Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Will the UN Be Talking About Chemical Weapons Instead of Drones In September? (Why not BOTH?)

No matter which way the Congressional vote on Syria goes, it seems quite clear that the U.S. has teed up an opportunity for its ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, to direct the attention of the General Assembly to the question of chemical weapons when it reconvenes in the middle of September.

This is convenient, because without something else to focus on it has seemed very likely that the nations of the world gathered in New York City in September would finally get around to focusing on U.S. drone crimes.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power
with President Obama

Inarguably, there's nothing like the drama of the threat of U.S. cruise missile strikes to distract from the drama of U.S. drone strikes.

Ambassador Power, as a leading theorist of how the international community can and should respond to crimes by state actors against civilian populations, cannot be expected to forgo the opportunity to address the world on the issue when the UN General Assembly meets. And a legitimate question does exist: if a state attacks civilians, what recourse does the world community have? Can it hold that state "accountable"? Short of retaliating with military force?

"A Problem From Hell":
America and the Age of Genocide

by Samantha Power
This question is especially germane, given that the UN is expected to be holding a report about crimes against civilians by the dominant military power in the world. How, exactly, is the UN supposed to hold that power "accountable"?

So here's a modest proposal: the United Nations should use the occasion of the convening of the General Assembly to address both the actions of the Syrian government (including use of force against civilians) and the actions of the United States government (including the use of drone strikes to kill civilians and terrorize civilian populations). They should take up the difficult question: what is the authority of the UN to put a stop to crimes -- especially when the crimes are carried out by the powerful (or clients of the powerful)?

Useful background may be provided by Samantha Power's book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Among its most useful contributions is to stimulate us to think deeply about the crime of genocide -- in particular, to think about it less in terms of the sheer numbers of victims and more in terms of the power relations between perpetrator and victim, and the effect of destroying communities through violence.

The Obama administration has suggested there is a "red line" -- a point where something needs to be done. Perhaps its time for the world community to join in that discourse.

Related posts

A new U.N. report makes it clear that the U.S. has to report fully on all its drone attacks.

(See 2014: The Year of Transparency (for U.S. Drone Use)?)

I hate to burst Congress' (and Obama's) bubble, but if the declaration of war on Syria they're debating is predicated on crimes involving chemical weapons, they're usurping the authority properly assigned to another body.

(See Chemical Weapons? Tell it to the ICC! )

The recurring theme of the The Hurt Locker is "We're done here." The tension of each encounter with a bomb is followed by the moment when the hero successfully defuses the bomb, and then announces "We're done here." The deeper theme of the movie is psychological: the solder is addicted to the excitement. He is unable to go on with a normal life. He keeps going back, again and again, to Iraq, to defuse more bombs. (HE is NEVER "done".)

(See DU: Will we ever be able to say "We're done here" ? )