Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

Biden’s Foreign Policy and Nuclear Weapons: A Dialogue

5 May

☰[PREFATORY NOTE: Previously published online in Counterpunch, May 4, 2021. Biden’s international bipartisan approach risks a renewed arms race in a political and economic atmosphere that makes it unaffordable as well as acutely dangerous. My conversation with David Krieger explores some of the ramifications.]

Biden’s Foreign Policy and Nuclear Weapons: a Dialogue

BY RICHARD FALK – DAVID KRIEGERFacebookTwitterRedditEmail

B61 nuclear warheads in storage. Photo: US DOE.

Ricard Falk: The humane and competently handled responses that the Biden presidency has pursued with respect to the COVID challenge, mitigating economic burdens on the poor, empathy for abuses of persons of color, and moves toward proposing a massive infrastructure program are uplifting changes in policy and leadership of the country, especially welcomed after enduring Trump for four years. Even the handling of the seasonal surge of asylum aspirants at the Mexican border, although disturbing, exhibits a presidential approach seeking to find ways to reconcile ethics with practicalities of governance. Yet if we turn from these impressive beginnings at home to the early indications of Biden’s foreign policy the picture seems bleaker, and this includes our primary focus on nuclear weaponry.

Of course, it makes perfect political sense for Biden to tackle these domestic challenges first, and avoid distractions that would arise if the government were to pursue international policies that agitated pro-military Republicans and even so-called moderate Democrats. To get his emergency programs past legislative obstacles in a robust form required mustering as much unity across the political spectrum as possible, yet even with this acknowledgement I feel uncomfortable about what Biden has so far done with respect to foreign policy.  I am worried by the Biden stress on restoring the alliance/deterrence approach to global security as if the Cold War never ended. In slightly veiled language that conveys a militarist spirit Biden expresses these sentiments in a cover letter to his March 2021 Interim National Security Strategy Guidance official document, advancing as “..a core strategic proposition: the United States must renew its enduring advantages so that we can meet today’s challenges from a position of strength.”

Apparently without forethought Biden called Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, ‘a killer,’ and lacking ‘a soul,’ then followed up by rejecting Moscow’s temperate call for a diplomatic meeting between the leaders to address disagreements between the two countries. Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have followed suit with interactions in their Alaska meetings with Russian counterparts that were calculated to raise tensions. Such postures are all about projecting American strength and conveying to others a dangerous geopolitical disposition that refuses to back down in crisis situations that are certain to arise, and for these important public figures, it means encounters with China and Russia.

When it comes to the nuclear agenda, despite agreeing to renew the START Treaty for another five years, preliminary glimpses of Biden’s general outlook seem driven by viewing America’s global experience as one of confronting, deterring, and overcoming. More concretely, it seems to involve reconstructing the Cold War atmosphere of friends and enemies, which is accompanied by national self-love, American exceptionalism, and a strong tendency to blame others for whatever goes wrong in the world. We lecture others, while bitterly resent being criticized, especially along similar lines.

It is not that the shortcomings of Russia and China are unworthy of concern, but not less so than systematic racism, gun violence, and persisting poverty in the United States, national deficiencies that are well within our capabilities to correct. Foreign policy aims are cynically disclosed by whether human rights violations are obscured as with Saudi Arabia and India or stridently asserted as with Russia and China.

In such an atmosphere to have the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Charles Richard proclaim that relations with these two adversaries of the U.S. is likely to produce a regional crisis in the months ahead is a signal that should not be ignored. Worse, Richard adds that given the stakes and force postures in the South China Seas, such a faceoff could quickly escalate to the point of provoking a nuclear war. The admiral is not inclined to suggest ways to reduce such risks of confrontation. Instead, he issues a solemn assertion that it is imperative for the U.S. to shift the focus of its security planning from the supposedly prevailing idea that the use of nuclear weapons is not possible to the view that such use “is a very real possibility.” [See Richard, “Forging 21st Century Strategic Deterrence,” Proceedings of United States Naval Institute, Feb. 2021.] The failure to repudiate or to tone down such a public statement might well be causing panic among strategic planners in Beijing and Moscow.

It seems Inexcusable to let matters move so quickly in such menacing and unacceptable directions. Not only is Admiral Richard’s language chilling, but it is being used to plead for increased spending devoted to the modernization of the U.S. already outsized nuclear arsenal. I think we at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation should be depicting an alternative denuclearizing future with all the energy and resources at our disposal. As serious as are the domestic challenges we must remain vigilant, doing our best to avoid the scenarios that Admiral Richard projects as probable, and even more so, the way he envisions nuclearizing responses to such geopolitical challenges should they arise. Such conjectures are made more menacing if account is taken of recent Pentagon simulations that suggest that China’s regional naval prowess is such that if war making erupts China is likely to prevail if the confrontation is confined to conventional weaponry.

Is it already too late to awaken Biden and his entourage to this heightened nuclear risk? Let’s hope we never find out? To be clear, I would argue that this overarching issue commands our immediate attention, but there are other pressing concerns and opportunities for those of us devoted to achieving a world without nuclear weapons as a necessary and attainable goal.

David Krieger: Biden embarked on the presidency with a full and pressing domestic agenda, starting with bringing the Covid-19 pandemic under control in the U.S., and dealing with an economy in serious trouble as a consequence of the pandemic. In addition, Biden has pushed forward legislation on rebuilding infrastructure in the country and in support of voting rights for all Americans.  He has been ambitious and determined in pursuing his domestic agenda, but has so far paid little attention to foreign policy.

Biden’s choices for Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have been from the foreign policy establishment, individuals who support, as does Biden, a strong U.S. nuclear posture based in Cold War thinking.  You raise some worrisome examples of expressions of nuclear arrogance toward Russia and China, which demonstrate more of a taunting attitude than the compassion and empathy that Biden has expressed toward victims of Covid, mass shootings, and poverty.

Biden should be commended for acting quickly upon assuming the presidency to extend the New START treaty with Moscow.  He has not, however, brought the U.S. back into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and from which Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018.  Nor has he pursued relations with North Korea concerning their nuclear weapons program.  On balance, it appears that Biden has not given much attention to foreign policy matters and that his default position is a Cold War stance based upon nuclear deterrence, and a world divided into alliance partners (friends) and adversaries (enemies). This is a dangerous posture because nuclear deterrence is not guaranteed to work and, in fact, cannot be proven to work because it is not possible to prove a negative (something does not happen because something happens).  Nuclear deterrence is based on threats of nuclear use, which could encourage one side to act first in launching nuclear weapons at an adversary before the adversary launches first.

I doubt that Biden or those around him have seriously considered the critique of nuclear deterrence and simply accept it at face value.  Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev concluded that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”  Biden seems comfortable basing U.S. security on a policy of nuclear strength.  But strength in the form of nuclear deterrence is extremely dangerous.  A nuclear war could begin by malice, mistake, miscalculation, or madness.  Of these, only malice is even possibly subject to nuclear deterrence. Mistake, miscalculation and madness are not influenced by nuclear deterrence posture (threat of nuclear retaliation).

I believe that Biden is a good and decent man who is guided in his life and leadership by compassion and empathy. Nonetheless, he has not shown up to now that he brings those traits to bear on U.S. nuclear policy.  He must be pressed to understand the global dangers of policy based upon U.S. nuclear dominance. Such a policy, although it has been U.S. policy since the end of World War II, could fail catastrophically, were nuclear deterrence to fail. It is as if we were playing a game of nuclear roulette with the gun pointed at the heart of humanity. This is the message that the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and other like-minded groups must convey to Biden. If we are to reduce the dangers of standing at the nuclear precipice, he must bring as much compassion and leadership to U.S. nuclear policy as he has shown he is capable of bringing to U.S. domestic policy.

What do you see as the specific policy initiatives that we should press for in the area of foreign and nuclear policy?

Falk: I don’t want to come across as someone who has only one arrow in his quiver, but I believe the danger of a confrontation with China in the South China Seas poses the highest risk of nuclear warfare since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I recall no prior occasion where top military officials were arguing in public that a regional confrontation with China was not only probable, but that the U.S. naval capabilities would not be able to avoid defeat in such combat if conducted with conventional weaponry. Since an American defeat at the hands of China would be an unacceptable option, preparation for the use of nuclear weaponry should be seen by American strategists as probable, imperative, and strategically necessary. All indications are that China regards this region off its coast as properly within its sphere of influence, and would be unlikely to back off if confronted either mistakenly or deliberately. We know further that both sides have engaged in provocative activity in the region to convey their commitment to defend strategic interests, which could easily have produced a military encounter due to bluff or miscalculation, if not by deliberate intention.

What is disturbing is Biden and Blinken’s failure, given these risks, to seek a de-escalation of tensions, but have acted in directly the opposite manner. I don’t share your sense that the Biden presidency has not accorded a significant amount of attention to foreign policy. Throughout his campaign and in comments since in the White House three connected ideas have been stressed: (1) making a great effort to restore a bipartisan consensus in foreign policy with a revived emphasis on alliance diplomacy of the sort that flourished during the Cold War; (2) treating China as a prime adversary because it challenges U.S. economic and technological primacy in the world, and adheres to an alien ideology that includes the oppression of the Uyghur minority; when U.S. foreign policy stresses human rights is wants to inflame tensions, when it wants to nurture allies it shuts up—for example, silence about the Modi discriminatory moves against Muslims in India or Sisi’s persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; (3) the combination of (1) + (2), points to rising geopolitical tensions and an alarming dependence on nuclear weapons to ensure a favorable balance; this is enough for me to reach the conclusion that a pre-crisis atmosphere exists between these two globally dominant states that must be exposed, and bold steps taken with no time to waste, seeking peaceful coexistence with China (and Russia) coupled with a tangible readiness to cooperate on meeting the challenges of climate change.

I do not want to evade your invitation with regard to specific steps that would have denuclearizing effects. I have long been supportive of seeking to engage nuclear weapons states in a joint pledge of No First Use, and if that were not forthcoming, then a bilateral pledge along such lines by the United States and Russia, the two countries with 90% of the nuclear warheads in existence. Such a step, accompanied by adjustments in doctrine, deployments, and strategic planning would considerably reduce the risks of stumbling into a nuclear war and would go part way to repudiate the unconscionable development of first use weaponry and missions, as well as the failure to take the immediate step of confining deterrence to a situation of ultimate self-defense, thereby partially conforming to the views of the International Court of Justice as expressed by the majority in the rendering of 1996 Advisory Opinion.

A second specific step would be to restore the JCPOA Nuclear Agreement with Iran as you suggest. Again, I think that rather than explain the failure of Biden to move constructively to undo the damage done by Trump’s withdrawal by inattentiveness, the hard bargaining stance taken by the U.S. is an attempt to be responsive to Israeli and Saudi pressures, as well as to avoid giving rise to distracting controversies at home.

Let me conclude by feeling less positive about Biden’s political profile. I do, like you, as I earlier indicated, commend his sensitive and energetic responses to the pandemic, the need for equity in government efforts to hasten an economic recovery, and thinking big on infrastructure. And yet I don’t see evidence in his past for an optimistic rendering of either his policies or character. He is the political variant of ‘a company man’ as near I can tell. Recall Kamala Harris’ acerbic takedown of Biden during an early campaign debate. He not only supported the Iraq War in 2003, he championed the public and Congressional mobilization for it as chair of the relevant Senate Committee; he was always a reliable proponent of large peacetime military budgets, a Cold Warrior in all respects, who was also compliant with Wall Street’s agenda, and certainly did not do himself proud during the Clarence Thomas hearings while presiding over the pillorying of Anita Hill. Let’s hope this past is not a prelude to his foreign policy future. Yet we should refrain from canceling his complicities in some of America’s worst past political moments. We can forgive, but we are foolhardy if we forget.

Krieger: I share your concern that a confrontation between China and the U.S. could escalate into a nuclear war, but the same holds true of a confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir or a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine.  There are any number of ways in which a nuclear war could be initiated and, so long as nuclear arsenals exist, escalation of a conflict to nuclear war is always a possibility.  De-escalation of tensions in a nuclear-armed world is always called for, but even more important is recognizing the chronic danger of nuclear weapons in the world and taking actions to move away from the precipice of nuclear catastrophe by committing to and developing a plan for moving to nuclear zero.  I am most interested in what actions need to be taken now to achieve the goal of nuclear zero.  In other words, what actions must be taken to assure that the world is on the way to a place where fear of nuclear war is matched by steps leading to total nuclear disarmament. Thus far, Biden has shown no inclination to move in this direction. He has not opposed such steps, but neither has he proposed them, For the most part he has been silent on issues related to nuclear policy and his silence has been worrisome.

You mention that one step toward nuclear sanity would be a pledge of No First Use of nuclear weapons.  This is a controversial step in that it seems to give some legitimacy to second use (retaliatory use) of nuclear weapons. Still, though, it is the case that if no country used nuclear weapons first, there would be no use at all, except for the possibility of mistake or accident, which would remain a serious problem. A further critique of No First Use is its reliance on a pledge, which could be broken. The best way to deal with the danger of breaking the pledge would be to accompany the pledge with deployment strategies that make first use far more difficult, such as separating warheads from delivery vehicles, as I believe is still done by China.  Further, in the case of the U.S., it would be appropriate to dismantle and destroy all land-based nuclear-armed missiles, since, as fixed targets, they are “use them or lose them” weapons.

It was reported that Barack Obama wanted to make a pledge of No First Use near the end of his presidency, but this idea received considerable push-back from his national security team.  It would be interesting to know what position Biden took on the possibility of a U.S. No First Use pledge. Regardless, though, of where Biden stood on this issue then, it should be pressed on him now or, even better, he should be pressed to make a pledge of No Use of nuclear weapons.  This would be an even larger step toward nuclear abolition, demonstrating that the U.S. had no plans to use these omnicidal weapons and, in that way, demonstrating serious leadership toward the goal of nuclear zero.  The push-back for this step would be that it would likely cause the states under the U.S. nuclear umbrella to develop their own nuclear arsenals.

In addition to restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), there is much more restoring of agreements that should be done.  Trump pulled the U.S. out the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, which eliminated a whole class of missiles.  Trump also pulled the U.S. out of the Open Skies Agreement, a confidence building agreement between the U.S., many European countries, and Russia, which allows for overflights of each other’s territories. Additionally, George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia.  These treaties were important means of restraint of nuclear arms races.  They should be restored and expanded.

There is much more that Biden could do if he had the inclination to protect U.S. security by moving toward eliminating the nuclear threat to the U.S. and the world.  He could, for example, make a pledge of No Launch on Warning, in order to protect against launching to a false warning. He could change U.S. policy so that the president no longer has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. He could stop plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and use the one trillion dollars saved to support his plans for replacing infrastructure and supporting social welfare programs.

Biden has given little indication as of now that the issues of nuclear catastrophe and nuclear policy are on his mind.  But, as I said previously, he has been focusing on eradicating the Covid pandemic and on his domestic agenda. You are right to say that we should not forget that Biden has made some unfortunate decisions, such as supporting the initiation of the Iraq War, during his long political career. Regardless, he is who we have as president, and he is certainly far more thoughtful and rational than his predecessor. He may not be ideal, but we have no choice but to try to influence his nuclear policies in the direction of nuclear sanity. I think the most important thing that we could do is to challenge the efficacy of nuclear deterrence. If we can successfully do this, it opens the door to moving the U.S. to play a leadership role in seeking the abolition of all nuclear weapons, as it is required to do under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Falk: I agree with all that you propose in your last response, and agree that those who favor denuclearization and the abolition of nuclear weaponry should suspend final judgment on whether Biden, once that the domestic challenges have been addressed, would seem responsive to some of the points of emphasis that you encourage. My supposition is that he is so much a product of the Cold War mentality that he will not be willing to question the continuing reliance on a deterrence role for nuclear weapons beyond adapting its delimitation to the present realities of political rivalry. His imaginary featuring an American-led global alliance of democratic states also presupposes deterrence to reassure allies such as Japan, South Korea, and others that the U.S. security umbrella remains trustworthy enough so that other governments will not feel a need for obtaining their own national nuclear option. In other words, deterrence and non-proliferation are tied together in what could be described as ‘a suicidal knot.’

I would add two issues to those you have proposed. First of all, I think it would be opportune to argue for either the good faith implementation of the NPT as interpreted by the ICJ Advisory Opinion in 1996 at least at the level of the majority decision, which called unanimously for adherence to Article VI of the treaty. This would have the advantage of putting not only the question of nuclear disarmament diplomacy at the top of the political agenda, but would also look toward a more general international obligation to seek the demilitarization of International relations more generally. It often forgotten that Article VI mandates ‘general and complete disarmament’ as well as ‘nuclear disarmament.’

If Biden refuses such a course of action, then it would be appropriate for non-nuclear states to threaten to withdraw from the NPT if compliance with Article VI is not forthcoming within two years. The movement for nuclear zero should make clear that the record of the nuclear weapons states has been to treat these Article VI requirements as ‘useful fictions’ rather than as an integral element in the treaty bargain between the nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states. It would also be analytically helpful to make clear that NPT has been supplemented by an American-led geopolitical regime of ‘enforcement’ that denies certain states their Article X right of withdrawal, and as applied is relied upon to justify sanctions against North Korea and Iran, which constitute unlawful threats and uses force in circumstances other than self-defense, violating the core prohibition of the UN Charter set forth in Article 2(4).

In other words, the NPT was drafted to reflect an acceptance of a denuclearization agenda, but it has been geopolitically interpreted over its more than half century of existence from an arms control perspective that seeks to lower some costs and risks of nuclearism but implicitly rejects the treaty premise of denuclearization. We at the NAPF can contribute to vital public education by making this understanding clear, and demystifying the behavior of nuclear weapons states that rhetorically affirm denuclearization while operationally pursuing security in a manner consistent with the logic of nuclearism, including the retention of deterrence as an indispensable element. At the very least, the next NPT review conference tentatively rescheduled for August 2021 should examine adherence to Article VI in a systematic and high-profile manner, and perhaps the diplomatic practice surrounding Article X as well.

Closely related, is the status of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), with 86 signatories, which entered into force earlier in 2021 after the receipt by the UN of the 50thratification. The five permanent members of the Security Council have removed any doubt about their posture toward nuclear weaponry by issuing a joint statement opposing the philosophy underlying TPNW, and essentially opting for the benefits of deterrence, which would be lost if the comprehensive prohibition of all aspects of nuclearism were to be implemented. The anti-nuclear movement throughout the world, despite its many differences, should seek unity through supporting ratification by all sovereign states of TPNW, and most of all the nuclear weapons states. I would hope that an argument to the effect could be made, possibly by a widely circulated statement endorsed by a range of moral authority figures, from William Perry and Jerry Brown to Dan Ellsberg and David Krieger. It would lead, I believe, to a necessary national debate that would alert the public to the dangers of the present structure of nuclearism and point to the existence of a preferred alternative peaceful path to enhanced global security at reduced cost.

My final point is to suggest that we are now at the early stages of a major geopolitical reconfiguration of global relations. It seems likely that the near future will bring either a new form of bipolarity pitting the West against China, and possibly Russia, or an acceptance of coexistence among major states as the basis for multilateral problem-solving with respect to such global challenges as climate change, biodiversity, industrial agriculture and fishing, worldwide migration, and transnational crime. This kind of global cooperative order will not materialize if a regional confrontation in the South China Seas occurs between the U.S. and China, and especially not if nuclear weapons are threatened or used to avoid a U.S. defeat. Such a scenario, even if its occurrence is conjectural, is an added reason to deescalate frictions with China as a foreign policy priority. Martin Sherwin in his fine book, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2021) convincingly documents his central finding that it was dumb luck that saved the world from a nuclear war occurring in the course of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Let’s at least learn to be prudent before our luck as a nation and species runs out.

Krieger: You add two treaties, one relatively old and one relatively new, to the set of options available to Biden that could lead to progress on nuclear abolition.  The older of the two treaties is the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with its Article VI obligations of good faith negotiations to end the nuclear arms race at an early date, for nuclear disarmament, and for general and complete disarmament. Article VI was the quid pro quo for on the part of the nuclear weapons states for nonproliferation on the part of the non-nuclear weapon states.  It was never intended, at least by the non-nuclear weapon states, for the NPT to be the justification for setting up a permanent structure of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” and Article VI was the means by which the playing field would be leveled in achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.  The problem with Article VI is that it has never been pursued in any serious or sustained fashion by the nuclear weapons states.

When the parties to the NPT met in 1995 for a review and extension conference, 25 years after the treaty entered into force, it was already clear that the nuclear weapons states, and their allies under their nuclear umbrella, were not acting in good faith on Article VI.  Nonetheless, the nuclear weapons states and their allies argued for and achieved an indefinite extension of the treaty rather than a series of shorter extensions contingent upon progress on the Article VI obligation of good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.  I strongly agree with you that the public needs to be educated on the actual bargain of the NPT, and the behavior of the nuclear weapons states toward their end of the bargain needs to be demystified and exposed to public scrutiny.  It may be that Biden is too much of a cold warrior to play a leadership role on this, but we need to try to influence both him and the public under any circumstances.  The longer the Article VI obligations remain unfulfilled, the more likely it becomes that a bad nuclear outcome will ensue, by accident or design.  As I have said before, the nuclear status quo is akin to playing nuclear roulette with the gun pointed at the heart of humanity.

The second treaty you refer to, the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), is a relatively new treaty.  It is a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, and was achieved as a result of a civil society campaign led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which lobbied and worked with non-nuclear weapon states to create and support the treaty.  The treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 2017, and entered into force on January 22, 2021.  The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation was one of some 500 member organizations in ICAN, and shared along with the other member organizations the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

You are certainly right that the nuclear weapons states have put on a full-court press to oppose this nuclear ban treaty, and therefore we must do all we can to educate the public on the existence and importance of the treaty.  If we could spark a national debate on the treaty, it could take us a long way toward changing attitudes about nuclear weapons and the need to abolish them before they abolish us.

Upon considerable reflection, it still remains hard to understand why weapons that could destroy civilization and possibly the human species have been so small a part of our national discussion, and the leadership of the country seems so reliant upon this weaponry.  Nuclear deterrence is not a shield; nor is it a reasonable justification for threatening or committing mass murder. It is a strategy that puts a target on every man, woman and child in the nuclear weapons states, with ripple effects endangering all of humanity.  Until these weapons are abolished we are all at risk of nuclear annihilation.  The leaders of the nuclear weapons states seem to have learned very little about nuclear dangers or risks over the decades since they were first used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Our luck has held since then, but such luck is not guaranteed to continue. There have been many close calls, many near nuclear disasters.

Biden may be, as you say, most comfortable as a cold warrior, but his compassion could move him to explore alternatives to nuclear deterrence, which could result in new hope to end the scourge that nuclear weapons pose to humanity and other forms of life.  There is still time to bring about change, moving us back from the precipice of annihilation, and this must serve as a source of hope.  Biden could take the all-important step of convening the leaders of the nuclear weapons states in a nuclear abolition summit to chart a path to move from the Nuclear Age to nuclear zero, to change the course of our nuclear future.  This would be a valuable step in fulfilling the obligations of Article VI of the NPT and could open the door to the nuclear weapons states and their allies joining the rest of the world in becoming parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. While this may seem like an improbable step at this time, stranger things have happened and it does have the potential of combining hope with logic and vision.

. David Krieger is President Emeritus of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Do We Really Want a Second Cold War?

31 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified version of Policy Paper #4 RESPONDING TO CHINESE VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, published previously on the website of the Committee for a Sane China Policy. It reflects my view that the protection of human rights is being geopolitically manipulate to mobilize public support for an anti-Chinese foreign policy in the West that risks generating a dangerous geopolitical confrontation. Such a confrontation is costly, amounts to war-mongering, and diverts U.S. attention from self-scrutiny and global peacebuilding. Whether a second cold war is already underway is a matter of interpretation, but even those reluctant to reach such a depressing assessment would have to acknowledge that unless there are strong efforts made to support what I would call ‘inclusive global multipolarity,’ the drift toward such a dismal near-term future will become inevitable. The need to sound the alarm has reached a level of urgency.]    

Introduction: 

There is no doubt that Chinese government encroachments on the fundamental human rights of its population have become more pervasive and serious in several respects during the leadership of President Xi Jinping. This unfortunate development has been increasingly highlighted, often with inflammatory intent, by Western leaders and media outlets – apattern that is contributing to increasing tensions between China and the West, especially the United States. This emphasis on Chinese violations of human rights is reinforced by complaints that China acted irresponsibly and oppressively in its early responses to the COVID-19 challenge, is defying international law in the South China Sea, and has not participated in the world economy in a fair and proper manner, hence justifying such American responses as blocking exports of high-technology items to China, persuading European governments to avoid tying their internet network to Chinese 5G technology, placing burdens on Chinese investment in the United States, and above all in mounting a global propaganda offensive against China. 

President Biden in his speech to the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2021 highlighted what he called ‘competition’ with China as well as with Russia, blaming each for bad behavior, while saying that the U.S. seeks to avoid a new cold war and looks forward to cooperation with China in areas of shared concern, most notably in relation to health and climate change.[1]  At the same time the, central thesis of the Munich speech was disturbing, a confusing call for solidarity among democratic countries, highlighting NATO’s mission in ‘prevailing’ over the challenges mounted by the rise of autocratic nationalism all over the world. For those able to recall the bellicose rhetoric of prior decades, this call is highly resonant with Cold War slogans about the ‘free world’ resisting the totalitarian Soviet bloc. It was also confusing by combining alliance solidarity with Biden’s call for the formation of a united front of democratic states, forgetting that many U.S. allies are far from achieving democratic credentials – consider the Philippines, India, Brazil, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia.  

There are also unacknowledged worries in the West about competitiveness arising not from Chinese improper behavior towards its own people, but from its growing technological creativity and regional military muscle. The so-called ‘Thucydides Trap’ has historically prompted nervous dominant states seek to turn back a challenge to their preeminence by initiating a war while still enjoying military superiority, which is feared will soon be overtaken.[2] The dangers of confrontation with China are especially great given the flashpoints in the South and East China Seas, and especially in relation to Taiwan. China seems intent on establishing its regional supremacy while the United States seeks to reassert its long-dominant regional role by displaying its formidable naval presence as a sign of readiness to meet political threats with shows of force, a recipe for dangerous forms of unintended escalation. There are additional concerns arising from the anticipated further military buildup in the Indo-Pacific regions, based on $27 billion additional budget requests over the next five years. In the background of intensifying militarization is the related public expression by high-ranking Pentagon officials that in view of China’s regional buildup of forces, the U.S. would be under great pressure to use nuclear weapons. A top admiral urged strategic planners to grasp this reality by understanding that the use of nuclear weapons in a forthcoming crisis would not be possible but probable, and should be prepared. Such a conclusion was reinforced by recent war game simulations showing that China would prevail at conventional levels of interaction. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has there been a situation in which ‘rational’ security analysts acknowledged a dependence on nuclear weapons to meet strategic goals, and not just as serving in a deterrent role.

It is against this background of mixed messages that U.S. policy toward human rights in China should be shaped, especially if the goal is to avoid war and establish an overall atmosphere that encourages cooperative engagements. This critical goal would best be served by reducing tensions that could give rise to hazardous and hostile confrontations, and even outright conflict. This paper seeks to thread the needle so as to separate genuine concerns about human rights from the overriding priority of not stumbling into a cold war – let alone a hot war – with China. In that spirit it sets forth a profile of China’s human rights record, including taking account of its considerable positive sides, and expresses a skeptical view as to whether overt hostile criticisms, policies, or actions are justified or effective, adopting the view that such a pushback is certain to be resented by Chinese leaders and dismissed as hostile propaganda. It is certain to be ineffective in changing China’s controversial domestic policies.  

Declaring this, however, does not dispose of the problem. As with the Cold War and regime-changing interventions, the denunciation of human rights violations by an adversary of the United States, usually in exaggerated form, has proven extremely useful in mobilizing Congressional, media, and citizen support for coercive diplomacy, taking a variety of forms, including military buildups, sanctions, interventions, threats, and covert destabilizing operations. When John Bolton, a relentless right-wing geopolitical hawk when it comes to opposing Muslim political aspirations in the Middle East and elsewhere, expressed fury over Donald Trump’s unwillingness to do anything substantial about the plight of the approximately 12 million Turkic speaking Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs living in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, we should realize that his concern is not about human rights or the plight of the Uyghurs, but is about seizing the opportunity to use human rights concerns to bludgeon the Chinese and arouse anti-Chinese sentiments in the United States already inflamed by Trump’s frequent allusions to the ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘China virus.’. 

Some Perspective on China’s Human Rights Record  

It is difficult to disentangle Western anti-Chinese propaganda from an objective appraisal of China’s record on human rights. This difficulty is compounded by certain Asian values and traditions that help explain government behavior, which when given a special Chinese twist, diverge in approach from Western liberal approaches that give priority to individual freedoms.   

There is no doubt that China’s policy toward Tibetan, Eastern Mongolian, and Uyghur minorities raise serious human rights issues that have been reliably reported by respected human rights organizations. The allegations include involuntary detention and abusive treatment in so-called ‘reeducation camps,’ forced sterilization, denials of freedoms of expression, religion, and cultural identity, family separation, and discrimination in paid work.[3]  

Yet the underlying issues are complex, and can be interpreted from contradictory perspectives. Concerns about human rights, especially when associated with discontented ethnic and religious minorities, are inevitably interrelated with questions about the interplay of territorial sovereignty and specifying the acceptable nature of national identity. This includes grappling with the indistinct relationship between duties to uphold the internationally protected human rights of minorities and responses to social movements based on claims of autonomy and separation. In such cases, human rights issues need to be balanced against measures undertaken to maintain the unity of the state. There are legal ambiguities and factual complexities about who has the authority to strike a balance between collective human rights and governmental responsibility to uphold the unity of the state. What constitutes a reasonable balance? Who decides? There are no firm answers. 

International law has long wrestled with this complexity. On the one side exists a strong affirmation of the right of self-determination that inheres in every ‘people’ and it set forth in Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. On the other side is the common understanding in international law, as confirmed by an influential 1970 UN resolution, as prohibiting claims of self-determination that seek to fragment or threaten the unity of existing sovereign states. The language of the preamble to the UN resolution is clear and uncontested: “…any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter.[4] This conceptual confusion is accentuated to the extent that international law confers the right of self-determination on a ‘people’ while endowing ‘states’ with ‘sovereignty,’ which often encompasses more than one people. Governments are legally empowered to exercise virtually unrestricted authority within recognized territorial boundaries to curb movements that exhibit separatist tendencies. 

Yet when national policy is being challenged by ethno-political movements seeking greater degrees of cultural and political autonomy, including language rights and questions bearing on the freedom of religion, issues of human rights and sovereign authority are inevitably intertwined. In these contexts, independence demands, nationalist claims, and secessionism tendencies are often disguised beneath assertions of human rights grievances, partly to arouse a sympathetic international response. Not only is a careful balancing of facts, law, and rights called for, but account must be taken of how and why some human claims are ignored while others are strongly confirmed. International alignments often explain these glaring differences of response. The human rights wrongdoing of geopolitical adversaries is exaggerated, while comparable wrongs of friends are overlooked or handled discreetly. Perhaps, this unequal response is to some extent understandable given the way the world is politically organized, but when, as here, there is present a dangerous tendency to use human rights issues to stoke the fires of geopolitical contestation, caution and prudence are called for. We observe a toxic correlation of recommended toughness in relating to China in the context of trade and the South China Sea disputeswith inflammatory complaints about Chinese violations of human rights. Such behavior threatens confrontation, serious crises, even war, and so has very different implications than justifiable efforts to counteract abusive exercises of state power by the recent military takeover of the government in Myanmar. 

Some of China’s policies toward the Uyghurs seem to be clearly in violation of international human rights standards. Such behavior is unacceptable, but even here the facts are not as clear in its character as China’s most fervent critics contend. China has long adopted controversial measures to curb population growth and was widely criticized for its one-family policies, but also widely praised for avoiding demographic pressures that might have intensifies expansionist policies, causing conflict. 

There is doubt that China also exhibits intolerance toward political dissent and opposition politics that would be viewed in many national settings as violating civil and political rights. More than elsewhere, China has established intrusive surveillance mechanisms to monitor the behavior of its citizenry that encroach upon the privacy of its citizens. But China is hardly the only country in the world where this is occurring. In general, the drift throughout the world is toward authoritarianism with respect to state/society relations, and however regrettable, this trend often discloses the political will of the nation as expressed through periodic elections, and although noted with concern by Washington, is not allowed to influence U.S. foreign policy, especially if authoritarianism prevails in an ally or friendly country. As a result, this focus on China’s authoritarian policies and practices seems less concerned with the rights of the Chinese people and better understood as a means of ramping up geopolitical pressures. 

Again, police brutality in response to public demonstrations in Hong Kong seem unacceptable from the perspective of a truly free society; note, however, that the Chinese government response is far less harsh than the far bloodier Egyptian response to peaceful demonstrations in recent years, and yet no media or State Department scrutiny has been forthcoming in that case. In contrast, the Hong Kong confrontational demonstrations are given intensive, one-sided, and totally sympathetic media coverage. 

Fairly considered, the human rights picture in China looks quite different if economic and social rights are taken into account. China, perhaps more rapidly and impressively than any country throughout all of history, has overcome the extreme poverty of as many as 300 million of its citizens, providing for health, education, housing, food security, and infrastructure development in ways that many affluent countries of the West fail to do, despite centuries of effort. China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’ the largest public works project ever undertaken – while controversial in some respects – has produced many beneficial outcomes in Asia and Africa that have enabled developing countries to better meet the needs of their peoples, and indirectly contribute to the realization of economic and social rights. 

China’s Human Rights Record and U.S. Foreign Policy

When attempting to devise an appropriate U.S. foreign policy response to China’s human rights record, there are several issues that need to be distinguished: 

·       What is the overall Chinese record on human rights if fairly appraised, given some uncertainties as to evidence and behavior reflective of cultural divergencies? 

·       Should U.S. foreign policy highlight Chinese violations of human rights? 

·       Would highlighting be effective in improving the protection of human rights in China? 

·       Would such highlighting increase the likelihood of heightened geopolitical tensions, reduced global cooperation, and greater conflict in the South China Seas?

Assessing the Record 

China’s record on human rights is definitely mixed. If judged by Western liberal standards it can be faulted for serious violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If appraised by non-Western and Global South standards, its achievements with respect to economic and social rights stand out, and compares favorably with many Western countries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains many provisions confirming economic and social rights, and is considered expressive of customary international law, despite being originally set forth as ‘declaratory’ and ‘non-binding.’ In the public discourse about China, even the most respected Western human rights NGOs accord China zero credit for this amazing record of poverty alleviation, and thus its overall reputation is denied a proper appraisal.  

The most serious internationally actionable allegations with respect to China involve the treatment of the Uyghur minority. As mentioned earlier, there is no doubt that allegations involving serious human rights violations by China in Xinjiang involving the Uyghurs seem based on extensive evidence. In the words of the Human Rights Watch World Report for 2020, China’s “‘Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Extremism’ has entailed mass arbitrary detention, surveillance, indoctrination, and destruction of the region’s cultural and religious heritage.”[5] But whether pressure from outside China will help or hurt the Uyghurs is problematic. It should be kept in mind that many some of these charges against China are difficult to evaluate, and rest on rationalizations relied on by many governments under the heading of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. As such, they are subject to controversy and much of the evidence relied upon is clouded by partisan political interpretations relating to legally ambiguous issues such as the discretion of the territorial sovereign with respect to the treatment of minority nationalities that exhibit violent separatist tendencies.[6]  

The most serious charges of ‘genocide’ seem certainly exaggerated and unfounded by reference to international standards, which impose exacting standard of intentionality.[7] In this instance, to allege genocide, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did on the basis of discredited assessments by Andrew Zenz, seems outrageous considering verified population increases among Uyghurs in recent years.[8] Such extreme charges are politically motivated, highly provocative, legally unsupportable, and hence, diplomatically irresponsible. 

Would Highlighting be Effective in Improving China’s Human Rights Record? 

Overall, when dealing with major countries, including the United States, improving compliance with human rights comes about as a result of developments from within territorial borders. Criticism from outside, even from the UN or other international institutions, tends to be ignored or discounted as hostile propaganda. Such a pattern not only reflects the statist nature of world order, but is also a reaction to the cynical use of human rights discourse to justify hostile attitudes toward foreign adversaries or geopolitical rivals. Such patterns of behavior were very characteristic of the selective emphasis on human rights throughout the Cold War: a country with a left or Marxist outlook was condemned for human rights violations while countries that were aligned with the West were not criticized, much less sanctioned, no matter how serious their violations of fundamental human rights. 

Against this background it would be a mistake for the U.S. Government to emphasize allegations of Chinese human rights violations when seeking to work out relations with China that accord with the national, regional, and global priorities that should serve as the foundation of American foreign policy, including cooperation on climate change and monetary stabilization. It would seem that mainstream human rights NGOs in the West should be sensitive to similar cross-cutting considerations bearing on current policy priorities in international relations, although to a lesser extent than the U.S. government, as their undertaking is to report on human rights as objectively, reliably, and persuasively as possible. At the same time, civil society actors should be cautious about accepting insufficiently evidenced allegations of human rights violations that seem to intrude upon China’s territorial sovereignty, especially given the inflammatory character of the present diplomatic setting in which those advocating an aggressive approach toward China seek to play the human rights card.  

The most effective way to engage China on human rights would be to rely on discreet methods of communication through private and peace-oriented channels that do not seek to exert public pressures and are diplomatically linked to an underlying commitment to encourage global cooperation with respect to shared issues such as climate change and conflict resolution. A genuine concern with human rights in China must acknowledge that any improvement in the situationdepends on internal Chinese developments that cannot be exploited to generate hostile propaganda and are not funded or encouraged by covert destabilizing operations. 

Foreign Policy Imperatives in the Present Era 

Unlike the Cold War in which the focus was placed on the containment of Soviet military expansion, especially in Europe, and on contesting the ideological embrace of Marxist ideas of political economy within the Global South, the challenges posed by the rise of China are entirely different, and call for different types of response. For one thing, China poses no threat to core U.S. security interests, especially in this post-Trump period when the United States seeks to revive a Eurocentric alliance in the course of reviving its global leadership role. Unlike the Soviet Union, China has largely pursued its geopolitical ambitions by non-military, economic means, except in maritime areas close to its shores and in border disputes with neighboring countries. This difference in geopolitical profile strengthens the incentives to avoid tensions that could lead to risky military confrontations in the South and East China Seas; from this perspectiveavoiding excessive criticism of China’s violations of human rights would seem helpful from a war prevention perspective. There is no reason to laud China’s domestic political environment, but high-profile complaints about Xinjiang and Hong Kong will be met with counter-allegations about American shortcomings with respect to human rights and would likely intensify the confrontational atmosphere. 

Also different is the nature of the global agenda. Although it would have been a welcome contribution to world peace if the United States and the Soviet Union had more vigorously cooperated to produce a monitored and comprehensivenuclear disarmament treaty, the need for cooperation in responding to climate change is unprecedented. If the dangers posed by global warming are not addressed cooperatively it will produce a worldwide disaster, and China – as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions – is an indispensable partner in managing a positive response.  

It is worth remembering that if overcoming the threats posed by Hitler’s Germany had not involved cooperation with the ideologically alien Soviet Union during World War II, which included suspension of most Western criticisms of the excesses of Stalinism, the outcome of war might not have resulted in victory for the Western democracies. The Soviet Union posed no economic threat to American global economic primacy. China does pose such a threat, and so could lead the United States to make irrational responses that would weaken the global role of the dollar as reserve currency and produce a downward spiral of trade and investment that would hurt all countries, and quite possibly inducing a new world depression of even greater gravity than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Here, as with climate change, the interests of the West favor a geopolitics of accommodation, compromise, and a search for win/win outcomes. In this regard, accentuating the human rights failures of China is imprudent, ineffective, and dangerous under present conditions. 

Copyright 2021 Richard Falk

ENDNOTES: 

1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/19/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-2021-virtual-munich-security-conference/

2. Graham Allison, “The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?” The Atlantic, Sept. 24, 20154, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/united-states-china-war-thucydides-trap/406756/

3. See, for example, Austin Ramzy, “China’s Oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Explained,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/world/asia/china-genocide-uighurs-explained.html. 

4. Declaration of Principles concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, Commentary on Principle (e), UN General Assembly Res. 2625, Oct. 24, 1970, https://www.un.org/rule of law/files/3dda1f104.pdf

5. Human Rights Watch (HRW), Human Rights Watch World Report, 2020 (HRW, 2020), p. 1. 

6.. See, for example, James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment (Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2014). 

7. On the high legal bar with respect to genocide, see: Judgment, Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, ICJ Reports, 1996). 

8. On Pompeo’s claims, see Edward Wong and Chris Buckley, “U.S. Says China’s Repression of Uighurs Is ‘Genocide,’” New York Times, Jan. 19, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/us/politics/trump-china-xinjiang.html. For a well-reasoned and documented rebuttal of the data relied upon in making those allegations, see Gareth Porter and Michael Blumenthal, “U.S. State Department accusation of ‘genocide’ relied on data and baseless claims by far-right ideologues,” The Greyzone, Feb. 18, 2021, https://mronline.org/2021/03/01/u-s-state-department-accusation-of-china-genocide-relied-on-data-abuse-and-baseless-claims-by-far-right-ideologue/

Will Democracy Survive?

7 Apr

Will ‘Democracy’ Survive? How? Whether? Hard Questions in Dark Times

 

As demagogic leaders with popular approval or at least acquiescence dominate the political process of several important ‘democratic’ states questions need to be asked about the core or indispensable content of democracy. Other states seek the imprimatur of ‘democracy’ but limit drastically the choices open to the citizenry or proclaim themselves ‘a Jewish state’ or ‘an Islamic Republic,’ and are more accurately regarded as an ‘ethnocracy'(Israel) or ‘theocracy'(Iran).  The legitimating impact of being a democracy should be based on something more objective than the language of self-identification, that is, claiming that we are a democracy because we describe our governing arrangements as a democracy, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Procedural and Republican Democracy

The idea of ‘free elections’ is certainly a prerequisite. It is not possible to think of a political system as democratic if it does not allow its citizens to choose without fear or interference among a wide range of candidates of their choice whether the process is filtered through political parties or primaries or otherwise. What qualifies as a free election can be debated endlessly, but it seems enough to suggest that candidates representing significant divergent societal viewpoints compete for support, and that votes are counted honestly. A state should not necessarily lose its democratic credentials if it disqualifies candidates and parties that deny basic human rights to segments of the citizenry or espouse fascist agendas, or if rights are somewhat abridged during periods of national emergency as during wartime. This dimension of democratic governance can be discussed in relation to specific instances by reference to the acceptable limits on the practice of procedural democracy. Such a form of government is sensitive to the dangers of abuses and corruptions of power, invoking ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ as institutional bulwarks of restraint on ‘the tyranny of the mob’ or the predatory behavior of the tyrant, and can be better identified as republican democracy.

 In the contemporary world, due to technology and government ‘secrets’ the constitutional constraints on war making by leaders even if present, tend to be increasingly inoperative. Without democratic accountability in the war/peace agenda democracies lose legitimacy, especially considering the risks and dangers of the nuclear age. It may be that only the elimination of nuclear weapons from the arsenals of all countries can restore a semblance of substantive reality to a procedural or republican understanding of democracy.

 In its liberal versions, democracy in its republican form almost always includes a guaranty and judicial protection of civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression and the right of assembly, but not necessarily, and likely not at all, social and economic rights. In this sense, the tensions between neoliberal versions of capitalism and political democracy are of paramount importance in many societies widely regarded as ‘democratic.’

 

Normative Democacy

 To achieve an inclusive political order a substantive commitment to deal with social and economic basic rights is essential, although infrequently acknowledged, which raises questions about the compatibility of real democracy with contemporary forms of capitalism. The protection of social and economic rights are necessary so as to satisfy the material needs of all people under sovereign control, especially with respect to food, health, shelter, education, environmental protection, responsibility to future generations. Yet a market-driven ethos is not challenged in principle by large-scale homelessness or extreme poverty so long as the gates of opportunity are available to all. This dimension of democratic governance is rarely realized, and is best considered by reference to values-driven, inclusive, and normative democracy. A society also should be protected against war-prone leadership that defies transparency by relying on claims of secrecy and national security.

 

Somewhere in between selecting leaders, upholding rights, and ensuring a minimal standard of living that entrenches human dignity and enables a humane society are considerations of internal and external security. Meeting the threats from within and without while avoiding hysteria, paranoia, and different forms of suppression is a fundamental responsibility of every legitimate state, including those that claim a democratic pedigree. There is no satisfactory label, but since a state unable to protect sovereign rights and political order loses the respect and lacks the discipline of its citizenry, the security dimension can be associated with effective democracy, as without political order and a capability to address external threats and internal order, no form of governance can avoid chaos and foreign penetration, although assessments of this kind involve subjective appreciations of capabilities and political will.

 

There are increasing critiques of democratic states as having weakened the bonds between what citizens seek and what the government does. In the United States, for instance, special interests inflate pharmaceutical products to astronomical heights, insulate gun control from public opinion to absurd degrees, and allow corporations and banks to contribute unlimited amounts to (mis)shape political campaigns. Markets are further distorted by corruption of various kinds that undermine the capabilities of government to serve the people. This dimension of democratic governance can be considered under the rubric of responsive democracy. Without a high degree of responsiveness on central policy issues, a governing process will steadily lose legitimacy, especially if seen as deferring to special interests.

 

Majoritarian Democracy 

There is, increasingly evident, political systems where free elections occur, demagogues participate, often prevailing in recent elections, and a majority of the citizenry is either submissive or supportive. In this kind of atmosphere toxic, win/lose polarizations develop, with extremist and paranoid rhetoric justifying suppression and demonization of undocumented immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers, walls are proposed and built, borders are militarized, and exclusionary ideas of political community gain traction in the marketplace of ideas. One result is that the values, views, and security of those vulnerable or opposed are ignored, condemned. Genuine news is dismissed as fake news, and vice versa, creating fact-free political leadership. This kind of political order can be termed majoritarian democracy.

It tends to rest its claims on passion and a perversion of Rousseau’s ‘general will’ rather than reason and evidence, and is contemptuous of limits on the exercise of state power on behalf of the nation, especially if directed against foreign or domestic ‘enemies.’ As a result of the rise of such forms of governance, the rule of law has weakened, and especially, respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations while deference to the ruler increases, coupled by claims of indefinite tenure atop the political pyramid, ratified by periodic votes of approval. Such leaders as Putin, Xi, Trump, Erdoğan, Modi, Abe manifest the trend, treat ‘citizens’ as if ‘subjects’ thereby blurring the distinction between democracy and monarchy when it comes to state/society relations.

 

Aspirational Democracy

 In opposition, are more humanistic concerns that focus attention on the protection of human rights, especially of those who are vulnerable and poor. The idea of ‘democracy to come’ as depicted by the deceased French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, and recently developed further by Fred Dallmayr is being taken more seriously. This idea centers on the belief that democracy in all its manifestations, even at its best, remains an unfinished project with unfulfilled normative potential. It represents a call to work toward an inclusive democracy based on the serious implementation of ‘the spirit of equality’ (Dallmayr) the goal of humane governance as associated with Montesquieu. Such a political order goes beyond upholding the rule of law by seeking to promote justice within and without of sovereign borders. Such a democratic political order would now subordinate, as necessary, national interests to human and global interests in relation to climate change, nuclear weaponry, migration, disease control, peace and security, and the regulation of the world economy. No such democracy has so far existed, but as a goal and ideal this political possibility can be identified as aspirational democracy.

 

Concluding Comments

 These different forms of democracy overlap, and are matters of degree, but do call attention to various and variable features of political life that rest on the shared proposition that ‘the people’ should be regarded as the source of political authority and legitimacy. Yet such a mandate for democracy as flowing upwards from the people, superseding God-given authority figures anointed by ritual and reinforced by claims of a monarchical or divine aura of absolutism, is in many societies again being scrutinized. Many informed and concerned persons are asking whether democracy is any longer the least bad system of governance, yet seem at a loss to propose an alternative. In this setting, the question posed for many of us is whether democracy, as now practiced and constituted, can be revitalized by legitimating reforms. As engaged citizens we must accept this challenge in forms sensitive to the particularities of time, place, challenge, and opportunities.

 Because of globalization in its manifest forms, it is no longer tenable to confine the ambitions of democracy to national spaces. Global democracy has become, is becoming, a matter of ultimate concern. Issues raised concern transparency, accountability, participation, and responsiveness of global policy processes, and of course, how the global is to be linked with the regional and national so as to pursue the goal of global humane governance: equitable, stable, sustainable, peaceful, compassionate, and above all, mindfulness. These concerns will be left for contemplation, and discussion on another day.

Nobel Peace Prize 2017: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

8 Oct

 

Finally, the committee in Oslo that picks a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize each year selected in 2017 an awardee that is a true embodiment of the intended legacy of Alfred Nobel when he established the prize more than a century ago. It is also a long overdue acknowledgement of the extraordinary dedication of anti-nuclear activists around the planet who for decades have done all in their power to rid the world of this infernal weaponry before it inflicts catastrophe upon all living beings even more unspeakable that what befell the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on two infamous days in August 1945. Such a prize result was actually anticipated days before the announcement by Fredrik Heffermehl, a crusading Norwegian critic of past departures from Nobel’s vision by the prize committee. In making the prediction that the 2017 prize would be given in recognition of anti-nuclear activism Heffermehl prophetically relied on the outlook of the current chair of the Nobel selection committee, a distinguished Norwegian lawyer, Berit Reiss-Andersen, who has publicly affirmed her belief in the correlation between adherence to international law and world peace.

 

 

The recipient of the prize is ICAN, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of more than 450 civil society groups around the world that is justly credited with spreading an awareness of the dire humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and of making the heroic effort to generate grassroots pressure sufficient to allow for the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by 122 UN members on 7 July 2017 (known as the ‘BAN Treaty’). The treaty was officially signed by 53 governments of UN member states this September, and will come into force when 50 instruments of ratifications have been deposited at UN Headquarters, which suggests its legal status will soon be realized as signature is almost always followed by ratification.

 

The core provision of the BAN Treaty sets forth an unconditional legal prohibition of the weaponry that is notable for its comprehensiveness—the prohibition extends to “the developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and deploying nuclear weapons, transferring or receiving them from others, using or threatening to use them, or allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories of signatories, and assisting, encouraging, or inducing any of these prohibited acts.” Each signatory state is obligated to develop “legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress” activities prohibited by the treaty. It should be understood that the prohibition contributes to the further delegitimation of nuclear weapons, but it does nothing directly by way of disarmament.

The BAN Treaty no where claims to mandate disarmament except by an extension of the reasoning that if something is prohibited, then it should certainly not be possessed, and the conscientious move would be to seek a prudent way to get rid of the weaponry step by step. In this regard it is notable that none of the nuclear weapons states are expected to be parties to the BAN Treaty, and therefore are under no immediate legal obligation to respect the prohibition or implement its purpose by seeking a disarmament arrangement. A next step for the ICAN coalition might be to have the BAN prohibition declared by the UN General Assembly and other institutions around the world (from cities to the UN System) to be binding on all political actors (whether parties to the treaty or not), an expression of what international lawyers call ‘peremptory norms,’ those that are binding and authoritative without treaty membership and cannot be changed by the action of sovereign states.

 

Standing in opposition to the BAN Treaty are all of the present nuclear weapons states, led by the United States. Indeed, all five permanent members (P-5) of the UN Security Council and their allies refused to join in this legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, and to a disturbing degree, seem addicted sustainers of the war system in its most horrific dimensions. Their rationale for such a posture can be reduced to the proposition that deterrence is more congenial than disarmament. Yet the nuclearism is a deeply discrediting contention that the P-5 provide the foundations of responsible global leadership, and therefore have accorded favorable status.

 

What the BAN Treaty makes clear is the cleavage between those who want to get rid of the weaponry, and regard international law as a crucial step in this process, and those who prefer to take their chances by retaining and even further developing this omnicidal weaponry and then hoping for the best. Leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jung-un make us aware of how irresponsible it is to hope to avoid the use of nuclear weapons over time when such unstable and impulsive individuals are only an arm’s reach away from decreeing a nuclear Armageddon. What the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 should have taught the world, but didn’t, is that even highly rational governments of the world’s most powerful states can come within a hair’s breath of launching a nuclear war merely to avoid an appearance of geopolitical weakness (the U.S. initial refusal to remove nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey even though they were already scheduled for removal because obsolete as it feared that such a step would be taken as a sign of weakness in its rivalry with the Soviet Union). Further, we know that it was only the unusual and unexpected willingness of an unheralded Soviet submarine officer to disobey a rogue order to fire off a nuclear missile that then saved the world from a terrifying chain of events.

 

The nuclear weapons states, governed by political realists, basically have no trust in law or morality when it comes to national security, but base their faith in the hyper-rationality of destructive military power, which in the nuclear age is expressed in the arcane idiom of deterrence, an idea more transparently known in the Cold War Era as Mutually Assured Destruction (or MAD!!). It is impossible to grasp the essential links between geopolitical ambition and security without understanding the complementary relationship of deterrence and the nonproliferation regime (its geopolitical implementation to avoid the disarmament obligation of Article VI).

 

In essence, the grandest Faustian Bargain of all times is contained within the confines of the Nonproliferation Regime, which is a geopolitical instrument of control by permanently dividing the world between those that have the bomb and decide who else should be allowed to develop the capability and those who are without the bomb but also without any way to secure a world in which no political actor possesses a nuclear weapons option. In a central respect, the issue between the militarized leadership of the nuclear weapons states and the peoples of the world is a question of trust—that is, a matter of geopolitics as practiced versus international law if reliably implemented.

 

Everything in the human domain is contingent, including even species survival. This makes it rational to be prudent, especially in relation to risks that have no upper limit, and could produce massive suffering and devastation far beyond tragedies of the past. Of course, there are also risks with a world legally committed to prohibit the possession, threat, and use of nuclear weapons, although if nuclear disarmament were to carry forward the overriding intent of the BAN Treaty, a disarming process would seek with the greatest possible diligence to minimize these risks. A world without nuclear weapons would almost certainly be a safer, saner, more humane world than the one we now inhabit.

 

Beyond that it would move national and international policy away from the gross immorality of a security system premised on mass destruction of civilian life along with assorted secondary effects of ‘nuclear famine’ caused by dense smoke blockage of the sun, potentially imperiling the wellbeing of all inhabitants of the planet. The dissemination of toxic radiation as far as winds will carry is an inevitable side effect with disastrous consequences even for future generations. Such an ecocidal gamble is not only a throw of the dice with respect to the human future but also in relation to the habitability of the planet by every living species. As such, it profiles an aggravated form of Crimes Against Nature, which while not codified, epitomize the peak of anthropogenic hubris.

 

It with these considerations in mind that one reads with consternation the cynical, flippant, and condescending response of The Economist: “This year’s Nobel peace prize rewards a nice but pointless idea.” Such a choice of words, ‘nice,’ ‘pointless’ tells it all. What is being expressed is the elite mainstream consensus that it is the height of futility to challenge conventional realist wisdom, that is, the Faustian Bargain mentioned earlier. The challenge is declared futile without even considering the dubious record of geopolitics over the centuries of war upon war, which in the process has deprived humanity of untold resources wasted on generations of deadly weaponry that have inflicted massive suffering and could have been put to many far better and necessary uses.

 

Of course, the BAN Treaty as an expression of faith in the path of international law and morality radically diverges conceptually and behaviorally from the political path of nuclearism, hard power, and political realism. It will require nothing less than a passionate and determined mobilization of peoples throughout the world to get rid of nuclear weapons, and its accompanying deep ideology of nuclearism. This is a far preferable alternative than passively waiting for the occurrence of a traumatizing sequence of events that so jolt political consciousness as to topple the power structures that now shape security policy throughout the world.

 

What the BAN Treaty achieves, and the Nobel Prize recognizes, is that the cleavage is now clear between international law and geopolitics with respect to nuclear weapons. The BAN Treaty provides likeminded governments and animated citizen pilgrim throughout the world with a roadmap for closing the gap from the side of law and morality. It will be an epic struggle, but now at least there are some reasons to be hopeful, which should itself strengthen the political will of the global community of anti-nuclear militants. It is helpful to appreciate that this BAN Treaty was achieved despite the strenuous opposition of the geopolitical forces that run the world order system. Just as Nehru read the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 as a decisive sign that European colonialism was vulnerable to national resistance, despite military inferiority, so let us believe and act as if this occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize is another tipping point in the balance between morality/legality on one side and violent geopolitics on the other.

 

End of Nuclearism or the End of the World: Utopian Dreams, Dystopian Nightmares

9 Aug

 

We are living amid contradictions whether we like it or not, driving expectations about the future toward opposite extremes. Increasingly plausible are fears that the ‘sixth extinction’ will encompass the human species, or at least, throw human society back to a technology of sticks and stones, with a habitat limited to caves and forests. This dark vision is countered by gene editing designer promises of virtual immortality and super-wise beings programming super-intelligent machines, enabling a life of leisure, luxury, and security for all. Whether the reality of such a scientistic future would be also dark is a matter of conjecture, but from a survival perspective, it offers an optimistic scenario.

 

On political levels, a similar set of polar scenarios are gaining ground in the moral imagination, producing national leaders who seem comfortable embracing an apocalyptic telos without a second thought. The peoples of the world, entrapped in a predatory phase of global capitalism, are using their democratic prerogative to shut down dissent, rationality, and science. On one side, 122 governments pledge a legal commitment to the prohibition of nuclear weapons as an unprecedented prelude to the abolition of the weaponry; on the other side, all nine nuclear weapons states, and their closest allies, oppose the prohibition and opt for modernizing their nuclear weapons arsenals even devising strategic plans for their possible use, prompting an urgent search for counter measures.

 

John Pilger issues a solemn reminder that Nevile Shute’s On the Beach depicting a post-nuclear human future that is now more resonant than when it was published in 1957. Leaders that could bluff their way to shared catastrophe bellow forth in Washington and Pyongyang, each deluded by the belief that military options even with nuclear weapons are the only geopolitical security blanket worth relying upon, projecting a reckless obliviousness to the risk of losing their balance while engaging in inflammatory rhetorical posturing alarmingly close to the nuclear precipice.

 

As Pilger also points out, the liberal opposition to this right wing populism in the West is also dangerously disposed toward warmongering. Donald Trump is being pilloried by a bipartisan anti-Russian hysteria that imposes harsh sanctions, seemingly intent on driving Putin’s Kremlin into a corner from which there is no retreat except by way of confrontation, and possibly war.

 

We read of record heat waves, extreme weather events, extended droughts, and wild fires as common as clouds in the sky without blinking. The newspapers report that climate scientists are ready to push the panic button in reaction to the latest studies of grim global warning trends, while the Trump factor renews coal mining and treats denial a political virtue.

 

While these alarming realities dim the light of hope for many of us, the American stock market, a barometer of capitalist expectations by the shrewdest investors, achieves record heights. At the same time famine warnings have been officially endorsed for a series of long suffering populations: Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, northern Nigeria, Gaza. The entire Middle East is being turned into a war and conflict zone, with an anti-Iran warmongering coalition pressuring Iran to choose between nuclear deterrence and sectarian warfare inflamed by militarist Israeli/U.S. grand strategy that appears to be motivated by a regional vision of geopolitical pacification.

 

How best to endure in the face of such fatalistic dualisms? That may be the question of our time, dodged for the sake of sanity by almost all of us, at least most of the time. Business as usual, while living with therapeutic forms of cultural blindness, the opioids of those fortunate enough to live for now in gated communities, whether on the scale of private dwellings or walled off countries.

 

Recently a lively young woman told me that many of her friends had decided not to have children because they are so fearful of the storm clouds of the future, and refuse to wait around for liberating rainbows. At the other extreme, today’s International Edition of the New York Times contains a front page ad of enticement encouraging attendance at an International Luxury Conference to be held in Brussels, November 13-14, on the demeaning theme of “What’s Next: Luxury in a Turbulent World.” My somewhat impatient response—‘whatever turns out to be next, it will not be and should not be luxury!’ More likely, those grown accustomed to luxury will shift their residences to those underground homes built by Silicon Valley billionaires on vast tracts of lands in the New Zealand countryside as the ultimate hedge against an imminent global catastrophe. It could be that the NYT conference will devote its attention to this form of post-apocalyptic luxury living! Yet that assumes a quite unlikely focus on how the world of luxury is adapting to the unpleasant realities of the Sixth Extinction. 

Challenging Nuclearism: The Nuclear Ban Treaty Assessed

14 Jul

 

On 7 July 2017 122 countries at the UN voted to approve the text of a proposed international treaty entitled ‘Draft Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.’ The treaty is formally open for signature in September, but it only become a binding legal instrument according to its own provisions 90 days after the 50th country deposits with the UN Secretary General its certification that the treaty has been ratified in accordance with their various constitutional processes.

In an important sense, it is incredible that it took 72 years after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to reach this point of setting forth this unconditional prohibition of any use or threat of nuclear weapons [Article 1(e)] within the framework of a multilateral treaty negotiated under UN auspices. The core obligation of states that choose to become parties to the treaty is very sweeping. It prohibits any connection whatsoever with the weaponry by way of possession, deployment, testing, transfer, storage, and production [Article 1(a)].

The Nuclear Ban Treaty (NBT) is significant beyond the prohibition. It can and should be interpreted as a frontal rejection of the geopolitical approach to nuclearism, and its contention that the retention and development of nuclear weapons is a proven necessity given the way international society is organized. It is a healthy development that the NBT shows an impatience toward and a distrust of the elaborate geopolitical rationalizations of the nuclear status quo that have ignored the profound objections to nuclearism of many governments and the anti-nuclear views that have long dominated world public opinion. The old reassurances about being committed to nuclear disarmament as soon as an opportune moment arrives increasingly lack credibility as the nuclear weapons states, led by the United States, make huge investments in the modernization and further development of their nuclear arsenals.

Despite this sense of achievement, it must be admitted that there is a near fatal weakness, or at best, the gaping hole in this newly cast net of prohibition established via the NBT process. True, 122 governments lends weight to the claim that the international community, by a significant majority has signaled in an obligatory way a repudiation of nuclear weapons for any and all purposes, and formalized their prohibition of any action to the contrary. The enormous fly in this healing ointment arises from the refusal of any of the nine nuclear weapons states to join in the NBT process even to the legitimating extent of participating in the negotiating conference with the opportunity to express their objections and influence the outcome. As well, most of the chief allies of these states that are part of the global security network of states relying directly and indirectly on nuclear weaponry also boycotted the entire process. It is also discouraging to appreciate that several countries in the past that had lobbied against nuclear weapons with great passion such as India, Japan, and China were notably absent, and also opposed the prohibition. This posture of undisguised opposition to this UN sponsored undertaking to delegitimize nuclearism, while reflecting the views of a minority of governments, must be taken extremely seriously. It includes all five permanent members of the Security Council and such important international actors as Germany and Japan.

The NATO triangle of France, United Kingdom, and the United States, three of the five veto powers in the Security Council, angered by its inability to prevent the whole NBT venture, went to the extreme of issuing a Joint Statement of denunciation, the tone of which was disclosed by a defiant assertion removing any doubt as to the abiding commitment to a nuclearized world order: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons.” The body of the statement contended that global security depended upon maintaining the nuclear status quo, as bolstered by the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 and by the claim that it was “the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.” It is relevant to take note of the geographic limits associated with the claimed peace-maintaining benefits of nuclear weaponry, which ignores the ugly reality that devastating warfare has raged throughout this period outside the feared mutual destruction of the heartlands of geopolitical rivals, a central shared forbearance by the two nuclear superpowers throughout the entire Cold War. During these decades of rivalry, the violent dimensions of geopolitical rivalry were effectively outsourced to the non-Western regions of the world during the Cold War, and subsequently, causing massive suffering and widespread devastation for many vulnerable peoples inhabiting the Global South. Such a conclusion suggests that even if we were to accept the claim on behalf on nuclear weapons as deserving of credit for avoiding a major war, specifically World War III, that ‘achievement’ was accomplished at the cost of millions, probably tens of millions, of civilian lives in non-Western societies. Beyond this, the achievement involved a colossally irresponsible gamble with the human future, and succeeded as much due to good luck as to the rationality attributed to deterrence theory and practice.

NBT itself does not itself challenge the Westphalian framework of state-centrism by setting forth a framework of global legality that is issued under the authority of ‘the international community’ or the UN as the authoritative representative of the peoples of the world. Its provisions are carefully formulated as imposing obligation only with respect to ‘State parties,’ that is, governments that have deposited the prescribed ratification and thereby become formal adherents of the treaty. Even Article 4, which hypothetically details how nuclear weapons states should divest themselves of all connections with the weaponry limits its claims to State parties, and offers no guidance whatsoever in the event of suspected or alleged non-compliance. Reliance is placed in Article 5 on a commitment to secure compliance by way of the procedures of ‘national implementation.’

The treaty does aspire to gain eventual universality through the adherence of all states over time, but in the interim the obligations imposed are of minimal substantive relevance beyond the agreement of the non-nuclear parties not to accept deployment or other connections with the weaponry. It is for another occasion, but I believe a strong case can be made under present customary international law, emerging global law, and abiding natural law that the prohibitions in the NBT are binding universally independent of whether a state chooses or not to become a party to the treaty.

Taking an unnecessary further step to reaffirm statism, and specifically, ‘national sovereignty’ as the foundation of world order, Article 17 gives parties to the NBT a right of withdrawal. All that state parties have to do is give notice, accompanied by a statement of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that have ‘jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.’ The withdrawal will take effect twelve months after the notice and statement are submitted. There is no procedure in the treaty by which the contention of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ can be challenged as unreasonable or made in bad faith. It is an acknowledgement that even for these non-nuclear states, nothing in law or morality or human wellbeing takes precedence over the exercise of sovereign rights. Article 17 is not likely to be invoked in the foreseeable future. This provision reminds us of this strong residual unwillingness to supersede national interests by deference to global and human interests. The withdrawal option is also important because it confirms that national security continues to take precedence over international law, even with respect to genocidal weaponry of mass destruction. As such the obligation undertaken by parties to the NBT are reversible in ways that are not present in multilateral conventions outlawing genocide, apartheid, and torture.

Given these shortcomings, is it nevertheless reasonable for nuclear abolitionists to claim a major victory by virtue of tabling such a treaty? Considering that the nuclear weapons states and their allies have all rejected the process and even those within the circle of the intended legal prohibition reserve a right of withdrawal, the NBT is likely to be brushed aside by cynics as mere wishful thinking and by dedicated anti-nuclearists as more of an occasion for hemlock than champagne. The cleavage between the nuclear weapons states and the rest of the world has never been starker, and there are absent any signs on either side of the divide to make the slightest effort to find common ground, and there may be none. As of now, it is a standoff between two forms of asymmetry. The nuclear states enjoy a preponderance of hard power, while the anti-nuclear states have the upper hand when it comes to soft power, including solid roots in ‘substantive democracy,’ ‘global law,’ and ‘natural law.’

The hard power solution to nuclearism has essentially been reflexive, that is, relying on nuclearism as shaped by the leading nuclear weapons states. What this has meant in practice is some degree of self-restraint on the battlefield and crisis situations (there is a nuclear taboo without doubt, although it has never been seriously tested), and, above all, a delegitimizing one-sided implementation of the Nonproliferation Treaty regime. This one-sidedness manifests itself in two ways: (1) discriminatory administration of the underlying non-proliferation norm, most unreservedly in the case of Israel; as well, the excessive enforcement of the nonproliferation norm beyond the limits of either the NPT itself or the UN Charter, as with Iraq (2003), and currently by way of threats of military attack against North Korea and Iran. Any such uses of military force would be non-defensive and unlawful unless authorized by a Security Council resolution supported by all five permanent members, and at least four other states, which fortunately remains unlikely. [UN Charter, Article 27(3)] More likely is recourse to unilateral coercion led by the countries that issued the infamous joint declaration denouncing the NBT as was the case for the U.S. and the UK with regard to recourse to the war against Iraq, principally rationalized as a counter-proliferation undertaking, which turned out itself to be a rather crude pretext for mounting an aggressive war, showcasing ‘shock and awe’ tactics.

(2) The failure to respect the obligations imposed on the nuclear weapons states to negotiate in good faith an agreement to eliminate these weapons by verified and prudent means, and beyond this to seek agreement on general and complete disarmament. It should have been evident, almost 50 years after the NPT came into force in 1970 that nuclear weapons states have breached their material obligations under the treaty, which were validated by an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in 1996 that included a unanimous call for the implementation of these Article VI legal commitments. Drawing this conclusion from deeds as well as words, it is evident for all with eyes that want to see, that the nuclear weapons states as a group have opted for deterrence as a permanent security scheme and nonproliferation as its management mechanism.

One contribution of the NBT is convey to the world the crucial awareness of these 122 countries as reinforced by global public opinion that the deterrence/NPT approach to global peace and security is neither prudent nor legitimate nor a credible pathway leading over time to the end of nuclearism.

In its place, the NBT offers its own two-step approach—first, an unconditional stigmatizing of the use or threat of nuclear weapons to be followed by a negotiated process seeking nuclear disarmament. Although the NBT is silent about demilitarizing geopolitics and conventional disarmament, it is widely assumed that latter stages of denuclearization would not be implemented unless they involved these broader assaults on the war system. The NBT is also silent about the relevance of nuclear power capabilities, which inevitably entail a weapons option given widely available current technological knowhow. The relevance of nuclear energy technology would have to be addressed at some stage of nuclear disarmament.

Having suggested these major shortcomings of treaty coverage and orientation, can we, should we cast aside these limitations, and join in the celebrations and renewed hopes of civil society activists to rid the world of nuclear weapons? My esteemed friend and colleague, David Krieger, who has dedicated his life to keeping the flame of discontent about nuclear weapons burning and serves as the longtime and founding President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, concludes his informed critique of the Joint Statement by NATO leaders, with this heartening thought: “Despite the resistance of the U.S., UK and France, the nuclear ban treaty marks the beginning of the end of the nuclear age.” [Krieger, “U.S., UK and France Denounce the Nuclear Ban Treaty”]. I am not at all sure about this, although Krieger’s statement leaves open the haunting uncertainty of how long it might take to move from this ‘beginning’ to the desired ‘end.’ Is it as self-styled ‘nuclear realists’ like to point out, no more than an ultimate goal, which is polite coding for the outright dismissal of nuclear disarmament as ‘utopian’ or ‘unattainable’?

We should realize that there have been many past ‘beginnings of the end’ since 1945 that have not led us any closer to the goal of the eliminating the scourge of nuclearism from the face of the earth. It is a long and somewhat arbitrary list, including the immediate horrified reactions of world leaders to the atomic bomb attacks at the end of World War II, and what these attacks suggested about the future of warfare; the massive anti-nuclear civil disobedience campaigns that briefly grabbed mass attention in several nuclear weapons states; tabled disarmament proposals by the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s; the UN General Assembly Resolution 1653 (XVI) that in 1961 declared threat or use of nuclear weapons to be unconditionally unlawful under the UN Charter and viewed any perpetrator as guilty of a crime against humanity; the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that scared many into the momentary realization that it was not tolerable to coexist with nuclear weapons; the International Court of Justice majority opinion in 1996 responding to the General Assembly’s question about the legality of nuclear weapons that limited the possibility of legality of use to the narrow circumstance of responding to imminent threats to the survival of a sovereign state; the apparent proximity to an historic disarmament arrangements agreed to by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at a summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986; the extraordinary opening provided by the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which should have been the best possible ‘beginning of the end,’ and yet nothing happened; and finally, Barack Obama’s Prague speech is 2009 (echoing sentiments expressed less dramatically by Jimmy Carter in 1977, early in his presidency) in which he advocated to great acclaim dedicated efforts to achieve toward the elimination of nuclear weapons if not in his lifetime, at least as soon as possible; it was a good enough beginning for a Nobel Peace Prize, but then one more fizzle.

Each of these occasions briefly raised the hopes of humanity for a future freed from a threat of nuclear war, and its assured accompanying catastrophe, and yet there was few, if any, signs of progress from each of these beginnings greeted so hopefully toward the ending posited as a goal. Soon disillusionment, denial, and distraction overwhelmed the hopes raised by these earlier initiatives, with the atmosphere of hope in each instance replaced by an aura of nuclear complacency, typified by indifference and denial. It is important to acknowledge that the bureaucratic and ideological structures supporting nuclearism are extremely resilient, and have proved adept at outwaiting the flighty politics of periodic flurries of anti-nuclear activism.

And after a lapse of years, yet another new beginning is now being proclaimed. We need to summon and sustain greater energy than in the past if we are to avoid this fate of earlier new beginnings in relation to the NBT. Let this latest beginning start a process that moves steadily toward the end that has been affirmed. We know that the NBT would not itself have moved forward without civil society militancy and perseverance at every stage. The challenge now is to discern and then take the next steps, and not follow the precedents of the past that followed the celebration of a seeming promising beginning with a misplaced reliance on the powers that be to handle the situation, and act accordingly. In the past, the earlier beginnings were soon buried, acute concerns eventually resurfaced, and yet another new beginning was announced with fanfare while the earlier failed beginning were purged from collective memory.

Here, we can at least thank the infamous Joint Statement for sending a clear signal to civil society and the 122 governments voting their approval of the NBT text that if they are truly serious about ending nuclearism, they will have to carry on the fight, gathering further momentum, and seeking to reach a tipping point where these beginnings of the end gain enough traction to become a genuine political project, and not just another harmless daydream or well-intended empty gesture.

As of now the NBT is a treaty text that courteously mandates the end of nuclearism, but to convert this text into an effective regime of control will require the kind of deep commitments, sacrifices, movements, and struggles that eventually achieved the impossible, ending such entrenched evils as slavery, apartheid, and colonialism.

Alternate Worldviews: Davutoğlu, Kissinger, Xi Jinping

25 May

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a much modified version of a shorter
opinion piece published by the global-e online publication on May 18, 2017. It is a response to and commentary upon an essay of Ahmet
Davuto
ğlu, former foreign minister and prime minister of Turkey, published under the title ‘Response to Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “The Future of National and Global (Dis)order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Global Governance.”’It contrasts the global outlook of Davutoğlu with that of Henry Kissinger, yet does not discuss the specific policies pursued by either of these public figures while they acted on behalf of their respective governments, and ends with an allusion to Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum a few months ago.]

 

In his global-e essay of March 30, 2017, Ahmet Davutoğlu provides a provocative and comprehensive assessment of current global trends, and their impact on the future of world order. What sets Davutoğlu’s diagnosis of the global setting apart is his insistence that the current crisis of governance, including the ominous dangers that he identifies, can only be overcome in an enduring manner if it is fully appreciated that present maladies on the surface of world politics are symptoms of deeper structural disorders. He gives particular attention in this regard to the failure of the United States to support a reformist agenda that could help establish global governance on foundations that were effective, legitimate, and humane after the end of the Cold War. Implicit here is the contrast between the benevolent global role played by the U.S. after World War II and its harmful dedication to neoliberal globalization after the end of the Cold War without attending to the historic opportunities and challenges of the 1990s.

 

At first glance, Davutoğlu seems to be echoing the lament of Henry Kissinger, the chief architect of Nixon’s foreign policy during the 1970s. Kissinger plaintively asks, “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?” This is coupled with Kissinger’s underlying worry: “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order.” [World Order, Penguin Press, 2014, 2] Not surprisingly for those familiar with Kissinger’s approach, he expresses a nostalgic fondness and airbrushed account of the liberal world order that the U.S. took the lead in establishing after World War II, as well as his signature nostalgia associated with the construction of the European state-centric system of world order in the aftermath of devastating religious wars in the seventeenth century. His idealizing of this post-Westphalian framework is expressed in a language no one in the global south could read without a good belly laugh as it totally ignores the predatory geopolitics by which the West subjugated and exploited much of the non-Western world. According to Kissinger the new golden age of Westphalia after 1945 was reflective of “an American consensus—an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, foreswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance.” [p.1]

 

The best Kissinger can offer to repair what he now finds so deeply disturbing is “a modernization of the Westphalian system informed by contemporary realities.” By the latter, he primarily means accommodating the rise of China, and the consequent dewesternization of the global relation of forces. Such an adjustment would require some restructuring, taking steps to integrate non-Western values into the procedures, norms, and institutions of governance facilitating geopolitical cooperation between dominant states. The content of these cooperative relations would emphasize the establishment of mutually beneficial trade and security governing relations among states. For this to happen the liberal West would have to accept the participation of states that based national governance on authoritarian patterns of national governance without passing adverse judgment. Kissinger, never an advocate of ‘democratic peace’ as theory or policy, is consistent in his promotion of a world order that does not pass judgment on the internal public order systems of sovereign states, leaving human rights to one side, and not making the adoption of democracy an ingredient of political legitimacy. In this regard, Kissinger’s version of geopolitics revives the ethos of a pre-World War II realpolitik prior to the sorts of ideas of ‘democracy promotion’ associated with the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

 

What makes the comparison of Kissinger and Davutoğlu of interest is less their overlapping concerns with the current deficiencies of global governance than their differing articulation of alternative explanations and recommendations. Kissinger writing in a post-colonial period where hard and soft power have become more globally dispersed, especially moving toward Asia, considers the challenge mainly to be one of reforming state-centric world order by a process of inter-civilizational accommodation and mutual respect with a particular eye focused on how to properly address the rise of China alongside the partial eclipse of Europe.

 

In contrast, Davutoğlu sees the immediate crisis to be the result of inadequate global responses to a series of four ‘earthquakes’ that have rocked the system in ways that greatly diminished its legitimacy and functionality (that is, the capacity to offer adequate solutions for the major challenges of the historical moment). This sequence of earthquakes (end of Cold War, 9/11 attacks, financial breakdown starting in 2008, and Arab uprisings of 2011) occasioned responses by global leaders that Davutoğlu derides as “short-termism and conjectural politics,” that is, ‘quick fixes,’ which failed to appreciate either underlying causes or structural factors. This meant that the policy remedies adopted did not address the problems presented in ways that would avoid recurrent crises in the future. It is this failure of global leadership to address causes and structures that is partly blamed for the present malaise. Davutoğlu characterizes the present period as marked by “a rising tide of extremism,” constituted by a political spectrum with non-state groups like DAESH (also known as ISIS) at one end and the populist surge producing such dysfunctional statist outcomes as Brexit and Trumpism at the other. Davutoğlu does not treat the ascent of China as a fifth earthquake, exhibiting a conceptual understanding of the complexities and originality of the present global setting, while according less attention to the shift in the geopolitical hierarchy associated primarily with China’s rise.

 

Davutoğlu identifies three sets of disappointing tendencies that clarifies his critique: (1) the American abandonment of the liberal international order that it earlier established and successfully managed; (2) the disappointing reactions by the West to anti-authoritarian national upheavals, illustrated by the tepid reactions of the United States and Europe to the Arab Spring, withholding encouragement and support, despite its declared commitment to democratization and human rights; (3) and the structural numbness illustrated by failing to reform and update existing international institutions in the economic and political spheres, particularly the UN, which has been unable to act effectively because so little has been done to take account of drastic changes in the global landscape over the course of the last 70 years.

 

The comparison here between Davutoğlu and Kissinger reveals fundamental differences of analysis and prescription. Kissinger sees the main challenge as one of geopolitical chaos that needs to be overcome by forging realistic, yet cooperative, relations between the U.S. and China. Although he is not explicit, Kissinger seems to be preoccupied with what Graham Allison influentially labels as ‘the Thucydides trap.’ In such circumstances a reigning dominant state feels its status threatened by an emerging challenger, and the rivalry eventuates in war. In the nuclear age even political realists search for alternatives to such a dire prospect. Additionally, Kissinger clearly believes that unless the U.S. and China can agree on world order there will be chaos even if it not outright war. Underlying this imperative is the idea that dominant states are alone capable of creating order on a global scale, making the UN irrelevant, a distraction, and considering international law as a proposed regulative enterprise to be a house of cards.  

 

Kissinger favors a live and let live geopolitical equilibrium presiding over a state-centric world order that works best if the power of the dominant states is balanced and their core interests served on the basis of a shared understanding of how best to govern the world. In a fundamental sense, by proposing the incorporation of China at the apex of global governance Kissinger is advocating the global expansion of the Westphalian approach that was historically developed to minimize war and maximize stability in Europe. As might be expected, Kissinger utters not a word about justice, human rights, the UN, climate change, and the abolition of nuclear weapons. In effect, Kissinger traverses the future as if embarking on a perilous journey across a normative desert. It is hardly an occasion for surprise that Donald Trump should summon Kissinger to the White House amid the Comey crisis or that Kissinger would make himself available for an Oval Office photo op to shore up the challenged legitimacy of an imploding presidency. Trump knows less about foreign policy than my ten-year old granddaughter so that when he described Kissinger’s visit as ‘an honor’ it is left as a complete mystery why this was so. It is amusing that Trump also described his audience with Pope Francis at The Vatican as an honor. The irony of the pairing should not escape even the most casual scrutiny.

 

Davutoğlu’s offers a far more sophisticated and nuanced response to his equally pessimistic diagnosis of the current global situation. His fears and hopes center on an approach that might be described as ‘normative realism’ or ‘ethical pragmatism.’ In this fundamental respect Davutoğlu analyzes the challenges confronting humanity in light of the international structures that exist. He advocates the adaptation of these structures to current realities, but with a strong normative pull toward the fulfillment of their humane and inclusive democratizing potential. He optimistically hopes that the United States will again play up to its weight on the global stage, especially as a normative leader and problem-solver. For this reason he strongly disapproves of the shrill Trump call of ‘America first’ as well as worries about the varieties of right-wing populism that have led to the rise of ultra-nationalist autocrats throughout the planet.

 

Davutoğlu, a leading political figure in Turkey over the course of the last fifteen years, is both a Turkish nationalist and an internationalist. He urges greater representation for emerging economies and states in international institutions and procedures, and the necessary reforms of procedures and practices to bring this about. No personal achievement during his years as Foreign Minister brought Davutoğlu greater satisfaction than Turkey’s election to term membership in the UN Security Council. For Davutoğlu such a supreme soft power recognition of status on the world stage epitomized a new kind of cosmopolitan nationalism. As Kissinger is (hard)power-oriented, Davutoğlu is people-oriented when it comes to global politics. In this regard, Davutoğlu’s worldview moves in the direction of normative pluralism, incorporating diverse civilizational constructs to the extent possible, globalized by crucial universalist dimensions, particularly with respect to human dignity, human rights, and a diplomacy focused on conflict resolution. Davutoğlu gives scant attention to working out a Kissingerian modus vivendi between dominant state actors, but is receptive to practical solutions and political compromises for the sake of peace, justice, and stability.

 

Although I share Davutoğlu’s diagnosis and overall prescriptions I would take note of several differences that might turn out to be only matters of emphasis if our respective positions were more fully elaborated. I think the most distinctive feature of the current world order crisis is its insufficient capacity to address challenges of global scope, most notably climate change, but also the persistence and slow spread of nuclear weapons as well as the pestilence of chronic poverty. The Westphalian approach to world order was premised on the interplay of geopolitical actors and state-centric territorial sovereignty, and was never until recent decades confronted by threats that imperiled the wellbeing, and possibly, the survival of the whole (species or world) as distinct from the part (state, empire, region, civilization). With nuclear weapons, rather than seeking their abolition, the United States exerts as much control as possible over a geopolitical regime seeking to prevent their proliferation, especially using coercive diplomacy to threaten governments viewed as hostile. Claiming to act on this basis, the United States, in coalition with the United Kingdom, launched a devastating attack in 2003 on Iraq followed by a decade of chaotic occupation. This anti-proliferation outlook presupposes that the principal danger to world peace and stability arises from countries that do not possess the weaponry rather from those that have used, developed, and deployed nuclear weapons. Considered objectively, Iran and North Korea are two countries under threat in ways that make their acquisition of nuclear weapons rationally responsive to upholding their security by deterring attacks. It is time to realize that nonproliferation ethos is precarious, misleading, and self-serving, and contributes to a cleavage that splits human community at its core. This split occurs at the very time when greater confidence in human unity is urgently needed so that shared challenges of global scope can be effectively and fairly addressed.

 

In effect, I am contending that Davutoğlu’s prescriptive vision does not directly address a principal underlying cause of the current crisis—namely, the absence of institutional mechanisms and accompanying political will to promote human and global interests, as well as national and local interests. Under present arrangements and attitudes, global challenges are not being adequately met by geopolitical leadership or by multilateral mechanisms that seek to aggregate national interests. The Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 represented a heroic effort to test the outer limits of multilateralism, but it still falls menacingly short of what the scientific consensus informs us as necessary to avoid exceedingly harmful levels of global warming. Given the current geopolitical mood, it seems unlikely that even the inadequate Paris approach will be properly implemented.

 

Similarly, the sputtering response to the situation created by the North Korean crisis should be treated as a wakeup call as to the dangerous dysfunctionality of a militarist approach to nuclear weapons policy, relying on threat diplomacy and punitive sanctions. The only approach that seems likely to be effective and deemed reasonable over time is one based on mutual security considerations, a serious embrace of a denuclearization agenda, and what might be called restorative diplomacy.

 

In the end, I share Davutoğlu’s call for the replacement of ‘international order’ (the Kissinger model) by ‘global governance’ (specified by Davutoğlu as “rule- and value-based, multilateral, consensual, fair, and inclusive form [of] global governance.” Such a shift to a governance focus is sensitive to the role of non-state actors and movements, as well as to the relevance of national ideology and governing style. It rejects a top down geopolitical approach.

 

It could be a hopeful sign that such a way of thinking is gaining ground that a recent speech in the West by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, moved in Davutoğlu’s, rather than Kissinger’s direction. When Xi addressed the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos he endorsed a worldview that rejected geopolitics, encouraged an inclusive multipolarity, and advocated nuclear disarmament. As Washington continues to conceive of the Chinese challenge as materialist and military, the real challenge being posed by China seems to be on the level of ideas, values, and survival instincts.

 

 

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NAPF: To Rid the World of Nuclear Weapons

24 Jan

 

[Prefatory Note: The statement below was drafted and endorsed by participants in a symposium held in Santa Barbara, CA in October 2017 under the auspices of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. It brought together for two days of discussion some leading peace thinkers and activists, many of whom are listed in the note at the end of the text. I have long been associated with NAPF, and took part in the symposium. The discussions started from several premises: that the dangers of nuclear weapons are real, and increasing; that the public in this country, and around the world is oblivious to these dangers; that it is feasible to achieve total nuclear disarmament by way of negotiated treaty that proceeds by stages with reliable mechanisms for assessing compliance and with provision for responses in the event of non-compliance; that nuclear weapons states, especially the United States, have obstructed all efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament; that the International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion in 1996 that unanimously concluded that nuclear weapons states had a good faith treaty obligation to seek disarmament with a sense of urgency.

 

[Significantly, since the symposium was held the President of China, Xi Jinping, speaking on January 18th at Davos during the World Economic Forum, indicated in the course of his remarks that “nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons.” If this assertion is followed up by credible efforts it could create new opportunities to move forward toward the goal of nuclear zero. Barack Obama early in his presidency made a widely acclaimed speech in Prague endorsing the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, but during his presidency he was unable to convert his visionary rhetoric into a meaningful political project. It may take a movement of people around the world to overcome the inertia, complacency, and entrenched interests that have for decades insulated nuclear arsenals from all efforts to rid the world of the menace of nuclear war.]

 

NUCLEAR AGE PEACE FOUNDATION

 

Committed to a world free of nuclear weapons

wagingpeace.org

THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NUCLEAR ZERO*

Humanity and the planet face two existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear annihilation. While climate change is the subject of increasing public awareness and concern, the same cannot be said about growing nuclear dangers arising from worsening international circumstances. It’s time again to sound the alarm and mobilize public opinion on a massive scale. Our lives may depend on it.

 

More than a quarter of a century since the end of the Cold War, some 14,900 nuclear weapons, most an order of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, 93% held by the U.S. and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable and increasing threat to humanity and the biosphere. Recent studies by atmospheric scientists show that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving 100 Hiroshima‐size atomic bombs dropped on cities could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history. A drop in average surface temperatures, depletion of the ozone layer, and shortened agricultural growing seasons would lead to massive famine and starvation resulting in as many as two billion deaths over the following decade. A full‐scale nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia would result in a “Nuclear Winter,” triggering a new Ice Age and ending most complex life on the planet.

 

The danger of wars among nuclear‐armed states is growing. There is hope that such wars can be avoided, but that hope, while the essential basis of action, is not sufficient to end the nuclear threat facing humanity and complex life on this planet. Hope must give rise to action.

 

The United States is poised to spend one trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads, the submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them, and the infrastructure to sustain the nuclear enterprise indefinitely. The other nuclear‐armed countries – Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – are modernizing their nuclear arsenals as well.

 

 

RISING TENSIONS

 

Tensions between the United States/NATO and Russia have risen to levels not seen since the Cold War, with the two nuclear giants confronting each other in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and Syria, and an accelerated tempo of military exercises and war games, both conventional and nuclear, on both sides.

 

The U.S., the only nation with nuclear weapons deployed on foreign soil, is estimated to have 180 nuclear weapons stationed at six NATO bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. In June 2016, the largest NATO war games in decades were conducted in Poland. The exercises came weeks after activating a U.S. missile defense system in Romania and ground breaking for another missile defense system in Poland. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that there would be “action in response to guarantee our security.” In October 2016, Russia moved nuclear‐capable Iskander missiles into the Kaliningrad territory bordering Poland and Lithuania, signaling its response to NATO, while claiming it was a routine exercise. Russian officials have previously described the role that the 500 km‐range Iskander system would play in targeting U.S. missile defense installations in Poland. In mid-December 2016, the Obama administration announced plans to deploy troops in Poland, the Baltic states and Romania. According to the U.S. Commander, this would send “the very powerful signal” that “the United States, along with the rest of NATO, is committed to deterrence.” In Syria, with perhaps the most complex war in history raging, the U.S., Russia and France are bombing side-by side and sometimes on opposing sides.

 

Adding to the conflicts among nuclear-armed states, the U.S., with its “pivot” to the Pacific, is facing off against China in seas where other Asian nations are contesting Chinese territorial claims. India and Pakistan remain locked in a nuclear arms race amid mounting diplomatic tensions, border clashes and rising military budgets. And North Korea, refusing to heed strong international condemnation, continues to conduct nuclear weapons tests. It has even announced an intention to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

 

These potential nuclear flashpoints are ripe for escalation. An accidental or intentional military incident could send the world spiraling into a disastrous nuclear confrontation. A great danger is that the rulers of one nuclear-armed state will miscalculate the interests and fears of another, pushing some geopolitical gambit to the point where economic pressures, covert actions, low-intensity warfare and displays of high-tech force escalate into regional or general war. This vulnerability to unintended consequences is reminiscent of the circumstances that led to World War I, but made more dangerous by U.S. and Russian policies of nuclear firstuse, keeping nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, and launch-on-warning.

 

 

 

THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

 

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s nuclear weapons rhetoric was cavalier, suggesting deepignorance. No one knows what he’ll do in office, but U.S. national security policy has been remarkably consistent in the post-World War II and post-Cold War eras, despite dramatically changed geopolitical conditions and very different presidential styles. The threatened use of nuclear weapons as the “cornerstone” of U.S. national security policy has been reaffirmed by every President, Republican or Democrat, since 1945, when President Harry Truman, a Democrat, oversaw the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to the Trump transition website: “Mr. Trump will ensure our strategic nuclear triad is modernized to ensure it continues to be an effective deterrent….” This is essentially a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy. Trump’s ominous December 22, 2016 tweet – “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”– seemed to indicate an intention to increase the level of reliance on the nuclear threat. While Trump’s conciliatory tone towards Russia offers a glimmer of hope for lowering tensions between the two nuclear-armed giants, the firestorm raging around U.S. government assertions that Russia manipulated the U.S. election to help Trump win have immeasurably compounded the difficulties in predicting what will happen next. Trump’s stated aim to tear up the Iran nuclear deal reveals his deficient understanding of international relations, indicating a lack of awareness that this is a multilateral agreement involving all five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, and that Russia and Iran are engaged in cooperative military operations, including against ISIS. Trump’s belligerent attitude toward China, a strategic ally of Russia, and his threat to upend the decades-long U.S. “one China” policy, is another cause for serious concern. In his farewell address to the nation in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” An earlier version of his warning referred to the “military-industrial-congressional complex.”

 

We now face the likelihood of a far more military-industrial Presidential cabinet. The specter of a Trump presidency with a right-wing Republican House and Senate, as well as a compliant Supreme Court, is chilling to an unprecedented degree. Trump’s appointments and nominations of reactionary, hardliner ex-generals, billionaire heads of corporations, and climate-change deniers are cause for grave concern in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas.

 

The Cold War concept of “strategic stability” among great powers, although itself never an adequate basis for genuine international security, is foundering. The Cold War and post-Cold War managerial approach to arms control must be challenged. Addressing nuclear dangers must take place in a much broader framework, takinginto account the interface between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons and militarism in general, the humanitarian and long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war, and the fundamental incompatibility of nuclear weapons with democracy, the rule of law, and human well-being.

 

 

GROWING CRISES

 

In 2009, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev warned, “Military superiority would be an insurmountable obstacle to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Unless we discuss demilitarization of international politics, the reduction of military budgets, preventing militarization of outer space, talking about a nuclear-free world will be just rhetorical.” Nuclear arms control has ground to a halt and the world is backsliding. The growing crises among nuclear armed states must be defused and disarmament efforts put back on track. Nothing is more important now than to counter the notion that collaborative security with Russia is to be regarded as treasonous or somehow more dangerous than confrontational geopolitics. Peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age. Starting with the U.S. and Russia, the nuclear-armed states must sit down at the negotiating table and begin to address Gorbachev’s agenda.

 

It is essential at this time to assert the credibility and the necessity of a transformational approach to nuclear disarmament. We should do our utmost to marshal public discourse to counter the militarization of governments’ imaginations. The use of military force should always be the last option, not just in rhetoric, but in diplomatic practice. There has never been a greater need for imaginative diplomacy. The cycle of provocation and response must be halted. Nuclear threats must cease. Nuclear weapons modernization programs must be terminated. Military exercises and war games must be curtailed and conducted with great sensitivity to geopolitical conditions. The U.S. should withdraw its nuclear weapons from NATO bases and, at a minimum, stop NATO expansion and provocative deployments. Policies of nuclear first-use, hair-trigger alert, and launch-on-warning must be ended. In the longer term, military alliances should be dismantled and replaced by a new collective security paradigm. All nations, first and foremost the U.S., by far the largest weapons exporter, should stop the sale and supply of arms to conflict regions.

 

CHANGING THE DISCOURSE

 

Changing the discourse involves both language and processes. We need to take seriously our human role as stewards of the earth and talk about nuclear dangers in terms of potential omnicide. Nuclear weapons are incompatible with democracy. They place vast unaccountable power in a few leaders’ hands, unchecked by the millions of voices that true democracy depends on. We must reject notions of U.S. exceptionalism that exempt this country from respect for the rule of law and the authority of the United Nations. Further, we must revitalize the U.S. Constitution by reintroducing checks and balances into decision‐making about war and peace. Indeed, much of the world does seem to be coming to its senses regarding nuclear weapons. Deeply frustrated by the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament, in December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority to hold negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination. The vote represents an historic global repudiation of the nuclear weapons status quo among the vast majority of non‐nuclear weapons states. None of the nine nuclear‐armed nations supported the resolution, and it is unlikely that any nuclear‐armed states will participate in the negotiations.

 

To realize the full value of a “ban” treaty, we must demand that the nuclear‐armed states recognize the existing illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons under international law protecting civilians and the environment from the effects of warfare. The governments of these states must finally act to meet their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Non‐Proliferation Treaty and customary international law, and participate in good faith in the negotiations as unanimously mandated by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 Advisory Opinion. The media have narrowed the boundaries of debate, and the public has virtually no feasible means to engage decision‐makers on disarmament imperatives. Yet the need for such discourse has never been more urgent. We reject the apocalyptic narrative and summon the imaginations of people everywhere to envision a vastly different future. There is no inevitability to the course of history, and a mobilized citizenry can redirect it toward a positive future.

 

 

 

 

AN ETHICAL IMPERATIVE

 

There exists an ethical imperative to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The survival of the human species and other forms of complex life requires acting upon this imperative. We will need to successfully reach out to constituencies and organizations outside the peace and disarmament sphere to inspire and engage millions, if not tens of millions, of people. Education and engagement of both media and youth will be

critical for success. Hope must be joined with action if we are to abolish nuclear weapons before they abolishus. The alarm is sounding.

 

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

 

 

*This document reflects the discussions at the symposium “The Fierce Urgency of Nuclear Zero: Changing the Discourse,” held in Santa Barbara, California, on October 24‐25, 2016, and also takes into account the changed political landscape in the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump, which occurred two weeks after the symposium.

 

Endorsers of this statement include: Rich Appelbaum, Jackie Cabasso, Paul K. Chappell, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard Falk, Mark Hamilton, Kimiaki Kawai, David Krieger, Peter Kuznick, Robert Laney, Judith Lipton, Elaine Scarry, Jennifer Simons, Daniel U. Smith, Steven Starr, and Rick Wayman. The symposium was sponsored and organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

 

A full list of symposium participants, along with videos, audio and transcripts of presentations, are available at

 

http://www.wagingpeace.org/symposium‐fierce‐urgency.

January 20, 2017

The Enigma that was Shimon Peres

29 Sep

Responses to Interview Questions on Shimon Peres

(from Rodrigo Craveiro of Correio Braziliense, Brasilia)

 

[Prefatory Note: the text that follows is derived from an interview yesterday with an important Brazilian newspaper. I have retained the questions posed by the journalist, but expanded and reframed my responses. The death of Shimon Peres is the last surviving member of Israel’s founding figures, and in many ways a fascinating political personality, generating wildly contradictory appraisals. My own experience of the man was direct, although rather superficial, but it did give me greater confidence to trust my reservations about his impact and influence, which collides with the adulation that he has inspired among American liberals, in particular.]

 

  • 1) What is the main legacy of president Shimon Peres, in your point of view?

Shimon Peres leaves behind a legacy of a long public life of commitment to making Israel a success story, economically, politically, diplomatically, and even psychologically. He is being celebrated around the world for his intelligence, perseverance, and in recent decades for his public advocacy of a realistic peace with the Palestinians. I believe he lived an impressive and significant life, but one that was also flawed in many ways. He does not deserve, in my opinion, the unconditional admiration he is receiving, especially from the high and mighty in Europe and North America. Underneath his idealistic rhetoric was a tough-minded and mainstream commitment to Zionist goals coupled with an expectation that the Palestinians, if sensible, would submit graciously to this reality, and if not, deservedly suffer the consequences of abuse and harm. He was never, contrary to his image, a supporter of an idealistic peace based on recognizing the equality of the Palestinian people, acknowledging the wrongs of the nakba and the Palestinian ordeal that followed, and in creating a sustainable peace that included realizing Palestinian rights as defined by international law.

* 2) Do you believe Peres was ever close to obtaining a definitive peace deal with Palestinians? What did it get wrong?

In my view, Peres never even wanted to reach a sustainable peace agreement with the Palestinians, but he fooled many people, including the committee in Oslo that selects the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was unyielding in his refusal to grant Palestinians dispossessed in 1948 any right of return. He early favored, in fact helped initiate, and never really confronted the settlement movement as it encroached upon the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He consistently pretended to be more peace-oriented than he was except when it served his purposes to seem war-like. I share the assessment made by Marc H. Ellis, the highly respected and influential dissident Jewish thinker, that aside from the exaggerated praise he is receiving, Peres will be more accurately remembered, especially by Palestinians, as an enabler of “a narrative of Jewish innocence and redemption that was always much more sinister from the beginning.” When Peres’ political ambitions made it opportune for him to be militarist, he had little difficulty putting ‘peace’ to one side and embarking on hawkish policies of destructive fury such as the infamous attack on Qana (Lebanon) in April 1996, apparently with the design of improving his electoral prospects, which in any event turned out badly. What seems generally accurate is the view that Peres believed the Israel would evolve in a more secure and tranquil manner if it achieved some kind of peace with Palestine, thereby the conflict to a negotiated end. Yet the peace that Peres favored was always filtered through a distorting Zionist optic, which meant that it was neither fair nor balanced, and was unlikely to last even if some such arrangement were to be swallowed in despair at some point by Palestinian leaders. To date, despite many attempted entrapments, the Palestinians have avoided political surrender beneath such banners of ‘false peace’ that have adorned the diplomatic stage from time to time. The Oslo diplomacy came close to achieving a diplomatic seduction, yet its ‘peace process’ while helpful for Israel’s expansionist designs never was able to deliver, as it promised, an end to the conflict in a form that met Israel’s unspoken priorities for territorial gains, a legitimated Jewish state, and a permanently subordinated Palestinian existence.

 

 

  • 3) Have you ever had chance of talking directly with him? If yes, what could you tell us on his personality?

I had small dinners with Peres on two separate occasions, and attended a couple of larger events where he was the guest of honor. Both of these dinners took place in New York City more than twenty years ago. I was impressed by Peres’ intelligence and social skills, but also by his arrogant and insensitive Israeli nationalism and his unanticipated interest at the time in promoting a strategic alignment with US global and regional policies in the Middle East, which he expressed in think tank militarist terms when he regarded himself as among friends. I remember, in particular, his advocacy, then way ahead of unfolding events, of the feasibility of achieving close strategic partnerships among Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. His premise, which has proved correct, was that these three political actors shared common interests in regional security and the political established order that would take precedence over supposedly antagonistic ideological goals and ethical values. Peres believed that these countries were natural allies bound by mutual interests, an outlook that exhibited his geopolitically driven political mentality. Peres also seemed always to make it clear in private settings that he was not seen as naïve, and frequently made the point that the Middle East was not Scandinavia. I heard him speak in 1993 one time at Princeton shortly after the famed handshake on the White House lawn between Rabin and Arafat. On that occasion he made it clear that the ‘Palestinians’ were ‘Arabs,’ and accordingly it would be appropriate for the 22 Arab countries to absorb the Palestinian refugees rather than expect this burden to fall on Israel’s shoulders. Beyond this, he indicated his hopes for normalization in the Middle East that would benefit both Israel and the Arab countries, which he visualized by a metaphor I found racist at the time: Israel would supply the brains, while the Arab would supply the brawn, and the combination would be a productive regional body politic.

 

 

* 4) Do you think Shimon Peres was one of the most dedicated Israeli leaders to achieving a two state solution? Why?

 

I am not sure about the true nature of Peres’ commitment to a two state solution, although I felt his public offerings were often manipulative toward the Palestinians and were put forward in a disarming manner as if responsive to reasonable Palestinian expectations. Underneath the visionary rhetoric, Peres acted as if Israel’s diplomatic muscle gave it the opportunity to offer the Palestinians a constrained state that would end the conflict while leaving Israel with indirect and no longer contested control of a disproportionate share of historic Palestine. As is typical for political realists, Peres exaggerated the capacity of military might to prevail over political resolve. He has been so far wrong about attaining Israel’s goal of a controlled peace ever being achievable, underestimating Palestinian nationalism and its insistence that peace be based on the equality of the two peoples. Part of why Peres was so appreciated internationally is that his language and vision tended to be outwardly humanistic, and thus contrasted with the far blunter approaches associated with many recent politicians in Israel, and most notably with Bibi Netanyahu. Only by such a comparison can Peres be genuinely considered as ‘a man of peace.’ But this image, however much polished, does not capture the essence of this complicated, contradictory, and talented political personality. As suggested earlier, Peres is probably best understood as a geopolitical realist who believed in maximizing Israeli military power, and not only for defensive purposes, but to give the country the capacity to impose its will on the outcome of the conflict, and to exert unchallenged influence over the entire region. It should not be forgotten that Peres initially became prominent decades ago as a leading overseas procurer of weapons for Israel and later as the political entrepreneur of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, which included persuading France to give assistance that violated its commitments as a party to the Nonproliferation Treaty. As well, on occasion, for the sake of his political ambitions when in or aspiring to high office, Peres supported and was responsible for very aggressive military retaliatory strikes against Palestinian communities that caused heavy casualties among innocent civilians.

Peres was always very useful for the West: an ally and someone who presented a hopeful, moderate, and peace-oriented outer look that was presented as exhibiting the soul of Israel, a moral energy trying forever to free the country from the birth pains of its violent emergence. The Economist unintentionally illustrated Peres’ witty cynicism that also came across in personal encounters: “There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes, love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere.” The august magazine offered this to show off Peres’ wisdom, but I take it as summarizing his deeply suspect view of real peace, or for that matter, of real love.

 

It is not surprising, yet still symbolically disappointing, that President Barack Obama unreservingly exalts Shimon Peres, and is making the symbolic pilgrimage to Israel to take part in the funeral service honoring his life. If Peres’actual political impact is taken into account, his words of excessive tribute to Peres should haunt Obama if he were exposed to the other side of Peres, the so-called ‘father of the settlement movement,’ ‘the butcher of Qana,’ ‘the man behind Israeli nuclear weapons’: “A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever. Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves – to the very end of our time on Earth and to the legacy that we leave to others.”

 

 

As with Obama’s recent disturbingly positive public statement of farewell to Netanyahu at the UN, the departing president seems overly eager to create a final, formal impression of unconditional solidarity with Israel, an attitude reinforced in these instances by showing only the most nominal concern for the ongoing Palestinian ordeal. One can only wonder what became of the outlook contained in Obama’s much heralded 2009 speech in Cairo that viewed Israel/Palestine in a more balanced way and promised to turn a new page in relations between the United States and the Middle East. It does not require a historian to remind ourselves that Israel wasted little time in mobilizing its lobbying forces to pour scorn on such a revisioning of policy inducing Obama to back down in an awkward and politically costly manner. Perhaps, this ‘reset’ can be justified as a practical move by Obama in the interest of governing, but why now when the tides of political pressure have relented and after so much experience of Netanyahu, does Obama want to be regarded more than ever as Israel’s staunch friend rather than as someone who was so often obstructed by the Israeli leadership?

 

Such a posture is distressing, in part, because it overlooks the outrageous and undisguised effort by Netanyahu to favor Romney for president in the 2012 American elections and his later belligerent circumvention of White House protocol by speaking directly to the U.S. Congress to register intense opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. If Obama behaves in this craven way, what might we expect from a Clinton presidency? Clinton has already committed her likely forthcoming administration to the absurd goal of raising even higher the level of friendship and solidarity between the two countries higher than it was during the Obama years. She has provided tangible evidence that this pledge is genuine by making gratuitous and unacceptable avowals of intense opposition to the BDS Campaign, and hence of subordinating the constitutional rights of American citizens to the whims of pro-Israeli extremists.

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

21 May

On (Not) Loving Henry Kissinger

 

There is an irony that would be amusing if it was not depressing about news that Donald Trump has been courting the 92-year old foreign policy sorcerer Henry Kissinger. Of course, the irony is that earlier in the presidential campaign Hilary Clinton proudly claimed Kissinger as ‘a friend,’ and acknowledged that he “relied on his counsel” while she served as Obama’s Secretary of State between 2009-2013. It is indeed strange that the only point of public convergence between free-swinging Trump and war-mongering Clinton should be these ritual shows of deference to the most scandalous foreign policy figure of the past century.

 

Kissinger should not be underestimated as an international personality with a sorcerer’s dark gifts. After all, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his perverse role in Vietnam diplomacy. Kissinger had supported the war from its inception and was known as a strong proponent of the despicable ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam. He had earlier joined with Nixon in secretly extending the Vietnam War to Cambodia, incidentally without Congressional knowledge, much less authorization. This led to the total destabilization and devastation of a country that had successfully maintained its neutrality for the prior decade. It also generated the genocidal takeover by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s resulting in the death of a third of the Cambodian population. It was notable that the Nobel had been jointly awarded to Luc Duc Tho, Kissinger’s counterpart in the negotiations, who exhibited his dignity by declining the prize, while Kissinger as shameless as ever, accepted and had an assistant deliver his acceptance speech because he was too busy to attend. Significantly, for the first time, two members of the Nobel Selection Committee resigned their position in disgust.

 

The more familiar, and more damning allegation against Kissinger, is his association with criminal violations of international law. These are convincingly set forth in Christopher Hitchens The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001). Hitchens informed readers that he “confined himself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment.” He omitted others. Hitchens lists six major crimes of Kissinger:

            “1. The deliberate mass killing of civilian population in Indochina.

  1. Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later in assassination in         Bangla Desh.
  2. The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation—Chile—with which the United States was not at war.
  3. Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus.
  4. The incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor.
  5. Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, DC.”

Whether the evidence available would support a conviction in an international tribunal is far from certain, but Kissinger’s association and approval of these unlawful and inhumane policies, and many others, is clear beyond reasonable doubt.

 

In some respects as damaging as these allegations of complicity in war crimes is, it is not the only reason to question Kissinger’s credentials as guru par excellence. Kissinger shares with Hilary Clinton a record of bad judgments, supporting some foreign policy initiatives that would be disastrous if enacted

and others that failed while inflicting great suffering on a foreign civilian population. In his most recent book, World Order published in 2014, Kissinger makes a point of defending his support of George W. Bush’s foreign policy with specific reference to the war of aggression undertaken in 2003. In his words, “I supported the decision to undertake regime change in Iraq..I want to express here my continuing respect and personal affection for President George W. Bush, who guided America with courage, dignity, and conviction in an unsteady time. His objectives and dedication honored his country even when in some cases they proved unattainable within the American political cycle.” [pp. 324-325] One would have hoped that such an encomium to the internationally least successful U.S. president would be a red flag for those presidential candidates turning to Kissinger for guidance, but such is his lofty reputation, that no amount of crimes or errors of judgment can diminish his public stature.

 

Kissinger first attracted widespread public attention with a book that encouraged relying on nuclear weapons in a limited war scenario in Europe, insisting that the United States could prudently confront the Soviet Union without inviting an attack on its homeland. [Nucelar Weapons and Foreign Policy (1967). As already indirectly suggested, he supported the Vietnam War, the anti-Allende coup in Chile, Indonesian genocidal efforts to deny independence to East Timor, and many other dubious foreign policy undertakings that turned out badly, even from his own professed realist perspective.

 

It is true that Kissinger has a grasp of the history of diplomacy that impresses ordinary politicians such as Trump and Clinton. True, also, he rode the crest of the wave with respect to the diplomatic opening to China in 1972 and pursued with impressive energy the negotiation of ceasefire arrangements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. As well, TIME magazine had a cover featuring Kissinger dressed as superman, dubbing their hero as ‘super-K.’ There is, in this sense, no doubt that Kissinger has been a master as refurbishing his tarnished reputation over the course of decades.

 

Yet fairly considered, whether from a normative or strategic outlook, I would have hoped that Kissinger should be viewed as ‘discredited’ rather than as the most revered repository of foreign policy wisdom in this nation. Bernie Sanders struck the proper note when he said “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend.” And when queried by Clinton as to who he would heed, Sanders responded, “I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” In contrast, the words of Hilary Clinton confirm her affinity for the man: “He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels.” In fairness she did qualify this show of deference with these words: “[t]hough we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past….” This was the only saving grace in her otherwise gushing review of Kissinger’s World Order (2014) published in the Washington Post.

 

Let me offer a final comment on this shared adulation of Kissinger as the éminence grise of American foreign policy by the two likely candidates for the presidency. It epitomizes and helps explain the banality of the political discourse that has dominated the primary phases of the presidential campaign. It is hardly surprising that during this time dark clouds of despair hang heavy in the skies above the American body politic. Before either presidential hopeful even walks into the Oval Office both Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably by over half of all Americans, and regarded with a mixture of dismay, fear, and shock by political leaders and their publics around the world. To show obeisance to Kissinger’s wisdom and wizardry is thus emblematic of the paucity of mainstream American political imagination, and should worry all who care about the future of the country and the world.