31 May, 2011

The Use of Coercive Force

The Use of Coercive Force – Willy Bach 31 May 2011

The threshold for resorting to the use of coercive force, formerly called ‘going to war’ is being systematically lowered. We have seen the US War Powers Act and measures designed to enable the President of the USA to use military or covert paramilitary force, including the use of secret arms supplies and the use of private military contractors, without the consent of the US Congress. This followed closely on the heels of US President Barack Obama’s announcement that he had assumed the power to order the assassination of any person(s) including US citizens, anywhere in the world, by whatever means he deemed appropriate, including drone attacks, Special Forces assassination teams or other non-specified means.

Now the Pentagon proposes that a cyber attack on their computer systems or on any essential infrastructure in the USA and elsewhere (there is a long list revealed by WikiLeaks), including power grids and corporations that are suppliers to the US government, such as Lockheed Martin, should be described as acts of war and should be responded to in kind with a ‘proportionate’ response. Since many attempts to hack into the US Defense Department and similar targets have been carried out by non-state actors, including school students and individuals, this new lowering of the threshold suggests that governments are going to be held accountable to the USA for activities within the borders of their sovereign nations and will be faced with demands to reign-in such groups or individuals or face the prospect of military action and possibly the destruction of their entire nation.

This is likely to result in major curtailment, already underway, of civil liberties, free expression, dissenting views, media and artistic creation. Filtering and blocking of the internet (already proposed by Australia’s major parties), data harvesting, monitoring and the introduction of ‘sock-puppets’ to social networking sites and search engines and the absurdities of Edgar Hoover-like excesses of surveillance and persecution of environment and peace groups, the securitisation of the state and the dismantling of democratic institutions (already underway). US President Obama has also stiffened his government’s resistance to whistle-blowers and has attempted to silence and/or imprison some courageous North American people, who saw or discovered wrongdoing that offended their consciences and acted in the public interest. Nations that proclaim their democratic governance will no longer have anything to boast. The nations of the world where this will be most severely experienced will be those that have not yet developed strong democratic institutions and traditions. People who are only now learning how to effectively raise their voices following decades of emergency rule by dictators, in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, in Africa and in the Arab world will see their hopes snuffed out even before the flame is fully lit.

Furthermore, allies are being drawn more tightly into the orbit of US control by the requirement to replicate this doctrine in their own legal structure. This will require member states of NATO and by extension all allies including Australia will be more inextricably and inescapably co-opted and recruited into the service of promoting and protecting US interests (rather than their own interests) and will be fighting yet more wars on behalf of the USA, even with a token force and token tasks. Australia will be embroiled in more wars, enmeshed in US security concerns and will forego the right to object, shed more blood and experience the inevitable flow of displaced people seeking protection. Fighting more wars will see Australia increasingly unwilling and unable to address the issue of refugees. Australia and its people need to make their own choices about what is in their interest, which may not always be identical to those of the USA. Just think of the risk of a US President Sarah Palin and ask this question. Yes, thankfully Donald Trump is out of the race. In making law nothing can be left to serendipitous chance.

This scenario will impact very dramatically on the willingness of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Liberal Party, both of whom are directly instructed by the US Embassy on these matters, when Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam proposes his Private Member’s Bill to limit the powers of the Australian Prime Minister to take the country to war without consulting Parliament. Australian Prime Ministers are going to argue that there was no time for discussion, that the military response required immediate action. I suggest that the Bill will require further strengthening to protect the interests of the Australian people. We should all study closely the timelines and decisions of the British government under Tony Blair’s Prime Minister-ship, in the way the decision to go to war both in Afghanistan and Iraq were predetermined to mesh seamlessly with the agenda of the then US President, George W Bush. There is little time to prepare for the counter arguments to be made explicitly or implicitly with stubborn silence and negative votes.

A sample of web sites for further reading:

Cyber Combat: Act of War

Pentagon Sets Stage for U.S. to Respond to Computer Sabotage With Military Force


Congress Reauthorizes Overbroad Patriot Act Provisions


Oppose New Worldwide War Authority


Going to War - Who Should Decide?


Background Note Parliamentary involvement in declaring war and deploying forces overseas Online only 22 March 2010



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