Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This is the end...

... Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.
- Jacques Prévert

This blog will not be continued.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"The Silver Bullet": American Solutions to Iraq's Civil War

By Richard Norman

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 Iraq was for the United States to carefully manage the post-Saddam political outcome.

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 Iraq, in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, we need to make clear that Iraq's disintegration is not the goal of American policy.

Dr. Kissinger’s advice might have been more useful had he known that the Shiite make up a 60% majority in Iraq—not a minority. (Of the 40% Sunni minority, as many as half are the placable Kurds). This op-ed is a perfect example of the blasé ignorance of Iraq that has characterized so much American pre- and post-invasion decision-making.

Such ignorance is still a large part of Washington's debate about Iraq. But it is now mixed with equal parts complacency and resignation. 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.

Duncan Hunter, the outgoing Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (and a candidate for president in 2008), suggested to the host, Tim Russert, that moving more Iraqi troops “into the fight” in order to provide them with combat experience is the solution to the security crisis in Baghdad and Anbar province. Congressman Ike Skelton (the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) has a plan to withdraw American troops to “Kuwait and Germany . . . and if you needed them for a very quick mission you could bring them back for another.”

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 Iraq. So long as the police are in shambles (if not a direct threat), many Shiites--especially those most disenfranchised--will look to Mr. Sadr for security. So long as Shiites constitute the majority in Iraq, Mr. Sadr will play a major role in Iraqi politics.

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 Iraq and give them what they wanted, all of the violence would end. Indeed, if such a UN Secretary-General existed, there would be peace on earth and good will for all. The chances of anyone playing this role is, as each group becomes more entrenched, fast approaching zero. It is vague, totally unrealistic talk like this that is increasingly characterizing American discussion of Iraq. Remove Maliki? He was the best possible option. Who would replace him? There is no Mandela in Iraq.

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Security Council and International Law in San Francisco, 1945

By Otto Spijkers

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

By Otto Spijkers

In 2003, Jürgen Habermas said: “the crucial issue of dissent [between Europe and the USA] is whether justification through international law can and should be replaced by the unilateral, world-ordering politics of a self-appointed hegemon.” Keeping this remark in mind, I will look at the international law vs. politics debate, related to the United Nations and the "war on terror".

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:

[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.)
Of course, there is much provocation in these words, but they do seem to represent the view of many Americans.

"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

By Richard Norman

I was recently pleased to receive a copy of the Canadian embassy’s evacuation procedure for Canadians residing in South Korea. While it assured that the risk of an evacuation is minimal, it informatively detailed how much food and water we should bring with us if we were forced out of our homes and how long we might have to wait while American soldiers aided American citizens before they moved onto the citizens of other countries with whom they have “global agreements.” But inspiring confidence is a tall order for a post-nuclear contingency plan.

The world is still noisily reacting to North Korea’s nuclear test last week; South Korea, however, is relatively calm. Even air raid siren tests this week did not disturb students in English language classes (they quietly continued their adverbs of frequency worksheet). Fifteen or twenty years ago, the response from the South Korean government and its people would have been much more visceral. Indeed, the country might well have been put on war footing. But in the wake of eight years of the Sunshine Policy, a concerted effort by Seoul to engage with the North (and for which Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000), the South Korean perspective on the situation has shifted from one of North Korea versus South Korea to one of Korea versus the World. A plurality of South Koreans, for example, believe that the United States is more responsible for the current crisis than the government (if it can be called that) of Kim Jong-il. (China and Japan also get mentions, albeit quiet ones).

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 North Korea. One South Korean editorial (by no means the majority opinion) summed up the current debate very adroitly:

The [South Korean] government has persistently maintained that South Korea will persuade the North to give up its nuclear programs through dialogue under its leadership. Once Pyongyang scraps its nuclear development programs, it proposed, Seoul 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.

Yet North Korea pushed ahead with a nuclear test, regardless, demanding more U.S. 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.

And yet many in Korea see no problem with the status quo. They have been promised reunification, and not even nuclear tests will derail the dream. The happily-named Sunshine Policy has altered both foreign and domestic thinking. South Korean reaction to the North's missile tests in July, for example, was borderline friendly, focusing on Japan's "overreaction" rather than the aggressive act. The public school curriculum in the South has changed in the last ten years: students now consider Koreans north of the border their brothers and sisters, rather than a bloodthirsty Communist enemy. And ordinary citizens see the North's nuclear program a consequence (perhaps even justified) of American pressures and threats, not as a dangerous attempt to ensure the survival of a government that is strangling to death one half of their people.


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

Monday, October 09, 2006

What does North-Korea's test mean?

By Richard Norman

Much has been made of North Korea’s supposed instability. While no one would deny it is one of the poorest and most unlucky countries on earth, it has been ruled consecutively and with an iron-fist by the Kim family for more than fifty years in a dynastic communist dictatorship. A politically unstable country is roiled by coups, civil wars, or an aggressive, revolutionary opposition. These things do not exist in North Korea, and while it is fashionable to imagine an economic meltdown bringing down the Kim dynasty, the North’s leadership has already shown such massive disregard for the welfare of its citizens that it is becoming possible to imagine Kim contently presiding over a nation of twenty-three million corpses. Kim Jong-il has tight control over the military and all domestic media, and he retains a spectacular cult of personality which has a back-story that is essentially all of Korea’s post-WWII history. And now he has proven to the world he possesses nuclear weapons.

Monday morning, Korean time, North Korea announced it had successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Immediate international reaction was similar to the reaction last week when North Korea announced it would soon test a nuclear weapon. Japan’s new prime minister called the action, “Absolutely unacceptable,” again, while a Pentagon spokesman was reported as saying, "If there was a test, obviously it would further isolate them from the international community,"
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 United States, Japan or South Korea is extremely unlikely considering how little is known about North Korean nuclear capabilities and how much is at stake. The most likely course of action will simply be to sit and wait and worry (also, coincidentally, the unofficial Bush policy on Iran) while trying to drum up support for further UN sanctions.

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 United States may try to remove hostile regimes from the equation, but in today’s world when you invade a country to topple its government you become responsible for the security of its people. And you are tied down while other major powers are free to pursue their conflicting interests.

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.