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Is US Diplomatic Practice ‘Legal’? An Analysis of UN Chapter VI and Power Perception

Claudiu Sonda

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When it comes to envisioning peaceful relations among the peoples, there is no higher source of inspiration than the UN Charter and the global organization it created. The founding fathers of the new world order were very much aware of the misfortunes that characterize international affairs. It can be argued that they were naïve in hoping to have found the solution to war but their trust in the power of diplomacy is a fact. For definition, we are referring to diplomacy as all the necessary peaceful means that aim at achieving cooperation and dialogue among conflictual world actors.

There seem to exist two opposing views on the role of the UN in the settlement of disputes. On the one hand we have the institutionalists who believe in the ability of this organization to act as an independent actor, while on the other we have sceptical realists who see the primacy of the member states over the UN. However, the aim of this paper is not how the UN operates but what it believes in. Also, to observe if powerful states such as the US follow the UN normative prescriptions on diplomacy. I find it relevant to absorb the essence of UN’s view on diplomacy and compare it to the US perspective. The US case is emblematic since it illustrates how the perception of power affects diplomatic practice.

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Source: United Nations Photo @ Flickr

But first we should comprehend UN’s view on diplomacy. This is best expressed by Chapter VI of  the Charter, more specifically Article 33.1 which can be considered as the more peaceful and legitimate alternative to Chapter VII’s forceful intervention provisions. What we get from this article is a legalistic and idealistic way of handling conflictual situations on the global arena. Its provisions have a few elements in common, namely the assumption that there is an international legal order that can deliver justice, that diplomatic practice is the safest way to resolve disputes, equality among states, and that militant unilateralism threatens peace and security. What does the famous Chapter VII stand for? We can shortly affirm that it enforces peace, while Chapter VI maintains it. The numbering of the articles is relevant since it gives precedence to diplomacy over interventionism. It can be argued that the constant invocation of Article VII shows the failure of diplomacy in world affairs but this does not cancel the UN’s great hope in the antique practice of ‘communication and representation’.

It might tempting to associate the UN’s approach to diplomacy with the rationalist/liberal internationalist school of IR but I will stay away from the IR debate. So how do great powers relate to this vision? I would argue that it all depends on power perception, meaning what constitutes power in the eyes of leaders. To best notice this I will delve into Obama’s foreign policy while touching upon the neoconservative narrative of the role of diplomacy as a counterexample.

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Source: US Department of Defense Current Photos @ Flickr

Obama’s ‘engagement’ with the world and most vitally with the ‘enemies’ appears a foreign policy in itself. The US president and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton translated this into summitry participation, increased investment in the US ‘civilian power’ abroad to catch up with the high military spending, and the pursuit of stable partnerships with the other leading countries or international organizations. What lies under this policy? It is the respect for the interests of counterparts, for international law and the order it creates, the doubtless reliance on the effectiveness of communication and negotiation (backed in this particular case by big sticks) but also much pragmatism.

In international politics, pragmatism is the natural sign that reality differs from aspirations. Obama’s administration cleverly understands the times and US’s true position in the world. First, self-reliance and unilateral behaviour is not sustainable anymore. Second, and this is key, the source for American leadership (power) is according to Obama its constant interaction with international institutions and norms. Furthermore, US security depends on alliances as ‘force multipliers’. Finally, the Security Strategy of the US underlines the need for the UN to be capable of ‘fulfilling its founding purpose’. To sum up, we have a clear case of diplomacy as instrument of smart power. We can therefore say that Obama’s understanding of diplomacy is in tune with international law. The opposite can be argued as well but I would say Obama’s intentions in this sense are a success if we consider some relevant opinions that explain how in fact America is not that good in diplomacy for reasons that range from distrust in this practice, to the privilege given to hard power over soft power, to instrumental diplomatic isolation of adversaries and so on.

Even more helpful in making sense of Obama’s diplomatic legality is to remember the previous Bush administration and the neo-conservative ideology that stood behind its foreign policy. The first related aspect that strikes at first sight is the election of Colin Powell as head of US diplomacy in 2001, a public figure that can be called in Wiseman’s terms an ‘anti-diplomat’, meaning an official with a military and intelligence background. This nomination can be conceptualized as the triumph of militarism over diplomacy in foreign policy.

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Source: DonkeyHotey @ Flick

We could argue following the logic used in Obama’s case that the foreign policy of George W. Bush did not conceive of diplomacy as the UN under Chapter VI of its Charter does. If we give legal authority to this later document we can conclude that in principle, Bush’s diplomatic practice was illegal or at least not legal. Why did this particular American administration disregard diplomacy? I would again argue for the role of power perception. Robert Kagan, a representative of neo-conservatism, the ideology behind Bush’s foreign policy, talks of the American ‘strategic culture’ characterized by good and evil distinctions, ‘less patience’ when it comes to diplomatic practice, favour for coercion and finally unilateralism. Making a comparison to the EU, he suggests that the power balance between Europe and America has changed and that today the US is powerful and therefore it only acts as powerful states do. Moreover, an essential element in grasping this ideology is American exceptionalism, namely that the world’s interests coincide with America’s.

In conclusion, the legal and idealistic prescriptions on diplomacy are fixed by the UN Charter. Not the same can be said about the diplomatic practice of the US. Based on its perception of power, diplomacy can be a goal in itself or an obstacle. In short, international law in reality succumbs to state interest but not without consequences. Even Condoleeza Rice’s search for legitimacy in the UN and Obama’s smart power strategy prove that the power of a state can be threatened by a decrease in legitimacy.

Bibliography

  1. Carlsnaes W, Risse T., Simmons B. (2002), Diplomacy, Bargaining and Negotiation, in Handbook of International Relations, pp. 212-235, SAGE Publications Ltd;
  2. Charter of the United Nations (1945). Website: https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/ctc/uncharter.pdf;
  3. Colin Powell biography. Website: http://www.defense.gov/specials/AfricanAm2003/powell.html;
  4. Kagan R. (2004), Of Paradise and Power. America and Europe in the New World Order, Vintage Books;
  5. Kerr P., Wiseman G. (2013), Diplomacy in a globalizing world. Theories and Practices, Oxford University Press;
  6. National Security Strategy (2010), The White House;
  7. Nye J. Jr. (2011), The Future of Power, Public Affairs;
  8. Ratner S. (1995), Image and Reality in the UN’s Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, EJIL, pp. 426-444;
  9. Usgovernmentspending.com. Website: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year_spending_2014USbn_15bs2n_3031#usgs302;
  10. Wiseman G. (2011), Distinctive Characteristics of American Diplomacy, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 6, pp.235-259, Marinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.

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On the issue of cyber security of critical infrastructures

Alexandra Goman

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There is a lot of talk in regards to cyberattacks nowadays. A regular user worries about its data and tries to secure by all means necessary. Yet, no one really thinks whether the power plants or nuclear facilities are well secured. Everyone assumes that they should be secured.

The reality, however, differs. According to many reports of cyber security companies, there is an increased risk of cyberattacks, targeting SCADA and ICS. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is used for the systems that control physical equipment – power plants, oil and gas pipelines, they can also control or monitor processes such as heating or energy consumption. Along with Industrial Control Systems (ICS) they control critical elements of industrial automation processes. Exploiting vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures can lead to the consequences of unimaginable scale. (These types of attacks are actually used in a cyberwar scenarios and hypothetical military settings).

Source: Fortinet, 2015

There are many reasons why these systems are vulnerable for attacks. First of all, the main problem is that these systems have an old design; they were built before they were connected to any networks. They were later configured to connect via Ethernet, and that’s when they became a part of a larger infrastructure. The more advanced SCADA system is becoming, the more vulnerabilities are these to exploit. The updates should be regular and on time. Secondly, there is a lack of monitoring. New devices that are connected allow remote monitoring, but not all devices have the same reporting capabilities. There are also authentication issues (weak passwords, authentication process), however, this is supposed to restrict unauthorized access (See Common SCADA Threats and Vulnerabilities at Patriot Technologies, Inc. Online).

In these scenarios, there is no certainty to know what is going to backfire because of the complexity of communications and power networks. This is also called a cascading effect of attacks. Not knowing who is connected to who may cause major disruptions. The example of the US East Coast power blackout in 2003 proves this point (a failure in one element of the grid spreads across other electrical networks). However, given this, it is also complicated for an attacker to predict consequences, if an attack executed. This kind of attack can easily escalate into more serious conflict, so it might not be the best option for states to employ such methods.

Moreover, there is a risk to damage a critical infrastructure unintentionally. That is if a virus or worm did not intend to target SCADA but happen to spread there as well. The uncontrollability of the code may seriously impair the desire to use it, especially when it comes to nation-states. For instance, in 2003 a worm penetrated a private network of the US Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and disabled a safety monitoring system for 5 hours. In 2009, French fighter jets could not take off because they were infected with a virus.

Indeed, a scenario where an attacker gains access to a SCADA system and manipulates with the system, causing disruptions on a large-scale, might be hypothetical but it does not make it less possible in the future. However, the only known case so far, which affected an industrial control centre, is Stuxnet. It did not result in many deaths, yet it drew attention of the experts on the plausibility of future more sophisticated attacks. These potential upcoming attacks might cause the level of destruction, comparable to that of a conventional attack, therefore resulting in war.

Further reading:

Bradbury, D. (2012). SCADA: a Critical Vulnerability. Computer Fraud & Security, 4, p. 11-14.

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Briefly about the Russian Political Discourse

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As you may have noticed, the recent international discourse has been rotating around Russia and its relations to other countries for a long time. Needless to say that after the events in Georgia/Ukraine, this discourse is far from friendly. Some even say that rhetoric of the Cold War has returned. What makes people abroad wonder is why Russia chooses to respond to its foreign partners in this particular way? Why is it the way it is?

To begin with, there are several reasons that shape Russian rhetoric. First of all, they are historical and cultural values. Russia sees itself as a defender of its rights and identity and someone who is not going to follow someone else’s rules. Back to the 13th century, the grand prince (rus. knyaz) Aleksander Nevsky only accepted submission  to the Golden Horde to protect the Russian culture and belief, therefore depriving the West of the opportunity to take over its territories.  This mentality still governs the minds of people. Today, current political rhetoric is doing the same by refusing the Western pressure and external interference into its business.

After the Golden Horde, Russia has managed to maintain its unity. Back then, the East saw the country to be an heir to the great Byzantine Empire. Meanwhile, the enormous size of the country was rather intimidating; and even more, when it started acquiring new territories (remember reaction to the situation with Crimea).

On the one hand, Moscow tries to present itself strong when it communicates with the Europe; on the other hand, the Western neighbours seem to use the same old-fashioned strategy to isolate the big neighbour. Since the time of Ivan the Terrible, no one really has wanted strong and stable Russia and there were steps before to prevent the unity of Eurasia.

The long history of Russia plays a big role in forming the modern mind of the citizen and current political rhetoric. Russian people and the government would not admit defeat and would do anything possible to prevail, even if it means to live in humble circumstances for some time (think of the continuous sanctions).

The tough policy of Peter the Great, the emperor of Russia, has brought the country to a new level in comparison to others. At that time already, all the international questions were only resolved with the help of Russia. In the following years, the power of the country kept growing only to solidify during the rule of Catherine the Great. The famous grand chancellor of Russia and the chief of foreign policy Bezborodko used to say, “I don’t know how it will be at your time, but at this time not a single gun is allowed to fire without our permission”[1]. Now, Russia tries to achieve similar influence.

The period after the World War II proved to be fruitful for the development of the European countries. While the US and USSR were competing, Europe was free from deciding on serious issues, so it could absorb and enjoy the time of quiet development.

Nonetheless, there has been a clear confrontation between the two ideologies, Nazism and Communism. Even though the USSR did not try to exterminate the nations, the scary ghost of the USSR keeps frightening the rest of the world. The impression of “evil USSR” flying over the international relations is still there and penetrates the minds of the people.

After the collapse of the USSR, there was a chance to promote peace and peaceful coexistence.  Russia has repeatedly expressed its interest in it, yet the Western partners have chosen another way:  NATO enlargement to the East (which is believed to be a broken promise).  Interestingly enough, George Kennan, the so-called creator of containment policy of Soviet expansion, considered the NATO expansion a tragic mistake.

All in all, abovementioned factors play a significant role in shaping the Russian political discourse. Cultural and historical values, national pride (and therefore negative feeling towards the Western sanctions) as well as the use of state symbols to unite the country are the most important rhetoric tools in the Russian language arsenal. Its constant and regular transmission through the media and other communication channels make this rhetoric influential and persuasive.

[1] [URL: http://www.istmira.com/istoriya-rossii-s-drevnejshix-vremen-do-nashix/290-kakovy-itogi-i-posledstviya-vneshnej-politiki.html] [дата обращения: 20.05.2016]

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Yes, You Should Start Caring About Politics!

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One of the most common things that you hear from people a lot of the time is something along the lines of “I just don’t really care about politics.” In fact, you might have even said something along those lines yourself. And it can be tempting to fall into this line of thinking. After all, politics are hardly the most exciting or exotic things in the world. However, the truth is that they impact your life in different ways every single day and if you choose to ignore politics, then that just meant that you’re going to end up falling victim to policies that harm you and the people around you. With that in mind, here are some ways that you can start being more politically minded right now.

Know the issues

Do you know where you stand on many of the most important issues of the modern day? Do you know what most of those issues are? The truth is that many people would rather ignore a lot of the problems that society and the world at large face simply because it can feel as though they’re too big to deal with. Things like the economy, climate change, and social justice aren’t just abstract concepts; they’re things that impact the lives of real people every single day. Being more informed about the issues will allow you to have a much better understanding of your own political views.

Know who to speak to

Do you know who your senator is? Your representative? Most people tend to only know major politicians who have held office at one point or another. Sure, you probably know the president or a senator like John Mccain. But what about all of the other senators like Doug Jones or Mike Crapo? These are the people you can actually contact if you want to start making some changes in the world. Getting to know who you can contact can help you feel much more involved in the modern political process.

Forget about personalities and focus on policies

Modern politics has become as much of a game of personalities as anything else. But the truth is that the personalities of individual politicians are far less important than the policies that they and their party want to enact. After all, the policies are the things that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. You should never vote just because you like or dislike the way that a particular politician talks or what their personality seems to be like. Always vote on policies, not personalities.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should suddenly let politics take over every conversation that you have or that you need to be constantly thinking about it. But trying to bury your head in the sand and ignore the things that are going on around you isn’t going to do you any good. The only way that you can start to make some genuine changes in the world is if you face up to the realities of the modern world and try to do something about it.

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