Duties Without Borders

Young girl protesting outside US Embassy in Amman, courtesy of Freedom House/flickr

CAMBRIDGE – More than 130,000 people are said to have died in Syria’s civil war. United Nations reports of atrocities, Internet images of attacks on civilians, and accounts of suffering refugees rend our hearts. But what is to be done – and by whom?

Recently, the Canadian scholar-politician Michael Ignatieff urged US President Barack Obama to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, despite the near-certainty that Russia would veto the United Nations Security Council resolution needed to legalize such a move. In Ignatieff’s view, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is allowed to prevail, his forces will obliterate the remaining Sunni insurgents – at least for now; with hatreds inflamed, blood eventually will flow again.

The Enigma of European Defense

Photo: Eurocorps/Wikimedia Commons.

PARIS – While Europe’s citizens largely support the establishment of a common security and defense policy, most European leaders have demonstrated a clear lack of interest in creating one – including at last month’s European Council meeting. What accounts for this paradox?

One possible explanation is that financially strained European governments lack the means to fulfill their citizens’ expectations. But that is unconvincing, given that the issue was framed in almost identical terms three decades ago, when budgetary constraints were not a problem. In fact, it could be argued that such constraints should spur, not impede, the creation of a European defense structure. After all, member countries would then be able to pool their resources, harmonize programs, and rationalize costs, thereby reducing individual governments’ financial burden.

Another, far more credible explanation is that Europeans’ interpretations of “a more active and stronger security policy” differ widely. Indeed, current discussions in Europe concerning the use of force are dominated by three main perspectives, championed by France, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Interview – Michael Walzer

Israel and Gaza
Israel and Gaza. Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/flickr.

Professor Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political philosophers and public intellectuals. He has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. He has published 27 books and over 300 articles, including  Just and Unjust WarsOn Toleration, and Arguing About War. He has served as editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades, and is a contributor to The New Republic. He graduated Summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History, studied at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship (1956–1957) and completed his doctoral work at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in Government in 1961. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the new forms of welfare, as well as on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.

Professor Walzer answers reader questions about intervention in Syria, just war in the age of drones, preventing genocide and mass atrocities, and Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.

Did NATO Intervene in Libya Just to Get Rid of Gaddafi?

Gaddafi Mural
Gaddafi mural. Photo: Internews Network/flickr.

Libyans do not want revenge; they want justice to be done, former prisoner Ali Elakermi tells the BCC in a moving interview as he walks through the prison in Libya where he was held during the regime of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. He shows journalist Jeremy Bowen the corner of a cell where he spent 11 years of his life. ‘Revenge engenders revenge,’ says Elakermi, close to tears in a report screened last week.

As Libya lurches from one crisis to the next, with increasing uncertainty about who is in charge in Tripoli following Gaddafi’s toppling in 2011, many feel the need for a reminder of the horrors of the Gaddafi regime. Because it was horrible. The former ‘Guide of the Revolution’, as Gaddafi liked to be called, sponsored terrorism worldwide; in Africa and as far away as Indonesia. There are consistent reports that he financed and supported warlords like Charles Taylor in Liberia and rebel movements in Chad and elsewhere in the Sahel. Political opponents like Elakermi were summarily thrown into jail, often tortured and sometimes killed.

Pragmatism, Fear and Geopolitics: Why Moscow Still Backs Assad

Syrians hold photos of Assad and Putin during a pro-regime protest in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, March 4, 2012.
Syrians hold photos of Assad and Putin during a pro-regime protest in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, 2012. Photo: Freedom House/flickr.

This post originally appeared on the World blog at Blouin Global News.

Russia has been Bashar al-Assad’s staunchest protector. Although the British parliament’s decision not to intervene militarily in Syria has disappointed Washington, as of writing it seems unlikely to affect its resolution to strike against the Assad’s regime. When it does so, it will inevitably anger Moscow and further contribute to its belief that the United States seeks to be a “monopolar” power that acts however it wants on the world stage.

But why has Moscow been so stalwart in its support of an undeniably odious regime? It is possible to talk glibly of a natural affinity between autocrats (although Vladimir Putin clearly still commands the support of a clear majority of Russians) or a fear of some global swing against authoritarian regimes (though there are many dominos between Damascus and Moscow that would fall first), the answer is a mix of pragmatism, fear and geopolitics.