Although a decade has passed since President George Bush proclaimed the dawn of a “new world order” characterized by global US military and economic supremacy, it is increasingly obvious that the leaders of the new world order understand less about its dangers and contradictions than do those at its mercy. NATO’s poorly executed attempt to prevent further carnage in Kosovo indicates that those running the world have yet to think through the sobering legal, moral and military implications of emerging global political realities.
A character in Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal sardonically described medieval attempts to better the world through coercion by noting, “Only an idealist could have thought up the Crusades!” So, too, only idealists could have thought that an air war would decisively halt ethnic cleansing. The US-orchestrated NATO operation in the former Yugoslavia, though unique in many respects, had a precursor: the US-British air war in Iraq. Indeed, unauthorized military operations never ceased in Iraq while Cruise missiles pounded Serbian military and civilian targets in an effort to downgrade Slobodan Milosevic’s ability to commit further grave human rights abuses in the province of Kosovo. This strategy may yet prove successful in the Balkans (though it has failed miserably in Iraq), but not without seriously degrading international law while also raising disturbing questions about the use of aerial bombardments, depleted uranium weaponry and cluster bombs to achieve humanitarian ends.
While some critics wryly wonder when the US and NATO will turn their wrath on Turkey for its treatment of the Kurds, or punish Israel for its long-standing abuses of Palestinians’ human rights, others are sobered by the implications of a global political and economic order devoid of a globally accepted legal code or moral compass. The new world order at times seems more medieval than modern, having dispensed with consensual international mechanisms to regulate states’ actions in favor of encouraging vassal states to rally around a powerful liege lord, whether in pursuit of new domains of influence or in a modern crusade against evil.
In one of the last commentaries he wrote, the late Eqbal Ahmad, long a contributing editor of this magazine, noted that “for ten years, the US discouraged a UN role in the simmering conflict in Kosovo. It had not wanted to water down NATO’s monopoly in Europe. For eight years it coddled a fascist hate-monger in Belgrade. And now NATO engages in a clinical intervention that has done little to relieve a nation under cruel assault. This is not worthy of applause…. We must oppose genocide and bemoan this half-hearted intervention to stop it.”
In this issue of Middle East Report we examine the trials and tribulations of those who understand the deficiencies and pitfalls of the new world order much better than do its architects and advance men. Labor migrants have a keen comprehension of the limitations of international laws meant to protect workers’ rights, the degradations of poverty and the erosion of social safety nets at home and abroad. They are seasoned experts at gauging the global socioeconomic and political realities of the new world order, but don’t expect to see them pontificating alongside five-star generals on CNN.
While assessing the challenges and hardships labor migrants confront as they transit into and out of the Middle East, this issue also draws attention to the loose-knit network of human rights organizations in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia working to improve the lives of labor migrants in the short term through assistance and in the long term through legislation. The emerging international network of such organizations represents a clear moral vision in a murky world.