Recent Articles

Serena Hotel attack two years on

by Conor Foley     January 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Two years ago today gunmen attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul. A number of my friends were there at the time and a couple got caught up in the cross-fire. Here is an account by one of them about what happened.

Thor Hesla, a former colleague of mine from the UN mission in Kosovo, was amongst the people killed that day

War crimes and war criminals

by Conor Foley     December 14, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Was the invasion of Iraq illegal? Yes, I think we have now got almost enough evidence to conclude that George Bush and Tony Blair were more concerned to effect regime-change (which has no basis in international law) than with Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of WMD in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Does it matter? Yes, because if you selectively disregard international law than you weaken its framework and that makes the world a more dangerous place. Blair and Bush also unleashed a bloody maelstrom in Iraq itself which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Are Bush and Blair war criminals? Possibly. Customary international law recognises the existence of the crime of aggression and some international criminal tribunals (Nuremburg and ICTY) have prosecuted people for this offence. But the crime is not a part of British law and the International Criminal Court has also not yet defined it or granted itself jurisdiction to hear cases. Hopefully this anomaly will be dealt with next year (although the outcome could be a fudge) but the court will not be able to hear cases retrospectively.

If we instead have to content ourselves with the ‘court of public opinion’, I would like to be clear what I do and do not consider these two leaders guilty of.
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Afghanistan: lions and donkeys

by Conor Foley     December 13, 2009 at 11:17 pm

It is things like this which I wrote about here that make me less convinced about what people say at meetings like this and drives me to despair when this happens.

Chilcot and the ‘smoking gun’

by Conor Foley     November 29, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Although Oliver Kamm and Scott Ritter could not be further apart on their views about the invasion of Iraq, both use the phrase ‘smoking gun’ in their relation to the Chilcot Inquiry whose existence or non-existence they believe must be the test by which its results will be judged. Kamm makes the case against having an inquiry at all while Ritter warns that unless the UN weapons inspectors are called to give evidence it will end in another whitewash.

Kamm, quoting John Rentoul, says that opponents of the war have become convinced that ‘there is a big secret that is being concealed from us, a smoking gun that “explains it all”. This is a symptom of the anti-war psychology, which so strongly disagrees with the decision made by Tony Blair, the Cabinet and the House of Commons that it seeks constantly for a hidden reason for it.’

Ritter, by contrast, says: ‘As of December 1998, both the US and Britain knew there was no “smoking gun” in Iraq that could prove that Saddam’s government was retaining or reconstituting a WMD capability. Nothing transpired between that time and when the decision was made in 2002 to invade Iraq that fundamentally altered that basic picture.’
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We only want the earth! Land rights and conflict

by Conor Foley     November 23, 2009 at 2:12 pm

The Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute are launching a book on land and conflict this week, the details of which can be found here.

Land issues are often central to understanding the dynamics of conflict and post-conflict settings, particularly in contexts of large scale displacement, but there has been very little serious discussion of their actual dynamics. It has been a fairly central part of my work over the last 10 years, and I have a chapter in the book based on the situation in Angola. Other contributors include: Alex de Waal, Liz Alden Wiley, Jon Unruh and Scott Leckie. The book is edited Sara Pantuliano who previously led UNDP’s Peace-building unit in Sudan.

Land dispossession has often been the cause of rural resistance and insurrection. Land issues are rarely the sole cause of conflict. But in places like Afghanistan, Colombia and Darfur they have been a major factor. The most common form of land conflict is often played out at the local level between communities (along borders, between pastoralists and farmers), frequently in the context of a state that has little interest in seeing a resolution, or where the state has collapsed or is powerless.

Conflicts over land occur in extremely different settings, though – from Rwanda to the Balkans, and the international community’s response to these problems is still weak, uncertain and under-analyzed. A failure to tackle land-grabbing in Afghanistan when I was there was one of the first signs that western governments were prepared to tolerate the corruption and lawlessness which have now fatally compromised its government’s legitimacy. An early reluctance to engage with institutions of customary law is also now widely recognised to have been a catastrophic mistake.

The book notes that humanitarian actors have been reluctant to address with land rights issues, because of their complexity and sensitivity can clash with our more limited mandates. What is more surprising is that politicians, policy-makers and pundits also rarely face up to the challenges that they pose.

Maybe that’s what grown-ups do

by Conor Foley     November 16, 2009 at 6:46 pm

There is a good piece at the Bleeding Heart Show on the recent attack on Laurie Penny at Harry’s Place. I completely agree with the following section:

As it happens, I think it’s quite possible (providing you don’t venture into the comment threads) to read Harry’s Place and not find much which is quarrelsome or controversial. It’s not often that a day passes without HP posting something I generally agree with . . . .

But it’s posts like this which give HP the reputation for bullying and sectarianism which Laurie was decrying. The habit of singling individuals out and ‘exposing’ them as morally or intellectually deficient doesn’t speak well of the site, particularly when the writers claim to be interested in some of the big international debates of our time. This leads on to my main frustration with the site: for all the intention to stand up for democracy and human rights around the world, and all the time spent standing against ideologues, racists & militants wherever they may be found, the actual foreign policy content on Harry’s Place is incredibly superficial.

I will now wait to be assailed by the wit and wisdom of Habibi and Morgoth.

Loony Trots on Mars

by Conor Foley     November 6, 2009 at 12:27 pm

My mis-reading of the headline of Dave’s piece yesterday brought back some wonderful memories of the maddest moments of the ultra-left. These days, of course, they just write silly manifestos about reforming international law, call for random invasions of foreign countries, attack human rights organisations or give support to reactionary, homophobic, misogynist, antisemites.

But back in the old days Trots had a far grander perspective.

J. Posadas (1912–1981) (occasionally referred to as Juan Posadas), was the pseudonym of Homero Rómulo Cristalli Frasnelli, an Argentine Trotskyist whose personal vision is usually described as Posadism. Posadas became the leader of the Latin America Bureau of the Fourth International and, under his guidance, the movement gained some influence in the region, particularly among Cuban railway workers, Bolivian tin miners and agricultural workers in Brazil.

When the Fourth International split in 1953, Posadas and his followers sided with Michel Pablo and the International Secretariat of the Fourth International. By 1959, however, he and his followers were quarrelling with the leadership of the ISFI accusing them of lacking confidence in the possibility of revolution. They also differed over the issue of nuclear war with Posadas taking the view that “War–Revolution” would “settle the hash of Stalinism and Capitalism” and that nuclear war was inevitable and desirable as a socialist society would rise from the ashes. Posadas and his international followers, who were concentrated in Latin America, split from the ISFI in 1962 prior to its rectification of the 1953 split with the International Committee of the Fourth International.

Posadas wrote that “Nuclear war [equals] revolutionary war. It will damage humanity but it will not – it cannot – destroy the level of consciousness reached by it… Humanity will pass quickly through a nuclear war into a new human society – Socialism.” J. Posadas’ enthusiasm for nuclear war and “worker’s bombs” escalated in the 1970s with the Posadist movement issuing demands that the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China begin a “preventative war” against the United States in order to finish off capitalism.
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Back through the looking-glass

by Conor Foley     October 12, 2009 at 3:18 pm

On 17 March 2003, the British Attorney General published a short statement, in response to a parliamentary question, claiming that the forthcoming invasion of Iraq was legal under international law. This legal opinion was sufficient to head off a major rebellion within the British government against the war.

It was also enough for Sir Admiral Michael Boyce, the Chief of Defence, who had demanded a clear assurance of the war’s legality to ensure military chiefs and their soldiers would not be “put through the mill” at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ten days before his opinion was published the Attorney General had sent a longer, private and secret, memorandum to the Prime Minister setting out the legal arguments in more detail.

This was shared with the Foreign Office and Defence Chiefs and appears to have been what alarmed Boyce into demanding the clarification. In it he noted that the three legal grounds for the use of force were “a) self-defence (which may include collective self-defence); b) exceptionally to avert overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe; and c) authorisation by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.” He stated that he did not believe that the invasion could be justified on either of the first two grounds, but that an arguable case could be made for it on the third.
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Iraq was not Rwanda: how difficult is that to grasp?

by Conor Foley     October 9, 2009 at 1:14 am

Norm is usually quite sharp and succinct in comments, but his post here is on the wordy side.

Norm said in his first post that he used the terms ‘liberal intervention’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ interchangeably. I pointed out they are quite obviously not the same thing, but those who had set out to confuse them (unintentionally or not) had damaged the cause of humanitarianism.

In his latest post Norm argues that the two terms ‘overlap’ which I agree with; but that was not his original statement. Oranges and apples are not interchangeable things and nor are cats and dogs – although both can be categorised together under different and more general terms. There is a certain ‘overlap’ between the actions involved in stroking a child and the actions involved in slapping one, but there are also good reasons why we distinguish between them as well.
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Normblog’s verbal flip-flops

by Conor Foley     October 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm

When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

Alice in Wonderland

In a post here a couple of days ago I noted that the term ‘liberal intervention’ had been discredited due to its association with Tony Blair’s disastrous foreign policy adventures and that humanitarian aid workers were amongst its sharpest critics. This was because we objected to the perversion of the long-established principle that military interventions on humanitarian grounds could be justified, as a last resort during humanitarian crises – in Rwanda for example – for regime-changes invasions like Iraq. In a reply entitled ‘liberals confused about intervention’, Norm states that I myself tend to use the terms ‘liberal intervention’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ interchangeably’ .

I suppose I could just thank Norm for illustrating my point so succinctly, but since the two terms are so obviously not the same, it does beg obvious questions like ‘so why do you that then?’ or ‘so what do you think that they actually mean?

The doctrine of humanitarian intervention is a long-established concept in international law.
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