Friday, August 10, 2007

"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Power [3]

The Problem of Sovereignty



Whenever we consider the crime of genocide, and especially when we consider any possible responses to an act of genocide, the issue of state sovereignty nearly always must be factored in. I qualify my statement with "nearly always" because I imagine that it is not completely out of the realm of possibility that an act of genocide could occur somewhere in the world without the complicity or--more usually--the involvement of the government. There are countries in the world with weak central governments, as well as countries with certain areas out of the practical reach of national authority.

However, almost every act of genocide I know of has been committed by a state actor, sometimes through proxies, or at the very least is tolerated or even tacitly encouraged by the central government. The Holocaust of World War II was unusual in that the majority of the victims were not citizens of the state responsible for the genocide. The Indonesian campaign of terror against East Timor is another example. However, when an act of genocide occurs, it is most often committed:

1) By the government of a state; and
2) Is committed against citizens of that very same state.

One consistent theme in Power's book is the tendency of the international community to fall back on diplomatic protocol and on traditional state-to-state diplomacy in response to genocide. And the problem with this, of course, is that all too often the state is the guilty party either directly or through proxies. We see this dynamic being played out today, as the UN and other international actors continue to negotiate with the Sudanese government over Darfur; while the regime in Khartoum continues to dither and drag its' feet, the people of Darfur continue to live in fear and hunger--when they are allowed to live at all.

We might be at an important juncture in the development of world civilization. It may be time to recognize that once-progressive concepts such as the Nation-State and the "self-determination of peoples" are no longer the best mechanisms by which to secure the greatest possible freedom and liberty for the most possible people.

It may be time to stop thinking of the world as being made up of countries and peoples, and to start thinking of it as being inhabited by billions of individuals. It may be time for us to begin thinking seriously about how to make the concept of "global citizenship" a reality.

The sanctity of "sovereignty" is no longer a rational means by which to defend regional or global stability; nor is it acceptable to place the inviolability of a governments' control over its own affairs above the well-being and human rights of that governments citizens.

In that light, it is interesting to note that the the website http://antiwar.com/, which was started specifically to protest American involvement in the former Yugoslavia, states in the "Who We Are" section that "This site is devoted to the cause of non-interventionism" specifically, rather than "War" in general. More specifically, they seem to be against American intervention--anywhere, at any time, for any reason.

The anti-interventionists rallied to the cause during the debate over the war in Bosnia, they continued their crusade during the Kosovo war, and they presumably are keeping a close watch on any potential "intervention" there. As long as the slaughter in Darfur remains a purely internal and domestic issue within the borders of the sovereign nation of Sudan, out of reach of American interference, all will be right in the world of the non-interventionist movement.

When reading Diana Johnstone I frequently tried to ascertain what she was hoping for; her book made it very clear what she was against, and she spends much of the book finding fault with the way events in Bosnia played out and with the international order as it stands. But what is she--and Parenti, and Chussodovsky, and Elich, and the good people at AntiWar.com FOR? They all make it very clear what they are against, and why the international order should not work as it does, but how SHOULD the world look, according to them?

Power gives a fairly graphic glimpse to the answer to this question in Chapter 10: Rwanda: "Mostly in a Listening Mode". In Rwanda, despite the best efforts of Romeo Dallaire and his skeletal force of poorly equipped and mostly-abandoned UN troops, it can be said with essentially no hyperbole that the international community--and, as she so painfully documents, particularly the United States--did precisely nothing. We stayed out of it. In Rwanda, we were all non-interventionists. If one wants a vision of the world where sovereignty and strict legalisms and the orthodoxy of non-interventionism reign unimpeded, then revisiting the horrors of Rwanda during that apocalyptic summer of 1994 would be a good place to begin.

Americans have a long tradition of prizing individual rights, protecting the individual from the abuses of the state or any other unchecked power, and believing in the primacy of the individual over any collective. We also have a long tradition of cherishing civic nationalism over racial, ethnic, tribal, or religious nationalism. We understand the transcendent value of the secular, non-sectarian ideal of undifferentiated citizenship. It is time to formulate new international laws and institutions to ensure that our rhetoric about the universality of these values truly extends beyond our own borders.

1 comment:

Owen said...

If Al-Quaeda in Iraq are targetting Iraqi minorities as such rather than for tactical reasons that could prove to be an example of non-governmental genocide.

I think it's reasonable to consider genocide a political crime involving the exercise of power that one group possesses and another doesn't. Although it's likely that power will reside in the state that isn't necessarily the case.

I'm just catching up again after a gap. I'm delighted that you're looking at Parenti and Power in parallel, there's a point at which the body ceases to be able to cope with oxygen deprivation however well the doctor is explaining its effects!