Something is rotten in the state of Denmark but there are ways out


PressInfo # 160

 September 21, 2002

The UN-declared International Day of Peace


By Jan Oberg, TFF director



The author was a member of the Danish government's Commission on Security and Disarmament Affairs (SNU) from 1981 to 1994, served as Secretary-General of the Danish Peace Foundation 1985-1987 and wrote his PhD on Denmark's post-1945 security policy in a global perspective, entitled Myth of Our Security (1981).

Continued from PressInfo 159


Due to the influence of the American paradigm and an acquiescing research orientation, important scholarly themes have been under-prioritised in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia in the last few decades. For instance:

1) Systematic research of American society and its international role. At the same time, the Nordic countries have experts who know about every country in Europe, Africa and Asia. The US, friend and leader, was seen as easy to understand, sympathise with and as unproblematic.

2) Studies of non-violent conflict-resolution were perceived as irrelevant in the world of the old cold war and are seen as such even now when NATO and the USA have become enormously strengthened by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

3) With an East-West focus, it was irrelevant or politically incorrect to study the West as viewed from the outside, or to deal with, say, Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist world images and concepts of security, defence and peace. However, in the age of globalisation these outside views would have been, and are, extremely relevant.

4) Models for alternative forms of defence and security, in which the military component would play second fiddle and was both defensive and independent from NATO were of little use to decision-makers except as a flirtation. But, true, there was some research.

During the 1990s everyone began talking about conflict management, pre-emptive diplomacy and conflict-prevention (as though it were the conflicts and not the violence they created which we should learn to avoid). Simultaneously, the governments of great Western countries kept on interpreting the world's conflicts, exceedingly complex in time and space, through three elements rooted - unfortunately - in the obsolete Cold War paradigm:

a) The old cold war (East and West) was replicated: The Serbs for example were interpreted as the guilty "Russian" expansionists; the Croats, the Muslims and the Albanians as the freedom-loving democrats, like us in the West. Ideas about the balance of power, deterrence, spheres of interest, interventionism and military superiority lived on together with new labels such as "the new NATO" and the "new architecture of security politics" and "exciting network structures."

b) A kind of vulgar, Christian - and rather subconscious - idea that conflicts can be understood by pointing out who is good and who is evil and solved by punishing the latter. Conflicts were seen as having always basically two parties. Even after September 11, 2001, the relevant approach to conflict - asking: what are the problems that lie between people? - was neither considered in decision-making circles nor in media, while there were some attempts in academia. And, so, the West became allied with and tied to presumed "good" and innocent actors who turned out to be neither that grateful nor obedient to the West after the various "liberating" wars (e.g. the Kosovo Albanian hard-liners).

c) There should be a person against whom all hate can be directed, through whom wars can be made to look legitimate, allies be disciplined and coalitions held together. For example, at different times, people such as Castro and Khadafi, Saddam Hussein, Farah Aideed, Khomeini, Slobodan Milosevic and now Osama Bin Laden - and Saddam Hussein once again. For the sake of our own goodness we must project the shady side of our own culture onto others.

To simplify a bit, what a country like Denmark does is seldom what ideally should be done or could be done. It is to play a role that the US and the EU have dealt it. Its government officials, defence intelligence and diplomats have little or no training in conflict analysis, mediation, or psycho-social work in order to deal with hate, revenge, intolerance or reconciliation and forgiveness. Furthermore, non-violence or "peace by peaceful means" which is the UN's highest ideal is not compatible with masculine diplomacy and civilisation's darker need for self-righteous power projection and revenge.

So, forget all about pre-emptive diplomacy and professional conflict-resolution. When it really comes down to it, Denmark sent her F-16s over Yugoslavia and elite troops to Afghanistan and has been careful not to produce political alternatives to bombing Iraq next! Be sure never to state views, at least not in public, that could be interpreted to mean that you dissociate yourself from the Master in the West. Unfortunately, this is, in a nutshell, the philosophy Denmark continues to practise in a period of contemporary history where new thinking is needed and so many options available. And it matters surprisingly little whether there is a social-left-oriented or a liberal-conservative government.

All it takes is political correctness and systematic denial of qualities associated with the Nordic countries and Scandinavia world-wide, such as social innovation, humanism, pluralism and dialogue. The manifest loss of an independent, creative and people-anchored approach in foreign policy and security matters has been a high price to pay for both Denmark and Sweden in the EU.

But with America's role becoming more and more untenable and destructive in the eyes of the world, one more thing seems to be required for the Danish government to be able to stand firmly behind US policies: the ability to control, if need be, the thoughts and themes taken up by intellectuals.


Denmark centralises international research under its Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The new liberal-conservative government has recently gathered all the major non-university foreign and security policy and peace research institutes, together with those that work with the Holocaust, development research, and human rights under one roof, that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with human rights having a special status). It is headed by former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Uffe Elleman-Jensen.

The official reason given is the usual one of economics of scale, savings from collapsing individual administrations into one common, and facilitating more easy inter-disciplinary inspiration and exchange. The new budget will be about one-third lower than the present total sum of the institutes. However, what is forgotten is that a) sometimes creativity thrives best in smaller, independent and informal settings; b) nowadays scholarly exchange and inspiration flows not primarily because you share coffee breaks or the library but through conferences with new faces, through the Internet, e-mails, and common research projects. Physical closeness is a factor, of course, but nothing that explains a re-organisation like this.

A series of problems and negative consequences wait around the corner. Budget cuts indicate that scholars will have to be fired. The physical moving of the institutes will take a lot of time and energy. The costs of moving is likely to be taken from the already reduced budget. The fusion is likely to cause intra-institute conflicts and inter-institute conflicts. There is likely to be conflicts between all the institutes and the boards of research and the Ministry. All this means much lower output or/and lower quality as well as a loss of scholars. In summary, this could turn out to be a very expensive cost-saving method. Indeed one must fear that it will lead to the de facto closing down of important research and taking Copenhagen off the international studies map.

The Copenhagen Peace Research Institute, COPRI, is an example. It has been evaluated earlier and its high productivity, quality and wide scope within international relations and security is recognised world-wide. Professor Ole Waever, Copenhagen University, and COPRI scholar for 13 years, recently hit the nail on the head: "This real, existing institute will be replaced by the intention to create one." COPRI (and other institutes, too, for that matter) is something any government ought to be proud of in the age of globalisation and foreign policy turbulence.

But for all intents and purposes, it now ceases to exist. It would indeed be surprising if international visiting scholars, as well as talented Danish scholars, did not quickly find other places to go after this "fusion."


Centralising foreign policy research in a political context

So, what are the real reasons? We may come closer when we look beyond this single government decision and place it in the context of official Denmark and its government in the year 2002. This government is probably the least intellectual and the most populist, anti-intellectual the country has had since 1945. Furthermore, we find features such as: a weak, internally split Social Democracy and increasing populist tendencies and a strong political current of "tightening up" the policies pertaining to asylum-seekers and their integration into the Danish society. We find increasingly a focus on the EU and less and less concern about the Danish constituency/citizens on the one hand and the rest of the world on the other.

Furthermore, we find a Denmark that not only supported but also participated in the shameful bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999. It stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the US after September 11 and supported the bombing of Afghanistan; it participates in the war there today while also having decided on a huge cut in its development aid. We find a strong support bordering on blindness for the United States and its "war against terror" and Denmark practises an "over-fulfilment" of its obligations as an EU and UN member to fight terrorism to the extent that civil liberties can now be put at stake at any moment. And it has voiced no dissent, of course, about the sanctions or planned US war against Iraq.

In short, while the Danes have experienced remarkable economic welfare for decades (Denmark is rated # 14 on UNDP's global human development index) and have increased their social and international security, the country has become more, not less, egocentric, populist/xenophobic and militarist. The official Denmark has scrapped almost everything associated with generosity, empathy and global solidarity, not to mention peace.

This is the political atmosphere in which the "tightening up" of scholarly work is also taking place. Under such circumstances there is, of course, no government wish to promote critical, innovative research that may question the current policies. It's deeply disturbing from another angle, too.


Isomorphism between research form and content

Is it so far-fetched to believe that an institution's organisational and funding structures are isomorphic with its end product? That is, something like: tell me who has organised you, what your administration is like and your connection with decision-making power, as well as how you are funded - and I will tell you roughly what type of books and reports you are likely to produce and whose interests they are likely to serve. In short, that there is an isomorphic relation between form and content.

It is true that the institutes were state institutes before the fusion too. But it was, so to speak, a lose confederation of institutes whereas the new structure is a federation of them. It permitted some variation and individuality; the new construction is not made to increase those features.

But one wonders why a liberal government chooses to centralise and structure vital research efforts in a Soviet-style manner that must raise the eyebrows of scholars in any democracy? There may be rather little genuine free research left in modern societies, but increasing the suspicion that indirect and direct political control/censorship over international research and scholarship is becoming potentially desirable for the Danish government is a most unfortunate signal to send. Denmark here joins the new authoritarianism that increasingly characterises the West after the end of the Cold War.

What are the chances that this new ministerial Center will encourage really different, critical, innovative and constructive perspectives? How responsive will it be to turbulent international affairs? Will it be possible to publish politically incorrect reports? How independent can research be when the scholars are paid by the state, can look forward to a state pension, sit everyday in state institutions, attend seminars and meetings with state representatives (under a former minister's leadership) and are likely to be asked by the government to produce analyses for the state - a state whose leadership has, historically as well as currently, chained itself to history's strongest empire and thereby to military rather than to civil solutions and global hegemony?

The Danish government won't be able to get away with this without rousing suspicion that it wishes to be able to top-manage and control through bureaucratic measures. It will never be called censorship of course, but there will be "natural" (self)limitations, selective budget restrictions and unspoken criteria of what are relevant and irrelevant subjects and values of research, given the current foreign and security political line. Scholars remaining in this system are likely to deny that they practise self-censorship - or will be so mediocre that they don't even notice that they do so...

One must fear that the new structure will hamper, rather than promote, pluralism and creativity, not to mention alternative perspectives to those of the present. It is incomprehensible why a basically liberal government chooses to mimic the Soviet Union rather than the USA, its role model, in most respects, in this field.


Adhering to power - or just a little civil disobedience

When it comes down to it, it's a question of power. The researcher who is deeply involved in an international, government-based power game risks losing his or her intellectual freedom and integrity, indeed credibility. To preserve intellectual integrity and simultaneously be politically correct is an almost impossible equation, but how many recognise that when the safe, predictable and comfortable life with influence, career opportunities, high salaries (and payments on bank loans!) as well as pensions is at stake?

There's a manifest need for a critical, public debate about the compliant Danish foreign and security policies. It must address also the dangerous, ongoing merger of the state, media and research that supports these policies.

Scholars may think that, given the power of the government, they will be able to negotiate the best deal concerning this new institute internally and by refraining from going public with their concerns over what many must see as a encroachment upon his or her intellectual freedom. But such a strategy is, in and of itself, indicative of a political choice. It under-prioritises the wider social interests and needs of citizens who pay for the research. It forgoes an opportunity to work critically and secure that research results benefit the less privileged on earth. It's a choice that indicates that it is more politically correct to follow the powers that be at the institute, the government and international level than working with critical, constructive and alternative perspectives not in harmony with the current research board, government and super power. However, it must be remembered that research policy choices like this are deeply political in their consequences and that social research is a matter that deserves to be discussed widely outside the ruling elites and academia itself.

It is indeed remarkable, and a reason for concern, that this whole affair has produced so little public debate initiated by scholars themselves.

If nothing else works, perhaps a good old Gandhian civil disobedience action would be appropriate among Danish scholars: "Dear government, we have quite some pride in what we do. Whether you intend to or not, we do not want to risk our intellectual freedom at any time. We do not like your new centralised institute proposal and won't return to our desks before you come up with something more open, democratic, stimulating and pluralistic. If you can prove somehow that you really need to cut budgets, tell us how much and we will be willing to consider a reduction in our salaries to keep us all on board. We are happy to stay where we are instead of moving to new fancy offices that will be much more expensive. Please just provide us with some peace to work and consider it in your own best interest to increase, not limit, our freedom …"

The hierarchy of obedience from the super power to the smaller power and its governments, and further to scholarly and other elites and the citizens at the bottom must be broken somewhere, sometimes. Time and a space for genuinely free and creative thinking and writing is essential. If scholars, media, experts and bureaucrats increasingly hold the same views or harmonise them over time, there will be fewer and fewer whistleblowers alerting us to possible impending catastrophe as well as creative new opportunities. And there will be less and less pluralism - a mockery of democracy.


If the institute can't be stopped, broaden its agenda

The Danish government can still save face. Perhaps it can't withdraw its proposal for this unfortunate, centralised government institute. But then it can declare that it will not cut funds and that it will, instead, secure an increase of 25 per cent earmarked to innovative, heuristic research on alternatives to mainstream theories, thinking and policies. It shall be conducted by multi-national, multi-ethnic, and multi-disciplinary research teams. A main focus, but not the only one, should be to investigate how violence can be reduced in politics, economics, culture and international governance, as well as in the struggle to combat terrorism.

If this happens, scholars with more mainstream orientation would remain. New scholars would be attracted and a place for real dialogue across many divides would be created - in the spirit of what we all must do after September 11.

In addition, Denmark would finally be talked about world-wide for a positive reason. Other governments might be inspired to increase support for research on how to understand and combat terrorism. The price for Denmark would be a bit more than US $ 1 million, peanuts for a rich country if it wants to be at the forefront of international affairs.


September 21, 2002

The UN-declared International Day of Peace


Jan Øberg



© TFF 2002



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