EU countries must act now to
break out of the
US/Iraq diplomatic blackout


PressInfo # 157

 August 30, 2002


By Jan Oberg, TFF director and
Christian Harleman, TFF Board member


Ignoring conflict-resolution's rules of thumb

Any professional conflict-resolution expert will tell you that it is better to keep some channels open for communication with the adversary than to close them. She or he would also argue that the more we know about the other side - and about ourselves - the greater the chance that we will eventually make a compromise or otherwise solve the problem.

That is, if we want to find a solution. The Bush regime obviously doesn't, and the rest of the West - in particular the EU - doesn't seem able to be able get its act together and decide on much more than criticising Iraq for one set of reasons and the U.S. for another. The United Nations, who ought to be the mediator, has been systematically marginalised by the U.S. and has little legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqis. So, we are heading for war because, in reality, a U.S. war on Iraq is the only plan in town, and it is as mad as it is bad.

It's sad but true; the world community (if there is one) desperately needs go-betweens, mitigators and mediators but no country or organisation is able or willing to play that role. This speaks volumes about the political and moral immaturity of the post-Cold War world order.

In Baghdad, the U.S. has some contacts at the Embassy of Poland while Russia and China have huge embassies. Norway has a functioning embassy headed by an experienced charge d'affaires. When it comes to the EU, the present chair, Denmark, does not even have representation. Sweden has a not-too-high ranking diplomat from its embassy in Amman going to Baghdad a few days per month. The only EU member with serious representation in Baghdad, although not a full embassy, is France, which also runs a comprehensive cultural centre there.

This state of diplomatic affairs is a scandal in itself. It guarantees that major Western governments know virtually nothing about the reality on the ground and remain unable to communicate face-to-face with Iraqis from higher political levels. Add to this the fact that there are very few Western journalists permanently present in Iraq but, presumably, intelligence agents from virtually all major Western nations, and you have a perfect diplomatic blackout, a recipe for later political disaster.

As in the case of Belgrade in the early 1990s, the presence, reduction or withdrawal of embassies is used as a diplomatic tool. But to do so is as childish as it is self-defeating. Without being present, without competent diplomatic staff on the ground, no government will be able to formulate an intelligent, comprehensive policy vis-à-vis an adversary. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union dispatched their most competent ambassadors to each other's capitals.

Could it be that there are many secret channels open - that western envoys are meeting with Iraqi high-level people without the rest of us knowing about it? As is natural in these situations, that could be the case. But, first, is this really the way we citizens would like fundamentally important international matters to be dealt with?

Secondly, it is hardly possible to see this sort of secret diplomacy leading anywhere in this case. It should be obvious to any observer that it is the Iraqi side that has raised the best questions and come up with the most productive proposals during the last few months. Every single one has been turned down with extremely bellicose, non-intellectual responses from Washington, which presently seems to be in an autistic mood vis-à-vis its friends in Europe. The only reason the Bush regime would have to be simultaneously engaged in secret diplomatic efforts aimed at finding a political rather than military solution would be to save face if it wanted to back down from its planned war.

A war against Iraq remains the most threatening scenario in international affairs at this moment. After more than a decade of so-called new conflict management and preventive diplomacy, why do most people seem to accept that the basic rules of thumb of professional conflict-resolution are systematically violated and that no mediators exist?


The sanctions will never be lifted, they will crumble

Let's try to be a little empathic and see things from the other side. The Iraqi leaders and people have drawn the conclusion that no matter what they have done or will do, there will never be a UN Security Council resolution stating that it is now known for sure that no fissile materials, not a gram of chemicals or any piece of technology which could, sooner or later, provide Iraq with weapons of mass destruction exist.

The reason is simple: no other country has opened itself up to so much foreign inspection of potential weapons capability. Not even the manifest nuclear weapons countries, including Israel, would ever accept to be inspected by anyone just because they had invaded somebody else (which they all have). Inspection, by the way, is clearly not the main problem for the Iraqis; they want a timetable so they know by which date what they see as a gross injustice and a socio-economic hell will be over. They want to be respected as a political player, as human beings, and treated with respect by the West.

To put it crudely, it is not enough to call - like many solidarity and peace groups do - for a lifting of the sanctions. It just won't happen in the foreseeable future. The U.S. would simply veto it in the UN Security Council. What is needed is crumbling or sanctions-busting - governments practise a kind of civil disobedience against what are de facto American sanctions. These sanctions, consequently, violate a series of human rights in Iraq and prevent normal (oil) business and other relations with many countries.


The US war on Iraq is not only against Iraq

Iraq sits on the second-largest group of known oil deposits in the world. The Iraqis naturally want to control them and they know that they will be a powerful country in the world community at some point in the future. They are willing to sell to anyone; some 70% of all oil leaving Iraq today ends up in the United States! So, why should countries in the EU, Japan, China and Russia not simply start trading with the country, bust the sanctions, earn the money they want and see the situation slowly move back to "business as usual"?

Such a decay of American clout, a world-wide and Western questioning of the legitimacy of its policies and attempt to hold power over everybody else is probably the most threatening scenario the Bush regime sees. It is likely to happen and the global debate is not moving in favour of a U.S. war on Iraq.

Therefore, a war against Iraq must be seen not only as a war against Iraq, but also as a way of asserting U.S. power over the good part of the rest of the world - we do as we please and you can't stop us because you don't have an alternative policy, just as you did not have in Kosovo and Afghanistan! This of course resembles the old Cold War: the two masters threatened each other, but equally important was disciplining their respective groups of allies in Western and Eastern Europe not to have other gods or fraternise with the "evil empire/capitalist lackeys" on the other side. We can learn from that today.


Iraq is looking for partners, but where is the European Union?

So, their best Iraqi strategy is to build trust with their neighbours, and - much to the dismay of the U.S. &endash; it has gone surprisingly well. The former major foes, Iran and Iraq, are coming closer. Not one Arab government supports a war against Iraq, and the U.S. is increasingly at odds with its former close allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Relations between Kuwait and Iraq are slowly improving. Kuwait is also not supporting the U.S. war.

But ask yourself to whom you would turn outside of the Arab world if you sat in Baghdad and received daily threats to your very survival coming out of the United States. Two alarming facts are now true about the U.S.: a) its military expenditures make up half of the whole world's, and b) it has a nuclear doctrine allowing for pre-emptive strikes, not deterrence, against countries it just doesn't like. Yes, you would turn to Russia, to China and to the only viable Western group as they see it, the European Union, including countries such as Sweden that once upon a time forcefully espoused (and practised) mediation, global solidarity and disarmament.

A high-level Iraqi diplomat told us: "We have done anything we could to dialogue with the European Union, but it seems impossible. Chris Patten in particular, it seems, won't touch us." Vice-premier Tariq Aziz ended a two-hour conversation with TFF's team by saying: "Now you have asked me many questions. Before you leave I would like to ask you just one question: what has happened to Sweden? We knew it as a mediator, a country with a wide international commitment. I knew Olof Palme and Jan Eliasson personally when they worked hard to mediate when we were at war with Iran. Where is Sweden's voice today when we really need someone to talk with in the West."

The answer may well be connected with the fact that Sweden is an EU member state, that the EU has no policy on Iraq and that its criticism of the United States and of Iraq won't make up for that fact. In reality, the EU is without a common foreign and security policy. We have witnessed this throughout the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, then in Afghanistan and now vis-à-vis Iraq; larger EU countries conduct their own policies irrespective of whatever might be "common" policies within the EU. The Iraqi crisis should be seen as a worthy enough subject to finally show that the EU has a common policy on something and that it is different from that of the United States.


What could the EU do?

First, (1) the EU should, as soon as possible formulate a progressive and firm foreign and security policy vis-à-vis Iraq. It's time to do something new after 12 years of sanctions without any other result than partly destroying Iraqi civil society and welfare and ending up in a political and moral cul-de-sac. Its member states should then (2) recognise the importance of collecting facts and be present on the ground through visits to Iraq by media and independent researchers in virtually all fields. It's time to (re-) develop professional ties and dialogues on many levels between Iraq and EU countries. So, making funds available for people to travel there and then return, raising the level of knowledge about the situation, is an essential ingredient in developing such a policy.

It goes without saying that (3) governments should encourage their business communities to develop trade with and invest in Iraq. With a population of 25 million often in need of the most basic things, the market and other business potentials are huge. Trips there by business delegations should be supported, the first opportunity being the Trade Fair in Baghdad in November.

These first steps are not too politically sensitive, could be implemented quickly, and could easily be advocated and promoted by the EU. While these contacts develop, the EU countries should (4) prepare to re-establish their embassies as soon as possible in Baghdad, staff them with their best, most independent and creative diplomats.

It goes without saying that the EU must make a (5) list of its own tough demands on Iraq and tell the Iraqis that when they have complied before a particular date, the countries of the EU will begin to ignore the de facto US-operated UN sanctions and open normal, full diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with Iraq.

Then (6) the EU should establish a mediation/contact group, perhaps in liaison with Russia, China and others who want to participate in the work to prevent war and find viable negotiated solutions. The group should also send many different delegations to Iraq and invite Iraqis to go abroad. It is natural that, sooner or later, this group would (7) arrange a regional conference with a comprehensive framework. It would be modelled upon the OSCE process for Europe that started in the 1970s. It would seek to link the Iraqi problem to that of the Middle East in general, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it would invite all relevant countries in the region to participate.

Out of this could grow various forums for debate and, later, concrete negotiations about all issues pertaining to EU-Iraqi relations.

Another important measure would be to (8) give priority to develop a new security regime for the whole region. To be effective, it should aim for much lower levels of armament, alternative military security, nonviolent defence, reconciliation, democratisation and peace education. All EU countries should stop arms export to the entire Middle East and emphasise that, according to a UNSC resolution, the entire Middle East, including Israel, shall be a nuclear-weapons free zone.

Finally, (9) the EU should inform the United States about everything it does but not be deterred if or when the Bush regime disagrees. It's not enough to have different views if a willingness to pursue different policies on the ground does not exist.

The political ethos of this is simple: the EU should declare that its goal is not to destroy Iraq, nor to topple its present leadership or keep people suffering, but to open an opportunity for open-ended dialogue and possible co-operation, in short carrots rather than sticks. Huge development assistance and economic co-operation to compensate for, at least somewhat, the huge losses Iraq has suffered should be mentioned as a possibility.

It is high time to get a violence-preventive strategy in place and begin to develop a long-term peace process between Iraq and the world. The European Union ought to be a major player. The responsibility to move in a new constructive direction lies with Denmark, the present chair of the EU, and with Sweden, the former EU chair and a country seen by many abroad as an advocate of humanity, welfare and peace.


© TFF 2002



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