On Saturday (14/04/18), the US, UK and France conducted airstrikes on Syria. While this may seem so far removed from life in Papua New Guinea, it makes a great lecture on geopolitics for any Papua New Guinean student studying political science, economics, journalism, international relations, military science and law.
The Syria strike shows just how these multiple disciplines collectively contribute to decision making by world governments particularly, the US, UK and France.
For the law student, it is interesting to study how the US, UK leaders did not seek parliament and congress approvals to take military action. Is it a violation of international law? Britain’s Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbin, calls the strike questionable.
“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” Corbyn said. “This legally questionable action risks escalating further, as US defence secretary James Mattis has admitted, an already devastating conflict and therefore makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely.”
Because Papua New Guinea has US-leaning policies, is sometimes difficult to observe, with clarity, what other countries outside PNG’s foreign policy circle are saying.
A Kremlin statement released in the last 24 hours describes the military action as a “violation of international law.”
“Without the authorisation of the UN Security Council, in violation of the UN charter, of standards and principles of international law, we witness an act of aggression against the sovereign state which is on the forefront of the fight against terrorism.”
For the political science student, the whole story is a classic lesson in how cross-border military action is vital to cement a leader’s domestic hold on power, to deliver on promises and to appear to be protecting national interests while bombing a foreign country.
What about the cost of war?
How did each Tomahawk missile cost? The Daily Sabah, A Turkish, pro-government news service, says: “According to the U.S. Navy’s 2017 budget, each Tomahawk missile, made by Raytheon Co. RTN, cost $1.59 million and the U.S. used 59 of them on the Shayrat air field in response to a chemical attack that killed over 80 civilians.”
Fact is, arms dealers make obscene money when there is conflict. Death and war is good for business. Increased demand causes rises in prices.
Good for the economy?
Each morning, in our daily news prospect meeting, it sometimes turns into a lecture on geopolitics, economics, politics or law depending on the major events that are happening. Syria has been on the discussion table for at least one week.
The Syria strike is an important lesson on questionable news, the use of social media and how intelligence and communications advisors create a scenario for war. The US says the Syria strike was based on ‘open source intelligence” or information publicly available. In this case it included a video of a suspected chemical attack on civilians in Syria.
It is important to switch between channels if you’re watching TV. Also switch between websites to get different perspectives. The usual choice of CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera will not give you a broader understanding of the issues. Middle East news services should be followed as well.
Another important lesson is in cognitive science and framing. It is a felid of study made popular by George Lakoff and other experts.
Yesterday, I watched as US President, Donald Trump, issued a calculated statement aimed largely at the US public. It was a classic textbook application of framing.
In order for their to be relief there has to be an affliction, Lakoff said. In order for their to be preemptive action, there has to be a threat. “Prevention is better than cure,” so they say.
Trump made reference to chemical weapons in past wars and justified action by using a very selective choice of words.
“We never want to see that GHASTLY SPECTRE return. So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of American have marshalled their RIGHTEOUS power against BARBARISM and BRUTALITY.
A short lesson on the framing and the choice of words….
GHASTLY = something causing great horror or fear. In this case Trump was referring to Chemical weapons.
SPECTRE = a ghost or an entity widely feared. He says this in reference to bygone wars in which chemical weapons were used on people.
RIGHTEOUS = Morally right or justifiable. In this case, the words are rooted in Christianity and biblical language. It resonates with US voters.
BARBARISM = Absence of culture and civilisation. It paints the picture that Syria is backward and uncivilised. When in fact, Syria sits in the cradle of civilisation and is far older than the US.
All of the above is just the tip of a rich tapestry of lessons that can be learned as students of various disciplines.
I do hope PNG university lecturers will teach some of this.