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War-war and jaw-jaw

Jun 22,2018 - Last updated at Jun 22,2018

Give the man a break. US President Donald Trump found out in Singapore that, as Churchill said, “Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War.” If war can be avoided by a warm, long, very private chat without advisers, with effusive body gestures and promises of a world stage when his opponent, Kim Jong-un, is invited to the White House, then Trump has showed the way. It was learning the hard way because a few months ago when Trump threatened to incinerate North Korea, he met counter threats from North Korea that could have led to the deaths of 30 million people in South Korea alone, never mind what numbers might die in an attack on American troops stationed in Japan and Guam naval base.

I have no proof but I do think Trump can make a grand peace with North Korea, unlike his predecessors. They too had the will but were defeated by a Republican-dominated Congress that made implementation on what was agreed impossible, and in George W. Bush’s case, a refusal to build on Bill Clinton’s effective diplomacy. Trump, if he wills it, will have no trouble with Congress. As many commentators have said, if Barack Obama or Clinton had done a Singapore, there would have been a big move to have them impeached.

If peace arrives, this will turn modern American, European and Russian military history on its head. The record over the last 70 years has been appalling.

The UN Charter was conceived during the World War II. Drafts were written in the basement of the US State Department. It prohibited the unilateral use of force. Force can only be used if the Security Council supports it.

In April last year, President Trump launched an attack on Syria to retaliate for chemical weapons used by the government against its own people. The Security Council was ignored.

In September last year, four Israeli jets fired a volley of missiles at a Syrian government facility that probably produced chemical weapons. Israel, as usual, did not ask the Security Council for approval.

Four years ago, Russia took over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea without Security Council arbitration or authorisation.

The president of France, Francois Hollande, was ready to back Obama’s plan to invade Syria. Only a last minute change of mind forestalled it, Obama was much influenced by a vote in the British parliament that forbad its government to participate in air strikes unless the UN approved them.

In the early years of his presidency, Obama decided to go to war with the regime of Muammar Qadhafi in Libya, with the active support of a number of European countries. This time, they sought Security Council authorisation, which they were given. But Russia reasonably felt it had been seriously misled. Rightly, it argued, the resolution it had supported said it was to keep the peace, not to kill Qadhafi. Later, as internal fighting wrecked the country, Obama volunteered that this was his worst mistake.

China has intimidated its neighbours into passivity, building military installations on islands and rocks in the South China Sea. One can presume these will be used, if the need arises, without asking the Security Council for permission. Likewise, if China invades Taiwan, which it keeps threatening to with an ever-louder voice, it will not seek permission from the UN, nor will the US, as in 1996, if it sends in a naval force to police the Taiwan Strait.

Further back, there was the US war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the US invasions of Granada, Panama and the Dominican Republic, the mining of Nicaragua’s main port, the NATO bombing of Belgrade, and later the NATO war with the Serbs over Kosovo and the US/British invasion of Iraq. None of these actions sought UN approval.

As for the Soviet Union, it sent in tanks to crush the uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Later it invaded Afghanistan.

What a record of abuse of the  UN Charter. But if the US and Europe break the rules, why should not Russia and China? And vice versa.

Nevertheless, the rules have often been observed. The US, the EU, Russia, China and a host of smaller countries have worked to make the UN Charter and peacekeeping effective and have pushed forward the boundaries of international law, peacekeeping and humanitarian practice. This has been one powerful reason why the number of wars has precipitously declined since the end of the World War II. Today, there is not one interstate war and the number of civil wars has decreased since the end of the Cold War, although in recent years, civil wars in the Middle East and Africa have pushed the graph measuring wars up again. Humankind has become less violent, 99 per cent of the world is not at war.

If Trump could make a deal with North Korea, it would be a momentous victory for jaw-jaw and the UN Charter. Only fools believe in war-war.

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