Strikes for prevention, collective regression

Article published on Oct. 21, 2002
community published
Article published on Oct. 21, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Some of us thought at first that from the horrors of the crumbled World Trade Centre a better American foreign policy could be born; more fair, more conscious of its weaknesses and excesses.

Some of us thought at first that from the horrors of the crumbled World Trade Centre a better American foreign policy could be born; more fair, more conscious of its weaknesses and excesses. Struck at their heart, the United States could perhaps understand that the days of defending only their own interests were counted, and that they would need to take into account the aspirations of a world that they themselves had made more interdependent. The war in Afghanistan was a primary bitter denial. Quite apart from the legitimacy of questionable retaliation, there was the feeling that this wasn't right, not the way to fight a war against terrorism.

And then came the axis of evil... Far from the search for a better understanding of the Bin Laden phenomenon and of criticising their previous foreign policy, the triumphant over-simplification of George W. Bush simply indicated the next target. It would be Iraq and its potential weapons of mass destruction, a country that had ignored UN resolutions for too long.

Everyone knows and evaluates this sequence of events and the American rhetoric that accompanied them with a rather long face. For those that believed that another American foreign policy was possible, one born of critical eye cast over American itself and September 11th, the evidence must be faced up to - the chances are not looking good. For those that sowed the seed of chaos in its heart, America is preparing to respond by cultivating chaos in international relations.

Terrorists are everywhere...

Chaos in Palestine first. The manifest disinterest in the conflict of the American administration, the quasi-unconditional support of Sharon's government, and the inflexible positions of each side, one in repression, the other as a martyr - of terrorism, which doesn't help matters - all this has made the possibility of peaceful resolution very distant.

Next there is terrorist chaos, because since Mr Bush declared war, terrorism has proliferated... It has to be said that today terrorists are everywhere, on every front, for every cause. The difficulty of reaching a definition of terrorism in international organisations is well known. In the meantime, the word is a catch-all term which allows authorities to destroy opposition movements, and when needed to repress them more easily. In the course of events we have seen the appearance of terrorists in Xinjiang, Georgia, the Ivory Coast, and the Philippines without their origin being properly determined. With so many cooks, the dish of the fight against terrorism has ended up inedible, justifying ever-greater breaches of human rights and individual liberties even in our democracies. This semantic confusion, the alibi of a heterogeneous coalition, characterises the world post September 11th.

Pre-emptive strikes and a new world disorder

Finally, strategic and judicial chaos with the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes developed by the American administration with regard to Iraq. This time American realpolitik has gone too far, in theory and in practice. Not only because they have got it into their heads to depose Sadaam Hussein with questionable reasons, but above all because the doctrine used to justify these strikes is dangerous. It is, in essence, a creator of disorder.

Any child can understand that hitting first to defend yourself is certainly very effective, but poses the problem of reciprocity. Within such a logic Sadaam Hussein could legitimately make his own pre-emptive strike against the United States, whose war machine is so evidently in action. But the United States represent good and Iraq evil, and the United States are the only superpower. We know who has the right to strike. Used at a global level this doctrine constitutes nothing but a step back, a return to the state of permanent anarchy in international relations.

Yet, to extricate itself from this condition, the international community has patiently installed collective security mechanisms which the UN, and more particularly the Security Council, applies. The basic principle of collective security lies in the ban of using threat or force in relations between States, apart from in cases of legitimate defence, and in cases authorised by the Security Council under Article VII of the Charter.

Death of the international community

What must be said, reaffirmed, shouted out loud, is that what Mr Bush is suggesting is nothing less than regression, a massive step back in time of more than a century, a return to the archaic international relations dominated by brut force. If the United States decided to go ahead in its war against Iraq without a Security Council resolution, it would amount to a death sentence for the institution. What is more it would be contrary to collective security mechanisms which, although not perfect, remain a tool in peacemaking and regulation of international relations, which should not be bypassed. It would be to go against the very notion of the international community. If the legitimacy of resolutions is already is already under fire through the stigma of the 'two powers, two measures' policy in the Middle East, then pre-emptive strikes, illegal in the eyes of international law, and outside the jurisdiction of the Security Council, would be the death blow to the institution's role as guarantor of collective security. By splintering this organisation, the United States could destabilise international relations even more than the hypothetical threat posed by Sadaam Hussein.

Faced with this major risk, Europe has remained incapable of speaking with a single voice, as it is so often in matters of foreign policy. A child of war, it should recognise the penalty of an irrational use of force when this only serves the interests of the one dealing the blow. From the implacable lesson of realpolitik, Europe should be capable of standing up and affirming its support of law and peace, notions that for the past 50 years have been preached on its continent. More than ever, Europe must speak out. So the United States are not the only ones to speak. So that they stop speaking falsely. That they may understand that they are taking the wrong path, and above all that they are dragging everyone, both enemies and allies, down with them.