Monday, February 19, 2007

Inequality, Injustice, Illegitimacy and Insecurity

I went to two very inspiring lectures over the past week. The first one was Joseph Nye's lecture at King's College on Feb. 14, titled "The Future of American Power." Nye is a Professor of International Relations at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and he's credited for having pioneered the "soft power" theory.

The second one was Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei's lecture on Feb. 19 at the LSE, titled "Global Security: Challenges and Opportunities." ElBaradei is Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA.)

ElBaradei spoke of how inequality is the source of insecurity in the world. He spoke of people who live without electricity, who use biomass to cook food, who go to bed hungry, who die because of their poverty. He compared the American spending on defense with the spending on development aid. This comparison shows that Americans choose to address solely the symptoms of the problem, not the roots.

Then he spoke of the unequal value we put on human life. People in Congo, people in Rwanda, people in Darfur die, because they are not important enough [for us] to be kept alive, he said. "How can we expect them to grieve us when we don't grieve them?" he asked.

This reminded me of a lecture I covered on March 23, 2004 by Pulitzer Winner journalist Samantha Power. You can access it here. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"Power started her lecture by quoting a speech President Bush made on Nov. 6, 2003 in Washington, D.C. “Sixty years of western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.’”

Power said “the enemy of my enemy can be my friend” attitude in foreign policy must change. She gave the example of U.S. backing of Iraq when “Iran was the enemy in the neighborhood.”

She said at the time Saddam Hussein was violating the rights of the Kurdish minority in Iraq, but the United States overlooked these violations.

“Lines not to cross were moved to keep Iran down,” she said.

When Iraq started threatening not only Iran, but also Kuwait and Israel with its weapons development program, it became clear that the United States could no longer support Hussein, according to Power.

Power outlined many obstacles to integrating concern for human rights into U.S. foreign policy.

The first one, she said, is that “victims of human rights abuses don’t vote in the U.S.” She said even she, “the genocide chick,” did not vote on the 1996 elections on the basis of how the Clinton administration “allowed” genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia.

According to Power, the second obstacle is a structural one. She said unlike domestic politics, foreign policy does not have “checks and balances” to make sure “urgent will not trump the important, and short term will not trump the long term.”

Power said the third obstacle is people’s lack of “moral imagination.” She said even though people know real-time facts, like the number of Rwandans who died in the genocide, they have no real knowledge of the “human stakes,” they do not stop to imagine the struggle of every person.

The main default of foreign policy is that short-term security and economic interests always get in the way of the concern for human rights and that while ethnic lobbies like Albanians and Armenians play a constructive role for policy change, their efforts focus on a particular group and lack universality.

Power called U.S. foreign policy “gratuitous unilateralism,” recalling the resistance of the United States to the International Criminal Court. She said the United States tried to convince its allies not to turn in U.S. soldiers to the international court and cut or suspended military aid to countries that refused."

This brings me to the Nye lecture. Nye went back to the days when the Soviet troops left Afghanistan and the country "collapsed on itself," but the Americans did not mind because it was "half way around the world." Their indifference lasted until Sep. 11, 2001.

Nye used the metaphor of a "three-dimensional chess board" to explain current world politics. The first dimension is military power, one aspect of "hard power," and noone can challenge the US on that. He said that the world is already multi-polar when it comes to economic power, another aspect of "hard power." The third dimension, however, covers the transnational threats such as terrorism, poverty and global warming, and the US should use the "legitimacy of its actions" to influence other actors' actions, i.e. "soft power."

So far, the US has not been very successful in doing that. Nye pointed out that the number of recruits of the extremist groups in the Middle East exceeds the number killed or captured by the American troops. Even if the Americans dismantle one group of extremists, another will spring up as long as the perceived inequality, injustice and illegitimacy is not addressed.

Injustice: ElBeredei said he has difficulty asking countries to conform with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, when the nuclear powers do not fulfill their obligations to disarm.

Now we should each turn to ourselves and ask, "why don't I care?" Why are we indifferent to the poverty, violence and suffering that happen far from us? (The distance is both in terms of time and space. We don't care about those who suffered in the past, and we don't care about those who are suffering far away, now... This means we won't do anything to make sure that people won't suffer in the future.) Why do we lack that "moral imagination" Samantha Power describes? I wrote many posts ("Post-Emotionalism and the Third Way," "Luck and Responsibility," even "Indifference") under the label "Post-emotionalism" exploring this phenomenon. We put too much value on individual responsibility, we try our best not to intentionally hurt people in our vicinity, but as long as we are not directly responsible for their suffering, we simply do not care. Our perceived lack of responsibility in their suffering frees us from guilt and the obligation to do something about it.

We are indifferent as long as they don't touch us. We live in bliss. But people who suffer far away can come closer and touch us. Inequality, injustice brings insecurity, terror. That's the feeling I described in "Turkey's Paradox." I don't feel free in Turkey, because I don't feel safe to be free. And the feeling of fear, insecurity stems from inequality. The fear won't leave us until we become aware of the sources of the problem and do something about it. Or else, our survival will be a matter of chance.

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