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    Middle East
     Aug 25, 2006
The new axis of intervention
By John Feffer

There is a new force in foreign policy: the "axis of intervention". Two allies are official members: the United States and Israel. With its recent invasion of Somalia, Ethiopia has joined the grouping. A fourth nation, Japan, is petitioning for membership.

The administration of US President George W Bush has not attacked any countries recently. But in Bush's first five years in office, the United States has established a dangerous precedent

in international affairs.

The attack on Afghanistan launched a war against not only a state (the Taliban-led government) but also a paramilitary organization (al-Qaeda). The intervention into Iraq was the first example of a "preventive" war - a campaign not just to preempt an imminent attack but also to prevent any potential conflict in the future.

And finally, the United States has introduced the concept of a "war without end". The US is fighting an unknown number of terrorists. If one organization surrenders or is destroyed, another will inevitably take its place.

Israel has matched these US policies. The interventions in Lebanon and Gaza target paramilitary organizations (Hezbollah, Hamas) and sovereign entities (the Lebanese government, the Palestinian National Authority). The attacks were a direct response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, but formed part of a broader effort to prevent any future offensives from their hostile neighbors.

Both conflicts are but the latest in a half-century war. And just as the US invasion of Iraq has produced more terrorists than it has suppressed, Israel's bombing of its enemies only generates more ill-will toward the country. If Israel doesn't begin to take negotiations seriously, its very own war without end will spiral further out of control.

Ethiopia sent its troops into Somalia on July 20 to prop up a weak government. Ethiopia is desperate to prevent the growing power of the Islamic Courts, a militant Islamic movement that has its own militias. But the intervention is also part of the long-standing conflict with Eritrea, which Ethiopia accuses of supporting the Islamic Courts. The intervention, however, only further radicalizes the Islamic Courts and boosts Somali public opinion in their favor.

Japan signaled its interest in joining this axis of intervention by putting the military option on the table in its dealings with North Korea. After Pyongyang's launch of seven missiles on July 5, leading Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe said, "If we accept that there is no other option to prevent a missile attack, there is an argument that attacking the missile bases would be within the legal right of self-defense."

Unlike the United States, Israel or Ethiopia, Japan was until recently the furthest thing from an aggressive power. It enjoyed five decades of a "peace constitution". Its military was restricted to defense. It had very little capacity to attack another country.

Now Japan wants to have a "normal" military. In today's world, "normal" unfortunately translates into a capacity to launch ill-advised military interventions. Japan is acquiring an in-air-refueling capacity that will allow long-range bombing missions. It is changing its constitution to permit a wide range of military operations. Some Japanese officials have even broken the taboo and discussed Japan's potential need for nuclear weapons. And Japan has been one of the closest supporters of recent US military campaigns, including the endless "war on terrorism".

It's bad enough that the world's most prominent proponent of state pacifism has renounced its tradition. What will happen to global security when the world's second-richest country joins the arms race and begins to contemplate long-range bombing campaigns? China and South Korea have raised the alarm about Japan's new militarism. But the Bush administration has a very short historical memory.

The new axis of intervention targets not only sovereign states such as North Korea and non-state actors such as Hezbollah. With the news of Israeli attacks against Red Cross vehicles and a clearly marked United Nations observation post in Lebanon, the real target of the axis of intervention becomes clear: the institutions of international law. By resorting to military force and scorning diplomacy, both Israel and the United States have undermined the UN and key global agreements such as the Geneva Conventions. It remains to be seen whether Japan and Ethiopia will sign on to this larger agenda.

The possibilities of global cooperation opened up by the end of the Cold War have come to a dead end. The axis of intervention promises a future that resembles the distant past, what the English theorist Thomas Hobbes called the "war of all against all". It is a world, ironically, where both aggressive countries like the US and Israel and aggressive non-state actors like al-Qaeda and the Islamic courts will feel right at home.

While the events of recent weeks have been indeed disturbing, the world hasn't slid entirely down the slippery slope. Interventions have taken place, but internationalism is not dead. As the stunning front page of The Independent graphically represented, the world community united in favor of an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon - the only dissent came from the United States, Britain and Israel.

Japan's threat to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea has generated nothing but criticism in the region and has not found much favor with the Bush administration either. Indeed, all the key countries continue to scramble to find a multilateral solution to North Korea's nuclear problem. And if the current transitional government in Somalia can persuade Ethiopia to leave - with some pressure exerted from the outside by a superpower or two - Islamic militias will be much more disposed to participate in UN-brokered talks.

The US government, with John Bolton still in place as its envoy to the United Nations, is no fan of multilateralism. The Bush administration remains strongly on the side of intervention. But with an international reputation that sags ever more precipitously and a military capability stretched well beyond sustainability, the US might have no other choice than to accept multilateral solutions on an ad hoc basis.

Such ad hoc multilateralism is not ideal. But it's better than an ever growing axis of intervention.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus for the International Relations Center.

(Posted with permission from Foreign Policy In Focus )

The logic of war (Aug 23, '06)

Why Japan will never go nuclear (Aug 16, '06)

The rising sun rising again (Aug 10, '06)


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