Today’s situation in the Middle East, and not only there, is reminiscent of the situation of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in Central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War in many ways, with religious fanaticism, unspeakable outbreaks of violence, brutalisation of all aspects of life, great political powers fighting each other on the territories of other states and nations, ever changing frontlines and alliances … and changing “fortunes” of war, utter destruction of whole regions with most valuable cultural treasures … but above all immeasurable suffering of the people. The Thirty Years’ War only came to a halt when no party had reason to hope for military victory any more, when the armies were exhausted and the war chests empty, when realities had to be faced. Such as: the factual impotence of the Reich, the rise of sovereign princes, all acting on equal footing with each other, with absolute power in religious and political affairs in their territories some of which would develop into sovereign states, the beginning of a system based on international law.
In very similar circumstances numerous politicians, military personnel and other “elites” of the world convened for the annual Munich Security Conference from 16–18 February. The conference showed that the world is still in the middle of the great confrontation and doesn’t even know when the peak of the hostilities will be reached. On the contrary: the fact raises concerns that with US Senator John McCain it was yet another warmonger whom this years’ Ewald-von-Kleist-Prize, the Munich Security Conference award, was bestowed on. Mainly representatives of “the West” voiced threats and assigned guilt yet again, while sugarcoating their own policies with blooming spins of biased half-truths. The speech of US security adviser Herbert R. McMaster as well as his statements in the discussion1 were just one example for that.
An event like the Munich Security Conference is made for the public, in particular the German one. The media coverage is huge. However, one shouldn’t expect to learn from those speeches what is really going on in the world. Matter-of-fact political debates take place on the backstage, if at all. The speeches made in public are aimed at the public and contain mainly justifications and messages. One message was brought home with special insistence: the compass needle is still not pointing towards peace. Countries, including Germany, are preparing for still more wars instead.
Two sentences from the opening address given by German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen2 are exemplary: “Establishing capabilities and structures is one thing. The other thing is the common desire to actually make use of this military weight if circumstances so require.” – Von der Leyen wants to achieve that with more EU and within NATO: “We want to remain transatlantic – while also becoming more European. We want to enable Europe to also carry more weight in terms of military power.” And another two sentences further: “This is our European task for the future.” How endlessly far removed these sentences are from what the peoples of the world had aimed for in 1945: “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 …”
But “the West” is not the world. There were politicians even at the Munich Security Conference who had great concerns and called for a change.
Fu Jing, who chairs the committee on foreign relations of the Chinese parliament, had already argued for her opinion that the development of countries like China will not necessarily be detrimental to the rest of the world, in a special Munich Security Conference issue3 of the “German Times”. She asserts that China has no intention to export her politics or world view. Unlike the US led West, whom she accuses to have tried to westernise the whole globe by exporting their own values and models, thereby not only failing to tackle old problems but creating new ones instead. China, on the other side, could only thrive in a peaceful international environment, she stresses. She called for the US and China, as well as Europe, Russia and other countries, to start investigating the essentials of solving great conflicts – from this not only the big powers would benefit, it would also contribute to solving burning regional issues.
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergej Lawrow4 warned of twisting history – not in the case of World War II and the Western instrumentalisation of National Socialist Germany against the Soviet Union, not in the case of NATO expansion to the East after 1991 towards Russian borders; and also not regarding the instrumentalisation of fascist forces in the Ukrainian coup-d’état of February 2014 and the cruelties which followed it. The minister referred to the claims of an allegedly ever-growing negative influence of Russia, which keep being reiterated, as “propaganda of confrontation with Russia”. The real intentions of his country, he emphasised, were completely different. He renewed the offer to cooperate with both EU and the West on the basis of mutual benefit and to strengthen the United Nations.
Last but not least: How would history proceed if the world were to appreciate the voice of a small country in the Middle East such as Qatar … provided these words were uttered in earnest? We in the West get mainly negative headlines about this country at the Persian Gulf. And, indeed there is no way to whitewash the practice of financing terrorist groups in other countries.
However, the speech made by Emir Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani in Munich5 was, really, worth listening to. Emir al Thani reminded the audience of the recent European history and how formerly hostile states succeeded in becoming partners who cooperate and solve conflicts peacefully. Even Britain leaving the EU does not result in war but is handled in negotiations. A similar approach is necessary in the Middle East, he stressed. To this day many governments in his region and global powers were violating the human rights and go unpunished. Many governments acted without accountability. Peoples were losing their faith in the future that way, he emphasised, if mechanisms to solve conflicts and to respect the law were no longer working. He reminded the audience of the expulsion of the Palestinians 70 years ago and today’s situation in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.
While Europe had turned a blind eye on this injustice, he analysed, they were now forced to pay attention thanks to the “waves of refugees”. Terrorist attacks were not only due to religious extremism, he claimed. In many Arab countries big sectors of society were marginalised and despotic regimes were using religious heresy to justify oppression. The youth in the Middle East had the opinion, according to the speaker, that the world was dominated by hypocrisy and injustice. The peoples were no longer trusting their governments and saw violence as the only way to change matters. Making these men to chose between “security” on the one hand and “dignity”, freedom and social justice on the other was the wrong approach, the Emir argued. The “Arab Spring” had changed nothing in his opinion. He interpreted these events as a “cry for dignity” which had been silenced by force. This must stop, he said.
What was necessary, according to the Emir, was to end violent conflicts in his region and to offer both security and human rights to its people. Eight of the ten bloodiest conflicts in the world were localised in the Greater Middle East. In 2017, his country Qatar had experienced the injustice to be isolated and to be blamed to finance terrorism abroad, he explained. However, they had stood their course and maintained sovereignty, the Emir announced. He interpreted these accusations as an attempt by big powers to abuse small countries like his. But: “It is essential for the interests of people in the Middle East that independence and sovereignty of small countries like Qatar be guaranteed instead of forcing them to take side in the conflicts between two powers.”
Emir al-Thani believes time has come for a real security architecture in the Middle East. To achieve that, he urged “all nations to no longer quarrel about issues of the past but to accept a framework of basic security and governance rules, in order to guarantee a minimum of security, peace and welfare.”
All nations in the Middle East, big or small, should adopt the concept of peaceful coexistence with respected platforms for negotiating conflicts which are backed by the whole region.
Al-Thani stressed that the Middle East needs the support of the international community for this goal. He concluded his speech by urging all nations of the Middle East to accept his invitation and cooperate in establishing such a security concept.
Perhaps the Middle East has reason to hope that the Emir of Qatar has indeed turned into a realistic idealist. For the people in the region this would be the best we can wish for. And as for our own politicians who carry responsibility in the West – a bit more natural idealism would help, the Machiavellism of the recent past has already caused too much damage. •
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