International Peace Day

On the 21st of September…

News media has long been known to be a bit of a balancing act. The media shows us things it knows we want to see. It tailors its content to its market guided by years of finding out from its customers “what interests you?”.  But the media doesn’t just react to its readers, listeners and viewers. It plays a rather more elusive and pervasive role. The media also tells us what it thinks we we ought to know. As well as giving us what we want, it manages our expectations and tells us what we should want to read about, watch on our televisions and hear on our radios.
From looking at the front page of a newspaper we get a heady and hard to distinguish mix of what we want and what we should want.
Today is the International Day of Peace. A global day of celebration of cooperation, nonviolence, justice and equality. This event doesn’t feature on the top stories of news sites or radio shows. It isn’t a national holiday or the subject of much activity like a religious holiday might be. But all is not lost.
From looking at news sites and newspapers the top stories for planet Earth today are very much about peace.
News of the terrorist murder of Afghanistan’s peace envoy features as the top story. News of Mexico’s ongoing drug war, their state of negative peace is discussed. Stories of a typhoon in Japan threatening the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant gives the headlines an environmental edge. Hopeful news of another Gaddafi stronghold falling to the Libyan government and their acceptance at the United Nations as the official representatives of the Libyan people are reported. Finally Obama’s peace mission to the middle east concludes global top stories.
Peace is about terrorism. Peace is about drugs and law and order. Peace is about protecting our environment and sustainability. Peace is about humanitarian intervention and global governance. Peace is about diplomacy and interstate conflict. Although there is no mention of this important date in today’s headlines every story leading the news today is fundamentally about peace. Murdoch doesn’t control the news, we do and today the news was about peace. That means that we the consumers of the news are desperate for news about peace. Not only that but the media executives agree with us. They think that we ought to know about peace.
Although no one has mentioned International Peace Day the outlook isn’t bad. Happy Peace Day, keep up the good work.

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The recipe for peace, the Libyans deserve it.

One of the things I try and impress upon people is that peace isn’t a default state. It isn’t the absence of violence. It isn’t a vacuum situation that just happens when people aren’t fighting. Peace takes time, it takes effort, it requires resources. It needs people to want it, desperately and to be passionate about it. What does it take for peace? What is the recipe?

Libya has lived under the rule of one of the most unpleasant dictators in history for more than 40 years. In all fairness Gaddafi has never quite been a Kim Jong-Il or Stalin but the stories emerging from Libya about his treatment of some sectors of society are gruesome. Libya deserves better.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), now recognised by the United States, Britain and France amongst others as the legitimate government of Libya, swept into Tripoli overnight to a joyous welcome from residents.

This is a moment of great possibility. As Fawaz Gerges at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics described it on the live stream of BBC news this morning “a moment pregnant with possibilities”. Libya and the NTC have an enormous task ahead of them. Democracy, human rights, peace and justice are all within reach, but it won’t be easy. We mustn’t expect things to happen over night.

So what will it take? How can we make sure that this works, that the Libyans get what they so deserve? What are the ingredients?

Libya needs reconciliation. Saif Al-Islam and Gaddafi need to be sent to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Evidence needs to be collected, the cold light of day needs to shine upon their crimes. The Libyan people need to know what happened to their brother, or mother or daughter who disappeared one day many years ago. They need to know about the money embezzled, about the dodgy deals with foreign governments and oil companies. They deserve honesty and openness.

The NTC needs absolute unity. It cannot fracture apart into warring sides. The Libyans need an interim government that represents the East as well as the West. Rumblings about dissatisfaction between the two have emerged but they need to put tribalism behind them, they’ve come too far for that. The Libyans deserve an interim government that will open a constitutional dialogue with them, that will immediately respect their universal human rights and promise speedy elections.

The Libyan police under the new authority need to be deployed to the streets as a single, national, cohesive force. They need to be monitored closely and instructed to maintain law and order and to protect United Nations and other humanitarian aid convoys. The Libyan people desperately need electricity and clean water so the police need to ensure that engineers and experts can work safely to bring them those things. The Libyans deserve law and order and justice and a police force that polices with the consent of the people.

The Libyans deserve peace, it is our intrinsic human right. As human beings we have an absolute and unquestionable right to life and liberty and a life of peace. The NTC armed forces must not resort to punishing pro Gaddafi Libyans. They deserve peace too. They may have made unwise decisions but to punish them now is to guarantee the seeds of unrest, resentment and negative peace be sown.

Of course this recipe is only a starter. It will take so much more. The oil facilities need to be rebuilt. The airports need to reopen. Aid, lots of it, needs to pour into the country. Roads need to be relaid and markets need to be stocked. This won’t be over for many, many years but this is a critical time for Libya and for global peace.

 

Tentative triumph for international law in Libya

As I wrote in my piece for IJC on ‘the year ahead’ all humanitarian intervention needs is one success.

The International Criminal Court can take credit for giving the international military intervention above and the rebels below a boost in the Libyan conflict. In June when the court issued an arrest warrant for Saif Al-Islam and Gaddafi the going was slow. People were wondering if Gaddafi would ever be leaving and the rebels had lost key towns. The arrest warrant reminded the international community that it wasn’t just a military operation. That, as British Prime Minister David Cameron points out, “you can’t drop democracy from 40000 feet”. It served to remind Gaddafi that he simply couldn’t go on. That the moment fighting was over, if he survived it, he would be expected to appear before the court in the Hague. It also gave the public a fresh perspective on it. People know so little about international law that some were surprised that there was this court in the Netherlands that held war criminals that had the authority and support to simply issue arrest warrants for bad people. So many people being ignorant of that would have simply expected killing Gaddafi as the only option or the best of a bad set of options.

What is needed next? The next stage is the most complicated. It’s keyhole surgery. We must, must get Gaddafi and his son Saif Al-Islam out of Tripoli and into the court. They can’t be allowed to be killed in a fire-fight or disappear into the desert. Of course there is a more complex possibility, there have been rumblings early this morning that South Africa intends to airlift him and others out to the south. They should recall immediately that they signed the Rome Statute of the ICC in 1998. However if this scenario were to happen this could in fact provide an easier mechanism for seeing him and others in the Hague. South Africa has signed agreements to make investigation and extradition to the court easier, Libya isn’t even a state party of the Rome Statute of the ICC. Regardless of this, NATO has a no-fly zone over Libya, NATO jets might shoot his plane down unaware of its inhabitant.

Why is it so important that these arrest warrants come to something and see successful prosecutions? The ICC doesn’t have a long history or a significant backlog of successful indictments. It needs this success so it can say in future “we did this, you need international law, it is part of the formula for peace”. It’s not that isn’t good at what it does it’s that capturing war criminals and getting enough evidence to prosecute them effectively is incredibly difficult. Remember, you’re trying to extricate a person and evidence they will have tried to destroy from a situation where they are in charge of a country or military and don’t want to be arrested.

An ICC arrest warrant should be one of the most fierce-some tools of international law and peace. It should instill fear in the hearts of dictators. It shouldn’t be a wasted piece of paper or something that could be ignored. Whilst we need this success in Libya that can’t be the end of it, we need more successes. I for one believe that prospects are looking up… of course depending on what happens in Libya over the next few days.

Masterpeace’s interview with me.

1- In your blog`s aim you stated that “I thrive on smashing the status quo”, how do you see the world peace status quo right now?

I think the world is at a cross roads in the history of international politics. People will look back at the first decades of the new millennium and see it as the beginning of the end of our unipolar world order. The Soviet Union aside we’ve been governed by the United States twin policies of the free market and force against those who won’t comply since the end of World War II and I can see that that is coming to an end. A ‘multipolar’ world is emerging. The United States is still by far the most powerful actor by virtue of its unparalleled military potential but its ability to convince and coerce is declining. China and India have usurped its role as the productive power, the European Union is poised to take over the role as peace builder and banker in chief. Russia is our energy power and Brazil, Australia and Canada have our natural resources. I foresee a greater need for collaboration. This is a positive thing, inter-state war is a thing of the past, countries don’t fight their allies!

 

2- What does a peace practitioner concept means?

I have a university degree in Peace Studies and I’ve come to realise that so few people understand what that is. When I tell people “what is peace?” is the question I get. It’s such an important, what does peace mean to you and me? Practicing peace can be starting a community group to bring people together, it can be the UN soldiers in any conflict zone on earth, I practice peace by writing about the world from a solution focussed point of view. Moving away from “there are problems” to “there are problems, what are we going to do about them?”. Practicing peace seeing past the view that the world is a bad place and we can’t do anything about it, it’s about asking questions and it’s about seeing that there are so many more ways to solve a problem that the ones that have already been tried.
3- What motivates you to be a peace practitioner?

I am a very practical person. That makes me want to roll up my sleeves and do things. I see injustice and I see problems and I want to find out what I can do to solve them. I studied politics when I was a teenager and I was dissatisfied by the approach. I didn’t just want to look at war or suffering or inequality, I wanted to do something about it.

4- How could cyber blogging change the on ground reality?

People have been grown accustomed to thinking that the development is happening at maximum capacity. That the world is improving at the fastest rate possible. That people’s lives are getting better and we’re fighting against disease and famine and inequality as hard as we can. This simply isn’t true. We’re barely fighting at all. How can we work towards maximum capacity? We need to lift that veil of ignorance and see the truth, that things aren’t OK and we can do more. The world still isn’t talking about peace enough. I don’t think enough people see it as a viable alternative, they have come to accept the status quo. Writing about peace, talking about it with our friends and teaching it in class rooms shows that we don’t have to live in the world we live in and that it is possible to change things.
5- As working in the UK student movement between 2008-2010, how do you picture student`s involvement in peace movements?
It’s about teaching and learning. Students need to demand to be taught about peace as an alternative to the world order we currently live in. In the University of Durban there is a module in nonviolence for students and nonviolence is built into staff development. Learning about peace is about broadening your horizons and seeing all the options available: once we have a generation of people who don’t see the status quo as acceptable I think we can expect the pace of change to accelerate.

6- How do you see the role super powers like UK can play to bring peace to the world?

Well I’m not sure how much of a super power the UK is any more sadly! I am unashamed in my view that countries can be the ‘good guys’ and they can be the ‘bad guys’. The UK has a huge development programme (relatively speaking, it could be much, much larger), it uses its military to intervene in crises on humanitarian grounds, it has enforceable human rights and has embedded the universality of human rights in its foreign policy. Britain is one of the good guys and it shouldn’t underplay that. Britain shouldn’t be afraid to act alone sometimes. British foreign policy is very focussed on collaboration with the European Union, NATO and the United States. Whilst I see that as positive Britain is strong enough to, for example, conduct a peacekeeping mission by itself. The problem is that public opinion in Britain would not support that. Public opinion needs to change.  Using our power for good is not a burden, it is a huge honour.

7- How could an educated peace practitioner like yourself help a grass-roots wide scale movement like MasterPeace?

My contribution to peace is to write about it. I write about peace because I think it will help people overcome their perception of the world as either a bad place that cannot be changed or a place where problems are just ‘solving themselves’. Masterpeace is part of the solution, showing people that peace and togetherness are an option for the world. I think that our aims are similar so I’m pleased to be writing for Masterpeace to help it achieve its goals!

A swift recovery or a terminal disease? The Responsibility to Protect 2010/11

Could 2011 be the year of the Responsibility to Protect? IJ Central asked me to write a short piece about international law. How it’s fared in the year gone and what the immediate future might hold for it. I was thinking about crucial events in the calendar of international justice and I settled on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P in the language of those who have the inclination to read UN documents for fun) and sovereignty.

I want to start by saying It has been a subtle but promising year for the R2P doctrine. For those of you aren’t entirely sure what R2P is think of it as the idea that the primary responsibility for preventing crimes against humanity falls upon the state. But when a state cannot prevent such crimes or is the perpetrator the responsibility falls to the international community. In these cases, after a number of criteria have been met the community are allowed, and in fact have the duty, to intervene in atrocities.

Before the end of 2010 Iraq syndrome had R2P in intensive care following its invocation as one of the reasons the United States and United Kingdom invaded the country to topple Saddam Hussein. Writers like myself tutted and shook our heads in disappointment. The most pragmatic solution to humanitarian intervention was at death’s door. A principle sickened by improper use and now the subject of scorn and derision. But luckily we’ve been able to find a pulse. From Libya to Cote D’Ivoire the United Nations is managing to cobble together some consensus on the use of military force for resolve conflicts.

All R2P needs is one success to resurrect it as a viable tool of international politics. But success in Libya is still far off and as for Cote D’Ivoire the stakes were less high, the warring factions had been wavering on the edge of crimes against humanity.

So why is R2P part of international justice? Why does it belong there? So often the people that perpetrate crimes that lead to arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court have committed the crimes that merit intervention based on the R2P doctrine. R2P is a crucial part of supporting international law and making it enforceable. The ICC can issue arrest warrants all it wants but sometimes force is necessary. International law can’t defend itself after all and an arrest warrant isn’t going to stop genocide.

So what is the future for R2P? Whilst of course I want to say that the international community has rediscovered its liberal international roots, I don’t want to raise anyone’s hopes. The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, opened an Interactive Dialogue on R2P this week saying we need to sharpen our tools for prevention and protection. I’m glad to see the issue is still on the agenda. But if we’re not proactive that is where it might stay, on paper.

I think we need to separate a stylised future of R2P from a realistic one. A stylised image might not be one where interventions based on R2P are frequent but where they are consistent, where the international community doesn’t pick and choose which conflicts it feels it wants to intervene in for some otherwise unknown reasons.

A realistic picture of the future is one where R2P is the best case scenario but bogged down in indecision and squabbling at the United Nations. When countries like Germany abstain on intervention it dilutes the perceived severity of atrocities and provides a reason for other countries to fail in their responsibility and to neglect those most in need.

I am sad to say that the conditions that warrant R2P will continue to occur and the ICC will continue to seek to punish those who caused them. But without a stronger and more assertive R2P principle, the natural partner in law enforcement, the arrest warrants will keep on coming and may start to appear ineffectual. So whilst I think prospects for R2P are looking up I think that anything more than extremely cautious optimism would just lead to disappointment.

International law won’t go much further without a robust means to defend and extend it and to seek out and bring to justice those who flout it. In the year to come I’d like to see a country champion R2P but the odds are against me. Fragile coalitions are the only ones willing to treat the patient so at the very least Libya needs to be a success or the doctrine will end up back on life support.

How much would it cost to fix the World?

Why are aid budgets so small? This is a question that gets politically active peoples’ hearts racing in most developed countries. From what the author sees it’s usually on the side of “they aren’t too small, they’re too big”. Anyone with an opinion on foreign aid, the less sexy side of international relations, should be commended. It’s not often you get people caring about what’s going on beyond their shores that doesn’t involve our fighting men and women oversees or a sport. But commendation aside, I’m going to show people who think these budgets are too big why they’re not.

In 2010 Walmart had a gross revenue of $422bn, roughly the same as Norway’s total gross domestic product for the same year. I’d like to reiterate that, Walmart, the US retailer made as much money as Norway, the Scandinavian country, did in 2010. Not only that but Walmart out-earned the other 156 countries, out of a possible 192 recognised states, below Norway.

Norwegian parity with the world’s biggest company by revenue is purely coincidental but it adds a flow to my argument. Norway is the world’s 2nd most charitable country in terms of its aid budget (as a total of it’s GDP) giving out 1.06% of it’s total revenue in aid, as a whole number that’s $4.09bn. So if Walmart decided it wanted to spend just over a percent of its revenue on charity it could match the world’s 2nd most generous country’s contribution. If it wanted to.

These numbers seem small when we look at total contributions. The United States tops the ballot at nearly $30bn a year in 2010. 2nd, 3rd and 4th are France, Germany and the UK adding up to about $35bn. The top 10 most charitable countries giving away a total of roughly $100bn every year.

Now we’ve got some context on what is typically given, both in percentages of total GDP, absolute cash numbers and relative to other countries and big companies, let’s get down to business of comparing it to the other things we spend money on.

During the Global Financial Crises of the last few years the European Union spent $4 trillion bailing out its banks, the United States spent a cool $2.3 trillion. That’s $6.2 trillion on propping up financial institutions.

Who else is making this sort of money? The top 10 biggest oil companies’ gross revenue in 2010 was $2.5 trillion. The oil companies partners in crime, the automotive industry’s top 10 biggest earners in turn racked up $1.2 trillion in revenue in 2010. The global arms trade generates $1.5 trillion a year. The vast majority of that is countries selling each other guns and bombs. Are we starting to get the picture?

The solutions to these problems isn’t going to be a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all global template. But in the spirit of comparisons we’ve been so committed to over the last 500 words or so. Here’s what we could have bought with, for example, a 5% one off tax on the revenues of the top 10 biggest companies in each field.

Taxing the top 10 oil companies a 5% one off fee would generated us $125bn, 25% more than the total aid contributions of the top 10 wealthiest countries combined who typically donate less than 1%. This $125bn could also have paid for 5 hydroelectric plants at the same size and capacity as the Three Gorges Dam, the second largest hydroelectric plant in the world.
Taxing the top 10 automotive companies a 5% one off fee would have generated us $60bn, which could match the revenue of 6 public transport systems on the scale of Transport for London which carries a billion people a year.

Putting a 1% tax on the $4 trillion European bank bailout would generate enough money to pay for the realisation of all of the Millennium Development Goals,

Putting a 1% tax on the $2.3 trillion US bank bailout would generate enough money to pay for universal anti-retroviral treatment of people in low and middle income countries.

Aid budgets aren’t small, they aren’t small at all. They’re microscopic. They’re barely visible with the fiscal eye. It isn’t like we don’t have the cash to pay for things to be better, we clearly have it or the reasonable means to raise it. We just choose not to.

Of Syria and Sovereignty

The Syrian government has become enraged by the actions of the United States. Like a game of chess the US moved ambassador Robert Ford to the eastern city of Hama, the site of previous violence. With ambassador in the city the Syrian government of Bashar Assad has two problems and it’s their move next.

Firstly the US is clearly watching them. What on earth is an ambassador if not to do just that: watch and report back?

Secondly Mr. Ford has quite literally placed himself in the line of fire. He’s a knight straying dangerously close to the wrong side of the board.

It’s a dangerous game to play but imagine if the US ambassador was shot by the stray bullet of a Syrian soldier? If the Syrian armed forces didn’t know they were shelling the hotel of a powerful diplomat? That’s a worst case scenario for Assad. Although of course this game of power play hasn’t been admitted by anyone on either side but I’m going to let you in on a secret. It’s all intentional. The Syrians would not outright murder their own citizens in front of the US representative to Damascus and the chance of him getting caught in the cross fire is too high for them to make the move they wanted to. Well played Obama, check mate. Ford might as well have strapped on some kevlar and gone into the streets.

Assad knows this and he isn’t happy. Part of his cunning scheme to murder his own population has been somewhat foiled. So, what banner does he hold up to assert his authority?

In my mind one of the single most absurd and pernicious myths in international politics… Sovereignty.

The idea that, simply put, whatever happens within a nations own borders are the business of that nation alone. Sovereignty is an absolute doctrine, there is no grey area. According to sovereignty no outside body, from other states to international bodies can comment on, interfere in or forbid act on a matter that is the internal matter of a sovereign state. Regardless of what that matter might be, genocide to war crimes, persecution etc. This notion is laughable for many reasons. Notably that humanity is a single entity with common interests and rights and that borders are essentially artificial. When it comes to matters of mass life or death borders are immaterial, a smoke screen to protect the most ruthless of dictators from Gaddafi to Jong-Il by way of Jiabao and Assad himself.

If this medieval principle was excised from international law it would be the duty, the compulsion of the international community to act in the circumstances mentioned. This is known as the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. That in situations that constitute crimes against humanity (most usefully laid out in the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court) it is not only OK for countries to intervene, sometimes militarily if all other options have been exhausted, but it is the duty, they must intervene. The doctrine asserts that the sovereignty of nations must bow to the international responsibility to defend humanity against certain crimes. This principle has even been endorsed by the 2005 World Summit of the United Nations.

What the US is doing with Mr. Ford’s move to Hama is reminding Syria that it does not exist in a vacuum. That the rest of the world is watching and we are not happy.

We’ve already flexed our liberal cosmopolitan philosophical muscles and bombed Gaddafi back to the stone age. Who knows, maybe Assad will be next.