Hans Koechler at the 12th Rhodes Forum

A Transcript of the Interview with Hans Koechler, President of the International Progress Organization and a Member of the WPF International Coordinating Committee, taken at the 12th Rhodes Forum in September, 2014

We have been discussing in a plenary session the problems that result from the use of force against sovereign states. We have explained that in international constellation where there is no balance of power, where there is only one dominant global player, there is always this temptation of the most powerful country to intervene in other countries in order to change the governments according to the dominant power’s interests.

Of course, if one uses force, if one invades another country, and this has happened repeatedly since the end of the Cold war, one feels to be under the obligation to give a justification for this. The justification in ideological terms traditionally was humanitarian intervention. One would say: “In that particular country the human rights are not respected, the government is not democratic, so we have to come in to protect the people from the brutalities of the government”, while an actual fact is strategic interests, economic interests that are the reason behind an intervention.

In recent years, particularly since the end of the Cold war, since the beginning of 1990-s one has been using that term of “regime change”, creating the impression among the international public that the international community led, of course, by the most powerful country, is under the obligation to take over responsibility in order to protect the people of particular country and in order to create their new system of government. It is also interesting and that is what we discussed in the session that this term “regime”, the French word “regime”, is always used in a derogatory manner, when a country is considered hostile to the interests of the intervening countries. One is not using the neutral English term “government” and that is why the phrase is not “change of government”, but the phrase is always “regime change”. One never uses that term “regime” for the governments of friendly countries. As an example, Iraq had a regime until 2003, until it was changed by the invasion of the United States. Since that time in a terminology of the international, of the Western media in particular, no one speaks of the regime of Iraq, but everyone speaks of the government of Iraq. That is just showing also this propaganda aspect of the politics of regime change.

There is another issue we have been discussing which those who are the most powerful actors often overlooked, because when you have power you become arrogant. If one has an arrogant attitude vis-à-vis other states one also will become ignorant, because one is not really caring to know or trying to collect objective information. So what happened is, for instance, one regime change was enacted in one country, let’s take the example of Iraq or also the more recent example of Libya, an actual fact: there was no real change from one regime to a new system of government, it was a regime destruction. They destroyed through the invasion, through military action, but also through other subversive acts in the field of propaganda and also through economic sanctions. They destroyed political stability and the political system, for instance, in Iraq and in Libya. The result ultimately as we see now was not a new stable system of government, but the result was a power vacuum. When you create a power vacuum one should not be surprised that this vacuum will be quickly filled by other forces. In this way one will encourage, so to speak, the basic tribal instincts, sectarian instincts. All those forces that had been kept in check by a strong central government in the earlier period, as was the case in Iraq as well as in Libya, just to give these two examples, suddenly will come up and the result is a never-ending civil strife, civil war, which as we see now is spreading into the wider area. Regrettably as it is, but the truth is that the so called Islamic State on the territory of Iraq and of Syria, which is also spreading now beyond and which has already branches in Algeria, in the Philippines, in Libya.

The so called Islamic State is an unintended consequence of this arrogant and aggressive policy of regime change enacted by the dominant global power, because they created a power vacuum not only in Iraq, but in other countries of the region and they are also now about to create power vacuum in Syria. They should not be surprised about the results. In my view also those who instigated this policy, which now has led to the total situation of regional disorder, which now even is posing a threat to international security as many of the member-states of the United Nations say: those politicians who are responsible for this policy and for the abuse of humanitarian principles, of democratic principles, of human rights principles, for the abuse of those principles for the sake of their own national interests, they should be held accountable.

The other aspect, which we discussed particularly in this Forum, which is a Forum on the dialogue between civilizations and on peaceful coexistence among nations, a policy of regime change that is based on the assumption that one side decides which governments are acceptable and in conformity with human rights and which are not. Such a policy is an expression of imperial arrogance and this is an absolute contradiction to peaceful cooperation and it is an absolute antithesis to a dialogical approach to international relations, because a dialogical approach would mean that one state respects the fact that people in other states live on the basis of their own cultural traditions and that one state has no right to impose its own peculiar understanding of the principles of living together and of the rules of political organization at the domestic level on other states.

First of all now there is this situation this organizational entity that calls itself Islamic State and we are confronted with the fact that now vast parts of the territory of what officially still is on paper the Arab Republic of Syria and the Republic of Iraq are under the effective control of a new group, which bases its rule on the principles of the Muslim religion according to their own interpretation. The problem is that, first of all, as far as Islam is concerned and what genuine Islam is, this is not a matter to deal with or to decide for people who do not belong to the Muslim religion, as it is not the matter for the Muslims to tell the Christians what the main principles of their religion are. What I mean first of all as far as the basis or the doctrine of government in that particular state is concerned, it is first and foremost an issue for the community of all the Muslims, the Muslim states to debate this and if they feel that it makes sense to engage in conversation with those clerics and Muslim teachers who are on the side of the Islamic State, then we should not forget there seems to be a stronger Sunni backing for this present structure. But the point I wanted to make is that the international community and the Western states have no authority to speak about this particular version or interpretation of Islam. The Muslims would have to sort that out among themselves. As far as action is concerned, at international level, I think one of the basic considerations has to be whether this entity is waging attacks outside its own realm or not. If there is a threat in that regard, a threat that the Islamic State would try to extend its authority and would also take action in, for instance, countries in Europe or in the United States, certainly concerted action would be justified, but I would like just to say again it should never have come that far. If those countries who say they are most afraid in the US, the US I mean the United Kingdom and France particularly, it is exactly those countries who destroyed the political order and who created the power vacuum. So they are enablers of that new structure. It should never have come to that, but now it is an almost impossible situation.

There is one more thing one has to be aware of, even if one is now assembling a so-called coalition of the willing, and if one after the other state is now coming up with pledges to dedicate such and such a number of fighter jets, F16s or whatever, sophisticated arms, this problem will not be solved militarily. That is a big illusion. It will only be solved in a comprehensive framework of a totally new foreign policy of the Western world vis-à-vis the Middle East, of a policy of non-interference and also of a rational policy, for instance, it is completely inconsistent and irrational now for Western leaders to claim that the want to, as they say, eradicate the Islamic State or to destroy the Islamic State. They use such extremely violent language, which should not be the language of international relations, because to destroy means to kill also human beings, but those countries who claim that this is their aim are behaving illogically, if at the same time they insist one should also remove, as they call it, the regime of Syria and one should remove the president of Syria. If this is also their aim as they claim it to be, this means they will create utter chaos in all the parts of Syria and it means that this will spread and we will not be able to stop it.

We have a saying in German in situation like this is: Guter Rat ist teuer - good and reasonable advice is very dear in such a situation. It should not be those who had nothing to do with it, it should be those who created the problem, who should now wake up and should seriously think about how to get out of that mess and how to get out of such a situation which is a scenario for what earlier has been called a clash of civilizations. A clash that will not be just an event of a short time, but that may characterize the international constellation for a longer period of time.