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War Crimes

Michael Byers: The limits of self-defence, 17 August 2006

... I entirely understand the desire, and indeed need, for Israel to defend itself properly,’ Tony Blair said on 14 July. ‘As a sovereign nation, Israel has every right to defend itself,’ George W. Bush said on 16 July. By the time these statements were made, the IDF had bombed Beirut’s international airport, destroyed roads, bridges, power stations and petrol stations, and imposed an air and sea blockade ...

The Ultimate Justice Show

Michael Byers: The trial of Saddam, 8 January 2004

... He is a torturer, a murderer, and they had rape rooms, and this is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice.’ With those words, spoken during a television interview on 16 December, the President of the United States tried, convicted and sentenced the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Ostensibly, a proper trial will take place in an Iraqi court established specifically for senior members of Saddam’s regime; the creation of the court was announced by the Iraqi Governing Council just three days before Saddam’s capture ...

In Pursuit of Pinochet

Michael Byers: The legal implications of the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London in October 1998, 21 January 1999

... The arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London last October, at the request of a Spanish magistrate, marked the beginning of a saga that has already had a significant effect on international law and the British Constiution. At the same time it has exposed a profound uncertainty in the British Government’s commitment to ethics, human rights and international law in the making of foreign policy ...

Ready for a Rematch

Michael Byers: The Bushes and Saddam Hussein, 8 February 2001

... The family feud is rarely mentioned as a factor in contemporary politics, perhaps because its tribal character does not fit well into the ‘rational actor’ model favoured by political scientists and pundits. Yet the American political system, in particular, operates on quasi-tribal lines, to the point where ideological affiliations play an overt role in judicial appointments ...

Unfrozen Sea

Michael Byers: The Arctic Grail, 22 March 2007

... Where has all the ice gone?’ Joe Immaroitok asked. It was 24 October last year, and he was staring at Foxe Basin. A shallow expanse of ocean the size of England, the basin usually freezes over by early October, enabling the Inuit to travel across to Baffin Island to hunt caribou. This winter, the local council in Igloolik was considering chartering a plane to take the hunters across the unfrozen sea ...

Alleged War Criminals

Michael Byers: Saddam, Milosevic and Sharon, 22 July 2004

... The CIA could not break the former Iraqi president. After nearly seven months of interrogation and solitary confinement, a fit and imperious looking Saddam Hussein surveyed the US-financed Iraqi special tribunal, smiled and then pronounced: ‘This is theatre. Bush is the real criminal.’ Dishevelled, confused and compliant when captured, Saddam must have seemed the perfect puppet for an election-friendly show trial ...

A New Type of War

Michael Byers: Blair and Bush reach for an international law for crusaders and conquistadors, 6 May 2004

... any of this. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy Foreign Office legal adviser, resigned; her boss, Michael Wood, stoically remained in place and subsequently received a knighthood. Unusually, the holders of the Oxbridge chairs in international law, James Crawford and Vaughan Lowe, took a public stance against the government. The controversy continues, though ...

Too Close to the USA

Michael Byers: Canada’s reluctance to stand up for itself, 6 September 2001

... Canadians make much of something Pierre Trudeau said in a speech to the Washington Press Club in 1969: ‘Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.’ Canada shares a continental market, the world’s longest undefended border, a language and increasingly a culture with the US, and seems, in recent decades, to have lost its ability to adopt a critical – or even guarded – view of its neighbour when developing and implementing its own foreign policy ...

Jumping the Gun

Michael Byers: Against Pre-Emption, 25 July 2002

... We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.’ Last month, in a commencement speech at West Point, George W. Bush announced an expansive new policy of pre-emptive military action. The graduating students greeted the announcement with enthusiastic applause, thus demonstrating not only their patriotism, but also a certain lack of historic awareness ...

The World according to Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld

Michael Byers: American isolationism, 21 February 2002

... to spot the opportunities presented by the crisis. Doubters need only think of Jo Moore, Stephen Byers’s adviser, who got into trouble for suggesting that the attack on the World Trade Center provided a perfect opportunity to bury bad news. The battle-hardened ideologues who direct American foreign policy are no less cynical, and considerably more adept. A ...

Woken up in Seattle

Michael Byers: WTO woes, 6 January 2000

... The image of tens of thousands of protesters besieging the World Trade Organisation summit in early December was startling, in part because of the incongruity of the location: Seattle, the most relaxed of American cities. The true significance of the event lies elsewhere, however, in the changing political structures of international affairs. The ‘Battle of Seattle’ was the latest manifestation of the enormous shift in international politics caused by the end of the Cold War, the predominance of the United States, the globalisation of technology and business, and the rise of an ‘international civil society ...

The Laws of War, US-Style

Michael Byers: No Way to Fight a War, 20 February 2003

... More than three hundred Iraqi civilians died on 13 February 1991 when two US F-117 stealth bombers targeted the al-Amiriya bunker in Baghdad. Photographs of the charred and twisted bodies of women and children shocked a world which, thanks to Norman Schwarzkopf and CNN, had seen little of the horrors of the Gulf War. Pentagon officials, who claimed to have intelligence indicating the bunker was a command and control centre, denied knowledge of the civilian presence ...

Back to the Cold War?

Michael Byers: Missile Treaties, 22 June 2000

... In Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, a crazed American general launches an unauthorised nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The film disturbed audiences in 1963 with its portrayal of how close the world actually was to Armageddon as a result of the hair-trigger procedures necessary to provide deterrence through ‘mutually assured destruction ...

Flyweight Belligerents

Michael Byers: À la carte multilateralism, 5 May 2005

... The most important upcoming decision on Britain’s future might be made three days before the general election, when representatives from 188 countries gather in Manhattan to consider the future of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT codified a bargain between the five states which then possessed nuclear weapons – Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union and the United States – and the rest of the world ...

On Thinning Ice

Michael Byers: When the Ice Melts, 6 January 2005

Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment 
Cambridge, 139 pp., £19.99, February 2005, 0 521 61778 2Show More
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... The polar bears stare forlornly at Hudson Bay. It’s late November and they should be out on the sea ice hunting ring seals, but the ice hasn’t formed and the bears are starving. Ursus maritimus doesn’t hunt on land and normally fasts for months each summer. Now, however, the summers are growing longer across most of the Arctic, and the waters of Hudson Bay are ice-free for three weeks longer than they were thirty years ago ...

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