The ‘rules of the international system’

The UK’s Foreign Secretary, Mr Hammond, speaking at a conference in Georgia has again pushed the narrative that Russia ‘breaks the rules of the international system’. These are his comments as reported by Reuters:

Russia ignores the norms of international conduct and breaks the rules of the international system. That represents a challenge and a threat to all of us [1]

There is a more critical report on the same comments on RT. [2]

It is of course the West (generally referred to as ‘the international community’) who have broken the ‘rules of the international system’. The illegal invasion of Iraq. The regime change operation in Libya (based on a distortion of UN Resolution 1973). And the ongoing attempts to support one side in a three (or more) sided civil war in Syria – with the result that said war has been prolonged long beyond what it would have been otherwise. All of these actions have created untold suffering for the people in the affected countries. Not to mention a blow-back in the form of terrorism suffered by their own citizens.

Of course, by ‘rules of the international system’ Mr Hammond means the foreign policy goals of the US State Department and everyone who goes along with them. We see this in the attitude of the US [uk] to the UN. If they can get a resolution through they will. If not, Russia and/or China are being obstructive and they find a way to justify their intervention outside of the UN. In as much then that ‘the rules if the international system’ are the rules chosen by the West then Russia has indeed broken the rules. Russia, under Putin, has shown that it has an independent foreign policy and is disinclined to accept vassal status.

And this is the rub. You cannot claim to support a rules based system with multiple members but at the same time insist that only your rules count. That is if you want to maintain intellectual credibility.

The role of the media in the West here is significant. 90% of the media 90% of the time reports on international affairs in such a way as to support the delusional idea that you can support an international system of rules and at the same time arrogate to yourself sole right to make those rules. The line is – whatever the West (the State Department et al.) does is right. Whatever narrative they tell is right – simply because they told it.

Mr Hammond almost certainly believes in what he is saying. But this is because he is sunk deep in a world where all he hears are his own thoughts coming back to him; amplified by sycophantic ‘think tanks’, a compliant press (owned by Western finance capital and naturally protecting their business interests), and NATO generals eager to conjure up an enemy to justify growth in their organisation. If he could take even a slightly detached, academic or ‘objective’ perspective he might see, for example, that chaos has attended all Western interventions in the Middle East. He might acknowledge that MI6 predicted that the invasion of Iraq would lead to more not less terrorism. [3] He might be able to see that Russia could not have acted differently over Crimea – other than by accepting a national humiliation and massive disgrace. He might notice that despite a strong commitment to maintaining their military Russia has not engaged in a series of military adventures beyond their borders. The conflicts which they have been involved in since the fall of the Soviet Union, in particular the war with Georgia in 2008 can be explained in historical terms in terms of fall-out from the collapse of the Soviet Union. All of this is available to anyone who can think from a historical or academic perspective. But these more calm perspectives are not available to those who operate as drones within the imperialist military machine of the West.

The whole point of a ‘rules based system’ is that it is a way of mediating between different actors. Everyone agrees to play by the rules and this oils the interactions in the group. In such a group the rules are arrived at by consensus. In his comments above Hammond sounds like the school Headmaster who thinks that only he can set the rules and that everyone must live by his rules. And, of course, the rules don’t apply to him.  (The Headmaster puffing on his pipe as he canes the school-boys for smoking). This is a fundamentally different conception of rules than that embodied by the idea of the United Nations.

In general it is a feature of the middle-classes that they think that the laws are made by them for the benefit of the lower classes and that the laws could not possibly be applied to themselves. Unfortunately your editor is out of time – but this attitude to the law could perhaps be traced to the relation between law and property as it developed in 18c England.

Mr Hammond, and others like him, who profess these simplistic one-sided narratives, are failing to make a simple act of mental maturity. They evaluate everything including all the actions of the other from their own perspective. They fail to evaluate the actions of the other from his perspective. For example, and in simple terms; they perceive that Russia was going against their interests when it took back Crimea (a tiny sliver of Ukraine inhabited by at least 50% ethnic Russians which was part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet State – being transferred to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954). Therefore Russia is “challenging”, a “threat” etc. They just fail to take the elementary step of trying to see where Russia is coming from. How did the events of Maidan appear in Moscow? What does Crimea mean to the Russians? What is the Russian history on Crimea? Grown-ups can ‘see the point of view of the other’. They come to the table acknowledging that everyone around it has their own and a different perspective. And they try to find common ground. The current rulers of the West cannot even acknowledge that anyone else can have a different and valid perspective.

This isn’t ‘appeasement’. You can certainly talk while making sure you can defend yourself if necessary. It is simply to point out that it would be better to talk with than to demonize the other side.

Notes

1. http://www.reuters.com/article/britain-georgia-hammond-idUSR4N16X00U

2. https://www.rt.com/news/337828-russia-challenge-threat-hammond/

3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/oct/16/politics.alqaida

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer