The international community

by Henry on June 10, 2010

The “juxtaposition”: of two quotes in an article on Turkey in today’s _FT_ is pretty interesting.

bq. Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, attacked the “very unfortunate choices” by Turkey and Brazil, the other country to oppose the measures. “They are now the outliers,” she said of the two traditional US allies. “They are standing outside of the rest of the Security Council, outside of the body of the international community.” Russia and China, long doubtful about sanctions, voted in favour after a dogged US campaign for support.


bq. On Wednesday, Robert Gates, defence secretary, suggested European Union reluctance to admit Turkey as a member could be pushing it away from the west and expressed concern about the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties. “If there’s anything to the notion that Turkey is moving eastwards, it is in no small part because it was pushed, and it was pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the west that Turkey sought,” he said while visiting London.

American notions of ‘international community’ are pretty weird if you look at them at all closely. On the one one hand, Rice’s quote suggests that the ‘international community’ more or less reduces down to ‘states that are prepared to agree, however reluctantly, with the US belief that Iran needs to be punished.’ Turkey and Brazil are members of the UN in good standing – and on various counts (democracy etc), they have a lot more legitimacy than e.g. Russia and China. On the other, Gates’ view (entirely apart from its rather dishonest failure to acknowledge that US support for Israel may have done a wee little bit to alienate Turkey) suggests that membership of the European Union isn’t very much more than a generic recognition of Turkey as part of the ‘west’ (whatever the ‘west is construed to be). I’m very strongly in favor of Turkey becoming a member of the EU – but like everyone who has looked at this at all closely, I recognize that this would involve big changes to both Turkey and the EU, and that the EU is not a standard international organization. So on the one hand the US sees the international community as nothing more or less than the states which are prepared to go along with its priorities, and on the other hand, when the US encounters _actual_ communities in the international sphere, it thinks that they should hand out membership of this community without any debate because it would serve the US’s geostrategic interests. As I say, weird.

Update: see also “Charlemagne”:



LFC 06.10.10 at 2:37 pm

Of the two quotes, I think Rice’s is the more unfortunate. Saying that Turkey and Brazil “are standing outside of the international community” b/c they voted against the US position in the Sec Council is silly. More generally, if someone in authority sent a memo to all US diplomats to avoid the phrase “international community” in their public pronouncements, nothing would be lost, imo, except some verbiage that is usually useless, if not counterproductive. (There are times when it helps to refer to “the international community,” but they tend to be rare moments of complete consensus. Otherwise the phrase should be left to the preambles of UN declarations and reports, where it is harmless boilerplate.)


chris 06.10.10 at 2:50 pm

Saying that Turkey and Brazil “are standing outside of the international community” b/c they voted against the US position in the Sec Council is silly.

It’s not just silly, it’s dangerous. It’s akin to a country declaring dissidents noncitizens. Members of communities don’t always agree on everything — which is fine, because they don’t have to, as long as the community has some kind of conflict-resolution system other than violence.


Salazar 06.10.10 at 3:08 pm

“It’s not just silly, it’s dangerous. It’s akin to a country declaring dissidents noncitizens.”

Or saying aforementioned countries are “rogue states.”


dsquared 06.10.10 at 3:19 pm

The trouble is that Turkey and Brazil fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between Iran’s nuclear program and the international sanctions. It’s not that the purpose of the sanctions is to motivate a reduction in the nuclear program – the sanctions themselves are the purpose, and the role of Iran’s nuclear program is to justify them.


Ken Houghton 06.10.10 at 3:20 pm

Thank you. My jaw dropped when I saw that this morning, but I wasn’t going to be able to write a blog post about it.

Now I’m just going to steal refer people to yours. (Not to mention that a piece on the editorial page about Economics today uses the phrase “crooked timber.”)


AntiAlias 06.10.10 at 3:28 pm

It’s Europe’s fault if Turkey is drifting towards Ahmadinejad’s embrace. After all, it’s not like Israel was murdering Turks or anything.


ajay 06.10.10 at 3:38 pm

Q: is there actually any use to the phrase “the international community” other than just as an alternative to saying “the world” again?


mds 06.10.10 at 3:42 pm

The trouble is that Turkey and Brazil fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between Iran’s nuclear program and the international sanctions.

Or they understood it, but tried to take a leafblower to the fig leaf and call the US bluff anyway. They certainly underestimated the willingness of “the West” to return to “We don’t want the confirmation to come in the form of a mushroom cloud” rhetoric, especially with a Nobel Peace Prize winner calling the shots.

And never mind Turkey, which we all know is run by Islamist jihadists these days.** Now Brazil is on the shit list of “outside the international community”? If I were one of the Scandanavian social democracies, I’d be sweating a little bit right now.

**No, I am not serious. Far too many pundits are, especially since Turkish citizens had the temerity to fall backwards onto IDF bullets in a jihadistic fashion.


Sebastian 06.10.10 at 4:01 pm

The Rice comment is bad, though the ship on proliferation and the international community has pretty much sailed. Brazil and Turkey aren’t doing anything that is ultimately helpful for non-proliferation, but neither is the US. Brazil and Turkey aren’t particularly harming the pretty much moribund international non-proliferation ‘effort’ so it isn’t worth the US having a snit over the whole thing.

The Gates comment is interesting because it is probably strictly accurate, but certainly non-helpful coming from a high level US functionary. The US doesn’t and shouldn’t have any particular say in who joins the EU. Any high level official who gives that impression isn’t acting very diplomatically.


leederick 06.10.10 at 4:25 pm

I’m sure both Bush and Obama have made similar comments about Turkey in the past.


Omega Centauri 06.10.10 at 8:22 pm

ajay: working deinition on “the international community”: those parts (and only those parts) of the world that we we consider to constitute, polite company. Not stated, we use a very narrow minded self-serving definition of “polite”.

Aside from the external snubs, isn’t having the core of the former Ottoman empire being a western looking secular state a bit of an anomaly? One that we shouldn’t expect to necessarily continue.


praisegod barebones 06.10.10 at 8:41 pm

Omega Centauri: why don’t you expect it to continue? For the same reasons that it’s unreasonable to expect the former centre of the Britsh Empire to continue refraining from annexing economically attractive areas of other continents, perhaps?


Omega Centauri 06.10.10 at 10:21 pm

I think the British empire was primarily secular/commercial, whereas the Ottomans were originally a religious empire whose primary duty was spreading and protecting the faith. So it seems to me odd, that it has managed to retain secular governance as long as it did. In your British case, it is a lack of the means. Do you think Turkish Islamists lack the means to overturn the secular state?


hix 06.10.10 at 10:45 pm

I just hope the military doesnt have the means to overturn those “islamists” anymore, because democracy kind of ranks higher than secularism for me )-:. Turkey was never a secular staate. A fate turkey shares with many rich liberal democracies.


Tangurena 06.11.10 at 1:15 am

Further clouding this issue, Turkey is the 2nd largest contributor to NATO (the US is the largest contributor).

But I agree with dSquared that much of the rhetoric by the US is aimed at getting what we want right now and our difficulties “down the road” result from stupid decisions and stupid pressure right now. And we are currently “down the road” from past dumb decisions.

I’d like to pretend that there are some smart decisions we can make right now, about Turkey, about Iran, about Israel. But I don’t see any possible coming out of the hidebound polarized situation in Washington. It is a mess, and I don’t see it getting better in the forseeable future.


NomadUK 06.11.10 at 8:40 am

As I say, weird.

‘Weird’ connotes something unexpected, or unusual. There’s nothing weird about it; the US attitude toward the rest of the world hasn’t changed significantly: The ‘international community’ is everyone who agrees with US foreign policy. ‘The West’ begins somewhere around White Head Island, Maine, and ends around Kamalino, Hawaii (or some godforsaken island in the Aleutians).


skidmarx 06.11.10 at 9:49 am

Chomsky: The international community: a curious expression. Most of the countries in the world belong to the non-aligned bloc and strongly support Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It has repeated often and openly that it is not considered part of the so called “international community.” Obviously only those countries that follow U.S. orders belong to it. It is the U.S. and Israel threatening Iran and this threat must be taken seriously.
I recall him previously making this point in relation to Israel (possibly in “US/Israel”?)


alex 06.11.10 at 10:59 am

@14: Turkey in its modern form was founded as a ‘secular’, modernising, Westernising state. Try googling ‘Ataturk’.

@13: The Ottomans came out of central Asia and conquered what subsequently became their ’empire’, most of which was already under the rule of perfectly Islamic states [if you like that sort of thing]. They took on the mantle of the Caliphate, but then the big cheeses in Germany spent 800 years calling themselves the ‘Holy Roman Empire’, that didn’t make them “originally a religious empire”.

History, folks, history!


Barry 06.11.10 at 1:14 pm

Tangurena 06.11.10 at 1:15 am

“Further clouding this issue, Turkey is the 2nd largest contributor to NATO (the US is the largest contributor).”

Nah. The US government regards ‘NATO’ as ‘whomever will help us in whatever wars we are currently waging’. It’s not like the Soviet Group Forces Germany 3rd Tank Army is going to roar through the Fulda Gap anytime soon.


hix 06.11.10 at 1:49 pm

My standard for secular is a little higher than things like the mulahs dont run the country headscarfs are banned at University . To be more to the point i think the last one is outright stupid and does not add anything to secularism at all. Pre AKP Turkey had Islam as staate religion paid priest from the government budget and discriminated against non muslim just like todays AKP Turkey. Many western European countries have similar staate church seperation problems.


David 06.11.10 at 1:55 pm

If the US is against proliferation, proliferation must be good.


Omega Centauri 06.11.10 at 2:00 pm

@18: The real question is how good a fit is Attaturk’s secular state toe the peoples governed by it? How stable is the secularism of the state? If it took such an extraordinary individual to create it, then how durable is it long after his passing?


Tangurena 06.11.10 at 2:49 pm

How stable is the secularism of the state? If it took such an extraordinary individual to create it, then how durable is it long after his passing?

The Turkish military has taken Ataturk’s desire for a secular state very seriously. The military has typically overthrown governments that get too religious. Then they march back to their barracks at the next election. The Turks have recently done effective work in arresting and prosecuting those members of the “deep state” that has historically deposed the religious governments – so my estimation is that there will never be another such coup.

Lacking any such military intervention in the future, combined with what is effectively a rejection by Europe and I see Turkey drifting far more Islamicwards than they have ever been. The current leadership is outraged at Israel (and part of me wonders how happy they are that relations turned to crap with the flotilla fiasco) and looking for reasonable (to them) excuses to stop trying to be “European.” I also predict that there will never be another situation where Israeli jets can fly over Turkish airspace to attack suspicious nuclear facilities in Syria any more. And with the rhetoric getting ratcheted up in the Turkey-Israel mess, I see little chance to fix the situation.

Nah. The US government regards ‘NATO’ as ‘whomever will help us in whatever wars we are currently waging’.

I’m quite aware of that. I wonder how bad NATO is going to turn out when Israel sinks Turkish vessels, and Turkey claims an Article 5 situation (which is that any attack on any NATO member is an attack on all NATO members). This was what was used by the US to cajole other NATO members to join in the invasion of Afghanistan. And the question will quickly become: is the US willing to go to war against another NATO member to defend Israel? Or will the US come to the aid of a NATO ally against Israel. My money is on assisting Israel, and doing so will kill NATO. At which Putin will dance with glee.


mds 06.11.10 at 3:17 pm

If the US is against proliferation, proliferation must be good.

Alas, since the antecedent is false, we’re not able to determine anything about the truth value of the consequent.

How stable is the secularism of the state?

Check out the website of the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. With the latest uptick in “Christian nation” rhetoric, the Texas curriculum revisions, angry mobs protesting a proposed mosque, etc., it’s looking a little shaky again. I wouldn’t actually panic yet, but you’re right to feel some concern.


Sebastian 06.11.10 at 3:41 pm

“which is that any attack on any NATO member is an attack on all NATO members”

I can’t look it up right this second, but isn’t there an “in Europe” qualifier or something?


Barry 06.11.10 at 6:47 pm

Sebastian, I don’t have the cite at hand, but IIRC, it covers ‘in Europe’, and in a range of waters which should include the Med (reasonable, if one recalls one’s history).


Kaveh 06.11.10 at 7:59 pm

@Henry, and in general, especially @23:

Don’t fall into the trap of seeing Turkey as “naturally” inclined to sympathize with Middle Eastern Muslims and distance itself from Europe. Plenty of things look inevitable in hindsight. Turks, including many deeply devout Turkish Muslims, are quite serious about their secularism. It isn’t just some scheme that the army has imposed on them contra some “authentic” Muslim cultural identity. From what I hear, the bid for EU membership greatly energized Turkish society at many levels, not just government institutions, and while Israel’s bombing of Lebanon and starvation of Gaza (and the US’s unconditional support for same) certainly helped alienate Turkey from the US, I wouldn’t discount the importance of the EU’s repeated snubs in how Israel’s actions were felt in Turkey.

Counterfactually, I can imagine many Turks being very troubled by what Israel did to Gaza and Lebanon, but saying to themselves “that’s horrible, but it’s not something that could happen to us, we’re in the club“. The EU’s repeated rejection of Turkey has, on the contrary, sent the message that “you’re not in the club, you’re not one of us, you’re one of them” and might have encouraged fears of being treated like “one of them”. Especially considering how openly Europeans cited the so-called Christian nature of European civilization as a reason to deny Turkish membership.


chris 06.11.10 at 9:30 pm

To combine threads for a minute, if the Turks look at someone like Wilders, whose political star is rising in Europe, do they expect he would regard them as pretty much the same as other Muslims? And are they right?

Obviously that has a lot to do with how the Turks feel they are being treated by EU members.


Kaveh 06.12.10 at 12:10 am

@27 (my own comment)
Just to clarify, the first 4 sentences of my comment are mainly directed @ 23, not Henry & others.


Tangurena 06.12.10 at 1:40 am

@Sebastian, 25:

From the Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty on the Accession of Greece and Turkey:

If the Republic of Turkey becomes a Party to the North Atlantic Treaty, Article 6 of the Treaty shall {snip} be modified to read as follows:

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

1.on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France, on the territory of Turkey {snip};

2.on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories {snip} or the Mediterranean Sea {snip}.


eddie 06.15.10 at 2:43 pm

Much as I agree with the post regarding the US and europe’s attitude to turkey, I’d be more inclined to appreciate their sympathetic efforts for palestinians if they had similar sympathies for kurds and armenians. In this regard there really is no difference between turkey and israel. Does this qualify them as full members of any ‘international community’?

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