Archive for May, 2013

The Americas: Columbia and the U.S.

By Johan Galtung

A few years ago the two countries were the leaders in mental anxiety in the Americas. Both had good reasons: the longest lasting violence in any contemporary country; in Colombia from 1949 with some interruption, then on again from 1964 with FARC, the famous guerilla. And for the USA the conviction that Evil is around every corner, domestic and global; better have the arms to handle those bad guys.

In both, structural violence as unequal distribution of economic wealth and control of economic assets are among the world’s highest.

There is a difference, though: one country submits its problem to third party mediation, Read the rest of this entry »

It is possible to close Guantanamo

By Jonathan Power

“Guantanamo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the law”. Did you say that? Did I? No. It was the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, speaking last week.

How come that the most powerful man in the world cannot open the locks of this unlawful prison? How come the prisoners can’t be transferred for trial and, if convicted, imprisoned in the United States itself? The simple answer is that the Republicans joined by some Democrats in Congress have continually blocked Obama. While it is true that his hands were tied during his first term he hasn’t tried again since he was re-elected – until last week, when in a speech he made some remarks on the issue including my opening line. Obama has been prodded to raise the issue again because of a hunger strike by most (about 100) of the 166 inmates.

It is still rather unclear what he proposes to do to break the Republican headlock. Read the rest of this entry »

Responding to the Syrian challenge

By Richard Falk

The issue facing the U.S. Government at this stage is not one of whether or not to intervene, but to what extent, with what objectives, and with what likely effects. More precisely, it is a matter of deciding whether to increase the level and overtness of the intervention, as well as taking account of what others are doing and not doing on the Assad regime side of the conflict. Roughly speaking, there have been interventions by the Turkey, the United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the EU on the insurgent side, and by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah on the regime side, with a variety of non-Syrian ‘volunteers’ from all over being part of the lethal mix.

From an international law perspective the issues are blurred and controversial, both factually and jurisprudentially. The Assad government remains the government of Syria from most international perspectives, despite having repeatedly perpetrated the most despicable crimes against humanity. Such behavior has eroded Syria’s status as a sovereign state Read the rest of this entry »

The unstoppable pursuit of crimes against humanity

By Jonathan Power

Good riddance! I wonder what their Maker will conclude? Last week saw the death of one of the world’s worst practitioners of crimes against humanity – Jorge Rafael Videla, aged 87, the former military dictator of Argentina. He died while serving a life sentence.

Last week also saw the conviction of Guatemala’s former head of state, Efrain Rios Montt, aged 86, for genocide – the mass murder of the country’s indigenous people. This was the first time, anywhere in the world, that a former head of state has been put on trial for genocide by a national tribunal in his own country. Regrettably, yesterday, the constitutional court ordered a partial re-trial. His conviction is still likely. Read the rest of this entry »

Mono-, multi-, inter-, cross-, and transdisciplinary research

By Johan Galtung

Firenze, European University Institute

Five ways of doing research, re-search, for insight, knowledge, solutions. How it is done matters.

The world does not come to us sorted out according to university faculties – natural, human, social sciences – and disciplines, in social sciences from micro (psychology) via meso (sociology, politology, anthropology, economics) to macro-mega, inter-state, -inter-nation, inter-region, inter-civilization studies. Rather, the world comes to us as a set of messy, chaotic problems: some goal we want to obtain like health – or at least absence of disease–functional, be good-looking, having affordable housing, taming nature and making it serve us; or a clash of goals, known as conflicts we want to solve to avoid violence.

So, why are universities not organized according to problems? Read the rest of this entry »

Palestine/Israel: On political precondition

By Richard Falk

To the extent that diplomacy solves international problems it depends on the satisfaction of the political preconditions that must be met for negotiations between sovereign states to reach sustainable and benevolent results. To clarify the point, in situations where there is a clear winner and loser, political preconditions are irrelevant, as the winner can dictate the terms, either imposing them as was done after World War II in response to the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, or offering proposals on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.

This is what Israel has attempted to do over the course of the twenty years that the Oslo Framework, the Roadmap, and the Quartet, have provided the ground rules for diplomacy with respect to Israel/Palestine negotiations. Read the rest of this entry »

Pakistan’s democracy versus militant Islam

By Jonathan Power

One small step forward for Nawaz Sharif, the new election winner, but one big step forward for Pakistan. The Islamist parties and their militant, sometimes violent, followers have won so few votes they will play no significant role in parliament. The overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s ethnically disparate population has made it clear that they identify with secular politics.

Hussein Haqqani writes in his insightful new book on Pakistan that “Most Pakistanis would probably be quite content with a state that would cater to their social needs, respect and protect their rights to observe religion and would not invoke Islam as its sole source of legitimacy.”

If Pakistan’s democracy were allowed to play a central role -as seems to be happening at the moment- hopefully the Islamist tail will no longer be allowed to wag the Pakistani dog. For years, particularly under military rule, the Islamists, not least the militant, dogmatic part of them, have been allowed to set too much of the agenda. In foreign policy issues, such as the argument with India over the possession of Kashmir and support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, they have long acted outside the rule of law, but with the support of the military’s intelligence service, the notorious ISI.

As in eighteenth century France when the revolution consumed its own children, so have the Pakistani militants become not just the country’s nightmare but the army’s too despite all the support the ISI has given them. When General Pervez Musharraf was president, leading a military government, he narrowly escaped assassination by militants three times.

Musharraf was never able to get on top of the paradox the military over decades had created for itself – supporting the Islamists while being threatened by them. Read the rest of this entry »

Midest backlashes yet to come

By Sharmine Narwani

The Middle East is treading water these days. Two years of rhetoric about ousting dictators, revolution, freedom, honor, dignity, and democracy – without result – has people on edge, their disillusionment now demanding an outlet.

There are no outlets though. Sensing the fast-growing disenchantment with undelivered promises, even the “bright new leaders” are tightening the reins and demanding compliance.

These new heads of state simply can’t deliver the goods for one main reason: they are just as caught up in global and regional power contests as were their predecessors. Nothing has changed with these uprisings. Nothing! Read the rest of this entry »

Meanwhile, Manchester United…

By Johan Galtung

It usually came at the end of BBC broadcasts: now Sir Alex Ferguson is up front, main headline on the International Herald Tribune, first page. Truly impressive, 27 years as Man U coach and manager, sorry CEO; this is now a business enterprise owned by the Glazer family in Florida and the news of his retirement shock its shares at the New York Stock Exchange. Where have all the sports gone?

Up comes the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, with mainstream press harking back to years of greatness centered on strong personalities. She was with Ronald Reagan part of the mid 1980s counter-revolution, breathing short term life in stagnant economies through privatization, busting trade unions, de-industralizing, laying regions of their countries waste, crippling welfare states – ”Rust in Peace” they say. When accused of selling the family silver by privatizing, she said: Yes, back to the family!
Where has all the silver gone?

But she kept the Kingdom United by letting a hunger striking Irish freedom fighter die in prison, and, like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher showed the colors and sent the army for some islands, Malvinas-Falklands for Thatcher (over Reagan’s mild protest, Monroe territory), Grenada for Reagan.
Where have all the empires gone? Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking ‘Red lines”

By Richard Falk

There are widespread reports circulating in the media that President Obama had not fully appreciated the political consequences of responding to a question at an August press conference that asked about the consequences of a possible future use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Obama replied that such a use, should it occur, would be to cross ‘a red line.’ Such an assertion was widely understood to be a threat by Obama either to launch air strikes or to provide rebel forces with major direct military assistance, including weaponry.

There have been sketchy reports that Syria did make some use chemical weapons, as well as allegations that the reported use was ‘a false flag’ operation, designed to call Obama’s bluff. As the New York Times notes in a front page story on May 7th, Obama “finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.” Such a policy dilemma raised tactical issues for the U.S. Government about how to intervene in the Syrian civil war without risking a costly and uncertain involvement in yet another Middle Eastern war. Not responding also raises delicate questions of presidential leadership in a highly polarized domestic political atmosphere, already shamelessly exploited by belligerent Republican lawmakers backed by a feverish media that always seem to be pushing Obama to pursue a more muscular foreign policy in support of alleged America’s global interests, as if hard power geopolitics still is the key to global security.

What is missing from the debate on Syria, and generally from the challenge to American foreign policy, is a more fundamental red line that the United States at another time and place took the lead in formulating – namely, the unconditional prohibition of the use of international force by states other than in cases of self-defense against a prior armed attack. Read the rest of this entry »


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