European Elections: the West Midlands

In the UK, MEPs are elected by region. I live in the West Midlands region, which comprises Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry, Solihull, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire. Whilst I’m not going to do a post on all the regions, I thought I’d say a little bit about mine.

At the last elections, we elected 2 Conservative MEPs, 2 UKIP ones, 1 Labour, and 1 Liberal Democrat. Since then, we have gained one more Conservative (the Lisbon treaty gave us an extra seat, and it was given to the party that would have gained the seventh seat at the election), and both UKIP MEPs have left to form their own parties.

Who’s on the ballot
There are:

  • An Independence from Europe
  • British National Party
  • Conservative Party
  • English Democrats
  • Green Party
  • Harmony Party
  • Labour Party
  • Liberal Democrats
  • No2EU
  • UKIP
  • We Demand a Referendum

A quick rundown of the less-well-known parties:
An Independence from Europe are the UKIP splinter group formed by MEP Mike Nattrass after he was deselected. The split was not over policy issues.
English Democrats are mostly after an English Parliament. They are definitely right-wing (probably somewhere between UKIP and the BNP).
Harmony Party are newly formed, and appear to be another right wing anti-EU party.
No2EU are a far left group who want out of the EU. Their lead candidate is Dave Nellist, a former Labour MP who was expelled for being part of Militant (a Marxist group within the Labour Party).
We Demand a Referendum is a UKIP splinter group led by Nikki Sinclaire MEP, who left UKIP because of the kind of right-wing parties they associated with in the European Parliament.

None of these minor parties have any realistic chance of getting a seat, though We Demand a Referendum might do reasonably well in some parts of the region.

As for where my vote will be going, here’s a short video from the lead candidate of my party about issues specific to this region.

What’s the point of European Elections?

With the European Parliament elections coming up on the 22nd of May, it’s worth asking what these elections are about. Not the personality and policy issues that will dominate the media, but what difference they actually make.

These elections take place in every member state of the EU under proportional systems (so the number of seats a party gets is roughly the same as its share of the vote). The UK, being one of the large countries in the EU gets about 9% of the 766 seats (although parties like UKIP, whose MEPs actively avoid taking part in policy-making, mean that our influence is significantly less than that).

The European Parliament is one of three main institutions that determine EU policy. The European Commission is made up of commissioners appointed by the member states (though they must be ratified by the Parliament), and runs the EU day-to-day. The commissioners, however, do not have a say in European Law. That is determined by the Parliament and the other institution, the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is made up of representatives of the governments of the member states – usually the government minister responsible for whatever issue is under discussion. Most European legislation must pass through both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

How does the Parliament work?

So now we know what the Parliament is, and how it relates to the other parts of the EU, how does it work? The political parties that are elected to the Parliament are almost all confined to a particular country. And proportional representation means that the representatives from any given country will tend to disagree with each other. But this doesn’t mean that the Parliament is a mix of lots of micro-parties, because MEPs form groups of parties. A group needs to consist of at least 25 MEPs from at least 7 EU member states, and they have to be able to claim some form of common political belief. MEPs who are part of the groups get better access to the committees that draft European legislation, and have significantly more influence.

At the moment, there are seven groups on the Parliament, plus a number of Non-Inscrits – independents, or parties that have been unable to form a group. Let’s have a look at the parties and their make-up.

European People’s Party (EPP) The largest group, with 274 seats (36%), has members from every member state except the UK. It consists of centre-right political parties, like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats from Germany. It would be the natural home of the British Conservative Party, but they left it to form a more Eurosceptic grouping.

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – also known as the Party of European Socialists (or the PES). The second largest group, with 195 seats (25%), is made up of traditionally centre-left parties, such as Labour in the UK. It has members from every member state.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is the third largest group, with 85 seats (11%). It consists of liberal parties (economically right-wing, but socially liberal), such as the UK’s Liberal Democrats. Its members tend to see themselves as centrists. It has MEPs from 20 of the 28 member states. 12 of these are from the UK Liberal Democrat party, and another 12 are from the Germany FDP – both of which have seen major electoral meltdowns in recent elections in their home countries.

The Greens-European Free Alliance is the fourth largest group, with 58 seats (8%). This group consists of Green Parties and left-wing regionalist parties, such as Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party. The MEP from the Swedish Pirate Party also belongs to this group. It contains MEPs from 15 member states. At the 2009 Euro Elections, it was the only group to increase its number of seats.

European Conservatives and Reformists is the fifth largest group, with 57 seats (8%) from 11 member states. 26 of its seats come from the UK’s Conservative Party. The group is right-wing and moderately Eurosceptic, and some of the member parties have stances on certain issues that would be considered extreme right in the UK.

European United Left-Nordic Green Left is the sixth largest group, with 35 seats (5%) from 13 member states. It consists of far-left groups. Sinn Fein sits in this group.

Europe of Freedom and Democracy is the smallest group, with 35 seats (5%) from 13 member states. 10 of these MEPs are from UKIP. The group consists of Eurosceptic parties, though only UKIP wants to actually withdraw from the EU.

Finally, the Non-Inscrits – MEPs with no group – consists of 30 MEPs from 11 countries, who are unable to form a group. They include far-right parties like the BNP, parties with no natural allies, like the DUP, and MEPs who are not happy with the group their party has chosen to join (there is one UKIP and one ex-UKIP MEP in this category).

If you want to vote from a fully informed perspective, it is certainly worth considering how the British parties on your ballot paper fit into the Europe-wide party structure.

Christians on the Left?

One of the drawbacks of belonging to a smaller political party as a Christian is that there is rarely a specifically Christian group within the party, and because your time as a party activist is limited, it’s difficult to find the capacity to set one up. As a result, I was somewhat interested to read that the Christian group within the Labour Party Party was rebranding itself from the “Christian Socialist Movement” to “Christians on the Left”. The name change clearly sends the message that the organisation wants to expand itself to cover those of us in other left-wing parties (and yes, Ed Miliband does seem to have moved Labour from centre-right Blairism to a genuine centre-left position).

So, I contacted them to find out whether the impression they had given was actually the case. Their response was the following:

Christians on the Left has always been open to members of any party and, indeed, we have individuals who are Greens, LibDems, Communists and Christian Party members. As an organisation, however, we are and will remain affiliated to the Labour Party.

Which seems to be a definite “no” to the question of whether the new name actually reflects the reality. Because, as an active member of the Green Party I cannot in good conscience join an organisation where part of my membership subscription goes directly to a party which I will be standing and campaigning against in an election (which means that I have opted out of my trade union’s political fund). So, I e-mailed them back, asking

But if I were to join, part of my membership fee would go to the Labour Party? Thus implying that I support them.

Their response was the following:

It works out at 83p per member goes on the affiliation fee to the Labour Party. You could perhaps counter that with a donation of 83p to the cause of your choice?

Which completely misses the point. If Christians on the Left offered a non-affiliate membership, Christians like me within smaller left-wing parties would be able to have the same kind of support as those within the big three parties do. As it is, they are sending the clear message that left-wing Christians are honour-bound to support the Labour Party. A message which, in my opinion, is incredibly harmful to Christian involvement in politics.

Conservativism and Christendom

A couple of recent posts I’ve read have made me think about how our ecclesiology (that’s our theology about the church) affects the way we think about politics.

The first is over at Think Theology, which talks about the differences between Zwingli (one of the leaders of the Reformation) and the Anabaptists (the radical reformers) boiled down to their view of the church. This is how Andy Johnston describes the differences:

If, as Zwingli believed, the Church embraces the whole of society (the medieval view of corpus christianum), then it seems only reasonable that the magistrates, as God’s representatives, inputted on spiritual decision-making.

and

The “magisterial” reformers – Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Bullnger, Oecolampadius etc etc – all defended this view of baptism. Society was, they believed, essentially Christian, albeit a somewhat doctrinally confused and sub-standard version of the faith. The Anabaptist view was altogether different. Their ecclesiology was one of a “gathered Church”, a Church into which individuals consciously opted via believers’ baptism and membership was maintained and the Church kept pure through discipline. Such a Church was very definitely, in the view of the radicals, outside the control of the magistrates. Authority lay with the congregation and with elders appointed from within the congregation.

Then, there’s a guest post from Alexander Boot on the “Archbishop” Cramner blog, which asks the question of what conservatism should be about.

To narrow this to just one party, what is it that the Conservative party is for? What would it like to conserve?

I’d suggest that a Western conservative – regardless of his faith – can only answer this question one way without losing intellectual credibility. His desideratum has to be the preservation of whatever is left of the religious, cultural and political heritage of Christendom.

and

The starting point of deliberation for any Christian thinker is that the key institutions of Christendom, which is to say of the West, must somehow reflect the teaching of Christ and, on a deeper level, his person.

If you’re not familiar with the term, Christendom is basically the view that Zwingi took – that the church and the government are both explicitly Christian institutions, existing within an essentially Christian society. Even a casual glance at Western society would tell you that we are no longer living under Christendom. Boot is arguing that we should make every effort to preserve what’s left of Christendom, and work towards restoring the rest.

Boot’s post has made me realise two major reasons why I am not a Conservative. Firstly, I believe that Christendom is pretty much dead and gone. We live in a society that is no longer Christian in any meaningful sense. Our culture knows little, if anything, of Christ and has no desire to be shaped by explicitly Christian values. Trying to squeeze society into the Christendom mould is only going to be possible if we see large numbers of people being saved and added to the church.

Secondly, I think that the Anabaptist view of the church is far closer to what is taught in Scripture than the Christendom model. In the New Testament, the church had no connection to the institutions of government, or to society in general. They got on with preaching the gospel, serving the poor, and generally expanding God’s Kingdom without expecting or anything anybody outside the church to look outwardly Christian.

In short, my ecclesiology rules out Boot’s general approach to politics.

As for what this means in practice, let’s look at the current controversy over same-sex marriage. Both me and Boot would presumably agree that the Bible’s teaching about the nature of marriage does not allow for marriage between two people of the same gender. We differ, however, about the political implications. Boot believes that it is important to try and prevent the government from changing the legal definition to allow same-sex marriage. My view is that society has not had a remotely Christian view of marriage for a very long time. So, whilst I would prefer the legal definition of marriage to stay as it was, it does not worry me that it has changed. As long as Christians are still free to believe, teach, and live out a Biblical understanding of marriage the church is in no real danger from such legislation.

Foreign Policy: Working with Others

This is the latest in our series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re in our second of five posts covering the chapter on foreign policy. Today we’re looking at two things. Firstly, the subject of the United Nations, and secondly, Grudem’s claim that Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been helping America’s enemies and hindering its friends.

The United Nations

Grudem begins this section by saying that the UN is the only effective forum where representatives of all nations can meet, negotiate, and debate, and so the US has no choice but to stay actively involved with it. He then says that:

If the United States were to pull out, the United Nations’ decisions and policies would become even more forcefully anti-democratic and anti-American

He claims that a block of Muslim nations, aided by “dictatorial” or “autocratic” nations like North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and sometimes Russia and China and some anti-democratic African nations form a “significant majority” of UN members who are anti-American and anti-Israel (Grudem outlines a strongly pro-Israel stance later in the chapter).

He then goes on to allege that the way the UN spends its money is incredibly corrupt, although he does acknowledge that it does some good (citing education, science, cultural exchange, and peacekeeping missions).

Grudem believes that the US should seek to minimise the influence of the UN where it is “bringing harmful and destructive results throughout the world”, and that they should be aggressive in building alternative associations of freedom-loving nations in the world as some form of counter-balance.

I believe that the picture Grudem paints of the UN is somewhat skewed. Most of the UN’s decision-making powers are vested in the Security Council, where the US and two of its allies (Britain and France) have permanent seats that come with veto powers. Therefore, there will never be an anti-American UN Resolution. Secondly, in order to check Grudem’s claims, I had a look at the number of democracies in the world, and found that, as of the year 2000, the World Forum on Democracy classified 120 out of the world’s 192 countries as democracies and 85 of them as “liberal democracies” (i.e. countries that are both free and respectful of human rights). Since then, there have been solid moves towards democracy in a number of countries. So Grudem’s claim that a “significant majority” of UN members are anti-democratic looks hyperbolic at best.

As for claims of corruption, Grudem is probably closer to the mark. There have been reports finding widespread corruption in the organisation, and limited accountability. But surely the response to this should be to press for reform of the structures in order to bring people to account.

Obama’s Foreign Policy

Grudem alleges that American foreign policy since Obama took office in 2009 meant abandoning America’s allies and helping their enemies. He goes through some examples, which we’ll look at in turn:

Iran

In 2009, there were serious allegations of vote rigging in Iran’s Presidential elections (Grudem uses the phrase “shamelessly stole”). Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Grudem believes that the protesters were hoping for US support in “the court of world opinion”, and that Obama should have strongly condemned the election of President Ahmadinejad.

Grudem’s arguments really demonstrate the difference between how foreign policy looks to the domestic audience and how plays in the foreign countries in question. In Iran, the government was condemning the protests as being the result of a conspiracy by Britain and America. For Obama to come out strongly in support of the protests would be playing into that narrative, and would probably have justified a bigger crackdown on the supporters than actually happened. Whilst his non-committal response looked weak at home, it almost certainly avoided making the situation worse in Iran.

Latin America

Grudem claims that Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela are (well, were – Castro retired and Chavez died between the book’s publication and this blog post) military dicatorships that pose “the two greatest threats to freedom and democracy in North and South America”. He claims that they send money and soldiers into other Latin American countries to destabilise their governments and bring them into the Cuba-Venezuela orbit of “totalitarian states” that incline towards socialism or communism. He condemns Obama for endorsing these two governements’ legitimacy, for not giving any help to democratic opposition within those countries, and for lifting restrictions on travel, commerce, and mail to Cuba.

In actual fact, Chavez came to power by means of a democratic election and maintained it by being popular. Whilst his regime was autocratic, it definitely wasn’t a military dictatorship. Yes, Castro’s regime was somewhat totalitarian (though US sanctions have probably made it more so). Yes, Castro came to power through a coup in 1959. But his regime is clearly the legitimate government of Cuba, and all Obama has really done is recognise that both governments are legitimate and begin to normalise relations with Cuba.

Whilst both nations have tried to build influence in Latin America, their actions are on the same level as the US intervention in Columbia. Other, less controversial, left-wing leaders (e.g Brazil’s Lula) have been far more influential on the region.

In addition, Venezuela is clearly a functioning democracy, and there is no real democratic opposition within Cuba. If Obama supported the opposition in Venezuela, he would be sending the message that it’s OK for governments to interfere in somebody else’s democracy (so, for example, the British Government could provide support to the US Democratic Party).

Grudem also brings up events in Honduras, where he condemns Obama for “pounding tiny Honduras, which tried to save itself from the Chavez- and Castro-admiring Manuel Zelaya”. He is referring to the military coup in 2009, where the Supreme Court told the military to remove then-President Zelaya from power because of a non-binding (and apparently illegal) referendum he held on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Grudem insists that supporting the coup was the only course of action consistent with democratic values. Given that Honduras eventually settled on ignoring the referendum and letting Zelaya serve the rest of his term, things ultimately turned out fine, and it really didn’t matter either way.

China

Grudem condemns Obama for raising “not even a whisper of protest” against increasing persecution of leaders in the Chinese house-church movement, and refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama. He contrasts this with George W Bush openly condemning China on the issue. This criticism ignores the fact that we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in diplomatic negotiations. Whilst Bush’s approach played well domestically, it is not necessarily the best way to get results. Especially when dealing with a nation where saving face is a very important part of the culture. If Obama has been raising the issue through diplomatic channels, he might well have got better results on the issue than Bush did.

Conclusion

Grudem doesn’t really address the fact that Obama’s regime has greatly reduced the amount of anti-American feeling in the world. Simply by being more tactful and less overtly gung-ho than his predecessor, he has made up for much of the ill-feeling that Bush created in a lot of countries. His criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy come across as naïve, assuming that foreign policy that comes across well to a domestic audience will also be effective. And occasionally he manages to look ignorant (Chavez was clearly not a military dictator, no matter what Fox News says).

Having said that, it is easy to understand his concerns (especially if you take his assumptions about what methods of diplomacy work, and his understanding of the facts of situations).

What does the Bible say about foreign policy?

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. So far we’ve looked at the first eleven chapters. Today, we begin the chapter on foreign policy, looking at the bits that talk about the principles of foreign policy.

Self Defence

Grudem starts by saying that foreign policy should start from the principles established in the chapters on government in general (chapter 3) and on defence (chapter 11). In particular, governments should defend themselves and their citizens against threats from other nations. Grudem cites Romans 13:3 and 1 Peter 2:14. Grudem also notes that he has already said that defensive alliances (e.g NATO) are an appropriate way of doing that.

Grudem then goes on to claim that, by protecting their own sovereignty, governments protect nations from “the horrible tyranny that would result from … the establishment of one worldwide government”. Grudem’s objection is that such a government would have far too much power, which would lead to immense corruption, which would then lead to terrible oppression, from which there would be no place to flee.

Obviously fears about a worldwide government come across as rather paranoid. Attempts to create such a government by conquest have always fallen apart. The largest empire ever created was the British one, and we eventually realised that the cost of maintaining it was far greater than the benefit we gained. Attempts to create continent-wide (let alone world-wide) governments by consent have also proved troublesome. The European Union has proven to be mired in bureaucracy, and relatively weak in terms of its powers over member nations. The United States has a system of government that is in perpetual deadlock. India and China are the closest to success stories, but China is an ancient empire with a long common history, and India was formed from the bits of the subcontinent that were culturally similar. Neither is much of a guide to how a hypothetical worldwide government could be workable.

Even if we agree with every part of Grudem’s concerns (which, despite being in a section labelled “Biblical Teaching” are not drawn from the Bible), they beg the question of just how big a country can be before it has too much power. And whether we should be working towards the creation of more, but smaller, countries as an antidote.

Seeking good for other nations

Grudem points out that the command to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39) gives us good reason to seek to do good for other nations. Though he maintains that the first duty of government is to defend and seek the good of its own citizens. He points out that there are a wide variety of ways in which this can be done. Grudem points out a number of ways in which he believes the US does this. Firstly, he says that the US Navy do the lion’s share of protecting commercial shipping from piracy. Secondly, he says that they maintain the Internet, and says that turning control of it over to an international organisation like the UN would be harmful because some countries (like China) oppose free speech and others (like the European Union) have “anti-market impulses”.

Thirdly, he cites NASA satellites that monitor the atmosphere. Fourthly, he cites maintenance of telecommunication lines. Fifthly, he cites the fact that the UN headquarters is in New York, though he claims that this is a mixed benefit. Finally, he cites foreign aid – both public and private. He uses absolute figures here, which show the US giving more than other nations (because the US has a much bigger economy than other nations). If he had cited the figures as a percentage of the US economy or of government spending, then the figure would have been far less impressive.

Freedom and human rights

Grudem says that the United States should use non-coercive means (i.e. diplomacy, cultural/educational exchanges, public relations, media reporting, and foreign aid) to promote greater freedom and human rights in other nations, and points out that he is talking about influencing other nations, rather than imposing American views on others (I would point out that using foreign aid in this way can sometimes cross that line).

Grudem says that slavery and oppression are always viewed negatively in the Bible, whereas freedom is viewed positively. He cites Exodus 20:2, Leviticus 25:10, Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 33; Judges 2:16-23, and Isaiah 61:1 in support of this. Grudem expanded on this view of freedom back in chapter 3, where we saw that his idea of what freedom means seems somewhat skewed. He also refers to his claim that the Bible offers indirect support for the idea that democracy is the best form of government from the same chapter (a claim which we established was somewhat shaky).

Grudem then goes on to the US Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the concept of human rights. This is, of course, irrelevant to a specifically Christian view of politics – being a propaganda document that was actually written after the American colonists began to wage their war of independence. This is, presumably, why Grudem talks about the United States in particular in this section. Grudem says that it means the US is committed to the principle of liberty, and that governments only have the right to rule by the consent of their citizens.

Grudem also says that promoting human freedom and democracy in other nations is an act of self-interest. He says that genuine democracies are less likely than other forms of government to launch aggressive attacks against other countries (a claim that looked somewhat exaggerated when he made it in the chapter on defence as part of his reasons why Iraq and Afghanistan were Just Wars). This, presumably, means that he disapproves of American foreign policy during the Cold War that sought to help overthrow democratically elected governments who tended towards communism.

Grudem bemoans budget cuts to Voice of America radio, which he considered to be one of America’s most effective means of promoting freedom and democracy. He claims that American political leaders are confused and embarrassed about advocating freedom and democracy, particularly when it comes to saying that freedom of religion is better than oppressive governments that seek to impose Islamic law and practices on their populations.

Conclusions

There is nothing particularly controversial about what Grudem says in this section of the chapter. Yes, some of what he says is significantly overstating the case (mostly things which he argues for in other chapters, and simply mentions here). There is a lot of scope for different views of how to apply the principles, but we’ll be covering that over the next few weeks as we go through the rest of the chapter.

Were Afghanistan and Iraq “Just Wars”?

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re finishing up the chapter on Defence policy, covering his arguments that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were just wars. We had a brief look at the criteria used to assess this situation in a Previous Post, so let’s just get down to how Grudem justifies this.

Did the wars have a just cause?

Grudem says that the aim of the Afghan and Iraq wars was to defend the United States against Islamic terrorists, who had attacked them on 9/11. He says that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were controlling Afghanistan and that Saddam Hussein was providing terrorist training grounds and paying money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Grudem says that a second just cause is that Saddam was continuing to prevent site visits to verify that he had no nuclear weapons. He claims that the Iraqi regime might have had chemical and biological weapons, and smuggled them into Syria. Grudem also says that an additional justification was that, by introducing (i.e. forcing) a democratic system of government on the two countries, it would provide “a more effective long-term antidote to Islamic terrorism”. He claims that this is because “countries that are governed by open democratic processes do not launch wars of conquest against other nations”.

On the first point, Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban, but it was not controlled by Al Qaeda. However, the Taliban were sheltering Bin Laden from the US. Whether this justified an invasion is open to question. Iraq, on the other hand, had no links with Al Qaeda. Yes, they had supported some terrorist groups who were attacking Israel, Turkey, and Iran. But Saddam supported secular terrorist groups, rather than Islamic ones. Saddam was a pan-Arab secularist, and the only common ground between him and Al Qaeda was that they had both made enemies of the United States and its allies.

As for the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the evidence that Iraq still possessed them looked decidedly shaky back in 2003, and looks even more so now that we know there was no trace of them anywhere in Iraq. Whether Iraq’s occasional obstruction of the weapons inspectors was a violation of the UN resolutions or the 1993 surrender agreement is a more complicated question. But it’s certainly possible to argue that it constituted a grounds for war, albeit a fairly weak one.

Finally, “bringing democracy” as an antidote to terrorism is not a justification for war. Firstly, invading in order to bring democracy means that we are using war to force our idea of social good on these two nations (something which Grudem rejected elsewhere in the chapter). Secondly, as a result of the invasion of Iraq, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have established a presence there where they didn’t have one before. Thirdly, Grudem’s claim that no democratic nation has ever launched a war of conquest is historically ignorant. The British Empire conquered a quarter of the world’s land surface, and had a democratic government (although only men could vote). Fourthly, even if that was true, terrorist attacks are not wars of conquest, making the point irrelevant.

Were they declared by a competent authority?

Grudem says that both wars were declared by the American President and Congress. Which is not the whole story – the Iraq war involved a number of different countries, whose declarations of war were made by their own government. Both wars pass this one – although given the cause of the Iraq war, a UN resolution should really have been part of the declaration process.

Was there comparative justice?

This one basically means “is it clear that your side was in the right and theirs in the wrong”. Grudem claims that the “great evil propagated by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq” makes this a clear pass. I don’t think that this one is quite as clear-cut as he makes out.

The war in Afghanistan was triggered because the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the US. From what was reported in the media at the time, my understanding was that the US had given very little evidence that Bin Laden (or, indeed, Al Qaeda) were responsible for 9/11. If Bin Laden had been living in the UK, then based on the evidence that was public at the time, it is unlikely that there would have been enough evidence to extradite him. Yes, the Taliban was a particularly nasty regime, and were in cahoots with Al Qaeda, but it’s nowhere near as clear cut as Grudem seems to think.

In Iraq, the justification was that Saddam had broken United Nations sanctions and still possessed weapons of mass destruction. Given that it was not clear whether he did or not, the question of who was in the right is far more ambiguous.

Was war the last resort?

Grudem says that it was, because other negotiations and diplomacy had gone on for years without any significant change. In the case of Afghanistan, this is somewhat odd. The invasion happened less than a year after the event it was a response to. It’s not clear that all other options had been exhausted. In the case of Iraq, yes there were years of negotiations and diplomacy, but the UN weapons inspectors were very close to completing their report – declaring war before it was finished definitely seems premature.

Was there a great probability of success?

Grudem says there was. Whether he was right depends on precisely what the aim was. In Afghanistan, the probability of capturing or killing Bin Laden appears with hindsight to have been very low, though the probability of overthrowing the Taliban was relatively high. In Iraq, the probability of overthrowing Saddam’s regime was clearly very high. But given that nobody had thought about what to do next, the probability of any other goals were fairly low.

Was the proportionality of projected results in the US’s favour?

This one basically means “will the good of winning outweigh the harm of waging war?” Grudem says that it did, because Iraqi and Afghan terrorism was world-threatening, and because great good would come out of changing their governments. He claims that both nations have emerged as functioning democracies, and that oppressive regimes have been replaced with comparative freedom.

Grudem appears to be overstating the case here. Whilst both Iraq and Afghanistan are democracies, they may not be functioning democracies. In particular, there were serious problems with the 2009 Afghan elections – with widespread ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other electoral fraud (something in the region of a quarter of the votes were thrown out due to fraud). And there are definitely parts of Iraqi society who are less free and less secure than they were – Christians in particular.

Were the wars carried out in the right spirit?

Grudem says that the two wars were carried out with regret that the war was necessary, but but a determination to bring it to a successful conclusion. Whilst there are plenty of people who would dispute that, it’s reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Conclusion

Whilst both wars pass at least some of the Just War criteria, Grudem seems to be stretching when he says that they both pass all of them. Afghanistan seems to me to have rather more points in favour of it being (at least to start with) a Just War. Either way, this demonstrates that defining what is and isn’t a Just War is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Even World War Two has points where the case is weak (the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were all rather disproportionate).

July Round-Up

Here are some interesting things I’ve spotted over the last month.

Despite growing up in the Church of England, I never really understood their theology of baptism. Anthony Smith has explained it in a way that I now understand.

There’s some evidence that giving prisoners the vote might help both rehabilitation and democracy.

After I posted my recent piece on whether Christians should be pacifists, I came across a discussion of pacifism in the early church

As is often the case, there have been some good things posted about disabilities and benefits. Firstly, there’s a heartfelt plea that we don’t judge people on benefits. Then there are five things the government doesn’t want you to know about the benefit cap. And finally, Sue Marsh has the disability statistics the government don’t want you to see.

The author of the Ballot Box and the Bible blog has unearthed some evidence that Labour weren’t ever that left-wing.

C Michael Patton points out that there is a huge difference between the evidence for Christianity and the evidence for other world religions.

Finally, TED Talks slays the climate change denial zombies:

Terrorism and Torture

This is the latest in our series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re looking at part of the chapter on Defence policy, specifically looking at what he says about torture and terrorism. We should note that Grudem only looks at Islamic terrorism – whilst other forms of terrorism (e.g. separatist groups) probably kill more people worldwide, his country is not really threatened by them.

What Motivates the Terrorists?

Grudem spends some time going into the history of Islamic terrorism, drawing on a book called The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, which he says is the most extensive and authoritative history of Islamic terrorism in recent times. The picture he paints is that its roots are a particular extremist version of Islam, rather than poverty, or a reaction to Western foreign policy. He says that their motivation is to establish Islamic rule over as much of the world as possible, and that they focus on the US because it is the only power capable of blocking the restoration of the ancient Caliphate (i.e. restoring a single religious government over the Islamic world).

Grudem dismisses any suggestion that American (and, by extension, Western) foreign policy is even partially a contributing factor. He rejects any suggestion that Western military action in the Islamic World is a cause of resentment. He thinks that the idea that successful military attacks on terrorists might help them is absurd, and that terrorist attacks will dry up once the terrorists realise that they will be defeated by superior military force.

This view is seems naïve in two respects. Firstly, there is lots of evidence that Western intervention in the Middle East (particularly Iraq) has increased sympathy for groups like Al Qaeda within sections of the Islamic world, and served as a very effective recruiting tool for them. Secondly, there are many examples of terrorist groups continuing to thrive for decades despite being faced with overwhelming military force (the IRA and various Palestinian groups being the first ones to come to mind). Grudem believes that, because there is nothing that can be negotiated, violence is the only way to beat these groups, even though military solutions have a very bad track record against terrorism – negotiation and tradtional counter-terrorism strategies (e.g. infiltrating the groups) have, historically speaking, been far more reliable.

Grudem also makes the point that it’s rather difficult to capture a suicide bomber after the crime.

Security vs Liberty

Grudem also looks at the issue of what the security services get up to. He refers to a story in the New York Times that revealed the US government was trying to trace terrorists through the banking system, claiming that it led the terrorists to change banks, which apparently prevented things from being traced. He thinks that the person who leaked the story should be prosecuted for endangering lives. Grudem seems to think that the main impact of the story was that the terrorists were now aware that they could be traced that way. However, that suggests that they had either very little common sense, or no real knowledge of how the banking system works (despite being perfectly capable of money laundering).

Grudem also brings up objections to “warrantless wiretapping” – the security services listening in to whatever phone calls they want. The objection is often raised that such surveillance should only be undertaken if a judge issues a court order allowing it – thus ensuring that there is some form of legal oversight. Grudem rejects this because he believes that you would have to get a court order for each phone call you tap, and that terrorists keep changing mobile phones in order to avoid the phone call being listened to. He doesn’t consider the possibility that wiretapping court orders could be issued against the person, rather than against their mobile phone. Concluding this point, Grudem rejects the idea that wiretapping should be subject to due process because the “small threat” of invasion of privacy is “insignificant” compared to the potential protection against terrorist attacks.

Grudem also has a section praising the CIA. He says that criticism of the CIA (or, by implication, any other part of a nation’s security services) is destructive to the nation, as it undermines the morale of their employees, makes it more difficult for them to recruit, and more difficult to carry on their work. He, therefore, considers that “opposition to the CIA as a general attitude of mind” is opposition to the United States itself. He does say that it is necessary for there to be some oversight of their activities, but laments that such oversight has sometimes led to damaging security leaks.

I find Grudem’s attitude on this whole issue slightly worrying, as he completely downplays the need for some kind of oversight of the security services. His answer to the old question of “who watches the watchmen?” is “as few people as possible, as little as possible”. Yes, we shouldn’t get hysterical about organisations like the CIA. But we do need to be aware that the kind of powers they have can easily be abused, and that the security services need to be held accountable to ensure that they do not abuse their powers. There is certainly a case to be made that the reaction to 9/11 has put all the pieces in place to turn several Western nations into police states.

Hearts and Minds

Whilst Grudem’s main theme on dealing with terrorists is to use military force, he does point out that we need to turn people away from terrorists. He says that it is important to get governments on board, because it is apparently hard for terrorist training camps and cells to remain for long in a nation without at least passive tolerance by national government. This is somewhat overstating the case – separatist terrorists don’t seem to have a problem keeping their cells going under a hostile government. But it is true that it is easier to fight terrorism if the relevant government is on your side, rather than the terrorists’.

He also says that we need to persuade people in Muslim nations to turn against the terrorists. This is where I would place the emphasis – persuading Muslims to reject the particular stream of Islam that the Islamicists depend on. Grudem says that doing this will require a strong US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time to come, in order to provide the neighbourhood security necessary for peace-making efforts. Whilst he is right that it will be difficult to win hearts and minds without some measure of security, he is wrong that it needs to be provided by the US. It could equally well be provided by the Iraqi and Afghan governments, or by an international (United Nations?) peacekeeping force. In fact, since Grudem wrote his book, British and American forces have begun withdrawing from both nations – leaving the security to the locals.

Whilst Grudem doesn’t acknowledge that Western intervention in the Muslim world helps terrorist propaganda , he says that American morality does. He says that because Americans (and, presumably, Westerners) have lax moral standards when it comes to things like alcohol, sex, drugs, gambling, pornography, and the like it is easy for the Islamicists to say that the world needs a strict implementation of Sharia law.

Torture

Grudem spends a lot of time talking about the issue of torture, though he insists that the word itself is useless – preferring to use terms such as “enhanced interrogation”. He begins with the Geneva convention – that prisoners of war should be treated with respect. He believes that this is because the aim of holding them should be to prevent them from rejoining the war. Grudem also believes that somebody who deliberately attacks civilians and fights out of uniform forfeits the right to any such protections, and thus some torture techniques are justified. He doesn’t explain why such people should not be treated like normal criminal suspects.

Grudem cites the “ticking time bomb” scenario – where we know for certain that the suspect is a terrorist, and that there is an imminent terrorist attack that they know the details of, and which we could prevent if we had that information – as a situation in which torture might be necessary or useful. He ignores the fact that such a scenario will almost never happen, as we cannot be certain we’ve got the right person. Also, if a terrorist cell has any brains, they would change their plans as soon as they realised that their colleague had been picked up by the security services.

What are the limits?

Grudem lists five things that should never be part of an interrogation.

  1. Inherently immoral actions (e.g. raping the prisoner)
  2. Denying medical treatment
  3. Sadistic humiliation (such as what happened at Abu Ghraib)
  4. Forcing a prisoner to violate religious convictions that pose no threat (e.g. giving a Muslim prisoner pork and alcohol)
  5. To carry out any actions that would “shock the conscience” of a US court, such as causing lasting physical damage

Grudem is in favour of allowing interrogators to inflict some level of physical pain on prisoners. He cites things like using pressure points on the body, using drugs like Sodium Pentathol (“truth serum”), and waterboarding.

Does it work?

Grudem rejects claims that torture doesn’t work, citing a handful of cases where it is said to have produced some useful intelligence. He doesn’t really do justice to the claims that it doesn’t work. Nobody is saying that torture never produces correct information. Instead, opponents of torture claim that it will often produce incorrect information – people will say what they think the torturers want to hear in order to get the pain to stop. This claim has been repeatedly made by intelligence agents with experience. (references here, here, here, and here

Defence Policy

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. On Tuesday, we started the chapter on Defence policy, looking at the question of whether Christians should be pacifists, or whether we could participate in a “Just War”. Today we’re looking at defence policy – Grudem talks just about the United States, but some of it applies more generally. His arguments depend on the view he previously argued that a just war is possible, and that governments have a duty to protect their nation from attacks. Here, he points out that no nation should use military power to conquer another, or to impose their ideas of social good on another nation (we may come back to this point in future posts).

Does Grudem advocate an arms race?

Grudem believes that, if a nation has the responsibility to protect itself from attack, then the United States should have enough military power to defeat any nation or combination of nations that has the potential to attack it. He says that some people might say that having so much military power is dangerous because it increases tension and instability. He dismisses this idea because he thinks that it assumes that the cause of evil is in some outside cause, rather than in human hearts.

However, his dismissal doesn’t actually deal with the objection. The existence of massive military forces has often been viewed as a threat by nations that do not have them. The arms race between Britain and Germany was one of the causes of World War One. During the Cold War, the military might of the USSR was viewed by Americans as evidence that the Soviets wanted to expand by conquest, and vice versa. If one nation has overwhelming military force, the sinful human heart is likely to fear that this is for sinister reasons.

I have one other problem with Grudem’s point of view – basically it justifies for an arms race. If the US should have enough military power to defeat any other nation, then – logically speaking – so should everybody else. If everybody acted on this, then it would only be a matter of time before the entire global economy existed solely to fuel the arms industry. Clearly, therefore, there have to be some limits on the build-up of military forces.

Where are the major threats to security?

Grudem lists a number of possible threats – nations he believes would invade and conquer another nation if they thought they could succeed. This list was compiled in early 2010. He lists North Korea (fair enough), and Iran (whose threat is almost certainly exaggerated), who might possibly launch a missile at US base or a US ally. He says that Russia could easily become a threat to both the US and to parts of Eastern Europe. He says that China is currently friendly to the US, thanks to trade, but could become a military threat in the future. He believes that Islamic terrorist groups from the Muslim world are the greatest current threat to US national security. He also briefly acknowledges that computer attacks are a part of the potential threat from China, but does not mention that such “cyber-terrorism” is widely considered one of the major security threats that will cause concern in the 21st century (alongside terrorism and climate change)

The most controversial part of his list concerns Latin America. He identifies Cuba (under Castro) and Venezuela (under Chavez) as “military dictatorships”. Whilst you could argue this in the case of Cuba, claiming that Chavez was a military dictator suggests that Grudem has been taking Fox News a bit too seriously. Chavez gained power via the ballot box, and maintained it by being re-elected. Even if you think that the elections in question were rigged, it’s clear that Chavez didn’t maintain power by military force (unless you count parts of the military helping to defeat a coup d’etat in 2002). Anyway, Grudem claims that these two nations have destabilised a number of governments in the region. He specifically mentions Columbia (with no sense of irony about the effect of American involvement in that country). Whilst it is laughable that any part of Latin America is on course to become a military threat to the US, Grudem is right that the growth of left-wing governments in the region means that many Latin American countries are more hostile to the US than they used to be.

Defending Others

Grudem says out that the US military has the most troops (actually, it has fewer than China) and spends the most on its armed forces of any nation in the world (the most recent figure I’ve seen is 39% of global spending) and says that, as a result, they carry a lot of the responsibility for maintaining world peace. He points out that the US is a part of NATO (a defensive alliance), said that the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 set a precedent for the US defending its allies (it actually said that the US would prevent European powers from attacking or colonising any nation in the Americas – ally or not), and adds that the US has a number of other military alliances. Grudem believes that such alliances are good, because they provide a deterrent for potential aggressors, and contribute to world peace. He does not acknowledge that there are circumstances where such alliances can make war more likely (the most prominent example being World War One, where the alliances between European powers enabled a relatively small dispute between Austria and Serbia to escalate into a continent-wide war).

Grudem says that a major goal of the American military should be to preserve the independence and freedom of democratic nations (which, presumably, means that he disapproves of much of what went on under the banner of the Cold War). He cites the US Declaration of Independence in support of this, rather than any Christian principle.

He spends some time attacking the views of Ron Paul, an American congressman who ran for President a couple of times. Ron Paul believes that the US should be non-interventionist – not getting involved in foreign wars, not stationing US troops abroad, and not even giving foreign aid. Ron Paul believes that such interventions are a threat to American liberty, and are at odds with the views of America’s founding fathers.

In response, Grudem points out that America’s the founding fathers might have been non-interventionists, they did not write it into the American constitution. He says that, in Obadiah 11, God condemned the nation of Edom for standing by when Israel was attacked and defeated. He also says that the US’s great power gives them a responsibility to help weak nations with whom they have allied (he doesn’t say anything about weak nations who have not allied with the US). He also lists a few circumstances where American intervention has probably made the world a better place. Though his summary of what would have happened without the first Iraq war is somewhat bizarre (apparently, Saddam Hussein would have conquered Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait – even though he showed no signs of intending to. And he would have exported terrorism around the world, even though he was as much an enemy of groups like Al Quaeda as any Western government, and even though much of the Islamic extremism we see today has its roots in the types of radical Islam promoted in Saudi Arabia, rather than the secular Islam that Saddam favoured).

Is a strong US Military good for the world?

Grudem says that it is wise to think that superior military weaponry should be in the hands of a nation that protects freedom for itself and other countries. He says that defence cuts under President Obama are a tragic mistake for undermining that principle. He cites the cut in funds for the F22 fighter – which is apparently the most capable fighter ever built. He does not consider the possibility that fighter jets are not the most effective weapon for the threats of the 21st century, as threats become less about conventional armies and more about terrorism, computer hacking, and environmental issues.

One flaw with this particular philosophy is the apparent assumption that such military forces should be primarily under the control of the US. Whilst it may come as a surprise to many Americans, their country is considered an oppressor in many countries around the world. And even if the US is benevolent today, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way. It would not be wise for the world to be dependant on the US being and staying a benevolent world power.

However, the biggest flaw with this line of reasoning is that the US currently accounts for about 39% of global military spending (with just 4.46% of the population). The next biggest spenders are China (9.5% of spending, 19.08% of population), Russia (5.2%, 2.02%), the United Kingdom (3.5%, 0.89%), Japan (3.4%, 1.79%), and France (3.4%, 0.93%). If the US is spending more than twice as much on its armed forces as the next two nations combined (despite only having a fifth of the population), there’s probably quite a lot of room for reducing that budget without endangering anybody’s security. And since there are other democratic nations with very large defence budgets, it’s quite clear that the US doesn’t have to be the only nation playing global policeman.

Should we have nuclear weapons?

Grudem mentions the history of nuclear weapons, claims that the use of nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two saved more lives than they killed. He notes which nations have nuclear weapons, that Iran is trying to acquire them, and claims that Al Qaeda have attempted to obtain them. He believes that the threat of using nuclear weapons is what prevents nations which have them from using them, and that once a weapon is invented it is impossible to get rid of it – somebody, somewhere, will always ensure that they have it.

Grudem believes that there are two possible ways to prevent countries from using nuclear weapons. Firstly, the existence of a superior nuclear force (i.e. somebody with more nukes than you) and secondly by an anti-missile defence system that can prevent nukes from reaching their target. Grudem believes that the United States has the responsibility to develop both in order to protect both itself and its allies.

When it comes to the missile shield idea, Grudem says that the idea has been repeatedly proven to work, citing tests where one missile has hit another. He does not mention any tests against large numbers of incoming missiles, including decoys and countermeasures. As the tests are currently classified, we don’t know whether such a system would work in practice.

Grudem criticises a number of President Obama’s actions on the issue of both nuclear weapons and the proposed missile defence shield. He thinks that a mutal agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons both nations have will endanger American national security, as will not pursuing a new generation of nuclear weapons , and ratifying the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (an international agreement to ban nuclear tests – almost every other nation that could test a nuke has already ratified it). He also criticises decisions to withdraw anti-missile defence stations in Eastern Europe. He claims that the systems would have protected Europe from possible Russian or Iranian nuclear attack (not true – the system as currently proposed would only protect the US). He says that Russia was delighted at this news because it would be easier for it to attack and regain control over Eastern Europe. In reality, Russia was probably more relieved than delighted. They still view the US as a potential aggressor, and if the US has a working missile defence shield, it means that Russia’s nukes will not be a deterrent.

Who should serve?

Another issue that Grudem brings up is the question of who should serve in the armed forces. He doesn’t address the question of whether the armed forces should be drafted or volunteer-based. But he does address two groups whose ability to serve in the military has been controversial.

Gays in the military

The question of whether gays and lesbians can serve in the armed forces has been the subject of intense debate in the US, but relatively uncontroversial in most other countries. Grudem states that it has always been the US policy not to let those with a known homosexual orientation to serve in the armed forces, and believes that biblical commands forbidding sexual activity with somebody of the same sex as yourself should make Christians support such a policy. He cites a number of military officers who believe that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military would harm morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion. Since Grudem wrote this, the issue has become somewhat academic – the policy of not allowing gays and lesbians to serve has now been lifted, and an American federal appeals court has ruled that the previous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was illegal.

Women in combat

Grudem also briefly addresses the role of women within the armed forces. Whilst he has no problem with women being in the military, he does not agree that they should be in combat roles and is dubious about women serving as fighter pilots. He points out that, historically speaking, Christians have held the view that actual combat is a responsibility that should only fall to men, and that this is repeatedly assumed throughout the Bible.