Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Deafening Silence

The Japanese whaling fleet and its armed escort are now halfway to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

No government has publicly opposed this military takeover of an international conservation zone. The media have not covered Japan’s threat of deadly force in support of a criminal enterprise. Public opinion is not outraged because it doesn’t know what’s happening. The mainstream environmental movement remains silent. The Sea Shepherds, ‘the few, those happy few,’ who dare stand up to armed aggression at the end of the world seem to be on their own.

Japan is directly challenging the American, Australian and New Zealand governments. If the U.S. abandons nonviolent activists to armed assault in international waters it gives up its role as the ultimate guarantor of world order. Will it accept a diminished status and allow Japan to violently extend its jurisdiction over the Southern Ocean in return for a monthly payoff? Australia and New Zealand are natural guardians of the Sanctuary by virtue of geography and a high level of environmental consciousness. Yet they too remain passive despite Japan’s armed aggression in their backyard.

This is a serious political showdown. By sending an armed patrol vessel Japan has put its prestige on the line. It is inconceivable that they will stand by and do nothing while the activists shut down illegal whaling operations. Once the sword is drawn the issue defaults to a brutal contest of wills. Japan will surely stop buying, or start selling, U.S. Treasury bonds if the United States takes meaningful action to stop it. It won’t hesitate to bully its smaller trading partners, Australia and New Zealand. Will these countries submit to financial blackmail as a backup to armed aggression?

The possible takedown of marine conservationists in a remote polar ocean would mean that Australia and New Zealand accept the supremacy of Japanese law enforced at gunpoint over the Southern Ocean. And that the United States surrenders its traditional insistence on freedom of navigation. (The Sea Shepherds are a legal environmental organization  entitled to such protection.) More fundamentally, it would undermine a cooperative world order based on the rule of law. And mean the loss of any restraint in our exploitation of the oceans.

The world community must act to ensure that Japan renounces the use of force against those who are upholding international law. The real stakes here are much higher than those of power and pride. If Japan gets away with this it kills any hope for effective ocean conservation. It, then others, will just grab what they want. The degradation of a vital planetary ecosystem will accelerate. We will all pay a heavy price. Is the world so intimidated by Japan’s economic clout that it will allow this to happen?

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