Last time I wrote on foreign policy here, it turned into a rant about our ridiculous excuse for a political system, so now that I’ve got that off my chest, I wanted to set out some basic ideas about the underlying values that, in an ideal world, should govern the relationships of nations.
First and most important is that people are the most important players in foreign policy, not nation-states, not resource control, not economic concerns. Every nation should have the right to determine its own destiny and its own political and economic system without the interference of others. Given that so many nations are creations of imperialism, the borders of those states often do not reflect the wishes of the inhabitants and there should be no qualms about allowing the people of such artificial nations to divide themselves into multiple nations. The key right here is that the people should make that choice without coercion or interference from foreign powers.
Second is the matter of human rights. The best and most widely accepted statement of those rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it should be used as the guide. Obviously this can sometimes conflict with our first value since left to their own devices, some people will use their right of self-determination to abrogate the rights of others — women, gays, religious minorities, etc. That cannot be tolerated and raises the issue of how it might be possible to enforce human rights across international borders.
The third important goal or value that must be at the center of any foreign policy is the protection of the earth on which we all live. All nations need to curtail fossil fuel use and those who have benefited for so long from burning those fuels should be helping the developed nations, especially those most threatened by climate change. For many nations, no doubt including our own, we need to work to alter the food system from one dominated by large corporations, factory farming, centralized distribution, and heavy use of insecticides and fertilizers (many of which are petroleum-based) to one that emphasizes local crops, local markets, small family farms, and organic and traditional methods. We need to de-emphasize export crops and the use of foods for fuel if we are going to keep climate change damage at a minimum.
So how would these ideas play out in practice? Let’s take a current example, the crisis in Ukraine…
First of all, it would mean that the U.S. and Russia would butt out. The U.S. should not be “supporting democracy” in the Ukraine or anywhere else since we obviously don’t have a democracy at home and have a long history of opposing democracy elsewhere in the world. The Russians shouldn’t be interfering either, but it isn’t up to the United States to stop them. Leave that to other players in the region who have more at stake or to international institutions.
Second, the rights of the people of the Ukraine are paramount including the right to determine their own government. Since the Ukraine has a very brief history as a nation-state and a much longer history as an occupied region, it’s quite possible that populations in different parts of the region have different ideas about how they should be governed. That said, given the chaos that has resulted from the overthrow of Yanukovych, they should be permitted to make a choice. Again, it is not the role of the U.S. or the Russian Federation to interfere to attempt to influence that choice. It should be the role of international institutions to see that referenda are conducted in a fair and free manner wherever they are appropriate.
Given the rise of neo-fascist elements in Ukraine, there is a credible threat to ethnic minorities in some parts of the region. All parties should make it clear that the rights of these groups must be protected whether they are Russians in western Ukraine or Tatars in Crimea. Again, neither the U.S. nor Russia has the right or the moral standing to interfere inside Ukraine to enforce the protection of these groups. That is also a job for international institutions.
Lastly, no progress can be made for the people of Ukraine until the fighting stops and there are stable and democratically chosen governments in the region. That is the most important short-term goal of any moral policy.
You will probably notice I used the term “international institutions” many times. What are these institutions? Regrettably there aren’t any good options available at this time. The only institution that has some capability and legally justifiable mandate to become involved is the United Nations, and it has become a tool of the United States and the Western powers to a great extent. Any moral and responsible foreign policy has to deal early on with the weaknesses of the UN as an institution, and help it gain standing as an independent arbiter of international law. That’s a subject for another day.
Meanwhile, as I heard Dr. Stephen Zunes say recently, the first rule must echo the Hippocratic Oath — do no harm. Arm the Ukrainian government? No. Send Russian troops in to protect people in Eastern Ukraine? No. Send CIA Director and international war criminal John Brennan to “advise” the ruling junta? No. Send an Assistant Secretary of State to hand out cookies to protestors trying to overthrow a government? No.
Meet with Putin and mutually agree to keep hands off Ukraine, and while we’re at it, let’s dissolve NATO or at the very least withdraw it from nations bordering the Russian Federation. The Cold War is allegedly over and we ought to work to keep it that way instead of trying to revive it or heat it up.