Post #82—Man on the Run, and South Africa’s Failure to Detain Him

Margaret Thatcher once advised those delegates to the United Nations who criticize the organization for being weak to look in the mirror for the explanation.  International law is much the same: If you want to know why governments so often fail to respect it, all you have to do is step back for a moment and consider that governments are responsible for lawfulness; international judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have no policing power to enforce the law.  Those courts must rely on the governments that created them and on the moral force that international legal authority represents.

Last week in South Africa, international law experienced a serious setback when its government refused to arrest Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the president of Sudan since October 1993 and a wanted man.  The ICC issued arrest warrants for al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 for crimes against humanity (five counts), war crimes (two counts), and genocide (three counts), all committed in the conflict in Sudan’s Dofar region.  Bashir was attending a meeting in South Africa of heads of state of the African Union, believing he had immunity from seizure just as he had when he attended other events outside Sudan in recent years.  But the South African government, a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, was obliged to arrest him and turn him over to the ICC for trial.[1]

South Africa’s high court ruled on June 15 that the government was bound by the constitution to detain al-Bashir.  But by the time it ruled, according to various reports, the South African government had allowed him to board a private plane and return home.  Photos showed him receiving a hero’s welcome—staged, no doubt, but still a happy escape for a tyrant.  This act of the South African government could never have happened under Nelson Mandela, but it has happened now, and deserves international condemnation.

As so often happens in international affairs, law is subject to political priorities.  There is no question that al-Bashir should have been arrested in accordance with the ICC warrant and brought to The Hague to face trial.  But other African states have rejected the ICC’s jurisdiction, arguing that only African leaders have been indicted.  That is factually correct: nine African leaders have been indicted by the ICC, but other criminals outside Africa, such as Assad in Syria, have not been.  (The ICC has begun a preliminary inquiry into war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza war last year.  But both Israel and Hamas have rejected the inquiry and refused to allow investigators entry into Israel or Gaza. See www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-report.html.)

Surely the question of bias deserves investigation, and just as surely the ideal situation would be strengthened rule of law in Africa such that leaders who commit or condone mass violence are brought to justice in their own countries.  But those possibilities cannot excuse well documented, large-scale violations of international law anywhere, whether by a sitting or former heads of government (www.straight.com/news/474301/gwynne-dyer-omar-al-bashir-and-international-law).

The US is once again in the position of lacking credibility to speak out on a matter of international law because it has not signed or ratified the relevant document.  (Signers number 123 countries; Sudan is not among them either, but since al-Bashir is a UN-designated war criminal, Sudan’s outlier status doesn’t matter.)  Thanks to the George W. Bush administration, the US did not sign the Rome Statute for fear that US officials or soldiers might be indicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity.  A poor excuse indeed; and it now leaves Washington without a voice on a matter of great importance to huge numbers of innocent victims of officially-approved violence.

In closing, I’m led to wonder: Suppose this were 1939, and an international criminal court existed.  Suppose further that the court issued an arrest warrant for Adolf Hitler, for crimes against humanity and genocide.  If Hitler had ventured outside Germany, would any government have detained him and sent him to The Hague for trial?  You think so?  I’m not so sure.

—————————

[1] Article 59 of the Rome Statute states in part: “A State Party which has received a request for provisional arrest or for arrest and surrender shall immediately take steps to arrest the person in question in accordance with its laws and the provisions of Part 9. . . . A person arrested shall be brought promptly before the competent judicial authority in the custodial State which shall determine, in accordance with the law of that State, [that proper procedures were used]. . . . It shall not be open to the competent authority of the custodial State to consider whether the warrant of arrest was properly issued . . . . Once ordered to be surrendered by the custodial State, the person shall be delivered to the Court as soon as possible”

(www.icc-cpi.int/nr/rdonlyres/ea9aeff7-5752-4f84-be94-0a655eb30e16/0/rome_statute_english.pdf.)

Post #80: The Looming US-China Crisis in the South China Sea

The long-running, multi-party dispute over control of islets in the South China Sea (SCS) is worsening both in rhetoric and provocative activity.  (For background, see my posts #23 and 41.)  Meeting in late May at the Shangri-La Dialogue on regional security, US and Chinese defense officials sparred over responsibility for the increased tension, though they stopped short of issuing threats.  In fact, all sides to the dispute say they want to avoid violence, prefer a diplomatic resolution, and support freedom of navigation.  Both the US and China insist that the dispute notwithstanding, their relationship overall is positive and enduring.  But China, claiming indisputable sovereignty over the SCS, is backing its claim in ways that alarm the US and several Asian governments: construction of an air strip on the Spratly Islands, a land reclamation project that has artificially expanded its claimed territory, and most recently emplacement of two mobile artillery vehicles.

The Pentagon has responded by publicly discussing US options such as flyovers and navigation in Chinese-claimed air and sea space.  A US navy surveillance aircraft has already challenged China’s sovereignty claim by overflying Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, prompting a Chinese order (which the aircraft ignored) to leave the area.  In the meantime, US military assistance to other claimants, including Vietnam and the Philippines, has enabled their coast guards to at least keep an eye on Chinese activities.

The US-China debate over the SCS would be a tempest in a teapot were it not for two other sources of contention.  One is the gas and oil potential underneath the South China Sea, long subject to intense competition.  The other is the friction arising from the different US and Chinese strategic postures in East Asia.  The US deploys enormous air, naval, and nuclear power across the region. Rising China, one Chinese scholar writes, “is no longer susceptible to U.S. coercion or bullying. Under President Xi Jinping, the more confrontational stance Washington takes, the more assertive Beijing will become in response” (Feng Zhang, “Provoking Beijing in the South China Sea Will Only Backfire on Washington,” http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/21/united-states-provoke-beijing-south-china-sea-air-defense-identification-zone/).

The US “rebalancing” of forces in Asia since 2009, with emphasis on deploying additional naval power to the Pacific; its backing of Japan in Japan’s territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that aims to undercut China’s commercial as well as political success in Asia—these are among the US moves in Asia that have prompted Chinese pushback both economically and militarily.  China’s gradual buildup in the SCS should be seen as part of that pushback.  Its latest official strategy statement, issued (surely not coincidentally) on May 26, explicitly links “maritime military struggle” and “active defense” to the “provocative” actions and “meddling” of foreign parties in that area (http://news.usni.org/2015/05/26/document-chinas-military-strategy). The strategy statement conceives of a greatly increased role for the Chinese navy in “offshore waters defense.”

Although China’s declared position would seem to make the sovereignty issue nonnegotiable, that doesn’t rule out conflict management.  Ownership can be separated from, and thereby detached from, political and economic issues. All sides might agree, for instance, not to object to others’ sovereignty claims and to freeze the situation on the ground, disallowing further construction and land reclamation, entry of vessels and weapons, and introduction of civil or military personnel.

Crafting a binding code of conduct is an option that seems to have support from China and the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  They agreed on the current version of the code, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in November 2002. It commits the parties to resolving disputes by peaceful means, without using threats or force and in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  The parties also “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.” Unfortunately, what constitutes self-restraint and how actions would be handled constructively remain to be determined.  Instead, the concerned Southeast Asian nations rely on multilateral trust-building efforts to ease tensions, while the Chinese prefer bilateral talks and, it seems clear, unilateral actions to strengthen their claim.

More formal legal avenues might also be utilized despite China’s objections, including the Philippines case before UNCLOS and recourse to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  The US  does not stand on firm ground, however, when it comes to international legal remedies.  The UNCLOS, as a treaty, has been awaiting Senate approval since 1994!  (Professor Jerome A. Cohen, a leading expert on international law, urges US ratification at www.nytimes.com/2015/05/23/opinion/china-and-the-reefs-a-weakness-in-the-us-position.html.)  And the US has a long record of ignoring adverse ICJ decisions and, since 1986, has rejected the court’s compulsory jurisdiction. The US could be a more effective actor here if it were more law-abiding—certainly more effective than by deploying forces to test China’s intentions.

All the parties, and especially Washington and Beijing, surely see the down side to continued tension, notably the retreat of US-China relations to Cold War-style tests of resolve. “Conflict is bad for business,” the new head of US Pacific forces is quoted as saying.  It’s bad for many other things too, but countries have gone to war over far lesser stakes when clashing notions of self-righteousness and national security prevail over common sense.

(A longer version of this post, with a map, can be found at http://japanfocus.org/-Mel-Gurtov/4330/article.html.)

Post #79: The Pentagon Slush Fund

Back in 1959, President Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Khrushchev took a break from their summit and walked in the woods around Camp David.  Khrushchev, in his memoirs, relates a conversation in which the president complains of how hard it is to resist the military’s demands for more money.  Military leaders, said Eisenhower, invariably insist the US will fall behind the Soviet Union unless he gives them the money for this or that weapon system.  “They keep grabbing for more, and I keep giving it to them.”  He asked Khrushchev if that was also the case in the USSR.  “It’s just the same,” said Khrushchev, who went on to describe virtually the same script.  “Yes,” said the president, “that’s what I thought.”

Congress members are very much a part of the military-industrial complex, which is why someone (Tom Hayden?) long ago suggested that the more accurate term is MAGIC: the military-academic-governmental-industrial complex.  Most people elected to Congress, and certainly any among them who serve on the armed services committee of either house, think two things when it comes to national security: the more weapons produced, the more secure we are; and the more money allocated to “national defense,” the better.  These folks never met a weapons system they didn’t like.  And when, in relatively lean times, they have to decide between social well-being and the Pentagon’s wish list, well, they don’t have to think twice.

These days Congress members, mainly on the Republican side, are busy finding clever ways to hide stuffing the Pentagon’s stocking with strategically senseless, duplicative, exceedingly expensive weapons and related items.  Remember sequestration in 2013?  It was supposed to cap military and other spending in order to help bring the overall budget back to balance.  Clearly, in the minds of the military-firsters, this effort was never meant to apply to the Pentagon, as evidenced by the much larger budget hit that social welfare programs took compared with the military, and by the little publicized Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is not subject to sequestration (www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/overseas-contingency-operations/). Yes, military spending has gone down over the last three years (see the chart below); but at over $600 billion (not counting veterans’ benefits and interest on the national debt from past wars), it’s around 54 percent of all US government discretionary spending and still close to 40 percent of global military spending.

All the whining in Congress and the Pentagon about how the US defense posture is undermined by sequestration and compels a leaner military is just so much theatrics—not just because the US military is bloated both in money and weapons, and continues to fight and prepare for wars on several fronts, but also because in Washington (including in the White House) the tricks are well known for giving the military everything it wants and then some.  The fundamental problem isn’t budgetary, it’s US globalism.

Reporting on the “Pentagon slush fund,” the New York Times notes (www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/opinion/sunday/stupid-pentagon-budget-tricks.html) that the next military budget, as voted in the House of Representatives, will have a dozen more nuclear submarines at $8 billion apiece, a $348 billion modernization program for nuclear weapons over the coming decade, billions more for missile defense and faulty jet fighters, and funding to maintain the Guantanamo prison-base in Cuba that the president had long ago promised to close down.  US military leaders have not asked for all this money, and probably would prefer that more be allocated for conventional warfare and humanitarian missions such as in Nepal.  But it’s hard to rein in the military big spenders in Congress, especially when they couch their check-writing in patriotism.

It’s funny: the Pentagon is forever complaining that China has no reason to keep increasing its military spending.  It needs to look in the mirror.

 

US Military Spending Under Obama (in $US billion)

Source: SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)

2009             2010             2011            2012            2013          2014

$668.5 $698.1     $711.3      $684.7    $639.7 $609.9

 

 

 

Post #78: The Middle East Quagmire: Give Peacemaking a Chance

The desperate state of US policy in the Middle East became apparent once again with the ISIS rout of the Iraqi army at Ramadi. It was another setback for US-supported forces and the incompetent, sectarian government that directs them.  But no policy reassessment is underway; to the contrary, the discussion in Washington seems to be narrowly concerned with military tactics and the next engagement with ISIS.

The Iraq war is just one element of the Obama administration’s strategic quagmire. The administration has no reliable Arab allies in the region, shifting alignments, and unwelcoming populations.  Foreign-policy bureaucrats are fond of saying that “we don’t have a dog in that fight.”  But in the Middle East conflicts, the US has too many dogs in too many fights, and sometimes the dogs are fighting each other. Meantime, the costs in blood and treasure mount in this endless series of wars.

Consider where the US stands on the conflicts now raging in the Middle East:

  • In Syria, the US supports rebels seeking the overthrow of the Assad government. But the US also indirectly supports Assad by carrying out air strikes and covert operations against ISIS, which has its own reasons for wanting to eliminate Assad.
  • In Iraq, the US, with bombs and advisers, supports the Shia-led government, militia, and (unofficially) Iran advisers who are fighting ISIS. Meantime, Sunnis and Shiites remain bitter enemies, and news of sectarian massacres, past and present, appears regularly. It seems a fair bet that if ISIS were defeated, civil war on a grand scale would resume in Iraq.
  • In Iran, the US, while hoping to bring nuclear negotiations to a final agreement by late June, opposes Iran’s support of Hezbollah and other “terrorist” organizations that threaten Israel.
  • In Yemen, the US supports the intervention of Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf States against the Houthi rebels, up to a point. While the Houthi evidently receive some weapons from Iran, the Saudis have used outlawed cluster bombs as they and their allies go about destroying entire neighborhoods and exacting terrible civilian casualties. Their objective, supported by the US, is to restore to power a former dictator who, while in power, had resisted popular attempts to introduce some semblance of democracy. (See Stephen Zunes’ article at http://fpif.org/how-the-u-s-contributed-to-yemens-crisis/.) But . . .
  • Washington lately has been critical of the Saudis’ excessive use of force in Yemen, which is partly responsible for a humanitarian crisis. The US is also at odds with the Saudis and others over negotiating with Iran on nuclear weapons.  So what is the American solution?  More weapons, training, military equipment, and security commitments, as Obama just promised when representatives of the six Gulf Cooperation Council visited Washington. (This administration has showered GCC countries with weapons, Saudi Arabia most of all—a total of nearly $80 billion worth—since Obama took office, according to William Hartung, at http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/14/obama-arms-fair-camp-david-weapons-sales-gcc/.)
  • In Saudi Arabia, Washington has a new friend close to the seat of power, thanks to a shakeup of the ruling elite by King Salman that made Mohammed bin Nayef the crown prince. US officials like Bin Nayef because of his tough policy on terrorism, but he also has a well-earned reputation for favoring repression.  As one observer puts it, “Bin Nayef . . . is seen as the leading force behind a massive crackdown on independent civil society activists and human rights activists inside the Kingdom, and as the architect of a regional strategy aimed at rolling back movements for more representative and more participatory governance throughout the Arab region” (huffingtonpost.com/neil-hicks/saudi-leadership-changes_b_7175164.html?utm_hp_ref=world&ir=WorldPost).
  • In Afghanistan the US continues to underwrite a government of very limited capacity that will probably have to rely on US and international subsidization far into the future. Contrary to Obama’s promise to end the US combat role, direct US involvement against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters continues. “Training and advising” the Afghan military is the official cover for drone strikes and Special Forces raids (nytimes.com/2015/04/30/world/asia/more-aggressive-role-by-us-military-is-seen-in-afghanistan.html).
  • And in Israel, the US supports a government that has been viscerally opposed to negotiating with Iran, is doing its best to undermine engaging Iran, and is determined not to reach a final settlement with Palestine that would provide for a separate Palestinian state, mutual security, and social justice.

It’s hard to find consistency in US policy beyond support of Israel’s security and counterterrorism. Building democracy and defending human rights certainly aren’t among US aims: Not one of the leaders or factions the US supports, including Netanyahu in Israel, consistently upholds democratic values or believes in human security.  US priorities compel reliance on military means to achieve its objectives, including providing arms and advisers to whomever is willing to fight against enemies of the moment.  But pouring weapons into the Middle East, and carrying out drone strikes cloaked in secrecy on behalf of authoritarian governments cannot possibly lead to better governance or improve the human condition. It’s a ruinous substitute for a humane strategy that can only add to the already horrendous toll of civilian casualties, internally displaced persons, and refugees (see www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/world/middleeast/legal-advocacy-group-says-us-drone-program-sets-dangerous-example.html).

Critics of US policy on the right offer alternatives that are even more unworkable and are immoral: increasing military aid to rebel groups in Syria and bombing of ISIS units; deepening sanctions on Iran; staying longer in Afghanistan; maintaining Israel’s blank check. On the liberal side, the main alternative seems to rest on Congress passing a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that would seek to limit US involvement in Middle East wars both in time span and geography.  It’s a well-intentioned idea, but not only does it seem to be dead in the water (see the New York Times editorial at www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/the-escalation-of-unauthorized-wars.html), it is misguided in the belief that AUMF will actually force US disengagement.  The experience of the War Powers Resolution, various US interventions, and for that matter current policy shows that presidents have numerous ways to get around legal restrictions when it comes to war making.  And Congress is typically complicit when it comes to enforcing those restrictions.

What US policy most needs now is a determined, consistent application of diplomacy in a search for peace through negotiations.  Except for ISIS, whose unwavering commitment is to the wholesale slaughter of “infidels” and the establishment of a caliphate, Middle East conflicts can and must be resolved by political means: in Yemen, Israel-Palestine, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  However unpalatable some opponents may be, talking is preferable to fighting.  That means negotiating with Syria’s Assad, supporting UN-sponsored talks on Yemen’s civil war, brokering talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, finalizing a nuclear agreement with Iran (and looking to normalizing relations with Tehran), and insisting that Iraq’s Shia-dominated government either respect the legitimate rights of Sunnis and Kurds or forfeit continued US support.

Post #77: Keep It in the Ground

On January 17 the New York Times reported that, to appease environmentalists, the Obama administration would “ban drilling in portions of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.”  But in return, Republicans and the oil and gas industry got federal approval to drill in a large swath of the Atlantic Ocean, a move that I criticized here (#71, on March 19) because it “risks another BP-type disaster. This is no small bone to calm the savage dogs on the right. Department of the interior officials are quick to reassure us that safeguards will be in place before exploration begins and that the leased area is 50 miles from shore. But we’ve been down that road too many times to feel reassured. Recall, for one thing, that the Deepwater Horizon rig was 41 miles from Louisiana’s shore. For another, since the BP spill, no new safety regulations have been enacted by Congress, and in the current climate, and if they are, they will have to come from the administration itself. Who will be president when the time comes?”

Now the administration has reversed its Arctic Ocean decision and granted drilling rights in those seas to Shell Oil. The decision is conditional on Shell being granted additional permits, which of course it will. As happens every time offshore drilling is allowed, the administration claims that resource extraction and safety standards can be effectively monitored, and the energy company claims it will adhere to the highest level of care for the environment.  Such nonsense: common sense and past experience tell us that drilling in the frigid Arctic is dangerous, a spill is only a matter of time, and the cleanup will be far more complicated than in the Gulf of Mexico.

Even some oil company executives have expressed surprise that Shell would undertake this venture, especially when it folded operations in 2012 after its oil drilling rig went aground. From a profit-and-loss standpoint, moreover, drilling doesn’t make sense given the low price of energy these days. But Shell is clearly banking on a carbon-filled future.

The central issue is a different risk: climate change. More drilling means more carbon.  As the veteran environmentalist Bill McKibben writes (www.nytimes.com/…/obamas-catastrophic-climate-change-denial), opening the Arctic to drilling is like allowing cigarette machines in cancer wards. Carbon must be kept in the ground; the alternative is out-of-control global warming.

President Obama wants to leave a legacy of good planetary stewardship.  But as I’ve written before, his notion of “balancing” drilling and protection is only further unbalancing the environment.  It may be good politics, but it’s bad stewardship.

Post #76 – TPP: A Deeply Flawed Partnership

(Note: A longer version of this post was subsequently published at

http://japanfocus.org/-Mel-Gurtov/4318/article.html.)

The American people have become used to government trickery in foreign affairs—wars and interventions based on lies and falsified evidence, “national security” used to justify the whittling away of privacy, classification of documents to hide embarrassing disclosures, massaging of budget figures to mask outrageous spending on arms, and claims of weakness in weapons systems that mask actual overkill capacity.

Now comes trickery in a different domain: trade and investment. It is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and it has the dubious distinction of being a piece of legislation that has substantial bipartisan support and strong presidential approval.  Eleven countries are awaiting the outcome in Congress as President Obama seeks approval to put the TPP on a “fast track,” meaning skipping hearings, public input, and amendments and going directly to an up-or-down vote.  Once passed, the TPP will do for US corporations operating in Asia what the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did for them in Canada and Mexico—provide new incentives to send jobs abroad, increase corporate earnings, and remove more protections from both overseas and US environments and workers.

The TPP is partnership alright, but not of the sort you or I are likely to appreciate.  Instead of enhancing partnership with working people who need higher wages and job training, and with grassroots organizations that are fighting to protect our natural environments, the TPP will promote the interests of trading and investment firms in the cutthroat competition that has come to define globalization.  It’s all about providing a “level playing field” for US multinational corporations, as Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel recently explained (see http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rm/2015/04/240121.htm). President Obama, who once resoundingly criticized all such mega-trade agreements, is now its biggest fan, proving once again that money talks just as loudly with liberal as with conservative leaders.  (But of course we all knew that from the Clintons’ ties to Wall Street, its favoritism to corporate donors, and its vigorous pushing of NAFTA.  Hillary, by the way, has waffled on TPP.)

Here are some of the specific drawbacks to the TPP.  Every one of them is also true of NAFTA.

 

  • Administration claims to the contrary, TPP will export far more jobs than it will create. It will encourage countries to further weaken their currencies’ value to promote exports to the US, thus widening the US trade deficit and reducing US jobs. At the same time, TPP will encourage US companies to invest abroad, and thus create jobs there. This consequence applies to free-trade agreements generally. Public Citizen, which tracks the impact of trade agreements, gives the example of the US-South Korea FTA since 2013. It has resulted in “a downfall in U.S. exports to Korea, rising imports and a surge in the U.S. trade deficit with Korea that equated to 60,000 more American jobs lost.”
  • By shifting jobs to low-wage countries, TPP will further undermine attempts by workers to unionize. The threat by companies to move from one low-wage country to an even lower-wage country is always there.
  • No provision is made to protect workers sidelined by the effects of the agreement. As Dana Milbank points out in the Washington Post, President Obama lost an opportunity when the TPP was being drafted to insert provisions for worker training and spending on public works (“infrastructure”), both areas that the US spends far less on than the Europeans (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-trans-pacific-partnership-trade-deal-is-an-abomination/2015/04/24/903e5a12-ea85-11e4-aae1-d642717d8afa_story.html).
  • Poor people in agriculture abroad also face the prospect of having to emigrate when corporate exports from, say, the US outprice locally produced goods. (Under NAFTA, the classic case is imports of cheap American corn, which flooded the Mexican market and forced thousands of campesinos off the land.)
  • It will undermine environmental, health, and safety laws because, as with the infamous Chapter 11 of NAFTA, TPP will allow countries that are blocked by regulations in another country from exporting certain below-standard goods—such as fish, fuel, timber, tobacco, and fruit—to sue in a special international court of arbitrators for financial redress on the basis of “restraint of trade.” Under the TPP, the special court’s ruling cannot be challenged in US courts. This crucial provision, called Investor-State Dispute Settlement, reduces environmental and public-health protections to the least common denominator.  (Senator Elizabeth Warren has warned about this provision at washingtonpost.com/opinions/kill-the-dispute-settlement-language-in-the-trans-pacific-partnership/2015/02/25/ec7705a2-bd1e-11e4-b274-e5209a3bc9a9_story.html. On the threat TPP poses to local food safety laws, see Mark Bittman’s article, www.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/opinion/obama-and-republicans-agree-on-the-trans-pacific-partnership-unfortunately.html.)
  • The special court operates in secret. Its decisions are binding on governments, and prevail over local laws and regulations.
  • The approval process for TPP is entirely undemocratic. The public has no “right to know” about the agreement’s contents.  And putting the TPP on a fast track is simply a way to avoid Congressional and public debate.

 

But TPP is more than a trade agreement; it has, at least for Washington and Tokyo, an equally important strategic dimension. The US Office of Trade Representative stated last year:

 

“TPP is as important strategically as it is economically. TPP would bind together a group that represents 40 percent of global GDP and about a third of world trade. Strategically, TPP is the avenue through which the United States, working with nearly a dozen other countries (and another half dozen waiting in the wings) is playing a leading role in writing the rules of the road for a critical region in flux.”

 

Translated into plain English, it’s all about China, the “800-pound gorilla in Asia [that] will create its own set of rules,” according to the President.  And for some governments, such as Japan’s, and influential pundits, such as Thomas J. Friedman of the New York Times, determining the rules of the game to outflank China should be the essence of the argument in favor of the TPP.  As Friedman wrote, agreements like TPP “would both strengthen and more closely integrate the market-based, rule-of-law-based democratic and democratizing nations that form the backbone of the World of Order” (www.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/opinion/thomas-l-friedman-on-trade-obama-right-critics-wrong.html).

A clearer “us versus them” world view could not have been written. You can see why some folks in Beijing see the TPP not as an opportunity for cooperation but as another element in the US strategy to encircle China—and why, in Washington, the selling of TPP requires hyping the China threat, thus reinforcing Chinese suspicions.  To be sure, the Chinese are not standing still when it comes to Asia-Pacific economy; they are lining up their own tariff-cutting, investment-friendly, loan-approving groups in Asia, and those groups will have even less environmental and safety protections built into them than the TPP or NAFTA.

Since they have been invited to join the TPP but not to set its rules, the Chinese are doing what comes naturally these days: creating groups where they have preponderate influence in setting the rules, just as happened at the end of World War II when the US led the way in founding the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and later the Asian Development Bank. The China-backed groups are the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, not to mention a Silk Road Economic Fund.  Of course Washington resents these Chinese “intrusions,” especially since China is signing up countries friendly to the US, including the European Union and possibly Taiwan, in the AIIB.  US officials are encouraging the Koreans and Japanese, among others, to stick with the TPP and not join China-sponsored organizations.  But the pressure isn’t working, nor should it.  Americans believe in competition, don’t they?

Regardless of what China does, Congress should defeat the TPP legislation.  From a human-interest point of view, it fails the test of genuine partnership.  No trade or investment agreement should be undertaken that pays mere lip service to environmental protection, puts corporate profits ahead of human rights, and interprets globalization to mean nothing more than getting ahead of the competition.  There is a national security dimension to this bill, but it has to do with the way trade contributes to inequality in our streets and not to strategic balancing against China.  Think Baltimore, not Beijing.

Critical appraisals of foreign affairs from a global-citizen perspective.

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