Foreign Policy in Focus
With the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela, many have mourned the passing of a brave activist, a far-sighted statesman, and a compelling moral force in the fallen world of global politics. His passing has touched hundreds of millions of people around the world. They are grieving his death, of course. But they may also be lamenting something much bigger: not just the passing of a great liberator but the era of great leaders.
Leaders like Nelson Mandela seem to be going the way of blacksmiths, epic poets, and the great ocean explorers. All of these path breakers were vitally important in their time, but no more. Are we on the verge of displacing leaders in much the same way that we once pushed royalty to the side? Such leaders might remain in view — like Bono discoursing on global poverty — but they function as figureheads no different from Prince Charles.
Modern life is increasingly decentered. Twitter has no leaders. The European Union doesn’t really have a leader either. The Occupy movement prided itself on being leaderless. The LGBT effort has scored any number of victories but without a single person leading the charge. The global economy has powerful players, both national and corporate, but there is no tsar presiding over the vast enterprise, despite how the heads of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund might fancy themselves.
Or consider what’s happening these days in Ukraine. In the streets of Kiev, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are protesting the Russia-leaning direction of the current government of Viktor Yanukovych. Many of these protestors are too young to have participated in the Orange Revolution that dislodged Yanukovych back in late 2004. At that time, the leaders of the Orange Revolution were Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, who became president and prime minister in the subsequent government. They subsequently had a very public falling out, with Yushchenko ultimately testifying against his former colleague at her trial. She lost a bid for the presidency in 2010 and is now sitting in jail on cotrruption charges. He saw his popularity rating dropped from 70 percent in 2005 to 20 percent within less than a year. As the Ukrainian economy imploded, Yushchenko and Timoshenko continued to fight one another, like two characters in an action movie struggling in the caboose of a runaway train heading for a precipice.
Given the failures of the post-Orange Revolution leadership, it’s no surprise that Viktor Yanukovych was able to make a comeback and retake the presidency. Given the disappointments of Ukrainian voters, it’s no surprise that the current crop of activists is thoroughly skeptical about leadership. As young demonstrator Anastasia Bondarenko explains: “During the Orange Revolution people did believe in leaders. Now they don’t.” They are in thrall to an idea — Europe — rather than any leader.
Ukraine is no exceptional case. Look at what has happened to Mohamed Morsi of Egypt (once president and now in a remote desert prison), Silvio Berlusconi of Italy (expelled from parliament, finally, and facing a jail sentence), Janez Jansa of Slovenia (given a two-year sentence this summer for bribery), and many other disgraced leaders.
Politicians don’t have to end up in prison to demonstrate the disillusionment that so many people have with their leaders. Rapid fluctuations in approval ratings, followed by rapid rotations in and out of power for democratic politicians and parties all around the world, make Angela Merkel of Germany (in her eighth year in office) and Barack Obama (in his second term) a rarity.
Of course, plenty of strong-arm leaders cling to power, like the leaders of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Angola, Cambodia, and Uganda, all of whom have been in place for more than 25 years. It would be nice to consider them relics of an older age, like those islands of colonialism that somehow survived decolonization, such as Hong Kong and Macau before the British handover or East Timor before independence. After all, in 1974, only 27 percent of independent states were democracies. By 1999, that figure had risen to 63 percent.
According to the thesis of democratic inevitability, we have largely exited the age of authoritarianism. The anti-regime struggles that defined Nelson Mandela’s political career — or Lech Walesa’s in Poland or Kim Dae Jung’s in South Korea — are those of a previous generation.
In Slovakia, I interviewed the son of a prominent dissident (himself the son of a prominent dissident). Michal Simecka currently works in Brussels and approaches questions of democracy differently from his parent’s generation. “We need a more substantive and more multidimensional way of thinking about democracy, specifically one aspect of democracy completely absent from the paradigm in the 1990s, and that’s civic participation,” he told me. “Here people think about democracy or the lack thereof mostly in terms of liberal values or the infringement of those values by the state. They don’t think in terms of civic participation. To what extent can people take part in decisions? Or to what extent is there policy accountability? This requires a new mindset or a new conceptual framework for democracy.”
The EU has proven reasonably stable, so the locus of activity has shifted toward the deepening of democracy rather than the attainment of it. Elsewhere, the thesis of democratic inevitability seems rather wobbly, and the state remains part of the problem not part of the solution. Since 1999, the number of democracies has actually declined — down 3 percent to 60 percent in 2012. For every Mandela in South Africa or Bachelet in Chile, there’s been a Museveni in Uganda or Putin in Russia. Decolonization, by contrast, was almost without exception irreversible.
Thus, in Burma, the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, moral as well as political, remains important. In China, Liu Xiaobo remains in prison for the non-violent campaign for human rights that gained him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. In Russia, prominent activist and lawyer Alexei Navalny has faced several jail sentences, largely because of his opposition to Vladimir Putin. Other courageous activists continue to follow in Mandela’s footsteps in their own countries.
Still, even as these democratic activists struggle to reduce the authoritarian power of their states, they appear to be the exceptions rather than the rule. Meanwhile, we are becoming less and less confident in the capacity of leaders and leadership. Here are two reasons.
Leadership of Mandela’s kind is useful in certain contexts and not others. Take the issue of economic inequality. South Africa no longer suffers under apartheid, and Chile no longer must endure Pinochet. But both countries are among the most economically divided in the world. That kind of problem requires a collective effort by activists, unionists, policymakers, enlightened business people, and the like.
Modern society has become simply too complex for any one person to master. It’s one thing to stand firm against an evil system or a dictatorial regime. This may not be an easy task, but it is an easy-to-understand task. But what about climate change? And while you’re at it, can you also please reform the financial sector, deal with the threat of WMD, and make generic drugs available to the world’s poor? These are not only big challenges. They are complex questions that require a lot of patient work in the grey area of compromise. They are, in other words, political challenges rather than moral ones.
Second, our leaders disappoint us. Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t stood up more forthrightly against ethnic violence against Muslims in Burma. Vaclav Havel supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Barack Obama greatly expanded the U.S. program of extrajudicial killing. Sometimes these disappointments have driven us into the arms of other potential leaders (Elizabeth Warren, anyone?). More importantly, though, they have eroded our faith in leaders more generally, as the disappointments with the Orange Revolution leadership has done in Ukraine.
So, we don’t have many Mandelas left, and we don’t really like the more pedestrian politicians that we’ve been saddled with. We could throw up our hands and decide to let technocrats take over. These are the opposite of leaders. They know one thing and apply their expertise narrowly on technical issues. The future, in short, would be Brussels: endless directives and colorless stability.
We continue to cast around for new models and mindsets — like crowdsourcing and deliberative democracy and participatory budgeting. We mourn Mandela. But we also mourn the moral clarity he possessed and his ability to make us aspire to something greater. That remains our challenge as we move away from the model of a single great leader: to create a participatory system that avoids the lowest common denominator and yet, in that inimitable Mandela style, raises our game.
The images of typhoon damage coming out of the Philippines over the past few weeks are horrifying, softened only by the global response to those in peril. In such catastrophes, women and girls are at greater risk, particularly in low-income countries. Natural disasters and climate change often exacerbate existing inequalities and discrimination, including those that are gender-based. This in turn can sometimes lead to new forms of discrimination.
That intersection of gender and environment was on display in Warsaw, Poland in mid-November at the 19th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). On Gender Day — November 19 — the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released the first-ever Environment and Gender Index (EGI) that monitors gender equality and women’s empowerment in the environmental area. The Index ranks 72 countries on how they are translating gender and environment mandates into national policy and planning.
Countries were ranked based on a large number of indicators including livelihoods, ecosystem, and women in leadership positions. The strongest performers are Iceland, Netherlands, and Norway. Iceland has been “one of the few OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries that connected gender and climate change mitigation,” explained Rebecca Pearl-Martinez, EGI Manager. “Iceland is forward thinking on this.”
The lowest-ranking countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, and Mauritania. The United States reached only 14th place. Its failure to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), for instance, pushed it below many other developed nations. By highlighting the best practices of the top-ranking countries — and naming and shaming the worst performers — the EGI places women at the center of the climate change debate.
Lessons of the Index
To rise in the index and adequately address issues arising from climate change, integrating women in environment-related decision-making is critical. Gender shapes our relationship with the environment — women and men have different responsibilities and needs in relation to natural resources.
A number of social issues contribute to women’s disempowerment, from insecure land and tenure rights to obstructed access to natural resource assets. Women often have limited opportunities for participating in decision-making. They frequently lack of access to markets, capital, training, and technologies. They shoulder the double burden of responsibilities inside and outside the household. Gender equality could greatly improve natural resource management and sustainable development as well as transform the gender-blind decision-making that further entrenches hardships for women.
Unfortunately, one of the lessons of the Index is that much of the data needed to rank the countries is lacking. Sex-disaggregated data doesn’t exist for matters concerning forestry, agriculture, water, energy, natural disasters, and infrastructure. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf writes in the Index preface, “Tremendous gaps exist — at all levels — that hinder comprehensive progress. The information that exists to propel national policymaking and programming forward is too often limited, too frequently fragmented, and too repeatedly generic, not only in Liberia but around the globe.” For the EGI, the Index team produced seven new datasets, including how gender-environment is addressed in country reports to the Rio Conventions and CEDAW, and the average percentage of women in country delegations to the Rio Conventions.
Lorena Aguilar, Global Senior Gender Advisor for IUCN, says that is the point: “Our aim is to promote a culture of greater transparency and accountability, and to contribute to the full, effective, and sustained implementation of international agreements on gender equality and women’s rights.”
Iceland is not the only country that excels in how it has integrated gender into environmental policy. Poland ranks highest worldwide in the ecosystem category, and Costa Rica scores highest for governance in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Mongolia was a top performer in Asia, and Liberia scored in the top tier for access to credit, land, and property (with women’s legal rights equivalent to men’s).
Although Mozambique ranked 55th out of 72, its government is committed to moving up in the rankings. “Mozambique was the first country in the world to establish a national climate change and gender action plan,” said Ana Chichava, deputy minister of the environment in Mozambique. “We expect that the EGI’s information about Mozambique’s performance will help guide our efforts toward gender equality and environmental protection.”
Response to the launch of the Index in Warsaw was uniformly positive, even though not everyone was happy with their country’s ranking. Former President of Finland Tarja Halonen bemoaned the fact that Finland ranked behind France and wondered what could be done to improve her nation’s rank. Other EU representatives at the launch promised to use the tool and requested specific data on how to perform better. They were also interested in the performance of their bilateral partners in the developing world to determine where investments should be targeted.
Ensuring that women’s voices are heard is a main motivation for the Environment and Gender Index. But it’s clear that much has to change for that to happen. Women often lead in innovative approaches to climate change but seldom sit at decision-making tables. Women throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America are poised to lead in small-scale energy entrepreneurship, but the world’s financing mechanisms do not yet reach them. For the past 20 years, governments have been making commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment in institutional environmental negotiations such as the Rio Conventions, but these commitments are not implemented. And no institution has monitored countries’ progress until now.
Although the United States doesn’t fare well in the ranking when compared to other developed countries, there are a few simple steps the U.S. government can take to rise above no. 14. Signing CEDAW would be a significant advance. Improving the number of women in policy-making positions is also critical. The United States scores among the lowest OECD countries in the Index on that indicator, lower even than Tanzania, Mozambique, and Uganda.
The U.S. government is clearly rethinking how much attention should be paid to gender. At the launch of the Environment and Gender Index in Warsaw, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley talked about the State Department’s new initiative wPOWER – Promoting Women’s Critical Role in Clean Energy Solutions to Climate Change. This is a step in the right direction.
IUCN has vowed that this is only the first in a series of Environment and Gender Indexes. The hope is that it will push countries to take seriously their commitments while following the lead of those nations that rank highest. The mere act of creating such an Index has already attracted notice. The Environment and Gender Index has been nominated for a prestigious Katerva Award, which engages global thought leaders from business, government, NGOs, and academia to track down the world’s best sustainability initiatives.
Sending Caroline Kennedy, a household name in the United States, to Japan as the ambassador indicates that President Obama has realized there is no better choice than using the tension in East Asia to capture and retain the attention of the American public to his amazing skills in handling Asia. While the jingoistic heat may stay for a while, the White House will cool it down soon.
In 1940, the GDP (in US$ billion) of Germany, Japan, the UK and the U.S. amounted to US$387, $192, $316 and $943 respectively, with a ratio between the two Axis and the two Allied powers at 0.4599:1. In 2012, the GDP of China, Japan and the U.S. amounted to $8,358, $5,960 and $15,685 billion respectively, with a ratio between China and the U.S.-Japan team at 0.3861:1. The GDP per capita of the U.S. in 2012 was US$49,965 and that of Japan was US$46,720, but the Chinese figure was merely US$6,188 which was less than 7% of the U.S.-Japan combined total.
Strategically speaking, without Taiwan as the “unsinkable aircraft carrier”, China’s air force is fragile around the islands in dispute, not to mention their wide generational gap behind the U.S. fighters. Even laymen know that when Boeing is promoting the latest model—787 Dreamliner, China is still at the infant stage of manufacturing passenger jets. In terms of national strength and technology, China cannot match with the United States. The current hawkish talks will no doubt help newspapers sell better and online journals attract more eyeballs but insiders and military experts know that this confrontational game is asymmetrical. Nevertheless, both Tokyo and Beijing benefit from playing this game for domestic politics consideration in due course.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can make the best use of it to consolidate the public support for his Liberal Democratic Party during the newly won 4-year term at the House of Representatives by proving that his party is more protective of Japan’s national interest than the Democratic Party of Japan whose leaders like Naoto Kan and Yukio Hatoyama appeared to be weak at the bargaining table during their governance 2009-12.
To the Chinese Communist Party, the Sino-Japanese tension is the most gifted justification for fostering patriotism and weakening the idolization of the West by some netizens and scholars. All the parties in power know that this confrontational show will not lead to any combat and will not last long. When the calculation and pressure for election campaigning in Japan subside after 2016, serious negotiation will resume. Both sides do not want to see long-term shrinkage of trade volume and cannot afford to leave the crude and gas under the sea untouched forever. In fact, a delegation of leading Japanese business leaders, including Fujio Cho (honorary chairman of Toyota Motors) and Hiromasa Yonekura (honorary chairman of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metals) is having a week-long stay in Beijing to try to open the door for peace by meeting at least the Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang who is in charge of trade and commerce.
This 2014-16 period will therefore be the show time for the White House to mastermind the progress towards a warm feeling for talks. National Security Advisor Susan Rice revealed a hint on how the U.S. could pave the way for a Japan-China deal in her Georgetown University script. In the eighth paragraph of the speech titled “America’s Future in Asia”, she began by saying that when “it comes to China, we seek to operationalize a new model of major power relations” and then brought the audience to the Korean Peninsula, Iran, Afghanistan, “Sudan”, “sub-Saharan Africa” and even benefits of “the peoples of Africa”. Why is Africa dragged into this already complicated problem in a speech supposed to be on America-Asia when “it comes to China”?
Knowing that China is not just rushing to complete the 80,900-km Trans-Asian Railway project and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, but also going to provide US$1 trillion of financing to Africa in the years to 2025 through the state-owned banks including the Eximbank to further increase the Chinese stakes in this under-developed continent, Washington could bargain for favors towards the U.S., Japan and even the Philippines by offering, say, ‘less barriers’ to China’s advancement to Africa. To China, the natural resources in western Asia, Latin America and Africa represent the lion share of the commodities the 1.3 billion population needs. Here is the simple equation Susan Rice is going to show the pragmatic Chinese helmsman rulers: In the wake of China’s no match for the military strength of the U.S. worldwide, a smaller share in the east (East Asia) plus a larger (or less costly) share in the west (western Asia and Africa) can yield the same amount of sum in the end. It is how and why a deal is possible.
The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Foreign Policy In Focus.
The post Susan Rice Attempts to Solve the Japan-China Deadlock appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate, a Fellow of The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), and the author of Helmsman Ruler: China’s Pragmatic Version of Plato’s Ideal Political Succession System in The Republic, Singapore: Trafford, 2013.
Beyond the headlines surrounding the passing of Nelson Mandela lies another story. Before overseeing the historic transition of power heralding majority rule in South Africa, Mandela led Umkhonto we Sizwe, the militant wing of the African National Congress which was labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency is suspected to have played a role in his arrest, having invested more resources in countering the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid movements than did South Africa’s own security services. It devotes a similar level of attention today to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, where it has deployed drones to eliminate targets who are suspected of terrorism based on their patterns of behavior.
The United States Government’s public justification for drone warfare was defended by the current CIA Director and then top Presidential counterterror aide John Brennan, who argued that drone strikes are legal, ethical, and wise. The first two of these points are up for debate, but using targeted strikes against suspected terrorists is widely considered to be wiser, safer, and less expensive than attempting to capture suspects and bring them to justice. Brennan noted that the primary purpose of these strikes is not to punish targets for past actions, but to “mitigate an actual ongoing threat.” It is likely that the threat Mandela presented to one of the United States’ Cold War allies would have easily passed Brennan’s threat mitigation test for using drone strikes.
If the “ongoing threat” of Nelson Mandela and Umkhonto we Sizwe were mitigated through drone warfare, the world would have lost a monumental force for justice and reconciliation. Majority rule would have likely been delayed. Although Mandela was already a prominent nationalist figure and common sense indicates that martyring him would have been catastrophic for the apartheid government, the possibility of the death penalty for Mandela lingered over the Rivonia trial and was only narrowly averted. Officials in the apartheid government wanted him dead, and the ease and speed of extrajudicial drone killings would have provided a convenient path towards that objective. Therefore, it is also likely the strike would have been carried out with the full support and cooperation of the South African government.
Passing the United States’ minimal tests for executing suspects via Hellfire missiles, as well as fulfilling the wishes of the South African government and many officials in the United States’ government, it is very likely that Mandela would have been targeted and killed by drone strike if the technology were available at the time. Thankfully, this was not the case, and we are all fortunate for it.
However, today’s governments often do have the power to condemn suspects to death without trial by classifying them as enemy combatants, as the United States has routinely done with minimal uproar or surprise. While the lack of transparency surrounding the United States’ targeted killings makes these figures impossible to verify, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s running tally of reported drone strikes estimates that since 2004, United States drones have killed between 2,812 to 4,061 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Anywhere from 437 to 1,022 were civilians, including 173 to 205 children.
The peaceful passing of Nelson Mandela should be a time to rethink John Brenner’s accepted wisdom of targeted killings and examine the effects of the Obama administration’s strategy of employing them to deal with perceived threats. Mandela emerged from apartheid as a renowned leader and voice for reconciliation. The drone strategy has been responsible for silencing would-be voices for peace, notably those of the Ali Jaber family members who were incinerated by drone missile while attempting to meet with members of Al Qaeda to dissuade them from violence. There was no effort to determine who was present at the meeting and no acknowledgement of the error from the Obama administration, only an apology phone call from a Yemeni official. This case does not exist in isolation, evidenced by the many botched strikes found throughout the 2012 Stanford/NYU report, Living Under Drones. These attacks include a Hellfire missile strike which targeted a bus depot and killed 42 people, many of them civilians.
It is unconscionable that the same administration which heaps praise upon the memory of Nelson Mandela shows this disregard for human life. The next time a politician or official lines up to honor his legacy, they should reconsider their role in stamping out the legacies of the future.
When 30 climate protestors from 18 countries protested drilling at an Arctic oil platform operated by Gazprom, they represented the people of the world taking a symbolic stand against climate destruction, the corporate climate destroyers, and the governments that back them. But the action of the Arctic 30 may be prophetic of something more: The emergence of a global insurgency that challenges the very legitimacy of those who are destroying our planet.
The 2013 Fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that humans are destroying the earth’s climate. But it also revealed something even more alarming: Twenty-five years of human effort to protect the climate have failed even to slow the forces that are destroying it. On the contrary, the rate of increase in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels tripled between the release of the first IPCC report in 1988 and today.
Scientists and climate protection advocates once expected that rational leaders and institutions would respond appropriately to the common threat of climate change. As Bill McKibben said of Jim Hansen and himself, “I think he thought, as did I, if we get this set of facts out in front of everybody, they’re so powerful — overwhelming — that people will do what needs to be done.”
It didn’t work. Those who are fighting to save the climate need a new strategy. One such strategy to consider is a global nonviolent law-enforcing insurgency.
A nonviolent insurgency
Insurgencies are social movements, but movements of a special type: They reject current rulers’ claims to legitimate authority. Insurgencies often develop from movements that initially make no direct challenge to established authority but eventually conclude that one is necessary to realize their objectives. To effectively protect the earth’s climate and our species’ future, the climate protection movement may have to become such an insurgency.
The term “insurgency” is generally associated with an armed rebellion against an established government. Its aim may be to overthrow the existing government, but it may also aim to change it or simply to protect people against it. Whatever its means and ends, the hallmark of such an insurgency is to deny the legitimacy of established state authority and to assert the legitimacy of its own actions.
A nonviolent insurgency pursues similar objectives by different means. Like an armed insurgency, it does not accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers-that-be. But unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for various forms of nonviolent mass action.
After closely following the massive strikes, general strikes, street battles, peasant revolts, and military mutinies of the Russian Revolution of 1905 that forced the czar to grant a constitution, Mohandas (not yet dubbed “Mahatma”) Gandhi concluded, “Even the most powerful cannot rule without the cooperation of the ruled.” Shortly thereafter he launched his first civil disobedience campaign, proclaiming “We too can resort to the Russian remedy against tyranny.”
The powers responsible for climate change could not rule for a day without the acquiescence of those whose lives and future they are destroying. They are only able to continue their destructive course because others enable or acquiesce in it. It is the ordinary activity of people — going to work, paying taxes, buying products, obeying government officials, staying off private property — that continually re-creates the power of the powerful. A nonviolent climate insurgency can be powerful if it withdraws that cooperation from the powers-that-be.
Why a law-enforcing insurgency?
Faced with the failure of conventional lobbying and political “pressure group” activity, much of the climate protection movement is now turning to mass civil disobedience, as witnessed by the campaigns against the Keystone XL pipeline, mountaintop removal coal mining, coal-fired power plants, and Arctic oil drilling. Such civil disobedience, while generally recognizing the legitimacy of the law, refuses to obey it in specific instances.
Civil disobedience represents moral protest, but it does not in itself challenge the legal validity of the government or other institutions against which it is directed. Rather, it claims that the obligation to oppose their immoral actions — whether discriminating against a class of people or conducting an immoral war or destroying the climate — is more binding on individuals than the normal duty to obey the law.
A law-enforcing insurgency goes a step further. It declares a set of laws and policies themselves illegal and sets out to establish law through nonviolent self-help. Such insurgents view those who they are disobeying as merely persons claiming to represent legitimate authority — but who are themselves violating the law under what’s known as “color of law,” or the false pretense of authority. So “civil disobedience” is actually obedience to law and a form of law enforcement.
Social movements that engage in civil disobedience often draw strength from the claim that their actions are not only moral, but that they represent an effort to enforce fundamental legal and constitutional principles flouted by the authorities they are disobeying. And they strengthen a movement’s appeal to the public by presenting its action not as wanton law breaking but as an effort to rectify governments and institutions that are themselves in violation of the law.
For the civil rights movement, the constitution’s guarantee of equal rights meant that sit-inners and freedom riders were not criminals but rather upholders of constitutional law. For the struggle against apartheid, racism was a violation of internationally guaranteed human rights. For war resisters from Vietnam to Iraq, the national and international laws forbidding war crimes defined civil disobedience not as interference with legal, democratic governments but rather as a legal obligation of citizens. For the activists of Solidarity, the nonviolent revolution that overthrew Communism in Poland was not criminal sedition but an effort to implement the international human and labor rights law ratified by their own government.
These examples seem paradoxical. On the one hand, the movement participants appear to be resisting the constituted law and the officials charged with implementing it. On the other, they are claiming to act on the basis of law — in fact to be implementing the law themselves against the opposition of lawless states.
Law professor and historian James Gray Pope has developed a concept of “constitutional insurgency” to understand such cases. A constitutional insurgency, or what might be called a “law-enforcing insurgency,” is a social movement that rejects current constitutional doctrine but that “rather than repudiating the Constitution altogether, draws on it for inspiration and justification.” Pope detailed how the American labor movement long insisted that the right to strike was protected by the 13th amendment to the constitution, which forbade any form of “involuntary servitude.” Injunctions to limit strikes were therefore unconstitutional. Although courts disregarded this claim, the radical Industrial Workers of the World told its members to “disobey and treat with contempt all judicial injunctions,” and the “normally staid” American Federation of Labor maintained that a worker confronted with an unconstitutional injunction had an imperative duty to “refuse obedience and to take whatever consequences may ensue.”
Why climate destruction is illegal
The Justinian Code, issued by the Roman Emperor in 535 A.D., defined the concept of res communes (common things): “By the law of nature these things are common to mankind — the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” The right of fishing in the sea from the shore “belongs to all men.”
Based on the Justinian Code’s protection of res communes, governments around the world have long served as trustees for rights held in common by the people. In U.S. law this role is defined by the public trust doctrine, under which the government serves as public trustee on behalf of present and future generations. Even if the state holds title, the public is the “beneficial owner.” As trustee, the state has a “fiduciary duty” to the owner — a legal duty to act solely in the owners’ interest with “the highest duty of care.” The principle is recognized today in both common law and civil law systems in countries ranging from South Africa to the Philippines and from the United States to India.
On Mother’s Day, 2011, the youth organization Kids vs. Global Warming organized the “iMatter March” of young people in 160 communities in 45 countries, including the United States, Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, and Great Britain. Concurrently, the Atmospheric Trust Litigation Project brought suits and petitions on behalf of young people in all 50 U.S. states to require the federal and state governments to fulfill their obligation to protect the atmosphere as a common property. Speaking to one of the rallies, 16-year-old Alec Loorz, founder of Kids v. Global Warming and lead plaintiff in the Federal lawsuit, said:
Today, I and other fellow young people are suing the government, for handing over our future to unjust fossil fuel industries, and ignoring the right of our children to inherit the planet that has sustained all of civilization. The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.
Loorz concluded: “The plaintiffs and petitioners on all the cases are young people. We are standing up for our future.”
A trustee has “an active duty of vigilance to ‘prevent decay or waste’ to the asset,” according to University of Oregon law professor Mary Christina Wood, whose new book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Age lays out the legal basis for the suits. “Waste” means “permanently damage.” If the asset is wasted in the interest of one generation of beneficiaries over future generations, it is in effect an act of “generational theft.”
Although so far the courts have turned down most of these atmospheric public trust suits, the decisions are being appealed. On October 3, 2013, the Supreme Court of Alaska became the first state supreme court to hear such an appeal.
A global climate insurgency
Compelling as the logic of the atmospheric public trust argument may be, it is easy to imagine that many U.S. courts will refuse to force governments to meet such obligations. In a brief to dismiss the Kansas suit, lawyers called the claim “a child’s wish for a better world,” which is not something a court can do much about.
The sad fact is that virtually all the governments on earth — and their legal systems — are deeply corrupted by the very forces that gain from destroying the global commons. They exercise illegitimate power without regard to their obligations to those they claim to represent, let alone to the common rights beneficiaries of other lands and future generations to whom they also owe “the highest duty of care.”
But protecting the atmosphere is not just a matter for governments. Indeed, it is the failure of governments to protect the public trust that is currently prompting the climate-protection movement to turn to mass civil disobedience. Looked at from the perspective of the public trust doctrine, these actions are far from lawless. Indeed, they embody the effort of people around the world to assert their right and responsibility to protect the public trust. They represent people stepping in to provide law enforcement where corrupt and illegitimate governments have failed to meet their responsibility to do so.
When the climate protection movement uses nonviolent direct action to protect the public trust, it is often confronted by government officials acting under color of law to perpetuate climate destruction. The Arctic 30 were held at gunpoint, for example, and charged with piracy. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, “Concern for the environment must not cover up unlawful actions.” A law-enforcing climate insurgency will answer: Concern for oil company profits must not cover up unlawful government complicity in destroying the atmospheric public trust.
When 30 climate activists from 18 countries protested drilling at an oil platform operated by Gazprom in the Russian Arctic, they represented the people of the world taking a symbolic stand against climate destruction, the corporate climate destroyers, and the governments that back them. But the action of the Arctic 30 may be prophetic of something more: The emergence of a global insurgency that challenges the very legitimacy of those who are destroying our planet.
The 2013 Fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that humans are destroying the earth’s climate. But it also revealed something even more alarming: Twenty-five years of human effort to protect the climate have failed even to slow the forces that are destroying it. On the contrary, the rate of increase in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels tripled between the release of the first IPCC report in 1988 and today.
Scientists and climate protection advocates once expected that rational leaders and institutions would respond appropriately to the common threat of climate change. As Bill McKibben said of Jim Hansen and himself, “I think he thought, as did I, if we get this set of facts out in front of everybody, they’re so powerful — overwhelming — that people will do what needs to be done.”
It didn’t work. Those who are fighting to save the climate need a new strategy. One such strategy to consider is a global nonviolent law-enforcing insurgency, where citizens take it upon themselves to defend the climate directly and preserve the public trust for generations to come.
This paper is an excerpt from a much longer chapter in the forthcoming book on People-Centered Human Rights.
“Ours is the age of rights. Human rights is the idea of our time, the only political-moral idea that has received universal acceptance.”
― Louis Henkin
This quote from Louis Henkin, the venerable international legal scholar and passionate advocate for human rights, represents both the promise and the contradictory limitations of the human rights idea. For Professor Henkin and most of the human rights establishment, the universality of human rights is uncontested. The dominant values, assumptions, legal framework, research methodologies, forms of advocacy, institutional expressions and norm-setting processes that developed over the last six decades of the “modern” human rights period are seen as a natural evolution of progressive global relations.
However, it is my contention that this view, historically decontextualized and cleansed of the nasty and brutish influences of power, race and ideology, grossly distorts the political character of the human rights project. What is projected as an apolitical, neutral human rights project is instead a partial and—for people suffering from global structures of oppression—politically-limited project and framework. The human rights idea and project is not innocent. It emerged in its modern expression as a contested idea at a historical moment when the assumptions, world-views and social practices of Western, liberal, white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial-capitalist states were dominant. The result was that the human rights framework and methods of practice that emerged and were projected as universal truths were informed by the very specific experiences, needs and world-views of those states and their intellectual elites.
This does not mean that the dominant human rights framework lacks value. Like all social processes, the human rights regime and idea is contradictory. On one hand, it represents a significant development towards real human liberation, but its vision and possibilities are limited because it also serves as an ideologically-driven instrument for rationalizing and maintaining the dominance of the Western colonial/imperialist project.
What this means for people(s) committed to radical social justice work is that this dominant worldview and the practices that flow from it ideologically “naturalize” a liberal, pro-Western conception of human rights, freeze structures of oppression in place, and privilege an elite form of human rights practice that emphasizes state-centric, legalistic and legislative advocacy.
This knowledge was one of the foundations of the project to build the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN), where we introduced, within the context of the U.S., the notion of a people-centered approach to human rights practice (PCHR) that could serve as an alternative approach to human rights praxis in the U.S.
Ten years later, significant progress has been made toward the development of an authentic, independent human rights movement grounded in the interests and perspectives of the oppressed. Many activists have embraced PCHR language as part of their discourse on human rights. However, the organizational forms, strategies and political content of much of the human rights activism in the U.S. still suggest that more conversations on this approach and its radical implication for human rights praxis is needed. I am offering this discussion paper as part of that conversation.
The analysis and framework that I offer in this paper has been informed by more than forty years of social justice activism with more than twenty-five of those years involved in human rights movement building work in the U.S. and abroad.
What is a people-centered approach to human rights theory and practice?
PCHRs are those non-oppressive rights that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle that reflects the highest commitment to human dignity and social justice for themselves and all humanity.
The feature that distinguishes the people-centered framework from all of the prevailing schools of human rights theory and practice is that it is based on an explicit understanding that to realize the full range of the still developing human rights idea requires: 1) an epistemological break with a human rights orthodoxy grounded in Euro-centric liberalism, 2) a reconceptualization of human rights from the standpoint of oppressed groups, 3) a restructuring of prevailing social relationships that perpetuate oppression and 4) the acquiring of power on the part of the oppressed to bring about that restructuring.
As opposed to the fraudulent claims of being “non-political” and value neutral made by mainstream human rights practitioners and organizations, PCHRs is a political project that has identified all forms of oppressive relations, including capitalism, neoliberalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism and imperialism, as structural and ideological constraints on the ability to realize the full range of human rights.
The Ethical and Conceptual Framework of People-centered Human Rights:
• The CHR approach recognizes the contingent and contested nature of the human rights framework. The meaning and content of what are recognized as human rights are to be determined by the people—not State elites.
The rarefication of the human rights framework, cognitively connected to Western liberalism and in practical terms to positive legalism, or state-centered treaty processes, engenders a top-down and conservative understanding of the scope of available human rights and the process for human rights norm-setting and potential for transformative politics. The documentation, advocacy and activism of mainstream human rights activists is usually informed by and limited to the language of human rights treaties and the authoritative interpretation of that language by treaty monitoring bodies and judicial authorities. Issues of “justiciability” and State ratification of human rights treaties are, therefore, central concerns for these activists because they provide the legal and normative framework for accessing State compliance.
The PCHR approach to human rights activism does not limit itself to a national legal regime or to the normative standards reflected in international human rights treaties, covenants or declarations. While this approach recognizes the importance of these texts and the legal and ethical principles implied in them, the ultimate meaning of the language in the texts, the scope of rights that will be recognized, and the modalities for rights implementation, are an evolving process whose final determination is dependent on popular political struggles and societal dispensations of power. This is not to say that the PCHR approach lacks a “foundation” or source of legitimacy—nor is it arguing for moral relativity. The approach simply recognizes a different foundation, source of legitimacy and moral authority – that of the people’s positive struggle for social justice.
• Based on the popular needs and democratic aspirations of the people. A “people- centered” human rights praxis uses Black feminist intersectional analysis to anchor its social justice demands and liberatory program on the sectors of the population who live at the intersection of multiple oppressions. In the US, this suggests that the objective conditions, experiences, needs and perspectives of working class and poor African American, Latino and Native women must be a central component of a radical human rights program.
In order for human rights work to have legitimacy and a real popular base, it must be guided by a bottom-up, participatory, democratic process informed by the subjugated knowledge and experiences of the oppressed. International human rights advocacy by NGOs that is not connected to or guided by the people—and the issues that impact the people they claim to be speaking on behalf of—lacks legitimacy and in some cases may be working at cross-purposes to the people being directly impacted by human rights abuses. This is both a practical concern and an issue of principle. PCHRs’ “centers,” as a matter of principle and programmatic orientation, the experiences of oppressed people through a conscious effort to reflect, in structures, organizing and programmatic activities, the physical presence and political control (agency) of the people.
The analytical lens that the people-centered approach uses to apprehend reality and construct programmatic work is informed theoretically by the Black feminist methodological construction known as intersectionality. The intersectional approach to organizing involves recognizing what Patricia Hill Collins calls the “matrix of domination” – the interwoven and interlocking ways in which race, class and gender oppressions exist, support, and break down all forms of oppression simultaneously. As an analytical framework, intersectionality provides a lens for seeing how “intersections of race and class, or race and gender, or sexuality and class, for example, shape any group’s experiences across specific social contexts.” So while an intersectional perspective rejects the notion of a “hierarchy of oppression,” a human rights framework that is not informed by the experiences, needs and realities of the sectors of society that experience the most intense negative confluence of gender, race and class oppression will always be partial and illusionary.
• Consistently anti-oppression and employ a human rights based lens to all social policy.
The anti-oppression lens that informs and guides the people-centered approach is uncompromising on the issue of oppression. When we identify oppression as the enemy, we are not talking about a benign force. Oppression by its very nature is defined by a dominant/subordinate structural relationship that prevents the full realization and development of the human potential of the oppressed. Therefore, any talk of human rights that does not address the reality and consequences of oppression has little relevance to people actively engaged in the struggle to liberate themselves. The de-contextualized highlighting of individual violations as if they are occurring in a vacuum, which is the methodology of mainstream human rights documentation and advocacy, inevitably misses the systemic basis of most, if not all, human rights abuses.
• Internationalist and recognize the interconnections and interrelationship of local and global issues and processes.
The PCHR process effectively addresses the issue of “translation” of human rights from global principles and processes to local realities by inverting that process and injecting new meanings and possibilities into “human rights.”
The demands for public services, the right to organize, the fight for a living wage, de-militarization of communities, ending discriminatory hiring practices against transgender people (especially transgendered “people of color”), ending policies of internal displacement because of mega-development projects, stopping paramilitary violence (George Zimmerman phenomenon), halting FBI infiltration and disruption of lawful organizations—these are but a few of the local demands that are being reconceptualized as human rights demands locally, but are also being seen as fundamentally linked to the global fight for working class power, self- determination and individual and collective dignity. This reformulation, emerging out of practice and reflection from the bottom-up, is at the heart of the PCHR process for human rights.
• Transformative and proceeds from the position that the struggle for human rights and dignity must move societies toward the establishment of social institutions, structures and social relationships that reflect a real commitment to human dignity and social justice.
The people-centered framework proceeds from the assumption that the genesis of the assaults on human dignity that is at the core of human rights violations is located in the relationships of oppression. Therefore, the realization of authentic freedom and human dignity can only come about as a result of the radical alteration of the structures and relationships that determine and deny human dignity. On the macro-level of society, if the structures and social relations ensure that the vast majority of the people are denied the full range of human rights, the logical and thus legitimate aim of a human rights movement is a radical transformation of those relationships, structures and the State that props up and defends the oppressive order. The legitimization of the struggle for power as an essential task of a human rights movement that is grounded by the interests of the oppressed is the one element that defines the difference between this approach and mainstream human rights practice.
For the PCHR approach, if society is structured and organized to degrade and dehumanize the individual and collectives, the demand for human rights, with its full spectrum of possibilities, is in essence a call for revolutionary transformation. The logic is this position is quite simple. Inequality, systematic discrimination, domination and marginalization cannot be reconciled with an idea of human rights that is informed by a commitment to the elimination of all forms of oppression. If oppressive relationships are reflected in the organization of society and the State, the task for human rights activists, in order to realize human rights, is to build alternative structures of power in order to transform those relationships –nothing short of this is acceptable from the view of the oppressed.
As a result of the cynical use of human rights by Western states, particularly the last two administrations in the U.S., there is deep dissatisfaction with the human rights idea. This is occurring right at the historical moment when the idea of human rights could provide an alternative ethical and policy guide for countering the global economic, political and social crises that governments and tens of millions of people are experiencing. Without a radical “de-colonization” of its basic tenets, methodologies and institutions, the orthodox human rights framework is unable to offer anything more than bland reforms and a “de-politicized” politics. The notion of a PCHR alternative presented in this discussion paper is only a modest attempt to move us in the direction toward the development of a more relevant and authentic human rights praxis.
The post The Human Rights Project: Determined by the Needs of the Powerful appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.Ajamu Baraka was the founding Director of the US Human Rights Network. Baraka is currently an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is editing a new book on human rights in the U.S. entitled “The Struggle for a People-Centered Human Rights: Voices from the Field.” He can be reached at Ajamubaraka.com.
Yemen. The very name of this country brings many thoughts to one’s mind. It happens to be one of the oldest centres of civilization in the region, and is currently the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. If that does not impress you, Yemen is also the only state in the Arabian Peninsula to have a purely republican form of government, and was the first country in the region to grant voting rights to women.
A nice resume, indeed! Sadly, of late Yemen has not made it to the papers for the right reasons. As harsh as it may sound, present-day Yemen is far from perfect.
Some Historical Context
Yemeni unification occurred back in 1990 when North Yemen (officially Yemen Arab Republic) was united with South Yemen (PDR of Yemen). What seemed to be a peaceful unification later on led to an atmosphere of civil war and the quest for a power grab ensued – you know how it goes!
While there were signs of insurgency in late 1990s and early 2000s, the actual ‘revolution’ happened in 2011. In fact, the Yemeni Revolution almost coincided with the Arab Spring mass protests. The initial issues that the Revolution focused on included unemployment, dismal economy and corruption.
Things soon went downhill and certain protests led to violent clashes between the activists and the police. Under domestic and international pressure, a joint government was established, with the intention of drafting a new constitution and conducting both presidential and parliamentary elections by 2014.
As expected, insurgency did not perish. Yemen today stands divided between various groups (who in turn are divided between Sunni and Shi’ite sects), both violent and peaceful, as well as pro-government factions. Add to it the fact that USA does not know how to keep its drones and bombs away from civilians, and you will get a fair idea about the chaotic situation that Yemen is currently experiencing.
The Current Situation
So, will elections be conducted next year in Yemen? The chances seem bleak. What makes matters worse is the fact that unless elections are held on time (in 2014, as promised), the very essence of the revolution dies. Yemenis might be forced to take to the streets again and push for democratic reforms. Whether or not their protests yield any merit is a debatable question, but rest assured, insurgents will waste zero time in hijacking the revolution and pushing for their violent agenda.
Make no mistake about it: back in 2011, the Yemeni Revolution provided a ray of hope. It hinted towards a possible change that Yemen might finally be able to eliminate the elitist handcuffs and proceed towards growth and prosperity of its people. When the erstwhile President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was sidelined, numerous protestors all over Yemen had a reason to rejoice.
Yet, that reason seems to be fading as we speak. Saleh’s replacement, the interim President Mansour Hadi, is anything but a revolutionary. Of course, this does not mean that his tenure as the transitional president has been disappointing, but Hadi does not have many happy things to talk about either.
The major point of contention is the near-failure of the Conference of National Reconciliation (henceforth abbreviated as CNR). The goal of the CNR was to discover common grounds of agreement between all sections of the Yemeni masses, in order to successfully implement a new constitution and proceed towards the 2014 elections. However, as CNR learned the hard way, speedy resolution and elimination of sectarian, political and ethnic differences are not child’s play. Naturally, this gives the Saleh supporters something to talk about — the CNR is on the verge of failure and thus, the previous regime under Saleh was probably not a bad one.
To make things worse, the delegates from the southern part of Yemen have decided that leaving the CNR was a smart thing to do. Why? Because when everything is falling apart, separatism sounds tastier than ever before.
As of now, the situation in Yemen is way different from the Yemeni Revolution of 2011. Back then, both North and South stood together in their fight against corruption and inefficient governance. Sadly, the collective vision endorsed by the Revolution of 2011 never transformed into political victory because even after the elimination of Saleh, things failed to progress as planned.
The international community too has failed to play a proper role in the Yemeni crisis. At best, by siding with either Saleh or Hadi, foreign powers have only killed the vigour of the Revolution.
The situation might be better than what it used to be in days before the unification. Nonetheless, Yemen is currently standing on the edge of a cliff. If things continue to go downhill from here, the unification of 1990, achieved by bringing together the northern and southern parts of the country, might be in serious jeopardy. To make matters uglier, both the North and South are marred by internal divisions and disagreements of their own.
The divisions within Yemen are growing at a rapid pace. At this junction, if the interim President Hadi leaves or is removed, Yemen might be torn apart by a vicious power struggle. Even worse, if he manages to extend his term in office, political unrest might deepen and further segregate the North and South.
A third alternative might be that the erstwhile regime of Saleh might come back, possibly as an entity capable of uniting the Yemeni people and saving the country from disintegration. While this might save Yemen from another civil war, it will also sterilize everything that the Revolution of 2011 stood for.
Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries, and the Yemenis are aware of this fact. Even in the midst of such chaos and astute poverty, the spirit of the Revolution is still going strong, albeit the frenzy and euphoria seems to be dying. Considering the fact that the interim government is being a silent witness to rising instability in the country, Yemenis might soon be compelled to re-kindle the Revolution and push for democracy and transparency all over again.
Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, the groundbreaking United Nations document that declared genocide to be an international crime.
The anniversary provides an ideal opportunity to look at the United States’ record in preventing genocide around the world. That record is dismal.
The most frequent explanations for America’s failure to prevent genocide concern a lack of national interest or political will. Both have indeed been influential. But a more honest account would acknowledge the United States’ own complicity in backing genocidal regimes.
It’s time for the United States to examine how its own foreign policy promotes genocide, and take the actions necessary to curb it. These include making clear assessments of when genocide is occurring or about to occur — regardless of whether it is perpetrated by its friends or foes — and granting jurisdiction to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the body designated by the resolution to hear “disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application, or fulfillment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide.”
A Convention against Genocide
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution — formally called the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide — in 1948, and the law entered into force in 1951.
The convention defines genocide as actions taken with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” In contrast to the designation of “crimes against humanity,” which were at that time understood to happen only during war, the convention broke new ground in noting that genocide can also occur in peacetime — thus opening a broader set of acts of violence to international condemnation. The convention identified genocide as a crime under international law, outlined the specific criminal acts that constituted it, and called for cooperation among ratifying nations to stop it.
Eventually, cases for the Genocide Convention came to be tried before the ICJ in The Hague, Netherlands.
The United States became a signatory to this convention in 1948, but resisted passing the legislation to implement it until 1988. Moreover, the United States is one of only five parties to the Genocide Convention that refuse to recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ. Although it had signed on 40 years earlier, the United States withdrew its agreement to compulsory jurisdiction by the ICJ in 1986, when Nicaragua brought a case against the United States for sponsoring an insurrection against the Nicaraguan government. The United States’ lack of participation in the full authority of the ICJ directly diminishes the court’s ability to hold states accountable for violations of international laws and norms, and diminishes the world’s ability to prevent genocide.
National Interest and Political Will
Two main reasons have been given for the United States’ failure to prevent genocide: national interest and political will.
Although awash in lofty rhetoric about human rights and democracy, the United States often pursues what it sees as its own best interest. Frequently this amounts to a calculation based on its relations with individual members of the international community: When enemy states commit massacres, the United States responds with condemnation, sanctions, and possibly military intervention. In contrast, when the perpetrator of serious human rights violations is a U.S. client state, the United States remains silent — or, at most, issues an occasional rhetorical condemnation.
The “political will” narrative suggests that the country’s heart is in the right place but that policymakers are prevented by domestic political considerations from taking the necessary action to stop genocide. In their 2008 report on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, “Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers,” Madeleine Albright and William Cohen made this argument forcefully, repeatedly calling for improved leadership and political will.
But the story of America’s relationship with genocide is far more than a case of purposeful negligence. The United States has had close ties with numerous genocidal regimes, despite being a signatory to the Genocide Convention.
Selective Outrage and Complicity
Years of massacres around the world demonstrate Washington’s selective outrage: condemnation of certain atrocities and silence or complicity toward others.
One of the most famous cases of the United States remaining silent occurred in 1971. On March 25, the regime based in West Pakistan launched “Operation Searchlight,” which initiated its genocide against Bengalis in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). Acting with the courage to challenge his own government, Arthur Blood, at the time the U.S. general consul in Dhaka, sent what came to be known as the “Blood Telegram.” In it, he and others criticized the U.S. government for failing to denounce Pakistan’s “genocide” and for choosing “not to intervene, even morally.”
This silence in the face of massacre can be explained by geopolitics. At the time, the United States and China were using Pakistan as an intermediary in their attempt to open and improve Sino-American relations. Despite Blood’s passionate insistence that genocide was taking place, the Nixon administration refused to use the word “genocide” to describe the atrocities. Doing so would have implied an obligation to intervene under the Genocide Convention and undermined the administration’s geopolitical goals.
Halfway around the world and a decade later, the United States not only fell silent, but actively supported a government while it was committing genocide. Following Efrain Rios Montt’s military coup in March 1982, the Guatemalan army massacred indigenous Mayan villagers deemed sympathetic towards leftist rebels. The suppression of left-wing activity fit squarely with U.S. goals during the Cold War. When the Commission for Historical Clarification presented its final report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence, in 1999, it found that 83 percent of the victims had been Mayan and concluded that “agents of the state committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people.”
The Reagan administration had been no passive bystander in this crime. During Rios Montt’s recent trial on charges of genocide, award-winning journalist Allan Nairn reminded us that “U.S. military attachés in Guatemala, the CIA people who were on the ground aiding the G2 military intelligence unit, [and] the policy-making officials back in Washington…were direct accessories to and accomplices to the Guatemalan military. They were supplying money, weapons, political support, intelligence.” Far from standing silently by, the United States directly supported those committing the atrocities in order to achieve its own Cold War goals.
A mere six years later, the Reagan administration once again gave support to a genocidal regime—this time Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Despite the fact that Washington had facilitated arms transfers to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair, the Reagan administration did not want Iraq to lose in its war with Iran, which raged throughout the 1980s and claimed over a million lives. Despite knowing full well that the Iraqi leader had used chemical weapons to commit genocide against Iraq’s Kurdish population, U.S. government officials continued to support Hussein. According to journalist Mike Shuster, in the 1980s the United States “play[ed] a key role in all of [Hussein’s] actions, military and political.” Hussein, according to Shuster, “was meeting with senior U.S. diplomats. They were looking the other way when he was using chemical weapons and developing other unconventional weapons. He couldn’t have helped but to think that the United States was behind him.” And so once again, geopolitical considerations led the United States to back a dictator engaged in genocide.
Over two decades later, the Obama administration has similarly maintained relations with genocidal regimes. In 2010, a leaked UN report alleged that Rwanda, under current president Paul Kagame, may have committed a reprisal genocide against ethnic Hutus who had taken refuge in the neighboring DRC. More recently, Rwanda has been accused of having direct control over the Congolese M23 rebel group, which UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay called “among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world.” But Paul Kagame has maintained close relations with the United States ever since the 1994 genocide, and Rwanda remains a strategic ally for the United States in central Africa.
A similar drama may be unfolding in Myanmar, where Muslim Rohingya villagers have been denied their right to citizenship and targeted by Buddhist mobs and sympathetic security forces as part of a campaign to ethnically cleanse Myanmar of its Rohingya population. According to Human Rights Watch, “An ethnic Arakanese campaign of violence and abuses since June 2012 facilitated by and at times involving state security forces and government officials has displaced more than 125,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims in western Burma’s Arakan State. Tens of thousands of Rohingya still lack adequate humanitarian aid – leading to an unknown number of preventable deaths – in isolated, squalid displacement camps.”
The systematic nature of these abuses — and the involvement of Myanmar officials — constitutes crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Further, if the intent behind the policy of isolating Rohingya in camps and denying them access to humanitarian aid is their eventual death, Myanmar’s crimes could elevate to genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, which includes “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
Ahamed Jarmal, Secretary General of the Burmese Rohingya Organization, recently warned that “the situation is getting really desperate. Mobs have attacked our villages, driving us from our homes, children have been hacked to death, and hundreds of my people have been killed by members of the majority. Thugs are distributing leaflets threatening to ‘wipe us out’ and children in schools are being taught that the Rohingya are different.” Yet minor democratic reforms and the release of some political prisoners were rewarded with the lifting of sanctions and visits to Myanmar by then Secretary of State Clinton, as well as President Obama. More recently, President Obama welcomed Myanmar president Thein Sein to the United States.
In November 2012, prior to President Obama’s visit to Myanmar, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power wrote glowingly of the Obama administration’s support for human rights in Myanmar and the reforms already underway. Yet Power also tempered the praise, warning that “We are clear-eyed about the challenges that Burma faces. The peril faced by the stateless Rohingya population in Rakhine State is particularly urgent, and we have joined the international community in expressing deep concern about recent violence that has left hundreds dead, displaced over 110,000, and destroyed thousands of homes.”
More than a year later, conditions for the Rohingya have worsened. Yet U.S. policy stays the course, a classic exemplification of the foreign policy of selective outrage. Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity, yet is rewarded with the lifting of sanctions and presidential visits. The good treatment is no wonder: resource-rich Myanmar holds economic opportunities for the United States and is strategically located on China’s southwestern border.
The United States does not have a policy of disengagement when it comes to the prevention of genocide. Rather, U.S. policy is far worse: it operates on a principle of direct engagement with — and sometimes support of — genocidal regimes when Washington’s geopolitical goals demand it.
The Genocide Convention requires not only that perpetrators of genocide be held to account, but also that countries prevent genocide from occurring in the first place.
In 2007, the ICJ ruled in the case of Bosnia v. Serbia that Serbia failed to fulfill its obligation under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide. According to the ICJ, “In view of their undeniable influence,” the Yugoslav federal authorities should “have made the best efforts within their power to try and prevent the tragic events then taking shape, whose scale, though it could not have been foreseen with certainty, might at least have been surmised.” The ICJ ruled that Serbia had the necessary influence over the Bosnian Serbs to at least attempt to use that influence to deter the Bosnian Serbs from committing genocide against Bosnian Muslims.
What about the United States? Did it wield the necessary influence over the Pakistani, Guatemalan, and Iraqi governments to have failed to fulfill its own obligation to prevent genocide? Does the Obama administration hold the necessary influence in Rwanda and Myanmar today?
Vera Saeedpour, the late Kurdish specialist, once lamented that “Until the priorities of the international community are reordered to place human life in a loftier position, I fear that our efforts will be largely relegated to recording atrocities in history books.” The universal eradication of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes requires a revolutionary change in philosophy ¾ one that elevates human life above the national interest.
A good first step would be to redefine protecting human life as a national interest. President Barack Obama intimated as much two years ago when he presented his “Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities.” He said at the time, “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.”
Obama went on to create an “interagency Atrocities Prevention Board” to “coordinate a whole of government approach to preventing mass atrocities and genocide.” Human rights groups have generally welcomed this development, but have recommended that the administration publicly state what the comprehensive strategy for preventing atrocities is, improve transparency, consult with civil society groups and Congress, coordinate its efforts internationally, address actual emergencies in the world, and make sure the board has the resources to be effective.
But the problems go much deeper. To have true effect, such a task force would need to recognize when genocide has been — or is about to be — perpetrated by countries the United States considers allies. Even further, it would need to take seriously the United States’ own complicity in genocide — and commit to preventing it by transforming U.S. foreign policy.
Nothing can excuse the outrageous failure to prevent genocide. The United States needs to stop selectively condemning countries only when it is in its own supposed interest to do so. It needs to create a uniform standard for condemning human rights violations. And it needs to recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ, as well as the International Criminal Court. If that means taking responsibility — and risk — for being held to account for its own violations of human rights, then all the better.
At Bloomberg, Tony Capaccio reports the new long-range bomber planned by the Air Force may cost 50 percent more than it had projected. The figure thrown around is $810 million for one, up from $737,000,000 for the B-2. Bear in mind that, during World War II, a number quoted for B-17s ― one of its predecessors ― was 12,731 manufactured. Let’s see how many of previous generations of bombers you could buy with the money spent on one of the new bomber (figures from Wikipedia).
• 3,399 B-17s at $238,329 each
• 1,267 B-29s at $639,188 each
• 15 B-52s at $53.4 each
Is one new bomber worth that many of the old bombers? In terms of pure destructiveness, that’s questionable. Bear in mind that the B-29 was used to transport and drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Really, how much more bang for the buck does a bomber need?
$810 million for one bomber ― is the Pentagon even listening to itself?
The post In What World Does Spending 3/4 of a Billion Dollars on One Bomber Make Sense? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.
A nation that is boycotted is a nation that is in sight of surrender. Apply this economic, peaceful, silent, deadly remedy and there will be no need for force.
—Woodrow Wilson, 1919
Are economic sanctions an effective alternative to the use of force in international relations? Scholars are divided on the issue. Many have questioned Wilson’s judgment.
Yet the passing of Nelson Mandela brings to mind one grassroots campaign for economic sanctions that brought down a ruthless racial minority government: The campaign for sanctions against South Africa.
The anti-apartheid movement was one of the first grassroots campaigns to use economic sanctions to depose a government. It is a remarkable example of how a small group of activists helped change the course of history.
Citizens all over the world—from employees of transnational corporations and account-holders in major banks to consumers, cities, states, colleges, and universities—divested funds from companies that did business with South Africa. The goal was to cut apartheid South Africa off from the rest of the world.
By the 1980s, most of the world’s countries had imposed political, economic, and military sanctions on the South African regime. The exceptions were South Africa’s major trading partners: the United States and Britain. These countries disingenuously argued that sanctions would hurt black Africans most.
In the United States, however, a vigorous grassroots movement demanded that cities, states, pension funds, banks, and universities divest their resources from companies doing business in South Africa, making it a liability for anyone to do business in the racially segregated state. Eventually, international corporations pulled out in a massive exodus that helped to bring down the apartheid system.
This movement used nonviolent direct action tactics to pressure corporations, universities, and eventually Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa for its apartheid policies. It was launched on November 21, 1984, when four African-American leaders entered the South African embassy in Washington, DC and refused to leave until the South African regime dismantled apartheid and released all political prisoners.
TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, U.S. Congressman Walter Fauntroy, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Mary Frances Berry, and law professor Eleanor Holmes Norton had been invited to discuss U.S.-South African relations with South African ambassador Bernadus G. Fourie. But the conversation they helped to launch reverberated far beyond the embassy walls.
After spending a night in jail, the four announced the formation of the Free South Africa Movement (FSAM) and began daily demonstrations outside the embassy. “Ours was an act of conscience in response to the repressive action of the South African government with respect to the noble, nonviolent protests of black South Africans over the last few months,” Fauntroy told reporters after the anti-apartheid activists were released on November 22.
Fauntroy said the FSAM would appeal to the conscience of grassroots Americans and move the struggle to “a new level.” He said this shift in strategy was necessary because efforts to persuade Congress to impose sanctions had failed. He called for demonstrations to be held daily outside the embassy and at South African consulates throughout the country.
The sit-ins took hold in more than two dozen other cities, including Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland, with weekly demonstrations at South African consulates, federal buildings, coin shops that dealt in gold Krugerrand coins, and businesses with South African interests. Meanwhile, hundreds of public figures, including Gloria Steinem, Harry Belafonte, Amy Carter, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Coretta Scott King, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and at least 22 members of Congress were arrested outside the embassy in Washington.
Soon, reporters began to compare the sit-ins to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Eight days after the first sit-ins, The Washington Post reported: “The anti-apartheid movement, in the space of a few weeks, appears to have galvanized black support like no other social issue since the civil rights movement of 20 years ago.”
“It could have been a scene from the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” Time magazine added: “a large crowd of demonstrators, most of them black, marching in peaceful protest down an avenue in Washington, chanting slogans and carrying signs. But the series of rallies that have been taking place on Embassy Row during the past two weeks are against racism in another country; the apartheid government of South Africa.”
The movement was a coalition of religious, student, civil rights, and women’s groups. It spread quickly to hundreds of college campuses across the country, where rallies and sit-ins questioned the investment of university pension funds in companies doing business with South Africa. Hundreds of students were arrested at institutions like Harvard, Columbia, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois. Over 5,000 people were arrested across the country in a 12-month period.
In 1985, Citibank announced that it would no longer provide South Africa with loans. Later that year, Chase Manhattan refused to roll over short-term credit and demanded that South Africa repay its debts in full. Other banks followed suit. These financial sanctions had a devastating effect on South Africa’s economy. But activists still needed Congress to impose comprehensive sanctions.
The movement was finally vindicated in October 1986, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-apartheid Act over President Reagan’s veto. The Act was a major success for the Congressional Black Caucus, the Free South Africa Movement, TransAfrica, and other organizations and activists who had worked for decades to get Congress to pass a sanctions bill.
In 1988, Congress strengthened sanctions against South Africa, banning all trade, investment, and bank loans. It prohibited intelligence and military cooperation between Washington and Cape Town, cut air links, banned all exports and imports, and prohibited U.S. ships from carrying oil destined for the country, leading almost immediately to a 50-percent drop in trade with South Africa. The European Parliament followed suit soon after.
These sanctions meant total isolation for the apartheid regime. Within months, the country’s economy was on the verge of collapse. It was clear that it could not survive without sustaining its trade and financial ties to the West. Liberals and business leaders in the country demanded reforms.
The crisis forced South African President F.W. de Klerk to the negotiating table. On February 11, 1990, he announced the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. The pressure continued to come from the left and right, eventually forcing de Klerk to announce multiracial elections in 1994.
Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president in April 1994 after South Africa’s first free election. He formed a National Unity government that included de Klerk as one of the deputy presidents. Mandela also convened the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to investigate and report on crimes committed by the state and other groups between 1948 and 1994. The TRC held its first hearings in 1996.
The greatest accomplishment of the Government of National Unity was the adoption of a new constitution in 1996. The constitution included a bill of rights that guaranteed equality and prohibited the state from discriminating against individuals for any reason, including race, sex, gender, or racial and ethnic origin. It prohibited such apartheid-era abuses as detention without trial, torture, and the limitation of movement.
Despite the political demise of apartheid, its effects are still evident in the economic sphere. Nearly two decades later, South Africa’s white minority still owns over 80 percent of agricultural land and remains in control of the economy. Recent reports indicate that racial inequality has actually grown since 1994. The ANC’s neo-liberal policies have not redistributed resources or reduced poverty to any significant degree.
But the challenges that remain are precisely what make the lessons learned so far valuable. The successful use of sanctions to bring down the apartheid regime is one of the more obscure lessons of the anti-apartheid movement led by Nelson Mandela, but it was an early and integral part of it: The liberation movement called for international sanctions as early as 1952, and the ANC in exile led the sanctions movement around the world.
This was a remarkable movement that mobilized millions of ordinary people to express their opposition to apartheid by withdrawing their support from companies that insisted on doing business with South Africa. This people’s movement eventually forced these corporations to withdraw from South Africa and even changed U.S. foreign policy, a remarkable feat by any measure. This is a lesson that contemporary social movements would do well to study and emulate.
There are any number of obstacles that could trip up the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1”—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany—but the right to “enrich” nuclear fuel should not be one of them. Any close reading of the 1968 “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word “enrichment” is not used in the text, all signers have the right to the “peaceful applications of nuclear technology.”
Enriched fuel is produced when refined uranium ore—“yellowcake”—is transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas and spun in a centrifuge. The result is fuel that may contain anywhere from 3.5 to 5 percent Uranium 235 to over 90 percent U-235. The former is used in power plants, the latter in nuclear weapons. Some medical procedures require fuel enriched to 20 percent.
Iran currently has some 15,700 pounds of 3.5 to 5 percent nuclear fuel, and 432 pounds of 20 percent enriched fuel. International Atomic Energy Agency investigators have never turned up any weapons grade fuel in Iran and have certified that Teheran is not diverting fuel to build nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies, including Israel’s, are in general agreement that Teheran has not enriched above 20 percent. A nuclear weapon requires about 110 pounds of uranium fuel enriched to between 90 and 95 percent.
Iran insists it is not building a weapon, and its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against the production of nuclear weapons as being contrary to Islamic beliefs.
The U.S. and its allies claim that the NPT does not include an inherent right to enrich fuel because the words “enrich” do not appear in the document. But the Treaty clearly states, in at least two different places, that the only restriction on nuclear programs is the production of a weapon. It is worthwhile to examine the two passages.
The preamble to the NPT affirms “the principle that the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology, including any technological by-products which may be derived by nuclear-weapon States from the development of nuclear-explosive devices, should be available for peaceful purposes to all Parties of the Treaty, whether nuclear-weapon or non-nuclear weapon States.” (Italics added)
Since one cannot produce a nuclear weapon without enriched fuel, and since it is impossible to obtain weapons-grade nuclear fuel on the open market—it violates the Treaty (and common sense)—all nuclear weapons states enrich fuel. Several non-weapons states, including Japan and Germany, do as well.
The second passage is Article IV, which has two parts:
1) “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop, research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.” [Articles I and II bar countries from transferring or receiving nuclear weapons or “any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapon…”].
2) “All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
The NPT has been signed or agreed to by virtually every country in the world, with the exceptions of Israel, India, Pakistan and South Sudan. North Korea, exercising its rights under Article X, withdrew from the Treaty in 2003. In theory, those countries who do not sign the NPT cannot buy uranium on the open market, but the Bush administration subverted this section of the NPT by agreeing to sell uranium to India. The Obama administration has not repudiated that decision, although the Indians have yet to act on it.
Rumor has it that France supplied the Israelis with the knowledge of how to build its bomb, and Apartheid South Africa supplied the fuel. India and Pakistan developed nuclear weapons on their own. North Korea may have received the technical knowledge on how to produce its nuclear weapon from Pakistan, although there is no “secret” to building a bomb. All one needs is the right fuel and some engineering skills.
Delivering a bomb is another matter. Putting one on a missile requires miniaturization, which is devilishly hard, and delivering one by aircraft is unreliable if the target country has even a semi-modern anti-aircraft system.
It appears as if the P5+1 will eventually allow Iran to enrich fuel, although to what percentage is the rub. Will 20 percent be a red line for the P5+1? One hopes not. While 20 percent is closer to bomb-grade fuel than 3.5 or 5 percent, the increased inspection regime already agreed to two weeks ago would quickly spot any attempt to produce weapons-grade fuel. In any event, the 20 percent fuel can be configured in a way that makes it virtually impossible to upgrade it to bomb-ready material. There is also nothing in the NPT that bars enriching to 20 percent.
At this point the heavy water reactor at Arak is also a potential obstacle to an agreement. Commenting on Iran’s commitment to building the Arak reactor, Teheran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that such a reactor is a “red line, which we will never cross,” indicating, at this point, that Iran intends to follow through with the project. Iran did, however, invite UN inspectors to examine the plant.
Heavy water reactors produce plutonium, which can also be used in nuclear weapons. The Nagasaki bomb was a plutonium weapon, and many of today’s nuclear weapons use it as a fuel. Heavy water reactors are efficient and don’t require an extensive enrichment industry, but they are expensive and produce what is unarguably the most dangerous and toxic substance on earth.
However, there is nothing in the NPT that differentiates between light water reactors and heavy water reactors, and signers have the right to use both technologies. Whether that is a good idea is entirely another matter, but certainly not an excuse for the massive sanctions that have tanked the Iranian economy. Every country has the inalienable right to do something dumb, like produce plutonium with a half-life of 24,000 years (and you couldn’t want to get too close to it even after that).
Adherence to the NPT is no obstacle to an agreement. The roadblocks will come from Israel—which is not a party to the Treaty—the Gulf monarchies, the Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress, and the alliance between the neo-conservatives who successfully pushed for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
A close reading of the NPT is something everyone can do. The document is only four and a half pages and its language is accessible to anyone. In contrast, wading through the 53-page “Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty”, a document certainly as important as the NPT, is an ordeal. But a close reading of the NPT is not necessarily comfortable for the governments of the U.S., China, France, Britain, or Russia. In particular Article VI:
“Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
One thing alone I charge you. As you live, believe in life. Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader, and fuller life. The only possible death is to lose belief in this truth simply because the great end comes slowly, because time is long.
— W.E.B. DuBois, historian, activist, founder of the Niagara Movement, and author of the The Souls of Black Folk.
Those words are taped on my desk next to James Baldwin’s searing quote from The Fire Next Time: “A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that they be wicked but only that they be spineless.” Nelson Mandela, the great clarion of African freedom, whose history was the very embodiment of courage, above all else believed in life. And like DuBois and Baldwin, he understood perseverance.
With the news that Mandela’s breath had begun to fail him—his lungs were savaged by the tuberculosis he acquired during his 27 years of imprisonment in South Africa—two memories came to mind.
In the spring of 1961, I stood in a vast crowd of people in London’s Trafalgar Square to hear a stream of speakers denounce apartheid, a term I had never before encountered. In part my ignorance was because I was an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, where I had majored mainly in football and beer, but also because I was an American, and the word was simply not on my political radar screen. A few of us knew about the Sharpeville massacre the previous year, when South African police had murdered 69 peaceful demonstrators, but “apartheid” was as yet an exotic vocabulary word for me.
When I returned home to San Francisco to start college, a few of us tried to get some traction on the issue. The UN had called for an international boycott in 1962, but it had been almost completely ignored by the West. Even Britain’s supposed anti-apartheid Labor government rejected joining the UN boycott. It’s hard to get Americans to look beyond their shores unless a lot of body bags are coming home. In any case, most of us were swept up in the civil rights movement, the free speech movement, and then the fight to end the war in Southeast Asia. The anti-apartheid movement went on the back burner.
It was not that Americans were unaware of apartheid—even though I doubt that a lot people, even in the civil rights movement, could have given the definition of the Afrikaner word: “the state of being apart”—it was that no one quite knew what to do about it. Until the anti-apartheid movement came up with the idea of divesting in companies that did business with the Pretoria regime, it seemed a bridge too far.
But starting in the 1970s that began to change and, without belittling any other area of the country, Oakland and Berkeley led the way. As the singer and activist Harry Belafonte said, San Francisco’s East Bay was “The birthplace of the U.S. anti-apartheid movement.”
But it was a long, slow slog.
In 1972 Berkeley Congressman Ron Dellums (D-CA) introduced the “Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act,” which ended up dead on arrival in Washington. The following year Berkeley Mayor Lonnie Hancock tried to get the city to divest from companies investing in South Africa, but the effort failed. It took six years of repeated efforts to get Berkeley to divest. When it finally did, it became one of the first communities in the nation to do so.
The turning point in the fight against apartheid came in 1984, when students and faculty at the University of California campus in Berkeley demanded that the biggest university in the world divest its billions of dollars of investments in companies that did business with South Africa. At the time I was a reporter, who wished them well, but had no great hopes of success. I kept thinking of a line from a poem by Irish revolutionary Padraic Pearse about those who had gone out “to break their strength and die, they and few, in bloody protest for a glorious thing. They shall be spoken of among their people. The generations shall remember them, and called them blessed.”
How wrong I was. Memories of the past can sometimes blind us to the potential for the future.
The students built shantytowns on campus, besieged the board of regents, and took over historic Sproul Plaza for six weeks. The University responded in typical fashion: tear gas, arrests, expulsions, and stonewalling, which was like trying to douse a fire with gasoline. Civil rights groups and trade unionists joined the demonstrations, along with people throughout the Bay Area. The university soon found itself at war with the whole East Bay.
The pressure was just too much, even for the powerful and wealthy board of regents. In 1986, the university withdrew $3 billion from companies doing business with South Africa, dwarfing modest divestment decisions by universities like Harvard. Dellums re-introduced the divestment legislation, and in 1986 the U.S. Congress passed it. It was the death knell for apartheid.
Mandela remained in prison until 1990, when it became clear to the South African government that it could no longer withstand the international pressure to release him and terminate the system that had enchained a people for over 40 years. While apartheid was officially ended in 1990, it was not until Mandela was elected president in 1994 that it was finally buried.
And that leads to the second memory.
On July 1, 1990, Mandela came to the Oakland Coliseum and told 58,000 people, “It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the unbanning of our organization [the African National Congress] came as a result of the pressure exerted on the apartheid regime by yourselves.” He thanked the crowd and held his fist in the air. No, Berkeley students, faculty, civil rights organizations, residents, and trade unionists did not bring down apartheid by themselves, but because they persevered and had spine, they helped start an avalanche.
It is sometimes hard to remember these lessons because DuBois was right: ends come slowly and history is long. But in the end it is those who fill the plazas, who chain themselves to doors, who shrug aside tear gas and billy clubs—who persevere in the face of prison, exile, even death—to whom history’s laurels go.
We shall miss this dear man who loved freedom and humanity so much that, no matter what was done to him, he would not break. He set the bar high. We honor him by clearing it.
For all of the outrage and talk of the “severely shaken” relationship between Germany and the United States, the newly finalized coalition agreement between the Christian Democrats (CDU), its sister party (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD) takes a tentative step toward normalizing the transatlantic relationship. The deal, which was finalized last week, is still subject to a vote by the SPD’s 475,000 members before the new government can officially take office. However recent polls indicate that a healthy majority of SPD members are in favor of the coalition agreement, suggesting that a new German government – and its “new” foreign policy plans – will be in place just in time to ring in the New Year.
On the topic of relations with the United States, the 185-page agreement gently chastises the Americans for the Handyüberwachung scandal and for the NSA’s voracious appetite for data. Citing the recent decline in bilateral trust, the coalition pact admonishes the US to demonstrate its “clear commitment” to repairing the relationship. A data protection deal between Germany and the US, and a much-desired (although improbable) “no-spy” pact are offered as possible confidence-building measures.
Beyond a smattering of references to trust restoration, the imprint of the NSA scandal on the contours of the coalition agreement is surprisingly minimal, particularly given the 65% of German citizens who recently said that they do not consider the US government to be “trustworthy.” The US-EU transatlantic free trade deal (TTIP) remains a focal part of the coalition’s foreign policy agenda in spite of ongoing speculation that the NSA scandal might derail the negotiations.
Other key issues for the United States, including a preservation of Germany’s defense readiness in the face of a stagnating military budget, and an ongoing German commitment to NATO and to “smart defense,” also receive mention. And, with the agreement’s repeated emphasis on the importance of the transatlantic alliance, one has little doubt that Germany’s relationship with the US will inevitably – if slowly – return to normalcy.
As for the rest of the agreement’s foreign policy plans, they, too, reflect an eagerness to hurry up and carry on with the foreign policy of Merkel’s past eight years. Indeed, those who follow German foreign policy are unlikely to be surprised by the shortage of big ideas in the coalition agreement. Between paragraphs of vague commitments to multilateralism, the agreement mostly proposes to continue past initiatives: deeper EU integration and EU enlargement if countries can meet “strict criteria;” an unwavering commitment to the state of Israel; support of a political solution in Syria; ongoing commitment to Afghanistan, particularly through civilian means; and unfailing support of the UN, including a willingness to “take on more responsibility” through a permanent seat on the UNSC.
Where the agreement varies from pure status quo foreign policy, the proposed changes are intriguing but vague. On Russia, the agreement explicitly calls out Germany’s desire to deepen relations with Russian civil society, and insists that Russia must uphold minority and opposition rights – both signals of a new, harder line approach to Russia. The agreement goes on to state that Germany will work toward greater coherence in EU policy toward Russia – a goal that, if realized, could positively counterbalance Moscow’s bullying of post-Soviet states. Yet no further details are provided, and given the EU’s lackluster response to Ukraine’s eleventh-hour trade agreement reversal last week, it is difficult to envision a coordinated EU Russia policy any time soon. A strongly worded commitment to reinvigorating the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is similarly lacking in crucial detail, particularly given the recent uptick in anti-EU sentiment in the United Kingdom.
One final noteworthy shift in foreign policy plans is the agreement’s proposal that Germany piggyback off the United States’ troubled “pivot to Asia” and intensify its own relations with Asian countries. According to the text of the deal, Germany will deepen its strategic partnerships with China, Japan, and India, but will be careful to avoid “confrontation” in the region. It consequently comes as no surprise that Germany has remained mum on China’s unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone last week, apart from blandly noting that this move has “raised the risk of an armed incident between China and Japan.”
Even with this handful of new ideas, the foreign policy outlined in the coalition agreement overwhelmingly reflects continuity, conservatism, and an unconstructive lack of nuance. Whereas the majority of today’s international challenges demand nimbleness, Germany seems to deliberately constrain herself through one-dimensional regional policies (e.g. “deepen relations with Asia”) and a toothless commitment to forging common EU foreign policy.
When German foreign policy plans go awry – as they have, for example, with regard to Ukraine, or to Turkey’s troubled bid to join the EU, or even in the bilateral relationship with the US – Germany tends to default to the familiar, to the status quo. For the US, the familiar amounts to a welcomed response, as it means that relations between the two countries will likely normalize. But the underlying lack of foreign policy flexibility or strategic direction that this “status quo default” belies is cause for concern.
If, as expected, the coalition agreement is approved in December and Merkel is again elected Chancellor, the new government will have its hands full with several newly negotiated domestic policies. And in the midst of this flurry of activity, it is possible that the new foreign minister – widely expected to be Frank-Walter Steinmeier – can mold German foreign policy into something that is bolder, more flexible, and better matched to the today’s global challenges. However if past behavior can serve as any predictor, we certainly shouldn’t count on it.
Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.
The Central African Republic’s Ongoing Agony
Khadidja-Aladji-Abdou, pictured left, is only 30 years old, but looks much older, the horrors she has experienced branded not only in her face but in her soul. The picture is graphic, one of many; unfortunately it is accurate.
The caption by her face reads “…[she] saw all of her three children and husband, his second wife and her four children shot dead and herself was shot in the head. She’s the only survivor of that incident. Khadidja-Aladji-Abdou was shot in the back of the neck and left for dead with several other members of her Perhl [ethnic] group.” The Perhl are a small Moslem ethnic group; in all, Moslems, who tend to live in the more northern regions of the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), near the Chad border, make up somewhere between 10-20% of the country’s predominantly Christian population.
The horrors that led to the murders of her family, and very nearly took her own life, were probably a part of a revenge killing against Moslems carried out by Christian “anti-Balaka” fighters. These fighters are mostly child soldiers, organized into unruly militias meant to spread retaliation among Muslims for the massive killings, torture, rapes and destruction carried out in the C.A.R. by Moslem “Seleka” fighters.
The Seleka, a somewhat unruly coalition of Muslim militias, were made up of mostly foreign mercenaries, 90% of whom were recruited from neighboring Chad and Sudan. It is the Seleka who initiated this latest round of bloodshed who invaded the country and were able to seize power and overthrow its sitting president, Francois Bozize, who fled to Cameroon. Like the man who replaced him, Bozize came to power through a military coup in 2003.On overthrowing Bozize, the Seleka (seleka means “coalition” in the Sango language) installed their own man, Michel Djotodia, in the Central African presidency. Once in power, in a situation not unlike that in Libya, Djotodia found himself unable to control the militias he supposedly led. Although the Seleka was formally disbanded two months ago, in September, 2013, these “ronin” Seleka bands continue to pillage the countryside unchecked by the new government, which is both helpless to stop them and seems to have little incentive to stop the violence.
The Seleka have ravaged the country inflaming a “Rwanda-like” pattern of ethnic genocide in this land-locked and long, tragedy-stricken central African country. According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Seleka-Djotodia rule is “arbitrary and with complete impunity.” Seleka forces are accused of attacks on villages, rape, summary execution and massive looting. They have torched hundreds of homes and completely destroyed scores of villages. In response Christian dominated areas have established local self-defense groups to fight the Seleka, but these Christian groups also have targeted non-combatant Muslims provoking yet another round of revenge attacks. The overwhelming majority of the victims are civilians with little or no stake – or interest I might add – in the conflict. And the situation could easily deteriorate even further. As many as 400,000 people have been displaced over the past year with many – the number is currently unknown – killed. As a result the C.A.R. is becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups in a region already suffering from chronic conflict and instability
According to United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliassen, “the C.A.R. is deteriorating before our very eyes,” and “on the verge of genocide.” Eliassen went on to relate that the entire population of some 4.6 million was “enduring suffering beyond imagination” with a full one-third of the population in dire need of food, healthcare, protection, water, sanitation and shelter.
France: To the Rescue … or Part of the Problem?
The danger of a Rwanda-like fiasco of violence has been noted. Sensitive to the fact that it is accused of complicity in the Rwanda genocide, accusations that have a great deal of merit, France is scrambling to avoid a similar stigma in the C.A.R. through preemptive international military action. In the short run, a French or United Nations Security Council-condoned military intervention could temporarily help avoid the current disaster from spinning out of control.
Of course omitted from France’s concern about the human rights tragedy unfolding in the Central African Republic is Paris’ history – uninterrupted over the past 125 years – of exploiting the country’s rich national resources and manipulating the country’s political system through the employment of France’s Africa holy quartet: intelligence, bribery, special forces intervention, control and manipulation of mercenary forces to undermine any political leader or movement that challenges French corporate interests. Indeed, France’s involvement in the C.A.R. is yet another fine example of how ”liberty, equality and fraternity” translates into “repression, glaring inequality and ethnic hatred” in France’s former African colonies.
For the second time this year alone, France is intervening militarily in the country. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on November 27 that France will send 1,000 French troops to the C.A.R. to join a contingent of 400 already in place in Bangui, the capital. Those already in place are there to secure the airport and protect French citizens, not to resolve the ethnic crisis. 2,500 African troops are already there unsuccessfully trying to help maintain order. France is trying to get support from the United Nations Security Council to send a peacekeeping contingent, but at time of this writing, no action has been taken. Apparently a contingent of U.S. Special Forces is also on the ground too there, but with a separate mission to help track down Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army hiding out in the country’s northeastern region near the South Sudanese border. At least as it has been reported, these U.S. military units have not involved themselves in the C.A.R.’s internal tensions.
At the same time, France’s attempt to “save the day” rings rather hollow. Beneath the surface of France’s concern is a new, more militarized posture – under the New Age pretext of humanitarian intervention – to re-militarize its role in Africa that has included its military role in recent times in Libya, Mali, Niger (where its military force has been reinforced) and the C.A.R. The common unspoken denominator in all these cases? Uranium (Mali, Niger, C.A.R.) and oil (Libya). Concerned about the Chinese-U.S. African energy/mineral offensive of the past decade, France is nervous about shoring up its influence on the continent that is one of the key sources of French prosperity: the ongoing, never-ending resource rape of Africa. Few comments could be more disingenuous than French President Francois Hollande explaining the recent French military role in Mali: “We have no vested interests here; this is a humanitarian venture.” Is it only a French audience would be fool enough to believe that? It has about the same credibility as George W. Bush (or was it Rumsfeld?) arguing that invading Iraq was “not about oil.”
If military intervention is temporarily possible to freeze the violence, France is equally concerned about protecting its vast economic interests in uranium, diamonds, gold rare timber and tobacco which makes the C.A.R. one of France’s most valuable African assets, all of which France has extracted – if not downright looted – from the time the region came under French colonial control in the 1890s. Since the country’s 1960 independence, France has been much more a part of the problem the C.A.R. faces than a part of any solution. In fact, while nominally independent, the country has remained both economically and politically very much of an informal French Colony and an integral part of a system put in place by Charles De Gaulle at the end of the 1950s which is referred to as “Francafrique.“
A little history of Francafrique is worth detailing.
At World War II′s end, De Gaulle understood that France would be forced to give formal independence to its colonies in Africa and elsewhere. The pressures only continued over the next decade as the decolonization movement put him in an increasingly uncomfortable position when he returned to power in 1958. A supreme realist, he understood that he had to officially grant independence to France’s sub-Saharan colonies. This was demanded by the ethical standard of the times. At the same time, De Gaulle instructed his “right arm,” his “man in the shadows” – Jacques Foccart, head of the Gaullist party, to finance underground, the secret services, to do exactly the opposite, that is to construct a system so that these countries remained dependent upon France economically and politically.
So began the sordid history of Francafrique.
Francafrique can be likened to an iceberg: the bulk of it is underwater, only a tip appears above the surface. The public image projected – and generally believed by French people from the right to the left of the political spectrum is that France is Africa’s best friend, Paris, the home of human rights and that the former colonies have benefited and greatly so from their post-colonial ties with their former colonial master. But in fact 90% of the core relationship has long been hidden, submerged below the surface: an ensemble of mechanisms put in place to maintain French domination in Africa in tandem with African allies.
The rules of the game were well-defined: on the one hand, the former colonies of Africa would gain their formal independence, but at the same time they would remain tied to France economically and politically more closely than ever. To do so was, of course, illegal, and thus to be achieved in a hidden, secret, underhanded manner. The essence of the plan: permit only those changes which help maintain the status quo. France did everything within its power to insure that independence was little more than an empty shell, the leaders of its former colonies transformed into well bribed agents of Paris.
France’s relationship to the C.A.R. is a classic example of how the “Francafrique” system works. What emerges is not a pretty picture, not at all. Underneath the glowing image of French-African friendship is a history of economic exploitation, seething “Latin American-like” repression and a sea of corruption. If, once again, the C.A.R. is today on the verge of collapse, as in Rwanda, France, through its unbridled greed, unending economic corporate exploitation and profound political cynicism, bears no small amount of the responsibility for the unfolding tragedy there. Having in large measure created the socio-economic conditions, the underlying causes of Central African misery, now France sends in the troops in an effort of damage control. But sending a few thousand soldiers to freeze the political crisis, done in a manner to maximize France’s public image can hardly undo the damage of six decades of Francafrique.
French Role in the Central African Republic: A Legacy of Shame.
Added to this is France’s current aggressiveness in Africa and the Middle East. As the United States position in the Middle East and Africa weakens given the strategic shift towards Asia, France – be it in its more conservative or politically liberal form – has attempted to move in to fill in the partial vacuum, as Immanual Wallerstein notes. Having masked its interventionist impulse behind a veil of humanitarian interventionism, it’s seems champing at the bit to send in the troops, bomb from the air. Its recent military role in Libya, Mali, Syria and now the Central African Republic. In Africa it has permanent troops in Chad, bases in Niger, a marine contingent in ships off the coast of the Gulf of Guinea as well as mercenaries and contract security firms (a fancy name for hired guns) in many of their former colonies. Not only has Paris followed a more militarized, aggressive role in Africa, but on another level, they hope to replace Great Britain as the U.S. junior security partner as well. In Africa, France has a sorry, oppressive record of defending tyrants, human rights thugs, cunning but otherwise vapid leaders – anyone who will defend their sizable corporate interests in the continent which only continue to grow.
The C.A.R., resource rich, is one of the world’s poorest countries, a status it has suffered since independence. Per capita income is below $300 annually, that is, people livw on less than $1 a day. It is a classic example of what is referred to as “the resource curse”: a country is rich in mineral wealth, but the profits never reach its people. Despite important diamond and uranium deposits that make up more than 60% of its exports, infrastructure in communication, medical care, and education hardly exists. It political leadership has consisted of a series of dictators, one worse than the next, up to the present. Virtually all of them either were literally installed by or cooperating closely with (run by) the French secret service (or French-run mercenaries) whose main task is to insure that the country’s resources and wealth remain firmly in French hands.
The people of the country might be suffering from abject poverty but for the past 125 years the C.A.R. has been nothing short of a cash cow for French corporate interests – the gift that keeps giving – and one that France still covets and will do whatever necessary to maintain control. It should be no surprise that corruption is rampant (encouraged by Paris to neutralize any thoughts of independent political leadership), the country an important center of drug trafficking, with illicit channels of funding money to tax havens (true of all Francafrique), blood diamonds, etc. Any manifestation of social movements and democracy is crushed in the cradle through the extensive network of the country’s (once again French-run) security apparatus.
As in Rwanda, another country that suffered from all the same manifestations before the 1994 genocide, another tactic used to divide the C.A.R. population is the fanning of ethnic tensions, especially between the country’s more Moslem north and its Christian south. When it comes to fanning ethnic hatreds, it must be admitted that “nobody does it better” than the French, who, starting with Algeria in 1830, have a long history of turning clan against clan, language group against language group, religion against religion in order to maintain political and economic control.
Areva, the French Uranium Giant
On the street in neighboring Cameroon, another important part of Francafrique, before France squandered most of that country’s offshore oil resources, it was commonly said that the real rulers of that other former French colony was ELF (the French energy giant now merged with Total to form Total-ELF) and that no important decision could be made in Yaounde that did not pass through the EFT headquarters on the Cameroon coast at Douala.
In the C.A.R., the emerging gray eminence behinds the scenes, determining the price and commission of the country’s uranium exports is Areva, the French uranium giant. In classic neo-colonial style, France considers the uranium (and other mineral) deposits of its former colonies essentially its own. France will do whatever necessary to maintain control. Are the current humanitarian concerns little more than a thin cover for saving Areva’s uranium concession there?
While the most lucrative African uranium deposits are found in another former French colony whose political and economic life is dominated by Paris, Niger, those recently developed uranium deposits in the C.A.R. have taken on strategic importance. Uranium – specifically uranium-phosphate deposits – was discovered at Bakouma as early as 1947 but was not developed until decades later in 2005, 2006. These recently developed ore deposits are not particularly large quantity but contain a very high uranium content.
Of course, let us hope that military intervention can prevent the genocide from taking on Rwanda-like proportions. But regardless, the underlying problems will remain, will fester and unless there is some dramatic change of direction which is far from likely, this military intervention will only postpone the coming explosion.
The post Is the Central African Republic on the Verge of Genocide? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.
By asserting its rights over some rocks in the Pacific and the airspace high above them, China has suddenly thrown into question the structures of power and sovereignty in the Pacific, top to bottom. We have begun to witness the future arriving, as always clumsily and a little fearfully, and the reassuring past receding—meeting the resistance and reaction that are also reliable features of all historical transitions.
The immediate questions Beijing has pushed to the front of the table are complex, technocratic, and material: They are at bottom functional problems. But we have a forest-and-trees matter before us now, and it is immense and simple all at once. China’s new, assertive, and decidedly militarist president, Xi Jinping, has just announced that the People’s Republic will now take its place as a world power. Instantly it is evident that no one—not the mainland’s neighbors and not the United States—is ready to respond coherently (to say nothing of intelligently).
China’s emergence has been an active idea these past several years, but primarily in the abstract. Now the reality of it is rolling at the Obama administration like a big, black bowling ball. Vice President Joe Biden is in Asia this week, the China question more or less his full agenda. This is as it should be—somebody ought to be there. But sending a former Delaware senator with no experience of Asia and no evident knowledge of its workings? The State Department has long been short of Asia hands, notably since a generation of good ones were hounded into exile or suicide or second-rate universities during the early Cold War years. (Remember the “Who ‘lost’ China?” debate after Mao took Beijing?) Biden simply reminds us: Washington does not have the technology to address what is now upon us.
Having dwelt in Asia for three decades, I’ve come to think it odd that power (im)balances, security structures, and the region’s diplomatic données went 40 and then 50 and then 60 years without a rethink. Even during the Cold War’s later years this remained an unmentionable. After Germans took down the Berlin Wall, correspondents who addressed the problem of sclerosis in East Asia did so gingerly.
The surprise and confusion we now see in Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul is the price of this naked emperor who went unacknowledged. But this is too damn bad for those who insisted on looking the other way as the planet’s most dynamic region evolved. It changes nothing now. Xi’s thesis as to 21st century Asia begins with, “Ready or not, here we are.”
Earth, Air, and Water
Immediately at issue and in all the headlines these days are two questions new only to those not paying attention. One concerns a few barren rocks in the East China Sea, administered by Japan but claimed by Tokyo and Beijing. Sovereignty is at issue, yes, but the substance of the islands dispute lies in the resource deposits beneath the Senkakus (Diaoyus to the Chinese). The other question stunned everybody (and ought not have) when Xi’s government pushed it into play 10 days ago. China now asserts jurisdiction over airspace off its shores that has long been the preserve of Japan and (to a lesser extent) South Korea and Taiwan.
Both of these questions require attention, but it is a certainty they will eventually resolve. Beijing and Tokyo came near to an agreement five years ago to develop the oil and gas beneath the islands under a joint condominium, and this remains the likely outcome—the current fracas notwithstanding. As to the airspace claim, my money is that China will get its way, and there are reasons why this is a smart bet. (I offer odds, actually. Please use the comment box. Bitcoins accepted.)
Washington was right to stay clear of the Senkakus argument, even as it is obliged by treaty to stand for Japan’s security. Despite the occasionally nerve-wracking suggestions of military alternatives, this is two households fighting over the backyard fence. But the airspace claim ups the ante to the point the United States cannot stay out of it any longer. It is all about the bigger question of power in the Pacific now. And there is only one way this can turn out well. A new settlement is required that recognizes the imperative of power-sharing in order to achieve a re-imagined stability.
We should look at the islands question with this in mind. Japan first took the Senkakus in 1895, when it was extending Emperor Meiji’s empire; dynastic China was collapsing, and anyone interested in the carve-up could intrude without serious resistance. The Senkakus fell to the United States in 1945, and Japan resumed sovereignty when Tokyo and Washington settled up on the postwar “reversion” deal in 1972. This was Cold War boilerplate by that time.
There is no self-evident sovereignty over the islands, then. China purports, with supporting texts, to have discovered them by 1400. But the most substantive claim would make them Taiwan’s. So it is politics and circumstance that now have to be addressed. Contention between Beijing and Tokyo has increased since mineral deposits were found in the late 1960s. But only now does the problem tip over into assertions of great-power status.
We come now to the airspace question. It is not so complicated as it seems if you consult a map, and the New York Times has drawn a good one. Japan’s claims to jurisdiction are grandiose, far to the south and west of Okinawa’s shoreline, ham-handedly close to China’s bulge into the East China Sea. The claims of Taiwan (as the Republic of China) and South Korea are less ostentatious, but they, too, suggest a certain pretension.
These three—one nation, one just-created nation, and one rarely recognized nation—were Washington’s principal Cold War allies in East Asia; the United States drew these lines for them in the early 1950s. In essence, the map shows us what containment policy in the Pacific looked like from, say, 35,000 feet.
To the map once more: China’s new claim intersects with those of its neighbors. Certainly it is disruptive and baldly assertive. But is it also defensible as a corrective. This is to say it represents an insistence that history has turned since the 1950s. And here is Washington’s position: It has not. (Now you know why I offer odds on the outcome.)
Assertion, Not Aggression
Much has been made of China’s pugilistic manner as it asserts its new jurisdiction. It requires pre-notification of all flight plans routed through the zone; it reserves the right to respond to transgressors with force, having already scrambled fighter jets as if they were patrolling police cars. Xi is a prideful nationalist given to articulating status by way of military display. But “aggression” is the wrong term, popular as it is among American commentators. All nations defend their airspace claims, sometimes with force. Several European nations invoked air rights earlier this year to prevent Edward Snowden’s flight from Moscow to one or another Latin American capital. “Aggression” might apply when, obviously at Washington’s insistence, the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced down in Austria with the idea Snowden was onboard.
Xi’s Beijing at least has the virtue of consistency. Washington and its allies have been slapdash by contrast. Japan’s commercial carriers observed the Chinese rules—good judgment—until the Abe government told them not to—reckless judgment—and then told them, yes, observe the rules—sound if messy. The Obama administration also issued a “guidance” (a week after the fact) advising American carriers to play by the rules. It was advertised as precautionary, and fair enough, but Obama’s hawkish critics will be right when they say it is a prelude to accepting China’s claim—which is precisely what makes Obama sensible this time.
South Korea, Japan, and the United States have all sent military aircraft into the zone without notification—a childishly pointless pout. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proved the most obtuse official on any side: Sending B–52s into the disputed zone rang every wrong bell in the temple for any Asian with a memory of the Vietnam War. Those planes are totemic omens of Western aggression at the other end of the Pacific. He ought to have understood this.
Washington wise men of both main stripes now talk of maintaining American “credibility,” asserting the necessity of “standing up” to China. This is no longer where American credibility lies, however often (or not) it may have once. Everybody knows about the ridiculous defense budget and the Strangelovian obsessions with technological killing devices. America has suffered a credibility deficit for some time, but primarily because it has proven incapable of facing history and radically unpracticed at agile diplomacy that responds to the world as it is.
Good diplomacy does not lie in making “stability”—that grand Cold War word—the object of idolatry. It consists of shaping policies that respond honestly and thoroughly to change, which is what makes it imaginative and even brave (which is why, in turn, there is not much of it around). Biden’s journey to East Asia—Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul, in this order—will bear this out the regrettable way. “Yes, some question our staying power,” Biden said in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun on arriving in Tokyo. “But Japan knows that we have stayed for more than 60 years, providing the security that made possible the region’s economic miracle. We have been, we are, and we will remain a resident Pacific power.”
This is not promising. The reference point is yesterday, not now or tomorrow. The U.S. position going into this crisis is to refuse history, paradoxically, by insisting on history. It is true the Japanese and Koreans are nervous about their dependence on U.S. leadership. But nursing their insecurities is not leadership: It is to follow. Leadership would require that Washington show a new way forward (starting with acknowledging the need for it).
“Resident Pacific power” is an especially worrisome bit of plain chicanery. It is carefully encrypted code, of course. The United States has much frontage on the Pacific lake, but it is resident in Biden’s meaning only by virtue of a forward position established during the Cold War. The nub here is simple: America is a Pacific power, check; it is not an Asian power—uncheck the box. China now obliges the United States to recognize the distinction and stop pretending otherwise.
For one thing, Xi comes to power as the Communist Party’s control is under mounting threats—economic (income disparity and attendant discontent), sociological (rising aspirations of numerous varieties), and political (over-the-top corruption, the more-than-faint mumbles of democratic dissenters). Mandarins in Beijing have used challenges from abroad to identify power with nation since the Opium Wars—and times 10 since the Japanese invasions. Xi needs to assert if he is to ride the restless tiger for his decade on its back; he already has the Chinese roused over the islands and the airspace question. It is a question whether Washington understands this as a compelling drive.
For another, Northeast Asia is in fundamental flux, and Washington looks like some intruding missionary from afar as it tries to walk around in this movie. Japan and China, Japan and Korea, South Korea and China, North Korea and everybody except China. No one in Northeast Asia is getting along. At the root of this are two realities:
• China was a civilization before it was a nation. Its neighbors were tributaries. So we have another paradox: China sees the future in its past. The Southeast Asians have been mostly supine in the face of China’s rise. It mostly means money in the bank, and they resume tributary status with more or less grace (having little alternative). Not so the Northeast Asians. It is plain that a very old sphere of influence is re-emerging, but this brings the second reality to the fore.
• That is, the nation-state is an imported technology to all Asians, arriving from the West in the course of the late 19th century (and in some cases the 20th). As a machine it operates cumbersomely. National identities are obviously strong, but these are put on somewhat as one puts on clothes—which can make them, if anything, stronger still. Old forms of relations have to be re-interpreted, then. They will be, but this is by definition an entirely Asian affair. Once again, there is no role for the Westerner in the process, which will be long.
A note of optimism is always good at the finish. There is one here. Biden (and all the State Department people to follow) will say misleading things in Tokyo and Seoul to reassure heavy hearts that all is as it has long been. In the middle, Biden will tell Xi that the best Washington has by way of savvy horse-traders will soon arrive to start talking in Beijing. Comrade Xi, we are going to correct an old, destructive imbalance now, Biden will also confide before he climbs out of water far too deep for him. The people from State will take over now, easing the Pentagon people gradually aside, where they ought to have been all along.
Put it in the “best outcomes” file. And do not count unhatched chickens.
As I posted recently, nuclear-weapons advocates forget to factor human error into their national-security equation. Command and Control, the new book by Eric Schlosser (Penguin Press) about nuclear close-calls (which I have not read) illustrates this clearly. A new example of sloppiness in the command and control of nuclear weapons has recently arisen regarding the Permissive Action Link (PAL), a security device for nuclear weapons intended to prevent unauthorized detonation. At Gizmodo, Karl Smallwood revisits a 2004 article by Bruce Blair, co-founder of Global Zero. Smallwood writes:
… though the devices were supposed to be fitted on every nuclear missile after JFK issued [National Security Action Memorandum 160], the military continually dragged its heels on the matter. In fact, it was noted that a full 20 years after JFK had order PALs be fitted to every nuclear device, half of the missiles in Europe were still protected by simple mechanical locks. Most that did have the new system in place weren’t even activated until 1977.
Those in the U.S. that had been fitted with the devices, such as ones in the Minuteman Silos, were installed under the close scrutiny of Robert McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of Defence. However, The Strategic Air Command greatly resented McNamara’s presence and almost as soon as he left, the code to launch the missile’s, all 50 of them, was set to 00000000.
Why ― besides resenting the meddling of Kennedy, McNamara, et al? Smallwood again.
This ensured that there was no need to wait for Presidential confirmation that would have just wasted valuable Russian nuking time.
And you feel guilty about using the same password for numerous sites and accounts.
Another instance of a government official ― none other than a president ― failing to treat nuclear weapons with the respect they deserve (not that, in an absolute sense, they deserve any at all) was revisited by Britain’s Telegraph in 2010.
Gen Hugh Shelton, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, said in his new memoir, “Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior” that “the codes were actually missing for months. That’s a big deal — a gargantuan deal.”
A similar claim was made by Lt Col Robert Patterson, a former aide, in a book published seven years ago. He was one of the men who carried the briefcase, known as the “football”, and he said that the morning after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke that he made a routine request of the president to present the card so that he could provide an updated version.
“He thought he just placed them upstairs,” Lt Col Patterson recalled. “We called upstairs, we started a search around the White House for the codes, and he finally confessed that he in fact misplaced them. He couldn’t recall when he had last seen them.”
Those lovable absentminded presidents!
Thus far, Providence has played far too large a role in heading nuclear accidents off at the pass. It’s time we recognized the Catcher in the Sky can’t continue to rescue us ― much like J.D. Salinger’s protagonist dreamed of saving children ― before we go over the apocalyptic cliff. The development of nuclear weapons were understandable in a time of total war. But their continued design, updating, manufacture, and deployment constitute a study in raising institutional inertia to a black art.
The post Failure to Factor Nuclear Close-Calls Into National Security Equation Threatens Us All appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.