In George Orwell’s great political novel 1984 the world is in a state of perpetual war between three political blocs: Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceana. It is never clear why the protagonists are at war with one another, a fact made even more opaque by the frequent changing of allies and enemies. One day Eurasia and Eastasia may be allied against Oceana, the next Eurasia and Oceana allied against East Asia. The central character of the novel, Winston Smith, spends much of his time at the Ministry of Truth re-writing history to keep up with the changes in allegiance.
Orwell’s dystopia has uncanny and disturbing similarities in our world. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early nineties, the West – principally the US and Britain – has been engaged in in more or less perpetual war, war which has in every case been initiated by the West. Not only that, but the wars have seen rapidly shifting alliances. Until the so-called “Arab Spring” began six months ago, the prime tyrants of the Arab world – those of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Yemen and Libya – were, for reasons of realpolitik, the allies of the West. Egypt received an annual stipend from the American taxpayers of billions of dollars; Gaddafi, now the ultimate western pariah, was brought back into the international fold in 2004 largely by the efforts of Tony Blair (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/25/tony-blair-colonel-gaddafi-alexander-chancellor) and struck a deal whereby sanctions were lifted from Libya and Gaddafi abandoned his weapons of mass destruction programme, including his attempts to get nuclear weapons, the funding of terrorists and stifled the flow of illegal north African migrants into Europe.
Gaddafi kept his side of the bargain, but that counted for nothing when liberal internationalist politicians such as Cameron and Sarkozy got carried away with the “Arab Spring” fantasy and imagined that Gaddafi would be brought down as readily as the ruler of Egypt, despite the fact that Libya was a very different animal being a polity built on the personal rule of one man – Egypt had a much broader civil and institutional structure including an army, which was the power on which the tyrant rested, power which could be used to remove him when his use was ended. In Libya, the army did not exist as such, the armed forces being either militias or mercenary troops, both of which were the personal fiefdoms of Gaddafi, his sons and a few trusted confidantes.
The appetite for war amongst the political classes in the USA and Britain was whetted by the first Gulf War in 1990 which resulted from Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. There were good pragmatic reasons for the West driving Saddam out of Kuwait because his control of Kuwait would have given him vast new oil reserves to tap and potentially use to destabilise the Middle East. The problem was that the USA was willing to drive him from Kuwait but wanted to leave him in power as a backstop against an Iran still in the throes of the Islamic revolution. Most contemptibly, the first Bush administration gave the opponents of Saddam hope that if they rebelled the alliance against Saddam America would support them, but then not only failed to provide the support but actively assisted Saddam in his terrible act of revenge against his opponents by allowing his helicopters into the air. The consequence has been the West continuously involved in Iraq ever since, first with the original war, then with the no-fly zones and then with the new invasion and occupation of 2003. To that has been added the interminable war in Afghanistan – it cannot be dignified with the term occupation, because after eight years it cannot be claimed with a straight face that the area has been in any sense pacified – and the latest and on-going military action in Libya.
After the first Gulf War and the establishment of no-fly zones came Western interference in the war (or more correctly wars) in the Balkans. This followed the gradual dismemberment of Yugoslavia following Tito’s death in 1980, with the final shackles against Western intervention in the Balkans being removed with the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 onwards. This was accompanied in the 1990s by a few Western skirmishes in Africa such as the US’s attempt to arrest a warlord in Somalia in 1993 (the episode captured in the film Black Hawk Down) and Britain’s intervention in Sierra Leone (2000) after the UN had done their usual, gone in and proved utterly ineffectual. All of this was done without explicitly denying the UN’s commitment to preserving the sovereignty of nation states.
In some cases Western military action could be readily justified within the UN Charter because one UN member had attacked another. That was the case in the first Gulf War.
However, most of the interventions since 1990 have driven a coach and horses through the UN Charter as it concerns sovereignty:
“The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.
“The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
“All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
“All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
“All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.
“The Organization shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.
“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall notprejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.” (http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml)
This position was re-affirmed in a UN resolution in 1996: “ Recalling further the principle enshrined in Article 2, paragraph 7, of the Charter of the United Nations, which establishes that nothing contained in the Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the Charter…. (http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/50/ares50-172.htm)
Even in 2011 nothing has changed officially. The UN still supports national sovereignty in theory. However, the organisation has in practice regularly adopted a policy of intervention in domestic national affairs, a change driven primarily by the commitment of US presidents (the two Bushs and Clinton) and British Prime Ministers (Blair and Cameron) who represent the governments of two thirds of the UN Security Council. Once established, the practice of intervention has become increasingly difficult to veto for even the US president as Obama has discovered, not least because the UN resolutions which supposedly legalise interventions are routinely bent grotesquely. There is a prime example in UN1973 which was designed purely to protect civilians within Libya by the use of air and sea power and to facilitate humanitarian aid. It explicitly reaffirms the importance of Libyan sovereignty with the clause : “Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10200.doc.htm). Despite the very limited objectives of the resolution, it has been used to justify the use of the air and sea power to
actively and deliberately support the Libyan rebels. Effectively, the Nato forces (which act as the UN’s forces in this conflict) have been the rebels’ army and navy. Not only that but the rebels have been given intelligence, military advice and logistical support by Nato and there may well have special troops such as the SAS on active service on the ground. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8716758/Libya-secret-role-played-by-Britain-creating-path-to-the-fall-of-Tripoli.html).
This has been accompanied by Western politicians such as Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy openly calling for the overthrow of Gaddafi.
It could be argued that the UN has entered new ground with resolution UN1973 by permitting action to be taken for the first time against a UN member where the member is offering no threat to another state. This is casuistry. It may be pedantically true, but the determination of what is a sovereign state is not always straightforward. The first major UN intervention – the Korean War – was in reality intervention in a civil war, albeit complicated by Chinese involvement. When Yugoslavia began to fracture it was not clear where one nation state started and another ended. In the case of Kosovo, which was still formally part of Serbia, the intervention was simply the UN backing the splitting of a national territory.
Nonetheless, on purely legal grounds the Libyan action does mark a departure from what has gone before, because the UN has explicitly sanctioned action within a UN member state where the alleged misbehaviour is solely occurring. As we can see from the UN Charter as quoted above, that goes directly against the UN Charter. That makes resolution UN1973 illegal and the action resulting from it illegal. This is important because the UN and its military surrogate NATO are claiming that they are only acting because UN1973 legalises their actions.
The whole affair shows what a sham international law is generally and the contempt that the UN and its main players hold it in.
The explicit ideological change can be dated from with Tony Blair’s development of the “Blair Doctrine” . He unveiled this in 1999 in a speech to the Chicago Economic Club. In it Blair sought to lay down rules which would justify breaching national sovereignty:
“The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people’s conflicts. Non-interference has long been considered an important principle of international order. And it is not one we would want to jettison too readily. One state should not feel it has the right to change the political system of another or forment subversion or seize pieces of territory to which it feels it should have some claim. But the principle of non-interference must be qualified in important respects. Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as
“threats to international peace and security”. When regimes are based on minority rule they lose legitimacy – look at South Africa.
“Looking around the world there are many regimes that are undemocratic and engaged in barbarous acts. If we wanted to right every wrong that we see in the modern world then we would do little else than intervene in the affairs of other countries. We would not be able to cope. “So how do we decide when and whether to intervene. I think we need to bear in mind five major considerations
“First, are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators. Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo.
Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?
Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies. But having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers. And finally, do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in such a combustible part of Europe.
“I am not suggesting that these are absolute tests. But they are the kind of issues we need to think about in deciding in the future whenand whether we will intervene. “(http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/international/jan-june99/blair_doctrine4-23.html).
Most of the countries which belong to the UN – which is the overwhelming majority of nation states – are dictatorships, many of them tyrannies of the most obnoxious type. If the same standards were applied to them as are being applied to Gaddafi they would all suffer the same fate. But of course that will not happen for reasons which are practical, ideological or founded in realpolitik. That being so, it is profoundly destabilising to intervene here but not there and doubly so when an ally yesterday can become enemy number one the next day for no good reason of state. (Personally, I think that realpolitik should be avoided wherever possible because its stores up trouble for the future, but if it is to be used consistency is as necessary as it is in any human activity which reluies on trust.)
There are a number of serious dangers in this new internationalist world. First, if national sovereignty is to be disregarded there are few nation states which would not potentially be at risk of suffering threats of military action or military action or lesser acts of aggression such as blockades and sanctions. It is important to understand that constricting a country’s sovereignty consists of much more than invading it. It is using any threat to prevent a country acting within its own borders as it deems fit. This is already widespread through the vast library of international treaties which now exist. These undermine democracy fundamentally, because the treaties are mostly open ended and national politicians are all too ready to use the treaty restrictions as an excuse for not acting in the national interest. The emasculation of the British Parliament through the EU treaties is a first rate example of the extent to which sovereignty can be eroded piecemeal.
Because treaties are generally not time limited or, in the case of organisations such as the EU, there is no ready way of legally exiting from them, it is all too probable that the Blair Doctrine will get wider and wider application in the cause of holding nations to treaties. This will not only be via the UN, but through other supra-national bodies such as the EU. There is no potential end to the mischief that the Blair Doctrine could make, for a regime need not be inherently vile to have it applied. There may simply be a civil war and atrocities are committed as they almost always are in war. Using the Blair Doctrine , the UN could sanction military action in any arena of civil strife. The doctrine also provides a specious but ostensible legal basis for the emerging great powers of the east, Indian and China, to intervene where they choose. They may in time decide to intervene to the disadvantage of the West.
At best the Blair Doctrine will mean, as with international law generally, the powerful doing as they choose and the weaker being punished by the powerful when it suits the powerful or protected from punishment by the powerful when it suits their purpose. In truth, international law is no law at all, because only where all parties in a jurisdiction are equal before the law does a meaningful legal system exist. The argument put forward by Blair that if everything cannot be done it does not mean nothing should be done, falls for that reason for it becomes no more than politicians picking and choosing on political rather than legal grounds to act or not act. It is equivalent to saying in the national context we will prosecute that poor man for murder, but not this man because he is rich and powerful.
If national sovereignty is to be protected it means tolerating what we in the West would consider vile regimes. A hard thing to say you may think, but consider what happens when dictatorships fall; often what follows is worse than the dictatorship. That is what happened in every Western aggressive war since 1990. As dictatorships must and will be tolerated it is it is pointless to, for example, complain that Gaddafi is using force against civilians because that is obviously what he needs to do from his point of view. In addition, every democratically elected government owes its first allegience to the people it serves. To risk the money and lives of its people to aid foreigners when no national interest is at stake is at best unconscionable. Often it will prove to be absolutely against the interests of the country. The uncritical support for the “Arab Spring” and active intervention in Libya may be repaid with the spread of Islamic governments hostile to the West through north Africa and the Middle East.
National sovereignty is a prize worth fighting for. Only in the national state can any meaningful democratic control be exerted. The Blair Doctrine is part of the liberal internationalist agenda, something he ranged over widely in his 1999 speech which I cited above. The effect of internationalism is to politically infantilise populations because they no longer have control over the general shape of their society.
Ironically, the imposition or attempted imposition of the internationalist agenda will not advance the ideals which liberals claim to value. Rather, the result of their application will be more or less continual war with consequences not only for the countries unfortunate to be the subject of UN warmaking, but also for those which are not. It is noteworthy that since the modern internationalist warmongers got the bit between their teeth, the liberty of Western states has been much reduced, primarily because all the states attacked since 2001 have been majority Muslim countries and Islamic terrorism is the feared terror of the moment, not least because of that other strand of internationalism, the free movement of peoples. This has put large Muslim populations into most Western countries and they provide the basis for Islamic terrorism within the states which are coming up with the military muscle to attack Muslim states. However, there are also large immigrant populations of many different origins in the West and virtually anywhere the West intervened could result in a similar situation to that which now exists with Muslims.
There are also the wishes of Western populations to consider. In Britain there has been a persistent widespread opposition to military intervention by Britain. Millions have marched against such interventions. British politicians since 1997 have simply ignored the feeling in the country as they posture happily on the world stage, polishing their liberal internationalist credentials , behaviour made all the more disgusting because neither they nor anyone they care about is ever going to be doing the fighting or find themselves suffering financially because the money lavished on these vanity wars mean that public services have been cut or a job lost because it can no longer be funded. The British public has nowhere else to go politically because all the major parties support the wars. Where such important matters are decided by a political class who are hopelessly out of touch with the public, that inevitably brings a political system into general contempt.
Do people like Cameron and Sarkozy believe in their internationalist creed? It is a moot point. I was originally going to call this article “1984 and the liberal internationalist warmongers”. Then I reflected upon how there really is no “right or Left” in this. The younger Bush was ostensibly a man of the Right and Tony Blair a man of the Left. Yet both subscribed to the same globalist message, a toxic mixture of market economics, political correctness and , whether they embraced the idea willing or not, the destruction of the nation state. Worse, the globalist ideology does not seem to have any clear sense of aiming for a general end which involves people generally. Globalists seem , like the Party in 1984, to be concerned only with exercising power, to be bereft of any real ideological centre. They talk the politically correct internationalist talk but fail to walk the politically correct walk. People like Cameron constantly praise the joy of diversity while living their lives in very white worlds; send their children to schools where black and brown faces are rare and more often than not enjoy the simplicity of life which inherited wealth brings. Their protected, cossetted lives mean that they can engage in their warmongering without any risk to themselves or their families. All they really care about is their own privilege and power.
Will this madness continue? It would be a relief to think it will not, but the war in Libya dispels the idea that the political classes have learnt their lesson from the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan. The one-time British Foreign secretary David Owen has already climbed onto what will probably be an ever more crowded internationalist bandwagon seeing the Libyan enterprise as the template for more UN interventions:
“During the darkest moments of Nato’s campaign in Libya, it was suggested that its sluggish progress represented the death knell for the doctrine of humanitarian intervention – that a West chastened by its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and enfeebled by debt lacked the money, the morale and the military resources to take action against those who broke international law. Now that the rebels have swept into Tripoli, the opposite argument is being made – that their success represents a vindication of the
Nato strategy, and provides a template for the toppling of despots in Syria and elsewhere.
“The truth, however, is that Libya is not a successor to Kosovo or Sierra Leone. Instead, it is the prototype for a new kind of intervention, one that reflects the very different world that we find ourselves in today. “ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8717986/We-have-proved-in-Libya-that-intervention-can-still-work.html).
The cost of such interventions and the ongoing economic crisis which shows no sign of abating may clip the internationalist warmongers wings for the foreseeable future. Longer term it could be that the growing strength of China and her immense ambitions in the Third World – she is already massively involved – may prove to be a more potent brake on such aventures if to act on the Blair Doctrine would bring the those putting it into action into conflict with Chinese interests. China may also become much more willing to use her UN veto to prevent actions such as those in Libya. The same may apply to India as she grows stronger and possibly other powers such as Indonesia. There are already signs that this is beginning to happen with China protesting about the Libyan rebels’ promise to punish her by threatening Chinese oil interests in Libya because China had not wholeheartedly supported UN intervention in the conflict (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/globalbusiness/8717571/China-urges-Libya-to-protect-oil-investments.html).