Saturday, June 20, 2009

Multilateralism as Terror

Courtesy of Birkbeck's e-print service I'm pleased to finally be able to link to China Mieville's most excellent article 'Mulitlateralism as Terror: International Law, Haiti and Imperialism'. I'd suggest that everyone read this as it provides a neat and elegant summation of China's view on the intimate (indeed structural) relationship between law, imperialism and power; the legal character of the war on terror etc. and the consequent uselessness of opposing these actions with war. All of this is beautifully illustrated through a (fascinating in its own right) exploration of the UN intervention in Haiti.

All of this is very salutary and even if one doesn't agree with Mieville (as people may have gathered, I largely do, though we have our differences) his perspective has to be taken seriously. Indeed I think this article is probably the most advanced example of a recent trend with a few critical international legal scholars who insist on examining the ways in which imperial power structures and is structured by law and legal argument.

As if that wasn't enough, from page 43 onwards Mieville develops his understanding of imperialism and international law. Thus:
‘American interests and power’, however, are of course not abstract (though they often appear so in the realpolitikal discourses of both the right and of liberalism): in the modern epoch they, and the imperialism of which they are another way of speaking, are functions of competitive accumulation in a framework of capitalist states. It is not only a belief in the efficacy of this imperial methodology that motives the widespread, untheorised, often unspoken, and unproblematised mainstream support for the Haitian coup: it is also its specific fruits and the sectors of capital that benefit from it.
Mieville proceeds to show us how this perspective can be deployed in the Haitian situation. Moving to the general level he unearths an extraordinary quote from Carla Del Ponte where - speaking to Goldman Sachs - she argued that capital should back international criminal justice because 'I can offer you high dividends for a low investment':
Del Ponte is quite right to point out IL’s role in capital accumulation. Contrary, however, to her line that it is solely as a maintainer of ‘good governance’ and peace that IL performs this function, Haiti illustrates that IL can also do the job efficiently through the propagation of instability and the unleashing and legitimation of murderous violence.
Theorising international law in terms of enabling capital accumulation is a brilliant theoretical move, which can fruitfully be combined with Harvey's concept of accumulation by dispossession and Klein's work on the Shock Doctrine. Indeed, I think this might also provide us with a useful corridor into the work of Third World scholars. Historically, we can see that international law - in interpellating certain territories as non-civilised (or semi-civilised) - enabled primitive accumulation (and Marx can be usefully brought in here). But the Third World scholars have shown us that this relationship is reproduced in contemporary international law, understanding this we can map this onto the core-periphery distinction and capital accumulation more generally helps us theorise this process in a way that TWAIL scholars avoid. We can also examine different articulations of legal arguments (and their predominant forms) in terms of strategies of accumulation, which are structured by specific imperial relations.

I really can't do the article justice, and I suggest you read it forthwith, not least for its skewering of the Obama dream in international law.

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