Martin Shaw

Global voices: civil society and media in global crises

From Timothy Dunne and Nicholas Wheeler, eds., Human Rights in Global Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 214-232

This chapter examines the conditions under which the voices of the most oppressed, struggling and victimised sections of human society are able to be heard in world politics. It does this first by elaborating a theoretical account of the development of ‘global society’, the globalisation of state power leading to what I call the ‘global state’, the novel processes involved in the constitution of contemporary ‘global political crises’ and the nature and role of ‘global civil society’. Second, it looks more closely at the problem of ‘global representation’ in relation to Western civil society and state, and argues that we need to test the idea of global civil society by examining these problems within global crises.

The chapter then introduces a more specific discussion of different civil society institutions, based on my study of civil society in responses to the Iraqi wars of 1991 (I use this general term to indicate the importance of the Iraqi revolts compared to the Gulf War which has held the overwhelming attention of Western academics). First, it examines the limitations of national civil societies and traditional representative institutions in the West, highlighting especially the routinised nature of debates about war within them. Second, it discusses the inadequacies of some new representative institutions of global civil society, such as transnational social movements, in representing those struggling in zones of crisis, arguing that their ideological agendas too are often geared to the pro- and anti-nation-state approach. Other new, globalist institutions, such as humanitarian agencies and campaigns (which are forms distinct from social movements) have been more effective.

The chapter argues, based on a study of the Kurdish refugee crisis of 1991, that global television has a unique capacity to represent ‘global voices’. The paper examines how television news moved from managed medium (during the Gulf War) to active representation of victims of violence (in Kurdistan). However, I argue that even at best television tends to do this indirectly, representing people as pure victims rather than as protagonists or combatants, and through the authoritative voices of Western reporters rather than in their own words.Television exerted great leverage on Western leaders, leading them to change policy over the Kurds, but this depended on the nexus of responsibility which these leaders had themselves created. Televisual mediation has become a constitutive part of global crises, as other cases show, but rarely does it involve strong, direct leverage of the kind shown in the Kurdish crisis.

The chapter concludes by summarising the difference between the approach from global theory, on which the argument is based, and traditional approaches in International Relations based on states. I argue that these different approaches entail different normative perspectives. Global theory does not just explain the limitations of representation, but looks to the development of global civil society and the global state to allow more voices to be heard - and to be effective.

1 Global society

As we enter the twenty-first century, the clear outlines of a global society can be discerned, and the boundaries of national societies are becoming ever more fluid. Production is based to a considerable degree on a global division of labour and coordinated in many areas by globally-active corporations. Global markets are the context within which regional, national and local markets are defined. Communication is developing on a global scale, through media of both mass communication (such as television) and individual communication (such as phones and computers). Global awareness of problems such as environmental degradation and disease is growing.

A global society exists in the sense that these global connections constitute a social framework to which individuals across the world refer, more or less consciously, in many of their interactions and exchanges. This is not to say that all social action is globally defined in a narrow sense - any more than all action was nationally defined in the era of nation-states. Networks of social action have boundaries of many kinds: familial, industrial, professional, lifestyle, as well as local, regional, national and international. Most of these boundaries are less than global, in the most obvious sense of that word. The boundaries are however more porous than ever before, and there is growing awareness of a global context, in which the relations between different fields of action are defined.

Global society possesses some of the attributes previously attributed to ‘a society’. Elements of a global culture have been coming into existence for some centuries, although they coexist with elements of a more local and national character. Global institutions have proliferated in the economic, cultural and political spheres. Values like democracy and liberty, largely Western in origin, have been increasingly globalised. Nevertheless, while a society can be said to exist in the ‘factual’ sense - increasingly dense patterns of social interaction - in the ‘normative’ sense, value cohesion is still limited and problematic.

While these standard criteria for the existence of ‘a society’ may be applied, it would be a mistake to think that we can seek a close correspondence between how societies have been understood in the past and how global society is to be understood today. The separateness of discrete ‘societies’ was always ‘relative’ to larger social contexts: groups of hunter-gatherers to other such groups, territorially-fixed tribes to other tribes, principalities and kingdoms to the wider realm of European Christendom, and latterly ‘nation-states’ to a European and ultimately worldwide system of states. A global society is a society in which the wider reference has ceased to be an external demarcation and is becoming constitutive of the framework of social life. It is necessarily different from all previous forms of society.

Global state

One way in which global society differs from many other societies, and from the conventional notion of ‘a society’ as it has been understand in the era of nation-states, is that global society does not ‘have’ a state. Of course, societies have not always involved state institutions, and even within a world of states, many ‘societies’ have not ‘had’ states. Within states, minority or oppressed communities often feel that state institutions belong to the majority or oppressor group. Within colonial and post-colonial states, state institutions have often been superimposed on tribal and other pre-colonial societies, to which they do not ‘belong’ in a more organic sense.

The fact that global society does not ‘have’ a state, in any simple or obvious sense, is not therefore an insuperable objection to its qualifying as a society. But it does raise the question of whether there is any sense in which state institutions correspond specifically to global society. One could argue that while nation-states correspond to national societies, the system of states corresponds to global society. This answer is not irrelevant: clearly there are links between the development of world society and the evolution of the state system in the last few centuries. The ‘international society’ of the English school of International Relations is best understood in terms of the development of a common culture and norms among state elites, which has reflected the growing integration of world society as a whole.

However this answer is insufficient, because it fails to capture the specific transformations of state institutions on a global scale in recent times. The half century since of the Second World War has seen not only the greatest acceleration of globalising trends in society, but the most important changes in state institutions. The few years since 1989, even, have seen not only dramatic new manifestations of globalisation, but also a new stage in the development of global state organisation.

Within global society at the end of the twentieth century, there is a globalisation of state power. This process is indirectly acknowledged by the discourse of global governance. This reflects the blurring of state demarcations in the last fifty years, but it does not explicitly recognise the key change which has taken place: the pooling of the monopoly of violence among major states. The defining character of the system of nation-states, the individual state’s virtual monopoly of violence within its territory and its resort to violence externally to assert its interests against other states, has been fundamentally modified. The central states of the international system have abandoned war as a means of resolving disputes among themselves (if not with other states and groups). They have created common institutions through which, to a crucial extent, not only their means of violence, but those of the whole world, are managed.

What this means is that global society at the end of the twentieth century is not so far from having a global state, after all. After 1945 there emerged a relatively coherent Western state, pooling the control of violence among major states like the USA, UK, France, and subordinately, Germany and Japan, as well as a large number of lesser states in Western Europe, North America and Australasia. Until 1989, the development of the Western state was conditioned by the Cold War with the Soviet state and its satellites, which also masked the West’s effective global dominance.

After 1945, the world also developed a set of legitimate inter-state institutions, the United Nations system, to which almost all nation-states paid at least lip service. This system was largely neutralised by the Cold War, but has played a new role since 1989. Although far from constituting a world government, the UN has constituted a legitimation framework for the emergence of the Western state as the de facto centre of global power. UN institutions have not been permitted to develop an effective independent capacity, especially not in the military sense. But they have remained the principal source of legitimate global authority to which the Western state, and especially its organising centre (the USA) have found it expedient to resort in all important cases.

The global state of the late twentieth century is therefore the Western state together with its legitimation framework, the UN system, through which other states and - to a lesser extent - world society are drawn into political relationships with it. Non-Western states and various sectors of global society are of course involved into all sorts of other relationships with the Western state and its components, in economic, political and military senses. The primacy of the Western state derives ultimately from the concentration of economic power within it. Economic connections draw many other states, in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, into close relationships with Western power.

The global state - the globalisation and global legitimation of Western state power - is certainly a precarious and fragmentary arrangement. The unity of the Western state, the roles of nation-states within it, its legitimacy within the global system of states and even more within global society, the credibility of the legitimating institutions of the UN - all these are undoubtedly in question. Their viability is only established, and can only be understood, by examining how they are tested in practice, above in all in what we can call global political crises.

Global political crises

Before 1945, global political crises were constituted by the political-military rivalries of the major nation-states; between 1945 and 1989, by the rivalries of the Western and Soviet states. During both of these periods, local wars between lesser states sometimes constituted global crises because of their linkages with the major rivalries.

Since 1989, the rivalries of major states have not disappeared. In a political-economic sense, rivalries within the West, between Western Europe, North America and Japan, as well as between the major European states, have actually become more apparent. But no one - not even the most unreconstructed realist or Marxist - seriously expects these rivalries to degenerate into war, even in the medium to long term. In a similar sense, rivalries between major non-Western states (such as Russia, China and India) and the West have been largely political-economic rather than political-military. Clearly, it cannot be ruled out that these will still take military forms (as the 1996 Sino-American crisis over Taiwan has revealed) although a more likely source of conflicts are the rivalries between these major non-Western powers, or between them and other significant non-Western states.

The major international crises of the post-Cold War years have arisen, moreover, from local wars involving second- or third-rank powers, and above all from state disintegration and civil war. It is worth asking by what token we can consider these conflicts as global political crises. In some cases it is clear that ‘old’ criteria have been operating: conflicts have been of global significance because they have touched the interests, if no longer so much the rivalries, of major powers. Thus the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was of global significance because it threatened the control of major sources of oil, not only for the USA but even more for Japan, Western Europe and indeed many Third World states. More than this, it threatened the emergence of a totalitarian regional superpower in this key area. At the same time, it was the first time that a UN member had not only been invaded but had actually been annexed by another state.

Other crises have been of global import because they have been within the spheres of interest of major powers: Haiti because it was within the USA’s traditional regional sphere, Chechnya because it was actually within the Russian Federation, and above all Yugoslavia because it was on the borders of the European Community and had implications for the stability of Europe in the wider sense, in which both the USA and Russia retain an interest.

Nevertheless, it is arguable that all of these crises became global political crises in fuller senses than that indicated by their simple significance for great power interests. In all cases, the crises were greatly magnified by their mediation by mass communications. While in the Gulf and Chechnya, the USA and Russia respectively decided on the basis of a calculation of interests that military intervention was necessary, in Haiti and especially in Yugoslavia, the USA and the European powers were reluctant to intervene. Television, above all, exposed the human costs of Clinton’s unwillingness to halt Haiti’s military violence, and repeatedly thrust the appalling murderousness of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia on to Western publics. Clearly the mediation of these crises was a constitutive part of the process by which, in the end, the Western state and especially the USA intervened in both these situations.

Other conflicts became global political crises - in the sense that they evoked either globally legitimated interventions by major powers or at least a widespread demand for such intervention - even though they manifestly failed to impinge centrally on their interests as traditionally understood. Somalia was in a region, the Horn of Africa, where the end of the Cold War removed the superpower underpinnings of local states and conflicts. The distintegration of the Somali state was partly a symptom of the withdrawal of great-power interests from the region. Its human consequences touched humanitarian impulses through media coverage, but no significant economic or strategic interest. Similarly Rwanda was in a region, sub-Saharan Africa, which declined dramatically in geopolitical significance with the end of the Cold War. Even in larger states, such as Angola and Mozambique, the great powers were making strategic withdrawals. In tiny Rwanda, superpower interests had never been strong. It was only the televisual mediation of the terrible violence of the 1994 genocide that forced Rwanda on to the global political agenda.

In Somalia, the USA and the UN carried out a botched intervention; in Rwanda, they avoided intervention (although France intervened for its own particular interests) until it was too late. Neither episode represented a strong example of global political-military intervention for humanitarian goals. Nevertheless, it was clear that both cases constituted crises of global significance, to which the West and the UN were forced to make some response. It was equally clear that these global political crises were largely constituted, as those in Yugoslavia and elsewhere were partially constituted, by global media (largely television) coverage and the responses which this evoked in civil society. They were constituted, moreover, around definitions of crises which centred on the relief of human suffering rather than, or in Yugoslavia as well as, the realisation of strategic interests. The mediated social dimensions of wars came to constitute a major element of global crises.

What was striking, however, was that while these crises became of global significance partly or mainly through their mediation by television, scores of other crises remained localised and failed to secure similar mediation. These included long-term conflicts involving very great civilian suffering: in the former Soviet area the civil wars in Tadjikistan, Georgia and the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, and in Africa the renewed Angolan civil war and the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is clear that the mediation effect of communications has been very selective. It is necessary to explore the nature of the mediation process and the means by which it becomes effective, through civil society and in the state.

Global civil society and media

Much critical literature in international relations has centred on the concept of civil society and the putative emergence in recent times of a ‘global civil society’. Civil society has meant many different things in theoretical writing over the last two centuries, but the concept which is most relevant here is that which arises from the Gramscian debate in western Europe and the oppositional discourse of central Europe in the final stages of the Cold War. In both these discourses, civil society is not ‘society minus the state’ (i.e. centred on economic relations) but a sphere of association between economy and state. Civil society is the arena in which groupings in society represent themselves, ideologically and institutionally, both in relation to other social groups, and in relation to the state. This is the sense in which civil society is used here.

Although some see civil society as a sphere of universal principles, and hence implicitly transnational, in recent history civil society can only be seen as largely national in character. During the era of nation-states which is only now drawing, slowly and fitfully, to a close, civil institutions have largely been circumscribed by national boundaries. National societies and civil societies have corresponded to nation-states. Even clearly universalist institutions, such as Christian churches, have adopted largely national characters: Protestant churches have often been organised explicitly on national lines and even the ‘one, universal’ Roman Catholic Church has in practice adapted strongly to national state institutions. Social-democratic and communist parties, representatives of a different kind of universalist ideology, have also been heavily nationalised. During the era of nation-states, universalism and globalism have only been able to take ‘inter-national’ forms.

Global civil society has been identified not so much in international linkages of these and other national civil institutions - although they are not without importance - as in the growth of new forms of action in civil society. ‘New’ social movements (as opposed to ‘old’ labour movements) have been seen as implicitly transnational and as tending to develop global reach. The principal ‘new’ movements (peace, student, women’s, democracy, human rights and environmental) have been seen as spearheading globalism. The growth of explicitly globalist campaigning organisations, such as Greenpeace, has seemed to represent a new potential for global consciousness.

Although globalism is at the core of the development of global civil society, two related tensions can be identified within this tendency. First, the new forms of civil society, like the old, embody tensions between national and global ideas of civil society. This is evident in the West, where national civil societies are relatively well established, but even more in the former East and South, where the emergence of civil society is linked simultaneously to the recovery of national identity and to the sense of global (and in Europe especially, regional) participation.

Second, there is the problem of the representativeness of globalism. Globalist ideas may represent inclusive global interests in an ideological sense, but how far do they actually involve people across the globe? Virtually all the implicitly global social movements listed above have originated among West social elites - the partial exception is the democracy movement which spread from the ex-Communist to Third World states. Although they all have echoes in many parts of the world, like other sorts of transnational and multinational they still have strong affiliations to their countries, regions and social strata of origin.

These question-marks over the coherence of global civil society can be supplemented by other issues. Global civil society theorists often fail to root their analyses in a comprehensive discussion of civil society. On the one hand this means that they miss issues like the tension between the national and the global, which are in fact constitutive of civil society in our era. On the other hand it means that they fail to analyse the full range of civil-society institutions, focussing too much on social movements.

A particular problem which is of great importance to this paper is the role of communications media in civil society. Media are often treated apart, and indeed communications research tends to be a different kind of discourse, but in any systematic account it appears that media should be seen as central institutions of contemporary civil society in general and of its global forms in particular. And yet ‘bringing media in’ to civil society debate is likely to radically change some of its terms, as we shall see below.

Global representation, global voices

I have argued above that civil society is defined by the function of representation of society in general. Through civil society, groups in society represent themselves, both to the other members of society and to the state. This representative function is particularly problematic at the global level, in two related senses.

First, to whom does global civil society represent itself? On our analysis, global civil society is likely to represent itself to the emergent global state. Indeed the global state context is extremely important to the coherence of global civil society, as a framework within and against which demands and ideas are formulated. And yet, as we have seen, the global state is the Western state writ large, surrounded by the wider legitimation framework of the UN in which non-Western states participate.

This leads to the second problem: how does society in non-Western states participate in global civil society and represent itself to global institutions? How do we create the ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ which Held and others have advocated? This problem is compounded by other considerations. At best, many non-Western states are weak and have far less global leverage than Western states - so that simple representation within the local state guarantees little in the way of global representation. At worst, non-Western states are actually the problem faced by people within those states, and thus the reason why they might seek global representation. While few Western states are paragons of democracy, many non-Western states are sources of stark oppression and denial of democracy. The recourse to global representation and the need for global civil society is actually a way of mobilising against national states.

From the point of many groups in non-Western society (as well as for some in the West) being involved in global civil society is in fact a way of connecting to Western civil society and hence of securing some leverage with the Western state which is at the core of global power. From the point of view of many sectors of Western civil society, the point of global civil society is to facilitate the representation of the weak and powerless in the non-West.

The question that arises is whose voices are heard, and how? If Western civil society is the core of global civil society, just as the Western state is the core of the global state, how do non-Western voices become heard? How far do non-Western interests make themselves felt within Western-dominated world civil institutions? How far can non-Western voices make themselves heard directly? In what ways are they filtered by Western civil society, and how is their representation affected by the specific characteristics of Western civil institutions? How far are these Western institutions geared to the representation of global rather than national interests and voices?

This problem is most acute in the new global political crises discussed above, and where the issue of globally legitimate intervention by the Western state is posed. In such crises, groups within non-Western societies are often in the most desperate situations, most failed by local state institutions, and most likely to look to global state institutions to remedy their distress and assist in achieving their aims. Such situations are ones in which the capacity of Western civil society to assist global representation and the reality of global civil society are put severely to the test.

Testing global civil society in crises

In a recent study I have attempted to analyse the role of various civil society institutions in the seminal crisis of the post-Cold War world, the Iraqi wars of 1990-91. I refer to the ‘Iraqi wars’ rather than the ‘(Persian) Gulf War’, because the Gulf War - the US-led coalition’s assault on Iraq in January-February 1991 - was only one of a series of short wars involved in the crisis of the Iraqi state and society, beginning with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and ending with the Shia and Kurdish insurrections and their brutal suppression in March-April 1991. These wars in turn grew from the deep crisis of the Iraqi state in its relations with other states and with society, manifested in long war with Iran and the genocide of the Kurds in the 1980s.

It is a major failure of academic research to transcend ideology and popular debate that most analyses of 1991, whether in international politics, strategic studies or communications studies, have ignored the insurrectionary wars in favour of the interstate conflict. They have not been good examples of a new global analysis which recognises the importance of civil society. And yet only by examining the crisis as a whole, and specifically by putting the insurrectionary wars alongside the interstate war, can we obtain a rounded understanding of this crisis either as a political-military or, which is most relevant here, a socio-political crisis. Only by examining this crisis as a whole can we grasp the contours of post-Cold War politics which it defines.

The problem is that the rapid transformations within the Iraqi wars - from the fiscal and political crisis of the Iraqi state which impelled its Kuwaiti adventure, through the interstate crisis, back to the social and political crisis of the Iraqi state - confused academic analysts as much as they evidently wrongfooted George Bush and John Major. And yet such transformations are typical of the new global political crises, in which we move constantly between the horrors of the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides and similar societal disasters and the geopolitics and domestic politics of the major Western and non-Western powers.

Global politics today are characterised by the phenomenon of serial crystallisation, in which the same sets of forces are configured in radically different ways in rapidly succeeding moments. Not only do crises present themselves, first as economics and geopolitics, then as social revolt and humanitarian crisis, but actors rapidly change roles: in the case of states and militaries, from warmakers to agents of humanitarian relief in a matter of weeks. No wonder these bouleversements are confusing for those involved at all levels, from governments to civilian victims, guerillas to aid agencies, media to academics.

It is the argument of this paper that, just as these crises have posed difficulties for academic analysis and for political leadership, so they have found Western civil society wanting. While the old institutions of civil society have been constrained by the national framework and assumptions, the newer transnationally-oriented institutions have also demonstrated their limitations. And the role of mass media, not only in constituting global political crises in a wider societal sense, or in propagandising power, but also in representing social groups within them, has become ever more critical. In the remainder of this paper I shall attempt to explain and illustrate these theses, and finally draw together the theoretical and political implications of my argument.

The limits of national civil society

I argued above that civil society has had, historically, a predominantly national character. We may distinguish two main kinds of institution, representative and functional. On the one had there are institutions which represent particular groups and interests in both practical and ideological senses. On the other there are those which have functions in organising general ideological diffusion, apparently on behalf of society as a whole. Examples of the former are the traditional representative institutions of civil society - churches, parties, trade unions, the press and the intelligentsia. Major functional institutions include schools and universities, television and radio.

Both sets of institutions have had strongly national forms. Indeed both can be seen as the ‘organic’ civil institutions, to use Gramsci’s language, not so much of modern, capitalist society in general as he believed, as of the modern nation state. Representative institutions have represented society above all in the context of the nation-state - I discussed above how their most universalistic pretensions conceal adaptations to the nation-state and its ideology. Functional institutions have educated and informed within and on behalf of nation-states, performing essential roles in national socialisation and mobilisation, although often proclaiming universal notions of knowledge and truth.

In both kinds of institution, there have been tensions between the universalistic values and norms around which their ideologies revolve, and the national context in which they have been inserted. These tensions were often extremely acute in the ‘high’ period of the nation-state. Some Christians, at least, agonised over the conflict between their universalist, originally pacifist ideology and the killing imperatives of nation-states - although many became ideological servants even of the most extreme forms of nationalism. Some liberals agonised over the inequities of imperialism, although others apologised for them. Some socialists stood out for internationalism and against war, although others (most notoriously in 1914) fell in line with their states. Some communists upheld a genuinely international vision, while most equated their ideals with the interests of Stalin’s totalitarian empire. Only conservatives and, of course, fascists were relatively united in consistently supporting nationalism and war.

These tensions and the debates in which they are expressed are now highly routinised and traditional, even if they take slightly different forms in each war. The major development since the early twentieth century is that issues of nation, empire and the morality of killing which arose in the First World War have been overlain with the larger ideological motifs of the Second World War and Cold War - democracy versus fascism and communism. With the major exception of 1939-45, in which few in the liberal democracies opposed war, these ideological shifts made remarkably little difference to the line-up in civil society. In virtually every war from 1914-18 to Algeria, Vietnam and the Falklands, institutions in Western civil societies have been divided around the axes of nationalism versus internationalism, imperialism versus anti-imperialism and militarism versus pacifism.

The Cold War and nuclear weapons gave these new twists, but they did not alter the fundamental tensions. This was partly because the conflicts of the international blocs were still mobilised as national issues, especially in the major states. It was also because the hot wars, like Algeria, Vietnam and the Falklands, were still national conflicts. So when the Gulf War came along, the traditional representative institutions of Western civil societies mobilised very much as they had in previous conflicts - pro- or anti-war, pro-nation or internationalist and anti-imperialist. Across the churches and the left parties, especially, majorities - as in virtually all previous wars - supported the war against Iraq; minorities opposed it, or, more commonly, expressed agonised doubts. (Leaders of these institutions gave deliberately nuanced support - signalling participation in the ‘national’ consensus while placating the reservations of their members. They generally placed the management of their institutions’ internal tensions ahead of a clear, principled attitude to the conflict.)

Because of the structures of these debates, few picked up on the novelty of the Gulf War - that whatever the proportionality of the means (and in some respects the US-led coalition did attempt to limit civilian harm), this was not a national war but an international war globally legitimated by the United Nations. Because of these structures, too, few were prepared for the radical transition from inter-state war to civil war at the end of February 1991. As George Bush declared his ceasefire, people in southern Iraq took up the fight against Saddam. But the anti-war section of Western civil society was geared to opposing Bush, not to supporting the Shi’ites. The critics of war had tracked the Western states’ campaign, with the sole objective of limiting it (to its stated, statist aim of liberating Kuwait) and halting the war. They were not geared to supporting new protagonists or stopping Saddam’s new slaughter. The critical bishops and left politicians fell silent. The anti-war columnists failed to pick up the issues (and only a few of the pro-war liberals in the press were consistent enough to see that they had to demand Western support for the people the West had incited to fight). Even when the Kurdish refugees became a massive media cause célébre, the anti-war section of the traditional representative institutions had little to offer. It simply did not fit their traditional paradigms.

New representative institutions of global civil society

The Kurdish crisis - when the ‘new world order’ turned inside out and the great ‘triumph’ of the Gulf was revealed in all its contradictions - was the defining moment of the new era. It set many of the terms which were to dominate in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda: above all, the primacy for the UN and the West of protection of civilians from local state and quasi-state violence and genocide. The ‘international community’ - the global state in caring guise - and ‘humanitarian intervention’ - that new but questionable paradigm of international relations discourse - came into their own in Kurdistan. This was the moment when the old Westphalian principles of sovereignty and non-intervention were most strikingly breached: the critical precedent of the new era.

Western civil society was manifestly central to this transition. Bush, Major and Mitterand did not proclaim a ‘safe haven’ in Kurdistan because they wanted to. They had set their faces very solidly against any further intervention in Iraq. American troops had listened, a mere thirty miles away, to the sound of the Republican Guard destroying the opposition in Basra. Even after a month of revolt and repression, Major had made his most Majoresque pronouncement - ‘I do not recall asking the Kurds to mount this particular insurrection’ - as he turned his back yet again on the Kurds. Bush went fishing, golfing, anything to show that normality had returned, and with it his victorious troops. That this normality included the slaughter of those whom he had incited to rebel was the last thing he wanted to recognise.

The eventual Anglo-American-French intervention to save the Kurds, with its great policy ‘U-turn’, was a triumph of civil society. But not, as we have seen, of the traditional representative institutions of Western civil society. So was this the moment of the new ‘global civil society’, of which several writers have given general accounts? I decided to examine this issue in some detail.

The archetypal institutions of the emergent global civil society, we saw above, are transnational social movements. There were two signs of such movements in the Iraqi wars of 1991. One, neglected probably because it hardly fits the globalist agenda, was the pan-Muslim support for Saddam Hussein, not only throughout the Arab world but also among the Arab population of France and even the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other Muslim populations in Britain. The other, perhaps more obvious to Western social science, was the anti-war movement which arose in most Western countries during the five months before the Gulf War, but declined once war had broken out.

The striking thing about both these transnational social movements is that they were largely, like the responses of traditional representative institutions in Western societies, reflex-action responses to international state intervention.Many Muslims assumed that because Saddam was taking on the West, he represented them in their grievances against local states and global power. My study of British Muslims, who emerged as a distinct political force partly because of the war, showed that their responses were part generalised reactions to the West, part mobilisation of local grievances. The one thing that they did not do in any serious way was to respond to the fight of the opponents, or plight of the victims, of Saddam Hussein among the (Muslim) people of Iraq.

Similarly with the Western anti-war movements. They too were stuck with old, general ideas that hardly fitted the new situation and its particularities. Like the left in the traditional representative institutions, they responded to the Gulf War largely in terms of ‘old’ anti-war politics, based on pacifism and anti-imperialism. Although the more pacifist wing recognised the legitimacy of an international response to aggression, this recognition was uneasy, because of its rejection of the means of this response (once sanctions gave way to war). On the other hand, the Marxist and anti-imperialist wings rejected ‘international’ intervention in principle, seeking refuge in such platitudes as the call for ‘an Arab solution’ (the impossibility of which was recognised both in Arab states’ support for Western intervention and, even more pertinently, in the Iraqi rebels’ pleas for Western support). When the revolts in Iraq posed the dilemma of new Western intervention to support the rebels-turning-victims, both wings of the anti-war movement were debilitated by their ideological positions. No more than the pan-Muslims were they capable of generating a response to the Kurds which might have represented ‘global-civil-society-in-action’.

Such a response did not come, then, from social movements, the supposedly archetypal institutions of global civil society. In fact it came more from humanitarian agencies and campaigns. Such institutions are often confused with social movements: but while social movements are characterised by relatively spontaneous mass mobilisation or participation, humanitarian agencies/campaigns are based in contrast on more continuous formal organisation and relatively passive mass support. Because from humanitarian agencies and campaigns are more formal organisations, with clearly articulated goals and structures designed to achieve them, they are more capable of articulating consistent globalist policies than are social movements. In the Iraqi wars, some humanitarian organisations initially adopted a distancing response to protect their own agendas (e.g. Oxfam’s campaign for aid to Africa) but many quickly changed tack as the Kurdish crisis developed. These institutions had a dual function: to mobilise financial and political support for the Kurds within Western states, and practical support for the refugees on the ground on the Iraqi borders. Both were carried out with great effect, but equally both depended on a different sort of institution for their mobilising power.

Television from propaganda to critical representation

The central agencies of global civil society in the Kurdish crisis, the institutions which forced the changes in state policies which constituted ‘humanitarian intervention’, were in fact television news programmes.Television - not newspapers, not social movements, certainly not the traditional representative institutions - took up the plight of the Kurds and in an unprecedented campaign successfully forced governments’ hands. I looked at British television news - BBC and ITN - during March-April 1991, the two months after the Gulf War. It is clear that the two channels did not only show massive amounts of graphic film of the terrible circumstances in which the Kurds existed on the border with Turkey. They overlaid this film with an unremitting commentary pinning responsibility simply and directly on Western leaders, especially Bush and Major. Eventually, Major buckled and repositioned himself as the saviour of the Kurds (if not of their unwanted insurrection). After this switch, Bush had eventually to fall in line and commit American troops and planes to protect Kurds in northern Iraq.

Television news’ role in the Kurdish crisis is all the more surprising, at first sight, since it contrasted so clearly with the managed medium which they had represented during the Gulf War. Nevertheless, there is an umbilical connection between the two roles. It was precisely because the West had intervened in Iraq, and incited its people to revolt, that television could expose the consequences of revolt and call for action to save the victims of Saddam’s repression. And who better to do this than the media and journalists who had most fully mobilised support for the original intervention? (Journalists’ unease about their propaganda role in the Gulf may also have contributed to their critical intervention in the Kurdish crisis.)

Nevertheless television’s role as a representative of threatened sections of society in zones of crisis has definite limitations. First, television can only fully represent people with film. The Shi’ite rebellion, earlier, probably larger and even more brutally repressed than the Kurds’, remained for the most part a global non-event for the simple reason that Western TV cameras and portable satellite dishes never made it to the centres of their revolt. Many global voices are never heard because of these simple lacks. Second, television represents people better as victims than as combatants or protagonists. The Kurds only became a cause célébre after their insurrection failed and they became pure victims. Their political goals and tactics were lost in their simple human fate.

Third, and relatedly, television mainly represents people indirectly. The Kurds rarely spoke for themselves: the campaign was built up, instead, by the authoritative voices of Western TV reporters. Global voices, as such, are rarely heard. Finally, television generally depends on state policies to give it its cues. The Kurds were a uniquely successful TV cause precisely because governments gave TV its cue, by inciting the Iraqi people to revolt. In other cases, Western governments do not carry such direct responsibility for people’s plight and television does not hold them responsible to the same extent. Only rarely does television expose a truly awful catastrophe, like the genocide in Rwanda, without such leads from Western governments. And then it cannot force their hands in the same way.

Conclusions, theoretical and political

This chapter has explored some of the contours of the new global politics of the era after the Cold War. Whereas international theorists have seen world politics as structured by relations between states, global theory of the kind argued for here makes three fundamental conceptual movements.

First, global theory sees social relations, rather than inter-state relations, as the largest defining context of world politics. World politics is constituted by an increasingly global society, and by its economic and cultural dynamics, and not just by states.

Second, global theory sees states differently because of this. Starting from global society rather than from inter-state relations, it is apparent that state institutions are also being globalised. Globalisation is not something which ‘happens to’ nation-states, reducing their economic and social leverage, but a set of processes in which changes of state power are very much constitutive as well as constituted. Global state structures are being formed, which are both cause and effect of global societal developments. The concept of global civil society needs to be understood in relation to the emergent, contradictory global state, not merely in relation to nation-states.

Third, crises in world politics need to be seen not primarily as inter-state crises (in which some other ‘actors’ sometimes get involved) but as global crises, which are structured by the interactions of state and society, and constituted by media and other institutions in civil society as well as by states.

These fundamental movements of theoretical perspective have normative presuppositions and implications. Starting from the state-system prioritises the voices of state leaders, leaving the voices of individuals and social groups secondary and marginal. Starting from global society implies that the voices of the members of that society are important in themselves. Global theory leads us to look, as this paper has done, at institutions of state and civil society in terms of how far they enable people’s voices to be represented. The normative implication is that we seek to develop existing or new institutions to secure better representation. This entails a different vision of civil society - and the state - in the global community of the twenty-first century.

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