwined nature of these three levels of conflict bound up in the ambiguities of the Ukraine War is crucial for an understanding of its complexity and to analyze whether responses and proposals are of service to the general betterment of humanity. It also facilitates the identification of unresponsive policies and proposals that hearken back to the days when matters of war and peace could be left to the discretion of politicians guided by neither ethics nor prudence, but rather have risen to power because they serve the material interests of elites in the private sector. On this basis, I believe that two overriding assessments emerge from an examination of the current interplay of forces in these Ukraine wars: stop the killing by all means available and unconditionally repudiate the Geopolitical War.   

Al-Aqsa Violence during Ramadan

21 Apr

[Prefatory Note: Responses to Questions of Javad Arabshirazi on upsurge of violence during Ramadan within the al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and throughout Occupied Palestine, April 19, 2022. Israel’s reliance on excessive force, collective punishment, and violent provocations is far from new, but its occurrence in the presence context suggests another pattern—an escalation of tensions prior to a large-scale military operation, most likely directed at two million entrapped civilian inhabitants of Gaza. Once more Israel strikes hard against Palestinian rights when the world has its attention fixed elsewhere, with a mainstream media posture of indifference and inattention compounding the problem . The pro-Palestinian solidarity movement is being seriously challenged not to let this happen.]

RQ#1: Israel has escalated its crackdown on Palestinians since the beginning of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, arresting a number of Palestinians in occupied East al-Quds, and desecrating al-Aqsa mosque. What is your take on this?

RAF Response: There is a toxic interaction taking place in Israeli/Palestinian relations in this period that involves the stabbings of a few Israelis followed by a typical punitive over-reaction on Israel’s part that amounts to the collective punishment of all Palestinians living under this regime of prolonged unlawful occupation. Al-Aqsa during Ramadan represents a flashpoint for both sides, and this year with the holy calendar of Jews, Muslims, and Christians overlapping, tensions were especially high, and further deliberately heightened by an outsized Israeli military presence within and surrounding the al-Aqsa mosque compound that was intended to intimidate worshipers, making clear once more the abusive hierarchy of relations that has long existed between Israelis and Palestinians. The wounding of more than 150 al-Aqsa worshippers in responding to Palestinian protestors and the arrest of several hundred others at the compound and throughout Palestinian territories should be seen for what it was, a provocative crackdown. Reliance on excessive force and violence against Palestinians by Israel in violation of its obligations under international law as the Occupying Power that requires Israel to uphold the freedom of religion and respect the human rights of Palestinians living under their administration is neither new nor acceptable.    

Q#2: Why do you think the international community has failed to condemn this? Where are “human rights defenders”?

RAF Response: Israel is partly taking advantage of the distraction on the part of many governments and the world media resulting from a preoccupation with the Ukraine War and its spillover effects. Also, unseemly Israeli ‘normalization’ diplomacy has been successful in blunting criticism of its actions and creating new positive relations with countries in the region and beyond. Israel has also effectively subdued criticism emanating from the UN as exhibited in its recent election to membership in ECOSOC. Israel has made clear that it is not interested in a political compromise with the Palestinians or any sort of diplomatic process that contains any expectations that a Palestinian state could emerge. As for ‘human rights defenders,’ their weakness to contest Israeli security policies has long been an operative part of the tragic Palestinian reality ever since 1967, although we should pause long enough to salute the bravery of those few who take life-threatening risks to protest Israel’s abusive behavior. It is notable that several months ago Benny Gantz, Israel’s Minister of Defense, issued a declaration stigmatizing the most respected and professionally rigorous human rights NGOs in Israel and the West Bank as ‘terrorist organizations.’ It was beyond disappointing that supposedly liberal governments of Europe and North American greeted this development with stony silence. 

Q#3: Tel Aviv has also imposed new restrictions on the Palestinian people’s entry into the mosque, and ordered the demolition of Palestinian homes and agricultural facilities. Isn’t it against international law?

RAF Response: Israel has consistently violated international law with no adverse consequences, and its conduct at al-Aqsa and elsewhere is all part of a deeply ingrained pattern of official behavior that reflects the fundamental character of Israel as an apartheid state. House demolitions and destruction of Palestinian farms and olive groves has been Israeli official policy for decades, making claims of being the only democracy in the Middle East a travesty. This assessment of apartheid has been supported during the last five years by a series of well-evidenced and carefully analyze reports prepared by mainstream NGOs in the West including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Even this development, which should have sent shock waves at the UN and supporters of Israel resulted in no discernable impacts at the UN or among governments. Even the international discourse on the Palestinian/Israel interaction makes scant effort to notice, much less take action in response to Israel’s flagrant and repeated violations of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. The fate of the Palestinian people continues to rest where it has always been—on the stubborn resistance of the Palestinian people and the mobilization of global solidarity campaigns and civil society activism. The UN and most government may want to forget the Palestinian struggle or treat it as a lost cause, but the Palestinian people have shown over and over again that they will not cease their resistance nor should people of conscience the world over turn away from the persisting challenge to unite once more against apartheid, whose dismantling is an unconditional precondition for producing peace between these two embattled peoples.  

Renounce the Geopolitical War between the U.S. and Russia

18 Apr

[Prefatory Note: I post once more on the Ukraine War, emphasizing its geopolitical manipulation at the expense of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and all around the world who are suffering from its spillover effect of higher prices and scarcer supplies of food, energy, fertilizer, and other goods and services. Stopping the Geopolitical War being waged by the United States against Russia is a precondition for ending the aggressive war initiated by Russia against Ukraine and also a return to semi-responsible statecraft, which is the most we can expect or hope for in the present world atmosphere. Diplomacy seeking a ceasefire and a political compromise is the only sane path with a decent chance of avoiding not only prolonging this ravaging of Ukraine but also the escalation risks being driven by irresponsible hostile propaganda emanating from the White House that is hypocritically denouncing Russia and its leader for what the U.S. has repeated done in the course of the last half century, and risking a Russian violent pushback threatening the use of nuclear weaponry. A modified version of this post was published by CounterPunch, April 15, 2022, with a slightly different title.]

Stop the Geopolitical War Now by Declaring a Unilateral Ceasefire in Ukraine

I have been arguing that it is impossible to understand the Ukraine Crisis without an appreciation that it is a two-level war with regional and global implications. The surprising strength of Ukrainian resistance has dramatized the magnitude of Moscow’s miscalculation in having anticipating quickly subduing resisting to its aggression and apparent intended regime-changing occupation. Russia has already been ‘defeated’ in the Russia-Ukrainian War on the ground by Ukrainian resistance and the degree of international solidarity with the Ukrainian defense of its sovereign rights. The similarities with the U.S. miscalculations in the Iraq War of 2003 (‘mission accomplished’) are rather startling if a careful comparison is made, the most important difference being that the U.S. was acting outside its traditional sphere of influence and was unchallenged geopolitically; nevertheless, its military superiority was significantly neutralized by internal Iraqi resistance, a formidable rebalancing reality in the post-colonial world.

The U.S./Europe is guilty of an offsetting miscalculation in Ukraine by its initiation of a second level war—the Geopolitical War—taking the form of strong expressions of solidarity with the sovereign rights of Ukraine mainly by way of a heavy-handed emphasis on a punitive anti-Russian approach consisting of hostile propaganda, comprehensive sanctions, and official provocative demonizations of Putin and Russia abetted by hypocritical calls on the International Criminal Court for action. Such postures, especially if struck by respective leaders, seem calculated to prolong the war on the ground, express no interest in stopping thee carnage, and appear to accept the costs of doing as being worth the price in Ukrainian lives and devastation, as well as the suffering being caused beyond Ukrainian borders. It is notable that amid the many extravagant expressions of support for Ukraine from American leaders there has been hardly a hint that a diplomatic alternative to the daily devastations of war in the form of a ceasefire accompanied by negotiations on Ukraine’s future within an impartial framework that addresses security issues of Russia and Ukraine, as well as the infrequently discussed third level of the war, the human rights of the residents of Dombas region of East Ukraine. The Biden unwavering posture of exerting pressure on Putin and Russia somewhat contrasts with Zelensky’s on and off approach to direct negotiations with Russia, which seems difficult to evaluate because of its inconsistency. A more constructive approach has been cautiously advocated by the French President, Emanuel Macron: “I want to continue to try as much as I can, to stop this war and rebuild peace. I am not sure that an escalation of rhetoric serves that cause.” To date, Biden has not shown a comparable sensitivity, and if intent on prosecuting the Geopolitical War, we are likely to witness further escalations of Russo-phobic and anti-Putting rhetoric emanating from the White House. International criminal law does not prohibit ‘geopolitical crimes,’ but their commission should be subject to exposure and prosecution by civil society tribunals dedicated to world peace and justice.

To its credit the Biden presidency has so far resisted strong ultra-hawkish pressures to escalate this geopolitical war by fusing its prosecution with that of Ukrainian resistance forces by taking such steps as establishing a no-fly-zone in Ukraine, supplying offensive weaponry, and deploying NATO forces and weaponry. However, non-escalation is not enough because the tendency of the inflammatory tactics relied upon in the Geopolitical War prolongs the ground war at the expense not only of the Ukrainian people, but of millions on non-Ukrainians already suffering from the spillover effects of the war and sanctions on food and energy supplies and prices, and worse will come to Ukraine and internationally, the longer the fighting in Ukraine goes on. It is important to grasp the extent of these spillover risks: Russia and Ukraine together produce 30% of the world’s wheat supply, 75% of sunflower oil exports. At present, 30 metric tons of grain are available for export from Ukraine but cannot be currently shipped because of the war. David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, recently declared that Ukrainians face starvation in the entrapped city of Mariupal and that food shortages are already inducing hunger in many parts of Africa, and elsewhere in Global South, due to supply shortages and price rises. 

It has become obvious that the priority in the Geopolitical War is weakening Russia as a political actor on the world stage rather than saving Ukraine from the ravages of war and ending the encroachment on its rights as a sovereign state. The longer this geopolitical war continues the greater the harm done to Ukraine and its people, while simultaneously raising the risk of a violent encounter between Russia and NATO. This encounter has already given rise to heightened nuclear dangers, included threats to cross the nuclear threshold, and these concerns are increasing with the passage of time. There is also the previously mentioned growing concern about damage being done to many countries dependent to various degrees on exports of Russian/Ukrainian wheat, energy, and fertilizer. In other words, even without direct violence, the effects of pursuing geopolitical objectives by the U.S. is causing intense suffering around the world, disproportionately harmful to the most vulnerable societies and its poorest members due to the impacts of inflated prices on basic necessities, supply shortages, and disruption, which leads to political uprisings and chaos (already evident in several countries as remote from the Ukrainian combat zones as Sri Lanka and Indonesia ). 

There is reason to suspect that the Geopolitical War is being waged by the United States for strategic reasons that extend beyond even picking a fight with Russia that are likely, unless managed in a manner sensitive to the precarities of the 21st century, to produce a high-intensity new cold war. Part of this strategic agenda evidently guiding the planners of the geopolitical war is to signal China that it will pay a high or higher price if it should attack and occupy Taiwan. In that sense, the old idea of ‘extended deterrence’ is being revived under much more stressed historical circumstances than even existed during the Cold War. Also, in the fog of war the exceptionally complex circumstances generated by the two-level war creates a further risk of a World War I scenario of the conflict spiraling out of the control of the main political actors, culminating in a massive mutual disaster.

The intensified hostile propaganda, intensified supply of advanced weaponry, and punitive initiatives taken by the West and directed at Russia are justified and rationalized by their backers as imposing increasing costs on Russia that will eventually compel Putin to back down and tacitly admit  ‘enough is enough’ even though it means being shamed into withdrawing its troops. Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, has taken advantage of widespread empathy for the Ukrainian plight to plead his case in many venues including the UN, European Parliament, U.S. Congress, and the Israeli Knesset. As with Washington there is a predominant focus on the criminalization of Russia and Putin with little attention given to whether there is a better way to end the war on the ground. We must ask whether Zelensky has become insufficiently attentive to the impacts on Ukraine of this ongoing Geopolitical War or has disastrously bought into its flimsy rationale, whether knowingly or not, abandoning an earlier more promising willingness to engage in pre-negotiations in the impartial setting of Istanbul, as well as a declared openness to direct talks with Putin.

There is a final point that has been made persuasively by Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute in Washington: Whether the war ends tomorrow or goes on for years, some say it could last for at least five and maybe even ten years, the outcome in terms of Ukraine’s sovereignty and security arrangements will be the same: ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign military forces, neutrality, mutual non-aggression arrangements, UN peacekeeping border controls, guaranteed autonomy and human rights for East Ukraine (Dombas). If this logic is correct, then it is a primary humanitarian and global human security interest for Ukraine to give Moscow immediate back channel and public signals that it is ready and eager for a ceasefire and peace talks.

The play of forces in Washington may inhibit the adoption of this favored course of action. Calling off the geopolitical war will be alleged to embolden Putin’s expansionist ambitions as well as convey to China that it can successfully challenge Taiwan’s independence if it shows sufficient resolve. Biden will be viciously attacked by Republicans as a weak leader who is relinquishing U.S. responsibility for upholding global security throughout the world, given the weakness of the UN, irrelevance of international law, and the alien values of China and Russia. To some extent Biden constructed his own trap by without tangible political results with respect to its security concerns arising from Ukraine’s willingness to identify so ardently with NATO and the U.S. There are various conjectures that such a strategy might prolong the Ukraine War by four years, or even longer, with a high cost in casualties and devastation. What would undoubtedly be portrayed as a victory for the geopolitical masterminds in Washington would amount to a bloody sacrifice for the people of Ukraine, somewhat disguised and papered over by massive programs of post-conflict reconstruction aid to Ukraine. Further trouble may result even after a ceasefire in and withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine due to the unpredictable but potentially major destabilizing effects of sanctions on the world economy, especially trade relations and inflation.

A diplomatic path to a ceasefire followed by efforts at conflict resolution is currently has almost completely disappeared from Washington’s policy agenda, in effect even negated, given the increasing reliance on the political language of demonization relied upon by Biden from the outset of the Russian aggression on February 24th. To accuse Russia and its leaders of war crimes, including genocide, that should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague is both awkwardly hypocritical given the past U.S. repudiation of the tribunal’s authority and an irresponsible attempt to politicize a fragile international institution struggling for legitimacy since it was established more than 20 years ago. To suggest, even to demand, regime change in Moscow, as Biden has done both directly and indirectly, is something the West wisely refrained from doing even with respect to Stalin and Stalinism at the height of the Cold War. These sentiments of Biden unless discounted as emotional outbursts by an unstable leader is a form of political behavior at the highest levels that a nuclear armed world can ill afford. Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, tried to excuse Biden’s outburst by observing that “President Biden spoke from his heart when he called what we are seeing in Ukraine genocide.” The use of such wild rhetoric seems calculated to enrage Putin and his entourage, and thus inhibit whatever willingness exists in Moscow to explore prospects for ending the violence in Ukraine in a manner that does not shame Putin and Russia. To be sure, Russian forces in Ukraine seem guilty of atrocities in Ukraine that qualify as war crimes, but to allege genocide, which refers to massive killlings directed at an ethnicity with the well-evidenced intention of its elimination. Genocide is not occurring in Ukraine, and to suggest otherwise should be repudiated by the UN and elsewhere. 

There seems little doubt that by conviction or reflecting leverage, Zelensky, has not reacted publicly to the cross-purposes resulting from the geopolitical level of encounter. On the contrary, Zelensky seems to be striking a posture of opting in favor of this untenable Geopolitical War being waged with inflammatory rhetoric and further inflated military budgets, backed by a largely fictitious encounter between allied democracies and united autocracies as well as the ahistorical belief that military superiority controls political outcomes in contemporary wars and gives shape to the history of our times. If this ideological division of the world were even mildly sincere and the excessive reliance on militarism justified, then why are the Philippines, India, and Brazil considered as belonging to the world’s democracies and why has every sustained war since 1945 has been won by the weaker side militarily.

It is time for those who want peace, justice, and ecological balance to demand a unilateral decision to renounce the Geopolitical War and encourage the Ukrainian government to protect its national future and that of its citizens by proposing an immediate ceasefire and an impartial framework for diplomacy to do the work of extricating all engaged political actors from a series of unfolding disastrous lose/lose scenarios.  Political leaders and diplomats who further such a Geopolitical War, given the realities of Ukraine, are potentially subject to civil society indictment on charges of geopolitical crimes.

Complexities of the Ukraine War

15 Apr

[Prefatory Note: My responses to interview Questions on the Ukraine War from Zahra Mirzafarjouyan, Mehr News Agency, IV/11/2022. This two-level war can be further elaborated as a three-level war between Ukrainian nationalism in Western Ukraine and Russian-oriented separatism in Eastern Ukraine. Level One: Russia v. Ukraine; Level Two: U.S. v. Russia; Level Three: Ukrainian nationalism v. Russian-oriented separatism.]

1-What is the reason behind the west’s double standards towards the issue of refugees and bloodshed in different parts of the world. Why refugees from the Middle East are treated differently from the European ones?

The most immediate relevant answer is race, location, and control of the global humanitarian discourse. Europeans and North Americans more easily identify with white Christians than with dark-skinned Muslims which are generally perceived as a threat or burden. Ukraine is part of the West, indeed geographically part of Europe, and for this reason seems naturally to fall withing the existential parameters of ‘the European security community.’ It seems evident that print and TV media discursively reinforce these double standards by their selective practices of coverage that mirror the impact of race and location. The obsessive daily attention

given to the destruction attributable to Russian military action in Ukraine contrasts with the scant attention given such occurrences in such prior similar situations as in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Beyond these considerations, the war in Ukraine is also a crucial geopolitical battleground, pitting the U.S. against Russia, reviving the Cold War spirit of ideological confrontation although rephrased as ‘democracy’ versus ‘autocracy.’ Part of the political mix in this present setting is also China, and the evident motivation of the U.S. to warn China (by way of Russia) that if it attacks Taiwan it will face a unified national resistance reinforced by military and diplomatic support from the West that at minimum will impose punitive, damaging sanctions. As the war drags on it has become evident that the U.S. Government cannot make up its mind whether it should solicit China as a peacemaker to end the Ukraine War or treat China as a secondary adversary, lending indirect support to Russia, and this to be confronted and even sanctioned. U.S. uncertainty at this stage may reflect a split among foreign policy advisors in Washington who favor diplomacy to end the Ukraine War and those who give priority to humiliating Russia and Putin even at the cost of extending the war indefinitely.

2-And also it seems there are different kinds of occupation, good occupation, and bad occupation. Why occupation of Palestinian lands is treated totally differently from the occupation of European lands? 

Once more the different responses to foreign occupations reflects the tensions between the norms of international law that specify equal treatment for foreign occupations, and the practices of geopolitics that allow certain states to defy this norm without suffering adverse consequences. Israel is shielded from compliance with international law because it is freed from the burdens of accountability by the geopolitical protection it receives from the U.S., often reinforced by further support received from France and the UK. Other situations that manifest similar problems are Western Sahara and Kashmir. Geopolitics is based on inconsistency arising from varying patterns of inter-governmental alignment, whereas international law is in conception independent of alignment and relative capabilities, although in practice its applicability is often subject to being subordinated to logic of dominance, performing as a tool of geopolitical actors.

3-What is the main reason behind the war in Ukraine? Is it a geopolitical one? Isn’t it endangering world security? Won’t the west sanctions and pressures on Russia make Moscow’s behavior more aggressive?

The geopolitical stakes are high. It is a two-level war, consisting of direct combat on the ground and in the air between Russia and Ukraine and a second geopolitical war between Russia and the United States over the character of world order after the Cold War. Russia is seeking to reassert a traditional sphere of influence over its ‘near abroad,’ and by doing so, challenging the American claims to be responsible for global security throughout the planet, which the U.S. has been doing since the world political system became unipolar after the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. Russia and China are trying to establish a more traditional type of geopolitical relations based on the premise of multipolarity as well as spheres of influence of the sort respected throughout the Cold War. Even during the provocative Soviet interventions in East European countries during the 1950s, the West refrained from counter-intervening, sensing that such an escalation could trigger World War III and the use of nuclear weaponry by both sides. The secondary objective of the U.S. in carrying forward the geopolitical war is to warn China not to challenge the existing situation in the South China Seas, especially bearing on future of Taiwan.

4-What will be the impact of this war the EU economy especially the economy of countries like Germany? 

It is difficult to assess the economic effects of the Ukraine War. It depends on a number of imponderables—the longer the war continues, the more severe the inflationary impact on prices of food and energy, as well as causing shortages of supply; the greater the effort made by Russia to impose costs on European countries that go along with anti-Russian sanctions, the greater will be the burdens borne, especially by Germany. The U.S. does not have a sufficient capability to offset this burden by becoming an increased source of food and energy at affordable prices. It is faced with its own critical internal problems, among them a huge over-investment in unusable military assets and an inflationary spiral that is already generating political instability.

5-What are the impact of this war on the US economy?

It is difficult to trace causal relations, but most economists agree that rising prices of food and energy, declining prospects of trade and investment, are having a generally harmful effect on U.S. economic conditions, especially in certain sectors, with the poor feeling most of the pain. To be sure, some private sector interests are benefitting: arms sales, gas and oil development, nuclear power, and looking to the future, construction industries and suppliers partaking

in likely massive post-conflict restorative activity in Ukraine, likely to be subsidized by generous funding from Europe, North America, and possibly Japan.

6-How will the result of this war affect world order? Can it also lead to changes in UN structure? After the Ukraine war will the US and western powers enjoy the same influence in the world order that they enjoyed before the war?

As indicated by earlier responses, it is difficult at this stage to speculate about the effects of these two interlinked wars as they are each at midstream and relate to each other in complicated inconsistent ways. If the Ukraine-Russian War is resolved quickly it is likely to bring the world closer to the pre-1992 Cold War Era, a new phase of geopolitical confrontation and containment with the focus this time on Asia as well as Europe. If this war lingers, the world order impacts will reflect the outcome. If the Russian occupation persists and troops remain in East Ukraine, then the post-Cold War Era will come to an end, and a new reality of bipolarity or tripolarity is likely to emerge to replace unipolarity. If Russia’s aggression is reversed, sanctions maintained, and Putin replaced as leader, then the U.S. governance of a unipolar world order will be confirmed for the present, although still somewhat vulnerable to Chinese economistic and regional challenges. There will be questions raised as to whether the U.S. can pay the costs of sustaining unipolarity, which require large military investments throughout the world and in space, even if Russia’s challenge is defeated and the Putinesque scenario to make Russia again a major geopolitical actor proves to be an occasion of national humiliation.

There is also a real, yet remote, possibility that Europe might free itself from U.S. hegemony on matters of geopolitics, and come to the unexpected conclusion that NATO no longer benefits European security, and that it would work out better for Europe to seek greater independence from the U.S., especially in relation to energy, economic relations, and alliance geopolitics. This would free Europe to establish win/win relations with Russia and China, as well as the U.S. If this were to happen the world might yet experience a new dawn.

In the background, are pressures to downplay confrontational geopolitics so as to achieve necessary levels of effective global problem-solving with respect to climate change, migration, food security. Such problem-solving will require not only unprecedented levels of cooperation, but also innovative arrangement that allocate financial burdens in an equitable manner, taking account of the stressed circumstances of the least developed states that are coping with the effects of global warming without either the means or a sense of national responsibility.

Relevant, also, will be the degree of enlightened, globally oriented leadership that emerges, which could lead to a stronger UN and greater respect for international law exhibited by geopolitical actors. These goals could either be achieved by reform or self-restraint on the part of the five veto powers in the Security Council, or possibly, through augmenting the authority of the General Assembly. For such constructive developments to occur there would have to be a surge of international activism reflecting a more coherent and visionary Global South. Crucial is whether the United States might reassess its global posturing and act more like a normal state, giving up both the pretensions of being the first global state, and yet avoiding the temptations of reviving its historic identity as ‘isolationist’ or detached from  dangerous geopolitical rivalries.

This Geopolitical War is a ‘Geopolitical Crime’

9 Apr

[Prefatory Note: This post was earlier published on April 9, 2022 in a somewhat modified form in CounterPunch with the title “Why Ukraine?” Please read the last paragraph to make sense of the title.]

There is no doubt that atrocities have been committed in Ukraine, seemingly yet not exclusively by Russian attacking forces, and in a perfect world those who so acted would be held responsible. But the world is highly imperfect when it comes to accountability for international crimes. When the International Criminal Court in 2020 found it had authority to investigate alleged crimes committed by Israel in Occupied Palestine after painstaking delays to make sure that their inquiry would meet the highest standard of legal professionalism, the decision was called ‘pure anti-Semitism’ by the Israeli prime minister, and defiantly rejected by Israeli leaders across the whole political spectrum. Similarly, when authorization was given by the ICC to investigate crimes by the United States in Afghanistan, the decision was denounced as void and unwarranted because the U.S. was not a party to the Rome Statute governing the operations of the ICC. The Trump presidency went so far as to express its outrage by imposing personal sanctions on the ICC prosecutor, presumably for daring to challenge the U.S. in such a manner even though her behavior was entirely respectful of her professional role and consistent with relevant canons of judicial practice.

Against such a background, there is a typical liberal quandary when faced with clear criminality on one side and pure geopolitical hypocrisy on the other side. Was it desirable after World War II to prosecute surviving German and Japanese political leaders and military commanders at the ‘legal’ cost of overlooking the criminality of the victors because there was no disposition to investigate the dropping of atom bombs on Japanese cities or the strategic bombing of civilian habitats in Germany and Japan? I am far from sure about what is better from the perspective of either developing a global rule of law or inducing respect for the restraints of law. The essence of law is treating equals equally, but world order is not so constituted. As suggested, there is ‘victors’ justice’ imposing accountability on the defeated leadership in major wars but complete non-accountability for the crimes of the geopolitical winners. Beyond this, the UN Charter was drafted in ways that gave a constitutional status to geopolitical impunity by granting these victors in World War II an unconditional right of veto, and this of course includes Russia. In these respects, liberalism defers to geopolitical realism, and celebrate the one-sided imposition of legality, with the naïve hope things will be different in the future, and the next group of victors will themselves accept the same legal standards of accountability are imposed upon the losers. Yet the post-Nuremberg record shows that geopolitical actors go on treating restraints on recourse to war as a matter of discretion (what American liberals called ‘wars of choice’ in the course of the debate about embarking upon a regime-changing attack on and occupation of Iraq in 2003) rather than an obligation. When it comes to accountability double standards are still operative, illustrated by the ironic execution of Saddam Hussein for war crimes in the wake of a war of aggression against Iraq.

Another lingering question is ‘why Ukraine’? There have been other horrific events in the period since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, including Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Palestine yet no comparable clamor in the West for criminal justice and punitive action. Certainly, a part of the explanation is that the Ukrainian victims of abuse are white, European, Christian, which made it easy for the West to mobilize the mainstream global media and by the related international prominence accorded to Volodimir Zelensky, the embattled, energetic Ukrainian leader given unprecedented access to the most influential venues on the global stages of world opinion. It is not that the empathy for Ukraine or support for Zelensky’s national resistance is misplaced, but that it has the appearance of being geopolitically orchestrated and manipulated in ways that other desperate national situations were not, and thus give rise to suspicions about other, darker motives.

This is worrisome because these magnified concerns have acted as a principal way that the NATO West has gone out of its way to make the Ukrainian War about more than Ukraine. The wider war is best understood as occurring on two levels: a traditional war between the invading forces of Russia and the resisting forces of Ukraine as intertwined with an encompassing geopolitical war between the U.S. and Russia. It is the prosecution of this latter war that presents the more profound danger to world peace, a danger that has been largely obscured or assessed as a mere extension of the Russia/Ukraine confrontation. Biden has consistently struck a militarist, demonizing, and confrontational note in the geopolitical war, deliberately antagonizing Putin while quite pointedly neglecting diplomacy as the obvious way to stop the killing, and atrocities, in effect, encouraging the war on the ground to be prolonged because its continuation is indispensable in relation to the implicitly higher stakes of grand strategy, which is the core preoccupation of a geopolitical war. When Biden repeatedly calls Putin a war criminal who should face prosecution, and even more so, when he proposes regime change in Russia, he is cheerleading for the Ukrainian War to continue as long as it takes to produce a victory, and not be content with a ceasefire.

If this two-level perception is correctly analyzed in its appreciation of the different actors with contradictory priorities, then it becomes crucial to understand that in the geopolitical war the U.S. is the aggressor as much as in the traditional war on the ground Russia is the aggressor. In these respects, despite his understandable anger and grief, one must wonder whether even Zelensky with Russo-phobic echoing of war crimes allegations and calls for the expulsion of Russian from the UN, has not had his arm twisted so as to support the geopolitical war despite its premises being contrary to the interests of the Ukrainian people.

Could the delivery of weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine come with a large price tag?

So far, the geopolitical war has been waged as a war of ideological aggression backed up by weapons supplies and enveloping sanctions designed to have a great a crippling effect on Russia. This tactic has led Putin to make counter-threats, including warnings about Russia’s willingness under certain conditions to have recourse to nuclear weapons. This normalizing of the nuclear danger is itself a menacing development in a context of an autocratic leader backed into a corner. The U.S. approach, while mindful of escalation dangers and taking steps so far to avoid direct military involvement on behalf of Ukraine, shows no rush to end the fighting, apparently believing that Russia is already suffering the consequences of greatly underestimating Ukrainian will and capability to resist, and will be forced to acknowledge a humiliating defeat if the war goes on, which would have the strategic benefit additional to other incentives, of discouraging China from aligning with Russia in the future.

Additionally, the Western architects of this geopolitical war with Russia seem to assess gains and losses through a militarist optic, being grossly insensitive to its disastrous economic spillover effects, especially pronounced in relation to food and energy security in the already extremely stress conditions of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, and even Europe. As Fred Bergsten argues, the overall stability of the world economy is also being put at great risk unless the U.S. and China overcome their own tense relationship, and come to understand that their cooperation is the only check on a deep, costly, and prolonged world economic collapse.

The geopolitical war also distracts attention from the urgent agenda of climate change, especially in light of recent indicators of global warning causing climate experts to be further alarmed. Other matter of global concern including migration, biodiversity, poverty, apartheid are being again relegated to the back burners of global policy challenge, while the sociopathic game of Armageddon Roulette is being played without taking species wellbeing and survival into account, continuing the lethal recklessness that began the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima more than 75 years ago.

In concluding, the question ‘why Ukraine?’ calls for answers. The standard answer of reverse racism, moral hypocrisy, and Western narrative control is not wrong but significantly incomplete if it does not include the geopolitical war that while not now directly responsible for Ukrainian suffering is from other perspective more dangerous and destructive than that awful traditional war. This geopolitical war of ‘poor’ choice is now being waged mainly by means of hostile propaganda, but also weapons and supplies while not killing directly outside of Ukraine. This second war, so rarely identified much less assessed, is irresponsibly menacing the wellbeing of tens of millions of civilians around the world while arms dealers, post-conflict construction companies, and civilian and uniformed militarists exult. To be provocative, I would it is time for the peace movement to make sure that US loses this geopolitical war! To win it, even persisting with it, would constitute a grave ‘geopolitical crime.’

Make Peace, Not War, in Ukraine 

31 Mar

[Prefatory Note: this post is a modified version of an opinion piece published in CounterPunch on March 30, 2022.]

Russia launched its massive invasion of Ukraine on February 24 flagrantly violating the most fundamental norm of international law—the prohibition of recourse to international force encroaching upon the territory of a sovereign state except in exercising the right of self-defense against a prior armed attack. Yes, there were a series of irresponsible provocations by NATO that aroused understandable security concerns in Moscow, including the relentless expansion of the Cold War NATO alliance after the Cold War was over, the threat from the Soviet Union had disappeared, and promises were made by Western leaders to Gorbachev of no further NATO expansion. Such geopolitical behavior amounted to imprudent statecraft by the West, especially given Russian historical anxieties about being surrounded and attacked by hostile forces. Such eminent public figures as George Kennan, Jack Matlock (respected former U.S. ambassador to Russia), and even Henry Kissinger issued warnings to this effect, but they went unheeded in Washington.

The Ukraine War is best understood and interpreted as a two-level war. In the active combat zones of Ukraine, it is a devastating traditional war between Russia and Ukraine producing an increasingly severe humanitarian crisis that includes massive civilian displacement taking the dual form of refugee flows over Ukraine’s borders and internal movements away from embattled cities and throughout the country.

This primary war phenomenon interacts with, and in some respects contradicts, an ongoing secondary proxy war pitting Russia against the United States, with Russia trying to impose its will on Ukraine and the U.S. pursuing several geopolitical objectives additional to the support of Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. These include revitalizing and strengthening NATO and mobilizing unity in Europe by inflaming anti-Russian sentiments, which as during the Cold War rested on fear and loathing of Russia, then the Soviet Union. There is no military engagement at this point in the proxy war, although its ideological confrontations, while avoiding direct violence at present, run the risk of escalating dangerously in various directions, including putting inhibitions on nuclear threats and risks to their greatest test since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It should be appreciated that the fog of war is denser in the secret sessions of proxy war advisors and leaders than even what is hovering over the Ukrainian battlefields. Strategic objectives in this two-level war are confusing, being neither coherent nor consistent, and because there are no current images of death and destruction, the very real negative effects of the proxy war tend to be ignored, such as prolonging the killing, delaying a ceasefire.

In this proxy war, Russia is seeking to reestablish its traditional sphere of influence over the Russian ‘near abroad’ in Ukraine and the U.S. is determined to frustrate this Russian mission, although at a high cost to Ukrainians. The U.S., along with other NATO members, is doing this by sending weapons and other forms of assistance to help the Ukrainians resist more effectively. In addition, strong sanctions are being imposed on Russia with the announced intention of exerting enough economic and political pain on Moscow and Putin to make Russia reverse course. To augment coercive policies Biden, in particular has used language of incitement to attack Putin, climaxing with this outburst a few days ago while in Poland: “For God’s sake, this man cannot stay in power.” Previously, he had called Putin a war criminal, supportive of indictment of the Russian leader by the International Criminal Court, surely viewed by most of the world as hypocritical given the denunciation of the ICC for daring to investigate charges of war crimes against the U.S. in Afghanistan, reinforced by retaliatory personal sanctions imposed on the Prosecutor in the Hague and other officials of the Tribunal. 

I find both of these war strategies dysfunctional and dangerous. For Russia to impose its will on Ukraine by military force is both unlawful, and unlikely to succeed, while inflicting great harm on Ukraine and Ukrainians, as well as on itself as a result of the sanctions and diplomatic pushback. One symbolic result has been the activation of the International Criminal Court in pursuit of an indictment of Putin. Some critics are urging. the UN to establish the type of tribunal used to prosecute surviving Nazi leaders at Nuremberg after World War II. Although these gestures towards accountability for international crimes are plausibly associated with the Russian leader’s behavior, their wider credibility is gravely compromised as mentioned above by moral, legal, and political hypocrisy given past U.S. comparable behavior that was carefully spared similar scrutiny.

Looked at differently, for the U.S. to pursue a militarist strategy toward Russia in this manner is to choose a path leading toward frustration and danger, drawn out humanitarian suffering in Ukraine, disastrous economic spillover effects already leading to food insecurity throughout the Middle East and North Africa by way of spikes in  prices and shortages, renewed pressures to turn to nuclear power and fossil fuels in the vain search for energy independence, and the likelihood of inducing a severe global recession coupled with an escalation of geopolitical tensions of the West with Russia and possibly China. In other words, these antagonists on the geopolitical level of conflict are on a treacherous collision course, with only China so far acting prudently throughout the crisis, remaining on the sidelines, unwilling to give either Russia assistance or to endorse its flagrant violations of Ukrainian sovereignty while opposing sanctions and punitive action directed at Russia.

There is another, better way to proceed to resolve the Ukraine crisis. Russia should have learned from its earlier Afghanistan invasion that military superiority cannot overcome determined national resistance, particularly if externally supported. This is the unlearned lesson for the U.S. of the Vietnam War and all subsequent regime-changing wars of the Ukraine variant. The political outcomes of the Iraq War of 2003 and the costly failure of the prolonged effort to keep the Taliban from power in Afghanistan were reminders that military superiority had lost its historical agency in the post-colonial world. Such a recognition by Washington while long overdue, yet not forthcoming, which means the likelihood of future failures of a similar kind.

At the same time, the U.S. has been losing out globally, overplaying its geopolitical hand ever since the end of the Cold War. Instead of dissolving NATO when Moscow ended the Warsaw Pact, it sponsored anti-Russian political forces all along the Russian border as well as taking the lead in converting NATO into an expanding offensive alliance to be used anywhere in the world, defying its European founding mission as specified in the underlying treaty arrangement. Since the Soviet collapse the alliance was being illegitimately used by Washington as a global policy tool to provide a collective cover somewhat obscuring the unilateral lawlessness of controversial U.S. foreign policy undertakings that involve uses of military force. 

The U.S. would have much to gain by shifting the emphasis from a pro-active level 2 strategy to a level 1 diplomatic approach. By this is meant that instead of inflicting pain on Russia and demonizing Putin and Russia, the U.S. should be seeking to solve the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine by opting for diplomacy and political compromise, stopping the killing as the highest policy priority, and also moving to ease the nuclear dangers associated with escalation and prolonging the Ukrainian ordeal of this Level1 war. Such a behavioral abandonment by the U.S. of its Level 2 irresponsible geopolitical tactics of confrontation and incitement would also have the great national advantage of minimizing the adverse spillover effects outside of Ukraine on food, energy, trade, and political stability.

This seems an opportune moment to renounce the triumphalist unipolar pretensions that took over in Washington at the end of the Cold War. It is time to take account of the self-inflicted wounds of a disastrous record of U.S. over-investment in the military (currently more than the combined expenditures of the next eleven countries) and under-investment in humane state-building at home. Those who seek peace, justice, and economic stability in the political sphere should explore further the restorative potentialities of a UN/international law centered geopolitics of multipolarity.

At present, neither side seems ready to move in such constructive directions. Biden articulates the Level 2 strategy of the U.S. as based on bolstering Ukraine’s military capabilities to carry on a successful war of resistance, while seeking to pressure Russia to the point of acknowledging that their leader should be replaced and Moscow renounce all security claims justifying action beyond its borders. Backing Putin into such a corner is a recipe for geopolitical retaliation, likely giving rise to an escalation spiral that comes ever closer to the nuclear threshold, which as it unfolds would lead to a Western response that was more prone to engage in the active defense of the Ukraine. Escalation along these lines would heighten the nuclear danger, amounts to starting a menacing second cold war, and seems oblivious to the risks of World War III. In the interim, climate change challenges, despite their urgency are placed once more on the back burner of international attention where they were temporarily relocated during the COVID pandemic since 2020. Put simply the opposed geopolitical postures draw on competing visions of world order: the U.S. seeks to police a unipolar world without opposition, while Russia and China in different ways are insisting on establishing geopolitical norms of multipolarity, which include the restoration of geographically proximate spheres of influence for geopolitical actors.

I find it extremely disturbing that the venerable Economist articulates support for Biden’s geopolitical approach, framed as Western support for a Ukrainian victory in a form that inflicts a humiliating defeat upon Russia: “Unfortunately, Ukraine’s Western backers are dragging their feet–reluctant, it seems, to provoke Russia or bear the cost of sanctions. That is reprehensibly short-sighted. A decisive Ukrainian victory is more likely to lead to a stable peace. And by dealing what may be a terminal blow to three centuries of Russian imperialism, it could also transform the security of Europe.” [March 31, 2022] Such a logic is oblivious to Ukrainian suffering arising from a prolonged war, the severity of severe spillover costs to Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and the world economy, as well as dangerously stressing geopolitics with high probabilities of escalation in the short-run including heightened risks of breaching nuclear red lines and in the longer run of stimulating a resurgent militarism experienced as a new cold war that diverts the world from climate change and other global challenges. Never has it seemed more beneficial ‘to give peace a chance’ not by such militarist thinking, but by a turn to imaginatively flexible diplomacy. If the The Economist editorial is a reflection of a consensus prevailing in Western political elite circles, we are all in for a dismal future.  

  

These concerns are aggravated by other factors in the broader international context. The UN has been sidelined, international law is flouted, and the killing goes on. Only transnational civil society in the form of public pressure from within the main geopolitical antagonists can bring these two governments to their senses and end this terrible two-level struggle. A few countries, among them Turkey, could offer to mediate peace negotiations to end the Level 1 Ukrainian War but the Level 2 antagonists seem stubbornly entrapped in their lose/lose war paradigm. As long as this is so, Ukrainians will continue to die and the peoples of the world suffer from the immediate and more deferred consequence of dysfunctional geopolitics.

 

Public Intellectual

29 Mar

LMU

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2022 GPI Book Award Richard Falk

2022 Global Policy Institute Book Award

Presented to Dr. Richard Falk, author of
Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim

Princeton University emeritus professor Richard A. Falk is the winner of the 2022 Global Policy Institute Book Award. Dr. Falk is a member of the Editorial Boards of The Nation and The Progressive, and Chair of the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is a former advisory board member of the World Federalist Institute and the American Movement for World Government. Dr. Falk acted as counsel to Ethiopia and Liberia in the famous South West Africa Cases (1965) that came before the International Court of Justice. During 1999–2000, Falk worked on the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. In that high-profile role, his critical findings on the repression and denial of human rights for Palestinians eventually led to him being banned from Israel.

Dr. Falk is now a Santa Barbara resident. After four decades at Princeton, he has served as Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has lectured widely around the world as one of America’s most recognizable and relentless crusaders for international justice.

The 2022 Global Policy Institute Best Book Award will be presented in a gala reception at the Del Rey Yacht Club.

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Nuclear Dangers in Ukraine

24 Mar

The flier below is for a presentation by Cynthia Lazaroff and myself on nuclear dangers associated with the Ukraine War. Cynthia is a prominent specialist on nuclear issues with a special focus on Russia. She also experienced the false alarm of an imminent nuclear attack on Hawaii where she lives with her family. This existential contact with nuclear danger was, not surprisingly, a terrifying confirmation that our world has remained vulnerable to unimaginable catastrophe more than 75 years after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 has ‘living with the bomb’ been so manifestly dangerous as in this period of devastation and tragedy as is taking place in Ukraine. Aside from the humanitarian imperative to do all in our power to stop the killing is the precautionary urgency of ending this period of heightened nuclear risk, not only arising from the weapons but also from nuclear power plants throughout the country. Remembering that Chernobyl is situated close to Kyiv should itself be chastening enough to justify demands for an immediate halt to Russian aggression and NATO/U.S. inflammatory rhetoric and escalating moves.

The event is sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and as the flyer indicates, Is scheduled for March 29th, 11 am PDT, 2 pm EDT, 7 pm CET with the Zoom link indicated below