[ineb] Chomsky Replies to Some Queries
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Chomsky Replies to Some Queries
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First was a question originating from Germany about some arguments advanced by German Greens for invasion of Yugoslavia and military solutions, generally.
Some of the statements you report are accurate. Kosovars have certainly been subject to repression -- at about the level of US-backed atrocities in Colombia prior to the NATO bombings; and after the bombings, perhaps at a level that might ultimately approach US-supported Turkish atrocities against the Kurds in the mid-90s. I won't add other comparable examples. Have the Greens and others who feel troubled about atrocities urged that Germany bomb Ankara, Bogota, Washington,...? Or only Belgrade? Does something in German history begin to come into focus at this point?
The German advocates of violence deny "that the intensification of serbian terror has anything to do with the bombings. no one will let this argument count, because there is no proof that terror wouldn't have intensified anyway."
That's a wonderful argument. By the same argument the US should bomb Germany, because if there is a violent reaction, then "there is no proof that it wouldn't have intensified anyway." I doubt that even Stalinist propaganda descended to this level. The fact that arguments of this kind are offered is very clear evidence that the people presenting them have abandoned any pretense of intellectual independence or moral concern, and are simply doing what they are told. That seems rather clear, doesn't it?
You refer to my statement that (in your words) "the bombings are an attack against the institutions of world order. that's perfectly true. they negate anything the u.n. or the world court, for instance, stand for. but those arguments doesn't count if world order prevents someone of putting an end bloody terror of a state against a people."
Look back at what I wrote, and you'll find that it is virtually the same as your response to it. To repeat what I wrote, there is a tension between (I) the UN Charter and other institutions of world order which ban the threat or use of force apart from narrow circumstances that don't hold here, and (II) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for protection of human rights against violent states. But you are mistaken in concluding from the tension between (I) and (II) that the arguments for world order (namely (I)) "don't count"; it would be equally wrong to conclude that the arguments for human rights (II) "don't count." Rather, there is a tension, which has to be resolved, case by case.
For example, no one could have produced more uplifting rhetoric about defense of human rights than Hitler when he occupied parts of Czechoslovakia, to recall one of the cases in the statement you read. Are we impressed? No, we first have to ask the obvious questions. And in this case too. We ask, for example, about the record of the self-appointed guardians of human rights. How do they react, for example, when they are decisively contributing to human rights violations that go vastly beyond anything attributed to Milosevic in Kosovo at the time of the NATO bombing -- in Turkey for example? Note that in that as in numerous other cases defense of human rights is remarkably easy and costless: just stop contributing to the assault against them. Note also that this is current events, not history. And we may ask how the same noble souls reacted when they themselves were condemned for "unlawful use of force" by the World Court, ordered to terminate these crimes and pay huge reparations. And how they reacted when they were conducting vastly greater crimes that the UN and World Court were afraid even to address, such as the US wars in Indochina (was Germany refusing to provide arms?).
And most obviously, we ask whether the actions taken were designed to protect people from human rights violations, or were they taken with considerable confidence that they would lead to a radical escalation of such violations -- a consequence that was "entirely predictable," according to US/NATO commander Wesley Clark (as you recall from my post on March 27), exaggerating no doubt, though they were surely highly likely. And are they contributing to human rights by destroying the very promising and courageous democratic movement in Serbia, surely the best way of ridding the world of Milosevic? And on, and on.
And those with a little memory may ask some questions about the enthusiasm for Luftwaffe bombing of Belgrade, and possible Wehrmacht invasion of Serbia, where some 2/3 of adult males (15-55) were killed or wounded by the Wehrmacht not all that long ago -- I can remember it well. Does that ring any bells in Germany? If not, why not?
You say you do not agree with the Hippocratic Principle: First, do no harm. I wonder whether you have thought the matter through. If you deny that principle then you are upholding the principle: First, do harm. I don't think you mean that. Nor do I think you really mean that if peaceful means fail, "you should use force" no matter what the consequences. Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and you can't convince the criminal to stop; peaceful means have failed so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, maybe a few bystanders for good measure. And when asked why you did it, you respond: "if peaceful means fail, I can't just stand by and see crimes committed, but must use force, whatever the consequences." Is that a good answer? How is it different in the case you are discussing?
I'm sure you don't mean that, but notice that that is what you are saying. In fact, that is what rejection of the Hippocratic Principle means.
You might also ask whether you advocate bombing Ankara, Washington, London,... and a whole host of others who have been engaged in awesome crimes, after all peaceful means failed (e.g., the World Court). And if not, why not? Why just in this one case, where the marching orders from the state authorities are: "Attend to this, nothing else, and crucially don't use your mind to perceive the absurdity of the arguments being proposed."
I think it's worth asking these questions.
Note incidentally that it is quite natural for the powerful states to reject the founding principles of world order that ban the threat or use of force, just as it is natural for most of the rest of the world to uphold them (exactly what we are seeing now). While these principles are far from perfect, and are not a priori truths that must be accepted in all cases, they do offer at least some protection for the weak (not for the strong, who don't need the protection). The only "really existing" alternative is that the powerful will do what they like -- naturally, an idea that has considerable appeal to NATO leaders, and their predecessors.
You say you were shocked at my statement that World War II was not fought to stop Hitler. I'm sorry that you are shocked, and in a sense I agree: the facts are indeed shocking (though I understand that that is not what you mean). I mentioned a few of the relevant facts in the comments that shocked you. Your reasons for being shocked are different, not the shocking facts but your belief that "whatever the motives were for the allies to go into this war, if they could have acted earlier or save more lifes, the outcome of this war was the end of hitler and of fascism in germany. and i am very grateful that i was able to grow up in a somewhat free and democratic country." That's all perfectly true, but not in the least relevant to the statement of fact that you say you found shocking.
I'd suggest again that you think it through. These are important issues, and it is simply irresponsible, a violation of our most elementary moral obligations, to react thoughtlessly and irrationally. You don't help anyone that way.
You say that a Serbian friend says that Milosevic will never yield and the Serbs will fight to the last man, "so what if the international community just sat by and watched and Milosevic continued his terror anyway?" Right now, an American friend is telling you -- and he has the documentary evidence to prove it -- that the official doctrine of the Clinton Administration is that the US should:
...exploit its nuclear arsenal to portray itself as "irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked." That "should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries," particular the "rogue states." "It hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed," let alone committed to such silliness as international law and treaty obligations. "The fact that some elements" of the US government "may appear to be potentially `out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers."
Pardon me for quoting myself, to save time (from Z, "Rogue States," last spring). And you know as well as I that there is a record to support that stance. So should the international community bomb Washington?
Suppose that a Turkish friend, or a Colombian friend, or a ... (fill in the blank) were to tell you the same thing. Would it then follow that Germany should be dropping bombs all over the world?
Again, these are important issues, and the decision to use force and violence carries a heavy burden of proof -- at least for people who don't share the values of Saddam Hussein or Hitler. Sometimes the burden can be met, in my opinion; I'm not a committed pacifist. But not by arguments of the kind you report from advocates of violence in Germany. Those arguments are utterly pathetic -- and for those who remember a little history, a good bit worse than that, I'm sorry to have to say.
Second was a multi-part question about media and the war effort...
You say that "in the eyes of most people, the evidence for the claim that in their reporting about Kosovo, the mainstream media is acting as an organ of, or in collusion with, US foreing policy is weak and circumstantial."
That's a little misleading. To my knowledge, no one has so far even bothered to make a case for this proposition in the particular instance of Kosovo, and unless one takes the trouble to present a claim and substantiate it empirically, the evidence for it will naturally seem weak. There is, however, massive confirming evidence for the same general thesis in a very wide range of other cases; in fact, it seems to me one of the best substantiated theses of the social sciences (admittedly, that's not saying a lot).
You say that "absent a concrete, plausible mechanism showing how this alleged collusion actually works, most people will focus on the pictures of carnage and the eyewitness accounts of armed brutality, and not on what comes across, in comparison, as a very academic concern. Both the gruesomeness of the spectacle and Occam's razor tell the public that the coverage is as it is simply because what is happening in Kosovo is atrocious."
I'm not sure I understand. There are highly concrete, very plausible mechanisms showing how the corporate media product relates to state and private power. They have been discussed in considerable detail, though not using this particular example, as yet; perhaps some one (not I) will take the trouble to add this to the substantial array of cases already studied in some depth. As for the pictures of carnage, etc., they are certainly quite real, and people are quite right to be concerned by them -- particularly the people who are responsible for them. So we now are back to asking the serious questions: what was the carnage, etc., before the NATO bombing? What is it after the NATO bombing? Is the radical change a colossal coincidence? Was it predictable? What is the record of the self-appointed saviors in comparable current cases where they could very easily mitigate or terminate comparable or far worse atrocities? Etc. That is, we are back to all the real questions -- and with regard to the matter you raise here, we can ask why the media are avoiding the questions that any sane person would ask.
You request that I "use the ongoing media coverage of Kosovo to illustrate exactly how the interests of the media corporations and those of the US foreign policy and military establishments are coordinated to bring forth this propaganda campaign." I'm afraid I won't. Frankly, I've lost interest in the topic, long ago. The basic theses have been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, and I don't see much point to adding yet another example. That can readily be done, if anyone wants to take the trouble. Thus following the (quite sound) method that Ed Herman and I have followed jointly and separately in books and articles, one can compare cases that really are comparable, apart from a crucial factor: who bears responsibility, and what does it (therefore) take to mitigate or terminate the atrocities. Thus we can compare Kosovo and Colombia or Laos (pre-bombing). Or we can compare Kosovo and Turkey (post-bombing). The cases differ: in the case of Kosovo, it's easy to blame someone else, and the reaction is US violence. In the case of Turkey (etc.) it's only possible to blame the US, and the easy solution is to stop contributing to huge atrocities, going far beyond Kosovo (though maybe we will manage to escalate there to the Turkish level). We then ask the obvious questions: (1) what would the media response be on the assumption of elementary morality and intellectual integrity? (2) what is the actual response? The answers are clear. The answer to (1) is that US-backed Turkish atrocities would have been the prime focus, with gruesome pictures of carnage, etc. The reason is obvious: we bear responsibility and can act swiftly and easily to mitigate or terminate the atrocities. The answer to (2) you know. QED.
One can easily continue. Consider for example the situation on March 23. The US had presented a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. The Serb National Assembly (called "Milosevic" in US propaganda) rejected it. That much was reported. What was not reported, however, was that they made a counterproposal. Was it reasonable? Could it have led somewhere? We can't know because the two warrior states preferred violence (with the predictable radical escalation of atrocities against Kosovars) to diplomacy. How did the media handle it? Easy enough to answer.
Or, take this morning's (April 18) NY Times, just as an example at random. A front-page think piece by Craig Whitney informs us that "the greatest concern" of NATO leaders "is bringing an end to the ordeal of the refugees" -- that is, the people who became refugees after NATO started bombing. There are also extraordinary absurdities about the Vietnam War, and "liberals," and a host of other topics, all pretty impressive, and perhaps worth a point-by-point reaction. The lead editorial tells us that the NATO bombing is justified because "the savage assault on Kosovo demands a response," namely, the savage assault that took place after (and as they know in reaction to) the bombing. The editorial also gives a very revealing insight into the liberal interpretation of the Vietnam war: wrong because of its costs to us, but not because of 4 million dead Indochinese and three devastated countries as a result of our aggression; Hitler would have been impressed. A leading Times intellectual, Judith Miller, informs us of the fact -- NB, FACT, it's not arguable but TRUE by definition -- that the US "has long been an aggressive promoter of human rights," a statement that would embarrass anyone but the most dedicated commissar. Among other amusing contributions, she also explains how sanctions finally got the evil Qaddafi to agree to surrender the two men accused of bombing PANAM 103 -- namely, on virtually the terms that he proposed in Dec. 1991, but that the US adamantly refused to consider until a few months ago. And on, and on, column by column.
Maybe it is worthwhile going through the exercise once again, and demonstrating what has already been demonstrated with a level of evidence and argument quite rare in the social sciences (again, not a huge claim). And maybe it's worth laying out, once again, the mechanisms by which all of this happens, which are pretty close to a null hypothesis, as Ed Herman and I pointed out 10 years ago. But I don't feel that it is a useful expenditure of time for me. Others might want to undertake it.
If the "confluence in the interests of a few powerful actors" is "just too tenuous to convince the majority of the public," then the majority of the public should rethink matters of evidence and argument. There's nothing tenuous about it at all. The basic insight is as old as Adam Smith, and by now it has been spelled out over and over again in substantial detail. _
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- This might be of interest as well. A full article by Chomsky on the
Yugoslav affair. Contrary to what you get on CNN and CNBC, some Americans
do believe in a culture of non-violence. Seems we're gonna have to start at
The Current Bombings
by Noam Chomsky
There have been many inquiries concerning NATO (meaning primarily US)
bombing in Kosovo. A great deal has been written about the topic, including
Znet commentaries. I'd like to make a few general observations, keeping to
facts that are not seriously contested.
There are two fundamental issues: (1) What are the accepted and applicable
"rules of world order"? (2) How do these or other considerations apply in
the case of Kosovo?
(1) What are the accepted and applicable "rules of world order"?
There is a regime of international law and international order, binding on
all states, based on the UN Charter and subsequent resolutions and World
Court decisions. In brief, the threat or use of force is banned unless
explicitly authorized by the Security Council after it has determined that
peaceful means have failed, or in self-defense against "armed attack" (a
narrow concept) until the Security Council acts.
There is, of course, more to say. Thus there is at least a tension, if not
an outright contradiction, between the rules of world order laid down in
the UN Charter and the rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UD), a second pillar of the world order established under US
initiative after World War II. The Charter bans force violating state
sovereignty; the UD guarantees the rights of individuals against oppressive
states. The issue of "humanitarian intervention" arises from this tension.
It is the right of "humanitarian intervention" that is claimed by the
US/NATO in Kosovo, and that is generally supported by editorial opinion and
news reports (in the latter case, reflexively, even by the very choice of
The question is addressed in a news report in the NY Times (March 27),
headlined "Legal Scholars Support Case for Using Force" in Kosovo (March
27). One example is offered: Allen Gerson, former counsel to the US mission
to the UN. Two other legal scholars are cited. One, Ted Galen Carpenter,
"scoffed at the Administration argument" and dismissed the alleged right of
intervention. The third is Jack Goldsmith, a specialist on international
law at Chicago Law school. He says that critics of the NATO bombing "have a
pretty good legal argument," but "many people think [an exception for
humanitarian intervention] does exist as a matter of custom and practice."
That summarizes the evidence offered to justify the favored conclusion
stated in the headline.
Goldsmith's observation is reasonable, at least if we agree that facts are
relevant to the determination of "custom and practice." We may also bear in
mind a truism: the right of humanitarian intervention, if it exists, is
premised on the "good faith" of those intervening, and that assumption is
based not on their rhetoric but on their record, in particular their record
of adherence to the principles of international law, World Court decisions,
and so on. That is indeed a truism, at least with regard to others.
Consider, for example, Iranian offers to intervene in Bosnia to prevent
massacres at a time when the West would not do so. These were dismissed
with ridicule (in fact, ignored); if there was a reason beyond
subordination to power, it was because Iranian "good faith" could not be
assumed. A rational person then asks obvious questions: is the Iranian
record of intervention and terror worse than that of the US? And other
questions, for example: How should we assess the "good faith" of the only
country to have vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states
to obey international law? What about its historical record? Unless such
questions are prominent on the agenda of discourse, an honest person will
dismiss it as mere allegiance to doctrine. A useful exercise is to
determine how much of the literature -- media or other -- survives such
elementary conditions as these.
(2) How do these or other considerations apply in the case of Kosovo?
There has been a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo in the past year,
overwhelmingly attributable to Yugoslav military forces. The main victims
have been ethnic Albanian Kosovars, some 90% of the population of this
Yugoslav territory. The standard estimate is 2000 deaths and hundreds of
thousands of refugees.
In such cases, outsiders have three choices:
(I) try to escalate the catastrophe
(II) do nothing
(III) try to mitigate the catastrophe
The choices are illustrated by other contemporary cases. Let's keep to a
few of approximately the same scale, and ask where Kosovo fits into the
(A) Colombia. In Colombia, according to State Department estimates, the
annual level of political killing by the government and its paramilitary
associates is about at the level of Kosovo, and refugee flight primarily
from their atrocities is well over a million. Colombia has been the leading
Western hemisphere recipient of US arms and training as violence increased
through the '90s, and that assistance is now increasing, under a "drug war"
pretext dismissed by almost all serious observers. The Clinton
administration was particularly enthusiastic in its praise for President
Gaviria, whose tenure in office was responsible for "appalling levels of
violence," according to human rights organizations, even surpassing his
predecessors. Details are readily available.
In this case, the US reaction is (I): escalate the atrocities.
(B) Turkey. By very conservative estimate, Turkish repression of Kurds in
the '90s falls in the category of Kosovo. It peaked in the early '90s; one
index is the flight of over a million Kurds from the countryside to the
unofficial Kurdish capital Diyarbakir from 1990 to 1994, as the Turkish
army was devastating the countryside. 1994 marked two records: it was "the
year of the worst repression in the Kurdish provinces" of Turkey, Jonathan
Randal reported from the scene, and the year when Turkey became "the
biggest single importer of American military hardware and thus the world's
largest arms purchaser." When human rights groups exposed Turkey's use of
US jets to bomb villages, the Clinton Administration found ways to evade
laws requiring suspension of arms deliveries, much as it was doing in
Indonesia and elsewhere.
Colombia and Turkey explain their (US-supported) atrocities on grounds that
they are defending their countries from the threat of terrorist guerrillas.
As does the government of Yugoslavia.
Again, the example illustrates (I): try to escalate the atrocities.
(C) Laos. Every year thousands of people, mostly children and poor farmers,
are killed in the Plain of Jars in Northern Laos, the scene of the heaviest
bombing of civilian targets in history it appears, and arguably the most
cruel: Washington's furious assault on a poor peasant society had little to
do with its wars in the region. The worst period was from 1968, when
Washington was compelled to undertake negotiations (under popular and
business pressure), ending the regular bombardment of North Vietnam.
Kissinger-Nixon then decided to shift the planes to bombardment of Laos and
The deaths are from "bombies," tiny anti-personnel weapons, far worse than
land-mines: they are designed specifically to kill and maim, and have no
effect on trucks, buildings, etc. The Plain was saturated with hundreds of
millions of these criminal devices, which have a failure-to-explode rate of
20%-30% according to the manufacturer, Honeywell. The numbers suggest
either remarkably poor quality control or a rational policy of murdering
civilians by delayed action. These were only a fraction of the technology
deployed, including advanced missiles to penetrate caves where families
sought shelter. Current annual casualties from "bombies" are estimated from
hundreds a year to "an annual nationwide casualty rate of 20,000," more
than half of them deaths, according to the veteran Asia reporter Barry Wain
of the Wall Street Journal -- in its Asia edition. A conservative estimate,
then, is that the crisis this year is approximately comparable to Kosovo,
though deaths are far more highly concentrated among children -- over half,
according to analyses reported by the Mennonite Central Committee, which
has been working there since 1977 to alleviate the continuing atrocities.
There have been efforts to publicize and deal with the humanitarian
catastrophe. A British-based Mine Advisory Group (MAG) is trying to remove
the lethal objects, but the US is "conspicuously missing from the handful
of Western organisations that have followed MAG," the British press
reports, though it has finally agreed to train some Laotian civilians. The
British press also reports, with some anger, the allegation of MAG
specialists that the US refuses to provide them with "render harmless
procedures" that would make their work "a lot quicker and a lot safer."
These remain a state secret, as does the whole affair in the United States.
The Bangkok press reports a very similar situation in Cambodia,
particularly the Eastern region where US bombardment from early 1969 was
In this case, the US reaction is (II): do nothing. And the reaction of the
media and commentators is to keep silent, following the norms under which
the war against Laos was designated a "secret war" -- meaning well-known,
but suppressed, as also in the case of Cambodia from March 1969. The level
of self-censorship was extraordinary then, as is the current phase. The
relevance of this shocking example should be obvious without further
I will skip other examples of (I) and (II), which abound, and also much
more serious contemporary atrocities, such as the huge slaughter of Iraqi
civilians by means of a particularly vicious form of biological warfare --
"a very hard choice," Madeleine Albright commented on national TV in 1996
when asked for her reaction to the killing of half a million Iraqi children
in 5 years, but "we think the price is worth it." Current estimates remain
about 5000 children killed a month, and the price is still "worth it."
These and other examples might also be kept in mind when we read awed
rhetoric about how the "moral compass" of the Clinton Administration is at
last functioning properly, as the Kosovo example illustrates.
Just what does the example illustrate? The threat of NATO bombing,
predictably, led to a sharp escalation of atrocities by the Serbian Army
and paramilitaries, and to the departure of international observers, which
of course had the same effect. Commanding General Wesley Clark declared
that it was "entirely predictable" that Serbian terror and violence would
intensify after the NATO bombing, exactly as happened. The terror for the
first time reached the capital city of Pristina, and there are credible
reports of large-scale destruction of villages, assassinations, generation
of an enormous refugee flow, perhaps an effort to expel a good part of the
Albanian population -- all an "entirely predictable" consequence of the
threat and then the use of force, as General Clark rightly observes.
Kosovo is therefore another illustration of (I): try to escalate the
violence, with exactly that expectation.
To find examples illustrating (III) is all too easy, at least if we keep to
official rhetoric. The major recent academic study of "humanitarian
intervention," by Sean Murphy, reviews the record after the Kellogg-Briand
pact of 1928 which outlawed war, and then since the UN Charter, which
strengthened and articulated these provisions. In the first phase, he
writes, the most prominent examples of "humanitarian intervention" were
Japan's attack on Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's
occupation of parts of Czechoslovakia. All were accompanied by highly
uplifting humanitarian rhetoric, and factual justifications as well. Japan
was going to establish an "earthly paradise" as it defended Manchurians
from "Chinese bandits," with the support of a leading Chinese nationalist,
a far more credible figure than anyone the US was able to conjure up during
its attack on South Vietnam. Mussolini was liberating thousands of slaves
as he carried forth the Western "civilizing mission." Hitler announced
Germany's intention to end ethnic tensions and violence, and "safeguard the
national individuality of the German and Czech peoples," in an operation
"filled with earnest desire to serve the true interests of the peoples
dwelling in the area," in accordance with their will; the Slovakian
President asked Hitler to declare Slovakia a protectorate.
Another useful intellectual exercise is to compare those obscene
justifications with those offered for interventions, including
"humanitarian interventions," in the post-UN Charter period.
In that period, perhaps the most compelling example of (III) is the
Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, terminating Pol Pot's
atrocities, which were then peaking. Vietnam pleaded the right of
self-defense against armed attack, one of the few post-Charter examples
when the plea is plausible: the Khmer Rouge regime (Democratic Kampuchea,
DK) was carrying out murderous attacks against Vietnam in border areas. The
US reaction is instructive. The press condemned the "Prussians" of Asia for
their outrageous violation of international law. They were harshly punished
for the crime of having terminated Pol Pot's slaughters, first by a
(US-backed) Chinese invasion, then by US imposition of extremely harsh
sanctions. The US recognized the expelled DK as the official government of
Cambodia, because of its "continuity" with the Pol Pot regime, the State
Department explained. Not too subtly, the US supported the Khmer Rouge in
its continuing attacks in Cambodia.
The example tells us more about the "custom and practice" that underlies
"the emerging legal norms of humanitarian intervention."
Despite the desperate efforts of ideologues to prove that circles are
square, there is no serious doubt that the NATO bombings further undermine
what remains of the fragile structure of international law. The US made
that entirely clear in the discussions leading to the NATO decision. Apart
from the UK (by now, about as much of an independent actor as the Ukraine
was in the pre-Gorbachev years), NATO countries were skeptical of US
policy, and were particularly annoyed by Secretary of State Albright's
"saber-rattling" (Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, Feb. 22). Today, the more
closely one approaches the conflicted region, the greater the opposition to
Washington's insistence on force, even within NATO (Greece and Italy).
France had called for a UN Security Council resolution to authorize
deployment of NATO peacekeepers. The US flatly refused, insisting on "its
stand that NATO should be able to act independently of the United Nations,"
State Department officials explained. The US refused to permit the
"neuralgic word `authorize'" to appear in the final NATO statement,
unwilling to concede any authority to the UN Charter and international law;
only the word "endorse" was permitted (Jane Perlez, NYT, Feb. 11).
Similarly the bombing of Iraq was a brazen expression of contempt for the
UN, even the specific timing, and was so understood. And of course the same
is true of the destruction of half the pharmaceutical production of a small
African country a few months earlier, an event that also does not indicate
that the "moral compass" is straying from righteousness -- not to speak of
a record that would be prominently reviewed right now if facts were
considered relevant to determining "custom and practice."
It could be argued, rather plausibly, that further demolition of the rules
of world order is irrelevant, just as it had lost its meaning by the late
1930s. The contempt of the world's leading power for the framework of world
order has become so extreme that there is nothing left to discuss. A review
of the internal documentary record demonstrates that the stance traces back
to the earliest days, even to the first memorandum of the newly-formed
National Security Council in 1947. During the Kennedy years, the stance
began to gain overt expression. The main innovation of the Reagan-Clinton
years is that defiance of international law and the Charter has become
entirely open. It has also been backed with interesting explanations, which
would be on the front pages, and prominent in the school and university
curriculum, if truth and honesty were considered significant values. The
highest authorities explained with brutal clarity that the World Court, the
UN, and other agencies had become irrelevant because they no longer follow
US orders, as they did in the early postwar years.
One might then adopt the official position. That would be an honest stand,
at least if it were accompanied by refusal to play the cynical game of
self-righteous posturing and wielding of the despised principles of
international law as a highly selective weapon against shifting enemies.
While the Reaganites broke new ground, under Clinton the defiance of world
order has become so extreme as to be of concern even to hawkish policy
analysts. In the current issue of the leading establishment journal,
Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington warns that Washington is treading a
dangerous course. In the eyes of much of the world -- probably most of the
world, he suggests -- the US is "becoming the rogue superpower," considered
"the single greatest external threat to their societies." Realist
"international relations theory," he argues, predicts that coalitions may
arise to counterbalance the rogue superpower. On pragmatic grounds, then,
the stance should be reconsidered. Americans who prefer a different image
of their society might call for a reconsideration on other than pragmatic
Where does that leave the question of what to do in Kosovo? It leaves it
unanswered. The US has chosen a course of action which, as it explicitly
recognizes, escalates atrocities and violence -- "predictably"; a course of
action that also strikes yet another blow against the regime of
international order, which does offer the weak at least some limited
protection from predatory states. As for the longer term, consequences are
unpredictable. One plausible observation is that "every bomb that falls on
Serbia and every ethnic killing in Kosovo suggests that it will scarcely be
possible for Serbs and Albanians to live beside each other in some sort of
peace" (Financial Times, March 27). Some of the longer-term possible
outcomes are extremely ugly, as has not gone without notice.
A standard argument is that we had to do something: we could not simply
stand by as atrocities continue. That is never true. One choice, always, is
to follow the Hippocratic principle: "First, do no harm." If you can think
of no way to adhere to that elementary principle, then do nothing. There
are always ways that can be considered. Diplomacy and negotiations are
never at an end.
The right of "humanitarian intervention" is likely to be more frequently
invoked in coming years -- maybe with justification, maybe not -- now that
Cold War pretexts have lost their efficacy. In such an era, it may be
worthwhile to pay attention to the views of highly respected commentators
-- not to speak of the World Court, which explicitly ruled on this matter
in a decision rejected by the United States, its essentials not even
In the scholarly disciplines of international affairs and international law
it would be hard to find more respected voices than Hedley Bull or Leon
Henkin. Bull warned 15 years ago that "Particular states or groups of
states that set themselves up as the authoritative judges of the world
common good, in disregard of the views of others, are in fact a menace to
international order, and thus to effective action in this field." Henkin,
in a standard work on world order, writes that the "pressures eroding the
prohibition on the use of force are deplorable, and the arguments to
legitimize the use of force in those circumstances are unpersuasive and
dangerous... Violations of human rights are indeed all too common, and if
it were permissible to remedy them by external use of force, there would be
no law to forbid the use of force by almost any state against almost any
other. Human rights, I believe, will have to be vindicated, and other
injustices remedied, by other, peaceful means, not by opening the door to
aggression and destroying the principle advance in international law, the
outlawing of war and the prohibition of force."
Recognized principles of international law and world order, solemn treaty
obligations, decisions by the World Court, considered pronouncements by the
most respected commentators -- these do not automatically solve particular
problems. Each issue has to be considered on its merits. For those who do
not adopt the standards of Saddam Hussein, there is a heavy burden of proof
to meet in undertaking the threat or use of force in violation of the
principles of international order. Perhaps the burden can be met, but that
has to be shown, not merely proclaimed with passionate rhetoric. The
consequences of such violations have to be assessed carefully -- in
particular, what we understand to be "predictable." And for those who are
minimally serious, the reasons for the actions also have to be assessed --
again, not simply by adulation of our leaders and their "moral compass." _
Togenji Terrace B
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