Foreign Policy in Fiction: The Ghostwriter
As he is spending the winter on an island off New England for talks with his new ghost writer in order to write his memoirs, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), the former British Prime Minister, finds himself at the heart of a media and judicial storm. The press reports that he would have granted permission, while in office, to arrest 4 British nationals suspected of belonging to a terrorist network on Pakistani territory. They were then handed over to CIA agents and subjected to interrogation. Public opinion is mobilized and demands that former Prime Minister be accountable for his actions in court. It is in this context that the procurator of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announces publicly that he is applying for permission to open an inquiry about Adam Lang for war crimes and crimes against humanity. With such a plot, The Ghostwriter (2010) arise interest in what cinema tells us about international law and how cinematographic fiction meets the ‘real world’ of foreign policy.
The Ghostwriter is a great film because it evokes a specific clause of an international treaty, a rarity in cinema. Following the press accusation, Adam Lang invites lawyers to join him to assess first the risks involved in being really attacked by justice, and then the options he has. The discussion then goes on about the Rome Statute that we will comment from a judicial point of view. Section 25 enables the liability of anyone who “facilitates (…), aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission” (Rome Statute, 2002) of the crime in question. This article is written in very broad terms as Adam Lang remarks (‘that’s rather sweeping’), so that any form of complicity can be targeted. However, we can interrogate what justifies the ICC’s implication in this case. Contrary to what the procurator says in the film, the facts alleged against him do not easily qualify as crimes against humanity or war crimes. According to the Rome Statute (2002), crimes against humanity must be ‘committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack’ (section 7). There is nothing in the film that suggests that an attack of this kind has been conducted. Moreover, war crimes can be committed only during an internal or international armed conflict to which the film makes no reference. Perhaps the film somehow evokes the “war against terrorism”, a term used by the United States for military operations following 9/11. This evocation however seems too general to prove the existence of an armed conflict that would justify the so-called “war crimes” of Adam Lang. Finally, it is doubtful that the fate of four people taken alone can constitute a serious enough matter for the ICC. It may also be noted that the support that the ICC has seems overestimated. On the one hand, the list of countries where Adam Lang can go without fear of being arrested is in no way limited to “Iraq, China, North Korea, Indonesia, Israel and parts of Africa”. Today, the number of states that have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute and are not therefore bound by any obligation to cooperate with the ICC, is approaching sixty (among these states are India, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Vietnam). On the other hand, Adam Lang’s advocates advise him to not go to any of the states that recognize the authority of the ICC, but cooperation required by the Statute is far from having been functional. It will be recalled that several states had refused to arrest Omar Al Bashir, as the ICC had an international arrest warrant. After these incidents, the ICC reminded Chad, Djibouti, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo of their international obligations.
The Ghostwriter is of interest for the complex and ambiguous look that the film raises about justice, a look whose intensity is explained by the fact that Roman Polanski was also the subject of legal proceedings at the time he made the film. On one hand, international criminal justice’s expertise and authority appear in the film as much greater than in reality. On the other hand, justice seems to show a certain fierceness towards the former Prime Minister. This international criminal justice, far from functioning efficiently and impartially, yields to the pressure of public opinion to condemn a man for acts which we do not know he is really guilty of, or if the justice works for dark political motives. This image of a justice that torments tirelessly does not come from the book by journalist Robert Harris, The Ghost (2008), on which the film is based. This portrait seems prepared by Roman Polanski himself, informed by his experience of justice regarding sexual relationships he had in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl. An oppressive justice which forces the him to live recluse, this is the representation that is proposed by Roman Polanski. A critical image of justice in fact that is not likely to change dramatically in the next film from the film director who intends to stage the Dreyfus affair, a case where the court had wrongly accused an innocent man.
We have to emphasize that the film was based on a book that is “somewhere between reality and fiction” in the own author’s words (The Guardian, 2014). The author was inspired by a radio announcement of possible legal actions against Tony Blair, for allowing the transfer of prisoners held by UK troops in Iraq to Guantanamo Bay’s detention facilities, where prisoners were subjected to torture. It will be recalled that, following the occupation of Iraq in the early 2000s, several NGOs alleged conduct constituting crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction. However the ICC has jurisdiction only for the most serious cases and, given the number of victims, the procurator decided not to open an investigation on the situation in Iraq. On January 10, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) showed that the number of victims was higher than what had been mentioned before. After reviewing this information, a new preliminary examination of the situation in Iraq was launched about ‘systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008’ (ICC, 2014). Polanski’s political thriller is a fiction describing a world in which it is possible for British Prime Minister to be accused by the international criminal justice.
- European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights. ‘The Responsibility of Officials of the United Kingdom for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-200’ Available at: http://www.ecchr.de/united-kingdom.html (Accessed: 30/01/15)
- The Guardian (2014) ‘Tony Blair is a tragic narcissist with a messiah complex, says Robert Harris’ Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/03/tony-blair-narcissist-messiah-complex-robert-harris (Accessed: 30/01/15)
- Harris, R. (2008) The Ghost. Pocket Star.
- ICC (2014) ‘Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, re-opens the preliminary examination of the situation in Iraq’ Available at: http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/structure%20of%20the%20court/office%20of%20the%20prosecutor/reports%20and%20statements/statement/Pages/otp-statement-iraq-13-05-2014.aspx (Accessed 30/01/15)
- Polanski, R. (2010) The Ghostwriter. Optimum Releasing.
- Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) Available at: http://www.icc-cpi.int/nr/rdonlyres/ea9aeff7-5752-4f84-be94-0a655eb30e16/0/rome_statute_english.pdf (Accessed: 30/01/15)
Press review: Libya’s arms embargo
On the 18th of February 2015, Libya asked the United Nations Security Council to lift the arms embargo, in order to counter ISIS. The embargo was imposed in 2011 to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi, a dictator and autocrat, internationally condemned for violating human rights. However the embargo is still in place because Libya is in a situation of political chaos, and divided between Islamic militias and a legitimate government. Moreover, ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians and released a video on the 15th of February, which led Egypt to launch airstrikes on the 16th of February on militant camps, training sites and arms storage areas in Libya. In a first part, this press review will carry out a short content analysis in order to identify the main differences in how the media have shaped the story. Then we will apply the four main theoretical approaches to understand how the general public gets information about foreign policy issues, and if the information is reliable.
The content analysis looks at a diverse range of newspaper articles. The first one comes from the BBC news website, one of the most renowned in the UK, which published an article with the headline ‘Libya urges UN to lift arms embargo to tackle IS’ (BBC, 2015), therefore naming three protagonists: Libya, the United Nations and the Islamic State. The second article comes from Reuters UK, a news wire service that tends to be neutral, and headlines ‘Libya, Egypt ask U.N. to lift arms embargo to fight Islamic State’ (Nichols, 2015), thus mentioning the implication of Egypt. The third article is from the tabloid The Daily Mail but published by the AFP, a worldwide news agency based in Paris, and is entitled ‘Egypt urges lifting embargo to arm Libya forces’ (AFP, 2015). There is thus a shift in how the story is presented, as the demander is now Egypt, who wants Libya’s forces to be armed but the title does not give the reason at all in the sense that here fighting the Islamic State is no longer mentioned. It is now important and informative to consider how the story is covered in another European country, in this case France, where Le Monde articulates left-of-centre views. This article is the only one that explains that Russians and Chinese are traditionally against any interference in the internal affairs of a country, and that is one of the reasons why the UN Security Council is too divided to accept the motion (Bourreau, 2015). Finally, to have a better understanding we can analyse an article from the Tripoli Post (2015), whose objective is to communicate Libya’s news and views to the rest of the world. The article’s headline is ‘Libya Demands SC Lift Arms Embargo, Calls on Egypt to Continue Airstrikes Against IS’ which is a more sophisticated title (the majority of the public ignores that SC means UN Security Council) and thus is targeting an small ‘attentive public’ rather than a larger ‘mass public’ (Almond, 1950). Also, this article is the only one that mentions the fact that Libya officially asked Egypt to continue the bombing of alleged IS targets in Libya.
Media, public opinion and the making of foreign policy have interconnected influences, and theoretical frames are essential to understand how foreign policy issues are represented. First of all, realism considers media as a source of mobilization for supporting governments, and follows the elite model, that is to say that power is concentrated in elite groups dominating politics. As Robinson (2001) highlights, ‘debate over the extent to which the mass media serves elite interests or, alternatively, plays a powerful role in shaping political outcomes has been dogged by dichotomous and one-sided claims’. As a critique, realism considers states as principal actors pursuing national interest and the case study deals with almost only non-state actors. The second theory is liberalism, which in our case might be more relevant as it recognizes the interdependent world and multiplicity of actors. Therefore it supports the pluralist model, which believes in the independence of media (Robinson, 2008). We can emphasise here that even ISIS used the new technology media to show the video of the beheadings. This powerful media release constrained decision-makers who responded to it with airstrikes on the day after the video was made public. Another framework is given by the critical approaches which question existing orders and, like the realist theory, posit that media are mobilized to support the elite model and national interests. However, critical approaches recognize that media control public opinion, and that the situation is undemocratic. Finally, the constructivist approaches focus on the identities of decision-makers, who want to be seen as accountable. Nevertheless, regarding the situation in Libya it seems that there is not any predominant leader or anyone controlling the situation as the threat is a terrorist organization. Constructivist approaches also argue that the press shapes the public’s judgments on the story they portray. In our case study, it is obvious that all the media – the Libyan Tripoli Post included – we have considered are biased and have a Western stance.
To conclude, the content analysis compared the first and second top UK news website, namely BBC news and The Daily Mail; an English news agency under a neutrality constraint; the first daily French newspaper targeting left-wing readers; and one of the only Libyan online weekly English-language publications. It shows that the way a country’s situation is accounted for in the press is not neutral and that the reading public is inevitably influenced. However, it could be interesting to look at different kinds of media, such as radio or TV news, that reflect emotions through images and tones of voice.
- AFP (2015) ‘Egypt urges lifting embargo to arm Libya forces’, The Daily Mail 18th Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-2958298/Egypt-urges-lifting-embargo-arm-Libya-forces.html (Accessed: 19/02/15).
- Almond, GA. (1950) The American People and Foreign Policy. New York: Praeger.
- BBC (2015) ‘Libya urges UN to lift arms embargo to tackle IS’, 19th Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-31523944 (Accessed: 19/02/15).
- Bourreau, M. (2015) ‘La Libye demande à l’ONU de lever l’embargo sur les armes pour combattre l’EI’, Le Monde 18th February. Available at: http://www.lemonde.fr/libye/article/2015/02/18/lutte-contre-l-ei-en-libye-une-resolution-a-l-onu-va-demander-la-levee-de-l-embargo-sur-les-armes_4578986_1496980.html (Accessed: 22/02/15).
- Nichols, M. (2015) ‘Libya, Egypt ask U.N. to lift arms embargo to fight Islamic State’, Reuters UK, 18th Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/02/18/uk-libya-security-un-embargo-idUKKBN0LM24G20150218 (Accessed: 19/02/15).
- Robinson, P. in Smith, S (2008) Foreign Policy: Actors, Theories, Cases. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2nd Edition.
- Robinson, P. (2001) ‘Theorizing the influence of media on world politics: models of media influence on foreign policy,’ European Journal of Communication 16(4), 523-544.
- The Tripoli Post (2015) ‘Libya Demands SC Lift Arms Embargo, Calls on Egypt to Continue Airstrikes Against IS’, 19th Available at: http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=11056 (Accessed: 22/02/15).