1. Is there any basis in international law for recourse to “preemptive war”?
Most interpretations of international law deny states the right to wage a preemptive war, although international practice is more ambiguous, especially in extenuating circumstances. There were few international objections raised when Israel initiated The Six Day War in 1967, convincingly claiming that it was confronted by an imminent attack by its Arab neighbors, and that its action was justified on the basis of defensive necessity to ensure its survival as a state.
The invocation of an alleged right to wage preemptive war by the US Government is particularly troubling from the perspective of international law. First of all, the United States has expressed this right in highly abstract language rather than in a specific setting of the sort that led Israel to act in 1967. Secondly, the application of this doctrine of preemptive war was unconvincing to most governments, including most US allies, and to world public opinion, lacking the elements of an imminent threat and defensive necessity. Thirdly, in the aftermath of the Iraq War the failure to find weapons of mass destruction that were the essence of the alleged war-justifying threat has undermined American credibility, leading to re-arguing the rationale for the war on the basis of liberating the Iraqi people from an oppressive ruler. And fourthly, the US Government, despite the absence of urgency, insisted on its right to wage and initiate a non-defensive war against Iraq without receiving any authorization from the UN Security Council.
The doctrine of preemptive war is not itself destructive of international law, but its dubious applications definitely are. It seems a matter of common sense that if a foreign country had mobilized for war, possessed the capabilities to launch missile attacks on population centers, and was governed by extremists, it would be rational to engage in a preemptive war, and most of the UN would either endorse the response or ignore the stretching of international law under such circumstances. But recourse to preemptive war against Iraq cannot be reconciled with the duty of respect for international law and the UN Charter, and has contributed a dangerous precedent.
2. Is it possible for any war to be just?
There is an important difference between just war thinking and international law. International law devotes itself to issues of legality, while just war thinking concentrates on matters of justice and morality, especially as to recourse to war and the means by which it is waged. The just war tradition derives from a religious background, and its guidelines were developed by the great Catholic theologians St. Augustine and St. Thomas Acquinas. The principles of just war, involving just cause and the proportionate and discriminate use of force, have helped to shape the modern law of war, and continue to be treated as valid.
When asking about whether it is possible for a particular war to be deemed a just war there is no definitive answer. It is a matter of interpretation and judgment. From a strictly pacifist or Gandhian outlook no war is just as political violence is never justified. Many specialists on just war agree that World War II was just as it was a defensive response to German and Japanese aggression, and its outcome removed from power fascist regimes that were guilty of mass atrocities, and what has come to be known as crimes against humanity. But even this war was waged in a manner deemed unjust with respect to means, especially the strategic and indiscriminate bombing of German and Japanese cities causing massive civilian casualties, culminating in the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki under conditions in which Japan was already a beaten country. More recently, there have been debates about the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and most significantly, Iraq.
Although each case is complex, and the facts can be understood in different ways, I will briefly indicate my assessments from a just war perspective. The Kosovo War was a just war because it was undertaken to avoid a likely instance of “ethnic cleansing” undertaken by the Serb leadership of former Yugoslavia, and it succeeded in giving the people of Kosovo an opportunity for a peaceful and democratic future. It was a just war despite being illegally undertaken without authorization by the United Nations, and despite being waged in a manner that unduly caused Kosovar and Serbian civilian casualties, while minimizing the risk of death or injury on the NATO side.
The Afghanistan War was again controversial in relation to the just war tradition. It seems to qualify as an instance of defensive necessity in view of the high risks of harm associated with the heavy al Qaeda presence in the country, and its demonstrated capacity and will after September 11 to inflict severe harm on the United States in the future. Again, as with Kosovo, the means used and the ends raised serious doubts about the just means and just ends of the war. The American failure to assume the risks of ground warfare in order to carry out the mission of destroying the al Qaeda presence, as well as the failure to convert the battlefield outcomes into a durable peace, raise doubts about the overall justice of the war.
When it comes to the Iraq War there seems to be little doubt that the war is generally regarded as an unjust war, despite its effect of freeing the Iraqi people from the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein. The reasons for viewing it as unjust in origin are the following: the absence of defensive necessity, the refusal of the UNSC to authorize war, the dangerous uncertainties associated with recourse to war, the manipulation of evidence relating to the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the reluctance in the aftermath of the fighting to respect the aspirations of the Iraqi people to achieve political independence and exercise their rights of self-determination. For all of these reasons it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Iraq War is a clear example of an unjust war.
As this analysis suggests, it is possible to view a particular war as a just war provided it satisfies the standards of just cause, just means, and just ends. No modern war entirely meets these standards, but those with a just cause and just ends are widely treated as just wars even if the victorious side relied to some extent on unjust means. In this respect, World War II remains the exemplary example of a just war.
3. Are today’s terrorists tomorrow’s patriots if they win? Does the end justify the means?
Often it is true that those who are treated as the worst criminals if their violent challenge of the established order fails, are celebrated as the greatest patriots and heroes if their struggle ends in success. Surely, the leaders of the American Revolution would have been hung as traitors if their 18th century efforts to be freed from Britain colonial rule had ended in defeat. As victors, they are hailed without even the slightest doubt as exhibiting the ideals of patriotic virtue. In our own time, most spectacularly, we have witnessed the sudden transformation of Nelson Mandela from being South Africa’s permanent political prisoner, held in jail for 27 years, to the man most admired and celebrated in South Africa, and in the world as a whole.
Perhaps, the case of Yasir Arafat is most interesting and revealing of arbitrary shifts of perception and treatment. As founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and leader of Fatah, Arafat was viewed for years by Israel and the United States as the world’s leading terrorist, a criminal beyond redemption. Then came the Oslo Peace Process in 1993, and Arafat arrives in Washington and appears with Yitzak Rabin and Bill Clinton on the White House lawn. Later on, Rabin is assassinated, and Israeli politics moves sharply to the right, Ariel Sharon becomes Prime Minister, an armed intifada of Palestinian resistance commences, and Arafat is once more condemned as a terrorist and discarded as a representative of the Palestinian people, although elected to be such. Sharon, reinforced by Clinton, and even more so by his successor as American president, George W. Bush, discredited Arafat, holding him responsible for the suicide bombers that caused such harm to Israeli civilian society, and shifting attention away from Israel’s prolonged illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
And once again, Arafat was treated by the United States as an illegitimate political leader. But now with “the roadmap” relied upon as a basis for reaching a peaceful solution between the two peoples Arafat reemerges as political leader, although subordinated to his subordinate, Mahmoud Abbas, who has been accepted more readily in Washington and Tel Aviv (than in the West Bank and Gaza) because he has more convincingly repudiated violence as a path to self-determination and statehood for the Palestinian people and seems ready to play the Israeli/American game of one-sided diplomatic negotiations. Arafat continues to be treated as a crucial Palestinian leader in much of Europe and throughout the non-Western world, and of course by the Palestinians themselves.
In many respects, the treatment of Hitler bears some resemblance to that of Arafat. Hitler emerged from obscurity in the mists of German right wing politics during the 1920s, being imprisoned for his association with violent political tactics. But then, with help from the economic depression of the 1930s that hit Germany particularly hard and from the bitterness instilled in the German people due to their defeat in World War I, followed by the humiliating punitive peace imposed at Versailles, Hitler and his Nazi Party, became the elected government of Germany. Hitler solidified his dictatorial rule, but this did not prevent him from hosting the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a legitimating bonanza for Nazi propaganda. Hitler became the ultra-national German patriot while at the same time he preached a racist message, persecuting Jews, Romas, and others, and preparing Germany for an orgy of aggressive warfare. Of course, Hitler personally did not survive World War II, but had he done so, there is little doubt that he would have been prosecuted as the star war criminal in the course of the Nuremberg trials held in 1945 to impose punishments on the surviving Nazi leadership. No doubt if the war had ended differently, Hitler would have continued to be treated as the legitimate leader representing the German state by most other governments.
There is an important issue of political language present. The current way of branding the armed enemies of the established order is to call them “terrorists,” focusing on the violence directed at civilian targets. For decades such enemies were more often treated in the West as “Communists,” or Communists were automatically branded as “terrorists” even if they refrained in theory and practice from violence. In South Africa advocacy of racial equality was equated with Communism, and criminalized, or being engaged in trying to promote racial justice was punished as “terrorism.” Also, these days, when Palestinian resisters kill civilians it is called “terrorism,” but when Israeli Apache gunships kill civilians it is called “security.” Language is politics, coloring our imagination, shaping our responses of approval and condemnation.
What do learn from this chamelon-like experience of political figures who lead revolutionary struggles and initiate aggressive wars against particular arrangement of political power in the world, seeking to liberate an oppressed people or change the structure of world order? Of course, we learn that outcomes matter, that history is largely written by the winners, validating their results and repudiating or ignoring the exploits of the losers. We also learn that those who prevail in conflicts often rely on highly dubious forms of political violence to destroy their current enemies, denying them any respect by calling them “evil.” This process of exaggerating the moral differences between the state and its enemies is also part of the picture. It is not only the “terrorists” that act often as if the end justifies the means, but the legitimate political order, as embodied in the state, as well. Are there limits to this disturbing insight into world politics that seems to count only the result and not whether it was achieved in morally and legally acceptable ways? The only honest answer is, at this point, “not many,” and even these, are not consistently respected despite several century of effort by international law. It is true that admiration for Mandela reflects an appreciation of the way he used his influence to promote a politics of reconciliation in negotiating a bloodless end to racist South Africa during the apartheid era. And on the other side, whatever the Palestinian future, it seems doubtful that Arafat’s rehabilitation can proceed very far, not because of the accusations of terrorism, but because he is widely disavowed even by Palestinians as corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent.
At the same time, we should not become altogether cynical about efforts to impose limits on political behavior. It is generally true that the price of entry to the halls of diplomacy is a credible renunciation of violence against civilians, just as it is true that a violent challenge to the existing order will be denied such access if it can be defeated at an acceptable cost. This is how the IRA (Irish Revolutionary Army) finally achieved a measure of acceptance even from its bitter rivals in Northern Ireland, that is, both by avoiding defeat and then by expressing a willingness to reach a solution by peaceful means. It is also true that the UN and world public opinion have gradually, although inconsistently, relied on human rights standards and the practice of democracy, to make judgments for and against particular political outcomes. There are war crimes trials going on in The Hague and Arusha that are punishing certain types of behavior as international crimes, and in 2002 a permanent International Criminal Court was established by a widely ratified treaty. It remains true that the more powerful governments, including the United States and China, refuse to submit their actions to the Rule of Law, but it is also true that sovereignty no longer gives a blank check to political rulers.
4. International law has been developing since the time of Grotius in the 17th century, and the International Court of Justice has declared on a number of occasions that diplomatic relations among sovereign states should be governed by adherence to international law. But how can international law be enforced in the absence of a world government? There has been a tendency in recent years to rely on sanctions as a means of international enforcement, but their record is not impressive. They do not seem to have achieved their goals, and may be based on dubious premises of punishing governments or leaders that are seen as threatening to the geopolitical status quo.
There is no doubt that the absence of effective procedures for enforcement are a major obstacle to the achievement of a law-oriented world order. At the same time all political systems, including well-governed societies, struggle with enforcement. The United States, proud of its constitutional order, has a huge prison population, and has found it very difficult to achieve effective enforcement in some critical areas of behavior, including the use and distribution of hard drugs and the actions of some of its leading corporations (for example, the Enron scandal). And so the problems of enforcing international law is one of degree, not of kind.
It is also important to recognize that many areas of international life are based on legal regimes that are consistently upheld and enforced. Tourism, diplomacy, and trade all proceed on this basis, and the world would be chaotic without this underpinning of international law for many of the daily interactions that take place throughout the world. The United States and Europe are presently resolving their disputes over genetically modified foods and steel subsidies by accepting the legal procedures of the World Trade Organization. Most enforcement difficulties arise either in relation to challenged uses of international force or attempted interferences with the internal affairs of sovereign states.
Sanctions are sometimes seen a preferred alternative to war in the event that an international dispute cannot be resolved peacefully. Much attention has recently been given to the role of sanctions in relation to Iraq over the past decade or so. It is necessary to make some distinctions when evaluating sanctions as a means of enforcement. Sanctions were initially imposed on Iraq in 1990 after its conquest of Kuwait, and were seen as a way of inducing Saddam Hussein’s regime to withdraw from Kuwait without a war. Such an approach to enforcement had it succeeded would have been hailed as a political and moral victory. The failure of sanctions to achieve this goal in Iraq has been variously interpreted as indicating the irrational stubbornness of the Baghdad leadership or as a cover for an American-led insistence on “a preventive war” so as to eliminate Iraq as a regional threat for years to come. Diplomatic historians in future work will undoubtedly help us to resolve this issue of interpretation. The Gulf War in 1991 can be seen as “enforcement,” authorized by the Security Council, including all of its Permanent Members, and effectively restoring Kuwaiti sovereign rights.
Sanctions were then applied to a defeated Iraq for the next twelve years, supposedly to coerce Baghdad to comply with the terms of a ceasefire in 1991 that had been embodied in Security Council Resolution 687. This reliance on sanctions was much more controversial than the pre-war sanctions. They were imposed on a devastated defeated country, which almost certainly meant that the Iraqi people would be particularly vicitimized. Iraq’s water purification system had been deliberately destroyed during the Gulf War, exposing the entire population to disease and death. Early respected studies by a Harvard medical team and by UNESCO reported on the resulting humanitarian catastrophe, producing hundreds of thousand of deaths among children in Iraq. At the same time, the political goals of the sanctions were not being achieved: Saddam Hussein’s regime was not weakened in relation to opposition groups and UN resolutions were not being respected. Sanctions increasingly became understood as aspects of a punitive peace imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. As such, it seemed to be repeating the mistake after World War I when the Versailles Treaty imposed strong sanctions on a defeated Germany, contributing to a subsequent rise of German political extremism. Sanctions imposed on Iraq between 1991 and 2003 failed as “enforcement” and were widely condemned, despite UN backing, as tantamount to crimes against humanity because of their destructive impact on the civilian population of Iraq.
Sanctions as a means of enforcement are neither good or bad, effective or futile. It all depends on context, and effects. To the extent that sanctions have the unified backing of the international community and avoid wars, their role is beneficial. Sanctions seemed to have played a constructive role in persuading the Afrikaaner leadership of South Africa to abandon apartheid, and work with Mandela to produce a peaceful transition to a multi-racial constitutional order.
In the 1990s, and to some extent currently, “humanitarian intervention” became an enforcement tool of choice. The NATO Kosovo War can be understood in that light, as can interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. The present call for American intervention in Liberia, as well as the UN role in the Congo, proceed on such premises. Humanitarian intervention is generally viewed with suspicion as a tool available only on behalf of the strong to be used against the relatively weak. It is unavailable to help the Chechens in their struggle with the Russian government or to assist the Tibetans or Uighers in their resistance efforts with regard to the Chinese government.
And so enforcement is, at best, uneven, and needs to take account of the realities of power. At the same time, efforts to hold leaders accountable for their crimes of state, patterns of humanitarian intervention, and some instances of UN peacekeeping suggest that there is a growing trend to take international standards more seriously and to disregard the barriers of sovereignty in efforts to produce compliance with such standards.
5. You opposed the Iraq War of this spring by arguing that its justifications were based on grounds that were legally and constitutionally dubious. Would you discuss some of these grounds? Unlike Iraq, in the debate about the Afghanistan War you found yourself in disagreement with linguist Noam Chomsky and other American left peace activists, why was this?
As I indicated when discussing the preemptive war doctrine, I remain convinced that there never existed an adequate legal basis for recourse to war against Iraq. The government of Iraq, weakened by sanctions and by the UN inspection process, posed no threat except to its own people. The UNSC alone possesses the legal authority to mandate a war in circumstances other than self-defense. The idea of liberating the Iraqi people from the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein does not provide a legal foundation for war without UN authorization, and this rationale has only been put forth as a sufficient justification for war after the fact and as a result of a failure to produce evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that had previously been the overriding justification given by Washington for the war. The difficulties that the occupation forces have been experiencing in Iraq and the opposition to a long-term American presence is likely to compound these problems, inducing either a prolonged occupation and a rising tide of violent resistance or a forced withdrawal that leads either to a sense of political defeat by bringing to power anti-Western undemocratic forces or produces a civil war among the divergent political, religious, and ethnic constituencies in the country. In essence, the Iraq War cannot be reconciled with the core rules of international law governing the use of force to resolve conflicts between sovereign states.
From the point of view of American constitutional law, the war was also dubious. True, a bipartisan majority in Congress authorized the war by resolution, but one passed months before the start of the war, and before indications of opposition at the UN, on the part of many of America’s closest allies around the world, at a grassroots level, and even in the United States. The quality of the Congressional authorization was thus weakened by its failure to show “a decent respect” for the opinion of others. Beyond this, Congress lacks the authority to mandate an illegal war. The Constitution in Article VI makes validly ratified international treaties “the supreme law of the land.” The UN Charter is such a treaty. Recourse to war was a violation of the Charter, and hence a violation of the Constitution.
On Afghanistan I differed with Chomsky and others who opposed the war, and insisted that a reliance on criminal law enforcement was adequate to address the terrorist menace. I did not then believe that any government could withstand the al Qaeda attacks without making a maximal response on behalf of its national security. Relying on law enforcement was not such a response, and indeed had proved an utter failure in the past as a way of dealing with large-scale terrorist activity, including earlier al Qaeda strikes. I felt that given the severity of the harm inflicted on September 11 and the continuing al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, a defensive necessity existed, and that the Charter could be properly interpreted to validate recourse to war by the United States. The international community agreed. The opposition to the war never provided a convincing account of how to uphold American security in view of the threats posed by al Qaeda. At the same time, in retrospect, it must be acknowledged that America did not use the occasion of the Afghanistan War to minimize the continuing risks posed by al Qaeda. It allowed leaders and cadre to go free and fight on another day because of its unwillingness to put enough Americans on the ground to close off escape routes. It has failed to invest resources and energies in post-war Afghanistan to avoid its territory from again becoming a potential haven for transnational terrorist activity.
6. In light of the Iraq War and prior sanctions policy has the UN been undermined in relation to its role as an institution committed to war prevention and the development of international law?
To some extent earlier responses dealing with the Iraq War and the enforcement of international law have covered the issues raised by this question. I will limit my response here to generalities about the future of the United Nations.
First of all, attitudes toward the UN move quickly from hope to despair, and back again. If the US/UK occupation of Iraq is superseded by comprehensive international administration of the country under UN auspices, the UN will be upgraded as a dimension of world order. Similarly, if the UN plays an increasing role in dealing with African turbulence, then the importance of the UN will be acknowledged anew, especially if its missions are generally seen as helpful.
Contrariwise if the United States engages in subsequent unilateral non-defensive wars against Syria or Iran, or even North Korea, then the UN is likely to decline still further with respect to the maintenance of global peace and security.
The United Nations, is neither more nor less, than what its principal members want it be. The Organization when established in 1945 was intended to be an instrument of statecraft, not a supranational alternative to it. This was underscored by giving the lead victorious powers in World War II a veto in the Security Council, which meant that the organization acknowledged from the outset that it would be unable to act if opposed by its most powerful member states, and that world peace rested not on law or collective security under the UN, but on the ability of the Permanent Members to agree on the nature of world order challenges, and to act accordingly.
The United States is where the UN headquarters are located, as well as being the leading financial contributor and the host country, and as a result plays a decisive role in either facilitating a strong organization or shaping global policy beyond the reach of the UN. So far, during the Bush presidency, the UN has not been entrusted with a major responsibilities, and the White House signature attitude of unilateralism has been partly expressed by acting outside the organization whenever it feels like doing so. At the same time, the magnetic pull exerted by the UN has brought President Bush to the organization on several key occasions to seek legitimizing support at crucial moments in American foreign policy. This occurred immediately following the September 11 attacks and again in the lead up to the Iraq War.
The world needs a strong and confident United Nations to cope with the various manifestations of globalization. If the US fails to encourage such an evolution, then other member countries should feel challenged to do so.
The UN arose out of the ashes of World War II, just as the League of Nations had arisen after World War I. Both organizations reflected the idea of “one-worlders,” a unified arrangement for global governance. Today such ideas are discussed as “globalization.” But why “predatory globalization”? Are there not positive aspects of globalization?
Yes, it is true that both world wars gave the impetus for the establishment of global organizations supposedly dedicated to war prevention. Both arose from the basic horror of devastating wars leaving tens of millions dead in their aftermath, and the conviction that states left on their own would plunge the world into yet another war of major proportions. At the same time, ideas of sovereignty and nationalism remained too strong to empower either the League or the UN with the capabilities it would need to uphold the security of states confronted by aggressive adversaries. The UN recognized this unwillingness to overcome the centrality of sovereign states by giving the leading members a veto power assuring that the UN would never be used against the most powerful states, but it is precisely these states that are likely to enter into a rivalry that produces a third world war. In this sense, the promise of world peace by relying on the League or UN was an empty promise from the start. At the same time the UN has done many useful things, has become so indispensable that no state remains by choice a non-member with the special exception of Switzerland, emphasizes the role of international law in relation to world peace, and continues to offer the peoples of the world a beacon of hope for the future.
But these preliminary and very limited experiments with global governance should not be confused with has since the end of the cold war been called “globalization.” Although the term is ambiguous, it has been most widely understood as the process by which time and space have been compressed with respect to the operation of the world economy. Globalization incorporates the rise of market forces as sources of policy guidance, as well as the significance of computers and the Internet for more networked forms of economic organization on a global scale. I have referred to this capital-driven orientation of globalization as “predatory globalization” to highlight its negative aspects: widening disparities between rich and poor, disappointing efforts to reduce world poverty, neglect of regions that seem unpromising from the perspective of trade and investment such as Africa, a failure to protect global public goods such as environmental quality and pollution prevention in the oceans. At the same time, I have argued that these predatory effects are not intrinsic to globalization, but are a byproduct of the neo-liberal ideas of unregulated markets and the reliance on capital efficiency to solve social problems, that is, of an ideology of economic development that became a consensus position after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was reflected in the approaches to development favored by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Globalization has made important positive contributions, including giving some Asian countries excellent opportunities for rapid economic growth that has benefited a large number of people in some of the poorest countries.
The future and ideology of globalization is now in doubt. The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 shook the confidence of those who were managing the world economy as did the rise of the anti-globalization movement that entered world consciousness in late 1999 with street demonstrations in Seattle protesting IMF ministerial meetings. Then came September 11, and a renewed preoccupation with war/peace issues and global security. Whether these concerns will subside in the years ahead is not clear, and so it is not certain that globalization will seem as descriptive of the world setting as it seemed to be in the 1990s.
7. When you write about the Middle East sometimes Turkey is included, sometimes not. Is the Middle East best understood geographically or in some other way? How do you explain your inconsistent approach to Turkey’s place in the region?
The contours of a region are always arbitrary, and can be understood inconsistently depending on the purpose of classification. Looking at a map suggests an uncertainty as to whether to conceive of Turkey as belonging to the Middle East or to Europe. Sometimes, the Middle East is regarded as essentially “the Arab world,” but more often it is regarded as also including Israel, Turkey, Iran. The idea of multiple identities has informed recent discussions of changing patterns of individual citizenship. Why not for countries, as well? Potential membership in the European Union would certainly qualify Turkey as “European,” but it is difficult to conceive of the future of “the Middle East” without taking account of Turkey’s role as a presence in relation to regional security, the status of secularism and democracy, and the overall interplay between Israel and the rest of the region. Turkey’s Islamic identity and rich cultural and political traditions, including its Ottoman past, ensure the prominence of its role in the Middle East for as far ahead as we can see.
But let’s not forget that the term “Middle East” is itself a geopolitical curiosity reflecting a Eurocentric image of the world. In India the region is generally depicted as “West Asia.” Perhaps, it is notable that of all the regions in the world it is only this one that bears such a signature of the colonial era, and most endures the torments of unresolved struggles of decolonization, whether in relation to Palestinian self-determination or with respect to the overt military presence of the dominant hegemonic power in the world. The Middle East has replaced Europe as the fulcrum of geopolitics, the zone wherein the shape and form of world order is being forged.
8. Should Turkey have become involved in the Iraq War in the ways that the US Government requested? Now Turkey is considering sending troops to Iraq as part of the post-war effort to bring stability to that country. Do you think this is a wise move on Turkey’s part to get so involved?
First of all, I believe it is premature to speak of the situation in Iraq as “post-war.” The steady stream of American and Iraqi casualties on a daily basis suggest to me that the Iraq War continues, and that only its conventional battlefield phase is over. Even the American military commander in Iraq has recently referred to the present situation as best understood as a classic instance of “guerrilla warfare.”
Looking back, I think Turkey made the right decision by denying the use of its territory to mount an invasion of northern Iraq by American ground forces. The Iraq War, as suggested above, was a non-defensive war lacking UN approval, and in violation of international law. It seemed to many, as well, to be an imprudent war that was not helpful in dealing with the genuine persisting threats associated with the al Qaeda network. In such circumstances, especially given the anti-war sentiments of the Turkish people, the Turkish Parliament is to be congratulated for reaching a decision that upheld Turkish national interests, demonstrated its political independence, and was consistent with the promotion of world public order.
Looking forward, I would think Turkey should not expose itself to the uncertainties of developments in Iraq, or needlessly put itself on the side of what appears to be an increasingly unpopular American/British occupation that could go on for years. It is important for Turkey to maintain positive relations with the United States, but on the basis of mutual respect. It is not in Turkey’s interest to become engaged directly in the peacekeeping operations going on in Iraq, at least not at this stage. By staying on the sidelines, Turkey will improve the prospects of entering into a positive relationship with an independent and reconstructed post-occupation Iraq, which in the long run is likely to contribute most to the stability of the region.
9. How do you perceive the Kurdish-Turkish debate within the wider context of the Middle East?
Aside from the Palestine-Israel conflict, the unresolved future of Kurdish-Turkish relations is the greatest single challenge to the political leadership of Turkey, and to the society as a whole. It is a matter of supreme importance to avoid any serious renewal of the sort of armed encounter that existed in prior years. A humane approach to Kurdish aspirations will also help decisively in advancing the case for Turkey’s membership in the EU. But what exactly does a humane approach entail?
This is, of course, an ultra-sensitive matter of internal Turkish politics. As an outsider I am hesitant to comment on this most delicate question beyond offering the most superficial idea that the cultural rights of the large Kurdish minority needs to be fully acknowledged, and that to the extent that Kurdish areas seem poorer than the rest of the country, a major priority should be accorded by Ankara to the economic development of Kurdish regions (primarily Eastern Anatolia) and the rapid reduction of Kurdish poverty. It should be also recognized that there are significant numbers of impoverished Turkish and non-Turkish individuals living in Eastern Anatolia who would also benefit from the recommended approach. The problem of minority rights cuts in many different directions, and the Turkish government has shown its own concerns about the treatment of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, as well as the somewhat problematic future for the large Turkamen minority in northern Iraq.
I find generally encouraging the degree to which there is a growing intellectual and political interest throughout Turkey in undertaking a positive reevaluation of the Ottoman legacy and heritage. In relation to the Kurdish challenge, this means a shift from a rigid modernist view of Turkish national identity to pride and tolerance in the multi-ethnic makeup of the Turkish nation. Just as Kemal Ataturk in a different historical moment freed Turkish destiny from negative aspects of the Ottoman past, the challenge of the present generation of Turkish leaders is to recover its positive aspects, allowing Turkey to benefit more fully from its incredibly rich cultural, spiritual, and political traditions.
10. Turkey has come under a lot of fire over the years because of its treatment of minorities. The Turkish government is now enacting harmonization legislation as part of its larger effort to qualify for full membership in the European Union. This new legislation is likely to have a major impact on how Turkey deals with its minorities. Would you give your opinion on these developments?
My response to the prior question relating to the Kurdish issue also applies to this question. The pressures associated with preparing Turkey for the EU are complementary to recovering the multi-ethnic spirit of diversity associated with the Ottoman past. By emphasizing minority rights, a secular path to tolerance and group rights is cleared for a less rigid conception of national identity than has prevailed during Turkey’s 20th century nation- and state-building phases.
Minority rights and humane treatment of minorities is one element in the wider setting of human rights, which itself needs to be understood as fulfilling for all citizens the promise of constitutional democracy. All countries, including my own, need to be constantly vigilant with respect to the protection of human rights, particularly when the state claims a strong security interest. In the United States since September 11, the treatment of Muslim males, especially of Arab origins, has been a matter of growing concern from a human rights perspective. One instructive way to assess the commitment of a country and its leadership is to examine carefully the way it treats its most vulnerable members, which in the case of both Turkey and the United States, means how it deals with minorities, addressing their fears and hopes and overcoming their insecurities.
11. Recently there have been debates about the influence that television has had over the way stories are handled in the print media. And during the Iraq War we have seen journalists “embedded,” or as some would say “in bed with” troops on the move in a combat zone. The war was televised in an unprecedented real time way. Was this a positive development? Did it discourage or encourage a war mentality back home in the United States? What do you think about the media?
Overall, I think the American mainstream media has had the effect during the Iraq War of bringing Americans closer to the war, and allowing the citizens back home to share in the victorious march through Iraq on the way to Baghdad. Of course, if Iraqi resistance had been stiffer, and bloody battles taken place that produced heavy American casualties, reactions might have been very different. It is worth remembering that many supporters of the Vietnam War in the US blamed the media for bringing the war into “the living rooms” of Middle America, and thereby stimulating a robust anti-war movement that led to an American defeat. The Iraq War was special, at least in its battlefield phase, as it was quick and successful, and produced very few body bags. In the Vietnam case it was the media and the body bags that eventually turned the country against the war that had dragged on and on.
Learning from Vietnam, the Pentagon did its best to keep the media from covering the Gulf War in 1991 too closely. This adjustment produced its own line of criticism, turning the war into an arcade video game by its emphasis on the bombing raids directed at Baghdad. In the Iraq War, probably anticipating an easy victory, a different and novel approach was adopted, that of “embedding.” From a pacifist perspective the practice was unfortunate, making the war into a kind of soap opera, with each evening bringing a new installment, engaging the citizenry in the excitement and tensions of the battlefield. Again, this could have backfired had the American military efforts been successfully resisted; bloody battlefield scenes could easily have produced a strong anti-war climate of opinion.
Evaluating the media approaches, requires an understanding of the political context. In this regard, it needs to be related to the media, especially TV, approach to the American response to the September 11 attacks. TV has helped sustained a patriotic climate of opinion in America that tends to avoid criticism of the government and its leadership. In the months preceding the Iraq War critics of the Bush Administration were not invited to give their views on TV, conveying the false impression to the public that there was no serious disagreement in the society. And yet throughout the country there was considerable opposition to waging a war against Iraq for the purpose of regime change. In other words, TV, and to a lesser extent, the print media, did not reflect the divided sentiments of the country, especially on the crucial issues of war and peace. Night after night retired military officers appeared on network TV to give their views as to why the war was necessary and how it would be fought and won. In this sense, embedding of journalists in combat units was a continuation of this partisan TV role, not an objective source of evaluation, but essentially part of the cheerleading chorus.
The media plays an essential role in shaping the democratic spirit. It needs to distance itself from official views of the government, particularly at times of controversy. America, as the most powerful state in the world, especially needs public debate on critical policy issues, both for its own sake and in relation to its role as global leader.
12. Your analyses of world issues are cogent and carefully thought out. But do you ever proceed from analysis and criticism to propose possible solutions to these world order challenges?
Much of my academic work has been devoted to depicting positive solutions for immediate problems and for longer term responses. For instance, I have long advocated a solution for the Palestine/Israel conflict by the application of international law principles to the respective rights of both peoples rather than rely on a geopolitical bargaining process between the grossly unequal sides mediated by the United States, no innocent bystander. A geopolitical roadmap will not lead to a just and stable solution, and represents a diversion from the search for a genuine peace, although it may function as a temporary truce. An international law roadmap, in contrast, would produce a two-state solution based on mutual recognition and equal sovereign rights, which would mean a shared Jerusalem, the elimination of the Israeli settlements, and some measured right of return for Palestinian refugees.
On a different plane, I have written consistently, including on several occasions in the International Herald Tribune, on the case for a Global Peoples Parliament as an essential step in the establishment of a global democracy. Such a step would acknowledge the increasing activism of transnational civil society, and help give the peoples an arena to express their concerns alongside the existing organs of the United Nations that allow governments to represent the membership consisting only of states.
On a still different plane, I have worked for many years within the framework of the World Order Models Project, a transnational group of scholars that has tried to promote global reforms, and has worked together since the late 1960s. The basic perspective has been a realization that different regions have different priorities and approaches in relation to global reform, but that there is a shared commitment to achieving global governance in forms that diminishes the role of war, promotes the economic well being of all persons, supports human rights and democracy, favors global extensions of democracy, is committed to environmental protection and ecological stability, and accepts human nature as essentially spiritual.
13. What topics are you working on now?
I am currently working on several projects with the goal of producing three books. The first is concerned with the American global role since September 11, emphasizing the importance of avoiding the temptation on the part of Washington to establish the first global empire. The struggle between the United States and al Qaeda represents the first post-modern war, as my earlier book The Great Terror War argues, being waged between two non-territorial adversaries: a global state that overrides the sovereign rights of other states and a concealed transnational network that relies on extreme political violence directed against civilians. In contrast, modern warfare involved conflicts between territorial sovereign states. The new book will argue that it is important, in my view, that the United States not pursue an imperial approach to global security, but rely on international cooperation and a show of respect for international law and the procedures of the United Nations, and work toward a system of democratically organized global governance, a constructive globalization.
My second project is to deal with the complicated and confused American relationship to international law, at once its principal champion and also currently its main detractor. To some extent, this is not a new problem, but goes back at least as far as Woodrow Wilson’s vision of collective security under the authority of the League of Nations. Wilson sold his vision to the world but not to the US Senate that refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty setting up the League, and the US never became a member. The story is somewhat more complicated in relation to the United Nations, but essentially the same. The United States has played the dominant role in shaping the organization, but it has also tried to manipulate and control its operations, and when it has been frustrated, it has acted alone in defiance of UN authority. The Iraq War is perhaps the most flagrant example, but it is only one of many.
My third project is more personal and may never see the light of day. It is to do a political memoir that tries to combine narratives of my outer journeys with an overview of my inner travels, combining the political with the personal.
14. If you would like to add anything, please feel free to do so.
I would only say that I feel privileged to have spent so much time in Turkey over the course of the last decade under the guidance of my Turkish wife. It is such a vibrant country, exhibiting great cultural depth and such warm hospitality, and its promise connects so profoundly with the present historical moment. I see Turkey as having the opportunity to create for the region and for the Islamic world a new political model of reconciliation between the enlightened secularism of the modern state and the religious values and cultural attitudes of traditional societies. Such an evolution presents a formidable challenge that can only be met by drawing on the resources of Turkey’s Ottoman past while sustaining and carrying forward the modernizing ideas of the Kemal Ataturk. In doing so, Turkey would be carrying out a creative experiment in combining its identity as a European and Middle Eastern country, as well as having the benefit of participating in regional arrangements while retaining its separate identity as nation and state. Such an inspirational possibility can only be achieved, however, if the unresolved problems of minority relations are dealt with by Turkey in a manner that satisfies human rights commitments.