Putin mentions Gandhi: proof he loves Hitler!

I was going to write today about a new report by a British think tank called the Council on Geostrategy, but then I came across something even worse (I know, it’s difficult, but it’s true!). So I’m going to have to put the report to one side while I discuss the particular horror that it is Bruno Macaes’s latest piece for the New Statesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/asia/2021/11/is-vladimir-putin-preparing-for-war

Continue reading Putin mentions Gandhi: proof he loves Hitler!

This is what propaganda looks like

In my last book review, I discussed the issue of American propaganda. So it was with a certain amount of interest that I came across an example of such propaganda in action in a book I was reading today.

The example in question appears in a 2018 study of the liberal media in Russia by Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova, a Senior Lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at the University of Liverpool in the UK. In this, Dr Slavtcheva-Petkova analyzes three liberal media organizations operating in Russia – the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the radio station Ekho Moskvy, and the US-funded RFE/RL. It’s the last of these which concerns us today.

Those of you who were following these things at the time will recall how the Western media reported on the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. Before and after, the Western press was full of stories about how badly prepared the Russians were and how they had wasted vast sums on useless infrastructure that would soon fall into disrepair. We were regaled with stories of badly built buildings, incomplete projects, ‘white elephants’ that would serve no purpose once the games were over, discontented locals who wanted nothing to do with the Olympics, and the like. In short, it was a disaster.

Except, of course, that it didn’t turn out like that. The games themselves went well, and ever since then Sochi has prospered. And unlike other Olympic cities, who have found that the infrastructure built for the games was underused thereafter and soon crumbled apart, Sochi is finding that its Olympic construction is getting a lot of use. In short, the negative Olympic coverage was so much BS.

So, how was it that the Western media did things this way? Well, this is where Slavtcheva-Petkova’s study comes in, for along the way she cites a reporter from RFE/RL by the name of Dobrynin, who told her the following story:

“When he himself [Dobrynin] went to Sochi after the Olympic games, he said that ‘everything looked fine’, there were new roads built, it was cleaner, and people generally looked happier, but his mission was to ‘find people who were not happy’ (Dobrynin, 2014, personal communication). He added that finding such people was ‘hard work’, but he succeeded and his article was mostly an outline of the problems these people identified. ‘My mother was disappointed with me. She told me: “This time you were biased.” She may be right’.”

“She may be right”. You don’t say!

I haven’t been able to find Dobrynin’s Sochi article, but I have found a few others by RFE/RL on the same topic. For instance, there’s one from 6 February 2014 complaining about the cull of wild dogs in Sochi, claiming that, ‘Sochi residents have come forward with horrific accounts of dogs being savagely beaten, gunned down, or left to die in agony after being shot with poisoned darts.’ Then, there’s another telling us that, ‘Deported Serb Workers Tell Horror Stories Of Sochi Olympic Construction Work.’ And others talking of massive ’embezzlement’ of funds, the deaths of ‘hundreds’ of Olympic workers, and so on. In short, a lot of negativity.

Strangely, though, RFE/RL didn’t find room for a single positive word about the Olympics. I guess that would have been too easy. But at least we can draw one positive conclusion: when it comes to propaganda, ‘hard work’ is clearly valued highly!

The Banning of Memorial: Liberal Says Liberals To Blame

A while back I read a 1999 article entitled “Grigorii Yavlinskii: The Man Who Would Be King.” In 1999, it still seemed possible that Yavlinsky, the leader of the liberal Yabloko party, might rise to the top of the pile of Russian politics. Having come to prominence in the final months of the Soviet era as one of the authors of the 500 Days economic reform plan , Yavlinsky was considered a man of promise.

It never came to be. Yavlinsky was unable to get on with fellow liberals, refusing to unite in a common front. And he also wasn’t able to get on with the authorities, refusing to dirty his hands by joining the government. Little by little, his reputation faded, and with it his party, Yabloko, declined further and further until by now it can barely scrape 1% in the polls.

It seems to have made Yavlinsky somewhat bitter, not just towards those in power in Russia but also towards others in the much depleted ranks of Russian liberalism. This becomes clear in an article published by him on Monday, in which he discusses the attempt by the Russian authorities to close the non-governmental organization Memorial, which is accused of repeated violations of the requirements imposed on it after it was officially declared a “foreign agent.”

I’m not a fan of foreign agent laws, whether they be in Russia, the United States or anywhere else. They appear to be a mechanism for the arbitrary restriction of people whom those in authority happen not to like. Thus, Mariia Butina got shoved in jail in America, while Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation got declared a foreign agent in Russia on the grounds of a single, small donation from an unimportant guy in Spain. To say it’s ridiculous would be an understatement. So, yeah, I’m not a fan.

The latest group to fall foul of Russia’s foreign agency law is Memorial, an NGO created in 1989 to commemorate the victims of communism, which then moved on to the more general mission of opposing totalitarianism and promoting democracy and human rights. Somewhere along the way, it decided to seek martyrdom. Having been designated a foreign agent, it refused to comply with the restrictions that come with that status (such as labelling everything you issue with a statement that it is published by a foreign agent). The law is an ass, in my opinion, but as they say, “the law’s the law.” Failure to comply can result in one being banned, and that is what is now in the cards, with the Russian authorities seeking to shut Memorial down.  

The obvious institution to blame for this is the Russian government, its absurd law, and the arbitrary manner in which it often seems to be applied. But in his article, Yavlinsky finds someone else to blame – his fellow liberals.

How come, you ask?

Continue reading The Banning of Memorial: Liberal Says Liberals To Blame

Book Review: Manufacturing Militarism

Two of the things that bug me about those who prattle on endlessly about foreign “disinformation” are a) the extent to which they themselves are guilty of disinformation and b) their inability to see that the primary sources of disinformation are not foreign but domestic and often, sadly, official.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everything that comes out of the mouths of government officials or that appears in the “mainstream” media is bogus. Of course it’s not. You shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. But it is a regrettable fact that citizens of Western liberal democracies are the subjects of consistent propaganda from what you might call the “military-industrial-security complex.” This exaggerates threats, generating unnecessary fears and justifying investments in the military-industrial-security complex aan assertive foreign policy, including on occasion war.

Of course, this is not the only process under way in our information space, but it would be naïve to imagine that it is not a significant part of it. For this reason, it’s pleasing to find a book that seeks to explain how this propaganda effort works and how it succeeds.

The book in question is Manufacturing Militarism: U.S. Propaganda in the War on Terror by two American libertarian-oriented economists, Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall. The title is obviously meant to echo Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s famous expose of government propaganda, Manufacturing Consent. Over 30 years have passed since Manufacturing Consent appeared, but as Coyne and Hall show, the basic message – that US citizens’ picture of the world is manipulated by direct and indirect propaganda from well-place interests – remains valid.

Continue reading Book Review: Manufacturing Militarism

Another Bogus Russian War Scare

I have had a couple more pieces published in RT in the last two days. One concerns the probably temporary closure of the Kyiv Post and why it seems to have provoked immense outrage whereas the previous shutting down of Russian-language Ukrainian media outlets did not. The other responds to a letter of resignation sent by Russian liberal journalist Konstantin [von] Eggert [MBE] to the Chatham House think tank in protest the institute’s decision to give an award to a BLM activist. I use this an opportunity to delve into different Russian and Western conceptions of rights and freedoms. You can read these here and here.  

For this post, though, I intend to tackle another topic, which follows on naturally from my last one. In that, I mocked the idea being floated around in some circles that Russia was behind the Belarus-EU migrant crisis and somehow using it as a provocation for further aggressive action, including maybe a military assault on the ‘Suwalki Gap’.

As we now know from Bloomberg, this theory is nonsense: Russia has no intention of invading Poland, it’s planning to invade Ukraine instead. Or so say ‘American officials’, and as we all know you can trust their judgement 100%.

According to Bloomberg:

“The U.S. is raising the alarm with European Union allies that Russia may be weighing a potential invasion of Ukraine as tensions flare between Moscow and the bloc over migrants and energy supplies.

With Washington closely monitoring a buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, U.S. officials have briefed EU counterparts on their concerns over a possible military operation, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

… The assessments are believed to be based on information the U.S. hasn’t yet shared with European governments, which would have to happen before any decision is made on a collective response, the people said. They’re backed up by publicly-available evidence, according to officials familiar with the administration’s thinking. 

Russia has orchestrated the migrant crisis between Belarus and Poland and the Baltic states — Lithuania and Latvia share a border with Belarus — to try to destabilize the region, two U.S. administration officials said. U.S. concerns about Russian intentions are based on accumulated evidence and trends that carry echoes of the run-up to Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, another administration official said. 

Some analysts argue that Putin may believe now is the time to halt Ukraine’s closer embrace with the West before it progresses any further. 

“What seems to have changed is Russia’s assessment of where things are going,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. “They seem to have concluded that unless they do something, the trend lines are heading to Russia losing Ukraine.”

According to defense-intelligence firm Janes, the recent Russian deployment has been covert, often taking place at night and carried out by elite ground units, in contrast to the fairly open buildup in the spring.

Let’s take a look at all this. We have some statements from three anonymous officials, based on “publicly available information” (none of which I have seen that points to an imminent invasion) and some sort of secret information that the US hasn’t shared with anybody and so can’t be assessed. Now call me a sceptic, but unverifiable information from anonymous sources doesn’t sound like something very solid to me.

Beyond that, if the final lines from Janes are correct, we have a deployment of “elite ground units,” but you can’t invade a foreign country just using “elite” units, let alone a country the size of Ukraine. You’d need a massive build-up of a very considerable volume of rank-and-file line units. So, the actual evidence presented doesn’t fit the scenario portrayed.

As for Mr Charap’s statement that “They seem to have concluded that unless they do something, the trend lines are heading to Russia losing Ukraine,” I have yet to see any indication of this. Quite the contrary. Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s recent comment that Russia should do “nothing” about Ukraine and simply wait until the Ukrainians come to their senses, points to an entirely different conclusion. We are “patient,” said Medvedev, who is Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, and so one imagines, well versed in what is in people’s minds at the highest level. His comments hardly suggest that senior officials are thinking that radical action is urgently required.

The fact that American “officials” are briefing the press that war is possible, and that analysts from the RAND Corporation are backing them up, speaks to an awful lack of understanding of things Russian in the United States. The fact that Bloomberg then repeats these claims without serious challenge points also to a disturbing lack of critical thinking on behalf of the American press (no surprise there!), as well as reinforcing what academic studies of the media have long since noted – its worrisome dependence on official sources.

The only part of the Bloomberg article that gives readers a real sense of what’s going on comes in the following lines, which say:

Russia doesn’t intend to start a war with Ukraine now, though Moscow should show it’s ready to use force if necessary, one person close to the Kremlin said. An offensive is unlikely as Russian troops would face public resistance in Kyiv and other cities, but there is a plan to respond to provocations from Ukraine, another official said. 

This strikes me as accurate. There is absolutely no reason for Russia to start a war with Ukraine. It would be enormously costly and bring no obvious benefits. Besides which, war needs careful advance preparation of public opinion. There have been absolutely no indications of the Kremlin doing anything of the sort. That said, as I have noted before, I have little doubt that if Ukraine launched a major attack on the rebel regions of Donbass, and if large numbers of civilians were killed as a result (as would be most likely), Russia would respond. And its response would likely be very tough, much tougher than it was in August 2014 when it very briefly sent a limited number of forces into Donbass to defeat the Ukrainians at Ilovaisk. If there is a Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s likely to be large-scale, to settle the issue once and for all.

All this talk of war is therefore rather dangerous. It helps to ramp up tensions on Russia’s borders, and also serves to justify a build-up by NATO forces in the region. That in turn may send the wrong messages to Ukraine and encourage it to act rashly. Fortunately, I don’t think that things will go that far, but I do think that “American officials” and the press are playing with fire. They would be well advised to stop. Unfortunately, one gets the impression that their lack of knowledge and understanding makes that impossible. Sad times indeed.

Lines in Praise of Tommy Atkins

Today, to mark Remembrance Day, I give you ‘Lines in Praise of Tommy Atkins’ by the great Scottish poet William Topaz McGonagall (famed author of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster‘).

(WordPress absolutely refuses to allow line breaks between stanzas, so I have aligned every second stanza to the right in order to distinguish them):

Continue reading Lines in Praise of Tommy Atkins

Belarus and the Migrant Gap

“Mr President, we must not allow … a mine shaft gap!” General Buck Turgidson.

Back in my youth, as an officer of the British Army of the Rhine, the “gap” we tended to worry about was the “Fulda Gap,” although to be honest that was more of a problem for the Americans than us, as it lay in their area of responsibility. The Fulda Gap was an area of lowland on the border between West and East Germany that theoretically provided ideal terrain for Soviet tanks to charge westwards en route to the river Rhine. If the Soviet army was going to invade, the Fulda Gap was likely to be key terrain.

NATO has since moved far to the east, so nobody worries about the Fulda Gap any more. Instead, pundits talk of the “Suwalki Gap,” a phrase designed to remind people of its Cold War predecessor and so induce fear of swarms of Russian invaders heading westwards to deprive us of our precious bodily fluids.

The Suwalki Gap is a narrow stretch of land linking Poland and Lithuania, flanked on either side by Belarus and the Russian district of Kaliningrad. Should war ever break out between NATO and Russia, the Gap would be the only land route through which NATO reinforcements could reach the Baltic States. As such, it would constitute a top priority for both sides, and would likely become the focus of major battles.

The Suwalki Gap

The Suwalki Gap has been in the news this week as part of the migrant crisis involving Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus. Thousands of migrants from the Middle East have been using Belarus as a conduit to try to get into Western Europe, first flying into Minsk and then trying to cross the Belarusian-Polish or Belarusian-Lithuanian border illegally on foot. Poland and Lithuania have complained that Belarus is encouraging the migrants and even escorting them up to the area of the Suwalki gap to help them sneak into the European Union. Quite why Belarus would do this isn’t completely obvious, though the suspicion is that it is retaliation for European sanctions levied against the country and that it is intended to apply pressure on the EU to end the sanctions.

Whatever the reason, it’s gotten the Russophobic element of the Western commentariat into a right little tizzy. For, you see, if Belarus is doing this, it must be because Moscow is telling it to. The evidence to support that assertion is precisely zero, but in the paranoid mindset of many in the West, Belarus is not a truly independent state, but a puppet of Vladimir Putin. Beyond that, the assumption is that if anything nefarious happens anywhere, the hand of the Kremlin must be pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

It’s crazy nonsense, of course, but that hasn’t stopped several well-placed people from pushing the argument. The most prominent is Polish prime minister Matuesz Morawiecki, who told his parliament, “This attack which [Belarusian president Alexander] Lukashenko is conducting has its mastermind in Moscow, the mastermind is President Putin.”

Others have taken up the baton. An example is the Atlantic Council’s Benjamin Haddad, whose bio on the Council’s website says that “His work has notably advocated for transatlantic unity in the face of Russian aggression.” Haddad posted on Twitter that, “The EU must help Poland. The border is the EU’s border; this is an aggression by Belarus and its sponsor state Russia.” How Haddad knows that Russia is behind this, he fails to tell, but I guess that he considers it too obvious to be worth bothering.

But what does Russia have in mind, you might ask. Olga Lautman, a self-proclaimed “analyst/researcher focused on the Kremlin,” thinks she has an answer. Writing on Twitter of “Putin-Lukashenko’s operation of trafficking migrants from Syria,” Lautman posted the following picture of a red arrow cutting across the Suwalki Gap, with the caption, “This makes sense. Russia definitely didn’t pick a random spot for their attack on Poland’s border.”

Russia-Belarusian migrant attack on the Suwalki Gap

Of course, the point marked on the map isn’t exactly on the Suwalki Gap, and there’s no indication that migrants who try to cross the border there are going to march northwestwards towards Kaliningrad as shown (why would they do that?), rather than straight west towards Warsaw, as is far more likely. But some found Lautman’s logic convincing. A case in point was Nigel Gould-Davies, a Senior Fellow at the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies and a one-time British ambassador to Belarus. With a PhD from Harvard, one imagines that Gould-Davies is far from stupid, but he seems to have taken leave of his senses on this issue, responding to Lautman by tweeting: “I wondered about this too. Belarus is taking the migrants to the Suwalki gap. With reported threats and shots fired from the Belarusian side, it’s easy to imagine a provocation being engineered.”

And so the purpose of this dastardly Russian plot becomes clear. It’s to provoke a violent reaction by NATO/the EU, which will provide the pretext for the massed ranks of the Russian army to sweep through the Suwalki Gap and victory. Commenting on the fact that two Russian bombers supposedly flew over Belarus today in order to “test air defences,” Lautman says, “This is not good. All this while they are attempting to provoke Poland into responding.” And in case you failed to get the point of what Russia is trying to do, she then alleges also that two units of Russian special forces have been deployed to a village in Belarus “in preparation for border attacks.”

As if.

Frankly, this is all utterly nuts. In the first place, there is absolutely no reason why Russia would choose to launch a major, and almost certainly suicidal, war out of the blue. Furthermore, the likes of Lautman are also alleging that Russia is building up its forces in preparation for an attack on Ukraine. So apparently it wants a two-front war! It makes no sense.

Beyond that, the basic premise behind all this – that Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is a puppet of Vladimir Putin – is completely wrong. I keep coming back to the statement that “there’s no evidence for this.” It makes me sound like a stuck record. But it’s true. There’s no evidence for it. Lukashenko has proven extremely troublesome over the years for Russia, resisting efforts to integrate the Belarusian and Russian economies, for instance, as well as making it clear that he has no interest in any real form of political union. Past experience would suggest that Lukashenko does what Lukashenko wants to do, not what Putin or anybody else in Russia tells him to.

In short, the entire idea that Russia is behind the EU-Belarusian border crisis is mistaken, while the belief that Russia is hoping to provoke some violent border incident as an excuse for even more aggressive action is absurd in the extreme. The fact that such ideas are in wide circulation and are even repeated by members of prestigious international affairs institutes is a sign of the poverty of Western analyses of all things Russian.

Meanwhile, Belarus’s alleged use of migrants as a political weapon has the West in a bind. It can’t think of an appropriate response. One can imagine the generals in NATO tearing out their hair in panic and telling their political superiors:

“Mr President, we must not allow … a migrant gap!”

Whatever next?

Institute for Peace and Diplomacy

On a personal note, I have joined the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy (IPD) as a Senior Fellow, in which capacity I will write occasional pieces for the IPD and participate in relevant events.

The IPD is a relatively new think tank, dedicated to ‘a more restrained and open-minded approach’ to international affairs. Its mission statement reads:

Since the end of the Cold War, North Atlantic foreign policy has experienced an intellectual fatigue and moral complacency that increasingly threatens its credibility and relevance in the post-COVID age—a world characterized by heightened international resistance to global hegemony coupled with new great powers competing for influence and recognition.

In a time as dynamic and transformative as ours then, there is a critical need for provocative, unconventional, and independent voices in statecraft and foreign policy. IPD aims to address this deficit by cultivating a network of experts, scholars, and practitioners who are ready to provide fresh perspectives and constructive ideas to resolve global security challenges and manage the coming great power competition through peaceful means. In doing so, we believe it necessary to engage with questions of ‘power’ and the Atlantic bloc’s ‘role in the world’ in a more systematic, objective, and policy-sensitive manner—bridging the wide gap between theory and practice in North Atlantic foreign policy.

IPD regards ‘par in parem non habet imperium’ (Latin for “equals have no dominion over each other”), a maxim that affirms the sovereign status of independent states, to be the founding principle of international law. The international system is not a zero-sum winner-take-all prize to be won or a battlespace to be dominated. A healthy conception of national interest that recognizes the sovereignty and equality of all nations and cultures of the world is foundational to a new foreign policy premised on: 1) tolerance for cultural pluralism and different ways of life, 2) enthusiasm for diplomatic engagement and other non-coercive instruments of power, and 3) a commitment to military restraint.

Through its publications, conferences, policy briefings, and recommendations, IPD will encourage policymakers, and leaders in government, civil society, and business community to adopt a more restrained and open-minded approach in managing the strategic challenges and geopolitical risks of the 21st century.

Think tanks are very important, as they are means of influencing elite opinion. In the English-speaking world, the foreign affairs think tank community has for some time been dominated by what one might call ‘interventionist’ voices. The development of institutes dedicated to ‘a more restrained and open-minded approach’, such as the IPD and the new Quincy Institute in the USA, is, therefore, a most welcome development. One cannot expect such bodies to change hearts and minds overnight, but perhaps over time, a gradual drip, drip of reason will turn into something more. One can but hope.

For a list of those associated with the IPD, see their website, here. In a short time, the institute has assembled a very good collection of people. May it live long and prosper!

Crackpot theory no. 13: the responsibility to rebuild

My recent mention of the positivist/idealist divide in pre-revolutionary Russian liberalism led to a bit of a discussion in the comment section about the source of morality. One version of the positivist view is that of Marxists. According to this, laws – whether they be moral or judicial – are mere constructs of power relations. Essentially, rules are established by those in power to cement their position and enforce obedience among the subordinate classes. It would be wrong, in my opinion, to consider power to the be-all-and-end-all of morality. That said, the Marxist view does provide a means of considering moral problems, inducing us to enquire ‘cui bono?’, ‘who benefits from this?’ Once you start doing this, you begin to realize that what appear to be moral arguments are often in reality mechanisms for advancing interests.

It is, to my mind, no coincidence that the philosophy of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) gathered steam in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West found itself with uncontested military power but a lot of awkward rules concerning state sovereignty preventing it from using that power. Knocking down those rules released the West from these constraints and gave it the opportunity to flex its muscles whenever and wherever it wanted. While R2P was justified on moral grounds, the appearance of this new moral rule was actually a reflection of the shift in the international balance of power.

Along with R2P, Western thinkers also came up with the concept of ‘the responsibility to rebuild’. Again, this masqueraded as a moral idea while in practice promoting Western military strategic interests.

The responsibility to rebuild was part and parcel of the philosophy of what is known as jus post bellum – justice after war. Under the influence of philosophers such as the Canadian Brian Orend, the idea of jus post belllum suggested that states should consider more than the justice of going to war in the first place (jus ad bellum), and more than the rules of what they could do during war (jus in bello), but also the rules of what should be done after war (post bellum). As part of post bellum thinking, supporters of R2P came up with the connected idea of the responsibility to rebuild.

The commission that wrote the original report on R2P argued that the responsibility to protect included a ‘responsibility to rebuild’, which ‘will involve the commitment of sufficient funds and resources and close cooperation with local people, and may mean staying in the country for some period of time after the initial purposes of the intervention have been accomplished,’ and which will involve ‘sustained daily efforts at repairing infrastructure, at rebuilding housing, at planting and harvesting, and cooperating in other 3 productive activities.’

In this case the responsibility to rebuild relates specifically to the aftermath of a humanitarian intervention, but other authors have extended the responsibility to post bellum situations more generally. US Admiral Louis Iasiello, for instance, states that, ‘Victors have a moral obligation to ensure the security and stabilization of a defeated nation … they must … repair and rebuild infrastructure essential to a vulnerable population’s health and welfare’. This duty to rebuild involves not merely economic reconstruction but also democratic reform, in order to create, if not liberal democracy, at least what Orend terms ‘a minimally just political community’. Walking away before this is achieved would, according to Jean Bethke Elshtain, ‘be an act of moral dereliction of the most egregious kind’.

Superficially, it seems all very kind and humanitarian. After a war is over, Western states (for it is surely they who these authors have in mind) shouldn’t just leave the country they have destroyed but should help it rebuild itself. Who could be against that?

But stop and think about it for a moment. Let’s go back to the R2P commission. This said that the responsibility to rebuild ‘may mean staying in the country for some period of time.’ And now you can see what this is really about. It’s a means of justifying prolonged military occupations of foreign countries. ‘We can’t leave. We have to stay and occupy these people, because we have a responsibility to rebuild!’ In short, as I pointed out in a book chapter I wrote on this subject a few years ago, its primary purpose is to ‘allow states which have waged unjust wars to continue unjust occupations of conquered territories.’

We can see this by the fact that now that so many of the West’s recent neo-colonial occupations of foreign countries have ended badly, talk of the responsibility to rebuild has magically vanished.

Let’s take the example of Afghanistan. Last month, Russian officials hosted Taliban representatives in Moscow, and the two sides came up with a joint statement, which among others things said the following:

‘The sides have proposed to launch a collective initiative to convene a broad-based international donor conference under the auspices of the United Nations as soon as possible, certainly with the understanding that the core burden of post-conflict economic and financial reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by troop-based actors which were in the country for the past 20 years.’

In short, the Russians and the Taliban are calling the West’ bluff. ‘You have a responsibility to rebuild,’ they’re saying. Do it.

The West, however, seems not so willing. Now it’s no longer the controlling power in Afghanistan, the responsibility to rebuild has ceased to be a useful tool for justifying its actions, but rather an inconvenience. Western states are saying that they will provide aid to Afghanistan, but that it must be conditional on the Taliban abiding by certain human rights demands, such as better treatment of women. But surely, if you have a responsibility to rebuild, you have it come what may. In the past, it was never said that this was conditional. We were deemed to have the responsibility regardless.

And so it seems that we in the West don’t believe in this responsibility any more. Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised.