Saturday, January 03, 2009

(TALKZIMBABWE) Revisiting the principle of universality and the use of force

Revisiting the principle of universality and the use of force
Reason Wafawarova - Opinion
Sat, 03 Jan 2009 00:52:00 +0000

YET again the world watches in utter disgust as Israel engages in its ritual killings of innocent Palestinian civilians and children, just because the Israeli ruling elite are of the belief that “this is the time for fighting”, according to Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister.

The British and the Americans awkwardly blames “Palestinian aggression” for the brutalities of Israel and they dimly mumble something remotely linked to a call for restraint. Meanwhile Israeli authorities are reported to be arrogantly declaring a no time frame continued bombardment of Gaza.

The principle of universality is perhaps the most elementary of all moral truisms. However when one is confronted with US and Israeli exceptionalism, there is this flat rejection of universality in the Western intellectual, moral and political culture.

Formally the post-war consensus as enshrined in the UN Charter’s Article 51, on principles governing the use of force remains in effect. The brutal and unacceptable aggression by Israel on Palestinians brings to light this revealing and disturbing scenario that portrays a shift in the spectrum of opinion in Western elite circles. While none of them is willing to be honestly barbaric enough to openly and explicitly reject the post World War II consensus, the truth is that the consensus is being ignored and is deemed too extreme to consider under the Israeli “special circumstances”.

The only time the consensus is rigorously preached by Western politicians is during public discussions and electoral politicking.

The end of the last millennium and the beginning of this was characterised by a forceful articulation of a departure from the post-war consensus. The Nato bombing of Serbia, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq are classic expressions of this departure and arrogant deviation.

The Western intellectual and political culture has coined the phrase “illegal but illegitimate” to try and give a face of decency to this terrorism. The enthusiastic support by Western intellectuals for resort to violence they deem to be legitimate is, of course a gross violation of the principle of universality.

It is a violation enshrined in the historical and somewhat racial prejudices that say only the “unpeople of this world”, (as Mark Curtis would put it); are liable to crime and barbarity.

When one takes a look at George W. Bush’s doctrine of “anticipatory self-defence”, as articulated in the US National Security Strategy of September 2002, then it is interesting to see how what applies to the United States has become unacceptable banditry for all others, unless they are authorised allies and client states of the United States.

The post-war consensus still reaffirms the stand of the world on war – that is the world outside what the West calls “the international community,” namely itself.

The declarations of Sadc and the African Union on the political crisis in Zimbabwe only received crude derision from Western circles. This is the standard reaction to the bleatings of the lesser peoples of this world.

When the Declaration of the South Summit of 2000 was made, firmly rejecting the “so called right of humanitarian intervention” the same committed derision from the West was poured mercilessly. The accompanying detailed and sophisticated analysis of neoliberal globalisation was thoroughly ignored in the West, just like the Sadc resolution that says there must be an inclusive government in Zimbabwe “forthwith”.

Back to the Bush doctrine of “anticipatory self-defence”, a US “senior official” later confirmed to be Condoleezza Rice, outlined that the phrase refers to “the right of the United States to attack a country that it thinks could attack it first.” This is the same lady who concluded that international court jurisdiction has “proven inappropriate for the United States,” and that the United States is not subject to “international law and norms” generally.

While the majority of American and Western citizens hold the view that force can only be used when there is strong evidence that a country is in imminent danger of being attacked, the elitist view is apparently very different.

The idea of exceptionalism was evident as early as the time of the Nuremburg Tribunal. Both the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials were flawed if the least were to be said. They were founded on rejection of the principle of universality.

In order to bring the defeated war criminals to justice, it was deemed necessary to devise definitions of “war crime” and “crime against humanity.” The Tribunal’s chief counsel for war crimes, Telford Taylor, explained how this was done.

Said Taylor, “Since both sides had played the terrible game of urban destruction – the Allies far more successfully – there was no basis for criminal charges against the Germans or Japanese, and in fact no such charges were brought... Aerial bombardment had been used so extensively and ruthlessly on the Allied side as well as the Axis side that neither at Nuremburg nor Tokyo was the issue made a part of the trials.”

The operative definition of “crime” became: Crime that you committed or carried out but we did not. By this logic, the Nazi war criminals were absolved each time the defence could show that their US and UK counterparts carried out the same crimes. On these grounds the Tribunal excused Admiral Karl Donitz from “breaches of the international law of submarine warfare” on the grounds of testimony from the British Admiralty and US Admiral Nimitz that the US and the UK had carried out the same crimes from the first days of the war.

While it can be argued that neither side was punished on these crimes, it remains clear that the approach discredited international law, as well as subsequent tribunals like the Yugoslavia Tribunal and the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague. Washington’s self exemption from international law and the fundamental principle of universality together with Israel’s blatant breaches of international law and every peace treaty in existence are clear indicators of a world headed for disaster.

When one considers the behaviour of the United States at international level, the practice of exceptionalism is understandable. If the West entertained for a moment the principle of universality and also accepted for once that every country, just like the United States, has the right of “anticipatory self-defence” against terror or those “they think might attack” them first then countries like Iran, Cuba and Nicaragua in the eighties would have been entitled to attack the United States whichever way possible, given the involvement in very serious terrorist attacks against them, including blatantly advertised threats of attack on the part of Iran.

In similar fashion, one could argue that Japan’s bombing of US colonies, Hawaii and the Philippines was legitimate anticipatory self-defence since the American Press was awash with details of how American planes were capable to ‘burning down Tokyo, a city of rice-paper and wood houses” – all from bases in Hawaii and the Philippines.

On November 15, 1941, General George C. Marshal explained that “there won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians.”

This provided far more justification for anticipatory self-defence than anything so far conjured up by Bush, Blair, Ehud Olmert or anyone else from the Allied West. We all know the implications of applying these elementary moral principles.

The general meaning and implications of international law are clear enough for anyone to understand, much as law is subject to a scope of interpretation. Washington and Israel’s unilateral right to resort to force is nothing but arrogant behaviour motivated by the might of military supremacy.

This military supremacy is the only explanation that can be given when Condoleezza Rice writes in Foreign Affairs (2000) condemning the “reflexive notions of international law and norms, and the belief that the support of many states – or even better, of institutions like the United Nations – is essential to the legitimate exercise of power.” Rice reiterated that the US needs not to conform to “illusory norms of international behaviour,” or “adhere to every international convention and agreement that someone thinks to propose.”

It is interesting to note that the US expects every country apart from its clients and allies to rigorously obey these norms, not as they are but as the United States interprets them; or else countries risk facing what befell Iraq, Afghanistan, Chile or Zimbabwe.

According to the Clinton doctrine, the US is entitled to resort to “unilateral use of military power in order to ensure uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources.”

This of course does not apply to other countries. They are not even allowed access to their own resources and Zimbabwe is just paying heavily for accessing its own land. Nicaragua, Grenada, Laos and other countries were invaded by the US for claiming ownership of their own resources.

The Israeli forces are massacring Palestinians today for their own land and all that can be heard from the US and the UK are feeble and faint calls for restraint.

They speak louder against a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. They shout raucously for regime change in Zimbabwe and they even advocate the use of force, something they condemned with the holiest of anger when Russia invaded Georgia earlier this year.

Zimbabweans need to look at these world events objectively and surely we cannot all be fooled by the same people all the time.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer and can be contacted on or or visit



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