Thursday, August 23, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [24]


[I've been busy and out of town for most of the past week--sorry it's taken me so long to get back to blogging]

Parenti has a big ax to grind--NATO, not Milosevic or Seselj or Karadzic, was the real war criminal in Yugoslavia in his version of events. To begin, he lists the laws both national and international that NATO, in his opinion, violated.

The problem with this section is not that he is incorrect--strictly speaking, Parenti sticks to the facts in these opening paragraphs (although he seems to consider the NATO Charter to be "international law"--I'm not so sure about that). His objections are all over the map and rather disjointed. He objects to the violation of Serbian sovereignty on the basis of the UN Charter (which, in better hands, could have prompted a worthwhile examination of how the UN deals with domestic crises). He also claims that the Clinton Administration violated the War Powers Act as well as bypassing Congress altogether. Again, there are merits to these objections--so it is all the more distressing that Parenti doesn't seem the least bit interested in discussing them further. He throws the information out, raw and unexamined, and assumes that his job is done. Other than another couple of legalistic paragraphs on about the War Powers Act, he has already moved on.

We next discuss how NATO represents a newer and more sinister form of imperialism because it represents no particular people or geographic entity. NATO is a lot like a corporation, you see, and corporations are bad. I apologize for the glib tone--Parenti has actually quoted an interesting point--but once again the man has borrowed an insight without adding anything to it. Much of this book has the feel of a hastily-written undergraduate paper with random quotes inserted into the text post de facto in order to make the instructor happy.

Just as Parenti lacks the intellectual curiosity and even-handedness to make anything interesting of the issue state sovereignty, international interventions, and international law, he lacks the honesty necessary to discuss the issue of diplomacy. In short, he returns to the scene of Rambouillet. We already know that Parenti wants to believe that the Belgrade regime were unfairly set up; there is no need to rehash that imaginary scenario.

What follows is an odd exercise in logic; one that seems to suggest that any and all military actions by a state are fundamentally immoral, no matter what the cause or circumstance. We will consider this in the next post.


Owen said...

I'm not familiar with the fine details, but essentially Parenti is correct in describing the NATO Charter as international law, insofar as the provisions of the Charter apply to dealings between the member states. I don't know how NATO's dealings with third parties fall within the framework of international law but presumably it isn't unique as a multilateral military alliance. I'm not sure how Parenti decides that it isn't a geographical entity when the member states are all geographical entities in their own right.

Kirk Johnson said...

Well, I stand corrected then. I assumed that the NATO charter doesn't count as international law since it only regulates relations between member nations--I saw it more as a treaty or an agreement rather than law. But then, I know about as much about the finer points of international law as Parenti does about the Balkans.

His point about NATO not being a geographical entity does make sense to me, though--I would argue that the same applies to the UN, for example. The difference between me and him is that I do not find this objectionable. He is the one who believes that state sovereignty, rather than universal and individual human rights, should be the ruling principle of international law and morality.

Owen said...

An "overview" From Cornell University Law School website

International law: an overview

International law consists of rules and principles which govern the relations and dealings of nations with each other. International Law, which is in most other countries referred to as Public International Law, concerns itself only with questions of rights between several nations or nations and the citizens or subjects of other nations. In contrast, Private International Law deals with controversies between private persons, natural or juridical, arising out of situations having significant relationship to more than one nation. In recent years the line between public and private international law have became increasingly uncertain. Issues of private international law may also implicate issues of public international law, and many matters of private international law nave substantial significance for the international community of nations.

International Law includes the basic, classic concepts of law in national legal systems -- status, property, obligation, and tort (or delict). It also includes substantive law, procedure, process and remedies. International Law is rooted in acceptance by the nation states which constitute the system. Customary law and conventional law are primary sources of international law. Customary international law results when states follow certain practices generally and consistently out of a sense of legal obligation. Recently the customary law was codified in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties ( Conventional international law derives from international agreements and may take any form that the contracting parties agree upon. Agreements may be made in respect to any matter except to the extent that the agreement conflicts with the rules of international law incorporating basic standards of international conduct or the obligations of a member state under the Charter of the United Nations ( International agreements create law for the parties of the agreement. They may also lead to the creation of customary international law when they are intended for adherence generally and are in fact widely accepted. Customary law and law made by by international agreement have equal authority as international law. Parties may assign higher priority to one of the sources by agreement. However, some rules of international law are recognized by international community as peremptory, permitting no derogation. Such rules can be changed or modified only by a subsequent peremptory norm of international law.

Kirk I'm sure your familiarity with international law is considerably greater than Parenti's familiarity with reality in the Balkans.