web analytics
August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘international affairs’

For Israel, Better the ‘Blessing’ than the ‘Curse’

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Jewish thought has never been subtle about life and death, the “blessing” and the “curse.” For Israel, the individual Jew writ large, there exists a fixed and overriding obligation to stay alive.

Although this injunction may hardly come as any sort of surprise, and may hardly seem to merit any claim of significant insight, it does stand in notably stark contrast to the worldview of some of Israel’s principal enemies in the region. More precisely, in order to deal gainfully with a still steadily nuclearizing Iran, and with a determinedly sovereign Palestine, Israel will quickly have to understand certain alien points of view.

The sources of danger for Israel are unambiguous. In a readily decipherable hierarchy of threats, Israel now confronts death and destruction from two increasingly plausible directions: (1) the already-constituted state of Iran, which may ultimately decide to act against Israel in presumed conformance with the end-times expectations of a Shiite apocalypse, and (2) the aspiring state of “Palestine,” which, if shaped by jihadist visions of Sunni Hamas, could decide to make a common war cause with Tehran.

Singly, for Israel, the attack dangers from Iran or Palestine that could derive from any religiously based inversion of life and death, of “blessing” and “curse,” would be considerable and daunting.

Together, perhaps in various unrecognized or even unimagined synergies, the interactive effects of these two particular adversaries could portend very serious and possibly existential concerns for Israel.

These regional enemy inversions of life and death, of “blessing” and “curse,” are rendered more worrisome by (1) the international community’s ritualized unwillingness to remove Iran’s illegal nuclear weapons infrastructure; (2) President Obama’s continuing support for a two-state solution; and, (3) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grudging but official acceptance of a Palestinian state that has been “demilitarized.”

The Palestinian side (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little real difference) seeks a one-state solution. On all their maps, Israel is drawn as a segment of “Palestine.” As for a demilitarized Palestine, it would never actually happen. This is true, in part, because any post-independence abrogation of earlier pre-state agreements to demilitarize, by a now-sovereign Palestinian state, could be incontestably permissible under authoritative international law.

What shall Israel do in this increasingly confusing regional maelstrom? If Obama’s openly expressed wish for “a world free of nuclear weapons” were ever realized, the survival issue would become moot. Without its nuclear arms, Israel could not endure for very long. Fortunately, this presidential wish is not only foolish but plainly unrealistic. Inevitably, of course, Israel will insist upon retaining the critical deterrence benefits of its essential nuclear forces.

The extent of this particular benefit, however, may vary, inter alia, according to a number of important factors. These include Jerusalem’s observable willingness to take its bomb out of the “basement,” that is, to make certain limited disclosures of the country’s usable and penetration-capable nuclear forces. Also relevant is the extent to which Israel might choose to reveal selected elements of Tel-Aviv’s nuclear targeting doctrine.

From the standpoint of successful deterrence, it will make a major difference if Israel’s nuclear forces are recognizably counter value (targeted on enemy cities), or counterforce (targeted on enemy weapons, and related infrastructures). In turn, Israel’s decisions on targeting policy may be affected, more or less, by ongoing regime transformations still taking place across the Middle East and North Africa.

“For what can be done against force, without force?” inquired the Roman statesman Cicero. The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. To the contrary, in preventing nuclear and terrorist aggressions, force, though assuredly not a panacea, is almost always indispensable.

All states have a fundamental (“peremptory,” in the language of formal jurisprudence) right of self-defense. This right is explicit in both codified and customary international law. It can be found, in part, at Article 51 of the UN Charter; also, in multiple clarifications of anticipatory self-defense, a doctrine I have discussed often on these pages.

Israel has legal right to forcibly confront the expected and possibly mutually reinforcing harms of Iranian nuclear missile strikes, and Palestinian terror.

Again, Cicero understood. Failure to use force against a murderous evil imprints an indelible stain upon all that is good. A similar point can be found in the Talmud, which asserts that by being merciful to the cruel, one may become cruel to the merciful. Any such “mercy” must be firmly rejected by both individual Jews, and by the Jewish state.

The Dictator’s Lesson: ‘Nuke up Fast’

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

If you like what is happening with North Korea at the moment, you will love what happens when Iran goes nuclear.

In case anyone is in any doubt, it is always worth remembering that North Korea is a basket-case of a country – probably in the most abysmal situation of any country on earth (not forgetting the Middle East). Its people intermittently starve by the millions, and all of them lack even the most basic of amenities.

As Shin Dong-hyuk and a few other unbelievably fortunate escapees have attested, concentration camps (for once the term is not inaccurate) are maintained across the country. And even those fortunate enough not to be in them are cut off from the outside world by a regime which has the unique selling point of being the world’s only Stalinist monarchy. The authorities have no ability to provide the most basic services to the majority of its population; and after years of sanctions, can do almost nothing either internally or externally to alter the situation it finds itself in. Yet here it is, dictating the news agendas of the world.

And why? For two straightforward reasons. First, because it has a new leader of whom everyone is ignorant. No one – no other government, intelligence agency or foreign office – is entirely sure of his intentions. We do know that he spent some time at a school in Switzerland and has a fondness for basketball. But apart from that and a few other tiny details, there is almost nothing known about him. It was the same with his father and indeed his grandfather. We knew what type of sushi the current Kim’s father liked, and we knew he was a fan of Hollywood movies, but aside from such ephemera we had almost no idea of the type of man he was or the type of things he thought. Now his son – the third generation of the family to reign – is even more of a mystery. So there, undoubtedly, is the first problem.

But the second reason is even far more straightforward: North Korea is now in the Nuclear Club. No one is quite sure how rudimentary are the devices that they have set off (including the third such test just this February). But nevertheless they have managed it. Assisted by any number of rogue states, networks and cartels, the most isolated regime on earth has finally got into the only club that matters. And why? Why would a regime allow its people to suffer the most biting sanctions, the most appalling privations and itself to suffer the most complete international isolation – just for the possession of this one type of weaponry?

It is because the regime in Pyongyang knows something that everybody now knows but which those countries already in the Nuclear Club are increasingly unwilling to admit: the very clear lesson of the fate of Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi.

Qaddafi, you will remember, committed what is a clear, cardinal, school-boy error for dictators. In 2003, concerned by the U.S./U.K. and allied invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein for his WMD program, Qaddafi suddenly volunteered up – to the U.S. and U.K. it should be remembered, not the U.N. – his somewhat more-advanced-than-anybody-had-realized WMD program. Having seen Saddam Hussein fall for less, Qaddafi decided it was more trouble than it was worth in those days to continue going down that route.

But what a difference a decade makes. For apart from anything else, Qaddafi himself is now history. Having given up his WMD program, he then made the terrible error, once a rebellion against his rule began, of beginning to massacre his own people . And so – for humanitarian reasons – NATO intervened and toppled Qaddafi. And the last anyone saw of Qaddafi, he was being assaulted by a mob, beaten, having a knife put in every conceivable part of his body and then shot.

If you were a Kim or a Mullah, what lesson would you take from that? Personally, putting my dictator hat on I would take one lesson: “nuke up fast.” And certainly, on no account should you disarm. Disarmed despots are soon-to-be-dead despots. It is a lesson the North Koreans have taken on board with understandable eagerness and with – to date – considerable success. After all, for all the latest round of bellicose rhetoric against South Korea, there is no U.S. or NATO or any other kind of talk of, for instance, regime-change in North Korea. The system there may be – against stiff competition – the worst human rights violator in the world. Yet nobody is talking about toppling Kim. They are elementary nuclear, after all.

Israel, Syria and Double Standards

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Syria’s civil war recently entered its third calendar year. With worse still to come, in recent days it has been estimated that the number of people killed in Syria since the uprising began now stands at more than 90,000. Any death is a tragedy for someone and the people close to him; and a million deaths are not a statistic but a million individual tragedies. How can this fact glide by us with so little comment?

When it comes to Syria, there are probably a few practical reasons. One, undoubtedly, is that people get bored with long news stories. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown — in which American, British and other Western troops have after all featured prominently – public and media attention was fairly short-lived. After an initial burst of fascination, once the new norm was established, peoples’ attention wandered elsewhere. Syria has now dragged on too long to hold peoples’ ever-smaller attention spans.

There is also the fact that in Syria – as in other recent wars – journalists have found themselves becoming targets. While many journalists are willing to take the same risks as the population at large, few are willing to stay in situations where they might be the actual object of death-squads or the attentions of RPG’s. In Syria, most journalists have found it hard to get in, or once there, are unwilling to stay, so the amount of footage coming out is necessarily limited. With an absence of plentiful footage, if the story cannot be visualized, there is now rarely a story. Evidently we need pictures.

But there is another, more important, reason why this story has got so little attention. There are often underlying, as well as immediate, reasons why something does not make news. There are some situations in which a tragedy helps a political cause and others in which it hinders it. For some people, casualties are not tragedies or statistics, but simply a well-spring for political point-scoring. To compare the cases of Israel and Syria is to see this at its most stark.

Take, for instance, the highest figures for all the wars in which Israel has been involved throughout its history. The upper estimates suggest that the War of Independence in 1948 cost around 20,000 casualties in total – that is 20,000 on all sides. The upper casualty estimates of the wars of 1968 and 1973 are similar: another 20,000 and 15,000 respectively. The smaller wars in Lebanon and Gaza in the years since add several thousand more to this sad total. But something is striking here.

All the wars involving Israel, throughout its history, have caused at least 30,000 fewer deaths than have been caused in Syria in the last couple of years alone. Say that you added together all the wars involving Israel, and they had all happened either consecutively or in one go. Would we have seen the same amount of coverage that we have seen in Syria? Would there have been more or fewer protests around the world involving people of all religions, races and backgrounds, than there have been outside of Syria in recent months? Would the nations of the world, the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council, have been quieter or noisier than they have been when it has come to the matter of Israel’s neighbor, Syria, over recent months?

The answer to all these questions is that the air and ground incursions in Gaza in recent years have on each occasion led to deaths — tragic though they may be — that are a fraction of the number in Syria since the uprising there began. Yet the world, and the world’s press, and the world’s protest movements, and the world’s governments and the world’s supra-national organizations have on each and every occasion mobilized in a way which seemed at the time, and in retrospect, to demonstrate an obsession which is probably at best unhealthy, and at worst the expression of straightforward bigotry. All those people who claim that small incursions into Gaza have not been small incursions, but in fact a “holocaust,” where are they now? If the death of a hundred people is a “holocaust,” what is the death of 90,000?

Iran’s Unhidden Plan for Genocide: A Legal Right to Prevent Genocide? (Second of Three Parts)

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Originally published under the title “Iran’s Unhidden Plan for Genocide: A Legal Assessment (Second of Three Parts).” 

On June 7, 1981, Israel launched Operation Opera against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. Officially, this preemptive attack on Osiraq – which ultimately saved a great many American and other lives ten years later, during the first Gulf War, was an expression of anticipatory self-defense. Interestingly, however, because Iraq had always considered itself to be formally at war with Israel, the Jewish state could just as easily and correctly have regarded this essential act of preemptive self-defense as something else.

Back in 1981, taking an alternative legal position, Prime Minister Menachem Begin could have justified Operation Opera as a permissible tactical action in the wider context of a longstanding and ongoing belligerency. Had he done so, Israel could then have pointed out that both of the pertinent legal obligations applying here had also been fully satisfied. These are the always twin obligations of “just cause” (facing an existential threat), and “just means” (minimizing collateral harms). To be acceptable, any act of anticipatory self-defense would have to fulfill classic law of war expectations that the means used to injure an enemy are not unlimited.

Jurisprudentially, it is significant that Begin chose, explicitly, to link Operation Opera to preventing, in his words, “another Holocaust.” Historically, of course, the rationale of including anticipatory self-defense under customary international law had been the prevention of aggression, not genocide. Logically, it was not until 1951, when the Genocide Convention first entered into force, that the legal question of defensive first strikes to forestall such crimes against humanity could even have been raised.

After the Holocaust, and subsequent Nuremberg Trials, it became plain that the prerogatives of sovereignty in world law could no longer remain absolute, and that the once-legitimate cover of “domestic jurisdiction” would now have to exclude certain crimes against human rights. With this very fundamental transformation, individual human life was to be held sacred everywhere, and individual states were no longer automatically precluded from entering into the “territorial sphere of validity” of other states. On the contrary, from then on the traditional norm of “non-intervention” would need to yield to indisputably compelling judgments of “international concern.”

It was now the reasonable expectation that all states, either individually or collectively, would acknowledge a distinct and overriding legal obligation to prevent Nuremberg-category crimes (after 1951, crimes of genocide) in other states, even to the extent of undertaking active intervention within those sovereign states.

This critical obligation was strongly reinforced at Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter, a core document that has the formal status of a multilateral treaty. Today we speak of all such permissible interventions as “humanitarian.” Sometimes diplomats and scholars prefer the closely related term “The Responsibility to Protect.”

Whichever term is preferred, the international legal order now accepts and expects that all states will feel co-responsible for each other, including the prevention of genocide and certain corollary crimes against humanity. Examples of this collaborative expectation, a concept that makes incontestably good sense in our still-anarchic system of world law – a system that first came into being in 1648, when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War and that has yet to be replaced with genuinely effective supra-national legal institutions – can be found in at least four prominent post-Holocaust cases:

(1) the Tanzania-led invasion of Uganda in 1979, which put an end to Idi Amin’s almost decade-long genocide against the Acholi and Langi tribes;

(2) the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, which put an end to the Khmer Rouge mass murder of almost 2,000,000 people, a genocide that had targeted several diverse populations along many different ethnic, cultural, and tribal lines;

(3) the 1971 genocide against Bengali people, the “Bangladesh Genocide,” which covered an area then originally known as “East Pakistan,” and that was finally stopped by massive Indian military intervention; and

(4) the 1994 invasion of Rwanda by Tutsi rebels who had been “hosted” in neighboring Burundi, and also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This genocide, perpetrated largely by Hutu extremists (the interahamwe) produced almost 1,000,000 deaths in ninety-days, making it the “fastest” genocidal mass murder in human history. It is also infamously noteworthy because the European powers, the United States, and the United Nations had all abandoned every shred of responsibility for humanitarian intervention or the responsibility to protect.

The Shakiest Nukes in the West

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

In case everyone in Northeast Asia missed it, in spite of their intelligence and early-warning networks which have assuredly been tracking it in fine detail, the Obama Defense Department announced on Monday that the U.S. has been deterring North Korea by sending B-52 bombers on practice runs in its vicinity.  The specter of nuclear deterrence was clarified by Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter:

Deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter said during a visit to South Korea on Monday that the bomber flights are part of the U.S. “extended deterrence”—the use of U.S. nuclear forces to deter North Korea, which conducted its third underground nuclear test Feb. 12.

Nukes! I say.  Nukes!  Pay attention, dudes.

As Bill Gertz demurely puts it, “It is unusual for the Pentagon to make such overt statements about the use of strategic nuclear forces in Asia Pacific.”

Deterrence. Indeed.  That’s because such overt statements are a form of strutting and posturing that makes the U.S. look foolish.  Kim Jong-Un may be a weirdo who hangs out with Dennis Rodman, but he knows we have nukes.  North Korea wants nukes because the U.S., Russia, and China have them, and, in the crudest sense, they make us powerful – if not invincible, at least hard for anyone else to deter.

Making pointed comments about “extended deterrence” comes off as a novice’s imitation of what he thinks a tough security policy sounds like.  It’s kind of informative, in fact: this is what the political left thinks is necessary for achieving deterrence.  You have to remind everyone about your nukes.

It’s not like decision-makers in North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China have been unaware of our big exercise with the B-52 participation.  Their radars track the B-52s all over the air space off the coast of Northeast Asia.  Each of them has a foreign-forces guide that informs every soldier and airman of the nuclear role played by the B-52 in the U.S. deterrence arsenal.  They fully understand what they’re seeing when the B-52s show up.

But to publicly emphasize the U.S. nuclear deterrent in this circumstance is misdirected anyway, if the deterrence target is North Korea.  For Pyongyang, evidence of the U.S. commitment to South Korea has been shown most effectively by our conventional military cooperation, which includes thousands of troops stationed in the South.  The nuclear threat is always implicitly there, but it isn’t needed to deter Kim Jong-Un.  We can take him down without going nuclear.  The audience for nuclear deterrence is Russia and China, and the point of it has always been to deter them from trying to settle the Korean situation themselves, to the detriment of our allies and interests in the region.

Is there any sense being fostered by anyone in the Obama administration that China or Russia needs special nuclear-deterring in the current situation with North Korea?  Does anyone at all, even outside the administration, think that’s necessary?  I don’t see that theme being retailed anywhere.  It makes no sense to rattle the nuclear saber at Kim Jong-Un.  But no case has been made that it ought to be rattled at Vladimir Putin or Li Keqiang either.

Nukes aren’t something you wave around like a drunk brandishing a knife.  The current situation has that feel to it, however.

Consider another aspect the situation. The Northeast Asian nations are sophisticated enough to understand: that U.S. nuclear-armed submarines are not sitting “near South Korean waters,” as claimed in additional South Korean news reporting cited by Gertz.  Sitting near South Korean waters would be pointless.  If a U.S nuke were ever launched at North Korea from a submarine, it would be launched from out in the Pacific by a ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).  We don’t have any other submarine-launched nukes today.

The nuclear Tomahawk missile (TLAM-N), formerly launched by attack submarines, was removed from U.S. ships and submarines in 1991 and put in storage.  Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review recommended eliminating the TLAM-N from the U.S. inventory, and, as described by the Federation of American Scientists, the new 2013 version of the Navy’s baseline instruction on nuclear weapons contains no section on the TLAM-N.  This indicates that the TLAM-N is no longer in the inventory of nuclear weapons.

All tactical nuclear weapons having now been retired from the U.S. arsenal, there is no submarine-launched nuke that could be fired from a position “near South Korean waters.”  No one in Northeast Asia lacks the intelligence or resources to figure that out.  How did that impression get left with the South Korean media?

Perhaps the Obama administration imagines that it’s appropriate to pointedly warn North Korea about our nukes because Kim has a nuclear weapon himself?  The leap of logic here is fatal to stability, if that’s the thinking.  Even if Kim expended his one or handful of nuclear warheads, it is in the highest degree unlikely that we would use nukes on him, for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary.  If Kim getting one nuke causes the U.S. to begin treating North Korea like a credible nuclear power, then that one nuke has accomplished its purpose, and everyone else across the globe will want to try it.

There might be a neighborhood in which having a crude warhead or two makes one a member of an elite nuclear-armed “club” – but it isn’t Northeast Asia.  North Korea has not achieved the ultimate goal of the nuclear-armed dictator: invulnerability to deterrence.  Kim is still badly over matched in every way by Russia, China, and the U.S. – and, in fact, is over matched conventionally by South Korea and Japan as well, if it came to that.  It is unseemly and off-kilter for the U.S. to get into a nuclear showdown with North Korea.

There might or might not be utility in giving a bit of “informational” emphasis to our exercise series with South Korea right now, with the North being so obstreperous.  But there is no need to issue reminders of our nuclear capabilities.  Doing so, in fact, comes off as uncalibrated and a bit hysterical.

Originally published at the Optimistic Conservative.

The UN: That Explains It, They’re All Drunk!

Friday, March 8th, 2013

A report in today’s New York Times provides a clue as to why the United Nations does the things it does – the delegates are apparently inebriated, a lot of the time.

According to the Times’ report, U.N. offices are reminiscent of an episode of Mad Men, a show in which many of the main characters have alcohol abuse problems and no serious conversation can be had without a glass of whisky.

And as the U.S. often seems to be the designated driver in international politics, perhaps it is appropriate that the it was an American diplomat, Joseph M. Torsella, who proposed that “negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone.”

Of course, this is not the explanation for the sheer madness of many countries’ behavior at the U.N. and on the world stage and their obsession with Israel. But if only it were.

Hagel Nomination Defeat Is in Everyone’s Interest

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

It seems certain that Chuck Hagel will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next secretary of defense. But it shouldn’t be. For the Hagel issue is the perfect symbol of the dilemmas faced by America today.

The first problem is that the mass media and the Democratic Party are all to willing to be a doormat for President Barack Obama, even though this stance is against their own interests. Many Democratic senators resent the fact that they are so pressured to vote for Hagel even though it makes them look foolish and might endanger their reelection chances.

Their willingness to vote for Hagel, however, shows the triumph of partisanship and ideology over national interest. Obviously, there are times when those factors will prevail, especially if the question is more marginal. But when a clearly unqualified man who has made a fool of himself in public hearings is going to take a post that involves the very lives of so many, that’s where you should draw the line.

In other words, even if one argues that the president should be given whoever he wants in high posts unless there is a really good reason to deny consent to such a nomination, here is the case where that exception applies.

Second, there is the way the issue is defined. A New York senator and a New York newspaper, for example, wants to narrow the problem into the idea that Hagel may have used one word—Jewish as in Jewish lobby–in an offensive way. That’s supposedly why Hagel isn’t fit for the job.

If that’s true then anyone who opposed Hagel might be considered to represent a selfish, narrow, interest group. Indeed, some of Hagel’s defenders have turned the issue of his being criticized for saying nasty things about Jews having too much power into proof that Jews have too much power.

In defending Hagel’s gaffe, both that senator and that editorial staff have also committed what might be called ideological antisemitism. If Hagel is innocent then those who oppose him are merely too (right-wing) Jewish or pro-Israel or “neo-conservative” (a code-word for “Jewish,” especially in the Middle East). And if they block Hagel then doesn’t that prove Hagel was right?

What makes this view objectively absurd is that there are dozens of reasons to oppose Hagel’s nomination, most of them having nothing to do with Israel.

First and foremost among these is that he has expressed objectively anti-American views, as was shown for example, in his agreeing with an al-Jazeera caller who described the United States as an aggressive bully. Anti-Americanism may be fashionable among the U.S. elite today, but it is not a good characteristic for a secretary of defense. Aside from everything else, if the United States has always been bad for pursing its interests in the past why should this secretary of defense compound the sin by championing U.S. interests today?

Second, it is painfully clear—even to his supporters who would never admit it in public—that Hagel doesn’t understand the issues and is incapable of running a huge bureaucracy. Hagel even admitted his incapability in his own defense, boating that this didn’t matter since he wouldn’t be making any decisions anyway!

Once again, though, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 election advertisement test applies: Who do you want to answer the call at three AM? We have before us at this moment a perfect example. The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where four Americans were murdered, was dropped into the lap of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. How many Americans might die when Hagel is given the responsibility for action?

Third, one could point out that the ultimate choices for Benghazi were with Obama. But that’s also a reason for understanding why Hagel shouldn’t be confirmed. A secretary of defense should not just be a “yes-man.” He should represent an independent point of view and also represent his department’s interests.

If the secretary of defense is only a “yes-man” for the White House that means the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanders in the field will be left out of decision-making. With Hagel at the helm, the uniformed military will have no spokesman when the top-level priorities and choices are set.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/hagel-nomination-defeat-is-in-everyones-interest/2013/02/24/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: