Tag Archives: Russia

A European Call for an end to the Ukraine War

5 Jul

[Prefatory Note The following letter appeared in the prominent German weekly, ZEIT, last week. It is written from a European perspective, calling for a ceasefire followed by bilateral negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. The organizers and the signers are almost totally drawn from the higher echelons of German intellectual and academic life. The letter does not directly address the geopolitical dimensions of the Ukraine War. As a result, it fails to cast blame on the United States or NATO for seeking a Ukraine battlefield victory or on Russia for threatening to unleash nuclear warfare. Nevertheless, the urgent call for an end to the killing and diplomacy is a welcome and valuable alternative to the idea, seemingly endorsed by leading NATO governments, of a prolonged Ukraine War even if it keeps escalation tensions at a heightened level, diverts attention and resources from climate change, and subjects especially countries in the Global South to multiple forms of severe hardship and dangerous forms of instability.]

Ceasefire Now. Negotiations as soon as possible.

Jakob Augstein (journalist), Richard A. Falk (professor of international law), Svenja Flaßpöhler (philosopher), Thomas Glauben (professor of agricultural economics), Josef Haslinger (novelist), Elisa Hoven (professor of criminal law), Alexander Kluge (filmmaker and author), Christoph Menke (professor of philosophy), Wolfgang Merkel (professor of political science), Julian Nida-Rümelin (philosopher), Robert Pfaller (philosopher), Richard D. Precht (philosopher), Jeffrey Sachs (professor of economics), Michael von der Schulenburg (former UN diplomat), Edgar Selge (novelist), Ilija Trojanow (novelist), Erich Vad (retired general, former military advisor to Angela Merkel), Johannes Varwick (professor of international politics), Harald Welzer (social psychologist), Ranga Yogeshwar (science journalist), Juli Zeh (novelist)

Europe faces the task of restoring and securing peace on the continent. This requires the development of a strategy to end the Russian war in Ukraine as soon as possible.

Ukraine has been able to defend itself against Russia’s brutal war of aggression for three and a half months now, partially thanks to massive economic sanctions and military support from Europe and the United States. However, the longer this support continues, the less clear it becomes which goals are being pursued with it. A Ukrainian victory with the recapture of all occupied territories, including the Donezk and Luhansk oblasts and Crimea, is considered unrealistic by most military experts, given Russia’s military superiority and ability to further escalate militarily.

All western countries that provide military support to Ukraine must therefore ask themselves what their precise goal is and whether (and for how long) arms deliveries continue to be the right course of action. Continuing the war with the aim of Ukraine’s complete victory over Russia means that thousands more victims will die for a purpose that does not seem realistic. 

Moreover, the consequences of the war are no longer limited to Ukraine. Its continuation is causing massive humanitarian, economic, and environmental distress around the world. Rapidly rising prices, energy and food shortages have already led to unrest in many countries. Fertilizer shortages will have a global impact if the war lasts beyond the fall. High casualty rates, many deaths from hunger and disease and destabilization of the global situation are to be expected. Warnings of these dramatic consequences are also being issued at the international political level (G7, UN). 

All western countries must stand united against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and further revanchist claims. However, prolonging the war in Ukraine is not the solution. The current developments surrounding rail transit to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and Putin’s announcement to deliver nuclear-capable missile systems to Belarus, show that the danger of escalation is increasing. The western countries must do anything they can to ensure that the war parties reach a negotiated settlement as soon as possible. This alone can prevent years of a war of attrition with its fatal local and global consequences, as well as a military escalation that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.

Negotiations does not mean a surrender of Ukraine, as is sometimes assumed. A dictated peace by Putin is not an option. The international community must do everything it can to create conditions under which negotiations are possible at all. This includes a declaration that the Western actors have no interest in continuing the war and will adjust their strategies accordingly. It also entails a willingness to secure the terms of a truce as well as the results of peace negotiations internationally, which may require a high level of commitment. The longer the war continues, the more international pressure will be necessary to get both sides back into negotiations. The West must make every effort to persuade the governments of Russia and Ukraine to suspend combat actions. Economic sanctions and military support have to be integrated into a political strategy aimed at gradual de-escalation until a ceasefire is fully implemented.

So far, there has not been a joint and concentrated effort by the international community, the major Western players in particular, to seek negotiations. As long as this is not the case, it cannot be assumed that an understanding is impossible and that Putin in particular does not want to negotiate. In a deadlocked conflict, it is a standard practice that war parties have maximum demands or explicitly reject peace talks. The course of the negotiation attempts so far has shown some initial willingness on both sides to come to an understanding by a flexible approach to the attainment of their goals. At this point, only a major diplomatic offensive can lead out of the current impasse.

The opening of negotiations is not a justification for war crimes. We share the desire for justice. Negotiations, however, are first and foremost a necessary means to prevent further suffering in Ukraine and adverse consequences of the war around the world. Considering the threat of humanitarian catastrophes and the manifest risks of escalation, stability must be restored as quickly as possible. Only a suspension of combat actions will create the time and opportunity necessary to do this. The supreme importance of this goal demands that we rise to the challenge and do everything in our power to make an early ceasefire and the start of peace negotiations possible – and refrain from doing anything that contradicts this goal.

Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age

24 May

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

Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ukraine War: A Geopolitical Perspective

12 Mar

[Prefatory Note: This post is a somewhat modified version of a talk on March 9th, 2022 at a session of the Global Studies Colloquium, UCSB, convened by Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse. I regret not having a transcript as a series of challenging questions followed my remarks, including several participants in Europe. COVID has made transnational dialogue much more of a common and enriching feature of intellectual activity on university campuses.]

The Ukraine War: A Geopolitical Perspective

When we agreed on a theme for my presentation, we were in a pre-Ukraine world. In the interim developments in Ukraine, including the imprudent US-led provocations, Russian aggression against a sovereign state producing a severe humanitarian crisis in a country of over 44 million people, the confrontational Western response by way of sanctions and a surging Russophobia, producing a win/lose calculus rather than striving for partial win/win political outcomes, which I would identify as restoring respect for Ukrainian sovereign rights (ceasefire, Russian orderly w/drawal; reconstruction assistance; emergency humanitarian aid) coupled with a commitment by Ukraine to never join NATO or allow Western troops or weaponry to be deployed on its soil, as well as a commitment to allow self-government in Eastern Ukraine and the protection of human rights in Donbas region in accord with the reinvigoration of the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15. The West’s refusal to practice win/win diplomacy is suggestive of an absence of political and moral imagination at a time in world history when the resources and energies of the world need to be dedicated to global problem-solving as never before, and not be diverted by geopolitical dramas of the kind that has been tragically unfolding in Ukraine since February 24th.

Geopolitics is often invoked vaguely and abstractly, frequently given diverse meaning, and thus needs to be explained. Geopolitics is most usefully understood as referencing the behavior of dominant states, what used to be called Great Powers. There is a confusion embedded in IR, which generally refers to a state-centric world order based on juridical equality as exemplified by international law, and has been recently mystified in the political discourse of the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This high official insists that U.S. foreign policy adheres to the restraints of a rule-governed international order, while that of its rivals, China and Russia, does not, and that for him makes all the difference. In actuality, the reality of geopolitics is most manifest in war/peace or international security contexts where all Great Powers throughout the world history of several centuries privilege their strategic priorities over adherence to rules or norms of general application.

At the end of World War II there were basically two geopolitical actors—US & USSR. Additionally, through the strength of Winston Churchill’s personality and the vitality of the trans-Atlantic alliance, UK was treated as a third geopolitical actor. France was later added as a courtesy urged by Churchill to avoid Britain enduring the loneliness of being the predominant colonial power. China as the most populous country and the sole representative of the Global South was the final state admitted to this exclusive club of geopolitical actors, who not only became the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, but were also the first five countries to develop and possess nuclear weapons.

Franklin Roosevelt exerted American influence, backed by Stalin, to ensure that the United Nations would be established in a manner that took account of the institutional failures of the League of Nations that had been brought into existence after World War I to keep the peace. FDR attributed the failure of the League as arising from its Westphalian state-centric framing of authority. Instead of juridical equality as the dominant organizing principle, Roosevelt favored the establishment of a hybrid institution: geopolitical primacy for the Security Council endowed with sole authority to reach and implement, if necessary by force, binding decisions; Westphalian statism was relied upon to legitimate claims of authority in the GA and rest of UN System, yet limited in its efforts to influence behavior to advisory and recommendatory authority that has turned out have had inconsequential impacts in relation to the most pressing items on the global policy agenda.

Additional support for hybridity came from the Soviet Union that sought not only Permanent Membership in the SC but structural assurances that it would not be victimized by a tyranny of the majority composed of anti-Communist Western-leaning countries. Soviet concerns were set forth as part of the justification for granting a right of veto to the permanent five. The central idea was to frame the peace and security priorities of the new UN in a manner that clearer ample space political space for the practice of geopolitics within the four walls of the Organization. It is not surprising that this accommodation of geopolitics produced an impasse at the UN, approaching political paralysis during the Cold War. It also perversely meant that the P-5 were constitutionally empowered to opt out of compliance with international law whenever their strategic interests so decreed by simply casting a veto blocking a SC decision.

It should be noted that a quite differerent approach was taken in the economic sphere of the Bretton Woods institutions of the World Bank and IMF where Western primacy for market economies was achieved by weighted voting and leadership traditions proportionally based on capital contributions. Such a capitalist consensus did indeed lead to a rule-based international liberal order, which contrasted with the contested ideological combat zone of post-1945 geopolitics. [Ikenberry; WTO added later]

Roosevelt’s vision of the UN was vindicated to some extent by achieving and maintaining universality of membership throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Providing a comfort zone for geopolitics did overcome one of the principal procedural weaknesses of the state-centric League. The League suffered from non-participation (US), withdrawal (USSR), and expulsion (Germany), arguably the most important international actors between the two world wars.

The most hopeful part of FDR’s hopes to the UN proved irrelevant and naïve. Roosevelt was hopeful that the of countries with diverse ideologies that had cooperated so effectively in responding to the fascist challenge in the war would extend their alliance to peacetime. He believed, or maybe just hoped, that the victors in World War II would take on the less onerous challenges of peacetime. In retrospect, it seems clear that those who led the peace diplomacy after World War II underestimated the intensity of antagonistic geopolitical ambitions that had been temporarily subdued to address the common threat posed by fascism, and that the removal of that threat made possible the resumption of fierce geopolitical rivalry between the two military superpowers.

The Cold War, despite its periodic crises, proxy wars, and arms races managed to avoid a third world war by producing a relatively stable geopolitical balance of power based on two  principal elements: deterrence (mutual assured destruction) and respect for each other’s spheres of influence. The risks of war during this period arose over different perceptions of respective degrees of control over spheres of influence as in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the interplay of nationalisms and ideological affinities in the three divided countries of Korea and Vietnam that led to horribly destructive proxy wars and Germany that produced recurrent crises that endangered peace in scary ways. War prevention was more successful in Europe where respective spheres of influence accepted hostile interventions by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and more subtly by the U.S. in Western Europe

What might be called ‘the geopolitics of peace’ during the Cold War reflected patterns of assertion and restraint that reflected the prevailing geopolitical structure: the presence of nuclear weapons, and the collapse of European colonialism. The structural reality of the Cold War period was captured by a militarist understanding of geopolitics in the nuclear age, and by the imaginary of ‘bipolarity.’ Such abstractions unless elaborated obscures the role of geopolitical leadership, internal cohesion and governance, and perceptions of the adversary. Yet ‘bipolarity’ gives a more instructive view of geopolitics than does an emphasis on the P-5 in the UN setting, and has prevailed in the academic IR literature.

The collapse of the Soviet Union led what the right-wing neoconservatives in the U.S. heralded as the onset of ‘a unipolar moment,’ which meant that the logic of balance and deterrence no longer applied, especially in conflicts within the spheres of influence bordering on China and Russia. Balance was replaced by the logic of dominance and asymmetry. A triumphalist atmosphere emerged in the US during the 1990s conveyed by such phrases as ‘the end of history,’ ‘the second American century,’ ‘the doctrine of enlargement,’ and ‘democracy promotion.’ No longer was geopolitics conceived largely in regional terms, but rather as a global undertaking of a single political actor, the United States, the first truly ‘global state’ whose security zone encompassed the planet.

But there were problems with operationalizing a Monroe Doctrine for the world: the potency of nationalist resistance neutralizing over time the impact of military superiority enjoyed by the intervening geopolitical actor, a revision of the balance of forces as between intervenors and national sites of struggle recently evident in Iraq and Afghanistan; the fact that China’s challenge was not primarily military, and thus could not be ‘deterred’ by force alone; the growing Russian resentment at being hemmed in and threatened by the geopolitical acrobatics of unipolarity.

One further observation of a conceptual nature: world order is constituted by two normative logics: a geopolitical logic based on inequality of states and a juridical logic based on their equality. For relations based on equality, international law provides a framework; for those based on inequality, strategic priorities including war avoidance underpin action. Bipolarity proved to be relatively resilient, unipolarity turned out to be dysfunctional, producing massive human suffering, widespread devastation and human displacement while frustrating the pursuit and attainment of geopolitical goals.

Before the Ukraine crisis, there seemed to be forming a new geopolitical configuration based on somewhat different patterns of alignment: ‘containment’ was being resurrected in relation to China and focusing on the defense of South Asia, including the islands, with a less Euro-centric alliance on both sides. Instead of NATO v Warsaw Pact there is the relations of US, India, UK, and Australia. Russia seemed to be replacing East Europe as the principal ally or partner of China suggesting a new phase of bipolarity and the onset of a second cold war.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine drastically challenged that playbill, or so it now seems. He had previously pledged ‘the end of the unipolar world,’ and seemed to mean this primarily in relation to the Russian sphere of influence along its Western borders, starting with Ukraine. Such a geopolitical approach is running into some comparable obstacles to those encountered by the US with respect to unipolarity. China is placed in an awkward position of conflicting priorities, balancing U.S. encroachments and hegemonic geopolitics, yet uphold the sanctity of territorial sovereignty, the major premise of Westphalian world order.

One can conjecture that if a diplomatic solution is soon found for Ukraine, the Sino-Russian defensive geopolitics will revive. The Trump factor cannot be discounted in the near future, and with it a return to a geopolitical realignment scheme that was friendlier to Russia and more economistic in character, viewing China as the more troublesome rival of the U.S. from the perspective of trade, investment, and technological innovation.

What seems clear is that the 30-year aftermath of the Cold War is ending amid the ruins and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. What comes next depends on many factors, including the impingement of unmet global challenges not previously prominent on geopolitical agendas, yet posing dire threats to the future stability of planetary political, economic, and ecological arrangements if not treated as matters of urgency.

A New Different Cold War, An Old Geopolitics

30 May

[ Prefatory Note: The text below is based on responses to questions posed by C.J. Polychroniou, a skilled interpreter of the global scene andnoted author and interviewer. His book of interviews with Noam  Chomsky was published in 2017 under the title Optimism over Despair.Great Power Competition Is Escalating to Dangerous Levels: An Interview with Richard Falk” was published online in slightly modified form in recent issues of Global Policy, Rosenzweig Quarterly, and Z-Net.]

C. J. Polychroniou: Richard, US foreign policy under the Biden administration is geared toward escalating the strategic competition with both China and Russia. Indeed, the Interim National Strategic Guidance, released in March 2021, makes it abundantly clear that the US intends to deter its adversaries from “inhibiting access to global commons, or dominating key regions” and that, moreover, this work cannot be done alone, as was the case under Trump, but will require the reinvigoration and modernization of the alliance system across the world. Does this read to you like a call for the start of a new New Cold War?

Richard Falk: Yes, I would say it is more  ‘a call’ for a New Cold War, but it a start of a process that may soon indeed be a new Cold  War or as you aptly put it, a new, new Cold War. The focus is presently much more China than Russia, because China is seen by Washington as posing the primary threat, and besides, it regards Russia as a traditional rival while China poses novel and more fundamental challenges. Russia, while behaving in an unsavory manner, dramatized by the crude handling of the opposition figure Alexei Navalny, is perceived as manageable by standard geopolitical reliance on refurbished versions of ‘containment’ and ‘deterrence’ approaches, and without much of an ideological dimension. Euro-American strategy is to stiffen resistance to Russian pressure being exerted along some of its borders

China is another matter entirely. The most serious perceived threats are mainly associated with non-military sectors of Western, and particularly, U.S., primacy, its dominance over a dynamic productive economy, especially with respect to frontier technologies. The remarkable developmental dynamism of the Chinese economy has far outstripped anything ever achieved in the West. The United States Government under Biden appears stubbornly blindsided, seemingly determined to address these Chinese threats as if they could be effectively addressed by a combination of ideological confrontation and as with Soviet Union, containment and deterrence. This Biden response is fundamentally mistaken in its approach, which is to view China as a similar adversary than was the Soviet Union. This Chinese challenge cannot be successfully met frontally, that is, by geopolitical pushback resting on military credibility. It can only be met by a diagnosis of the relative decline of the West by way of self-scrutiny, selective emulation, and the effective encouragement of creative adaptive energies. Crafting such a response needs to be accompanied by a reformist agenda of socio-economic equity, massive infrastructure investment, the adoption of fairer wealth and income tax structures, and a commitment to a style of global leadership that identified the national interest to a greater extent with global public goods. Instead of focusing on holding China in check, the United States would do much better by learning from its successes, and adapting them to the distinctiveness of U.S. national circumstances.

It is to be regretted that the present mode of response to China is dangerous and anachronistic for four principal reasons. First, the mischaracterization of the Chinese challenge betrays a lack of self-confidence and understanding by the American Biden/Blinken foreign policy leadership.

Secondly, the chosen path of confrontation risks a fateful clash in South China Seas, an area that according to the precepts of traditional geopolitics falls within the Chinese sphere of influence, and a context within which Chinese firmness is perceived as ‘defensive’ by Beijing while the U.S. military presence is regarded as intrusive, if not ‘hegemonic.’ These perceptions are aggravated by the U.S. effort to augment its role as upholding alliance commitments in South Asia, recently reaffirmed by the clear anti-Chinese animus of the QUAD (Australia, Japan, India, and the U.S.), formally named Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which despite the euphemism of its name intends to signify enhanced regional military cooperation and shared security concerns.

Thirdly, the longtime U.S. military superiority in the Pacific region may not reflect the current regional balance of forces in the East and South China Seas. Pentagon public assertions have recently issued worrird warnings, expressing the opinion that in the event of a military confrontation, China would likely come out on top unless the U.S. resorts to nuclear weapons. According to an article written by Admiral Charles Richard, who currently heads National Strategic Command, this assessment has been confirmed by recent Pentagon war games and conflict simulations.

Taking account of this view, Admiral Richard advises that U.S. preparations for such an armed encounter be changed from the possibility of recourse to nuclear weaponry to its probability. The implicit assumption, which is scary, is that U.S. must do whatever it takes to avoid an unacceptable political outcome even if it requires crossing the nuclear threshold. We might usefully recall the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when Soviet moves to deploy defensive missile systems in Cuba in response to renewed U.S. intervention to impose regime change. Let us remember that Cuba was accepted as independent sovereign state entitled under international law to uphold its national security as it sees fit, that is, in accord with the Blinken prescription of acceptable behavior because it accords with the general understanding of a ‘rules-governed’ world. In contrast,d Taiwan has been consistently accepted internationally as falling within the historical limits of Chinese territorial sovereignty. The credibility of the Chinese claim was given political weight in the Shanghai Communiqué that re-established U.S./China diplomatic relations in 1972. Kissinger recalled that in the negotiations leading to a renewal of bilateral relations the greatly admired Chinese Foreign Minister, Chou En-Lai, was flexible on every issue except Taiwan. That is, China has a strong legal and historical basis for reclaiming Taiwan as an integral part of its sovereign territory considering its armed severance from China occurred as a result of Japanese imperialism. China governed the area now known as Taiwan from 1683-1895. In 1895 it was conquered and ruled by Japan until 1945 when it was reabsorbed and became a part of the Republic of China. After 1949 when the Chinese Communists took over control of China, Taiwan was renamed Republic of China on Taiwan, and its security dependent on the U.S. Navy. From Chinese perspective, this historical past supports their basic contention that Taiwan is part of China and not entitled to be treated as a separate state. There is little doubt that if the United States had not committed itself strategically to the defense of Taiwan, the island state would have been reabsorbed into a resurgent China.

Fourthly, and maybe decisively, the international claims on the energies and resources of the United States are quite different than they were during the Cold War of the last century. There was no impending catastrophe resulting from climate change to worry about, decaying infrastructure within the United States desperately needing expensive repair, and under-investment in social protection by government in the area of health, housing, and education. The over-investment in military capabilities and a global geopolitical posture, which involves paying for the upkeep of 800 military bases worldwide and navies in every ocean, is contributing more to national decline rather than it is to maintaining a global security system managed from Washington .

C. J. Polychroniou: Isn’t it possible that the approach of the Biden administration to the future environment of great power competition could lead to the formation of a Russia-China military alliance, especially since  alliance formation constitutes a key element of state interaction? Indeed, Vladimir Putin has already said that the prospect of such partnership  is “theoretically… quite possible,”  so the question is this: What would be the implications for global order if a Sino-Russian military alliance were to be formed?

Richard Falk: I think we are in a period of renewed alliance diplomacy recalling the feverish attempts of the United States to surround the Soviet Union with deployed military forces, which was a way of communicating to Moscow that the Soviet Union could not expand their borders territorially without anticipating a military encounter with the United States. At first glance, alliances conceived in these traditional terms make little sense in the present global setting. Except in Taiwan it is unlikely that China would seek to enlarge its territorial domain by the threat or use of force. In this sense, the ad hoc diplomacy of alliance formation, typified by the QUAD seems anachronistic, and could lead to warfare as one among several unintended and unwanted consequences.

However, realignment as distinct from alliance frameworks does make sense in an international atmosphere in which the United States is trying to confront its international adversaries with sanctions and a variety of measures of coercive diplomacy that are intended to constrain the policy options of its opponents on the world stage. Many states are dependent on international supply chains for energy and food, as well as reliable trade and investment relations. Reverting to the Cold War the Soviet Union was relatively autonomous. This is much less true under present conditions in which the higher densities of interdependence are linked to acute security vulnerability to cyber attacks by way of state-sponsored, criminal, and non-state hacking.

Additionally, access to drone technologies and computer knowhow make non-state actors, extremist political movements, and criminal syndicates an increasingly troublesome part of the global political landscape. In such an emergent global setting, traditional reliance on deterrence, defense capabilities, and retaliatory action is often ineffectual, and frequently even counter-productive. The purpose of contemporary patterns of realignment is less to augment defenses against intervention and aggression than to broaden policy options for countries that need to reach beyond their borders to achieve economic viability. Another motivation is to deflect geopolitical bullying tactics intended to isolate adversaries. As China and Russia are being portrayed as the enemies of the West, their alignment with one another makes pragmatic sense if thought of as a reciprocally beneficial ‘security community.’ Compared to past configurations of conflictual relations, current geopolitical maneuvers such as realignment are less concerned with weaponry and war and more with attaining developmental stability, intelligence sharing, and reduced  vulnerability to the distinctive threats and parameters of the Digital Age.

The logic of realignment gives China and Russia opportunities to increase their geopolitical footprint without relying on ideological affinities or coercion. Such a change in the nature of world politics is more broadly evident. For instance, important countries such as Iran and Turkey use realignment as a diplomatic tool to offset pressures and security encroachments by U.S. and Israel. In Iran’s case despite radical differences in ideology and governing style it is turning to China and Russia so as to protect its national sovereignty from a range of unlawful destabilizing measures adopted by its adversaries. Whereas Turkey, while being devalued as an alliance partner in the NATO context, may in the future better satisfy its overall needs by turning to China and Russia than by sticking to its traditional role of a junior participant in the most potent of Western alliance structures.

C. J. Polychroniou: Certain mainstream foreign policy analysts are rehashing old arguments about the US-China competition, in particular, by claiming that this is really an ideological battle between democracy and authoritarianism. What’s your own take on this matter?

Richard Falk: I think even more so than in the Cold War the ideological battleground is a smokescreen behind which lurk fears and perceived threats to the Western dominance of the world economy, which presupposes military dominance, achieved by its control of innovative military technologies. In the last half century China has already staked a strong claim to have demonstrated a superior development model (‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’) to that produced in the capitalist United States. This Chinese achievement is quite clearly explained and documented by the outstanding Indian liberal economist, Deepak Nayyar, in his important study, Asian Resurgence: Diversity in Development (2019). Great emphasis is placed by Nayyer on a high rate of savings enabling China to finance and strategically manage targeted investment of public funds. Nayyer downplays the role of ideology and stresses these economistic factors, as he analyzes the comparative development achievements of 14 countries in Asia.

The reality of the Chinese rise makes a mockery of the triumphalist claims of Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and The Last Man (1992), and even more so in their echo in George W. Bush’s covering letter to the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States in which he claims that the 20th century ended with “a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.” How dated, vain, and misplaced such language seems twenty years later!  

If China now additionally manages to challenge successfully the U.S. in such vital areas of technological innovation as artificial intelligence and robotics it will undoubtedly reinforce this image of Chinese ascendancy on the 21st century world stage. It is this prospect of being relegated to the technological shadowland that has made bipartisan elites in the United States so nervous and hostile of late. In fact, even Republican stalwarts are willing to put aside their polarizing tactics to join with Democrats in mounting a diplomatic offensive against China that could quickly become a war-mongering interaction if Beijing responds in kind.

Graham Allison has reminded us that historical instances where a previously ascendent power is threatened by a rising one has often resulted in disastrous warfare. Such belligerence is usually initiated by the political actor that feels it is being displaced by the changing hierarchy of influence, wealth, and status in world order, yielding to pressure to engage the challenger while it still possesses sufficient military capabilities to prevail in a war. [See Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the Thucydides Trap (2017)]

C. J. Polychroniou: Nuclear weapons and climate change represent by far humanity’s two greatest existential crises. Can we really be hopeful that these threats can be managed tamed within the existing international system? If not, what changes are required in current interstate relations?

Richard Falk: Of course, at this time we have become acutely aware of such global existential threats by experiencing the ordeal of the COVID pandemic, which has revealed the conflictual state-centric manner of dealing with a situation that could have been more effectively addressed for all countries if the response had been primarily by way of global solidarity. As the pandemic now appears to be subsiding in most parts of the world, we cannot be encouraged by the weakness of cooperative impulses of these two stressful years despite the obvious self-interested benefits for all if a global commons approach had been adopted with respect to testing, treatment, and distribution of medical equipment, protective gear, and vaccines. This negative background suggests that it is probably a misleading fiction to suppose that the threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change can be successfully managed over time by current forms of response. Each of these mega-threats disclose different features of an essentially dysfunctional and inequitable system of world order. World history has now entered a bio-political phase where civilizational achievements are at risk and even the survival of the human species is in doubt. Analogous dysfunctions of a different nature are evident in the internal political and economic life of many, if not most, sovereign states.

The relationship to nuclear weapons has been problematic from the beginning, including the momentous decision to drop atomic bombs on Japanese cities in 1945 as the war was nearing its end. The horrifying civilian consequences seared the collective human conscience almost to the extent of the Holocaust. The two realities exemplifying the atrocities of World War II are Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It is illuminating that in the first instance the behavior of the loser in the war was criminalized in the Genocide Convention while that of the winner in the second instance was politically legitimated although left under a dark legal cloud that lingers imprudently until now. The reality is that nuclear weapons are retained for possible use by nine states, including the most militarily powerful countries. The fact that the great majority of non-nuclear governments and the sentiments of most people in the world unconditionally oppose such weaponry has hardly mattered. The UN recently sponsored the Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) that entered into force in January 2021; however, neither law nor morality can challenge the resolve of the nuclear weapons states to retain their freedom to possess, deploy, develop, and even threaten or use such weaponry of mass destruction. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the first states to develop nuclear weapons, have issued a formal statement expressing their belief in the non-proliferation regime and deterrence as a preferred model of nuclear war prevention to that associated with reliance on a universal norm of unconditional prohibition reinforced by phased, monitored, and verified disarmament treaty process.

Martin Sherwin in his definitive study, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Rouletter from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis (2020), convincingly shows that the avoidance of nuclear war has been a consequence of dumb luck, not rational oversight or the inhibitions on use resulting from deterrence. The point being that despite the magnitude of the threats posed by the existence of nuclear weapons the structures of Westphalian statism has prevailed over considerations of law, morality, common sense, rationality, and the precautionary princple. What is absent with regard to these existential global threats is a sufficient political will to transform the underlying structural features by which authority, power, and identity has been managed by dominant states on a global level for last several centuries. The absence of trust among countries is given precedence, and is further reinforced by the weakness of global solidarity mechanisms, resulting on leaving this ultimate weapon in potentially irresponsible hands, which becomes the fate of the earth in Jonathan Schell’s book bearing that title, published in 1982.

Climate change has dramatized a different facet of this statist structure of world order. The need for the cooperative and urgent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has been validated by a strong consensus of scientific opinion. The effects of inaction or insufficient action are being concretely experienced in the form of global warming, sea levels rising, extreme weather events, glacial melting, and migrations caused droughts and floods. Yet effective responsive action is blocked by inequalities of circumstances, perceptions that generate disagreements about  allocations of responsibility, and by short-termism that makes private and public sector decision makers reluctant to depress performance statistics by expensive adjustments that cut immediate profits and slow increases in GNP. There is a widespread recognition of the need for drastic action, but the best that the collective will of governments have been able to do is to produce the Paris Agreement in 2015, which falls short of what the scientific consensus recommends and leaves it up to the good will and responsible voluntary behavior of governments to reduce emissions, wobbly foundations on which to stake the future of humanity.

The UN as now constituted cannot provide platforms for addressing global existential threats in an effective and equitable manner. The responses to the COVID pandemic offer a template for such a negative assessment. It was obvious that short-term national economic and diplomatic interests prevailed at the expense of minimizing the health hazards of virus COVID-19. Once these interests were satisfied the richer countries claimed to be virtuous by resorting to feel good philanthropy, which was masked as empathy for poorer countries and their populations.

A revealing extreme instance of the pattern was embodied in the Israeli approach, labeled ‘medical apartheid’ by critics. The Israel vaccine was made available within Israel and to Jewish settlers, while withholding the vaccine from the approximately five million Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This discriminatory pattern ignores, indeed violates, Israel’s explicit obligation under Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to accord protection to an occupied people in the event of contagious disease or an epidemic. What is disclosed beyond reasonable doubt is the structural dominance of statist and market forces combined with the weakness of existing mechanisms of global solidarity, which are preconditions for upholding global public goods. An analogous dynamic occurs within states, reflecting the class, gender, and race interests and the disproportionate burdens borne by the poor, women, and marginalized minorities.   

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

16 Jul

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

 

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a slightly modified interview conducted by Daniel Falcone, and published in Counterpunch on July 9th. Even the passage of a few days has made it seem more likely that a new geopolitical confrontation could dominate the global peace and security landscape for years, with likely dire economic consequences coming on top of the dislocations arising from COVID-19 pandemic and heightened risks of war and regional tensions. One question is whether the differences in the global setting and main geopolitical actors sufficiently resemble the Cold War circumstances to make designating a U.S./China confrontation as a Second Cold War. As my responses below suggest, I have my doubt.]

 

[Daniel Falcone’s Introduction to the Interview: Should there be a Second Cold War an alleged US concern for human rights would indeed become another ongoing tool of propaganda. In this interview, International Relations scholar Richard Falk breaks down the grave dangers and prospects for a New Cold with China. Falk worries that tensions and rivalries both regionally and economically could result in a series of hot war conflicts set off by nuclear complacent countries that fail to recognize the catastrophic risks at stake.

In retracing the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization, Falk analyses the origins of US resentment towards China’s remarkable market growth that is absent of liberal democratic structures. Aside from commenting on how ‘cold war’ with China, an economic rival, is different from 20th century Russian tension, which was largely militaristic and ideological, Falk suggests additional motivations for an escalation on the part of Trump and the possibly forthcoming bi-partisan consensus.]

 

Will China be the New Russia? The Future of American Geopolitics

Daniel Falcone: Do you anticipate the United States entering a new Cold War with China? What are the prospects for a new Cold War? Can you also discuss the fall of the Soviet Empire and the modern rise of China to better contextualize the present set of diplomatic tensions?

 

Richard Falk: I think there are grave dangers of either sliding into a new Cold War by unwitting interactions, especially with China, and possibly with Russia. More complex opposing alignments could also take shape, for instance, an alignment that features the U.S., Europe, and India on one side and China and Russia on the other. Such an encounter would likely be less ideological than the Cold War that broke out after World War II and also less preoccupied about the outbreak of an all-out nuclear war. The next cold war is likely to be more focused on economic rivalry, cyber dimensions of conflict and major regional wars involving Iran, the Korean Peninsula, India/Pakistan, or elsewhere. In this regard, what might start as a cold war has a greater prospect of producing major hot wars as there could be present less of a self-deterrent. In this altered global setting, there are distinctive risks arising from what I would call ‘nuclear complacency, underestimating the dangers and catastrophic results of nuclear war.

 

In the background of this look ahead is the extent to which China has spoiled the triumphalist narrative that was spun in the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One somewhat notorious version, associated with Francis Fukuyama ‘s claim, which seemed ludicrous when it was put forward in the early 1990s, is that after the Cold War the world had reached ‘the end of history.’ Western secular values had prevailed both with regard to state/society relations and in relation to the organization of the world economy. The future seemed, for some years, almost to vindicate this myopic interpretation, with a virtually universal endorsement of neoliberal globalization, which Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the previously left socialist leader of Brazil explained in the 1990s as ‘the only game in town.’

A cruder version of this clear vision of a victorious West was the assertions of the Tory leader in Britain, Margaret Thatcher, who aggressively shouted down the British opposition to her economic policies with the slogan ‘there is no alternative’ (to market driven economies), or simply TINA. This idea had been initially attributed to Herbert Spencer, notorious for suggesting in the 19th Century that history of society parallels human evolution in the sense of privileging ‘the survival of the fittest.’ Not surprisingly, given such an uncongenial atmosphere, progressive forces felt demoralized.

 

Left perspectives often adopted defeatist postures after the Soviet collapse, and were derided as having endorsed political oppression and backed economic failure. Perhaps worse for progressive prospects, was the awkward fact that the only surviving major socialist economy, post-Mao China after the ascent of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, seemed itself to be opting for joining the capitalist choir, seeking and gaining membership by in the World Trade Organization and rationalizing its active participation in the neoliberal world economy as ‘market socialism’ fooling almost no one, least of all capitalist investors and traders.

For many years, this seemed like a win/win reality. China’s economy expanded at a remarkable rate, but world trade increased and Western investors were pleased with their profits, associated with the low costs of skilled labor in China and the absence of strict environmental and safety standards. All was well as long as China stayed in its lane as ‘the factory for the world,’ but when it made the transition to a sophisticated high technology innovating economy it began to pose a new kind of geopolitical challenge to the primacy of the United States and the West, and murmurs began to be heard about stealing Western technology, unfair trade practices, and currency manipulations. In my view, although these issues were significant, they were capable of negotiated solutions, and were not the core concern. What began to bother the West was the degree to which China for all of its superficial adaptations to capitalist logic was dramatically outperforming its competitors in the West, seeming benefitting from the state management of economic activity, despite political authoritarianism, in a manner superior to what seemed possible in the developed societies of the West, especially with respect to savings, the investment of public funds, and even with regard to technological innovativeness relating to the post-industrial, digital age.

 

This extraordinary Chinese dynamic is brilliantly depicted for Asia as  whole by the Indian economist, Deepak Nayyar, in The Asian Resurgence: Diversity in Development (2019). The book explains the overall post-colonial Asian challenge to Western ascendancy in which 14 Asian countries, led by China, produced the most remarkable record of economic growth and poverty alleviation in the past 50 years that the world has ever known. These countries achieved these remarkable results without the private sector trappings of liberal democracy, thus drawing into question the American claim that market-driven constitutionalism was the only modern arrangement of state/society relations that was both legitimate and materially successful.

 

With these considerations in mind, three rather distinct alternative futures for the U.S./China relationship deserve scrutiny if the objective is to avoid the onset of a lose/lose second cold war. On a preliminary basis it would seem helpful to take notice of a serious language trap that suggests misleadingly that  because the words ‘cold war’ are convenient to designate a new central geopolitical confrontation, if it occurs, it would resemble in its essential features the Cold War that followed directly from the contested peace arrangements of World War II, and represented two major states that both conceived of international relations through the realist postwar prisms of hard power as complemented by adherence to rival ideologies that temporarily suspended their enmity toward each other in order to join forces to defeat fascism. There are many differences between the global settings then and now. First, there is only a rather shallow ideological difference among the leading political actors at this time, although those on the far right in the West are seeking a renewal of intense geopolitical conflict by portraying China as a Communist, socialist, even Maoist, and hence an ideological adversary of the supposedly freedom-loving West. In contrast, old style Cold War liberals are thinking more along traditional lines of geopolitical competition among principal states promoting national interests as measured by growth, military capabilities, wealth, status, and influence, with ideological differences and human rights invoked, but put situated far in the background.

 

With these thoughts in mind it becomes reasonable to depict three world futures that portray relations between China and the West. The first, and most evident one, arises from the kind of provocative Trump diplomacy that combines blaming the COVID pandemic on Chinese malfeasance with intensifying the divergencies relating to economic policies and in relation to the island disputes in the South China Sea. Such a conflict-generating diplomacy is best understood as a diversionary tactic to obscure the multiple and shocking failures by the Trump presidency to provide unifying leadership or science-based guidance during the unfolding of the health disaster that continues its lethal sweep across the country with undiminished fury, and should be exposed as such. If China takes the Trump bait, the world will be plunged into a new ferocious geopolitical rivalry that will divert resources and energies from an agenda or urgent global-scale challenges.

 

A variation on this theme is connected with the possibility that Trump thinks he faces a landslide defeat in the November election, and esscalates hostile diplomacy to stage a confrontation with China, possibly accompanied by declaring a national emergency, or by contriving Gulf of Tonkin style false incidents as a pretext for launching some sort of attack on China that is the start of a hot war, which if saner minds prevail, would be contained, and toned down to mere Cold War proportions, and likely becoming a multi-dimensional rivalry that comes to dominate international relations.

 

The second more subtle drift into a Cold War with China would arise from a deep state consensus reinforcing a bipartisan consensus in Congress, and further encouraged by private sector war industry pressures. The likely objective would be to challenge China militarily in the South China Sea or in the course of some regional confrontation, possibly arising from tensions on the Korean Peninsula, along the Indian border, or in the Indo-Pakistani context. It would represent a more common structural militarist response patterns to growing evidence of relative Western decline in the face of a continuing Asian rise.

 

The third future is even more abstract and structural, and has been influentially labeled ‘Thucydides Trap’ in a book by Graham Allison [Destined for War: Can America and China escape the Thucydides’s Trap? (2017)], who accepts the analysis of the classical Greek historian on the basis of case studies over the centuries finds that when an ascendant Great Power fears the loss of its primacy to a Rising Power, it frequently initiates war while believing it still retains a military edge, which it will not retain for long. Note that such an assessment presumes actual warfare, and should not be perceived as a sequel to the U.S./Soviet Cold War, which came close to war in several situations of bipolar, but managed to restore order in a series of tense crises without engaging in direct combat.

 

There is a further complication with an analysis that extrapolates from the Cold War. Unlike the Soviet Union, China’s rise and challenge is far less associated with military capabilities and threats than it is with a remarkable surge of economic growth and soft power expansionism by pursuing win/win approaches that combine infrastructure aid to foreign societies with the growth of influence. In this regard, China has not weakened its domestic society by excessive investment in a militarist geopolitics, which depends on maintaining an expensive and vast global military presence that produced a several failed interventions that cast doubts on the United States’ capacity to uphold global security. This loss of credibility with respect to global security, despite its military dominance can be traced back to the Vietnam War in which overwhelming combat superiority on the battlefield nevertheless led to a political defeat.

 

The United States has repeated that fundamental failure first fully exposed in Vietnam in several other military misadventures. This inability to adjust to the realities of the post-colonial era in which nationalism mobilized on behalf of self-determination often neutralizes and eventually outlasts an intervening external power despite having grossly inferior weaponry has still not been overcome by the United States as it continues to act as if its military prowess shapes contemporary history. There is a second Thucydides trap that Allison doesn’t mention, which is that Athens lost its ascendancy from internal moral and political decay more than from the challenge posed by rising Sparta, succumbing to demagogues who led Athens into imprudent military adventures that weakened its overall capabilities, and especially its political self-confidence. Such a downhill path has been traveled by the United States at least since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in which wars and contested long occupations of hostile societies has been expensive and contributed to alienation, extremism, and unrest within the United States.

 

Daniel Falcone: Can you draw on specific historical comparisons to the Soviet Union and China in terms of what is at stake geopolitically?

 

Richard Falk: There are several important comparisons. To begin with, the Soviet Union emerged from a devastating war as a victorious military power, and soon acquired nuclear weapons, posing a direct threat, ideologically and militarily to the European heartland of the Western alliance. The Cold War unfolded out of the tensions associated with the mutual disappointments of the peace diplomacy, especially as it divided Europe, including the city of Berlin.

 

The other flashpoint that provoked extremely destructive and dangerous wars in Korea and Vietnam, and recurrent crises in Germany, was the problems arising from unstable compromises between the victors in the war taking the form of countries divided without the consent and against the will of their national populations, and in disregard of the right of self-determination. In the present historical situation, the only leftover divided country is Korea, which after a serious and devastating war, 1950-52, ended as it began with the division remaining along with crises, tensions, threats, and periodic diplomatic efforts to achieve normalization leading to some form of reunification. It should be noted that although China’s geopolitical profile is overwhelmingly economistic as compared to the U.S. militarist profile, China become very sensitive about threats and disputes along its borders, and has had fighting wars with both India and Vietnam, as well as a defensive engagement in defense of North Korea.

Tensions rising to confrontation levels with China would probably either derive from disputes within China’s sphere of South Asian influence with respect to Taiwan, Hong Kong, island disputes or in some way related to China’s economic rise to a position of primacy, which contrasts with the grossly inferior economic performance of the Soviet Union if compared to the U.S. and the other major world economies, including Germany and Japan. The Soviet Union was never an economic rival or mounted a challenge in the manner of China.

 

The Cold War also coincided with the decolonizing process in Asia and Africa, which put the West and the Soviet bloc on opposite sides in a variety of struggles. In one respect this provided a safety valve that shifted bipolar confrontations to peripheral countries while trying to keep nuclear peace and stability at the center of the world system, which both sides assumed to be Europe, as well as their relations with one another. If a prolonged geopolitical confrontation emerges with China, Europe will not likely be an important site of struggle, and Europe even might sensibly opt to be non-aligned. Asia, including the Middle East, will become the main geopolitical battlegrounds, and Africa will offer a peripheral zone of contention where a Cold War II rivalry might assume its most direct expression as escalation risks would seem lower than in the various Asian theaters of encounter.

 

Unquestionably, the biggest difference is between the nature of the two challengers to Western systemic hegemony. The Soviet Union was a traditional geopolitical actor relying for expanding influence on its material capabilities and ideological penetration, while China focuses its energies and resources on soft power economic growth at home that is sustained and managed by the state in a manner that attracted massive foreign investment and domestic reinvestment based on a high rate of savings, a skilled labor force, and benefitting from highly favorable trade balances. China’s expansionist energies relied on win/win forms of economic and infrastructure assistance to countries in need with minimal interference with their political independence. The Soviet Union never undertook anything remotely comparable to China’s Road and Belt extraordinarily massive infrastructure initiative, again stressing huge win/win gains for a large number of countries, including in Africa. Aside from the special case of Cuba, the Soviet Union provided only military support to its allies in the so-called ‘Soviet bloc,’ and in East Europe intervened militarily to avoid ideological deviation.

It remains to be seen whether now that China is being challenged geopolitically by the United States it will begin to adopt a hard power mode, and the resulting confrontation between the two countries will come to resemble the Cold War. It is likely that China will emerge from the COVID pandemic with a reputation for greater efficiency in controlling the spread of the disease, reviving its economy, and understanding the functional benefits of global cooperation than the Trumpist West. At the same time, the Chinese image has been badly tarnished by damaging disclosures documenting the repression of the 10 million Uighur minority in Xinjiang Province and by forcible extensions of direct control over Hong Kong.

 

Daniel Falcone: The Cold War featured widespread propaganda in all facets of American cultural and political life. How could the United States attempt to sell the concept of an ideological confrontation with China in these times? The Republicans and Democrats are both constructing similar policy proposals it seems.

 

Richard Falk: I believe there are two approaches to confrontation with China that might be followed in the coming months, depending on which leadership controls American foreign policy after the November elections. Neither is desirable in my opinion. There is the approach of provocation adopted by Trump, which blames China for the pandemic and imposes various sanctions designed to roll back their economic and technological advances coupled with Trump’s normal transactional emphasis on securing a more favorable trade deal for the U.S. tied to a promise of warmer diplomatic relation.

 

The second approach is more closely associated with a reenactment of the Cold War bipartisan consensus that formed after World War II, and continues to animate the national security establishment in Washington. It involves a new version of containment as focused on the South China Seas island disputes, sometimes more loosely described as ‘boxing China in’ with India playing the role that Europe played in the earlier Cold War, along with an emphasis on China’s human rights abuses to achieve liberal backing, or at least acquiescence.

 

This approach is more likely to be pursued by a Biden presidency  reasserting U.S. global leadership, with a Carteresque revival of ideological emphasis on Western liberalism as a superior mode of governance and global leadership due to its record on human rights and democracy, proclaiming its dedication to ‘a new free world.’ It is this approach that is more usefully and accurately regarded as a successor to the first Cold War. This softer version of confrontation with China would not challenge the structural features of America’s geopolitical posture adopted during the Cold War based on militarism at home and globally, capitalism, Atlanticism, and ‘special relationships’ with Israel and, somewhat less stridently, with Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt.

 

At the same time, there are some strong disincentives for so engaging China in a post-pandemic setting when policy priorities should be directed at restoring the economy and addressing climate change/biodiversity, which was almost forgotten about during the health crisis. The wisest course for future American foreign policy is providing constructive global leadership with an emphasis on inter-governmental cooperation for the human interest, a receptivity to compromise and conflict resolution in dealing with economic and political disputes, a radical defunding of the military, and strong commitments to restoring the spirit and substance of the New Deal with respect to social protection and national infrastructure.

 

Daniel Falcone: Are there any specific human rights issues and regions that would present immediate concerns and be jeopardized in your estimation within a new Cold War framework?

 

Richard Falk: Neither China nor the United States are currently positioned to promote human rights in other parts of the world with any credibility. The U.S. has lost credibility due to its handling of asylum-seekers on its borders and the maintenance of sanctions against such countries as Iran and Venezuela despite widespread humanitarian appeals for temporary suspension. In addition, the worldwide surge of support for Black Lives Matter after the Floyd police murder has called attention to the ugly persistence of systemic racism in gun-toting America. With these and other concerns in mind, it is hypocritical for the U.S. to be lecturing others, complaining about human rights abuses, and imposing sanctions allegedly as punitive responses to human rights failures.

 

China has never treated human rights as an element of its foreign policy, and with its own failures to adhere to international standards at home it is unlikely to engage the West on these terms. At the same time, there are at least two positive sides to China’s treatment of human and humanitarian issues that are rarely acknowledges in the West. First, China has lifted tens of millions of its own people out of extreme poverty (while the U.S. has widened disparities between rich and poor, and oriented growth policies over the course of the last half century to benefit the super-rich causing dysfunctional forms of inequality and acute alienation and rage on the part of working class). The Chinese achievement could easily be interpreted as a great contribution to the realization of the economic and social rights and to some extent should balance its disappointing record with regard to civil and political rights.

 

Secondly, during the COVID pandemic China has displayed important contributions to human solidarity while the United States has retreated to an ‘America First’ statist outlook that is combined with very poor performance with regard to both preventive and treatment aspects of responding to the virus. China has added funding to the WHO, send doctors and supplies to many countries, and most impressive of all has pledged to place any formulas it develops for effective vaccines in the public domain, placing this vital intellectual property on the web accessible to public and private sector developers. China deserves to receive positive recognition for such acts of what is sometimes described as ‘medical solidarity,’ while the United States deserves to be shamed for its blending of capitalist greed and nationalist selfishness.

 

Should there be a Second Cold War, human rights would become even more than, at present, a tool of cynical propaganda, especially if the bipartisan consensus regains the upper hand in U.S. policymaking. As with the First Cold War, human rights considerations would be brought to bear on countries deemed hostile to U.S. geopolitics and ignored with respect to friends and allies. At present, such a dichotomy is evident by way of an emphasis on Turkish human rights failures while ignoring the far worse failures in EgyptSaudi Arabia, and Israel. Because the Second Cold War would be more explicitly geopolitical rather than ideological, I would expect less emphasis on ‘free world’ definitions of the core issues giving rise to the conflict.

 

Daniel Falcone: Although it’s a long-standing concern of strategists and planners, how do you see or anticipate China becoming an issue in the upcoming presidential election?

 

Richard Falk: It seems likely that Trump will campaign on a new strategic threat to the United States emanating from China, primarily aimed at its unacceptable economic manipulations to deprive the U.S,  of trading benefits and jobs as well as its charging China with responsibility for American deaths due to the pandemic resulting from its refusal to release information about the virus immediately after it struck Wuhan and by way of conspiring with the WHO to conceal information about the international dangers of the COVID-19 disease. As in 2016 with its inflammatory message about immigrants, it can be anticipated that Trump will use the same techniques to cast China as an evil challenge to American greatness that only he has recognized and possesses the will and ability to crush.

 

I would expect that the Democratic Party election strategy would not take fundamental issue with the Trump approach, although its emphasis might seem quite different, attacking Trump for using China as a means to distract Americans from his gross failures of international and domestic leadership. A Biden campaign would also condemn China with regard to curtailing Hong Kong democracy and autonomy, as well as its abusive policies toward the maltreated Uighur minority. Biden might also agree that Chinese behavior has been unacceptable with respect to trade practices, stealing industrial secrets, including advocating militarization and confrontation in the South China Seas.

 

Where Biden and the Democrats would differ from Trump quite dramatically is with respect to Russia. Biden Democrats would likely make Russia enemy #1, sharply criticizing Trump for being ‘Putin’s poodle,’ and arguing that Russian expansionism and its alleged responsibility for killing Americans in Afghanistan is a more frontal threat to American interests in the Middle East and Europe than are the China challenges. Depending on the rhetoric and supporting policies being advocated there is a risk that Biden’s approach would lead to geopolitical fireworks, but probably not with China, and with less preoccupation with Europe than the First Cold War that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

 

Daniel Falcone: How does our ongoing and continual: medical, racial, economic and environmental pandemics help in exploiting Cold War narratives and approaches for heads of state around the world?

 

Richard Falk: I believe it is not yet clear whether these competing narratives will outlive the health crisis when pressures to revive the economic aspects of the ‘old normal’ will be intense. It is possible that if Trump remaining in control of the U.S. Government, there would be an opportunity for China or possibly a coalition of countries to exercise global leadership by seeking to promote a global cooperative approach to health, while also seeking common ground and shared action on climate change, global migration, food security, and extreme poverty.

 

If Biden becomes the U.S, president and reasserts U.S. leadership it will likely strike a balance between pushing back against Russian and Chinese challenges and learning from the pandemic to seek global cooperative solutions to urgent problems confronting humanity. This renewal of liberal internationalism would likely be signaled on Day One by rejoining the Paris Climate Change Agreement and soon thereafter restoring American participation and support for the Iran Nuclear Agreement, supplemented by such internationalizing initiatives as returning to active membership in and robust funding for the WHO and support for the UN.

 

In conclusion, the buildup of anti-Chinese sentiments is establishing this dual foundation for a Second Cold War. Not surprisingly, the Editorial Board of the NY Times calls on Trump to use sanctions against China in response to reports of its mistreatment of the Uighur minority and its Hong Kong moves. Such advocacy is set forth without a mention of the hypocrisy of Trump being an international advocate of human rights given his record of support for autocratic denials at home and abroad, not to mention border politics and cruelty toward those millions in the U.S. without proper residence credentials. This kind of belligerent international liberalism, if not moderated, would recall the ideological joustings that made the First Cold War such a drain on resources and destroyed hopes for a rule-governed geopolitics, anchored in respect for the UN Charter and embodying commitments to promote a more peaceful, just, and ecologically responsible world.

 

 

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

Turkish Realignment: Prospects amid Uncertainty

3 Dec

In recent months the Turkish President, Recep Teyipp Erdoğan, and his principal advisors have not made it a secret that they are reconsidering Turkey’s relations with neighbors, with the countries of the region, and with leading geopolitical actors.

 

The Early Agenda of AKP

 When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 it set about almost immediately to fashion a post-Cold War foreign policy based on the idea that it was time to supersede the Cold War posture of almost total Turkish deference to the United States, especially within NATO and bipolar contexts, and depict a conception of Turkish interests developed in Ankara rather than adhere to Washington’s blueprint. In its early period of national leadership, the AKP seemed to pursue four interrelated international goals:

            –resolve the Cyprus conflict;

            –give priority to seeking full membership in the European Union (EU);

            –improve diplomatic and political relations with Arab World;

            –seek continuity in U.S./NATO/EU relations, but with overall independence.

 

During the Foreign Ministry of Abdullah Gul, reflecting and incorporating some of Ahmet Davutoğlu ideas and his ambitious conception of the proper Turkish international role, this new assertiveness of Turkish foreign policy achieved with impressive results. Turkey’s signature approach of ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ (ZPN) was initially seen as the adoption of a regional conflict-resolving perspective, and given early credibility by transforming relations with Syria from hostility to harmony. Syria became the poster child of ZPN, and the new approach was reinforced by a rapid expansion of economic and cultural relations with countries throughout the Arab World. Beyond this, Turkey extended its foreign policy with substantial economic and diplomatic success to the non-Arab parts of the Islamic World, as well as to sub-Saharan Africa. Istanbul, rather than Paris or London, quickly became the preferred hub for a wide variety of international political gatherings of interest to the Global South.

 

There was also a large emphasis placed by during the early AKP years on the acceleration of accession diplomacy with the EU, leading to an unexpected civilianizing of the Turkish government in ways that reduced the leverage of the armed forces in domestic politics and definitely moved in the direction of meeting the preconditions of human rights, democratization, and secularity that would seem to qualify Turkey to become an EU member, comparing favorably with the record of several East European countries that gained membership in the EU without confronting strong accession obstacles. The AKP also had domestic reasons to build a firewall against any future coup by the armed forces whose leadership was imbued with Kemalist belief, including a feared encroachment of political Islam on the governing process.

 

While developing a more pro-active and independent foreign policy, the AKP leadership continued to affirm its relationship with the United States, and as a staunch NATO ally. This affirmation was somewhat tested in 2003 when Washington pressed Turkey to allow a portion of the planned attack on Iraq to proceed from Turkish territory. The Turkish Parliament refused to give its consent, and the Erdoğan leadership under pressure from the United States, submitted the American request a second time with an executive recommendation of approval, but Parliament again withheld consent. It remains uncertain as to whether Erdoğan was pretending to seek parliamentary approval or was genuinely willing to allow Turkey to become directly involved in the attack upon neighboring Iraq. When the attack against Iraq proceeded without UN authorization, Turkey adopted a low profile approach that included a readiness to cooperate with the American-led occupation of Iraq, which sought to restore stability to the country. In effect, the new AKP foreign policy wanted to achieve freedom of maneuver for Turkey but without shaking the foundations of the foreign policy that had guided the ardently secular leadership of the country since the origins of the republic.

 

 

Revising AKP Foreign Policy

 Five major changes of circumstances undermined this early AKP approach to foreign policy: First of all, the deterioration of relations with Israel that became dramatically manifest at the 2009 Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum when Erdoğan sharply confronted the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, on Israel’s massive attack (Cast Lead) on Gaza, and climaxed in 2010 when Israeli commandos attacked the humanitarian flotilla bringing medical supplies to Gaza, killing 9 Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla of ships challenging the Israeli blockade. Clearly, Israel was sending a warning message to Turkey that it would push back against any Turkish challenge, including those of civil society, to the Israeli approach to Palestinians living under occupation. This encounter challenged Washington to seek restored normalcy in Israeli-Turkish relations so that it would not have to choose sides or juggle relations with both. Energetic diplomatic efforts by Barack Obama sought to heal this breach between these two principal strategic American allies in the region.

 

The second development involved Turkish reactions to the 2011 uprisings in the Arab World, the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ It should be remembered that Turkey was among the first countries to affirm unconditionally these uprisings against authoritarian rule, treating the political upheavals as welcome expressions of democratizing passions on the part of the citizenry. Turkish prestige in the region reached an all time high, and there was talk throughout the Middle East of the applicability of ‘the Turkish model.’ It was often overlooked that Erdoğan went to Cairo in the Spring of 2011 to encourage Egyptian political forces to follow the Turkish example of political secularism, and not try to embody religion in the governing process. This view not appreciated at the time in Egypt being interpreted as a neo-Ottoman effort to interfere with Egyptian internal rights of self-determination.

 

The third development was the gradual Turkish realization that their prospects for EU membership were declining despite their internal good faith efforts to comply with accession expectations. The main explanation for this decline involved the rise of Islamophobia in several key countries in Western Europe whose political approval by national referendum would be necessary before Turkish membership could be formally approved. With the virtual disappearance of this European option, the pragmatic case for internal political reform in Turkey was weakened while making the benefits of a geopolitically more equi-distant diplomacy more evident, being implemented through Turkish openings to Iran, Russia, India, and China. In other words, facing a demeaning rejection by the EU even if not directly expressed, Turkey partially turned eastward, or at least contemplated such a turn away from Europe and the West, given dramatic emphasis by Erdoğan’s display of embittered anger in reaction to EU criticism. This dynamic was further aggravated by the controversial 2015 agreement with the EU by which Turkey would slow the flow of Syrian refugees across its borders in exchange for a monetary payment and visa-free travel to Europe for Turks. From a human rights perspective, it should be noted, this kind of treatment of refugees, misleadingly called ‘migrants,’ is highly questionable, instrumentalizing their destiny as an inter-governmental bargaining chip rather than respecting their vulnerability by establishing a humane protective regime.

 

The fourth development relates to the various signs that Erdoğan was assuming a more authoritarian role in the Turkish governing process, especially in the aftermath of the AKP electoral victory in 2011. In these years Erdoğan overtly embraced a majoritarian view of democracy weakening the republican character of the Turkish government. This dynamic was accentuated after he became President of Turkey in 2014, and in response to a renewal of hostility with the large Kurdish minority, especially as represented by the Peoples Workers Party (PKK). Erdoğan’s blunt political style, combined with Turkey’s earlier shows of independence and break with Israel, encouraged a much more critical tone in the international media treatment of the AKP leadership in Turkey. This shift amounted to a sea change if compared to the more balanced approach taken between 2002-2011. The anti-Erdoğan hostility peaked in response to the Gezi Park incident in 2013 when Turkish police used excessive force to break up a series of Istanbul demonstrations by opposition forces. It seems notable that the criticisms of Turkish encroachments on human rights were given far greater international attention than the far worse contemporaneous encroachments by the Sisi regime in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy. This difference in international perceptions reflects the overseas influence of anti-AKP activists as well as the divergence of policy as between Ankara and Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv.

 

The fifth development is associated with the failed coup of July 15th.

The Turkish Government and internal Turkish public opinion were strongly convinced that the coup perpetrators were linked to the Fetullah Gülen (or Hizmet) movement, and that the United States Government had some prior knowledge, and if circumstantial evidence is to be trusted, quite possibly signaled a green light to the perpetrators. In the course of the coup, and during its aftermath, neither the US nor Europe expressed their support for the democratically elected government of Turkey, adopting a wait and see attitude that seemed poised to accept, if not welcome, the outcome had the coup been successful. Beyond this the US Government has not been responsive to the Turkish formal extradition request, failing to detain Fetullah Gülen while the legal process proceeded. Again international coverage of post-coup Turkey gives almost all of its attention to the Erdoğan crackdown on those suspected of involvement with the Hizmet movement, which while excessive and troublesome, does not depict the context in which it is reasonable for the AKP leadership to feel threatened from within by the continued Hizmet penetration of the organs of government and as a result of Kurdish militancy and ISIS terrorism. At the same time, it is fully understandable that international forces hostile to the AKP should highlight the massive dismissals from academic institutions and widespread media closures as amounting to a witch hunt.

 

 

A Turkish Foreign Policy Reset?

Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that Turkey should in this period be exploring its foreign policy options. Indeed, the exploration preceded the coup attempt of the past year. The impulse to reset Turkish foreign policy reflected a retreat from the more principled and rigid foreign policy positions associated with Davutoğlu’s influence and the endorsement of a pragmatic attempt to minimize hostile regional and global tensions.

 

Most controversially from an American perspective, the pragmatic turn seemed to regard as its centerpiece improved relations with Russia. The goal was broad based cooperation with Russia in recognition of shared interests, including a possible compromise on how to establish a sustainable ceasefire in Syria. From the perspective of the American national security establishment cooperative Russian/Turkish relations were viewed as an unfavorable development at least until the electoral victory of Donald Trump. When the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the next America president was a near certainty, there existed a general expectation that the West would soon confront Russia in a more determined way than during the Obama presidency. In Turkey this encouraged the belief that the US national security establishment was sufficiently opposed to any closeness between Russia and Turkey as to have explained its possible support for the coup attempt of last July, or at minimum, its ambivalence toward the outcome. This suspicion, although widely shared in Turkey, remains without evidence, and is purely conjectural.

 

With Trump becoming the next American president it seems more likely, but by no means assured, that relations between the West and Russia will again be guided by a realist logic of mutual interests. This prospect is also encouraged by the recent emergence in Europe of several political leaders that favor accommodation with Russia. There may be an initial collision of policies if Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to renounce the nuclear agreement with Iran or significantly increases pressure on its implementation.

 

Tensions with the EU over the migration deal and in reaction to freezing accession talks also inclines Turkey to evaluate various additional forms of realignment, including a reported consideration of joining informal international groupings that are led by China and Russia.

 

In the end, if Trump follows through with a non-interventionist approach to the Middle East, and Turkish internal stability is restored, it seems most likely that there will be a weakening of relations with Europe and the United States, but no break, and no move that deserves to be labeled as ‘realignment.’ Turkey will probably place greater emphasis on economic and diplomatic relations with Asia, as well as with a renewal of interactions within the Middle East and North Africa, minimizing ideological differences.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There is more uncertainty with respect to global politics than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This uncertainty reflects the rise of authoritarian leaders in many important countries that enjoy the backing of a mobilized right-wing populism that pushes against economic globalization and gives an impetus to exclusionary forms of nationalism. Turkey is part of this wider international trend, and seems caught between contradictory pressures toward continuity and discontinuity in the conduct of its foreign policy. With Trump’s ascendancy the same can be said of the United States.

 

In general, it seems encouraging that Turkey has again seems to be opting for a foreign policy that is pragmatic rather than programmatic and normative, although it is not at this time exerting the kind of wider influence and leadership in the region and beyond that characterized the Davutoğlu approach. The times are different, calling for less ambition and greater stability.

 

How this pragmatic repositioning of Turkey in relation to East and West, North and South, will finally crystallize remains highly uncertain. Whether it results in major changes in orientation depends largely on whether Turkish ties to the West are maintained, Middle East turmoil is contained, and Turkish internal politics calms down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horrifying Syrian Dilemma Persists

15 Sep

 

 

[Prefatory Note: This post is a somewhat modified version of the text published on the Middle East Eye website on September 9, 2015, and here by prior arrangement.]

 

On its surface Syria offers seems an ideal case for humanitarian intervention. An incredible half of the 23 million Syrians are either internally displaced or refugees living in dire circumstances, aggravating the migrant crisis currently overwhelming Europe. What is worse, mass atrocities have continued under the authority of the Damascus regime since March 2011, and to some degree by actions of the opposition. Further, for more than a year ISIS has emerged as a principal opposition force in Syria, and is responsible for unprecedented barbarism in large areas of the country under its control.

 

Beyond this, a diplomatic resolution of the conflict has so far failed miserably. The UN has appointed several distinguished Special Envoys who have resigned in disgust unable to rely on ceasefire reassurances from Bashar el-Assad. The two Geneva inter-governmental conferences that were convened with great effort ended in utter frustration. The United States is far from blameless, seemingly avoiding Russian compromises early on because it believed that the insurgency was on the verge of victory, and diminishing prospects later by insisting that Iran be excluded from the diplomatic process because of Israeli and Saudi sensitivities.

 

To complete this depressing picture, the parties to the conflict seem badly stuck, neither having a path to victory nor displaying any willingness to work toward a credible compromise. The opposition to the Assad government remains incoherent and disunited, and certainly seems incapable of offering Syria a workable alternative.

 

Not surprisingly given this overall situation, especially the spectacle of persisting civilian suffering, with its regional spillover effects destabilizing Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey, is prompting a renewed call for humanitarian intervention, most influentially, in the form of a no fly zone (NFZ). It is contended that a well implemented NFZ could protect Syrians from the ravages being wrought by notorious barrel bombs. These terrible weapons are mainly used by Damascus to make civilian governance impossible in rebel held areas of the country. Proponents of intervention argue that once a NFZ is established it will ease civilian suffering, and might in due course exert sufficient pressure on the Syrian leadership to produce a political climate in which an acceptable diplomatic solution is finally attainable and this dreadful war brought to an end, a result that might even have at this point the benefit of a nudge from Iran and Russia.

 

Responsibility to Protect

 

The UN recently held a self-congratulatory session celebrating the 10th anniversary of the R2P (or responsibility to protect) norm, while acknowledging that there was work to be done considering the existence of ongoing killing fields as Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and North Korea. Notably absent from the list, a supreme instance of diplomatic tact at its hypocritical worst, was Gaza, and more generally, occupied Palestine, which since 2012 is after all a ‘state’ in the eyes of the General Assembly. Such other geopolitical touchy places as Kashmir, Rakhine, Xinjiang were also conveniently ignored in this effort to assess the record of R2P’s first decade. Leaving these awkward silences aside, at least the question should be asked: ‘Why has the R2P norm not been applied to Syria?’ The answer illuminates what is wrong with the cynical way world order operates in a post-Cold War setting, being more protective of trade and finance than it is of people, more motivated by oil than by a genuine humanitarian rescue mission.

 

The superficial obstacle to a R2P operation in Syria is the geopolitical standoff between states continuing to back the Assad regime and those supporting the opposition. This means that approval of an NFZ as a tactic compatible with the UN Charter is unavailable because of an anticipated Russian veto. Thus any use of force, such as establishing a NFZ, in either the north or south of Syria, or both, would neither have the backing of the UN Security Council nor qualify as self-defense under international law. This means that such an undertaking would violate the Charter on its key principle of prohibiting recourse to non-defensive international force without authorization from the Security Council, thereby disregarding the requirement of UN approval that is a critical feature of the R2P approach.

 

Proceeding outside the UN would further undermine the authority of international law with respect to war/peace issues. A less legalistic and constitutionalist explanation of this blockage arises from the dark side of the R2P precedent set in Libya back in 2011 when Russia and China and other SC members, despite their reluctance, were persuaded to allow a proposed humanitarian NFZ in Libya to be established only to find that the UN debate was a notorious instance of bait-and-switch. It was obvious that NATO’s intentions from the outset were far more expansive than the authorizing resolution in the Security Council, and once the military operation began immediately employed tactics seeking regime change in Tripoli rather than civilian protection for Benghazi. What seemed to skeptics of the R2P approach as an outright deception in its first test of R2P left a bad taste that has definitely discouraged a cooperative approach to Syria that engaged Russia. The Libyan precedent is not the whole story of relative passivity of the international community by any means. Syria’s antiaircraft capabilities also inhibited coercive action by making it more problematic to suppose that air power could shift the balance quickly and at moderate costs against the Assad regime.

 

 

 

 

Kosovo—A Poor Precedent

 

Then there is the earlier Kosovo precedent in which a humanitarian intervention was controversially carried out without UN approval, under the authority of NATO before the R2P norm existed and in the face of strong Russian opposition. Arguably, the operation was a success, Serbian oppressive rule ended, Kosovo and its people saved from an impending episode of ethnic cleansing similar to the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian males (1995), and despite being ignored in the undertaking, the UN willingly entered the post-conflict scene in a big way to help Kosovo achieve transition to political independence. One influential appraisal of Kosovo pronounced the NATO intervention to be unlawful, yet legitimate, because it effectively removed a credible threat of imminent threat of mass atrocity at a moderate cost.

Several problems arise if relying on Kosovo to justify establishing a NFZ in Syria. First of all, Syria is a much larger country within which a civil war has been raging for more than four years causing an estimated 300,000 deaths, the Syrian government is reported to have sophisticated antiaircraft capabilities. Secondly, Europe was unified with regard to an anti-Serb intervention in Kosovo, with the partial exception of Greece, whereas the Middle East is so deeply divided with respect to Syria as to be engaged on opposite sides of a proxy war with sharp sectarian dimensions. Thirdly, the opponents of NFZ, unless persuaded to change their position, are more deeply involved, and have the capabilities to offset the impact of such an operation against their ally in Damascus.

 

Fourthly, assuming that a Syrian NFZ would be effective, the elimination of Syrian air power might actually work to the advantage of ISIS, which operates exclusively on the ground. Fourthly, unlike Kosovo where the U.S. was eager to demonstrate that NATO still had a role in the post-Cold War world, the geopolitical motivation in Syria remains confused and weak, being uncertain despite the passage of time. Also, the U.S. has had bad experiences with its recent interventions in the region, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, and wants to avoid being drawn into yet another war in a predominantly Muslim country. And fifthly, the present scene in Libya and Iraq show that handling the effects of even a militarily successful intervention can lead to prolonged chaos and militia governance. Such experiences of sustained chaos are not viewed by most of the affected population as improvements over the old authoritarian orders held together by the brutality of Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, or Assad. When the alternatives are chaos or order, populist sentiments generally opt for order. This pattern has been evident throughout the region, especially in the aftermath of the short-lived Arab Spring.

 

Further in the background are considerations associated with state-centric world order in a post-colonial setting, which in the Middle East has left many bad memories of the harm the European colonial powers did to the region after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. To override the sovereignty of a state, and its capacity for national resistance, ignores the experience of the world in the period since 1945 where almost every Western intervention has ended in political failure.

 

The West’s Dilemma

 

So here is the dilemma: to stand by doing nothing while mass atrocities occur year after year in Syria with no end in sight is an intolerable international failure of moral responsibility for human suffering of this innocent civilian population. Yet to do something that will actually improve the situation is far from obvious, and the record of NFZs in the kind of situation that exists in Syria is not encouraging, nor are other coercive alternatives. General Martin Dempsey, the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned against establishing a NFZ in Syria, pointing out that the government’s antiaircraft capabilities are at least five times greater than what Libya possessed, including some high end systems capable of shooting down high altitude planes.

 

 

There are some alternatives that try to find tactics that do something without making the situation worse. One sort proposal is to propose a more assertive approach by the United States, comprehensively advocated in a recent report of the International Crisis Group, believes that a series of non-military and covert initiatives could make a difference. It argues that this approach should start with what is logistically easier, a focus on the South of the country where moderate anti-regime forces are in greater control, and then if successful, extending such tactics to the more contested Northwest where Syrian antiaircraft pose a greater obstacle and ISIS has its strongholds.

 

All in all, the West cannot stand one more failed intervention in the Middle East, nor can it leave unattended a deep humanitarian crisis that spilling over Syrian borders. The burden in such a tragic situation should be placed on pro-interventionists to show convincingly how a NFZ can be established and maintained in the face of expected resistance from within and opposition from without. So far this burden has not been sustained. There are other ways to help alleviate civilian suffering and to exert greater pressure on Damascus that do not rely on such a blunt and unreliable instrument as a NFZ. In the background is the steadfast refusal of the United States or its European allies to be willing to contemplate an occupation of Syria via a ground attack, not because of legal or moral inhibitions, but due to the lack of political support for any military operation likely to result in significant casualties for the intervenor.

 

There exists a more drastic diplomatic approach that should have been tried long ago, and still seems worth the effort: bringing Iran and Russia into a peace process as major players, overriding objections by Saudi Arabia and Israel. Such a diplomatic atmosphere might at last create the war-ending conditions for compromise and cooperation that include putting pressure on Damascus. In such an altered setting, either a NFZ, or an equivalent proposal could find support within the Security Council or such a measure would no longer be needed. This diplomatic initiative is admittedly a long shot, but better than the alternatives of doing nothing or acting outside the framework of the UN and international law with scant prospects of success and big chances that things would go badly wrong. There are reliable reports circulating that the U.S. Government rejected a Russian backed initiative 2012 that would have included Assad being removed from power because Washington was then so convinced that the Damascus government was about to collapse in any event, and no diplomatic compromise was needed. At least, there is now a more realistic understanding of the balance of forces in Syria, and what form of compromise has any chance of being sustained. Unfortunately, however, with the emergence in the meantime of the al-Nusra Front and ISIS, difficult questions arise as to whether in the situation that prevails at present any compromise is sustainable unless externally maintained by a major international presence, which itself seems politically unattainable. 

What this prolonged dilemma in the face of mass atrocity shows is the deficiency of state-centric world order if appraised from the perspective of human wellbeing rather than national interests. The failures in Syria are not just the shortcomings of diplomacy and manipulations of geopolitics, but also a severe mismatch between structures and capabilities of global authority and the vulnerabilities of the peoples of the world. Until these structures are transformed on the basis of the human and global interests Syrian dilemmas in one form or another are bound to recur.

Prosecuting Syrians for War Crimes Now

5 Jun

 

 

            A major undertaking of the victorious powers in World War II was to impose individual criminal accountability upon political and military leaders for alleged crimes committed during wartime before a tribunal convened by the victors that gave those accused a fair opportunity to present a defense. This application of this idea of accountability to German and Japanese surviving leaders at trials held in Nuremberg and Tokyo was hailed at the time as a major step in the direction of a ‘just peace.’ International law was treated as binding upon sovereign states and those that represented the government, conceived to be a major step in the direction of a global rule of law. The final decisions of these tribunals also produced a narrative as to why World War II was a necessary and just war. Such an outcome was both a vindication of the victory on the battlefield and a punitive repudiation of those who fought and lost. Significantly, this criminal process was formally initiated only after the combat phase of the war had ended and Germany and Japan had surrendered.

 

            There were skeptics in 1945 that whispered ‘victors’ justice,’ and insisted that this ‘Nuremberg experience’ was a partisan exercise in truth-telling. Above the courtroom hung an invisible sign reading ‘only losers need enter here.’ The Nuremberg goddess of ‘war justice’ wore no blindfold, assessed with one eye the crimes of the losers and averted her other eye so as not to see the crimes of the winners. In the actual trials those whose criminality was being assessed were not accused of any crimes that resembled the practices of the winners, and were not allowed by the tribunal bring up in their defense any of their alleged crimes.

 

            Many wanted to overlook this flaw, and move on to create a justice system that would indeed operate on the basis of the nature of the act as criminal or not, and not make criminality depend on the identity of the actorBut moving toward the ideal of equality before the law has not been easy. It requires elevating international criminal law above the precepts of geopolitics. Yet the impulse to do so in form has surfaced strongly in the aftermath of the Cold War, but we have yet to see any corresponding substantive transformation that must occur if equals are to be treated equally in international criminal law.

 

            Against such a background, the attempts to hold individuals, whether acting on behalf of governments or insurgencies, individually accountable for war crimes is treated as a core element of global justice. Since the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002, an institutional mechanism exists on a global level by which to apply international criminal law in an objective and authoritative manner. Further there exists convincing proof that horrifying atrocities have been committed in the course of the Syrian civil war, principally by the government and armed forces of Syria, and to a far lesser extent by various factions among the fragmented opposing rebel forces. In these circumstances, it would certainly seem appropriate to charge both Syrian government officials, including military commanders, and members of the insurgent opposition, with such crimes.

 

            France presented a resolution to the UN Security Council on 22 May calling upon the ICC to investigate allegations of war crimes in Syria, and to proceed with prosecutions to the extent possible. The resolution was supported by a 13-2 vote, yet it failed to pass because the two dissenting votes were cast by Russia and China, countries enjoying a right of veto. As might be expected, there have been angry explanations of the result given by both sides. According to the Russian delegate, the French initiative was nothing more than ‘a publicity stunt’ that would hamper, or even preclude, the difficult search for a diplomatic end to the strife. The Western reaction, significantly endorsed by the UN Secretary General’s office, declared that such a use of the veto was ‘irresponsible,’ even ‘disgraceful.’ It amounted to a de facto grant of impunity to the worst perpetrators of state crime active on the planet at this time.

 

            I believe that both of these contrasting reactions are understandable, and can be given a qualified endorsement despite seeming to contradict one another. The Russian reaction reflects a view that the main motivations for such a resolution is to weaken the legitimacy of the Damascus regime in the midst of an unresolved struggle for control of the country, and in this sense is better interpreted geopolitically as an irresponsible propaganda move rather than as a genuine attempt to promote criminal justice. As well, it has been Moscow’s insistence all along that the only way to end the violence in Syria is by way of diplomatic compromise. Thus, any attempt to indict Syrian leaders as war criminals while the fighting persists weakens the already dim prospects of resolving the conflict by diplomacy. It gives Assad and other Syrian leaders, the circle of those that likely would have been indicted, strong incentives to rely on combat rather than take their chances with diplomacy.

 

            The French approach, strongly supported by the Western powers, especially the United States, focuses on the clear evidence of criminality attributable to the Damascus regime. Such behavior deserves to be formally criminalized, and the fact that the Assad regime remains in power enhances the urgency of doing so. There is no need to look beyond these facts, and taking such action may increase the pressure on the Syrian government to seek accommodation.

 

            Further along these lines, the argument that recourse to the ICC will end diplomatic efforts to end the violence is specious. Conventional diplomacy has been given many chances, and has failed. They claim that diplomacy has been repeatedly tried and failed, including reliance at the highest levels on the good offices of the UN and Arab League through the determined efforts by Special Envoys, first, Kofi Annan and the Lakhdar Brahimi. To act as if diplomacy might succeed in the future is mainly a diversionary tactic to discourage taking immediate steps that might bring the war to an end in ways that are helpful to the aspirations of the majority of Syrians. The supporters of the French resolution argue that activating the ICC will produce public indignation, swing support to the insurgent side, and produce a more politically and morally desirable end game to the conflict by discrediting the Damascus regime and empowering the opposition within Syria, the region, and the world. There are many uncertainties exposed by this debate. It is difficult to reach a clear conclusion as to which side is more persuasive, but there are a series of considerations that should be taken into account, and add weight to those who voice skepticism about the French initiative.

 

            Motivation. There are reasons to think that this effort at this time is mainly an expression of frustration and desperation, and as such a misuse of the ICC by Western powers. True, the crimes of the insurgent rebels as well as those of the Syrian government were included in the proposed resolution, but the motivation was to delegitimize the Damascus government. Yet the rationale for initiating a criminal investigation directed at the leadership of all participants in the midst of a civil war for the control of the country seems like a misdirected move that is made in the face of the failure of earlier Western efforts to intervene sufficiently on the insurgent side .to produce regime change

            Timing. To use the ICC in the midst of an ongoing civil war in Syria is to take sides, and thus interfere with an ongoing internal struggle for control of the state and society. Mentioned above, even the Allied Powers in World War II waited until the guns fell silent before initiating any criminal process. As such, acting in the present setting interferes with the right of self-determination enjoyed by the people of Syria. Yet since there has been already considerable interference through funding and material support, the preconditions for self-determination do not exist, making an end to the violence that has been so devastating for the population of the country a primary goal. This makes it seem that the most important question to ask is whether criminal indictments while the war rages is likely to hasten or delay an ending of the conflict. And since neither side has shown the ability to prevail, the Russians seem right in their insistence that despite disappointments with earlier efforts, diplomacy continues to be the only path forward, although it is admittedly narrow.

           

            Justice. Is justice served when the authority of the ICC is invoked as a political instrument to influence the outcome of a civil war? There are reasons to worry about the discrediting impact of double standards. Why was there never any initiative to pursue leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom during the course of the Iraq War, which also included many incidents that seemed to qualify as crimes against humanity? This question takes on greater weight when added to earlier criticisms of the profile of the ICC, which has pursued a variety of sub-Saharan African leaders, but few others. It is also relevant to recall that the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted in the midst of the Kosovo War in 1999 undertaken without UN authorization by NATO, again seemingly motivated by the urge to strengthen public support for the justness of a legally controversial military effort to end Serbian administration of Kosovo. Again in the NATO led military operation against the Libyan regime, the ICC issued arrest warrants for the Qaddafi leadership while NATO planes were bombing Tripoli. In effect, the allegation being made by critics of such war crimes prosecutions is that the whole undertaking has been politicized in ways that lead to a selective application of the law that seems inconsistent with claims of justice. In effect, the criticism of Nuremberg still applies—only losers and the weak are accountable. For the others, impunity.

 

            Feasibility. The unlikelihood of obtaining personal jurisdiction in relation to the principal perpetrators of war crimes in Syria, especially Bashar al-Assad and major political officials and military commanders, makes the claimed rationale for seeking indictments at this stage also suspect. Proceeding now seems to have as its main justification a means to add moral weight to the position of pro-insurgency governments that something more should be done to stop the criminality of the Assad-led government. Reinforcing this reasoning is a consensus that since military intervention is not feasible and diplomacy has failed, the only option left is to charge Syrian leaders with crimes against humanity. The ICC provides a venue to mobilize pressure for giving additional help to the rebels, and at the same time depriving the Damascus government of whatever is left of its legitimacy. The fact that the French resolution calls also for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity committed by the opposition, while not being frivolous, is nevertheless certain to receive far less attention in the event tha the UNSC had given the ICC a green light.

 

            There is a serious question as to whether it is appropriate to use the ICC to gather evidence and prepare an indictment in circumstances where prospects of prosecution are remote and an ongoing struggle for control of the Syrian state remains unresolved. Such limitations also would seem to reinforce concerns about the timing of this initiative. It makes recourse to ICC not only ineffectual as a means to pursue criminal justice, but damaging to the credibility of this fledgling international institution that was created, it should be remembered, to overcome the vagaries of geopolitics, not to serve as their instrument for engaging in maneuvers.

 

            Concluding Comment. There are two intertwined concerns: First, whether seeking criminal indictments of Syrians accused of crimes against humanity is on balance helpful or harmful in relation to the search for peace that has so far proved fruitless. This issue should be considered in relation to prospects for resolving the devastating conflict in Syria that has already lasted for more than three years.

 

            And secondly, whether such recourse to the ICC would strengthen or weaken this judicial institution, and its need to overcome the strong impression of operating on the basis of double standards in relation to criminal accountability. So far all efforts to use the ICC in response to crimes alleged against Western countries have been rebuffed, and Western leaders have enjoyed impunity and have minimized their own participation in the activities of the ICC except when it serves their interests in going after adversaries. A tiny opening is the recent indication that the ICC is formally investigating criminal charges relating to the abuse of Iraqi detainees by United Kingdom occupying forces in the years after 2003. Perhaps, the times are changing, after all!

 

Resolving the Syrian Chemical Weapons Crisis: Sunlight and Shadows

15 Sep

 

            The Putin Moment: Not only did Vladimir Putin exhibit a new constructive role for Russia in 21st statecraft, spare Syria and the Middle East from another cycleof escalating violence, but he articulated this Kremlin initiative in the form of a direct appeal to the American people. There were reasons to be particularly surprised by this display of Russian diplomacy: not since Nikita Khrushchev helped save the world from experiencing the catastrophe of nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 by backing down and agreeing to a face-saving formula for both superpowers, had Moscow distinguished itself in any positive way with respect to the conduct of international relations; for Putin to be so forthcoming, without being belligerent, was particularly impressive in view of Obama’s rather ill-considered cancellation only a few weeks ago of a bilateral meeting with the Russian leader because of Washington’s supposed anger at the refusal of the Russian government to turn the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, over to the United States for criminal prosecution under American espionage laws; and finally, considering that Putin has much blood on his hands given past policies pursued in relation to Chechnya and in the autocratic treatment of domestic political opposition, it was hard to expect anything benevolent during his watch. And so Putin is emerging as a virtual ‘geopolitical black swan,’ making unanticipated moves of such a major character as to have the potential to transform the character of conflict management and resolution in the 21st century.  It should be understood that Putin could have stayed on the sidelines, and benefitted from seeing Obama sink deeper and deeper into the Syrian quagmire, and instead he stepped in with a momentous move that seems to have served the regional and global interest.

Putin has explained in a coherent manner in his opinion piece that was published in the NY Times on September 11th (without invoking the symbolism of  the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks) that his approach to Russian foreign policy relies on two instruments: soft power and economic diplomacy. He acknowledged American leadership, but only if exercised within a framework of respect for international law and the UN Charter. And he appropriately took issue with Obama’s sentiments expressed a night earlier to the effect that America in its leadership role had a unique entitlement to use force to overcome injustice in situations other than self-defense and even without authorization by the UN Security Council. It was Putin, perhaps disingenuously, who claimed (quite correctly) that such a prerogative was “extremely dangerous.” He rejected Obama’s pretension that a unilateral discretion with respect to the use of force could be inferred from American exceptionalism. Whether disingenuous or not, the requirement of a Security Council authorization for non-defensive uses of force, while sometimes preventing a peacekeeping response by the UN to certain tragic situations of civil strife and humanitarian crisis overall contributed to finding diplomatically agreed upon solutions for conflict and enabled the UN (unlike the League of Nations) to persist despite severe tensions among its dominant members. Let hope that this Putin vituoso exhibition of creative diplomacy prompts his counterpart in the White House to explore more diligently soft power opportunities that will better protect American national interests, while simultaneously serving the global interest in war prevention and the rejection of militarism, and might also have the added benefit of reversing the steady decline of American credibility as a benevolent global leader ever since the end of the Cold War.

Constitutional Balance: Perhaps what might be of even greater importance than averting an ill-considered punitive attack on Syria, is the grounding of recourse to war on the major republican premise of Congressional authorization. There is little doubt that here the efficient cause and anti-hero was David Cameron, who turned to Parliament to support his wish to join with Obama in the attack coalition despite the anti-war mood in British public opinion. Cameron was politically spared by the vote of the House of Commons to withhold authorization. It is hard to believe that Obama’s decision to seek authorization from the U.S. Congress was not a belated realization that if Britain deferred to its Parliament as an expression of constitutional democracy, it would be unseemly for the United States to go to war without the formal backing of Congress. Of course, the Putin initiative saved Obama from the near certain embarrassment of being turned down by Congress, which would mean that either he would follow in Cameron’s and face savage criticism from his hawkish boosters or insist upon his authority as Commander in Chief to act on his own, a prerogative that seems constitutional dubious to support a bill of impeachment. Beyond this, the War Powers Act that would seem to require some emergency justification for the presidential bypassing of Congress in the context of a proposed military action. Hopefully, we are witnessing, without an accompanying acknowledgement, the downfall of the ‘imperial presidency’ that got its start during the Vietnam War. The governmental pendulum in the United States may have started to swing back toward the separation of powers and checks and balances, and thus be more in keeping with the original republican hopes of limited executive authority, especially in relation to war making. This renewal of republican constitutionalism, combined with growing populist skepticism about military adventures abroad, might make this Syrian crisis of decision a welcome tipping point, reversing the unhealthy subordination of Congress in war/peace situations during the last half century and anti-democratic disregard of the views of the citizenry.

But it is also possible that the imprudence of the proposed punitive strike against Syria will turn out to be a one-off experience, and that when and if Iran clearly crosses the weapons threshold in its nuclear program, the presidency will retrieve its lost claims to be the unilateral guardian of national, regional, and global interests without feeling that it must await authorization from the Congress and the UN. Note that Congressional approval, even if in concert with the President, cannot sanitize a use of force that is illegal under international law. It is the state as a whole that is bound by the constraints of international law, and not just the head of state. There are two distinct issues present: the domestic constitutional requirement of collective authorization for recourse to war by the United States; and the complementary international requirement of acting in compliance with international law and the UN Charter (which is itself acknowledged in supremacy clause of the Constitution with respect to validly ratified treaties).

Coercive Diplomacy: Obama/Kerry contend that Syria’s chemical weapons would never have been put under international controls and in an atmosphere of unprecedented international cooperation, but for the credible threats mounted by the U.S. Government. In this regard, the poker style bluff can be said to have worked without any sure proof that the threat would have been carried out in the face of a refusal by Congress to authorize and the public failure to show support for an attack. As matters now seem to be unfolding, assuming that the plans for abolishing the chemical weapons of Syria proceed as agreed, threat diplomacy will be applauded by the Obama administration without any widespread sensitivity to the fact that the international law as embodied in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits ‘threats’ as well as ‘uses’ of force, although such a prohibition has not been taken seriously as part of the ‘living law’ despite its status as a prime instance of ‘positive law.’ The categorical language of Article 2(4) is unmistakeable: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Syria and its People: In the background of the diplomatic controversy about what to do in response to the large-scale lethal use of sarin gas against the people of Syria on August 21st, was the awareness that such an attack did not even pretend to end the violence in Syria or to produce regime change in Damascus or to change the balance of force in the civil war. From this perspective, it seemed mainly a punitive strike that upheld Obama’s red line credibility, although there was an additional argument set forth that a military strike would have a deterrent impact on any contemplated future recourse to chemical weaponry by the Assad regime and other political actors, assuming that the allegations that the Syrian government order the attack are confirmed and reinforced by the reports of the UN inspection team and other respected sources.

What tends to be given only a secondary glance is the effects of an attack on the Syrian people who have been subject to a harrowing ordeal these past two years that has resulted in over 100,000 deaths, countless wounded, and an estimated 7,000,000, almost one-third of the population, as either internally displaced or forced into overcrowded and under-resourced refugee camps in neighboring countries. Beyond this, the always vulnerable Palestinians have endured Syrian attacks on their refugee camps forcing them to flee once more, to become, quite incredibly, refugees from their refugee arrangements, a largely untold Palestinian tragedy hidden within the larger Syrian tragedy. There is almost no political will on the outside to do anything to stop either the proxy war being waged by states external to Syria or the internal struggle being waged by a fragmented opposition against a discredited government that has been incredibly cruel to its own citizens and strangely indifferent to the great cultural and religious heritage of their own country. There are even grotesque murmurings in the background of strategic chatter in Western circles, suggesting that the best outcome is not an end to the violence, but its indefinite continuation with an effort to calibrate future arms supplies and humanitarian aid with the principal aim of making sure that neither side can achieve victory. If this is not an exposure of the raw immorality of strategic discourse at its immoral nadir, I am not sure what would be.

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