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Is War Returning?

"Military force must not be re-nationalized but must be left in the hands of the international organization so the old suffering of war does not spread again under the pretext of therapy...The Bush administration could have actually let the missile defense project drop after Sept 11..Powerful interest groups have a preferred access to the decision-centers of the executive..The Bush administration succumbs to this weakness of democracies.." From the German
Is War Returning?

Anamnesis of an Amnesia

by Ernst-Otto Czempiel

[This article is translated from the German in: Merkur 56, March 2002. Erst-Otto Czempiel is an emeritus professor of foreign policy and member of the Hesse Peace and Conflict Research, Frankfurt.]

International politics seems unexpectedly more depressing a decade after the end of the great worldwide East-West conflict. American bombers have bombarded Iraq for three years and Afghanistan since October 2001. The German army has taken up posts in the Balkan, at the Horn of Africa, in Kuwait and Kabul. The CDU urges increasing the defense budget. The American defense budget will be raised twelve percent or $48 billion to $380 billion, the greatest increase in twenty years. The European Union envisions its own crisis-reaction corps operational in 2003. A war in the conventional sense is not in sight but the military use of force returns into favor. Every reservation seems burst open after the fifty years of protective enclosure imposed by the mutual nuclear deterrence of the superpowers.

This was not the case from the start. Between 1990 and 1994, there was a drive to limit armaments, suspend military alliances and apply the peace dividends for the well-being of the population. This also happened in the so-called Eastern block. In contrast, Nato only withdrew to the background for four years until it offered new reasons for its existence with its expansion to eastern Europe and its political "partnership for peace" extending far into the former Soviet Union. The Yuguslavian war of succession opened it geographically to the Balkan along with the air war against Serbia. The new Nato doctrine was proclaimed in April 1999 globalized the range of the alliance. The Europeans did not want to see this but voluntarily accepted the instruction in Afghanistan.

The George W. Bush administration coming into office in 2001 carried out the policy change. It slowed down the rapprochement process between North and South Korea, supplied Taiwan with offensive weapons for the first time, gave a free hand to the radicals in the Middle East conflict and largely withdrew from arms controls. The political raison d'etre of this administration from the beginning was the missile defense system prompting cancellation of the 1972 ABM-treaty, the heart of the stability between the great powers. In the logic of deterrence, this step concealed offensive intentions.

The terrorist mass murder of September 11 that cost 3000 innocent human lives tore down the last barricades in the way of the apocalyptic horsemen of violence. The monster gave the Bush administration carte blanche. Afghanistan was destroyed and the Taliban government expelled. No one knows how many people were killed; no one claims that terrorism was wiped out. Somalia is regarded as the next place of violence, then Yemen, Iraq and if necessary Iran one after the other. The Federal Government of Germany is already working to this end by stationing German ships at the horn of Africa and tanks in Kuwait. Violence, it seems, is on the way of removing all those fetters previously applied by the system of western-liberal norms and words, by historical reason and by the relation of expense and result.

The Order of the World

This development introduced by the US, the leader of western civilization and not by any "rogue state" is shocking and depressing. The Europeans willingly accepted the change. No thought was given to the long-term consequences on political order. A strategic amnesia has spread over the West. Does it come out of the change of generations in the political class where experiences were extinguished without being replaced with systematic learning? Or do we face a change of policy that generally de-stigmatizes violence behind the banner of combating terrorism and restores violence in the arsenal of foreign policy tactics? Have the societies become so deadened that they allow government decisions bringing back war? They make holes in the world order as a political tactic that not only enclosed but eliminated war as a political tactic for more than fifty years.

This order was established in 1945 with the founding of the United Nations. Its political core is the prohibition of force for political goals (Article 2.4 UN Charter) and the complementary monopoly on force of the Security Council. Both, like the concept of international organization generally, were in no way the work of idealistic dreamers and fanatics but tough statesmen like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The conceptual designs of the Charter reflected the experiences from the outbreak of two world wars and the theoretical insights of the past two centuries [cf. Ruth B. Russell, A History of the United Nations Charter 1940-1945, Washington, Brookings, 1958]. The statements of the American Secretary of State Cordell Hull in 1943 are revealing. In this world formed by the international organization, "there is no necessity any more for spheres of influence, alliances and balances or other special arrangements through which the states in the sad past promoted their security or their interests."

The collaboration of states in an international organization was able to abolish one of the two great causes of war, uncertainty. After the European experiences from 1919 to 1945, the right to war was no longer an attribute of state sovereignty. Force could only be used for defense, not for political goals. The rejection of the politization of military force did not reject power. Power is the medium of all politics but is modernized by non-aggression and synchronized with the socio-economic conditions found in this world. Thus non-aggression is pragmatically indispensable, not only for political order. The powerful are benefited when and because their civil power potential towers above their rivals. Political power is flexible and adroit and can be used successfully worldwide without problem. No one knew this better than the United States during the time of the Cold War. Without firing a single shot, they could maximize their influence worldwide through the export of the "American way of life".

Military force is not superfluous. Military force must be reserved for every state for the emergency of defense. It must be used against the most different aggressions to prevent aggressions. Only the community of states can decide in the form of international organization, not the individual state. The political arbitrariness hidden behind the term reason of state is given free rein. The force protecting or restoring peace must be established with collective consensus.

This world order successfully functioned from 1945 to 1999. Though violated, the principle remained. The conduct of the two sides was standardized in the East-West conflict. This was the basis for the punishment of Iraq in the second Gulf war and the standard judging all aggressive intentions. This world order created the foundation of modern international law. The "scourge of humanity", war, was ended. Nato diverged from this principle for the first time in Serbia and then in Macedonia by managing the Security Council decision and mandating itself. the Bush administration left the Security Council in a vague applauding role and used force against Afghanistan alone.

Unlike Serbia, the general indignation over the mass murder of September 11 guaranteed a near unanimous authorization of force by the Security Council. However the Bush administration did not want this. Like its ideological predecessor, the Reagan administration, the Bush group wanted to minimize the United Nations because they saw a limitation of American freedom of action in its world order. The justice that the Charter envisioned is carried out. This is not anachronistic but Washington's power consciousness misjudging that renunciation on this order gives free reign for the use of forced for the US and any state with that capacity. Then war that nearly died out in the global system of states would return.

The Disturbance of September 11

Who wanted to turn the whole world order out of joint to combat the terrorist on which his security depends? Obviously the organizers of the mass murder of September 11 must be identified, arrested and punished. The prevailing world order did not prevent that. A mandate of the Security Council, if necessary only to the US as the main concerned, could have made possible intervention without leaving the order intact... The removal of the Taliban was intended. American power politics and oil and natural gas interests must be served. If a veto would have been lodged in the Security Council against the authorization, the General Assembly could have been called and moved to legitimate American force corresponding to the 1952 resolution "Uniting for Peace". This would have been possible and legitimate form other sources than the faint consent of selected governments gathered by the United States for its single-handed effort. Preserving and using the world order would have been possible and strategically much more successful. Terrorism is nourished from the consensus that it produces. Without this consensus, terrorism withers and dries up.

The governments could point out that the world order prohibits the use of force by social groups. Only states are entitled to the right to the defensive use of force vested in the UN Charter. This is still true even if all applications of force in the modern social world can no longer be ordered politically in the old way. On one side, war has turned inward and become civil war. On the other side, numerous social actors in the international system use force. Transnational corporations and nearly 30,000 non-governmental organizations indispensable in international politics have brought about the international criminal court in Rome and the prohibition of anti-personnel mines. These organizations are indispensable in all peace security activities and local conflict resolutions.

On the negative side, organized criminality and terrorism have persisted since the sixties... In the new social world, governments still have significant potentials of power and force but no longer the monopoly. Military force is no longer enough. Whoever wants to overcome force must subject his own force to the cherished order. To have ignored this after September 11 is one of the great weak spots of American and Western European terrorism policy.

What is Terrorism?

As a phenomenon of social actors, terrorism can only be combated with the consensus of societies. For the West, disqualifying the acts of violence of social groups as terrorism when this assessment is not shared by other societies is not enough. The General Assembly at its session this year was rightly urged to focus on a definition of terrorism. However the disarming dictum of the American president who regards anyone "against us" as a terrorist was followed. The use of force by social actors is judged very differently by allied and friendly state governments than by Germany. To the Egyptian Prime Minister Mubarak, a Palestine suicide assasin is just as understandable as the 1983 attack in Beirut when 241 American sailors were killed: "Someone defending his country within his country is not a terrorist". The government in Saudi Arabia also thinks this way. Both are the staunchest allies of the US.

As everybody knows, the power of definition is the most important power. Of the 38 violent conflicts in 2001, 32 were civil wars (cf. Heidelburg Institute for International Conflict Research, 2002). Some go so far as to interpret the attacks of September 11 as the first sign of a globalizing civil war. Whoever dismisses the phenomenon as terrorism is reductionist. The world that engendered and engenders this violence thinks differently than the West and the US. If nearly 60 percent of the global power elites according to a poll by the International Herald Tribune (Dec 20, 2001) believe that American world policy decisively contributed to the terrorist acts of September 11, it is high time for Washington and Western Europe to be politically concerned.

The term terrorism should be differentiated. Terorrists act and remain anonymous. The act should be seen, not the culprit. Governments easily ascribe the terrorist act to the respective enemy of choice. Osama Bin Laden, Al Quida, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Yemen were connected with September 11. The reproach of terrorism is as convenient as being a heretic or witch in the Middle Ages. Suspicion was enough. How many civilian Afghanis must die is not known. Imperceptibly the goal of the use of force was shifted from combating terrorism to removing disagreeable governments. The Afghanistan war was promoted to the prototype of a change in government induced from the outside with force applicable everywhere.

Since the terrorism reproach obviously only serves the public justification of Washington's world political plans and Europe's governments are silent about this, the societies themselves must worry about opposing terrorism. Terrorism must be taken very seriously and a new attack on the order of September 11 avoided unconditionally. Interior ministers and intelligence services trace sleeping terrorists. Still this is no substitute for a strategy that prevents terrorist acts and removes terrorism as a whole. The phenomenon calls for differentiation.

Strictly speaking, the term terrorism is only one of many groupings. Violence is applied for its own sake; the act is momentous and faceless. The poison gas attacks of the Aum-sect in the Tokyo train station and the detonation of the office building in Oklahoma for which the assassin McVeigh was executed a year ago are counted. Those who resist a state use of force not accepted by them and oppressing them should be clearly distinguished from this small group. Not strong enough for civil war, they use concealed violence. Although often represented this way by the concerned governments, this use of force should not be generalized as apolitical terrorism but as an act of resistance whose motives should be individually analyzed and evaluated. The change of Nelson Mandela from terrorist to South Africa's president illuminates the analytical and normative problematic just like the change of Yassir Arafat to head of the autonomous Palestinian authority. The murder attack of September 11 can be charged to a third group of actions. They do not appeal to resistance but pursue a diffuse political project. Because the political project was not named, the term terrorism is unjustified. Why was the World Trade center attacked and not the Empire State building? This terrorism should clearly be interpreted as a political phenomenon.

No letters or political manifestos claimed responsibility on September 11. While the causes of this terrorism remain hidden, terrorism clearly has a context... Three complexes are relevant: the still unresolved Middle East conflict intensifying for a long time where the US is regarded as partisan, the strangulation of the Iraqi people after the end of the Gulf war through sanctions and bombardments in which all Muslims feel humiliated and finally American (and western) world politics which is seen as an important cause for the increasingly unequal distribution of economic wealth.

These attitudes are not the cause of political terrorism; their bearers are not responsible for them. The attitudes only form the environment for this attack. This is strategically interesting because political terrorism can be influenced by changing this context. Ten years ago before the beginning of the Gulf war, the presence of the US in the Middle East was welcomed as a positive contribution to the development of a more tolerant, more modern political culture in the Arab world. The policy afterwards, said Simon Katem, the former Libyan ambassador in the US in July 2001, "strengthened the hand of Bin Laden."

These insights have circulated in politics. In unison Chancellor Schroder and foreign minister Fischer pointed out on September 19, 2001 in the German Bundestag that the long overdue ending of the Middle East conflict would contribute to the successful combating of terrorism. Robert M. Gates, the director of the American secret service, the CIA, for many years declared that the terrorists must obviously be punished and strategies pursued "that weaken the roots of terrorism"... Why is the US that called into being and long defended the present world order now annulling it?

States change

The tendency to see the breach of American interests in the rules of the UN Charter and no longer the promotion of American interests can be seen for some time in American foreign policy. This tendency increased in the course of the East-West conflict and was clearly manifest in the Reagan administration (1980-1988). President George Bush bound the development after the end of the East-West conflict in 1990 back to the new world order invoked by him relying on the United Nations. After 1994, this tendency was dominant.

The venerable theory of realism offers two explanations. In an international system marked by anarchy, all states gain as much power as possible. Whoever has the most power can force the others to adapt. The states only work in international organizations as long as their power increases. Whoever is promoted to the superpower can only see the limitation of power in such an organization. The United States has been in this uncontested position of world superpower since 1990 after the Soviet Union dissolved. The US was not dependent any more on any assistance for its interests and preferred using military force for their realization even when the disciplined effect of nuclear deterrence was cancelled with the rival Soviet Union. The position of the US in the international power configuration as the one world hegemonist including the seduction to world imperialism is an interesting partial explanation. The perspectives of perfect power are so dazzling that the memory of the results of such superpower politics that led to the paradigm change of 1945 could fade.

Like the theory of realism altogether, this argument does not do justice to the complexities of foreign policy decisions. The rule system has a differentiating influence on the foreign policy of states. Democracies act differently than autocracies. The canon of values of a society, its world pictures, conflict perceptions and preferred solutions channel the strategy. The influence of these parameters on American foreign policy is clear when the Carter and Reagan administrations in the time of the Cold War and later the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are compared. The general trend to increasing unilateralism guiding power distribution in the international system varies so substantially that this trend can only be interpreted as a condition, not a cause of American conduct. This condition must be sought in the internal power configuration of the US, in the changing constellation of different power elites.

No state is identical with itself in its policy for the long run. This aspect is completely alien to the static thinking of realism. The US of 2002 appears very differently in domestic policy than the US of 1945 that in its turn was demonstrably different than the US in 1919 after the First World War. This is especially graphic in the case of Germany. The change in 1949 was so radical that bringing the policy of the Federal Republic and the policy of the great German empire in an historical connection is not easy. Continuity prevailed from 1949 to the present. The change jumps at us in many practical areas. After the first "out of area" deployments, not much is left of the "civil society" as the Federal Republic of Germany understood itself during the Cold War.

States do not act uniformly in all phases of time. The constant of system anarchy is not manifest in an invariable program. The mix of its actions and reactions varies considerably according to the composition of the power elite deciding foreign policy. The question must be worked out why the US (and many of its allies) repress the state of knowledge of 1945 and resort to strategies that should have been finally abolished with the founding of the United Nations on account of the experiences of two world wars.

The first fracture occurred in 1947/1948 when the Truman administration decided to work out the burgeoning opposition with the Soviet Union with the classical instrument of a military alliance, not in the framework of the newly created instrument of the United Nations. After only two years, the bureaucracy in the area of security made contact to the traditions of realpolitik in force before 1945. The following administrations developed alternating policies on this foundation. Unilateral hegemonial leadership models (Nixon, Reagan) were varied with stronger multilateral cooperative models (the later Nixon, Carter above all). Clinton began with an "assertive multilateralism" until it was reconfigured by the bureaucracy to the hegemonial style. George W. Bush doesn't need a private tutor. His administration originates from ultra-right wing republicanism where unilateralism is a foreign policy axiom. The energy- and missile industries are special lobbies to this administration. Therefore security of access to oil and natural gas is uppermost in foreign policy like the construction of a national missile defense system.

A greater antithesis to Clinton's world politics could hardly be imagined. Clinton tried to soothe the trouble spots of this world (Korea, Middle East). Bush allows them to heat up and burn again. Clinton held fast to arms controls and set his sights on a compromise with Moscow on missile defense. Bush accepts budget deficits in favor of an astronomical increase of the arms budget and tax reform. Clinton reduced the arms budget to finance social policy with the revenue surpluses.

Thus two very different policy possibilities compete for the same power position in the US. The separation is not entirely pure. Clinton carried out the first breach with the violence prohibition of the UN Charter in the Serbia war. In relation to Iraq, George W. Bush accepted the reserve laid down by Clinton up to the beginning of 2002. The two political models alternate.

The Domestic View of Foreign Policy

The theory of realism with its fixation on the state as an actor denies these connections. The liberal analysis that reflects the internal side of foreign policy immediately opens up these connections. The coalition supporting the George W. Bush administration in no way forgot the world order of 1945. Rather Americans and the world forgot the world order. Only this way were the foreign policy goals of this coalition enforced that promote the dominant interests.

This is not simple... If war in Afghanistan is justified as combating terrorism, there is no convincing reason for further interventions. Richard Perle sits on the influential Defense Policy Board that earlier advised the secretary of defense. He had already conceived and orchestrated the security policy of the Reagan administration. Now the overthrow of the dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq must follow the overthrow of the Taliban.

The political security project of the Bush administration, the missile defense system, is also not simple. No American expert sees the US threatened by strategic missiles in the foreseeable future. When defense secretary Rumsfeld was still chairperson of the missile lobby, he conjured "broad secret information available to most
Analysts in the intelligence world". As we know today, this secret information came from the laboratories of the missile firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Still the secret information is effective in the American public.

Defining the security situation of a state is politics on the large scale. This decides the world politics of a state, friend and enemy, cooperation or conflict. Threat analysis orders the ranking of all important projects as the framework for distribution of power, influence and profit. Therefore this analysis is always a main point. Because the CIA did not rate the threat by the Soviet Union highly enough, Reagan simply sent in his "B" team for alarming. Conversely toward the end of his time in office, Clinton replaced the term "rogue state" with the term "protector states" and thus gave wind to the hawks' sails.

The Bush administration could have actually let the missile defense project drop after September 11. The attack confirmed the assessment of all intelligence services that the US in the foreseeable future will not be threatened by a foreign state but by conventional terrorism. As the CIA and ten other agencies summarized in the middle of January 2002 in the National Intelligence Estimate, weapons of mass destruction will be brought into the US by ships, trucks and civilian aircraft, not by long-range missiles. The US government was not put off. Relying on the great support by the American public, the US government pushed forward the missile defense program. The marines who even stopped their short-range missile system in the middle of December because of proven failure tested it again at the end of January.

The Bush administration succumbs to the weakness of democracies described by John Stuart Mill at the beginning of the 19th century. Powerful interest groups have a preferred access to the decision centers of the executive. Many things improved since the century before the last. Still everything has in no way changed. The US Supreme Court recently defined party contributions as an element of political freedom of speech and thus countered the attempt over many years to finally control private election campaign financing. The collapse of the energy giant Enron in January 2002 showed the closeness and privileged nature of the direct connections between interest groups and political power in the US. Fortified interests of American corporations are served behind the banner of "Enduring Freedom". In the 19th century, European politicians had cotton in their ears when they spoke of God in Asia in Asia Minor. Now freedom is emphasized where oil, natural gas and pipelines are really involved...

Brussels presented the European Energy charter in 1990, a partial order of the globalization world. Access to mineral resources - classical cause of war alongside opposing territorial claims - can only be governed multilaterally, not unilaterally with force.

This is also the opinion of the American society. American opinion affirms multilateralism (75 percent) and American involvement in US peace operations (57 percent). Half of all Americans (48 percent) urge the payment of American UN debts. In contrast, the Bush administration prefers single-handed efforts and violence as a means for settling conflict. Information dominance is sought to adjust the society of the US and the whole world to this new paradigm... Three information centers in Washington, London and Kabul organize speeches, conversations, conferences and meetings of every kind to dominate international television. Washington prohibits the American media from broadcasting Bin Laden's video addresses and additional information. Thus the "fourth branch" doesn't have it easy. The tendency of events can hardly be recognized with the dissection of events in daily portions. If the executive intervenes obstructively, the media only rudimentally exercise their control function indispensable for a functioning democracy.

Foreign policy is decided in the rule system of the state. The state's relative power position in the international system plays a contingent role. "Democratic peace" functions when the rule system is democratic and transports the demands of the society undistorted in the decisions of the executive. Force should only be used for defense or ordered by an international organization. When this mechanism of democracy is underdeveloped or deformed with the help of the primacy of foreign policy, the Mill syndrome develops. Partial interests dominate the executive and use the executive's monopoly of force for its goals.

Remembering and Obeying

The fading remembrance of the 1945 regulative system is not due to its quality and function but to the changed interests of the dominant power elites. More than fifty years have passed since the founding of the United Nations. The world changed with the happy end of the East-West conflict. Still the prohibition about using force for political purposes is more modern than ever. Progress in reducing the share of force in politics is necessary, not restoration of war. There is no reason to deviate from this important and strategically very realizable maxim. Military force must still be used as long as the causes of violence latent in the rule system are not removed. However military force may not be re-nationalized but must be left in the hands of the international organization so the old suffering of war does not spread again under the pretext of therapy.

This remembrance work awaits the German political parties and should not be abandoned to the political margins. While discourse in the United States occurred immediately - democracy has very deep roots in the US -, discourse is avoided in Germany by stressing the "credibility" of German politics and "alliance solidarity". Current policy of Germany is subject to many adaptation pressures. These constraints come from the leadership interest of the US, the positional interest of Germany in the scope of the European Union and Nato and the domestic positional pressures of the 2002 Bundestag election. Economic and political pressure groups also exist. Publically discussing strategy questions of foreign policy is certainly not easy under these conditions. But is not politics an "art of the possible"?

Foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher practiced this "art of the possible" when he continued the détente policy in a single-handed effort that President Reagan redefined in his first years into confrontation. Allies are not accessories but friends who anticipate in solidarity actions what the leading power will later regard as right. The American society is temporarily traumatized by the human catastrophe and the losses in self-assurance and confidence of power so that the political offers of the Bush administration are not criticized. Europeans must step into the breach as they did hesitantly in Korea and the Middle East. Germany has a special debt to its creditor. Germany owes its political identity and foreign policy culture of non-aggression to the American influence and model. Therefore Berlin should cooperate that the world order corresponding to the civil society established in 1945 and confirmed in 1990 is not damaged by the seductions of opportunists.

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For whom? 06.Jun.2002 12:47

Jack Straw

He says the world order functioned "successfully" from 1945 to 1999. Succssfully for whom? For the global corporate structure, the present emobodiment of world capital.