The Place of Race and Racism in International Relations

In case you have not read Susan Pedersen’s review of Robert Vitalis’ White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations, you should.

Here is an excerpt:

The Journal of Race Development, established in 1910, was one of a spate of academic journals, associations and institutes founded as American social scientists came to grips with their country’s expanding global and imperial role. The journal’s title, jarring today, reflects perfectly the centrality of the category of ‘race’ to political science at the time. During the ‘Wilsonian moment’ of 1919, the journal was rechristened the Journal of International Relations without much disturbing its contributors or character. A few years after that, it was bought and renamed again by a New York-based association of internationalist businessmen, officials and academics, the Council on Foreign Relations. Yes, that’s right: it becameForeign Affairs, the pre-eminent journal of the foreign policy establishment.

This is just one of the startling and illuminating genealogies Vitalis pieced together during the ten years or more he spent researching this book. White World Order, Black Power Politics does two things. First, it provides a critical history of the institutional development of the field of international relations in the United States, from its founding at the turn of the century through to the Cold War. This history is radically unfamiliar: the ‘origin story’ taught on undergraduate courses, which traces the field’s core concepts (realism, liberal internationalism) back to Thucydides or Machiavelli or Wilson is, Vitalis insists, a post-1945 invention. Instead, at the moment of its American birth, ‘international relations meant race relations.’ Races, not states or nations, were considered humanity’s foundational political units; ‘race war’ – not class conflict or interstate conflict – was the spectre preying on scholars’ minds. The field of international relations was born to avert that disaster.

A blunter way to put this, and Vitalis is blunter, is that international relations was supposed to figure out how to preserve white supremacy in a multiracial and increasingly interdependent world. Segregation and Jim Crow had done the trick at home, where non-white populations were in the minority, but how could white America govern its newly annexed and overwhelmingly non-white territories without losing its republican soul? A few white scholars thought the task impossible. Indeed, one of the most famous – John Burgess, founder of Columbia’s School of Political Science and of the Political Science Quarterly – opposed President McKinley’s imperial adventuring precisely because it threatened the democratic institutions he thought suited to ‘Teutonic’ peoples alone. ‘American Indians, Asiatics and Africans cannot properly form any active, directive part of the political population which shall be able to produce modern political institutions,’ he warned. Unless it wanted to go the way of Rome, America should leave empire alone.

Something to think about for students of development and liberal international institutions, both big and small.

The book is available for purchase here. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive.

The ICC’s case against Uhuru Kenyatta

Following the collapse of the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made public her case against Mr. Kenyatta for his alleged role in the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya. More than 1300 people died and 300,000 were displaced.

You can find the public [redacted] version of the prosecution pre-trial brief here.

UPDATE: And here is the defence’s response.

The Cost of Justice

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This point, from the comment section below is well taken.

“I think you have drawn the wrong conclusion from the article that you posted. Yes, broadly international justice is expensive. However, the article is referring to the wastage at the an Ad-hoc Special court for Sierra Leone. Similar claims of waste have been leveled at the Rwanda tribunal in Arusha. It should be remembered that one of the reasons for the establishment of the ICC was to reduce the wastage that came as a result of such ad-hoc courts. So in a sense, the expense of the Sierra Leone court justifies the ICC more than anything.”

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I am on record as being pro the ICC. But this got me thinking about the absurdity of having such procedurally expensive justice systems meant to serve people who’s own justice systems are left to crumble….

“The entire budget for Sierra Leone’s domestic justice sector is roughly $13 million per year, including the Sierra Leone Police, the Prisons Department, all levels of the court system, and the various human rights and legal services commissions.  There are just 12 magistrates for the whole country outside of Freetown, and they hear between 4,000 to 5,000 criminal cases per year. The lack of judges, lawyers, and police investigators –even the lack of a few cents in cell phone credit to contact witnesses that might implicate or exonerate a defendant –is a serious obstacle to a functional justice system.

In contrast, a quick tally using the Special Court’s [that tried Charles Taylor] annual budget reports reveal costs of approximately $175 million for the prosecutions of 13 other defendants in Freetown, in addition to the hefty bill for Taylor’s trial in the Hague. And the Special Court boasted 11 judges and hundreds of staff members for its 14 cases spread over the past nine years.  Add on the testimony of Naomi Campbell, and it appears international war crimes have become a red-carpet affair.”

For more on the contrast between the under-financed and poorly staffed Sierra Leonean justice system and the special court’s extravagance check out a post by friend of the blog Alaina Varvaloucas [and her colleague] over at the CGD.

H/T Alaina.

Justice, the ICC and Kenyan Politics

A panel of judges at the ICC will issue their ruling tomorrow afternoon on whether or not six accused Kenyans will stand trial. The six include two declared presidential candidates. Either way the ruling will have a non-trivial impact on the pursuit of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post-election violence (PEV). It will also significantly shape the politics of coalition building in this year’s general elections.

Because of the ICC process, the Kenyan justice system has put on ice its own process of holding the perpetrators of the PEV to account. A non-confirmation of the charges against at least some of the six co-accused will add the 2007-08 PEV to the long list of crimes against Kenyans, many of which have been committed by the high and mighty, that have gone unpunished.

Justice is political. Therefore, there is no doubt that if the process of prosecuting the crimes committed in the PEV returns to Kenya none of the big fish will be held accountable. That is the sad truth.

This is why despite the noisy political environment, a majority of the PEV victims (and other Kenyans) still back the ICC process. At the very minimum they want justice to appear to be served.

At the moment the problem of justice remains a worry largely monopolized by the 300,000 or so Kenyans in IDP camps and the relatives of the over 1,300 who were killed. [The media and the political class are squarely to blame for this shameful situation.] For the rest of the country, focus has shifted to the politics of the general elections due later this year. To this we now turn.

Two of the accused, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta have declared their interest in the presidency. Mr. Kenyatta is currently the second most preferred presidential candidate after Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr. Ruto, while not as popular nationally, still commands a sizeable chunk of the votes in the country’s most populous province – the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley has also been the hotbed of political violence in country’s history, most of it over land.

A confirmation of the charges will seriously dent the presidential ambitions of Messrs Ruto and Kenyatta. It will make it harder for either of them to sell their candidacy outside of their immediate ethnic constituency. It will also give their opponents (and there are plenty) an opportunity to hold themselves as the clean candidates that ought to succeed Kibaki. Needless to say, a non-confirmation would bolster the duo’s campaigns. What will this mean for the general election?

It is common knowledge that the man to beat in the 2012 election will be Mr. Odinga. The two scenarios above will impact the outcome of the election mainly through their influence on the coalition building abilities of the anti-Odinga crowd.

More on this tomorrow in reaction to the ICC ruling.

No ICC hearings in Kenya

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova on Wednesday decided that the trial of suspects of the 2007-08 election violence in Kenya will not be held in the country.

Great move.

I am of the view that holding the hearings in Kenya would have created an unnecessary distraction from the important task of implementing Kenya’s new constitution. Already, the bigwigs accused of masterminding the violence that killed 1300 and displaced over 300,000 Kenyans have ethnicized their predicament. Holding the hearings in Kenya would have handed them an opportunity for a circus of ethnicity-charged rallies and demonstrations in Nairobi.

The ICC continues to be a source of debate in Kenya and across Africa. Many have faulted the court’s apparent bias against African leaders. Some have even called it a form of neocolonialism. While admitting that the court could use a little bit more tact [principally by acknowledging that it cannot be apolitical BECAUSE it is an international court SANS a world government] I still think that it is the best hope of ending impunity on the African continent – at least until African leaders internalize the fact that it is not cool to kill your own people.

Among the cases that should have been handled with a sensitivity to political realities include Sudan and Libya [and may be the LRA in Uganda]. Kenya’s Ocampo Six, the DRC’s Jean-Pierre Bemba and Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo, on the other hand, should not raise questions of national sovereignty. Murderous dictators and their henchmen do not have internal affairs. In any case sovereignty for many an African country means nothing more than sovereignty for the president and his cronies.

Related posts here and here.

sustaining african (imp)unity

There is something to be said about the fact that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has mostly concentrated on atrocities committed on the African continent. Charges of a regional bias emerging from African State Houses definitely have some truth to them. For the court to appear serious about ending offenses that shock the human conscience like genocide and ethnic cleansing it must have a balanced, global reach.

That said, the current anti-ICC mood widespread across Africa is unfortunate. The African Union (AU) defended Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir against the ICC. Now it emerges that Kenya is lobbying other African states to garner support for an anti-ICC resolution in the upcoming AU summit later this month. Four prominent Kenyan politicians, a former police commissioner and a media personality have been named by the ICC as key suspects in the violence that rocked the East African nation in 2007-08.

In retrospect, the ICC might have shot itself in the foot by aggressively pursuing the Kenyan case. Mr. Ocampo’s actions betrayed the ill-informed view that Africa’s many diverse countries are all the same. Kenya is not Sierra Leone. The country receives less than 5% of GDP in overseas development assistance and has considerable regional influence. Many have been shell-shocked by Kenyan politician’s resolve to pull out of the ICC, even in the face of international pressure. Their threats are credible because they know they can without too high a cost.

The biggest losers from this anti-ICC drive within the AU will be citizens of poorer, less able African states. It is places like Chad, (North) Sudan, Central African Republic, Niger, Guinea, Zimbabwe, among others, where the collective interests of targeted communities are more or less not represented in the capital that most need the ICC. If Kenya succeeds the Deby’s and Mugabe’s of this world will get even more emboldened.

Impunity on the African continent is on the rise, again.

Just hours from Ocampo’s big moment

Statement by ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo on Kenya

ICC-CPI-20101214-PR614

As you know, tomorrow I will file two applications for summonses to appear for six individuals we believe are the most responsible for the post-election violence.

I believe summonses are sufficient to ensure the appearance of all six suspects. But as ICC Prosecutor, I am requesting that clear conditions be imposed on them, namely:

  • To frequently update the Court on all their personal contact details and whereabouts;
  • Not to make any personal contact with any of the other suspects, unless through their legal counsel to prepare their defence;
  • Not to approach any perceived victims or witnesses of crimes;
  • Not to attempt to influence or interfere with witness testimony;
  • Not to tamper with evidence or hinder the investigation;
  • Not to commit new crimes.

In addition, they must respond to all requests by ICC judges; they must attend all hearings when required, and post bond if the judges so instruct them.

These conditions are strict. They are in accordance with the Rome Statute and ICC rules.

Let me be clear.

If the suspects do not comply with the conditions set by the Chamber, I will request arrest warrants.

If there is any indication of bribes, intimidation or threats, I will request arrest warrants.

I expect the suspects to indicate to the Chamber shortly their intention to surrender voluntarily.

Source: Office of the Prosecutor