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Iraq: The West needs intellectual armament and conflict-resolution



A speech in Berlin by 

Jan Oberg

TFF director

What I'm concerned about are those people - of whom I think there are still pretty many - who say: "Yes, war would be terrible. Yes, the Iraqi people have suffered enough. Yes, we ought to do something else. But what can be done instead of war?" I shall address the little nagging feeling: what if this "bad guy" over there actually presents us, in five years or so, with a fait accompli, and he has some weapons with which he can threaten us? It doesn't matter whether I think he wants to or will be able to, or not. Intellectuals have a duty to also the legitimate concerns of citizens. In addition, let me emphasise that it is never enough to say 'No to war.! We must also be constructive and answer the question: If not war, then what? We must do so, because there is a problem and because people here and there are fearful about the future.

I would like to do three things: a) look into what I think governments could do, and b) look into what ordinary citizens can do. And then c) I will give you a vision - unrealistic as it may seem - with some exploration, some ideas, brainstorming. Conflict-resolution is about techniques and creativity, about seeing a possible future that is better for all conflicting parties and for the rest of the world. May I confess to you in passing that I believe it is not that difficult to come up with a better idea than slaughtering the people of Iraq. And may I add that if war is the only plan in town, then that war is more likely to happen than if there are more competing options.

Most people in this room, I suppose, are from member states of the European Union. Does it have a common foreign and security policy in general? My answer is no. It neither had such a policy in the case of Somalia, nor in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo or Macedonia. Does the European Union have a policy on Iraq? My answer is again no.

What we need is one type of armament or rearmament: intellectual armament. The European Union does not need weapons, and the civil and military "conflict management" capacity that is now being developed in order to have, at maximum, 70,000 EU soldiers intervene up to 6000 kilometres from Brussels is… well, ridiculous. I mean, if you have more muscle power than brain power and goodness of heart, you should be careful with those muscles!

The EU is not able to and should not even try to match the United States in the sphere of militarism and intervention capacity. If the European Union is to play a global role, it must be based on all the things we know we need but ignore when it is most needed: early warning, decent and comprehensive conflict diagnosis, violence prevention, close co-operation between governments and civil society organisations, genuine peace processes, reconciliation, truth commissions and forgiveness. If we list the lessons we can learn from conflict-management attempts since 1989 by the West in the regions I mentioned, we &endash; i.e. our governments - should be self-critical and honest enough to admit that much of it has turned out to be conflict mis-management. Allegedly, the 'peace' created through bombings since October 7, 2001 implies that civil war is close, a famine catastrophe developing, promises of billions in reconstruction aid solidly forgotten and a central government having control of a few square kilometres around Kabul.

The EU must be ambitious enough to do better! Better than it did before and much better than the American bellicose quick-fix-destroy-and-run-away!

Here follow 16 points. They are pretty simple. Ask yourself why none of them have been tried. If they were tried they would also serve as a much-needed assistance to the United Nations, whose Charter is still the least bad comprehensive peace strategy humanity has.


1. The EU should formulate a sharp, firm policy vis-a-vis Iraq. Put your demands, do your analysis, do your diagnoses, prognoses and therapy policies. It is a shame that all these countries cannot have something in common in this dire situation of the international community. Otherwise, and if it doesn't have very soon, it will be an intellectual and political and moral dwarf in that system.


2. Get the media, researchers, NGOs, and professional groups of doctors, nurses, scholars, journalists, engineers, writers, painters, what have you, to exchange visits with their peers in Iraq. Get delegations to Baghdad, get people from Baghdad to Europe. Talk with each other, with each other as human beings. It's possible to get there, it should be possible for us to invite them here. Let us listen to each other in hundreds of popular diplomatic citizens initiatives all around Europe. This can be supported by enlightened governments that set up funds for such meetings, travels, hotel costs etc. Any European country could set off a few hundred thousand Euros to facilitate such dialogues between human beings there and here.


3. Encourage your business people to do more trade with and investment in Iraq. To begin with: within the sanctions regime. I'm glad that there is a huge industrial fair just opening now in Baghdad - there should be many more companies there from Europe. Why do capitalists accept that they are prevented from doing optimum business in a market with 23 million people who need everything? In the world's second largest oil country. Capitalist outside the military-industrial complexes should become peace activists if you ask me!


4. Reestablish your embassies at the highest level and develop full diplomatic powers in Baghdad. The country in which I was born is one I'm increasingly ashamed of: Denmark. Denmark is presently the president of the European Union and it does not even have an embassy in Baghdad. Thus it has no first-hand information about the situation, how people think, what personalities say what.

Sweden whose prime minister, the late Olof Palme was a mediator in the Iran-Iraq war, is stone dead intellectually, morally and politically. It has no independent policy after having joined the EU. Sweden also doesn't have an embassy in Baghdad. It has one in Amman, and a lower-ranking diplomat goes a couple of days a months from the embassy in Amman, Jordan to Baghdad. He cannot meet high-level politicians or ambassadors in Baghdad because of his rank, no matter how smart he may otherwise be. Why don't we send a high-ranking diplomat?

And what kind of information can you have on which to shape your policy, if you are not present and you can not talk with the people with whom you are going to deal in the future? People must be present and see, listen and talk (back) to the Iraqis because otherwise we must do only with the CIA and what is - strangely - called "intelligence" accompnaied by psycho-warfare, propaganda and, sorry to say, fabricated stories by marketing companies or, rather, lies.


5. The EU must make tough demands on Iraq to accept the Security Council resolution about disarmament, but it should not follow the American policy. The EU has a great advantage in that it can do without arrogance and black-and-white image of the conflict; it does not have to humiliate and it doesn't feel hurt the way the United States does after September 11. And there is less Christian fundamentalism on this side of the Atlantic. Regime change, if necessary, must be the privilege of the Iraqi people, not the West. I have some ideas as to how we can help the Iraqi people to install democracy, but it remains their decision, not ours.


6. There must be a European initiative to selectively, over time, suspend and finally lift the sanctions. Whenever Iraq complies with the demands, there must be some selective reward and not just complete punishment all the time. I must add I would be delighted to see one little government somewhere saying: we need civil disobedience, we will do some sanctions busting! We must give the Iraqis some hope and solid reason to trust that if they comply, there is light at the end of the tunnel they see themselves deep into. Just somebody who would have the courage to say: the sanctions are only wanted by the United States, but not by the rest of the world, and therefore we will start dealing with Iraq in a principled war. It may not happen today or tomorrow, but in the future we promise to start dealing with Iraq, trading with Iraq, investing in Iraq, even before all the sanctions are lifted. A little civil disobedience, please! It would be helpful if a prime minister somewhere had ever read a little Gandhi - I mean Mahatma, not Indira or Rajiv, of course!


7. The EU should establish a contact and mediation group. Scott Ritter rightly argued in favour of mediation. I share this idea completely. It's fantastic that 189 countries are sitting on their hands - looking at what one country and one UN member does. Where on Earth is the rest of the world's diplomatic corps? Shall we really believe that the experienced diplomats of some 189 UN countries cannot come up with something better than sitting idle and watch when one member goes in to slaughter Iraqis and occupy that country in contravention of international law and every ethical consideration?

There is an evident need for some kind of contact and mediation group to go to Iraq. The EU must send Javier Solana, Chris Patten and many others. Well, I know some would see Solana as a war criminal when, as NATO's Secretary-General, he was the highest civilian in charge of the bombing of Yugoslavia. But the situation is so serious that we should, perhaps, anyhow give him the benefit of the doubt and go to Baghdad, since Iraqi politicians for years have tried to initiate a dialogue with the European Union (and not even received an answer to their letters).

And, well, you may say that what I have just said proves that the EU would not succeed with a dialogue and mediation initiative. And you may be right, I am sceptical too. But if it is not even tried in this deeply frightening situation, I think we must also give up every hope that the EU can and will play a constructive, new role in world affairs. Many ask: but how does the Bush regime get away with its policies these days? The answer is, to a large extent, that they do because others fail to present alternatives to US policies.


8. Then we need a regional conference with a comprehensive framework, something like the OSCE process begun in 1975 in Europe that was so remarkably helpful in getting us out of cold war. This regional framework must include a new approach, not by the US, but by the UN, the European Union, and someone maybe in Asia, to mediation and problem-solving in the Israel-Palestine conflict. These two are very closely connected, and from Baghdad's perspective, the main threat is Israel - politically, historically and ideologically. Although they know they are going to be bombed predominantly by the US, the main enemy as they see it is called Zionism. It's time we learn that there is no conflict at one point in space and time. There are many conflicts and many layers of conflict at one spot and they collide and overlap in time.


9. The EU and others of course should co-operate and co-ordinate with the United Nations to develop a new security regime for the whole region. This must include a respect for Security Council resolution 687 that states that the whole region should be a zone free from weapons of mass destruction. That means disarming and inspecting and controlling also what Israel, the region's only known nuclear power, does!

We need a new security regime that includes economic security and environmental security, the chance of democratisation and reconciliation and forgiveness among human beings. Security is not predominantly about weapons, it's about human beings, social affairs, economic affairs and that sort of things. It's about stopping the arms exports to the region and withdrawing from those bases that are there against the will of the local citizens. It is true that the Middle East is full of authoritarian or undemocratic regimes; but with the exception of Iraq they are all supported by the US and/or other Western countries.


10. The EU should, while it does all this, constantly keep the United States informed about everything it does, but not be the slightest deterred if or when the Bush-regime disagrees with what the European Union does. The steps outlined above would, I believe, be more compatible with the present democratic sentiments all over Europe. There seems to be no country in Europe in which a majority wants this war. Neither do we want to be hit by the possible consequences of such a war should it spread, whether politically, economically, environmentally or militarily.

So, these are my humble suggestions as to what governments could do. It can be done by individual EU governments, by groups or by all of the EU. It can be done also by many others around the world. But, fortunately, governments are not the only actors we can rely on. So, here comes some proposals as to what we, the peoples, can do.


11. Citizens anywhere can do what they do in all peace movements: support initiatives like the ones above (and others, of course) and put pressure on their governments to be more creative. We MUST not sit and wait for this war to break out in one month from now as Scott Ritter said. Take initiative, do anything, even unrealistically, but DO something. Because it is very late already.

Write, call and visit the editorial offices of your main media and demand to have meetings with your parliamentarians &endash; person-to-person. Bombard them (non-violently, of course!) with letters, e-mails, appeals and open letters so that if the war happens, no decision-maker shall be able to say that he/she thought it was supported by the people.


12. Or, imagine that we sent twenty Nobel Peace Prize recipients over there and let them stay well into the new year. Or peace and other movements could use the idea of human shields and send thousands of citizens to Iraq. Would the West be able to start to destroy the society if it meant killing thousands of citizens and thousands of Westerners and not "only" Iraqis?

I went to Yugoslavia during the bombing there, because I wanted to be there in solidarity with my friends and I would also not mind to go to Iraq to make it more difficult to start a war.


13. There is also simple solidarity: one of the things we can do today is to get hold of e-mail-addresses of Iraqi citizens and tell them by e-mails that we at least do not support the policies of our governments. That we will listen to and publish their stories, portray their suffering now and, if possible, during a war. Such stories coming out from under NATO's bombs over Yugoslavia made their remarkable way to Western websites and media.


14. We can write to the UN, to Kofi Annan, to Hans Blix, and to their advisers. We can write to our United Nations Associations, and we can write to the UN information offices in our countries. Let thousands of letters and e-mails and visits roll down over their heads so they can't avoid telling the head quarters in New York and the Ministries of Foreign affairs: something is happening.

I do not think it is impossible. Each single individual in this room is a peace movement. There are no limits to what every individual can do, if he or she takes the time, the energy, and has the will to do it.

Finally two question based on some moral pain. A) What could we offer the Iraqi people? Can we shape a policy in the West that does not address Saddam Hussein only, but focuses on the people of Iraq? B) what must we in the West and in the United States in particular do, because no concrete solution process can take place unless both parties are willing to give something.

It cannot be a one-sided thing. I recently heard a very non-sensical argument put forward by the Swedish foreign minister who said something like this: I have told the representative of Iraq what they must do and they must open all the sites. I also told him that if they don't, it's they themselves who decide that they will be bombed. Excuse me - is the United States itself not responsible for deciding that bombing is what it will do? Does the Bush regime not have a free will to decide whether the appropriate response is war or some other option? Is Iraq alone responsible for the war? If there are alternatives available to the West - such as mediation and negotiations and mutual give-and-take - it is the West itself that is responsible for the slaughtering of the Iraqi society if that is that is what it chooses. The rest is moral nonsense and abdication of responsibility.


15. So, can we offer the Iraqi people something in return for their hospitality to inspectors, the suffering under the sanctions and their compliance with UN Security Council demands &endash; carrots and not only sticks?

Imagine we promise the Iraqi people that we will stop threatening them, that we will suspend and eventually lift the sanctions, that we will normalise relations, that we will give them economic aid to rebuild their already crushed society, that the CIA and other intelligence agencies will go home, that Iraq's sovereignty over it's oil and other resources will be respected, and that there will be compensation paid to the people- at least to a certain extent - for the losses caused during twelve years of sanctions. Imagine further that we promise EU support, exchange, scholarships and mutual friendship with the people. We will, in good faith, work for the whole reegion becoming a zone free of MDW and honestly seek a new approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Next, imagine we said this to the Iraqi people. "We will give you all this, if somehow you work out that Saddam Hussein, his family and his leadership go on early pension, leave politics, and live a peaceful life. Some could stay in some of the magnificent palaces (Saddam could actually have an extra one as a kind of summer cottage as he may not travel safely that far outside Iraq!). We also want you to have free elections and find a new democratic leadership.

Please do not get me wrong! Whether they want or do not want to get rid of President Saddam Hussein is not my concern, not my business. We have recently seen a show in which 100% - or was it 103%? - of the Iraqis stated that they wanted Saddam Hussein! What I am saying is that democratisation must come about by democratic means. I am also saying that any new government in Baghdad, Western, Iraqi or a mixture, will be violent and authoritarian, one way of the other, if violence is used to bring it to power.

The huge civilisational question I am getting at is this: Are there nonviolent methods to think through when we are all in deep trouble? Can we, in this case, do something which is attractive to the Iraqi people so they become stronger? How can we offer the Iraqi people something which is so attractive that their 65-year old president would say that, in order for his people to get all the benefits mentioned above he would gladly resign.


16. Let's finally ask: what should the United States do?

The first thing the US should do is, as I said, they should stop threatening, call off the war, say there must be other ways and show decency and civilisation. It would be the first step in making the West popular (again) in Iraq. When a country is threatened on its very existence, the people will always back up the leader, probably in proportion to the external pressures.

If the US cannot do so, the allies can back down from the bellicose, screaming, arrogant, non-intellectual and humiliating rhetorics of President George W. Bush.

The US should then ratify all the important international treaties that they have abrogated or refused to sign in recent years - including that for an International Criminal Court. It should pay to and respect the United Nations as the highest authority in international affairs.

Let us hear an American ambassador say: yes, we are willing to work with the UN, not above it, but with it as any other decent member state. Next, what about starting a unilateral disarmament in the United States, since they have had a unilateral armament unparalleled in contemporary history? Stop the Ballistic Missile Defense! Stop a number of the projects in biological, chemical research that was revealed earlier this month. And negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith according to the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1986. You can NOT argue that other countries in the long run should not have nuclear weapons, when you have them yourselves and intend to use them for "preventive" purposes.

Withdraw your military bases from the Middle Eastern, Balkan and Central Asian area which we know is the main reason that a person like Osama bin Laden has had and seems to have the support that he has among the people in street.

Could the US then do exactly like we suggest for Iraq: free, fair, open elections for a new president of the United States. If the American people wants George W. Bush that is their privilege, but given that the United States has a global reach, some new mechanisms should be provided that citizens around the world could also vote for him &endash; or some other candidates.

Opinion polls measuring where the American people stand right now tell us that 30 - 40 % are against a war now against Iraq. The Bush regime should not call itself democratic and then go to war. I'm dead scared by the thinkable consequences for Western democracies of US global dominance and this was as is Scott Ritter. I'm scared of what could, sooner or later, happen to people like Scott Ritter, Hans von Sponeck and others who have shown civil courage. We must stand up together with them in this situation!

In summary, Gandhi argued that the coward should take to violence because nonviolence requires a lot of courage. One could add that the intellectually lazy fellow chooses violence before even thinking of nonviolent options.

I have tried to tell you that I am positive that there are possible government initiatives, citizens diplomatic initiatives, and some kind of long range vision of a change towards democracy both in Iraq and the United States. There are alternatives to war! War is no alternative at all! If we try them, and try them hard, then perhaps the nightmare we now see unfold could become a turning point for a better world.

The time is not tomorrow, it's today. Thank you very much for your attention.


© TFF & the author 2002  


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