There are no words for this conflict.
Every day there’s new footage of ruined buildings and dying people circulating around social media. The statistics of casualties you see keep getting bigger. More and more horrifying stories arise.
I can’t even imagine how it must feel to have first loss involved.
What I’ve also seen is growing calls for a ‘ceasefire.’
To many this will seem obvious. Why wouldn’t we plea for the violence to stop? What other reason could there be for refraining to ask them to put their guns down?
Unfortunately, like with most conflicts on the international stage, It’s a little more complex than that. And I’ll explain why.
At the General Assembly of the United Nations, the international body in which peace and security decisions are made, Jordan proposed a motion of calling for a sustained humanitarian truce in Isreal. One that would bring a strict refocus on bringing back civilians held hostage. The motion passed with the backing of 120 countries.
14, including the US, voted down the motion and 45, including the UK, abstained.
Abstaining is the diplomatic way of saying ‘I’d rather no get involved’ or ‘dinnae make me choose sides here.’
Or worse, in my opinion, an admission of indecisiveness.
The UK, once a world leader in championing human rights across the globe and stability in international order, have bottled it.
Bottled it at a pivotally dangerous stage in this conflict. The very point, with the potential for escalation of other nations involvement, we needed leadership of countries with the stature of ours.
The reason you keep hearing politicians answer (or rather fail to answer) the question of whether a ceasefire is appropriate with a statement along the lines of ‘Isreal has a right to defend itself’ is a deliberate one. They’re being careful not to stray away from this very simple notion.
Why? It’s the only one that justifies what they’re thinking without telling you what they’re thinking.
…cos some of the things they’re thinking might not be popular with everyone.
One thought is, essentially: keep repeating this statement because it’s in line with language that’s used in international law. The simple notion of self defence is enshrined in black and white, so stick to the letter and you can’t go too far wrong. It keeps what I’m saying legitimate.
What is the law then?
This isn’t a straightforward answer either.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, a foundational treaty called the United Nations Charter was put together to give nation states proper security.
Within this Charter, it says each nation has a right to sovereignty. Should another nation, or a group, or some sort of organisation cross agreed-upon borders with the intent of causing mayhem, then the sovereign nation has a right to defend itself.
For instance, if a regime such as the Nazis were to reignite its practices across Central Europe, neighbouring states would have a right to use their military force to stop this spreading to their patch.
Makes sense, right?
It would do if the goalposts hadn’t been moved several times over the years.
They were moved initially because it was simply being ignored by loads of countries in the 70s. India in Bangladesh, Vietnam in Cambodia, Tanzania in Uganda… all these military actions happened in a relatively short space of time, which then forced a rethink in what we actually mean by a ‘right to sovereignty.’
The language started to change… we start to say things like there are ‘conditions’ to having sovereignty. Conditions such as looking after your people, in line with human rights legislation held by most of us worldwide.
In other words, our priorities started to change. After WW2 we thought loads about protecting the rights of nations… now we care more about the rights of the individuals.
The idea that we all have basic human rights, and if these aren’t upheld by those looking after us then, surely, others can step in and do something about it.
Makes sense, right?
It would do… but it meant the law was now wide open to interpretation. And countries such as Britain and America have absolutely ripped it ever since.
I mentioned the word ‘legitimate’ when talking about actions that abide by international law; you often see politicians gain confidence when discussing issues on the international stage after mentioning the law… it gives them a sense of assurance. It’s confirmation that they’re on the good side, that what their thinking is ‘legitimate.’
This is an interesting term though.
Cast your minds back to the 90s when conflict was rife in the Balkans. Over 13 thousand killed in Kosovo. “A campaign of terror,” to cite the Supreme Court set up afterwards, including murders, rapes and severe maltreatments.
NATO played a significant role in ending it all. Mind the international security alliance that we’re a part of?
A series of airstrikes were sent in, an agreement was signed and battling forces were removed within a few months… but there was no approval to do this from the UN. It wasn’t acting in line with international law.
Many will point out that it was necessary to overcome unreasonable, albeit law-abiding, vetoes form China and Russia… but this made the act law-breaking nonetheless.
And yet we remember the Kosovo intervention as a success. The “humanitarian” interest meant the act was deemed legitimate. Our overriding ethical feelings allowed us to justify the decision.
We’ll then hear this word ‘humanitarian’ a lot in years to come. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and many more. It’s a word that puts nations above the law.
Some of you might wonder how we had such strong moral feelings towards Kosovo when hundreds of thousands were being killed in the Rwandan genocides in 1994… or any other examples you can think of that pose as a similar situation but countries such as ours decided not to act.
That would be a valid thing to wonder, because it highlights an issue with international law. There’s no judge and jury. There’s no police. There’s no obligation to act.
It’s only ever enforced when countries with a military capability fancy it.
So when politicians catch that wind of assurance when they repeat language used in the UN Charter, after all that’s happened since its formation, the assurance is relatively empty.
You’d think the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverley, or the Foreign Secretary hopeful David Lammy, would know this when they repeat it for us so often… but hey ho.
What else might politicians be thinking? (When saying ‘Isreal has a right to self defence,’ for those that have forgotten)
Well… they’re probably also terrified at the thought of another terrorist group on the rise in the middle east, and/or having to deal with said group in negotiating peace settlements.
The idea of a ceasefire is great in theory but whether this is actually achievable is another story. The Hamas group aren’t diplomatic like we are. They don’t operate with the same understanding of reason, evidenced clearly by the attacks of just a couple of weeks ago.
They have a mission statement, in writing, with the intent of obliterating Isreal. Literally.
And it’s not just a case of whether they’ll play ball… an official declaration of ‘putting the guns down’ also leaves Isreal extremely vulnerable. It then makes any act of self-defence, should they need it from a second wave of attack, illegitimate in the eyes of international law.
On top of this, if Isreal puts their guns down now, they’re also setting a precedent for the international community to be pushed around by terrorist groups. It gives groups like Hamas confidence that, with enough anarchy, we can seriously take on the rest of the world.
Now… some, indeed many, will argue the way Isreal has chosen to defend itself has way overstepped the mark and, because of this, we need a ceasefire anyway. Some will also argue that calling for a ceasefire isn’t as controversial and complex as many are making out, it’s just a declaration of wanting peace. Both thoughts are fair enough.
The above explanation wasn’t a validating opinion… again, I’m just trying to figure out what might be in both Sunak and Starmer’s mind when hesitant to make this call. It was an explanation of what politicians might be thinking.
Want my opinion? Sure thing.
I think it all boils down to one very simple idea, one that we’ve seen countless times over the past few decades.
One that, in reality, makes the most sense if you understand anything about human nature.
Britain are looking after themselves… and the best way of doing so is following America’s lead.
Security is always on our minds when dealing with international affairs, but not for the people you think. Foreign policy is always self-serving.
Our Government officials will be thinking: ‘a scary terrorist group on the rise in the Middle East? Sod that. Give whatever Isreal wants to get that situation dealt with. That’s a risk to British people and the British Government’s job is to protect us first and foremost.’
Best way to stay safe? Stand behind the biggest bully in the playground. Tube up to America, do as they say and we’ll be alright in the end.
Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan, Afghani and Iraqi lives are disposable, so long as we’re safe.
In an ideal world we’d care for them the same… but this is far from an ideal world, and I think our policy makers know that.
As brutal as it is, I can't see why else Britain is choosing to abstain.