Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Wrestling with 'muscular' liberalism - a new 'global' sovereignty?

So Mubarak is on trial, Gaddafi is on the run and the world is eyeballing Assad. The endgame of the Arab Spring is upon us. Now we will start to see where the direction of diplomatic policy is going to go.

When UK foreign minister William Hague visited Libya to hold talks with the anti-Gadaffi Transitional National Council after Nato extended it's mission in the country by another 3 months, it was significant as the  first test of the new 'muscular liberal' foreign policy doctrine, building on the newly reaffirmed 'essential' bi-lateral UK-US relationship.

Yet all the while pro-Gaddafi forces denounced the visit as 'interference' in a sovereign nation, the ongoing violence and ensuing stalemate showed then as now that these matters are still hotly disputed.

As I ruminated earlier in relation to the Libyan situation, the difficulty in settling complex multi-faceted disagreements should be seen as a positive driving force of increasing modernity: acknowledgement of rival validities creates a competitive dynamic. From this interplay concessions can be won to raise higher and more robust standards on a wider and more secure foundation, although nobody should be fooled about the cost to be paid in terms of human life and the destruction of social infrastructure should validity be contended.

Nevertheless we should feel confident that the new constitution proposed by Libya's NTC explicitly accepts the impossibility of imposed solutions and recognises the benefit of dialogue as the most reliable means to reach lasting solutions. Rebuilding the physical fabric of the country will have to be in equal part to the redevelopment of the institutions of civic life for peace to take root, so in the meantime it's worth looking in more detail at how the doctrinal analysis shapes up.

Foundations of peace

The origins of the world order based on national sovereignty date back to the peace concluded after the first globalised war in the middle of the 17th Century - commonly known as 'the Peace of the Exhausted' (the invaluable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives an excellent - and recently revised - overview on the subject of sovereignty with an extensive bibliography).

Acceptance of the dual-principle of territorial integrity and supreme authority within a 'country' dealt the death-blow to the medeival wars of empire and religion in Europe and set the stage for a more relevant secular authority to replace the delegitimised system of perpetual squabbling over inheritances. The failure to export these principles then meant however that the European powers could export their squabbles as the peace created the conditions for industrial revolution and a consequent overwhelming military superiority over non-participating societies.

Now, as the age of globalisation is reaching its close, there is a new challenge, namely to moderate the absolute nature of national sovereignty in order to apply it equally and universally to uncover a new global sovereignty, or see the gains of modernity crumble as it is faced with a new combination of religious conviction and racial identity backed by modern military technology.

The case for a 'new sovereignty' was powerfully argued by Swedish former Prime Minister Carl Bildt in a lecture to Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations back in 2004. He drew on his experience of conflict in the former Yugoslavian states, somewhat underplaying the symbolism of the international community unifying to counteract the negative forces driving the tendency towards Balkanisation in the heart of that region in preference for stating the need for multi-layered sovereignties.

So there is a parabolic argument at the heart of this issue in that the internationalist alliance must marry successful justification for intervention with lasting solutions on the ground - a universal system of national sovereignty confers the friendly and indirect right to intervene against sovereign nations in the interests of equality by directing dirigiste policies of fairness aimed at establishing viable states capable of eventually buying into their own more egalitarian policies of freedom.

Neither UK nor US operates under the delusion that narrow self-interest alone would mandate sending ground troops into Libya or another country, but there is an overriding mutual interest in promoting peace and opportunity through global trade and the guarantee of access to essential commodities such as oil and gas energy products for wider consumption (note, not a resource-grab) as the means to promote common humanitarian concerns - the individual sovereignty of each participating ally is assured by agreement to, but only insofar as, they pool their individual powers to such shared ends.

And it is this irony which is the well-spring of continual criticism.

For instance Ivan Eland was happy that the election of Obama represented the end of neo-conservative 'jingoism', but worries this has been replaced by "an evil foreign policy ghoul... wearing the benign clothes of a compassionate angel".

He argues not only that there can never be any justification for war, but also that consistent application of such a policy during a time of economic austerity which previously landed the west in 'two intractable quagmires' will lead to strategic over-extension and will prove unsustainable as the convenient political coalition tears itself apart. For him, the mutual low regard between neo-cons and muscular liberals is not due to any practical considerations, but because they are so alike.

Peter Hoskin in The Spectator also highlighted the continuity in foreign policy theory to not sit idly by in an attempt to passively contain anti-western extremism, but to actively promote western liberal values - quoting Tony Blair in support,
"This is the battle that must be won, a battle not just about the terrorist methods but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do but what they think and the thinking they would impose on others."
Meanwhile Labourite Paul Evans doesn't seem to be able to answer his own question whether it is a right or an obligation to impose democracy on dictatorships - he just thinks we should go ahead whatever.

On the other side, for LibDems the expression of concern that such a forthright endorsement of a more assertive foreign policy which is "entirely indistinguishable from that of New Labour, or that which William Hague might exercise were he not in coalition" raises questions of the ethical basis upon which the decision to act can be taken and the morality of any means by which these values can be put in place.

Between these opposites lines can be drawn, along which we can see it's equally important to ensure the ethical means and ends of any chosen action, but similarly that events are ongoing and it's no good just sitting by - we must be actively involved. For this I have to give some credit that 'lessons have been learned' from previous interventions in setting down standards for the parameters of action based on humanitarian need and active international agreement.

When US President Obama gave his speech insisting the status quo is not acceptable, he built on his image as a leader of change outlining how the Arab Spring has highlighted the urgent need for a shift in policy to be more responsive to the popular expressions in favour of freedom and against the repressive measures used to maintain unpopular regimes (such as arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to trial, the standard use of torture, all the way through to massacring of demonstrators).

However he was also anxious to emphasise how a coherent and consistent foreign policy across the region will be determined by its application in the crucible of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...Image via WikipediaObama clearly reiterated his desire for a negotiated 'two-state' solution which entailed a 'secure' Israel and a 'viable' Palestinian state - this was hardly a surprise, as it is the established consensual position among the international community. Not immediately considered an ideological ally, even Canadian foreign minister John Baird reaffirmed his backing for a return to 1967 borders.

But as Agnes Bertrand-Sanz explains, the region is in a period of political flux and the time for debate is over: the EU has a window of opportunity to exert influence over the future direction of multiple nations and western leaders cannot ignore the demands for positive change.

She criticises Sarkozy's stillborn conservative 'Union of the Mediterranean' for attempting to preserve the political status quo in countries like Tunisia by dropping 'sensitive' commitments on human rights and improvements to civil society in order to maintain movement on security, immigration and energy issues, and argues that it is necessary to apply Western liberal principles equally across the region - which means Israel must also comply with humanitarian law and show movement towards resolving the Palestinian stalemate peacefully.

However, the Middle-East peace process is already being overtaken by developments across the region which have convinced a number of commentators the two-state solution may have entered the last chance saloon.

Julia Pettengill explains Palestinian interests have always played second fiddle to the regional power-brokers.

While Syria has changed from direct confrontation to provocation by proxy in order to deflect from internal unrest, Egypt's long history of support for the Palestinian cause appears designed to exert pressure and gain their own economic concessions. By orchestrating the Fatah-Hamas unity deal to advance Palestinian claims for statehood Egypt's Supreme Military Council through the transitional national council is undermining peace negotiations because the Syrian-backed Hamas rejects the principles of negotiation and would be unlikely to respect subsequent democratic elections in a Palestinian state required to do so even in the unexpected event of maintaining its' majority.

Indeed, Glyn Secker details, this polarised solution is losing legitimacy now that the legacy of 'Cold War' perspectives is dissipating as the new liberal, democratising dynamic comes to the fore.

Settlements, settlements

Obama's departure wasn't exactly met with the warmest of welcomes within Israeli ranks either.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to warn such an approach retains limited appeal, despite growing pressure to reach a settlement, as it would leave several vocal interest groups unsatisfied. The resounding positive reception to this position among American Jews and Evangelicals gave a major boost to his own ratings in Israeli opinion polls.

Listening to right-wingers such as Charles Krauthammer starts to give a clearer indication of the reasons for this - he pointedly explains that a return to the 1967 borders cannot now be the starting point of any negotiations since this has already been rejected three times by Palestinian negotiators.

Or, in a diametric counterclaim, according to leaked documents known as The Palestine Papers, Israel has rejected outright every attempt at conciliation with their counterparts despite concessions on all the contentious issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

The fixing of borders, settlements and right of return are essentially transient questions of practise and are therefore 'mere' stumbling blocks to hinder the reaching of agreement rather than serious barricades of principle preventing ultimate passage, so the real issue returns to another spiritual metaphor, this time represented by the historical sites where the actual events of many founding myths and prophecies relating to Islam and Judaism are located and are identified with as constituent to each claim.

Carlo Strenger also settles on Jerusalem as the greatest problem for negotiations, albeit from a more sceptical perspective, worrying that any situation which leaves the Western Wall outside Jewish control is inconceivable.

He notes how Obama's private strategy is inevitably predicated on reelection in 2012 and is therefore liable to be more hands-off in public until that point. By encouraging Europe (UK, France) to do more of the diplomatic dog-work (such as providing UN recognition for a Palestinian state) Obama can safely delegate responsibility for negotiating territorial demands, whereupon it will be possible to return with a reinvigorated mandate to deal with the more troublesome issue of 'right of return'.

Yet with ongoing house-building deep in the West Bank, such as the recently completed Ma'aleh Zeitim community, Israelis are at least equally as engaged in this game of brinkmanship as Americans, each trying to buy time in which to influence events ahead of that coming juncture in September.

Worse still for advocates of the 'two-state' solution, the lack of any prospective quid pro quo means this is a literal non-starter since a final settlement on those terms would lead to the worst possible consequences, as Louis Rene Beres bewails with some frightening hyperbole.

He argues if a 'two-state' solution becomes a 'two-stage' solution where the return of Palestinian refugees creates demographic pressures to overturn the inbuilt Jewish domination of democratic control within Israeli borders then the great fear of xenophobic proclamations promising the destruction of Israel could be matched by the spectre of renewed genocide on home territory and the hoped-for final settlement could transform into a new 'final solution', though Carlo Strenger suggests this would easily be averted by simply including the renunciation of additional territorial claims as a part of recognition of agreed borders along 1967 lines.

Nevertheless the prophetic voices murmuring about a new Islamic Caliphate are given credence by nascent signs of a reborn pan-Arabist trend emerging from the uprisings across the region (albeit on a basis of emphasising social justice rather than ethnic, linguistic or cultural similarity) and notwithstanding the plurality of national and tribal Imams this could easily transform under the guidance of an Islamic Pope-figure imbued with supreme spiritual authority and significant financial and military muscle.

Although expressed with more typical chutzpah, the 'one-state solution' preferred by some pro-Israeli conservatives has some solid rationality when presented from the Jewish perspective - an argument which may actually gain traction were the values of religious freedom applied equally on all sides.

It appeals to Ruth Wisse, who remembers the assertive establishment of the Israeli state came about as a result of concerted resistance to 'malevolent' political forces in the aftermath of the holocaust when "there was a sense that evil in the world meant political evil" and Jews therefore became representative of 'a kind of liberal democracy'.

Yonatan Touval also takes up the debate to attack Netanyahu's assertion of the Zionist belief that Israel is a 'Jewish state' and the conflict only exists because Arabs resist the concept of a Jewish sovereignty. In particular he argues there is an inherent contradiction in a system where Rabbis determine the identity of Jews and the use of their rulings is accepted as a legitimate basis for the citizenry of a national polity.

And, as Aluf Benn describes, Netanyahu's opposition towards movement on negotiating positions for the four key points risks a diplomatic 'fiasco' by placing his insistence of Israel's 'Jewish character' at odds with growing consensus on separation of powers between church and state both regionally and across the world.

A strong push for Palestinian statehood at the UN's annual congress in September may prove successful, yet the underlying conflict between global religion and nation-states still remains and is therefore unlikely to immediately resolve all potential for hostilities.

Keys to the peace

So, returning to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the 'friendly and indirect right to intervene' in internal affairs replaced a direct imperial presence and mutual devastation was replaced by mediation directed toward forgiveness of past actions and economic policies for reconstruction expressly for 'the benefit of the other'. And at a geographical level the mystical attachment to particular locations gradually dissipated as the state was secured through greater democratic legitimacy allowing wide-ranging flexibility on territorial disputes (for instance compare the Westphalia of the 17th Century with the region of the same name today).

According to the European example, state sovereignty gradually superceded the personal inheritance of classical dualistic authority over church and military.

From Charlemagne onwards (particularly under the Ottonians from 962) the elected 'King of the Romans' - typically the commander of the strongest army among eligible candidates - had been formally required to be crowned by the 'Bishop of Rome' in Rome in order to become Holy Roman Emperor, but as religious authority waned with the introduction of more tangible forms of legitimacy among earthly rulers Church power eventually became limited to the micro-state of the Papal See in the Vatican, and within these confines the Pope now holds responsibility for diplomatic relations of the 'universal government of the Catholic Church' - this according to both the British Ambassador and the US State Department.

In effect this religious micro-state is the physical and practical embodiment of Western secularism. It offers a partial model for framing realistic resolutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict - whether or not efforts to gain Palestinian statehood succeed this autumn, or the potential for escalating violence spills over from the process of democratisation in neighbouring states.

From my point-of-view foundation of a new micro-state to represent 'the universal government of the Jewish faith' (as opposed to the current national homeland for Jewish people) wouldn't mean the abolition of Israel or any reduction in Jewish involvement in their own political affairs, but it would remove the fundamental complaint that Israel cannot represent people of all and no faiths equally which is maintained because the pressure for a state protector of Jews is irresistible.

European countries may be criticised by extreme multi-culturalists of different shades as unequal and biased against non-Christian minorities, but if it is true (and I'm prepared to dispute it) this is a product of history and no longer a cause of it because Christians can now look to the Vatican - significantly the USA only established full diplomatic relations with John Paul II in 1984, to all intents and purposes the moment when the Cold War was effectively won leading to the point where national sovereignty within Europe was regained.

It was that archetypal muscular liberal Macchiavelli who originally made the case that the Papal States were too weak to unify either Italy or Europe, yet too strong to allow unification from any other source - and that the failure to unify had been the cause of continual strife and economic divergence. Similar to Bildt he was drawing on a lifetime's hard diplomatic experience, although where Bildt opposed the struggles of racial and religious claims to reestablish a universal meaning of 'Europe' Macchiavelli navigated between the civil conflicts of the Guelfs and Ghibellines (Papal and Imperial supporters respectively) to make an as-yet unchallenged case for the secular polity of modernity which could appeal to all sides equally within the European family of nations.

This exact same argument does, but has not yet been applied to the current Middle Eastern questions. Should we do so we could see that the same logic carries us to the same conclusion. Israel is too weak to project power over the whole region, yet because her existence as a lone flame is to be protected at whatever cost she stays too strong to allow any other contender to make a serious challenge and therefore the region remains fractured, violent and home to some of the greatest disparities in wealth, health, happiness and well-being on the planet.

Condensing those 336 years of western secular development into any shortened timeframe would be certain to cause a string of other problems, but there are perhaps a few shortcuts to be made by pointing out corresponding requirements beyond the territorial integrity and supreme authority within it of the nation-state.

The most obvious of these may be the most difficult to implement: simple demarkation of the Old City of Jerusalem as an independent ecclesiastical entity, comparable to the Vatican City, effectively removing the single fundamental barrier to peace and thereby enhancing security and ensuring greater access to the disputed holy sites - to all sides.

But as with Solomon's parable, so too his city: the people cannot decide among themselves, and the moment of truth is fast arriving.

Ongoing mutual suspicion between the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict is preventing agreement on potential forms of common interest, causing wholesale restraints on sovereign action with the result that violence is increasingly divorced from the real concerns of the people and self-determination is made nigh-on impossible. While global support networks of expatriates, compatriots, sympathisers and interested onlookers continue to remit their aid to each side the conflagration will never lack for fresh fuel, and even the faint hopes for either a 'peace of the exhausted' or a true liberation will remain extinguished.

With pressure for recognition of Palestinian statehood growing the threat of destabilisation created by the Arab Spring meant Nato has been forced to set a timescale to complete the decapitation of Gaddafi before September and enable redeployment of diplomatic force towards the more difficult problem of removing Assad from Syria and the particular strategic flashpoint of the Golan Heights.

In the worst case the terror organisations sponsored by the Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian states under Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad would have combined with the global jihadist movement in a post-Arab Spring scenario. Add in lingering discontent from an unrecognised Palestine and the collapse of any roadmap to peace then all the ingredients are there to merge into a resurgent intifada with their sights set directly on Netanyahu's 'Jewish' Israel.

Under those conditions what liberal or democrat would ever risk trying to flex enough muscle to make the necessarily decisive intervention to win peace? Nothing less than a ruthlessly calculated certainty from a completely self-sacrificing idealist would do, and even then the nuclear option looms over the horizon ready to kick-start it all again - something which would certainly bring about devastation along with immediate exhaustion!

As I urged above:
"there is a new challenge, namely to moderate the absolute nature of national sovereignty in order to apply it equally and universally to uncover a new global sovereignty, or see the gains of modernity crumble as it is faced with a new combination of religious conviction and racial identity backed by modern military technology."
It is a challenge that must be met or risk turning back history to before the enlightenment - and September isn't that far away!


Wrestling with 'muscular' liberalism - pt1


Orbilia said...

Good article, though I admit to needing to re-read it a couple of times *soft smile*.

Ah, diplomacy, the art of the possible.


Oranjepan said...

Well, it's not for me then, I'm probably a bit too opinionated to be called diplomatic...