That They May Like ‘US’

24 Sep

This is a guest blog post from one of our former interns, Nnamdi Iheakaram, Esq.

A foreign policy that is based on a state’s ability to project force will tend to pursue unilateralist goals. The immense benefit derivable from this strategy is evident when weaker states readily abandon non-essential legitimate claims rather than engage a state that has power advantage and the will to exploit that advantage.  Undeniably, it is well-known that war is more likely when conquest is easy.  However, the interest in question must be essential, such as the threat to a state’s sovereignty, to warrant any state risking the possibility of a direct military conquest. Because most interests are non-essential, it becomes attractive for stronger states to resort to their military might in the event of more essential threats to their interests.

The US has always had a power advantage which it has employed in securing its interests. Not long ago, in 2009, a new US foreign policy approach based on mutual respect of other states and their cultures was pitched to an enthralled audience in Cairo, Egypt. The goal was to reassure the Muslim community that the United States was not an enemy and that the new US government would seek to work closely with all peace loving states in ensuring international peace and security. To give effect to these declarations, the US government gave direct support to protesters all across North Africa and the Middle East during the 2010 Arab Spring and even called on the Egyptian President, an ally, to relinquish power as demanded by the protesters.

While this support may seem appropriate to passionate advocates who are committed to democracy and the self-governance of all people, an objective analysis of the situation may show that supporting a rebel movement that is not clear on its objectives, violates the laws of a legitimate government, and seeks military assistance to unseat a government, is itself unlawful and counterproductive. Accordingly, it was unwonted when the US called on its Egyptian ally to relinquish power as opposed to reestablishing effective control and initiating a constitutional review that would bring about a more representative government structured around the rule of law and secularism. But the US interference, which was based on a new commitment to democratic rule, was undermined by its inconsistent treatment of similarly situated states.

Thus, just as it was difficult to identify any supporters of the continuation of the government of Col. Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, it was equally difficult to identify any law that could support an intervention in Libya while requiring non-interference in Saudi Arabia. The reason is simple: the Libyan government had effective control of its territory while effective control in, for instance, a state likeSaudi Arabia was enabled by external interests. In the 2011 Libyan intervention, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept, developed to avoid mass atrocity crimes, was tarnished as it appeared to have been adopted only to justify and legitimize interference in the domestic affairs of a state, which included removal of the head of that state, thereby exposing one of the fundamental flaws of the concept.  While Qaddafi had been accused of killing less than a thousand rebels at the time the “no-fly-zone” was imposed, commentators such as Jordan Street have been clear that “the bombing that NATO embarked upon to protect their initial mandate has also shown to be flawed due to the high mortality rates among civilians.”  .  The killing of Libyans, it appears, is justifiable when effected under an internationally approved political program.

This is the legal and moral quagmire that is encountered when scholars attempt to interpret popular rules or principles of international law without considering the historical backgrounds and the socioeconomic factors determining the purposes or grounds for their application. Accordingly, it is imperative that international action (or more specifically, intervention in states) be framed in a way that makes it consistent and predictable as opposed to flexible and heteronomous. The former (which is consistent and predictable) would ensure that US policies seek to maximize and protect US interests without undermining or diminishing the welfare of other states, while the latter (which is flexible and heteronomous) would ensure that US policies seek to maximize and protect US interests, largely regardless of consequences. The benefit of taking the first approach is that policies aimed at the maximization and protection of interests are not knowingly detrimental to other states and thus, are in line with international law , while the second approach brings about policies that use other states as means to the goal of maximization and protection of interests.

The recent attacks on US interests in Libya and elsewhere, call for concern for the safety of all diplomats. It is unacceptable that individuals representing their nation’s interests should be imperiled for the mere fact that they accepted a responsibility to serve a diplomatic purpose.. There is no justification for the protesters or anyone to take the lives of others on the righteous pretext that the uncivil and supposedly heretical actions of some bigoted, attention-seeking artists provided  sufficient provocation.

Matters regarding religion are emotive and until the denigration of the faith of others is discouraged by non-coercive measures, extremists of various faiths will actively continue to take matters into their own hands in defense of their beliefs. When economic grievances are rooted in sociopolitical problems that cannot be effectively and easily framed as a rallying cry for action, religion is employed as a tool for rallying otherwise diverse groups against an allegedly ‘common enemy.’  Whether such actions are justified is dependent upon the rationale or factuality of their grievance. But one fact remains indisputable, despite the high cost of the US involvement in the Middle East, there is a clear reluctance to adjust the current US Middle East policy. The implication is that conditions which will likely lead to the reoccurrence of violence persist.

While the West viewed the Arab Spring as an effort by an oppressed citizenry to  rid itself of autocratic leaders, anti-western elements viewed it as aimed at removing less effective Western political acolytes. Having declared the Arab Spring a success, it is unclear how a US Ambassador could be assassinated in Benghazi, a city that was the stronghold and capital of the US-supported rebel forces that fought against Qaddafi. What is not in dispute is that the West has interests in the Gulf and has chosen to selectively interfere in the affairs of states in order to secure those interests. The rationale for this position is subject to debate; however, it can be asserted that a legal, purpose-driven approach that seeks to protect the interests of all involved will be more effective in securing long-term peace than a value-driven approach that is subject to the whims and caprices of self-interested foreign interveners.

Thus, instead of trying to capitalize on the current violence for political purposes, US leaders must use the on-going presidential campaigns to develop, articulate and communicate a realistic and reassuring foreign policy aimed at absolute respect for the rule of law on the international scene and less reliance on force as a means of securing interests. Such a change ensuring that power is not an advantage and that weakness is not a disadvantage is necessary in persuading states like Iran and North Korea to abandon realist security measures which increase the risks of devastating  conflict. It is suggested that only a change in US policy will positively affect the perception and attitude of these states, not an increase in its military might.  The US must choose between the better peace that flows from its support for universally recognized, just policies or a fragile peace held together by the fear of its military might.. A just foreign policy may or may not improve the welfare of other states, but an unjust foreign policy will deliberately diminish the welfare of other states.

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