An Address by Alfred Gusenbauer, Chancellor of Austria (2007-2008), Co-Chairman, WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations”, to the 12th Rhodes Forum, September 27, 2014
What makes the “Dialogue of Civilizations” view on the world work? We are embarking basically from 4 central values: the one is that we are striving for a world without war; second that we want to have an equality among the human beings and social classes around the world; the third that we respect and promote cultural diversity; and the forth that we want to hand over our planet to the future generation in a shape that makes it still possible and enjoyable to share life on Earth, which means that we are also very much based on the ideas of a sustainable development of our globe.
If you take these four core values into consideration and you look to the world of nowadays, it seems that some of the central lessons that history teaches are not accepted by several players around the world. Let me start by the following: since the end of the World War II and the use of the nuclear bomb. It’s clear to the entire mankind that there are and that there have to be limits to warfare because nobody can and will and should use nuclear weapons for the purpose of war. Of course there are nuclear weapons and their purpose mainly is deterrence, but the main new category of the nuclear weapon was that war is not an exercise where all means are accepted and used, but that war in modern times is a very inhuman exercise, but even within this inhuman exercise there are limits. Since then we have made the experience that war does not lead to the results that are intended by those that are conducting wars. This has been true for the war in Vietnam, this has been true for the war in Iraq, this has been true for many other wars that happened all around the world. War is more and more an inhuman exercise with more unintended consequences then reaching the results that the ones who conduct war intend to have.
One lecture, one lesson that should have been learnt is keep away from war because even if you think you are the stronger one at the end of the day you are going to lose and many of those who lose are the millions of victims of wars that never have been part of this decision making process of conducting a war. Look to the miserable situation that we are nowadays facing for instance in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria. Thousands and thousands and probably millions of people died, are dying and will die who never had a say if there should be war or not. War as a category of arranging international relations is absolutely unacceptable attitude that doesn’t reach the goals of those who conduct war and create an enormous amount of victims who never had a chance to say anything about it.
The second thing is what should have been learnt by history so far, another lesson is that if one thinks that regimes or political systems can be changed by war, this is the second lesson that one has to learn. It’s simply impossible. You can change social systems by reform, you can change economic systems by reform and by transformation, but you cannot change a political regime or a set up by conducting war. You might win one day, but the demons of the past always will come back.
This is the reason why we establish something like international law, international law as a symbol of civilization that is based on the acceptance of some basic rules. That is, of course, also based on the acceptance of borders in our world. It’s not for the first time right now when we many are taking about the conflict in and around Ukraine, that international law is violated. No, it’s not for the first time. It has been violated already in Kosovo, it has been violated in Iraq and it’s nowadays maybe violated in Syria and in other places. So the violation of international law is becoming more and more a reality of our times. But I asked a question: do those who violate international law really think that at the end of the day it will be beneficial to them? Or are we not collectively entering a trap, which means that there are stronger ones and weaker ones, and the stronger ones are the ones that can guarantee the international law, but also have a capacity to violate the international law? On the other hand, we have the weaker ones that are mainly dependent on the implementation of international law. And I tell you: it’s a trap to think that stronger ones can choose if they respect international law or if they violate international law, because no single nation on Earth will have the capacity to sustainably violate international law. Only collectively the implementation of international law can be guaranteed and violation of international law always will be a single assault on international law that again will not lead to the results that are intended.
We are facing some terrible challenges and I cannot address all of them. If you look to Africa and a present crisis that emerged around the Ebola decease, which has the capacity of being the HIV or the AIDS of the new days. If you look to the amount of people that can be affected and how easy this decease can be spread all around the world, of course not only medical challenge but even more a social challenge to limit the extent of that decease where we cannot leave our African friends alone and say: it’s up to you to solve the issue. They will not have the capacity to do it. It’s a matter of international solidarity to limit the effects of Ebola and to limit the spreading of this enormous decease. If we think we can stay out of this sick the sooner we will be affected ourselves in Europe, in the United States, in Asia and in other places. Of course there is the enormous crisis that we are facing nowadays in Iraq – a tragedy for mankind what happened there over decades starting with the violating of international law, continued by an enormously brutal war, then a nation left alone in its despair and in different conflicts that are characterizing them, then been affected by infiltrating terrorism from abroad connecting with terrorist groups inside the country. It’s absolute disgrace what is happening there and in a way the situation of Iraq nowadays is a symbol for the state of the world, a symbol for an inability of the collective system to solve challenges that are ahead of us due to the lack of cooperation. We have to serve gratitude to our friends of the Kurdish people in the Northern Iraq who are bravely fighting the spreading out of terrorism of the ISIS, the fundamentalists, radical Islamists and fortunately enough they are receiving now some support, but let us not misread the situation. They are in the forefront, the Kurdish friends are in the forefront to defend all of us against this enormous menace of terrorism. It’s not for the first time that the brave fighter of the Kurdish people have to undergo such an enormous challenge, because we never should forget who have been the main victims of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It was the Kurdish people there and it was the Kurdish fighters who tried to defend civilization in their part of Iraq. So our solidarity has to go with the Kurdish people who are so bravely fighting our case in the area and that require an enormous support and of course in international cooperation across all civilizations that is able to stop the spreading out of this enormously dangerous terrorism that can infect the entire world and sooner or later we will have this terrorism in the US, in Europe, in Asia and in other parts. We will have enormous difficulties to deal with it.
I’m describing these phenomena of our times because these enormous challenges require international cooperation and collective action. It’s therefore completely not understandable that because of the conflict situation within Ukraine the United States, Europe and Russia are engaging in a type of conflict that is contradicting the necessities of our times. Do really somebody think that with the implementation of sanctions which anyhow is a very doubtful exercise, that with the implementation of sanctions of one against the other we are able to create the bases of a cooperation that we need so desperately in those days in order to face the challenges? Does really anybody think that this is a useful way to address the challenges ahead of us? I don’t think so. I think that these sanctions will not lead to the results that are intended by it, that these sanctions are poisoning the climate between main actors of world politics and in addition these sanctions will have a harmful economic effect on the economies both in Europe and in Asia. Therefore I think one of the convictions that we should share as a World Forum is: sanctions are not an instrument of politics in order to resolve conflicts that are there and that can be resolved by other means. Sanctions are not the way out of the crisis. Sanctions are quite the contrary. It’s a way deeper into the crisis. Therefore we should support all those who work on a peaceful settlement of the situation in and around Ukraine. We should support those who engage in a disarmament of rhetoric, all those who are ready for pragmatic solutions that offered different peoples that are living there, a certain standing within their state and within their nation. We should support all those who sooner or later are coming back to the economic reconstruction of that country that is on the edge to collapse economically, because at the end of the day let’s never forget: it’s people that are affected, it’s not the political class, it’s not the international financial markets in all their anonymity around the world. It’s people that are affected. And if we are taking ourselves serious, we have to embark on two vectors. The one is wherever the world is heading in the wrong direction we have to raise our voice of reason. And second vector is wherever we have a chance - and there are many of them - to implement our basic values to abstain from war, to get sustainable development, to honor cultural diversity and to work for a more egalitarian world, we should be the ones that are standing in the frontline, not in the frontline of blaming, not in the frontline of sanctioning, but in the frontline of cooperation that is based on equal footing. Thank you very much.
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