On the war

Merchants of Death – Lithograph by Mabel Dwight

Editor’s Note: Since 9-11, the pro-war Halifax media – with three exceptions (CKDU Radio, Novanewsnet and The Coast) – has distinguished itself by ignoring the views of a growing anti-war movement. This essay on the violation of international law and the geopolitics of the Anglo-American war against Afghanistan in which Canada is participating is based on a speech given by Professor Isaac Saney at the anti-war rally of 20 October 2001 in Halifax.

By ISAAC SANEY*

Shunpiking Magazine, December-January, 2002, No. 40

WE ARE LIVING in very dangerous times. The violent 20th century has merged into a 21st century that has begun with events that portend violence and human suffering on levels that exceed the woe and weal yet experienced by humanity. Yet if the peoples of the world mobilize and through their motion challenge the warmongers – those of power and privilege – we may yet see a world of justice, human dignity and peace.

The lawlessness that now pervades international relations is, of course, one of the clearest markers of the terrible danger that confronts us.

The US-led war on Afghanistan is not only a flagrant violation of international law but the attacks themselves constitute war crimes. There exists no international law, policy or norm that grants legality to these ongoing assaults.

The US-led war on Afghanistan is not only a flagrant violation of international law but the attacks themselves constitute war crimes.

Not only are there no United Nations Security Council resolutions that provide lawful justification for these attacks, none could provide any justification.

The attacks on Afghanistan violate the Charter of the United Nations, the Geneva Conventions and the dozen international agreements that deal with ending and controlling terrorism. It is necessary to emphasize that none of these agreements on ending and controlling terrorism anticipates armed attacks against a country as a means of repressing terrorism.

The non-stop bombing and use of military force are proscribed and designated war crimes under the Rome Statute.

The UN Charter, which is recognized as the highest expression and level of international law, prohibits the use and the threat of the use of any force in international relations. This is explicitly laid out in Article 2 of the Charter. The Charter imposes on all nations the binding obligation to settle and resolve disputes, confilicts, contradictions and differences in ways that ensure, promote and preserve peace and justice. This has been reinforced by numerous UN General Assembly resolutions, and is a fundamental and indispensable norm of international law.

The horrible and politically indefensible acts of September 11th do not provide any legal justification whatsoever for the ongoing attacks against Afghanistan.

The UN Charter is based on the basic precept that international law cannot be enforced at the expense of world peace.

The UN Charter is based on the basic precept that international law cannot be enforced at the expense of world peace. Article 51 of the Charter establishes a state’s right of self-defence, and has been offered as a legal justification. However, this is a distortion of the intent of Article 51. The right to self defence has a narrow definition and thus a narrow power, only allowing states to defend themselves against a continuing armed assault with such time as the security council takes action to intervene to maintain and restore peace and security.

Article 51 does not contain or create any right to carry out retaliatory attacks or to engage in the use of force to repel anticipated armed attacks. Article 51 is subordinate to Article 2, the obligation that nations must maintain international peace, security and justice and not use force to settle international disputes or to remove foreign governments. In 1984 the UNGA passed a resolution that specifically prohibited states from taking any actions “aimed at military intervention and occupation, forcible change in or undermining of the socio-political system of states, destabilization and overthrow of governments.”

It has been argued that legal authority for the attacks is Afghanistan has and is provided by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that governs NATO. Suffice it to say that all international treaties are subordinate to the UN Charter. All international bodies, such as NATO, are bound and restrained to activities with the purposes and principles of the Charter. No NATO resolutions can override the Charter.

The attacks against Afghanistan violate the Rome statute and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the destruction of a nation’s necessary infrastructure and the displacement of people.

The enormous human tragedy that is unfolding with the displacement of 5-7 million Afghanis is a crime under international law. After the terrible conflagration of WW2, the world community, those who sought to build and sustain global peace, endeavoured to establish the rule of law as the most powerful brake against the use of force.

Indeed, the UN proclaimed one of its basic founding tenets to be to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Crucial to this aim was prohibiting the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

The violence of the 20th century and the violence of the beginning of this century surely must remind us to eschew the use of force in international affairs.

To genuinely stand for peace and justice in the world, Canada must get out of militaristic blocs and alliances that promote and organize aggression.

To genuinely stand for peace and justice in the world, Canada must get out of militaristic blocs and alliances that promote and organize aggression.

To genuinely stand for peace and justice Canada must reaffirm respect for the fundamental norms of international law and international relations.

To genuinely stand for peace and justice Canada must resolutely oppose the American dictate.

Geopolitics of the great powers

The efforts of the Bush regime to strengthen US dictate and dominance in the world can only have the most terrible consequences for humanity.

The terrible events of September 11 are being used as a deliberate pretext, to further the geo-political and economic objectives of US imperialism in Central Asia. An element of instability has been introduced; the results of which are incalculable.

Suffice it to say that the US is determined to penetrate and undermine spheres of Russian and Chinese infiluence in a strategic and resource rich region.

Suffice it to say that the present theatre of war contains an estimated 20 per cent of the world’s oil reserves – 270 billion barrels of oil – and one eighth of the world’s reserves in natural gas – 655 trillion cubic metres. The Caspian region is estimated to contain 115 billion barrels of oil, with energy reserves “many times greater than those of the North Sea.” (1)

Those who study the energy sector of the international economy assert that the development of the oil fields in this region, together with the ones in Iran and Iraq, will supplant the importance of the oilfields in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The oil in the Kashagan oilfield in Kazakhstan is estimated to exceed the entire US oil reserves. The mammoth Tenghiz oilfield, also in Kazakhstan, is among the largest in the world. At present, US multinationals have obtained around 75 per cent of the Tenghiz oil and field, with the Chevron Corporation being the heaviest investor. (2)

One estimate places the value of the Central Asian oil and gas reserves at $4 trillion US.(3)

Thus, the economic and strategic significance of the region becomes readily apparent. It is key to the economic development plans of several surrounding countries – Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

… pipelines that are essential for the exploitation of the resources in that region, ensuring that Afghanistan fulfils its ‘potential’ as a conduit for the oil and gas for the large US energy monopolies.

While Afghanistan possesses large oil, gas and coal reserves itself, its main significance, according to the US Energy Information Administration in a September 2001 report, “stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea.”

A crucial aspect of this “potential” are the pipeline routes through Afghanistan: pipelines that are essential for the exploitation of the resources in that region, ensuring that Afghanistan fulfils its “potential” as a conduit for the oil and gas for the large US energy monopolies.”

But what is at stake is not merely is not simply a massive gorging on oil profits by American oil monopolies: a war to fill the coffers of the oil giants. One of the crucial issues is the struggle to control the oil and access to the oil. And this must also be seen in the larger context of the clash of the aims and interests of the great powers in the geo-political arena. The US seeks to consolidate and enhance its global primacy by supplanting other powers in Central Asia and establishing its dominion over the strategic oil reserves and oil producing regions.

It is revealing that one of the major oil and gas news agencies – World News Network – advanced the following analysis: “While the bombardment of Afghanistan outwardly appears to hinge on issues of fundamentalism and American retribution, below the surface lurks the prize of the energy-rich Caspian basin into which the oil majors have invested billions of dollars. Ultimately, this war will set the boundaries of US and Russian influence in Central Asia – and determine the future of oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea.” (4)

To control Eurasia would allow the US to wield overweening influence on its main rivals: the burgeoning European Union and Japan.

In 1997, in his book The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brezezinki, former National Security Advisor to US President Carter and a major intellectual of American ruling circles, stated that in order to maintain its global dominance the US must control Eurasia, particularly the Central Asia area. Indeed, he identified that task as “central to the America’s capacity to exercise global primacy.” To control Eurasia would allow the US to wield overweening influence on its main rivals: the burgeoning European Union and Japan.

Suffice it to note that in October 1999 the Pentagon transferred “senior command authority over American Forces in Central Asia from Pacific Command to Central Command.” This “represented a significant shift in American strategic thinking,” entailing the recognition of Central Asia as “a major strategic prize.” (5) Indeed, in 1998, then – Haliburton CEO – and now US Vice-President – Dick Cheney told a gathering of oil industry executives, “I can’t think of a time when we’ve had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.” (6)

Suffice it to say that the Bush regime and the Uzbekistan government issued a joint statement on October 12 confirming that US forces will be based in Uzbekistan not only during the current conflict with Afghanistan but for an indefinite period thereafter in order to support the security and territorial integrity of Uzbekistan.

To the North of Uzbekistan lie the huge Tenghiz oil fields in Kazakhstan. To the south: Turkmenistan’s enormous gas reserves. To the west, across the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, the centre of the Caspian offshore oil industry.

Other agreements with neighbouring countries have been and are being worked out.

These are sobering developments leading us to draw the warranted conclusions.

These are truly dangerous times.

It is the start of a project that attempts not only to impose US dictate in international relations but also to implement a new redivision of the world…

One of the main features of this period is one in which there is increasing contention and tensions between the main world power centres. The European Union (EU) is seeking to increase independence from the United States in order to establish its own policies and achieve an independent world role. This aim of projecting the EU interests globally has been clearly perceived as a threat by US ruling circles. In the early 1990s the Pentagon produced the document Defense Planning Guidance. A misgiving eye was cast on Germany and Japan, predicting that these countries would enter into “global competition with the United States,” resulting in “a crisis over national interests, military rivalry.” Furthermore, it emphasized that the continuance of US dominance required maintaining “the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” (7)

Critical in comprehending the war in Afghanistan is realizing that it is the start of a project that attempts not only to impose US dictate in international relations but also to implement a new redivision of the world: a new appropriation of markets, sources of raw materials, zones for investment and spheres of infiluence that the US ruling circles hope to accomplish at the expense of its global competitors.

… history demonstrates that the other powers will not sit idly by.

However, history demonstrates that the other powers will not sit idly by. They will seek to impose their own wishes on the world and seek a global division that serves their own interests. Thus, intense contradictions – inter-imperialist rivalries – emerge. Contradictions that can be smoothed over peacefully for a time but – as World War One and World War Two testify – these contradictions and rivalries ultimately cannot be contained within the confines of peaceful resolution and inevitably result in world war.

This is the threat that faces US imperialism. The maturing latent and nascent great power tensions, evidenced in the war against Afghanistan, portend a planetary conflagration. However, it is the peoples of the world, the ones who will bear the suffering that can stay the hands of war. By going into motion and fighting for a just and peaceful world, we can show that another world is possible.

It is in this spirit and with this determination that, while we condemn and reject the acts of September 11, we reiterate our condemnation of the aggression unleashed against Afghanistan, including the indiscriminate military attacks against the civilian population. We resolutely and vigorously oppose the new wars that are being planned against other countries. This stand is integral to the total condemnation of terrorism, including state terrorism.

No Harbour for War

Moreover, we must reject any attempt to equate terrorism and liberation movements, to delegitimize the peoples‚ and the inalienable right to rebel against injustice and oppression.

If we as Nova Scotians are to genuinely stand for peace and justice we must resolutely assert and work for No Harbour for War. Halifax must not become a staging ground for imperialist war and war preparations. Another world is possible!

Endnotes

1 Jan H. Kalicki, Caspian Energy at the Crossroads, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2001 p. 121.

2 Jan H. Kalicki, Caspian Energy at the Crossroads, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2001 p. 121.

3 Kurbanov, E. and Sanders, B. Caspian Sea Oil Riches: A Mixed Blessing. Occasional Papers. Center for International Development and Conflict Management’s Monograph Series, College Park, md: University of Maryland, 1998. See also, “Moscow’s Man in Armenia and Armenia’s Man in the Kremlin,” Caspian Watch #11: US Interests Jeopardized As Kremlin Prevails, Centre for Security Policy, No. 98-D56, March 31, 1998.

4 October 15, 2001

5 Michael T. Klare, “The New Geography of Confilict”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2001, p. 49.

6 The Guardian, October 23, 2001.

7 Patrick E. Tyler, “US Strategy Calls for Ensuring No Rivals Develop”, New York Times, March 8, 1992.

* Prof. Isaac Saney teaches at Dalhousie and St. Mary’s University, has a graduate degree in international development studies and a law degree, and is member of Shunpiking’s editorial board.

Original source: Shunpiking Online at http://www.shunpiking.org/nhfw/thewarIS.htm

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Filed under Asia, Canada, No Harbour for War (Halifax), United States

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