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Year 2001 No. 186, November 1, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

The Legitimacy of States and the Domino Theory

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The Legitimacy of States and the Domino Theory

Letter to the Editor:
The Use of DU in the Afghanistan Bombing

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The Legitimacy of States and the Domino Theory

In the speech by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to the International Institute of Strategic Studies on October 22, one of the most crucial issues which was raised was in effect that of the legitimacy of states.

Jack Straw posed the issue that, according to him, terrorists are strongest where states are weakest, and that the contemporary world faces a challenge posed by what he called failed states. He also put forward the assertion, raising in passing the issue of good government, that today no state can succeed without active support from and co-operation with other states, which is essential to the global system of states. His argument culminated in drawing a parallel with the domino theory put forward during the Cold War that if communism were not stopped from "taking over" one country, then it would "infect" neighbouring countries until "we found ourselves encircled". Begging the question of what constitutes a state’s legitimacy, he concluded that indeed the domino theory does apply to today to the "chaos of failed states", and that therefore all legitimate governments side in a battle against the failed states. Naturally, all this was being put forward in the context of the aggression against Afghanistan and as a justification for intervention, so that "we should be able to welcome the people of Afghanistan back into the family of sovereign nation states, as a fully fledged member of the international community".

The Foreign Secretary’s speech, therefore, raises some very important issues about what constitutes a legitimate state, and raises the issue that there is a line to cross where states are failing which justifies international intervention to restore or give rise to a "sovereign nation state".

At the time when the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc countries were collapsing, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was signed, in November 1990. Participating under the auspices of the OSCE were all the countries of Europe (with the exception of Albania, which signed later), plus Canada and the US. This was a very significant move by these states to declare that Anglo-American imperialism and the European powers would continue the Cold War in new conditions. Having proclaimed the victory over communism, then it would pass off the Anglo-American and European political and economic system as the only legitimate system, and use it as justification for a push to impose this system and dominate the globe all over again. This system has the features of the free-market economy, of political pluralism and a definition of human rights consistent with this system, namely one enshrining the freedom of the individual based on ownership of private property.

It is very significant that we hear the reverberations of this declaration precisely at the time when Anglo-US imperialism has embarked on its military intervention in Central Asia and are preparing for a long haul, an open-ended conflict. Jack Straw’s argument takes over the assumptions of the superiority of the political system and values which the Paris Charter embodies. Indeed, its argument is that no other system and values are valid. This indeed incorporates the assertion that the British government has been developing over the past years that such values and definitions are universal. And it has been developing them when the crisis of legitimacy of its political and economic system has been deepening and increasingly broad sections of the people have been rising up to question this legitimacy.

The assertion which the Paris Charter contains that precisely the Anglo-American and European conception of democratic government embodies the popular and national will is being brought into question. That it is this conception of democratic government which is founded on respect for the human person and the rule of law is a proposition which has been increasingly blown apart as these same powers have flouted the rule of law or decreed laws which come into conflict with the popular or national will. This is also occurring with an international dimension, and that these actions represent the will of the international financial oligarchy has itself been widely grasped and given rise to a growing upsurge of opposition. One by one, the principles enumerated by the Paris Charter have gone into further crisis over the past ten years.

Already at the time of their formulation these definitions of the legitimacy of such a system were outdated and in crisis. They encompass anti-communism and are consistent with the neo-liberal globalisation which the imperialist powers have developed since the end of the bi-polar division of the world. The imposition of such a global system is threatened by all who do not share and are opposed to its values. Furthermore, it is in this context that the clash with Islamic values, particularly what is being called Islamist values or Islamic fundamentalism, has been taking place.

Jack Straw’s argument, then, takes as its premise that precisely such a definition of a nation state is the key building block in the new global order. Where such states do not exist, his argument goes, then precisely this gives rise to the collapse of responsible government and the breakdown of civil society. A declaration of war, such as the present open-ended war, is then made not against states which are failed or do not exist according to the old definitions, but can be made against terrorism, warlords, or whatever enemy the imperialists wish to conjure up. Jack Straw even presses into the argument that previous superpower and imperialist intervention itself can undermine the legitimacy of such failed states or cause them to fail, and justify intervention to impose a state which has the legitimacy defined by criteria which are clearly those of the Paris-Charter, i.e. by Anglo-American imperialism and the EU powers.

The Foreign Secretary’s assertion, in particular, is that Afghanistan is not a functioning state. In other words, he does not recognise that Afghanistan as an Islamic Emirate has legitimacy. Furthermore, other states can be "sucked in" to the chaos resulting from the failure or lack of legitimacy, increasing the toll of human misery, according to him. This is the contemporary version of the domino theory which Jack Straw enunciates. He has "no doubt that the domino theory does apply to the chaos of failed states".

Jack Straw has to deny Afghanistan, and all states which by his definition are failed, legitimacy, because he wants to avoid drawing the obvious conclusion that as the "Cold War pitted two ideologies against one another in a battle for supremacy" then the present conflict reflects a clash of civilisations. So he has to settle for the assertion that only a "sovereign nation state" according to the Paris Charter criteria can be a "fully fledged" member of the "international community".

It can be seen both what dangers this new version of the domino theory holds to the sovereignty of nations and peoples, as it defines their sovereignty away – more often than not because of foreign intervention in the first place – and also how it presages a further stage in the striving of Anglo-US imperialism for global hegemony. It includes the contradiction that only a state which has international support can be considered appropriate to adopt its own statehood. Jack Straw is denying that a self-sufficient society has a place in the modern world which has become "globalised". On the contrary, the more Jack Straw and his government talk of "freedom and democracy" and "civilised values", the more it becomes exposed that their system is one of the rule of Anglo-American imperialism and the domination of international finance capital. Establishing renovated self-sufficient societies is the most modern mission the world’s people have, and the British government’s mission, as the partner in crime of US imperialism, will only further block the emergence of such societies and take the world further back into the dark ages.

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Letter to the Editor

The Use of DU in the Afghanistan Bombing


I am writing to express my deep concern over the bombing of Afghanistan and especially the use of DU in cruise and other missiles. (All cruise missiles are tipped with DU.)

Depleted Uranium is approximately 60% as radioactive as normal uranium and emits alpha, beta and gamma radiations.

Although the British and US governments deny any ill effects from DU there is mounting evidence to show that it has a catastrophic effect on the environment and health causing cancers and genetic instability which in turn can cause mutations and illnesses affecting generations.

According to Richard Bramhall of the Low Level Radiation Unit, "The use of DU creates a huge number of tiny inhalable insoluble uranium oxide particles which are translocated to the lymph nodes where they chronically irradiate local tissues to levels where genetic mutation is a definite possibility."

At a meeting of the Society for the Radiological Protection in 2000, speaker after speaker confirmed that cells do not respond to low doses of radiation in the same way that they do for high doses. All the government evidence concerning the safety of DU use models for high doses of radiation.

There are new discoveries including low dose hypersensitivity. The work of Professor Eric Wright demonstrates genomic instability induced by radiation at very low doses, dependent on how long the particles are in the body. He has shown that cells in the neighbourhood of the irradiated cells are also affected even though they have not been directly irradiated. He calls this the bystander effect. It includes gene mutation, chromosomal instability, P53 protein expression, sister chromatid exchanges, micronucleus formation and cytotoxicity. Put simply, this could be described as radiation induced change at zero dose.

Dr Chris Busby has put forward a "second event" theory which follows along similar lines. It proposes a mechanism of genetic mutation at extremely low doses of radiation when the genetic repair cycles of cells are interrupted and subverted by the different radioactive particles given off during the radioactive decay of "hot" particles.

This means there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation. One particle of uranium oxide can sit in a cell emitting radiation over an indefinite period of time.

A US Army Environmental Policy Institute report in June 1995 stated that "if DU enters the body, it has the potential to generate significant medical consequences. The risks associated with DU in the body are both chemical and radiological."

The British and US governments consistently deny any association with the use of DU in Iraq during the Gulf War and the increase in horrendous birth defects in children, or the 66% increase in leukaemias and cancer in that country. They similarly deny any association between the use of DU in Iraq and the cancers and liver and kidney malfunctions experienced by Gulf War veterans, whose children also have above average birth defects. We are also seeing an increase in cancers in troops who are serving in former Yugoslavia where DU was used in Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia.

DU weapons are listed by a sub commission of United Nations Commission on Human Rights as weapons of mass or indiscriminate destruction.

When Tony Blair speaks of supporting Afghanistan after the "war" phase is completed, I would hope he means that among other things he will implement the cleaning up of DU from Afghani soil.

If this is not done generations of Afghani people are doomed to suffer from the ill effects of DU and its radiation. I might add that if Tony Blair means what he says about helping Afghanistan that would involve personnel from this country (and others) who would also be exposed to the ill effects of DU. Enlightened self-interest alone should dictate a clear up.

I would like to make clear that I am against the bombing in Afghanistan. Millions of Afghani people are about to starve. Innocent people have been killed. Red Cross facilities have been twice bombed. There has to be another way. If governments put the same amount of resources and ingenuity they use for "Military Academies" into "Peace Academies" as proposed by Satish Kumar, and conciliation, we could maybe find other more peaceful means of dealing with international and social crises such as we are now facing.

Yours sincerely


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