The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, February 28, 2003

Blair's new pitch (he kills with sincerity....)

The evident increasing desperation of Bush's Weakest Link over his failure to persuade is, I suppose, marginally a good sign. One is naturally on the qui-vive for the moment when he goes just that bit too far: when he utters a downright, provable lie (rather than his usual mere distortions of the truth); or pitches the emotional level just a wee bit too high [1].

I've only seen the transcript of today's speech in Wales. But it seems to represent a lurch in that direction.

It's been spun, I think, as Trust me, I'm Tony [2]: it has expressions like
I can only say what is the nature of what I see
The belief I have is this
I know many of you find it hard to understand why I care so deeply about this.
As if he's tried rational argument (ha!) and is now placing a comforting fatherly arm around the nation's shoulder. Desperate times....

So what do we get? The usual (evidenceless) conflation of Saddam and terrorism, of course. But an even greater insistence on
rogue states and international terrorism.
[S]tates, repressive and tyrannical, who are developing, proliferating or trading in [WMDs].
A vision of
not just Britain but the world...plunged into a living nightmare from which we will struggle long and hard to awake.

Blair seems to be proposing the sort of rolling worldwide war, of indefinite scope and timescale, that figured in the background of George Orwell's 1984. (Or is he just hyping it for the immediate issue of turning opinion on Iraq? Surely not...)

Then he moves to history. And chutzpah.
There are glib comparisons that can be made with the 1930s. And I don't make them.
The War Party just can't leave the History Thing alone: there really should be an Anachronists Anonymous...

It's worse when they try to impart the impression of sophisticated analysis:
we think it all obvious; obvious fascism was a threat; obvious we had to fight it; obvious the opponents of fighting it were wrong.

Oh dear - obvious four times in one sentence screams sophomoric and tendentious. Patent lack of the Five Ws: when, for example is it obvious that we had to fight Fascism (just screams out for capitalisation in a sentence like Tony's)? Against whom? On what pretext? How were politicians counterfactually struck with the vision of the obvious (per Tony) supposed to have got their peers and their voters to go along?

Clearly, this is merely an infantile (yes, on reflection, sophomoric is far too flattering) druther.

But, he goes on,
Chamberlain was a hero when he brought back the Munich Agreement. And he did it for the best of motives....He strove for peace not because he was a bad man. He was a good man. But he was a good man who made the wrong decision.

Looking in the mirror, Tony?

.....the lesson we learnt then was that if, confronted by a threat, we back away because we assume that our good and peaceful intentions are matched by those threatening us, the threat only grows and at a later time has to be confronted again, but in a far more deadly and dangerous form.

The fallacy involved here can best be explained with (my rudimentary knowledge of) statistics [3].

Suppose one wishes to test the efficacy of a new treatment for a disease; one sets up a trial to see how it compares with the standard treatment. The hypothesis is made that there is no difference between the treatments. By the miracle of statistical method, a limited amount of testing can yield a reliable result significant within stated limits.

There are, however, two possibilities of error:

  • the test says the new treatment is better, but it isn't (called a Type I Error);

  • the test does not say the new treatment is better, but it is (called a Type II Error).

Now, at all times being aware of the pitfalls of such analogising, Blair and the rest of the War Party are fixated on the idea of the political Type II Error, the false negative: that they should have a threat in front of their eyes, but not recognise it, or think it serious enough for action.

They entirely ignore the possibility of the Type I Error (or believe it in some way harmless): that the evil dictators they whack, with enormous collateral damage, unforeseeable sequelae - not to mention a goodly number of widows and orphans amongst the relatives of our boys - weren't a real threat after all.

It's true - going back to the analogy - that there are some cases where a statistical test is only interested in performance at one end of the range - the so-called one tailed test. This quotes the example of industrial quality control, where the testers are only there to reject product which fails to reach the required benchmarks (they're not interested in over-achievers!).

It is, however, a monumental fallacy to analysis the Saddam situation as a one-tailed test: to ignore or discount the costs incurred of assuming him to be a deadly threat, and invading, when, in fact, he is not such a threat.

The lives of the people who die because of war which turns out to have been unnecessary should weigh equally with those supposedly saved by one that turned out to have been necessary.

As of now, both sets of deaths are equally hypothetical, of course; but those that happen will very much not be.

Then, one gets the usual falsehood [4], that breach of a UNSC resolution could ever justify preemptive war; and the warning to the SC to obey or else; before getting onto the moral dimension. Where he invites us all to climb upon my knee - though less as Sonny Boy than a ventriloquist's dummy.

Enter one Ann Clywd [5],
a brave and tireless campaigner against the barbarism of the Iraqi regime and the suffering of the Iraqi people when the world's attention was turned away [6].

Clywd, long-time Labour backbencher and champion of anti-Realpolitik, has had more play on the media in the last week, I reckon, than in the previous year. How was that arranged - not, surely, by the Number 10 spin machine?

Because, instead of being her usual (and highly laudable) pain in the arse to ministers on UK foreign policy (eg on the infamous Tanzanian air traffic control system), she has been feted as a veritable oracle on the state of affairs in Iraq.

When the government put out a dossier (not the famous plagiarised one!) on Iraqi human rights violations, Clywd, whose been banging on about the subject for years, apparently

lamented the lack of British government action
on the subject - her own included, it seems.

But, right now, she's the heroine of the hour.

Now, there's no evidence, so far as I know, that the horror stories she's been telling are fabricated - we're not in the realms of the Hill & Knowlton incubator babies' scam of 1991 that I mentioned before. They don't need to be fabricated: the authenticated proofs of Saddam's evil deeds are legion.

The vice in their being told now is their convenience as a prop for Blair's justifications for war, which are false and perceived as such by his voters. It's the sneaky, sleazy misdirection of Saint Tony's very unsaintly media men that's in question. That they place a human shield of genuine misery to protect those justifications from criticism: that's what's despicable in the sudden moment in the sun for Ms Clywd.

At bottom, Blair's problem is that he thinks sincerity is persuasive. And - despite the dozens of dodgy deals his government has been involved in, he still believes that, by dint of his unique charisma and charm, he can sell the war. Worst of all, he believes sincerity is a virtue in itself (he even praises War Party ultra-hate figure Chamberlain for it!)

He's wrong on all counts. There is [7] little doubt, after all, that Hitler hated the ever-loving crap out of Jews and Jewry with an unalloyed monomaniacal sincerity to the purity of which even Tony Blair's notion of the danger of Saddam comes nowhere close.

The instinctive loathing of sincerity is perhaps one of the more attractive Anglo-Saxon traits (of modern times). Three hundred years of bigots (from 1400) repeatedly - and most sincerely - plagued the country with war and repression in the cause of their damnable religion. And then we decided to junk the whole lot - and become C of E. Where the First Commandment was, Thou shalt neither feel nor show enthusiasm of any kind.

Arguably, this trait has helped the US to avoid the sort of ideological strife that cost Old Europe tens of millions of lives in the last century. (The Capra film Mr Smith Goes To Washington has a Communist script-writer praising corruption over demagoguery!) The 'finest' president of the century, Franklin Roosevelt, had some of the worst political gangsters working for him. And he was so sincere, he tortured himself for nearly two decades to fake for public consumption the 'fact' he wasn't a cripple!

I'm with the Commie on this.....

  1. The throb in his voice, like Mary Astor's in The Maltese Falcon, often (increasingly under pressure of war, perhaps) is annoyingly insistent. Threatening at times to burgeon into a full Al Jolson in blackface. Unlike either, I fear, he is utterly sincere.

  2. A line first used during the Bernie Ecclestone scandal (on which more here) in a number of Checkers speeches on TV.

  3. Working very much out of area here - E&OE on the technicalities, though the principle is fine, I think.

  4. As Wednesday's Prime Minister's Question Time.

  5. Pronounced clue-id

  6. Tony in confessional mood?

  7. I'm here assuming the incessant War Party World War 2 allusions mean that Godwin's Law is no longer an issue.


Blair's bad day: the monkey [1] kicks off the Commons Iraq debate

The debate [2] was opened by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw setting himself an ambitious list of points to deal with: this debate I want to answer what I think are the central and continuing questions in people's minds. Why Iraq? Why now? Why not more time, more inspectors? Why a second resolution? Why not persist with the policy of containment, rather than contemplate military action? And finally, is not the west guilty of double standards, especially in relation to Israel/Palestine?

On the first point, he skips through some UNSC resolutions - pointing out Saddam's non-compliance, and then says
So, for the United Nations, the answer to the "Why Iraq?" question is very clear. Iraq is the only country in such serious and multiple breach of mandatory UN obligations. It is the only country in the world to have fired missiles at five of its neighbours, the only country in history to have used chemical weapons against its own people, and the only country in the region that has invaded two of its neighbours in recent years.

For the United Nations - evidently, he's taunting the doubters in the SC to have some pride and show some resentment at a guy who keeps flipping them off. (He should be scriptwriting for teen TV dramas....) And those other categories look suspiciously narrowly tailored to me.

Not to mention irrelevant to the question of imminence of serious threat - which can be the only justification for pre-emptive war. (Compare North Korea: which probably already has a nuclear device, not to mention the
Five hundred 170mm Koksan guns and 200 multiple-launch rocket systems
trained on Seoul, and other impressive hardware - summarised here. The paradox is, the smaller the threat you pose, the more likely you are to get the bejazus blasted out of you. You Faroese are in big trouble....)

On the question Why now?, he says,
All the resolutions of the Security Council, 12 years of them, also help us answer that question.

Saddam's aim is that "now" shall never arrive. His tactics all along have been to prevaricate in the hope that by exploiting people's natural anxieties about military action he can string out the process for ever and keep his arsenal for good.

This, then, is Saddam's cunning plan: to extend indefinitely the UN process which keeps him contained, so he can keep, but never use, the good stuff he's got stashed away?

And, in supposedly answering, Why not more time? we get more of the same:
It took just nine inspectors to verify the disarmament of South Africa's nuclear weapons programme at the end of apartheid.....Why? Because South Africa was complying with the inspectors

It would truly be hard to devise a bull point as absurdly irrelevant as the South African comparison. I get that South Africa is the prime example of retro-onanism that the British Left can enjoy after the Thatcher/Blair revolution. But....

Still, the question is, what is the effective, imminent threat posed by Saddam? Making a hundred - or a thousand - inspectors jump through hoops is, perhaps, not the act of a considerate host. But we're not considering his application to join the Rotary.

Straw says
The only reason for the difference between Saddam's refusal to co-operate...and his very reluctant co-operation on some process the build-up of the credible threat of force.....
But continues that he
must either embark immediately on voluntary and full disarmament or the Security Council must face up to its responsibility to see that he is disarmed by force.

He states facts that amount to an admission that containment is working. But he chooses to 'deduce' from those facts that pre-emptive war is justified.

Alluding to the French/German/Russian Memorandum of February 24, he asks,
.......why Saddam is more likely to co-operate actively, fully and immediately in the further 120 days that they now propose than he was in the past 110. What does he need 120 days for: to have a look for the weapons that he says he has not got.......?

Again, Saddam playing silly buggers - tedious and ill-mannered as it no doubt is - is not a justification for pre-emptive war.

Then, finally, he addresses the issue of containment.
There can be no stable, steady state for Iraq unless it is properly disarmed, and nor can there be stability for the region and the international community.
And, he says,
A de facto policy of containment existed between 1998 and 2002 following the effective expulsion of inspectors by Iraq....

Up to a point, Lord Copper....

The difference now, is that there is an effective military threat in operation - which (from memory) I don't believe there was in the period he mentions.

I wonder whether he's grasped the concept of containment: which, I'd have thought, paradigmatically, involves the use of a threat of force to dissuade a state from using force itself. As with the nuclear balance during the Cold War: it only worked because the threat of force on each side was credible.

What is wrong, from the US/UK perspective, about a policy of containing Saddam is that they have run down their armed forces from Cold War levels to such a point that they fear they cannot sustain the level of threat in theatre necessary for a policy of containment to work.

A policy which may or may not have been correct; a fear which may or may not be justified. But is a completely different argument from one that containment of Saddam has been tried and does not work.

He then makes his points on double standards, which don't interest me much - what do you expect? they're politicians, for crying out loud!

His peroration, unfortunately, is yet another War Party trip down (False) Memory Lane. Like small children, the good people on the UNSC - well, the Saleable Six, and their P5 would-be puppet-masters, at least - are threatened with the spectre of the League of Nations.
At each stage good men and women [3] said, "Not now, wait, the evil is not big enough to challenge." Then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge. We had slipped slowly down a slope, never noticing how far we had gone until it was too late.

Now, my ignorance on the League is considerable [4]. But, on general principles, the idea of the slippery slope - fine, perhaps, in literary analysis - is fundamentally flawed in international relations.

Anthony Eden [5] was an object lesson in such absurdities: hag-ridden by analogy, besotted with read-across. His whole idea with Suez was to rerun the 1930s, only, this time, he would be the good man to say that 'Nasser is an
evil....big enough to challenge.'

And he went pre-emptive on Nasser's ass. And ended up making one of himself.....

....and then Straw finally sat down.

I'll scan through the rest of the debate and try and locate some plums for a later piece. No promises, though....

  1. Relevance will be become clear: (from here
    One day, during the Suez crisis, Nye Bevan was savaging poor Selwyn Lloyd, then foreign secretary, when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan [he must mean Eden!] ambled into the chamber. Without missing a beat, Bevan said, "Why tease the monkey when here comes the old organ-grinder himself?")

  2. Text starts here.

  3. Is this mere knee-jerk anachronistic equal opportunity speak? Or were there many women involved in the League of Nations (other than in a menial capacity)?

  4. I've dredged up a copy of the 800 page RIIA study by FP Walters to try, willpower permitting, to remedy the deficiency.

  5. A detailed comparison with the present incumbent just cries out to be done.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Blair in Prime Minister's Question Time - warm-up for Iraq debate

Usually PMQs are strictly for the aficionado: with about as much sporting interest as a game between the Yankees and the World Series champions - of Little League.

But yesterday's ranked as something of an hors d'oeuvres for the Iraq debate - so, I thought, worth sampling [1]. Nothing startling: as usual, an economy - nay, niggardliness - with the truth that Chancellor Gordon Brown could only envy.

Unreasonable veto

The old chicane which supposes that material breach of UNSCR 1441 is a legitimate casus belli, and not a mere fig-leaf for a pre-emptive attack; and suggesting that the SC has given its word to enforce 1441 [2].

Mr. Duncan Smith [Leader of the (Ha!) Opposition]: The Prime Minister recently said he would support action without a second resolution only if there was an "unreasonable veto" in the Security Council. not the logic of his position now that any veto would be unreasonable?

The Prime Minister: It certainly would be an unreasonable veto if Iraq is in material breach and we do not pass a resolution, because resolution 1441 made it absolutely clear that Iraq had a final opportunity to comply. If it is not complying, it is in breach. Therefore, that is why I believe that a second resolution should issue and it is also why I believe that, in the end, it will issue.

UN: castration or death

The threat (directed particularly, perhaps, with the supposed French folie de grandeur about its (currently unmerited) Permanent Seat on the Council in mind) that the UNSC will cease to be of relevance if it fails to comply with the demand for a new resolution.
Surely the right way to proceed is through the logic of the resolution that we agreed last November. The simple case is that, unless the United Nations carries through what it agreed last November, it is the authority of the UN itself that will be undermined.

We waited 12 years....

And can wait another 12...oops, Tony won't be having that! one, surely, could accuse us of taking precipitate action when we have been trying for 12 years to get Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction, it is six months since President Bush addressed the UN and four months since the UN resolution, and still he is not in compliance.

Encomium for George

A Tory backbencher asked:
does the Prime Minister agree that what lies behind some of the opposition to his policy is a caricature of President George W. Bush which is a gross distortion of the truth?

The reply:
I have always found in my dealings with President Bush that he has been honest and straightforward.

Rather like giving an exam candidate marks for spelling his own name right. And then

George went the UN route

There is a name for the procedure whereby a guy who threatens an illegal act gets rewarded for agreeing not to do it...
What is more, he chose to go through the United Nations route last year when many expected him not to. We should pay tribute to him for that.

Why doesn't Saddam get credit for not having invaded anywhere recently? No fair....

Querying the war is hurting our forces

Basically, anyone not giving three cheers for the war is (willingly or not) part of Saddam's Fifth Column.
....what the vast bulk of British armed forces out there would really like to know is that if they have to go into conflict, they have a united House and country behind them.

Of course, that's not quite how it turned out when the lobby fodder were allowed into the paddock to strut their stuff in the debate proper....

  1. The text continues in tiny segments - evidently the parliamentary IT guys have failed to spot we have a 56k modem now; and the crinoline is so last year...

  2. One should not forget the Joint Statement by China, France and Russia Interpreting [SCR 1441] of November 8 2002 - which said 1441
    excludes any automaticity in the use of force. In this regard, we register with satisfaction the declarations of the representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom confirming this understanding in their explanations of vote....In case of failure by Iraq to comply with its obligations.....Such failure will be reported to the Security Council by [UNMOVIC/IAEA]. It will be then for the Council to take position on the basis of that report.

    Therefore, this resolution fully respects the competences of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.

    The strong interpretation of automaticity would be, No new resolution needed to authorise an attack on Saddam. The weak interpretation, A new resolution is required, but any refusal would be wrong - unreasonable, in fact.

    If the Statement is taking the strong interpretation, it's scarcely worth the paper it's printed on: no one would believe the three powers for a second thought that 1441, of itself, authorised war, so no point in denying it.

    Surely, the statement must in fact be saying that (according to 'CFR') 1441 in no way precludes the SC in considering an authorisation resolution from examining the situation at that time de novo, in the light of inspectors' reports and all other information then available.

    If so, the three nations can scarcely be accused of bad faith or welshing on a deal if they demand such an examination for the new draft resolution; and make up their own minds afresh in deciding how to vote on it.


At last, the famous US-Iraqi opposition meeting

There are just some aspects of the war I find it hard to raise enthusiasm for dealing with. And one of them is the interminable and apparently pointless to-ing and fro-ing with Farouk Karno's Army and their pals in the less savoury end of the War Party....

However - be it said that the White House's Asiatic Mr Fixit, Zalmay Khalilzad [1], formerly on the Afghanistan beat, has finally met the opposition. To reassure them that the AMGOT the US has planned for post-Saddam won't last forever. And that, rather than merely installing an our son-of-a-bitch from the existing regime,
Washington was now in favour of "de-Ba'athification" of the country.

Quite what evidence this swing back to the Opposition represents of intra-Administration in-fighting - a victory for the Perle faction? - I scarcely can raise the energy to query.

Who's next for the big whinge - SCIRI (the Shi'ites) are apparently pissed off about the AMGOT: perhaps it's them...

Bright spot: Kurdish sense of humour. The meeting took place in
the freezing Kurdish mountain resort of Salahuddin.

And Salahuddin - aka Saladin - was, circa 1190, no less than the nemesis [2] of George Bush's notable predecessor in the line of Great Crusaders, Richard the Lion-Heart. (I hear a Korngold score coming on....)

  1. I mentioned previously here and here.

  2. UPDATE: Too harsh, I think: absolutely not my period, but, from what I can see, the contest between them in the Holy Land amounts to a draw. Perhaps, even, abstracting from political and logistical considerations, a win on points for Richard.

    There is, I see, a copy of the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi - not one I'd heard of, but, apparently a useful source - available on the Gallica site: a 44MB file!


Turkey puts off US deployment vote again

According to AP, the Turkish Parliament will finally vote on Saturday on the resolution to approve the deployment on US forces in the country - only yesterday, I was suggesting on good authority that the vote would take place today - possibly!

The guy who seems (on still tenuous evidence) to be the focus of much opposition to the proposal in the AKP parliamentary party, Speaker Bulent Arinc, is reported to have met with the country's President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer:
Sezer reportedly told Arinc that international legitimacy should be ensured before Parliament votes on a proposal authorizing the US to station its troops at Turkey’s airbases and ports for a possible Iraq war. For his part, Arinc expressed agreement with Sezer, adding that he was planning to convey this message to the government. Arinc then met with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul. The prime minister, however, reportedly reiterated that there was no point in further delays of Parliament’s vote on the proposal.

Very cosy, the Speaker and the President, it seems!

Meanwhile, AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that
if Parliament rejected the proposal on allowing US troops to be stationed on Turkish soil, Turkey would in the future have difficulties borrowing from international markets.


That I have no certain idea what's going on in Ankara is, perhaps, not only excusable but thoroughly desirable, from the Turkish viewpoint, at least. That (apparently) the Turks themselves don't have a clue - not so much.

UPDATE Perhaps worth pointing out the notion that I gleaned from a snippet on Turkey watching the Channel 4 News an hour or so ago. Not said in so many words, as I recall, but implicit, if I understood aright, that, far from there being disarray between parliament and government, Arinc and Gul, it was all part of a good cop, bad cop routine devised to raise the price exacted from the US.

Evidence, so far as I could see, came there none. But it's a theory....

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

International law experts say Iraq attack could be war crime

[Repost from 1430 GMT - update swallowed original post (thanks Blogger!)]

They don't show their workings, unfortunately; but that's the story in today's Sydney Morning Herald. The Herald apparently [1] received
a letter from eminent legal experts....who claimed an invasion of Iraq could constitute a war crime.

One of the signatories, Professor Hilary Charlesworth of the Australian National University [2], said
the definition of war crimes in international law included causing "excessive civilian damage that's disproportionate to the military objective".

Australia has, the article points out, signed up to the International Criminal Court - unlike the US.

[The US include me out MO in this area doesn't only apply to the ICC - this says that

the US exempted itself from Article IX of the Geneva Convention.

There are, of course, a substantial number of Geneva Conventions - and a quick scan of all of the Article 9s at the Avalon site produces nothing that meshes. One for further investigation....]

And Dr Nicholas Wheeler [3], speaking in Canberra, has said that

the draft resolution submitted by the US, Britain and Spain this week merely restated resolution 1441 from November, but what was required was a resolution stating Iraq was in material breach and authorising the "use of all necessary means".

All of this is great. A couple of fifty page journal articles would be better.

  1. It doesn't have the letter online, so far as I can tell.

  2. A woman.

  3. '...a senior lecturer from the University of Wales in Aberystwyth - the site of the world's first department of international relations'.

UPDATE A little research on the subject of the Geneva Convention referred to above comes up with the following:

The Convention in question is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9 1948. (Rather than any of the umpteen others.)

Article IX says
Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

When the US ratified the Convention on November 25 1988, it made the following reservation, as set out in the order of the International Court of Justice dated June 2 1999 on a Request for the Indication of Special Measures in the Yugoslavia v US case:
"That with reference to Article IX of the Convention, before any dispute to which the United States is a party may be submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under this Article, the specific consent of the United States is required in each case.".

The Reservation continues (as described in the dissent of Judge Kreca in that case) to exclude action prohibited by the US Constitution, before proceeding, under the heading of Understandings, to state nine further qualifications to the Convention - sez Uncle Sam!

I've done no more than glance at the Yugoslavia order. But it looks as if the reservation was sufficient to get the Court to agree that, at least on the question of special measures (cf - I think - interlocutory injunction, TRO), it had no jurisdiction.


Blair suffers big revolt in House of Commons

This, I'm sure, will be all over the nightly news in the US, as well as the UK. The forecasts on the radio this afternoon were that, at most, 90 Labour MPs would rebel against the Government three-line whip (instruction to vote) on Iraq. In fact, no fewer than 122 defied the whip and voted against the Government.

No question of Blair losing, or coming close - the so-called Official Opposition is serving in the office of a loo-roll in the 10 Downing Street karzi.

But mention of a comparison with another Prime Minister with a large majority pulling off a Pyrrhic victory is too tempting to pass up: according to this, the voting on May 8 1940 at the end of the Norway debate (following the disastrous invasion masterminded by Neville Chamberlain) was 281-200 - with just 33 Conservative MPs voting against their Prime Minister, and 65 merely abstaining. Which comes to rather fewer than the tally going all the way and voting against Blair (overall, the vote was 393-199).

I'll come back to the detail of the debate once the proceedings appear (tomorrow morning on the Commons site).

UPDATE Tidying up bookmarks, I find this rates the biggest vote of MPs against a government of their own party (in modern times) as the 93 who voted against Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill in 1885.

UPDATE (2) A behind the scenes look at how the rebellion was organised.


Historical perspective in spades - The Great War back on the BBC

For those with access to the BBC2 domestic TV channel, an absolute must is the repeat of the 1964 series on the First World War. The first episode (of 26), which I almost missed, was shown last Saturday. The next, which picks things up from the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is on next Saturday, March 1 at 1825 GMT.

It's quite possibly the best thing the BBC ever broadcast: clips shown last week of veterans - spry guys born in Victoria's reign - telling their stories on camera were positively spine-tingling. The tone is quite unlike most history documentaries (and there've been loads, of course) made in the last ten or fifteen years. Comparisons with the Ken Burns American Civil War series - and the UK The World at War on World War Two - are invited.

And, unfortunately, for once, BBC timing is impeccable...


Another triumph for the FBI...

Americans can rest easy in their beds - the Feds have picked up one of their Most Wanted.

Except that he turns out to be a harmless pensioner from Bristol called Derek Bond, arrested in South Africa, and thrown in the cells awaiting Uncle Sam's pleasure.

Moreover, it took America's Finest no fewer than 20 days to ascertain that the hapless Bond was not, in fact, their target. DNA, fingerprint, voice matches? Evidently they were communicating using sailboats and semaphore.

Meanwhile, no doubt, UBL was wetting his not insubstantial knickers. A haircut and shave - the guy could walk out of a 747 into JFK - and, ten to one, they'd pick up the short, bald Jew standing in line behind him.....


US deployments: Turkey still not in the bag

Whilst not counting chickens (!), one can take a little comfort in the fine mess that the Turkish government seem to have got themselves in over this issue.

In the great democratic tradition (that Turkey does not have), Speaker Bulent Arinc [1] is playing hardball. The government motion on the deployment plan, he says,
....will possibly be taken onto parliamentary agenda on Thursday.

Arinc has been meeting
Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal
apparently in a move to ensure fair play:
We hope that our parliament will take the most correct decision. Meanwhile, I hope that none of the deputies will use this motion for their own political purposes.

The motion has two parts - one dealing with the US deployments, the other with deployments of Turkish forces into northern Iraq. There is apparently some question whether there would be one vote taken or two.

(If each part is voted separately, MPs could be doubly patriotic: voting for the Turkish deployments - to safeguard the frontier, stem refugees, etc; and voting against the US deployment. Wot larks!)

But, either way, it seems that there will be no three-line whip: AKP party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan
stated that there would be no group decision on the issue obliging the deputies to vote a particular way.

Given the evident disarray in the ranks of the AKP (as discussed yesterday), it may be that Erdogan and Prime Minister Abdullah Gul [2] have decided not to waste political capital on a decision that might well go against them. Alternatively, they think they'll get the win and want to minimise resentment amongst those in the party who voted against.

I really have nothing reliable on which to judge between the two. But we'll know the worst soon enough. Or, at least, when Speaker Arinc's ready.

  1. The article gives an alternative spelling for his name: Arýnc.

  2. The degree of puppetry involved in the relationship between the two is a question that interests me.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Turkey - Government agrees to US deployments, but two more senior men oppose!

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul has a parliamentary majority to die for; and, when it comes to authorising the deployment of US forces bound for war against Saddam, he also has the 'support' of the Turkish military, too.

He and his cabinet have, barring dotting is and crossing ts, agreed a deal with the US for this purpose. And Reuters today are suggesting that there will be a vote on the deal in the Turkish parliament on Thursday. Meanwhile, he seems to have suffered two more senior defections.

Yesterday, it was Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Bulent Arinc; today, it's Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener and Deputy Prime Minister and State Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir.

According to this, Sener said yesterday that
...many cabinet members are also against the idea of Turkey actively supporting U.S. military plans under present circumstances. "During the discussions [at the cabinet meeting], a large number of cabinet members did not consider the developments satisfactory. However, toward the end of the discussions it was decided to send a resolution to parliament."

And Yalcinbayir
also expressed opposition to the motion, saying the possible deployment of U.S. troops had no "international legitimacy." "Should this motion not be passed [by parliament]," he said, "there would be greater unity, more peace, and greater democracy in Turkey."

As Lady Bracknell never quite got round to saying, to lose one Deputy Prime Minister.....

Is this just letting off steam or posturing for internal consumption? I've still seen no proper analysis of the AKP politics which is driving this apparent disarray. Not that I'll stop looking, of course....


The Alice Through the Looking-Glass war

We have the draft resolution from the US, UK and Spain; and, on the other side, we have the Memorandum from France, Germany and Russia [1]. To both of which I shall no doubt return.

But let's above all distinguish smoke-and-mirrors from a genuine casus belli.

I'm no salesman. But, from what I've read, the whole purpose of sales technique is to get the customer to adopt the mind-set of the purchaser. So, he's not saying to himself, Should I buy this car? But rather, What colour should I buy? What extras? A few bucks off the price?

Because once he's thinking that way, he's already decided to buy.

The technique of the War Party is not a million miles away. It's designed to focus the Average Joe's mind on inessentials; and to make him feel as if he's already agreed to go to war. Now, there's something in the psyche of most of us that we're reluctant to go back on a deal we've already made. Hey, that's welshing, isn't it? It's bad, m'kay? Hell, it's unAmerican!

The whole idea of the War Party is to get folks - the guys with votes who don't count now, but will count come New Hampshire - to assume they've already ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, and make them so embarrassed that they don't choose to sent the dish back to the kitchen.

And how, exactly, is that done? By assuming that the fact that Saddam has not complied with 1441 and its predecessors is a valid reason to go to war. The War Party say, Everyone already agreed at the time UNSCR 1441 was passed that non-compliance, material breach, were as good as an invasion of Kuwait as a pretext for war. Surely everyone realised that? All except the retarded and the mental, that is. And everyone committed to serious consequences if he didn't.

So, he hasn't. And now we're going to give him serious consequences. And - now you're whining, you lousy sons-of-bitches? But you already agreed! You some kind of welsher?

The whole show - PT Barnum, eat your heart out: this is Sucker Heaven! - is designed to keep folks' minds from what they know: that violence is only justified in self-defence: against an actual attack, or the real threat of an imminent attack. They know that applies in Podunk, USA; and are pretty damned sure it applies everywhere else.

Yet all Saddam has done - or threatened to do in the last 12 years - is the equivalent of failing to fill in some lousy IRS forms! He's done nothing that would justify a punch being thrown in Podunk. Yet here is Bush and the boys proposing to launch a million tons of TNT on his ass.

If folks were allowed to let the facts get in the way of Bush's story that way, things might get really serious. Hell, Bush might not get to run again in 2004!

The fear is that the guys round the bar in Podunk know international law better that George; know (without having the least idea of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter) that having a few missiles and chemicals - and lying about them - doesn't come close to a justification for armed agression. George knows there's an aching chasm between the one and the other. And he can't stand his people knowing it too.

Hence the smoke and mirrors. The misdirection. The cheap conjurer's tricks. The Average Joe doesn't speak Arabic or have a degree in International Relations (not that that would be a bar to him formulating USG policy....); but I have more than an inkling that he knows he's being had [2].

And, for some reason, I find that fact mildly reassuring.....

As for Alice Through The Looking-Glass? On the manipulation of meaning, surely the Urtext:
I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't - till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock down argument,'" Alice objected.

"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."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all"

That's always the question!

  1. With comments.

  2. The poll in today's WaPo has 56% saying wait to try to get UNSC agreement for war; though they're stuck at 57:40 in favour of war without UN authorisation if the UK is in support. Which, since Blair, it seems, wouldn't take any notice of Jesus or the Archangel Gabriel if they were advising against war is not as comforting as it might be!

Monday, February 24, 2003

The unreasonable veto - what about Israel resolutions?

It's a point I've noticed has been knocking about for some time without (so far as I'm aware) really being made much of, either in the grown-up media (or, for that matter, in the blogosphere).

Tony Blair expounded at length on the idea of the unreasonable veto in his TV interview with Jeremy Paxman a couple of weeks ago. In a nutshell, the idea was that, since the Security Council had agreed that Saddam should be required to take certain steps, under pain of serious consequences, it would be unreasonable for any of the P5 to veto a resolution authorising military action against Iraq for non-compliance.

Bound up in this absurd notion was that the suggestion that a country that vetoed a resolution that had secured the necessary nine affirmative votes was illegitimately thwarting the democratic will of the Council (I'm trying here to make best sense as I can of this thoroughly tendentious proposition!)

What no one - Paxman included - has raised to Blair's face, or (so far as I'm aware) to that of any other of the War Party making the case for the existence of the proposition is the record, several times longer than your arm, of US vetoes of UNSC resolutions that dared in some way to criticise Israel [1]. The tightest margin in any of the votes listed is 9 to 1. Thwarting the democratic will repeatedly in favour of Uncle Sam's Darling was clearly shameless [2].

Surely these Messrs Valiant-for-Truth aren't afraid of the old antisemitism smear?

When it comes to the outcome in the Security Council, naturally one is hoping that the US and its fellow warriors fail to garner nine votes for their resolution. But, in case they do, and France steps up to the plate, one would like to have seen the unreasonable veto nonsense properly skewered. (Without, needless to say, entertaining any hope that so doing would delay the onset of war.)

  1. What looks like around thirty, in fact, to judge from this list, compiled, it seems, up to the end of 2001.

  2. Even vetoing during the term of James Baker at State - who famously (is supposed) to have coined the Republican aphorism most consistently ignored in the present Administration:
    Fuck the Jews, they never vote for us anyway


Is Turkish approval for US deployments running off the rails?

I've left this story alone since February 5, in the expectation, as per the news coverage, that agreement - on aid and the post-Saddam arrangements for Kurdistan, mostly - would eventually be reached, and parliamentary approval duly granted.

Over the past week or so, I've increasingly got the impression that the wheels are coming off this vital element of the war effort.

In particular, it seems that Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Bulent Arinc, has become something of a focus for the effort to frustrate the process. On February 17, he said that
he didn’t want a proposal regarding a war in Iraq to be sent to Parliament
on the following day, as had previously been expected [1].

And, since then, his line seems to have got harder.

This story last Thursday had Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis suggesting that the Turks were prepared to see war without a fresh Security Council resolution. But this story today has Arinc stating the opposite.

Yet Yakis is still reported today as expecting a vote in Parliament tomorrow (February 25).

What's going on?

Scant useful information online (that I could find) on Arinc: caused a stir just after taking the job by appearing in an official capacity beside a veiled Mrs Arinc. He was, according to this, not offered the Vice Premier role to which his seniority in the AKP seemed to entitle him: he is described as
known for his Islamist outbursts.

With that information, one could easily add two and two and make 77. What I have not seen is a decent analysis of sentiment on the war within the AKP parliamentary party; and of the chance that the anti-war element (together with the support of the left-wing opposition CHP?) can get together the numbers and political will effectively to defy both their prime minister and the military and vote to bar US forces, or to delay consideration of approval until it was too late to be any use.

If Arinc's threat to delay until a second UNSC resolution is credible, that seems to upgrade the delay in securing Turkish approval from annoying but livable-with to potentially fatal, given the likely difficulty in securing such a resolution.

The logistics of dealing with the 50 ships full of men and matériel apparently currently bound for the theatre, even if a second resolution is forthcoming, must be considerable....

  1. After the return of Parliament from the Id-al-Adha holiday.


Apologia pro bloggo meo

I've been planning a little piece along these lines for some time; and the opportunity of the minor Central American débâcle and an interesting piece from Brendan O'Neill have been the spur to putting fingers to keyboard.

If there's been one message implicit in this blog since the outset - not original, but there all the same - it's been: caveat lector. Don't take anything you read on trust. The act of distrusting, with (where possible) the evidence on which to base such distrust, was perhaps sometimes rather more important than the substantive matter in hand.

So, I'm led to ask, why should I - or any of the myriad bloggers - be treated any differently?

Essentially, all political blogging is cast in the interrogative mood: the best it can do (and that, not something to sniff at) is to raise questions, sow and water the seeds of doubt, point at the Emperor's lack of attire.

Because - with few exceptions - it's an activity carried on by amateurs (in both senses of the term). For example, when dealing with legal issues, it's necessary to get into citing cases and statutes just to ask the questions: doesn't mean the blogger's necessarily qualified to practice in the area concerned. (Though the law is perhaps a topic with a greater than average proportion of professionals blogging their own subject.)

For myself, I don't make any claims to authority (the august figure of Eric Cartman, would, if ever necessary, be sufficient to curb the temptation!). The stuff here either makes sense or it doesn't: the fact it comes from me neither adds nor subtracts.

The torrent of information on the net has, in effect, made feasible a role of universal kibbitzer. Every sap with a dialup connection can get some dope on pretty much anything under the sun. The problem is that, on the free internet (as opposed to the Lexis and Westlaw that the professionals use), such information tends to be patchy and out-of-date.

And, in particular, made available on a purely casual basis: for instance, some journal authors put their stuff online (or some of it), most don't. (The paper on the Smith v Allwright white primaries case is a good example: purely fortuitous that it was available online (to us cheapskates) to offer insight into the background of the Dixiecrat election of 1948. (Remember Trent Lott....))

And information once got needs to be interpreted - and, without a body of professional expertise, that's often difficult, to put it mildly.

In some cases, the risk of error is foreseeable: assuming legislation is in force which has in fact been repealed, or missing that the decision in a case has been overturned on appeal.

In others, not so much. Traps into which I've fallen in the past (not, thankfully, whilst blogging) include failing to twig the following [1]:

  • New York Governors in the era of Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt served two year terms;

  • in the era of Abraham Lincoln's term in the US House (30th Congress: IL-7), the first session of a Congress customarily started in the December 13 months after its general election;

  • in 1858, Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were not running for election (not directly, at any rate);

  • Lyndon Johnson served the balance of John Kennedy's term as President without having a Vice-President.

It's knowledge that will tend to be assumed - and by no means obvious to an amateur working from first principles.

Naturally, the problem is compounded by unfamiliarity with culture and (in some cases) language; but that's part of the attraction: US politics (today, and certainly in the last 150 years) has been inherently more interesting than UK politics; so, mostly, I leave the UK alone.

Just what the blogger can and cannot do is illustrated by the notorious case of Tony Blair's plagiarised report on Iraq. As the first paragraph of my first piece on the subject stated,
No whining - you humble correspondent had the evidence before his very eyes, and failed to spot it....

And so, so far as I'm aware, did the massed ranks of the blogosphere, each and every one.

The guy who did spot it did so because, he said
I realised that I'd read most of it before.

But, even if some blogger had fingered the report as suspicious - and, without knowledge of the original, it would have been hard to go beyond suspicion - what are the chances that someone who had read most of it before would have seen the piece in his blog in order to be in a position to take up the cause?

(There is a concept, used in the UK in relation to media competition, of share of voice - designed to measure the weight of a particular news organisation across the print and broadcast media. If one worked the numbers worldwide and added in the blogosphere, how much weight would that addition merit? My feeling is, pretty damned small - though it's something to be researched, I'd have thought [2].)

As far as my own personal MO is concerned, I certainly endeavour to:

  • treat the work I'm criticising fairly (avoiding theatre bill-style quotes out of context, etc);

  • show my workings - reference the material I'm using to criticise a piece, to let others make up their own mind;

  • add value, bringing together links to useful sources; working on running themes building over time; offering historical perspectives.

But that doesn't diminish the fact that this, like most blogs, is an amateur product: like most (all?) bloggers, I blog what interests me, and leave the rest. Whereas surely no doctor rejects a patient on the ground of boredom. Or perhaps that's just a tad naive....

  1. It took a little luck not to jump to conclusions as to the election dates for Mississippi governors...

  2. The O'Neill piece pursues the notion of the size illusion of the blogosphere.


The Chinese veto - AP flunks Security Council 101

A rather worrying piece seems pleased to 'reveal' that Colin Powell would be
making the case that China should not veto a new U.S. resolution to the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of force to disarm Iraq and remove its president, Saddam Hussein

The idea that the PRC would veto such a resolution in foreseeable circumstances - which the writer, if not Powell, evidently takes seriously - is patently ridiculous.

First, the Chinese default position is to abstain on UNSC resolutions not directly affecting the PRC; to threaten the veto on Iraq would therefore, relative to its general diplomatic stance, be going thermonuclear: signalling a deliberate freeze in US-PRC relations that would make no sense in bilateral terms (that I'm aware of) and might carry all sorts of unintended consequences. (I don't play: but you could probably compare it to an absurdly aggressive bid in bridge.)

Second, the anti-authorisation effort is being floor-managed by the French. If the French think at the last moment that a veto is necessary to kill the resolution, they can exercise their own. If they had the temerity to ask either Russia or the PRC to do so in their place, they would be serenaded with an extended Bronx cheer. So they wouldn't ask.

After all, you only need one veto - only one nation (at most) need suffer US reprisals on that account.

Related point: the French will be looking to manage their forces more generally, so as not to put more countries than necessary in the line of US fire. For instance, if they can keep the three Africans, they might well be prepared to release Mexico and Chile who, arguably, would be most likely to suffer from US pressure. (Put another way, the Africans are poor enough that perhaps the cost of bribing them to keep them onside is within the French spending limit!)

So why the story of the threatened Chinese veto? Surely not one of the State Department spinners angling for a story of Powell, the returning hero - leaving the plane clutching a piece of paper with No Veto on it?

Perhaps they could give Powell an umbrella and moustache to go with it. War in Our Time has a definite ring to it.....

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Material breach - Colin's snake oil?

Readers may recall from Wind in the Willows the scene where the jury for Toad's trial take their places. Amongst their number were several rabbits. And one animal that looked out of place: it was duly recorded as a different kind of rabbit. It was in fact - a weasel! (Those weasels really get around....)

My hypothesis is that, amongst the myriad terms of international law thrown up in materials on the War, material breach is also a different kind of rabbit. A fraud, a ringer, a cheap magician's trick.

And, since we are expecting a draft Security Council Resolution in the next day or two which supposedly will rely on the concept as a trigger for war - it seems a hypothesis worth putting to the test.

The first question is, what is the evidence of the meaning of material breach?

Domestic law

In the contract law of the 50 states (or most of them), material breach is a term of art which denotes a breaches of contract serious enough to entitle the innocent party to rescind or terminate the contract (as discussed, for example, in this Kansas case).

In the vocabulary of UK parliamentary draftsmen in recent decades, material is used to denote the particular person or thing (of a class of persons or things) to which a statutory provision applies [1]. Rarely, I believe will the compound expression (material time/place/animal/whatever) constitute a recognised term in the same way that material breach does in US contract law.

International law

The only use of the expression material breach that I can find is in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in Article 60, which deals with the remedies available where a MB of a treaty occurs.

The definition of MB in Art 60(3) is:
A material breach of a treaty, for the purposes of this article, consists in:

(a) a repudiation of the treaty not sanctioned by the present Convention; or

(b) the violation of a provision essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the treaty.

The key words to note are for the purposes of this article. It seems that, in 1969, there was no accepted meaning for the expression MB. In Art 60, it was merely used as a piece of technical drafting language.

It would be helpful to have available the travaux préparatoires (working documents) generated in preparing the Vienna Convention - nothing online, that I could see.

It would also be helpful to have a full analysis of the provision from the International Court of Justice. But, so far as I can tell, there is only one case, the Gabèíkovo-Nagymaros Project case [2], in which Art 60 has been considered. I'm no expert - but it seems to me that all the ICJ did in this case was apply Art 60 to the particular facts of the case. The judgement seems of little value in establishing the meaning of Art 60 - let alone with our, very different, question.

There is something useful on Art 60 on the ICJ site: a written statement from Malaysia on a case whose details needn't detain us. Starting with para 7.13, the text deals with the question of breach and material breach, and usefully cites a work (Breach of Treaty) by Israeli jurist Shabtai Rosenne, stating (para 7.15):
that the definition of "material breach" in Article 60 of the Vienna Convention was made for the limited purpose and is itself entirely narrow....

We start to get somewhere: it seems that MB in international law (at least, in Art 60) is not the sort of term of art that it is in US contract law; but is more the sort of casual coincidence that crops up in UK statutes, as I've described.

Let's pause there a moment: all we've found to date for a meaning of material breach is material (!) which is clearly irrelevant, and mentioned solely for the purpose of eliminating it from our enquiries (as the constabulary phrase goes). As far as positive ideas on the derivation of MB, or its meaning, in the context of 1441, we have squat.

The Rosenne quote from the Malaysian paper goes on, usefully, to bring in another aspect which has, so far as I'm aware, been entirely absent from discussions on the Iraqi question: seems that the only viable description of a breach of a treaty is one that can be deduced not from the law of the treaty-instrument but from the law of treaty-obligation, the law of State responsibility. On that basis it can be described as conduct consisting of an action or omission attributable to a State or to an international organization under international law, that State or organization being a party to a treaty in force and the conduct being incompatible with an obligation grounded in that treaty.

Law of state responsibility - what the hell is that?

Funny you should ask - it's a topic which the glacially paced International Law Commission (the law reform arm in the UN family of organisations) is grappling with as I write (and for the previous several years). The place to start is here - sort of home page for the process - it gives some perspective:
The topic of State responsibility has been on the agenda of the International Law Commission since 1949.

A 2001 draft of the Convention (which will eventually stand beside the 1969 Vienna Convention) is here. The terms look pretty straightforward to me (obviously no reliable guide!): for instance, Art 12 says
There is a breach of an international obligation by a State when an act of that State is not in conformity with what is required of it by that obligation, regardless of its origin or character.

Except that the Convention isn't yet signed yet, let alone in force, it seems completely in point as far as Iraq is concerned.

But state responsibility isn't just the draft Convention: it's clearly been long understood as a discrete area in international law, with a disputed border (!) with the law of treaties - this article, for instance, considers how to accommodate between the two areas of law
the principle that performance of an obligation may be withheld if the other party has itself failed to perform the same or a related obligation [3].

I certainly don't understand the subtleties at play here. But I'm surprised (to put it mildly) that I have not heard this area of law discussed in connection with Iraq, where it seems to have clear relevance.

Iraq, specifically

Let's look from the other end of the telescope. What clues are there about what the War Party suppose material breach means in relation to Iraq?

The Security Council resolutions, to start with: I've searched all of them back from 1441 back to January 1 1994 [4] (except those apparently solely concerned with the oil for food programme): SCR 1441 is the first to use the expression [5].

The first mention of material breach in relation to Iraq that I can find is (of all things) a press conference by Bill Clinton's Press Secretary Mike McCurry on November 13 1997:
Q Is there any discussion of a resolution that would declare this a material breach -- using that term of art?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into the wording of any statement by the Security Council or the President of the Security Council's response.

Q Does the President regard this as a material breach?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to answer that question.

And that was that!

No less a personage than Blair gofer Jack Straw dealt with the question in the House of Commons on November 7 2002:
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): ....I have not yet seen the text [of SCR 1441]. Does it define precisely what is meant by "material breach"? Who, in the event of a discussion about what is or is not a material breach, will have the final say?

Mr. Straw: The text does not define "material breach", because it is a term of art familiar in international law, equivalent to the breach of a fundamental term, which the hon. and learned Gentleman and I are familiar with from English law of contract. It amounts to what it says: a material breach. There has been some discussion about who is to decide. It will become patent whether there has been a material breach [emphasis mine - 6], and what follows will in the first instance be a matter for discussion inside the Security Council.

Now, it's true that in English contract law, there is a concept of breach of a fundamental term which is comparable to the US contract law idea of material breach. But, apart from what seem to me to be substantive differences between the two concepts, the key question is, What's the relevance?

The only real attempt (except this one!) that I've seen to try and come to terms with the use of MB in the context of SCR 1441 is a piece (January 8 2003 - says 2002 in error!) by Prof Michael Dorf of Columbia Law School.

The problem is that Dorf seems to take the expression at face value; he doesn't challenge its provenance in international law (he doesn't even mention Art 60 of the Vienna Convention); and, in particular, he reads across from its meaning under US contract law into its use in 1441.

Abstracting from both domestic and international law - the fundamental mistake of the US/UK side is to try to apply to a text like SCR 1441 a concept devised to deal with an agreement. UNSCR 1441 is not an agreement! It's a decision of the UNSC - in which various demands are made of Iraq. The consent of Iraq is irrelevant to the process. The resolution does not create a web of interdependent obligations; it contains various orders to Saddam to comply.

If Saddam breaches 1441, there's no question of whether the SC will exercise a right to rescind it - any more than it would be relevant to ask whether a State which sees one of its criminal laws violated would wish to rescind that law.

Whatever material breach means, it's not the same as it does under US contract law.

At large, material means
having real importance or great consequences.
And that would make some kind of sense for 1441.

What puzzles me is, why, if not for nefarious purposes, use an expression for SCR 1441 which has specific meanings in both US domestic and in international law neither of which are appropriate to 1441? And why, if not as an act of deceit, seek, as Straw did, deliberately to attach those inappropriate meanings to its use in 1441.

And that's as far as I get. No smoking gun - not even a plagiarised report! Just a general feeling of unease born of ignorance of the subject-matter and the proven industrial-scale duplicity of the outfits that first brought the term up in the Iraq context.

  1. An example is the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 s6(5):
    In this section......."public meeting" includes- (a) any meeting in a public place...... and "public place" means- ` .....(b) any place to which at the material time the public or any section of the public has access.....

  2. Hungary v Slovakia

  3. The exceptio inadimpleti contractus - or more properly, to judge from Google, exceptio non adimpleti contractus - principle.

  4. The texts of all hundred or so going back to 1990 are here.

  5. The search engine on the UNSC site I can't get to work.

  6. Oh, really? You wonder why we go to the expense of paying judges....


Perle's of wisdom....

After what appeared a day or two back to be a setback to Administration hawks' forward policy on post-Saddam Iraq, Mr Pur et Dur himself has come out fighting in an interview for the London Observer.

Slamming the French as being only interested in protecting their oil interests, for instance. Whereas the US is all about the Open Door (that totem of US, particularly Republican, policy in the Far East pre-1949):
The US interest is to buy oil cheaply on the world market.
Beware low-flying porkers [1].

And as for his chums in the Iraqi opposition,
He was scathing about the 'conventional wisdom' among the foreign policy and intelligence establishment, which holds that the Iraqi opposition groups are hopelessly divided and the country far too fractious for meaningful democracy.

'This is a trivial observation and a misleading one, both by CIA officials and MI6,' Perle said. 'They're simply wrong about this. They don't understand the opposition. They say they're divided. Are they more divided than the Labour Party? I rather doubt it...'

A display of unalloyed sagacity and raw expertise that reminded me of a quote in Herbert Agar's The Unquiet Years [2]: Major General Patrick Hurley, in China as FDR's special representative in 1944, told journos
The only difference between Chinese Communists and Oklahoma Republicans is that Oklahoma Republicans aren't armed.

UPDATE on Zalmay Khalilzad [3] - I'm annoyed to find that the guy (who I'd not heard of) is positively ubiquitous: US special envoy to Afghanistan, and now (my piece on Friday) some sort of Whip for Perle's opposition guys...

  1. What looks like a useful source on the subject here.

  2. At p96; a useful and blissfully short sketch of US foreign policy 1945-55 - my British edition is dated 1957.

  3. Often misspelt Zalmay Khalizad - as here [way down page - use Find - information looks useful].


Bush's Armageddon cruise: itinerary extended to - Colombia?!

It seems that Bush wants to put that two regional wars thing to the test. Just two?

With Iraq about to kick off, and North Korea simmering nicely, looks like he's planning to offer US forces the equivalent of the Shredded Wheat challenge: the FARC have been taking liberties, and apparently USG is seriously considering committing troops.

I'm thinking enumerating the reasons why that wouldn't be a terribly spiffy idea would be superfluous....

Saturday, February 22, 2003

A morality tale - this time from Nicaragua.....


In a week where those antipodes, politics and morality, were brought into fraudulent conjunction for the Great Cause of the big war, a story of a similar conjunction in the case of one little girl and her family which deserves not to be lost amongst all the war hype.

In outline, a simple enough story: a girl of nine, daughter of illiterate peasants, goes with them across the border into Costa Rica to work on a coffee plantation; she's raped there and found to be pregnant. Her parents bring her back, expecting some help from their own government.

Instead, the girl evidently finds herself made a moral example. The law allows abortion in the case of risk to the mother's life; and a panel of three doctors sit to determine the case. In a breathtakingly jesuitical ruling, they opine that they cannot tell whether the risk of death was greater if the girl had an abortion or continued with the pregnancy:
Una junta de tres médicos del Ministerio de Salud examinaron esta semana a la niña y emitieron un dictamen en el que advierten que la menor puede morir tanto si se le interrumpe la gestación como si no, pero no se decantó por ninguna de las dos alternativas.

Fortunately, three other doctors volunteer to carry out the abortion in a private clinic, and the girl is now as well as can be expected in the circumstances.

Which is bad news as far as the President of Nicaragua, Enrique Bolaños, is concerned; his notions of morality evidently harken back to the era when the primary female role was to produce an heir, and in that cause was herself thoroughly expendable:
El aborto de la menor fue un verdadero desafío a las advertencias hecha por el gobierno del presidente Enrique Bolaños, que optaba por salvar al niño por nacer, de que encausaría a los responsables.

Evidently, he was showing himself a true man of the people in extending this dispensation to peasants with no land to inherit! And, no doubt, demonstrating that they were an integral part of the community by threatening to prosecute them for failing to care less about their daughter-in-being than about the agglomeration of cells bequeathed to her by the fine fellow who violated her.

Since the guy was only elected in November 2001, one can surely rule out an electoral stunt designed to appeal to right-wing elements (he himself is apparently an ex-contra).

One's left to imagine, therefore, that the man is as sincere in his beliefs as Tony Blair is in his.

Finally, what of that popular vanguard, that included the hero of the revolution, Archbishop Oscar Romero: the Roman Catholic Church? If ever the phrase more Catholic than the Pope was more greatly deserved than by the current holder of Romero's office, Miguel Obando y Bravo, I'd like to know by whom. Suffer the little children indeed: he says that
he hablado con médicos....y me dicen algunos de ellos especialistas en ginecología, que es posible salvar la vida de la niña y salvar la vida del bebé.

Possible - but likely? I somehow feel that Bravo thinks that the wretched existence of a peasant girl is a price worth paying to safeguard the principle of the sanctity of human life.

Strangely, the story goes on to note that Bravo was officiating at a mass in memory of
Enrique Bermúdez, conocido como “Comandante 3-80”
who appears to have been the leader of a terrorist group on the side of the Contras. (So much for the memory of the luckless Romero!)

(It seems that the Catholic Church in Nicaragua models itself on its sister church in Ireland, which for a long time combined support (of varying degrees) for Fenian terror (itself not exactly ideologically wedded to Socialism) with a rigid rule of repression on its own people. Girls especially - through the instruments of the Magdalene Laundries [1] and the industrial schools run by the Sisters of Mercy [2].)

Piquant indeed to find the prelate celebrating the life of a professional killer on the same day as condemning a nine year old girl to a bear her rapist's child.....
  1. figuring in a recently released movie.
  2. Who vie with the Christian Brothers (who operated establishments similar in all respects but one - the accidental (but far from neglected) anatomical ability to sodomise) for the most inappropriately named organisation in the world.

CORRECTION A correspondent has kindly pointed out that Oscar Romero was Archbishop of San Salvador, not Managua! Oh dear - an object-lesson (duly learnt) in not inserting colourful namechecks without checking the names first!

Friday, February 21, 2003

Blair - close to losing it at Berlusconi press conference?

Judge for yourselves from the clips on the evening news [1]. But, seeing just a snippet from today's performance, I reckon Tony's reservoir of coolant is running dangerously low.

When asked by ITV journo Juliet Bremner on the teatime news (around 1840 GMT) whether (from memory) he had any doubts when he'd failed to persuade so many of his own people, he seemed to be on the point of dashing off the platform to strangle the woman. Long pauses in the reply, as if reciting the méthode Coué mantra between each few words!

In her little piece to camera, she said that the general opinion of the hacks in the prime ministerial party was that Blair had been
talking to us like a bunch of thick schookids who just didn't get it.

And she looked almost as pissed-off as Blair had done!

  1. The Number 10 homepage has a link to what I'd assume is the transcript: which says the page can't be found. Perhaps the No 10 servers are giving their Boss an idea and taking a bit of a lie-down....


US plans Iraq military government - Chalabi slips his leash

During World War 2, one of Charles de Gaulle's great triumphs (certainly in his own mind) of his time as leader of the Free French was to avoid the humiliation of seeing liberated France placed under an AMGOT [1].

According to today's WaPo, Bush has lined up an AMGOT to take over 'liberated' Iraq - except that once security was established General Tommy Franks would hand over to a civilian
U.S. administrator [who] would run the civilian government and direct reconstruction and humanitarian aid.

(Though, one assumes, US forces or their replacements would continue to do or supervise much of the work for a good while thereafter.)

And guess who's not happy? None other than Rumsfeld/Perle house-pet, Ahmed Chalabi. All along, he's wanted a transitional government of Iraqis in place - and, according to this report of two weeks ago,
Mohamed al-Jabiri [2], who has just returned from in talks with Washington, said the White House has given its "blessing" to the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, to lead a transitional coalition government in Iraq once Saddam has been deposed.

Oh dear! Not Administration disarray, surely? If not, what? Descending from the realm of Cloud Cuckoo Land in which Chalabi and the Perle Tendency dwell, it's blindingly obvious that the Iraqi opposition in general, and Chalabi in particular, are, and never have been, in any condition to run a whelk-stall, let alone a country.

So, cui bono? Looks like an operation in pissing somebody off - Chalabi would scarcely be worth the bother. So presumably its an intra-Administration deal. How does the organisation chart work for post-conquest governance of countries: is that a State Department responsibility? Because that might explain it....

  1. Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories.

  2. 'Dr al-Jabiri, who spent two years in solitary confinement before escaping to the US and then Australia, has been working with the US State Department and Iraqi exiles to draw up a political blueprint for Iraq after Saddam, developing plans for health, education, the media and judiciary.'

UPDATE Further particulars of Iraqi opposition disarray in a companion piece in the Guardian.

It says that Chalabi
has even raised the possibility of a revolt against the American occupation troops after the war is over.
Mr Chalabi is seeking to declare a provisional government when the war starts. The Chalabi plan, which has been seen by the Guardian, envisages the establishment of a leadership council, drawn from the 65 members of a steering committee appointed at an opposition conference in London in December.

According to the piece,
The plan has alienated some of Mr Chalabi's most enthusiastic backers in the Pentagon and in Congress, who fear the announcement of a provisional government made up of exiles would split anti-Saddam sentiment inside Iraq.

"People in this administration tried very hard to put the [INC-led] opposition into power," said Leith Kubba, a founder member of the INC who is now non-affiliated. "But after a total investment of $100m, they are saying look at the money spent and ask what do we have to work with? Is there a coherent front? The answer is no."

Apparently, there is such a man as
Zalmay Khalilzad, the White House "special envoy and ambassador-at-large for free Iraqis"
who is up to all sorts of tricks:
The Guardian has learned that Mr Khalilzad is trying to arrange a rival meeting [to one planned in Irbil] with 15 Iraqi opposition figures and exiles. Mr Chalabi has so far not been invited.....

So what to conclude? That the Administration has wised up to the absurdity of the Iraqi opposition? Mr Khalilzad's pivotal role clearly indicates not. That Rumsfeld/Perle have finally grown tired of their poodle's antics, and decided to consign him to the animal sanctuary?

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Chirac's African summit - three more votes in the no/abstain column?

The shmoozefest at the Elysée seems to have produced results beyond illusions of self-aggrandisement on the part of the tenant.

It's all over the wires (Reuters, for instance, and AFP) in the last two or three hours that the African Three amongst the nonperms on the UN Security Council have been persuaded to join in a declaration asking for more time for the inspection process - and therefore tacitly opposing any US resolution seeking an early end to that process.

How reliable such support might be for the anti-war cause - or, at least, the no war yet cause - remains to be seen.

There was a piece on Newsnight on BBC TV tonight mentioning the French success, and adding that US diplomacy was already seeking to undo it - which I doubt really counts as news at all!

But, returning to the vote-counting of my piece of earlier today, it seems that they represent a substantial cushion against the possibility of waverers amongst, in particular, the Latins (Mexico and Chile).

In fact, I think it would be reasonable to count China as a pretty automatic abstention - it's the Chinese default position, and I can't see any reason why they should, in this instance, move either to veto or to support a second resolution. In that case, the blocking seven could be achieved without any African support (Russian, China, France, Mexico, Chile, Germany and Syria), though the Africans would be available to 'come off the bench' as necessary.

In fact, the more I count the votes, the tougher it's looking for Powell to get his necessary nine. He needs five (with US, UK, Bulgaria and Spain already in the bank); and France (with 11 now pencilled in - some more firmly than others!) can afford to lose four and still kill the resolution.


Return to normal blogging - touch wood

See how long it lasts....


Security Council voting rules - a salutary recap

As we approach race time for the Second Resolution Handicap, the tipping action is fast and furious (as with, for example, today's New York Times.)

Talk of Mexico and Chile wanting the P5 to sort it out amongst themselves, Russia wanting to abstain, etc, etc.

But it's useful, perhaps (OK, useful for me, at least) to take another squint at the voting rules for the UN Security Council, as contained in Article 27 of the UN Charter, which reads as follows:
  1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.

  2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.

  3. Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, [both irrelevant to the current case] a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting

The striking things from a first re-reading are:

  1. for a simple majority, one needs not eight but nine members voting for a decision; and
  2. a majority is not (as is the case in most legislative bodies) calculated on the basis of the numbers present and voting.

That means, in effect, that abstentions count as votes against.

Now, when it comes to public presentation, of course, US clients like Mexico may well find it easier to justify an abstention than a vote against Uncle Sam. The guys at State will know that there is no substantial difference; but when it comes to inflicting reprisals, they may find it harder to garner any support in Congress that they need if it's a case of punishing a mere abstention, rather than a vote against.

And even France, which has seemed keen to go out of its way to pick a fight with the US, may find it can do what's necessary just by adding its name to the abstention column.

So, counting Syria and Germany as the baseline noes/abstentions, a further five in either category would suffice to beat a US/UK resolution. Russia, France, Mexico, Chile - one more and.... Let's not count chickens, though....

[There is a knock-on question relating to the Uniting for Peace Resolution business (I last discussed yesterday): in order to come within the scope of this procedure, it's necessary to show that the UNSC is deadlocked because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members. Does it matter that this deadlock is not expressed by the exercise of the veto?]

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Non-aligned nations mobilise - could Uniting for Peace actually happen?

Distinguish first of all news from wishing-thinking.

The Non-Aligned Movement - since the end of the Cold War, if not long before, as good as its name: all over the place - has shown sufficient organisation and substance to secure a special meeting of the UN Security Council for UN members not currently on the UNSC to have their say on Iraq and the war.

According to the AP report, nearly 60 nations have put their names down to speak in the open session (which started yesterday, and is continuing today). South Africa apparently took the lead on behalf on the NAM, asking for a strengthening of the inspection effort. (A full transcript of proceedings will eventually appear here.)

That such a session should take place is not, perhaps, of much significance in itself. But it is at least an indication of the capacity and willingness of a large group of nations [1] to organise themselves in the UN to fight the war.

The Uniting for Peace Resolution (which I first discussed on Sunday - the main part of the General Assembly Resolution establishing the procedure is set out there) is, perhaps, the best way that such a group can make its mark on the debate. Not, of course, expecting such a resolution to stop the war - there is not the slightest sign that anything coming out of the UN or anywhere else would have that effect on USG plans. Not directly, at least. But in causing delay, uncertainty, confusion - allowing the maximum play for events to supervene - it might do some good.

It would also be good for the morale of those opposing the war to see a 'second front' opened up at the UN; and the process would savour less of the impenetrable diplomacy of the SC, and more of the anti-war rally. The involvement of Third World nations in the vanguard of the UN process would appeal both to those politically inclined to sympathy with the Third World, and also those naturally supportive of the underdog.

The NAM nations themselves (and the rest supporting the UFPR process) would have the satisfaction of doing something for world peace - and cocking a snook at the Great Satan - whilst having safety in numbers against US reprisals.

Politically, it's a feelgood manoeuvre, with the vibe of Passport to Pimlico or San Marino v Brazil in the (soccer) World Cup: it's expected to fail utterly, so any benefit to the cause of stopping Bush's war represents an infinite percentage surplus over budget - the proponents have nothing to lose; whereas to secure even a few days' delay in hostilities; to tie up precious resources at State and the Foreign Office; to drive Saint Colin to distraction on network TV - these would be perceived as defeats for USG and friends, with loss of morale, loss of face, sand in the war machine, and other good things.

And, if time is as critical as they say it is [2], delay of only a few days may make the difference between war in March and waiting till November.

If the resolution was actually secured (and here we move into the realm of fantasy, of course!), the game would really get interesting: it's one thing for Bush to say that he doesn't need another resolution; and for Blair to talk about unreasonable vetoes. But, if a UFPR passed, it would be on a straight vote of representatives of the entire planet; and it would leave Bush/Blair not with the mere absence of authorisation for war, but with a positive injunction against war (at least pending further inspections).

In that event the position under international law would be interesting, to say the least; and the effect on public opinion in that critical swing state of Blair's might be decisive.

In order to make the process work, what's needed is a floor manager, a Lyndon Johnson to know who needs what, to count the votes, to corral the representatives, to make sure all the procedural requirements are satisfied to the letter - and to make sure the buggers all turn up on time and vote the way they promised!

As I said in the earlier piece, the first requirement is either 7 SC members or half the total membership (list here) of 191 countries (ie 96) supporting a request for an emergency session of the UN General Assembly.

A resolution would, of course, have to be drafted to appeal to the maximum number of member states, to satisfy the terms of GAR 377, and (not to be forgotten) to give the possibility of actually doing some substantive good for the Iraq situation.

And it would only be in order [3] if submitted after the UNSC has deadlocked because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members. Delegations at UNHQ would need to get authority from their governments to use the procedure, involving varying and uncertain lead-times before their country could safely be added to the Yes column.

The US and UK would certainly counter-attack with threats and bribes (though multiplying by 10 or 20 the numbers to be got at - compared with the stray nonperms on the SC - obviously makes the task much costlier in man-hours, if not in slush-fund outlays!). Keeping the troops in line would be a job of work for whomever was floor-managing the resolution and his team. But the reward in terms of publicity and kudos for even partial success could be considerable.

That's the brilliant plan, at least. Testing the old proverb, Cometh the hour, cometh the man....

  1. This list, dating from January 2002, shows 115 nations as NAM members (including the suspended Yugoslavia!).

  2. Which I've long doubted: only three weeks ago I noted a statement from General Richard Meyers himself denying that there was any need to hurry.

  3. On which subject I have a major beef with the UN site: an hour wasted on trying to find an online copy of the GA Rules of Procedure. And comparing this page with this, I surmise that (unlike the SC Rules) the GA Rules are deliberately not available online! Why, in God's name?

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