Ludo De Brabander and Danny Claes
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“All those who have power will in the end come to misuse it”
Foto: Bart Lasuy

“All those who have power will in the end come to misuse it”

(extract of an) interview with professor Ruddy Doom (Third World Studies, Ghent University) by Ludo De Brabander (Vrede) en Danny Claes (Intal) for the Flemish bimonthly “Vrede”.

 (...)

What is your opinion on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept?

 Professor Ruddy Doom :

The supporters of R2P can be split up into two groups. Firstly, there are those who only think in terms of power and see R2P as a means to come to regime change in function of their interests. Secondly, there are undoubtedly people of good will who simply think that one cannot keep looking the other way in circumstances of terrible government misbehavior. The first group tries to use the latter as a kind of smoke curtain. Furthermore, as in the case of Libya, a serious gap can exist between the originally approved resolution and the actions that are realized in the name of that resolution.

Can you think of situations in which R2Pcould be relevant?

 Professor Ruddy Doom:

I fear for two things.

One cannot dissociate the R2P concept from the power circles, from economic interests, etc. Humanitarian missions are on the agenda when they suit our goals and if they don't we are very prepared to close our eyes. We used to sell arms to Gadafi and all of a sudden we thought he was not democrat and was to be chased...? The R2P concept is infected, which is a pity because people do have the right not to be slaughtered by their government. But we forget that intervention may cause still more suffering and more deaths. Moreover there is never a solid exit strategy. Look at who is in charge in Libya now...

In the second place this world does not allow to think and act gradually. We should see that our ideas about democracy are not common to all actors in this globalised world. Chinese, Russians or Indians do not always have the same approach. In former times this was not important, but with the economic rise of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) things have changed. So whether we like it or not it will proof to be necessary to start discussions about democracy, about the concept itself, about protecting civilians. Of course one cannot continuously stretch the concept of democracy, or the way it is concretely filled in. What to do when a regime puts democracy totally aside? When and how to intervene? Who decides? Do you try and isolate such states?

 Here we touch the question of sovereignty

 Professor Ruddy Doom:

Sovereignty is a concept that is affected all over. Look at the bank crisis: rating agencies decide over a country's solvency, Merkel en Sarkozy prescribe what other governments should do. Sovereignty is under attack, that is clear. This should not always be a bad evolution because some problems – think of ecology – can not just be tackled by one state separately. So let us not make a sacred house of 'sovereignty'. My standard is: one should not cause more damage by doing something than the damage that would have followed by not doing it. What did the intervention solve in Iraq, in Afghanistan? Almost nothing! What is the humanitarian balance of those interventions? How many deaths? Is the regime now democratic? No. Has the Middle East grown more secure? No. And Afghanistan? The only solution left is to negotiate with the taliban. Ten year fighting in order to talk to the 'enemy'? To bomb regimes into democracy is apparently not easy.

 Can you imagine situations where you say “here we have to intervene?”

 Professor Ruddy Doom:

For the moment: no. But in general: yes; by taking serious the whole approach of early warning, which was thought of in the years 1990, and not waiting for the situation to grow to a level where the only choice possible is between bad and worse. It was called “Agenda for Peace” but no one ever took it serious. This 'Agenda for Peace' starts from the point of view that economic, social, humanitarian and ecological problems can be root causes for insecurity and a danger for peace. Via the UNO high priority is to be given to these structural problems through preventive diplomacy, peace keeping and post conflict peace building. The 'Agenda for Peace' offers a route with several options. In the case of Libya for instance arms trade to Gadafi should have been excluded, as the French deals for aircraft and tanks. Going this arms trade path and then see and think one has to intervene is the opposite of 'early warning', which is now absolutely a dead concept.

 

What about Syria?

Professor Ruddy Doom:

Many question marks. Hafez al-Assad, the actual president's father, had no nice score on human rights with amongst others the siege of Allepo in 1980 and more particular with the repression of the Sunni revolt in the Syrian town of Hamma in 1982. This took 20.000 deadly victims, but no one intervened. One cannot say that the actual president Bashar al-Assad is a befriended head of state, but at least is he someone who keeps the balance in his country. What is going to happen the day he is chased from power? Who is going to replace him? Imagine it would be someone with some sympathy for the Sunni Muslim brotherhood, then Israel will prefer that Assad stays in power. What will be the consequences for the Golan region occupied by Israel? And what will be the influence of such change on Lebanon? There are so many uncertainties than no one really wants to invade the country. On the other hand, various voices call regularly for support to the rebels, at least financially.

Some regimes receive per definition a not-to-be-touched label by the West, no matter how they treat the population, no matter how (un)democratic they are, for instance just for the mere sake of possessing nuclear arms. I think this is why Iran is searching for the nuclear weapon, because the regime knows it will be safer under its own nuclear umbrella. Undemocratic North-Korea is not attacked, for the same reason. The surface of a country is another variable that counts: try to start and invade China. And then of course you have the category of befriended regimes which can almost do as they like, think of Israel or Saudi Arabia.

We see Russia and China having a different attitude towards Syria. Will a multi polar world give them more influence on the international scene?

 Professor Ruddy Doom:

The growing power of the BRICS countries will undoubtedly have international consequences. Certainly on a regional level. Look at the joint potential of China and India in Asia. It seems that China is choosing to use more 'soft power' in stead of military power and coercion. They once had a military confrontation with Vietnam which didn't turn out that well. Through my contacts in China I was able to follow some discussions: China is persuaded that conflicts are to be solved through diplomacy. Moreover they often refer to what happened with the Soviet Union where in their view problems were due to the financial strangulation by the arms race with the USA. Although Bejing is investing in its military it certainly does want to avoid this trap.

 How realistic is such a discourse on soft power? The West will continue to build up its military apparatus via NATO. The growing internationalization of China's economy will be confronted with classical imperial policy of the West? For instance, China had to withdraw 30000 nationals from Libya where it had growing investments, because of the NATO intervention.

 Professor Ruddy Doom:

But soft does not always means that soft. China's position inside World Trade Organisation, for instance, shows a clear evolution. It costed China years to be allowed and in the beginning they were the smaller pupil in class. The first years China remained indeed very timid. But now they openly discuss with the USA and start to present own proposals. Like any big power China is going to try and increase its influence in international organizations. In this field Bejing is not better nor worse than Washington. I fear that the more BRICS countries are gaining influence the more some other countries – the US as first – will behave in an increasingly selective way towards international organizations as the UN. In security matters regional actors like NATO will take up a growing role so that UN is pushed to the background. US does not recognize the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and stopped to finance UNESCO because of the recognition of Palestine. But the USA may praise itself lucky that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank do not apply the criteria for failing payers, because this would mean that a Structural Adjustment Program would be enforced on Washington. In this context, China launched the idea to replace the dollar as reserve currency for the world economy with a new international standard. This will take very sour discussions. So changing power relations emerge, although one can not yet be sure where they will lead us. Up to now in the military field China has not used threatening language. Every now and then there is a remark towards Taiwan but no international observer takes this serious. It is not necessary to make China a new international bogeyman but of course blind faith is not the way either. All those who have power, will in the end come to misuse it.

 April 2012.

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