Western Amnesias and Fluctuations
The capitalist states, assisted by their many mercenaries (professional politicians, journalists, court intellectuals, etc.) are being obliged to carry out vigorous ideological reorientations, at the same time as cultivating certain amnesias, both chronic and temporary.
Each change, as well as silences appropriately managed and successive intensive campaigns, enables a system, which is dilapidated and greatly corrupt, to renew itself as far as public opinion is concerned which often prefers to believe than to know!
In France, for example, Emmanuel Macron’s “neither right nor left” is a Gallic version of the old German CDU/SPD compromise that makes it possible to restore the governmental façade, confronted as it is by the anger of its citizens.
At the international level the same trend is apparent in the self-proclaimed camp of the Good. It has been facilitated by the fact that most people do not know what is going on in other countries and in international relations, including members of the parties for whom foreign policy is of secondary importance, in spite of globalization.
Amnesia is in fact deliberately organized.
Such has been the case of the United Nations Charter of which the original objective was to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. It aimed “to maintain peace and security … and to bring about by peaceful means … the settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” (Article 1/1)
To consolidate this, “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” (Article 1.2) had to be respected. Article 2 of the Charter specifies that the United Nations Organization is based “on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.”
Still more decisive, according to the Charter, member states must renounce their traditional habit of waging war: from then on resorting to force was to be prohibited except in the extreme case of legitimate self-defence. The UN alone has the competence, if the Security Council so decides, to take action to promote the maintenance or re-establishment of the peace, with the guarantee (right to vote) so that the UN does not become instrumentalized by a simple majority.
Also essential is the arrangement by which states that are party to a dispute between them are obliged (Article 33) to seek a solution “first of all … by negotiation” or other peaceful means of their own choice. Chapter VI (Articles 33-38) of the Charter is completely dedicated to the “peaceful settlement of disputes.”
Articles 92 et seq. of the Charter also envisage an International Court of Justice, a legal body that was to contribute to the settlement of disputes between states that are obliged to conform to its judgments.
Therefore the main reason for the United Nations, together with development, is the solemn affirmation of the right to peace of all peoples, the condition necessary for the existence of human rights.
All states on the planet are now members of the United Nations and fully legally committed to respect the Charter.
The right to peace has been abandoned
This legal structure was rapidly swept away by the United States as from the Korean war of 1949. Washington has never supported the system based on collective security and that imposes constraints on it. What is essential for the United States is to maintain its imperial hegemony over communism but also over all ‘deviant’ states, small or medium sized (from Guatemala in 1954 to Libya in 2011) and against rival powers, including its own allies.
The process of economic and financial concentration at the world level and the logic that ensues in international relations have destroyed the UN mechanisms right from the start. The spirit and the letter of the Charter have been ‘forgotten ‘.
Only the Security Council is featured in the mainstream media – at least when it can be instrumentalized and ‘serve’ Western policies, from the military intervention in Korea (1949-1953) up until Libya and the Côte d’Ivoire in the 2000s.
The Western powers, like all member states, are the principle subjects, fully committed by their adherence to the United Nations. If they do not respect their commitments, they should be held accountable to international society as a whole.
Chapter VII of the Charter envisages sanctions against a state that is recognized as having ‘broken the peace’ or committed an ‘aggression’. It also envisages recourse to an international armed force conducted by a Military Staff Committee (Article 45).
The dominant Western media, at the service of the diplomacy of their respective states, have, on the contrary, denounced, in complete bad faith, the ‘deficiencies’ of the United Nations when it could not cover Western intervention policies with its own authority.
The ‘Soviet threat’, which was greatly exaggerated, dominated all other considerations until 1991, particularly as concerns the principles of the Charter. Contemporary ‘threats’ have taken its place, particularly those states demanding respect for their sovereignty and those considered as responsible for ‘lost profits’ by the large Western corporations and their state protectors. International class warfare thus continues to be top priority.
The Islamic State and its Saudi allies have for long been favoured by the United States in order to get rid of all the disruptive nationalisms and socialisms in the Arab world.
The entry of Russia into the Syrian conflict has totally changed the situation and the United States’ battles of Mosul and Raqqa must be measured against the battle of Aleppo!
In spite of the claims of the states that declare themselves champions of human rights, the UN right to peace, which is at the very heart of general international law, has not become effective. Ignored by public opinion, neglected by political forces, including those that contest the established order and only exceptionally invoked by states even when it seems immediately useful but because they fear a backlash, the right to peace no longer corresponds to the interests of the dominant powers.
The notion of ‘the state of law’ is for internal use, international law is only applied to the ‘Others’ – unless it is presented as a quasi cultural discipline dished out to the students of law faculties.
How humanitarian law has been instrumentalized
Rather than prohibiting themselves to engage in armed conflict and accepting the ‘right to peace’, Western powers and their jurists have become attached to the development of a right that aims only to regulate the practices of warfare.
It is a question of rendering armed conflict less inhuman. The aim seems to be generous but, from then on, prevention gives way to a vague arrangement as to what could be ‘tolerated’ or not during armed conflict.
A number of Western jurists have supported this palliative that has very little application but is ideologically compensatory. International humanitarian law conforms well with the discourse on human rights within a state.
Conservative politicians and the ‘social-democrat’ pseudo left are in agreement to use this, denouncing from on high their humanist grandeur, while the ‘barbarians’ of the South and elsewhere use violence, according to their means, (1) while contesting a standard and obligatory universalism!
This promotion of humanitarian law, which came into being at the end of the XIX century, but was not applied during the two world wars, was much more convenient for the Western political powers than the right to peace. They have never appreciated the right of peoples,
like the rights to health, education, housing, etc., which are expensive for the capitalist economies. If there are too many claims of this kind they must certainly be put down, by force if soft power is not enough!
In order to avoid humanitarian law being discredited in the West, its instrumentalization has been very cleverly put into practice, for example, by a certain Kouchner (whose life as a professional humanitarian has ranged over the whole political scene in France, like that of his cronies).
Not only has Western hegemony not upset him: on the contrary it has enabled him to reinforce it. The Western powers link their exploitation policies to a moralizing policy, giving lessons to the whole world in the name of a humanism of which they have the monopoly!
In fact, individuals and their ‘security’ can be taken into account very cheaply. The ‘individualization’ of rights, breaking with all collective rights, particularly economic and social ones which are necessarily expressed in budgetary terms, is the source of all interpretations and all the opportunity ‘adjustments’. The Islamists can become, as in Aleppo, the ‘rebels’ against a contemptible state, the destruction of which must be a priority.
Assisting these rebels ‘humanistically’, whose label has been effaced, was a humanitarian job of solidarity, even if the question had never been posed during the Allied bombing against Germany and then Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, etc., or during all the US armed interventions in Latin America.
And yet, Proudhon said long ago that “whoever wants to talk about humanity is a cheat”, while those who ‘invoke the universal’ often have something to conceal.
The appearance of a so-called international penal ‘justice’ which does not condemn either a system or a collective practice, but only individuals is an expression of this compensatory manipulation.
Of course the academic jurists and a number of Western NGOs have strongly applauded it as an extraordinary effort to develop a genuine international ‘justice’, as an eminent law professor in Paris has called it.
The withdrawal of South Africa from the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the African Union’s appeal against the ICC mark the end of an illusion that has been carefully nurtured in the West.
The pseudo proceedings against L. Gbagbo are the latest manifestation of this: the aim is to repress the troublemakers who have no respect for the principle, so often invoked elsewhere, of the presumption of innocence and to legitimize Western intervention by legal process, turning eyes away from the executioners when they are ‘friends’ (like Saudi Arabia).
The decline of ‘human rights’ and of humanitarian law
Capitalism has an extraordinary capacity to modify the subjects of its actions and the hierarchy of the values invoked. If it is to survive, it knows that it must rapidly reinvent itself.
Its communications (i.e. propaganda) are very sophisticated, enabling it to persuade people to have confidence in it. Thus there has been a succession of arguments: anti-communism in the name of civilization, humanist ‘socialism’, diatribes against liberation movements who “bypass the West by the South”!
Then, after the fall of the USSR and the weakening of numerous communist parties, communication was to be positive: the theme of human rights, which could not be used during the massacres of Vietnam and Algeria, for example, was to serve to discredit all those who dared to interfere.
It is obvious that the current trend is to sacrifice human rights in the name of security requirements (against terrorism and against migrants thrown into the sea). It also favours the arrangements of the authoritarian regimes that have adapted to the needs of the financial markets in the West itself (even in the European Union, with Hungary and Poland as examples), as well as at its borders (i.e. Turkey).
At the international level, with the growing need to resort to force against revolts that could turn into social revolution and against the mounting power of China and Russia, not to mention little countries like Cuba, North Korea and certain African states that have been violently denounced (like Eritrea and Zimbabwe) that survive sanctions, humanitarian law itself is becoming something of a handicap.
In the 1990s, particularly, there was a rapid increase in humanitarian law. International agreements were concluded that gave an individual the right not to suffer. Thus, for example, the individual by convention must be free from chemical arms (1993), from anti-personnel mines (1997) and from cluster bombs (2008).
In practice these conventions have a limited effect. And it is noteworthy that these prohibitions concern arms that cost less to produce and, in other words, they are those that can be ‘offered’ to the countries of the South.
Furthermore, some of these international agreements do not involve the big powers: the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, for example, was not signed by the United States, Russia, China, India and Israel!
Moreover, the traffic in arms (which are essentially produced by the industries of the big powers) is flourishing and considerably compensates for small commercial deficits. This economic activity (in which France is one of the most prominent) promotes the massacres on the battlefields of the South.
Disarmament, in fact, is no longer on the agendas of international conferences. It is, however, one of the best ways of ensuring the right to peace and of humanitarian law.
Since the end of the USSR, not unparadoxically, the withdrawal is even evident. One could cite the case of the denunciation by the United States in 2001 of the 1972 ABM Treaty (concerning anti-ballistic missiles) and the countermove by Russia in 2002, rejecting the 1993 Start II Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).
Another example is the launching by the USA of the ‘anti-missile shield’ established in Poland and the Czech Republic and sold to South Korea, Australia and Hungary on the borders of Russia and China. The end of Russian Sovietism and economic cooperation with China have in no way led to disarmament in the West because military industrial production is highly profitable and the two other great powers are considered as enemies!
In the nuclear field, the South has in general renounced atomic power in a series of regional treaties on denuclearization, in South America (1967), in the Indian Ocean (1985), in South-East Asia (1995) and in Africa (1996).
The nuclear arm is the monopoly of the great powers, to which should be added Israel, India and Pakistan. But the Western powers have the audacity to denounce the states (particularly South Korea and Iran) that feel threatened and who also want to benefit from the nuclear arm to dissuade their adversaries from attacking them. On the other hand the Western nuclear powers have taken no measures to denuclearize themselves, like those that committed them to the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) or to promote the creation of new denuclearized zones like, for example the Korean peninsula, for which Pyongyang has long been clamouring.
Unfortunately for the United States there have been big political changes in Seoul and the proposal of the South to negotiate with the North has upset Washington’s strategy.
It is true that an Opinion of the International Court of Justice, dated 8 July 1996, states that there is no norm prohibiting the possession and even the use of arms of massive destruction, even atomic ones, in retaliation for a nuclear strike.
Is a right to wage war in prospect?
Before Trump, and now with Trump, the US and its allies seem to be disposed, if they feel it appropriate, to have recourse to armed force, and not necessarily with the green light of the United Nations (E. Macron made it known on television on 26 April, without batting an eyelid a propos of Syria) to ‘protect civilians’ (who are sometimes armed, thus not clearly defined).
This ‘responsibility to protect’ is the aim because there has been an abuse of ‘humanitarian intervention’ has now become debased coinage.
But there is every sign that this kind of ‘coverage’ is on the way out. No doubt the think tanks are at work to find another one that is more credible. Now anti-terrorism and the pursuit of jihadists throughout the world and, more generally, ‘security’, are becoming key arguments for interference, at least in the medium term.
From now on, the Western powers claim – and often obtain – sanctions and other punishments of all kinds, with no concern about the roots of the conflicts. The a posteriori denunciation of the impact of these punishments on human beings is pure propaganda.
Certain governmental NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, accept to ‘play the game’; aligning themselves with Western diplomacy. Taking advantage of their reputation, they provide the ‘idealistic’ justification to persuade public opinion that the North is always right, dispensing its munificent charity.
As for the US and European mainstream media (press, radio, television), playing the same game, they are careful not to make investigations that would make it possible to reveal the roots of the crises and armed conflicts. They, too, favour a ‘culture of compassion and security’ that is easy to disseminate.
Often they even treat arrogantly the real, but secondary incapacity of states that are unable to extricate their countries from under-development and the crises that result from it, while the whole economic and financial structure of the world facilitates the exploitation of national economies by the large financial groups, as for example in Greece.
This hegemonic media discourse reinforces the ideology of ‘less and less State’, while war is the fruit of empires and the interests of private groups that are wealthier than nations, especially the smaller ones.
It also increases the role of ‘civil society’, without protesting against the incapacity of the big powers to provide the assistance necessary for the survival of populations that have been hit by disasters such as famine. Today the United Nations is unable to collect the 4 billion dollars needed to fight famine in certain African countries, such as Somalia and South Sudan.
Of course it cannot be denied that it is difficult to create the articulation between preventive, repressive and reparation activities; of the individual and the collective; of social violence and police and military violence.
But the constant broadening of the notion of the threat to peace as practised in the USA and in France in particular, in such and such a situation, occurring in such and such a state, the perverted interpretation of legitimate defence based on the idea that a prior attack is the best defence, the disproportion between the mini threats that they might receive, imposed by the Western states: all these create the conditions for new wars that are increasingly destructive.
What danger, for example, does little North Korea represent for the United States, the top military power in the world, that sends its navy 10,000 kilometres away from its frontiers, while its army already possesses a military base with 30,000 men in South Korea, at a few dozen kilometres from the demarcation line that separates North and South Korea? Who is provoking whom?
Who has brought about the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria, of their economies and of their populations, if it is not the forces of the West, after having treated these countries as useful clients?
What Western state has halted the Israeli violence against the Palestinians for more than half a century?
Where is there a peace culture in which the values of the United Nations Charter are taught?
Certainly not in law faculties, where cultivation of the critical spirit is now a dead letter.
Who is promoting this bellicosity, wrapped up in junk humanism? The answer is Le Figaro and Le Monde, the main TV channels, which are controlled in an increasingly subtle and hypocritical way – however ‘distinguished’ it appears to be?
Who denounces – apart from charitable complaints and non-operational chatter – the widening inequalities in all societies and in the world as a whole? It is this that is the source of all the violence.
Who are the Christians who dare to repeat, 50 years after the Populorum Progressio Encyclical, that “development is the new name for peace”?
As Guy Spitaels, former Minister of State in Belgium and ex professor at the Free University of Belgium, has stated: “The world of today is disarticulated. There is no clear centre. We are without an effective system for settling conflicts.” Fortunately, “nothing is definite and tomorrow a new world will appear. (…) The West will represent one tenth of the world population and the West will return to the range it exercised at the beginning of the XIX century, before colonization The good news is not a redimensioning of the Atlantic world but the more equal role that the peoples of the planet will then play.” (2)
(1) During the Algerian war the militants of the national liberation movement had to respond to accusations of their ‘barbarous’ attacks. They said that they would not have resorted to such practices if they had had an air-force like the French who did not hesitate to bomb ‘rebel’ villages
(2) L’hégémonie contrariée. Editions Luc Pire, 2011
Translated from French by Victoria Bawtree