sexta-feira, 27 de maio de 2022

USA vs Korea: Isolation and Forbidden Reunification


A recent military parade in Pyongyang showcased the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim Jong Un used the opportunity of the spectacle to promise that he would push the country’s nuclear program forward at maximum speed. To top it off, North Korea has been improving its tactical nuclear weapons, which means that it may soon be able to threaten South Korea with a nuclear strike as well.

North Korea’s nuclear program has been the perennial threat that concerns South Korea, East Asia, and the United States. Some pundits are even suggesting that the nature of this threat has recently changed—that North Korea is no longer just interested in possessing nuclear weapons in order to deter attacks by other countries. Instead, as Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin argues, North Korea is now seriously considering using nuclear weapons for offensive purposes as part of an effort to take over the Korean peninsula.

This seems far-fetched. Pyongyang has difficulty even maintaining control of its own territory. Having seen Russia’s embarrassing failure to take over Ukraine, a considerably weaker country, the North Korean government can’t seriously believe that it could invade and control South Korea, a considerably stronger country.

True, Russia’s nuclear weapons have made the United States and NATO reluctant to confront Russian forces directly in Ukraine, but they haven’t provided the Kremlin with any practical advantage over Ukraine on the battlefield. Given the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and U.S. security guarantees to South Korea, Pyongyang wouldn’t be able to use nuclear blackmail to aid in some hare-brained effort to seize the entire peninsula.

After all, Pyongyang knows that any use of nuclear weapons, be they against its southern neighbor or the United States, will result in massive retaliation. The North Korean leadership would be committing suicide if it launched an ICBM or tactical nuke.

No, in fact, nuclear weapons are not the biggest threat that North Korea poses to the world. North Korea’s greatest liability is something that it currently views as an asset: its radical isolation.

To protect itself against COVID-19, North Korea has closed its borders. During the pandemic, it even shut down trade with its principal economic partner, China, only resuming trade in January. Virtually all diplomatic staff have left the country, and so have humanitarian aid workers.

Fine, you might say, isolation befits North Korea. It doesn’t produce anything that the world particularly wants, unlike Russia and its oil, gas, and military exports. If it doesn’t want to play with others, it should be left undisturbed in its own sandbox.

But such isolation is actually dangerous—and not just for North Koreans. As part of its radical isolationism, North Korea has refused any COVID vaccines. It has so far turned down offers of three million doses of Sinovac and two million of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine.

The country’s population of 25 million unvaccinated people offers COVID an extraordinary opportunity not only to spread but also to mutate. A powerful new Pyongyang variant would not stay within the borders of North Korea. Even those who have little empathy for the plight of North Koreans have to understand that a new COVID variant could potentially kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of people all over the world.

Providing North Korea with tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines— the more effective drugs that the North Korean government reportedly prefers—would neutralize the country’s inadvertent biological weapon.

But North Korea’s isolation is dangerous for other reasons.

Economic isolation has pushed Pyongyang to pursue black market strategies to make money in global markets. It has been involved in the production of narcotics, particularly crystal meth. It has long been rumored to have produced counterfeit $100 bills. And it has unleashed its world-class hackers to extort money through various cyber-blackmail schemes and cryptocurrency manipulations.

The cultural isolation of the population has made it easier for the government to maintain its control over society. True, North Koreans manage to get some information from the outside, including South Korean TV dramas. But isolation increases the atomization of the population, making it all the more difficult to develop a civil society apart from the government sphere.

And the geopolitical isolation of the country—North Korea doesn’t belong to any regional organizations and, aside from the United Nations, few international organizations—makes it difficult to embed the country into the system of global laws and norms.

The North Korean government is certainly ambivalent about its isolation. On the one hand, Pyongyang doesn’t want to expose itself to what it considers to be various political and economic viruses—democracy, an unregulated free market—circulating in the outside world. On the other hand, the North Korean leadership recognizes that it cannot achieve its goal of a “strong and prosperous nation” behind high, impregnable walls. It has, for instance, consistently relied on China to sustain its economy. But the North Korean leadership views its current dependency on Chinese trade to be unacceptable, both because of the perceived inferior quality of Chinese goods and because of the risk of China using its advantage to put pressure on Pyongyang.

The bottom line is that North Korea wants to engage the outside world on its own terms.

Generally, the outside world has not been willing to meet North Korea halfway. Sanctions impede any serious economic engagement with the country. Hostile rhetoric prevents most political engagement. Even cultural engagement has been largely off the table, particularly during the pandemic.

These efforts to reinforce North Korea’s isolation are counter-productive. They only push the country into engaging in more of the behaviors that the outside world finds so noxious. And, in the case of COVID vaccines and humanitarian assistance, the outside world may well be creating the conditions for a catastrophe of massive proportions that will inevitably have negative consequences far beyond North Korea’s borders.

segunda-feira, 23 de maio de 2022

USA & NATO vs Russia in Ukraine: Washington's Geopolitical War XI

The disasters of war in Ukraine have not yet found their Francisco Goya, but it is, like any other war, a picture of death and destruction, which the mainstream media erroneously conveys as worst then any other war. This war, like all its predecessors, is hell. Writing about the putatively good war of 1939-1945, Nicholson Baker in Human Smoke described its beginnings as the advent of civilization’s end with the records of both sides marred by the most horrific war crimes. The reporting of Nicholas Turse in Shoot Anything that Moves about the war in Vietnam and of Vincent Bevins in The Jakarta Method about Washington-backed massacres worldwide in the Cold War showed Americans in these two cases as arch perpetrators of war crimes. Chalmers Johnson in the Blowback trilogy and Dismantling the Empire compiled long lists of American enormities in what he called our obsessive wars of empire in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Vladimir Putin record in Ukraine is still far from his worst enemies proclaim, but even at that it is well within the norm for war, the selective indignation about him notwithstanding. War and crimes go together. A question larger than the one about Putin’s "war crimes" concerns the origins of the war itself. Who or what caused the war? From that first cause ineluctable consequences of a criminal character followed.

On the principle that historical analysis requires an attempt to understand the motives of all sides in a war, the Russian argument deserves a fair hearing. Roy Medvedev, one of Russia’s most distinguished historians gave an interview on March 2, 2022, to the Corriere della Sera. The ninety-six-year-old Medvedev succinctly expressed the Kremlin view of the Ukraine crisis as a clash involving far more than Putin’s concern about NATO expansion to his country’s borders. The metastasizing of NATO illustrated but did not define for Russia the fundamental issue, which had to do with the failure of the USA to understand that the unipolar moment of its rules-based order had ended. The time had come for a paradigm shift in international relations.

As an example of the American hegemony’s failures, Medvedev commented on the effects of Washington’s supervisory role in Russia’s transition to capitalism. He was referring to the misery befalling Russia at Cold War’s end and astringently described by the Nobel Prize-winning Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz in Globalization and Its Discontents (2002). In general, Stiglitz could find nothing moral or competent in the way globalization had been imposed upon the world by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury Department. Globalization had turned into an enrichment scheme for international elites implementing and benefitting from the neoliberal Washington Consensus.

When Stiglitz came to discuss the Russian economy’s American-led post-Cold War reconfiguration, which evolved along lines pleasing to the Chicago School of true-believing free-market capitalists, he showed in copious detail what Medvedev was alluding to in his interview with Italy’s leading newspaper. This crash course in free market economics had produced a harrowing increase in the nation’s poverty. The Russian GDP declined by two-thirds from 1989 to 2000.The standard of living and life expectancy fell while the number of people in poverty rose. Levels of inequality grew as oligarchs took advantage of insider information to strip the country of its assets, which they invested not in Russia, but in the U.S. Stock Market. Billions of dollars poured out of the country along with a swelling emigration of talented and educated young people who could see no future for themselves there.

Revisiting the Russian experience of the 1990s, Medvedev cited the social consequences of these terrible years as the main reason for Putin’s popularity in Russia today. After ten years of Western democratic tutelage, the country had fallen apart. Medvedev credited Putin for reviving Russia and returning it to great power status. The charges made against him in the Western media, likening his government to the murderous tyranny of Stalin, Medvedev dismissed as a complete misreading of Russian history. He had lived under both these leaders. There was no comparison between them. Russia was a controlled society, to be sure, but Putin did not preside over its complex political system as a dictator.

Buoyed by high personal prestige nationwide, Putin had the support of the Russian people in the Ukraine intervention. It can be deduced from Medvedev’s interview that they had accepted Putin’s two-fold reasoning for Russia’s actions. First, for the Russians, the U.S.-NATO de facto alliance with Ukraine constituted an existential threat, made even more dangerous by the inclusion of Neo-nazi radicals anti-Russian elements in that country’s military forces. Beginning with the summit meeting of 2008 in Bucharest, the George W. Bush administration pushed for Ukraine and Georgia to become members of NATO, by definition and continued practice an anti-Russian alliance.

Thereafter, the march of events in that part of the world had been in one direction leading on November 10, 2021, to the U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership. This agreement outlined a process for that country’s integration into the European Union and NATO. Indeed, the military success of Ukraine against Russia reveals the large scope of the ceaseless NATO training program. From the Kremlin’s perspective an invasion became necessary to prevent an even more lethal threat from materializing on its doorstep.

In the aftermath of the Charter’s promulgation and USA’s refusal to acknowledge Russia’s concerns, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov declared that his country had reached its “boiling point.” Even these blunt words failed to impress policy makers in Washington.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a blunt declaration of his own about Ukraine’s right to choose its own foreign policy and to apply for membership in NATO if it wanted to, disregarding the practical inapplicability of this high-minded principle to Canada or Mexico should either of those nations discover their right to enter into a military alliance with Russia or China. Russia’s subsequent mobilization of troops on the Ukraine border prompted more bluntness from Blinken: “There is no change. There will be no change.”

That which would not change in essence concerned the Wolfowitz Doctrine. The American cause in Ukraine descends from this doctrine. Its proclaimed purpose is the focal point in the second part of Putin’s reasoning about Ukraine.

As Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the George Herbert Walker Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz authored the 1992 Defense Policy Guidance memorandum. This seminal foreign policy document called for the maintenance of American supremacy in the post-Cold War era. No rival superpower would be permitted to emerge. The unipolar domination of the United States would be maintained in perpetuity. The Democrats did not demur. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that the United States enjoyed a unique status in the world as the indispensable nation. Preserving U.S. economic and military primacy would enjoy bipartisan favor.

That Putin had uppermost in mind concerns about the credo of American supremacism became evident on February 4, 2022, when he and China’s President Xi Jinping issued their Joint Statement on New Era International Relations and Sustainable Development. They declared that instead of the U.S. hegemony, the U.N. Charter would be a better foundation for international relations. In short, the unipolar moment of which Medvedev would speak a month later, should pass into history.

The danger of the present crisis with Russia in Ukraine and the one to come with China in Taiwan involves the way all the principal powers envisage themselves facing existential threats. For the Russians and the Chinese, the immediate issues at stake are territorial, for the Americans, their global hegemony. The rules-based order of which the Biden administration speaks in defense of its Ukraine policy is the one we have devised and defended since the Bretton Woods financial conference of July 1944. The Wolfowitz Doctrine takes its place as one of the many appendices and codicils of the American Century mentality that assumed tangible institutional form with the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank along with the investment and military support systems of the Marshall Plan and NATO.

All that panoply of American power now confronts its first direct and forthrightly stated challenge since the end of the Cold War. How to face it? The USA could continue to stoke the war in Ukraine with money, arms, and economic sanctions while hoping that their direct involvement can be avoided. Given their multifarious involvement already, the fog of war greatly reduces the chances of success in keeping themselves clear of the actual fighting. In the protracted war now envisaged, clear-eyed restraint holding out for long on either side would be an unsafe bet. A negotiated settlement would be a rational step, but powers imagining themselves to be in dubious battle on the plains of Heaven seldom think of compromise until all the alternatives are exhausted. These alternatives include nuclear weapons exchanges.

With the perpetuation of the American hegemony as their core issue in Ukraine and the fundamental motive for the Biden administration’s four-alarm-fire response to the Putin challenge, it behooves them as a nation to look candidly at the policy they are defending. The USA are not there to save the Ukrainian people from death or Ukraine from destruction, two objectives most effectively reached by the propaganda that they want to end the war as quickly as possible, instead of by perpetuating it as they are doing. As a nice bonus for Washington's side, profits are up for the defense corporations, which must feel ennobled by their assistance to a Ukrainian cause all but universally blessed by the mass media system.

Outside the United States, however, the international reaction to the Washington-inspired economic sanctions against Russia provides a glimpse of the division in the world over the rule we are defending. Even in the NATO countries beneath the level of officialdom, resistance to the sanctions mounts over fears of economic hardship for European populations. Prices for gas and food are rising while incomes remain stagnant or decline, with much worse trends envisaged for the near term as the sanctions take full effect. For a growing number of Europeans, the full cost of membership in NATO is already too high.

Beyond Europe, the reaction to the Ukraine crisis favors Putin partly because the nations of the Global South know that they will be the most vulnerable to the ill effects of the sanctions leveled against Russia and we all know the danger that the USA represents, as we have tasted it with the dicatorships and financial oppresion. Vivid recollections of Western imperialism in the non-white nations have a deadening effect on their reception of the NATO narrative about its irenic and philanthropic purposes. The NATO wars recently fought in Serbia, Iraq, and Libya have the same effect.

That Africa, Latin America, and Asia generally have not signed on to the economic sanctions suggests that the war in Ukraine has become a litmus test for the thesis of Pankaj Mishra in The Age of Anger: A History of the Present. He portrays a world seething with resentment and hatred due to the humiliation of peoples and cultures deprived of power-elite protections. The most visible evidence of the global emergency that he describes consists of worsening income inequality and environmental degradation. The rules-based order for which we are fighting as arms-supplying proxies in Ukraine lacks a moral basis and requires a thorough overhaul.

By persisting with their current Ukraine policy, Washingtont can hope that this time, unlike all the other times since Woodrow Wilson set the United States on the path to make the world safe for democracy, a savage war will be something other than a slaughtering pen put to the service of what Thorstein Veblen liked to call “the good old plan.” He meant the securing, maintaining, and extending of his country's control over the territories, markets, and resources of the world. This root-and-branch criticism of American foreign policy comes in its most developed form from two of their greatest historians, Charles Austin Beard and William Appleman Williams whose work merits reconsideration today as Americans should try to wean themselves from and oppressive empire as a way of life.

Washington cares less about Ukrainian independence and sovereignty than Russia.  Its primary interest in the territory is its location right next to Russia; its other interests lie in the resources and markets a Ukraine under US influence offers.  Of course, the latter also helps explain Russia’s determination not to let NATO assimilate Kyiv and the country it is the capitol of.  If Washington was truly interested in the independence of the Ukrainian people, it would call for a resolution granting autonomy to the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, where a war for that region’s secession from Ukraine has been waging since at least 2014 when the US/NATO sponsored color rebellion overthrew the elected government in Kiev.  It is that US-leaning government that Washington wants to preserve; a government first installed by US and NATO intelligence that may represent Ukrainian hopes, but certainly does not represent Ukrainian independence.  Only the Ukrainian people can determine that and their voice is both muffled and mixed.  Democratic socialists, unabashed capitalists looking towards the EU, families with old money stolen from the people after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, fascists whose legacy includes killing thousands of Jews and collaborating militarily with the Nazis, and millions of workers and farmers—these are the people of Ukraine.  In my mind it is the last demographic which should have the greatest say in their nation’s future.  However, if the rest of the world is any indication, their voice is the last to be heard.

The world watches as the squabble between US and Russia heats up.  Russia moves troops around its territory. Washington insists Moscow has no right to move those troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine.  The Pentagon is moving some of its forces closer to Russia’s borders: into Poland, Latvia, Lithuania among others.  Meanwhile, Kyiv continues to take its orders from Washington—which helped create the current political reality there when it openly intervened in the electoral process in 2014 as part of its expansion eastward via NATO after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  The US conveniently insists that Cold War-style regions of influence are a relic of the past and that countries should be able to choose their own alliances. In other words, the US should be able to expand its empire wherever it wishes.  Moscow, for obvious reasons, disagrees.  The current debate over Ukraine is not about freedom for the Ukrainian people, but also about Moscow expanding its influence into Europe at Washington’s expense.  A prime example of this struggle is the Nordeast 2 natural gas line that enables Russian energy firms to transport and sell their resource to Germany and other European nations at a much cheaper rate than US energy firms can sell their product in the same markets.

Then there’s NATO. The fact of its continued existence reveals much about its true intent. NATO is a tool of US empire; a military means to keep the nations in the alliance under D.C.’s dominion.  Like the Monroe Doctrine is unofficially to Latin America, NATO is to Europe.  Masquerading as a benevolent protector and equal alliance of nations, its true purpose is to engage other capitalist nations in Washington’s pursuit of hegemony.  While Washington continues to pretend that NATO exists to defend freedoms that only the United States can dispense, NATO continues to be part of the US empire’s armed wing.  This is truer now than at any time since the 1980s, when the Reagan White House moved nuclear missiles into Europe despite massive protests.

In the world of imperial politics, Russia has two very legitimate points—NATO needs to end its expansion and Russia has every right to move its troops around its territory and host war games anywhere on its territories.  After all, not only does the US have its military deployed in hundreds of countries around the world, it also hosts war games in countries that border its top two rivals—Russia and China.  Furthermore, many of the troops deployed in Europe are there in part to intimidate Russia. Since Washington has so far refused to either stop NATO expansion or pull back its missiles and other armaments from targeting Russia, Moscow is threatening to place some of its missiles in Cuba and Venezuela.

A truce should be agreed to that leaves all forces in place while the warring sides and their sponsors negotiate an end to the armed conflict. The motivation for this war resides in the desire to control resources and territory, directly and otherwise. Those Ukrainians desiring independence from Russia are seeing that desire being manipulated by Washington and local politicians with their own designs. Those desiring independence from the Kiev's government are experiencing a similar scenario. The longer the war continues, the more it will be influenced by Washington. And the more blood will be spilled, in vain. Because in the end, there will be either a division or an endless internal conflict. If not orld War III

sábado, 21 de maio de 2022

USA & NATO vs Russia in Ukraine: Washington's Geopolitical War X


From the first day that Russia succombed to Washington's trap on February 24th, I have worried about the trajectories of the Ukraine War, the risks and effects of various policy moves by the engaged antagonistic political actors to achieve their ends. I have also felt that a better understanding emerges if we recognize the plural and complex character of four encounters—on the battlefields pitting Russian aggressors against Ukrainian resisters, inside Ukraine as various dangerous Neo-nazi elements struggle for control; in the geopolitical matrix by which the U.S. is intent on humiliating Russia by shattering its will and exposing its weaknesses as a challenger of U.S. global primacy, while Russia is determined to regain control over its borders and push back against NATO influence around its territory; and, finally, in cyberspace whereby  war-mongering propaganda, fake news, and truth have become indistinguishable for the Western public, as they all come from the same sources: Washington and Kiev. The overall effect of such an inflammatory information and malicious exaggerations is to prolong the killing and heighten the strategic stakes for the USA, and given the horrifying aspects of the Ukraine Crisis making the conflicts unfit for diplomatic resolution.

In light of this mélange of considerations how can a mere human being hope to achieve a clearer understanding of what is happening, what are the relative risks, and what could yet be done to end the destruction, to avoid any further deaths and safeguard humanity from present risks of escalation to a wider war, possibly fought with nuclear weapons? A first step in the right direction is to pronounce that the ideological silos of both extreme left and right slant policy advocacy toward extremism, cause confusion, and to the extent influence is exerted, the effect is confound the search for viable and humane modes of deescalation. Extremist policy vectors are unsatisfactory cognitively, normatively, and prudentially.

It is clear for those who know history and USA’s will of dominating the world, that the Ukraine Crisis as essentially an outcome of inflated post-Cold War global imperial overreach orchestrated by the U.S., manifesting itself by way of neoliberal globalization in close conjunction with the projection of military dominance on a planetary scale.

However, the great majority, which enjoys far greater access to elite circles of government and media than independent media, “explains” the Ukraine Crisis as an essentially “evil plot by a Russian autocrat to destroy sanctity of the territorial rights of a sovereign state, violating the most basic rule of a state-centric world order, and mounting an unacceptable challenge to the exclusive global responsibilities of the West, led by the U.S., to uphold security throughout the world in accord with democratic values and humanitarian principles”. Oblivious to the geopolitical storm clouds of a wider war that unleashes nuclear weapons.

In my view, silos of thought are not helpful guidelines for prescriptive or normative approaches to the various elements at play, and a more useful understanding comes from focusing on the debates, perspectives, and shortcomings in the gray zones where ‘group think’ and special interests exert a decisive influence in shaping the worldview of advisors and leaders. In this respect, it is important to assess the degree to which foreign policy elites in the geopolitical “West”, especially the U.S., are responsive to the priorities and justifications put forward by the military-industrial-intelligence-congressional-think tank-media complex (MICTIM), and how its impacts relate to degrees of engagement and detachment from various conflicts, and yet need to convince enough of the citizenry to lend support depends on rationalizing wars by referencing the evil and menace of the other, and in this case reviving Cold War memories of Russia as a menacing enemy of all that the transatlantic alliance stands for. To this extent there is a sharp distinction between the so called “autocratic” Russia and “democratic” U.S. As notoriously acknowledged in the 2002 Report of the neocon Project for a New American Century, despite the strength of MICTIM it cannot make war without a high level of societal support. The citizenry needs to be mobilized by being made fearful, angry, hostile, and confident enough to bear the costs and risks of war, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union as its necessary enemy this would require ‘a new Pearl Harbor’ to be depicted as a strategic threat as well as an evil, criminal act.

Obviously, Russian induced aggression against Ukraine was not itself a direct enough assault on the U.S. homeland to be that new Pearl Harbor event, which for two decades 9/11 performed as the demonic actor in this geopolitical theater of the absurd. Attacking Ukraine was sufficiently indirect and distant from the homeland and posed no obvious security threat to the U.S. Yet Washington labelled it as “provocative” in other ways useful for the center-right nexus of foreign policy advisors in the White House. It could be credibly cast as a barbaric attack on a white Christian nation (by a Christian nation, nonetheless) that was used to  arouse feelings of identification and induce an outpouring of humanitarian sympathies sufficient to support immediate “diplomatic” of Ukrainian sovereign rights and the demonization of Putin by Biden and the media. This was in the very early phase. Soon the public “restrained engagement with Ukrainian resistance” intensified as the propaganda against Russian “atrocities” mounted and the strategic stakes attached to the political outcome rose.

Most relevantly, Ukrainian Azov militias proved more formidable than expected, and it began to be believed that in the course of helping Ukraine avoid being overrun by its “gigantic” Russian neighbor, the OTAN could solidify its global dominance that was attained back in 1992 when the Cold War ended. Not surprisingly at this point that the parameters changed, the U.S. began to increase the extent of its involvement, not primarily for the sake of Ukraine, but to push back against this Russian challenge, and indirectly message China to lie low or else. Concerns about underscoring geopolitical primacy took precedence over safeguarding Ukraine. Nothing less than the legacy of the Cold War was at stake, whose aftermath was characterized by the United States as the self-anointed unipolar architect of world order. It is this shift of emphasis that is hidden beneath the current attachment by MICTIM to ‘a victory scenario’ and the notable silence of the leadership in Washington about framing ‘a peace scenario’ as if diplomacy was either futile, unnecessary, and undesirable. Futile because Moscow was allegedly unresponsive, unnecessary because the risks associated with inflicting defeat of Russia worth taking, undesirable because ending the war on Ukrainian soil too soon would deprive the U.S. of the major geopolitical victory that Washington seeks and believes within its grasp.

This is an accurate account of why there is no effort being made to stop the killing as leading moral authority figures such as the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres  and Pope Francis have urged without generating a peace-oriented counterforce.

This discouraging portrayal of the global scene when it comes to the agendas relating to war/peace, leaves the future dependent on civil society activism, a calling of accounts from below. Remembering that the political leaders of the victorious states in World War II agreed before the guns went silent that there was no point establishing a UN which had an effective normative mandate and sufficient material capabilities to implement the Charter against the world’s most powerful states. It did not hide this unseemly institutional modesty, but endowed this geopolitical right of exception with normative authority by giving the five permanent members of the Security Council a virtually unrestricted authority to veto any decision of the only body in the entire UN system than could decide rather than recommend or advise. True, the International Court of Justice can render decisions, but its jurisdiction is limited to voluntary acceptance by states in conflict and although its decisions are subject to implementation if the Security Council can muster a consensus. Otherwise decisions by the World Court can be ignored or nullified without adverse consequences.

The Ukraine Crisis highlights the many fragilities of world order at a time when geopolitical alignments are in flux, with Russia challenging USA’s supremacy, China rising as the biggest financial world game player, and the U.S. struggling to maintain the status quo it has been losing since 2001.

Such circumstances are dangerously diverting attention of leaders and publics from Israel's recurrent crimes in Palestine. As well as from the monumental tasks of achieving food and energy security at a time of the menacing ecological instabilities associated with climate change. For everyone knows that in case that the US pushes NATO far enough, the World will be facing a global nuclear that could erase us all.

quinta-feira, 19 de maio de 2022

USA & NATO vs Russia in Ukraine: A New World Order in the Horizon? V


The Russia-Ukraine war has quickly turned into a global conflict. As I’ve already said, one of the likely outcomes of this war is the very redefinition of the current world order, which has been in effect, at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union over three decades ago.

Indeed, there is a growing sense that a new global agenda is forthcoming, one that could unite Russia and China and, to a degree, India and maybe Brasil and others, under the same banner. This is evident, not only by the succession of the earth-shattering events underway, but, equally important, the language employed to describe these events.

Due to Washington’s aggressive intervention within Ukraine through Azov and other militias and its approach to Finland and Sweden in order to convince them to join NATO , the Russian position on Ukraine has morphed throughout the war from merely wanting to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine to a much bigger regional and global agenda, to eventually, per the words of Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, “put an end to the unabashed expansion” of NATO, and the “unabashed drive towards full domination by the US and its Western subjects on the world stage.”

On April 30, Lavrov went further, stating in an interview with the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, that Russia’s war “contributes to the process of freeing the world from the West’s neocolonial oppression,” predicated on “racism and an exceptionality.”

But Russia is not the only country that feels this way. China, too, India, and many others. The meeting between Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on March 30, served as a foundation of this truly new global language. Statements made by the two countries’ top diplomats were more concerned about challenging US hegemony than the specifics of the Ukraine war.

Those following the evolution of the Russia-China political discourse, even before the start of the Russia-Ukraine war on February 24, will notice that the language employed supersedes that of a regional conflict, into the desire to bring about the reordering of world affairs altogether. 

But is this new world order possible? If yes, what would it look like? These questions, and others, remain unanswered, at least for now. What we know, however, is that the Russian quest for global transformation exceeds Ukraine by far, and that China, too, is on board.

While Russia and China remain the foundation of this new world order, many other countries, especially in the Global South, are eager to join. This should not come as a surprise as frustration with the unilateral US-led world order has been brewing for many years, and has come at a great cost. Even the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, though timid at times, has warned against this unilaterality, calling instead on the international community to commit itself to  “the values of multilateralism and diplomacy for peace.”

However, the pro-Russian stances in the South – as indicated by the refusal of many governments to join western sanctions on Moscow, and the many displays of popular support through protests, rallies and statements – for the moment, lack a cohesive narrative because of the absence of a leader, such as Brasil. Unlike the Soviet Union of yesteryears, Russia of today does not champion a global ideology, like socialism, and its current attempt at articulating a relatable global discourse remains, for now, limited.

It is obviously too early to examine any kind of superstructure – language, political institutions, religion, philosophy, etc – resulting from the Russia-NATO global conflict, Russia-Ukraine war and the growing Russia-China affinity.

Though much discussion has been dedicated to the establishing of an alternative monetary system, in the case of Lavrov’s and Yi’s new world order, a fully-fledged substructure is yet to be developed.

New substructures will only start forming once the national currency of countries like Russia and China replace the US dollar, alternative money transfer systems, like CIPS, are put into effect, new trade routes are open, and eventually new modes of production replace the old ones. Only then, superstructures will follow, including new political discourses, historical narratives, everyday language, culture, art and even symbols.

The thousands of US-western sanctions slapped on Russia were largely meant to weaken the country’s ability to navigate outside the current US-dominated global economic system. Without this maneuverability, the West believes, Moscow would not be able to create and sustain an alternative economic model that is centered around Russia.

US previous unlawful sanctions on Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela and others have failed to produce the coveted ‘regime change’, but they have succeeded in weakening the substructures of these societies, denying them the chance to be relevant economic actors at a regional and international stage. They were merely allowed to subsist, and barely so.

Russia, on the other hand, is a global power, with a large economy, international networks of allies, trade partners and supporters. That in mind, surely a regime change will not take place in Moscow any time soon, unless there is a military putsch to push the war further. The latter’s challenge, however, is whether it will be able to orchestrate a sustainable paradigm shift under current USA’s pressures and sanctions.

The Kremlin believes so.

Time will tell.

For now, it is certain that some kind of a global transformation is taking place, along with the potential of a ‘new world order’, a term, ironically employed by the US government more than any other…

terça-feira, 17 de maio de 2022

USA & NATO vs Russia in Ukraine: Washington''s Geopolitical War IX


In 1941 the US froze Japanese economic assets and squeezed its oil supplies in an effort to prevent it from undertaking further territorial expansion. In the event, these acts of deterrence were spectacularly counter-productive and led to Japan launching its surprise attack on Pearl Harbour.

Forty years later the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein faced a somewhat similar choice: either to give up his territorial ambitions in Kuwait or launch a surprise invasion, which was to have predictably disastrous results for himself and Iraq.

These two gigantic gambles have a common feature in that by any rational calculation they were probably going to fail, but they still happened, propelled by hubris, misinformation and the perpetrators’ belief that they could not retreat.

Much the same cataclysmic misjudgment took place on 24 February when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, having convinced himself that his recently modernised army would face little political and military resistance. He soon learned how wrong he was, but Japanese, Iraqi and Russian leaders are not alone in overplaying their hand when they believe that they hold winning cards.

Brimming with overconfidence after Putin’s failures, Washington, London and Kyiv are now in the process of switching places with Moscow when it comes to expectations of military victory, though nobody seems to know what would constitute a victory. Would this mean Russia returning to pre-February lines, its total eviction from Ukraine or regime change in Moscow?

NATO politicians and media are in full 1914 mode as they report a succession of Russian humiliations. These upbeat reports are at odds with the caution of top American intelligence officials speaking in Washington this week about the future course of the war. Their wariness was in sharp contrast to the cavalier approach of politicians and media pundits welcoming a wider war. The director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, told politicians that Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine and has not abandoned his original goals, though he will have to escalate the war to achieve them.

“The current trend increases the likelihood that President Putin will turn to more drastic means, including imposing martial law, reorientating industrial production or potentially escalatory military action… as the conflict drags on or he perceives that Russia is losing in Ukraine,” Haines said.

American intelligence chiefs are largely aware of reports from Russia suggesting that elements of the army and security services do not blame Putin for going to war, but they do blame him for not waging a total war.

As far as I know, Russia’s military believes that limiting the war’s initial goals is a serious error. They now argue that Russia is not fighting Ukraine, but Nato. Senior officers have therefore concluded that the Western alliance is fighting all out (through the supply of increasingly sophisticated weaponry) while its own forces demand all-out war, including mobilisation.

These may be only hints of what is going on in the Russian elite, but they do lend support to one largely ignored but conceivable outcomes of Putin’s failure as a warlord. Putsches usually succeed because they are unexpected. If a putsche against him did occur it would well be carried out by those who claim to be more capable of waging war than Putin and not by some pro-Western figure willing to make peace.

One should not rule out a fully mobilised Russia putting 800,000 soldiers into the field instead of the inadequate 150,000 or so with which it tried to conquer Ukraine. A key feature of Russian failure has been lack of infantry.

Those who erroneously consider bellicose rhetoric about regime change in Moscow or permanently weakening Russia, may consider that Putin will only authorise the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state.

“Mission creep” from a policy of defending Ukraine to one of defeating Russia has been going on since the beginning of the war, but lately it has become more of Washington’s  “mission gallop”. Europe’s and USA’s media and the public are blithe about this happening or are urging on the shift towards direct military action to take place at an even faster pace.

Arms-limitation treaties, once lauded for averting the risk of nuclear war, are discarded as if they were irrelevant museum pieces. Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, skewers this reversal in goals by governments, media and pundits who previously denounced as a Putin apologist anybody taking seriously the Kremlin’s claim that the United States and Nato are using Ukraine to destroy Russian power. But three months on, disbelieving in this second policy objective shows again that “you are a Putin apologist”.

Remembering Pearl Harbour, one must bear in mind that one of the golden rules of politics: given that nuclear issues aren’t taken seriously never assume anything [else] is. The reverse applies and it is frightening that two governments of sloganeers such as British and American with such a record of blundering should be deciding issues of nuclear peace and war.

In expanding their war aims, the US and the Nato powers are doing Ukrainians no favours, but they are dooming them to living in an arena where outside powers fight each other over issues that have nothing to do with Ukraine. This was the fate of Yugoslavia and Syria after 2011, producing endless war and turning half the population into refugees.

The bloody stalemate in Syria could be ignored by the rest of the world because in the eyes of Americans and Europeans Syrian lives don’t really matter, do they? However, the same is not true of Ukraine because of it is an European country in a strategic position and as vital supplier of foodstuffs and raw materials. Nato would be unlikely to allow the continuation of the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Russia would be likely to make attacks on western Ukraine to impede the flow of Nato weapons and supplies. Military escalation will inevitably have a momentum of its own.

The international atmosphere today is close to 1914 with nations on the march, but without having much idea what they are marching towards. During the Great War more than a century ago, decisions affecting the lives of tens of millions of people were taken by nincompoops like Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II, but are we are much better off with leaders as feeble as Joe Biden or as frivolous as Boris Johnson?

I was fascinated to discover that there is strong evidence that HIV/Aids was first transmitted from chimpanzees to humans during the First World War, far earlier than I had imagined. According to this excellent radio documentary, it happened in about 1916 in the rain forest of south east Cameroon as a bizarre consequence of the First World War.

Cameroon had been a German colony which was conquered by the allies using locally raised African troops as infantry. These soldiers, unlike the officers who got a litre of wine a day in addition to other foodstuffs, were ill-fed and had to hunt their own food – what would now be called bushmeat. This meant shooting with their rifles infected chimpanzees, whom local people had left alone because they are dangerous to hunt with bows and arrows and spears.

But the butchering of the chimpanzees appears to have led one soldier from the Congo becoming infected with HIV/Aids and taking it home to the Kinshasa where it became endemic, though it took half a century or more for the virus to spread to the rest of the world.

The story is interesting in itself and I had never heard it before. But it is also a sort of parable about the unintended but deadly consequences of the chaos of war. This is one of the points of my main piece about the unpredictability of the conflict in Ukraine. Of course, the First World War also produced the Spanish flu pandemic which first spread through US army training camps where raw recruits from the countryside without immunity were crammed together.

The illness was quite unfairly called “Spanish” flu because the Spanish, in contrast to the combatants in the war, did not censor accounts of its lethal impact on their country. HIV/Aids is estimated to have killed 30 million people during the epidemic, compared to 15 million killed by Covid-19.

News from Ukraine tends to be either over-covered or under-covered by the media. The over-covered news is mostly propaganda; even the truth is usually selective and it is impossible for the public to know if some skirmish is typical or atypical of the way the war is going. Does a Ukrainian success here or a Russian retreat mean one side or the other is winning or is there a stalemate?

Due to bias and censorship, crucial news about the war is often lacking – such as what the Russian security elite are thinking about Putin’s performance as a war leader – simply because reliable information is difficult to obtain.

But some important facts about the war are concealed simply because they are lost in the great torrent of information that pours out of Ukraine and its neighbours and the propaganda itself, that comes from Kiev and Washington officials.

As to the press, nobody takes the time and patience to sample it all and detect the nuggets amid the repetitious and the dross.

It is a pity. If not shameful and dangerous. Very dangerous, indeed. 

Mean/while, the Biden administration wants to sell off the yachts, homes and other luxury assets it has seized from Russian oligarchs and use those proceeds to support reparations for Ukraine.

As part of his proposal for the latest aid package to Ukraine, President Joe Biden is asking lawmakers for the authority to formally confiscate the assets of sanctioned oligarchs to pay to “remedy the harm Russia caused … and help build Ukraine.” The House has already passed a bill urging Biden to sell the assets, but it didn’t specifically give him the authority to do so.

Others have encouraged the administration to sell off the tens of billions of dollars in Russian central bank assets it has frozen. It’s not clear from the White House statement whether Biden plans to go after state-owned assets too.

That he has gone to Congress to get permission indicates that his lawyers believe, as do I, that current law permits only freezing, and not selling, foreign property in the course of an international crisis.

I’ve studied and practiced international law for several decades and advised the departments of State and Defense on issues like this one. The idea of forcing Russia to pay reparations for the harm to Ukraine has obvious appeal. But the U.S. needs to comply with constitutional and international law when it does so.

You might ask what the difference is between seizing or freezing property – forbidding anyone to dispose of or use an asset or take income from it – and confiscating it.

Freezing destroys the economic benefits of ownership. But the owner at least retains the hope that, when the conflict is over and the freeze order ends, the property – or its equivalent in money – will return. Confiscation means selling off the property and giving the proceeds, along with any cash seized, to a designated beneficiary – in this case, people acting on behalf of Ukraine.

The International Economic Emergency Powers Act of 1977permits only freezing, and not selling, foreign property in the course of an international crisis. Congress adopted this law to replace the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917, which gave the president much broader power to take action against U.S. adversaries in and out of war.

Since then, the U.S. has frequently used the power to seize assets belonging to foreign individuals or nations as an economic sanction to punish what it considers bad behavior. For example, after Iran stormed and seized the American embassy in Tehran, the U.S. government seized billions of dollars in Iranian assets in the U.S, including cash and property. The U.S. has also frozen assets of Venezuela and the Taliban over ties to terrorism and Russian individuals considered responsible for human rights violations, thanks to the Magnitsky Act.

In all these cases, the United States held on to the foreign property rather than sell it off. In some cases, it used the seized property as a bargaining chip toward a future settlement. In 2016, the Obama administration famously returned US$400 million to Iran that the U.S. had seized after the embassy siege in 1979 – delivering stacks of Swiss francs stuffed inside a Boeing 737. In other cases, the assets remain under government control, administered by an office of the U.S. Treasury, in hope that eventually some compromise can be reached.

The Patriot Act, adopted in the wake of 9/11, created a limited exception to the confiscation ban in instances in which the United States is at war. The U.S. never has used this authority. And despite the increasingly heated rhetoricstepped-up sanctions and growing aid for Ukraine, the U.S. is not at war with Russia.

A fundamental principle of justice says those who cause harm while breaking the law should pay.

In international law, we call this “reparations.” As the United Nations puts it, “Adequate, effective and prompt reparation is intended to promote justice by redressing gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

In recent history, victors have often forced reparations on the losers of war – as was the case following both World War I and World War II – especially when they are deemed responsible for massive death and ruin.

Russia has wrought terrible destruction in Ukraine. Several cities, including Mariupol, are all but destroyed, and evidence of war crimes in places like Bucha is mounting.

So it makes sense that so many scholars, lawmakers and others would argue that the regime of Vladimir Putin and those who benefit from his rule should help pay for it.

Some, such as Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe, argue U.S. law already allows the president to use any seized or frozen asset as reparations. But, as other experts have pointed out, doing so has serious problems. The legal issues noted above are one major hurdle and open this up to being challenged in court.

Another is political. Confiscating assets takes away important bargaining chips in any future negotiations, as they have been with Iran and other countries.

Specialists in sanctions law – including me – agree with Biden that Congress needs to pass a new law.

The question then becomes what that legislation should look like to avoid running afoul of international law and the U.S. Constitution. There still seem to be several limitations on what Congress can do.

For example, the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantees due process before the government can confiscate a private citizen’s property. But does this apply to property in the U.S. that belongs to a foreign citizen? The answer seems to be yes, at least according to two Supreme Court cases.

Selling off Russian state property such as central bank assets, creates other problems. International law provides a certain degree of immunity from confiscation to foreign nations and their assets overseas. Outside of wartime, confiscation of state property, including U.S. deposits of Russia’s central bank, runs up against these challenges.

A case currently before the International Court of Justice will decide whether the United States violated this rule when it used funds from frozen Iranian central bank deposits to compensate people who had won a default judgment from Iran for supporting terrorists.

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So, yes, I believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is outrageous and demands a response. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. and other countries should ride roughshod over international law and the U.S. Constitution to do so. Congress should be able to craft a law that allows some assets to be confiscated without violating due process or international law.

I predict that disregarding these issues will likely produce embarrassing judicial setbacks that will make it harder to help Ukraine down the road.

Let's not forget Shireen