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The wrong way to wield power

Blair and Bushs secular approach goes againsChristian ethics, argues Michael NorthcottIn the past seven years, Tony Blair and George Bush onthe leader of an ex-empire, the other the leader of a would-be empire havattempted to fashion a new set of pragmatic, secular principles iinternational relations. In Mr Blairs case, this is called "humanitariaintervention"; in Mr Bushs, "pre-emptive warfare".With these novel principles, they have sought to set asidthe core assumption that has governed international relations since the end oChristendom. This is that nation states that are legitimately governed arequal sovereign entities, and are to be free from external coercion, unlesthey attack other nations.When Mr Blair, with Bill Clinton, bombed and invaded Kosovin 1999, the reason given was humanitarian intervention to unseat a regime thawas promoting ethnic cleansing. When Messrs Bush and Blair invaded Afghanistaand Iraq, the rationale was of pre-emptive war against regimes that representean "axis of evil", which was said to stretch from Iran to North Korea.All three wars were terrifyingly indiscriminate in theieffects on civilians. Worse than this, there is growing evidence that US forcein Iraq were discriminate in targeting civilian infrastructure and individualsincluding Arab, British, and other journalists who were not embedded with Utroops, such as Terry Lloyd of ITN.In all three invasions, indiscriminate warfare, includinthe use of weapons of mass destruction such as cluster bombs and depleteuranium, has been followed up by efforts by the occupying powers to instalregimes thought to be friendlier to British and US interests. The outcome sfar has been not the imposition of order, but the breakdown of civiliainfrastructure and civil order, a growth in ethnic rivalries, and an emergencof insurgent groups from within and without.In the past few months, two other states caught within th"axis of evil" have come to the foreground. Last weekend, North Korea wasubjected to a regime of sanctions by the UN Security Council because of itattempt to set off a nuclear explosion at an underground test rig not far frothe Chinese border. Every week for months now, Iran has been subjected to a raiof rhetoric from the United States because of its attempts to enrich uranium ithe course of its nuclear-energy programme, a process that can also lead to thcreation of weapons-grade plutonium.While it is no part of my endeavour to justify the nucleaaspirations of either nation, it is notable that the United States and Britaihave not made the same protests about the acquisition of nuclear weapons bIndia, Israel, and Pakistan in the past 20 years. It is also significant thaBritain and the US do not apply the standard of non-proliferation of nucleaweapons to their own reasoning about replacement of their arsenals of thesterrifying weapons. Hugo Grotius was the originator of the principles of lathat have for long undergirded the relations of nation states. He framed thesprinciples for the states of Christendom, and, since the Peace of Westphaliahis frame has shaped the relations of all nations.First among his principles was that of equality betweenations; second was that all relations between nations should be governed bnegotiation and treaty, and not by threat of violence. In enunciating thesprinciples, Grotius the lawyer also showed himself to be a percipientheologian.In the New Testament, St Paul describes a politics oegalitarianism and negotiation, modelled on the kenotic self-emptying action oGod in becoming incarnate as Jesus Christ (Philippians 2.7). In his bodpolitics, elaborated most fully in 1 Corinthians 12-14, St Paul suggests thathe strong should give a place of special honour to the weak; that all shoulbe given a voice; and that arguments among the faithful should be settlethrough negotiation, and not by the coercion of Roman law.This is the political form of the non-resistant ethic olove that Christ followed in the way of the cross, and that the firsChristians enacted in their worshipping communities. In elaborating a politicof the cross, St Paul suggests the kenotic principle that "when I am weak, theam I strong" (2 Corinthians 12.10).Grotius was right to argue for the rule of love, and not thrule of might, in international relations; for divine weakness and not seculapower is the spiritual path by which God makes peace in Christ. If the UniteStates and Britain are serious in their desire to persuade other nations tgive up weapons of mass destruction, the best way to achieve this instead ocoercive threats of war would be to forswear replacing their own nucleaarsenals, and to end their large-scale production of weapons of masdestruction.Christian leaders in recent weeks have called for preciselsuch a multilateral approach to disarmament across all nations (News, 2September). And, in a much-misunderstood speech in early September, PopBenedict called for an analogous approach to negotiation between Christian anMuslim nations, in which the politics of secular power is put aside in favouof the spiritual politics of negotiated peace. As the Pope intimated, the Weswill never make peace by pursuing violent power under the veil of seculareason.The Revd Dr Michael Northcott teaches ethics in thUniversity of Edinburgh, and is the author oAn Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic religion and American empire

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Thu 28 Aug 14 @ 16:16
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