Friday 9 April 2004

A Revolution in International Affairs

A quiet but crucially important revolution is occurring in International Affairs. Long-standing principles are being rapidly eroded. But you can't understand what the situation was in the 20th century, how we got there, where we are going and why, without examining history, and especially European history. This is mainly a story about Wars, thereby illustrating the (partial) truth in Mao's maxim : "Power grows out of the barrel of a gun". It's a long story, not easily condensed. Please bear with me, as I'm doing a bit of a Den Beste here.

It's been a long-standing principle that a respect for National Sovereignty is the best guarantee for keeping the peace. One country's Government should not "Interfere in the Internal Affairs" of another. No matter how odious matters may be in a neighbouring state, as long as borders were not violated, no International Law was broken. No military intervention was legal.

There are some good reasons for the adoptation of this principle: different states often have different and incompatible religious beliefs. Whether in Islam or Christianity, Sunni or Shia, Protestant or Catholic, Hindu or Buddhist, Communist or Capitalist, National Socialism or Socialist Democracy. The European 30 Years War of the 17th century showed what could happen when Religious War broke out. There was a backlash, and it was in the 18th century, that formal Rules of War were codified. The vast majority of a nation's populace was hardly aware that one bunch of soldiers replaced another bunch in some province or other. War was "the Sport of Kings", where a border principality or two might change hands now and then, but with little disruption to daily life, and remarkably few casualties to the professional soldiers. It was in everybody's interest - everybody who counted, ie those with wealth and power, anyway - to keep the system going "as was". The stately pavane of often bloodless manouver and counter-manouver during the 7 years war was the result.

The Napoleonic Wars on the other hand (and in one view, they started in 1776 in the USA) were wars of Ideology. On one hand, a Democratic state (that in France soon devolved into a bloodthirsty Oligarchy, then a radical modern state under a Military Dictatorship), on the other, the same old gang of Monarchs, some totally under Parliament's thumb (the UK) , some completely Autocratic (Russia), and many somewhere in-between. Napoleon swept away the old mini-feudalities and customs-posts every 5 miles, instituted a code of laws throughout Europe, and basically founded a European Union some 200 years before the current one.

He also sent hit-squads to assassinate emigres overseas, expanded and institutionalised the old monarchist Secret Police to liquidate opponents at home, set relatives in positions of power throughout the Empire, and tore up international treaties whenever it suited him. Wherever the Grande Armee went, it had to "live off the land". Any province it passed through two or more times in a year was reduced to a howling desert, occupied only by the corpses of the starved inhabitants. Other, less modern armies, were compelled to have an expensive, slow baggage-train that contained food, not just ammunition, so the cost more and were at a great disadvantage when it came to mobility.

After Napoleon had been finally defeated, the Congress of Vienna not only re-drew the map of Europe, but set in concrete the "old order" of the previous century. War as the "Sport of Kings" could still occur ( and did, notably in the minor wars that unified Germany - along with border provinces of Austria, France, Poland, and Denmark - under a Prussian Emperor ). Growing Alliances between major European powers meant that War became more and more costly, and therefore less and less likely. But any War would be a catastrophe, and the whole brittle edifice crashed in the bloodbath of World War I. (Which was Actually World War III, as the 7 Years War and Napoleonic Wars had action in more continents than did World War I, but I digress. )

Bear with me, I'm getting there.

Where was I... Oh yes, The Great War. The War To End All Wars.

This started as an old-fashioned Monarchic war, but soon evolved into a Religious one. Germans started fighting for King and Emperor, but soon fought for a "Place in the Sun", a slice of the colonial cake that had been unjustly denied them by the powers-that-were. It was only when Germany invaded Belgium (with whom the UK had a treaty) that the UK became involved in the Fracas. Soon a battle for "Plucky Little Belgium" became a battle against the Beastly Hun, no respecter of Neutrals. France fought to regain Alsace-Lorraine (and French pride), Russia fought to justify Russia's suzerainty as representative of all Slavs, the USA joined in because of general German obnoxiousness and I'm digressing again.

What is important is that the Victors in 1918 examined the cause of the war - and decided it was all Germany's fault. Which it was (though Austria was to blame too). Bismark's strategy of unification and consolidation through diplomacy (where he could) or short, victorious wars (where he couldn't) had been abandoned in favour of a "Might Makes Right" philosophy.

Such mass slaughter, such a gehenna must have been the result of some monstrous evil. So it was thought, and so it was. The Evil was determined to be the concept that one Nation-State had attacked another, with no valid reason. This was the new touchstone: the doctrine of National Sovereignty, which had been evolving over the centuries, reached its final form. Within its own borders, a nation was safe from outside intervention. No country could interfere with another's "Internal Affairs". No act was forbidden - provided only that borders were respected. Religous disputes between nations would no longer cause Warfare in all its horror, it was a sort of universal "Freedom of Speech" for all nations. In theory, they could enslave half the population, or set up extermination factories to process minority groups into soot, soap and ashes with no legal problems. Of course, no-one would actually do such things, would they?

The first stirings of Trans-Nationalism - a Religion like any other - can be seen in Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech at the end of the war (though a Marxist could point with some justification to the Comintern as well.).

That emerging Superpower, the USA turned in on itself in an orgy of navel-gazing Isolationism, abandoning Wilson's orphan child, the League of Nations. But the universal ( OK, European - at this point in History, White Folks were the only ones who counted ) revulsion against the Great War was such that a number of nations swore solemnly that they would "Study War No More", at least in squabbles amongst themselves. The Treaty of Locarno established a Permanent Court of International Justice. But the final fruit of World War I was the Kellogg-Briand Pact, where (eventually) no less than 62 nations agreed to Outlaw war as a means of state policy (at least in dealing with squabbles amongst themselves).

It's effectiveness can be judged by the fact that amongst the first signatories were Germany and Poland.

But one thing it did do, was to formally enshrine in International Law the concept of the Crime Against Peace. To quote from the charter of the United Nations,
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,
and then also adds
or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The first part of that clause was used to hang senior German leaders at Nuremberg. The fact that they'd massacred some 6 million Jews was merely aggravating cuircumstance, it wasn't actually illegal (except insasmuch as the Victors made up the law as they went along). And that says something for the moral bankrupcy of the "Peace at any price" brigade, so strong between the two world wars. Legally, up until Nuremberg, it was all "purely an Internal Affair" and nobody's business but the Germans.

It's said that Queen Victoria refused assent to a Law against Lesbianism, as she considered it impossible that such a thing could exist. Similarly, it can be argued that the fact that there was no actual law against the Holocaust (except Ex Post facto) was purely because the people writing up the Kellogg-Briand pact couldn't conceive of, say, Auschwitz.

If so, I can hardly blame them. I drove around Hohne in Germany, I could never bring myself to visit Belsen. I'm not superstitious, but the whole area gave me a case of the screaming abdabs, something Awful and EVIL had happened nearby. Worse, the feeling overcame me long before I knew exactly where I was, the first time I explored the area.

Regardless of whether the Law existed in an unwritten or written form before 1933, or whether the Nuremberg Tribunal were trying to cloak Justice with the shabby mantle of Law after the fact, Nuremberg did establish that Genocide wasn't just immoral, it was illegal.

To see how well that has worked, just look at the ongoing trial of Slobadan Milosovic. Or the non-trial of Pol Pot.

The Kludge to amend the doctrine of National Sovereignty was supposed to be that second clause of the UN charter. The one about "...or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.", along with Article 43 of Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Some relevant sections: First, the Nod to national Sovereignty in Chapter 1:
7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.
Now the Teeth in Chapter 7, article 43:
  1. All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.
  2. Such agreement or agreements shall govern the numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided.
  3. The agreement or agreements shall be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. They shall be concluded between the Security Council and Members or between the Security Council and groups of Members and shall be subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.
Have you noticed something? The complete absence of Black Helicopters? Where is the Multinational army, big enough to take on any opponent and win, that's supposed to be at the disposal of the UN Security Council? The fact is, that not one single soldier has ever been provided exclusively for the UNSC under this article. All "Blue-Helmet" UN forces are provided on an ad-hoc basis, and responsible to their national authority, not the UNSC.

The UN was supposed to not merely provide the teeth to enforce Justice, it was supposed to decide what Justice was, to avoid Religious Warfare and doctrinal differences (rather than truly moral ones) sparking warfare. The bar was set fairly low -- as I've blogged about before. But the UN has failed in its obligations.

Now we come to one of the defining moments of history : 9/11.

Before that date, it was reasonable to get by with the old 1920's world tarted up. Yes, millions died in various genocides here and there, but they were usually non-Whites, so didn't really count to most (Western) people. As long as no borders were crossed, everything was fine. It was best expressed by Swedish premier Olaf Palme who said (after the not-exactly-terrific Vietnamese had kicked the posterior off the incomparably-more-odious Khmer Rouge):
"the fact that the auto-genocide has ended in Cambodia is probably good for the Cambodian people, but one can never excuse an intervention in a neighbouring country".
Read that again. Such Racist, Eurocentric callousness is beyond comprehension.

That was, in fact, the world we lived in, pre 9/11. I didn't realise it at the time. My moral sense had a blind spot, an area where I just didn't think about things too much, it was all too hard, and the existing system was working adequately, and getting better all the time.

But then, Al Qaeda showed that you didn't need a national army to wage war across borders. 9/11 was no "regrettable incident", it was an act of war. The US, purely out of self-defence, can no longer turn a blind eye to hard problems, nor sit around wishing that Article 43 had meant something (and that the Security Council was trustworthy enough to ensure it wasn't misused).

In the absence of a World Policeman both incorruptible and powerful, the US had to turn Vigilante. It gathered up a Posse of nations that could see the writing on the wall (or more cynically, decided that the US's coat-tails were a great place to be), and took action in Afghanistan.

Iraq was in some ways a far more "legal" war - it was in violation of a number of binding UN resolutions, including ones authorising forced cmpliance, but even if it hadn't of been, it was a clear and present danger as a "safe haven" for extra-territorial covert attack. Acts of war committed by stealth, and implasuibly deniable. Trans-border Terrorism.

I distrust Vigilante Justice. Much as I like a lot of Americans personally, and there's much to admire in their system of Government, it's by no means perfect. Had there been any credible alternative, I would have been against any US-dominated action. But there is no credible alternative: we must either trust the US system (which gives me a queasy feeling), or a gaggle of Kleptocrats and petty-Despots. That's an easy choice to make. If the worst comes to the worst, the US is vulnerable to Gandhi's tactics. But so far, they've done pretty well. "Dubya" has genuinely liberated 50 million people, more than anyone since FDR and Churchill. But, and this is a big But, what aout the next administration? Or the one after that? The whole world is at the mercy of that rag-tag mixture of all creeds and colours, ranging from the rational to the dotty, that is the US voting public. Not perfect, not nerely perfect, but vastly better than any of the alternatives, especially the one labelled "Do Nothing".

The Revolution in International affairs is the abandonment of National Sovereignty as an Impenetrable defence against Righteous Retribution. A line on a map no longer defines where justice must stop and watch helplessly. It was planned back in the 40's that the Enforcer be the UNSC, but that hasn't worked out. Instead we have a loose coalition dominated (so far) by the US, one that may become formalised in the near-future.

OK, it took a long time to get there, sorry about that. But had I not simplified things to the point of distortion (and perhaps a bit beyond) it would have been much longer.

Background Articles :

Representing the Old Order
John Pilger : The Crime Commited in Our Name

And the New (and I'd have to say, Improved)
Dr Robert Horvath : Sovereignty can't protect mass killers

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