Dr. Mallinson argues that after the fall of the Berlin Wall an Age of Reason in Western Europe was hoped for, instead an Age of Barbarity resulted.

by Dr. William Mallinson for The International Chronicles


The whole question hinges on the undermining of international law since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here, we can draw a certain flexible parallel with the return of barbarity to western Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire, when law went out of the window, to return only slowly and painstakingly, with the help of the Church, and of Charlemagne’s keenness to emulate the old days of Roman power.

This barbarity and undermining of law was epitomised by the eleven-week bombing of Serbia and the illegal attack on, and invasion of, Iraq, itself built on a blatant lie that puts Pinocchio to shame. International relations in transition has been accompanied by inane pseudo-justifications, betraying semantic slithering, inaccurate euphemisms and tactical ambiguity, not only by politicians and academics, but by some lawyers who, of all people, one would expect to cling to law. Phrases such as ‘humanitarian intervention’ (bombing innocent civilians), ‘justifiable extension of international law’ (law-breaking), ‘extraordinary rendition’ (kidnapping, torture and murder) and ‘seasonal workers’ (illegal immigrants) litter the new hegemonolinguistic landscape. In other words, soft and slippery words and expressions are disguising old hegemonic power-politics, creating an illusion of something new, when, as Guicciardini would say, things are simply returning with different names and colours. To the incipient legal barbarity which we are experiencing, we can add the arrival of global ‘terrorism’, described at the conference as being good for the private security industry and big business. Global lucre goes hand-in-hand with global terrorism.

The legal situation is reflected in the terminological anarchy that now plagues the study of international relations, and therefore the way in which we analyse, evaluate and see solutions to problems. According to Lin Yutang, Man’s love for words is his first step towards ignorance, and his love for definitions the second. The more he analyses, the more he has need to define, and the more he defines, the more he aims at an impossible logical perfection, for the effect of aiming at logical perfection is only a sign of ignorance. International relations thinking is burdened with a plethora of realism, normativism, pluralism, structuralism, post-modernism, behaviouralism, positivism, constuctivism, functionalism, dependency theory, world systems analysis and various sub-sets and combinations of these, enough to confuse even the sharpest intellects. It suffers from  the obsession to couch one’s views in so-called ‘conceptual frameworks’, then adding ‘paradigms’ and ‘approaches’, and further muddying the waters with ‘road-maps’ (plans), ‘period of time’(period), ‘windows of opportunity’ (opportunities),’state-actors’(states), ‘engage with’ (meet) etc.

Perhaps this explains the attraction of geopolitics. Its very crudity as an alleged approach to international relations, and even its study, suits those who like clean and allegedly rational explanations and solutions. Never mind that this crude approach, essentially Brito-Austro-Nazi in modern semantic origin, and re-introduced by Kissinger, who provided the pseudo-intellectual link with power-politics/political realism, imposes artificial business borders on groups of people, often lumping them together, or separating them. Never mind that its application negates some of the very tenets of one of its alleged friends, classical realism, namely that human characteristics do not change, and should be understood and taken into account. Geopolitics ignores the human factor, lip-service apart, and thus exposes the lie. It reduces politics to simple armed force.

My initial conclusion is that the study of relations between states is now beset more than ever before by fuzzy thinking and lack of cogency and clarity, factors that are vital in good communication, whether written or oral.

For example, people are generally frightened to really get to the nub of the modern problem in the Middle East because they do not wish to be labelled anti-semitic, the latter being itself a misnomer, since anti-semitic means being against Arabs and Jews, who are essentially the same people, with connected blood-lines and linguistic traditions. The extreme Zionists have in fact hijacked the word, making it difficult to be legitimately critical about the murderous policies pursued by successive Israeli regimes since the invention of the Jewish state. The nub was and is the murder in 1948 of Count Bernadotte, who was trying to modify the UN-sponsored partition plan. His moderation did not go down well with the exremist Zionists, who murdered him, even though he had saved thousands of Jews in the war. Despite the avoidance of this story at the conference, the absurdity was, at least, mentioned of attempting negotiations between Israel and Palestine  while Jews are continuing to expand their illegal settlements. Indeed, the situation is even surrealistic. 

Extreme Israelis have certainly learnt from the policies of the Drang nach Osten Germans of the Middle Ages, and from Nazi tactics. Israel had lost the moral fight. Few dare mention the incredible hypocrisy of Israel’s nuclear weapons never being mentioned as a threat to world peace, while Iran is criticised.  Pakistan is also spared criticism. In short, Israel and Pakistan are considered friends of the ‘West’, so they are allowed to threaten world peace. The whole question of the Middle East, like many international relations problems, has become the target of rhetorical downgrading. Thus, we have Ms. Clinton describing the continued illegal building of Jewish settlements in Jerusalem as ‘unhelpful’. It seems that she does not dare use the word ‘criminal’ or even ‘illegal’. Those of her ilk will talk of ‘disputed territories’, when we are in fact talking of stolen territory and property, not to mention massive ethnic cleansing. One gets the impression that  Israel will not be satisfied until it has taken all  the bits of Palestine that it has not yet settled,  renamed it Israel, and expelled and/or killed any Palestinians who dare to try to cling onto what is theirs. And then what?

Let us begin to finish with Giambattista Vico: it is true that men themselves made this world of nations […] but this world without doubt has issued from a mind often diverse, at times quite contrary, and always superior to the particular ends that men had proposed to themselves. In other words, Vico is sceptical about the obsession with rationality, as if nothing else exists. Today, certainly, we are suffering from an excess of logic and a perhaps mistaken belief that everything can be solved through formulae, when in fact it is often the opposite. Perhaps our current problems are best summed up by the late Greek Ambassador Themistocles Chrysanthopoulos who, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, felt sorry for two groups of people: the capitalists, because they had lost  their devil, and the Marxists, because they had lost their god.

Dr. William D. E. Mallinson is professor of International History and lectures on British history, culture and literature at the Ionian University in Corfu. He is a former British diplomat and is the author of Cyprus: A Modern History (IB Tauris, London) 

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published this page in The Attic 2012-03-27 05:49:00 -0400