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Seeking Power Over Death: Lethal Mainspring Of World Politics

Consequences of War by Peter Paul Rubens

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Abstract: At its core, history is the determinable record of humankind’s struggle for and against death. Though such a bold assertion might first appear self-contradictory, the corollary truths are clarifying. In general, we may learn, each nation-state does whatever it deems necessary to survive, but too often this “realistic” presumption requires the “death” of “others.”Now, by examining this zero-sum calculus more closely – a systematic assessment that would include certain primal expectations of the individual human being (the microcosm) – scholars may discover that this interminable struggle is also marked by an ironic reciprocity: Each state struggle for the “death” of designated others(in earlier millennia, before states, it was a struggle of empires)represents a fierce defense against its own potential annihilation. This perplexing simultaneity suggests that the underlying rationale of Realpolitik or power politics[1]is not acquisition of territory, wealth or “victory,”[2] but personal immortality. Once this bewildering rationale can be understood, therefore, such deeper insight could bestow upon our endangered planet variously enlightened opportunities for global survival. Grasped imaginatively, and with apt measures of urgency, these new modalities could become intellectual blueprints for world justice and world peace. In essence, these “blueprints” could offer humankind eleventh-hour reformist strategies of a once-inconceivable potency.[3]

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In such primal matters, history must be our starting point.[4] In Man and Crisis (1958), 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset observes accordingly: “History is an illustrious war against death.” Though this comment is captivating, and sets the stage for our sought-after answer, it represents only a partial piece of a much wider truth: Ultimately, power over death represents the greatest conceivable form of power here on earth;[5]but acquiring such optimal power in world politics can also “demand” the  killing of  “others.”[6]

To acquire a politically manageable “power over death,” individuals (microcosm)and states (macrocosm) must first make tangible preparations to bring fatality to identifiable “enemies.” At times, this belligerent thinking would involve variously seductive notions of “martyrdom.”  As we may learn from the evening news, these notions may call not “only” for war, but also for genocide.[7]

In both cases, the planned mass killing of other human beings is more-or-less comparable to religious sacrifice, a primal custom oriented toward the ritualistic deflection of death to “others.”[8]

There is more. Going forward, scholars and policy-makers must suitably re-examine vital underlying links between microcosm and macrocosm. In this regard, Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote imaginatively of not being dead as the principal exemplar of all power. Confronted with what Canetti had called “terror at the fact of death,” humankind – both individually, and collectively – seeks one particular advantage above all others.

This evident advantage is “to remain standing” while others must prepare to “lie down.” In the end, it is those who can remain upright, however temporarily, who are meaningfully “victorious.”[9] It is these fortunate ones, after all, who have managed to “divert” death to less-fortunate “others.”

By definition, of course, there can be no greater or more advantageous diversion.

               A key lesson obtains here for states as well as for individuals. For all “players,” microcosm and macrocosm, the situation of physical survival is the unambiguously central expression of all power. But as belligerent nationalism makes meaningful survival more and more problematic, Realpolitik or power politics effectively deprives states of their most genuine power lever.[10] Left unmodified, the “all against all” Westphalian Process[11] effectively creates or merely magnifies adversarial relations, and encourages state enemies to then enjoy “microcosmic” triumphs that will remain unrecognized or concealed. These triumphs are the deeply-satisfying human emotions experienced by persons when confronting powerless individuals who are preparing to “lie down.”[12]

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In world politics, the ultimate acquisition of power is never really about land or treasure or conquest or some other reassuring evidence of primacy. It is, rather, a presumed victory over death, ultimately a personal triumph, one described by Heinrich von Treitschke that is closely linked to the always-special prerogatives of sovereignty.[13]

Relevant reasoning here is straightforward. When my state is powerful, goes the argument, so too am I. At some point, when this state seems ready to prevail indefinitely, I too am granted a personal life that is gloriously unending. Stated somewhat succinctly: An “immortal” state creates (as either its citizen or subject) the “immortal” person.

Such abstract ideas can be bewildering.  Still, to actually feel such conceptual reasoning at a palpable level, one could intentionally recall the staggering images of mid-1930s Nazi party rallies at Nuremberg. Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental film celebration of Der Fuhrer, The Triumph of the Will, says it all best. Reminding the German people of Hegel’s famous aphorism, the legendary film underscores that a nation-state can actually become the “march of God in the world.”

Today, in 2021, neither the United States nor its enemies can seemingly understand this primal linkage. As a result, all states continue to be driven by policies that bring them neither personal satisfaction nor institutional safety. To the contrary, all they can continue to expect in a chaos-leaning Realpolitik world is a perpetual global landscape of war, terrorism and genocide. In the best of all possible worlds, however, humankind – recalling the ancient creed of Epicurus that death fear is foolish and irrational- would consider the one indispensable query:

What is death? A bogy. Turn it round and see what it is: you see it does not bite. The stuff of the body was bound to be parted from the airy element, either now or hereafter, as it existed apart from it before. Why then are you vexed if they are parted now? For if not parted now, they will be hereafter. Why so? That the revolution of the universe may be accomplished, for it has need of things present, things future, and things past and done with.”[14]

There is more. All states fail to understand that death is generally identified by their enemies as a zero-sum event. Anything that is done to sustain one’s own national survival invariably represents, for these enemy states, an intolerable threat to their own “lives” and a diminution of their own power. Reciprocally, anything that is done to effectively eliminate hated enemies must expectedly enhance their collective life and augment their collective power. Ideally, these strategies will fare best whenever God is “on our side.”[15]

There is still more. Because of the deeply intimate associations between collectivities/macrocosm (states) and (microcosm) individuals, the reciprocal life advantages of death and dying can be enjoyed doubly.

“Normally,” even if only at a subconscious level, the living person never really considers himself more powerful than at the very moment when he faces the dying person. Here, as we may learn again from Elias Canetti, the living human being comes as close as he or she can to encountering genuine feelings of personal immortality. In roughly similar fashion, the “living” nation-state never really regards itself as more powerful than at that moment when it confronts the apparently impending “death” of a despised enemy state. Only slightly less power-granting are those reassuring sentiments that arise from confrontation with a “dying” enemy state; that is, the same sentiments experienced by a belligerent state that seeks some tangible “victory” over another.

 In both cases, personal and collective, convention, good taste and sometimes skilled statecraft require that zero-sum feelings about death and power be suppressed. Such polite feelings ought not to be flaunted; nonetheless, they do remain prospectively vital and determinative.

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               Oddly, perhaps, in all world politics, power is so closely attached to the presumed conquest of death(national and personal) that core connections have been overlooked. As a result, students and practitioners of international relations continue to focus mainly on epiphenomena, on easily recognizable ideologies, identifiable territories, tangible implements of warfare (arms control and disarmament) and so on. The problem is not that these conspicuous factors are unimportant to power, but rather that they are of a manifestly secondary or reflected importance.

There is more. During a war, any war, the individual soldier, a person who ordinarily cannot experience satisfyingly tangible power during peacetime, is offered an utterly unique opportunity to remedy such absence. Inter alia, the pervasive presence of dead bodies in war cannot be minimized. Actually and incontestably, it is a central fact of belligerency. To wit, the soldier who is surrounded by corpses and knows that he is not yet one of them is “normally” imbued with an absolute radiance of invulnerability, of immortality, of monumental and perhaps incomparable power.

Reciprocally, and in like fashion, the state that commands its soldiers to kill and not to die, “feels” similarly great power at the removal of a collective adversary. This surviving state, like the surviving individual warrior, is transformed, indisputably and correspondingly, into a potentially primal source of everlasting life. Such abstract observations are hardly fashionable among general populations; they may even appear barbarous and uncivilized. Yet, for now at least, scholars should be seeking not to prescribe more appropriate behavior for states, but rather to accurately describe such behavior. This means looking behind the daily news.

Always, truth must be exculpatory. True observations may sometimes be indecipherable or objectionable; but they are no less true.

               In an apparent paradox, some of America’s non-state enemies also seek to “remain standing” vis-a-vis the United States, to seek power in the life-or-death struggle against a despised “other.” One must say “apparent paradox” here because some of America’s terrorist enemies seem not only unconcerned about being able to remain standing, but actually seek to die themselves. In these cases, it would appear, quite literally, that the perpetrators do “love death.”[16]

               What is most important to understand here is that “to die for the sake of God” in these calculations is actually to not die at all. For example, by “dying” in a divinely commanded act of killing presumed enemies the Jihadist terrorist really does seek to conquer death, which he fears with a special terror, by “living forever.” Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

Paradoxically, the “love of death” described by Jihadist terrorists is the ironic consequent of an all-consuming wish to avoid death. Since the death that this enemy “loves” is temporary and temporal, leading “in fact” to a permanent reprieve from any real death, accepting it as a tactical expedient becomes an easy matter. If, for any reason, the normally welcome death of an individual engaged in “holy war” were not expected to ensure an authentic life ever-after, its immense attractions would immediately be reversed.

America’s non-state terrorist enemies, in the fashion of its state enemies, also seek to “remain standing,” and to believe that this critical objective can be realized only when America –  the hated individual person in macrocosm – has already become the dead man lying down. Whenever the civilized and decent human being watching evening news about the latest suicide bombing asks incredulously, “Why do they inflict such horror?” there is an ascertainably correct answer: “They do this,” goes this reply, “out of an unhindered passion for the ultimate form of power; that is, to acquire power over death.”

The greater the number of enemy corpses, the more powerful terrorists will feel. Real power, understood as an irremediably zero-sum commodity, is always to gain in “aliveness” through inflicting death upon enemies.

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An enemy, whether state or non-state, cannot possibly kill as many foes as his primal passion for survival may demand. This means, among other intersecting considerations, that he may seek to induce or direct others to satisfy this particular passion. As a practical matter, this deflecting behavior points toward an undeniable impulse for genocide, an inclination that could be actualized, in the future, by adversarial resort to higher-order forms of terrorism (chemical/biological/nuclear), and/or to crimes against humanity.[17]

The United States still has much to learn. But before its leaders can fully understand the true nature of enemy intentions and capabilities, they must first acknowledge the most primary connections between power and survival. Once it can be understood that enemy definitions of the former are contingent upon loss of the latter, these leaders will be positioned intellectually to take appropriate remedial action.

Always, the true goal of certain adversaries is as grotesque as it is unrecognized. This goal is to be left standing while assorted others are made to disappear. These relentless enemies must survive just so that their enemies do not. They cannot, by this zero-sum reasoning, survive together. So long as the enemy is “allowed” to exist, no matter how cooperative or congenial it has been, some states will not feel safe. They will not feel powerful. They will not feel power over death.

It is always a mistake to believe that Reason governs the world.[18] The true source of governance on this imperiled planet is power, and power is ultimately the conquest of personal death. This conquest, which displays a zero-sum quality among enemies, is not limited to conflicts in any one region. Rather, it is always a generic matter, a more or less universal effort that is made especially manifest between enemies. On this generic matter, one should consider the revealing remark of Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco in his Journal in 1966. Describing killing as a purposeful affirmation of one’s own survival, Ionesco observed:

I must kill my visible enemy, the one who is determined to take my life, to prevent him from killing me. Killing gives me a feeling of relief, because I am dimly aware that in killing him, I have killed death. My enemy’s death cannot be held against me, it is no longer a source of anguish, if I killed him with the approval of society; that is the purpose of war. Killing is a way of relieving one’s feelings, of warding off one’s own death.[19]

There is more. While certain enemies accept the zero-sum linkages between power and survival, others do not. Although this may suggest that some states stand on an enviably higher moral plane than their enemies, it may also place the high-minded or virtuous state at a security disadvantage, one that will make it too difficult to “remain standing.” This disturbingly consequential asymmetry between state enemies may be addressed by reducing certain adversarial emphases on power-survival connections, and/or by increasing enemy emphases on power-survival connections.

Questions must be asked. Must a state ultimately become barbarous in order to endure? Must it “learn” to identify true power with survival over others, a predatory species survival that cannot abide the survival of enemies?[20]

Prima facie, what is required is not a replication of enemy leadership crimes,[21] but policies that finally recognize death-avoidance as the essential starting point fornational security and national defense. With such recognition, visceral hostility and existential threat[22]could be rejected in toto, and an altogether new ethos – one based on a firm commitment to “remain standing” at all costs[23]– could be implemented.[24]

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Core changes are necessary. All must finally rid themselves of the retrograde notion that killing another can confer immunity from personal mortality. In his Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the Other. Through the death of the Other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of being killed.” What is being described here is still the greatest form of power discoverable anywhere:  power over death. Americans and other residents of a deeply interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States or major world leader would attempt to understand these complex linkages.

At a minimum, all of our national policies must build upon more genuinely intellectual and scientific[25]sorts of understanding.

               Always, our “just wars,”[26] counter-terrorism conflicts and anti-genocide programs must be fought or conducted as intricate contests of mind over mind, and not just as narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

                Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death, and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer an accessible “medicine” against foreseeable adversaries in the global “state of nature.”  Only this difficult awareness can we relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”[27]

               More than ever before, history deserves reasonable pride of place. The United States, America’s current president should recall, was founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. Nonetheless, this means something very different in 2021 than it did back in 1787.

               What should this particular history now signify for American foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon authentic learning, not (recalling the Trump presidency) on flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. In this connection, individual human death fear has much to do with a better understanding of America’s national security prospects. Only a people who can feel deeply within itself the unalterable fate and suffering of a broader global population will ever be able to decently embrace compassion, coexistence and empathy.

               In the end, a “triumph of death” in one form or another is irresistible and inevitable, and attempts to avoid death by killing certain “despised others” are both futile and inglorious. Going forward, therefore, it is high time for new and more creative thinking about global security and human immortality. Instead of simply denying death, a cowardly and potentially corrosive emotion that Sigmund Freud labeled “wish fulfillment” in The Future of an Illusion(1927), we must finally acknowledge the obvious, and view it as a too-long-overlooked blessing. Ultimately, with such an eleventh-hour acknowledgment, all people and all nations on this endangered planet could begin to think more insightfully about our immutably common destiny. In turn, this means using an always-overriding human commonality as the secure basis for expanding empathy and worldwide cooperation.

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               This is a visionary and fanciful prescription, one rather unlikely to be grasped in time. But there is still a plausible way to begin. This way would require the leaders of all major states to recognize that they are not in any meaningful way “world powers” (all are equally “mortal;” none have any verifiable “power over death”) and that a coordinated retreat from Realpolitik or traditional geopolitical competition would now be self-interested.

               There are other considerations. The primary planetary survival task is a markedly intellectual one, but unprecedented human courage will also be needed. For the required national leadership initiatives, we could have no good reason to ever expect the arrival of a Platonic philosopher-king;[28] still, even some ordinary political leaders could conceivably prove themselves up to the extraordinary task at hand. For this to happen, enlightened citizens of all countries must first cast aside all historically discredited ways of thinking about world politics, and (per the specific insights of  twentieth-century  German thinker Karl Jaspers) do whatever possible to elevate empirical science and “mind” over blind faith and stultifying “mystery.”[29]

               “In endowing us with memory,” writes philosopher George Santayana, “nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation, the truth of mortality[30]. The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; still, without really knowing it, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.”

               The legacy of Westphalia (1648 treaty)[31] includes sacrilization of the state. Although we may discover such murderous sacrilization in the writings of Hegel, Fichte, von Treitschke and various others, there have also always been voices of a different sort. For Nietzsche, the state is “the coldest of all cold monsters.”  It is, he says in Zarathustra, “for the superfluous that the state was invented.” In a similar vein, we may consider the corroborating view of Jose Ortega y’Gasset in the Revolt of the Masses. Here, the Spanish philosopher identifies the state as “the greatest danger, always mustering its immense resources “to crush beneath it any creative minority which disturbs it….”

In all global politics, it now warrants further repeating, there can be no greater form of presumed power than power over death.

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               For the most part, it is not for us to choose when we should die.  Instead, our words, our destinies, will lie far beyond any discernible considerations of conscious decision or individual selection. Still, we can choose to recognize our shared human fate and especially our derivative interdependence. This unbreakable intellectual recognition could carry with it significant global promise, one that remained distressingly distant and unacknowledged in the dissembling Trump White House years.

               Much as we might prefer to comfort ourselves with various qualitative presumptions of societal hierarchy and national differentiation – the stock in trade of Donald J. Trump’s administration – we humans are all pretty much the same.[32] Already, this incontestable sameness is plainly manifest to capable scientists and physicians. Our single most important human similarity, and the one least subject to any reasonable hint of counter-argument, is that we all die.

               It is from the universal terror of this common fate that Westphalian law invests nation-states with the singularly “sacred” attributes of sovereignty.

               And it is from the incontestable commonality of death that humankind can finally escape from the predatory embrace of power politics or Realpolitik in world politics.

               Ironically, whatever our more-or-less divergent views on what might actually happen to us after death, the basic mortality that we share could still represent the last best chance we have for viable global coexistence and governance. This is the case, however, only if we can first accomplish the astoundingly difficult leap from acknowledging a shared fate as mortal beings to “operationalizing” our species’ more expressly generalized feelings of empathy and cooperation.

               There is more. Across an entire planet, we can care for one another as humans, but only after we have first accepted that the judgment of a resolutely common fate will not be waived by any harms that we may choose to inflict upon “others,” that is, upon the “unworthy.” While markedly less than obvious, modern crimes of war, terror, and genocide are often “just” sanitized expressions of religious sacrifice. In the most starkly egregious instances, any corresponding violence could represent a consummate human hope of overcoming private mortality through the targeted mass killing or exclusion of certain specific “outsiders.”

               It’s a murderous calculus, and not a new thought. Consider psychologist Ernest Becker’s ironic paraphrase of Elias Canetti in Escape from Evil:  “…. each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”

There is a deeply insightful observation latent in this idea. It is the uniquely dangerous notion that killing can confer immunity from one’s own mortality. Similarly, inWill Therapy and Truth and Reality, psychologist Otto Rank affirms: “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the Other. Through the death of the Other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of being killed.” What is being described here is plainly the greatest form of power discoverable anywhere:  power over death.

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               Americans and various other residents of our interconnected planet have a right to expect that any president of the United States should attempt to seriously understand such vital and complex linkages. Here, America’s national policies must build upon more genuinely intellectual sorts of understanding.[33] Always, our just wars, counter-terrorism conflicts, and anti-genocide programs must be fought or conducted as fully intricate contests of mind over mind, and not just as narrowly tactical struggles of mind over matter.

                Only a dual awareness of our common human destination, which is death, and the associated futility of sacrificial violence, can offer accessible “medicine” against North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, and assorted other more-or-less foreseeable adversaries in the global “state of nature.”  This “natural” condition of anarchy was already well known to the Founding Fathers of the United States (most of whom had read Locke, Rousseau, Grotius, Hobbes, Vattel and Blackstone[34]). Now, only this difficult awareness can relieve an otherwise incessant and still-ascending Hobbesian war of “all against all.”

               More than ever before, history deserves a reasonable pride of place. America was expressly founded upon the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin. But this means something quite different in 2021 than it did in 1787.

               What should this particular history signify for Biden White House foreign policy preparation? This is not an insignificant query, but it does presuppose an American democracy founded upon some serious measures of authentic learning, not on flippantly corrosive clichés or abundantly empty witticisms. For the foreseeable future, however, this is not really a plausible presupposition.[35]

               Human death fear has much to do with acquiring a better understanding of America’s current enemies, both national and sub-national (terrorist).  Reciprocally, only a people who can feel deeply within itself the unalterable fate and suffering of a much broader global population will ever be able to embrace compassion and “rationally” reject collective violence. To be sure, this new American president should prepare to understand what this implies, both with pointedly specific reference to the United States and to this country’s various (and still increasing) state and sub-state adversaries.

               Always, the existence of system in the world is obvious, immutable and pertinent.[36]During the Trump era, “America First” meant America Alone and America Last. America could never have been truly “first” so long as (1) its president insisted upon achieving such exalted status at the grievous expense of so many others; and (2) while failing to understand that international law remains part of the law of the United States. To once again seek to secure ourselves by diminishing others would merely be a retrograde playbook forever-recurrent instances of war, terror and genocide.

               In the end, of course, for all humankind, as an irremediable element of biology, the “triumph of death” is inevitable. Attempts to somehow avoid death by killing certain despised “others”[37] are feeble, futile and inglorious. Going forward, therefore, it is high time for new and more creative thinking about global security and human immortality.

               Instead of denying death, a cowardly and potentially corrosive emotion that Sigmund Freud persuasively labeled “wish fulfillment” (see The Future of an Illusion, 1927), we must sincerely acknowledge the obvious, and as a long-overlooked blessing.  With just such an eleventh-hour acknowledgment, all people and all nations on this imperiled planet could finally begin to draw purposefully from our immutably common destiny – that is, from our very plainly shared mortality. Among other things, this means using that always-overriding “oneness”[38] as the intellectual basis for expanding empathy and its closely-corresponding pattern of worldwide integration.[39]

               All this is, to be sure, a visionary and fanciful prescription, one unlikely to be grasped in time. But there is still a practical way to begin. It would require the leaders of major states to recognize that they can never in any genuinely meaningful way be “world powers” in a global “state of nature” (all here are equally “mortal;”none has any “power over death”) and that a coordinated retreat from Realpolitik and interminable geopolitical competition would be both self-interested and indispensable.

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               It follows from all this that the primary planetary survival task is a markedly intellectual one, a disciplined matter of “mind,” but courage will also be needed, unprecedented courage. To meet required national leadership initiatives, we could have no defensible reason to expect the timely arrival of a Platonic philosopher-king,[40] but even some ordinary political leaders could conceivably be up to the herculean task, that is, to become extraordinary. For this to happen,  enlightened citizens of all countries would first have to cast aside all historically discredited ways of thinking about global survival, and do whatever deemed possible to elevate science over continuous blind faith and contrived “mystery.”[41]

               “In endowing us with memory,” writes George Santayana, “nature has revealed to us a truth utterly unimaginable to the unreflective creation….the truth of mortality….The more we reflect, the more we live in memory and idea, the more convinced and penetrated we shall be by the experience of death; yet, without knowing it, perhaps, this very conviction and experience will have raised us, in a way, above mortality.”[42]

               Though few will actually understand, such a “raising” is necessarily antecedent to human survival in world politics, though only if it is linked purposefully and self-consciously to global integration.“Is it an end that draws near,” inquired philosopher Karl Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The correct answer will depend, in large part, on what another major post-war philosopher had to say about the Jungian/Freudian “mass.”

                In his classic study, Being and Time (1953), Martin Heidegger laments what he calls, in German, das Mann, or “The They.”  Drawing fruitfully upon certain earlier seminal insights of Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard as well as Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Kierkegaard) that can quickly suffocate vital intellectual growth.  For Heidegger’s “The They,” the crowning untruth lies in its acceptance of immortality at both institutional and personal levels, and its encouragement of the falsely seductive notion that personal power over death is associated with (or derivative from) the “sacredness” of nation-states.

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               The arena of world politics (macrocosm) is endlessly violent because individual human beings(microcosm)compulsively fear death. Though widely unacknowledged and patently ironic, the murderous connections are longstanding and difficult to dispute. Already, back in the 19th century, Heinrich von Treitschke convincingly linked world politics and “earthly immortality.” And even before this author of Lectures on Politics, George F. Hegel had identified the state in The Philosophy of Right as the “march God in the world.”

               Ultimately, states battle against other states amid Westphalian anarchy not for geopolitical primacy, but for individual human salvation. While the predictable result of such battles has always been death and mega death, not eternal or even longer life, an overriding mythology still endures. This is the lethal conviction that it is in war, not perpetual peace, that humans are able to acquire power over death. Sometimes, this acquisition is intended to be direct – that is, an immediate consequence of killing on the side of God. More generally, however, such power over death devolves indirectly to general populations that are not actually involved in the business of killing.

               Even such de facto “bystanders” can have “God on their side.”

               None of this is to wholly deny the validity of more traditionally accepted explanations of Realpolitik or power politics, namely that these struggles are about tangible goods, geography or “national security.” These conspicuous and common explanations are not “wrong”; they are however, trivial and epiphenomenal. Such explanations are generally “correct,” but merely as secondary reflections of what is most fundamentally important.

               In William Goldings’ classic novel, Lord of the Flies, the marooned boys make grotesquely ritualistic war upon one another because they have been thrust into a netherworld of fear and chaos, but only because this dissembling exile from “civilization” threatens them with personal death. Indeed, it is only after they have settled upon an amorphous but ubiquitous horror(“the beast”)that they decide to wage a titanic struggle to survive, a struggle that bears uncanny resemblance to the “normal” dynamics of world politics. In what amounts to yet another irony of inflicting death to bring freedom from death, the suffering boys are rescued by an English military ship, a naval vessel that will now transport them from their literally primal state of nature on the island to the more “civilized” state of nature in world politics.

               In essence, readers learn, the rancorous and barbarous conditions that obtained on the deserted island were actually just a microcosm of the wider system of international relations. But who can now rescue this wider system of Realpolitik from itself? Before we can meaningfully answer this core question, scholars and policy-makers will need to probe more closely behind the visible events the day, beyond mere reflection. Above all, this probe will have to be suitably theoretical.

                Theoretic generality is a trait of all serious scientific meaning, and scientific inquiry in such matters is indispensable.[43]

               In the beginning, in that primal promiscuity in which the lethal swerve toward politics first arose, forerunners of modern nation-states established a system of perpetual struggle and violent conflict, a system absolutely destined to fail.  Captivated by this self-destroying system of international relations, states still allow the degrading spirit of Realpolitik to spread everywhere unchecked, like an ideological gangrene on the surface of the earth. Rejecting all pertinent standards of logic and correct reasoning, this inherently false consciousness of power politics imposes no reasonable standards upon itself. It continues to be rife, despite its endless rebuffs. Somehow, Realpolitik takes its long history of defeat as victory. Prima facie, it’s a-historical proponents have never learned anything.

               The vast majority of human beings are unable to accept the biological truth of mortality.[44] Understood in terms of world politics, this suggests, inter alia, that state sovereignty will likely continue to be viewed by many as a suitable  institutional antidote to personal death. To be sure, such a view may not be explicitly apparent even to Realpolitik adherents, and it would very likely disregard certain palpable benefits other than a presumed power over death (e.g., enhanced personal status of belonging to a “powerful” country). Nonetheless, it is a perspective that will not simply fade away graciously on its own.

               It is high time for candor. Whatever our in-principle preferences, the plain fact of having been born augurs badly for the promise of immortality. Accordingly, the primal human inclination to deny an apparently unbearable truth will continue to generate the same terrors from which we allegedly seek refuge. The irony is staggering, but incontestable.

               In its obvious desperation to live perpetually, humankind has embraces a cornucopia of faiths that offer life everlasting is exchange for unchallengeable loyalty. Such loyalty is then transferred from faith to State, which battles (or prepares to battle) with other states. Though historians, political scientists and pundits routinely describe such conflicts as a tangible struggle for secular influence (power politics), it is often something different altogether. This is a struggle between Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Decency and Indecency, even the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness.” In this last example, apocalyptic imagery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is invoked not because any or all of a combatant state’s rationale is necessarily religious, but because such imagery best portrays the enormity of ideological attachments.

               In the United States, ideas of prevailing apocalyptic contest obtained widely during the 1950s Eisenhower years, and also later during the Reagan Administration.[45] More recently, Donald Trump’s core message of “American First” was assuredly not without underlying or implicit references to righteous struggles in world politics with
“God on our Side.” Unambiguously, for several million Trump supporters, their leader’s slogan of “America First” was essentially an eschatological code term used to signal impending End Times.

               “Death,” says Norbert Elias, “is the absolute end of the person. So the greater resistance to its demythologization perhaps corresponds to the greater magnitude of danger experienced.”[46] Now, major state sin world politics must strive more vigorously to reduce the magnitude and likelihood of anticipated existential danger. In this connection, they must remain wary of planting new false hopes that offer only illusions of personal survival through perpetual international war or war-planning.

               Today, the world is still full of noise and gratuitous rancor, but it is still possible to listen for real “music.” For this to happen, leaders, citizens and subjects will first have to detach themselves from mythical promises of power over death. In the most promising of all possible worlds, the underlying human death fear could itself be made to disappear,[47] but this prospect seems very blatantly unreal. It follows, conspicuously, that vastly more “gentle” foundations will be required for world politics –foundations other than the conflictual dynamics of Realpolitik. Happily, such foundations have already been identified and crystallized in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s fruitful concept of “Planetization.”

               What does this really mean? At its core, planetization is not just one step further along the incremental continuum of authority from “civilization.” Rather, it represents the very opposite of civilization.[48] Looking ahead, moreover, a meaningful emphasis on global “oneness” or planetization represents humankind’s only real hope for survival. Both scholars and statesmen must expressly affirm that such survival is first and foremost an intellectual obligation, one that can be satisfied not by pre-scientific hopes for nation-state “victories” amid Realpolitik, but by concrete steps toward worldwide cooperation.

               It is time for candor, We are all mortal; we all die. The point of global survival is not to deny such an incontestably common fate, but to draw most productively upon it for planet-wide reconciliations.[49] What we need now most on this grievously imperiled planet is not a continuously mistaken focus on simplistic reflections of reality or epiphenomena[50]  (think here of America’s obsessive daily focus on transient political personalities and superficial news makers), but authentically durable archetypes of global restructuring.[51] Inevitably, such pie-in-the-sky recommendation will generally be dismissed as naïve or “visionary,” but – as we may still learn usefully from Italian film maker Federico Fellini – “The visionary is the only realist.”

———————


[1] Such politics define a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. For legal origins, se: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. Also, in pertinent international law, there are certain core obligations that each state owes to every other state, individually and collectively.

[2]See, by this author: Louis René Bereshttps://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/reimagining-world-politics-longer-view-american-victory

[3]  “It must not be forgotten,” says Guilaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917), “that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

[4] All history has a subjective element.  In the words of Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West, 1918): “Every culture and every period has its own way of regarding history. There is no such thing as history in itself.”

[5]In world politics, says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, any deeply-felt promise of immortality is of “transcendent importance.”  Seehis Religion in the Making, 1927.

[6] While this connection is most obvious inmatters concerning Jihadist terrorism, it is also found in certainmore orthodox mass casualty behaviors of international war. See, on Jihadist terror and power over death, by this author: Louis René Beresfile:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Sacred%20Violence%20Religion%20and%20Terrorism.pdf

 and Louis René Beres, file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Religious%20Extremism%20and%20International%20Legal%20Norms%20Perfidy%20Preem.pdf

[7]See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277. Although the criminalizing aspect of inter­national law that proscribes genocidal conduct may derive from a source other than the Gen­ocide Convention (i.e. it may emerge from customary international law and be included in different international conventions), such conduct is dearly a crime under international law. Even where the conduct in question does not affect the interests of more than one state, it becomes an inter­national crime whenever it constitutes an offense against the world community delicto ius gentium. See M.C. Bassiouni, International Criminal Law: A Draft International Criminal Code 30‑44 (1980). See also Bassiouni, “The Penal Characteristics of Conventional International Criminal Law,” 15 Case W. Res. J. Int’l 27‑37 (1983).

[8] Still the best scholarly clarification of these connections are René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (1977) and René Girard, The Scapegoat (1986).

[9]See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/03/08/iraq-afghanistan-and-the-end-of-winning-wars

[10] On the various meanings of Realpolitik, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984).

[11] See # 1, supra. This references a continuing process of threat, counter-threat and war.

[12]This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[13] See Louis René Beres, “Self-Determination, International Law and Survival on Planet Earth,”Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 11, No.1., pp. 1-26.

[14] See Epicurus, The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers (Whitney H. Oates et al., 1940), p. 282.

[15] G.F.  Hegel goes even further, saying in Philosophy of Right(1821) that the state is nothing less than “the march of God in the world.” Through the ages, and with “God on our Side,” conflicting states and religions have asserted that personal immortality can sometimes be achieved, but only at the sacrificial expense of certain despised “others,” of “heathen,” “blasphemers,” “apostates.” When he painted The Triumph of Death in ca. 1562, Peter Bruegel drew upon his direct personal experience with religious war and disease plague.  Already in the sixteenth century, he had understood that any intersection of these horrors (one man-made, the other natural) could be ill-fated, force-multiplying and even synergistic. This last term describes results wherein the “whole” outcome exceeds the calculable sum of all constituent “parts.”

[16]See, for example, by this author: Louis René Beres, “Martyrdom and International Law,” Jurist, September 10, 2018; and Louis René Beres, “Religious Extremism and International Legal Norms: Perfidy, Preemption and Irrationality,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No.3., 2007-2008, pp. 709-730.

[17]For definition of Crimes Against Humanity, see: Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis Powers and Charter of the International Military Tribunal, done at London, August 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, 82 U.N.T.S. 279 (entered into force, August 8, 1945).

[18]See Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952).

[19] This comment from Ionesco’s Journal appeared in British Magazine Encounter (May 1966). See also: Eugene Ionesco, Fragments of a Journal (Grove Press, 1968). Elsewhere, says Ionesco, “People kill and are killed in order to prove to themselves that life exists.” See the distinguished dramatist’s only novel, The Hermit 102 (1973).

[20]Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in explicit reference to more broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[21]Under international law, which is also law of the United States, responsibility of national leaders forinternational crimes is not limited by official position or by requirement of direct personal actions.  On the principle of command responsibility, or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb) 12 LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS 1, 71 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp. 1949); see: Parks, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR CRIMES, 62 MIL.L.REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, THE LAW OF WAR, COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY AND VIETNAM, 60 GEO.L.J. 605 (1972); U.S. DEPT OF THE ARMY, ARMY SUBJECT SCHEDULE No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907) 10 (1970).  The direct individual responsibility of leaders for genocide and genocide-like crimes is unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the Act of State defense.  See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Strat.  1544, E.A.S.  No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S.  279, Art. 7.  Under traditional international law, violations were the responsibility of the state, as a corporate actor, and not of the individual human decision-makers in government and in the military.

[22]On the prospective lawfulness of such threats, including nuclear threats and even actual nuclear engagement, see: “Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Advisory Opinion, 1996, I.C.J., 226 (Opinion of 8 July 1996). The key conclusion of this Opinion is as follows: “…in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”

[23]International law is part of US domestic law. In the precise words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam) (Edwards, J. concurring) (dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985) (“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[24]The precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).

[25]Says Jose Ortega y’Gassett about science (Man and Crisis, 1958): “Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. The latter is not possible without the former.”

[26] See especially Hugo Grotius (The Law of War and Peace, 1625); Christian Wolff, The Law of Nations Treated According to the Scientific Method (1749) and Samuel Pufendorf, The Whole Duty of Man, According to the Law of Nature (1735). Worth noting here is that though the Founding Fathers of the United States were well familiar with Grotius, Wolff and Pufendorf, these names would go wholly unrecognized today by the US Congress.

[27] Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating and enduring vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:” during chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,” it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[28] See by this author, at Oxford University Press, Louis RenéBeres:  https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[29] See Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952).

[30] See observation by philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death and Time (1993): “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.” (p. 45).

[31]The condition of anarchy, which has its codified origins at the Peace of Westphalia,stands in marked contrast to the jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[32]We may also think here of an applicable Talmudic metaphor: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[33] Useful hereare the more deeply philosophical insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man (1955):”The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false, and against nature. No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

[34] According to Blackstone, echoing Vattel, each state and nation is expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone, one need only point out that Commentaries are the original and core foundation of the laws of the United States.

[35] Anti-intellectualism has always been a large part of American political life. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145. See also the authoritative volume by Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (1959).

[36] In the precise words of philosopher and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of system in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature….”

[37] Such attempts may be more appealing during times of disease pandemic, when the “benefits” of scapegoating are especially palpable. During the medieval Black Death, for example, it was common to blame the Jews as well poisoners. In the twentieth century, Third Reich propaganda was often deliberately propped up on the foundations of such previously orchestrated irrationality.

[38]Concerning such commonality or “oneness,” we may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human singularity followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully

justified/explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms of human understanding.

[39]There have been prophets of global integration in the modern era, especially Condorcet, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and H.G. Wells. For the best treatment of these thinkers and their still-indispensable ideas, see W. Warren Wagar’s the City of Man (1963) and Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (1971). Professor Wagar was a great visionary himself, one with whom I had the personal honor to work at Princeton (World Order Models Project) in the late 1960s.

[40] See, by this author, at Oxford University Press:  Louis René Beres, https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[41] “There is something inside all of us,” writes philosopher Karl Jaspers, “that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational.” (See Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, 1952). Today, in the United States, the “mysteries” of QAnon should come readily to mind.

[42] See George Santayana, The Life of Reason or the Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Religion 260 (1905).

[43] “Theory is a net,” says the German poet Novalis in a quotation embraced by Karl Popper (The Logic of Scientific Discovery) “only those who cast, can catch.”

[44] This “truth” is perhaps best explained by the philosopher George Santayana in his Reason in Religion (1905).

[45] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); and Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of US Foreign Policy (1987).

[46] See Norbert Elias, The Loneliness of the Dying 44 (1985).

[47]Fear of death, we have already seen in world politics, not only degrades normal life, it creates vast fieldsof premature corpses.

[48]In his Notes from Underground (1862): Dostoyevsky reminds us about civilization: “All it does, I’d say, is develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development man will yet learn how to better enjoy bloodshed.”

[49] Although he doesn’t ever approach these issues from the standpointof international relations or international law, the Basque philosopher Miguel de Unamuno best explains the most imaginative and profound connections between the ineradicable universality of death and what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization.” When I was still a “working professor” at Purdue University, I always advisedmy best students that Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life (1921) was the single most important book I had ever read. I continue to stand by this far-reaching assessment.

[50] The classic source of elucidating such a mistaken focus is, of course, Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic, an allegory wherein human beings never see reality, but only vague “shadows” of reality.

[51] On the meaning of such useful frames of reference, see: Elemire Zolla, Archetypes: The Persistence of Unifying Patterns (1981).

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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International Law

Crime of Ecocide: Greening the International Criminal Law

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In June 2021, an Independent Expert Panel under the aegis of Stop Ecocide Foundation presented a newly-drafted definition for the crime of ‘ecocide.’ The Panel consisting of 12 international lawyers proposed that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be amended to include ecocide as the fifth international crime along with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The inclusion of the crime of ecocide in the Statute will entitle ICC to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of causing grave harm to the environment.

The term ecocide comprises the Greek word ‘oikos,’ meaning house or environment, and ‘cide,’ meaning an act of killing. Premised upon the term ‘genocide,’ ecocide means the significant destruction of the natural environment by human actions. In 1970, it was first used by Arthur Galston, an American biologist, at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington DC. The term was further quoted by the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in his opening speech at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm. Since then, multiple efforts were made to include ecocide within international law. Interestingly, it was adopted as an additional crime in the early drafts of the Rome Statute; however, later, it was dropped due to the lack of an adequate definition. If succeeded this time, it will be a significant victory for the environment since none of the existing international criminal laws secures it as an end-in-itself.

Definition of the crime of ecocide

The Panel has defined the crime of ecocide as, “For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

The definition comprises two thresholds that should be fulfilled to constitute a crime of ecocide. Firstly, there should exist a substantial likelihood that the ‘acts’ (including omissions) will cause severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment. In other words, along with the damages causing severe harm to the elements of the environment, such damages must have an impact on a wider geographical location or for an unreasonably longer duration.

It is appreciable that the Panel has widened the scope of the definition by incorporating spatial and temporal dimensions to its meaning. However, they have changed their position adopted in the previous legal instruments to employ a mix of conjunctive and disjunctive formulations in the definition. In addition to its severe nature, such harm could be either widespread or long-term to constitute a crime of ecocide. Thus, any severe and widespread activity, such as chopping down huge rainforests, could be attributed to ecocide. Similarly, any severe activity whose consequences prevail for a longer duration, for example, causing the extinction of a plant or animal species, could also amount to the crime of ecocide.

Instant reading of the first threshold indicates that the ecocide definition might include day-to-day human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damages. It raises a question – Whether humans are environmental criminals? Though, it might be true that most human actions, directly or indirectly, are continuously degrading the ecosystem around us. However, the definition of ecocide is primarily concerned with the large polluters whose irresponsible activities at a massive level are a threat to the environment. Thus, to narrow down the ambit of the definition and identify criminal activities precisely, the Panel added a second threshold, that is, the ‘acts’ causing damage to the environment must be unlawful or wanton.

It means, only when the actions are either prohibited under national or international laws or indicate a reckless disregard for excessive destruction of the environment in achieving social and economic benefits will they amount to the crime of ecocide. The second threshold hints towards an anthropocentric approach of the definition and protects a range of human activities deemed necessary, desirable, and legitimate for human welfare. To determine the lawfulness of the acts, the actions should be seen with their potential social and economic values. The ecocide definition relies upon the principle of sustainable development to balance environmental destruction with human development and prohibits all destructive activities that outweigh their social and economic benefits. It also means that the definition places a ‘limited’ environmental harm outside the scope of the definition, which cannot be avoided for achieving social welfare that includes housing developments or establishing transport links.

The proposed definition is more concerned with the massive instances of environmental damages. It does not consider small ‘necessary’ ecological harms caused by day-to-day human activities. However, it is equally essential these negligible-looking destructive contributions of humans, made in their individual capacity, should not go unnoticed. These small contributions combined with each other also significantly impact the environment in the form of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other hazards. Thus, the reckless human lifestyle is a significant issue and needs to be regulated through some international code of conduct, if not as ecocide.

Undoubtedly, the proposed ecocide definition is a remarkable effort that should be appreciated for multiple reasons. First of all, the release of this definition indicates that the time has come to start penalizing environmental offenders and create deterrence so that such destructive activities can be minimized. It establishes the responsibility and accountability of big corporate houses and political leaders whose regular investments are causing substantial harm to the environment. Moreover, this definition founds its bases upon many core principles and concepts of public international law, international environmental law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. For instance, the principle of no transboundary harm, sustainable development, proportionality, and necessity are aptly referred to in the ecocide definition. Moreover, it also provides a sufficiently broad definition of the term ‘environment’ to primarily include any damage committed towards the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and outer space.

Way Forward

Though the ecocide definition is a significant development, it still has to go a long way to be included in the list of international crimes. For this purpose, any of the 123 member states to the Rome Statute can officially submit the definition to the UN Secretary-General. The proposal has to be accepted for further consideration by the majority of the members through voting. Further, the text will be subjected to debates and deliberations and must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the members. Moreover, the member states need to ratify or accept the proposed text. Only after one year of such ratification or acceptance ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over the crimes of ecocide committed afterward. This entire process can take many years or even decades to get completed. It is also possible that the structure of the current definition might change in due course of its acceptance.

Today, it is unclear that whether this definition will succeed in amending the Rome Statute or not, but what can be said with certainty is that this definition will play a crucial role in building awareness and discourse around ecocide among the governments, corporate houses, professionals, and masses across the globe. With the pressing needs of humans and prevailing threats to the environment, it is the right time that the actions of the offenders should be regulated through the prism of international criminal law.

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International Law

Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Critical Analysis Concerning International Law

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Women and children at the the Turkey-Greece border at Pazarkule. © IOM/Uygar Emrah Özesen

The contemporary refugee law is primarily a product of the 20th century following the Second World War and the subsequent post-war refugee crises. The 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Additional Protocol are the noteworthy legal regimes. Although the definition of Convention 1951 continues to be the dominant definition, the regional treaties on human rights have continuously amended the definition in retort to changing circumstances and crises. The gap in the convention of 1951 is that it does not extensively define how the state parties must decide if a person shall compile with the definition of the refugee. The main objective of the modern refugee regime is that; at national and regional level, the individuals that flee their country due to threat of persecution must be protected under all circumstances.

The Civil War in Syria has lead many Syrians flee their own homeland where millions have fled and many have been internally displaced. Many of these existing refugee groups, if not most, live in desperation implying that refugees’ assistance and protection needs be addressed in host countries. States bear moral and ethical obligation towards ensuring the safety and protection of the individuals fleeing Syria. Western countries have also undermined and jeopardized their international commitment of protecting refugees’ human rights. The Regional Response Plan 2014 of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a $4.2 billion aid program for Syria. The plan mainly focuses on the financial assistance of the countries hosting Syrian refugees; where this assistance is certainly important; it does not seem to be an approach more equitable to share responsibility for refugees. The refugee convention and legal framework under International Law may be helpful in dealing with swift management of ongoing Syrian crisis. The study recommends for a larger responsibility to preserve refugees’ human rights and provide long term solutions through international law regimes with proper implementation mechanism.

REFUGEES

Under the International refugee law, Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Convention states that

“The term ‘refugee’ applies to any person who is outside the country of his nationality, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is consequently unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

As it was in the context of European Refugees escaping persecution prior to January 1, 1951, the concept had geographical and chronological constraints. Article (1)2 of the 1967 Protocol on Refugee Status abolished those temporal and geographical constraints.

PRINCIPLE OF NON-REFOULMENT AND FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT UNDER THE 1951 CONVENTION

Non-Refoulement on the whole mean non-return: it is not doable for individuals or foreign nationals to be returned by the host State to the country or place where they could be tormented, tortured or treated inhumanly and degradingly, in addition; where their life, liberty and freedom is threatened. The non-refoulement principle is the fundamental pillar of international law on refugees. It is an inherent component of 1951 Convention as regarded as a Customary International Law applied on every State irrespective of their ratification of the convention.

Article 26 of the Convention of 1951 states that the host States shall allow refugees to choose and move freely where they have taken refuge. Article 28 states that they must be provided with legal documents that would permit them to move freely anywhere wound their country of residence. The Freedom of movement is very important particularly in countries that host huge influx of refugees and have confined them in a particular area or refugee camps and have posed restrictions on their basic rights. The 1951 Convention also protects much other refugee rights for example educational rights, right of employment, justice and property rights.

The rights however are protected under the 1951 Convention and other International Treaties on the rights of refugees and more broadly the Human Rights but the refuges in their host countries are denied of their these basic rights and are often regarded as a national security risks to the state.

BACKGROUND OF THE SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS

Syria’s civil war has its origins in colonialism and the Iraqi War. The ethnic tensions and ongoing civil crisis date back to 2000 elections when Bashar Al Assad came in to power and the rising of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Pro-democracy uprisings erupted in 2011 in response to persecution that were occurring in the Assad’s regime; the uprisings turned into a civil war. Syria by 2012 was entirely engulfed in that civil war and many had died by the end of 2015 by their own government. ISIS was part of the rebel forces, which created an atmosphere of terror. Civilians were subjected to transgressions; public executions and amputations became rampant. Religious minorities were also under great threat. In August 2013, a chemical warfare inflicted on its own people; as a result millions of Syrians were forced to flee their homeland and take hostage in the neighboring countries. Majority of them around 90% fled to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon (neighboring countries) and around 10% made their way to Europe. While million fled the country, many thousands other are internally displaced and are still under great sufferings. According to a report of UN, approximately 70% of the Syrian population lacks basic necessities i.e., access to safe drinking water, extreme poverty and many children do not even go to school.

RECEIVING COUNTRIES AND THEIR COURSE OF ACTION

Despite their dire situation, Europe is hostile to Syrian refugees. They have put restrictions on their freedom of movement curtailing their rights granted by the international legal regimes and conventions. In Turkey, the refugees are often detained by the authorities and are forced to leave the country.  The Turkish authorities had flagrantly violated international laws; refugees are regarded as a security risk.  The ongoing conflict and instability in Syria have exacerbated the situation, forcing people to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries.

The existing literature includes number of records of International laws and the rights and obligations on refugees as well the host states but focus has been laid upon the crisis rather than the management of the crisis. In case of Syrian refugees, the existing literature highlights the historical context and ongoing situation of the crisis but has been unable to come to its solution with the help of International laws.

CONCLUSION

The 1951 Refugee Convention states that states should facilitate refugees’ naturalisation and assimilation to the greatest extent possible. States are obliged to provide legal documents to the refugees for the purpose of seeking asylum and obtaining the official status of refugees. The Refugee Convention seeks to require that the refugees must receive same public assistance as that of the nationals of the country and must be provided with financial assistance, property rights, and right of education and employment.  Both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Additional Protocol are international treaties that mean they are binding on the signatories however the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers are considered to be a part of customary international law that is that the states that have not signed or ratified the conventions must also protect these rights of refugees. In the Syrian refugee crisis, many states have avoided their responsibilities and violated international laws relating to refugees by barring refugees from entering their respective territories and by claiming that the state has no jurisdiction over them by choosing the non-entrée approach keeping them apart of refugee law technically. However, in practice they do not meet the duties of the treaty.

To conclude, the essence of the research is that Burden Sharing is an as an intrinsic component of the refugee protection legal system framework and is critical and important in resolving the Syrian refugee crisis. Burden sharing is basically the distribution of responsibilities. In simple words it refers that specific arrangements must be made for the purpose of physical distribution of refugees. It is one of the main principles of International Refugee Regime. The documented origin of burden-sharing can be found in the preamble of the 1951 Convention. When addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in terms of international laws relating to refugees, it is pertinent to know that the existing legal frameworks in the countries hosting huge influx of the refugee crises do not incorporate many of the basic obligations of international law in relation to the rights and obligations of refugees, because none of these countries i.e., Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Additional Protocol. Syrian refugees have many rights that have been granted to them by the international conventions however, they are denied of their rights. This has made them vulnerable and entirely dependent on the financial aids and has increased illegal means of employment. The refugees are marginalized minorities who are facing troubles in integrating in the receiving countries.

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International Law

What have we learnt in the past century?

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It is 100 years since we were supposedly getting over the war to end all wars, World War I, and forming the League of Nations with the purpose of preventing such a conflict and slaughter happening again. Regrettably, the only good that came out of it was the proposal to form the League of Nations; it was not much more than an idea though otherwise stillborn and we needed another World War before something solid resulted, the United Nations with some teeth, although they need sharpening. It was the time that the Chinese Communist party was formed and has just celebrated its centenary. What have we done in the time, apart from multiplying ourselves by a factor of 3, and perhaps upsetting the planet on the way. There are exciting scientific advances, of course, some of which we must use to address the wasteful manner in which we live.

The 1920s and 1930s were times of turmoil, new ideas. Socialism in the forms of nationalism and communism, each with an end result of forming a ruling elite, who would brook little or no interference from their perceived mission. The damage from WWI caused a Depression in the developed world, many of them democratic in form, and this meant they paid not or were not able to pay enough attention to the looming Nazi power growing in Germany. In China, the communist movement was putting down roots, establishing itself and, in the Far East the colonies of British India and the Dutch East Indies, the elite of those nations were listening with sympathy to the socialism that was being preached in Europe.

The end of WWII saw the proponents of each doctrine, social/communism and free market capitalism/democracy sharpen their dividing lines which led to the Cold War between east and west. However, this is too simplistic; Britain, for example, after WWII voted in a Socialist Labour government, which promptly set about nationalising key industries and created the National Health Service, all the basics of socialism, central government control. The key industries didn’t prosper, lacking accountability and arguably fleetness of the free market and in time, after Thatcher, were returned to the private sector. This was not entirely successful as times changed, but the National Health Service has been deemed a success in the overall scheme of things, looking after a nation’s health. Perhaps it was different because it only required a social accountability.

Returning to the division of doctrine, emerging from WWII, this saw the sharp divide of Europe between, on the one hand the Lenin/Stalin communist, centrally controlled regimes of the USSR which had gathered within their scope, whether they liked it or not, many of the countries of Eastern Europe. On the other hand, there were the democracies of Western Europe, which were bolstered by the USA. Germany was divided into two parts but Berlin, the capital, which lay in the Soviet jurisdiction, was a separate entity managed by the four allies who had together opposed the Nazis, namely the USA, the USSR, Britain and France. This arrangement continued, not without its problems, until the new president, Kennedy, in 1961 made a declaration against communism which alarmed Kruschev, the Soviet leader by now since Stalin had died. A Wall was put up by East Germany/ USSR in Berlin in 1961, which became a symbol of the freedom of the west against the restrictions that the Soviet Union enforced. The East German communist government was alarmed at the very large number of their skilled citizens who were defecting to the west; the Wall brought the number down to a trickle, lasting until 1989 by when times had changed.

In the East, China at war end was in the grip of a communist movement that was fighting to overcome the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai Chek. The communists prevailed and the nationalists departed for the island of Formosa, today Taiwan, taking with them the Emperor’s ancient, valuable signatures of office, a bone of contention. Meanwhile, Japan was healing from the bitter defeat inflicted on it from WWII with the help of the USA and was showing its resilience in recovery towards becoming one of the fastest growing economies.

The first test of the new communist China came in the early 1950s in the Korean peninsula, where they wholeheartedly backed the forces of North Korea in their fight against the armies of the south, backed by the USA and its Allies from the western democracies, including Australia. A truce was signed after a few years of hard fighting, with no side obviously prevailing, and Korea was divided between North and South. To this day they have entirely different styles of government, the communist north being dependent on China with the people languishing in poverty while their ruling elite are well off, and the South being one of the Asian ‘tigers’ and one of the most successful democratic economies. The difference is glaring.

The next conflict between communism and a semi pro-democratic form of government, the Vietnam War in the 1960s, had different origins. It was originally part of an anti-colonial struggle to depose the French from their Indo-China possession, which also included Laos and Cambodia. The defining moment came when the French forces were beaten by the N. Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which was a signal for the French to withdraw. The North Vietnamese government was led by Ho Chi Minh, who had also studied communism in Europe and been persuaded by its ideas.

The American government had been watching closely and were very worried that if all of Vietnam were to fall to communism, it would lead to the rest of Southeast Asia in time succumbing also. As the leader of the ‘free’ world the USA stepped in and gradually increased its presence to the point that it was perceived as full-scale war. The North Vietnamese devised a way in which they could frustrate the American troops by building a network of underground tunnels from which they could appear unexpectedly and avoid direct confrontation with the better armed American troops. The war did not seem to have an end, and either it had to be escalated or the troops withdrawn. The former route would require going to Congress in Washington and, since the war was becoming increasingly unpopular with the public this was not something that the US government would want to do. The Nixon government of the early 1970s decided on a strategic withdrawal and so the whole of Vietnam was taken over by the communist government of the north, the condition which the US had feared. But times had changed. The world was changing. Some countries were prospering and trading. The old communist guard was getting on, some dying.

In the meantime, India and Indonesia, each with current large populations and significant colonial histories, had leaders who had learned in Europe about socialism/communism. However, the countries they would be serving had large other complex problems to resolve. In India’s case they had to deal with its partition with a mainly Islamic country, Pakistan, on each flank. The Nehru led, mainly Hindu, faction had much sympathy with socialism and were suspicious of the west and western aid agencies such as the World Bank, which were not allowed in to help develop the country. India, for the rest of the century, moved slowly but did not make a move to either communism or the western democracies, perhaps because it inherited a system in which much power rested within the state governments. The national or federal government operated from Delhi in the form that the British left behind.

Indonesia spent the first few years from independence in 1947, establishing itself as a whole. Soekarno, the first president, was a gifted orator, and was a firm believer in socialism/communism, but was a poor administrator. The country had to fend off two break away actions in the 1950s in North Sulawesi and West Sumatra provinces, which were put down with some ferocity. An interesting development was Soekarno’s leading with the 1955 Non- aligned Movement which was held in Bandung. This firmly put him in the neutral camp, although his time in Europe had imbued him with left leanings. His inability to take the country out of poverty was greatly frustrating the political elite in Jakarta and when he was deemed to show his leanings towards communism, the Army with the elite had had enough. He had to go and forcibly resigned, bringing Soeharto to power. The USA, who had watched the moves carefully while, at the same time, being involved in Vietnam, were much relieved.

Soeharto made it clear that he had no liking for a communist form of government. He was also quick to realise that he needed the brains from the private sector to handle the economy. He appointed the Berkeley ‘mafia’, UC Berkeley trained economists to deal with the major problems of food, water and education to lift the country out of poverty which they did very successfully for thirty years. The country was run as a benign autocracy with a guided parliament which re-elected Soeharto every 4 years, until the Asian Financial Crisis struck and caused him to step down. However, well by then it was aligned with the western powers and was invited to join the G-17, the organisation of the world’s richest economies.

It should be added that the grouping of Southeast Asian nations – region that my colleague prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic calls “the most multilateralised portion of Asia – Asia’s hope” – as the formed an alliance, ASEAN, in August 1967, to establish itself as an independent bloc, headquartered in Jakarta. Currently, there are now 10 countries in the bloc, originally five, with widely differing forms of government.

Come the latter part of the last century, other feuds, some centuries old, reared up to cause some alarm. They were not ostensibly part of the main struggle between rigid rules, centrally controlled communist regimes and the free market western economies, but the one of the Middle East involving several differing elements, on the face of it based on Judaism and its three offset branches, Jewry, Christianity and Islam. On his occasion the struggle had some of its roots in the Balfour declaration of 1917, endorsed in 1926 at a commonwealth conference, and the contrary non-acceptance of Israel after WWII, as a homeland for the Jewish people, by the Palestinians. It has widened out in a determination by a right-wing Islamic fundamentalist group to form a purely Islamic country, a caliphate. It fed off old rivalries and brought differing factions into conflict. It is not settled to this day, and Syria, a land of ancient civilizations, has been torn apart with a refugee crisis that has caused much discomfit in Europe. The politics of the Middle East are very complicated, variations of squabbles centuries old, and possibly unresolvable at this time. They, however, don’t seem to directly affect the main thrust of the proponents of the secular division between the democratic approach and communism to government. Although both the USA and Russia have an involvement, it is not their most important issue, although takes up time.

There are other disruptions in Africa and South America, but not greatly affecting the outcome of the main struggle between left and right. In much of Africa, where colonial power had held sway for many years and where a huge number of slaves had been shipped across the Atlantic to support the American and Caribbean plantations, little had been done to prepare the indigenous peoples to govern themselves. The extractive industries that were put in to take out minerals needed in Europe had systems in place which were devised to ship out the minerals to the controlling country. There was little or no attempt to better the country, in terms of education, infrastructure and skills development, where the extraction had taken place. The result was that the elite of the country, gaining independence, carried on the way things had been before independence and became hugely rich, while the poor just became poorer and poorer. A terrible legacy of colonialism! And certain countries in the north have, in the past few years, been severely affected by fundamental Islamic factions.

In the case of South (Latin) America, we have a mix of countries and the way they are run, significantly influenced by their Spanish or Portuguese legacy. The main problem is the growing and manufacture and the export of drugs and the emigration of people to the USA to get away from poverty. There is no major war ongoing although there have been attempts by some internal factions to take over a specific country for personal gain, which meets with the people’s resistance.

However, China is a large country with a centrally controlled communist regime in charge. In the past 30-40 years, with the passing of Mao Tse Tung and the accession of Deng the strict rigidity of the rules of government were eased and the economy started to grow. As a result, their economy has grown steadily, if not spectacularly at times, albeit from a comparatively low base and is now one of the largest in the world. They are not averse to taking new ideas from the west, sometimes openly but other times by stealth, which is of considerable concern to the west, which have established the norms, rules and rights of business. There was hope in the 1980s that they were changing and welcoming some democratic freedoms, but this altered in 1989 when a student demonstration was brutally quashed at Tienmanman square. The leaders had taken fright, things were getting out of control, and freedoms had to be curtailed and brought back under control. This was also a warning to the western democracies; there was only one way to do business in China and that was the Chinese way.

In 1997, the lease that the UK government held over the territories that encompassed Hong Kong was coming to an end and the territories were due to be handed back. There was some discussion on trying to extend the lease but this was really a non-starter. One of the terms that the British extracted in the departure agreement was that for the first 50 years the conditions which had been set up for the citizens of Hong Kong would be honoured. China agreed to approve the idea of ‘’one country and two systems’’. However, in recent times with Comrade Xi Jaoping feeling that his and the Chinese government’s power is on the increase he could ignore the agreement. There have been unsettling very large demonstrations in Hong Kong as Beijing turns the screw on democratic freedoms, and Hong Kong is brought in line with direct central government policy.

Furthermore, the government is trying to bring the Uighur people, who are of Islamic faith and live in Xinjiang to the west of China, the largest province, into line by brainwashing them. The Uighurs have  been treated to genocide, and are also used, not much better than slaves, to pick Xinjiang cotton, which is a significant and high quality product of this region. This is another worrying example of communist control, as George Orwell highlighted in his book entitled 1984. The UN and the American government have raised the issue strongly, but have been told it is a matter of terrorism!

In the past two decades or so the Chinese have ‘made’ small islands in the South China sea expanding their territorial waters illegally. The ASEAN countries have wakened up to this and showing signs of alarm as China are using these islands as military outposts. In short, they are testing the reaction of the Eastern ASEAN countries, who realistically are not strong enough to resist.  The USA are aware of this and watching carefully. It is still China’s government’s aim that Taiwan, R.O.C., comes under Beijing control.

The Chinese government would appear to have a policy to ensure that the country has the ability to widen its borders and, further afield, to secure by whatever means is most suitable the resources that the mother country requires. This would put it in a very strong position among all nations and supersede the work of past dynasties, justifying its central control. A communist Empire.

The other main country which espouses communism as per Leninism is, of course, Russia, which has always vied with the democracies of the west, unlike China which was rather left on its own, distance being a factor, until recent decades. After Kruschev, in the 1980s there was a time for a modicum of ‘honesty’ from the Russian government. They could not keep up with the economy of the USA with which they were attempting to compete. They released their hold on several European countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and withdrew their border to a north-south line bordering Belarus and Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia and into the Black Sea. They retained a small piece of territory next to Lithuania which gives them a better outlet to the Baltic Sea and recently they took the Crimea illegally to secure a position in the Black Sea.

A few of the ‘freed’ countries have adjusted themselves in the years that have followed, for instance the peoples of Czechoslovakia decided to split along nationalistic lines into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. One has to draw attention to the former Yugoslavia, formed as a country of the southern Slavs, which was not part of the Soviet hegemony, which separated somewhat bloodily into its discrete parts, with the demise of Tito. This was the strongman who emerged from WWII and kept the disparate parts of Yugoslavia together and prevented the Soviets from adding it to the total taken. The countries that evolved from Yugoslavia were Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The European Union has greatly enlarged since these countries became independent, could exercise their freewill, and confirmed their willingness to join the EU after invitation. The bloc now adds up to 27 member states and the centre of gravity which was firmly in the west, has shifted eastward significantly.

Russia has to deal with a significant, admittedly rather unwieldy, EU, as well as the powerful alliance, NATO, The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which was set up at the end of WWII to protect the western democracies with the involvement of the USA from any potential aggression of the USSR. Since the partial rapprochement of Russia in its adjusted format, over the past 3 decades, there is much less pressure on NATO. It doesn’t stop Russia trying to meddle with the former countries of the Soviet on their borders. Belarus has a regime that is close to the Russians, not necessarily the will of the people, and Ukraine, while looking west towards the EU, has had to fend off Russian aggression in recent times in which they lost Crimea. In the complex Middle East situation Russia offers support to parties that are opposed to western supported ones, for example Assad’s Syria. But overall, Vladimir Putin’s Russia does not pose as much of a long-term threat as the apparent threat offered by China. There is, from the people themselves, a wish to open up the country. However, this can be expected to take some time; change will be slow.

To return to the east, ASEAN as a bloc, partly modelled on the EU, is still feeling its way. In recent times, the military coup occurring in Myanmar has taken ASEAN by surprise. Their offer to mediate has been firmly rejected at the ASEAN annual meeting. This was to be expected as the military have been involved in actions against some of the Myanmar people almost continuously since Independence and in recent years the military have exercised utmost savagery against the Rohingya people. The country is of great strategic value to China and hence the Myanmarese can rely on their backing. Its value, apart from Myanmar’s considerable resources, e.g. the Jade mines of Kachin province, a nice earner for the military elite, lies in the fact that Myanmar provides a gateway to the Indian Ocean and thence access to China’s significant resources in Africa, where they have been slowly entrenching themselves for the part of half a century.

Looking ahead

Taking note of President Xi’s recent upbeat speech at the Centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, it is clear that the government of China feels confident that they are now in a strong position to push on with expanding their strategic aims. These will be pushed ahead by fair means or foul, honestly or not, by stealth if need be. If anyone dares to oppose them will get a ‘’bash’’ on the head! It is a warning to the western Allies. ASEAN should be concerned about the South China Sea.

Russia, in the next phase, will want to not upset matters too much and be reasonably content to have matters stay as they are. A significant revenue for them is oil supply to the EU. They have a growing mood in the populace that wants more freedom. This will be difficult to resist.

The Middle East has rumbled on for centuries. A solution does not appear to be likely in the short term although the majority of people just want peace so that they may live with a feeling of security. They cannot reach this position because the leaders feel they have some God-given mission to achieve first. There are pockets relatively peaceful, e.g. The Emirates.  

 The Liberal democracies of the west have some internal voices of dissent, but at the moment their biggest problem is dealing with a refugee crisis caused by the Syrian mess, and the peoples coming from Africa running away from poverty. These are all heading for Europe. The other area where there is a significant problem is the southern USA where there is an unrelenting movement of peoples coming from Central and South America, trying to escape poverty and/or poor government.

The problem has become larger in the past half century; the population has tripled without our becoming aware. The CO2, not surprisingly, has also increased which has alarmed some scientists, and the two issues may be related, because we breathe out CO2 as well as significantly use up more resources some of which, in turn, generate CO2. We must remember, however, that carbon dioxide is a building block of life; below 150 ppm the world starts dying, both flora and fauna. The world, whatever political persuasion, communist or democratic, has to take notice of the climate issue which is to be highlighted at the COP26 conference in November this year. It is interesting that the leading countries espousing these opposite forms of government, China and USA, are responsible for 36% of the CO2 output of the world, each of them, so far, shy of taking a leadership role. Will we see much progress on this issue if they don’t take a leadership role?

The Future

Science, building on what came before, has achieved almost unbelievable advances in less than a century. One of the foremost of them was finding the properties of the silicon chip, which led to the computer, becoming commercially available from the 1960s and thereafter aiding all aspects of scientific endeavour. Now we are looking at the digital age, and on into quantum mechanics and artificial intelligence. We have broken the barriers of space and there is a veritable limitless opportunity to be explored.

On the other hand, there are many more of us, 8+ billion as against 3- billion in the 1960s and we haven’t yet resolved the problems of poverty, pollution and paucity of some of our key resources, such as water, or why we have an apparent climate crisis.  The problems have only become bigger, which means the millennial and subsequent generations who will be brought up with the new sciences from a young age will have plenty to do. What sort of government will they have dictated to them or will they resolve a better system that embraces the better points of each, so long as there is adequate freedom of action?  

The world is changing; almost two thirds of its population already live in Asia and there is a shift in the ethnic balance. The United Nations is more important than ever; it has disappointed in not getting involved in a positive and robust way in certain disputes where a form of genocide has taken place, but they are constrained by their remit. Perhaps it requires a change of location from NY to reflect the changing population distribution and a time to review their raison d’etre.  

The new generation have inherited a number of problems but, at the same time, they have the skills and tools to deal with them. One can but hope they do use them and with common sense.

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