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27 February 2023 | Updated

Provocation of "Unprovoked Aggression" by Encroachment

Challenge of insensitivity to collective historical amnesia

-- / --

Encroachment of bio-physical space
-- Territorial encroachment
-- Environmental encroachment
Encroachment of socio-political space
-- Group encroachment
-- Political encroachment
-- Legal and government encroachment
Encroachment of economic space
-- Encroachment of commercial space
-- Encroachment of profit-making
Military-industrial encroachment
-- Industrial encroachment
-- Military encroachment
-- Encroachment of technology
Encroachment of psycho-cultural space
-- Communication encroachment
-- Encroachment of knowledge space
-- Ideological encroachment
-- Encroachment of symbolic space
Encroachment of inter-personal space
-- Encroachment of behavioural space
-- Encroachment of personal space
-- Sexual encroachment
Temporal encroachment
Structural encroachment
-- Conceptual violence
-- Spiritual violence

Amended version of Varieties of Encroachment (2004) in the light of adoption by the 11th Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly of a resolution variously referring to the "unprovoked aggression" of the Russian Federation against Ukraine (GA/12492, 23 February 2023). This was preceded by a declaration to similar effect by US President Joe Biden (21 February 2023) and by a declaration (21 February 2023) by President Vladimir Putin justifying the Russian aggression


Since the formal commencement of the conflict, there has been extensive commentary condemning the recourse to force by the Russian Federation. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to that effect on 2 March 2022 (GA/12407). This condemnation has since been frequently echoed by the leaders of countries, most notably members of NATO and of the European Union, and by the mainstream media.

Expression of alternative perspectives has been limited -- and actively suppressed as "disinformation" whenever possible. Those articulating such perspectives have been discredited and personally condemned, if not actively sanctioned in some manner. Whilst condemning the aggression, the argument they have variously endeavoured to convey focuses on the sense in which Russia has perceived itself to be exposed to progressive encroachment -- even encirclement-- notably in support of an agenda of NATO and the USA towards the weakening of Russia (William Noah Glucroft, NATO: Why Russia has a problem with its eastward expansion, DW, 23 February 23, 2022; M. K. Bhadrakumar, Arc of encirclement appearing around Russia,Asia Times, 21 November 2021).

Evidence for this encroachment is vigorously denied as "disinformation". This is despite publicised declarations of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande that the Minsk Agreements with Russia from 2014 were effectively a subterfuge to enable Ukraine to rearm itself without addressing the ongoing aggression from that time in the Donbass region (Holland backs up Merkel Revelation on Donbass Peace, Daily Telegraph,  31 December 2022).

The purpose in what follows is not to endeavour to disentangle such arguments -- if that were even possible in the current period. Rather the focus is on identifying examples of encroachment as a process. The equivalence between the various strategies of encroachment is discussed separately (Errorism vs Terrorism? Encroachment, Complicity, Denial and Terraism, 2004). In this version relatively little attention has been given to distinguishing between "encroachment by xxxx" in contrast with "encroachment of yyyy" or "encroachment on yyyy" -- which may be highly significant in some cases. The different meanings tend to be indicated here in the same cluster.

There is a strange historic irony to the hypocrisy of righteous condemnation of Russia at this time by leaders of countries which have derived their wealth from colonial exploitation -- and from the slave trade. To what extent have both given rise to "unprovoked aggression" and massacres -- a historical process which may well be glorified in the engagement with indigenous peoples? (Lists of lists of massacres by country, 2022). Is that all too readily forgotten through skillfully crafted historic amnesia -- in which the United Nations is complicit? (Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory, 1980).

In accusing Russia, should the United Nations recognize the extent to which many countries have been proudly founded upon "unprovoked aggression" as a consequence of progressive colonial encroachment? What of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA. where unresolved wounds continue to fester -- as for many in the Global South? (Krishen Mehta, 5 Reasons Why Much of the Global South Isn't Automatically Supporting the West in Ukraine, Globetrotter, October 2022). What of the imperial ambitions of other countries in the past century? Can such questions be simply dismissed as instances of "whataboutism"? In decrying "unprovoked aggression" by another at the present time, the  colonising power at the origin of the formation of the named countries currently acknowledges no responsibility for the past and present consequences of engendering the associated aggression.

To circumvent accusations of double standards, hypocrisy and bias, this suggests the possibility that those Member States voting to condemn the action of another Member of the UN should be invited to recuse themselves (by abstention) -- if they can be deemed to have previously engaged in the process now considered worthy of condemnation (Recusal vs. Abstention, Robert's Rules Forum). The possibility of recusal is recognized in the case of individuals by the United Nations, to the point of offering a sample statement of recusal (Conflicts of Interest: Why Do They Matter? Participant's Guide and Materials, United Nations Leadership Dialogue, 2019). Motions for recusal feature in the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and with respect to the International Court of Justice (Chiara Giorgetti, The Challenge and Recusal of Judges of the International Court of Justice; R. Grant Hammond, Judicial Recusal Principles, Process and Problems, 2009). No such provision seems to have been considered in the case of Member States, especially where the conflict of interest may have a historical dimension.

To what voting patterns would recusal give rise -- or how might many votes be otherwise discounted where States are unable to acknowledge moral responsibility (claiming variants of plausible deniability)? In this regard, curiously missing is any data on Members indicative of when they themselves last engaged in the practices on which they are called upon to vote from a position of newly-found moral superiority.

The festering wound in Australia is exemplified by controversy over annual celebration of the arrival of colonists as Australia Day -- which the First Nations peoples call for recognition as Invasion Day. Ironically efforts to offer a constitutional Voice to Parliament for those First Nations peoples are currently called into question by the leader of the opposition -- who has now celebrated the UN resolution condemning Russia (Zelensky rallies world to keep up fight against evil, The Australian, 25 February 2023).

Encroachment of biophysical space

Territorial encroachment: The following cases focus primarily on land and property defined by fixed boundaries:

Environmental encroachment: The process in this case is often justified by the urgency of favouring "jobs" (or "industry", "shelter", etc) over "environment":

Encroachment of sociopolitical space

Group encroachment:

Political encroachment:

Legal and government encroachment: This is the process whereby other patterns of encroachment are given substance through legislation, "red tape" and criminalization of alternative activities:

Encroachment of economic space

Encroachment of commercial space: These cases concern the use of (possibly socially irresponsible) marketing strategies to encroach upon pre-existing patterns of production, service delivery and consumption:

Encroachment of profit-making:

Military-Industrial encroachment

Industrial encroachment: Industrial encroachment is usually a feature of urban sprawl and is a consequence of inadequate balance between economic development and preservation of natural resources (e.g. open space, land, water). Such uncontrolled industrial development has pushed many immigrant communities to the brink of extinction. Unused urban spaces may lie between industrial complexes and residential neighborhoods. New development then take place across the street from people's homes resulting in a reduction in the quality of life for the families who live in those homes. A particularly serious conflict arises when an industrial concern attempts to use this land for activities that could be considered noxious (anything that produces an abundance of pollution, noise, or unpleasant odors).

Military encroachment:

Encroachment of technology: There is increasing concern to protect consumers from encroaching technology products and services. In the case of education, for example, there is concern that new technologies come to substitute for those contexts and methods recognized as essential for learning to write. According to Michael Weinstein (Culture/Flesh: Explorations of Postcivilized Modernity), people fiddling with their own natures -- doing things like gulping tranquilizers, sleeping in hyperbaric chambers, and flagpole sitting.-- in order to cope with encroaching technology. David Silver (Three Approaches Towards Encroaching Technology).

Encroachment of psycho-cultural space

Communication encroachment: These cases effectively relate to intangible products and services and may be labelled as "cultural imperialism":

Encroachment of knowledge space:

Ideological encroachment: In contrast with the intangible products and services described above, the following cases relate to concepts and insights that are much more distantly related to tangibles and are more likely to be characterized as "spiritual pollution" rather than as "cultural pollution":

Encroachment of symbolic space:

Encroachment of intrpersonal space

Behavioural encroachment: Relationships between two people that involve an investment of trust by one party in the capabilities, knowledge or expertise of the other -- to act in the former's self-interest -- are known as fiduciary relationships. They include relationships between teachers and students, lawyers and their clients, doctors and patients, clergy and parishioner, therapist and client. In these cases encroachment is experienced in terms of the dynamics of behaviour, and may be associated with forms of ingratiation. The cases are experienced as problematic to different degrees in different cultures, notably with respect to authority (cf Geert Hofstede):

Encroachment of personal space: In contrast with the personal space defined by fixed boundaries (see above), two forms of individual space are distinguished (by the communication discipline of proxemics) and associated with distinct forms of encroachment (often labelled in each case as "crowding"):

Sexual encroachment: These are effectively special instances of encroachment on personal space in which boundaries are tested by increasingly "daring" initiatives, usually involving some form of physical contact (touching, fondling, etc) that are at the boundaries of unremarkable acceptability:

Temporal encroachment

In this case the encroachment by some is focused on the temporal "space" to which others attach value:

Structural encroachment

This can be seen as a more contextual process that is more difficult to characterize by reference to detail, but is evident primarily in its consequences. Typically it is associated with the maintenance, development and institutionalization of systems of privilege and the marginalization and further impoverishment of the underprivileged. Johan Galtung (of TRANSCEND) argues that only amateurs engage in physical violence, whereas professionals engage in "structural violence" through manipulating social conditions to their own advantage.

Following this line of argument, perhaps the most skilled even engage in "conceptual violence" (typically associated with stereotyping) -- or even "spiritual violence".

Conceptual violence: Gandhi went so far as to suggest that physical violence represents merely a reflection of a deeper layer of conceptual violence: "Our violence in word and deed is but a feeble echo of the surging violence of thought in us." The implications of conceptual violence for practice have been explored in the light of Michel Foucault's "joined up thinking" [more].

Such understandings of the powerful subtlety of conceptual violence are acknowledged and supported by modern techniques of interrogation -- namely that it is not physical violence that is most effective, but rather creating the the fearful anticipation of that violence. In a perverse parallel to the "grooming" practiced by paedophiles, interrogators deliberately create a context for their final acts through isolation, disorientation and environments of menace. As indicated by Vikram Dodd (Torture by the Book, 2004) with regard to the methods of interrogation used by the coalition forces in Iraq and elsewhere, this is euphemistically described in interrogation manuals as "setting the conditions" -- officially denied by the US government as constituting torture.

Dodd notes that one CIA interrogation manual (Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, 1983), that seemingly guide practices in Iraq, indicates:

The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside froce to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically a loss of autonomy.

Detention should be planned to enhance... feelings of being cut off from anything known and reassuring.

The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself

Pain that he feels he is inflicting on himself is more likely to sap resistance... After a while the subject is likely to exhaust his internal motivational strength.

These techniques, according to Dodd, build in part on an earlier CIA manual entitled KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation (1963) [more | more | more] which notably highlights the value of non-coercion:

The effectiveness of most of the non-coercive techniques depends upon their unsettling effect. The interrogation situation is in itself disturbing to most people encountering it for the first time. The aim is to enhance this effect, to disrupt radically familiar emotional and psychological associations ... When this aim is achieved, resistance is seriously impaired. There is an interval ... of suspended animation, a kind of psychological shock or paralysis. It is caused by a traumatic or sub-traumatic experience which explodes, as it were, the world that is familiar to the subject as well as his image of himself within that world. At this moment the source is far likelier to comply.

Spiritual violence: This is not a new phenomenon. It has taken an endless variety of forms and expressions throughout human history. From the condemnation and casting out of people who don't believe the prevailing religion to hanging witches and burning heretics, spiritual violence has been one of the most persistent and creative human activities ever manifested in social behavior [more | more]. Its restriction to particular issues, of concern to particular religions or groups, is itself a form of spiritual violence characteristic of structural encroachment.

Again this form of violence may be seen as epitomized in particular "non-violent" approaches to interrogation. In the case of Muslims in Iraq (or Guantanamo Bay), for example, this involves a creative range of techniques designed specifically to humiliate and degrade men holding Islamic beliefs (nakedness, sexual acts, obligation to don women's underwear, exposure to sodomy, use of dogs, etc) and notably supervised by women. Not only may these practices be deemed sacrilegious, their polluting effects may also be believed to endanger the person's salvation (especially if, as is typical of fundamentalists, women are conceived as sinister and satanic, the embodiment of sin and seduction). The spiritual impact of this "non-violence" derives in part from its being undertaken under the leadership (and with the knowledge) of Judeo-Christians deeply committed to their own faiths and promoting values they label as "freedom" and "human rights".

"Spiritual violence is most dangerous when it is most spiritual -- that is least emotional. Violence which acts in the depths of the will without any surface upheaval carries our whole being into captivity with no apparent struggle. Such is the violence of deliberate and unresisted sin which seems to be not violence but peace".
Thomas Merton

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