Friday, October 12, 2007

Stumbling towards sanity?

Amazing news! The chief theorist of Decency has (it appears) taken a massive step back from the Euston Manifesto!!!!

In a debate with Conor Foley[1], The Civilised Norm Of International Society makes the following characterisation of his point of view:
Finally, at no point does Conor squarely face the case on which I was basing my argument for a right of humanitarian intervention: conditions in which it is agreed (let us suppose by him and me amongst many others) that there is urgent need for intervention to stop something appalling and ongoing, a genocide, or something else of humanitarian-crisis proportions; no security council authorization is forthcoming (for one bad political reason or another); nothing of sufficiently multilateral scope is going to happen for a long time either. Is it the law in these circumstances that the people being killed by their thousands must just be killed and that's all there is to it? I say that that is not a law worth supporting. It is my central argument. Conor doesn't engage with it.

One can see that the empirical fact that people tend to be "killed by their (tens and hundreds of) thousands" in interventions too is yet to permeate, but the important bits are the words I've emphasised above. Compare to this and this from 2004, where the criterion of urgency was discussed and thoroughly rejected, and I think it's impossible to deny that there has apparently been significant movement in Geras' thought - he links to these discussions in his post as if they're part and parcel, but I don't see how they can be. The relevant passage from the Euston Manifesto also bears quoting:

If in some minimal sense a state protects the common life of its people (if it does not torture, murder and slaughter its own civilians, and meets their most basic needs of life), then its sovereignty is to be respected. But if the state itself violates this common life in appalling ways, its claim to sovereignty is forfeited and there is a duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue. Once a threshold of inhumanity has been crossed, there is a "responsibility to protect".

"Imminent humanitarian crisis" is a much more defensible criterion for a humanitarian intervention than a subjective criterion of "appallingness", so it is unsurprising that The Universally Recognised Norm Of Civilised Law has retreated to it. However, the Decents in general have a nasty habit of sallying forth from dug-in positions when they think they can recover some lost territory, so it is important to note this watershed event just in case he ever tries returning to the view that wars can be justified either as a substitute for Hague indictments or in the name of entirely hypothetical "Uday and Qusay" scenarios.

[1] I see that Norm is prepared to mention Conor by name and argue with him directly, for the meanwhile. I suspect, however, that as he starts losing the argument, he will discover a "curious obsession", and the small and prestigious club of people who can only be addressed through poorly-thought-out cricketing analogies will gain another member.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big ambiguity of Decency, the Euston Manifesto etc etc: Are they talking about some clearly defined change to international law in clearly defined circumstances? Or are they talking about abandoning international law altogether?

10/12/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Norman is playing with language here: yes he speaks of "urgent need", but only as the subjective condition of the those blessed with a Decent conscience, ie. those prepared to invade in order to alleviate an "appalling and ongoing crisis".

There's no necessary place for international law - even seeking a UN Security resolution for example - in this formulation. An "appalling" condition clearly falls leagues short, in Norman's use of the term, of common understanding of an impending or ongoing humanitarian disaster.

Ironically, Geras defines arbitrary executive government at the national level as the trigger that validates arbitrary action at the international level, in the unilateral right to declare sovereignty void and to intervene.

As he said earlier, with "state lawlessness there is no peace, and the victims of such lawlessness are entitled to seek what help or escape they may, and others to provide it."

I may have missed it, but Geras appears to have ducked Conor's interesting suggestion that a county could intervene without UN Security Council approval, be hauled before an International Criminal Court, and there successfully plead as a defence that it was preventing an overwhelming disaster such as genocide. I don't think the Geras is interested in strengthening International Law, in the sense of combining security and punitive action with due process and presumption of innocence. Rather, he wants to strengthen the International Gendarme, a quite distinct perspective.

Marc Mulholland

10/12/2007 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ....it is agreed that there is an urgent need ....."

To me this implies some international mechanism for agreeing that there is an urgent need. Norm probably means some people in a pub opposite the British Library getting worked up about the use of chemical weapons 15 years previously.

10/12/2007 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

'Imminent humanitarian crisis' is incidentally many observers' analysis of the current situation in Gaza.

10/12/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

anonymous has it right, there - after all, presumably whatever system Norm has for moving "it is agreed" from the passive voice into the real world is also going to include a veto (otherwise Israel is obviously going to get it in the neck as the first order of business) and so will be subject to exactly the same problems as the Security Council.

Unless of course the decision is to be made by a single man, a philosopher king, perhaps someone who already possesses a suitable title for enforcing international norms "Decent Norm". I don't know why I still find that joke funny after 100000 repetitions but I do.

10/12/2007 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To assess whether Norm has moved on a bit, someone could ask Norm his opinion of Brivati's opinion that we had to invade Iraq because Saddam was a genocidal maniac. In my opinion this is not an "urgent need" because the events Brivati is referring to happened 15 years ago, and the West had made Iraqis life a misery for more than 10 years to contain Saddam so this wouldn't happen again (or so we were told).

10/12/2007 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I might observe that if there was ever a case where the proof were in the pudding, this is it. Were an intervention of the nature that Professsor Geras is claiming applies to the Iraq invasion, we would know it. How? Because the streets would have been filled for months to come with people garlanding the invading troops and people would have been naming streets, football stadia and children after George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Christopher Hitchens and Norman Geras.

Did they?

They did not.

So that's what's wrong (among other things) with Geras' argument and it's also what's wrong (among other things) with the Euston nonsense about opposing the war but supporting the postwar process. If there had been an imminent humanitarian crisis people would have been more grateful. I mean I know I would.

10/12/2007 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Apologies for going off topic, but do any of you know why the Decents are splattering their corduroys over Gore's Nobel?

I understand about the anti-war thing, but HP and DSTPFW (times two) are both laying into him for bad science - I accept I may have missed their previous wardances over MMR etc.

I couldn't give a rat's ass for bad science, and I don't really care about global warming - I'm a heavy smoker - but really, what's the angle?

Any help, thank you.

10/13/2007 02:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Both those sites have a sizeable right-wing readership and they're choosing to play to the gallery, I guess.

10/13/2007 06:45:00 AM  
Anonymous lenin said...

Good stuff, but I must say I don't see how "imminent humanitarian crisis" is any less a "subjective criterion" than "appallingness". Either designation can come with an apparatus of subsidiary criteria etc. The real problem with the argument is that it is almost apolitical: there is in particular no attention paid at all to the character of the regime expected to bring deliverance, except to claim (in the Euston Manifesto) that America bears the greater part of historical credit for democracy. Ignatieff similarly claims that America is uniquely missionary about international human rights, at least since 1945. That this story simply overlooks the burden of history, and therefore has the character of a fabulation, or a fairy tale, tells you a great deal about decentist ideology. And one would expect at least a minimal engagement with the fact that demanding a right of humanitarian intervention is an asymmetrical right. It isn't good enough to say that it is one that will only be invoked in certain specific circumstances, because: a) pro-war liberals overestimate their role in world affairs if they think they get to control how these discourses are used by power, and b) the nature of the right being invoked and the ways in which it can be applied matter all the more in urgent crisis situations, precisely because (as you point out) 'humanitarian intervention' can and does make things worse, even in the worst cases. Perhaps there's an argument that, however atrocious the history of US imperialism (and the decents certainly know that this term possesses a real and ugly meaning) up to the very recent past, in certain very urgent situations, serious efforts to assess their goals and the likelihood of these coinciding with the interests of an oppressed group, can be relegated to the overriding concern to Do Something. To which the obvious retort is that it is precisely in crisis situations that getting the analysis right is urgent.

The invocation of genocide is both obvious and intriguing. It is almost as if the decents never got round to studying the obvious connections between genocide and war, not only the way in which war prepares the conditions for genocide (see William Shawcross's 'Sideshow'), but also the way in which it shades into genocide as soon as population groups are seen as the enemy themselves (either for racial or other reasons), and the category of civilian is obliterated for military purposes: this was certainly the case in the Vietnam War, and arguably also in Korea, and I think we're starting to see that trend in Iraq.

Anyway, having ommitted the key political arguments, the decents can now leverage themselves onto a wonderfully self-perpetuating moral high ground: call for the United States to intervene in a desperate crisis situation, watch as it imposes a terrorist regime with death squad auxiliaries, then demand that the United States intervene to depose the terrorist regime - and so on and on, one need never pause and ask why a terror state was imposed in the first place, why the need for death squads was pressingly urgent for the occupiers, why mercenaries are murdering civilians with impunity, while professional soldiers like to take pot-shots at people they describe with racist epithets, why torture chambers are so prevalent when we all know that the US bears the greater part of historical credit for... and then, finally, one can give up on the people of Iraq, declare them unfit for self-government on account of their petty sectarian narcissism, and move on to the next intervention.

10/14/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous TimP said...

Light Confronts Serious

Since no-one has watched Nick’s latest in the Observer so far, I’ll just mention here that, along with the news that chairmen of large corporations have lately started behaving with as little principle as the (indecent) Left, Nick bewails the fact that a light has the audacity to confront a serious:

“a few days later … Martin Amis, a serious novelist, was confronted by Chris Morris, a light entertainer, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts”

10/16/2007 02:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that you Noam? All you wino blowhards sound like Chumpsky, so perhaps they're all just clever Noams de keyboard.

You can bitch all you want about America, but we all know whom you'll call the next time the Hun comes crawling up your pederast-loving asses.

10/17/2007 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Ray said...

Wow Norm, lighten up.

10/18/2007 02:42:00 PM  

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