Saturday, February 19, 2011

Security Council Vetoes and Legacy Politics

Security Council Vetoes and Legacy Politics

Yesterday the US vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning continued Israeli settlement activity.  There are only two possible interpretations of this act which goes against international law, international consensus and the US government’s own professed opposition to new settlements.  Ambassador Rice’s justification that it is inappropriate for the Council to attempt to resolve the core issues between the parties is simply not convincing.  What other purpose does the UN have, if not to attempt to resolve problems that endanger world peace and establish principles of international law?  Either the US is unable to escape its legacy of supporting Israel come what may (a political position that began with its support for the establishment of Israel in 1948 and continued during the era of client states in the Cold War) or it is intent upon undermining the legitimacy of the UN once again.  So, President Obama has taken one more step towards compromising with the policies he inherited from previous administrations.

National and international diplomacy cannot be revised incessantly of course.  That would make for a very unstable world.  But there must be moments in time when a zero based reassessment of policies and alliances is warranted.  Surely a fresh analysis of US policy in the Middle East is in order following Israel’s resumption of construction on occupied lands despite the Obama administration’s plea to extend the moratorium on new settlements.  It would also seem wise to present a more balanced policy in the region given the popular uprisings across Arab countries.  Providing such blatant cover for illegal, Israeli settlements is certain to strengthen the hand of radical opinion on the Arab street against the rising tide of democratic, secular activism.  So much for President Obama’s pledge to bring a new global perspective to US foreign policy. 

While discussing such matters, could someone explain to me why the permanent members of the Security Council continue to retain their veto powers?  Those veto rights are themselves a legacy stemming from agreements at the conclusion to World War II.  As we move increasingly toward a multi polar global community (and with the G20 meeting ongoing in Paris) can it possibly be appropriate to exercise a legacy authority that is no longer justifiable?  Let us raise a banner in favour of the enforcement of international law.  Let us promote international institutions that recognize the emerging realities of the distribution of power in the world.  And let us accept the loss of legacy symbols of authority, such as veto rights within the Security Council.  Policies that diverge from such a reasoned approach are bound to augment risks to world peace.

David Hillstrom
Author of The Bridge

Friday, February 18, 2011

Perspectives on Egypt

Having lived in Cairo for a couple of years during the late 90s, I have taken a special interest as events unfolded in recent weeks.  The political oppression was always in evidence, while I lived there, but as well I recall the terrible social discrepancies between poverty and blatantly conspicuous wealth.  Hundreds of poor families lived in the confines of the cemetary outside Cairo.  So witnessing Mubarak's downfall produced no regrets from my part.  But, as usual I do take issue with the manner in which US policy leaders have responded to the events.

Broadly speaking there were two perspectives on events.  The Obama administration was cautious but open to pressure from liberals to meddle in Egyptian affairs, whether through public commentary or direct phone calls to Mubarak.  Conservatives on the other hand were playing the game of realpolitik and appeared eager to support an old ally who ensured regional stability and a peaceful border for Israel.  The conservative appraoch is the most distasteful, since it amounts to direct, imperial meddling.  Presumably conservatives were eager to retain their facilities for rendition in Egypt.  But the liberal perspective is equally misplaced.  When will liberals learn that the US simply does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of independent, sovereign states?  I accept that there was justifiable concern for the safety of the demonstrators.  But that concern should be voiced through enahnced and empowered international institutions such as the UN and not unilaterally.  The US has over the years lost any moral authority it may have had to intervene in support of human rights.  By promoting such intervention liberals are themselves guilty of playing the empire card. 

Now that the uprising has been successful think tank intellectuals and oped authors are trumpeting the victory of democracy in the Middle East.  Some of them even suggest that this event justifies the US occupation of Iraq.  Such thoughts are a travesty of reason.  Personally I am afraid Mubarak's resignation may prove to be a brief interlude on the road to a new dictatorship.  I certainly wish the young activists well, but I would caution them that the struggle has only just begun.  Please don't be naive; you have not yet 'gotten your country back.'  That will only happen when a new constitution is in place, elections have been held and the army has retired to its barracks.  Even then the fledgling democracy will require decades before it becomes established within the social fabric.  Good luck, but keep your eyes wide open and don't place undue confidence in US meddling.  Your goal must be to build Egypt into a prosperous nation that is a fully independent member of the community of nations.