Sunday, March 20, 2016

A line in the Sand for International Law

Letter from America – Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: March 19, 2016 Last modified: March 18, 2016
The paths of two much mis-underestimated, highly ethical individuals crossed recently. A year before he became leader of the Labour Party, I saw Jeremy Corbyn at the House of Commons report back from a visit to Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. It was an impressive performance. Invoking Western Sahara is no way for a politician to win votes, nor even for a writer to win commissions! Second, the audience was loaded with Moroccans whipped in by their ­government to support its claims to the territory.
He dealt with them impressively, listening respectfully while calmly stating facts and restating principles in a way that averted provocation and conflict. I did not know it then, but he was foreshadowing his remarkable self control in the face of fanatical New Labour types who cannot believe they lost with all the certainty of Moroccans who cannot believe that anyone could question their right to rule the Sahara.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went to Western Sahara earlier this month and stated a few home truths about the continuing occupation there and compounded his sins by visiting the headquarters of Polisario, the Saharwi independence front. Morocco went into paroxysms of counterfactual denunciation and claims that the UN and the international community accept its annexation. In a breath-taking abuse of language it accused the UN Secretary General of “semantic slippage”, for using the term “occupation” and expressed, among even more incoherent indignation noted with “utter dismay the verbal slippages, faits accomplis and unjustified complacency” of Ban.
In reality, away from whatever they smoke in offices of Morocco’s highly paid Public relations company, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the people of Western Sahara are entitled to self-determination. The UN Security Council has ruled that Morocco should withdraw from the territory and allow an act of self-determination. For more than 20 years, there has been a UN mission there to conduct a referendum – and Morocco has officially accepted those terms – even though in international law they do not really have any option. The world’s maps all show the territory separate from Morocco.
The Security Council resolution in 1975 called for Morocco to withdraw from the territory, and it has been defying it ever since. However, underlying their indignation, which highlights Ban’s courage, is that Morocco and its friends have thoroughly compromised the UN system. Successive UN officials have been bribed, suborned and browbeaten not to challenge the Moroccan version with anything as upsetting as the truth. ­Interestingly, MINURSO’s own website begins its list of UN resolutions in 1991, when it was set up, not in 1975, when the Security Council asked Morocco to get out.
Morocco has had outright support from France, and it benefits from good relations with Israel. In the words of then US ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan about Sahara and East Timor in 1975: “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Since then, it has tried to tidy things up but not enough to annoy the Moroccans, and one supposes that the issue was clinched by the $5 million-plus paid to the Clinton Foundation by the Moroccan-owned phosphate company that is looting Western Sahara’s phosphates.
Hillary Clinton, as US Secretary of State, tried to push Barack Obama’s administration to accept the dubious “autonomy” plan promoted by King Mohammed that excluded the option of independence for Western Sahara from the terms of the referendum. One should add that Polisario is about as compromised as any other “liberation movement” of the seventies in terms of its adherence to human rights. But the most convincing element of the Sahrawi claim is the Moroccan refusal to allow a referendum. The King knows he would lose it.
History should provide a pre-emptively answer to anyone who asks why we should worry about “a quarrel, in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”. Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council of the UN, pledged to uphold the UN Charter, and with a few notable exceptions has been fairly good at it. The UK delegation has been reluctantly supportive of what Robin Cook would have called the ethical dimension of foreign policy over the Sahara, but is palpably discomforted by all the sordid reasons it should go along with others who would happily sell the Sahrawis down the sand dunes.
Both Ban and Corbyn see that an injustice perpetuated like this attacks the basic principles of the United Nations. In the face of the frantic Moroccan assault on Ban Ki-moon, Britain, and indeed ­Jeremy Corbyn, should be signalling ­support for the Secretary General’s brave initiative, aimed as it is at rescuing­hundreds of thousands of people from life in exile of under occupation.
About Ian Williams
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Friday, February 19, 2016

Huffpost on Boutros Ghali

Boutros-Ghali Outclassed Albright, Clinton & Helms

 02/18/2016 09:42 am ET | Updated 2 hours ago
Boutros Boutros-Ghali was not one for political correctness. Despite his urbane diplomatic ways he found it difficult to dissemble least of all when confronted with what one might call unwarranted arrogance or even common stupidity. Not exactly modest himself, at least he had a strong intellect to match his aristocratic pride. From one of the patrician families, he ended up in the party founded by Nasser, but when confronted with contumely because of his grandparent, the original Boutros Ghali, a prime minister had been assassinated by nationalists, he hyphenated the name and made it his own surname in place of Ghali.
He recalled to me once that while his grandfather had to wrestle with actual British power in Cairo, his grandfather's appointment had to be ratified by a firman from the Ottoman Court in Constantinople since Egypt had passed from practical independence to British neocolonialism while still being officially bound to the Sultan. A background in such arcanae was good preparation for the UN. When he was attacked for saying that the keystone resolution, 242, on the Middle East was not a binding Security Council Resolution, it gave rise to the epithet Boo Boo. But as he explained later, 242 in itself is not binding, but 338 which invokes Chapter VII of the UN Charter and 242, did make it so.
A Coptic Christian with a Jewish wife needed a thick skin in the days of heady nationalism and none more so than when he accompanied Anwar Sadat to negotiate peace with Israel. This was a dangerous era when posturing Arab nationalists were quite prepared to stand for their principles no matter what the cost to the actual Palestinians, not to mention Arab conscripts, would be. They were quite prepared to assassinate those who disagreed. Boutros-Ghali was no starry eyed idealist: he knew that the almost terminally disastrous 1973 attack was what had belatedly converted Israeli leaders to the idea that peace might have its virtues.
Later he would complain that the concomitant parts of the agreement, to attend to the Palestinian part, had been abandoned. The fervent nationalists never forgave him for his part in brokering the peace, and neither Sadat nor Mubarak had the strength to appoint him as actual foreign minister with his Coptic ancestry. When the UN vacancy came up it was almost a godsend for Mubarak in how to rid himself of this worrisome Copt who could be neither fired nor promoted otherwise.
In 1992, Africa and the non-aligned countries had said it was Africa's turn for the job, and as the US told the relatively unconvinced ambassadors from sub-Sahara African countries, Egypt was in the African Union! In fact, Boutros-Ghali was already deeply concerned and involved in Africa as part of Egyptian foreign policy and did his best to bring the continent a stronger presence in the UN.
The French supported him, partly because, being a French speaker educated at the Sorbonne, he promised to restore French in practice to the position it held nominally as one of the UN's two working languages. He seemed to offer a good compromise: nominally African, culturally Western, and from an Arab country. The Security Council appointed him, even though he was only a little younger than Javier Pérez De Culler, the retiring incumbent.
Boutros-Ghali was also perhaps one of the few Arabs acceptable, at least initially, to the Israel Lobby in Washington, because of his part in Camp David. But he genuinely tried to put Africa on the agenda of the UN, and demanded attention for a continent that was indeed dark as far as Washington was concerned. When he said 'Genocide in Africa has not received the same attention that genocide in Europe or genocide in Turkey or genocide in other part of the world. There is still this kind of basic discrimination against the African people and the African problems,' it might have been unpalatable-- but it was certainly true.
Boutros-Ghali was nobody's puppet but he had to deal with the new reality after the Soviet Union fell. Earlier SG's could play the great powers off against each other, but now, there was only one Great Power, and its Congress was run by anti-UN demagogues. In Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia the pattern in Clinton's Washington was to pass the problem to the UN, and then to refuse to provide the UN with the resources it would need, to cope. Boutros-Ghali once summed up his situation as follows: 'I can do nothing. I have no army. I have no money. I have no experts. I am borrowing everything. If the member states don't want it, what can I do?'
While Arab nationalists and Third Worldists saw him as an American puppet, he was in fact far more nuanced. Like many he doubted the capacity of Washington to run the world, even if it had the power. He knew that the UN depended on the US to be effective, but also that the US needed to UN to steer the New World Order. His astute assessment was, 'When the United Nations was allowed to do its job without substantial US involvement, as in Mozambique, the operation succeeded. When the United States felt a political need for the United Nations, as in Haiti, the operation also fulfilled its main objective. But when the United States wanted to appear actively involved while in reality avoiding hard decisions, as in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda, the United Nations was misused, abused or blamed by the United States and the operations failed, tragically and horribly.'
He continually and publicly pointed out when UN peacekeeping forces were being deployed to some crisis zone only to provide political cover for domestic political reasons but were not given the resources to succeed.
Washington treated the end of the Cold War as an opportunity (in the UN and elsewhere) to ride roughshod over any rival claimants to power. Boutros-Ghali, both on principle and on account of his proud temperament, refused to bow to the whims of Washington. He paid the price. While many blamed the US refusal to back him for a second term on his refusal to bury Israel's shelling of the UN camp in Qana, in South Lebanon, that killed scores of local civilians who had taken refugee there, he himself discounted that and privately attributed it to American realization that he was in effect trying to cobble together a "Loyal Opposition" to the US that would force it to listen to the rest of the world.
Ironically, the American veto that denied him a second term achieved that coalition. Madeleine Albright voted against everyone else as even America's closest allies, in exasperation voted against her. It was one of the low marks of American diplomacy. And Boutros-Ghali, sadly, might have been over-sanguine about the sophistication of American statecraft. She felt personally scorned by him, and almost certainly traded his head for her assured confirmation as Secretary of State by the antediluvian isolationist Senator Jesse Helms, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The French showed their gratitude by appointing him as head La Francophonie, which gave him, if not great power, at least great influence and the ear of some 80 member states. One can be sure that he conveyed an unsentimental view of the strengths and weaknesses of the "indispensable power," as Albright called it.
Ian Williams' new book "UNtold" - a graphic account of the UN, will be coming out from Just World Books in early 2017.

Red Flags in old and new England?

Tribune Red Flags in old and new England?
Ian Williams

Comparisons of British and American politics often throw up superficial similarity. Nonetheless, the primary polling in the United States and Labour Party results in the United Kingdom do show some fascinating resemblances, as well differences.
Last year, few would have predicted the striking successes of Bernie
Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, two aging parliamentary backbenchers, in ­mobilising generations of voters who had seemed to have abandoned electoral politics.
Even for supportive optimists like myself, the degree of success has been a continuing revelation and a reproach to the somewhat jaded cynicism with which I have guarded my political hopes over the last decade.
In particular, while in Britain the concept of socialism was not anathema, except to the Express/Mail/Telegraph regiment of retired colonels, New Labour had certainly redefined it away from any radical approach to change.
It had become a vaguely aspirational term of good will towards Labour’s traditional constituencies, but ideologically it had completely bought the trickledown theory. If we let the banksters do their stuff, then all of us will benefit in the end.
In the US, of course, socialism was the stuff that fashioned McCarthyite nightmares. It was thoughtcrime to hint that socialism had any redeeming features at all. So what happened? Primary polls showed large numbers of Americans actually like the idea of socialism.
Indeed, many of the people who were otherwise inclined to show their dissatisfaction by supporting Donald Trump or the Tea Party were prepared to go the whole hog and support Sanders. Young people, women, educated people, blue-collar workers, all liked the idea.
Above all, Sanders won the support of women voters in the teeth of Hillary Clinton’s expedient feminism, which they seem to have realized is about the uplift of one woman only.
Sanders did far and away the best in demographic ranges that grew up after the Cold War and missed the pervasive anti-socialism of the era.
Interestingly, Hillary Clinton and her Third Way supporters have been relatively muted about Sanders’ socialism. Since they have thrown anything else they can at him, one must assume that their expensively-commissioned focus groups have suggested that this would not work.
Pathetically, their attacks have, if anything been based on questioning his radicalism – albeit in easily rebuttable ways. He was insufficiently rigid on gun control, allegedly had not been as involved in the Civil Rights Struggle, had not been pro-gay enough. Most of these attacks have boomeranged, because the Sanders rebuttals contrast his consistent stands with the wonkish and expedient prevarications of both Clintons.
Insofar as it is possible to be a “member” of the amorphous Democratic Party, Sanders was certainly not one. He stood for Mayor, for Representative and for Senator as an independent democratic socialist.
Yet Hillary and the Democratic oligarchy decided that it would just give him more publicity to challenge his credentials to run in the Primary. One suspects they regret it now.
But no matter how much he has challenged the Clinton New Democratic sense of entitlement, the Democratic politicians have not resorted to anything on the scale of the backstabbing personal and political attacks that Corbyn has had to withstand from the New Labour MPs and the old New Labour apparatus. If, as seems increasingly possible, Sanders wins the nomination, polls show him best placed to beat any likely Republican nomination.
The secret of Sanders’ success is the same as Corbyn’s. Neither of them evade like Blair or Clinton. He answers questions and states firm and unspun positions.
As he showed on LBC when asked whether he would offer Ed Miliband a cabinet position, Corbyn does not wait for some Peter Mandelson clone to whisper the appropriate prevarication in his ear. Instead, he answers. And people on both sides of the Atlantic appreciate that Hillary’s “No we can’t” does not inspire voters – but goes down well with bankers.
We have had too many magnificent defeats on the left, so I sincerely hope that both Sanders and Corbyn succeed. But even if they do not, they have taught us all a lesson about sincerity and commitment that we should build on for the future on both sides of the Atlantic.
The nearest thing to a natural socialist reservoir in the US has been the minorities. If black voters realise that Sanders is actually expressing their aspirations, it seems increasingly possible, he can win the nomination. Martin Luther King had a dream – not a feasibility study worked out with bank lobbyists.
For him to get this far has moved the ground under American politics. If he is nominated, polls show him best placed to beat any likely Republican nomination. It would be genuine earthquake.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Letter from America – Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams Tribune : January 20, 2016
It’s a long road from when I interviewed Bernie Sanders for Tribune as mayor of small town in Vermont, or as the only avowed elected socialist in Congress. There is a genuine special relationship between the progressive wings of British and American politics. The upsurge of support for Sanders among Democrats parallels the huge groundswell of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour  leadership election. To a large extent we can thank the Bill Clinton/Tony Blair axis. The recently released notes of the conversations between the two show them spending a lot of time on the “Third Way,” planning global meetings of the New Labour/DLC Axis, the Centre Left.
Before they took up office, several of us met Blair in New York when he and Gordon Brown came to “learn from the Clinton campaign”. Disturbed, even then, by the uncritical enthusiasm for Bill, we remonstrated that he would sell his grandmother in the street for votes. Blair blurted: “But he wins elections!”
Reckless about the feelings of grandmothers, let alone the traditional constituencies, the poor and minorities and trade unionists, whose cause would be given away, let alone sold, to win elections, Clinton set the model for New Labour – ostentatiously disavowing calumniated “special interest groups”, while pandering to the right.  Unlike Clinton, the Blair administration did a lot of good work – but party bosses did not want anyone boasting about it, in case it alienated the financiers whom they hoped would replace the unions as bankrollers for the party.
In both cases, the plan was to hollow out the popular base of the parties, denying members effective input on policy or candidates, to reduce it to a PO box for corporate donations. As we saw in the Labour Party, it became a self-perpetuating career escalator for machine politicians that eventually ruthlessly weeded out any signs of dissent and any ties with the unions apart from  topping up the collection box.
New Labour tried to introduce primaries, copying US practice, but the plan foundered on the different political histories. It was the unforeseen consequence of this emulation of primaries that it allowed Jeremy Corbyn to tap into the deep reservoirs of disaffection with machine politicians,  whose main manifestation hitherto had been abstention at one level or another from the political process.
Continuing the parallels, neither the New Labour establishment, nor Hillary Clinton’s courtiers, cocooned as they were in their incestuous world, realised how disaffected the core constituencies and potential activists were, let alone that Sanders and Corbyn could tap that resentment and potential enthusiasm.
Hillary, following in her husband’s footsteps with the corporate begging bowl, thought politics was all a matter of collecting big cheques from Wall Street and Hollywood. Sanders actually raised more money than her, from millions of individuals who piled their widow’s mites into his campaign. In the unlikely event of bumping into Blair again, I could cheerily say: “But he wins redneck male support.” There are, for once, real lessons for the British Labour Party.  Sanders has made a virtue of saying the unsayable. He has attacked bankers, called for a universal healthy service, supported unions, called for higher wages and more protections for workers. Rather than let the media and political elite set his agenda, he has set his own, which resonates with millions of people. He calls himself a socialist, which effectively disarms the opposition. Where conventional wisdom made “higher taxes” a magic curse dooming any candidate, Sanders made it a battle cry against the rich.
There are differences. Sanders came from so far off-field the media did not know what to do with him and Hillary’s supporters hoped that if they ignored him, he would sink into obscurity. He didn’t, and now their attacks only galvanise his supporters. Attention has also transformed Corbyn from an obscure backbencher into a media titan, and it can allow him to stick to the Labour agenda, with the refreshing change that the public had few expectations of previous trimming incumbents but have been primed by the daily hate sessions from the media to expect Corbyn to propound a full Labour agenda. And Sanders is only vying to be the candidate – while Corbyn already is.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

UK Labour and the Bomb


Letter From America: Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: November 22, 2015 Last modified: November 22, 2015


Marshall Islanders shine light on nuclear hypocrisy
Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin were among the real parents of the British In­dependent Nuclear Deterrent. Churchill was the Tory PM who gave all the technology to Roosevelt, whom he naively trusted even as Washington drained the UK Treasury dry, but it was the 1945 Labour government of saintly memory, con­front­ed with US refusal to recipro­cate Britain’s wartime handover of nuclear secrets, that decided to implement an independent nuclear programme, despite the empty coffers and Labour’s ambitious social and economic agenda.
Seeing the fate of Socialist comrades across Eastern Europe, they knew they could not trust the Soviets, and recent history, including the nuclear deal and the catastrophically abrupt end of lend-lease arrangements, taught them they could not rely on the Americans. NATO was Bevin’s baby, famously intended to keep the Germans down, the Americans in and the Russians out. But the other part was a British bomb.
As an active member of CND, with loads of frequent blister miles from Aldermaston, I was always bemused by the active Communist Party members who campaigned with seemingly total sincerity against the British nuclear weapons, but regarded the “worker’s bomb” as a benign and defensive thing. But there was a genuine dilemma: Britain had been an offshore island bereft of support before in recent memory. There was in some way a case for an independent nuclear deterrent, even if it was only a tripwire to ensure back up in case of major threats.
But while we had “the bomb,” the means of effective delivery were missing. Once the Blue Streak missile programme was abandoned under Treasury pressure the Tories turned to Washington, which was happy to have the British pay for a fistful of Polaris submarines. But like the successor, Trident, there has always been considerable doubt about just how independent that deterrent is. Could we actually independently target and fire missiles without US acquiescence?
So the current debate is more complicated than a mere issue of upgrading Trident. There is the issue of whether Britain needs an independent nuclear capability, as Bevin and Attlee wanted. Trident, new or upgraded is not necessarily the answer to that question. The other issue is, of course, whether we can afford it, which also feeds back into that question. There are few Keynesian benefits to buying off-the-shelf US technology, with strings attached or not. At a time when austerity is pushed as the answer to everything, why does it not also figure in the nuclear equation?
Do we want an independent nuclear deterrent, or do we simply want to contribute to the American arsenal like the loyal sepoys we seem to have become? Can we afford an independent deterrent, especially one as expensive as Trident?
Then there is the question of our inter­national standing. The Republic of the Marshal Islands, dubious beneficiary of much of the US’s fusion bomb testing, has a case before the International Court of Justice against Britain specifically for its failure to honour its signature on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The case argues that although the NPT allowed the Soviets, the US, China, Britain and France, to keep their nuclear weapons while prohibiting other signat­ories from acquiring them, those nuclear powers on their part agreed to good faith negotiations to disarm, and committed themselves not stop the arms race.
At the UN the British government consistently votes against resolutions on effective disarmament and refuses even to countenance multilateral negotiations on disarmament, while it is clear that replac­ing Trident would breach the treaty oblig­ation to stop the arms race. Indeed the Trident system as an upgrade for Polaris was probably in breach of the treaty.
Britain’s behaviour has conse­quences. India, for example, consistently used the bad faith of the nuclear powers on disarmament as an excuse for developing its own nuclear arsenal. Labour has traditionally had an internationalist and multilateralist approach, and even Tony Blair thought it was important to try to get the UN to back the invasion of Iraq. The case unfolding at the The Hague and the deliberations at the UN should at least inform the Labour Party’s debate on Trident. Nye Bevan did not want to go into the conference chamber naked. Successive British governments have refused to go in at all!


The Sort of Triumph of the Sort of Will!

Letter from America – Ian Williams

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: December 19, 2015 Last modified: December 15, 2015
There are shades of euphoria from supporters of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change announced so triumphantly at the beginning of this month. “Universal” and “legally binding” are epithets brandished in its favour. Well, up to a point.
The mere fact that there is an agreement, of any kind, understandably warms the hearts of the many committed people who have for years tried to effect a change. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, has made it a major issue since he took office – and he and Gordon Brown played a major part in turning the previous Copenhagen talks into a holding operation rather than a complete disaster. So trying to count the ways in which Paris is a more limited success than the headlines suggest, let us accentuate the positive.
The mere existence of a global agreement accepting the reality of man-made climate change is a big step forward. It rebuts untold millions of dollars poured into public relations by oil and coal producers with direct mercenary interests, not to mention conservative kooks who have decided that the whole idea of global warming is a communist plot to subvert entrepreneurial activities.
If the Shadow Chancellor can quote Mao, so can I. One of the lines in the Chairman’s Little Red Book was that ideas can become a material force, and without endorsing the rest of the Maoist oeuvre, that is very true. In that sense, the Paris Agreement is a turning point in international sentiment for combating the unfolding ecological disaster, ideological leverage in the coming struggle.
The right have become experts at having their will triumph, both positively and negatively over the years, which is why they have fought this outcome so hard and so long. Even relatively rational politicians in America and elsewhere, faced with the wrath of the carbon fuel lobby have temporised about the reality of global warming. Saudi Arabia, continuing the constructive role that it plays in so many spheres, has spent enough hiring the mercenary PR companies to fight its oil-soaked corner globally for it to have resettled several threatened low lying atolls by now.
That is why the Paris agreement at the beginning of December was such a landmark event, despite all the compromises and weaselling that went into it. The simple fact of acceptance of reality, no matter how belated, is a great leap forward in the face of the industry lobbyists.
Gaining recognition of that premise made other forms of progress possible – like the Pacific mini-state of the Marshall Islands who campaigned to ensure that there would a review of the targets within five years instead of 15. However, the review is desperately needed. The targets are hopelessly inadequate and it is a small consolation that the signatory countries recognise when the agreement effectively postpones the reaction needed now until the second half of the century. It is as if we stood in a burning city and congratulated ourselves for noticing the flames and temperature, but decided not to set the fire brigades on the case for a while longer.
In that sense, the Paris agreement is an egregious example of the fun and frivolity that the city was once so famous for. Having evaded the targets set in Kyoto, Bali and other resorts, the nations of the world have now set a non-binding set of targets that they will probably ignore and evade again.
While considering the triumph of the will, one can see in this agreement how the faith-based solutions of the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan era still haunt us. A carbon tax, on the fuel used could be one of the most effective inducements to encourage investment in more efficient energy use and generation, and thus emissions. However, reflexive right wing (and now “centre”) recoil from the very idea of taxation – which would put cash in the hands of governments for the public good –- has been subsumed by the idea of alleged market mechanisms and trading emissions.
The agreement is deeply flawed, weak and ineffectual. But it lays down what should be done – at a minimum. It is up to the rest of us to risk a few virtual carbon-emissions by holding the feet of governments to the burning coals, making sure they keep their promises.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

No Easy Way Out in Syria

Tribune October 24 2015
Written By: Ian Williams
Published: October 24, 2015 Last modified: October 20, 2015


Ten years ago, every country in the United Nations adopted “the Responsibility to Protect”, a euphemism for humanitarian intervention. R2P as it is known in the UN, was steered through by Kofi Annan, who was then the Secretary General. Rather than rewrite the UN Charter with its overly punctilious respect for national sovereignty above all other considerations, the resolution reinterpreted the Charter’s Chapter Seven so that the threats to international peace and security now included mayhem being inflicted with national borders.
The international commission that came up with R2P found that there were deep worries about how the concept could be abused. Hitler had, after all, invoked humanitarian reasons for seizing Sudetenland. There was also a common caution that the UN Security Council should be very careful about how it was implemented. The Commission cited Hippocrates’ advice to doctors: “First, do no harm”.
R2P has been adopted varying degrees of enthusiasm, with the Russians and Chinese dragging their feet most often. But oddly the strongest defenders of the sovereign rights of tyrants to massacre their citizenry at will are often so-called socialists who have forgotten the proletarian internationalism thing in their rush to canonise sundry dictators as anti-imperialist saints.
The first line of defence against abuse of R2P is the role of the Security Council as gatekeeper since there could be no intervention without its permission. That is why, ironically, the Russian annexation of Crimea and creeping occupation of Ukraine is illegal even though Vladimir Putin evoked the alleged threat to ethnic Russians posed by the Ukrainian nationalists .The problem with the Security Council is the refusal of the veto holders to turn the key when the gate does need opening. It is easy to point the finger at Russia, but many UN members look at Moscow’s cover for Bashar al-Assad’s assault on his own citizenry as no better or worse than Washington’s cover for  waves of destruction on Gaza.
Similarly, there is a repeated pattern in which the West, having secured doubting Russian co-operation over Libya, or Iraq,then disregards Moscow’s views and stretches the resolutions farther than was implied. Iraq, touted as humanitarian intervention by Tony Blair, proved all of the warnings about the dangers of R2P that its supporters had identified. The invasion had no legal or moral authority and its conduct was cretinously colonial even by American standards, while inept by every standard of winning hearts and minds. It was wrong in every sense, from conception to execution and the Syrian tragedy is a continuing aftershock.
Syria is clearly a total humanitarian disaster, and if ever there were a need for intervention and international action this is it. But there is now a real dilemma. It is very difficult to conceive of any course of action that would not make things worse. We prefer the binary simplicity of absolute good and evil, even though sordid reality usually presents us with comparative worse and better. Syria’s complexities also defy attempts to rally world opinion behind any course of action. Indeed Syria has already had more than enough intervention with outside powers pursuing their sanguinary sectional interests across the heartland of civilisation. The United States has been unable or unwilling to restrain the Saudis and Gulf States from arming and bankrolling their own brand of fundamentalists. Russian and Iranian support of Assad means that he has seen no need to negotiate.
Even what would have been a straightforward response some time ago, enforcing a no-fly zone to prevent Assad’s aircraft bombing civilians now leads us to some literally awesome possibilities – do we want to risk a third world war by challenging Putin’s aggressive attacks on Assad’s non-ISIL opponents?
The pleas from UN representatives, Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and others for diplomacy can sound like wimpish abdication. But only concerted action by the major players, which might involve the US talking softly to Russia and China while waving a big stick at the Wahabi dynasties in the Gulf can produce a solution that might rescue Syrians from the horrors of previous partisan interventions. Putin and the ayatollahs are certainly a big part of the problem – but they also have to be part of the solution.


Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why China has a P5 seat, and Japan is unlikely to!

Opinion: Why China is in the Security Council and Japan is Not

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Ian Williams is Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus and columnist for the Tribune, and who recently completed a new edition of The U.N. for Beginners
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2015 (IPS) - Will Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council be frustrated by its Foreign Ministry’s undiplomatic and uncalled for attack on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon?
Japan’s attempt certainly will not be helped by the Japanese Foreign Ministry official who complained sniffily that the world body “should take a neutral position on events that focus mostly on the past” and expressed “strong displeasure” at Ban’s attendance in Beijing for the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
ianThe churlish rebuff, with overtones of anti-Korean sentiment came just as the issue of reforming the Security Council is having a periodic upsurge of interest in this 70th session of the United Nations. It is of course no accident that the 70th Anniversary of the U.N. coincides with the 70th Anniversary of the end of the War. It was World War Two that gave birth to and shaped the United Nations, which is why China is on the Security Council and Japan is not.
But the U.N. Charter is about controlling inter-state aggression of the kind that the defeated nations in the Second World War indisputably started. Japan invaded its neighbors, not the other way round, and in general its occupations were brutal, despite the rhetoric about co-prosperity.
The U.N. is not neutral, it was an organization founded to defeat the Axis powers, particularly Germany and Japan and that is explicit in the U.N. Charter still. Although Poland moved a pious resolution in the General Assembly after the reunification of Germany declaring that the “enemy states” clause in the U.N. Charter no longer applies, the clause is still in the Charter – and the unrepentant attitude from the Abe administration is calculated to remind the Chinese, and indeed the Russians that because of the war they have a veto on all reform proposals.
Certainly, Poland realized that the reunified Germany was not the same country as in 1939 and was expediently magnanimous in its declaration. One can hardly imagine either of the Koreas emulating that with Japan, which had to be pressured by the other members of the Council to vote in the end for the Korean Secretary General to make it unanimous.
There is no end of skeptical comments one can make about the seventieth anniversary of Axis defeats. Historically, maybe Ban should have gone to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial in Taiwan – or the Republic of China as Beijing prefers they call themselves! It was after all the ROC not the PRC that was the official combatant and final victor in the war and which was accordingly granted a seat on the Security Council.
But then it was the USSR and not Russia that won a permanent seat and did so much to defeat the Nazis that we, as much as Moscow, tend to overlook the Stalin Hitler pact just before. Each of the victors has skeletons in their cupboards, from the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn Wood to Dresden and Hiroshima.
After 70 years, it is indisputably time to reform the Security Council, but it is also indisputable that the permanent five have a veto on that process and that many other members have mutually contradictory plans for how to reform it. It is highly likely that the Japanese comments have given ammunition to those hostile to its bid for a permanent seat.
There are in fact very good reasons, for justice and efficiency, not to expand the number of permanent seats on the council. Many countries have braved the displeasure of big neighbors who are candidates to say so, and to demand that at best the contestants be eligible for re-election or to have a longer mandate. The likely result is a stalemate in the reform process and Tokyo’s intemperate response has made that outcome even more likely. Chinese hostility and potential veto make the other reform proposals.
Speaking before the Beijing parade, Ban’s office said he “believes that it is important to reflect on the past, look at the lessons we have learned and how we can move ahead to a brighter future based on these lessons.” Shinzo Abe should have drawn some lessons. He would have been better accompanying his former colleague Tomiichi Murayama to Beijing and reinforcing his historic apology for the war in 1995 in Beijing.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

Nuance not Slogans for new non-New Labour Foreign Policy


Tribune : Ian Williams
Published: September 27, 2015 Last modified: September 22, 2015


As Robin Cook said, foreign policy must have an ethical dimension. He was cannily aware that nations have interests and that rules are, shall we say, guidelines. If Jeremy Corbyn is in Number 10 in the future, he too will have to confront real life ethical conundrums – and dare one commit thoughtcrime in this new age? Tony Blair was sometimes right. His action outside the United Nations chain of command in Sierra Leone was beneficial and effective in relieving the misery. He was also right over Kosovo where faced with unreasonable vetoes in the UN Security Council, it was right for Nato to threaten to invade – and if Bill Clinton had not disclaimed that option early, Slobodan Milosevic would have folded without the messy diversion of high level bombing designed to minimise American casualties. Without Blair’s efforts, the ethnically cleansed Kosovars would probably still be in refugee camps across the Balkans.
Iraq was different. The last invasion was disastrous for Iraq, the region – and for international law. As the Chilcot Inquiry should show, even through the layers of whitewash it has been accumulating over the years, it was an unnecessary and illegal war. Blair did serious damage to the growing concept of Responsibility to Protect by invoking humanitarian intervention as an excuse for Iraq, when he realised that the nebulous weapons of mass destruction were not going to solidify.
As an MP with an internationalist outlook, who has show deep concern for human rights and violations of international law, one would hope that a Corbyn administration would actively support moves to implement R2P, perhaps Kofi Annan’s greatest achievement, which is actively supported by Ban Ki-moon.
Annan got the 2005 summit of world leaders to declare that the UN’s enforcement clause, Chapter VII, is not restricted to conflicts between states, but also applies to mass violations of humanitarian law within states. That creates obligations on all members of the UN, and even more so on permanent members, to be able and ready to answer such calls for assistance. That should be taken into consideration as we correctly question the size, cost and purpose of the armed forces.
There might be pragmatic limits, but the United States veto on behalf of Israel in the Security Council should not inhibit a Labour government from taking action to deal with trade and aid for illegal settlements to implement existing resolutions.
Fulfilling Britain’s full potential in the United Nations might also involve a much more active role in the European Union. For a start, a joint declaration by Britain and France renouncing or limiting the conditions under which they use the veto could send an ethical signal to other existing or potential permanent members. On many issues, especially in the Middle East, the EU members collectively return resounding abstentions, and one reason cited has been Britain’s deference to American positions of unconditional support for Israel. More active British diplomacy would actually have a leveraged result in the general assembly and send the clear signals that Benjamin Netanyahu is currently not getting.
Which brings us to relations with the US. Pragmatically, when people talk about the special relationship in Washington it is the one with Israel, not with Britain. There is no British lobby in Congress to threaten electoral defeats.
However, it is also true that US administrations do genuinely want to have Britain onside for parlous initiatives. It is likely that British resistance to Iraq would have headed off the war instead of egging it on as Blair did.
The fervent ineptitude of Washington against Cuba and Venezuela, or indeed Putin’s Russia, should not blind us to the genuine authoritarian cast of those regimes. The 1945 Labour Government’s attitude to Russia was moulded by Moscow’s treatment of socialists in Eastern Europe and none of these icons of the far left have shown much more tolerance for dissent. A Labour prime minister has to steer between fostering delusions of grandeur of Britain’s reflected power from the so-called special relationship, and a Chomskyite world view that not a sparrow falls without the CIA targeting it. Geopolitics calls for nuance, not slogans.