Terrorism, Foreign Policy and All That

By McGhie, Gerald | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2004 | Go to article overview

Terrorism, Foreign Policy and All That


McGhie, Gerald, New Zealand International Review


To go to war against Iraq the United States radically shifted its national security strategy from reactive to pre-emptive strike.

Why did the United States invade Iraq? There is no one answer. Perhaps Washington sought global hegemony or perhaps the administration's doctrinal unilateralists gained the upper hand. Perhaps, after Afghanistan, the United States wanted to strike at global terrorism. Or perhaps President Bush wanted to achieve 'big goals' in Iraq--to make Iraq the progenitor of democracy in the Middle East. Perhaps.

But the justification--Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and a significant link between Saddam and Osama bin Laden--remains unproven. Worse, instead of a strike against terrorism the war against Iraq may have produced a new generation of terrorists.

It is not only Iraq that suffers. In the United States civil liberties have been curbed. Congress and the courts seem to accept that the President's War Powers grant him effective control of all branches of government.

Internationally, the pre-emptive strike doctrine has seriously compromised a number of assumptions fundamental to international relations in modern times: the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia on national sovereignty; the United Nations Charter, which bans the use of force except in self defence or under a Security Council mandate; and the Nuremberg judgments on pre-emptive strikes.

Why the preoccupation with America? As militarily the most powerful nation and de facto representative of democratically based rules, Washington must take the lead in the Western world. But that 'world' in the information age is changing--certainly it is a great deal more complex. Cross-border relations that lie outside the control of governments is one aspect. The 'Rights' revolution is another.

For over fifty years the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has provided a moral standard for Rights groups all over the world. Unfortunately, special interest groups and even governments have chosen actively to promote those parts of the document which best suit their ends while ignoring others. As Mary Ann Glendon (an important commentator on the Declaration) says, many activists have lost sight of the framers' idea that 'universality does not necessarily mean uniformity in application'. There needs to be some give and take--a disposition that applies equally to domestic and international rights activity.

If the Human Rights movement is to be effective internationally, it must also be seen to be relevant at home. In her 2002 Reith Lectures, Onora O'Neil said 'rights are not taken seriously unless the duties that underpin them are taken seriously; those duties are not taken seriously unless there are effective, committed people and institutions to carry them out'.

These institutions include the non-governmental organisations. Few doubt the dedication of such organisations but in assessing their value some scrutiny might be made of their precise agendas, constituencies and finances. Importantly, a discussion on how they might develop their responsibilities outside the confines of their narrow agendas would be useful. …

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