Monday 14 March 2022

Of American Geese And Russian Ganders.

Moral And Diplomatic Failure: Shouldn’t journalists from small nations like New Zealand be reminding the international community of its obligation to not only demand full accountability from those nations that commit crimes against humanity, but also from those that cause them?

SATURDAY NIGHT’S BULLETIN of 1 News featured a very peculiar, and disturbing, item. Put together by journalist Thomas Mead, the item noted with alarm the fact that some New Zealanders were backing Vladimir Putin and Russia against Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ukraine.

Those involved were described by Mead as “conspiracy theorists”, a term he appeared to be using as a synonym for “evil crazies”. This highly tendentious characterisation was not in the least challenged or repudiated by the two academics Mead consulted. Neither the political scientist, Steve Hoadley, nor the University of Auckland’s “Misinformation Project” spokesperson, Snajama Hattotuwa, challenged Mead’s assumptions about Putin’s supporters.

Were New Zealand at war with the Russian Federation, then this degree of overt media propagandising might, just, be excusable. When the youth of one’s country are locked in an existential struggle with its enemies, balance and nuance tend to fall by the wayside. A war being fought on the other side of the world, however, surely requires plenty of both. Demonising one’s fellow citizens for the “sin” of refusing to view a faraway war through the lens of their own government serves neither journalism nor democracy.

Then again, since the New Zealand Parliament has, unanimously, rushed through all the stages of a bill enabling the New Zealand state, independently of the United Nations Security Council, to impose sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals, perhaps New Zealand really is at war with the Russian Federation.

While the imposition of economic sanctions on another country and its citizens falls well short of ordering one’s armed forces into battle against them, it is difficult to characterise the measure as anything other than a declaration of economic warfare.

An effective sanctions regime, by wreaking havoc on the targeted nation’s economy is intended to inflict non-physical harm on its citizens. It is, unquestionably, an act of coercion. A lesser act of coercion, at least in the short term, than firing artillery shells and dropping bombs, but an act of coercion nonetheless.

This is why the imposition of sanctions, a remedy institutionalised by the League of Nations in the years immediately following World War I, was presented as the most effective international response to aggression – short of all-out war. It amounted to a declaration of economic hostilities upon the aggressor state by the whole world. As such, it made it difficult for the aggressor state to retaliate effectively. It also constituted an unanswerable international moral rebuke of the offending nation’s actions.

Re-adopted by the United Nations following the Second World War, the sanctions option was placed in the hands of the UN Security Council. Providing the five permanent members of the Security Council (USA, Russia, UK, France and China) were in agreement, the world would be empowered to squeeze the economy of an aggressor state until the pips squeaked.

There was, however, an inherent weakness in this arrangement. Since only the world’s most powerful states were ever likely to thumb their noses as the United Nation’s Charter, and since those states could veto any intervention by the UN Security Council, then the application of sanctions as a means of coercing delinquent states into demonstrating an acceptable standard of international conduct became something of a dead letter.

New Zealand has long been a critic of the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – depicting it as a fundamental obstacle to the enforcement of the provisions of the UN Charter. A little reflection, however, makes it perfectly clear why the veto power has always been critical to the maintenance of international peace and stability.

What possible reason for retaining their membership of the United Nations would the great powers have if it was possible for a majority of the five permanent members to “gang-up” on the rest? It is the veto that keeps the planet’s most dangerous nations seated around the multilateral table. If the UN Security Council had possessed the power to impose sanctions on the Bush Administration for its unlawful invasion of Iraq, would the USA still be a member of the UN? Of course not.

The problem which now confronts the world is that the preponderant economic and military power of the United States has persuaded its leaders to evade the limitations associated with the veto by imposing swingeing economic sanctions upon its enemies without Security Council authorisation. It masks this dangerous unilateralism by pressuring those states under its sway (which includes most of the world’s nations) into joining its sanctions regimes. Any reluctance on the part of US “allies” to participate in these brazen acts of economic coercion is overcome by threatening to extend the sanctions to any entity deemed guilty of ignoring them.

In a more rational world, the very fact one of the five nuclear-armed permanent members is contemplating exercising its veto would be enough to convince the other four that a full-scale diplomatic effort is required to identify the most fruitful options for easing the tension. Tragically, the most malign legacy of the Cold War, which froze international relations for forty years, is the way in which its “Free World” allies have opted to remain passengers on the United States’ war chariot, and how many of its erstwhile Warsaw Pact enemies have sought its protection from their former Russian suzerain.

That Russia would eventually demand to know why sauce for the American goose was not also sauce for the Russian gander was inevitable. If the Americans could determine that a nation thousands of miles from its shores, which had made no aggressive move in its direction, could nevertheless be invaded by a coalition led by two of the five permanent members of the Security Council – ostensibly to defend themselves – then Moscow was surely entitled to do the same to a nation located on its western border which had voiced its determination to throw in its lot with Russia’s Nato “enemies”.

That the answer: because two wrongs do not make a right; and that it is no more acceptable for Russian missiles to kill Ukrainian children than it was for American missiles to kill Iraqi children; should have been obvious to Vladimir Putin, is, unfortunately, no help at all. Because the chancelleries of the world looked the other way when the USA tore up the UN Charter in 2003, their powers of moral persuasion in 2022 are not as forceful as they should be.

Rather than replicating the McCarthyism of the Cold War, shouldn’t journalists from small nations like New Zealand be reminding the international community of its obligation to not only demand full accountability from those nations that commit crimes against humanity, but also from those that cause them?

This essay is exclusive to Bowalley Road.


Shane McDowall said...

In 1941 the US Government tried to contain Japanese aggression with economic sanctions. How did that work out ?

Economic sanctions are about as effective as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

David George said...

"Those involved were described .... as “conspiracy theorists”, a term he appeared to be using as a synonym for “evil crazies”.

"Demonising one’s fellow citizens for the “sin” of refusing "

Now where have we heard those sorts of comments recently. I guess you need to read the media Chris, someone's got to do it, but they really are worse than useless at fulfilling their core role of presenting a complete picture. Are our media activists or objectivists, perhaps bought and paid for advocates or willfully blind ideologues or shameless populists?

Why are there no alternatives offered to, say, the climate debate. Even excepting the validity of the basic theory there's the huge and fundamental question mark over the impact of CO2 - from mildly beneficial to panic: "the planet is burning.

In that case the propaganda is developed and directed by an outfit called Covering Climate Now, all our major MSM are fully signed up “partners” committed to telling one side of the story and scaring the bejesus out of the dumb schmucks still listening to their BS .
Here is CCN’s hall of shame, you’ll notice our lot among them – RNZ, ODT, TVNZ, NZ Herald, Stuff etc.

Kat said...

That Thomas Mead report appeared to be about the discovery of social media content (fake?) showing New Zealanders supporting Russia and that content was designed to appeal to the conspiracy theorists seemingly abundant in godzone at this time.

Social cohesion has taken a hit and little old NZ hasn't escaped.
People are crazy and times have changed.
Ask Bob:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

In 1941, the world economy wasn't nearly as integrated as it is now. To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson. "Never get involved in a land war with an integrated banking system."

As Dara says David, not everyone's opinions are equally valid.

Geoff said...

Still the apologist for Russia Chris.

Patricia said...

It is said that the first casualty of war is truth.
Why they would say this I do not know but I heard that in the Middle East they regard this Ukraine/ Russia war as another Christian crusade.

David George said...

"not everyone's opinions are equally valid"
Well yes, obviously there's a lot of ill informed, sometimes deliberately misleading, opinion out there. A bottomless bucket of bullshit. So what to do, how to separate the good the bad and the ugly. Outsourcing your opinions to the media and the government; outfits that feel the need to insist they are "The One Source of Truth" might not be such a great idea.
A genuine attempt at balance rather than condescending contempt for the counter is a clue that you're reading the work of a propagandist. I recall an "effort" by Allison Mau a couple of years ago - Herald I think it was. You can excuse the poor writing I guess, though you would expect a lot better from our leading paper. The problem was the complete refusal to acknowledge, much less tackle, the obvious questions arising from the assertions made. Propaganda tends to be like that, narrow and predictable. On TV watch out for background music and the use of images designed to install an emotion.

I'm an admirer of Mary Harrington (UnHerd); a beautiful choice of words and an exquisite turn of phrase but most of all the feeling you're on a journey, an adventure, that, like life itself, the end has not been decided at the beginning. Authenticity.

I just read a lovely essay that's like that - and it's on topic, a writers journey through Ukraine:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"A questionable source exhibits one or more of the following: extreme bias, consistent promotion of propaganda/conspiracies, poor or no sourcing to credible information, a complete lack of transparency and/or is fake news. Fake News is the deliberate attempt to publish hoaxes and/or disinformation for the purpose of profit or influence (Learn More). Sources listed in the Questionable Category may be very untrustworthy and should be fact checked on a per article basis. Please note sources on this list are not considered fake news unless specifically written in the reasoning section for that source."

Overall, we rate Quillette Questionable based on the promotion of racial pseudoscience and the use of poor sources.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug Longmire said...

Another thought.. New Zealand's $2m donation to Ukraine is so pathetically miniscule that it looks more like (wink and a nod) a subtle message of support to Comrade Putin, from Comrade Ardern.
Or is that just a "conspiracy theory" ?

Shane McDowall said...

Which road should Labour choose ?

Perhaps they should take heed of the words of Australian philosophers AC/DC

"I'm on the Highway to Hell".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting opinion piece on Ukraine. A few things I hadn't considered before – but then it hasn't been a region I've taken a great deal of interest in. I mean who'd have thought – war in Europe? Between two countries with a McDonald's. Not that Russia has them anymore – neither do they have pornhub apparently. That latter must cut to the quick. :)

Unfortunately David your sources tend to be closer to the toothiologist than the dentist.

Damn you AutoCorrect – couldn't sleep last night so not too good at proofreading.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Or is that just a "conspiracy theory" ?"


Archduke Piccolo said...

A nod to Chris Rea:

Well, I'm standing at the border
Where understanding doesn't flow:
It boils with too many passions to think of.
And we're underneath the cameras
But the light of knowledge grows
Only in the fear of warfare's shadow

And Government sponsored violence
Wipes the smile from every face
And Common Sense is ringing out the knell -

"This ain't no diplomatical breakdown-
"THis ain't no sociological breakdown -
"This ain't no economical breakdown -
"This is the Road to Hell."

And to the mainstream news media's discredit
There is nothing you can do;
It's all just platitudes and sound bites
dinning in to you.

Oh, look out World, take a good look
You must learn this lesson and learn it well:

"This ain't no highway to World Revolution -
"This ain't no highway to World Resolution -
"This ain't no highway to a real solution -
"This is the Road to Hell."

Ion A. Dowman

Tom Hunter said...

Overall, we rate Quillette Questionable based on the promotion of racial pseudoscience and the use of poor sources.

Chuckle. And who is "" from which that unlinked quote comes? Well, let's see what "Politifact Bias" has to say about them:
Media Bias/Fact Check bills itself as "The most comprehensive media bias resource." It's run by Dave Van Zandt, making it fair to say it's run by "some guy" ("Dave studied Communications in college" is his main claim to expertise).

We have nothing against "some guy" possessing expertise despite a lack of qualifications, of course.

"Some guy". I like that. They look at his "methods" of assessing political bias and have fun pointing out that none of the factors has any objective basis of assessment. Basically it's just Van Zandt's opinion:
If the scale was worth something, researchers could put the rating system in the hands of any reasonable person and obtain comparable results. Systems with robust objective markers attached to each level of the scale can achieve that. Those lacking such markers will not.
Why is Van Zandt's rating objectively more valid than ours? Or yours?

Good question, but not one that people putting up unlinked quotes want to discuss.

A rating scale that fails to base its ratings on quantifiable data is worthless. Van Zandt's ratings are worthless except to tell you his opinion.
Until Dave Van Zandt adds objective markers to the MB/FC rating scales and justifies every rating with real objective data, take the ratings with a boulder of salt. They're worthless without specific backing data.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Tom, for once you have made a good point. Or would have if pretty much every other fact checking/bias organisation didn't say much the same. Even Wikipedia says it leans libertarian.

"But fans of the site include pop psychologist Jordan Peterson, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, psychology professors Steven Pinker of Harvard and Jonathan Haidt of New York University, and columnists like David Brooks, Meghan Daum and Andrew Sullivan.And you of course.

Enough to put me off right from the start.

Chris Slater said...

Guerilla Surgeon – As the New Yorker puts it, “The biggest story of the past fifty years in American politics has been the ascendancy of the right, and it’s a story of apostasy. At each stage of the conservative movement’s long march to power, crucial aid was provided by heretics from the left…The most common explanation is…’Any man who is not a socialist at age twenty has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age forty has no head.’” Present company excepted, I’m sure.

But the number of public intellectuals who left the Left are so numerous that one should question what is about the Left that causes the intelligentsia to abandon its utopian dream. Losing heart over the demand for revolution, perhaps? Shining Path’s Guzman says a million people would have to die in a people’s war, an action reified manyfold in China, USSR, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Or the Left’s authoritarianism, the moral certainty of its doctrinaire purpose, its failure to consider the consequence of its actions, the greater good subservient to the greater goal, its refusal to compromise, the cost of cleaning up the mess it creates – the list goes on, so I won’t.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon:

I lost your comment to Chris Slater. (Chose the wrong option - senior moment!)

Could you please send it again?

Profuse apologies.