Thursday, December 15, 2005

Illegality a mere occupational hazard

You might think that I am going to write about illegal immigrants working in industrialised nations under this heading, but I am talking about Occupation with a capital O – the military variety. Iraq is holding what is widely held as the first proper free elections in the country. Not long ago George Bush told us with regard to the Lebanon that you cannot have free elections in a country under occupation. Maybe he changed his mind.

There is, of course, such a thing as international law, at least on paper. Under international law an occupying force has responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of the people living under occupation but may not permanently change its political or economic system. This is because military aggression and occupation are illegal under international law, and the law, whilst acknowledging that de facto such situations exist, is designed not to reward the occupiers for having taken control of someone else’s country. Being in occupation of a country does not imply having sovereignty over it.

The “Allieds” (a more endearing term chosen by the occupiers for themselves), never having been too squeamish about breaking international law when going to war against Iraq, continued breaking the law by doing exactly what they were not supposed to do: rewriting the Iraqi constitution and altering its political and economic setup. A leopard does not change his spots, but as the same nations are constantly reminding others of their legal obligations they are very anxious to give their annexation of a sovereign state the mantle of legality by demonstrating public support. This is called bringing democracy to the Middle East.

The gamble is likely to pay off unless the Iraqis continue to put up armed resistance, for in the game of international politics only power has a voice. There are other, high-profile precedents to show that crime pays when perpetrated by a state power. The obvious one would be the Israeli occupation of Palestine which has been illegal for half a century yet providing a handsome return for the perpetrators. A less obvious example is Germany.

Most people don’t understand the common law, and even less so international law. Not wanting to believe that they are being conned they assume that the de facto authorities controlling them are legitimate. Most people would think that Germany has been a sovereign state since the end of the second world war – not so. Germany remained an occupied country until as late as 1990 when the two-plus-four treaty paved the way for reunification. Until then the Russians controlled East Germany and the Americans, British and French West Germany and they not only had their military bases there but also ultimate authority and full immunity from prosecution. If a German national was involved in a car accident with, let’s say, an American GI, the matter would be dealt with by the US military police, and the German police had no jurisdiction.

The situation changed in 1990 with the occupying forces, sorry, the “Allied”, agreeing to withdraw their troops and bestow sovereignty upon the state they had created after the war. This is merely a treaty amongst the occupiers, not a formal peace treaty with the occupied nation. The Allied argued that they did not want to make a peace treaty because this would require dealing with the issue of reparations. This, however, is merely a rhetoric nicety: Germany has already paid large sums in reparations and the issue could be dealt with be simply waving any further demands. The real reason why more than half a century after the end of the war no peace treaty has been signed is that such a treaty would have to be signed with the original sovereign nation state, in this case the German “Reich”.

The 2-plus-4 treaty clearly states that the new Germany is not the legal successor of the German Reich and that whilst the German Reich continues to hold legal sovereignty it lacks the organisation to exercise this sovereignty. Therefore the new German state, roughly covering the geographic extent of the former German Reich is bestowed de facto sovereignty over that territory by the occupiers. A peace treaty with the current German administration would not have been possible because this administration has no standing in international law as it does not legally represent the German people. Short of the German Reich acquiring the necessary “organisation”, however, and commencing a legal challenge to the current government installed in Germany with regard to sovereignty, the de facto continuation of a puppet government installed by the occupying powers is not likely to change.

What we see unfolding in Iraq is modelled on the so successful German blueprint. The occupying forces will not sign a peace treaty. They will stay in overall command until they have restructured and re-organised the country to their design, after which they will hand de facto sovereignty to a newly created puppet state outwardly legitimised by alleged popular support. Until such time the question whether the new Iraqi government will have the authority to ask the occupiers to leave is theoretical nonsense as it will only exist by permission and design of the occupiers with no real standing in international law. The German government had no say over the presence of foreign armies until the signing of the treaty in 1990.

One little problem remains for the gang leaders of international occupational terrorism: the Germans were glad the war was over and did not put up any resistance to the occupation. The cultural differences were not large enough for an objection to the American way of life to turn into armed rebellion, and largely the population bought into the American dream. This dream has since been exposed as a nightmare and there is no sign that the Iraqis are enthusiastically buying into it. The sales tactics, too, have changed. In Germany the Marshall plan ensured that submission to the new authorities was sugar coated. In today’s Iraq the aim is to plunder, not to build, and even basic sanitation needs have not been fulfilled after more than a year of occupation. Without the American-sponsored “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle) the continued occupation might ultimately prove more hazardous than anticipated.

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