November 25, 2006

Hans Blix at Trinity Hall


This blog has often focused on the theoretical side of international relations- partly because it is of the upmost importance today in a world which is still digesting how international relations work in the aftermath of the cold war and partly because we are coming to the end of two administrations- one in the United Kingdom and one in the United States whose history is of interventions in other countries using military force.

Hans Blix was a bystander and opponent of one of those adventures in Iraq. Reflecting today at the Milestones Lecture in Trinity Hall, he argued that the United States and particularly the administration had believed to begin with that weapons of mass destruction could be found in that country despite the empirical evidence. He and his team went to thousands of sites where weapons could have been found, surveyed three dozen sites suggested to them by intelligence agencies, and did not find a single thing to corroborate the allegation that there were weapons of mass destruction. From in 2002 and even early in 2003, being a supporter of the notion that Saddam was hiding something, he had moved because of the evidence to beleiving when the war began that the allied forces would find, as they did find, nothing. Dr Blix's approach to politics during this lecture seemed deeply empirical, he talked of the methods of investigation, the subtlety with which a team could make decisions based on mere traces of chemicals or radiation upon a body about whether weapons of mass destruction were there or not. Indeed in a piece of ironical advice, he told his audience of academics and students, that the one sure method of dealing with the issue of weapons of mass destruction was to be empirical, to remember that just if a man hangs up a sign saying beware of a dog, that does not neccessarily prove that there is a dog- there may just be a fear of burglars!

Dr. Blix's talk though was not purely about the empiricism of weapons inspecting but also about the way that weapons fitted into international politics. This more theoretical side of the discussion was not rigourously explained- in the context of an hour's talk it could hardly be. However Dr Blix like most lawyers was more interested in applying and understanding rules and laws than in working out what they were. He opposed the Pentagon's model of disarmament, the creation of a supreme power which could disarm all the other powers, in favour of a more egalitarian disarmament based upon the United Nations- the problem is that Dr Blix failed to describe the historical process by which this would or could happen. The mechanics of the change were left undescribed- however justified the egalitarianism of the aspiration.

In many ways this talk by Dr Blix revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the international lawyer and civil servant- strong on the substance and integrity of what was going on but weak in terms of analysing the mechanics of politics which underlie international organisations and our developments towards them. Dr Blix from this lecture, and I hesitate to be too critical on the basis of an hour, emerged as a skilled practitioner within a process, an empiricist when nation states were concerned but a man without a deeper grasp of the way that selfish interests might be combined to sustain the peace.

8 comments:

james higham said...

...strong on the substance and integrity of what was going on but weak in terms of analysing the mechanics of politics which underlie international organisations and our developments towards them...

In other words, weak on the ethics and morality of military policy.

The Ripper said...

Great post, thank you. I don't know if you saw this article/video of Saddam and his inner circle right before the war, but I found it fascinating...
www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com

Gracchi said...

James I'm going to have to reply to yours when I'm a bit more awake at the moment I'm not quite awake enough to do it and I have got some things to clarify there.

Ripper- great post thanks for pointing it to me- and I'm going to have a look round your blog as well. Personal thoughts at the moment are that I doubt that SH understood what nature the insurgency would take- I just don't see this as Baathist- there's too much sectarianism and the Shia armies and religion for it to be Saddam inspired- but if they did distribute these things they could be helping to fuel an insurgency which is going on for non-Baathist reasons.

Ellee said...

I think Hans Blix is much cannier than you give him credit, he simply didn't want to be used as a political pawn, his intention was solely to seek out evidence - the lawyer's background.

Out of intererst, what is your connection with Cambridge? Do you live locally?

Gracchi said...

No I'm a PHD student there. As for Blix yes I probably haven't given him the credit he deserved- to be honest I need to look back at his lectures that he gave on international law a couple of years ago. I like his empirical attitude to the evidence- I just was dissatisfied that he didn't really bring out the political mechanisms that lay behind international law- the kind of prudential reasoning that made it work for someone like Kim Jong Il to abide by it.

Ellee said...

So we are neighbours, maybe you could let me know if any seminars come up that might appeal to me. I used to enjoy going to the SU debating chamber when I wore my Press hat, they often have interesting speakers.

What is your Phd on, btw?

If you had had the chance to speak to Hans Blix, I'm sure he would have answered your points.

Gracchi said...

My PhD is on the political thinking of the New Model Army. The seminars I mainly go to- though I'm going to fewer at the moment as I'm writing up and spending lots of time in London- are the early modern ones, they are very good mostly concern fairly specialised history but sure if you are interested I can forward you an agenda.

Blix seemed a really nice guy and unfortunately I wasn't in the main chamber but was watching via a video link up so couldn't ask him anything.

Anonymous said...

We were in the overflow room, too. It was a shame the organisers didn't arrange for one or two questions to come from there.