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Nuclear Weapons

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Globocops / KEYNOTE

To do the job better, replacement globocops will have to unplug the powerful. David Ransom explains.

It may be a while before you see another advertisement like the one on the previous page. For the time being we seem to be willing to leave the dirty business of international law enforcement to a creature that looks increasingly like the Globocop on the front cover. The day may soon dawn, however, when we have to ask ourselves who has their hands on its controls - and unplug its power supply.

The Cold War is ten years in its grave, but those who love brute force still revere its corpse. George W Bush put it this way: ‘It was us versus them and we knew exactly who them was. Today we’re not so sure who the they are, but we know they’re there.’1 Perhaps he needs ‘the they’ because without them he can’t be too sure who ‘the us’ is either. And who could possibly be ‘the they’ he knows are there? ‘Rogue states’ like Iraq? They have half-a-dozen pea-shooters between them.

This will not do. There is such a thing as international law and it’s founded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has been with us for more than 50 years and it’s in urgent need of enforcement. Otherwise we’ll be left with nothing but a culture of impunity - more commonly known these days as corporate globalization - to enforce.

Some faltering forward steps have been taken nonetheless. East Timor, once a vanishing ‘trouble spot’ in the bloody Indonesian fiefdom of cold warrior General Suharto, is finally free of that yoke. Few people can have imagined that General Pinochet would one day find himself detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure in a cramped mansion beside a championship golf course near London. Tribunals have indicted war criminals in Rwanda and the Balkans. Since 1996, when the World Court ruled the threat of nuclear attack (and thus the possession of nuclear weapons) a crime against humanity, anyone with a finger on the nuclear button has faced the theoretical possibility of prosecution. Nuclear arsenals are less bloated than once they were. Military spending has been a little more restrained.

But this is nowhere near enough - the peace dividend is not being paid. It is, for one thing, far better to forestall abuses of human rights than to react to them once they’ve happened. Xanana Guzmao, the East Timorese leader, suggested at his moment of triumph that if he’d foreseen the totally disproportionate human sacrifice his people would be required to make he might have felt less willing to advocate liberation in the first place. Suharto, like Pinochet, has pleaded frailty of mind and body to avert any appearance in court, let alone jail.

The war-crimes tribunals have yet to hear from the generals of genocide, who remain at liberty to live off their booty and flaunt the banner of impunity. No-one with a finger on the nuclear button has come close to being charged with a crime against humanity. Nuclear arsenals still threaten to obliterate us all many times over. They are being refined with the crazed ingenuity of such things as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads to scramble electronic devices, and our brains - or an extravagant ‘Son of Star Wars’ missile-defence system that doesn’t work. At $520 billion in 1999, spending on the armed forces of Europe and North America alone was more than double the entire annual income of all the people of Russia, supposedly such fearsome foes just ten years earlier.2

This ambivalent, stalled approach was apparent in the ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999. New Internationalist opposed it at the time. Among other things, the bombing provoked the exodus of Kosovars it purported to prevent. An unfortunate miscalculation, perhaps, but no excuse for what Noam Chomsky terms ‘retrospective justification’.3 NATO usurped the United Nations, the only authority entitled to overrule national sovereignty for humanitarian or any other reasons. One might argue that NATO works while the UN doesn’t; or that the UN can’t work so long as NATO does. Either way, far from reinforcing humanitarian law, what the bombing actually established was the right of NATO to beat up at will on whomsoever it pleases.

No wonder George W Bush, hard though he scans the horizon, cannot find the rogue he’s looking for. It’s behind you, George!

Of all the world’s nations, none has proved so indifferent to its international obligations as the United States. Over 90 nations want an International Criminal Court but the US does not, apparently because its own troops might risk being hauled up before it.

Test Ban Treaty
All the nuclear states signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, but the US has not ratified it and so neither have India, Pakistan, Russia, China and Israel. A total of 46 states are now deemed either ‘nuclear’ or ‘nuclear capable’. Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, concludes that ‘the prospects for controlling nuclear weapons deteriorated in the final few years of the 1990s’.1

We should not, however, be deceived into believing that Uncle Sam alone has its hands on the controls of Globocop. ‘I spent 33 years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force - the Marine Corps,’ explained General Smedley E Butler. ‘I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that time I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.’1

General Butler was speaking in 1935, before the Cold War pulled a veil of higher moral purpose over corporate capitalism. Unveiled again now, it is no more appealing to look at. The Transatlantic Business Dialogue, which involves many of the world’s most powerful corporations, exists ‘to formulate proposals, then submit them to governments for implementation’. It ‘insists on implementation of all deliverables and expects satisfactory and positive answers from Administrations’.4 Transnational corporations have even forged a new business ‘Compact’ with the United Nations, presumably to put an end to any idea that the UN might one day have to restrain them on our behalf.

The evolution of security on the side of a van in Sabah, Malaysia.
Chris Stowers / Panos

This is not just a matter of abstract principle. There is little prospect of peace in Angola, for example, because oil corporations are financing one side of a truly vile war and diamond traders the other. Democracy was removed from Chile in 1973 not just by Pinochet, but by corporate power - led by the communications giant of the time, ITT - sabotaging the Chilean economy. The Ford Motor Company, for example, withheld spare parts for the country’s essential buses and trucks. Relentless genocide in Guatemala began when the United Fruit Company promoted the overthrow of another elected government in 1954. Mexico is now ruled by a former executive of Coca Cola.

Less familiar corporate impacts on human rights include the 360 people killed every year at work in Britain - among many thousands more worldwide. Legal opinion suggests that perhaps a quarter of these deaths should properly result in charges of corporate manslaughter. They rarely, if ever, do. Corporations can routinely abuse international humanitarian law with almost complete impunity.4

For them, warfare may be unfortunate but it is also an extremely lucrative business. In concert with their political cronies, whom they finance, they present all the symptoms of a ruthless, bloodthirsty ‘military-industrial complex’ (see article), while sealing themselves very snugly into a bullet-proof world of their own. Billions of dollars of public money are casually ‘overspent’ each year on new methods of killing, on the gigantic, secretive machinery of ‘national security’. The cost is never expressed in terms of hospital beds or classrooms, nurses or teachers, unnecessary death and suffering or wasted talent. Instead, arms corporations drool over video footage of ‘live deployment’ and think of this as brilliant marketing. The beauty of the corporate status quo is that it makes us pay for our own jailers and calls them by another name.

Arms corporations also enjoy a ‘security exemption’ under Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which is now enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO). This is the most powerful exemption there is at the WTO: no legal challenge is permitted to any trade ‘relating to the traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war and such traffic in other goods and materials as is carried on directly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment’.5

That military establishment has now achieved an impunity all its own. Wars were once fought between warriors: in 1914 soldiers dutifully marched off to industrialized slaughter in the trenches of France. But, from 1940 onwards, bombs started falling on homes and eventually obliterated entire cities like Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ‘Total’ war had arrived undeclared, to be fought out not by warriors but by civilians - the majority of whom are women, the very young, the very old or the very sick and frail.

There’s been a corresponding shift in the body-count too. At the start of the 20th century there were roughly eight military casualties of war for every civilian one; at the start of the 21st century the ratio has been almost exactly reversed, so that eight civilians die for every soldier.6 In the most recent conflict in Palestine the ratio is at least twenty to one. In Iraq it can be counted in the thousands to one - and still counting. The Kosovo bombing was unique not because it was styled ‘humanitarian’ but because it was the first-ever major conflict with no military casualties at all on the winning side - absolute impunity made manifest, and a truly terrifying prospect.

Associated with this is a profound change in the nature of warfare. For the most part it’s no longer fought between nation states and standing armies but within them, or between groups that straddle national borders. This, in turn, has made soldiers, police officers, private-security thugs and criminal hoodlums harder to tell apart. Their motives have changed, too. Where once military strategists set out to win ‘hearts and minds’, fear now rules the roost on its own.

People familiar with the killing fields of these new wars have noticed other differences. Mary Kaldor describes one of them thus: ‘The wars epitomize a new kind of global/local divide between those members of a global class who can speak English, have access to faxes, e-mail and satellite television, who use dollars or deutschmarks or credit cards and who travel freely, and those who are excluded from global processes, who live off what they can sell or barter or what they receive in humanitarian aid, whose movement is restricted by roadblocks, visas and the cost of travel, and who are prey to sieges, forced famines, landmines, etc.’6

Kaldor has noticed something else, too. There is a distinction to be made on the ground between what she calls ‘particularist’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ outlooks. The former, familiar to the George W Bush tendency, searches out the divisions between people, celebrates brute force, usually has the guns and needs war to boost its own status. The latter celebrates what we share, respects consent and values peace above war. What looks like ‘ethnic’ war between Tutsis and Hutus, Serbs and Albanians, Protestants and Catholics, is also a conflict on both sides between a minority with guns and a majority without. Peace depends upon the cosmopolitans, the ‘Hutsis’, prevailing. In order to do so the last thing they need is a robotic leviathan lurking at a safe distance above the cloud cover. Something closer to police officers is required to enforce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and challenge the legitimacy of organized violence on the ground.

Kaldor suggests that this means pursuing political moderation. But it may also strengthen the underlying logic of broader, more radical change. Take that ultimate expression of brute force, nuclear weapons. Robert Green knows from personal experience (see article) that they are useless, even as a ‘deterrent’. Unless they are abolished, taken out of the equation altogether, they are bound to proliferate further. There is no reasoned argument against scrapping them - merely the dead weight of the status quo.

Or consider standing armies, traditionally always equated with national security. What most of them actually do is usurp political power, loot national treasuries and beat up on their own people. They are, in practice, agents of national insecurity. Let the resources squandered on them be devoted to education and healthcare instead, as they have been - to little international acclaim but uniquely good effect - in Costa Rica (explored by Andrew Bounds).

Without standing armies the traffic in lethal weapons has no legitimacy at all. Of course the trade in small arms must be curtailed, the convention against landmines enforced and indeed enhanced to include the no-less-deadly impact of cluster bombs.7 But (as Gideon Burrows explains) the arms business in its entirety is a menace. Article XXI of GATT will have to be replaced, so that weapons are treated as no less lethal than pathogens and trading in them becomes incompatible with membership of the World Fair Trade Organization that will eventually have to replace the WTO.

Unplugging the power of corporations, bringing them under democratic control, is a broader political undertaking. It means empowering both the people who are employed by corporations and the communities in which they operate, and it suggests the rapid development of a ‘people’s law’ best expressed at present by the worldwide resistance to corporate rule. Jayan Nayar weighs the evidence.

On active service in Chechnya: a casualty with collateral damage.
Heidi Bradner / Panos

Creature of the UN
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the creature of the United Nations, which therefore has the inalienable duty to enforce it. After her experience of Chechnya and the Security Council, Olivia Ward (click to read her article) doubts whether the UN in its present state is up to the job. The permanent members of the Security Council are also the world’s major arms peddlers - the US, Russia, Britain, France and China. Their position is untenable.

Put starkly, the choice is between a Reunited Nations policing the Declaration with its own specifically recruited and trained troops, or submitting to the brute force of NATO - or maybe China, or maybe regional power conglomerations of the kind imagined by George Orwell in 1984, or maybe just the local Mafia boss. There is, it seems to me, no preferable or legitimate alternative to the UN, flawed as it is. Once this is recognized, work can begin on repairing the flaws.

The Cold War was always in danger of doing to the UN what the Second World War did to the League of Nations - another peacemaking institution, incidentally, which the US refused to join. A return to the world as it was immediately prior to the ‘war to end all wars’ in 1914, with no humanitarian law enforcement at all, can only result in an even more unimaginable catastrophe.

None of this should be allowed to obscure a larger truth. If the world really is an unstable place, then this is because it’s environmentally unsustainable, increasingly unequal and therefore intolerably unjust. That’s precisely what the putative Globocops we employ at the moment aim to enforce with every lethal weapon they can devise. The sooner they’re unplugged, the safer it will be for us all.

1 Quoted in Paul Rogers, Losing Control (Pluto Press, 2000).
2 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) website: www.sipri.se and UNDP, Human Development Report 2000.
3 Noam Chomsky, ‘In Retrospect’, The Little Magazine, (June 2000, [email protected])
4 George Monbiot, Captive State (Macmillan, 2000).
5 Steven Staples, ‘The WTO and War’, in The WTO and the Global War System (The International Network on Disarmament and Globalization, www.indg.org)
6 Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars (Polity Press, 1999).
7 Rae McGrath, Cluster Bombs (UK Working Group on Landmines, 1st Floor, 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TP. E-mail [email protected])

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New Internationalist issue 330 magazine cover This article is from the December 2000 issue of New Internationalist.
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