The Global Crisis of Inaction

Hi all,

This is my reply to a great article written by Micah Zenko today posted at the Atlantic, which you can view here.

A Global Crisis of Inaction

Hello. Thank you for opening a public dialogue on the global crisis of inaction.

“Last spring, the Arab League convened an emergency meeting at its headquarters in Cairo to discuss a certain government’s air strikes against a certain Arab population. They called the strikes, which had reportedly killed at least a dozen civilians and suspected militants, “plotted barbaric aggression.” At the conclusion of their meeting, the Arab League issued a statement demanding that UN Security Council convene “on an urgent basis” and impose a no-fly zone (NFZ) to protect those Arab civilians from future attacks. They asked for outside military force, but they were ignored.

The Arab League was advocating to protect not anti-Qaddafi fighters in Libya but Arabs in the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli Air Force was bombing in retaliation for rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel. Less than one month earlier, the Arab League had asked for a NFZ in Libya, a request that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an event “of historic importance” that “would be quite unfortunate if the international community were to have ignored.” But when the pan-Arab institution sought the same sort of international military support for the Gaza Strip, they were ignored by the U.S. and the entire international community — or, at least, the countries with deployable air forces.

The distinction in how the world treated the force requests for the Gaza Strip and Libya are worth keeping in mind as the demands from Syrian civilians and armed opponents of the Bashar al-Assad regime for intervention escalate. From Gaza to Somalia, governments and groups make far more requests for humanitarian intervention than you’ll hear about in the press. Nearly all of them are summarily rejected as impractical or an inappropriate use of force. Here are just eight of the most recent examples of à la carte requests for military force with humanitarian aims, not one of which was honored or even seriously entertained:

1. In May 2010 (and again in October 2011), the East Africa security bloc Inter Governmental Authority for Development requested that the UN institute a NFZ and naval blockade in Somalia.

2. In February 2011, the Cambodian prime minister appealed to the UN to establish a buffer zone along the border between Cambodia and Thailand to prevent the escalation of skirmishes over the disputed territory near the Preah Vihear Temple.

3. In June 2011, Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar requested that the UN Security Council establish an international buffer zone between Sudan and South Sudan to prevent military confrontations.

4. At a regional summit in September 2011, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called on the United Nations to support Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, and the African Union Mission forces helping it, in implementing “corridors of humanitarian assistance” in Somalia.

5. In October 2011, Kenyan and Somali government officials called on “big countries and big organizations” to blockade the seaport of Kismayo, Somalia, which is controlled by al-Shabaab militants.

6. In December 2011, over 20 international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) petitioned the UN Security Council to establish a NFZ over “Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains/South Kordofan, Darfur, Abyei and also along the border between South and North Sudan,” an area slightly smaller than Texas, “for protection of civilians.” (About a month earlier, 66 American NGOs had made a similar request.)

7. The same month, Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, sent a letter to the Obama administration in December 2011 that asked for the United States to impose a NFZ over the border between Sudan and South Sudan.

8. Also in December 2011, the African Union appealed to the UN Security Council to establish a NFZ over and maritime blockades around Somalia. It made similar requests in October 2010, April 2011, and September 2011.”

This is an excellent illustration of why the UN is an impotent force on the global scene; and for several reasons. But there is only one reason of merit why this occurs on a regular, predictable basis. Weak alliances such as the UN, which cannot even claim the centrality of purpose and agenda of a confederation, much less a truly federated political structure, are too weak to be effective and are, in many ways, counter-productive for that reason. The historical hard truth running its course in these examples is one that has been with Humanity for hundreds of years, studied across cultures and oft-cited in deliberations over the social contract, civil justice and society. And it is a simple concept. The weaker a political alliance is the greater the impact of political and cultural faction within that system. Notice that we are not saying that faction itself is qualitatively different in any way, or that it is more concentrated in weaker alliances. Rather, we are saying that the impact of faction on realized policy is grossly exaggerated in weak alliances. Sadly, the continuing saga of conflict in the Middle East is a prime example of this kind of impotence. The reason why these factions exist, and why they are so zealous, is another discussion.

Detractors of the call for stronger, global institutions of governance will shirk at the idea of yet more legal capacity for international organizations. But what isn’t obvious on the surface, before such a thing exists, is how grossly exaggerated the problems are precisely because general rule of law is absent. And it is hard to convey this point when there is little contemporaneous fact upon which to draw illustrations. But let us look at any number of half-examples, and I’ll start with one in the United States (which always serves up good examples of federal rule of law in action). In the 1970’s the American Indian Movement (AIM) ended up at loggerheads with the federal government over the rights of Native Americans in the Sioux Nation. This very hot, very visceral and very emotional conflict came to a head when 2 FBI agents were killed and a handful of Sioux were wounded. It was a terrible day indeed. But compare this to what is going on in the West Bank. Not enough? How about Iraq? How about World War II? The point is obvious. And we shouldn’t assume that these are not useful or meaningful comparisons either. The point to be made here is that in the case of the conflict with the Sioux Nation an established, federal authority existed. This meant several things. Foreign manipulation of the conflict, by agitating or supplying the Sioux Nation did not exist, largely because of federally exercised jurisdiction surrounding the Nation. Rule of law exercised in a specific geographic jurisdiction mitigated against the direct, anarchistic influence of foreign powers. Secondly, for better or for worse, national powers with national resources capable of bringing militarily sized operations to bear existed on only one side of this conflict. Without rule of law, any number of State participants can be involved. This lopsided accretion of resources under rule of law guaranteed a much quicker, much less violent resolution.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why global conflicts today are so nasty, so barbaric, and so out of control. It is because no rule of law exists in this nebulous international jurisdiction consisting of a plethora of governments all claiming sovereignty and all in conflict or competition, on some level, with each other. No one needs to argue that conflicts won’t exist. The point is one of degree. And the point makes trivially.

The examples are endless. We can look to the 13 sovereign powers that existed before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in which not any two of them could agree on the time of day. A standing army was almost impossible to create because cooperation of each power couldn’t be assured. Consequently, George Washington almost lost his entire Army on several occasions, not due to enemy action, but on account of a lack of comestibles, pay and even shoes. And this was a confederation of sorts, arguably a much more centralized authority than the UN. And we wonder why the UN sucks? Of course it does. And we wonder why there is no peace in the Middle East? Its blatantly obvious: Elision of rule of law. To keep denying this and kicking this can down the road because of Nationalism, ideology or, worse yet, ill-informed or stereotyped notions of what “world government”, that horrible phrase, actually means, is taking us right down the well paved road to Hell. Just because you have some nutjob in a back room trying to create a world government, doesn’t mean that you should regard the very phrase itself to be tainted. It isn’t. And it’s not an unnatural concept. It’s common sense.

It’s time for “no fly zones” to be replaced with law enforcement and courts; and genuine rule of law, not the half-baked excuse for rule of law that now exists in the United States. No, real, genuine, full rule of law. The “discretion” and the overly broad, de jeure “equity” of elitists be damned. I, for one, do not fancy the idea of every conceivable faction on Earth acquiring nuclear weapons (which you have to admit is eventually a technological possibility) and wanting to kill each other. This is _madness_. And the burden for letting this happen will be squarely placed on the shoulders of all the people alive today who had the influence, privilege or whatever means available to have addressed this; but who didn’t. And if its public opinion that is to be today’s scapegoat then I’d ask who they are kidding. When it comes to public relations and culture shifting, those with resources and means seem to have no trouble at all doing it. For better or worse, these same engineers did a real bang-up job on the tobacco industry. I see no reason why the form can’t be repeated for a greater good.

Not one of these received the slightest support from the UN Security Council, NATO, the Obama administration, or any other country able to project military power. It’s unlikely that you even heard about it. It’s not hard to imagine the three big reasons they were all likely rejected: they were not in anyone’s national interest; they required greater resources to achieve a lasting impact than were available; or they were the wrong military mission to achieve the intended military and political objectives.

And that is a key point. Confederations, loose collaborations like the UN, and “treaties” will always leave this kind of warped rationale on the table when it comes to just action. Only with federated, sole jurisdiction sans pareil can decisions of this nature even be framed correctly in the first place; and it is an issue of improper framing of the issue that results in the observation thi author has made infra. Again, common sense. Of course these missions will never be undertaken when competing sovereigns and international rivalries distort the moral and ethical texture of the problem put before them. Are the minds in Washington so dense that they can’t figure out something so obvious to everyone else? And I’ll include every world capital in that question.

Since Syrians began the No-Fly Zone Friday demonstrations in late October, such protests have been held in Damascus, Homs, Horan, Qamishli, Al Hiffah, and elsewhere to request the world implement a NFZ. The supposed leaders of the opposition movement in exile have described how this NFZ should be implemented in different ways. Last Thursday, the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, re-demanded a NFZ along the Syria-Turkey border to be enforced by any country (except the United States), although in a more limited form than the selectively enforced mission over Libya. “We don’t have to destroy all the Syrian air force,” he said. “You only need to secure a specific zone and this can be done without damaging the whole defenses of the country.”

And why are there even two, much less dozens of air forces in the world anyway?

A NFZ in Syria is the wrong military mission for protecting civilians who are being brutally suppressed and killed by the Assad regime through infantry forces, tanks, and sniper fire. Over 4,000 Syrians have died since the last time that the regime used airpower against civilians (June 10), as best can be determined.

There are more demands for international military force to protect civilians and assure the delivery of humanitarian assistance than one might imagine. Most are in response to legitimate emergencies, such as in South Sudan, where, according to the UN, more than 600 people were killed in a cattle raid in a single day in August and where another 150 people — mostly women and children — were killed over five days last week.

When people within the effected country or region — or policymakers and policy analysts in the West –request military intervention, they should be aware of who they are saying “no” to and what accounts for that distinction.

There are three primary reasons for the difference between intervention requests the world entertains and those it does not.

First, in the case of Libya and now Syria, both were ruled by well-known and sufficiently demonized autocrats who had been told to step down from power by the United States and European governments. Here, intervening to save lives is a useful pretext for the strategic objective of regime change.

A non-issue in a system in which there is no grab bag of autocrats to deal with.

Second, other NFZ demands were not accompanied by a decision-forcing point that catalyzed international political will, such as the Srbrenica massacre in 1995, the Racak massacre in 1999, or the attempted siege of Benghazi last March. Without such a well-publicized incident, any conflict zone can appear to be open-ended disasters that swing from one crisis to the next.

Fascinating. Under rule of law massacres don’t have to happen in order for law enforcement, courts and the media to take notice.  And civil law enforcement can handle the issue because none of the parties in dispute are national powers with access to national resources. Under federated, symmetric rule of law the civil institutions engage uniformly in jurisdiction, sua sponte, to enforce the laws of the land. This is a dramatic improvement over what happens today; e.g. Rwanda, Pol Pot, etc.

Finally, seven of the eight force requests were from Africa, which is under-reported in Western media despite it being the most conflict-prone continent for decades. You cannot conceive of saving lives with military force if you are unaware they are at risk. All of which argues for the consistent and universal application of principles beyond what you read in this morning’s paper.

And under a so-called “symmetric” federalist system, all African nations would, by design, get the same attention as all other nations.

The United States and any and all persons with the means so to do are bridled with the moral necessity to act by any means necessary to assemble a global proposal for how to enforce, or force, rule of law across the broadest geographic jurisdiction possible. There is no excuse for delay anymore. Time is running out.

– kk


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