This paper sets out some key principles which can be applied to most international conflicts, followed by some conceptual forensic tools with which to carry out a basic examination, principles and tools which can help found relevant political literacy during international conflict.

Tim Anderson. A paper on pedagogy.

There is a tendency in teaching, learning and research to stay away from current, controversial social issues, mainly to avoid conflict but also because it can mean turning students loose into a minefield of media propaganda and disinformation. It is certainly easier to study by “poring over the ashes” of past controversies, when the heat has passed and there is more documentary evidence. However this abandons the field of current controversies to hegemonic forces, meaning that many discussions – including liberal themes of cultural diversity and social inclusion – are pushed into marginal or ‘permissible’ areas, such as individual identity matters. Yet in today’s world, full of hybrid wars and propaganda contests, and with the media of entire countries blocked or banned, sidestepping controversy also means eroding political literacy.

This is unsatisfactory and suggests the need to teach the reading of contemporary controversies, with broader views of diversity and inclusion, the application of ethical principles and some basic forensic tools to identify interest and read biased sources (e.g. by discounting self-serving statements and making use of ‘admissions against interest’). It must mean understanding and carefully reading the bias of ubiquitous media corporations such as Google and Wikipedia and re-asserting traditional emphases on primary sources and a wide range of sources.  

Political literacy should also include some counterhegemonic epistemology so as to understand, for example, the United Nations condemnation of unilateral coercive measures (unilateral ‘sanctions’) as a part of the NATO states’ hybrid wars, waged on various pretexts. It must mean bypassing the notional bans on entire national media groups, a search for independent sources and reading all sides including, where relevant and for example, the media of Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela. Students and literate adults need these tools to properly read, understand and address today’s battles of ideas.  

The problem is one of selecting sources and reading and then assessing or appraising. This involves appraisal of sources and evidence and the application of certain principles to any dispute. In the case of international conflict there are some well-established principles, which must at times be read in combination. For example, an apparently unjustified invasion might be justified by a claim of self defence. After the principles are set out, there might be questions of fact which should be subject to at least a basic forensic examination. For example, a claim of intervening in self defence requires some foundation in fact.

In this paper I will set out some basic, established principles which can be applied to most international conflicts, followed by some conceptual forensic tools with which to carry out a basic examination. These principles and tools can help found relevant political literacy. Underlying the use of these tools is the counter-hegemonic idea that big power insistence on the supposed moral imperatives for intervention and war should be examined carefully and with the best evidence.

1. Basic Principles – post-colonial political legitimacy and international law

In the post-colonial era, that is, after a powerful international consensus had been brought to bear to reject imperial and colonial relations, several charter documents spelt out principles of political relations and international law relevant to international conflict. These documents include the 1945 UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the 1960 Declaration on Decolonisation and the twin covenants on human rights (the ICCPR and the ICESCR) of 1966. From these we can distil key principles relevant to most international conflicts, including invasions, ‘sanctions’ and ‘humanitarian interventions’.

1.1 The right of a people to self-determination

The foundational human right, the right of a people to self-determination, was created as Article 2 of the Declaration on Decolonization (1960) and then ported word for word into Article One of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) (OHCHR 1960; ICCPR Article One; UN 1945, Articles 1 & 55). It was novel because it speaks of peoples and not states (as in the UN Charter) and therefore has greater relevance for colonised and indigenous peoples. In human rights jurisprudence it is said to be: “of particular importance because its realization is an essential condition for the effective guarantee and observance of individual human rights and for the promotion and strengthening of those rights. It is for that reason that States set forth the right of self-determination in a provision of positive law in both Covenants and placed this provision as article 1 apart from and before all of the other rights in the two Covenants.” (UNHRC 1984).

In international relations the right to self-determination underpins and strengthens the UN Charter‘s principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention, while backing participatory democracy.  Naturally, this right cannot be used to found colonial or neocolonial projects (such as ethnic colonies or separatist projects), in the name of a people but which discriminate against other peoples or displace indigenous peoples.

1.2 Prohibition of ‘alien subjugation, domination and exploitation’

The Declaration on Decolonization (OHCHR 1960: Article One) begins by rejecting the alien subjugation of imperial and colonial rule, a principle which these days also underlies the independence of nation states and rejects foreign intervention and occupation, whatever the pretext. In practice this principle supplements those of self-determination, sovereignty and non-intervention.

1.3 State sovereignty and territorial integrity: ‘All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state’

This principle comes directly from the UN Charter (1945: Article 2), in support of the status quo of a community of notionally equal nation-states. It is often the first principle cited concerning the illegitimacy of foreign interventions. Its most important qualification is the right to self-defence.

1.4 Right to national self defence, ‘the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence’

The UN Charter cites the right of nations to self defence (Article 51), and this right has been used to justify invasions such as those of Iraq (2003) and Ukraine (2022). Both seemed to violate the principles of sovereignty and intervention. In the case of the US-UK invasion of Iraq, the claim that Iraq posed an imminent threat of attack from Weapons of ‘mass destruction’ was fairly rapidly shown to have been baseless (Borger 2004). In the case of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was greater substance to the claims of a threat from NATO and allied anti-Russian forces in SE Ukraine.

In the Russia-Ukraine conflict we might add another element to the self-defence rationale: that is the question of a neighbouring state which poses a threat either through direct aggression or a failure to contain conflict which spills across borders. The latter is sometimes cited as the ‘failed state’ dilemma and might be seen in the Vietnamese invasion, in reaction to cross border threats from Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia (in 1979) and the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda (also in 1979) (Umozurike and Umozurike 1982), for similar reasons. The invasion of Cambodia has been called a “humanitarian intervention” (Wheeler 2002), sounding similar to the western doctrine of ‘a responsibility to protect’, but linked to self defence.

1.5 Consent of an affected population to punitive ‘sanctions’

The implicit right of a people to consent to external economic measures imposed on their government comes from the right of a people to self-determination (OHCHR 1966, Article One; UN 1945, Articles 1 & 55) and therefore embodies some measure of participatory democracy.

This remains an important ethical question in a world flooded with mostly unilateral economic sanctions (Ellis 2021). For the most part, these unilateral sanctions violate international law (Bogdanova 2022), especially when they “unilaterally” attempt to coerce political change or impose suffering on entire populations (OHCHR 2024).

Other than their compliance or non-compliance with international law (see 1.10 below), there is a question of political legitimacy, founded in the right of a people to self-determination. Does the affected population ‘consent’ to the measures? This principle was discussed when building legitimate sanctions against the apartheid system in South Africa in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  Reddy (1965: 10) observes, “the initiative for boycott and sanctions came from the national liberation movement of South Africa, and [was] carried forward internationally with the support of African and other states, as well as men and women of conscience in western countries”. Western states eventually joined the sanctions call in the late 1980s.

1.6 Collective security – responsibility of the UN Security Council to act ‘for the maintenance of international peace and security’

Under the UN Charter, the UNSC is empowered to act to act “for the maintenance of international peace and security” (UN 1945, Chapters V, VI, VII, VII & XII  but especially Article 24), especially for the preservation of the collective interest of the member nation-states.  This principle was invoked in 1990 on one of the rare occasions when the UNSC authorised force to remove Iraqi military from neighbouring Kuwait. Putting aide for the moment the conduct of that ‘First Gulf War’ this is precisely the sort of intervention that was envisaged by the collective security rationale, using collective action against aggression, in this case in favour of the UN member state of Kuwait (De Luca 1991). 

1.7 Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a responsibility to prevent great crimes

A new version of ‘humanitarian intervention’, known as the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P), was developed at the turn of the 21st century. An invention of the big powers, with reference to the suggested humanitarian consequences of their supposed failures to intervene in the past (e.g. in Rwanda), it became an argument for the disastrous 2011 intervention in Libya (Kuperman 2015). The recent debate has been mostly western referenced and focused on promotion of the R2P as “a new norm of customary international law”, even an obligatory requirement (Loiselle 2013: 317-341).

This principle is based on a declaration by the World Summit 2005 that “each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” and that “the international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations” (UN 2005).

Edward Luck (2009) wrote that there was no “necessary” contradiction between this doctrine and that of state sovereignty, as the notion draws on conventional humanitarian law and “reinforces state sovereignty”. However he acknowledges a tension with a stricter sense of sovereignty, adding the concern that R2P ideas “might be used by powerful states … to justify coercive interventions“ (Luck 2009: 17). The R2P does not change the UN charter but it does attract greater attention to the Chapter VII intervention powers of the Security Council.

Yet wide dissatisfaction was expressed over Libya as a model of R2P. Dunne and Gelber say that the Libyan arguments undermined the idea of an R2P ‘norm’, with a rapid NATO shift from a “no fly zone” to regime change, “betraying” the UN trust and showing the partisan nature of intervention (Dunne and Gelber 2014: 327-328). Similarly, Brown writes that the Libyan intervention demonstrates that the suggested “apolitical nature” of a responsibility to protect “is a weakness not a strength … the assumption that politics can be removed from the picture is to promote an illusion and thus to invite disillusionment” (Brown 2013: 424-425).  Caution must therefore be taken when invoking this R2P, including reference to non-intervention principles and a warning of possible ulterior motives on the part of the interveners. Many wars of aggression have been dressed up with high sounding ideals.

1.8 Recognition of new government through a popular revolutionary mandate

Under international law, the UN Security Council can authorize military intervention to defend “collective security” (See 6 above) and impose economic sanctions. However such interventions can violate the right of a people to self-determination if they disregard or misconstrue the will of a people. In particular, the failure to recognise a new revolutionary government can contribute to UN authorized assaults on and immense suffering for an entire people.

Such was the case with UNSC resolutions against the effective government of Yemen, from 2015 onwards. UNSC sanctions on ‘Houthi Rebels’ (a coalition government led by Ansarallah, the party formed by the former Houthi rebels) led to a siege on the majority of the Yemeni people. Yet the Ansarallah led coalition government controlled 70% of Yemen’s populated areas (Anderson 2023: 137). UNSC Resolution 2216 pits the “legitimate power” of an exiled regime against so-called “Houthi rebels” who were said to have carried out a “coup” (Issaev 2018: 5, 28). Yet these UNSC sanctions, imposed on Yemen’s de facto government, meant that a siege was imposed on most of the Yemeni population, even while the UN acknowledged that Yemen suffers a severe humanitarian crisis (Bell 2022). So, even with the imprimatur of the UNSC, an intervention can violate a nation’s self-determination rights (OHCHR 1966, Article One; UN 1945, Articles 1 & 55).

A Yemen Centre for Human Rights study (YCHR 2022) showed that UNSC resolutions “paved the way” for misleading the international community, by claiming that the upheaval in Yemen was a “threat to international peace and security”. That suggested broader threat was used to invoke Chapter VII coercive powers. UNSC Resolutions (2014, 2051, 2140, 2201, 2204, 2216 and 2564) linked this alleged “threat to international peace and security” to citations of al Qaeda groups in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), gangs notoriously backed by the Saudis and some other GCC members. Even U.S. sources recognised that al Qaeda and ISIS in Yemen oppose the Ansarallah-led Coalition (Robinson 2022). Yet successive UNSC resolutions, ostensibly on ‘Houthi rebels’, effectively backed war and siege (CCHS 2022).

Several resolutions (2014, 2140, 2201, 2216 and 2564) promoted an initiative by the Saudi dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its now defunct National Dialogue Conference while paying lip service to “all parties” in Yemen (UN 2014). There was little regard to what the Yemeni people had said and done since 2012. Never mind that from early 2015 the UNSC declared ‘President’ Hadi was in exile in Riyadh (UN 2015; al Jazeera 2017). This partisanship by the UNSC sought to freeze Yemen’s political processes in time. Even the western media recognised that U.N. backing of the war against Ansarallah was futile and disastrous, with a 2016 Time magazine headline crying: “The U.N. failed Yemen’s Children” (Offenheiser 2016). The UN’s Human Rights Council wrung its hands, crying “we have failed Yemen”, while trying to blame “both sides” for violations (Reuters in Geneva 2021). In late 2021 U.N Special Envoy Hans Grundberg filed a useless report, speaking of his “frustration and despair” and urging an end to the fighting (Grundberg 2021). By late 2023 the Ansarallah coalition’s control of Yemen was even stronger, with the US and UK bombing Yemeni cities directly because of the revolutionary government’s blockade of Israeli bound shipping, imposed as a genocide prevention measure, during the Israeli war on Gaza (Al Mayadeen 2023).

1.9 Proportionality in self defence or conflict

Proportionality in action and response is “both a rule and a principle” in international humanitarian law (Maroonian 2022; ICRC 2010). In point 1.6 above the UNSC power to defend collective security was mentioned, with respect to the 1991 intervention in support of Kuwait.

However there were some notorious deceptions and excesses in this operation. First, to encourage the US people to support the war, President George H. Bush made use of a fabricated atrocity claim that Iraqi troops, in the process of stealing hospital equipment, had thrown premature babies from incubators onto the hospital floor to die. Prime evidence of this was ‘Nurse Nayirah’, who claimed to be an eyewitness but was in fact a coached actor and daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA (MacArthur 2018). Even Amnesty International initially corroborated this story by publishing independent reports about the alleged baby killings and testimony from evacuees. The story was later exposed as entirely false (Haidar 2021) but after it had served its purpose, to muster US public support for the war.

The second feature of note was the use by the US military of massive force to incinerate a long retreating column of the Iraqi army, as it left Kuwait for Iraq. This ‘Highway of Death’ became one of the most macabre images of this First Gulf War (Saif 2023). It was entirely unnecessary – a disproportionate use of force – and would most likely be considered a war crime, were there any real accountability.


1.10 International sanctions vs. unilateral coercive measures

While unilateral sanctions are not categorically prohibited under international law, they are illegal if they are politically coercive and attack entire populations.  In customary international law two principles are said to limit a state’s response to others: that the response should be ‘in proportion’ to an alleged action by another; and that any reprisal only comes after attempts at negotiation (Shneyer and Barta 1981: 465).

International law prohibits the exercise of political coercion, by the principle of non-intervention and an implied ban in the UN Charter. This is supplemented by customary and treaty law in areas such as trade, shipping and telecommunications. The illegality is obvious when there is an ‘unlawful intent’, such as damaging the economy of another nation or open political coercion (Shneyer and Barta 1981: 468, 471-475). Also illegal are measures which damage the rights of third parties.

Many unilateral sanctions from the EU and the USA have carried malign and unlawful intent. Concerning Cuba, in the early 1960s, senior US official Lester Mallory, argued for damaging economic attacks on the population, as a means of undermining what they acknowledged was a popular Cuban government: “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba … to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government” (Mallory 1960).

Similarly, when speaking of measures against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile, in the early 1970s, US President Richard Nixon expressed the hope of forcing political upheaval and change by measures “to make the economy scream” (Kornbluh 2017). More recently, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran were backed by a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who threatened the Iranian people with imposed hunger if their government persisted with military support for the independent peoples of the region: “The [Iranian] leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat” (Cole 2018), he said.

Such unilateral ‘sanctions’ have led to the creation of UN expert mandates on the humanitarian impact of “unilateral coercive measures” (Douhan 2022).  

2. Factual disputes – forensic tools to address source bias

In international conflict there are often disputes about facts: who did what and what really happened? In that case, even for an initial assessment, the reader has to make some choices about sources and how to read them.

A popular though often misleading approach is to look for a ‘consensual’ or authoritative version of the matter. This is the method employed by Wikipedia, the open source online encyclopedia. The Wikipedia method demands ‘reputable’ and secondary sources and bans original research; this immediately introduces source bias based on whatever sources the editors decide is ‘reputable’. Typically this is the western corporate media. Thus Wikipedia entries often provide a summary of western media perspectives. The second weakness of this approach is that of open source accumulation, which allows anonymous lobbyists to infiltrate and compound their favourite themes. For example, Israeli lobby groups have been training editors in “Zionist editing for Wikipedia” for many years, to engage in propaganda battles with pro-Palestinian views (Shabi and Kiss 2010). While Wikipedia formally eschews adding ‘points of view’ in its entries, the choice and weight of alleged facts always creates a particular tone and perspective. Then, as no one takes responsibility for their words, there is no real accountability. Anonymity is dressed up as ‘gospel’.

University researchers have traditionally been taught to use more ‘primary’ sources and to responsibly argue with logic and evidence. Those principles should also inform effective reading and political literacy. The point of academic method has been to get as close as possible to the sources of evidence and take responsibility for interpretation, rather than just adopt the interpretations of others. In a forensic sense, this means an emphasis on independent evidence, a search for corroboration plus consideration of ‘both sides’ of polemics (Anderson 2020).

A related problem is that large online media search engines, such as Google, steer us in particular directions. Often the Wikipedia entry for any topic appears at the head of search results; after that there will be those from other western sources.  Google loading of its own bias often requires us to use more focused search wordings, if we are after more independent evidence.

A few basic principles on sources should inform reading contested facts. The first is identifying the possible “interest” of a source, second a search for potentially independent sources of evidence and third, the use of some ‘rules of thumb’ in reading potentially biased sources.

2.1 Identifying interest

Interest in a conflict means a material interest, typically of one side to a conflict, or the allies and sponsors of one side. So in the Russian – Ukraine war we have to regard Russian sources as partisan, but also those of the NATO states which provide finance and weapons to Ukraine.

The reason for identifying interest in a conflict is that bias has some ‘natural’ consequences’. Partisan sources will emphasis information which helps their side and dismiss or belittle those of the other side. In courts of law evidence which helps the party providing it is often categorically disregarded as ‘self-serving’ evidence, unless that evidence goes against the assumed source interest, e.g. admissions of wrong doing.

Identifying interest and bias are made more complicated these days because there are so many captured or embedded sources, for example state funded NGOs and media, often custom made for conflicts. Very early in the Syrian war, for example, the US admitted to funding the armed ‘opposition’ which was trying to overthrow the Syrian government (CBC 2011). This included ‘media activists’, dependent on US funding, who promoted the idea of a ‘Syrian Revolution’ with supposedly democratic goals (Safwan 2017). That in turn seemed to legitimize the US funding of an armed ‘opposition’.

We should regard both state and corporate media as close to their states in strategic matters. For example we should expect Russian Television (RT) to reflect the foreign policy aims of the Russian Government, and the BBC to reflect those of the British government. Both media groups have some greater diversity when it comes to internal matters. The national corporate media are not much different on matters of international conflict. For example, virtually all the US corporate media (Fox, CNN, New York Times) support the US government in its foreign wars, even at times becoming key advocates for new wars (Edwards and Cromwell 2018). Some long established US government funded bodies (like Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy) fund media and NGOs which have been set up for specific conflicts.

Partisan bias has been documented amongst international NGOs which fiercely proclaim their independence. Amnesty International, for example, notoriously supported US false pretexts for war against Iraq (Frankel 1990) and Libya (Spliet 2017) and repeated NATO’s spurious “women’s rights” pretext for its military occupation of Afghanistan (Amnesty Intl 2012). Both Amnesty and the US corporation Human Rights Watch ran multiple false stories against the Syrian Government for many years (Anderson 2018). A ‘revolving door’ history of US State department officials passing to and from Amnesty International (USA) and Human Rights Watch has been the subject of repeated criticism (Wright and Rowley 2012; Azlan 2014). Iraq War advocate Colin Powell called human rights NGOs “force multipliers” for the US military and “an important part of our combat team” (Norton 2022).

The point here is to be very careful about what is considered an ‘independent’ source in international high stakes conflicts. This may require some detailed knowledge of the players and their histories.

2.2 Independent sources

Sometimes misinformation is deadly. The humanitarian pretexts used to destroy Libya were never carefully examined until the deed was done. Biased sources drove the public debate and independent evidence was only available later. After the fact, US President Barack Obama bewailed the Libyan intervention as his “worst mistake” (Guardian 2016) while the false pretexts were documented in a conservative US journal (Kuperman 2015). The basis on which those false pretexts were unraveled, like the WMD stories about Iraq, was a combination of independent evidence and admissions.

The pretexts for NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in Libya came from stories about actual and impending massacres, supposedly carried out or planned by the government of President Muammar Gaddafi. These claims led to UN Security Council resolution 1973, aiming to protect civilians through a ‘no fly zone’. The NATO powers abused that limited UN authorisation, using it to help murder Gaddafi and overthrow his government (McKinney 2012).  Subsequently, no evidence emerged to prove that Gaddafi intended, carried out or threatened wholesale massacres, as had been widely suggested (Forte 2012). Genevieve Garrigos of Amnesty International (France) admitted there was ‘no evidence’ to back her group’s earlier claims that Gaddafi had used ‘black mercenaries’ to commit massacres (Forte 2012; Edwards 2013).

Academic Alan Kuperman, often drawing on North American sources, demonstrated the following. First, Gaddafi’s crackdown on the mostly Islamist insurrection in eastern Libya was “much less lethal” than had been suggested, indeed there was evidence that he had had “refrained from indiscriminate violence”. The Islamists were themselves armed from the beginning. From later US estimates, of the almost one thousand casualties in the first seven weeks, only about three percent were women and children (Kuperman 2015). When government forces were about to regain the east of the country, NATO intervened, claiming this was to avert an impending massacre. Ten thousand people died after the NATO intervention, compared to one thousand before. Gaddafi had pledged no reprisals in Benghazi and ‘no evidence or reason’ came out to support the claim that he planned mass killings (Kuperman 2015). But the damage was done. NATO handed over the country to squabbling groups of Islamists and western aligned ‘liberals’. Notice that Kuperman used US sources against the US pretexts, which by then had served their purpose.

2.3 Reading biased sources:

There should be no prohibition on reading biased sources, only on relying on them. The principle of reading ‘both (or all) sides’ may be useful to form a perspective. However there may also be some forensic value in a biased source. After discounting the self-serving content (e.g. protests of good intentions) we should look for ‘admissions against interest’ and corroboration of circumstances, across interest lines.

For example, over 2012-2014 much of the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian media had been reporting US support for ISIS terrorist group and other internationally declared terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq; yet western debate dismissed such reports as the product of ‘regime’ propaganda. Nevertheless, in late 2014 Vice President Joe Biden and the head of the US military General Martin Dempsey (along with some other US officials) admitted that their close allies in the region were indeed financing and arming ISIS and other terrorist groups, in efforts to overthrow the Syrian government (Hands off Syria 2020).

From an evidentiary point of view, these ‘admissions against interest’ (because the US had claimed its occupation forces in Syria and Iraq were there ‘to fight ISIS’) made the task of critical analysis easier. With such admissions there is less need to rely on what might seem like adversarial voices. Of course those admissions were partial, as they did not admit direct support for terrorists; but no close US ally could re-export US weapons or credibly counter the substance of real US operations. The fiction of the US military “fighting ISIS” had been seriously undermined.

3. Reconciling evidence and principles

It is often the case that no single principle or element of evidence will totally clarify our understanding of a conflict. In that case there must be some reconciliation of principles and evidence. A comparison between the invasions of Iraq and Ukraine might help appreciate this sort of task. In this example the conclusions are those of this writer, but hopefully the systematic assessment process is instructive.

The Russian invasion and (after referenda) annexation of parts of SE Ukraine had a distinct character to the Iraq invasion, even though both breached UN recognised sovereign borders, in that Russia and Russian people were under attack and, after the invasion, the ethnically Russian people of Ukraine were incorporated into the Russian body politic. The action did not therefore impose “alien subjugation”. Several principles must be considered together, along with the factual claims. The elements of this comparison are discussed at greater length elsewhere (Anderson 2024), but key points are summarised in the table below, to illustrate the application of distinct analytical criteria.

Iraqi invasion and Russian SMO compared

See Anderson (2024) The Russian SMO (1): was it an Imperial intervention?

4. Conclusion

This article set out to provide some general principles to help read and interpret international conflict. It then set out some forensic tools to help assess competing claims over evidence. In many case there must be a reconciliation of these principles and elements of the evidential history. Context is important and few conflicts are really the same.

When it comes to speaking or writing about these controversies, another set of ethics is necessary, beginning with an ethical voice where we take responsibility for our statements, choose our words carefully and avoid taking on (or assuming) the voice of others.

These principles and forensic tools can assist political literacy in matters of international conflict. In a world full of propaganda, hegemonic slogans and the suggested moral imperatives for war and intervention should be examined carefully and with the best evidence.



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