Category Archives: Global affairs

The STL and the myth of judicial virginity

The myth propagated by supporters of the various “international” criminal tribunals established since 1992 has been that somehow a judicial proceeding could rise completely above the sordid field of politics and follow its own complete integrity. I used to subscribe to that myth. But in 2000-01, as I started to investigate more closely the work of the two ad-hoc tribunals created by the UN during the mid-1990s, it became clear that “international” criminal tribunals can never, ever, be separated either from the politics of the countries whose developments they probe (and whose politics are inevitably affected by the work of the tribunals themselves)– or, from the politics of the “international” constellation of governments that establish, fund, and provide continued support for these tribunals’ work.
My 2006 book Amnesty After Atrocity? provided copious evidence of this, with regard to the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. But it is not only the ICTR whose work is irredeemably politicized. So has been the work of all “international” tribunals running from the Ur-example in Nuremberg through to today’s “International Criminal Court.” As longtime JWN readers know, I’ve written a lot about this issue, both here and (earlier) on the now nearly-defunct “Transitional Justice Forum” blog. Check over there for, in particular the field reports of the reporting trip I made to northern Uganda in 2006, to assess the very harmful effects that the work of the ICC was having on peacemaking there.
And then, there was the travesty of the (heavily U.S.-supported) Saddam Hussein trial…
Plus, the fact that the government leaders in Washington responsible for launching the completely unjustified invasion of Iraq in 2003, and therefore also all the deaths and violence that ensued from that invasion and occupation, were easily able to evade ever being held to account for that act of aggression (an act that was, at Nuremberg, certainly prosecutable– and prosecuted.) This, while the U.S. has also stood quite aside from all entreaties that it join the ICC– though over recent years it has given extensive logistic and financial support to some, but not all, of the ICC’s investigations and prosecutions… when this suited Washington’s own, inevitably political, purpose.
The neutrality of these judicial bodies before an “impartial” international law? That is nowhere to be seen.
… And then, there is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,a body that has been irrevocably “politicized” and “political” ever since its establishment in 2006-07. It is a joint project of both the U.N. Security Council and the Government of Lebanon, established at a time when the U.S. still held important sway over both bodies.
Now, Hillary Clinton and her people are busy talking about the need to allow the STL to continue doing its allegedly quite “impartial” work. The STL has been the focus of considerable controversy and swirling allegations and counter-allegations over its years in existence, and I confess I have not followed these with enough diligence to be able to make clearcut judgments regarding them.
What I can say with a high degree of confidence, based on my own work on this issue of international tribunals over the past decade is that no criminal court, within a country or at the global level, can ever have its work divorced from politics. Criminal prosecutions at a national level involve the state using the laws that already exist within the country to bring a prosecution against a defendant, who may upon being found guilty be subjected to serious sanction by the state– even, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the death penalty.
At the national level, too, the head of state or government always has the power to give clemency or pardon to convicted criminals (as in the case of Elliott Abrams in the U.S.), and leaders often use these powers with the goal of fostering national unity, or other worthwhile political goals.
And at the global level? Where is the agreed-upon, duly legislated, and equality-respecting legal basis for the work of international prosecutors? Where is the opportunity for global political leaders to issue pardons or enact clemency? Where, in short, is the supra-“judicial” legal-political infrastructure that can assure the impartiality as well as general social utility of the work of prosecutors and judges?
It doesn’t exist. In a world marked by striking political inequalities– especially between countries that have P-5 status on the Security Council, and those that don’t; and between countries that have at least submitted themselves to the judgments of the ICC, and those that haven’t– the “impartiality” of international criminal courts is a myth.
I wish it weren’t so. I wish we had the kind of global system in which all national leaders and other significant political actors could be held equally accountable for their actions. But we don’t. Rights activists from around the world who have put so much energy into fighting for the establishment and support of the existing international courts really also need to examine closely the effects that these courts have had on the lives, livelihoods, and wellbeing of the millions of citizens of the countries that have been their targets. In Amnesty After Atrocity? I looked at the effects on the citizenries of Rwanda, South Africa, and Mozambique of the widely differing approaches those three countries adopted to the issue of seeking “accountability” for past war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The two countries that decided against using criminal courts to deal with perpetrators of atrocities during the episodes of severe violence that all of them had suffered were the ones that came out with their social cohesion, political purpose, and the rights situation of their citizenries the best assured.
It is not only in Lebanon that a crucial “trade-off” exists between the work of (an inevitably “political” and backward-looking) international tribunal and the prospects for peace and people’s wellbeing going forward. Look at some of my own past work on this issue. Look at what the Obama administration is now actively considering doing in the context of Sudan, for goodness sake! Today, White House officials including “Ms. Anti-Genocide” herself, Samantha Power, are openly talking about the possibility of easing up the pressure that Pres. Omar Hassan al-Bashir has been subjected to from the ICC, in exchange for his cooperation with implementing the results of the South Sudan referendum.
It surely should not be that only in Lebanon does Washington pursue the chimera of the “impartiality” of a tribunal with strong international dimensions at the expense of the wellbeing of the target country’s citizenry.
Accountability for Rafiq Hariri’s killing? One day, let’s hope, the facts will all emerge. But this highly politicized judicial process centered in The Hague looks unlikely to be able credibly to uncover them. And if it does issue indictments, what then? STL prosecutor Daniel Bellemare and whose army will arrest those indicted? What of the Lebanese government’s supposedly co-equal role in managing this whole “criminal justice” project?
The next time Sec. Clinton or a State Department spokesman starts talking about the need to preserve the “impartiality” of this court, the STL, they should be asked about some of these very important questions…

Pentagon facing up to cash crunch

This article in today’s WaPo shows us Secdef Bob Gates as trying to raise the alarm regarding the ballooning of the costs for today’s overseas wars. Specifically, Gates is starting to raise questions about the pay/compensation packages being given to the 1.4 million members of the U.S. military.
A recent report– here in PDF— from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that, if the value of health benefits, retirement benefits, and tax advantages are added in along with base pay, in 2006 enlisted personnel received on average $13,360 more in year than similarly qualified civilians, while officers received on average $24,870 more than civilian counterparts.
The WaPo article, which is by Craig Whitlock, says that,

    Congress has been so determined to take care of troops and their families that for several years running it has overruled the Pentagon and mandated more-generous pay raises than requested by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. It has also rejected attempts by the Pentagon to slow soaring health-care costs — which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said are “eating us alive” — by raising co-pays or premiums.
    Now, Pentagon officials see fiscal calamity.
    In the midst of two long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense officials are increasingly worried that the government’s generosity is unsustainable and that it will leave them with less money to buy weapons and take care of equipment.

This is a great illustration of the fact that maintaining such a huge military is a huge burden on U.S. taxpayers– especially at a time of such deep financial emergency at home. It also gives a window into the fact that Congress and the U.S. political elite in general have been wanting to fight the U.S.’s two big and numerous smaller wars overseas in a way that essentially feather-beds the members of the U.S. military and makes them into a very pampered group of fighting men (and women) by any historical standard.
It is really time to bring an end to this whole process of worshiping the military that has held the US public in its grip for so long now.
Let’s face it, the military posture the U.S. has been trying to sustain around the whole world since the end of the Cold War is not only counter-productive– from the point of view of it’s not having built or sustained a more stable and equitable world order– but it also itself quite unsustainable into the medium term.
Time to figure out how to cut back our military considerably and to cooperate with all the other nations of the world in designing and establishing a system that ensures “public security” for the whole global commons in a way other than having it all be dominated and decided on by one, decidedly minority member of the world community.

Charlottesville’s internet-speed glory

Every so often I get back to reading my Google Reader…. Just now I saw this great post by Matthew Yglesias.
So the USA is still not #1 worldwide in average speed of the available internet. We’re, um, #18, as of the third quarter of 2009. Amazingly, too, of all the countries Yglesias lists, the US is the only one that saw a Year-on-year drop in speeds. I suppose one possible explanation for that is that a lot of new users got connected, but at lower speeds. Either that, or someone is, whatever, sitting inside the Intertubes someplace blocking all the traffic as it goes past. (Could that be the NSA?)
But then, look at the city-by-city listing. Charlottesville is right up there among the global leaders, at #8! Go, Charlottesville!
I don’t know why Yglesias has to be sniffy and make a point of noting that, like the other “fast” US city listed there, Charlottesville is, um, pretty darn small by world standards.

Parabéns, Brazil!

Fabulous news that Brazil “won” the 2016 Olympic Games!
I am really sorry Obama put his international status so visible into the ring for Chicago– and then lost. (But I always thought him going after it so intently was a big mstake, as I explained earlier this morning.
At IPS, Mario Osava reported (happily) that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that Brazil has “the happiest and most creative” people in the world, and deserved this opportunity.
At Daily Finance, Ryan Blitstein noted the sizeable movement amongst Chicago’s citizens who had opposed the Olympic bid. He also reported that big US corporations had spent $72.8 million just on the campaign to get Chicago as far as the Copenhagen run-off.
He concluded,

    That’s more than the budget of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago [the city’s major non-governmental social-service agency], and it doesn’t count the untold millions worth of in-kind contributions from major law firms and other consultants.
    In a city with well over 500,000 people living below the poverty line, that’s serious cash. The best that locals here can say is that, with the city losing its bid, at least they know another $250 million or more won’t be wasted to gear up for 2016.

At Foreignpolicy.com, Eduardo Gomez wrote,

    For those familiar with Brazil’s athletic history, today’s decision seems only natural. The country breathes sports — everything from Nascar racing, to volleyball, to soccer, to martial arts. And more importantly, perhaps, to the International Olympic Committee, the country has a long history of hosting international sporting events. In 1963, for example, Brazil hosted the Fourth Pan American games in São Paulo, drawing in thousands of competitors and spectators. The Pan American Games were once again hosted in 2007 in Rio, providing even more recent evidence of Brazil’s commitment and ability to host international games.
    Wisely, however, Lula did not rely on this culture and history alone to propel his bid. In recent years, the president seems to have been taking notes on how other countries have increased their odds. Among the lessons he garnered was the importance of physically attending the presentation and vote to stake his claim. He noted then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts in 2007, for example, when Blair traveled to Copenhagen, made a strong case for London, and came home with the 2012 summer games. In 2005, then President Vladimir Putin showed up before the Olympic Committee in Guatemala to lobby for Russia’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Games, which he won. Following in their footsteps, Lula made it very clear early on that he was planning to travel to Copenhagen to fight for Brazil’s right to the Olympics. In sharp contrast, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would attend only at the last minute. Loving soccer as he does, Lula no doubt saw this as a competitive challenge — one that he clearly gamed masterfully.
    While in Copenhagen, Lula was also very strategic in his country’s presentation before the committee. He brushed aside concerns of violence and crime in Rio, and to the president’s credit, the Olympic Committee praised Brazil for recent security improvements. Lula also claimed that the Olympics would help build Brazil, and especially the city of Rio de Janeiro, by providing jobs for the poor, integrating civil society, and building a spirit of peace and cooperation through sport. Such a prospect no doubt appealed to the committee as this goal was one of the original touted benefits of the modern Olympics Games, dating back to their genesis at the end of the 19th century.
    Most important, though, was Lula’s argument that Brazil deserved and needed the Olympics. Richer countries had had their turn, Lula said, and now it was Brazil’s chance. Brazil ranks 10th among the world’s wealthiest countries, but it is the only one of them never to have hosted the games. It will be the first South American country to do so.
    International sports tend to mirror politics. Today’s decision will reveal, yet again, that Brazil is an emerging power, and that it has the talent, infrastructural capacity, and political commitment needed to play competitively in global political (and athletic) games.

Go, Brazil!

IPS piece on global power shifts and Iran

It’s here. Also archived here.
One bottom line is here:

    In 2003, Russia and China were unable (both in strictly military terms, and in terms of global power equations) to block the invasion of Iraq. But since 2003, Russia has stabilised its internal governance considerably from the chaotic state it was still in at that time, and China has continued its steady rise to greater power on the world scene.
    Two developments over the past year have underlined, for many U.S. strategic planners, the stark facts of the United States’ deep interdependence with these two significant world powers. One was last autumn’s collapse of the financial markets in New York and other financial centres around the world, which revealed the extent of the dependence the west’s financial system has on China’s (mainly governmental) investors.
    The other turning point has been the serious challenges the U.S. faced in its campaigns against Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Earlier this year, Pakistani-based Islamist militants mounted such extensive attacks against convoys carrying desperately needed supplies to U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan that Washington was forced to sign an agreement with Moscow to open alternative supply routes through Russia.
    Russia and China both have significant interests in Iran, which they are now clearly unwilling to jeopardise simply in order to appease Washington.

The other is here:

    Thursday brought dramatic evidence of the growing weight of non-western powers in policies toward Iran. What is still unclear is when there will be evidence of any parallel growth in their influence in Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy.

Color revolutions and political branding: A guide for the perplexed

The ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran has its paradoxes– not least among them the anomaly of seeing young people out on the streets of Tehran in outfits that seemed openly defiant of Islamic dress norms while they also sported a color that many Muslims consider represents their religion.
The choice of that color, and of the accompanying rallying cry of “Allahu-akbar”, seemed like deliberate attempts to build alliances between the often pro-secular west-o-philes of North Tehran and important reformist branches of the country’s ruling hierarchy. (The lack of any real agreement between these two portions of the movement over whether the goal is to reform the country’s Islamic system or to overthrow it is probably one of the movement’s most notable weaknesses.)
But the use of the ‘green’ branding did seem like a bit of a master-move, regardless how things turn out. For me, it evoked first and foremost the great marching song of the old Sinn Fein/IRA struggle for Irish independence: “Oh, we’re all off to Dublin in the green, in the green… ”
In the Irish context, of course, “Orange” is also an extremely potent marker. Note that when the successfully independent Irish Republicans designed their national flag, it cleverly incorporated the orange along with the green– in much the same way that the flag of democratic South Africa cleverly incorporates all the main colors and themes of that country’s previously warring parties.
Here in the US, I think one of the most moving civil war memorials of all is the court-house at Appomattox, the spot where Robert E. Lee submitted the surrender of the Army of Virginia. Now preserved as a historical site, the courthouse has a thought-provoking wall of photos of the war dead: the ones matted with Confederate grey are checkerboarded somberly across the whole wall with those matted with Yankee blue. There’s a lot to be said, I think, for undertaking a good mash-up of everyone’s formerly partisan symbols at the end of a civil war.
In Palestinian politics, green is the color used by Hamas, while Fateh uses yellow (on the right here.) Orange is the color used by Moustapha Barghouthi’s still-small Mubadara party.
Shift focus to Lebanon, and confusingly there it’s Hizbullah, which is broadly allied to Hamas, that uses yellow, while the somewhat-in-competition Amal movement uses green.
The Grand-daddy of the present wave of pro-west “color revolutions” is the “Orange Revolution” of 2004-05 in Ukraine.
Oh, by the way, that last image comes from the website of the Green movement in the European parliament. Numerous countries have Green Parties these days, of course, with their “green” signifying their environmentalist concern. Can’t forget them…
Okay, moving along from 2005 we then had the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia. I can’t find any satisafactory images from that, such as would quickly clarify for me whether the “rose” actually refers to a color or a flower.
But while we’re in that part of the color spectrum we cannot forget the feisty US women of Code Pink.
And then there is Thailand, which earlier this year had back-to-back “red” and “yellow” movements trying to take over the capital. That development prompted the Asia Society’s Jamie Metzel to call for the creation of a new movement to bring the two sides together. Okay, what he really called for was an especially Thai form of an “orange” revolution: mashing up the symbols, again.
On a longer time-scale, the most lasting of all color brandings of political movements in modern times has almost certainly been the association of red with socialism and/or communism. That association has held true in almost every country except the US (and perhaps Thailand?)
In the US, for some unknown reason, political analysts started some time ago talking about “red states” and “blue states”– with red signifying the Republican Party, and blue the Democrats. Maybe this is related to the exceptionalism American culture displays on other matters related to socialist movements, like the US’s choice of what seems like a fairly random day in early September to celebrate “Labor Day”, when every other country I know of that honors its working people does so on May 1st.
One final note about political branding. I still think one of the most powerful symbols anyone anywhere has ever developed is the peace symbol. It was designed in 1958 by the anti-war British designer Gerald Holtom, who said it was based on the semaphore symbols for “ND”– nuclear disarmament.
He also wrote this about the development of the design:

    “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

Fifty-one years later, and we still have a lot of reason to be in despair about the number of nuclear weapons in the world… But Holtom’s symbol is still a powerful and immediately recognizable mobilization tool for peace activists.
In the comments here, it would interesting to learn of other uses of color branding by non-governmental political movements around the world. I am sure I have missed some above!

Democratic Westphalianism, or The Principles

By Dominic Tweedie

    Publisher’s note: In one of the discussions here we recently got into a consideration of the Treaty of Westphalia. Dominic Tweedie (aka Domza) proposed that the topic needed a lot more examination. I agreed, and invited him to lead off this discussion. He got back with amazing rapidity with a launch-text for this discussion. Thanks, Dominic!
    I am very happy indeed to put this up on JWN. Given the importance of the topic commenters are hereby freed from the 300-word limit; but maybe try to keep them below 1,000 words? Also, I’ll try to follow the discussion on the comments board as closely as I can, and to keep it serious and on-topic. ~HC

We have been quarrelling over Iran. We have no sure common idea of the path to follow or of what we have in common at all. What are we? Concerned? Interested? Compelled? On what common ground could we stand? Where, in the past, have such ties bound? Internationalism goes back to Lafayette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lord Byron, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and most powerfully, to the International Brigade that fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and to Che Guevara, the extraordinarily successful champion of the wretched of the earth, who was born of a white-settler family in Argentina.
Historical internationalism would also have to include “liberation theology”, and the “pedagogy of the oppressed” as championed by Paulo Freire.
The fully constituted independent nations of the earth are more numerous than ever. At about 200, they have probably doubled in number in living memory, and now for the first time in history they cover almost the entire habitable land-surface of the planet. The available common model for internationalism is therefore the anti-colonialism that has led to this proliferation of free nation-states. The next available common model is the 1939-1945 World War against fascism, in whose shadow we have all lived.
For those who used to be involved in it, it is still a surprise that the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) that was such a poor relation for most of its three decades of life, appears now in retrospect as a mighty exemplar of both these compulsive strains of internationalism: anti-colonialism and anti-fascism. How, then, did the AAM work?

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Grand-daddy of the ‘Color revolutions’ hits hard times

Five years after the much-hyped, west-backed “Orange revolution” swayed Ukraine in 2004, the leadership it brought to power continues to disintegrate. The NYT’s Clifford Levy reports:

    Ukraine, which has suffered a roundhouse blow from the economic crisis, has had no finance minister since February. It also has no foreign minister or defense minister. The transportation minister just stepped down. The interior minister has offered to resign as well, after being accused of drunken behavior.
    The president and the prime minister are no longer speaking, though they were once allies and heroes of the Orange Revolution…
    The public appears so frustrated that the leader of the opposition, who has close ties to the Kremlin and is often portrayed as the villain of the Orange Revolution, is the early favorite to win the presidential election next January.

China Hand on the bleak prospects for the US in Afghanistan

Longtime JWN readers will know I’m a fan of the analysis that a blogger called China Hand produces on Pakistan and Afghanistan. (He doesn’t, as it happens produce much on China. Go figure.)
Anyway, today CH has a well-worth-reading (though not short) post in which he deconstructs and tries to assess the policy toward the Pakistan and Afghan Taleban that he sees the Islamabad government as most likely pursuing.
Bottom line, at the end:

    if we let Afghanistan go down the tubes, as the deep thinkers in Pakistan are proposing, there’s no assurance that the Taliban can be rolled back in Pakistan.
    Perhaps this problem has become too big for the United States and Pakistan to solve on their own. And, since Washington and Islamabad apparently disagree on the definition of the problem, let alone the outlines of a solution, it looks like nothing but years of bloody muddle lie ahead.

I humbly submit, however, that there is another option, in addition to leaving the US and Pakistan to handle the whole Af-Pak/Taleban problem “on their own.” This would be for Washington to invite the UN Security Council to convene a broad and authoritative new conference, including, certainly, all Afghanistan’s neighbors, all the P-5 powers, and anyone else the Secretary-General considers worth inviting, and have that gathering take responsibility for real Afghan peacemaking away from the US and NATO.
The US and NATO seem almost uniquely ill-suited to the challenges in Afghanistan! I can’t imagine why anyone thinks these western armies could do anything to achieve stability in Afghanistan– at a price that’s affordable by their increasingly cash-strapped treasuries, or at all.
Sure, China and Russia might both be very wary of assuming any additional responsibilities in a place as intractable as Afghanistan. But it is, after all, far closer to them than it is to any NATO members; and the restoration of a decent degree of stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan is actually much stronger an interest for them than it is for the distant NATO members.
Of course I can quite understand, from a realpolitik POV, that China and Russia might both be extremely happy to see the US and its NATO allies continuing to degrade their forces and their treasuries by trying to hurl their militaries against the brick wall in Afghanistan. But at some point that has to be counter-productive for them.