9-11 and the Re-focusing of International Society

international societyBy Ian Howarth

The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 (9-11) represented a shift in the nature of international society from one based largely on economic interests to one based on notions of international security. As such 9-11 represented the most significant shake up in international relations since the end of the Cold War, acting as a massive catalyst for change in how international society is perceived by the developed world.

What do we mean by international society?  One simple definition of the concept given by Hedley Bull is that ‘a society of states exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another and share in the working of common institutions’ (Evans, & Newnham, 1998: 276).  Furthermore, international society is founded according to English school theorists such as Bull and Manning on ‘four key pillars international law, diplomacy, international organisations and the balance of power’ (Evans, & Newnham: 276), these four key pillars determine all the relationships between nations, and form modern international society, with the United Nations (UN), NATO and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) representing common values and goals, and the security council representing the balance of power and implementing international law.

I do not believe international society was ever irrelevant, but that the events of 9-11 dramatically changed the nature of international society in the world, from the economic institutionally based form of international society of the 1990’s based largely around the common goals of the developed world in furthering globalisation, to a form of international society that is based on the need for global action against international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Therefore in order to demonstrate this change in the nature and focus of the international community, I am going to explore the nature of international society before and after 9-11, and use the above definition to determine whether the ‘war against terror’ represents unilateralist actions by the world’s only superpower.  Or is it a combined effort by a majority of the world’s nations to combat a serious issue that threatens the security of all nations, and therefore the express will of international society.

The 1990’s were a decade of contrasts; they began full of hope and ended in many respects on 9-11 with terror and destruction in New York, Washington and a cornfield in Pensylvannia.  The hope that the decade began with was premised on the end of the cold war.  The collapse of the USSR was proceeded with the emancipation of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany, and followed by the end of apartheid in South Africa, the liberation of Kuwait and George Bush (the elders) declaration of a ‘New World Order’ (Calvocoressi 2001: 67) with the three policemen the United Kingdom, France and primarily the United States ensuring freedom, prosperity and an end to tyranny and fear, all under the umbrella of the UN, IMF and other major international institutions, it seemed to represent a new era of more conciliatory international politics, based more on transnational interests compared to the old confrontational style of the cold war or the gunboat diplomacy of the age of empires.

To a certain extent this is what happened, but only for us fortunate few that lived in the developed world.  While the list of troubles facing the ‘west’ were shortened everyday with remarkable speed and twists in the course of history, the developing world where 80% of the human race lived failed to benefit from these geopolitical shifts in any significant way.  The proxy wars continued in Angola, and Algeria, only without their sponsors they were pretty much forgotten by the west.  Famine was still a continuing threat throughout sub-Saharan Africa, western corporate exploitation rose to new levels in South East Asia, and Islamic extremism let loose from its cold war bonds spread rapidly and brought down governments in Somalia and Afghanistan.

Within a short three years of George Bush’s declaration of the ‘New World Order’, there was a new order but it wasn’t what many had hoped for, the new order was not one based on international law, and human rights, but on economic imperatives and globalisation.  The new nature of international society was economics, profit and free trade.  Therefore when war broke out in the Balkans and there was genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, where were the policemen? The truth is that the west was more interested in economic interventions that could reap rewards, than costly military adventures in the Balkans.

Politicians and diplomats were more concerned with globalisation than genocide; the cry of the time was, emerging economies, Asian tigers, free markets, free movement of our people, and unlimited access to their resources, and was followed by, the digital revolution, dot-com millionaires, mobile phones, soaring stock markets, and budget airlines, the developed world had never had it so good.

In short two international societies emerged after the Cold War, a western developed international society based on the ideals of commerce and free trade, and an international society of the undeveloped world seeking aid and access to the global market, with World Trade Organization membership becoming the golden ticket, the way to move from one world to the other.  International society we began to believe was globalisation, the creation of a world market is for the benefit of all humanity.  The truth is that throughout the 1990’s we in the developed world where the money’s made and the decisions taken ignored 80% of our fellow man who continued to live in poverty, we pretended not to see the ‘1.3 billion human beings that live on less than a dollar a day’ (Australian Agency for International Development 13/11/2002), we ignored the fact that most of these Asian tigers were ruled by maniac dictators, and we ignored the fact that Saddam Hussein continued his rule and persecution in Iraq, and that India and Pakistan had gone nuclear without a blink from us, we comforted ourselves with talk of peace in northern Ireland and Israel, and of the debt limitation talks being held with western client country’s such as Morocco, and Indonesia.

My argument has been that the 1990’s despite their talk of a Global Village were a period where many of the real issues within international society were ignored, at the expense of a rich man’s club of wealthy nations and their wealthy citizens, it was a smoke screen, an illusion that we all believed and for a while it worked.  It was occasionally threatened by reality, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania carried out by Al’ Queda for example, but after we’d blown up a deserted camp in Afghanistan and a Medicine factory in the Sudan we all felt better and carried on regardless.  However what 9-11 did was smash the screen and gate crash the party, we suddenly became aware of the rest of the world and the sorry state it was in.  We all watched our televisions stunned as the greatest nation on earth was sent into turmoil by four hijacked commercial airliners, and every one of us felt a cold shiver run down our spines, because we knew then what it all meant, the world was about to change, the good times were over.

Immediately after 9-11 George W. Bush declared a War against Terrorism, an international effort to eradicate Al’ Queda and international terrorism in general, that soon spread to focusing on the ‘axis of evil’ and WMD, in short the focus of the developed world shifted from the primarily economic drives of the 1990’s and moved to issues of international security.  Therefore, I reiterate my argument international society was relevant before 9-11 and still is, it has simply re-focused its attention and changed its priorities after a decade of neglecting the world outside it’s privileged borders.

At the time of this change the then British prime minister Tony Blair stated his belief in the importance of international society during a speech given at the Lord mayors banquet in London, he stated that “The interdependence of the modern world has never been clearer; the need for a common response never greater; the values of freedom, justice and tolerance of our diversity never more relevant; and the need to apply them fairly across the world never more urgent.” (Blair, Tony 2002).  This was a clear statement of the relevance of international society, from one of the early leaders of that new world order.

Initially this new approach saw the formation of what George W. Bush called a ‘coalition of the willing’ outside international organisations such as the UN or the IMF. However,  this coalition soon created its own legitimacy through its sheer size, and representation within international organizations, incorporating the war against terror into the agendas of organisations such as the UN (peacekeepers in Afghanistan) and the IMF, World Bank and the European Union.  Through such initiatives as tracking down bank accounts and freezing the financial assets of terrorists and their sponsors, and increasing pressure on other sources of income for terrorist organisations, such as human, and drug trafficking. In fact the irony here is that the process of globalisation that had so occupied the actions of the developed world for the past decade, proved useful in that as Thomas Biersteker states ‘the ease with which transnational actors can move funds across borders in the wake of financial market globalisation also has contradictory aspects, for the same technology that enables rapid movements of funds also enables enhanced surveillance and the possibility of tracking those funds…. global terrorism is a networked threat that invites a networked response, and the technology….is available’ (Booth & Dunne 2002: 76)

The actions of the United States since 9-11 were within the definitions of international society, for example in its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan it organised a multi-national coalition of nations from the developed and developing world, including Islamic states, all with a common goal the destruction of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban.  It also took part in the formation of a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan with an international conference in Bonn and then the formation of an international stabilisation force for Kabul under the auspices of the UN and later NATO.  Since Afghanistan the USA and its allies within this new international society have used the instruments of this society to continue their war on terror and the battle against the ‘axis of evil’.

9-11 was a terrible event, 3056 (BBC News 2003) innocent people were killed by a band of religious fanatics, but on a daily basis more than that die from hunger, and curable disease, there is an Aids pandemic in Africa that threatens to bring anarchy to the continent, as it’s young are wiped out and its healthy population dwindles.  These are the underlying causes of 9-11, poverty, lack of hope, lack of a voice; only hopeless desperate people blow themselves up or fly into buildings.

The War on Terror, and the subsequent attack on the ‘axis of evil’ has in many ways created a new false illusion of security by ignoring the major underlying causes of 9-11.  Despite the progress in the war on terror, and the attempts to confront WMD and particularly nuclear proliferation, issues that were neglected throughout the 1990’s.  There is a lot that the international community is not doing, it is not confronting and dealing with the continuing and increasing bloodshed in Palestine, nor with global poverty, or with bad governance in the developing world.  In short we have begun to tackle some of the world’s major problems, but mostly we are attacking the symptoms and not dealing with the causes.  Corrupt oppressive regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Cambodia continue to gain western support despite their unquestionable involvements with international terrorism and the oppression of their own people.  The recent coup and collapse of the experiment in Islamic democracy in Egypt and the failure of the USA and other powers to truly condemn the military takeover is further evidence of the wests lack of dedication to the eradication of the root causes of international security concerns. Instead the west favours dealing in expediency and easy answers through the further oppression of an entire people.

International Society like our domestic societies contain the have and the have not’s, and in order to tackle the issues of international security in this new world order what the developed world really needs to do is spend a little money, for example at the start of the war on terror the ‘combined budgets of the Pentagon in 2001 was $1.6 trillion’ (Moore 2001: 170), that was an enormous amount money, yet every penny of it went on bombs, aircraft carriers and the biggest military machine the world had ever seen..  A fraction of that money could bring clean water and decent health care to the whole of the developing world, in fact it could have made the Marshall Plan look like a drop in the ocean if we had wanted it too. Imagine just for a moment what the whole of the developed world could do if it put its mind and wallet into it, a worldwide action plan to eradicate starvation, or bring decent education and health facilities to the majority of the world’s people.

The relevance of International Society has never been clearer; the problems that effect one nation and people soon spill over in an endless cycle of unforeseen consequences that can impact every one of us.  The failure of a government to provide for its citizens should be of the upmost concern to every other government.  The helplessness and despair that failed corrupt and/or autocratic regimes fosters only leads to violent unpredictable reactions.  This is the root of terrorism, and tackling this above all else is the sole true solution to creating a stable and secure international society for all humanity.

Bibliography:

Australian Agency for International Development accessed through the World Bank Group’s PovertyNet – Webguide – Bilateral Development Agencies: http://poverty.worldbank.org/webguide/category/3

BBC News Website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/september11

Blair, Tony; Speech to the Lord Mayors Banquet, 11th November 2002 http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page6534.asp

Booth, Ken and Dunne, Tim (2002) ‘Worlds in Collision Terror and the Future of Global Order’ Palgrave, Basingstoke, England, p76

Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945 – 2000’ Longman, Harlow, England p67

Evans, Graham, and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin Books, London p276-277

Moore, Michael (2001) ‘Stupid White Men’ Penguin Books, London p168, 170

Stern, Geoffrey (2000)‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, Pinter, London

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The United Nations; 65 Years of Success or Failure?

un fightBy Ian Howarth

The preamble of the founding Charter of the United Nations (1945) sets out its principles, and its norms, and as such is probably the fairest way by which to judge the organisations success or failure.

‘WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

(UN Charter, San Francisco, 26th June 1945)

The basic structure of the United Nations (UN) consists of three key components, the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Secretary General’s Office.  The General Assembly is the body where all member states have a seat and a vote on resolutions placed by the various member states before the Assembly. Here resolutions are passed by a simple majority.  In the case of the admittance of new members or matters of great importance such as peace and security a two thirds majority is required.’ However, the decisions of the General Assembly are not legally binding on the member states and their enforcement relies on the moral weight of the UN and world opinion.

The Security Council is made up of fifteen member states, five permanent members, China, United States, United Kingdom, France and the Russian Federation which represent the great power relationships as they stood at the UN’s foundation, and ten member states elected by the General Assembly for two year terms.  Currently the ten elected seats are held by, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Morocco, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Rwanda and Togo.  The Security Council is the power wielding institution of the UN, the five permanent members each hold the ability to veto any motion placed before the council, (the ten elected members do not have a veto). Resolutions adopted by the Council are legally binding on all the member states, and the Council has the powers to enforce its resolutions through economic sanctions or even military action.  The Security Council is the body within international relations that grants legitimacy or otherwise to the actions of its member states.

The successes and failures of the UN can be measured against the achievements or otherwise of its founding principles and norms, the fundamental one being that “armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. In short the UN was established by the victors of the Second World War to prevent another world war, which became a more urgent endeavour in the fresh glow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is apparent that the UN has failed to bring about world peace and end all war.  However, it would be wrong to conclude that due to this the organization is a failure.  There are gradients of success and failure and when one looks at the broad scope of the post-war period up to the present there are clear initiatives taken by the UN that have averted armed conflict and brought the aggressors to the bargaining table.  There are also periods over the last 57 years when the UN has failed miserably in its responsibilities under its founding charter, and in the next few paragraphs I shall highlight and explore these failures and successes and attempt to form a judgment on the performance of this regime.

The failures of the UN are unfortunately more numerous than its achievements, incidents in which the UN failed to intervene include Vietnam (1954-1973), Afghanistan (1979-1989), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), East Timor (1978) Rwanda (1995), the Invasion of Iraq (2003) and the current on-going bloody civil war in Syria to name but a few.  The first incident that I am going to highlight is the Budapest uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring (1968), during which Hungary and Czechoslovakia both nations that had been under Soviet domination since 1945 briefly regained their independence, before the Soviet tanks rolled in and quashed the uprisings.  The failure here of the United Nations highlighted the true measure of its powers within the cold war bipolar system.  The USSR and the USA had both agreed spheres of influence, and Hungary and Czechoslovakia lay well within the Soviet sphere, consequently the UN was handicapped to intervene on the principle of self-determination set out in its charter due to the veto powers of the Security Council.  This incident just went to further highlight the power that the superpowers held over the UN and their manipulation of the UN in their continuing cold war.

The above example also highlights the way in which the decision making processes of the UN can and often do prevent the UN from being a more pro-active force in international relations.  The powers held by the permanent members of the Security Council mean that the interests of these members can never be placed under the scrutiny of the General Assembly or the Secretary General.

Another failure of great significance is Rwanda in 1995; this is significant due to the fact that the Cold War was over.  The failure in this case was entirely down to a lack of leadership and an inability by the UN to galvanize the necessary support from the western member states in order to send in an intervention force, consequently the world looked on as hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were massacred by their Hutu neighbours in a demonstration of ethnic cleansing not seen since Stalin’s purges.  This humanitarian disaster was symptomatic of the failures of the UN throughout the 1990’s.  Srebrenica in the same year as the Rwanda genocide saw ‘7000 Bosnian Muslim’s’ (Calvocoressi; 2001) massacred in the worst genocide in Europe since the end of the Second World War.  In both instances the UN failed to intervene in time, and in the case of Srebrenica the Dutch UN peacekeepers watched on as thousands were taken from the UN enclave and murdered.

These incidents only went to highlight the inability of the UN to operate without the support of its member states and primarily the Security Council.  The weak mandate in Bosnia led to the appalling events of Srebrenica and no mandate at all led to genocide in Rwanda.

In short the failures of the UN since its inception can be placed into two categories; those that were related to the cold war power plays of the Superpowers e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Angola etc. This meant the Security Council was never going to intervene with both the United States and the Soviet Union holding a veto.  And those that were down to poor leadership and a lack of political will, such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia and East Timor (1978).

However despite the indications above to the contrary the UN has recorded a number of successes, which include Korea (1950-1952) East Timor (1999-2002), Persian Gulf (1991) Cyprus (1972- Present), Congo (1960-1964) Sierra Leone (1998) Kosovo (1999) and Libya (2011).

The first significant and arguably successful intervention under UN auspices after its foundation was the Korean War.  The UN largely under American pressure landed a massive coalition force on the Korean peninsula in order to preserve South Korean independence in the face of North Korean aggression.  However, despite the failure as the United States considers it to defeat the North Koreans the UN did succeed in re-establishing the pre-war status quo on the peninsula a situation which remains to this day.  However the success in Korea was the first indication of the nature of the relationship between Washington and the UN in New York.  The United States was intent on using the UN to further its fight against communism and exacerbate attempts by the UN to intervene in proxy wars across the world e.g. Angola, El Salvador.

Despite the UN’s failure to intervene when Indonesia invaded East Timor shortly after its independence from the Dutch in 1978 the UN intervention to preserve East Timorese self-determination in the wake of a wave of violence following the referendum on independence in September 2000 was an overwhelming success.  Although the majority of UN forces arrived a month late on the ground it clearly prevented a more serious incident and directly led to the independence of East Timor from Indonesia in 2002.  Sierra Leone also represents an achievement by the UN although a lot less resounding than East Timor, the UN force in Sierra Leone initially faced a lot of pressure due to a weak mandate and an insufficient number of troops.  However, after the UN supported British intervention in 2000/2001 to re-enforce the UN mission and the adoption of a more robust mandate a final resolution to that nation’s decade long conflict between the government and rebel forces was secured.  A UN intervention in Angola has also brought about a settlement after 30 years of war.

The Persian Gulf War was also a significant UN achievement.  The coalition force that was assembled during operation Desert Shield in late 1990 and early 1991 was done so under a Security Council resolution.  The defeat of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Kuwait was a resounding success, which brought about great hopes for future UN intervention’s which were later dashed by the incidents in Bosnia and elsewhere. The implementation of sanctions against Iraq by the UN was also initially a success, with an estimated 85% of Iraq’s biological weapons stockpiles being destroyed, and the entire nuclear weapon development programme being shut down.  However, later events that led up to the US/UK led invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked one of the UNs lowest points in its sixty years of history.  The divisions that opened up in the Security Council before and during that period were far greater than at any time since the Cold War, and utterly paralysed the UN as an actor in the ensuing conflict.

Other areas of the world that UN intervention has brought about positive results include Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The Congo in the early 1960’s almost bankrupted the UN and led to heavy casualties amongst the UN Force but it did succeed in ending the civil war and re-uniting the Congo.  It was the first UN led intervention within a member state, something the charter forbade.  The lessons of this intervention also partly explain the reluctance within the UN to intervene in conflicts within member states such as Bosnia, and Rwanda, as well as the on-going war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite the UNs failure to end war and its significant and numerous failures, the organisation has brought about change for the good, and remains the primary force for conflict resolution and international cooperation.  The existence of rival institutions such as NATO which also aims to promote global security has weakened the ability of the UN.  However, significantly there has so far been no third world war.  It is arguable that the institutional framework of the UN provided the superpowers with a vital non-violent means to confront and discuss issues in a formal environment within which each felt equally legitimate and non-threatened.  It is important to note that up until Gorbachev’s détente of the late 1980’s there was no regular contact between the Soviet Union and the USA, and therefore without the contact that the UN provided, misunderstandings could have grown into something much more serious.

The UN was established primarily to prevent a third world war and provide conflicting parties a means by which to meet and negotiate.  Within the terms of that ambition this regime has so far succeeded.  Furthermore, its norms and principles have been accepted by all the member states and although not yet implemented by all, the fundamental ideal of human rights, and meaningful discussion rather than war has gained ground and greater acceptance throughout the world. +

Bibliography:

Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945-2000’ p346-347 Longman: Harlow England p235, 237

Krasner, Stephen (1983) ‘International Regimes’ p2, Cornell University Press, Ithaca: New York.

Stern, Geoffrey (2000) ‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, p237, Pinter: London

http://www.un.org

Kennedy and US Foreign Policy during the Cold War

kennedy BreznevBy Ian Howarth

The Eisenhower administration that preceded the election of President Kennedy had continued the Containment policies adopted by President Truman during the early days of the Cold War. Containment involved limiting the spread of Communism to within its own spheres of influence. This was achieved by giving aid to anti-communist regimes and promoting capitalist/western values.  The arrival of the Kennedy administration, marked a significant development in US foreign policy, as can be seen in the rhetoric of his inauguration speech.

‘Let every nation know, whether it wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  This much we pledge, and more…’

Extract from the Inauguration Speech of John F. Kennedy 20th January 1961 

Since 1945 the US had attempted to contain the Soviet threat to Western Europe by allowing the USSR freedom of action within its sphere of influence and with the exception of the Berlin Blockade a quarter of a century earlier this policy had avoided a direct confrontation with the USSR.  Containment had been adopted as a pragmatic response to the understanding that Soviet conventional forces far outnumbered Allied Forces in Europe.  The maintenance by the United States of massive conventional forces in Western Europe would be expensive and unpractical, while containment offered the US a position that opposed the USSR while only requiring the defence of Western Europe not the liberation of the East.  This could be supplied relatively cheaply through the Nuclear Umbrella.  The leaders and supporters of the Hungarian and Czechoslovakian uprisings experienced the brutal consequences of this policy for themselves. With both countries firmly within the Soviet sphere of influence US policy was clear, it was a Soviet matter. The world watched on in horror as both uprisings were brutally suppressed by the USSR without US or Allied intervention despite the calls for help emanating from anti-communist forces in Prague and Budapest.

The arrival of the Kennedy administration to the White House in 1961 marked a sea change in US foreign policy towards the USSR and communism as a whole in the world, and marks the ascendance of Domino Theory within US policy making.  Under Truman, and Eisenhower the furthest the US had gone in actively preventing the spread of communism was through financial aid to states threatened by communist insurgences, or populist movements, with the one exception of Korea (1950 – 1953).  Korea was to represent the model for future engagements between East and West.  The Korean War saw a US led UN coalition supporting a US backed Capitalist South Korean regime on one side and a Soviet/Chinese backed communist Korean regime on the other.  This model of confrontation was to be repeated in Vietnam (1965–1973) and Afghanistan (1979-1989) with the US or USSR backing the insurgencies in each respectively and in the end seeing there advanced militaries suffer humiliating defeats at the hands of lightly armed yet popularly supported insurgents.

This change in policy within the US was in many ways a response to the policy that the USSR had been engaged in since the end of the Second World War.   This Soviet policy can be briefly described as the support of armed uprisings in foreign countries financially and militarily without the need for direct Soviet occupation or war waging.  This had first been seen in Korea in the early fifty’s and yet the US did not respond like with like until Kennedy.  The attempted invasion of Cuba, which led to the Bay of Pigs disaster, was a US funded operation, an attempt to remove a communist regime militarily without the direct use of US military assets, and therefore so the idea went, without the responsibility.  In this first tentative and disastrous case President Kennedy accepted full responsibility.  However, in the future official denial became the policy of many a president. This was seen in Chile where the CIA supported a coup against a democratically elected socialist regime in order to protect US interests.  With further similar examples in Afghanistan were the CIA and US special forces trained the mujahidin and supplied them with cash, intelligence and weapons, to fight off the Soviet invasion.

Without doubt the largest and most costly conflict of the Cold War involving the direct use of US troops was Vietnam.  This began during the Kennedy Administration as an Afghan or Cuban scenario, with advisors and military/financial assistance to the South Vietnamese who were facing a Soviet/Chinese supported Communist insurgency.   When it became apparent to Lyndon B Johnson following President Kennedy’s assassination that the assistance already being committed to Vietnam would not be sufficient to prevent a Vietminh takeover he committed US ground troops.   Vietnam was a punishing and ultimately futile ground war that failed to achieve any of the objectives that had been established for US Foreign Policy in South East Asia and caused the destabilisation and deaths of millions in Cambodia and Laos. The same thing was to happen in Afghanistan were repeated attempts by the USSR to establish a communist regime failed, requiring their direct intervention to bring about the desired result; like the US in Vietnam it was a futile effort.

These conflicts between East and West conducted through regional players are called proxy wars. Essentially this is where the two conflicting parties (USA/USSR) use other parties to do the dirty work. This avoids a nuclear confrontation while still achieving the strategic policy objectives against the enemy.  In Vietnam the Chinese and the Soviet Union provided assistance to the Communist Viet Cong, and in Afghanistan it was the US supplying aid to the Afghan resistance.

After Kennedy proxy wars became the norm and were waged across the world right up until the collapse of the USSR in 1991.  The results of these superpower driven conflicts in the developing world are still evident today.   Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as instability and autocratic regimes in Sudan, Algeria, Colombia and Cambodia are all remnants of Superpower intervention in the domestic disputes of nations, which in many cases intensified and prolonged the conflicts.

To quote President Kennedy again, ‘Let every nation know, whether it wish us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.  This much we pledge, and more…’

Kennedy’s inauguration rhetoric was clear in its intent for the future direction of US Foreign Policy, to ‘support any friend’, meant any friend, irrespective of intent or action as long as they backed the USA.   This is how brutal regimes like General Pinochet’s came to power with US support, ‘meet any hardship’, Vietnam, and ‘pay any price’, American assistance to Afghanistan totalled in the billions of dollars.  The benefits for US policy against the Soviet Union derived from Kennedy’s rhetoric were in the adoption of a foreign policy that allowed for a more aggressive and less restrained campaign against communist threats.   However, letting the leash off the CIA and the US military led to unsavoury practices and unexpected results, as more often than not ‘supporting any friend…’ led to corruption and scandal as well as the US becoming involved in illegal practices such as the Iran Contra Affair of Reagan’s Presidency. While ‘paying any price…’ meant inflated defence and intelligence budgets which angered Congress and worried the US taxpayer, which in turn led to more underhand dealings, again citing the Iran Contra affair were the USA was not only in violation of a UN security council resolution banning the sale of weapons to Iran or Iraq, but the CIA with the undoubted knowledge and support of the president conspired to keep the costs of this adventure hidden from Congress and the taxpayer.

Kennedy’s brief administration marked a turning point from the post war period of limited engagement and low cost support of friendly foreign regimes, to the start of the full commitment of all US military and intelligence assets to the defeat of Soviet foreign policy objectives worldwide.  The extent of its success is for others to judge, although the need of the USSR to keep pace with the relentless advances in US technologies and economic developments in the end crippled the economy of the USSR which ultimately led to its collapse.  It is arguable that this was always the inevitable consequence of Soviet polices when faced with competitive and dynamic capitalist free markets.  However, as can be seen in the case of China, without the intense pressure and relentless checking of Soviet moves globally by the US and its Allies it is possible that we could still be living in a world split between East and West, one in which the USSR was given the time to adapt and change as the Chinese did.

How the Syrian People became a victim of Post-Imperial Russian Pride

By Ian Howarth

As I sit here and write confirmation has come from the French Foreign Ministry that the Syrian Regime of Bashar al- Assad has used Sarin against its own people in its desperate fight for survival.

syria opposition flagThe story of the two year battle for Syrian freedom and self- determination is one that is rife with tragedy and hypocrisy.   The response of the Western Powers towards the rebellion in Libya played its part in galvanising the oppressed and un-represented youth and middle class of Syria to stand and resist the hereditary tyranny of their government.  However, in doing so and looking to the West for aid they received only kind words and a sense of abandonment as the forces of Realpolitik took over in the corridors of the Foreign Ministries and Intelligence Services of the Western Powers.  Bordering Israel, Turkey, Lebanon and Iran with the regime supported by Hezbollah and Russia it was never going to be a case of a quick Allied air campaign followed by jubilant scenes of victorious rebels in Damascus pulling down posters of the despised Dictator.

This has been and will continue to be a long and bloody battle that will see both sides move further and further to extremes and in the process of doing so the secular free republic initially sought by the first rebellions will be lost amongst the massacres and bloodletting that will be increasingly done in the name and by the hand of the forces of Islamism.  With protests breaking out in Turkey this past week as well the whole bloody mess has the potential to grow and spread.  Already Iran with its Hezbollah puppet is fighting a proxy war in the streets of Syria against the Western backed rebels.  The added potential of Russian advanced weaponry on their side and the recent lifting of the EU weapons embargo means that a situation that was already burning out of control could be about to be stoked to new heights of depravity and destruction.

It is important that I clarify something here.  I am in no doubt as to which side of this conflict I am on.  That is the side of freedom, liberty, and secularism and so that is the side of the Rebel Syrian Army, and its leaders.  However, I am not fooled into believing that all those on that side would recognise the description I have just given it.  It is clear that many in this movement represent the very opposite of the ideals I have just attributed to it. Increasingly the movement against Assad is Islamist in nature and as such a great threat to these ideals.  I will also be clear in my meaning of Islamist, it is not anti-Muslim, but specifically a brand of extreme political ideology that finds its closest comparison in Fascism.  In fact commentators such as Stephen Schwartz and the late Christopher Hitchens have used the term Islamofascism as a way of clarifying a more familiar political ideology wrapped in a quasi-religious wrapper and so that is the term I will adopt here.

The plans of the French, British and Americans to arm the seriously out gunned rebels in Syria seem on the surface to be a good idea. However, how do we ensure that these weapons stay with the rebels we like?  It is worth looking to Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Libya to see that when you start sending weapons into a conflict zone they very soon find their way into the hands of all and anyone engaged in that conflict.  With the fact that we could see a return to the Cold War with Russia arming one side and the United States the other we are in a further danger of internationalising this conflict.  However, with that said in truth it’s already internationalised in the favour of the Assad regime.  Hezbollah is in Syria funded and directed by Iran, and Russian tanks, helicopters and fighter aircraft are being used against the rebels, with the prospect of more Russian weaponry being supplied still.   In the last few days the Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the contract to supply advanced S-300 Surface to Air missiles had not yet been fulfilled and Russia did not want to “disturb the balance in the region”.  This does not however alleviate the already considerable Russian military equipment engaged in the conflict or the diplomatic and political cover that they are providing the Assad dictatorship.

While the Great Powers stand off against each other over the future of Syria all the while the situation on the ground deteriorates further.  Terrible brutality has been unleashed by both sides for sure, but the heavy weaponry and foreign aid that the Assad regime is receiving means that on the whole it is they that are responsible for the most consistent and worse abuses of human rights.  The extremity of this sort of violence only leads to more extreme political reactions and the strengthening of the forces of intolerance in this conflict.  This is a vicious circle that we have seen unleashed time and again since the end of the Cold War (and across the centuries), in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and now in Syria.  The threat of the opposition becoming entirely controlled and directed by Islamofascist forces is a real one.  It would seem though that with the Western Allies of the Syrian Opposition either unwilling or unable to bring a decisive blow to the favour of their cause we are doomed to watch this bloody civil war continue to roll on and on strengthening the very forces that it is neither in the interests of Russia or the West to see strengthened, let alone the Syrian people themselves.

If it were the case that Islamofascist’s were to win the day in Syria this would be both a tragedy for those brave souls who first stood up against the vile regime that has imprisoned that proud nation for the past 40 years, many of whom paid with their lives for this defiance; and for Democracy and the nations of the democratic world.  In an Islamofascist Syria we would have a new home for the terrorism and the breeding of doctrines of hate against the plural secular societies of which as a Briton I am proud to be a part. With Russia facing its own problems with the forces of Islamofascism in the Caucasus it seems that Russian Foreign Policy has become detached from the preservation of its own national self-interest and caught up in a pathetic flexing of post imperial power in the defence of an old ally for the sake of Russian pride.  While superficially understandable that Russia would wish to preserve its perceived sphere of influence in the Middle East and more precisely its lucrative arms contracts with the Assad regime.   Russia is failing to acknowledge the bigger picture and wider implications that the further continuation of this bloody conflict would inevitably lead too.

This is all as yet speculation, and fear for the future.  There is still a chance that the liberal forces that unleashed the initial opposition in Syria could yet triumph and let us not underestimate the Syrian people themselves.  They are an educated and informed people, connected too and interested in maintaining these connections with the rest of the world.  Many have studied in Universities in Britain, France and the USA.  They watched with horror the terrors that were unleashed in their neighbour Iraq and do not wish the same sectarianism for their nation.  However, it cannot be stressed that the tide of history tends to pass over the quiet liberals and in the face of unrestrained brutality it becomes harder and harder to stand for plurality.  I hold out a glimmer of hope for a free and secular Syria even today, that the mandarins of the Russian Foreign Ministry will wake up and realise the stupidity of their own position and that an effective and united international effort to bring an end to the Assad regime can be mounted.   However after two long and brutal years this glimmer grows dimmer with each passing day.