A year ago this week, I gave a presentation at a conference organized by the Simone Weil Center at the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research in Moscow on the topic of ‘Human Rights Reasoning and Double Standards in the Rules-Based Order’. A Russian-language version has been published by ‘Russia in Global Affairs’, and I’ve decided to supplement that with the English version here. It is long, but I hope that you will find it worth the effort. Here goes:
Human Rights Reasoning and Double Standards in the Rules-Based Order
When seeking a solution for the current tensions between Russia and the West, we need first of all to determine what the root problem is. For many in the West, the root problem is Russian aggression, the dictatorial nature of the Russian regime, and even the evil character of President Vladimir Putin. For many in Russia, it is American hegemony and Western double standards. The tendency to see the cause of conflict as lying in the hostile nature of the other is fairly common, but international relations scholars have long since understood that conflict is very often a product not of aggression by one side or the other but of misperception and mutual misunderstanding. These in turn have their own causes, which are far too many to recount here, but one cause of misunderstanding is the fact that the same words or the same concepts mean different things to different people.
So, for instance, a few years ago Russia and NATO countries reached an agreement that security in Europe should be considered indivisible. But they understood this completely differently. The Russians thought that this meant that NATO had agreed that European security had to encompass all of Europe including Russia, with no divisions in a geographical sense. But NATO thought that Russia had agreed that security was indivisible in the sense that it should not be divided up into different types of security, such as military security and human security, and so accepted the idea that human rights were an inseparable part of security. This mutual misunderstanding meant that future discussions on the matter went nowhere.
Today, both Russia and Western countries claim to believe in a rules-based international order, and each accuses the other of breaking the rules of the international system; Russia by annexing Crimea and supporting rebellion in Ukraine; and the West by invading Iraq, toppling Muamar Gaddhafi, and supporting rebellion in Syria. What I want to show today is that part of the problem is that the two sides interpret a rules-based order very differently. For Russia, it is a system in which the same set of rules applies to everybody. To the West, it is a system in which one set of rules applies to the just and another to the unjust. This leads Russia to accuse the West of double standards. In a sense, this accusation is justified, but it isn’t just a case of hypocrisy but also a case of a different conception of what the rules are.
One of the most significant attempt to rewrite the rules of the international system in recent years was the unveiling a dozen years ago of the idea of the Responsibility to Protect. The Responsibility to Protect drew heavily upon the criteria of Western Just War Theory. For the sake of my argument today, I am going to take an element of Just War Theory and illustrate how understanding of it has been affected by human rights reasoning. The purpose isn’t to have a discussion about the ethics of war, merely to use this as an example to illustrate how reasoning based upon individual human rights leads to rules being rewritten in a way which ensures double standards. Through this, I will advance the thesis that the troubles between Russia and the West derive at least in part from the fact that Russia continues to view the idea of a rules-based order through a sort of rule-consequentialist lens which insists upon symmetry in terms of the application of rules, whereas the West has increasingly turned to a rights-based reasoning which insists upon asymmetry.
To illustrate this, I will start by referencing a couple of key concepts within Just War Theory. These are: the jus in bello/ad bellum divide, and the moral equality of soldiers. The first of these refers to the concept that the rules which determine whether one may wage war at all, jus as bellum, are entirely distinct from the rules which determine what one may do during a war, jus in bello. Whether one’s war is just or unjust, one must still follow the same rules. To take an example, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviets were bound by the same rules of war as the Germans even though the Germans were the guilty party. Just as it was wrong for Germans to murder civilians, so too was it wrong for Soviets to murder civilians. There is symmetry in terms of the rules. From this it follows that individual soldiers aren’t morally or legally responsible for the wars they fight, in other words for ad bellum, only for their conduct during war, in bello. This means that soldiers on both sides are considered morally equal. The Soviet soldier has the right to shoot at the German soldier. But the German soldier also has a right to shoot at the Soviet soldier. As long as the German just shoots at other soldiers, then he is not considered to have broken any rules or to have behaved morally incorrectly. He can be a German soldier and still be an honourable soldier. The fact that he is fighting for an evil cause doesn’t affect his personal moral status. On the other side, the fact that the Soviet soldier is fighting for a just cause doesn’t permit him to do anything he pleases. He too must only shoot soldiers. Thus, again we have symmetry in the application of the rules.
There is a very good reason for this. If you have asymmetrical rules, and you say that jus in bello is dependent upon jus ad bellum, so that different rules apply to the just side as opposed to the unjust side, then who is to say who is the just side? Everyone will claim to be the just side and so will claim the extra rights which come with that, while denying any rights to the other side. Consequently, mutual respect will collapse, there will no sense of reciprocity, and no incentive to abide by rules. Restraint will become much harder. Harsh experience has shown that it is necessary to treat each side as equal, because that’s the only way to get them to abide by the rules. So, in essence, the traditional system is one based on rule-consequentialist logic. We create a rule of symmetry, because a rule of asymmetry produces terrible consequences.
Just War Theory is, of course, much more than just rule consequentialism. It isn’t really a coherent theory at all. It’s a hodgepodge of different ethical systems thrown on top of each other over the centuries. So, it contains a bit of Christian theology, some deontological reasoning, some consequentialist reasoning, some rights-based ethics, some virtue ethics, and so on. This reflects the fact that it is attempting to regulate what is a very complicated phenomenon, which cannot properly be encompassed within a single ethical system.
Or at least, that’s what it used to be. In the past few decades, there has been an increasing tendency to re-evaluate just war theory using the foundation of human rights logic alone. So philosophers have taken human individual human rights as their starting point, and then said, ok, let’s look at the issues of the rules of war from scratch, and see what they should be if we work from the assumptions of human rights. And it’s taken philosophers into some odd territory.
The most notable of these philosophers is Jeff McMahan of Rutgers University, who wrote a really important book called Killing in War. McMahan has very good intentions. He wants to reshape the ethics of war so as to make war in effect impossible. The reason wars happen, he argues, is that people believe in this separation of jus ad bellum and jus in bello and they believe in the moral equality of soldiers. As a result, they don’t think that the justice or injustice of the wars they fight in are their business, and are quite happy to fight in what are unjust wars. McMahan wants to make this impossible, to make people realize that they can’t fight justly in unjust wars. He therefore sets about dismantling the ad bellum/in bello divide and the moral equality of soldiers using human rights reasoning.
McMahan asks the question: why are people allowed to kill other people in war? From a human rights perspective, everybody has a right to life. The only justification for killing people, therefore, is if they have done something to forfeit that right. So what have they done? The usual answer is that they are engaged in harming others, if not directly then at least as part of a large apparatus which is engaged in harming others. Because they are doing harm, they forfeit their right to life. Therefore, you can kill them. This is nonsense, says McMahan. If I hit you for no good reason, and then you hit me back, you don’t then lose your right not to be hit by me again. Similarly, if a policeman shoots an armed criminal, the policeman doesn’t lose his right not to be shot by the criminal. That’s because he is serving a just cause, whereas the criminal is serving an unjust one. Rights, therefore, cannot be disassociated from issues of justice. The rights of the just are not the same as the rights of the unjust. There is an asymmetry of rights. Consequently, jus in bello is in fact dependent on jus ad bellum, and there is no moral equality of combatants. If I am a German soldier and you a Soviet soldier, the fact that you are shooting at me does not give me a right to shoot at you.
Taking this further, McMahan then argues that the unjust side loses pretty much all of its rights. It’s not even allowed to shoot at other soldiers, as the soldiers on the just side have done nothing to forfeit their right to life. Thus, all soldiers on the unjust side are murderers, pure and simple. On the other hand, the just side gains extra rights. There are a host of people on the enemy side, including many civilians working in industries and offices supporting the war effort, who are in effect aiding and abetting the unjust cause. To defend its own right to life, the just side may, says McMahan, attack these civilians who are behaving unjustly. The distinction between soldiers and civilians on the unjust side disappears. They are all legitimate targets. So, whereas before one had a situation where the rights of both sides were in effect level, now the rights of one have gone down, and those of the other gone up.
This is not just philosophical musings. This is in effect what has happened during the American War on Terror. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan, captured Taleban were not treated as prisoners of war, but as criminals. Take, for instance, the case of Omar Khadr, which is well known in Canada. He was 15 years old when he allegedly threw a grenade at an American soldier, killing him. This happened in the midst of combat. According to the traditional concept of the moral equality of soldiers, Khadr had a perfect right to throw the grenade after the Americans attacked the house in which he was living. But he was tried and convicted of murder. According to the new American interpretation of the law, the unjust side does not have the right to shoot back. On the other hand, the Americans and their allies have extra rights. This has not been taken to the extent of saying that it’s all right directly to target civilians, but the concept of proportionality has been stretched fairly far, so that a very large number of civilian deaths as so-called collateral damage is permitted. In one interesting case, two Israelis, Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, and Asa Kasher, a prominent ethicist, have argued that the life of an Israeli soldier is worth just as much as that of an Israeli civilian, and that soldiers shouldn’t therefore have to put themselves at great additional risk of harm in order to protect Palestinian civilians. Israeli soldiers don’t lose their right to life, as they are fighting in a just cause, whereas the same is not true of Palestinians. When judging what is proportional, therefore, Palestinian lives aren’t worth as much as Israeli ones.
To illustrate where we’ve ended up, let’s take another World War Two example. According to McMahan’s human rights-based logic, a British bomber crew dropping bombs on a German city would have been actly justly. But a German night fighter pilot trying to shoot down the bomber would not have been. This is despite the fact that the bomber crew is carrying out an act which will kill civilians whereas the night fighter is defending civilians and only shooting at combatants.
You can see, therefore, where this is heading. When you cease viewing things in terms of rule consequentialism, and jettison the complex mixture of ethical systems built up over time, and instead start viewing matters purely in terms of human rights, you end up in a position in which double standards are not only permissible but are even correct. The fact that there are double standards doesn’t mean that this isn’t a rules-based system; it’s a just a system which classifies people into two different categories and applies different rules to each of them.
This applies not only at the level of individuals, but also at that of states. Brian Orend is an ethics professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and he has written a number of books on the ethics of war, including one called The Morality of War, which looks at the subject through the logic of human rights reasoning. Orend argues that certain basic, core human rights are universally valid. Everybody is entitled to them. He is careful to limit these rights to a few, such as the right to life, but nonetheless he is quite categorical that these are universal. A state which does not protect these rights, says Orend, in other words a state which is not, as he puts it, minimally just, does not have sovereignty. Sovereignty derives from the people. It’s not something that the state has. States don’t have rights. People do. If a state is not minimally just because it abuses human rights, it does not therefore have sovereignty, therefore it has no right not to be attacked. Orend is quite blunt about this. A state which is not minimally just has no right not to be attacked. Following this logic, Orend supported the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s regime was not minimally just. Invading Iraq was not therefore an immoral or criminal act, because the regime had no sovereignty, and was fair game for invasion.
The unjust state not only can be attacked, but also has no right to defend itself when attacked. David Rodin of Oxford University has pushed the argument even further to argue that no state has a right to self-defence. Again, he bases this proposition on human rights reasoning. But it’s clearly an utterly impractical conclusion. No state would ever accept it. The example shows the absurdities to which human rights reasoning has taken people. And yet, the reasoning itself isn’t poor. In fact, it’s very good, if you accept the basic assumption that ethics are all a matter of human rights and you therefore throw out all the conclusions previous derived from centuries of practical experience. It’s a bit like a picture by Claude Monet, but inverted. You know how if you stand close to a Monet picture it doesn’t look like anything, but if you step back you realize that it’s London bridge in the fog. While this is the same, but the other way around. Close up, it’s all completely logical. The reasoning is impeccable. But take a step back, and you realize that it’s crazy.
The focus on human rights as the source of ethical reasoning is fairly widespread in the West. A couple of years ago I was writing a piece which required me to think about where duties come from. So I spoke to my colleague who teaches the course we offer our graduate students on moral reasoning, and I asked her, “Why do people have duties?” She replied words to the effect that nowadays all ethical reasoning is based on human rights, and therefore if you have a duty to somebody it must be because that somebody has a right to something. I found this reply interesting because of my colleague’s conviction that it was all a matter of human rights.
The prevalence of this point of view has led us in the West to the sort of reasoning that I have described so far, which in effect jettisons systems of rules applying to all and replaces them with asymmetrical systems in which perceptions of justice and injustice determine what rules apply to whom. If America provides aid to rebels in Syria, that is ok, because the regime of Bashar al-Assad is not a minimally just state and so has forfeited its right not to be attacked, and because the Americans are just, and so are entitled to act as world policemen. But, if Russia provides aid to the Syria government, then that is wrong, because it is aiding an unjust state which abuses human rights. Similarly, if Russian bombs kill civilians in Aleppo, that is wrong, because it is in support of unjust cause. But if American bombs kill civilians in Mosul, that is regrettable but acceptable, because it’s in a just cause. What appears to be a double standard is a logical and probably inevitable consequence of basing moral judgements exclusively on human rights.
This creates many problems, one of which is that those who are classified as being in the unjust category will obviously reject this reasoning. It helps to increase Russian-Western tensions because, as far as I can see, Russians for the most part don’t adhere to the same rights-based approach to moral reasoning. The Russian approach remains more traditional and in line with the rule consequentialist logic. We thus end up with two protagonists saying that they want the same thing, but meaning very different things by it. When Russia says it supports a rules-based order, it means one in which the same rules apply to everybody. All states are sovereign and equal. When the West says it supports a rules-based order, it has in mind one in which the West is enforcing the rules, and is therefore rather like the police, while its enemies are rather like criminals. And as McMahan has pointed out, the police are allowed to shoot at the criminals whereas the criminals are not allowed to shoot back. Thus the Western rules-based order is inherently unequal.
So far, I’ve focused on the deficiencies of human rights reasoning, but it’s worth mentioning that the rule consequentialist view isn’t without problems too. Rule consequentialism can be seen as quite callous. It requires people to ignore injustice in order to abide by the rules. Part of the reason why human rights reasoning has become so prevalent in Western thinking on foreign affairs in the past 20 years is precisely that in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the war in Yugoslavia many intellectuals felt that it was intolerable to sit around doing nothing because the rules of the international system forbade it. They therefore started to demand that the rules be changed. So my point in this presentation is not to say that one view of affairs is better than the other and to point the finger at one side or other for the poor state of Russian-Western relations. Rather, it’s to determine the problem, and the problem it seems is that there are differing interpretations of what a rules-based system means. This leads to misunderstanding and mutual distrust. If we wish to make relations better, therefore, we must overcome this misunderstanding and reach a common interpretation of the rules.
There are really only three ways that this can be done. 1) Russia abandons its current mode of thinking and fully adopts that of the West. I don’t think that this is going to happen. 2) The West abandons its mode of thinking and fully adopts that of Russia. I’m certain this isn’t going to happen. Or 3) Some way is found of reconciling the two perspectives, producing a new synthesis which is satisfactory to all. I’m not at all sure whether this can be done, but it seems to me to be a slightly more promising way out of our difficulties than options 1) or 2). What this synthesis could consist of, I’m not in a position to say, but it is worth pursuing. Thus, at the end of my presentation, I admit that I haven’t discovered a solution to our current difficulties, but I have at least identified a task for philosophers and political thinkers. Much may hinge on whether the task is successfully completed.
30 thoughts on “Double standards and the Rules-based order”
To understand what the causes of the “tension” between Russia and the west- you have to look at what has happened over a longer period of time.
– tsarist period
– soviet period
– 1991 onwards
Also look at the periods when no “tension” existed – that will give you a big clue as to why tensions arise.
Thank you very much Prof. Robinson for making available this very interesting and thought-provoking analysis. But I fear that the philosophical differences are only skin-deep as it were, and that the R2P theory, rather than being a new “breakthrough” really represents the 21st century version of the white-man’s burden, only in a cynical modern guise, this time without even the slightest formal pretence of submission to older (admittedly usually overlooked) concepts of religiously derived universal mercy and brotherhood. As such, the work of philosophers will remain secondary to the work of diplomats and nuclear missiles.
Human rights philosophy which removes all human rights from one’s political opponents – I smell the stench of something beginning with N and ending in -azism. From the point of view of Nazi-rights, and of Nazi legal theory, the illegitimacy of the Soviet state justified any and all massacres in the pursuit of Lebensraum, while the Soviet defence effort was the work of red-terrorist-bandits fit only for Vernichtung (actual terminology of contemporary newsreels – in 1941 when victory seemed certain). This also has much to do with the lingering lingering butt-hurt (Neo-Nazi sentiment all over the internet, “Rape of Berlin” justifies SS and Wehrmacht crimes type people) over the defeat of ’45. How dare the (illegitimate) Untermenschen have defeated the master-race!
The ahistoricity, or ignorance of the principle of stability and equilibrium in defining existence – that which exists is (point-wise, at any moment in time) usually (in a probabilistic sense) closest to equilibrium, inasmuch as a driven dynamical system can be said to have equilibrium states, implicit in decrying other societies as illegitimate, is wholly unscientific, as well as being both arbitrary, and very hard to quantify. As with many bad theories it appears to have combined the worst elements of modern pseudo-rationalism / crackpot realism as exemplified by it’s theory of political legitimacy, a complete callousness as regards to those it would be applied, and quasi-religious undercurrents of self-righteousness.
Leaving all this momentarily aside, this ahistorical theory is not only dangerous rubbish, but also completely useless as a tool for understanding political conflicts and tensions. If one views things in categorical black-and-white -legimitate/illegimitate, one will not be prepared to accept theories of equilibrium short of “total victory” – in short one will be politically handicapped into only putting into action plans for the eradication of the opposing polity up to and including the extermination of its people – massacring them to save them – but with the crucial cynical distinction of not believing in the later intervention of a deity to save the souls of the righteous! It’s an excellent theory to explain away past peccadilloes such as the slaughter of the redskins, not so good in dealing seriously with the rest of the world. It is however a good predictor in explaining why criticism of “The West” is suppressed, since by this theory it derives its claim to power over others through the supposed possession of (vastly) superior virtue. The “bunker mentality” that follows makes any criticism tantamount to treason, quite an ironic inversion given the, at least as according to popular culture, demoralisation dynamics of the USSR.
I realise that this is outside your focus, and that “Western-Russian” interactions for the moment appear to be taking place without major external international input, but missing from your analysis is what the remaining roughly 86% of the world has to say about this. Will they accept the theory that they are inferior because politically less legitimate and hence open to invasion by superior “benevolent” powers, or will they view such an approach with suspicion? If not, what do you posit will eventually be their influence on the question? Finally the widespread revulsion in Western Europe with militarism and neo-colonial bungling, due largely to recent failures, might have unexpected consequences for the long-term prospects of this idea.
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Short comment for now
“The fact that there are double standards doesn’t mean that this isn’t a rules-based system; it’s a just a system which classifies people into two different categories and applies different rules to each of them.”
Thus in so many word professor described ordinary fascism… in the West. Without daring to say the word itself. SAD!
“A state which is not minimally just has no right not to be attacked. Following this logic, Orend supported the invasion of Iraq.”
But not 9/11 and Pearl Harbour attack. SAD! AGAIN!
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If what you say is correct and this is indeed the source of discord, then I don’t think it’s possible to resolve. It goes further than just professing an inequality between the just and the unjust, but also involves declaring who is just and who is not solely by the collective West. For example, I don’t think that any of the proponents of this worldview would concede that Russia can invade Saudi Arabia since the latter surrendered it’s sovereignty by committing human rights abuses. Or, back to reality, I wonder what those philosophers think about the 08/08/08 war.
And if the West is ready to surrender this unilateral, self-appointed right, the we don’t really need to renegotiate anything: we already have the UNSC.
And yeah, genuinely interested what the Orend’s Revised Just War theory says about a conflict between two clearly, from Human Rights standpoint, unjust sides.
Irony alert, there might be one that can be declared a shade more just? Let’s say Saudi Arabia is more just then Iran? Saudi Arabia more just then the Houthis in Yemen?
Good thought experiment!
I suppose I’d like to see this analysis done without introducing (and redefining!) the concept of “just” / “unjust”. That’s opening up a pretty big theoretical can of worms. I think the usual statement of R2P is that:
States which don’t abide by the “rules-based-order” itself are the ones who may (exceptions are possible) forfeit the customary rights of independence we assign to sovereign states.
Just to back up a bit- we could build the rights-of-states, starting from “States don’t have rights, people have rights”. The standard response to that is: If well-meaning anarchists wanted to defend their individual rights, they’d have to either rely on a protective organization (mini state) or join forces and create one.
Therefore states derive their rights from the rights of individuals, which isn’t super controversial, I don’t think. These rights-of-states should be revocable.
*** R2P addresses one possible scenario where the rights of a state, derived from the rights of the individuals comprising it, can be revoked. ***
So far so good.
The challenge for the lawyers was to construct a system of rules that did this while also at the same time preserving the “operating definition” of a good-state / bad-state. Namely, that a “bad state” is one which does not “play by the rules”, meaning it does not abide by the “rules-based-order”. How much meaning the term “rules-based” really has in this scheme is the subject of this whole debate.
For starters, the individual right to form states (Democracy) was already a sticking point – what if a group of people want to elect a theocratic government (e.g., Egypt)? What if they want to elect a government which operates according to a divergent set of rules for international conduct, etc.
What if “failing to protect the rights of individuals within a state” is interpreted as applying to any state that experiences civil war which fought in urban areas, with the inevitable damage? What if the civil war is sponsored with the purpose of pushing another state into “bad-state” status? (i.e., basically fraudulent application of the R2P principle). What if a state successfully maintains the rights of people within its nominal jurisdiction, but fails to do so for those under its temporary protection (e.g., US occupation regime in Iraq)?
Slowly issues of justice are creeping back in, which is inevitable. But to make a good faith attempt at understanding R2P, as it is intended to be interpreted, I think we can and should delay their introduction as long as possible.
“States which don’t abide by the “rules-based-order” itself are the ones who may (exceptions are possible) forfeit the customary rights of independence we assign to sovereign states.
Just to back up a bit- we could build the rights-of-states, starting from “States don’t have rights, people have rights”.”
Who gave the people their “rights” in the first place?
The standard response to that is: If well-meaning anarchists wanted to defend their individual rights, they’d have to either rely on a protective organization (mini state) or join forces and create one.
“Therefore states derive their rights from the rights of individuals, which isn’t super controversial, I don’t think. These rights-of-states should be revocable.
I have trouble understanding your thought here. Clare to clarify?
The challenge for the lawyers was to construct a system of rules that did this while also at the same time preserving the “operating definition” of a good-state / bad-state.
System of the international relations is not defined by the “lawyers”.
“Slowly issues of justice are creeping back in, which is inevitable. But to make a good faith attempt at understanding R2P, as it is intended to be interpreted, I think we can and should delay their introduction as long as possible.”
There is absolutely no need for “honest attempt” to understand “Rape-2-Protect” doctrine. It’s just plain old “DEUS VULT 2: Electric boogaloo”
Who gave people their rights?
Other people, including organizations and states. It’s a man-made construct, motivated by the belief that it can be used as a foundation for a system of rules that others would be willing to play along with in order to avoid violent conflict.
Clearly, not everyone acts in good faith in this system, such as Bush-era neoconservatives, and arguably many of their overzealously interventionist successors. However, the way I see it, these groups still need the cooperation of e.g. European allies, and doctrines like R2P are formed to provide them a systematic justification for the latter to provide their support for the activities of the “international order”.
I have trouble understanding your thought here. Care to clarify?
If we are talking about “taking away” the rights of states, we should ask the question “who gave states their rights” (i.e., sovereignty). In this belief system, as I understand it, states derive their rights (sovereignty) from individuals.
There is absolutely no need for “honest attempt” to understand R2P
I sympathize, but disagree… Those in a position to support it, oppose it or, modify it to make it whole (consistent enough to be called a set of “rules” without irony), or just to study it for historical purposes – would need to chew through the quasi-legal reasoning and understand the intentions of those who created it. And yes, it was created by lawyers.
“Other people, including organizations and states.”
You are not seeing a certain… irony in this circular logic, given your previous claim that the “States don’t have rights, people have rights” (c)?
“It’s a man-made construct, motivated by the belief that it can be used as a foundation for a system of rules that others would be willing to play along with in order to avoid violent conflict.”
Hopey-changey liberal poppycock. In reality, different categories of the people fight for their interests (based, say, on such things as the class conscious) which result in different Powers That Be to recognize that and finalizing it in the written legal form – like terms of the capitulation. The process is perpetual.
“However, the way I see it, these groups still need the cooperation of e.g. European allies, and doctrines like R2P are formed to provide them a systematic justification for the latter to provide their support for the activities of the “international order”.”
“European allies” are not a fully independent actors on the international scene. “International order” here means “Western USA-lead Hegemony”. Sugarcoated in the hopey-changey liberal poppycock term for the Empire. Therefore – of no use for a serious debate.
“If we are talking about “taking away” the rights of states, we should ask the question “who gave states their rights” (i.e., sovereignty). In this belief system, as I understand it, states derive their rights (sovereignty) from individuals.”
^^See above. Do *You* personally subscribe to this kind of view?
“Those in a position to support it, oppose it or, modify it to make it whole (consistent enough to be called a set of “rules” without irony), or just to study it for historical purposes – would need to chew through the quasi-legal reasoning and understand the intentions of those who created it. And yes, it was created by lawyers.”
a) Who are those fine people?
b) “R-2-P” is not a system of the international order or relations. It’s a doctrine. Are you saying that Western lawyers now apply their skills in the sphere of secular theology?
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What do I think?
I think the R2P doctrine was put out there as a post-hoc justification to try to buttress the concept of “benevolent regime change”, which was getting to be pretty indefensible by the time Obama got elected. However, the question R2P attempts to answer is one whose prior answer has been in need of improvement for a while. I’d say for the entire time the UN has existed. Namely, “What are the circumstances under which nation-states may be formed and dissolved.” A big focus of the prior system was the opposite of R2P, in that it sought to avoid the dissolution of states as an absolute rule. To keep eisting borders frozen as a tactic for minimizing violent conflict. This tactic was proving inadequate, in that violent conflict would happen anyway.
As for the whole bit about the “liberal nonsense” political theory, with the human rights, individual rights, sovereignty and so forth? I do think it is a worthwhile foundational concept to use to guide your thoughts. It is a theory right, it exists in the form of an ideal. Everyone should understand that. But IMO still better than the alternative – a pure, unstructured balance-of-power scheme, without even the aspiration of a less cynical way of evaluating different policy choices and outcomes. If you are going to bother having elections and the like, but you go with the crude balance-of-power as your foundational theory, then you’re basically asking for fascism, in my opinion.
I noticed that you dodged the chief question I posted – what to do with the circular logic, trying to justify all these, the chicken and egg questions about rights and states. SAD! But duly noted.
“I think the R2P doctrine was put out there as a post-hoc justification to try to buttress the concept of “benevolent regime change”, which was getting to be pretty indefensible by the time Obama got elected.”
This is very… parochial, all-American approach to the issue. Because, surprise-surprise, it was the US who came up with this doctrine. Which in itself rules out its universality. But the true gem here is your claim that before Obama regime change was indeed benevolent. For I’m talking from the positions of the Rest, while you are talking from the American position. Are you ready to admit that “R-2-P” lacks universality in application?
“However, the question R2P attempts to answer is one whose prior answer has been in need of improvement for a while. I’d say for the entire time the UN has existed”
It wasn’t. Who said it was in need of improvement?
“What are the circumstances under which nation-states may be formed and dissolved.”
UNSC decision. Next question, please.
“A big focus of the prior system was the opposite of R2P, in that it sought to avoid the dissolution of states as an absolute rule. To keep eisting borders frozen as a tactic for minimizing violent conflict. This tactic was proving inadequate, in that violent conflict would happen anyway.”
This is blanket assessment that deliberately ignores context, an attempt to justify the expression “сгорел сарай – гори и хата”.
“As for the whole bit about the “liberal nonsense” political theory, with the human rights, individual rights, sovereignty and so forth? I do think it is a worthwhile foundational concept to use to guide your thoughts. It is a theory right, it exists in the form of an ideal. Everyone should understand that. But IMO still better than the alternative – a pure, unstructured balance-of-power scheme, without even the aspiration of a less cynical way of evaluating different policy choices and outcomes.”
Adorable. The level of denial is strong in you. You are willfully incapable of saying, that whatever happens is the result of the great power actions – be it cooperation in creating new states out of nowhere (Israel) or confrontation on the issue (Kosovo). Yes, peteybee – time to grow up and admit that Might makes Right. You live just in such a country that proves it daily for a long-long time. C’mon – embrace it! For your ideals are not “ideal”, not absolute, not universal and not unquestioned even in the West, let alone in the Rest. When your life or existence is threatened you don’t care about abstracts, only survival.
“If you are going to bother having elections and the like, but you go with the crude balance-of-power as your foundational theory, then you’re basically asking for fascism, in my opinion”
First of all – don’t throw around terms you might not understand, or understand very specifically, not like other people. Second – I’m talking about the sphere of the international relations, where no one voted for the USA to be the world Hegemon. Third, should I entertain your sudden move of the goalposts, I’m not “asking” for fascism. I just have a very realistic view as to what any elections in the bourgeois-democratic state looks like. Especially in the USA where corporations now are people. Think about it, peteybee.
P.S. Oh, and one more thing:
Have a nice day.
UPD. It only now occured to me, that there might be some cultural misunderstanding from peteybee should he read my latest comment. When I wrote “have a nice day” – I wished you to have a nice day, which for you (living in another hemisphere) is bound to begin only now. If I wanted to end the discussion I’d say so. This is Net after all – why not be blunt and honest with each here?
Meanwhile, I’d still like to hear from you answers on the following:
1) How do you justify the circular logic of “states rights come from the citizens rights who get their rights from the states”?
2) Why should American values be treated as universal values?
3) What’s the source of all this morality, that supports this “ideal” that you preach? Surely, it can’t be an objective one.
Sorry, at the risk of appearing a bit anti-intellectual I am rather skeptical of this approach- I suspect that these are generally second order considerations. If you consider school children, for example, it’s quite clear that they have a reasonable idea of what is right and wrong, and I imagine that this is generally the case globally. It seems to me that the single biggest obstacle to a stable World is the role of the media. Here, in Oz, public opinion is nearly universally hostile to Russia and Putin. My friends are generally shocked that I am not in that camp, and are genuinely puzzled for our values are much the same. For a short time, I had a neighbour whose academic specialty was exactly the stuff that you have described- in fact, she has since been appointed to a chair at Duntroon, the Australian military college in Canberra. Although I didn’t ever discuss with her such things, her husband told me that the CIA had contacted her about her work. (I gained the impression that she was somewhat bemused by this approach.)
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I agree. Powerful people and institutions (including states) pursue their interests, while the priests on their payroll construct various justifications. No need to concentrate on the details of those.
Well on the one hand R2P is a simple quasi-theological smokescreen, but on the other is an insidious disease of the mind for those brought up with it. “Western society” is full of people who can use R2P so as to justify in their mind not recognising the political “rights” to the rest of the world. So while it is shameless and crude, don’t underestimate it’s value in enabling the retention of a colonial-moralistic outlook – white (oops liberal capitalist) man’s burden of 21XX. So to some extent there might be some value in attacking the details. But in a way you are correct, more important is the lack of realistic strategic decision making, and a spirit of compromise, which are revealed in the shameless promotion of such garbage. In a sense, as you say, the details don’t matter as much as the intention behind them. If one version be defeated, another will take its place. So what is to be done? Here, only the rather unlikely prospect of synthesis of the details was given, as though that were possible, desirable.
Perhaps the discrediting of R2P can be turned into the discrediting of the underlying ideology…. My 2nd *very realistic* proposal is a deradicalisation campaign of US-EU top echelons, starting in the schools ofc. And surveillance of radical preachers in madrassas ahem unis, think tanks… 😉
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ErGalimba, I agree with both of your comments here. Very finely written.
“My 2nd *very realistic* proposal is a deradicalisation campaign of US-EU top echelons, starting in the schools ofc. And surveillance of radical preachers in madrassas ahem unis, think tanks… 😉”
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Thanks Paul. Appreciate you share this. Have to read it again. Maybe in combination with something on my mind while reading. I recall it made me pretty mad at the time. I guess, i read it as post factum justification of the war in Iraq. Full discovery: I didn’t even consider the war against Afghanistan completely clean. Or was there any evidence that the Taliban were behind 9/11. … Not that I am a fan of them as women, quite the opposite.
Was an article on First Things. Maybe it was this one from 2005.
And now bigger commentary. Those who know me – ran away. Yeah, it’s “this kind” of commentary.
It’s not the first time when in the same time period close to each other there exist two radically different, hostile and, ultimately, incompatible views on the rules which should govern the system of the international relations. And, yes – it’s all France’s fault.
As is the usual custom in the Anglophones dominated West, the Great French Bourgeois Revolution of 1789 gets either only simplistic dissing or is ignored all-together. Citizens of the Bastion of Freedom might beat themselves in the chest proclaiming that their Revolution and War for Independence was the central event “from whence it all began” but it wasn’t.
“Whence” in this case was the “Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen” (26 août 1789), which reads:
Article III – The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.
This claim ran against not only the traditional view of the international relations, but against, well, everything pertaining to the previously valid (and universally accepted) tenets of the state power. The thought, that not the Grace of God, not the tradition, not the custom, not the force of arms, but some nebulous thing like “nation” is the source of both the sovereignty and legitimacy, was… pah! For context – British ambassador to the Netherlands writing back home commenting on the French Revolution, that given the reigning “anarchy” Britain should feel itself safe, so much, in fact, that “any ass” can now take charge of the Foreign Office. In February 1989 PM William Pitt, Jr. proclaimed
peace for our timethe beginning of the “Age of Peace” and promised radical reduction of the military expenses. At the background of Poland’s partitions, wars with Sweden and Turkey, the rest of the European (traditional!) Great Powers simply did not register that potentially earth-shattering “revelation”. Unfortunately.
“Declaration of the Rights…” of 1789 put forth the theory that the “nation” from now on is source, explicator and enforcer of the state power. It claimed that the “nation” gives the state its political form, from which derive all subsequent forms and manifestations of the state power. Putting this theory in practice via Terror and the Revolutionary Wars, lead to 3 civilization-rendering consequences:
A) Introduction of the masses to the Foreign Policy.
Before the diplomacy and conduct of the foreign policy was in the hands of the Cabinet of this or that Sovereign Monarch. Now, with the sovereignty passing (formally) to the whole of the people, it was (formally) in the purvey of the people’s chosen representatives. Even such purely formal dispensation of one facet of the state authority to the “nation” lead to the fact that ordinary people became interested in it. Girondist Jacques-Pierre Brissot in a speech on December 29, 1791, triumphantly announced: “La Revolution francaise a bouleverse toute la diplomatie. Quique les peoples ne soient pas libre encore, les rois sont forcés de compter leurs vœux pour quelque chose” (tansl: “The French Revolution upturned the entire diplomacy. While the nations are still unfree, the kings now have to take into account their desires…”).
The “form” for the more indirect, but quite tangible control over decision making of the Powers That Be, became a redefined conception of the renomme publicque, now, applied to the institutions of power, which, thus, became l’opinion publique. It also coincided with the “explosion” in the mass-media (printed press), courtesy of the increase in the literacy. I think it’s needless to add, that “fake news”, propaganda and spinning of the public opinion are not the modern phenomenon:
B) Ideologization of the Foreign Policy
Before that, the approach to the foreign policy conduct among different realms was universally cold, strictly numerical and borderline autistic in its lack of concern to the fates of those affected by it. The quantity of the subjects gained and the territory annexed to matter – not where it happened or what the new (hopefully, loyal) subjects think about it. All of the European monarchs were kings and queens “by the Grace of God”, a common justification formula since early Frankish kings, and before them – Christianized Roman Emperors.
The Great French Revolution gave for the first time a global, universalist ideological content for all kinds of policy, including foreign. Slogans and demands of “Libertè, Egalitè, Fraternitè” (in the narrow bourgeois-democratic view) and “Paix aux chaumières, guerre aux palais!” were for real. In the eyes of the Revolutionaries their ideas were progressive and universal, concerning all human beings. It was literal struggle of Good versus Evil.
The ideological angle changed everything. Abstract “countries” could sign treaties, form alliances, declare wars and sue for peace NO MORE – only the nations could. Therefore, the only (so far) Free Nation-State could not view its relations with all others in Europe as being equal – the Republic was superior. Peace treaties became armistices at best, but, for the most part, were not worth the paper they were written on. The end result was the establishment of the Hegemony of the Good, in order to achieve the World Peace. A curios side effect was that treaties from now on lost points proclaiming “eternal peace” or “forgiveness of the past misdeeds”. Yeah, Kant – eat your own words, written in 1795!
C) Infusion of the nationalism into the Foreign Policy
On the one hand – the message of the Great French Revolution postulated, that such thing as the “nation” exists; that great masses of the socially and culturally heterogeneous, geographically dispersed people nevertheless are one entity, possessing the will for the political self-fulfillment, as well as unique distinctive traits and common historical past – and destiny. Export of the Revolution by the bayonet point lead people in other countries come to similar conclusions simply by hating the French as never before.
For the entire world, it meant that the old conception of the chief actors on the international scene are not some faceless political constructions known as “countries” and ruled by the monarchs who pursue (and define) “the interest of the realm”, but nations, clothed in the form of the nation-states. This resulted in some pagan-like, animistic anthropomorphisation, even totemisation of the nations (notable in the political cartoons btw). “Nations” were seen as living organisms – supreme personalities, timeless and more national than any given head of state (Uncle Sam and John Bull, anyone?). For the first time in history such concept like “the National tragedy”, or “the offense to the Nation”, and, therefore “enemies of the Nation” enter the common parlance. Given nationalism’s immanent mechanism of alienation to the outside and the emotional nature of the link between the citizen and the nation (yes, professor – even you are not an exception!), it was the nationalization of the foreign policy that became the main force of engaging the broad masses of the people into it.
Flash forward a couple of years of the never-ending political crisis, wipe your ass with Tomas Paine’s calls to sit around the fire and sing “kumbaya” as one happy family of the European nations, and you have France turning (in the eyes of the contemporaries) into the late XVIII c. equivalent of the ISIL. Because war, indeed, is a continuation of the foreign policy by other means. Like piracy is just an alternative form of the maritime trade stimulation [nod-nod].
Wars before were like the diplomacy – a Cabinet affair, strictly arithmetical, borderline autistic (but and eye-candy for future wargamers) affair. After the French Revolution the line between the foreign and interior policy becomes blurred: Revolution brings ideology to the conduct of the Foreign policy, which brings ideology to the conduct of the war and waging the war radicalizes the Revolution. Next – shift from the traditional perception of war being waged between faceless political entities known as the “countries”. Thanks to the Revolution now the War becomes (wait for it!) a natural struggle for the universal human values which, NATURALLY, ignores all previous illegitimately drawn state borders. Therefore, it was a new, secular crusade for the Freedom for all.
It was a European Civil War. A Global (from Haiti to Syria) Civil War. Body count (proportionally to the population at the time) exceed the bloodbath of the Great War. Bravo!
If before, Pascal and Hobbs were horrified of the notion, and were universal in their condemnation of the Civil War as the “greatest of evils”, now post-Enlightenment nation-state claimed: “Naaaaah. It’s okay. “Peace to the hovels, War to the Palaces!”. Because the absolute monarchy, by its very nature, is the Tyranny, because it’s very spirit (per Montesquieu) is the War, because it achieves the inner peace at the price of the oppression, therefore, a kind of the civil war aimed at its destruction (ANYWHERE) is the “lesser of two evils”. This is a “war for the establishment of the eternal peace”. This is a War Against War.
Does it… ring a bell, anyone?
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typo: ” In February 1792 PM William Pitt, Jr”
There are many ways of approaching this subject and this article discusses that but with the way things are going, the whole human edifice may be destroyed if we all don’t step back and look at the painting so we can see the ultimate perspective of the artist. First whether or not we reconcile the several ways of looking at the philosophy and justification of war, we must prevent it at all costs. For instance Saddam’s Iraq is mentioned in the article as being an unjust regime, but it was the same regime the US supported in its war against Iran. In other words there are no ultimate conclusions to be made by any party as to the justness or injustice of any regime. That is simply all in the eyes of the beholders.
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We shouldn’t mistake the alibis and rationalizations nations use when pursuing their foreign policies with their real goals and motivations. The more powerful a country is, the greater the likelihood that its stated reasons and goals for pursuing foreign policies, especially war, will differ from its actual motives and goals. After 1991, the US foreign policy establishment has regarded its main goal to be establishing the US as the unipolar world hegemon, the closest thing possible to the center of a post-colonial world economic empire, and the oxymoronic expression “liberal interventionism” was created as an ideology to confuse the American public and justify US expansionist wars to the rest of the world. In recent years the US military industrial surveillance state has shown time and again that it cares little for democracy except as a slogan both at home and abroad. Yes, “liberal interventionism” and “spreading democracy” are a contemporary version of “the White Man’s Burden,” and they ultimately depend on the core value system supporting US expansionism since 1991: might makes right. That’s it. That’s what the US neocon deep state believes, and that’s why they are currently engaged in a frantic struggle to keep China from becoming a technologically advanced nation. This has nothing to do with democratic dissidents in China. That is only propaganda created in order to attack China and eye candy for the naive American people whose taxes pay for astronomical US military budgets and the public part of the CIA’s huge hybrid budget.
The main difference between the US and Russia is not their views about the validity of the concept of a just war. It is the difference in power between the two countries, except in the important area of nuclear weapons. For any country that is not the hegemon, it is more rational to follow a universal regime of multilateral rules and international law. For the US elite, however, might makes right and rules are made to be broken, since it maintains its power through an unequal manipulation of a system of double standards under the guise of promoting democracy. The US leadership obviously cares little for true democracy and human rights. Rather, it sees itself being in a permanent struggle to remain the world’s unipolar hegemon and policeman, a frankly impossible task and one unrelated to democracy, though it is related to the neoliberal goal of gradually breaking down governmental leadership in every national economy in the world and thus allowing total financial penetration by global financial institutions and multinational corporations. Russia, China, Syria, and some other countries reject financial, electoral, and other meddling by the US and so are put on the demonization list and attacked both fairly and unfairly for undemocratic and other alleged unvirtuous practices. Obama hired Samantha Power as a fig leaf to give the public the illusion his administration cared about democracy and human rights, and Trump hired Nikki Haley for the same reason. Recently, however, even Power seems not to believe in her own flowery pro-interventionist rhetoric A couple of months ago she went on a Twitter spree complaining about the fact that the US Dept. of Defense asked the State Dept. to stop paying the White Helmets, who are not what they seem. However, the Twitter response was was overwhelmingly negative. People pointed out all sorts of ways the White Helmets fight against democracy and for Al Qaeda and Isis. Power could convince almost no one and was reduced to repeating cliches ad nauseam. She surely knows the White Helmets are actually the PR Dept. for Al Qaeda and Isis, so she couldn’t engage in a rational debate. She obviously supports the White Helmets because they are useful to the US, not because they are virtuous.
Especially since 1991, the US has been the world’s greatest “rogue nation,” creating double standards galore and spreading all sorts of false or distorted information about many countries — including Russia — whose governments it wants to overthrow, hypocritically, in the name of democracy and human rights. This push to establish the US as the new prime or “essential nation” has led to increased surveillance and restrictions on free speech inside the US and to a degradation international relations to a level not seen since the 1930s. Many Americans believe US militarism abroad is leading to increasing fascist tendencies inside the US. The hypocritical and self-contradictory mish-mash of self-serving value judgments and demonization rhetoric about other countries, such as the evidence-free Russiagate hoax, should not be dignified by calling it an American “way of thinking.” It is nothing more than a weaponized propaganda system that is used by US elites who are engaged in various forms of hybrid warfare designed to gain control over numerous foreign countries — a system causing conflicts that invariably break international laws and that should be condemned as the naked war-mongering that they are.
Professor, one phrase alone shocked and disgusted me in your lecture: “To take an example, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviets were bound by the same rules of war as the Germans even though the Germans were the guilty party” and the rest. This abstract reasoning about jus in bello and jus ad bellum when you dare to put on the same scale Soviet and Nazi soldiers (which smacks me of the Overton windowing) ignores facts of the past – that the Nazi Germany and Wermacht were waging the war on extermination in the East. That the “rules of engagement” and regulations of treating the occupied territory were “relaxed” for the Wermacht. And that “Ve were dzhust follofink ze orders!” is not an excuse – as was documentarily sealed by the decision of the Nuremberg trials.
Your attempt to “connect” with your Russian audience is noted. But the example you chose was atrocious and wrong. Ugly wrong. Something tells me, you did it deliberately. Well, in that case, don’t be surprised at the reaction if you can’t handle it.
Especially when you introduce us to the “charming” musings of this McMahan fellow:
“Taking this further, McMahan then argues that the unjust side loses pretty much all of its rights. It’s not even allowed to shoot at other soldiers, as the soldiers on the just side have done nothing to forfeit their right to life. Thus, all soldiers on the unjust side are murderers, pure and simple. On the other hand, the just side gains extra rights. There are a host of people on the enemy side, including many civilians working in industries and offices supporting the war effort, who are in effect aiding and abetting the unjust cause. To defend its own right to life, the just side may, says McMahan, attack these civilians who are behaving unjustly. The distinction between soldiers and civilians on the unjust side disappears. They are all legitimate targets.”
It’s hard to imagine any Russian stomaching and even agreeing with this kind of intellectual abomination he is suggesting here. And I’m pretty sure that among the peoples that suffered tender mercies of the Perpetual War by the Global West the number is even lower.
Plus, your mini-lecture showed me once again how the West (Canada in your case) is richer than Russia. After all you have here a salaried professor in the major center of the higher education that “teaches the course on moral reasoning”. In the “palace of science” you do this. For money. To the students. For ages. I’m impressed with your Western magnanimity and humane treatment of those, who’d otherwise doled on the unemployment stipend – or worked in the real labour intense job.
But back to the topic and why your example, professor, was tone deaf voiced before the Russians and inappropriate. I understand, that talking about “The Just War Theory” is one of your favorite topics. Still – “hammer and nails” adage applies even here. Sometimes just say “no”.
For, not matter how bad your example was, there is one simple counter-argument that you, surely, won’t like in the slightest. Moral is the luxury for the human being. If in the life-threatening situation, faced with the immediate clear and present danger here and now you don’t have time to think and ponder – you react, your instincts kick in and, one way or another, you extricate yourself from the deadly situation.
Nazis (and with them – nearly entirety of the “civilized Europe”) came to my country to kill and to eradicate. They were quite open about it. Shy and conscientious people in that civilized Europe applauded their effort. For, you see, the “hydra of the Bolshevism” ought to be destroyed – no matter what. Hell, even formally neutral (but de-facto allied with the Germany in all but name) Sweden agreed with that – read Astrid Lindgren’s war diaries. A mass media campaign of dehumanization, of demonization proceeded everywhere in the Civilized World (™) to justify it. Nazis didn’t think that they were evil (black uniform and wearing of metal skull notwithstanding). All of those who invaded my country thought they were The Good Guys. They even had “GOTT MITT UNS” on their belt buckles, to be 100% sure and to convince the doubters.
Russian view on this that they voided any obligation of being moral towards them. In the course of the war for one’s existence we could not guarantee *them* anything. Whatever they got in the end were not the “just returns” – it was a gift. I’m saddened, professor, that you made me quote this:
“The Battle of Borodino, with the occupation of Moscow that followed it and the flight of the French without further conflicts, is one of the most instructive phenomena in history.
All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases.
Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy’s army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men, and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation- even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army – a hundredth part of a nation – should oblige that whole nation to submit. An army gains a victory, and at once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment of the defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses its rights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers a complete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.
So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and so it is to our own day. All Napoleon’s wars serve to confirm this rule. In proportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, and the rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French at Jena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.
But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken and after that, with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history: to say that the field of battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that after Moscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon’s army, is impossible.
After the French victory at Borodino there was no general engagement nor any that were at all serious, yet the French army ceased to exist. What does this mean? If it were an example taken from the history of China, we might say that it was not an historic phenomenon (which is the historians’ usual expedient when anything does not fit their standards); if the matter concerned some brief conflict in which only a small number of troops took part, we might treat it as an exception; but this event occurred before our fathers’ eyes, and for them it was a question of the life or death of their fatherland, and it happened in the greatest of all known wars.
The period of the campaign of 1812 from the battle of Borodino to the expulsion of the French proved that the winning of a battle does not produce a conquest and is not even an invariable indication of conquest; it proved that the force which decides the fate of peoples lies not in the conquerors, nor even in armies and battles, but in something else.
The French historians, describing the condition of the French army before it left Moscow, affirm that all was in order in the Grand Army, except the cavalry, the artillery, and the transport – there was no forage for the horses or the cattle. That was a misfortune no one could remedy, for the peasants of the district burned their hay rather than let the French have it.
The victory gained did not bring the usual results because the peasants Karp and Vlas (who after the French had evacuated Moscow drove in their carts to pillage the town, and in general personally failed to manifest any heroic feelings), and the whole innumerable multitude of such peasants, did not bring their hay to Moscow for the high price offered them, but burned it instead.
Let us imagine two men who have come out to fight a duel with rapiers according to all the rules of the art of fencing. The fencing has gone on for some time; suddenly one of the combatants, feeling himself wounded and understanding that the matter is no joke but concerns his life, throws down his rapier, and seizing the first cudgel that comes to hand begins to brandish it. Then let us imagine that the combatant who so sensibly employed the best and simplest means to attain his end was at the same time influenced by traditions of chivalry and, desiring to conceal the facts of the case, insisted that he had gained his victory with the rapier according to all the rules of art. One can imagine what confusion and obscurity would result from such an account of the duel.
The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was the French army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudgel was the Russian people; those who try to explain the matter according to the rules of fencing are the historians who have described the event.
After the burning of Smolensk a war began which did not follow any previous traditions of war. The burning of towns and villages, the retreats after battles, the blow dealt at Borodino and the renewed retreat, the burning of Moscow, the capture of marauders, the seizure of transports, and the guerrilla war were all departures from the rules.
Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitude in Moscow and instead of his opponent’s rapier saw a cudgel raised above his head, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people. In spite of the complaints of the French as to the nonobservance of the rules, in spite of the fact that to some highly placed Russians it seemed rather disgraceful to fight with a cudgel and they wanted to assume a pose en quarte or en tierce according to all the rules, and to make an adroit thrust en prime, and so on – the cudgel of the people’s war was lifted with all its menacing and majestic strength, and without consulting anyone’s tastes or rules and regardless of anything else, it rose and fell with stupid simplicity, but consistently, and belabored the French till the whole invasion had perished.
And it is well for a people who do not – as the French did in 1813 – salute according to all the rules of art, and, presenting the hilt of their rapier gracefully and politely, hand it to their magnanimous conqueror, but at the moment of trial, without asking what rules others have adopted in similar cases, simply and easily pick up the first cudgel that comes to hand and strike with it till the feeling of resentment and revenge in their soul yields to a feeling of contempt and compassion.”
– Lev Tolstoy, “War and Peace”, Volume 4, Book 14, Chapter 1.
Do you really think that *you* can force *us* to change our perceptions on war and how conduct it, to act contrary to our experience and instincts, professor? Moral is a gift, and not an obligation. You need a modicum of peace to enjoy it. “Humanizing war”, trying to make it more “clean” will only result in normalizing this atrocity in the minds of the masses. No, there should be no doubt, and everyone must realize it, that war could not be “civilized” no matter what, so that the people will act accordingly when faced with the prospects of it – or during it.
As befits the Western tradition, professor ends his lecture of sorts with “high” note of sorts:
“If we wish to make relations better, therefore, we must overcome this misunderstanding and reach a common interpretation of the rules.”
I have to ask – why? Why should Russia and the West make relations between them “better”? This is not an idle question, as might appear on the surface. Answering is, you might notice, is much harder than you think. Usually, this kind of talk of “making relations between the West and the East better” preceded the demand of the East’s surrender to the West’s demands. Sadly, since mid 1980s there were numerous instances of that – and the West is emboldened. That’s bullying, not seeking of the peace. I’ve read over the years many articles of the people, who were lambasted as “russophiles” and “Putinverstehers” for simply saying that the relations should be improved. But when I read what they offer as the means of “trade” with us, well – that’s not even carrots, that’s the cheapest, murky glassbeads. From the Russian POV they can’t be serious – but they are the best that the West is here to offer. They honestly think, the lot of them, that the mere fact that they are talking with us, that they recognize Russia’s existence is the gift. They still consider Russia, any kind of Russia through the ages, to be, ultimately illegitimate entity, to be either ignored or disposed of.
In the 90s, when the USA “thinking” people for a short period found themselves without a unifying focus of their activism, they dispersed high and wide, waging a myriad of lesser “crusades”. Saving the Amazon forest, War on Drugs, AIDS impact on the society, “freeing” Tibet (that one was really funny!). You know, the type of activities that then proto-Progressives, sure that the world was made to agree with them, and virtue consists of tearing away the false anti-gnosis of their opponents and actualizing the true moral underpinnings of the cosmos (which just happen to mesh perfectly with the handshakable trends among the white college grads of 1990s USA) really like. It was a time of the triumphalism when the entire World became their cheerleader. It’s telling them, that They Were Good and virtuous and smart and popular and how the can have a great fun showing all those Others that the truth will not be denied. So they also rallied against “murder of wolves”. Not the “culling”, not the “killing” – “murder” (fun, how English has so many synonymous word for depriving one of life…). Think about it – “middle-class”, hip, progressive big-cities/suburbia living people were spending money on preventing a “murder” of humanities ancestral foe, that, given a slightest opportunity, can still wreak havoc and ruing lives and livelihood in any part of the world. Guess, they had means, safety and motivation for that.
Russia is not a rich country. We cannot afford such frivolities. Wolves are literally at the doors. You can’t be their “friend”, for they are hungry and driven by the instincts which say – “here comes out meal”. Wolf is cunning beast, but still driven by instincts and, thus, lacks any sense of moral. Seeking “peace” with them would be a suicidal folly. Maybe in the future. Not now. No chance of that.
How many failed states does it take to disqualify NATO et al from ‘having the right” to engage in “right to protect”? The RTPers haven’t a single success story where “life” was better after the “RTP” than before. Or am I mistaken?