We are currently facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 50 million people displaced globally. According to a June 2015 report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase.” The UNHCR report even suggests a worsening of the situation in the near future. “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.
Pulic outrage has arguably pressured German Chancellor Angela Merkel to allow tens of thousands of refugees into Germany over the last weeks and to set up an additional budget of US$6.7 billion (€6 billion) for refugees. It is estimated by the German Home Secretary Thomas de Maizière that 800,000 refugees could arrive in Germany this year.
Unfortunately, the German government is not as sympathetic towards refugees as its recent actions might suggest. In fact, the German coalition parties have decided to stick to the Dublin Convention which, according to WSWS.org writer Peter Schwarz, “keeps refugees away from Germany by forcing the states at the external borders of the European Union (EU) to look after them.” Notwithstanding, it is impressive to see the compassionate scenes in Germany, where thousands of ordinary people have welcomed arriving refugees with cheers and jubilance.
According to the German historian Arnulf Baring, the reason why many German people want to do such good deeds “is also to be seen in the context of the crimes that we have committed, above all with those during the Nazi period.” (translation by the author) During and after World War II, more than 60 million people had become refugees in Europe. Today, many people in Germany are aware of the fact that this refugee crisis had been caused by Germany’s wars of aggression.
It is rarely acknowledged that the current refugee crisis has similarly been caused by the West’s perpetual wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. On Aug. 31, The New York Times’s editorial claimed: “The roots of this catastrophe lie in crises the European Union cannot solve alone: war in Syria and Iraq, chaos in Libya, destitution and brutal regimes in Africa.”
Before coalitions led by the USA and the UK militarily intervened in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, there were no major refugee crises in these countries. In fact, both interventions had triggered major crises that were further exacerbated by the divide and rule policies which were later imposed by Western powers. Today, the Iraqi and Libyan states have virtually collapsed sending out streams of refugees (see Zollmann, State-Ending, TeleSUR, 2014; Tormenting Libya, TeleSUR, 2015).
As Adam Johnson from the media watchdog FAIR reported, the USA have also intervened in the Syrian civil war, “most notably by arming, funding and training anti-Assad forces.” That means, the U.S. government has supported “rebels” that were in actual fact no less violent than the regime they were supposed to replace. This policy “incidentally funnelled arms to ISIS, and not incidentally aligned the CIA-backed Free Syrian Army with Al Qaeda,” writes Johnson.
The overt and covert interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have been conducted in violation of the UN Charter and thus constitute wars of aggression. During the Nuremberg Tribunal, during which the German Nazis were convicted, the judges came to the conclusion that a “war of aggression” “contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. According to this legal judgement, initiators of wars of aggression are responsible for all of their outcomes. The judges established this legal rationale because the suffering and destruction caused by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust, mass killings, wanton destruction, famines, and displaced persons, had effectively accrued from World War II, that is, Germany’s wars of aggression (this is discussed in the book by late legal scholar Michael Mandel, How America gets away with Murder, 2004).
If we apply this logic, we could go as far as to argue that the current refugee crisis has been similarly fuelled by Western wars of aggression. It is thus crucial to scrutinize our militarism as a root cause of the problem. We can thus no longer argue that the refugee issue has arisen far afield, but we should shift our focus closer to home.