Sunday, 16 September 2012

Reflections on International Peace and Security

For everyone following the Hokkaido-Tohoku series, don't worry – it's still on course, and this is just a timely interlude. Specifically, my contribution to the UNU International Peace and Security course of 2012, in the form of extended reflections I did on its themes in the previous year. Please excuse the small font-size errors which I've yet to work out how to fix.

I am posting this mainly for any benefit it might give to those currently working their way through this course, either on clarifying some of the topics or offering (perhaps) some perspectives on them. Even better if it's of interest to other people too, as a taste of what's going on in this organization that – hypothetically, at least! - is meant to help stop us from all destroying each other.


I'm putting this out in the hope that it helps and encourages people to think, and think critically, thus to develop their own opinions and therefore characters. I am not putting this out for it to serve as a substitute to that thinking. Plagiarism is bad! If anyone wants to use ideas from here in their own reflections or other work, please make proper reference to this blog entry! Because if you take something I came up with and use it as your own, I will be most assuredly upset. And when I'm upset, I write scary, scary things that drive whoever sees them to insanity just by reading them and cast the world in flames. And I guess that would defeat the point of discussing peace and security – so let's be friends and all do what is right for peace and security, okay?

And yes, each "wall" is one week's reflections. Writing is fun.

Weekly Reflections: 12 September – 13 October 2011
Ai Chaobang (a.k.a. John Ashton)

WEEK ONE: Responsibility to Protect, Terrorism, and Proliferation of WMDs
WEEK TWO: International Law
WEEK THREE: Peacekeeping, the UN System and its Foundations
WEEK FOUR: Humanitarian Intervention, National Interests and Democracy

IPS Weekly Reflections: Week One – Responsibility to Protect, Terrorism, and the Proliferation of WMDs
13-16 September 2011

1) Protection of Civilians (PoC) and Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
a) On humanitarian intervention and R2P: intervention vs. sovereignty
The language and legal conceptions may evolve for the better, but the underlying problems remain. States can and have abused both "sovereignty" and "protection/humanitarian intervention" to carry out atrocities, and continue to do so.

However far the legislation improves, it will never provide conclusive presciptions for when and how to intervene in what cases; it will never alone adequately limit the abuse of the concept to perpetrate what it is meant to prevent. Each R2P decision in its unique situation is in the end a judgement call – it will always contain strong normative elements. However watertight, no legal framework will change the necessity that R2P's triumph requires that those who make the decisions honestly wish – as human beings – to fulfil a responsibility to protect (considering state decisions a function of the decisions of those within them), over and above agendas of perceived national "interests" or ideologies.

b) On the three pillars and four atrocities
When do human rights violations become sufficiently serious to be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity? Can law assert a certain number of people affected as the threshold, or is there something qualitative that makes these crimes uniquely abhorrent regardless of how many victims? Within the last 50-100 years, the majority of states have spectacularly failed in their R2P at some point, with many of their national identities still in denial (e.g. US arguments that WW2 attacks on civilians were justified during total war; Japanese history textbootks controversy; limited teaching of colonial atrocities in European schools).

The range is almost certainly too narrow: many atrocities occur that are ethically equivalent to but not covered by its four categories, and not prevented or prosecuted.. To suggest just a few: persecution of minorities (other than 'forceful deportation') such as indigenous people; sexual apartheid (e.g. Saudi Arabia); torture or murder of dissidents (e.g. China); atrocities by non-state actors (e.g. drug cartels in Mexico/Guatemala; IMF market fundamentalism); and the failures of states to take seriously anthropogenic climate change. These arguably rise from the same fount as the four R2P atrocities, and wreak outcomes equally abominable to their victims' exeriences, so ethical coherency and consistency – and the avoidance of perceptions of double standards, crucial for legitimacy – demands a more comprehensive approach.

Yet there is the irony and difficulty: widen the parameters of failure at R2P, and soon many or most states fall within them – all thereby requiring interventions, by someone, somehow, which of course becomes implausible, and when it comes to the legitimation of force, dangerous. The more necessarily complete the concept grows, the less meaningful it becomes in practice.

Perhaps the widening of the R2P concept could be accompanied with a similar widening of response options. Military force in most of the above examples might be ineffective or counterproductive; but there are surely many ways international humanity can assert pressure beyond diplomacy, sanctions and force. This includes responses less formal but situationally potent, such as global support and publicity for relevant groups within the states in question; insistence that relevant groups be verifiably represented in proceedings affecting them (e.g. in Guyana, dealing with indigenous leaders separately from the government); sporting boycotts (e.g. cricket boycott of South Africa during Apartheid; might have substantial effect on Sri Lanka today); leverage from spiritual authorities; in short, a wider range of creative and flexible response options beyond the high political sphere, and careful thought on what is appropriate in different cases.

c) Delving deeper
The need for concepts like R2P and PoC, and their frequent abuse worldwide, suggest deeper problems in humanity of grave concern. How and why does the propensity to commit war crimes/genocide/crimes against humanity, come to eclipse the humanity of the perpetrators by which our species regards these crimes as reprehensible? The concepts and legal frameworks may keep improving, at best happily diminishing cases of R2P failure; but is that enough?

Third-pillar states often dehumanize their victims; but a worthy first-pillar state – and first-pillar persons, if that concept can hold – should always scrutinize their own humanity first. Manifestly failing at R2P they might not be today, but do they contribute to global conditions that promote our failure therein as a species, yesterday or tomorrow? How do we choose to conceptualize ourselves: as social inhabitants of a common world who regard each other's welfare with as much regard for our own, or as individualists who gain at others' detriment?

R2P struggles against a mercilessly entrenched norm that has come to prevail in our world: that in wars, it is okay that innocent people should suffer or die. It is far from the first time humanity has sought to beat back that notion, but certainly the most comprehensive. R2P represents nothing less than a rejection of the concept of humanity as an inherently cruel and selfish race, the belief that we can do better, and the effort to make it so.

It cannot be less. Can we abide a future where, notwithstanding improvements to the legal framework, we are ever struggling to prevent impending atrocities; where we must come up with controversial responses, and in those risk further atrocities? My answer, at least, is no. The fundamental ambition of R2P, PoC and the motives to drive them forward, must surely be that this is one day a world when we no longer need to rely on the fear of force to coerce us merely to be human; where this recurring drive to commit atrocities is no longer part of what we are.

Of course, these are existential questions perhaps beyond the immediate scope of the R2P/PoC agenda. Yet in reflecting, I find them critically important; because despite the frustrating or depressing prevalence of the atrocities in question, the very emergence of tangible concepts like R2P and PoC represent a choice – real, and courageous – that humanity can and should be something better. Of this, we must never lose sight.

2) Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism
a) The terrorism/political violence distinction
I find this a useful distinction in theory but much more problematic in practice. The line between is just too blurred, especially given that motives towards the death of innocent people are not always clear, and if we accept (as in my opinion we should not) that "collateral damage" is inevitable; as well as the hazy distinction between legimitate and non-legitimate targets. Subjectivity and the zero-sum "interests" paradigm mean terrorism to one is political violence to another, regardless of which is actually correct; so who decides? Too often, the powerful: Russia and China may be conceptually incorrect to label political violence by Chechens/Uighurs "terrorism" as justification to commit atrocities in Chechnya/Xinjiang, but that is no mitigation of the outcomes.

b) On causes of terrorism
Nothing justifies terrorism, ever; but every consequence has causes. Justification and explanation are crucially distinct. The most basic human reason and emotion tell us terrorist acts are neither ethical nor effective; but reason and emotion alike have their limits, and in today's social realities are not hard to break. The Russian boy whose girlfriend was murdered, who then endured torture and wrongful imprisonment; how many of us if subjected to such a thing might develop a loathing of the world and a will to harm it? (And could we fault it in the circumstances)? Aside from inflicted trauma, there are also most societies' authoritarian traditions, in which ethics come from obeying the powerful, or religious authority is inscrutably right, or punishment contains strong retributive elements, or "justice" is harshly punitive rather than problem-solving, and so on. (Much of this is the case in the UK.) I would contend that human society at present does not take a form conducive to healthy rational consideration or emotional empathy; ethicality is often substituted by fear. These are conditions which generate nightmares.

Of course, this neither justifies nor alone accounts for terrorism, which also relies on material means, clearly calculated logistics, and (frequently) manipulation of volatile sentiments into these practical frameworks; ideology and a perniciousness far more sinister in origin may be relevant there. These directors of terrorism may be totally responsible for what they do; but the terrorist acts they direct would be infinitely more difficult to carry out if not for the pools of traumatized, aggrieved, or prejudiced persons they draw upon. For minimising those conditions and their contribution to terrorism, we are all responsible.

c) On torture in counter-terrorism
Substitute 'terrorism' for 'torture' in the above, and it fits seamlessly. They are equal in ethical bankruptcy – if anything torture is worse, as it may be established as "right" or "normal" by society, corrupting society's ethical compass. Just as terrorism is directed by 'selfish individual frustration' potentially disguised as caring about people, the same is true of torture: that at the core of its direction are persons at best apathetic to the suffering of innocent people, or at worst who enjoy and feed upon that pain. To open the door one inch to torture is to give such persons an accepted place in society: this is as unethical as it is destructive to that society's prospects.

The "ticking time bomb" scenario may be unrealistic, but even were it accurate, I would personally prefer death than to owe my life to someone's torture; or because a society I was part of had tortured on my behalf. Devastating as terrorism may be – and I in no way seek to downplay its horror – society can survive a terrorist attack, can rebuild and remain a force for good in the world (as one hopes and expects with Norway). It cannot survive an embrace of the way of the torturer, which saddles its identity for eternity.

3) Limits on Weapons
a) On Nuclear Disarmament
The goal of a nuclear-free world, while apparently idealistic, must be the firm foundation of disarmament efforts. The concept of nuclear deterrence is itself an obstacle to this, because:
a) Deterrence is not the prevaling motivator to possess nuclear weapons. More frequently it is prestige, nationalist pride, or the projection of an image of power.
b) Deterrence is ineffective: it depends on decision-makers not merely rational, but ethical and sane. As encountered when considering terrorism or torture, all states have problems keeping those apathetic to suffering out of influential positions, including in government. No society can be sure that at some point, such persons will not be in a position to decide on the use of these weapons, above all in an emotively-charged national crisis. (Additional problems include difficulties deterring untargetable non-state actors, and those to whom – as most – fear has little weight against more powerful motivating forces.)
c) Deterrence is unpleasant: we are again concerned with a choice about what we are as a humanity. Are we truly comfortable with a global order based upon mutual fear? We ought not to "lock in" the nuclear deterrence logic in the international order any further than we have.
d) Deterrence is deeply unethical: its power resides in the knowledge of the deterred that nuclear weapons will be used when deterrence fails. This, almost inevitably, connotes death and destruction on unimaginable proportions. Should any society be ready to do this? Any decent society must surely prefer its own demise, rather than to go down in humanity's story as responsible for atrocities on that scale.

A paradigm adjustment is required by which states which hold on to nuclear weapons while demanding others disarm, are held in exceptionally low regard. So long as the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality is present, leverage on states and populations to disarm or not develop nuclear weapons is critically impeded.

IPS Weekly Reflections: Week Two – International Law
19-22 September 2011

a) On the role and reach of international law
A common perception, as Professor Chinkin noted with commendable forthrightness, is that international law abjectly fails at regulating the use of force. I must confess to sharing in that perception in recent years; especially in the context of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and consequent conflict, so potent an example of international law's many difficulties, for the entirety of which I lived in London and watched with frustration and horror as the calamity developed, and its directors escaped all accountability despite enormous public outcry.

Resist as I might, I cannot defeat the sense that the international legal system, however well it can be designed, cannot suffice in maintaining peace and security, let alone justice. Law, international or otherwise, is ultimately subjective: a mechanism with no eyes, teeth or identity of its own. For all of these it depends on the people to whom it is pertinet, who can interpret it to suit what they wish it to mean. The vagueness of the UN Charter exemplifies this, in all the directions its umbrella of legality has been pulled in the last sixty years in the most creative – almost artistic – attempts to justify varying uses of force; as does Resolution 1973 on Libya, for good or for ill.

That is not an argument to do away with international law. On the contrary it has a vital role to play, for the concept of law carries great normative weight, and bears huge potential to influence the frameworks and behaviours of people and states. It should be continuously improved, progressively shaped to better reflect a more peaceful and fairer world. Even in the worst of circumstances, its very presence as a beacon of what we pursue can remind us that we can and have found the will to build such a world: will being the first and most vital prerequisite for all forms of progress. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of any given law in promoting peace, is inseparable from the motives, perspectives, ethics and competence of the humans who carry it out: things the law can influence, but for which it can never substitute.

b) On "Restrictive" and "Purposive" commentators
This appears like a classic debate between the "letter" and "purpose" of the law: to follow the strict legal dictates of established law, i.e. the UN Charter, no more and no less; or to pursue our best interpretations of the goals for which the laws were created in the first place.

The "restrictive" approach invites suspicion. Can it by any stretch be considered conducive to peace, to expect that states abide by but a single vague code constructed for an international order over sixty years outdated? Anachronistic disregard for – among other things – globalization, decolonization, the human rights discourse, the growing influence of non-state actors such as corporations or terrorist organizations, the sustainability crisis, and all the transformations in identity and normative frameworks these things entail, might only contribute to international law's crisis of relevance, rather than alleviating it. Is this approach meaningful at all, given how open to interpretation the UN Charter is, and the lack of a binding standard for what a strict reading actually is? Law must always be a means to an end, not an end in itself; otherwise law becomes dogma, an incredibly dangerous path.

Yet this is not an open endorsement of the "purporsive" approach, which may just as easily be directed to ineffective or counterproductive outcomes. One can cautiously prefer it to the "restrictive" approach, in that it recognizes that law is a means to an end, and keeps its foundational reasons for existence in sight – though of course, those purposes are as interpretive as the laws themselves. Stretched too far, they may be presented as so distant from what the law literally says that the law becomes redundant and powerless, as I gathered was Professor Chinkin's concern about legality vs. legitimacy.

So neither approach is a guarantor of best outcomes; from either may spring interpretations that defeat the law's objectives. Rather they should be seen as guidelines, as opposite guard posts, visible reminders once more that it is the human element – our choices – that finally determine outcomes, and that in making them, we must remember reflection and balance.

c) On intervention in Libya
In Britain the controversies over Resolution 1973's 'all necessary means' to 'protect civilians' were acrimonious, whether in the onerous shadow of Iraq, or the context of existing military commitments in Afghanistan at a time of economic duress, or the conviction of conservative elements that the UK should not be interfering where it had no business. These debates intensified as the goal seemingly transformed, from protecting civilians to helping the rebels depose Colonel Gaddafi. One must be careful to judge events still in progress, but thus far I would cautiously argue the interpretive scope of law has been used in a manner beneficial to peace – in that 'protecting civilians' cannot be defined without reference to what one is protecting them from, i.e. Colonel Gaddafi.

Yet two caveats are vital: first, that the near-total reliance on aerial bombing was not necessarily the most effective means of intervention. This is potentially one example where the law – 'all necessary means' – could have been stretched further to produce better outcomes, such as through limited use of ground forces directly coordinated with the rebel leadership, thus also enabling a clearer assessment of their commitment to a free and peaceful Libya (not to mention that one senses a certain dishonour about combat methods by which you avoid having to look at the people you are fighting, as with bombers). And the other concern is precisely that commitment on the rebels' part, with recent allegations of human rights abuses – especially against Africans suspected of fighting for Gaddafi as mercenaries – all too relevent to whether this intervention will be judged a success or failure of international law.

IPS Weekly Reflections: Week Three – Peacekeeping, the UN System and its Foundations
26-29 September 2011

a) On the ancestry of the United Nations, and the growing complexity of peacekeeping
I was surprised at the consideration of the 1815 Concert of Europe as an early precursor to the UN. On its surface one sees the reflection of coordinated international cooperation to achieve peace; but beneath the peace of 1815 lies an ominous abyss.

The Concert of Europe built its peace on a foundation inherently opposed to peace. Specifically, the pre-Napoleonic “balance of power” between self-interested powerful nations with belligerent appetites, and the amoral international anarchy at the centre of Pessimist (so-called “Realist”) doctrines in International Relations. It was a generator of infinite grievances, from the brutalities of pseudoscientific racism and colonialism to repressions by gender, class and belief within states. From grievances come the will to disrupt the peace for the sake of justice, as happened in the revolutions of 1848. The 1914-1918 cataclysm – the most spectacular failure of peace in the human journey so far at that point – was the direct and logical result of this order. Its demise was inevitable, and necessary.

The UN is (or should be) something fundamentally different. Rather than taking the competition of states driven by greed and self-interest as given, the UN Charter speaks of saving succeeding generations from the 'scourge of war' altogether; reaffirming 'faith in human rights' and 'the dignity and worth of the human person'; and establishing 'conditions under which justice...can be maintained'. Notwithstanding persisting difficult realities and the need for pragmatism, the UN strives for peace based on justice, rather than peace instead of justice; with justice defined as, if nothing else, peace within every human being who is part of the peace to be maintained.

In practice, the core ingredient of a lasting peace is that no-one feels so wronged by its terms as to want to disrupt it to seek something better. Perhaps the widening complexity of peacekeeping since the 1990s reflects a growing awareness of this: hence how basic security, human rights, political participation, refugee assistance etc. are necessary and inseparable parts of solidifying a fragile peace. Peacekeeping is and must be contiguous with peacebuilding: the more one does to alleviate grievances, the more resilience one infuses into the peace.

Of course, there comes a point where such exceeds the UN's remit or capacity. The still-active status of the first two peacekeeping missions, in the Middle East and Kashmir, exemplifies this: as limited first-generation missions, the peace they keep is fragile and may yet disintegrate unless properly addressed; but no way can the peacekeepers resolve those conflicts' abysmal underlying causes on their own.

b) On the future of peacekeeping
Peacekeeping evolves as it always has, but its destination is difficult to predict. On the one hand, much hard work has been done to rebuild its reputation following its ignominies at Rwanda and Srebrenica, and as it grows more robust, its effectiveness must surely benefit. On the other, it is held back by strains on its capacity and continuing public legitimacy problems, part persisting from those two big failures during the 1990s, but still more onerously from successive scandals of grave sexual abuses by peacekeepers on the populations for whom they are meant to be keeping the peace. This includes a case involving MINUSTAH in Haiti this very year – and how such reprehensible outrages became part of what any peacekeeper is willing to do is anyone's guess. So on the balance of strengths and weaknesses, the journey of peacekeeping continues.

Its most testing days are still to come. A change in the types of conflicts to which peacekeepers were deployed occurred twenty years ago, with the end of the Cold War. A shift far more turbulent is likely this century, as humanity's failures of sustainability create new conflicts and intensify existing ones. How might approaches to peacekeeping's purpose and practice adapt to conflicts between or within states based on, for example, declines in food or water security, or migrations from rising sea levels – which among many other things, are driven by climate change? What role will peacekeepers pursue in the overall strategies for maintaining workable peace in such a context? And what might befall peacekeeping if unrest occurs in the states which traditionally contribute the main funding or personnel for peacekeeping operations – whether those considered presently stable, like the US and UK, or those already experiencing and attempting to 'manage' internal instabilities, such as China, India, Pakistan or Nigeria? Perhaps these trials are closer than they appear.

c) On the United Nations in humanity's journey
From the UN's earliest precursors to its most recent evolutions, its story is an epic one. One might consider that humanity's attempts to pursue peace through systematic trans-national cooperation emerged very soon after it first became possible for a human being to perceive of humanity on a complete global scale, as directly and practically relevant in his or her life and identity.

The six “new” threats to peace and security identified following the end of the Cold War – inter-state conflicts, civil wars, poverty/infectious disease/sustainability, WMDs, terrorism, and organized crime – were not literally “new”: all had massive precedents as threats, going back centuries in some cases (e.g. Chinese Civil War, terrorism as a mainstream state tactic during WWII, the bubonic plague, societies [e.g. Mayans; Rapa Nui] which collapsed due to sustainability failures). Rather what happened in the 1990s was a shift in perceptions and priorities: a broadening of attitudes towards what constitutes threats to security, in a widening conception of that security; threats, it should be said, which have proved terminal or traumatic for many human societies throughout the recorded length of humanity's journey, and which perhaps the order humanity assumed during globalization's most decisive stage led it to forget about.

The crux of the UN's challenges today is that it in widening its conceptions of peace and security, it is (in my opinion) attempting to rediscover and return many central human concerns to them – but upon foundations built from the very order which eclipsed those concerns, which had us consider them unimportant or natural and inevitable (that is, Westphalian-style self-interested competing states in an international anarchy they chose, and established and exported e.g. through colonialism).

The big question is whether these foundations – as represented by what Dr. Uchida termed the “first” of “three UNs” – will be adequate for the UN to achieve its goals, given their elemental antagonism to peace, and their core principle of selfish competition as the natural order of humanity. This is the opposite of cooperation between peoples and nations aware of their common humanity, a base to which the UN Charter appeals in theory, and to which the UN extends its reach in practice through (for example) the work of its various agencies, pan-human concepts such as human rights/crimes against humanity/R2P in international law, and its attempts to engage with human units other than states, such as businesses and civil society.

This is why upon viewing Dr. Uchida's “three UNs” diagram, I felt with concern that beneath the two entities the UN stick-figure stands upon, a fissure runs through the ground down the middle, the tectonic incompatibility between the UN's two foundations, which as it pulls apart, widens the gap over which the two legs must stretch – and in the worst case, threatens that eventually it might fall into that fissure. Though pragmatism binds the UN firmly to the competing-states foundation, it may become necessary that the UN drastically increases its role as an active promoter of the concept of common humanity, beyond states; until, once its stand on this foundation is solid enough, such time comes as it can give reproach to the paradigm of self-interested competing units, and eventually, see that paradigm redundant altogether.

It may sound dramatic, therefore, to assert that the UN reflects attempts to resolve huge questions on what humanity wants to be; but in the context of humanity's escalating sustainability crisis, these foundational questions are of extremely imminent consequence, and the UN – as the only institution of global governance with its scale and reach – must surely fulfil a central role in how we answer them.

IPS Weekly Reflections: Week Four – Humanitarian Intervention, National Interests and Democracy
3-6 October 2011

a) On Sovereignty versus Humanitarian Intervention
'State sovereignty implies responsibility.' The ICISS Report on the Responsibility to Protect (2001) opens with a statement of incredible power.

Sovereignty is a tenacious concept. It remains robust, in an era where it faces mounting challenges: trans-national ideas and activities, from universal human rights to multinational businesses to terrorism, erode its foundations, as much as its use by repressive regimes as a justification for their human rights abuses erodes its legitimacy. Conversely its normative might insists itself as a system of checks and balances against the appetites of powerful states, most with a long history of merciless colonialism. And dare we forget its origins: Europe's Westphalian order, erected in the exhaustion of decades of incomprehensible religious carnage that bled the continent to its marrow – to which sovereignty was raised as a barrier so that no such thing could ever happen again.

That it has, many times, may in some cases be attributed to sovereignty's imposing normative and legal umbrella, protecting those who perpetrate crimes against their peoples. The most telling example is China, to which the Westphalian language of sovereigty and 'internal affairs' is now the bedrock of its international conduct, political selectivity and all (for other sovereign or potentially/historically sovereign entities, such as Tibet or Taiwan, are also apparently its 'internal affairs'). So too does this paradigm lend its protection to regimes in China's traditional sphere which are similarly overt in failures of R2P (or perhaps still more), such as the DPRK or Burma/Myanmar. Is there not a staggering irony, that China is now the world's most traditionally European state – and that in the reunification of the country, following its dismemberment by the European powers, the CCP opted for an international foundation in exactly the image of the order which reduced it to ruin for a hundred years – and which produced two world cataclysms? Such is one pole of the sovereignty vs. non-intervention balance going wrong: spelling the demise of human rights and peace/security alike.

The opposite pole is not far distant. Interventions, legalised or legitimated in humanitarian terms, may produce equally destructive outcomes. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, for which humanitarian arguments became ubiquitous in attempts at popular justification (although never a serious part of legal justification efforts), is a case in point notorious enough to speak for itself.

Neither state sovereignty nor humanitarian intervention, as principles, are guarantors of good outcomes; both may be subverted to the most reprehensible of ends. The establishment of vigorous criteria for intervention may improve its proper use, but itself will not suffice: any such criteria too are easily subverted by agenda-pursuers with basic mastery of language manipulation. I would advance that the resolution of the sovereignty-intervention tension is only possible if the "national interests" paradigm is replaced by something better; but while on the subject of intervention critera...

b) On Humanitarian Intervention criteria
I was in the UK during the buildup to war with Iraq, and received a lot of hostility in criticising this direction, due to an unforgivingly bellicose public atmosphere – which centred much on humanitarian aspects, as from the beginning the dubiousness of the WMDs argument was absolutely plain. So while it was not technically a case of humanitarian intervention, it offers us many of the same issues and challenges. At that point, I argued frequently that three conditions must be suitably ethical to justify intervention: motive, means and effect.

This is why, in contrast to Nicholas Wheeler, I believe that sincere humanitarian motive is an essential criterion. Motives for invading Iraq were anything but ethical, something that became increasingly clear as the war progressed; simultaenously the prevailing attitudes in the UK were that the coalition countries were of course the "good guys", and to so much as question this was outrageous. Thus a "motivation" criterion, however difficult to measure, is a vital matter of pragmatism: if nothing else, such that constant self-reflection prevents tides of arrogant nationalism from fuelling momentum for the use of force past a tipping point, and reminding intervening states – constantly – that their legitimacy as humanitarian actors comes not automatically from their professed principles, but from their deeds and how far said deeds reflect those principles. As Iraq aptly demonstrated, the quality of outcome is directly influenced by the quality of motive: principle and consequence are not opposing concerns, but inseparably interlinked.

Of course this creates difficulties. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, like any brutally repressive state, in theory deserved humanitarian intervention. All four of the R2P crimes – genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – were construably on the regime's record. Yet if intervention is only justified when the intervening parties are more ethical than those being intervened in, and adequately trustworthy to carry out the use of force without wreaking human destruction of their own, who then in practice can intervene at all? (Lest we forget, those who invaded Iraq in 2003 had no problem supporting the very same regime as a bulwark against Iran in the 1980s.) So long as "national interest" lacks an ethical compass, there is every risk that any "humanitarian intervention" in future might be more destructive to humanity than the forces which intervention attempts to curtail: humans and their rights lose either way.

Once more, we are brought back to the paradigm of national self-interest.

c) On National Self-Interest
This paradigm, as we know it, is more or less the main driver to which the UN Charter, human rights and R2P emerged as a reaction: because states, in the pessimistic image of European order from Westphalia through 1815 to the twentieth-century cataclysms, have sought to banish the ethics of their own humanity from international relations, and are the foremost (albeit not only) sources of wars, human rights violations and failures in the most basic of human responsibilities.

This concept may yet be the UN's ruin. The heart of the matter is that "national interest" is an extremely constructed notion: where a motivator so narrow, atomistic and contemptuous of the world came from is difficult to fathom, let alone how it rose to such dominance at social and international levels alike. A state's "interests", literally speaking, are a function of its values, needs, and considerations on how to protect or acquire them respectively; and yet the concept now promotes this as a zero-sum pursuit, i.e. that for a state to do this, it must and should override the pursuits of other states and peoples. "National interest" all too often connotes selfishness and greed, devoid of ethical concern.

Hedley Bull spoke of 'pluralistic' and 'solidarist' approaches to international society. What do these represent? Pluralism appears pulled in two directions: towards this paradigm, by which human diversity creates irreconcilable differences in values, and where in the end we must learn to live together in a world of perpetual strife; but also in a more hopeful but still conservative direction, which may dream of peace, but emphasizes order as of primary importance to get there, through strict sovereignty and non-intervention. Solidarism is more unambiguous, embracing common humanity as more important than an archaic "interests" paradigm, even at the risk that in humanitarian interventions, the interveners may not notice as the proverbial abyss stares back into them.

In the end, we are all diverse, and diversity is not in itself a divisive force: most of us, we might keep reminding ourselves, get along most of the time. We are also all human beings who share the overwhelming bulk of a common genome, the rational and emotional pillars of human identity, and the ability to derive from both that abusing one another, as represented in the concept of human rights violations, is wrong. Such is the magnitude of the statement that 'sovereignty implies responsibility': that after centuries of failure by the self-interest paradigm which sovereignty unwittingly gave rise to, in spite of countless frustrated attempts to contain its harms, R2P represents one of the strongest drives so far to redefine humanity: to make it such that the operating principle of "national interests" may no longer exclude ethical considerations, but rather must make them the central fulcrum of what states do.

The very notion that there are 'obligations inherent in the concept of sovereignty', is something fundamentally different from the sovereignty we have known of since Westphalia. The importance of driving this principle forth cannot be overstated; with sustainability in mind, could humanity afford another global-scale relapse? And more crucial still, this drive must occur with a massive rear-view mirror: for worse than a relapse would be for R2P to become discredited by the use of force for pernicious ends disgusied as humanitarian ones, the triumph of the Pessimist order becoming the nightmare humanity does not wake up from.

d) On Democracy
"Democracy" may be one of the most precarious concepts of our era.

Taken literally, we can all aspire to it. It has no ethnic or cultural alignment, being based on universal values which humans everywhere might identify with (at least for themselves): political participation and equality, rule of law, respect for freedoms and human rights etc.; it is intuituive enough that democratic values and institutions can reduce the risk of conflicts/atrocities.

In practice, "democracies" on the whole have got nowhere near this; and although the US/Europe's sense of authorship of the concept (and frequent triumphalism) may be factually inaccurate, that connection still bears massive normative resonance in a world endlessly rearranged by those states' foreign policies – not least because (as in the Iraq discourse) their rhetoric on "spreading" (their models of) democracy never ceases. This has enormous practical implications for developing democracy elsewhere: such a concept will only gain legitimacy if the people of a given state can assert themselves the authors of it in their own unique circumstances – which after all is what "democracy" is literally about.

The reason this is a challenge is because the European/US models of democracy have abjectly failed at contributing to a peaceful and secure order in the world; and their image in the parts of the world comprising the majority of Earth's human population reflects this. Mass atrocities are very much on each of their records, and still they struggle to face up to them sincerely (WW1/WW2, US in Vietnam, France in Vietnam and Algeria, Belgium in the Congo, the UK in India and Burma etc.); so too do they fuel or endorse many conflicts or authoritarian tyrannies in the world today, such as the regimes challenged in the Arab Awakening. The aforementioned "national interest" paradigm entails this, exasperatingly demonstrated when during the upheaval in Egypt, the British government refused to emit one hint of condemnation of the Mubarak regime until it was clear that regime was coming to an end.

From these "democracies" also came, among many other things, colonialism – the legacies of which are tied directly to many of the civil wars since the 1990s (e.g. in Rwanda, Belgium's construction of ethnic supremacy myths to divide and rule the Hutu and Tutsi populations); and humanity's sustainability crisis, along with dominant academic and policy paradigms unconscious to the problem, and to which the world outside Europe/the US is again the most vulnerable to conflicts resulting therefrom in the next few decades. Again, it may very well stand that such incalculable physical and structural violence – especially to people outside one's own state – is not a feature of "democracy" in itself, but of these specfic models of democracy; nonetheless the term is now loaded, and the more Europe/the US speak of democracy as something that can or should be copied-and-pasted, the more its objective meaning is lost in this normative miasma in the eyes of those who might otherwise want it.

The lack of public trust for governments in these "Western" democracies points to the same thing. I am skeptical of the idea that this mistrust is merely democracy functioning as it should, i.e. the result of education, participatory attitudes, higher expectations, or (goodness forbid) that people are spoilt. Healthy scrutiny of power is one thing, and the most necessary thing in the world; the frustration and disillusionment in a country like the UK is quite another, and results (from my perspective) simpy because the political elite in the UK consistently demonstrates partisan self-interest, shameless greed (e.g. MPs' expenses scandal), ethical hypocrisy within (e.g. closeness to the Murdoch press, ruthless economic austerity) and without (e.g. complicity in torture/extraordinary rendition, support for authoritarian regimes), and a categorical bankruptcy of basic humanity. In the context of the English riots in August 2011 (surely not a sign of effectiveness at peace or security) and the unquestioningly punitive governmental and public reaction, showing an absence of any grasp of the notion of causes and consequences (surely not conducive to preventing conflicts), my impression from within the UK was one of a society where ethics, values, rational balance and the sense of responsibility to one's fellow humans are in steady disintegration.

Such a model of "democracy", I fear, does not bear mention in the same breath as prevention of either direct or root causes of conflict – and any state attempting to built a democratic polity of its own imports this at its peril. Frankly if this is the best we can do at politics, the 'worst form of government except those that have been tried' (Churchill) or the 'final form of human government' (Fukuyama), then in all honesty it reflects rather parlously on us as a species, and from there, far more troublesome questions become pertinent.

Democracy is a system – a tool – and like any tool, is as peaceful or violent as the choices of those who wield it. As such it has nothing inherent to prevent power being exercised by persons of ethical dereliction. It may fuel conflict or prevent conflict, with equal ease. Whether in established democracies like the UK, or conflict or post-conflict states seeking to get past atrocities, democracy is not enough. No system in itself will safeguard populations from conflict; what systems can help with is to influence what kinds of people operate within them, which is where the emphasis must be.

Perhaps this means democracy must be succeeded by a new paradigm; a fifth, if we consider Dr. Cheema's four-paradigms progression. And in it the emphasis must be overwhelmingly on the humanity of the people therein, whose choices and basic ethical integrity will ultimately determine the likelihood of conflict or atrocities, regardless of the system which happens to be in place (as we see in authoritarian states too, such as Singapore, which have yet to choose such things as genocide; although they are hardly a model for a decent human future). Systems like democracy can play an invaluable role, in protecting human rights and freedoms, providing material needs, engaging people in the political process etc.; but democracy as we know it neither substitutes for the most fundamental and necessary of human ethics, nor – more importantly – does it guarantee they are there at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment