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International Community?

Dear all,

I think that we need to think about internationalist rhetoric, and how we
use it. It's a potent weapon in the hands of both sides of the sanctions
debate, as Cook, Blair and Hain regularly demonstrate. Below is something
that I wrote about it a few months ago, and I've not really changed my mind
since. It's an extract from a Green Left pamphlet called 'Back to the
Future', which you can order for 1.50 from

Incidentally, I don't think the issue of Israel's nuclear arsenal should be
conflated with the issue of whether or not Jewish people have rights.

Best wishes

[Below, 'SDR' = Labour's 1998 Strategic Defence Review]

5. Amnesty International With Rockets: the justification
NATO's spokesman during the Kosova war got his PhD in History for a study of
the way that the belligerent powers in World War One justified themselves to
intellectuals. As old communists would say: 'this is not a co-incidence'.
Every war fought by an advanced capitalist country in the last 150 years has
always had a group of liberal cheer-leaders, ready to explain why, even
though all the previous conflicts might have been wrong, this one is 'the
first moral war'. It is like those 'Peanuts' cartoons, where Lucy held the
football for Charlie Brown to kick. Each time she convinced him that this
time she wouldn't pull it away at the last miunte. Each time, she did. Each
time, the liberal intellectuals come to a grudging conclusion some years
later, that maybe the Gulf War wasn't fought to usher in a new era of
democracy and freedom, for instance.
Ruling groups are well aware of the need to dress up their nationalism in
the clothes of internationalism. The idea that NATO can fight a 'moral war'
for 'humanitarian ends' is dangerous in the same way that patriotism or
communalism are dangerous - because they do have a certain appeal. It would
be nice if all this expensive overwhelming force really was being used to
selectively kill the bad guys. We want our taxes to be financing a crusade,
rather than paying for selfish aggrandisement. But we need to remember the
first useage of the word 'crusade'. Interventions have always been presented
as defending a nice person (those White Russians, for instance, or the
lovely Greek Royalists, or the Kenyan settlers, or those useful Kuwaiti
Al-Sabahs) from nastiness both general and specific.
According to the SDR, the British armed forces are now going to be 'a force
for good'. As Mandy Rice-Davies once remarked, 'They would say that,
wouldn't they?' Illustrative examples were peppered throughout the SDR press
releases. The new modifications to the software in Nimrod aircraft will help
them do things like look for refugees in East Africa. We're going to train
the South African Army. That's nice: the training given to the armies of the
feudal Gulf states doesn't seem to feature in the PR.
International Lynch law
The Kosova war was a turning point for New Labour because it marked a U-turn
in their policy towards international law. Before the illegal intervention,
they had been consistently advocating an international order based on a
binding court of justice, and intervention according to the UN Charter. Both
these proposals were being opposed by the US. Labour had also been
co-operating with attempts to bring Pinochet to justice. The use of War
Crimes indictments is not even-handed. Only the paranoid think that 'they'
are reading everything we send and tapping our phones. Of course, they're
not - there's not enough of them - but they are reading and listenting to
everything they want to. For details of exactly how this is done, read about
project ECHELON. What this means in practice is that, given the dodgy
dealings inherent in the exercise of state power, the G7 states have enough
evidence to drop any world leader in the War Crimes Trial soup any time they
feel like it. 
Most of the time, the rulers stay on side, but sometimes they have to be
brought up sharp. Remember Noriega? The manipulation of war crimes
indictments by the selective release of intelligence is something only the
G7 states are capable of doing. Thus, we have to remember that, whatever the
motives of those human rights lawyers working to bring criminals to justice,
the likelihood is that they will only ever get to practise their prosecution
skills on those criminals who have stepped out of line. A 'rule of law' that
exempts certain groups is no rule of law at all.
While not ideal, Labour's attempt to give more teeth to international law
was certainly a better option than: 'bomb the people ruled by this week's
bad guys'. Think of the difference between a corrupt judge and lynch law.
But all this went out the window - along with the UN Charter, the NATO
treaty, and the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which
prohibits the threat of force to get a signature on international agreements
- when they bombed Yugoslavia. The NATO powers have since 're-defined' their
treaty to include interventionist operations, in a statement issued on April
24 1999, which even though it fundamentally changed the justification for
the alliance, does not need to be ratified by the parliaments of any of the
signatory states. The executives are (literally) calling the shots.
We must at all times question the idea that the Supreme Headquarters Allied
Powers Europe, located in a bunker near Brussels, has anything to do with
something called the 'international community'. This latter entity might
exist as a formless set of desires for peace and justice, but at the moment
its only expression in practice is via the militaries of the 'liberal
democracies': organisations that have a very different agenda built into all
of their preferred outcomes, and which rarely go to war in the spirit of
liberality or democracy.

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