Friday, January 20, 2006

Defence Minister Robert Hill resigns as Defence Minister and Member of Parliament: One wonders at the motive and timing of this announcement. Hill as Defence Minister and senior member of cabinet played a key role in the decision to invade Iraq. The Iraq war is one of the biggest disasters in Imperial history, and perhaps Hill is getting out early before the full cost becomes apparent. Perhaps also he fears arrest and charges as a war criminal for his involvement in this affair and is therefore attempting to distance himself from it. Powerful figures previously regarded as immune such as Henry Kissinger, Ariel Sharon and Augusto Pinochet have come to fear arrest and being called to account.

There are rumours Hill will be appointed Australian ambassador to the United Nations. If so this is a disgrace and unacceptable, as well as being a pseudo-fascistic joke. At best Hill should take his parliamentary pension (it is always wise to give powerful figures an out) but have no futher involvement in public affairs. The Iraq war was the biggest, most blatant and most destructive violation of International Law since Hitler's attack on Poland. To appoint Hill as Ambassador to the UN is like the US appointing John 'ten storeys' Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN and should be seen as such.

Some people argue that the UN has failed completely and we need to try again 'for the third time.' The situation is certainly serious, with major world powers (primarily the US and UK at this point) blatantly and contemptuously rejecting the authority of the rule of international law just as powers like Italy, Germany and Japan did so in the 30s. But I am not convinced it is quite as bad as the 30s. What I am convinced of is a widespread misunderstanding of the proper role and importance of the UN and international law. The problem is not so much the structure and terms of the UN and the UN charter - it is about as good as you could have got at the time and subject to any improvements as good as it will ever be. The problem is nation states disregarding law and not being called to account, and most crucially, the failure of domestic populations to require their governments to adhere to law. If we take for example the terms of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, it is about as good as could be devised in both its ultimate objects and its processes, and as such is a credit to the lawyers and diplomats who devised it. The weakness lies in the obvious unwillingness of nation states to ever adhere to any such terms absent coercion from their own domestic populations. For example, it is obvious that you could never expect the United States to adhere to the terms of the treaty unless the American people themselves force their government to do to. And so with any country. In this spirit and with this understanding the essentially good work of postwar politicians, statesmen, lawyers, diplomats and idealists needs to be preserved and revived.

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