Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The United Nations Is One Big Joke, So Let's Replace It With Something Better: A Free United Nations

The United Nations is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.  But what's there to celebrate?  Seventy years of ineptitude, incompetence and ineffectiveness perhaps?  In my honest opinion, the U.N. has gotten worse over the course of the past seven decades, and no more so than now.  It's failed to prevent one humanitarian catastrophe after another and spends a disproportionate amount of its time scolding champions of freedom and human rights, like Israel, instead of going after the world's real villains, like the despots who rule countries such as China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Not surprising though, since many if the U.N.'s member states are led by illegitimate, undemocratic regimes - and this, I think, is the U.N.'s main problem.  Seriously, how can the U.N. promote and uphold human rights when some of its members are the worst human rights offenders?  Does it make sense, for example, that Saudi Arabia, one of the worst human rights offenders in the world, is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, along with other frequent offenders, like Russia and China?  Heck, in the fall of last year, some of the world's worst human rights offenders were elected to the council of the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), "a top U.N. body that regulates human rights groups, shapes the composition of key U.N. women's rights bodies, and adopts resolutions on subjects ranging from Internet freedom to female genital mutilation."  (see: Rights abusers win coveted UN rights posts).  These are just a couple of examples that demonstrate why the U.N. lacks any credibility whatsoever.  So what do we do about this?

Plenty of noted scholars and world leaders have talked about reforming the U.N. for years.  Ideas like expanding the Security Council and even giving the U.N. taxing powers to solve the organization's chronic underfunding have been juggled around for a long time.  But as good as these ideas may be in theory, they don't solve what I believe is the U.N.'s main problem: members that don't believe in the principles on which the U.N. was founded, especially human rights principles.  What I'm trying to say is that as long as the U.N. is largely influenced and sometimes even dominated by states that do not respect the basic values, rights and freedoms that the international organization is supposed to espouse, the world body will simply never work as it was intended to.  So is that it?  Are we stuck with a United Nations that will never work?  Certainly not, because free countries don't have to stick to the U.N.  They can form their own United Nations; a Free United Nations!

The Free United Nations:

Who's in and who's out?

Okay, so what do I mean by a Free United Nations?  Basically, I mean a group composed only of nation-states that are free countries.  But what is a "free country"?  This is an important question, because whoever founds a Free U.N. will have to define what a free country is so that it can be determined which countries can be members and which cannot.  From my perspective, a free country is a country governed by democracy and the rule of law, where political and civil liberties are respected.  Simple enough, right?  Not quite.  The truth is that some countries are freer than others and measuring freedom is a subjective science.  Hypothetically speaking, if I were one of the founding fathers of the Free U.N., I would probably define a free country using methodology similar to that of Freedom House.  Freedom House is an independent human rights watchdog based in the U.S. that monitors human rights around the world.  Each year, the organization puts out a report and rates each of the world's countries as "free", "partly free", or "not free" (see: https://freedomhouse.org.  So if I were to use Freedom House's benchmarks for determining what countries get to be part of the Free U.N., I would allow only those countries that the organization rates as "free" to be part of it.  And, if at any point, human rights in a particular country deteriorate to the point where that country is only "partly free" or even "not free", that country would be expelled from the Free U.N. until such time that it is considered "free" again.  Enforcing these kinds of standards will be crucial for ensuring that the Free U.N. is a credible organization that can uphold the principles on which the original U.N. was founded.

Organization Structure:

I don't want to go into too much detail about what I think the Free United Nations should be structured.  I will say, however, that it should not be structured like the current U.N.  Most importantly, I would argue that the Free U.N. should not be an organization of diplomats.  Rather, it should function like any democratic government, with an elected parliament, an executive branch that is accountable to that elected parliament, and an independent judicial branch.  I do not believe in vesting too much power in a body like the current U.N. Security Council, where only five of the world's countries have permanent representation and veto power to boot.  Put simply, I believe that a Free U.N. should function as if it were the government of all the free peoples of the world. 

Why a Free United Nations is Better:

I am a firm believer in what scholarly types call "democratic peace theory", a theory which holds that democracies do not engage in armed conflict and are therefore more predisposed to resolving conflicts peacefully.  For example, it is extremely difficult to imagine the U.S. and France going to war with each other so long as democracy and the rule of law are firmly entrenched in both countries. In contrast, it is very reasonable to expect that two countries ruled by despots, such as Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, would go to war with one another, or that a democracy like Israel would be dragged into a war with the autocratic regimes of her Arab neighbours.  Hence, a Free United Nations composed only of free, democratic countries that share the same values will run much more cooperatively and effectively than the current U.N., where the agenda is often dominated by dictators seeking to enrich themselves rather than attend to the needs of their people.

The Ultimate Goal of the Free United Nations:

I admit that there is one great flaw in my idea of a Free United Nations: the fact that many countries and much of the world would be left out.  Yes, it's true that if a Free U.N. were created with a membership composed only of free, democratic countries, there would be a lot of countries and people left out.  According to Freedom House, over two billion people live under oppressive rule (see: https://freedomhouse.org/about-us#.VUBGNJP75K0)  That's a lot of people whose countries would not be part of the Free U.N.  Ideally, however, this exclusion will not last long, for I believe that the ultimate goal of the Free U.N. should be to make free the countries that are not.  These newly free states would then be able to join the organization, and eventually the only countries in the world will be free countries. 


Monday, 20 April 2015

Putin's Russia Is No Friend Of Israel

Putin's totalitarian regime in Russia has recently announced that it will sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which as we should all know is the greatest threat to the continuing existence of the State of Israel.  Actually, Putin had planned on carrying out this sale years ago, but supposedly bowed to American and Israeli pressure not to do so, though he will deny this of course.  So why go through with the sale now?  Well, let's just say that Putin is a lot bolder than he was in years past.  And why shouldn't he be?  In the past year, he's walked into and taken over Crimea as easily as Hitler took over Austria, plus he's invaded and conquered a large chunk of eastern Ukraine.  The West's response?  A lot of hot air and some sanctions here and there. 

It's also no coincidence that Russia's announcement of the missile sale came on the heels of U.S. President Barack Obama's latest Neville Chamberlain impression, as he declared to the world that a framework agreement over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program had been reached.  "Peace in our time?"  I think not - at least not when our time includes dictators like Vladimir Putin and Iran's ayatollahs, who go together like a horse and carriage.  In fact, Iran wouldn't be anywhere close to the atomic bomb had it not been for the Russian expertise and ingenuity that built much of the Islamic Republic's nuclear infrastructure.

To make matters worse, Iran isn't the only mortal enemy of Israel that is the beneficiary of Putin's foreign policy.  Just ask Syria's dictator, Bashar Al-Assad.  He might be dead by now if not for the weapons supplied to him by Putin.  Some of these weapons often make it into the hands of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Islamist terrorist group, based in Lebanon and sworn to Israel's destruction. 

Yet, despite all the help that Putin's Russia gives Israel's enemies, Israel's relations with Russia aren't all that bad.  In fact, the current Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is quite chummy with the Russian dictator.  Me thinks they like to reminisce about their old KGB days.  Personally, I think that Israel should stop trying to be Putin's friend and start fighting for the principles of freedom and democracy upon which it was founded.  So when ideas float around about doing something to tick Putin off, like arming the Ukrainians to help them fight against the expanding Russian occupation of their country, I couldn't be happier.  At the same time, however, I am also aware of the fact that Israel still needs to tread carefully so as not to jeopardize the lives of thousands of Jews still living in Russia and the former Soviet republics, because they will most definitely become a target for Putin should relations with Israel deteriorate, as I think they will.  In light of this, I believe that it would be in Israel's best interest to do what it can to expedite the departure of Jews from the former Soviet states, especially Russia itself.  The less Jews there are within Putin's reach, the less leverage Putin will have in his dealings with Israel.  


Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Same Conditions That Allowed Hitler's Rise to Power in Germany Helped Putin Come to Power in Russia

A growing number of people, including myself, can't help but compare Putin's Russia to Nazi Germany before World War II.  There are significant similarities between the two, some of which I have mentioned in my previous posts.  One thing I haven't talked about yet, however, is how the conditions in Germany before WWII, which helped precipitate Hitler's rise to power, are very similar to the conditions faced by Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, which ultimately allowed Putin to rise to power.

Germany paid a heavy price for its defeat in WWI.  The country was forced to cede territory and pay reparations to the victorious allied powers.  The Germans were also forced to accept responsibility for starting the war.  Furthermore, Germany's once mighty military was to be dismantled to the point where the country could no longer project military power beyond its borders.  As a result of these conditions, the German economy was ruined and the country became less than a third rate power.  Frustrated and humiliated, the Germans looked to someone who could restore the country to prominence again.  They found that person in Adolf Hitler.  Hitler played on the anger of German citizens towards those perceived to have caused Germany's ruin in order to gain popularity.  And as we all know, Hitler's growing popularity with the German people eventually led him to the seat of power as he became Chancellor in 1933.

Fast forward a few decades to 1991, the year that the Soviet Union collapsed.  Just as Germany was crippled by its defeat in WWI, so was Russia by its defeat in the Cold War.  The end of the Soviet Union meant that Russia could no longer dominate the other countries that were once part of the Soviet state, let alone the former Soviet satellite states of eastern Europe.  In fact, Russia had to struggle even to maintain its own borders as separatist revolts sprang up in the Caucuses region and threatened to spread to other parts of the country.  Much of the former Soviet Union's military might was now in the hands of newly sovereign countries, and whatever was still in Russian hands was largely left to decay due to lack of funds.  Russia also lost hold of many of its ethnic kinsmen as millions of Russians came under the sovereignty of new states like Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.  The decade that followed the Soviet Union's demise was one in which Russia was reduced to an economic basket case.  People that were once taken care of by the old Soviet state found themselves in abject poverty, not knowing where their next meal would come from.  Even Russia's soldiers, once the pride of the Soviet Union, were reduced to begging in the streets. 

As an avid follower of politics and current events, I remember watching and reading the news about the harsh conditions in Russia.  I was only in high school at the time, but I can remember thinking about how the situation in Russia mirrored that of Germany between the two world wars, and I knew that all it would take for Russia to become dangerous again was a strongman who could promise the Russian people that he would restore the country to greatness.  Unfortunately, I was right, and although my prediction came to pass a lot later than I had initially anticipated, it did eventually come to pass when Putin took the reigns of power following President Boris Yeltsin's resignation on the first day of the new millennium, January 1st, 2000.

Fifteen years later, Putin's position as Russia's dictator is almost unchallenged.  He has rebuilt Russia's economy and its military, and now threatens the security and stability of not only Europe, but the entire world.  So unfortunately, it seems that history has repeated itself as the tyrant known as Vladimir Putin has managed to swing his people behind him by tapping into their anger over Russia's post-Cold War humiliation, just as Hitler came to power by playing on the anger of the German people over their country's defeat and humiliation in WWI.  My greatest fear?  That a world war bringing destruction upon humankind as never seen before will follow Putin's rise to power, just as it did Hitler's.     

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

What Russia Could Have Been Without Putin...And Can Still Be

Russia is clearly going down the road to ruin under Vladimir Putin.  It's a very sad story for a nation whose people invented television and radio, and put the first satellite in space, followed by the first person in space, not to mention the astounding contributions that they have made to music, art and literature.  As I see Russia sink deeper and deeper into the abyss under Putin, I have to ask myself, what would Russia have been like had a megalomaniac like Putin not come to power?  What if Russia had taken a different path?  - A path towards democracy and economic growth.  I think the answers to these questions lie in another country that in the past took went down the same path of genocide and conquest that Putin's Russia is going down now: Germany

Like the Russians, the German people are also notable for their contributions to civilization.  But this fact did not stop Adolf Hitler from coming to power and waging the worst war the world had ever seen, during which he subjugated and slaughtered millions.  Actually, World War II was the second time that Germany attempted to conquer Europe, having failed in the First World War.  The end result for Germany in both wars was utter devastation, economic ruin and lost territory.  But after Germany was defeated for the second time in WWII, the country took a different path - a path that would lead it to become the leader of Europe, both economically and politically.  Ironic, isn't it.  The Germans tried twice to conquer Europe by force of arms and failed.  Then, the Germans built their country into the continent's leading economy, to the point where they have been able to turn their economic might into political power and become the effective leader of today's European Union - and they did all this without even firing a shot. 

Now imagine if Russia had decided to take the same path as Germany did after World War II.  The Russians have the largest population in Europe, around 140 million people, compared to around 80 million in Germany.  Their country is also several times larger than Germany.  In fact, Russia, even after the breakup of the Soviet Union, is the largest country in the world in terms of land mass.  And unlike most of the countries of Europe, Russia still has vast, untapped natural resources, most notably oil and gas.  If Russia were to concentrate on building its economy and its democratic institutions, like Germany did after World War II, the Russians would quickly surpass Germany and eventually find themselves as the leaders of Europe without firing a shot or shedding a drop of blood.

Unfortunately, however, the Russians under Putin are not taking the kind of path that the Germans took after WWII.  Instead, they're taking the path of Hitler's Germany - a path that will only lead them to ruin, just as it did for the Germans.  The only difference is that unlike the world of WWII, today's world boasts much more powerful and deadlier weapons.  Hence, should Putin continue to lead his people down the path of Hitler's Germany, the destruction that will be brought upon Russia will dwarf the destruction that Germany sustained, not to mention the destruction that the rest of the world will face when forced to confront Putin's tyranny.

The good news is that it's still not too late for Russia to change directions.  If the Russian people can find a way to get rid of Putin and the criminal bunch that support him, they can chart a different course towards freedom, democracy and economic prosperity.  Indeed, once Putin and his supporters are gone, all that the Russians need to do to begin changing course is to withdraw their forces of occupation from Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.  Before they know it, the sanctions imposed on them by the West will be lifted and their economy can start growing again.  Now of course, I know that removing Putin and his entourage from power is no small feat, but I also know that the Russian people are capable of great things.  Heck, if they can invent the radio and the television, and put a person in space, then getting rid of Putin shouldn't be too hard.      

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Israel Must Not Be A Theocracy

Yesterday, I happen to come across an article in the English internet version of Israel's Yedioth Ahronot, reporting that an Israeli couple was denied entry into a park in Afula because they had leavened food, or chametz as it is called in Hebrew (see: Visitors barred entry to Afula park because they had chametz).  Since it's now Passover, many Jews traditionally abstain from eating leavened food in order to honour and remember the Israelites' exodus from Egypt.  In fact, as the article illustrates, there are actually far-reaching laws in Israel against displaying food with chametz or bringing it into public places during the Passover holiday.  The problem is that there are many Jews, including myself, who could care less as to whether they consume food with chametz during Passover.  Too bad for us secular people though, because Israel's Passover laws apply to all Jews, not just the religious ones.  The story of a couple not being allowed to enter a park with chametz during Passover is just another episode in Israel's seemingly endless conflict between religion and state.

Bear in mind, of course, that the religion vs. state debate is one that plays out in virtually all countries.  It takes on a more unique significance in Israel, however, because Israel is home to so many of the world's important religious sites, especially for adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  It isn't called the Holy Land for nothing.  Israel also defines itself as a Jewish state, which for some means a state in which Jewish religious laws are enforced.  But this is an interpretation of the Jewish state concept that I and many others do not agree with.  Yes, Israel has many holy places and the state has a responsibility to protect and preserve the holy sites in accordance with the religious traditions of which they are a part.  And yes, Israel is a Jewish state, but this does not mean that it should be imposing Jewish religious laws on its population, Jewish or otherwise.  I personally have a different interpretation of what a Jewish state is.  In fact, I would prefer that the State of Israel focus more on promoting a less ethnically-based Israeli identity rather than obsessing over its Jewishness.  For me, the concept of a "Jewish state" simply means protecting the State of Israel as the embodiment of Jewish independence and ensuring that Israel continues to welcome Jews from around the world seeking protection from persecution based on their Jewishness.  It does not mean a state that imposes any particular interpretation of what it means to be Jewish on its population.

I am of the opinion that Israel needs to do away with imposing religious laws on its citizens, especially since many of the people who support such religious restrictions are not loyal to the country in the first place.  Indeed, some of the folks that don't want anyone working on Shabbat are the same folks who burn Israeli flags on independence day.  They're the same people who threaten women and even spit on them for not dressing modestly enough.  Why should we have to impose religious laws on the Israeli public at large to appease these subversive and disgusting elements of our population?  The answer is that we certainly shouldn't have to.

So I say, let's allow Israelis to visit the country's parks during Passover without having some guard check for chametz as if he was a member of the Jewish Taliban.  Let's allow civil marriages and divorce so that our citizens are not at the mercy of religious courts.  Let's allow public transportation to run on Shabbat and other holidays.  And let's end the Orthodox monopoly on Jewish religious affairs in Israel.  Now of course, I understand that doing these things would severely breach the status quo religious arrangements Israel has had since independence, but so what?  These arrangements are nothing but chains put around Israeli citizens by theocratic would-be dictators, many of whom do not support the existence of the State of Israel anyway.