On strongly coercive containment regime

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GEOMETR.IT   University of California Television

* Conservative critics of the welfare state claim that many of the people receiving welfare don’t ‘need’ it in any reasonable sense of that word.

Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, who reflects on his intellectual journey. Topics covered include: the influence of his parents; his Jewish upbringing; his education at Brandeis; Harvard, and Cambridge; his tenure at Dissent and the impact of the protest movements of the 1960’s.

Walzer compares the work of a political theorist and that of a social critic. He analyzes humanitarian intervention and drone warfare in the context of just war theory. He also discusses the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse from the perspective of a social critic.

  • You’ve been highly critical of the Bush administration’s policy towards Iraq and especially of their attempt to legitimate a doctrine of preventive war. At the same time, you have suggested that European critics of the US administration  especially the French and German governments  have failed to take seriously their own responsibility for the maintenance of a peaceful international order and have undermined international efforts to contain Saddam Hussein.
  • Could you say something about how these criticisms are connected to the account of just war you defend in Just and Unjust Wars? In your view, how should European powers see their international role in a world in which the United States is as militarily dominant as at present

The criticisms that I have made of the Bush administration’s doctrine of pre-emptive war follow pretty closely, I think, the argument in Just and Unjust Wars (see the chapter on ‘Anticipations’). But my critique of French and German policy doesn’t have much to do with just war theory.

It is a much more general moral/political critique, having to do with hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than with injustice. France and Germany did not refuse to fight or wrongly resist a just war; they refused to provide what was in their power to provide: a serious alternative to an unjust war.

I continue to believe, even at this late date, that had France and Germany (and Russia too) been willing to support, and had the UN Security Council been willing to authorise, a strongly coercive containment regime for Iraq, the war would have been, first, unnecessary, and second, politically impossible for the American government to fight. But this would have involved giving up the notion that force was a ‘last resort,’ as the French said, or morally impermissible, as the Germans said.

For containment depended on force from the beginning: the no-fly zones and the embargo required forceful actions every day, and the restoration of the inspection regime depended on a credible American threat to use force.

Now imagine the no-fly zones expanded to include the whole country; imagine the very porous embargo replaced by ‘smart sanctions,’ which actually shut down the import of military equipment (while permitting materials needed by the civilian population);

  • imagine the inspectors strengthened by UN troops, who could patrol installations once they had been inspected, and by unannounced surveillance flights.
  • Given all that, it would have been very difficult to make a case that Iraq was still a threat to its neighbours or to world peace.
  • But the US did not want a regime of that sort, having settled on war early on; and France and Germany were not willing to support anything close to this: they had, in fact, decided that the appeasement of Saddam was the best policy.

What should be the role of Europe in a future international order? European states together could create a new balance of power, but that would require military expenditure on a scale that none of them, with the exception of theUK, seems willing to contemplate.

Even so, some increase in their military budgets seems to me necessary if they are to play the part that I would like them to play in deciding when war is just and necessary. They can’t claim such a role and then, if the decision is made to go to war, insist that the US (or the US and the UK) do all the fighting. That’s not a morally tenable position.

The US needs partners, real partners, who can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to our government  but these have to be partners who are ready to take responsibility for the way the world goes. Iraq would have nuclear weapons today, had Europe alone been making decisions about the inspection regime, the embargo, and the no-fly zones. And there would be many fewer Kosovars alive in Kosovo today had Europe alone been making decisions there. It is easy to criticise American unilateralism; I do that all the time. But European irresponsibility is an equally serious problem.

You make some very cogent points about the attitude of the European powers, but the analysis leaves two kinds of question outstanding. First, you are obviously implying that military action to implement a ‘strongly coercive containment regime’ would have been justified. But is it in your view ever justified to intervene militarily in order to effect regime change?

I am reminded of the doctrine of double effect in relation to chronically sick patients, whereby pain relief can be given even if it will cause death, so long as causing death is not the primary purpose of the treatment. It is clear that some elements within the US administration have on the contrary seen regime change as the primary purpose of intervention, to liberate the Iraqi people regardless of their preferences in the matter. How do you see this problem in relation to the justice of the conflict?

Humanitarian interventions to stop mass murder and ‘ethnic cleansing’ will obviously aim at regime change, since the regime’s criminal behaviour is the reason for the intervention. Thus Vietnam replaced the Khmer Rouge regime inCambodia when its army shut down the killing fields, and Tanzania replaced Idi Amin’s government in Uganda. Had there been a UN intervention in Rwanda, as there should have been, it would surely have resulted in the overthrow of Hutu Power.

In the case of Iraq, the northern no-fly zone was something like a humanitarian intervention on behalf of the Kurds, and it produced something like a regime change, in the form of Kurdish autonomy.

But the safety and success of the Kurds undermined any argument that might have been made for a war for regime change in Baghdad. I don’t mean that this wasn’t an awful regime, the worst example of third world fascism. And so I accept what your question suggests: if it happened that a regime of coercive constraint weakened and eventually brought down the Baathist regime, that would have been a desirable side-effect, but only a side-effect, of the constraint.

This is why the issue of the second UN resolution assumed a significance on this side of the water that it perhaps did not possess in the US. A second resolution would have made the war more clearly legal (condition c)), thereby swinging a large majority of public opinion behind it (condition b)) The questions are: would a Security Council resolution conferred legitimacy on the war in your view? And should either the US or the UK have gone ahead without it? More generally: what is the relationship between the philosophical principles of just war and the pragmatics of law and political consent?

The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at:  University of California Television

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