The Last War of the 20th Century - Chapter 13
May 14, 2008 8:35 | by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
A new 'new world order'
As long as our world, which has the resources to end poverty everywhere, is divided into those addressing the problems of plenty and those confronted by the problems of scarcity, peace and freedom will remain fragile.
Nelson Mandela, 24th July, 1998, at the Mercosur Heads of State Summit, in Ushuaia, Argentina
In the foregoing chapters we have seen that in the West in general, and within NATO and the European Union in particular, a great deal is expected of the potential of military intervention in domestic and regional conflicts. NATO's new strategic concept and the EU's efforts to develop its own 'military capacity' flow directly from this.
On the basis of the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo we have tried to make it clear that these expectations are unfounded, dangerous and shortsighted. Unfounded because the political goals have not been achieved (see Kosovo); dangerous because the violent imposition of peace unleashed new tensions, which in time will lead to new conflicts (see Kosovo and Bosnia); and shortsighted because only short term and limited solutions are considered, with no estimation of the geopolitical consequences (such as for example in terms of relations with Russia), while insufficient account is taken of the history and other aspects of the background to conflicts (see almost all recent military interventions).
In order to achieve a lasting peace - or more modestly, to prevent conflicts - other means than violence are much more appropriate. That is why to close this book we want to put forward a few initiatives towards a fundamental debate around a more structural approach to international tensions, and by those means the prevention of violent escalations in the future.
Relations between ethnic and/or religious majority and minority groups within states, but also relations amongst states, are often seen in stereotypical terms. Too often tensions are described on the basis of a limited observation of a few incidents, as well as on the basis of platitudes and myths which do no justice to the complex reality. Precisely because it is not straightforward, given this complexity, to develop a truly effective insight into the background to problems elsewhere in the world, it is imperative to operate in international politics with the greatest possible caution. The byword of responsible members of governments should be heeded: better no foreign policy than a bad foreign policy. It is after all true that the greater the distance, both geographic and cultural, the smaller the empathy. And without empathy it is wellnigh inevitable that each intervention will eventually turn out badly, as has been the case time after time during this decade.
When in Rwanda the Hutus and the Tutsis became enemies, many thought that what we were dealing with were tribes who had for years lived in discord with each other, that people were being identified only by their appearance and on that basis considered each other friend or foe. These are dangerous simplifications. The historical and socio-economic background, involving poverty, overpopulation and social inequality, continues to be seriously underestimated in many analyses of Rwanda. This has also been the case in the Yugoslav crisis, in the conflicts in the Caucasus, in Indonesia, in short in almost all conflicts which have demanded the attention of the international community over the last few years, despite the fact that it is precisely this socio-economic background which is so extremely important for the forming of a correct picture of the causes of these conflicts. And without knowledge of the causes there can be no adequate solutions, without a good diagnosis, no good medicine.
The Pakistani development economist Mahbul ul Haq says with regard to the violence that has flared up in so many places in the world in the past ten or fifteen years that 'You can call these conflicts ethnic or regional, but the real causes are social and economic.'
If that is the case, and the 'international community' is truly concerned by all of the injustice to which people subject each other, then you might expect that everything would be done to ensure a fairer division of the world's wealth, in order to help the poor countries in their development, and to create opportunities for those who currently have none.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth: the contradictions in the world continue to grow. The immense debts owed by poor countries to rich ones mean that each year 200 billion dollars net is transferred from South to North, from poor to rich. The average income in 1960 in the richest countries was thirty times greater than in the poorest; in 1990 the ratio was 1:60, while by 1997 it had further deteriorated, to 1:74. The United Nations' Human Development Report for 1999 included - by way of further illustration - the following bizarre comparison: the wealth of the three richest people in the world is greater than the value of the economies of the thirty-five poorest countries combined.
The army of the world's really poor currently numbers 1.3 billion people, and that figure continues to climb. What does the expression 'global village' mean in such a perspective? In what village is one person in three allowed to suffer miserably from hunger, while at the same time a minority can abandon themselves to their hearts' content to the thorough enjoyment of life? The expression 'global village' was invented and propagated in order to describe so-called globalisation, and to depict it as a fait accompli. This globalisation forms in its turn a justification for the carrying out of a free trade which goes ever further and the lifting of all restrictions on the movement of capital, with no regard to the social consequences for the 'village'. Or as Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, one of the compilers of the Human Development Report 1999, puts it: 'Globalisation has great advantages for some but for most of the world's citizens it means only further exclusion and impoverishment.'
At the end of the 'nineties a major financial crisis hit Asia. The managers of the enormous quantity of money - 1.5 trillion dollars per day - from wealthy countries which roams the digital highway in search of the highest profit levels, were for a number of reasons afraid of losing their money, and decided over a short period of time to withdraw it from countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea, once known collectively as the 'Asian Tigers'. Within a few days millions of people in the countries involved had lost their jobs and local currencies tumbled to record lows. The crisis resounded long afterwards - not in the rich West, where there was relief and an almost triumphalist assertion that the world economy could indeed survive some rough-handling, but far more in the affected countries themselves. According to the UNDP report discussed above, the crisis led to ''erosion of the social fabric, to social unrest and to a growth in criminality'.
The flaring up of all sorts of 'ethnic-religious' conflicts in Indonesia in recent times cannot be seen as unrelated to the economic crisis in which the country has found itself. When as a result of this crisis the Suharto regime fell, countless western experts (amongst whom was the biggest boss of Dutch bank ING's subsidiary in Jakarta) all knew precisely what had gone wrong in Indonesia: the country was corrupt through and through, its 'democracy' was a farce and there was no respect for human rights. The crisis was, in other words, the fault of Indonesia itself. This analysis stood in stark contrast to everything that had been called for in preceding years in regard to the country of Suharto. Human rights activists had been told not to moan and whinge, and Development Cooperation Minister Jan Pronk got a dressing down for his trouble when he had the nerve to approach the Suharto government about the massacre in East Timor. During a royal visit to Indonesia in the year that the country celebrated fifty years of independence, a heavyweight delegation of Dutch entrepreneurs travelled in the footsteps of Her Majesty in order to do business in what was then still referred to as an exemplary growth economy. Top Philips boss Jan Timmer took this opportunity to announce that if he were still young he would certainly set out for South East Asia in order to seek his fortune. We heard not a word then about corruption, while human rights also went unmentioned. As long as there was money to be earned it would turn out time and again that concern over the fate of one's fellow human beings would melt away like snow on a sunny spring day, only to be wheeled out when the situation deteriorated and foreign investments and earnings were at risk.
In order to put an end to the vicious circle of lopsided economic growth, exploitation, poverty, migration, instability, crisis and violence in which so many countries are trapped, it is necessary that the western powers at long last show the courage to take a critical look at their economic interventions in those countries. It will then emerge that structural measures are needed if the constant repetition of humanitarian tragedies is to be prevented.
In the first place the developing countries must have - and retain - the freedom to determine their own development strategy. This would stand in complete opposition to the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), which the OECD - the organisation representing the richest industrialised countries - and the World Trade Organization currently have in mind. The countries of the Third World must no longer be pressured to accept the International Monetary Fund's neoliberal prescription before they are given any support by the wealthy countries. Even Henry Kissinger, ex-US Secretary of State, criticises the shortsighted approach of the IMF as being 'just like a doctor specializing in measles [who] tries to cure every illness with one remedy", as he wrote not so long ago, complaining that the Fund always prescribes 'moderation', large increases in interest rates to counter capital flight, and strong devaluation in order to discourage imports and stimulate exports. This, he argued, always leads to a dramatic fall in living standards, explosive growth in unemployment and a growing malaise in the general population, undermining the very political institutions that must carry out the IMF programme. Kissinger sides with a long line of former political leaders who, no longer being in office, suddenly begin to say things which are both intelligent and critical.
Organisations such as the WTO and the IMF currently represent exclusively the institutionalised 'market think' and interests of the countries which stand to gain most from their approach. They talk constantly of total freedom of trade as opposed to a total lack of freedom, but equal rules for unequal countries simply perpetuate inequality. Moreover globalised free trade means little more than the ability to set worker against worker throughout the world in a new race to the bottom when it comes to wages, social security, social provisions and working conditions. Not only people but nature and the environment will inevitably pay a high price for this.
Poor countries must have the right to protect their own domestic markets from cheap western products, in order that they can have enough time to build up their own industries and security of food supply. On the other hand low income countries must have the right and means to sell their products on the markets of wealthy countries without being confronted with barriers in whatever form. In 1976, 7.2 percent of the European Economic Community's total imports originated in developing countries, while in 1995 this percentage had fallen for the European Union to 4.5 percent. It is completely morally objectionable that we continue to think that we should protect our European markets from cheap products from these countries, while we at the same time force them into an unlimited opening of their own markets to our products and corporations. The foreign exchange which they could earn through their exports is indispensable, for example for acquiring new technology.
A concrete possibility to do something about inequality in the world could be provided by the introduction of a solidarity levy. Whenever countries gain a competitive advantage through their indifference to social rights or to the interests of the environment, their products should be excluded from the international market by means of a levy imposed at the borders of the importing country. In keeping with the unequal economic position of different countries the size of this levy should be proportionate with the size of the Gross National Product of the exporting country. All of this should be conditional on the poorest countries - as we have already argued - being at all times given free access to 'rich' markets. If we are then also prepared to pay a fair price for their products, so that they too have the chance to work on building a just society, we will have provided ourselves with an effective means of bringing about a redistribution of global wealth and thereby a safer world.
Another possible measure is the taming of what former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt described as 'predator capitalism'. This could be achieved by means of a reintroduction of restrictions on international capital movements, so that economies can no longer - as a result of the herd behaviour and blind hunger for profit of owners of capital - be brought to ruin in a single day. Even the former senior adviser to the GATT (now the WTO), American economics professor Jagdish Bhagwati, seems to have grasped this, as he shows at the end of a lengthy article in the Dutch business daily Financieele Dagblad of 26th September 1998:
'And despite evidence of the risks attached to the free flow of capital, the Wall Street financial complex continues to make the self-serving assumption that the ideal world is indeed one of free capital flows, with the IMF presiding over all. But the weight and the force of logic points in the opposite direction, towards limits on capital flows. It is time to shift the burden of proof from the opponents to the supporters of free capital.'
In order to limit these capital flows we must be able to move towards the introduction of the so-called Tobin Tax. James Tobin, American economist and Nobel Laureate, proposed at the beginning of the 'seventies the imposition of a 0.1 percent tax on international monetary flows. By these means situations such as that in Asia in 1997 and 1998 would occur less frequently, while, still more importantly, the United Nations, which would have to collect this, would for example for the year 2000 have available over 188 billion dollars, twice as much money as experts argue would be necessary to combat the world's most severe poverty.
In conclusion, a development plan for the Third World's countries must be established under the aegis of the UN - it goes without saying that this should be done with the involvement of the countries in question - and financed by the wealthy countries. Under the slogan 'debt clearance is the best conflict prevention', a start could be made on debt forgiveness for low income countries, the central demand of the Jubilee 2000 initiative. Annual interest and repayments hang like a millstone around the neck of these countries and prevent them clambering up out of the depths of poverty. A country such as Ethiopia is currently forced to pay four times as much money in interest and debt repayment as it does on health care, to give just one harrowing example. And while we are on the subject of a development plan under UN supervision, we should not refrain from calling on this same UN to screen for once instances of multilateral development aid for efficiency and effectiveness. As things stand development cooperation - bilateral and multilateral - is in general a hotchpotch of good intentions, as emerged in practice in, amongst other places, former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, for example, there are no less than 450 different aid NGOs and consultancies active in spending the 10 billion Deutschmarks which has in total been made available by the various donor countries. The fact that the results fail to meet expectations is logical, as is the fact that there are exceptionally high levels of waste. While corruption thrives in luxury, the reconstruction for which the money was intended stagnates.
As we have already said, an 'international community' which was really concerned about the humanitarian tragedies unfolding in countless parts of the world, would put a comparable measure high on the political agenda. That this is not happening says as much about the sincerity of the politicians involved as it does about the relations of power in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A nice illustration of how these relations currently lie was provided by the WTO negotiations which took place in Seattle in December 1999. Corporations such as Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, General Motors and Northwest Airlines belonged to the exclusive community of sponsors that by means of a payment of less than 100,000 dollars assured themselves of the necessary privileges. They each took a place on the front row as well as gaining - to the advantage of their lobbyists - direct access to the informal circuit for direct contact with the heads of state, government leaders and other delegates present. Meanwhile an enormous force of police held the thousands of demonstrators back, while the demonstrators outside the conference building gave voice to the huge dissatisfaction which is growing in ever broader circles over the monomaniac way in which the WTO operates. If we really want to move towards a truly new world order, then this gap between participants to the WTO negotiations and those demonstrators must be closed. Only then will the one-sided fixation on free trade, if needs be at the cost of state sovereignty, and with no regard for the political, social, ecological or safety consequences, have to give way to an awareness of the interests of all of those now ground down by the unrestrained forces of the free market.
If it is the most important causes of many conflicts with which we are concerned - poverty, neglect, lack of development and absence of hope - then there is still a world to win. But if this 'new world' is really our goal, we cannot avoid first of all answering the question, 'Who do we want to rule this world?' Is it the rich countries within which this service is provided by those who possess the economic power? Is it organisations such as the WTO, the IMF, the OECD and the G7 in which the wealthy countries set the tone and impose their will on the rest? Or is it the political forces, legitimised by democracy, which are striving for development and progress within and for all countries, for a fair distribution of wealth and for protection of nature and of the environment?
Earlier in this book various people stressed the role of the United Nations and of regional organisations such as the OSCE. The Netherlands Advisory Council on International Affairs had this to say about this question: 'Both the UN and the OSCE have a coordinating responsibility in relation to the preservation of international peace and security. The UN is the sole global forum in which security and stability, human rights, sustainable socio-economic development and environmental problems are on the agenda in their internal cohesiveness.' Everyone - with any knowledge of these matters - will only be able to agree with this assessment. But this assessment should also have consequences for policy. Anyone who takes these words seriously cannot at the same time defend a situation in which countries off their own bat and whenever it suits them break the UN's monopoly on the use of violence and with no legitimacy enter into conflicts in foreign countries. By such actions international law is desecrated, the position of the Security Council undermined and geopolitical stability placed in the balance.
The Pax Americana, by which the monopolar world which has existed since the fall of the Wall is characterised, has led in the west to the arrogant belief that we can do everything on our own. The manner in which the west has behaved since the departure of Gorbachev, is therefore illustrative: the enlargement of NATO towards the east; the disregard of the Russian (and Chinese) standpoint in relation to the conflict in Kosovo; using, certainly, Russia's diplomatic offices in solving the conflict but granting the Russians no significant role in the framework of KFOR; the continuation of the development of a defence shield in space by the United States, despite the fact that this is in conflict with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the development of a new frontline to the south of Russia as a result of strategic interests connected to the oil which is to be found in that region. Where these policies have led within Russia was made clear in Chapter 8 of Part 1 of this book by Georgi Arbatov en Vladimir Lukin; to what foreign policy consequences it will lead only the future can tell us.
Although many criticisms can be made of the functioning of the UN - we have written about this above - it is as things stand (and probably this will remain the case) the only place in which the major powers and other countries can together discuss geopolitical questions. Intelligent foreign policy must include the goal of strengthening the United Nations and its institutions, as well as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.
Max van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner for national minorities, takes every possible opportunity to complain about the lack of interest from the international community in investing in inter-ethnic cooperation directed at the early prevention of conflicts. In his lonely struggle he finds it absolutely impossible to assemble financial resources for such projects. 'The states which must contend with economic stagnation or even decline, with as a consequence the threatened loss of of the hope for a better future, deserve particular attention,' said Van der Stoel in his inaugural professorial address at the University of Leiden. 'In such situations political extremism thrives. Giving new impulses through outside aid can help to turn around such dangers and belongs in a modern security policy.'
The fire brigade have a popular saying: 'Any fire can be extinguished with a bucket of water if only you get there quickly enough.' For those who really want to contribute to a safer world there are therefore two questions to be answered: do we have the will to get there early? And do we have a bucket of water?
In order to 'get there early' we must create a worldwide early warning system, which will enable the UN and regional organisations such as the OSCE to offer timely help in the prevention of conflicts and - where conflicts already exist - the avoidance of further escalation. It will then be necessary for the UN and the OSCE to have access to sufficient financial resources to enable them to offer effective help.
After the war in Kosovo the Western countries established a Stability Pact for the Balkans, excluding the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The question is this: why is there now a willingness to put billions into this region, while this was not the case earlier? Would Lord Carrington's plan not have had more chance of success when we were prepared to extend also a helping financial hand? It is a question which can no longer be answered with certainty, but what is certain is that the billions which are now being used to bring about damage and destruction is many times more than the sum that at the start of the 1990s would have been needed to reshape a declining economy into a growing economy. Had such a sum been provided at the time, and had the European countries put their efforts into the establishment of a confederation instead of the independence of all of the republics, the human tragedy now unfolding in the Balkans could very likely have been prevented.
To make a comparison with the development of armaments, preventative diplomacy, peaceful intervention, and structural aid and advice are perhaps at the level of the invention of the Colt around 1850.
That brings us to our last point: the reopening of the arms race. Just as the ubiquity of firearms is cited as one of the most important causes of the exceptionally high degree of violence in American society, so the ample stocks of weaponry provide us with one of the explanations for the violent escalations of regional and/or ethnic conflicts. Despite the fact that the Cold War, which held the world in its grip for decades, and the arms race which was linked to it, are now almost ten years in the past, the worldwide trade in arms continues to grow. The Netherlands plays a leading role in this, despite assertions from the ministers responsible that the Dutch defence industry is limited in size in comparison with other European countries. In 1998 our country was sixth in the league table of the world's biggest arms exporters. With no scruples our country supplied and continues to supply weapons to Turkey, and to Indonesia under Suharto, as well as to countries which spend a disproportionately large share of their GNP on buying weapons, such as Israel, Oman and Qatar. In addition regulated supplies go to areas of tension, such as South Korea and the Middle East. In 1998 licences were issued for the export of military goods with a total value of something over 350 billion dollars. And the Netherlands is no exception - neither in the West, nor in the world as a whole. Almost all countries, or, to put it better, the arms producers in these countries, are still profiting daily from armaments and the arms trade.
The member states of the European Union together spend almost 100 billion dollars a year on 'defence', of which a large proportion goes on armaments. It is high time that worldwide arms spending, and above all disarmament, came under international political attention. The extent and quantity of arms exported must be reduced, and in time the entire international arms trade perhaps indeed forbidden. The development of ever more new attack weapons must be stopped, beginning with those countries which have made the greatest progress in the development of sophisticated, 'smart' weapons. The further spread of existing, and the introduction of new, weapons of mass destruction can only be resisted if the nuclear powers are prepared to sign a no first use declaration and at last begin to run down their arsenals. Who are we to send inspection teams to Iraq to track down illegal weapons of mass destruction if we ourselves maintain major arsenals of nuclear weapons? In NATO's new strategic concept nuclear weapons are seen as essential to the preservation of peace. This is in conflict with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which asserts that states which have signed the treaty have an obligation to conduct negotiations leading to complete nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international monitoring. Through the explicitly stated unwillingness of NATO to proceed to complete nuclear disarmament the fundamental precepts of this treaty have been jettisoned. And at the very moment that the United States Senate has rejected the Non-Proliferation Treaty, India and Pakistan are embroiled in a nuclear arms race, while the Russian nuclear policy, as we have seen, is being accentuated.
The course which Western military experts are now following in the area of non-nuclear armament, which is described in this book by, amongst others, the Editor-in-Chief of Jane's Defence Weekly, Clifford Beal, will lead without doubt to still more violence. Perhaps Clifford Beal will in the end have to recognise that whenever the West increases its 'lead' over other parts of the world, this inevitably provokes a reaction. This does not always necessarily take the form of a similar pursuit of smart weapons by those who resist the West, such as China, Iraq, Russia or India. It can just as easily be what has been called an asymmetrical response - such as the carrying out of terrorist attacks.