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International Law

Perils of ever-closer union

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The preamble to the treaty of Rome signed by the EU’s six founding countries famously says that they “were determined to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

These words have hung around the necks of Europeans ever since. That grandiose language harked back to the preamble to the League of Nations when it was set up in 1920 ‘to secure international peace and security.’ For all its faults, the treaty of Rome has weathered better than the League of Nations; its magnetism is such that countries still queue to join. Croatia has just done so, and others like Serbia, Moldova or Kosovo hope very much to get in.

 

The common market created by the treaty of Rome in 1957 was not much more than a customs union, and tariffs within it were not finally abolished until 1968. In France, General de Gaulle ignored many aspects of the treaty, and also treated Brussels with contempt. And the real questions surrounding an ever-closer union were only to become sensitive in the 1980s. The Single European Act, which was strongly promoted by Margaret Thatcher, marked the single biggest transfer, or at least sharing, of sovereignty ever seen in Europe. It was followed by the Maastricht treaty and then a decade ago by the Constitutional treaty, which paradoxically removed the reference to ever-closer union because by the early years of this century politicians were getting more and more nervous about the growth of euroscepticism in their countries’ politics.

 

The term was reintroduced in the Lisbon treaty because it simply took over previous language from older treaties, even though opt-outs were developed as part of the sequence of European treaties to accommodate the need for the Danes to stay outside the currency union or in 1992 to allow the British to steer clear of social policy. Despite free movement of people, though, the closer integration of standards and an opening up to greater competition across Europe, the power of national governments to resist or delay a fully open market has remained strong. It was not until 1988, that the Germans had to admit that their Reinheitsgebot (purity ordinance) on beer dating from 1516, which laid down that beer could only be made from water, barley and hops, was a protectionist barrier against competition from brewers in other countries which add more ingredients.

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EU governments must accept that individual countries’ budgets will no longer be decided by national governments alone, and that national banking systems will be supervised and monitored centrally

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But what exactly does ever-closer union mean today? Many markets across Europe are still far from being integrated, as a casual look at the service sector will testify. Taxes are unharmonised and there remains intense tax competition between countries. Moves towards political union have so far, to put it politely, been limited. In Britain, the House of Commons library examines each year the total number of laws adopted in the UK, and can never find more than 8% of primary legislation that originates from the EU. Despite the moves to greater integration since the euro crisis first struck, the fact is that if one looks at the legislation making headlines across Europe – gay marriage, education policy, health care provision, whether to have contributory or free systems of pension and student fees, welfare reform, voting systems, pay control, or even speed limits on motorways – it is Europe’s national governments that are still firmly in the driving seat.

What Europe has instead witnessed in recent years is the rebirth of the nation state in contrast to the years between the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act. It is doubtful that the founding fathers of the European project ever dreamed that Lithuania would one day preside over their Europe, or that Slovakia and Croatia would have the same veto rights in European affairs as Germany and France. Catalonia has its own “embassy” in Brussels, as do Scotland and most of the major regions and provinces. The languages of Europe are respected and guaranteed as are national cultures. Far from an ever-closer union, it may be argued that it would be more accurate to talk of ‘ever more nation-states’ as the chief product of the EU in recent times. And the euro crisis has if anything encouraged even greater nationalism in many countries in Europe as a reaction to austerity policies.

At the same time, the European Parliament sees fewer and fewer citizens voting in its elections. Only 20% of Croatian voters could be bothered to turn out to elect their six MEPs in April of this year. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel often talks of ‘more Europe’, but on condition that no more German money should be involved. In fact, the more Europe has sought to appropriate the symbols of a union or a single entity the less its citizens have wanted to pay, and the more they have supported the anti-Brussels political formations that have grown in strength in nearly all the EU’s member states.

On foreign policy, there certainly is no ever-closer union. Europe is divided over whether or not to intervene in Syria and its member governments habitually take different positions on such key international questions as recognition of the Palestinian authority as a UN state. Europe’s military strength is diluted by remaining parcelled out between different armies with different defence procurement policies.
On energy policy, there is equally little sense of an ever-closer union – Germany opts out of nuclear, Poland sticks to brown coal, Britain keeps dashing for gas, and prices paid by industry vary widely.

Despite this, co-operation and the search for agreement on common policy is worthwhile and necessary. Political agreement, if not political union, is needed to transfer authority to the European Commission in areas like trade and competition – and financial supervision and control. Political union in the sense of supranational agreement to transfer sovereignty to the European Court of Justice in key areas has been a good thing from an economic point of view. The single market, although still not complete, is the product of ever-closer political union.

The big question remains the single currency. British eurosceptics point to the eurozone crisis as proving the failure of the attempt to move to a closer ‘union’ through the adoption of a common currency across much of the continent. And even the most devoted supporter of the euro must surely admit that too many countries with too many different levels of development rushed into EMU at the same time. That was ignored by the ‘mission accomplished’ complacency that followed its introduction more than a decade ago, and left no mechanisms to spot the housing bubbles, unsustainable cheap money credit growth and the failure of some national economies to align their spending and revenues. Arguably the single currency still requires ever-closer political union with more power to be held and used at the centre. And it is precisely because that didn’t exist that the eurozone has experienced the terrible difficulties of recent years.

 

Today, the elements of complacency are again visible. Yet the euro is still in trouble and the basic flaws in its construction have still not been corrected. There can be no doubt that to make the single currency work there will have to be exactly what the British have long feared, more political union that can make the EU capable of overruling Berlin and telling Italy and Portugal how better to govern themselves. It’s hard to see this happening in a hurry, and to get there there are a number of preconditions that must be met. It would in the first place require collective responsibility to ensure that the eurozone gets out of its current problems sustainably. That in turn means an understanding by surplus countries like Germany, whose growth has been export driven and which has greatly benefited from membership of the wider euro area of the concessions they too must make. They need to rebalance their own economies in favour of more consumer spending, open their own markets to competition, which in many areas is still lacking, and support growth on the periphery through the direct and indirect transfer of funds to weaker countries. They also need to accept that the debt burden of many of the ‘stressed’ countries will remain unsustainable, and that further restructuring is inevitable. But this should be on condition that the periphery countries fully buy into the proposition that they must themselves focus on investment and growth through the substantial reorganisation of their economies.

 

The European Central Bank should also be allowed to do what it is supposed to do if it is to act as a proper central bank of an integrated Europe and should be able to engage in Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) to buy the bonds of stressed countries whenever necessary to prevent periodic sovereign debt and credit crunches. The ECB should in effect embark on Europe’s own version of the quantitative easing that has worked elsewhere, most notably in the U.S. And most controversial of all, EU governments must accept that individual countries’ budgets will no longer be decided by national governments alone, and that national banking systems will be supervised and monitored centrally.

 

Bits of all this may happen as European countries move forward kicking and screaming. But is anyone in the EU up for the whole package? If the answer is no, then it would be better to start rethinking what ever-closer union really means, and whether Europe will ever get there.

 

First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission

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International Law

Shaping a 21st-century world order amounts to a patchwork

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What do Moroccan arms sales to Ukraine, a transnational Russian Iranian transit corridor, and US assistance in developing a Saudi national strategy have in common?

Together with this week’s Russian-Iranian financial messaging agreement and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s December visit to Saudi Arabia, they are smaller and bigger fragments of a 21st-century world order in the making that is likely to be bi-polar and populated by multiple middle powers with significant agency and enhanced hedging capabilities.

So is the competition between rival US and Chinese technologies for which the jury is still out.

For the two likely dominant powers, the United States and China, the building blocks are efforts to line up their ducks in a bipolar world.

For Russia, they involve hanging on to its pre-Ukraine war status, in part by deploying its Wagner Group mercenaries to the Sahel; devising ways to circumvent sanctions; and hoping that time will work in its favour in what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg but has turned into a drawn-out slugging match.

For middle powers, the name of the game is carving out their own space, leveraging their enhanced influence, and seeking advantage where they can.

The result is that weaving the 21st century’s tapestry amounts to a patchwork in which some fragments will have long-term effects while others may not even register as a blip on the radar.

Take, for example, Morocco’s decision to give Ukraine some 20 refurbished Russian-made T-72B battle tanks. The deal made Morocco the first African, if not the first Global South nation, to militarily aid Ukraine.

The move, almost a year into the Ukraine war, is likely to have been motivated by short-term considerations, including Russia’s close ties to Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria and US recognition of Morocco’s claim to the formerly Spanish Western Sahara, rather than long-term 21st-century world order considerations.

Even so, Morocco’s breaking ranks with much of the Global South serves the US goal of sustaining the current world order in which it is the top dog, even if its power diminishes.

It doesn’t fundamentally affect China’s goal of rebalancing power in the existing order to ensure that it is bi- rather than unipolar.

The loser in the deal is Russia, which, like Iran, wants to see a new world order in which the United States is cut down to size.

The tank deal may not be a significant loss for Russia, but it does suggest that horse trading is a critical element in weaving the fabric of a new order.

So is mutual interest.

Like the arms sale, the agreement between Russia and Iran to create a financial messaging system that would allow their banks to transfer funds between one another and evade sanctions that block their access to the global SWIFT system is unlikely to have a major impact on the structure of the new world order.

Russian and Iranian efforts to link Europe with the Indian Ocean, centred on 3,000 kilometres of rail and sea and river shipping, are potentially far more significant.

The transport corridor would help reshape trade and supply networks in a world that seems set to divvy up into rival blocs. Moreover, it could shield Russia and Iran from US and European sanctions as they forge closer economic ties with fast-growing economies in Asia.

Russia and Iran are not just looking at India, which sits at one extreme of the corridor.

They also expect to capitalise on their links to China. All three are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and China and Iran are close to becoming members of the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) free trade zone.

Of a similar potential impact on a future world order is US assistance in Saudi Arabia’s development of a first-time-ever long-term vision for the kingdom’s national security, an essential building block in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to modernize his military.

Saudi Arabia expects to disclose its strategy later this year. It would codify “the kingdom’s strategic vision for national security and regional security,” according to Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, who is advising his Saudi counterparts.

Shaping Saudi strategy as well as military modernization may be the United States’ best bet to imbue at least some of its values and complicate the establishment of similar defense ties with China or Russia. Moreover, it would enhance the kingdom’s ability to absorb and utilize US weapons systems.

“The Saudis, under MBS’s (Mohammed bin Salman’s) leadership, now recognize (their) deficiencies and seem, for the first time, determined to address them in partnership with the United States and to a degree with the United Kingdom,” said political-military analyst and former Pentagon official Bilal Y. Saab.

That will undoubtedly register on the geopolitical chessboard, even if small moves also count for something.

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International Law

Undemocratic United Nations and Global Peace

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War is not the solution to any problem rather war is a problem itself. Many countries believe in diplomacy and peaceful means of problem-solving and conflict resolution. But, unfortunately, many nations still seek solutions of problems and continuity of politics in wars.

If we look at any newspaper, we find too many armed conflicts going on around the globe. To name a few would include a catastrophic war between Russian Federation and Ukraine which has caused tens of thousands of casualties, with millions displaced. Decades-long civil wars and subsequent US-led NATO intervention and withdrawal has brought Afghanistan to the brink of famine and hunger. The whole Middle Eastern region is unstable and striving with civil wars for long. The Arab -Israel conflict and Kashmir Dispute have been there for more than seven decades.

Above-mentioned and many others examples of armed conflicts prove that there is no durable peace in the world. Here one thing that needs to be noted is that conflict is always inevitable among individuals, societies and nations, because the interests of individuals, societies and nations do not always converge. When there is divergence of interests, conflict arises.

What is needed to be done is the resolution of these conflicts. There are two ways to resolve conflicts: one is violent way (use of force) and the other is peaceful way (diplomacy and negotiations). More than seven decades ago, after World War 2, nations realized that war is not solution to any problem and they established United Nations Organization (UNO). Primary objective of UN was and is the maintenance of peace and security in the world.

But, if we look at history, it seems the UN has failed to achieve international peace and security. UN may have had role in preventing the outbreak of another world war, but it could not stop a series of conflicts from Korea, Vietnam to Afghanistan (during Cold War), and from Africa, Middle East to ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict.

This is a question mark on the credibility of UN, that why the UN despite being guardian of international peace and security cannot stop wars.

UN has six principal organs and many Specialized Agencies and Funds for different tasks.  Among them Security Council is the most powerful Organ and is mandated with enforcing international peace and security. UNSC uses two tools to enforce its decisions, one is applications of sanctions and the other is use of force (intervention).

However the concentration of power in the hands of five permanent states of Security Council, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia have been problematic. These five countries use veto power whenever they perceive any resolution to be against their national interest or against the interests of their allies. Throughout the Cold War, US and USSR had paralyzed UN by vetoing resolutions. Same happened with any other conflict including when US drafted a resolution to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it is crystal clear that if UN (specifically Security Council) is not reformed, UN can not achieve its primary goal i.e. maintenance of peace and security. UN members and experts have talked about reform in Security Council. Experts have also given suggestions and proposals to make UN more democratic and representative. One of those proposals is abandoning veto and doubling the size of SC members. This can make UN more democratic and representative to some extent. But this is not an easy job. Firstly, because P5 are reluctant to abandon this privileged position (veto power). Secondly, countries hoping for permanent membership are opposed by other countries. For example, many European countries object Germany’s membership. Pakistan objects to India’s membership.

 Experts believe the solutions could be the democratization of UN system (particularly UNSC). This is done by involving General Assembly in the decision making regarding international peace and security. General Assembly is a symbol of democracy, representing almost all the states on the globe. Simple or two-third majority must be mandatory to make any decision regarding international peace and security. This could stop any powerful state to use UN as a tool for its own vested national interest , and the decision of majority will prevail. All the states, big and small, powerful and weak will have equal say in the UN. Otherwise the possibility of wars, violence, genocide and injustice will further increase.

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United States thinks it’s ‘the exception to the rules of war’

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The architects of those Nuremberg trials—representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France fully expected that the new United Nations would establish a permanent court where war criminals who couldn’t be tried in their home countries might be brought to justice. In the end, it took more than half a century to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). Only in 1998 did 60 nations adopt the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute. Today, 123 countries have signed.

Guess what superpower has never signed the ICC? Here are a few hints? – writes Rebecca Gordon in an article at “The Nation”:

Its 2021 military budget dwarfed that of the next nine countries combined and was 1.5 times the size of what the world’s other 144 countries with such budgets spent on defense that year.

Its president has just signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill for 2023, more than half of which is devoted to “defense” (and that, in turn, is only part of that country’s full national security budget).

It operates roughly 750 publicly acknowledged military bases in at least 80 countries.

In 2003, it began an aggressive, unprovoked (and disastrous) war by invading a country 6,900 miles away.

Yes! The United States is that Great Exception to the rules of war.

While, in 2000, during the waning days of his presidency, Bill Clinton did sign the Rome Statute, the Senate never ratified it. Then, in 2002, as the Bush administration was ramping up its Global War on Terror, including its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan and an illegal CIA global torture program, the United States simply withdrew its signature entirely. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (photo) then explained why this way:

“The ICC provisions claim the authority to detain and try American citizens — U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as current and future officials — even though the United States has not given its consent to be bound by the treaty. When the ICC treaty enters into force, U.S. citizens will be exposed to the risk of prosecution by a court that is unaccountable to the American people, and that has no obligation to respect the Constitutional rights of our citizens.”

The assumption built into Rumsfeld’s explanation was that there was something special — even exceptional — about US citizens. Unlike the rest of the world, we have “Constitutional rights,” which apparently include the right to commit war crimes with impunity.

Even if a citizen is convicted of such a crime in a US court, he or she has a good chance of receiving a presidential pardon. And were such a person to turn out to be one of the “current and future officials” Rumsfeld mentioned, his or her chance of being hauled into court would be about the same as mine of someday being appointed secretary of defense.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, but, as it happens, Afghanistan is. In 2018, the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, formally requested that a case be opened for war crimes committed in that country. ‘The New York Times’ reported that Bensouda’s “inquiry would mostly focus on large-scale crimes against civilians attributed to the Taliban and Afghan government forces.” However, it would also examine “alleged C.I.A. and American military abuse in detention centers in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and at sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, putting the court directly at odds with the United States.”

Bensouda planned an evidence-gathering trip to the United States, but in April 2019, the Trump administration revoked her visa, preventing her from interviewing any witnesses here. It then followed up with financial sanctions on Bensouda and another ICC prosecutor, Phakiso Mochochoko.

So where do those potential Afghan cases stand today? A new prosecutor, Karim Khan, took over as 2021 ended. He announced that the investigation would indeed go forward, but that acts of the United States and allies like the United Kingdom would not be examined. He would instead focus on actions of the Taliban and the Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State.

When it comes to potential war crimes, the United States remains the Great Exception. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were just a little less exceptional?

If, for instance, in this new year, we were to transfer some of those hundreds of billions of dollars Congress and the Biden administration have just committed to enriching corporate weapons makers, while propping up an ultimately unsustainable military apparatus, to the actual needs of Americans?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if just a little of that money were put into a new child tax credit? – asks Rebecca Gordon.

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