Prof. Hans Koechler paid a visit to Auckland recently to deliver lecture on ‘The Global War on Terror – Contradictions of an Imperial Strategy’. He is President of the International Progress Organisation (IPO) and a renowned international jurist, activist expert on international law, injustice, and power politics, academic and much-published progressive author:
Dr Koechler’s clear perceptions on the subject assume greater relevance here now, following the terror raids, arrests, and mass intimidation of Tuhoe last October; and the subsequent Law Commission review now underway of NZ’s criminal and terrorist legislation.
Since 1972, UN Secretaries-General in their statements subsequently acknowledged Professor Köchler’s contributions to international peace. In April 2000, Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Professor Koechler as international observer at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands (Lockerbie Trial) which to this day remains unresolved largely due to the non-compliance of the British government in releasing the supposedly secret information to the court.
Darpan-The Mirror : Dr. Hans Koechler, welcome, welcome to Aotearoa. Thank you for being willing on your holiday to spend some time sharing your knowledge with us. You have talked tonight about the global war on terror-what is it new about terror and terrorism in the current context?
Prof. Koechler: The new feature is that a kind of universal threat is now being connected to the term terrorism and fear is being instilled into the people because they are make believe that there is a threat to our western civilization even to the very survival of the western community and to the preservation of the identity that is emanating from this kind of illusive enemy which is called international terrorism. That I think is the new feature because in earlier decades, in earlier eras, terrorists acts were specified and people identified certain-the interests coming from certain specific groups but now apparently this danger is somehow general and vague and entire civilizations are presented as a threat to our own civilization.
Darpan-The Mirror: So who is promoting this and why?
Prof. Koechler: As far as I can see it is promoted by the establishment, powerful political and economic establishment, media establishment in the leading countries of the western world. On top of them first and foremost is the United States of America and in addition for instance the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Northern Island and some other Western allies.
Darpan-The Mirror: And what do they have to gain from this?
Prof. Koechler: Well, frankly speaking, it is about the global power in a situation in which there is no challenge to the Western supremacy and particularly in which there is no real threat to the security of the Western world. I mean after the demise of communists, after the collapse of the Soviet block; apparently one feels the need to create another enemy stereotype which will allow to somehow justify certain measures of control over the rest of the world. Usually a government needs an enemy; people have to be rallied around the government in defence against an enemy from outside and this threat or the other which is now supposedly threatening the west is presented as terror- or as terrorism or as the terrorists.
Darpan-The Mirror: You described it as self-defeating; why do you think it is self defeating?
Prof. Koechler: It is finally doomed to fail because it necessitates a constant a kind of perpetual mobilisation of the people and of the resources of a country. When you present the threat as universal and when there is no possibility to identify specifically certain groups from which the threat emerges, you have to engage in a total of strategy of prevention and you have to exclude even the slightest possibility of attack from whichever direction and that means you have to be prepared 24 hours seven days a week hundred percent. And for that reason somehow the …somehow the…strength or the capacities of the countries that engage in such an undertaking will be exhausted and the other reason why I think this is in the medium and long term is a self-defeating exercise. And the other reason is this kind of strategy antagonizes entire nations and even peoples and civilizations in such a way that they will not feel any loyalty towards those countries that engage in that struggle and they may challenge the supremacy of those countries and they may be more determined in their resistance than they otherwise would be, if there would be a kind of rational relationship on the basis of the definition of mutual interest, as also could be the case.
Darpan-The Mirror: Why have politicians, political leaders, intellectual leaders in so much of the west not challenged? You gave the example of the Japanese member of the senate who had raised issues and those issues had not appeared in the mainstream media. What- Why do you think that is occurring?
Prof. Koechler: I personally feel on the basis of my own experience now over several decades having dealt with issues particularly of the Middle East of the Muslim world that most of the people in the media and in the academic community are just afraid for their own position. They do not want to somehow be marginalized or that they do not want to be sidelined which would be the case if they speak out critically against this entire strategy. So it is a kind of opportunism or the kind of fear which people are not able to overcome because very often if one really speaks out, one is confronted with quiet strong media campaigns and the careers of some people might suffer if they do speak out.
Darpan-The Mirror: But if we contrast that to the civil rights campaigns and the challenges that there were to the suppression of rights during the 1960’s, 1970’s in the West- we are now seeing a revisiting of the normalization, militarization, of suppression of fundamental rights. What’s different? Why are we seeing those voices of dissent now?
Prof. Koechler: I think that as far as Europe is concerned, then I am only an expert on these matters; in Europe as far as Europe is concerned the entire social climate if one may use that term, is different compared to the 1960’s and also our students in universities nowadays are much less outspoken and are much more obedient so to speak as far as the politically correct opinions are concerned. But maybe the situation now has to do with a kind of overall opinion control or fear that has been instilled into the people and no one dares to be or doesn’t want to be disloyal towards his community or wants to speak out against the supplementary soft state.
Darpan-The Mirror: So how would you relate this to that of Palestine? We have seen the stories of killings and maiming everyday; we have seen the depravation of basic necessities of life- of access to electricity and to water and food? How do you interpret or analyze the situation in Palestine and the responses to it within the framework of your thinking?
Prof. Koechler: As far as I understand that I have followed the developments in Palestine since 1970’s and that means it’s now more than three decades, as far as I see it, most of what you refer to now, most of the events are not adequately presented to the wider public; most of the people would just not know what is really going on, the news’ are filtered through the corporate media, if people would really be aware of the situation…people live…under which people live in for instance the Gaza strip, there would be some stronger and critical position against the policies for instance of the western countries. But as far as I see it, there is a lack of…lack of comprehensive information and the other problem as far as Palestine is concerned is that is this linkage with Islam as a threat and particularly terrorism-the linkage of Islam and terrorism.
Darpan-The Mirror: So when you are looking at the way the western states respond to the use of force to suppress resistance movements, freedom fighters, terrorists however they are defined by one side or the other. What are the factors that you think drive the decisions of states now can I put that in the local context…
Prof. Koechler: Yeah.
Darpan-The Mirror: Our government here for example had no problem with recognizing the General who lead the coup in Thailand. The military government there and the government here was perfectly happy to deal with, had no problem in dealing with Musharraf in Pakistan; Bainimarama the leader of the military coup in Fiji is ostracized, there are sanctions against anyone in the military including one who wanted to come here in January whose family members were part of the military, what are the kinds of considerations do you think that drive the differential responses of the western leaders to regimes that are actually very similar in their particular style and in the suppression of rights attached to it?
Prof. Koechler: I would use the term of “the policy of double standards”. A government applies certain principles of legality or certain criteria of the rule of law selectively according to the specific constellation of interest. And so it is no surprise to me, of course I am not aware of the specific policies of the government here, but it is of no surprise to me to see that the government applies certain principles or insists on the implementation of certain principles in one case and totally overlooks them. Of course in the neighbourhood there may be different interests…and different from which your country may have…that explains…why one insists on certain rules in this case and does not insists on certain rules in other cases. Of course, that creates a credibility problem but I do not know…frankly speaking upto the present moment I do not know of any government which really would be consistent in the application of principles and which would avoid in its foreign policy the so-called policy of double standards.
Darpan-The Mirror: The New Zealand government has also made great play out of the fact that it did not join the coalition of the willing in the invasion of Iraq but it’s there in Afghanistan; Does that sound a convincing clean hands kind of principled approach to you or do you have problems with that kind of differentiation?
Prof. Koechler: In terms of legal doctrines, I would say I would have problems with this kind of differentiation but one could say first of all the government of New Zealand made a good decision in not sending troops to Iraq may of the government that joined the coalition of the willing regret this by now and some have already withdrawn their troops. So the government here was lucky in having not fallen into that trap but as far as new principles are concerned in my view the interventions in both countries Iraq and as well as in Afghanistan are a violation of sovereignity of those countries and both interventions are not duly justified or legitimized by international law; even in the case of Afghanistan there is no authorization of the intervention by American and NATO forces in that country.
Darpan-The Mirror: So do you think International law has become so devalued that it is no longer actually defendable in many of those instances or do you think it is a recoverable concept that might still have some value if it can be removed from the grip of the Security Council?
Prof. Koechler: I don’t know. Eventually it may already be beyond repair so to speak. The big problem I see it that in a situation in a global constellation in which there is no balance of power there is absolutely no incentive for the hegemonial country to abide…to abide by the rule of law or to obey the law. There is no incentive for instance for that country to respect Security Council resolutions, on other way because of the veto this country like for others can block any decisions by that Council at any moment. But as far as Afghanistan is concerned the situation went even that far that for instance my own country the Republic of Austria which according to its constitution is permanently neutral according to the Swiss model. Even my country has sent forces though in a very small number but sent forces to Afghanistan. Of course people say that this is not compatible with the statutes of permanent neutrality. Can be? It never can be compatible but these things happen now and one is just reinterpreting terms according to the constellation, political constellation of interest at a given moment.
Darpan-The Mirror: So what’s your sense of what might happen in Iran? What are your fears what might happen?
Prof. Koechler: I did fear that the United States together with their ally in the Middle East plus one or two European countries might militarily intervene in Iran and that was according to my knowledge… also the plan of the United States administration two years ago…one year ago. What I see now is the inter-actions services of that very country have expressed an opinion that is contradicting the strategy of the President of the United States. So now my hope is that the US is reconsidering its war plans against Iran and that it will not attack Iran because it will totally destabilize not only the situation in the Middle East but the situation far beyond that region.
Darpan-The Mirror: You stressed a lot on the foreign policy in ideological and the economic interests are also integral to this not only in the Middle East but in the way many economies are now becoming almost dependent on perpetual certainly many aspects of the economy are; Fiji where you are going to go tomorrow the Fiji economy is dependent on remittances; almost 90% of remittances are coming from the security workers that are operating in Iraq; you have an economy that becomes dependent on war and when people come back and bringing the militarization back into the country itself, do you see any similar kinds of militarization of economy within Europe and America that might want to keep perpetuating this process?
Prof. Koechler: As far as Europe is concerned I do not yet see that tendency firmly established. In United States it appears obvious to me that there is a kind of self-perpetuating situation and that’s the economic interests that lead to the involvement of the country into military adventures. As far as our countries in the European Union are concerned I think we are not yet reached that stage…the military industry in most of the European countries is much less strong and much less developed than it is in the United States.
Darpan-The Mirror: Just one last question…we become aware that terrorism has become a domestic issue in this country with the arrests that were in part under the Terrorism Suppression Act with most of those arrested being Maori Sovereignity activists. Do you think the global war on terror is actually having an internal dimension that legitimizes the use of state power against its own dissident internal factions as much as against the other in the global context? And how in that sense do you think we might connect the domestic realities to the international experiences?
Prof. Koechler: I am in this country only since very short time so I am not so familiar with the internal political situation however I do hope that a distinction will be made between tensions that may exist domestically and the international issues related to the so-called global war on terror. As of the present moment I do not see any connection between what is going on here between the government and the representatives of the native population of New Zealand and the war on terror. And just hope that no one will exploits this extremely emotional climate surrounding the global war on terror for internal domestic politics or for internal security measures. One thing…the one situation is to be totally kept separate from the other.
Darpan-The Mirror: Thank you very much for your time. We wish you safe travel and we look forward to having you back here again before July. Thanks!
Prof. Koechler: You are welcome!
Syed Akbar Kamal is Producer/Director for current affairs programme Darpan-The Mirror on the World Wide Web.
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