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.

Who’s Afraid of Foreign Aid?

What scares you? What wakes you up in a cold sweat? In the United States a Gallup poll in 2005 showed that the thing teenagers are most afraid of are terrorist attacks. Other surveys by the pollsters show similar figures amongst adults fearing pandemics affecting them or their families. Other international issues like war and nuclear war rated highly in the same surveys. What I’m seeing here is that we are petrified of things we can’t predict or gain control of. In a globalised world we’re afraid of things that are triggered far away but at some point are going to hurt us in our own homes. The things that keep us up at night are also beyond the control of our governments and outside the reach of our armed forces.

No matter how much money we plough into fighter jets and spooks there will always be terrorists. Increasingly they don’t come from some far away country on the news, they were born in the local hospital. They sat with us in a lecture theatre at University. No amount of tanks and aircraft carriers are going to stop a disturbed person putting a bomb on a rush hour London bus.

We can buy billions of pounds of vaccines. We can put a surgical mask on every person in the world but a sneeze on the tube carrying a virus from an animal on a farm in a poor country can kill millions. What we have to understand is this: that trying to stop disasters once they have started is futile. But in the past futility has never convinced our governments, and the electorate pressuring them, not to try.

To articulate it in terms prime ministers and presidents understand: it’s very expensive. For every $60 spent on resolving wars it has cost $1 to prevent them (Oxpeace). It’s indisputable in fields from medicine to crime that prevention is not only cheaper but can be easier than resolution.

We don’t need to start a glossy government programme to prevent wars. We don’t need an initiative to prevent people from becoming terrorists or an NGO to work with developing countries to improve the terrible living and farming conditions that will breed next pandemic. We already have them. They are just chronically underfunded, they are sidelined and ridiculed and targeted in state spending cuts.

Sceptics will cry deficit reduction or ‘solving our problems at home before we give away money to the third world’. What these sorts of people need to realise is that countries and communities and individuals do not exist in a vacuum. Our homes and cities are vulnerable to both problems that originated far away or in a community centre 5 minutes drive from here. Prevention is the only answer.

Imagine this: instead of spending $1 trillion on the War on Terror (USA Today) we’d spent it on foreign aid. Countries that have decent schools and hospitals and better social equality don’ descend into violence. India doesn’t resent the UK for centuries of brutal oppression and strap bombs to its young people. Countries with clean, safe farming and a government food safety agency aren’t about to generate the next Swine Flu.

We need to stop seeing foreign aid as charity. We need to stop our governments portraying it as ‘the moral thing to do’. It’s neither. It’s a more pragmatic, effective and cheaper way of ensuring a world where we aren’t afraid to leave our homes. In the face of overwhelming evidence that prevention is better than cure you can’t help but look for another reason why people dislike foreign aid. It’s a sad state of affairs but even though it will make them safer, cost them less money and generally improve humanity’s lot people don’t care. If we can’t convince them with cold hard facts they’re unlikely to ever change their minds.

What can you do for international law? Just talk about it.

National laws are a tangible expression of the limits of behaviour that society is willing to tolerate. Anything beyond these limits is prohibited, subject to state sanction and ostracism from society. The same applies across borders to the international arena. International law exists to prohibit acts that are so heinous, so offensive to our collective human consciousness that they cannot be tolerated.

International society has demanded after events that have shocked and frightened us that institutions be set up to punish and seek out those who offend us, those who go beyond the limits that human kind has designated. These limits are more relaxed, less clear or strident than those at a national level. International society has a propensity to agree on very little yet when it does, it does so emphatically. We’ve agreed that it is unacceptable to commit genocide, for example.

Ratko Mladic is an international criminal whose crimes define international law. From ethnic cleansing to deportation and persecution he exists as a caricature of all that our international society deems unacceptable. Furthermore, he continues to offend our collective will by flouting the rules and procedures of the institutions we created to defend and enforce international law. Most notably, his refusal to cooperate with the judges in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Under no circumstances must we forget he is there standing trial for crimes against humanity. When he murdered Bosniaks in the 90s it wasn’t just a crime against his victims it was a crime against our collective human consciousness. We can’t forget that it is as a result of our international view that genocide is unacceptable that he is there. We are part of this process. As an international society we can’t allow his disrespect for our collective agreement (considering how little we all agree on, this is even more important) to go unnoticed. If he is simply forgotten then he has won, he’s proved that humanity isn’t so offended by his actions after all. If his crimes are translated into opaque legalese few can understand or his trial bogged down by appeals and lack lustre evidence from governments (I am looking at the Serb government when I say that) then what can we expect from our fragile system?

We have to keep talking about international law. We have to keep writing about human rights and about those who have yet to be brought to justice by our system. Our legislators need to keep asking probing questions of our governments, our judges need to keep laying precedent upon precedent in support of our unified revulsion for crimes against humanity.

Teachers need to talk about it with their pupils. You need to talk about it with your friends and family. Bring it up at your workplace and get a debate started. We can’t let people like Mladic win. We’re all part of this and if it’s allowed to fall out of the public eye or interest then those with the power to do more to catch war criminals and bring them to justice will have no pressure to continue and increase their efforts.