Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The multilateralist castle built on sand

According to a popular left-liberal viewpoint that has become widespread since the run-up to the Iraq War, US unilateralism threatens an otherwise stable global order that rests on international law underpinned by the UN. The latter, so the argument goes, is the institutional safeguard protecting the world from the unhindered exercise of power by the US; the guarantor of weak or independently minded nations that rightly fear American imperialism.

Some of us, however, suspected that this ‘multilateralist’ viewpoint was, more often than not, expressed insincerely by those who were much more interested in opposing the US than they were in upholding international law. We have only had our suspicions confirmed by the tepid international reaction to the Russian assault on Georgia. This unilateral invasion of a sovereign state, occurring without UN Security Council authorisation, has provoked rather less left-liberal outrage than the US invasion of Iraq, though it represented by any standards a much greater violation of the principle of state sovereignty – involving, as it did, territorial dismemberment and the unilateral redrawing of international borders – and though it was directed against a state that, unlike Iraq, represented no threat to its neighbours and was a democracy, albeit highly flawed. There has been no million-strong demonstration in London against the Russian invasion of Georgia. Still more pointed has been the support for the Russian aggression expressed most strongly by the very states, left liberals might have argued, that are most in need of the UN as a safeguard against the US.

The defection of the Libyan regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi from the ‘Axis of Evil’ has often been cited as one of the achievements of the Bush Administration and its tough policy on rogue states. Yet Libya has welcomed the Russian assault on Georgia. ‘What happened in Georgia is a good sign, which means America is no longer the sole world power setting the rules of the game,’ Seif al Islam al-Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader and head of the Gaddafi Foundation, has been quoted as saying; ‘There is a balance in the world now. Russia is resurging, which is good for us, for the entire Middle East.’ Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who in the 1980s successfully sued the US at the International Court of Justice, is the first head of state apart from Russia formally to recognise the ‘independence’ of the break-away Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, denouncing as he did so ‘political hegemonies’ that were ‘trying to surround Russia’. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed the US, Georgia and ‘Zionists’ for the war in the Caucasus: ‘In our opinion, if Georgian officials had acted properly and not allowed outside forces to interfere, the situation wouldn’t have taken on its current dimensions’. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, too, supports Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia: ‘Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests.’ Chavez has announced that Venezuela will host Russian troops and warships and carry out joint military exercises with Russia. According to Cuba’s Raul Castro, ‘It’s false that Georgia is defending its national sovereignty’; he went on to claim that the ‘Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia historically formed part of the Russian Federation’. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, in the course of offering to host Russian missiles on Syrian territory, stated ‘I think that after the crisis with Georgia, Russia has become only stronger’; furthermore, ‘It’s important that Russia takes the position of a superpower, and then all the attempts to isolate it will fail.’

Thus, far from seeing the UN and international law as desirable safeguards against ‘US imperialism’, those states – one or two of them headed by left-liberal icons – that are actually most in conflict with the latter are rushing to demolish these supposed safeguards. Russia is providing a banner behind which the West’s enemies can unite, even if this means tearing up the UN Charter and colluding in the invasion and dismemberment of a UN member-state.

Yet if the closing of ranks of the West’s enemies behind a nuclear-armed aggressor is a reason for consternation, we can draw comfort from a definite success story: one former rogue state, at least, appears definitely to have reformed. In Serbia, pro-Western parties emerged successful from parliamentary elections this spring; the new government appears to be cooperating with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, and has arrested the fugitive former Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic; the leading Serbian anti-Western political force, the neo-Nazi Radical party, has imploded. The Serbian case is particularly significant because it is over Serbia that the Western alliance has frequently been condemned for acting ‘unilaterally’; i.e., without UN authorisation. That is, NATO went to war with Serbia in 1999 without UN sanction, then the US and most NATO and EU countries recognised the independence of Kosovo this year, again without UN sanction.

It is NATO and the EU, rather than the UN, than have proved the motors of change in Serbia; the promise of a European future has been the bait that has lured Serbian voters away from the nationalist parties, and the Serbian government toward collaboration with The Hague, while it was the question of whether to support Serbia’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU that occasioned the split among the Radicals. Far from the recognition of Kosovo’s independence driving Serbia into the arms of the nationalists, it has hastened the nationalists’ political decline. True, Serbia is still seeking to have the International Court of Justice rule the recognition of Kosovo’s independence illegal. But while we may deplore this move, it nevertheless represents a civilised way of conducting a dispute; a tremendous step forward from the rioting and attacks on foreign embassies that took place in Belgrade in February in response to international recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

The Western approach to Serbia has therefore proved a successful one: stick and carrot; military firmness combined with economic incentives and democracy promotion – mostly conducted independently of the UN. An approach of this kind is often stereotyped by its critics, whether from conservative-isolationist or left-liberal schools of opinion, as amounting simply to military aggressiveness. Yet the military-deterrent aspect of the Western policy that has guided Serbia toward Europe has ultimately proved less decisive than the economic carrot of EU integration. That this is so is highlighted by the failure of Western policy regarding a coutry that should, logically, be firmly in the Western camp but that may be slipping away: Turkey. Although Turkey is a loyal NATO member of long-standing; although it has long been committed to joining the EU; although it has responded relatively well to diplomatic and economic incentives to democratise; and although it historically fears Russian imperialism, yet Turkey is developing increasingly friendly relations with both Russia and Iran. Ahmadinejad visited Istanbul last month, and Ankara and Tehran reached agreements on a number of areas, though a full energy pact was not signed on account of US objections.

Heavily dependent on Russian trade and energy supplies, Ankara has meanwhile refused to support Georgia’s membership of NATO, resisted talk of modifying the Montreux Convention limiting naval access to the Black Sea by the US and other outside powers, and barred two US warships from entering the Black Sea in support of Georgia. Ankara is meanwhile promoting a ‘Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact’ that would group together Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – its essential purpose is to enable Turkey to establish a working regional collaboration with Russia that bypasses the US. Ankara’s drift toward friendship with two of the Western alliance’s most dangerous enemies is an all-too-predictable consquence of the declining attraction of the EU option for Turkey, resulting from open French and German opposition to Turkey’s EU membership. Given events in Georgia, the Franco-German alienating of Turkey appears increasingly short-sighted. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, that goes through Turkey, is the only pipeline transporting Caspian crude oil that does not go through Russia. Turkey’s strategic importance is increasing exponentially just as Franco-German cold-shouldering is having its negative effect.

Events on the world stage this summer have shattered the multilateralist, soft-liberal dream of a post-Cold-War world presided over by the UN, in which UN members live harmoniously according to its rules. Instead, the UN is resuming its Cold War role as merely one, ineffectual forum in which the conflict between the Western alliance and the anti-Western bloc is played out. In these circumstances, there is no point in believing in illusions about a UN-governed world that our enemies do not share. As the Serbian example shows, democratisation and integration into the democratic family of nations are the best way to remove the threat from a rogue state; even when not overtly hostile, dictatorships – from Pakistan to Libya – make unstable, unreliable allies. We should be foolish indeed if we were to abandon our support for democracy and human rights abroad, through diplomatic, economic and where necessary military means. The enemies of liberal democracy will always play by their own rules; we should play by ours.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Sunday, 14 September 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Balkans, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iran, Kosovo, Middle East, NATO, Political correctness, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Turkey | 1 Comment

Is the Socialist Workers Party about to join the War on Terror ?

Picture: British imperialist general Sir Michael Rose, described by the SWP’s Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour as ‘certainly no sympathiser with the Bosnian Serb forces’, carrying out imperialist intervention against his sworn enemy, the leader of the Bosnian Serb anti-imperialist resistance, General Ratko Mladic.

The internal politics of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), spearhead of British opposition to imperialism and Zionism, may be thrown into turmoil by revelations made on Friday by leading SWP blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour. In a comment on his blog Lenin’s Tomb, Seymour challenged the prevailing SWP wisdom that it is Western imperialism that is attacking and oppressing the Muslim world, and that the Left should be supporting the Muslims. According to Seymour’s iconoclastic claims, it is actually the other way round.

Citing a former senior official of Western imperialism (Philip Corwin, former UN chief political officer in Sarajevo), Seymour argued that Serb shelling of Sarajevo civilians and hospitals during the war in Bosnia was all deliberately provoked by the Muslims in the first place, furthermore that the Muslims were oppressing the Western imperialist forces: ‘Philip Corwin’s memoir recalls that BiH provocations weren’t just intended to draw Serb fire. They were also aimed at coercing UNPROFOR. Thus UNPROFOR troops were repeatedly shelled by BiH [Bosnian army] forces, more or less each morning. And UNPROFOR’s attitude, given that its role was to be co-belligerents with the US and the local clients, was to refuse to mention these in its situation reports or even protest too vigorously.’

With this radical challenge to prevailing SWP orthodoxy, Seymour claimed: 1) that the imperialist forces were the victims and the Muslims were the oppressors; 2) that all accusations made by Western imperialist officials against Muslims should be assumed to be true; 3) that the Bosnian army was shelling the UN forces every day, because they were allies against the Serbs; 4) that the UN was on the side of the Muslims against the Serbs, so never mentioned the fact that it was being oppressed by the Muslims – except in the published memoirs of its leading officials, available for purchase at; and 5) that this UN-Muslim conflict renders UN officials the most objective judges of Muslim wrongdoing. 

Seymour goes on to argue that the popular belief that Sarajevo in the 1990s was shelled and besieged for three and a half years by Serb forces was a myth cooked up by the Western imperialist media, and that it was actually the Muslims who were shelling and massacring themselves in order to blame it on the Serbs. To prove this, he cites the testimony of the Western imperialists, who were engaged in a campaign to demonise the Serbs and who are therefore best placed to testify that the Muslims were really to blame for everything. Responding to a critic who argued that the Markale massacre of Sarajevo civilians in 1994 was the work of a Serb shell, Seymour cut him down: ‘your sense of who was responsible is curiously at odds with the views of UNPROFOR, which accused the Bosnian government forces of “firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire”.’ These imperialist accusations against the Muslims support the view, argues Seymour, that the Muslims were clients of the imperialists and that the two were working hand-in-glove againt the anti-imperialist Serbs. 

In addition to Corwin, Seymour cites a second Western imperialist official, British UN commander Sir Michael Rose (pictured above) in support of his argument that the Markale massacre was carried out by the Muslims: ‘UN experts had determined, according to General Sir Michael Rose (no Tory as far as I am aware, and certainly no sympathiser with the Bosnian Serb forces), that the shot came from the Bosniak side. UNPROFOR itself openly declared that the Bosnian forces repeatedly engaged in “false flag” operations to provoke Serbian attacks on civilian buildings.’

Picture: Dutch UNPROFOR troops carrying out imperialist intervention against Mladic and his Serb anti-imperialist forces at Srebrenica, July 1995. Thanks to Western imperialism’s support for the Muslims against the Serbs, the ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica was successfully defended from Serb anti-imperialist assault, and eight thousand Muslim men and boys were not massacred, left-wing sources say.

Sir Michael was unavailable for comment. However, he is known as a leading scholarly expert on Islamic culture and civilisation. In his published memoirs, Fighting for Peace, Rose argued that Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic was probably incapable of appreciating Mozart because he was a Muslim. Having attended a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in besieged Sarajevo alongside Izetbegovic, Rose wrote, ‘I wondered if he understood the Christian sentiment behind the words and the music’. Despite this demonstrated sympathy for Muslims and Islam, it is notable that Rose agrees with Seymour on the nefarious character of the Izetbegovic regime; Rose writes that Izetbegovic’s ‘talk of creating a multi-religious, multi-cultural State in Bosnia was a disguise for the extension of his own political power and the furtherance of Islam.’

Seymour’s allegations are likely to prove controversial among SWP members, who have spent the past several years supporting the jihad of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents against Western imperialism, under banners such as ‘We are all Hezbollah now’, and were thus under the impression that radical Islamists were the good guys and Western imperialists the bad guys. SWP supporters have also tended to argue that while it is acceptable to support anti-Semitic Muslim groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah out of principled opposition to Zionism, it is unacceptable to support anti-Semitic Croats such as the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman because Tudjman and the Croats are reactionary nationalists, and socialists are not supposed to take sides in disputes between reactionary nationalists. Yet this SWP attitude, too, may change in light of Tudjman’s consistent opposition to Izetbegovic, multiethnic Bosnia and the Bosnian Muslims – an opposition that closely mirrors that of Seymour, Rose and UNPROFOR. Tudjman also shared the anti-imperialist left’s opposition to Israel, which he described as a ‘Judeo-Nazi hijack state’, to the imperialist war-crimes tribunal in the Hague, and to US imperialism in general, even taking steps to rehabilitate the World War II Ustasha fascist ‘Independent State of Croatia’, which declared war against the US in 1941.

As one left-wing opponent of imperialism and Zionism said yesterday, ‘We are all Ustashas now’.

Greater Surbiton News Service

Update: In response to this post, Seymour has accused me of being a ‘demented stalker’. For the record, I have posted about him fewer times than he has posted about me. Before I had ever written a word about him, he was libelling me on his blog. Five days ago, he launched an open thread on his blog so that his weird anonymous cronies could post defamatory comments about me and my family. So the question of who is a ‘demented stalker’ is probably not one that Richard should be raising. My advice to Richard is: if you can’t take it, then don’t dish it out. And as for which one of us needs, as he puts it, to ‘get a fucking life’… 🙂

Monday, 8 September 2008 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Israel, Jews, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | Leave a comment

The dangers of appeasement

‘Georgia has lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia for good’—one can almost taste the relish in the Guardian’s editorial of 15 August, as it argued against even peaceful, diplomatic measures to punish Russia for attacking Georgia. For a significant strand of left-liberal opinion in the UK, the default position on the Russia-Georgia conflict is that it is payback for earlier western sins in Iraq and Kosovo; that US, not Russian, warmongering is the problem. Yet none of this is true. Russia’s intervention in Georgia and recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s ‘independence’ are not equivalent to western action over Kosovo or Iraq, and we allow them to go unpunished at our peril…

[The rest of this article can be read at Prospect]

Thursday, 4 September 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Balkans, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Georgia, Kosovo, NATO, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, The Left | Leave a comment

Florence Hartmann indicted; Hague Tribunal tries to silence a whistleblower

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, was last week indicted by the ICTY, on the charge of contempt of court, for allegedly disclosing classified information relating to the proceedings against Slobodan Milosevic. This information was allegedly published in her book, Peace and Punishment (Paix et chatiment) and in an article published on the website of the Bosnian Institute. Hartmann has rejected the charges, arguing that she has not revealed confidential information, but only information she had gathered through her work as a journalist, and that her indictment represents a blow by the Office of the Prosecutor against free speech and transparency. She has pledged to fight the charges.

Hartmann is the first Western citizen without roots in the former Yugoslavia, and the first former ICTY official to be indicted by the Tribunal. As she points out, her book was published a year ago, while the Bosnian Institute article was published in January, making the delay in the issuing of her indictment peculiar. The charges refer to a case that is no longer actual, and cannot be motivated by any desire to ensure the proper functioning of the proceedings. The indictment appears, indeed, to be an attempt to muzzle a whistleblower who has revealed information about the internal politics and incompetence within the Tribunal, and a warning to other former Tribunal officials who might be tempted to reveal more such information.

The ICTY is a highly flawed institution with a very patchy record; badly organised, filled with many incompetent apparatchiks alongside some committed professionals, riven with internal factionalism and corrupted by political pressures both external and self-induced, it has failed to deliver justice to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. I am myself a former official of the Tribunal, and my biggest criticism of it has been its failure to indict most of the principal Serbian and Montenegrin war-criminals, a failure that, on the basis of my eyewitness experience, I attribute in large part to the poor strategy of del Ponte as Chief Prosecutor. But a perhaps even more shameful failing on the Tribunal’s part was the one about which Florence writes: the decision of the judges in the Milosevic case to allow Serbia, when submitting to the Tribunal the minutes of the ‘Supreme Defence Council’ of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to censor parts of it in the version that was made public. As Florence argues, it was thanks to the Tribunal’s collusion with Serbia in the suppression of this crucial piece of evidence, that Bosnia was not able to draw upon the latter in its case against Serbia for genocide at the International Court of Justice, leading to Serbia’s unjustified acquittal. Far from punishing the perpetrators of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the Tribunal has helped to shield them (NB to date, only one individual, a lowly deputy corps commander of the Bosnian Serb army, has been successfully prosecuted for a genocide-related offence by the ICTY, while not a single official from Serbia has yet been convicted of any war-crime in Bosnia whatsoever).

The Tribunal may or may not have a legal case against Hartmann. What is certain, however, is that Hartmann was acting in the public interest in revealing the information she did. The people of the former Yugoslavia have a right to know why they have not received much in the way of justice from the ICTY, while the citizens of the world have a right to know why this UN court, funded by their taxes, has produced such poor results. Public interest would best be served if more former Tribunal officials showed as much principle and courage as Florence, and came forward with more insider information so that we can better understand this whole, sorry story. This would help to ensure that other international courts could avoid the ICTY’s mistakes. But we are all aware that there is a risk: I myself, after being interviewed about the ICTY by the Croatian journalist Domagoj Margetic last year, received a threatening letter from the Tribunal, warning me that I had, when taking up the post back in 2001, signed a declaration promising to respect the Tribunal’s confidentiality (Florence, too, apparently received such a letter when she first began publicly to speak about the ICTY). Although I did not take this threat seriously at the time, it appears my complacency has been misguided.

Florence is a brave, principled and committed individual who has done more than anyone to reveal the extent to which the international community and the international courts have betrayed the cause of justice for the former Yugoslavia. Although I disagree with some of what she says in her book, it is nevertheless a splendid, daming critique of this betrayal, and her accusations of Western complicity in Radovan Karadzic’s evasion of arrest for thirteen years have been essentially vindicated; I would recommend anyone interested in the subject to read it. Florence is fighting the battle for truth on behalf of all the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and all present and future historians. We are 100% on her side.

Monday, 1 September 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | | 3 Comments