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Mike Toliver

Changes in Society: Pre-emptive War

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It seems to me that one of the biggest changes in the last few years is Bush's policy of "pre-emtive war". On the surface, one could regard this as a necessary evil or, alternatively, REALLY bad policy. However, it seems to me it comes from a long-standing "ideal" that the US will foster "freedom" whereever and whenever it can. JFK's "pay any price, bear any burden" speech comes to mind.

So, is it the responsibility of someone (the US, the UN) to intervene in countries suffering under a totalitarian regime? If not, what is the role of the UN in the world today?

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Interesting posting. It could be argued that the US has had a pre-emptive war foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. In 1975, Frank Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities in the United States. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. It discovered that the CIA had been using covert activities (Executive Action Program) to remove governments that it did not like. In some cases, notably Cuba, it had failed to do this. However, in some countries this strategy had been very successful in organizing military coups in order to remove leaders that appeared to be anti-American. For example, Guatemala, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Iraq, South Vietnam and Chile. In Guatemala in 1954 (Jacobo Arbenz) and Chile in 1973 (Salvador Allende) the CIA helped to remove democratically elected leaders with no record of human rights abuses. In fact, in both cases the CIA arranged for leaders to be installed who abandoned the democratic system in order to impose a military dictatorship.

It is of course their knowledge of history that has made politically well-informed citizens wary of the use of pre-emptive wars in order to impose democracy on those you conquer. George Bush’s policy is of course different from those of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, etc. in the fact that he is open about what he is doing. For example, with Iraq, he went to the United Nations before taking pre-emptive action.

It is understandable why some nations had the guts to question Bush’s true motives. Why Iraq? Why now? The vast majority of the world politically literate citizens asked these questions. They mainly came to the conclusion that the invasion of Iraq had little to do with human rights abuses and the imposition of democracy. Instead it was about the control of valuable raw materials and was not dissimilar to the pre-emptive actions of powerful countries in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The US has the military power to invade most countries in the world. However, it does not have the military power to conquer these countries. This has always been the case. The British Empire was not maintained by military force alone. To maintain control you had to shape the minds of the people you ruled. Both Stalin and Hitler acknowledged this fact (they both studied the history of the British Empire in great detail – in the same way that the British used to study the way the Romans controlled its empire). Bush and Blair do not appear to have read much history and have convinced themselves you can control countries with military power and speeches of good intentions.

There is of course a moral argument that the United Nations should overthrow countries with poor human rights records. However, that leaves you with a long list of possible candidates. Is it possible to decide which ones to invade and which ones you should ignore? Should you consider the military strength of the country on the list? For example, China must feature very high on any list of countries with an appalling human rights record. Should we send in UN troops into China? Going by George Bush’s list he much prefers countries that have smaller armies than his own. He also likes countries that do not have access to the latest military technology. Other factors appear to be governments who express left-wing opinions. This probably explains why Bush has promised to invade Cuba in his next term of office.

This is not to say I am totally opposed to UN military action against bad governments. I for example would have been in favour of UN military action against the South African government before it introduced its system of democratic government. However, as we know, those lovers of democracy, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, did all they could to maintain the white supremacists in control of South Africa.

Before the UN took action it would have to be convinced that the government to be overthrown had little support from its own people. Otherwise, the overall would be followed by the situation we now see in Iraq. The UN would also have to have a plan that would implement democracy very quickly.

The UN would also have to be convinced that the imposition of democracy would actually make the situation better. In most cases it would not solve the problem and would in many cases make the situation worse. I say this because many of these governments we dislike rule over people who are divided by race and religion. Any democratic election will give power to one group over other groups. With rare exceptions, South Africa, for example, we see these elections followed by persecution of the minorities. Therefore, to be successful, a democratic system is not the only thing the UN needs to install. It would need to install and monitor human rights legislation. As you can see, this would be a mammoth task and I am not sure if the UN would really like to get involved in such a dangerous experiment.

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Dear readers,

I agree with the bulk of what John has written and I pray that some day I have the time to respond in a more definitive and reflectory manner, but for now I will but state unequivocally that I feel what our leaders have done in the recent past - and particularly in the invasion of Iraq - is to cause this once great Freedom fighting nation to become known as an invader, a conqueror, a decider of who should rule others.

Not good... The best way - is how it was when we as a nation was "on call" to help when another nation's peoples were under seige, under occupation, under enemy (and the word "enemy" is very important) control and they were to request our help under an EXISTING treaty that pointed to us as one who would come to their aide if called upon, and take appropriate, expeditious and decisive action.

ANY other situation, short of our own territory being under attack, the problem, no matter how serious, should go the the United Nations and within the UN there must be a judgement from an appropriate forum and UN Forces ready, willing and capable of moving quickly and decisively to back the dictate of that august body.

We must never again act as the world judge of who should preisde over who and how they should preside.

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