Inaction of Syria=Inaction on Climate

Rob Hickey, SIMPOL Blogger and Supporter (this is a cross-post with Rob Hickey’s blog over at Spaceship Earth)

I have traditionally prided myself on being able to sniff out what I think are ludicrous conspiracy theories, and to scoff at them condescendingly. This has routinely been undertaken with a degree of smugness spreading across my face that would make even the most docile pacifist want to shatter the bridge of my nose with a tack hammer.

But I am beginning to believe that, like the most crazed of tin-foil-hatted-moon-landing deniers, I am starting to see connections between things that are, at best, tenuously related. As perception is reality to some degree, I continue.

The problem, Dear Reader, is that I see the implications of current events on climate change lurking forebodingly around every corner.

It’s pretty much old hat by now to everyone that the United Nations Security Council has been unable to pass a resolution legalizing a military intervention in Syria (which is needed under Article 42 of the United Nations Charter for the use of force to be internationally lawful). Russia and China are to thank for that bit of “non-interventionist” statesmanship, although a good number of us might suspect ‘realpolitiking’ as the elephant in the room. Self-defense is also considered a lawful use of force under (Article 51 of the UN Charter), but since this is a civil war, a Security Council Resolution would appear the only way to do this in accordance with codified international law.

Despite this, there is a Responsibility to Protect initiative of the United National established in 2005 which proposes that:

  1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war      crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
  2. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
  3. If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.

While not law per se, Wikipedia calls this an “emerging intended norm” which some legal commentators claim can serve as the basis for action outside the bounds of the UN – presumably many of those commentators work for the U.S. government.

And yes, I used Wikipedia as a source. College professors everywhere (none of whom are likely reading this), eat your hearts out.

A piece in the Tehran Times claims that the U.S. has bent and twisted this norm into what it calls, the Right to Bomb principle. Some interpretations of the Responsibility to Protect initiative take the position that when a consensus cannot be reached at the UN that a “coalition of willing” can be deployed. A fine line needs to be walked here of course, as it clearly undermines the UN’s mandate on the use of force under international law, bringing the need for international consensus into question.

Obama has made his position on the UN clear by saying “I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold [Syrian President Bashar] Assad accountable.”

While the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons in Syria on innocents seems insufficient to trigger an organized consensual international response, my figurative hyperopia (which means farsighted – I, for sure, had to look that up) makes me feel kind of bad in saying what I am about to say. I feel that I am belittling the gravity of the present and to a certain degree overemphasizing the importance of some distant future.

The only way that I feel even somewhat content with what I am about to say is that, as a student of history – regardless that it is probably hovering at the elementary school level – short-sightedness and the human mind are somewhat brothers-in-arms. A couple examples of this include U.S. support of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s (yes, I saw Charlie Wilson’s War) and the Western backed coup overthrowing Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, both have which have significant ramifications to this day (Argo was a solid flick as well).  I am, in my own mind at least, an inconsequential counter-weight to that oh-so-noble human tradition of thinking at arm’s length.

So here goes.

If the images of dead children do not trigger a credible international response, how can we hope for international consensus in dealing with climate change?

Eck. Even though I did preface that somewhat, I still feel kind of gross saying that.

If videos of hundreds of children dead children cannot produce a concerted international response, what effect can a hockey-stick shaped graph illuminating future global average temperatures and CO2 levels have on parties with vastly different and irreconcilable views?

Call me crazy, and you wouldn’t be the first, but why is it that the UN Security Council, with historical and present animosities between its members, the ones responsible for deciding when UN law has been transgressed and what actions should be taken to redress them? Clearly, the foxes have designed the chicken coop. This is admittedly a soft-ball and somewhat ignorant question, and one that I have not-so-cleverly worded rhetorically to make my next point.

To make the UN effective at doing what it exists to do (stopping/preventing crimes against humanity), a politically independent legal body needs to be created to determine when a “red-line” has been crossed and what action needs to be taken to address it. These “red-lines” need to exist as codified written statements. Presumably, many of them already do in the UN Charter. Then there would be no need for Obama, or any other American or foreign president, to make them, or feel bound unilaterally by them. In the words of Henry Kissinger, the U.S. should not be the police of the world, but it can be a last resort in addressing national, regional or global crisis. This is something most Americans – I know because I am one of them – would feel much better about rather than constantly being the first to the scene. Crimes against humanity require humanity, not America alone, to address them.

Unilateral action when the UN balks is a thankless job for the U.S.; a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.”

I like making questionably useful analogies, so with that in mind…rather than playing every position on the baseball field at once, the U.S. can be the pinch hitter that steps to the plate when the bases are loaded when the world is three runs down in the bottom of the ninth.  Not a great analogy to be sure, but good to get out of my system.

By being a proponent of global governance, some may claim that I am falling into the hands of shadowy ‘smoking-man’ style characters who want One World Government and who want nothing more than to control us all. In some sense, when I see situations like Syria, or CO2 concentrations rising with only superficial actions to address them, I think that we need it.

But like any red-blooded American, I recognize that the slide into tyranny is always possible and that, as such, the right to privacy, association and to bear arms should also be heavily protected.

When national interests are no longer significant factors in making the decisions that need to be made, such as would be the case if an independent ‘red-line’ body as discussed above would potentially deliver, much contention on the degree to which climate change (and other existential or humanitarian crises) can be addressed, dissolve. Admittedly, since nearly all of us have some form of national affiliation and identity, finding such a body would be troubling.

At the risk of sounding hippy-ish, this would, it seems to me, require a shift in human consciousness towards a more world-centric view of each of our places in the human family.

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