Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
"The Silver Bullet": American Solutions to Iraq's Civil War
In January 2002, Henry Kissinger looked forward to “Phase II” of the War on Terror and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, he argued that one of the most important requisites for success in
Local opposition would in all likelihood be sustained by the Kurdish minority in the north and the Shiite minority in the south. But if we are to enlist the Sunni majority, which now dominates
, in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, we need to make clear that Iraq 's disintegration is not the goal of American policy. Iraq
Dr. Kissinger’s advice might have been more useful had he known that the Shiite make up a 60% majority in
As both Sunni and Shiite positions become increasingly and irreversible entrenched, American pundits and politicians become more and more divorced from reality. They head to the safety of slogans and wildly generalized solutions.
This past Sunday's episode of Meet the Press (taking place in the shadow of the worst suicide bombing of the war) had many good examples of the complacency and resignation that has taken hold of American decision-makers.
There is nothing new about Hunter's suggestion. Training Iraqi security forces has been the policy of the U.S. military since the days of Paul Bremer. It has been increasingly unsuccessful despite renewed and redoubled effort. As recently as September 2005--back when there was no discussion of "civil war"--the readiness of Iraqi forces was already slipping with "the number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition [help] dropping from three to one . . ." By February of this year, the number had dropped to zero where it still remains. This issue is essentially moot, however, as the Iraq military is not the main guarantor of security on a civic level--that responsibility belongs to the police who appear to have been significantly infiltrated by insurgents and extremists. As for Congressman Skelton's plan to withdraw American troops to Kuwait and Germany with the hope that Iraqi forces (both military and police) will suddenly take responsibility for public safety is as fantastic as Wolfowitz/Chalabi's idea that a healthy, democratic government would appear fully-formed from the ruins of Saddam's presidential palaces.
The last few weeks have seen much criticism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. (Indeed, the headline of today's Washington Post is "As Iraq Deteriorates, Iraqis Get More Blame"). A common question in Washington is one that Tim Russert blithely asks [Congressman Hunter], "Is Prime Minister Maliki afraid of Mr. Sadr? Why doesn’t he go in and just take apart his Shiite militia?"
The answer is: it's only ever that easy on TV. Prime Minister Maliki depends on Mr. Sadr for political support, Maliki’s constituency (and many of his ministers’) depends on the Mahdi army for security. Muqtada al-Sadr is not a weed to be toughly faced down and pulled out: he appears more and more to be the crown prince of
A Democratic-leaning retired general has this observation to make about Prime Minister Maliki:
[He] probably could, could cut 90 percent of the violence out if he could sit down and get all the different people together in Iraq and come to some very, very fundamental political decisions. Not military decisions, not security decisions, but political decisions. I don’t know if he can do this or if he’s the right man to do this.
True: if an Iraqi leader could sit down with every troublemaker in
These half-baked ideas are indicative of how desperate the American government is becoming (as is the increasing "Blame the Iraqis" movement). It is very depressing.
Photo by Anders Brownworth www.anders.com
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Security Council and International Law in San Francisco, 1945
Only states officially at war with the Axis powers were invited to come to San Francisco in the spring of 1945 to draft the charter of a new Organization to establish everlasting international peace and security. Delegates came from impoverished and war torn lands to the peaceful and extravagant city of San Francisco, described by a British delegate as “a fantastic world of glitter and light and extravagant parties and food and drink and constantly spiraling talk.” However, the extravagance did not please the delicate taste of the French. A French delegate exclaimed at a monster-dinner, where various orchestras were playing simultaneously in one room: “Je suis arrivé chez les sauvages!”
At the San Francisco Conference, a draft charter of the superpowers (China UK, Soviet Union and the USA) was discussed. One of the more interesting discussions was whether the Security Council was bound to apply international law in maintaining international peace and security. At San Francisco, Egypt proposed an amendment that explicitly stated that the maintenance of international peace and security, which is the prime task of the Council, needed to be done “in conformity with the principles of justice and international law” (see: United Nations Conference on International Organization ‘UNCIO’, vol. 6, p. 23). The Soviet Union disagreed; it believed that the Organization was established to effectively prevent the repetition of a new war, and that the little countries needed simply to trust the superpowers (UNCIO, vol. 1, p. 135). The response of the USA was that the Security Council had two very important functions, and that
these might be characterized somewhat as being the functions of a policeman and the functions of a jury. […] It is our view that the people of the world wish to establish a Security Council, that is, a policeman who will say, when anyone starts to fight, “stop fighting”. Period. And then it will say, when anyone is all ready to begin to fight, “you must not fight”. Period. That is the function of a police man, and it must be just that short and that abrupt; that is, unless at that place we add any more, then we would say “Stop fighting unless you claim international law is on your side”. That would lead to a weakening and a confusion in our interpretation.( UNCIO, vol. 6, p. 29.)
Uruguay agreed that “the world is sick of wars”, but then asked the rhetorical question: must the threat of all wars be cut short at any price? The Uruguayan delegate (Mr. Payssé) answered the question himself:
The mere police function, which pursues the materiality or formality of the order, and which in the popular language of my country is translated into the meaningful expression “You are right, but you are under arrest”, cannot attract our sympathies nor our hopes in the panorama of the reconstruction of the world. The day when there occurs anew the illusion that by sacrificing the rights of the weak in the face of threats by the strong the peace would be saved, on that day the fuse will have been lighted which sooner or later would set off the explosion of war. Injustice is not a propitious atmosphere for peace. (UNCIO, vol. 6, p. 31.)
After this discussion, the Egyptian amendment was put to the vote. The result: 21 for, 21 against; however, for amendments to be adopted in San Francisco, a two-thirds majority was required. The Rapporteur of the relevant Commission hastened to explain this somewhat surprising result: he said that none of the delegates were against justice, but that they felt that “adding “justice” after “peace and security” brings in at that juncture of the text a notion which lacks in clarity.” (UNCIO, vol. 6, p. 394.) The United States, probably regretting the tone of the previous statement, tried to reassure the smaller states a few days later, in a subsequent meeting of the Commission:
We are here [in San Francisco], first of all, to find ways and means to maintain international peace and security throughout the world. But above and beyond that most desirable objective, we are here to lay the first foundation of a new world civilization which in its international relations shall be based upon law and justice and brotherhood, rather than upon brute force. (UNCIO, vol. 6, p. 118.)
However, the relevant article in the UN Charter does not have the sought-after reference to international law. In fact, the Security Council can take measures, in order to maintain international peace and security, obliging member-states to act in violation of international agreements.
Both pictures are taken from the UN Website. The first is of President Truman arriving at the San Francisco Conference; the second is of a "Big Five" meeting taking place at the San Francisco Conference.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
The United Nations, Europe and the USA
UN Charter as the World's Constitution or as Framework for International Political Cooperation
With some exceptions (one of which is Thomas Franck of New York University School of Law), you will not find American supporters for the essentially European (Kantian) idea of a constitutional world order, with the United Nations at the heart of it, functioning somewhat like a world government. To see the UN Charter as the world’s constitution is essentially a European idea. The American approach is explained by the current US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. He said:
Of course, there is much provocation in these words, but they do seem to represent the view of many Americans.
[T]here is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along, and I think it would be a real mistake to count on the United Nations as if it’s some disembodied entity out there that can function on its own. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will lead. When it does not suit our interest to do so, we will not, and I think that is the most important thing to carry away tonight. (John Bolton, speech delivered at the Global Structures Convocation, on the 3rd of February, 1994, in New York.)
"War on Terror": Legal or Political Language?
One of the best examples of the international law vs. politics debate is perhaps the meaning of the phrase “war on terror”. Recently, the most senior legal adviser of the US State Department, John Bellinger, toured Europe, to clear up some “misunderstandings”. One of them is the use of the term "war on terror". Americans use it as a political term, while Europeans immediately think of its legal importance. Bellinger clarifies:
I know that the phrase that we have used, the "war on terror," is one that is troubling and is controversial in Europe, and let me distinguish between the political sense of the term and legal sense of the term. Our policymakers use the "war on terror" in its political sense, to mean that all countries need to be against terror, the idea of killing civilians in order to terrorize populations. That's exactly what the leaders at the UN in the UN Outcome Document said last year: We condemn terrorism in all of its forms. When our policymakers say that there is a war on terror, it means that all of our countries need to be against terror everywhere in the world. It doesn't mean, as a legal matter, that we are in a legal state of war with every terrorist everywhere in the world and that we can therefore go shoot people or arrest people on the streets from every terrorist group everywhere. It depends on the circumstances.The war on terror has laid bare a fundamental difference between American and European values, and the choice of framework (international law or politics) used to fight for them. I don't say that the United States violates international law in the "war on terror" (that could be a topic for another post on this blog), but the USA uses a political, not a legal framework for decisionmaking. “Dialogue” is seen by both parties as the way to solve these differences. Not in order to convince the other, but in order to better understand the other (this is after all, what conversations are all about). In the words of the Dutch Foreign Minister: “The day there is no transatlantic debate is the day I will get really worried. It would mean we are no longer interested in each other’s affairs.”
The first picture is of the International Court of Justice, located in The Hague, Netherlands. The second picture is of John B. Bellinger III, Legal Adviser to the U.S. Department of State.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Life in Korea These Days
I was recently pleased to receive a copy of the Canadian embassy’s evacuation procedure for Canadians residing in
The world is still noisily reacting to
Whoever is “responsible” for the latest crisis, there appears to be no major political groundswell to give up on the Sunshine Policy (though there are divisions over the question). The policy has been looking increasingly rickety in the last few years as a variety of economic incentives, freer trade, and make-nice gestures have done little to thaw
The [South Korean] government has persistently maintained that
will persuade the North to give up its nuclear programs through dialogue under its leadership. Once South Korea scraps its nuclear development programs, it proposed, Pyongyang will pay it over W1 trillion (approximately US$100 billion) in the form of heavy oil, power transmission and perhaps building a light-water reactor. In the nebulous “comprehensive approach” toward resolution of the nuclear standoff, it may have promised an even larger sum to the North. Seoul
pushed ahead with a nuclear test, regardless, demanding more North Korea carrot without paying any attention to South Korean carrot. Presumably getting the North to abandon its nuclear program now that it has tested a nuclear weapon will be rather more difficult than before that. Insisting on a formula that so signally failed when it was easier now that it is hard, then, is tantamount to giving up on a resolution of the nuclear standoff altogether. U.S.
News today of American criticism of inter-Korean projects is likely to increase feelings that the United States is trying to drive a wedge between the two Koreas.
[cross-posted at fog of war]
The photograph above is of Kim Dae-jung and Kim Il-jong (no relation) shaking hands. From Answers.com
Monday, October 09, 2006
What does North-Korea's test mean?
Monday morning, Korean time,
similar in tone to Rumsfeld’s comments on the situation last week.
Though more official reaction will be available in the next few hours, military action on the part of the
If this nuclear test does have major military ramification, as it almost certainly does not, what then is its significance? The larger lesson is that if a nation is placed outside of the international system and its regime is made to feel insecure—as North Korea was, as Saddam Hussein was, and as Iran has been—no amount of carrots or sanctions will convince such a regime to stop their pursuit of major deterrents like nuclear weapons. (And if, in the case of Saddam Hussein, the regime is incapable of acquiring such deterrents, then they will bluff until the bitter end). Carrots have not worked. And neither have sticks. The
Clearly there is no easy solution to the problem. The good news, however, is that these “evil” regimes seek to acquire nuclear weapons not to hasten Armageddon but to ensure their own survival. Which indicates, at a minimum, rationality.