Monday, May 22, 2006

# Posted 10:28 AM by Patrick Porter  

THE DEADLY VETO: Studying alongside budding international lawyers, one couldn't help notice their belief that only the UN Security Council can confer legitimacy on war.

There was just something discomforting about the assumption that military action should only be taken with the approval of regimes in China and Russia, the architects of the Tianenmen Square massacre and the catastrophe in Chechnya.

As well as placing unwarranted authority in the hands of these states, historically, the insistence on formal Security Council approval would have prevented several humanitarian interventions. Vietnam could not have intervened in Pol Pot's Cambodia, nor Tanzania in Idi Amin's Uganda, nor India against genocide in east Pakistan, nor the USA and its coalition against the predations of Milosevic in Kosovo.

For the main problem with fetishising the Security Council, Mark Steyn says it simply:
The problem is, by the time you've gone through the UN, everyone's dead.
(10) opinions -- Add your opinion

More accurately, by the time you've been through the UN the wrong people are all dead.
Ah my dear fellow, don't forget to add to that sorry list 'the catastrophe in Iraq'.

You know, in principle I am not opposed to invading countries to liberate their peoples from tryants. I am all for it! I am more 'liberal imperialist', I suspect, than you will ever be. I ONLY ask that it be done competently where it can be done. The problem with the new liberal imperialism is the same as the problem with that of the nineteenth century - it is not being honest, and it breaks all its promises.

If liberty were its true object, the US would not still be in Iraq having attempted to privatise all its industries and force it to accomodate US bases, and interfering in its domestic politics etc as it does, having disbanded its army and failed to actually provide law and order, services etc. If it could not do these things, or was unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary, it should never have done it. I think Niall Ferguson would agree.

Also, in regard to your comment on my blog, Blair didn't 'risk his whole premiership' on Iraq - he risked the honour of his country, the dignity of his Queen, and the lives of his citizens. Those things were NOT HIS PROPERTY TO RISK for the sake of a speculative project of pretended liberal imperialism. Risking other people's things for your own glory and then failing to face the consequences when it goes to hell are not aspects of courage, but of cowardice and moral laxity.

God Save The Queen!

As for legitimacy in war, one can only note that victory alone confers it. If you cannot win or are unwilling to win, don't do it.
Really, this kind of argument is over simplistic. It's all very well to complain that the UNSC is too inactive, or that it doesn't always endorse invasions that America would.
But if you were redesigning the international system, what process would you put in place to govern these kinds of decisions? It's interesting that you use the term 'unwarranted authority'. According to what higher system of legal authority is Russia and China's authority unwarranted? On what basis would you exclude these powers and yet (presumably) keep the US, which has its own murky human rights past?

Perhaps, on the grounds of morality, a security council composed of Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Luxemburg would be preferable to the current system but who would listen to the prononcements of such a body? Would you?

IT seems to me that if you are to set up a regulatory international institution at all, once which recognises the primacy of the most powerful states does seem a reasonable way to go about it. If not, you are proposing a recipe for international anarchy - allowing any country, anywhere, to intervene if it so chooses. This is fair enough if that is what you actually mean, but at least have the balls to argue for it properly

don't compare the US's policies in Iraq with Russia's in Chechnya.


I don't think there is any one, fullproof process that can govern these kinds of decisions.

But an alliance of democracies would be a more potentially constructive way of shaping the use of power positively:

You complain of a condition of 'international anarchy.' Well, anarchy in the form of genocide and other massive human rights violations is exacerbated now by the paralysis of the UN system. The pattern of conflict, with non-state actors or wars within states, in today's world is different from what was envisaged when the UN was founded.

Could this become abusive? absolutely. But the alternative, what we have now, was and remains close to worse-case scenario (Rwanda, Sudan, the Balkans in the 90's).

If we were to have some kind of regulatory system, and give some powers veto rights, I wouldn't require them to have perfect human rights records. But liberal democracy would be the dividing line.

In the meantime, arguably, where the UN fails in its humanitarian obligations, it is the moral duty of other members to act:


another small point: you may have noticed that Tony Blair didn't himself decide to go to war in Iraq. The British Parliament did, after an intense debate and a vote. Her Majesty governs Britain through the elected representatives of the Parliament. The government that proposed the motion was then re-elected, pretty decisively, in 2005. It was and is the Parliament's duty to consider questions of war and peace.

I need more evidence that the cause for war was a pretence on Blair and Bush's part. Gas prices have gone up, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent, and their standing in the polls has plummetted. I agree that the post-conflict scenario must be managed competently, but maladroit policies and over-optimistic post-war planning do not necessarily indicate insincerity.
It seems fair to me to compare Chechnya to Iraq - not because they are identical at all - but because they sahre some similarities as well as differences. This is particularly so when we consider (a) the belief in overiding force to acheive political goals and (b) the effects on the international prestige of the country that believes this. I also think it is fair to compare Iraq to South Africa - it could well do for the American empire what the Boer War did for the British. Victory may well come eventually, but the process has undermined the prestige and power of the empire. I do not celebrate this, as I think it is sad, for America has much to offer the world. But the comparison remains.

I do not believe historians or anyone else should shy away from comparing things - that is a little bit totalitarian, if I may say so.

Oh, and I wasn't absolving the parliamentarians from their fair share of responsibility and culpability - but to be fair to them, they were operating on the trust of the prime minister, who assured them of his special intelligence and knowledge that there was an immediate threat to be averted. When it turned out that this was false, the honourable thing would be to appologise to parliament and resign - this is no radical proposal in the history of responsible government. Ministers have resigned for far less. It was his refusal to do so and his changing story that exposed to me his irresponsible egomania. Before that I was quite a fan.

You are right that Chechnya may have a significance similar to Iraq, but I was talking about comparing Russian and American policies there. For all of the failures, the US is not behaving in Iraq in the manner of the Russian forces.

On parliamentary matters, several inquiries have now established that there was no deliberate deception of parliament. Ministerial responsibility does not require someone to resign when they report information in good faith that turns out to be false after the event.

Moreover, he has apologied in the Commons for unintentionally misleading the House in this regard:

"I take full responsibility and indeed apologise for any information given in good faith that has subsequently turned out to be wrong."

Rather than resigning and walking away, perhaps a more respectable stance would be to try and help the evolution of a federal democracy in Iraq. Which he has done.
Things are so terrible there, it is difficult to see what good the occupying forces (and there are only 130,000 of them) are actually doing.

Blair has not, in my opinion, done much to 'help the evolution of a federal democracy' - there are more crazy religious nuts and zealots in that country now than there ever were. Daily assassinations, kidnappings, sabotage, and every kind of religious edict issuing forth from black clothed mullahs to smother and destroy whatever free spirit was left. Once all hope is gone, what do people have but their faith in a vengeful god?

To be fair to Blair, I don't think he was responsible for the mess that was 'postwar planning' - he is, after all, a bit player beside Bush in this affair.
BTW, I don't mean to suggest in all this Blair is some kind of immoral monster - I do notice with some grim satisfaction that he does appear to be having a terrible time and his hair has become very white.

Blair has done a lot of good things, unlike Bush. It is a pity in my view that he sacrificed that legacy for the adventurism in Iraq - the prestige of those things at least were his to sacrifice, and sadly he did. His election victory however, was a reflection of those domestic policies being naturally closer to voters everyday lives. The alternative was another Howard - a less than palatable prospect. I wonder that he would fare so well against Ross Cameron, who is far less a bogeyman for Labour to run across the screen.
Tanzania did not require anyone's approval to go into Uganda, because it was not a humanitarian intervention. It was a response to Idi's invasion of Tanzania.

Besides, do you really think any post-colonial African government would ever commit, or even endorse, humanitarian intervention against a murderous tyranny? That's what most of them are, and they all oppose such lese-majeste.
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