The politics of strength: Humanitarian intervention, pretexts and the alternatives

By Johan Galtung

Written January 2002

1.  The issue: humanitarian intervention in Yugoslavia
We cannot stand by, watching a government committing serious crimes against humanity, even genocide, on its own population.

Certainly not! The doctrine of national sovereignty “within recognized borders”, like the doctrine of patria potesta giving the pater familias a carte blanche for terrorism within the walls of a recognized home, are cultural crimes against humanity, drawing artificial borders for human solidarity, delivering the subjects to the dominio of whoever are the tyrants.  The Roman law construct relating owners to whatever can be owned paved the way for such institutionalized crimes against humanity as slavery and colonialism. The problem arises when “whatever can be owned” includes human beings, for almost any definition of “ownership”.  The individual ownership takes precedence over the communal.

Humanitarian intervention, in all such cases, coming to the assistance of human beings in distress, is a human duty, flowing from norms of solidarity with human beings anywhere, regardless of artificial borders.  Of course, if action under that heading is done for such selfish goals as access to raw materials or to establish military bases, it should be better known as conquest.  But abuse is no excuse for doing nothing. Two wrongs do not make one right. [Read more…]

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The world needs reconciliation centres

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 76 – August 20, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Crotian version here.

 

“Do you remember Kim, the 9-year old Vietnamese girl, running as she was hit by napalm from U.S. warplanes in 1972? That picture haunted John Plummer for 24 years; he’d been a helicopter pilot and helped organise the napalm raid.

His marriage crashed, he isolated himself and took to drinking; he eventually became a Methodist pastor in Virginia. In 1996, Kim and John met and he says: ‘Kim saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow…She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was ‘I’m sorry; I’m sorry – over and over again. And at the same time she was saying, ‘It’s all right, I forgive you.’ They are now good friends, and call each other regularly.*

This may be a unique story, but how can we talk about restoring peace after wars’ hurt and harm without paying attention to the human aspects of conflicts in general and that of forgiveness and reconciliation in particular?” asks TFF director Jan Oberg. “I think we need to make forgiveness and reconciliation a central objective: in research and studies, in training and education and, above all, we should empower every civilian and military – and every international organisation engaged in war-torn societies – to work for it with the locals.

“Take a look at Bosnia and Croatia since 1995, look at Kosovo now, or Somalia, or…Have people really held out their arms or said ‘I forgive you’? Come together in trust? Have they learnt how to deal with the past, not in order to forget it or to blame each other, but to acknowledge what happened and find ways to avoid it ever happening again? Can that even be said about South Africa?

It is easy to repair houses and infrastructure, it’s easy to throw money around and talk about human rights? But what if people deep down keep on hating each other and won’t even dream about doing what Kim and John did? Will they themselves ever be happy and at peace with themselves? Will their children? What kind of society will it be if we cannot also, so to speak, repair souls and help create tolerance, co-existence, even cooperation and love?”

Jan Oberg continues, “One of the most moving experiences in my life was when, together with TFF team members, we helped a few Croats and Serbs in Eastern Slavonia, Croatia, come together: young boys and girls as well as the parent generation who were permitted for the first time to talk face-to-face about what had happened – but to stick to facts only and ‘I language’ and avoid blaming. Many cried, successively many laughed together – some now are friends and some do projects together – and, yes, some have left or lost hope again. TFF keeps working there today.

It made me understand how neglected the whole issue of ‘soul reconstruction’ is – and how vain everything else will be without it. You can pour any amount of dollars into Kosovo – it will not create peace unless we also, in deep respect and cooperation with the locals on all side, do something that can not be measured in money terms. [Read more…]

Bombings – incompatible with humanitarian concerns

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 60 – March 24, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“NATO’s unwise, counterproductive and non-legal bombing of sovereign Yugoslavia is justified by President Bill Clinton, EU and other Western leaders and media with reference to humanitarian concerns. Supposedly air strikes serve to stop ethnic cleansing, future massacres, refugee flows, and prevent innocent children and women from being killed. Diplomatically expressed, this comes from the marketing department. Bombings will produce what it purports to prevent,” says Dr. Jan Oberg, TFF’s director, right after the bombing campaign has started. According to Oberg, this argument lacks credibility for the following reasons:

 

NO VIOLENCE-PREVENTION

Why did the West do absolutely nothing before this crisis became violent? There were many opportunities for a negotiated solutions. TFF, for instance, has suggested a variety of options since 1992 that could have prevented violence and the killing we’ve seen the last year. In no other conflict has there been so many early warnings and so little preventive diplomacy. Kosovo’s catastrophe was among the most predictable of all. It is intellectual nonsense that ‘everything else has been tried and NATO bombings was the only option left.’

 

HUMANITARIAN WORK MADE IMPOSSIBLE BY NATO THREATS

The immediate consequence of the threats of NATO air strikes is that OSCE’s Verification mission had to be withdrawn and that almost all humanitarian organizations withdrew to protect their staff. More refugees are now running over the border to Macedonia. With fewer ears and eyes on the ground, its free for all sides – NATO included – to step up the killing.

 

THIS WILL MAKE SERBS AND ALBANIANS HATE EACH OTHER (MORE)

NATO bombings will be perceived as a punishment of Serbs and a clear support to Albanian hardliners. [Read more…]

Rambouillet: Imperialism in disguise

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 55 – February 16, 1999

Originally published here.

“What happens now in Rambouillet has little to do with creating peace for the suffering citizens in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo/a. Disguised as “negotiations” about a “peace” plan, the international so-called community promotes less noble values and long-term goals in the region and use the Serbs and Albanians as supernumeraries in its drama. It’s time we ask what the self-proclaimed “conflict managers” are actually up to. If peace in Kosovo or the wider Balkans had been the real aim, we would have witnessed a completely different approach leading up to Rambouillet. We come closer to the truth about Rambouillet if we use words such as globalisation, strategic expansion, Caspian oil, Greater NATO, containment policy and imperialism disguised as conflict-management and peace-making,” says Dr. Jan Oberg upon returning from the 34th TFF mission to the region since 1992, this time to Skopje, Belgrade and Kosovo.

“If peace was their profession, the governments of the international community would – around 1992 – have put enough diplomatic and other civilian pressure on the parties to begin a dialogue, not negotiations. It would have provided 5-10 different secluded meeting places for Albanians, Serbs and other peoples – NGOs, teachers, intellectuals, journalists, doctors etc. – to explore their problems and possible solutions. In short, an international brainstorm to produce creative ideas for later elaboration at a complex negotiation process that would take at least a year.

Today, instead, we are left with only one – legalistic and formal – plan developed by U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill. It is not the result of neutral mediation, contains no creative ideas and is so unattractive to the parties that it has to be imposed as a fait accompli by bombing threats and by arrogant talking down to the delegations (“they must be brought to understand their own best..”) [Read more…]