21st Century Wire
WHAT INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY?
In previous articles I took French leave from David Stockman’s theme that the US Imperium could be critically weakened, or even disappear if Barack Obama and Francois Hollande are finally not able to bomb Syria – with Saudi Arabia paying the bill. Hollande himself may be taking French leave from the non-existent and therefore not-new “Obama doctrine”, simply because French public opinion went wobbly and refused to give kneejerk support to bombing, exactly like US public opinion, and before that, British public opinion.
Youtube atrocity video clips of Syrian chemical weapons attacks, filmed by we don’t exactly know who, failed to impress. This was completely unlike the heroic, letter-in-the-post kneejerk support the voting classes gave to the 1991 Iraq war, 1995 Kosovo war, 2001 Afghan war, 2003 Iraq war and 2011 Libya war.
John Kerry’s daytime soap opera attempt at a passionate plea failed to gain the attention of the Emmy’s, and ditto with Mr. charisma himself, William Hague. Before Syria came along, a few nicely crafted atrocity clips in almost no time got the middle classes baying for blood – on TV nicely far away – while they supped their takeout pizzas. Lovely viewing! So what went wrong this time?
Now sociologists and political analysts are looking at what went wrong, and why the public’s taste for smart missile killing sprees on prime time TV declined or even disappeared, and caused such a distressing loss of face for Obama, Hollande and Cameron. One reason I propose is that “imperiums” and especially the US Imperium that Stockman talks about, saying it is threatened with terminal decline, simply don’t exist. They existed in the past, and they still exist in the mind of Obama’s speechwriters filling the Nobel Peace prize winner’s mouth with goofy soundbites, but they no longer exist out there in the real world.
The general public reflects that void, maybe not consciously or vocally. The “No War” movement is supported by the killer argument of why fight for something that doesn’t exist – the virtual imperium? What conceivable benefit would that be to any sane person?
NO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Writing in late July in Projectsyndicate, the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Richard Haas, asks the other and linked question: Can we really still talk about a global or international community, does it really exist?
He basically says no. What happens these days, and in fact for a long time now, is that governments can rally around regional undertakings, form coalitions of the willing, operate bilateral projects, seek understandings but not engagements from some countries to try adopting common policies, always on a piecemeal basis. Almost anywhere we look for supposed clear “global community” action, for example the World Trade Organization, this splits apart like a bag of mercury thrown on the floor, if we look at the details of who does what – and to what extent they intend to go on cooperating.
Haas gives especially stark and dangerous examples of the non-community we have. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons would seem a promising goal for global collaboration. As we know, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) limits the right to possess nuclear weapons to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members – but… there are already ten known nuclear armed countries. Even the quickest look at the NPT shows it is a creaky document from a long-gone era when there was a high-level, invitation-only International Community, the UNSC’s five permanent members.
THE NATURE OF NUKES
Haas gives some attention to the NPT which is now, and for decades has been a dead letter treaty. This treaty allows countries the right to develop nuclear energy for purposes such as electricity generation and medicine, materials testing and physics research but in no practical way stops governments from building almost all of what is necessary in the “bomb cycle” from uranium mine to weapons plant.
The NPT says almost nothing about a clear and present danger we face on a daily basis – nuclear wastes and waste fuel reprocessing, because the inspection regime created for the NPT in 1957, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is a gentlemen’s agreement allowing only the inspection of facilities “that are made known to them” by the government in question. As we ought to know, making a dirty bomb from high-level nuclear wastes is basically child’s play. Governments of all and every kind within the NPT (not including India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan which are outside it), can and do carry out what the NPT itself defines as illegal nuclear activities. This concerns secret or non-declared sites that international inspectors don’t know about or cannot enter. There is no agreement on what to do when a country violates the NPT, as countries ranging from Iran and North Korea to India and South Africa have done at one stage or another, when or if they were temporarily NPT signatories, or for other reasons, in Iran’s case including absolutely basic political reasons.
AND WHAT ABOUT NON-NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
A lot of frothy media talk goes to the subject to either banning, or destroying existing stocks of NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) weapons. Russia and the US are bilaterally “engaged” in reducing stocks of especially N-and-C (but not “B”) weapons at this time. There is no separate and independent inspection and verification procedure. The simple fact that organophosphate pesticides such as TEPP first produced in 1946 are deadly chemical or biological weapons, and are “one screwdriver turn” from ultra deadly CB weapons – simply falls off the frothy headlines and never appears in the TV docs and talking head “expert” palavers for the middle classes.
Global small arms (defined as under 50mm calibre) production is still massive, but much more important the world’s stocks of serviceable infantry (and terrorist) weapons are ultra-massive. Some of these weapons like Lee Enfield 7.62mm infantry rifles, held and used by the Taliban today, were originally produced in the first world war. German (second world) wartime light antiaircraft ordnance is today still used by pseudo Islamic criminal gangs in Somalia. For more than 20 years, the NATO small-caliber weapons standardization directorate has coordinated the development of ever-more-powerful handheld anti-building and anti-tank missile launchers and RPGs. Theft and resale of these weapons able to pierce 1000mm of solid steel at 2 kilometres feeds even smaller-to-midsized drug gang wars and Brinks cash wagon vehicle attacks from Tokyo to Toronto, and Paris to Panama.
Whenever something bad happens – Iran moving closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, North Korea misfiring another nuclear capable missile, civilian deaths rising daily in Syria’s civil war, Afghanistan sliding back to all-out warlordism, the DR Congo lurching back to civil carnage – calls will bleat out for “the international community to act”. Haas says there is only one problem but its a large one: there is no longer a “international community.”
He also notes the world had this problem a previous time – and it was called the League of Nations. You can see where this is all heading now, right?
THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL IS DANGEROUS
Certainly since the 2011 Libya war – which for Obama, France’s then-president Sarkozy, and Cameron was a “total triumph” or a quick and dirty war which got rid of an unwanted North African strongman – the UNSC is a theatre of permanent confrontation, not cooperation. There is no problem finding the culprits – the Red, White, Blue Team. They thought they were the “international community” but found out they weren’t.
The UNSC is the international non-community at its highest and most dangerous level.
Part of the reason stems from the absence of any mechanism for “the world” to come together. Below the UNSC there is the UN General Assembly. At least in 1948, when it was founded, it was fondly imagined this would be the venue for the International Community coming together. At latest by the 1950s as the Cold War deepened and China emerged, the General Assembly was as gridlocked and dispute-riddled as the UNSC is since 2011. The simplest reason is as Haas explains – the world of 2013 bears very little resemblance to that of 1948.
Another key problem is there is no simple way the UNSC can be reformed or increased. On basic economic-power reasons, the UK and France should quit the UNSC and be replaced by a host of hopefuls of bigger size for example Germany, Brazil, Japan, India, Indonesia. But after that would come the fatal question as to whether UNSC members should be permanent and veto-wielding?
The direct result is nothing happens. There is no agreement on how to update an outdated UN Security Council. The supposed “new alternative” is the G20 but it lacks authority, capacity, coherence and is massive sized. When or if the UNSC’s membership is changed, but members’ voting status does not change, all other countries can demand an increase of their voting power in the General Assembly, pleading the cause of democracy and multilateralism. Attempts at regionalizing the UN, rather than allowing regional groups like ASEAN to form themselves, would be another likely step when or if the UN was reformed, but a regional UN system would probably be even more dispute-prone than the present, at global level.
As Haas says there is no point sketching new formats for the UN and UNSC on the back of a napkin because today’s major powers do not agree – to say the least – on what rules ought to govern the world, let alone how to set and enforce penalties for breaking them. At best, the world “community” gets up to the level of an agreements in principle, on subjects that don’t look to controversial like lowering CO2 emissions and saving energy, but very soon this breaks back down to outright disagreement.
‘ITS THE ECONOMY’ STUPID
Taking the example of global warming and climate change, any potential or theoretically possible “international community” agreement was torn apart on the rocks of national economic goals. Obama learned all about that as a rookie president, in 2009. Over and above and separate from the Al Gore junk science quest to fund his Gulfstream 5 jet, and to keep Richard Branson raking in the millions, with dire-and-doom talk for the middle classes, the initial hopes were to save energy and improve energy efficiency, and protect the environment rather than the climate – which protects itself. Complete total absence of an international community prevented this.
Economic globalization, almost always touted as a fruit of, or precursor to a “real international community”, in fact sowed the seeds of the non-community. Haas does not go as far saying that, but does say that maximizing GNP growth is the goal of the developed and emerging countries – even if growth has been practically abandoned as a developed country goal – because it doesn’t exist anymore. The different parts of the would-be community have totally different goals and the difference increases as the developed countries stagnate or decline, but the others grow. Taking just one example of the aborted global warming mitigation goals that rookie president Obama tried to defend at the Dec 2009 Copenhagen climate “summit”, the developed countries’ plans, at the time, would have impeded access to energy and electricity for billions of people in developing countries. This was anathema to China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and other countries.
The goals of “free trade” and reducing tariff barriers, enshrined by the World Trade Organization with its dispute-resolution mechanism for all 159 members, is now a permanent minefield of dispute, normally run on North-South or developed-emerging country lines. Progress on expanding free trade at the global level has stalled, because so many countries disagree on the treatment of agricultural goods, the elimination of subsidies and “barriers”, trade in services, copyright protection, and others.
Cooperation in the realm of cybersecurity or IT system protection is just getting started – but is already mired is outright national-origin conflicts and disputes. The US as we know is obsessed about cybersecurity, the protection of military data and corporate intellectual property (but not citizens’ privacy) and IT infrastructure protection. Information security – or the ability to control what is available to citizens on the Internet is however the much higher-order priority for many emerging states. As Haas says, there is no agreement on intellectual property or even what constitutes a target for espionage. Again the basic underlying reason is economic.
Rightly, the emerging and developing countries view the almost-tax-free status of the majority of major transnational corporations, such as Google or Microsoft, as a legacy privilege due to their Old World origin. Competition with these giants, or dinosaurs is not possible, because the playing field is tilted and the rules are rigged. The same applies to Old World dominance of global banking and finance. This results in a deliberate unwillingness to cooperate, which soon spreads to other issues shown by non-western public opinion being almost totally anti-war on the Syria issue, simply because Syria bombing is perceived as another arrogant western attempt to ride roughshod over the “international community’ which in fact simply does not exist.
The world is coming to realize that America no longer has all the answers. That said, we could be heading into a very murky epoch indeed.