AISA DISCUSSION PANEL ON DEMOCRATISATION CRITICAL THINKING FORUM
“Regime Change in Libya and Recognition of the National Transitional Council: Assessing the West and AU Perspectives”
5 October 2011
Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen, all protocol observed!
Thank you most sincerely for inviting us to speak today!
Our talk today is titled: “An elusive rules-based multilateral global system of governance – Equal human beings, unequal powers”.
From the onset we want to assert that, to assess the occurrence of regime change as happened in Libya recently, a ‘de javu’ of Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot do so without understanding the motives of those who seek to impose their will on the rest of us, the weaker states and peoples of the world. Regime change is but a manifestation of certain grand strategies, machinations and ideologies of those who stand opposed to a just, peaceful and stable world. So, before we look at how, we need to understand why!
Before we do so, let us return to the beginning. The United Nations Charter declares in its Preamble:
“We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm dignity and worth…of nations large and small…” And for these ends “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours…to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed forces shall not be used, save in the common interest…”.
As recently as 26 September 2011, UN Secretary-General in apparent re-affirmation of the spirit of the UN Charter said to a Ministerial Meeting of the Least Developed Countries:
“Hammarskjöld (Second Secretary-General of the UN) lived by his belief that the United Nations should be a servant of the smaller, less powerful States – not a tool of the great powers. ‘The Organization’ he said, ‘is first of all their Organization, and I deeply believe in the wisdom with which they will be able to use it and guide it’”.
Certainly peace loving citizens of the world agree with the noble and lofty goals of the founding fathers of the UN and find these to be acceptable norms for the world to live by and respect. And equally Ban Ki-Moon correctly captures the spirit of the UN Charter when he refers to the need to protect the weak rather than perpetuate the dominance of the mighty.
In recent years, we have seen rapid changes in international norms and practice that govern the global multilateral system. In the main, these changes have been possible due to among things, the absence, since the end of the Cold War, of a visible and coherent counter-veiling force to a superpower in cohorts with a coalition of mainly Western powers that keep on dominating and abusing, especially the UN system in order to create a world in their own image. And one of central points in this presentation is to highlight the fact that if this trend continues unchallenged, the global multilateral system of governance as we know it may be eroded and instead, anarchy may befall all of us.
In order to preserve world peace and avoid future wars, we have no choice but to preserve the integrity and impartiality of the United Nations. Therefore the UN must always remain credible and reliable as a partner for peace and development especially to the most marginal of nations in the world. If the standing of the UN is shaken, undermined and thus questionable, the very foundations of the compact for lasting peace and unity of humanity is threatened and/or undermined. Outside the UN system, it is difficult imagine as to what else can humanity hope for.
Therefore, the manner in which the UN intervenes in crises around the world is of utmost importance, let alone the substance of the intervention. The recent cases of Ivory Coast and Libya is a case in point, let alone the 2003 Iraqi case where the UN was openly bypassed and undermined. The UN must act and be seen to act consistently and impartially in interventions, especially as it relates to conflict, be it intra or interstate conflict. I want to argue that the manner of intervention is central to the substance of the intervention itself; otherwise we will see the triumph of the wrong notion of “the means justifies the end”. The manner of intervention goes to heart of the substantial reasons for the establishment of the UN and therefore its continued relevance.
That is why, the issue is not about protecting or defending the Qaddafi regime but about a legitimate protest against using the UN system to effect regime change and pursue political and even imperialist interests in Libya.
In this regard, to further emphasise the point, the Open Letter on Libya by Concerned Africans to which I’m an organiser and signatory argues that:
“The UN Security Council must therefore know that at least with regard to Libya, it has acted in a manner which will result in and has led to the loss of its moral authority effectively to preside over the critical processes of achieving global peace and the realisation of the objective of peaceful coexistence among the diverse peoples of the world”.
This is fundamentally what has happened with the UN and immediate steps must be taken to restore the integrity and credibility of the UN in the eyes of the majority of the people of the world who rely on it as a guarantor of peace and stability.
Let me now return to the important question of ‘why’ some countries act the way they do and undermine the UN system and therefore the views of the weak and majority.
The Global Trends 2025: A transformed world released in 2008, an initiative led by the National Intelligence Council of the United States states the following in their projection of the world in the near future:
“The rising energy demands of growing populations and economies may bring into question the availability, reliability, and affordability of energy supplies. Such a situation would heighten tensions between states competing for limited resources, especially if accompanied by increased political turbulence in the Middle East and general loss of confidence in the ability of the marketplace to satisfy rising demands. National companies could control the lion’s share of hydrocarbon resources leading to a further blending of energy-state relationships and geopolitical concerns. Perceptions of energy scarcity will drive countries to take actions to assure their future access to energy supplies. In the worst case this could lead to interstate conflicts if government leaders deem assured access to energy resources to be essential to maintaining domestic stability and the survival of their regime”.
This point is elucidated by Mqolomba and Magadla in a critical piece in The Thinker where they assess the real reasons why the UN was abused and the AU ignored in the Libyan conflict. The writers argue as follows:
“In essence, the UN Security apparatus has been abused as an exercise of power, and this abuse demonstrates dialectical relationship between hard and soft power international politics. In this regard, the UNSC Resolution 1973 represents an extension of the military energy/industrial complex and consequently, the old hegemonic strongholds over Africa and the Middle-East. The use of legal international institutions represents the strategic use of soft power in legitimizing and legalizing conquest, to achieve aims of the military energy/industrial complex, which represents the traditional form of power. The UNSC resolution must therefore be seen in this instance as allowing itself to be used as a political instrument enabling the second scrabble for the region’s resources”. And let me hasten to say, the re-colonisation of Africa.
If this is not imperialism and the resurgence of colonialism, then I don’t know what these two terms mean. Chomsky, the most widely read American voice on foreign policy defines imperialism thus:
“The idea is to have independent states, but with weak governments that must rely on the imperial power for their survival. They can rip off the population if they like. That’s fine. But they have to provide a façade behind which the real power can rule. That’s standard imperialism”.
Certainly the Powerful 3, (the US, France and Britain) acted with a sense of imperialism and a posture, openly, of rogue states. Again Chomsky explains what a rogue state is:
“If we define a ‘rogue state’ in terms of any principle, such as violation of international lay, or aggression, or atrocities, or human rights violations, the United States certainly qualifies, as you would expect of the most powerful state in the world. Just as Britain did. Just as France did”. The strangest of things is that the mainstream media often defines this (the rogue behavior of Western powers) as a ‘civilising missions’. This strange tendency also extends to some sections of the intellectual community and I believe this to be a travesty of reason.
It is my contention that the intervention of NATO in the Libyan crisis must be understood in this context. The motives, posture and methods deployed must be correctly understood in this context. Of course other than a quest for resources, there are other secondary concerns and geopolitical considerations.
Others argue, quite correctly that if big powers are condemned for their rogue behavior; so should small countries that do not respect human rights and other conventions even in the conduct of domestic affairs. However, it must be noted that fundamentally, at a multilateral level, the spotlight must be put on the behavior of powerful rogue states who continue to act in an undemocratic manner to undermine the multilateral system and plunge it into crisis. I say undemocratic because, these rogue states do not care about the views of the majority of the world. They represent a minority of voices and of course in some instances powerful private interests of multinational corporations. I argue this point mindful of the fact that the majority is not always right but equally, might is not right!
The UN system is supposed to facilitate equality among the nations and peoples of the world and protect the rights and sovereignty of the weak, however, as evidenced by Resolution 1973, the UN system has been used to legitimize and legalise regime change. As Mahmood Mandani argues, quite correctly, the UN was central to the justification but peripheral to the execution. The full report of what happened and what is happening in Libya now will only emerge in the next few months. The whole truth is unknown, and as the saying goes, the truth is the first casualty of war.
The abuse of power by dominant powers is also demonstrated by their disregard and contempt of the representatives of the vast majority of the population of the world as represented by Russia, China, Brazil and Germany who chose to abstain instead of using their veto, in Resolution 1973. This experience speaks to the urgent need to transform the UN system into a democratic system that serves the people of the world fairly in order to realise the type world envisioned in the UN Charter. But also history teaches that the dominant powers in the UN System are emboldened by their economic power and position in relation to the rest of the peoples and nations of the world. This is what fundamentally creates the situation of equal human beings and yet unequal powers!
At a philosophical level, war is pursuit of politics through military means and it has been suggested that no war is a just war!
The Palestine-Israeli conflict juxtaposed with the Libyan conflict exposes the duplicity of those who claim to be guardians of the best within us. In this instance, the rogue states atleast pretend to prefer negotiations as a peaceful political/diplomatic solution as opposed to military intervention. They send former Prime Minister Tony Blair as a Special Envoy of the Quartet to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this instance, they convey the message to the world that a peaceful political/diplomatic solution is important and useful to finding a lasting solution to the Middle East crisis. However, everybody knows who supplies Israel with heavy arms. In an unbelievable turn of events, the United States in particular together with Israel, refused for many months to recognize Hamas as a legitimately and democratically elected government of Palestine and yet, they were quick in a matter of days to recognize Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) in the UN, an NTC which came to power undemocratically. And sadly, the AU did the same thing. What does this mean? Does it mean life is precious only in one side of the world and not in another? The less said about this messy situation, the better. Beyond this example, there is plenty evidence to suggest that the West are a bunch of rogue states.
As a friend recently said, the West has lost ethical and moral authority on all major international questions: in the nuclear arms race, the global economic crisis, in the arena of global multilateral governance, conflict resolution and so on. As a result, they cannot be the guardians of morality and fairness in the world!
All of this does not suggest that Africa is straight and proper. The continent has a fair share of responsibility to improve its institutions, norms and systems but this does not warrant arbitrary behavior on the part of the West rather, it calls on the West to act as genuine and reliable to partners in Africa’s renewal and development.
Others even suggest that Africa acted slow, without political will and means to resolve the Libyan conflict and to the extreme, the question is asked: “Did the AU have a Plan B?”. Well it now appears that the UN and NATO are looking for the AU Roadmap as Plan B. It also appears that some among us choose to forget that the AU Roadmap was never allowed to see the light of day. How much can one achieve in seven days? Ask NATO, they are in Libya now for more than seven months! In this regard, it is pure propaganda to suggest that the AU acted ‘slowly and without political will’.
African solutions and narratives are deliberately sidelined and as consequence the legitimate question arises: as the weakest of the countries the UN System, if the UN multilateral system is weakened and the voice of Africans undermined, what alternative do we have?
In the process of bombing Libya and a raging conflict, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based on a referral by the UNSC, goes to Libya to investigate crimes against humanity. How can the ICC in its right thinking hope to investigate crimes of a conflict that is still taking place? The ICC forms part of this multilateral system of governance which I argue is rapidly losing credibility and integrity in the eyes of the majority of the people of the world.
The other point that needs to be made is about the need to review the right to protect as it relates to the so-called ‘no fly zone’. The pertinent question to be asked is: how does one tell, from the cockpit of a fighter jet, flying at a particular altitude, that this is an armed combatant deserving bombing and the other is a civilian deserving protection? This goes to the heart of the very nature of the rogue behavior of military intervention.
In the end, we need ask the question: now that we are here, what do we do?
In my humble view, the following needs to be done:
- The peoples, government and leaders of the world must be humble enough to recognize that no conflict is easy.
- If we err, let us rather err on the side of caution.
- The need to restore the credibility and respectability of the UN system cannot be over emphasised. This means that we must recast the UN as an organisation that truly protects the weak, gives hope for peace and avoid war.
- Africa needs to redefine herself and continue to improve the lives of Africans through development and democracy.
- Masses of the peoples of the world must stand up to injustice wherever it prevails including even in the handling of multilateral issues, interventions and systems. There is no alternative to the UN in so far as I can imagine.
- There is consensus that ‘state sovereignty’ as we know it has significantly changed over the past decades but equally, the right to protect rule must be reviewed in light of the Libyan experience.
- The work to democratize and transform the UN system must continue in earnest.
I finally close with a conversation between Antonio Gramsci and Chomsky. Gramsci writes that, “a main obstacle to change is the reproduction by the dominated forces of elements of the hegemonic ideology. It is an important and urgent task to develop alternative interpretations of reality”. And to this profound state, Chomsky responds thus:
“…intellectuals internalize the conception that they have to make things seem complicated. Otherwise what are they around for? It’s worth asking yourself what’s really so sophisticated? Gramsci is a very admirable person, but take that statement and try to translate it into simple English. How complicated is it to understand the truth or to know how to act?”.
Inspired by the question posed by Chomsky, we can ask a similar question: how complicated is it to understand the truth about Libya or to know how to act?
The African intellectual must answer this question in order to respond to the challenge of out times, the challenge of ‘equal human beings and yet unequal powers’. If this is not done urgently and honestly, a fair multilateral system will remain a pipedream and anarchy will reign!
I thank you!
 UN Charter, 1945 in San Francisco
 Ban, K. 2011. Remarks at the Ministerial Meeting of the Least Developed Countries. UNHQ.
 US National Intelligence Council. 2008. Global Trends 2025: A transformed world.
 Mqolomba, Z & Magadla, S. 2011. Marginalisation of the Pan-African narrative and the Politics behind the humanitarian intervention in Libya, The Thinker. Vol. 29, July 2011.
 Chomsky, N. 2005. Imperial ambitions. Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-911 World.
 Antonio Gramsci cited by Vincente Navarro, The Politics of Health Policy (Blackwell, 1994), p.1.