In 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation lacked any mandate from the United Nations when it attacked Serbia. In Afghanistan, the U.S. continued bombing in 2002, even when the government that replaced the Taliban asked it to stop (lest the civilian death toll rise).
And the United States asserted a highly disputed entitlement to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq a year later, citing bogus claims that the country had weapons of mass destruction and had played a role in the Sep 11, 2001 attacks.
In his new book ‘Humanitarian Imperialism’, the pacifist intellectual Jean Bricmont exposes how human rights have been used to justify military exploits that he regards as legally dubious and morally odious.
A 55-year-old professor of theoretical physics in Belgium’s University of Louvain, Bricmont is also editor of ‘Chomsky’, a new collection of articles on the linguist and trenchant political analyst Noam Chomsky.
Bricmont spoke to IPS Brussels correspondent David Cronin.
IPS: You have suggested that NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999 was a turning point for a new form of imperialism. Why do you think so?
JB: There were several reasons against that war but there was so little reaction from people on the left. If you exclude a very small number of individuals who knew better, everyone was convinced the war was necessary and the U.S. should intervene for humanitarian reasons, irrespective of the particularities of the case.
I don’t agree that it was a good thing to destroy international law. I don’t agree that the situation in Kosovo was so dire, that it was necessary to bomb (Serbia). And I don’t agree that the removal of (then Serbian president Slobodan) Milosevic was a good thing, irrespective of everything else.
Milosevic was elected. Maybe his election was not pure. But there is no pure democracy in the world. In France, you need six times as many votes to elect a communist in urban areas as you do to elect a (right-leaning) Gaullist in rural areas. But nobody says France is not a democracy.
IPS: Much of ‘Humanitarian Imperialism’ deals with Iraq. Why do you reject the widely held view that the oil industry should be blamed for the war there?
JB: Of course, oil had a role to play in a trivial sense. The U.S. doesn’t want Iraq’s oil under the feet of Iran, Saudi Arabia or even the present Iraqi government.
But the naÃ¯ve view of the peace movement that the U.S. went there to rob oil doesn’t seem defensible. I don’t know of any evidence that the oil industry lobbied for war.
Every war needs war propaganda. And the oil industry — to my knowledge — have not done any war propaganda at all.
The Zionist lobby, on the other hand, have always done war propaganda. If you open an American newspaper, you will find columns that are written by people who are Zionist and pro-Israel, even if they are not all Jews. It is fair to call (President George W.) Bush and (Vice-President Dick) Cheney Zionists, even if they are not Jewish. Especially Cheney.
IPS: The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was preceded by huge protests across Europe. Why has the peace movement lost that momentum?
JB: I’m not a sociologist but if I can resort to conjecture: many people went out in the streets because they thought the war would turn ugly. Of course, it did turn ugly but not in the way that was thought. There were no weapons of mass destruction. And don’t forget that (then British prime minister) Tony Blair was talking about missiles being launched within 45 minutes.
The people in the peace movement were either genuinely anti-war or genuinely concerned about the interests of their own countries.
There are different situations in different countries. In Britain the anti-war movement faced a problem of deciding who to vote for. The Conservatives are as gung-ho as Labour. And with the Liberal Democrats, the system is biased against them.
IPS: Given your criticism of Israel’s tactics in the Palestinian territories, do you think there is a case for boycotting Israeli goods?
JB: Yes, there should be a campaign for a boycott. That is one way that citizens have to show they are angry.
Some people say: why not boycott the U.S.? I think we should boycott the U.S. but I don’t see how this could be done practically.
In Britain and the U.S., a large part of the population does not agree with the government. In Israel, there is much more homogeneity. Even the moderates in the genuine peace camp are very moderate.
IPS: Reviewers have pointed out that your book doesn’t examine the situation in Darfur. What should the West do about the killings there?
JB: My book is not against intervention within the framework of the UN. In principle, maybe something could be negotiated there. A peacekeeping force can be sent when there is a peacekeeping agreement to prevent rogue elements from destroying the peace. But when you send a peacekeeping force before you have a peacekeeping agreement, that is war.
It also seems to me that some people are using Darfur to change the subject away from Iraq. Iraq may be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. You have three-four million refugees and maybe one million dead.
IPS: You are quite critical of human rights organisations for being selective in deciding what rights they focus on. Why is that?
JB: Human Rights Watch says it will not discuss whether a war is legitimate or not. All it wants is for war parties to respect the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention is not respected in any war.
IPS: You’ve also written that the left in Europe is only moderately less in favour of unfettered capitalism than the right. Can you explain what you mean by that?
JB: It is amazing how after the fall of communism, democracy became the new cause. The left adopted this and turned it into a pro-Western, anti-Third World discussion.
Look at the way the left complains about China. When the Chinese said recently that they want to improve the rights of workers in Chinese factories, big Western corporations said: ‘If you do that, we will move abroad, we will move to Vietnam.’ This is not something the left is concerned about. It just blames the Chinese leaders for everything.
IPS: Can I ask you about the European Union and the current efforts by its leaders to introduce a reform treaty that is largely the same as the constitution rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005. I understand you were pleased by the ‘No’ vote in France?
JB: I wasn’t entirely happy. I was happy that at least the media was defeated.
But I have no illusion about why people voted ‘No’. They voted because of nationalism. Fifty-five percent of people voted ‘No’ and of that 35 percent were from the left and 20 percent were from the right.
There is nothing telling me that that the reason why people on the left voted ‘No’ was all for social reasons and not for reasons of nationalism. With the victory of (centre-right candidate Nicolas) Sarkozy (in a presidential election earlier this year), a lot of people who voted for him had voted ‘No’. People over 65 who voted overwhelmingly for Sarkozy had voted ‘No’.
The failure I see in Belgium at the moment (where Dutch and French-speaking parties have not yet formed a coalition government several months after a general election) could anticipate the future of Europe. Why should the Finns, Portuguese, Irish and Greeks be feeling closer to each other, more than Flemish and Walloons feeling closer to each other?
Without a common feeling, how do you build a country with bureaucracy and free markets? There is an enormous amount of delusion (about European integration).
IPS: Finally, I’ve been told that you are the man who effectively introduced Noam Chomsky to francophone Europe. Is that true?
JB: I first met Chomsky when I went to listen to him in Princeton (the U.S. university) in the early 1980s. After the first Gulf War, I invited him to Belgium to speak at the Flemish university VUB.
In France it has been an uphill battle to put him on the map. (Journalist) Philippe Val wrote an attack on him in (satirical paper) Le Canard enchaÃ®nÃ© recently because (Osama) bin Laden mentioned him in his recent video.
He is still being demonised and misrepresented. © 2007 NoticiasFinancieras – IPS – All rights reserved