The decisive will to peace is a great force

An interview with Dr Daniele Ganser

A few weeks ago, the French-language edition of the bestseller of the Swiss historian and peace researcher Daniele Ganser, published at the end of 2016 and now in its seventh edition, was published “Les Guerres illégales de l’OTAN. Une chronique de Cuba jusqu’à la Syrie” (Nato’s illegal wars. A chronicle from Cuba to Syria). On the occasion of the publication of the French edition, “Horizons et débats” spoke with the author about his book and his positions.

Horizons et débats: Mr Ganser, you are a historian, specialist in contemporary history since 1945 and expert in international politics. Within the SIPER Institute that you have created and run, you are interested in many topics such as energy and geostrategy, conflicts over resources and economic policy, the implementation of secret wars. You are committed to peace. You are an irenologist (peace scientist). Your latest book has now been published in French. Are all wars illegal ?

Daniele Ganser: In general, all wars are illegal. The UN Charter, signed in 1945, explicitly states that states must resolve their conflicts of interests without resorting to violence or arms. Wars are clearly illegal. However, there are two exeptions: First, self-defense; if a country is attacked, it has the right to defend itself militarily. Second, a war is legal if the UN Security Council has an explicit mandate to do so.

The example of the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan should have made the United States think in 2001; the fiasco of the so-called “export of democracy” in Iraq should have made the French and the British think twice before they intervene in Libya in 2011, or help the jihadists in Syria. Can’t we learn anything from history?

I think we can indeed learn something from history. The bottom line is that we cannot solve our problems with violence. We tried many times. But really it all lead to more problems. So I stress in my book that we should stick to the UN principles, not bomb or invade other countries and not secretly arm groups in other countries to overthrow the government. Of course we have large problems in the 21st century. But we can’t solve them with violence.

And yet, from the official level politicians like Barack Obama and David Cameron are not criticised for their illegal actions, but on the contrary for not violating international law a little more, when, in 2013, they did not bomb Syria after the chemical attack of Ghouta!

True indeed, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have used violence against Libya in 2011, and as we see now the country is still being haunted by violence. Wars always lead to new problems. In Syria the US and the British together with other nations secretly armed the enemies of Assad, I explain that in my new book. Again, that was not a good idea as we see today. Many people died, many people suffered.

As a peace researcher you still seem to remain optimistic. Your book contains frightening facts but it is always fair, humanistic, powerful and sometimes very personal. What makes you optimistic?

Yes, I am strongly convinced that the desire for peace is an important force for the 21st century. We all have the choice either to kill or not to kill. I am convinced that the second choice is the better one. It is not true that Milosevic was a new Hitler. The historical truth is that Hitler bombed Belgrade. And it is a shame that in 1999 Germany together with other nations bombed Belgrade again. As the UN Charter says: no country should bomb another country. I know that in France some people protested when Sarkozy bombed Libya in 2011. And I want to support these protesters. They were right. Think of the opposite story: Libya bombed Paris in 2011. Some people in Libya protested against the war. Would it not have been right to support the protesters in Libya who insisted that it is wrong to bomb other countries?

In your book you mention several times Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Gandhi. What do these people mean to you?

Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Gandhi are true leaders. They show the way ahead. Gandhi rightly said: “Be the change you want to see!” We now live in a world where people search for true leadership. They often search these leaders among Presidents and Prime Ministers. But that is the wrong place to search for true leaders because Presidents and Prime Ministers have bombed a lot of other countries. Surely these are not the values we would teach our children or support in our schools: If there is a big problem, use violence! No, exactly the opposite is true: If there is a big problem first refrain from violence, search for dialogue and watch your own emotions and your own thoughts.

The French edition of your book presents it as “an indictment against NATO and a plea for the UN”. Many people who are very critical or even opposed to NATO are also skeptical or even suspicious of the UN. Why is the UN important?

I clearly show in my book that the UN Charter is a wonderful document because it stresses that UN members, thus all 193 states on the globe, should not use violence in their international affairs. That is the good side of the UN. But of course I also see the deficits of the UN and understand the critics who distrust the UN. I show in my book that the UN Security Council does not work in the way many people hoped. Because if a permanent member of the UN Security Council bombs another country he receives no punishment whatsoever. Because the five permanent members of the Security Council can avoid all punishment by issuing a veto. That clearly is not fair.

What role does the fact that the UN has no army of its own play for its weakness? How should the UN be transformed to become more effective?

No, I don’t think the main problem of the UN is that it does not have a strong UN army. Because just imagine the UN had a strong army. Who would send it into a war, who would decide? It would be the Security Council. And there again my observation is that the last 70 years show that the permanent members of the UN Security Council, above all the United States of America and other NATO members, have waged too many illegal wars while they protected themselves from punishment by a veto.

The UN project was to establish the international law under which all countries are equal. However, the existence of the United Nations has been accepted by the great powers only because the latter retain a power of blockage (right of veto), which contradicts the equality between the States. What scenarios can be envisaged for the future of the United Nations in this paradoxical situation? How could the Organisation evolve towards more equality, justice and peace among its members?

Yes, we indeed have a paradox here. We have 193 nations that are UN members. But five – US, Russia, China, France, UK – are veto powers. This means that each of them has more power than the remaining 188 states combined. It really is a system with two classes, the upper class with privileges and the lower class with no such privileges. Of course reforms should change this. The veto should be abolished. But the veto powers will never accept this proposition. So the only practical option we have right now is to show how veto powers wage illegal wars.

How could a world without NATO look like? Would Europe then be threatened by Russia?

No, I don’t think that Russia would occupy Europe if NATO was dissolved. We certainly could reduce military spending if NATO was dissolved. This is something many people in the peace movement hoped for when the Berlin Wall fell and the Warsaw Pact dissolved. But that peace dividend never came. Military spending increased. And thus we find ourselves today in a world with record military spending and highly sophisticated weapons. “The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once rightly said.

Reading your book, you really understand that the use of force is NEVER a solution; or rather it’s always the worst. Without the military intervention of the US in Iraq, ISIS would not exist: the “war on terror” not only engenders violence … but also more and more terrorism. An end to the spiral of violence is not yet in sight.

As long as the mass media are above all giving the voice to the warmongers, thus people who believe in violence and who appear regularly on TV and in newspapers, we will have more wars. However, if the pacifists receive more time on TV and in newspapers or on alternative news channels on the internet then more and more people will come to understand that we will not be able to solve the biggest problems in the 21st century with violence. So the media will play a crucial role, because they can silence voices or make them louder. It is an illusion that we can hear all the voices that are relevant. Very often we hear voices that ask for more war and more defense spending, and we hear them very loud and all the time. At the same time people who have studied war and violence profoundly and who say that war can not be the answer are often unknown. Smedley Butler (1881–1940) was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorised at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in US history. What he said is true also today, but you don’t hear it on TV: “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

While in general the population in any country simply aspires to live in peace, war propaganda always presents those who oppose conflicts as cowards or supporters of “authoritarian or dictatorial regimes”.

Yes, that is the game at the home front. What is the home front? It is where the people live who pays for the warships and the guns and the warplanes with their taxes and where the mothers live who send their sons. So the home front has to be convinced that the war is necessary and just. How do you do that? With the mass media. There is no other way.
The fight at the home front is with text and pictures, not with bullets and bombs. The trick is that many people don’t even know the term “home front” or are not aware that there is of course massive propaganda each time a country goes to war. We can always influence history as Albert Camus stressed: “Nothing is more unforgivable than war and the incitement of people hatred. But once war has erupted it is futile and cowardly to do nothing under the pretext that one was not responsible for the war […] Every person has a sphere of influence of varying size […] It is individuals who send us to death today – why should it not be up to other individuals to create peace in the world? In the time between birth and death almost nothing is predetermined: one can change everything and even put an end to war and maintain peace if one’s will is long-lasting and strong enough.”1

What role does technical progress play in the future of the war? Will machines in the future wage wars?

Now we have armed robots and they can shoot us. Was that really clever to build robots that can kill us? The drones flying over Afghanistan and Pakistan are robots and they kill people. So machines are killing human beings. That’s a fact. We now have the digital revolution merging with the military industrial complex. Take another ten or twenty years and Science Fiction movies like “Terminator” from 1984 and “Robocop” from 1987 are becoming reality in the sense that robots will kill people.
So the question of violence is not solved, it is still getting more complicated. We must talk about it openly. And my job as a historian is to remind people that we have used war and violence a lot of times and that we were never able to end violence with violence. We must evolve and find other ways to deal with our issues, without violence.

In your book you write that “the five permanent members of the Security Council, who are also responsible for world peace, are the largest exporters in this field” stressing that “as soon as a new conflict erupts, these five members benefit because their arms exports increase”.

That is one of the great paradoxes of the UN Security Council. Its right to exist and responsibility is actually the promotion of peace. But at the same time these five members are selling a lot of arms and their defense spending is very high. So this is the problem of the military industrial complex. But every human being can always choose whether it wants to use violence or not. We must strengthen kindness and concern for others.

You write that in the light of human history, the prohibition of warfare in the UN Charter is only 72 years old. So this ban is still very young. Is this one of the reasons why the progress it implies has not yet been achieved, not yet realised by mankind?

Yes, the UN Charter which made wars illegal was signed in 1945. So really this is a young document, only a bit more than 70 years old. That’s a short period of time for me as a historian. But you can see that we have progress: In the centuries before we did not have such a document, which said wars are illegal. Now we have this document. The next step will be to respect it and to make the media report about illegal wars and explain to the home front how war propaganda works. I do think that we have a common interest in peace independent of our gender, religion, education and wealth. It is really because I want to strengthen the peace movement that I have written this book and I am very happy that it is now also available in French.

Mr Ganser, many thanks for the interview.    •

1    Quoted: Albert Camus on World War Two and the role of the individual in a seemingly hopeless situation. Diary from 1939, quoted in Marin, L. (Ed.) (2013). Albert Camus – Libertäre Schriften (1948–1960). Hamburg: Laika Verlag, pp. 268-273

(Translation of the french questions: Current Concerns)

The Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research (SIPER, was founded as an independent institute in Basel in 2011.
At SIPER, its founder and director Dr Daniele Ganser and his team analyse the global fight over oil from a geostrategic perspective and research the potential of renewable energies. SIPER publishes its findings and data to the interested public. SIPER is supported by committed business partners and values its scientific cooperation with partners in the research sector. SIPER’s main output are public lectures. Further SIPER products are interviews, studies and books. Concerning peace research, SIPER envisions a world where conflicts are resolved with respect and through dialogue – without violence, torture, terror and war.