Communitarian Letter #31

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Communitarian Letter #31#31

    Communitarian Letter #31

    “Tomorrow’s Institution Today: The Promise of the Proliferation

     Security Initiative, from Foreign Affairs

    “Regional peace”—a new idea for the Middle East!

    The bizarre case of pirates’ human rights

    Bring back the counter culture

    Yes, we do need inspectors

     A welcome emphasis on responsibility

    Upcoming Events



    Please email your comments, suggestions, communitarian news, and indications of support to

    “Tomorrow’s Institution Today: The Promise of the Proliferation Security Initiative”

    By Amitai Etzioni

    Foreign Affairs, May/June 2009

     Many of the challenges that countries now face must be tackled on a transnational level. But the old international system, based on arrangements worked out by instructed representatives of national governments, is too cumbersome, too slow, and too narrowly crafted to solve many such problems. A promising model for doing so is the Proliferation Security Initiative, a recent cooperative effort to interdict weapons of mass destruction.

     Unlike most international organizations, the PSI has no headquarters or secretariat, no charter or rules. It has participants, not members. The U.S. State Department refers to the PSI as an "activity." Plenary meetings are rare, and there are calls to make them even less frequent. The PSI has no council in which one member can exercise veto power. It has no multistate committees that must unanimously approve each target, as was the case for a while for NATO during its bombing operations in Kosovo in 1999. And it has no bureaucracy that must be paid for and monitored and that may hinder action with red tape, turf wars, or office politics…

     At the core, it is an American led ―activity‖ in which more than 60 nations

    participate, but one that is widely considered legitimate, and quite effective. Indeed, its mission has been recently expanded.

     To read the article in full, please go here.

“Regional peace”—a new idea for the Middle East!

     If you thought that after all these years there could not possibly be a new idea for making peace between Israel and the Palestinians, well, as the cliché goes, think again.

    Better yet, it is a damn good idea. It holds that Israel would implement the long talked about two state solution (a Palestinian and a Jewish state, "living next to each other in security and peace")--and Iran would actually give up its military nuclear program.

     So far, there have been those who held that the road to Tehran, Damascus, Beirut and the rest of the Arab world leads through Jerusalem, meaning that peace in the Middle East requires that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict first be resolved. Only in this way, we have been told a score of times, one can hope to "turn the Arab street" to agree to support other changes that peace in the region requires. Others held that given that Israel sees the Iranian bombs as directly threatening its very existence and that the time is near at which Iran will have nuclear bombs, this is the matter that must be most urgently attended to. And--nobody moved. The new idea is that we can get out of this stalemate by moving on both fronts at one and the same time.

     Some are sure to hold that Israel already agreed to a two state solution, hence it will give nothing new in exchange for a deproliferation of Iran. However, the same holds for Iran--it has long and repeatedly declared that its nuclear program is strictly dedicated to peaceful pursuits. Hence, if it would show to IAEA inspectors that it has not been militarizing its nuclear program, it merely would be showing that it was not lying through its teeth.

     Both arguments are disingenuous. Although previous Israeli governments

    declared themselves in favor of a two state solution, the "details"--what such a solution

    were never agreed upon. And Iran keeps entails and above all the ways to get there--

    threatening to wipe Israel off the map, which it can hardly hope to do without nuclear arms, which many believe it is rushing to develop. In short, a mutually and simultaneously implemented deal not only makes a great deal of sense, but breaks the stalemate.

     There is room here from some truly creative thinking and adroit diplomacy. Step 1? Israel freezes the settlements on the West Bank; Iran freezes the enrichment of uranium. Step 2? Iran opens up some parts of its nuclear industry to international inspection; Israel turns over some parts of the West Bank to Palestinian forces and so on.

     Other scenarios can surely be developed. All will have to survive those who will maintain that the whole deal is unfair for one reason or another. I rush hence to reiterate a point Shibley Telhami (a leading Palestinian-American) and I made some years ago, that this is not the time to sort out what ultimate justice entails, who is at fault, who started it all, etc. These kinds of arguments are used by both sides to demand that the other side--the guilty one--yield, and that their sides need not make any concessions. For now, we argued, all sides should focus on where we go from here. Later we can have a Truth Commission to figure out who the real culprit was. The time to make peace is now, all other matters will wait.

     The new idea has one more attractive feature. Many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, are very keen for Iran not to have nuclear bombs. They also favor the two state solution. In short, the regional peace plan has a ready-made, significant political constituency right there in the Middle East.

     Although the US is expected to lead the negotiations that must take place, above all by ensuring that both Israel and Iran take parallel steps to implement their part of the deal, Russia should also be involved. Russia is the power that could tip the scales in Iran if it joins the West in promoting an end to the nuclear military ambitions of Iran. Hence,

    Russian support should be courted, and if need be rewarded, by granting Russia some of the items on their long agenda - for instance, as Obama in effect already offered, the US folding the missile defense system that Bush planned to place in Poland and the Czech Republic to stop Iranian missiles.

     Finally, the regional peace plan will serve as a sort of Rorschach test. There are those whose reaction will reveal that they are so confident that Iran has no intentions to build a bomb, or that if it did it "would never be so crazy to use it" that they will not support the plan. There are those so mad at Israel that they want to force it to make major concessions to the Palestinians, come what may. And there are some who see Iran as a major threat to many nations in the Middle East, and are less preoccupied by the Palestinians, especially those who still declare that they are out to destroy Israel. One cannot but hope that all these players would put aside their special takes on the situation and their special pleadings, and recognize a good deal when it is laid out right in front of them. Otherwise, even this sage plan may end up where so many attempts to bring peace to the Middle East have ended up--in the dustbins of history, followed by more bloodshed.

     Originally posted by Amitai Etzioni on the Huffington Post, here.

The bizarre case of pirates’ human rights

     We are told that the reasons we have such a hard time stopping the pirates is that our forces have a very hard time locating them in the vast sea. An odd statement, given that the pirates have no trouble locating our ships in the same sea, and they have no drones, satellites, AWACS, and all the other means of modern technology. Moreover, we hardly need to look for them; they present themselves to us, quite regularly. Most recently they captured six ships with a few weeks.

     The main reason pirates roam freely is only whispered in the corridors of power, because it is very politically incorrect to openly state that pirates are protected by a radical interpretation of human rights…

    here. To read the rest, please go

Bring back the counter culture

     President Obama has a unique talent: He is able to inspire people all over the world to deliberate and dialogue about burning issues. At the top of the agenda for such a global give and take is what makes for a good life. At first, it may seem preposterous for a nation deep in an economic crisis and mired in wars to pay mind to what at first blush seems like a philosophical subject. Actually, there is a profound connection between our multiple crises -- add that of the climate to the mix -- and the characterization of what makes a life good…

     To read the rest, please go here.

Yes, we do need inspectors

     Ideologues are up in arms, calling foul over what actually are rather limited moves toward imposing some government regulations on the market, after the free-for-all during the Bush Administration. The need for regulation is hardly limited to the financial

    and housing markets. Look at food producers and see the reason the just announced plans of the Obama Administration to beef up the FDA’s budget and personnel deserve three cheers.

     Food industry giants with brand names like Kellogg who have an interest in ensuring that their customers will not consume contaminated products rely on private inspectors. That isinspectors that they hire, who notify the individual factories ahead of time about their visit, and who have little time to inspect the many large plants they must cover. A New York Times investigation that uncovered these great limitations on that which private inspectors can achieve [here] also reveals that the government has very few inspectors to monitor the nation’s food supply….

     To read the rest, please go here.

A welcome emphasis on responsibility

     We have long argued that strong rights entail strong responsibilities. Responsibility and community were two touch stones for the Clinton and the Blair administrations, as well as for the New Middle in Germany and similar political groups in other nations. We are delighted to note that responsibility is one of the key themes of the new Administration. The new budget is called ―A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing

    America’s Promise.‖ Obama has rarely failed to mention our responsibilities to one another. Now Michael Ignatieff widely expected to be the next Canadian prime

    minster is making responsibility one his key themes, right next to accountability.

     For more, see the March 2009 Prospect Magazine.

Upcoming Events

    Bertelsmann Foundation: Soft Power-Can the Obama Administration Make it Work Lecture on Security First

    Amitai Etzioni

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009


    Unter den Linden 1

    10117 Berlin

Trudy van Asperen Lecture on The Moral Dimensions of Decisions and Policies

    Amitai Etzioni

    Thursday, May 14, 2009


    Janskerk, Utrecht

    Lecture on Security First: A New Foreign Policy for the Obama Administration and its Allies

    Amitai Etzioni

    Friday, May 15, 2009


    University of Amsterdam, School for Social Science Research

    Civil Society and Reconciliation in Comparative Perspective London School of Economics

    June 4, 2009

     The Centre for Civil Society invites participants for this forthcoming international conference which investigates civil society and reconciliation in a comparative perspective. The conference will explore the dynamics of reconciliation,

    transitional justice and civil society in a global context.

     For more information, go here.

―European Society or European Societies?‖

    Social Theory Conference

    European Sociological Association

    September 2-5, 2009

    Lisbon, Portugal

     For more information, go to


    Die aktive Gesellschaft, a German translation of Amitai Etzioni’s The Active Society was

    just published by VS Verlag.


    The Responsive Communitarian Platform can be found here. We invite all people who

    agree to endorse it here.

    The Diversity Within Unity Platform is here. We invite all people who agree to endorse it by sending an email to with the subject ―endorse DWU.‖

    We welcome your thoughts, feedback, and communitarian news. Send them to

Edited by Radhika Bhat




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