Artists to drone operators: Remember your humanity


I’ve been struggling with what to say about the passing of Jonathan Schell. He was so much more than the incomparable scribe and moral voice of our age. He was a dear friend whose decency and warm touched me deeply. I loved him.

Jonathan was a literary giant whose writings on Vietnam and nuclear weapons are widely regarded as among the most important of our age. But he touched upon so many other subjects, including his powerful “Letter from Ground Zero” series in the wake of 9/11. See the remembrance and selection of some of this work in The Nation.

One of Jonathan’s least known but in my opinion most important books is The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People. I will re-read it again now, my way of clinging to him, not letting him go…

Putin’s pique

In his Kremlin speech last week Vladimir Putin revealed the motivations for his aggressive actions in Crimea. Speaking before hundreds of leaders and dignitaries in a nationally televised address, Putin was cheered wildly as he claimed to be restoring Russia’s glory and righting the wrongs of the past.

Putin is clearly using the seizure of Crimea as means of solidifying his domestic political base, diverting attention from his increased authoritarianism and his government’s inability to resolve the country’s underlying economic and social problems.

The speech also reflected the pent-up frustration and resentment he and other Russian nationalists have felt at their perceived humiliation by the West, and the negative consequences of the U.S. policy of isolating rather than partnering with Russia at the end of the Cold War.

Putin railed against U.S. policies of “exclusivity and exceptionalism,” especially the expansion of NATO and the deployment of missile defenses in eastern Europe. “We were cheated,” he exclaimed. Decisions affecting Russian interests were made without Moscow’s input.

Putin’s complaints do not justify what Russia has done in Crimea, but there is no doubt that the United States unnecessarily antagonized Russia and wasted an historic opportunity at the end of the Cold War to build a more cooperative relationship.

The decisive mistake in my view was to expand NATO without gaining Russia’s partnership. In 1997 I helped organize a delegation visit to Europe to evaluate the proposed expansion of NATO. We found concern among researchers in Brussels, support among government leaders in Warsaw, and alarm among legislators in Moscow. I argued at the time that it would be preferable to re-shape the alliance as a cooperative security structure with Russia included, rather than to expand a Cold War alliance of containment. Better to bring Moscow into the fold than to leave her standing in the cold.

The consequences of that fateful blunder are evident in Moscow’s increasingly truculent policies. As The Nation editorialized,“We are reaping the bitter fruit of a deeply flawed post–Cold War settlement that looks more like Versailles than Bretton Woods.”

Evidence again that our security is better served by attempting to reach out to former adversaries than by reinforcing their isolation.

President Obama’s announcement yesterday of targeted sanctions against Russia is an appropriate response to Moscow’s aggressive military and political actions in Crimea. So is the European Union’s decision to adopt parallel sanctions. These actions send a message condemning Sunday’s referendum in Crimea as without standing in international law. They indicate that Russia will pay a price if it continues along its current provocative path.

The U.S. and EU measures adopted so far are limited. They leave open the option for stronger sanctions if Russia takes further actions to destabilize Ukraine, while signaling a desire to reach a negotiated political solution to the crisis.

Along with sanctions must come financial assistance to address Ukraine’s economic needs, and diplomatic and political support for its territorial integrity. The United States and the EU should follow up on their financial pledges and work with Ukrainian authorities to ensure accountability for the support provided.

The initial sanctions will not have much immediate impact in Russia, but if more robust measures are adopted over time they could impose costs on Russia’s elite and the tycoons who have stood behind Putin’s power. This could begin to erode the support Putin now enjoys in Russian opinion polls and raise questions about what his aggressive policies have achieved.

Putin’s motives are not clear. He is apparently seeking to prevent Ukraine from aligning with the West, but his heavy-handed actions will only make that outcome more likely. Officials in Kiev are more eager than ever to join the EU and NATO, and European and U.S. leaders may be more willing to oblige. If Crimea joins Russia, lawmakers in Kiev will have fewer pro-Russian voters to accommodate and Ukraine’s delicate political balance will shift slightly to the Westernizers. Ukrainian nationalists from all regions will be less likely to trust and rely upon Moscow.

Hopefully Russia will soon realize its blunder and seek a way out of the crisis. Until then the United States and Europe should apply steady but measured pressure, while actively seeking a diplomatic solution that preserves Ukrainian sovereignty while granting greater autonomy to Crimea.

The most important priority is to avoid armed action. If fighting breaks out it will be very difficult to contain and would have devastating consequences. The U.S. and the EU should work together to prevent and restrain any form of military response.

Dick Boone

One of the giants in the struggle for social justice and peace in the United States has passed away. Dick Boone was a central figure in creating the War on Poverty in the 1960s. He headed the Citizen Action Program in the White House Office of Economic Opportunity and helped to create Head Start, Upward Bound and other major social programs. Influenced by Saul Alinsky, he believed passionately in the value of grass roots citizen action. After leaving government he dedicated his life to organizing and supporting citizen movements for economic justice and peace. In 1965 he co-founded the Citizens’ Crusade Against Poverty, cooperating with Senator Robert Kennedy to create the Food Stamp program, which continues to help tens of millions of Americans today.

I first met Boone in 1974 when he was director of the RFK Memorial, of which I was a fellow. A few years later he became head of the Field Foundation as I became director of SANE, and we worked together for more than a decade to help build the movement against nuclear weapons.

Boone was more than a colleague. He was a friend and mentor who profoundly shaped my life.  We remained in touch after he closed the Field Foundation, and I made a point of visiting him at his home in Santa Barbara when traveling in the area. His wise counsel and personal warmth were a constant inspiration over the years.

Dick Boone will be sorely missed, but his life work continues in the programs and institutions he helped to build, and in the ongoing struggles for justice and peace of the many thousands of people he encouraged and supported. Presente.

NATO in Palestine?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently told the New York Times that, as part of a negotiated peace agreement establishing a two-state solution, he would welcome U.S.-led NATO forces in Palestinian territory to replace Israel troops. He said that NATO security forces could stay “as long as they want.” Under the proposed arrangement, the newly formed Palestinian state would retain its police forces but would not have its own army.

This is a breakthrough concept that deserves further consideration. It would address the problem of future security arrangements, which is one of the toughest obstacles to a negotiated solution. It would essentially remove Israel’s concern about military attack from Palestine. For the Palestinians the proposed arrangement would guarantee their security against further Israeli occupation or military incursion.

Yes, Abbas’s proposal has no chance of being implemented in the near term. Key Palestinian leaders in Gaza and the West Bank have dismissed the idea as a threat to Palestinian sovereignty. Israeli officials also have rejected the proposal. Within the United States and NATO countries, many will question the costs and risks of another long-term security commitment in the Middle East.

Rather than discarding the idea, however, let’s consider the implications and possibilities.

Israeli security would be enhanced. Palestine would be under the military control of Israel’s staunchest ally. American and NATO troops would patrol not just the Jordan Valley but all of Palestinian territory and would be able to deter significant insurgent threats.

Palestinians would gain as well. They would be free at last of Israeli occupation and under the protection of troops Israel would never dare to attack. Some Palestinians may view a U.S.-controlled force as merely a proxy for Israel, but the proposed NATO mission would likely be far more independent and benign than Israeli troops.

The proposal for an international security force in Palestine is not new. Martin Indyk, Maria J. Stephan and others have written about the concept in the past. Ideally, a security mission for Palestine should be under UN authority, but Israel will never trust a UN force, and its effectiveness against Israeli or Palestinian violations would be questionable. A NATO-led force may be the only viable option for a peacekeeping solution.

The logic of an international security presence for Palestine is compelling. Empirical research shows that multilateral enforcement operations help to end violence and can boost the prospects for sustainable peace. A peacekeeping force does not guarantee success, but its absence makes failure virtually certain.

Eventually NATO forces would return home. They could withdraw from Palestine as relations between the two states improve and mutual trust begins to build. Palestinian forces would take over full security responsibilities, and the size of Israeli forces could be reduced. All of this will take time, probably decades, but it might be possible if Palestinian grievances are satisfied in the negotiated peace agreement and the two sides can learn to live together without constant fear of armed attack.

The proposed peacekeeping force is only one piece in the complex puzzle of trying to negotiate a two-state solution, but it could help to solve the security dilemma at the heart of the dispute. Without a security solution, the current negotiations will fail, resulting in an increased risk of renewed violence.

I have doubts about the proposal for a NATO force, as do many colleagues, but I think it has potential as a security solution. Let’s study the idea further and discuss how an international force could help to resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

As I wrote the other day for the Christian Science Monitor, the decision to exclude Iran from the Montreux talks is a huge diplomatic mistake.

Tehran’s help could be crucial in forging a coordinated diplomatic strategy for resolving the crisis in Syria and enhancing regional security. As a major backer of the current regime, Iran has enormous potential leverage in Damascus.

Iran’s goal in neighboring Syria is to have a regime that is friendly to its interests and that protects the Alewite community. But this does not mean Iranian officials are wedded to the discredited Assad regime. They might be willing to consider an alternative arrangement if it addresses their needs.

It was unwise for the U.S. to insist that Iran publicly commit to replacing Assad before the talks begin. Insisting on preconditions for negotiations is not the way to successful diplomacy.

Tehran shares Washington’s goal of ending a war that is causing widespread instability and violence in the region. Iran also shares the goal of ending the growing threat of Al Qaida-based militancy in Syria.

By inviting Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia to the negotiations but excluding Shia-majority Iran the United States is taking sides in a regional ethnic power struggle. This could exacerbate the deepening Sunni-Shia divide and further undermine security in the region.

Washington would do better to adopt a more even-handed strategy that seeks to balance differing interests and works toward more inclusive power sharing in Syria and across the region.


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