José Ramos Horta, "Silence in the Face of Genocide (Melbourne Age)
August 26, 2004
Silence in the face of genocide
Many who denounced the invasion of Iraq are mute about the slaughter in Sudan, says Jose Ramos Horta.
Dr Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's Minister for Foreign Affairs, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. This is an edited extract from his address at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
The invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s resulted in the deaths of more than a million people. Chemical and biological weapons were unleashed on civilians and combatants. The West turned a blind eye when Kurds and Iranians were gassed to death by the thousands by the butcher of Baghdad. There were no peace marchers in the West or even in the Muslim world as two Muslim nations, mostly sharing the same brand of Islam, slaughtered each other. The war lasted eight years.
Soon after the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the same regime in Baghdad unleashed yet another invasion, this time against Kuwait. Only then did a coalition of countries intervene and Kuwait was freed, but not without wanton destruction carried out by the retreating forces that set on fire hundreds of oil wells.
Now, in the Darfur region of Sudan, ethnic cleansing has been happening for several months, and yet it has elicited little reaction from the rest of the world. Muslim and Arab masses and fellow pacifists who routinely display their anger at the US-led liberation of Iraq or at Israeli actions in Gaza are on mute mode on the killings of innocent Sudanese civilians by ethnic Arab militias sponsored by the military regime of Sudan.
Much has been written and said, always in the language of frustration and regret, about the world we live in today being a unipolar one based on the unchallenged American economic and military power. But I dare to say, is this so bad?
The alternative, the past bipolar world built on two rival ideological systems, gave us a fragmented world with many wars that resulted in tens of millions of dead and the ever-present nuclear nightmare. The counter-force to the US was the USSR with its Stalinist brutality and expansionist doctrine; it was not a rival benign superpower democracy. Hence there was jubilation and celebration by tens of millions when the rotten Soviet totalitarian system imploded.
The US was the winner, but so was Europe and so was all humanity. However, while Europe remained divided along individual national interests without a real political unity and a strong economy and defence, the US harvested the fruits of the collapse of the Soviet empire.
There is no equal or rival to the US today. Whether we like it or not, the US is the world's unchallenged sole superpower and will remain so for many more years, perhaps as many as 30 years or more, until the emergence maybe of a superpower China or India.
Those who regret the present unipolar world seem to blame the US for its status. The fact is that the US is the sole surviving superpower because of its highly educated people, its ingenuity and creativity, the ability of its industries and commerce to engage in a continuing process of reform and adaptation, its diversity and intellectual and political dynamism, and its investment in research, science and technology. Its universities produce far more Nobel laureates in sciences, medicine and economics than Europe, Japan and Russia combined. It is a superpower partly by default, by the failures of others, and partly by design because it wants and plans to be a superpower.
Many resent the Americans and accuse them of arrogance and insensitivity. But millions of Americans gave their lives for others. They fought with unique bravery and died in Europe and North Africa, throughout Asia, and saved the world from Hitlerian domination.
One wonders, if the US had not entered World War II and had not stayed after the war, what languages the Europeans would be speaking today, and what language Asians would be forced to learn and use. There would be no European Union and no peaceful and democratic Japan.
For 50 years, the US provided the only credible deterrence in Europe against Soviet expansion. It continues to be the only credible security balance, and has thus averted catastrophic wars in the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, Korean Peninsula, China Strait, etc.
An American retreat from Asia would precipitate an uncontrollable arms race between, or among, rival neighbours which would almost inevitably result in open warfare and set back the impressive economic and human development of the past 20 years.
This does not in any way suggest that the US has been a benign power, a sort of a giant Mother Teresa. Its history is also one of conquest, greed and sometimes of barbarism. The Americans are a testimony to US imperial arrogance. Vietnam and Cambodia were carpet-bombed back to the Stone Age. The US cultivated and propped up despotic regimes all over the world. It still does.
The US can be a force for change and good. It can be a benign power. It can turn the world into a much safer, better, common home for all of us - as long as it has the humility of the truly great and walks halfway and meets its other half of fellow human beings, acknowledges its own limits and errors, and shares with the rest of us a more compassionate vision and agenda.
The rest of the world was in shock and mourning after September 11. But some did not fully grasp the American determination to fight an enemy that dared to attack them on their very soil.
The first country to experience American anger was Afghanistan and its Stone Age rulers who had been foolish and irresponsible enough to offer their country as a training ground for extremist foreign mercenaries from the Arab world and Pakistan.
Were there options other than military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq? In the case of Afghanistan, I did not believe then, and do not believe now, that diplomacy had any chance of success.
The nature of the regime was known to all. It harboured the al-Qaeda terrorists, offered them sanctuary, training ground and freedom of movement to stage their terrorist attacks around the world. By choice and because of its own belief, the Taliban regime fell hostage to the al-Qaeda network.
In the case of Iraq, were there diplomatic options that would have averted a war? I believed so, then. Before the war in Iraq, I appealed to the US to show patience and give more time to the weapons inspectors, while at the same time allowing the UN Secretary-General to try to persuade Saddam to leave office. I believed then that given time and without diminishing of the pressures and credible threat of war, Saddam could have accepted exile.
For me there was no doubt that the real and only culprit in the Iraq crisis was Saddam. He was a mass murderer, an egomaniac on the scale of Hitler, a master of brinkmanship and deceit, a gambler. He believed he could pull it off once again, that President George Bush would back off at the last minute. Saddam was banking on the growing peace movement and the divisions within NATO and Europe forcing Bush to pull back from the brink.
The US was confronted with a real dilemma. If it backed down under the pressure of the street demonstrations and the increasingly strong appeals from some of its own friends and allies, the most despotic regime on earth would score another win, thus fuelling its arrogance. The peace movement would have scored a major victory, but it would have been a hollow victory - as the real winner would be the dictator and the losers its many hundreds of thousands of victims.
Like the thousands of peace marchers, I am opposed to violence and wars. But sometimes we must ask ourselves some troubling questions. Should we oppose the use of force even in situations of genocide and ethnic cleansing?
In the war of words over Iraq, there are those opposing the war, period. In their view, there can never be justification for war. This is a highly moral and valid sentiment.
There is a second group, the realists, who support the use of force if it is sanctioned by the UN Security Council. But what should we do when the Security Council fails to act as a unified body because of conflicting political interests?
While there might never be an agreement among the pacifists and the realists over the dilemma of war and peace, there has to be an agreement now that the forces of fanaticism and terrorism cannot prevail in Iraq. Any retreat from Iraq today would have serious consequences for the stability of the whole region. Where there is a real chance today for democracy in Iraq, a hasty withdrawal would deliver the Iraqi people and the Kurds to a Taliban-style rule that would destabilise the entire region.
If I were a political leader of any consequence and I was asked a question regarding the options for Iraq, I would say that retreating and conceding victory to the terrorists is not an option - for the consequences are far too high to contemplate.
Those who oppose the use of force under any circumstances have not been able to articulate a better strategy to deal with situations of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Patient diplomacy lasts as long as it lasts; it might bear fruits, and it might not. But genocide goes on, as in the case of Sudan right now where tens of thousands of our fellow human beings are dying.
Was it wrong that NATO, led by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, intervened in Kosovo in 1999, bypassing the Security Council, saving the lives of thousands of Kosovars? This was the first time in NATO's 50-year history that it intervened to save a Muslim community that was being slaughtered in the heart of Christianity.
Maybe Bill Clinton was smarter than George Bush in not even making a faint gesture to secure a Security Council mandate because he knew the Russians would have vetoed any attempt at having a resolution authorising armed intervention in Kosovo.
If there had been a lone world leader with moral courage, let's say Mandela of South Africa, who had ordered his country's armed forces to intervene unilaterally in Rwanda in 1994, would he have been condemned for this unilateral action? Should the Security Council be always, at all times, the only valid source of legitimacy for an armed intervention? If not, then we should deal with the next question: who else - the only existing superpower with enough firepower?
What should the world community be doing about the politically induced humanitarian crisis in Sudan? So far, intensive diplomatic action by the UN Security Council and by the US Secretary of State has produced no tangible results. The Security Council has not even agreed on imposing sanctions.
The virtual paralysis in regard to the tragic situation in Sudan amply illustrates the difficulties and dilemmas faced by leaders when confronted with such complex conflicts.
A humanitarian intervention in Sudan by the West could very well turn into a military fiasco and further exacerbate the political tensions. But by not intervening, the West is accused of ignoring genocide. The best course of action is for the West to provide financial and logistical support towards an enhanced and effective African Union intervention force coupled with punitive actions against the Sudanese leaders.