Archive | global cooperation RSS feed for this section

Dangerous Gaps: Knowledge, Action, and Justice

16 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The following essay was published on the website of This View of Life (TVOL) <>, which brings to bear the views of science and evolutionary biology on a series of global challenges increasingly overwhelming the capabilities of civilizational modernity. A series of related articles can be found on the TVOL website. My essay was published there on January 13, 2022.]

Dangerous Gaps: Knowledge, Action, and Justice

Knowledge without Action

Modernity prides itself on its core achievement—basing political order and economic progress on the tools of reason and a trust in science-based knowledge. Yet when it comes to grappling with the large problems of our time it is obvious that there exist wide and dangerous gaps between what we know and what we do, both individually and collectively. Organized governance structures have only selectively integrated the Enlightenment ethos into their formation and implementation of policy, and this explains part of the path of the pathos of Modernity, which despite the technological wonders it has wrought has led to the first bio-ethical-ecological crisis in all of planetary history. To address responsibly such a crisis in relation to climate change or other problems of global scope requires an adequate diagnosis together with new strategies for bringing our knowledge and collective wisdom to bear. Additionally, there exists a discrediting, and likely paralyzing, normative gap between what we do and should be doing in relation to the ethical and political dimensions of climate change.

The severe threats to present and even more to future human generations and habitat wellbeing have long been convincingly confirmed by a consensus among climate experts. [see Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization, Columbia University Press, 2014; Climate Change 2021, 6th Assessment Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2021, and earlier assessment reports ] Civil society activists, most charismatically a young Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, have been sounding the alarm, raising public awareness and anger throughout the world as much as the unprecedented frequency of extreme weather events. Thunberg, speaking to an audience composed of UN diplomatic representatives of member governments gave the issue an embittered inter-generational twist: “You will die of old age. I will die from climate change.”

Not only do we know and increasingly experience the multiple harms due to global warming, but we also have increasingly dire and reliable warnings that unless the underlying situation is corrected within a narrow temporal window of diminishing opportunity, the effects of climate change will cause a series of worsening events and impacts. These include extreme weather causing flooding, drought, heatwaves, and super-storms; sea levels rising; destruction of river systems and lakes; glacial melting and polar warming; unmanageable migratory flows; polarized citizenries leading to extremist politics, demagogic styles of political leadership, and deteriorating quality of democratic governance. We have possessed this knowledge for several decades, and most governmental responses remain deeply disappointing and what is worse, objectively menacing.

Helen Camakaris in a brilliantly perceptive article writes: “The existential risks we now face are largely the consequence of neoliberal capitalism and partisan politics, super-charging growth, greed, and short-term self-interest.”[See Camakaris, “Evolutionary Mismatch, Partisan Politics, and Climate Change: A Tragedy in Three Acts,” In This View of Life, March 9, 2021.] She sensibly concludes that the time has come to rethink the fundamentals of democracy and the economy, and act “to quiet the partisan rage that is currently tearing the US apart.” It is my view that this partisan rage together with the greed-fueled preoccupation with maximizing the efficiencies of capital at the expense of human wellbeing and habitat sustainability is additional to the causal explanation Camakaris provides, a product of historical circumstances and the form of world order that has been evolving since the middle of the 17th Century when it began to take shape in Europe.

Historical Circumstances

Two elements of the historical circumstances bear heavily on why the present context fails to take rational account of the scientific consensus and its evidence-based warnings about the future when it comes to climate change. The first of these circumstances relate to the outcome of the Cold War, which induced a triumphal mood in the West about the superiority of what was touted at the time as ‘market-based constitutionalism’ that resulted in privileging capital flows at the expense of people, giving rise to ‘economic globalization’ as guided by neoliberal ideology. As long as the Soviet Union was associated with a socialist alternative on national stages, the political class in the West, including its economic elites, felt obliged to supply a measure of social protection to their citizenry and to place some limits on the accumulation of wealth by the ultra-rich. With the Soviet collapse, countervailing ideological forces no longer existed to exert a restraining impact on economic and social policies, and the result was to appraise economic wellbeing by aggregate GDP statistics and corporate profitability. In other words, humanity and natural habitat are paying this enduring price for a distorted and shortsighted response by the political classes in the West, led by the United States, to the Soviet collapse and the related discrediting of socialism as an alternative.

The second historical circumstance of particular relevance to the difficulties associated with mobilizing a political consensus on climate change at a global level that adequately complements the scientific or expert consensus relates to the post-colonial character of intergovernmental relations at the UN and elsewhere. Newly independent countries in Asia and Africa either refused to be distracted in their efforts to give the highest policy priorities to rapid economic and social development or challenged whether their relationship to industrialization deserved to be burdened by constraints designed to keep global warming within tolerable limits. Indeed, the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere was predominantly brought about by industrialization in the West, yet the countries suffering most from climate change are in Africa and the Middle East, including the destruction of the agricultural foundation of their economic viability, prompting millions of climate refugees to flee their countries, and seek entry elsewhere to improve their livelihood prospects. The countries in the West assume scant responsibility, and when they do, it is not because of an acknowledgment of these causal connections of their behavior with migration flows, but as a hypocritical and purely discretionary humanitarian gesture displaying their high moral standards. Yet analyzing and negotiating safe limits on carbon emissions has largely ignored the underlying injustices arising from the historical antecedents of colonial governance, an aspect of which was keeping colonized peoples backward so that they retain their predominant role in the colonial era–providing raw materials and agricultural goods sought by the factories and lifestyles of the West. [See Deepak Nayyar, Resurgent Asia: Diversity in Development, Oxford University Press, 2019 on the de-development of Asia during the period of European colonialization.]

Dysfunctional Structures, Norms, and Ideologies

The failures of rational response to climate change also reflect the impacts of the deeply engrained and legitimated fragmentation of world order. There are many references to the efforts of ‘the global community’ to act and perform cooperatively, but behavioral patterns do not vindicate such rhetoric of solidarity. International institutions are overwhelmingly controlled by governments of sovereign states, whose representatives are beholden to national interests rather than either human or global interests. It could not be otherwise given the ideology of nationalism, ‘political realism,’ and geopolitical ambition that orients behavior toward the wellbeing of individual sovereign states, in other words maximizing what is good for the part rather than the whole.

Now it may be that the process of evolution, which has demonstrated that natural selection privileges cooperation, is in the early stages of manifesting an evolutionary jump ahead by the human species. It is possible that global cooperative potential is on the verge of breakthroughs, which if they occur, will only be adequately explained retrospectively being hidden from view until after their unexpected occurrence. As matters now stand there are not sufficient shared values at the global level to constitute community, and the cooperative alignments that are most robust in terms of commitment and funding take the form of alliances confronting adversary states.

This pattern was recently exemplified by the kind of vaccine diplomacy that illustrated the primary international realities of geopolitics and statism, the secondary reality of multi-state antagonistic clusters, and the tertiary reality of special interest private sector actors, especially the large vaccine manufacturers. Some civil society transnational actors are oriented toward holistic perspectives but exert almost no influence in settings where important global challenges are addressed, as for example, climate change, COVID pandemic, regulation of markets, migrant rights, and nuclear weapons.

Evolutionary Relevance

At first glance, the timelines of both biological and cultural evolution seem much too long to be relevant to unraveling the prospect for a timely, effective, and just response to the multiple challenges posed by climate change. And yet we cannot be certain that there has not been in progress over the course of antecedent decades and centuries natural selection events that incline toward the emergence of species identity along with an appreciation of the mutual benefits of collective cooperation at a global scale. In effect, humanity in various contexts seems increasingly aware that the tepid response to climate change, and perhaps other apocalyptic menaces to the future of humanity, are indeed dire news, having produced the first bio-ethical-ecological crisis in human history.

It is possible that the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, although falling short of what the scientific consensus prescribed with respect to reductions of carbon emissions necessary for assurances that a safe ceiling for global warming will be achieved, was a partial breakthrough with respect to collective action with response to climate change at a global level. It seemed a dramatic recognition by 196 governments of sovereign entities that collective action in the form of global cooperation was indispensable in view of the dangers confronting humanity, and to be achieved needed to take account of diverse capabilities, vulnerabilities, and experience of these state actors. Such an event constituted a global moment of universal recognition, although limited by the voluntary nature of participation and subject to withdrawal, could be understood as a manifestation of an emergent evolutionary trend. The withdrawal of the United States from the Agreement by the Trump Presidency in 2018 followed by the promise of a return to full participation in 2021 by the Biden Presidency can be interpreted in contradictory ways or as the ebb and flow of the underlying evolutionary reality. It may be best understood as revealing the opaqueness of evolution. In this instance, in relation to the fragility and weakness of moves toward global cooperative problem-solving or as signifying the need to modify behavior within the prevailing fragmented world order.

Because inter-governmental behavior continues to be driven by short-termism as well as nationalism, sovereign rights, and geopolitical ambition, it would seem that transnational civil society activism is faced with an evolutionary responsibility and opportunity to act more forcibly in support of a transition from statism to regionalism/globalism, with a corresponding appreciation at the state level that deference to international law and other mechanisms to contain militarism and capitalism serve a drastically revised view of ‘political realism’ and ‘geopolitical ambition.’ [See Ahmet Davutoglu, Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for World Order, Cambridge University Press, 2021; Robert C. Johansen, Where the Evidence Leads: A Realistic Strategy for Peace and Human Security, Oxford University Press, 2021; Richard Falk, Power Shift: On the New Global Order, Zed Books, 2016; also, Jeremy Brecher, Common Preservation in a Time of Mutual Destruction, PM Press, 2020; Brecher, Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual, PM Press, 2017.]

If there is to be a positive outcome to the bio-ethical-ecological crisis it will necessarily be more comprehensive than bridging the current gap between knowledge and action as reflected in the polarized politics within sovereign states that misdirects the popular imagination toward subsidiary concerns of national egoism, obscuring the unprecedented challenge to human wellbeing, and species survival. Also, of crucial importance is the parallel normative gap between neoliberal capital-driven ethics and eco-humanistic ethics expressive of an inclusive practice of justice responsive both to human rights and the rights of nature. [See Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth (2010) setting forth widely accepted normative frameworks.] If bold action is taken to bridge these gaps, we can begin to be somewhat hopeful about the prospects for overcoming the current ‘evolutionary mismatch,’ but not until then.

Richard Falk

Richard Falk

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London,  Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. Falk is currently acting as interim Director of the Centre of Climate Crime and Justice at Queen Mary. He directs the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published March 2021. He has been nominated annually for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2021.

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions on Iran, and the Maladies of World Order

12 May

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions on Iran, and the Maladies of World Order


[Prefatory Note: This post consists of my responses to three recent interviews with the Iranian journalist, Javad Herian-Nia, and published previously in Iran over the course of the last month. The text of my responses has been modified by subsequent developments and further reflections on my part.]


1-What will be effects of coronavirus on the current world order?

At this point, in the middle of the pandemic, any response is highly speculative. When speculating it seems helpful to distinguish between what we regard as probable outcomes as distinct from what would be desirable effects beneficial for humanity and sensitive to ecological concerns.

With respect to probable effects, I am aware of two broad sets of influential perspectives emerging, which admittedly somewhat confuse what is likely to happen with what we wish would happen. As near as I can tell from listening to preliminary American post-pandemic conjectures, private and public sector leaders are preoccupied with taking steps to restore the pre-pandemic dynamics, especially with regard to the economy, without substantial modifications beyond the recognition that governments should invest more resources in preparing national health systems for the lingering persistence and possible recurrence of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as other outbreaks of contagious disease.


It is important to appreciate that previously in this century there were several lethal epidemics (SARS, Ebola, avian flu), although this COVID-19 experience has a far greater human and societal impact for two main reasons: first, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 to be a ‘pandemic,’ which automatically focuses attention on the severity of the challenge; and secondly, the crisis has seriously afflicted countries in the West, which heightens world media and public attention, and ensures more effort to assess the experience from a world order perspective. This latter observation is particularly true for the United States, and possibly China, as both have become ‘global states,’ that is, States with an array of major political, economic, and social engagements that creates ‘presences’ far beyond national boundaries. The reality of ‘global states’ in the post-colonial era has not yet attracted the notice it deserves as altering the structure of state-centric world order.


What restoring pre-pandemic world order will mean is not entirely clear, and is somewhat contested, as to what were its essential features prior to this deeply dislocating experience. Most obviously, restoration would mean facilitating the rapid revival of transnational trade and capital flows, a renewed effort to reduce economic tensions that were rising to the level of ‘trade wars’ before the onset of the pandemic. Such a preferred model of a restored world overlooks the likely resistance of ultra-nationalist and protectionist trends in major States that include a deliberate retreat from neoliberal globalization. Such nationalistic repositioning was reinforced by negative reactions in many Western countries to the influx of refugees from combat zones and migrants seeking to raise their living standards above subsistence levels. The lockdowns during the health crisis also provided pretexts for relying on surveillance technologies, and generally led to greater social tolerance for authoritarian policies and practices, governance habits quite likely to persist after the pandemic phase of the disease has subsided, which has been the historical pattern of past pandemics so well depicted in Frank M. Snowden’s Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (2019).


These obstacles to reviving the ‘old normal’ will also be challenged by the widespread belief that many of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not become available to workers in a post-pandemic atmosphere as economies will take advantage of automation due to developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. Particularly in capitalist countries, past economic crises have been occasions for a streamlining of the labor force on the basis of more rigorous standards of worker efficiency. In so doing, profits margins are regained, even increased, while jobs are lost and high unemployment, especially at middle income levels, haunts the recovery process. There is little reason to doubt that this pattern will be repeated in the present circumstances, which included such drastic socio-economic dislocations, and more likely with take on more extreme characteristics.


A more prescriptive effort to restore the old world order based on stability and economic growth places emphasis on recreating the conditions that produced what is again embraced as past success worth reviving. Henry Kissinger, writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal, recommended an imitation of the strategies relied upon by the U.S. Government after the end of World War II, especially assertive American global leadership, a mobilization of resources to restore market vitality in the countries of the West. Such an approach would involve a new Atlanticism for countries in Europe  most adversely affected by the pandemic, and a strengthened health system as integral to future national, global, and regional security. This kind of assessment blends the probable with the desirable, but it also swims against the pre-pandemic tide of ultra-nationalism that placed stress on transactional bargains rather than inter-governmental cooperative problem-solving, which acknowledges global interests as a main component of national interests, given the realities of digital globalization, or the complexities of interconnectedness. Insofar as directed at Washington, any serious prospect of strong American global leadership along Kissingerian lines depends on replacing Trump with someone more responsive to the global scale challenges facing humanity and more capable in managing the public relations global diplomacy.

From my perspective, a desirable post-pandemic approach would definitely seek ‘a new normal’ that modify world order as we knew it. Primary attention would be given to meeting the pre-pandemic challenges of global inequality, climate change, extreme poverty, migration and asylum, and the myriad other policy concerns that were not being adequately addressed by the procedures of state-centric world order. The various failures of global leadership by the United States and the predatory excesses of post-Cold War capitalism make adjustments in light of eco-stability, human rights, and economic and social justice vital. Such a reorientation of international political behavior would also require the repudiation of militarist geopolitics and the abandonment of coercive diplomacy (including punitive sanctions), and their replacement by behavior exhibiting respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations, and greater reliance on procedures for peaceful conflict resolution. Such a reorientation would achieve a better balance in foreign policy between the sovereign rights of States and the global responsibility of the UN System to secure compliance with individual and collective rights, as well as encouraging ecological stewardship and climate justice. Such a visionary approach will strike many observers as utopian, but from another perspective such advocacy can be regarded as embodying a necessary ethical, security, and ecological response framework to the realities and threats, and opportunities, of the contemporary world, which if not addressed in a timely and equitable fashion will result in a tragic destiny for future generations.

2-Current world order is mostly based on neoliberalism and to some extent on political realist policymaking. What are the deficiencies of these approaches as revealed by coronavirus?

I would add a structural element to your way of summarizing current world order. It is the statist character of world order that has evolved over time from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Religious Wars in Europe, and gave rise to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state as the main building block of world order. This state-centric system of world order, originally a European regional arrangement, became gradually universalized as the dialectic between colonialism and anti-colonialism in the non-Western world unfolded in the twentieth century. This process established a strong consensus among governments that only States were eligible to become fully accredited participants in formal international politics. This criterion regulating status and participation in international political life also explains limiting membership in the United Nations to entities that qualify as States under international law, although there has been advocates of more inclusive participation, which would include regional actors and representative civil society actors. Colonialism imposed statist networks in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa with little attention to the antecedent experience of empire and colonial rule, thereby overlooking the reality of ethnic and traditional contours of natural political communities for the affected peoples. This has led these regions to endure continuous strife in the post-colonial world that has so far only been overcome by imposing authoritarian rule that achieves order by repressing resisting elements in the society, often supplemented by gross corruption at the apex of the governance pyramid.


A further aspect of this kind of Westphalian world order is the role of geopolitics, which here refers to the discretionary behavior of leading States that refuse to accept restraints on their freedom of maneuver externally, and reject any kind of accountability with regard to abuses occurring within their own country, thereby absolutizing territorial sovereignty. The global legalization of such rogue behavior is embedded in the UN Charter, most openly expressed by vesting a right of veto in the five permanent members of the Security Council, the only organ within the UN System with the authority to reach binding decisions. In effect, the UN Charter rather shockingly acknowledges the uncontrollability of the five political actors, although these are the states that most endanger international peace and security. Turkey has for a decade been challenging this kind of hegemonic arrangement by calling for global reform along constitutional lines, adopting the slogan ‘the world is greater than five’ to highlight its campaign to diminish the influence of geopolitics within the workings of the UN System.


As your question suggests, neoliberalism and political realism have played influential roles in giving shape to international life, but in both cases, at considerable cost from the perspective of human wellbeing, justice, and ecological stability. As earlier indicated, neoliberalism privileges the efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people, accentuating ecological harm on one side, and inducing extremes of inequality on the other side (26 individuals control more than half of the world’s wealth). The effect of this ideological shaping of behavior is to accentuate poverty, alienation, class conflict, while inclining governance at the level of the State toward autocratic, and often corrupt, leadership. Political realism, although coming in many forms, is imbued with the essential idea of promoting national interests, narrowly and selfishly conceived as excluding both global concerns and values related to peace and justice, as well as deference to international ethical and legal norms. Realists are in agreement that such a calculation of national interests in only reliable basis for the formation of foreign policy, reflecting an understanding that history is made by wars, giving pride of place to military capabilities. In this sense, prevailing forms of realism have become unrealistic to varying degrees spanning the political spectrum from the hard right to the internationalist liberal center. In our times we need to develop strong mechanisms of global problem-solving and robust methods of conflict resolution to meet such challenges as global warming, migration pressures, declining biodiversity, ecocide, and genocide. Political realism as diversely practiced remains anchored in seventeenth century conditions where autonomous territorial communities didn’t require or acknowledge any framework of restraint external to their realm of territorial authority, and changes did result mainly from militarism. Under twenty-first century conditions such realism has become dangerously out of touch with the severe and accumulating existential threats of the twenty-first century, as well as the mixed record of militarily driven foreign policies of geopolitical actors. The United States despite having the greatest war machine of all history has endured a disappointing record of political defeat in armed conflict since 1945. The European colonial powers and the Soviet Union did not fare any better when relying on military superiority. China after some border confrontations with neighboring countries, has pioneered new modes of imperial expansion not dependent on projecting military power overseas, except to some extent in island controversies in South Asian waters.


3- Although Corona has drawn the attention of countries to the realist approach and the principle of “self-help”, on the other hand, it has led to the inefficiency of the realist approach to security, which is based on “state security” and prioritizes It defines “the security of the ruling elite” and sees the issue of security as purely military. On the other hand, the outbreak of the virus has shown that militaristic economies do not provide public security(human security), and that governments should pay more attention to “human security” in the post-Coronavirus world,  which confirms that the overlapping of “state security” and “human security” is greater than ever. What do you think about this?


I would again call attention to my distinction between probable and desirable outcomes once the crisis atmosphere subsides. There is no doubt in my mind that a human security approach to ‘security’ would be a desirable way to incorporate the lessons of the COVID-19 ordeal. Yet I believe this to be a highly improbable outcome other than some strengthening of national preparedness for facing future epidemiological challenges, and possibly endowing the WHO with an early warning responsibility and additional capabilities. Even this focus is less a matter of upholding human security than it is a realization that governmental legitimacy depends on keeping the economy functioning to the extent possible when struck by epidemics. Efforts to minimize the impacts of disabling health challenges, which unlike climate change have an immediate concrete life-threatening and economic dislocating potential impact on every person on the planet, make the case for effective warning and mitigating capabilities irrefutable. Health disasters of the COVID-19 scale are current, and cannot be long evaded by politicians, at least after the bodies begin to pile up. Although the complacency of some governments in the West with regard to ignoring warnings and waiting too long to impose societal constraints suggests that many politicians seek to defer rational responses as much as possible.


Nevertheless, it is more important than ever for public intellectuals to insist upon a human security framework both to challenge the war system, including its enormous unproductive diversion of energies and resources, and to endow a human rights culture with political potency so as to ensure that state/society relations develop ethical standards implemented by the rule of law.

We live at a time when what seems necessary seems politically out of reach, which suggests that we should reach further, and admit that struggle for a better future is worthwhile because good surprises, as well as bad ones (for instance, the pandemic) can happen. In a sense, to meet the threats confronting the world we need to realize that our basic condition is radical uncertainty about what the future will bring. A fatalistic passivity that waits for the apocalypse to end it all is no more reasonable than is irresponsible reassurances that there is nothing to worry about because on the average people are living longer and better.

An important reflection on the reaction to the pandemic was the willingness of political elites of major countries to abandon austerity economics and free trillions to ensure the recovery of major private sector business operations like airlines and fossil fuel companies. In other words, complaints recently directed at progressive agendas, such as were advanced by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that had been greeted derisively with the dismissive ‘how will you pay for this (universal health care, eliminating student debt)?’ would be less easy to reject by appeals to fiscal discipline. This could make a big difference in future political campaigns if such a lesson of the pandemic is learned and vigorously invoked by progressive movements for change. There is as little reason to follow the guidance of Wall Street billionaires and hedge fund stewards of capital as there is to heed the belligerent guidance of Beltway thinktank gurus or Pentagon pleas for yet more funding.


4-If we accept that the post-Corona world order will be different from the existing one, will the changes be structural and fundamental ones? Which new meanings will be experienced as fundamental changes?



I think it is impossible to identify at this point what will be the post-Corona effects on global structures and the fundamental characteristics of world order. I believe that there is unlikely to be any significant effects on world order without prior seismic-scale challenges to the established order coming from political movements in major countries of the world. Neither the U.S. nor China, the former asserting itself via an outmoded reliance on military capabilities and the forcible penetration of foreign political spaces and the latter expanding its influence mainly by way of positive economic inducements, seem inclined to alter world order in ways that are structural and fundamental, but this perception might be mistaken. The U.S. seems somewhat open to a movement from below for drastic change aspiring for power, and shifting the policy focus of government closer to a human security agenda. The Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination arguably came close to gaining enough influence to mount such an effort, and it has pledged to continue pursing these goals by further augmenting its influence as a social and political movement. China has become a formidable global state by relying on ‘soft power,’ expansion of trade, economic growth, foreign economic assistance, and non-coercive diplomatic activism at the UN and elsewhere, although its success is starting to encounter a variety of pushbacks. Hard power geopolitics heavily depends on military capabilities for leverage and as a policy instrument, while soft power avoids political violence to the extent possible, without rejecting it on principle, conserving its resources for more productive applications, including global cooperation and human security. At the same time, with respect to internal politics, the U.S. ‘soft’ authoritarianism is more amenable to reformist changes and more adaptable to certain aspects of human security than is China ‘hard‘ variant of authoritarianism. From this perspective, the main energy for human security in the West is likely to come, if at all, from movements of people whereas in China and other deeply rooted authoritarian systems such energy for change would almost certainly have to start with some fracturing within governing elites.



Interview Questions from Javad Heiran-Nia (April 26, 2020) on

Humanitarian Aspects of Sanctions as Applied to Iran


  1. US officials have always stated that Iran’s humanitarian goods are exempted from sanctions. However, due to the sanctions and the change in the label of some of Iran’s sanctions on the nuclear issue and the placement of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction by the United States, their trade has been disrupted and foreign parties are reluctant to export humanitarian goods to Iran. How effective do you think changing the label of sanctions has been?


I believe it is hard to assess the connections between the relabeling of humanitarian supplies (food, medicine, medical equipment) in ways that lead them to be treated as encompassed by ‘sanctions’ that are being maintained despite pressures on state and society resulting from emergency challenges in Iran arising from the high level of cases (more than 80,000) and deaths (over 5,000) resulting from the Coronavirus Pandemic. In effect, this relabeling or reclassification is a means to deny humanitarian relief to Iran at a time that finds the national health system on the verge of being overwhelmed. It is a cruel practice that should be abandoned.



  1. In an recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Iranian sanctions planner “Richard Nephew” said complex rules were in place and that companies violating sanctions would face serious penalties. However, are companies interested in humanitarian trade with Iran?


The reality is that banks and many corporations are reluctant to engage in trade involving humanitarian exceptions to the sanctions regime because the commercial

gains of doing are relatively minor. Incentives to do so are generally far outweighed by a fear that the U.S. Government might respond in ways that could be costly to the wide spectrum of more profitable operations of an international company. The official tone of Treasury Department regulatory oversight seems deliberately intended to discourage humanitarian economic activities despite its mixed message of claiming that humanitarian goods sent to Iran are not subject to sanctions and suppliers will not be penalized: “Compliance with all of the conditions of a general license is required to qualify for the authorization.  Without perfect compliance, a U.S. person would be conducting a prohibited transaction. Even an innocent or accidental transgression may subject a U.S. person to civil penalties such as fines.”



  1. Medical equipment companies find easier ways to make a profit, especially when the world is facing a pervasive disease. On the other hand, the transfer of humanitarian aid does not bring much benefit to most international banks, shipping companies and insurance companies, which they want to ignore the risk of sanctions. What is your opinion on this and how effective do you think sanctions are in disrupting the treatment of coronavirus in Iran?


It is difficult for an outsider to evaluate the effect of imposing bureaucratic burdens and potential penalties on doing business with Iran that consists of the sale of medical equipment.

I cannot say whether the shortages of ventilators and other equipment in Iraanian hospitals can be attributed to the indirect impact of sanctions, but it seems to follow from the ‘maximum pressure’ approach that Pompeo and Trump have reaffirmed in the midst of the pandemic, receiving criticism from more liberal media outlets, human rights organizations, and several of the more progressive members of Congress. In sum, Pompeo/Trump seek to condition sanctions relief on Iran’s willingness to surrender its political goals by altering its foreign policy in the Middle East, which is a clear interference with the sovereignty of Iran. In the background, it should be appreciated that sanctions even absent the pandemic are a form of economic warfare inconsistent with the spirit and substance of contemporary international law that outlaws aggression in all its forms. If world order was more shaped by law, and less by geopolitics, sanctions would be imposed on the U.S., and humanitarian relief would be sought by Washington to cope with the demands of the pandemic.



Interview Qs from Javad Nia-Herian (March 15, 2020)



  1. What are the most important reasons for the rise of right-wing politics and extreme nationalists in Europe and America?

Many speculations exist as to why these unexpected developments have occurred over the course of recent years. There is no doubt that a core explanation is the widespread alienation arising from the effects of neoliberal globalization, which has distributed the benefits of economic activity and technological innovation unfairly, making the very rich even richer while leaving the great majority of people in society worse off. Such a pattern seems systemic as it happening in so many countries, although the mix of reasons vary depending on national circumstances. A second set of explanations arises from the refugee and migrant flows that have arisen in the course of the long civil strife in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, which are perceived to challenge the social and ethnic cohesion of many European societies. Closely related to ‘conflict migrants’ are ‘climate refugees’ who seek to achieve a tolerable life by moving to more affluent countries, which reinforce resistance in these countries based on labor pressures to retain jobs and keep wages at higher levels, as well as concerns about breaching civilizational identity. Against this background, an increasing segment of the public in Europe and North America is ready to support leaders that promise to protect the interests of the territorial citizenry and blame economic globalization for lost jobs and income inequalities due to its policies of privileging the flow and efficiency of capital over protecting the wellbeing of people. In this sense, large portions of the public in these societies seem responsive to explanations of their distress by leaders with highly nationalistic viewpoints, and seem ready to give up democratic values by supporting autocratic and chauvinistic leaders that violate human rights. This pattern is not only visible in the West, but also in other parts of the world, including India, Brazil, Philippines.


  1. One of the most important issues related to the developments in the Middle East was the announcement of the US withdrawal from the region. But in practice this has not happened. Do you think the US really intends to pull its troops out of the region? And if so, why?


It does seem that military disengagement from the region was a genuine policy objective of Trump at the beginning of his presidency and a main campaign promise in 2016, but there is friction coming from the main forces that have controlled American foreign policy ever since 1945, what I call ‘the three pillars’: Wall St., Pentagon, and a bit later, Israel, more or less in this order. How this friction will affect the timing and rate of withdrawal probably depends on many factors, including the further unfolding of the current overarching health crisis, and whether signals of confrontation or accommodation come from Iran. Israel’s opposition to American military disengagement in the region is also influential. It is difficult to predict at this point, but unless there are unexpected regional flareups military disengagement should proceed if Trump remains president, and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections may hasten the process. The redeployment of American troops from three bases in Iraq after recent rocket attacks, while not an instance of withdrawal, did seem to move in the direction of disengagement. Ironically, Biden’s election as president is likely to produce a revival of ‘liberal internationalism’ as the marker of U.S. global leadership, and could be accompanied by an increased military engagement in the Middle East/


  1. One of the major problems facing the US now and in the future is China. Various Western security documents, including a statement from the Munich Security Conference with China, have been cited as a threat. How will America be able to contain China? Will the containment policy work?

The future of U.S./China relations is the most challenging geopolitical issue of our time. It matches two global states from distinct civilizational outlooks. The U.S. and China are both what I call ‘global states,’ whose contours and even presence, cannot be assessed by territorial borders. Both have a global non-territorial reach that no other political actor possesses, but there the similarity ends. The U.S. depends primarily on its military capabilities to punish and coerce those states that it regards as hostile to its global ambitions. Iran (and Venezuela) is the current leading example, as victimized by ‘the maximum pressure’ approach based on threats and punitive sanctions. In contrast, China has brilliantly extended its influence and increased its prosperity by reliance mainly on non-military instruments of expansion, including trade, investment, and foreign assistance. The two global states exemplify an encounter between hard and soft power foreign policies, giving rise to a unique rivalry in the history of international relations.


This rivalry does pose risks of a new cold war or even war in the sense of armed combat, especially in relation to the disputed sovereignty of South Asian seas. When an ascending power threatens the previously dominant political actor, as China is now threatening to overtake the U.S., there are many instances in history, where war has resulted, most frequently by the leading state seeking to defeat the challenger while it still seems to have the upper hand. Of course, the prospect of a war fought with nuclear weapons leads to greater caution on the part of leaders than in the past, but it does not give us confidence that current leaders will act prudently and rationally under pressure in a crisis, or if perceiving a threat. The risks of stumbling into war by miscalculation are considerable, given how unwanted wars started in the past.


I am not sure whether ‘containment’ is relevant to fashioning a Western response to the Chinese challenge. Containment was a doctrine developed to deter military expansion, initially of the Soviet Union. It was in a geopolitical context in which two hard power leading states were in competition, economically and ideologically throughout the world. Containing a soft power global state such as China is already taking the form of trade wars and efforts to curtail Chinese penetration of foreign markets. To an alarming extent, this kind of confrontation has accelerated during the Trump presidency, fueled by the adoption of a nationalistic and transactional policy agenda, blame game tactics in the midst of the pandemic that display a willingness by Trump to raise international risks of conflict for the sake of avoiding responsibility for not handling the COVID-19 experience in a responsible manner.

  1. The outbreak of the Coronavirus points out that there are threats that are more easily resolved through cooperation among countries. Will the international community learn from the damage caused by the spread of the virus, and will we see increased international cooperation to address global threats?

The incentivizing of global cooperation may become the silver lining of the COVID-19 challenge. It has become obvious to even the most nationalist viewpoints that we help ourselves by helping others, and hurt ourselves by hurting others. Only by cooperating in good faith can constructive responses to the spread of this virus be achieved. What is true in relation to the Coronavirus Pandemic is also true for other issues of global scope: extreme poverty, climate change, global migration, biodiversity, militarism and nuclear weaponry. In these latter instances, the benefits of cooperation are less obvious, especially for the rich and powerful.

For thiss reason, extending the experience in relation to health policy to other policy domains may not be so easy. The transfer to these other areas is rendered difficult, or impossible, if the benefits of cooperation are uneven, less immediate, and more abstract. Also, governmental resistance is likely to occur whenever there are special interests embedded in bureaucratic structures and the private sector. This resistance arises, in part, from continuing to regard international relations as a zero-sum, win/lose contest rather than an arena in which seeking win/win outcomes bring the more enduring gains for all.

  1. What will be the economic impacts of the Coronavirus on the world economy? How will this affect the upcoming US presidential election?

It is too soon to tell what the economic impacts will be, but it seems as if these impacts will be severe and long lasting, both for the world economy and all national economies, especially hitting hard the economically most vulnerable parts of the population, which usually include the disfavored minorities. There will be variations from state to state depending on their resources, the discipline of different societies, and the skill of government officials. It appears at present as though the world economy will experience a collapse comparable to the situation that produced the Great Depression of the 1930s, and contributed to the rise of Fascism and the onset of World War II. This current Coronavirus challenge is unfolding in unprecedented ways, and our assessments must be tentative and frequently updated as it proceeds on uncharted territory.


The same cautionary attitude shapes my response to the effects on the November elections in the United States. As of now, the pandemic would seem to hurt Trump’s chances of reelection because the leader at the time of downturn is held responsible by many voters for results. If the economy is doing well, the incumbent president reaps the benefits, whether deservedly on not, while if it is doing badly, existing leaders are held responsible whether or not at fault. In addition, this interpretation is reinforced by the fact that many Americans, including some Republicans, felt that Trump handled the challenge badly, especially at its crucial early stages, belittling the seriousness of the spread of such a lethal disease, and thereby postponing self-isolating steps to slow the spread of the disease. This negligent slowness of response increased the number of cases and fatalities. But there are many unknowns between now and the elections. If the situation does not improve, or worsens, it is easy to imagine a situation where the elections are postponed in accord with the state of emergency, while if the situation unexpectedly improves, Trump might easily win reelection, especially if opposed by such a weak candidate as Joe Biden.

  1. What do you know about the most important international developments in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East over the past year?

Such a question is so broad that it is difficult to answer briefly, but I will try. Without doubt, as my earlier responses suggest, the Coronavirus Pandemic overshadows all other recent developments both by the magnitude of its health challenges and by the gravity of its non-health impacts. Other international developments of note are the continuing ordeal of vulnerable minorities, including the Rohingya in Myanmar, Kashmiris in India, and the Palestinian people, who additionally are likely to be the least protected against the ravages wrought by the virus. In addition, the struggles in several Middle East countries exhibit continuing chaos, massive displacement, and ongoing violence. Syria, Yemen, and Libya continue to experience chaos and strife without any serious capacity to restore peace and normalcy. As well, in the same Middle East region there has been a second wave of popular challenges to the established order in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Algeria, as well as nearby Sudan that suggest that the conditions that led to the Arab Spring a decade earlier continues to produce social unrest and political protest. A final set of developments can be associated with the disappointing failures to move forward with respect to the threats associated with climate change despite fires of savage intensity in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and across huge tracts of land in Australia. These threats highlighted the urgency of a cooperative approach to issues of ecological balance, while the behavior of important states seemed to produce a regressive, head-in-the-sand trend toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist foreign policies and transactional geopolitics, thoroughly dysfunctional from a global problem-solving perspective. The relative impotence of the UN, due to the geopolitical impasse between the U.S. and China, aggravated by Trump’s ‘America First’ orientation, missed a rare opportunity to build renewed confidence in the UN as an actor capable to some extent of upholding human interests of the planet as a whole.