CRUCIBLE: Arab Humanitarian Crisis (2)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 12 Sept) – When we take a rather critical perspective of International law including International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as defined essentially by international politics where rules and principles of the former are heavily mediated by big powers and their interest, it is to make our understanding of today’s situation like the refugee and humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and Europe more realistic.

Interlocking relation

As observed, there is a correspondence in today’s increased number of wars including its effect like refugee problem and humanitarian crisis with the propensity of big powers and other regional players to arm themselves including their quest to possess nuclear weapons.

This point needs to be emphasized because arms that are used in many wars in the Middle East and elsewhere come mostly from big powers and regional players. These are manufactured by so-called military-industrial complex in their respective countries amid increasing interest between business industry and military institutions.

The irony of it all is that the victims of those weapons and armaments are not always soldiers in uniform but mostly civilians and non-combatants.

In this regard, there is a dilemma among scholars in raising question whether International Humanitarian Law (IHL) contributes in the perpetuation of conflicts. In the “Constraints on the Waging of War,” Frits Kalshoven and Liesbeth Zegveld raised this question:

“But even so can it not be argued by mitigating the suffering and causes war made more acceptable or endurable that in other words the very existence of humanitarian law of armed conflict contribute to perpetuating the phenomenon of war?”

Or, if we may raise a parallel or supplemental question: does it create a psychology of impunity among parties in conflict to easily declare war because at the back of their minds there are international organizations and humanitarian groups that would come in and mitigate the effect of war thereby making them even more untamed with their propensity to wage war?

We observed this psychology of impunity happening in many parts of the world including the perpetuation of wars in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Parties in conflict could just easily declare war. They hardly mind about rehabilitation, post-conflict development, and so on. It is international or national bodies (generally funded by international financial institutions) that usually do the cleaning of the mess and address the needs of civilian victims and so on.

To reiterate, does such recurrent experience develop a psychology into which parties in conflict could become even more belligerent and thus can easily declare war anytime at their will?

Our authors responded: not necessarily. In fact, they said that there is a necessity for IHL including institutions that would help war victims because they argued that during the war of religions (maybe they were referring to the Crusade when the Muslim world and Christendom were pitted together), wars in those times were barbaric and did not effect the “humanization” of war. The fact is that in the West there was no IHL until 1863.

Tools of war

But we argue the difference between the wars in the past with that of our time is that today’s tools of war have changed dramatically. First, past wars and war tools were very primitive as parties in conflict simply used bolos, spears while even perfecting their skills in armed combat and martial arts. Second, parties in conflict then did not engage in mutual annihilation.

Today’s war, however, has radically changed where tools of wars have gone beyond its traditionally rational consequence as shown in World War I and II. If use callously, today’s more lethal and dangerous tools of war could potentially devastate what Noam Chomsky refers to as modern civilization.

It thus suggests that what is needed is more than an IHL but a realization amongst big powers and regional players to slow down their quest for global domination by seriously working to decrease their armaments particularly nuclear weapons.

There is a clear relationship between recurrence of refugee and humanitarian crisis with the rise of countries mostly big powers arming themselves particularly with sophisticated nuclear weapons. There is also a correspondence with the fact that many of these armaments are being transferred today to many countries in the Middle East particularly the rich ones making the Arab world a laboratory – a war experiment – by big powers.

Recently, the Aljazeera came up with an infographic entitled “GCC Military Spending.” It writes:

“Despite falling oil prices in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, are set to continue on their massive military spending spree. With an estimated annual budget of USD60 billion, Saudi Arabia is projected to become the fifth biggest arms buyer in 2020.”

In fact, the GCC alone has now USD113 billion military spending compared to USD 196 billion of the whole military spending in the Middle East. The rest of Arab countries only have USD 83 billion military spending.

This trend is alarming. Mind you, those weapons would not be used against anyone but against their fellow Arabs and Muslim brethren.

Why is it so?

First, today’s big powers could not sustain their military and political power through economic and industrial development alone. They have to engage in the business of wars to maintain their geopolitical dominance across the world.

Second, many Arab/Muslim leaders have become too protective of their national interests even reifying them to near myopia while rendering their previously popular cause of Arab unity and Islamic solidarity a thing of the past.

Third, given the unique internal and external geopolitical factors that shaped the Middle East, the Arab world unfortunately becomes an easy object of big powers’ manipulation.

Nuclear weapons

Our authors (Kalshoven and Zegveld) who wrote their work in 2001 said that after the end of the Cold War and the Fall of the Berlin war in 1989, “the two previous antagonists (we believe these are US and USSR) began to dismantle huge number of nuclear warheads each still keeping formidable destructive capacity, though.” “At the same time,” they related, “other states either had already developed or now started developing a nuclear capacity.” Finally, they concluded: “Efforts to stem from this tendency though the 1971 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) were not completely successful.”

What we are saying is that no less than big powers and other regional players are the ones violating their covenant on NPT.

Tariq Rauf, Programme Director of Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, wrote few weeks ago:

“Despite renewed international interest in prioritizing nuclear disarmament, modernization program underway in the nuclear weapons-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future.”

In recent statistic of SIPRI on world power nuclear forces the list remains the same, namely: (1) United States, (2) Russia, (3) United Kingdom, (4) France, (5) China, (6) India, (7) Pakistan, (8) Israel, and (9) North Korea.

There was supposedly an NPT review conference in the Middle East to make the region a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in 1995. The problem is, according to Tariq Rauf, “there are differences between the states in the region over establishing the zone.” He writes further: “Sometimes international politics make no friends nor does it abide by principles.”

This is what we have been saying all along. Whereas siyar (principles of Islamic international law), International Law, and IHL contain principles that are just ready to serve as foundation not only in addressing refugee and humanitarian crisis but even resolving conflicts amongst nations; yet, big powers and regional players could just hardly abide with those principles. In fact, Rauf writes: [There is] an overall loss of credibility in the nuclear disarmament pillars of the NPT.”

Ummah and new Leviathan

What we are saying is that war, refugee problem, and humanitarian crisis we see happening in many parts of the world simply change color from one region or country to another. Unfortunately, we will see more of them unless there is a fundamental change in the politics of big powers and rivalry among regional players and unless there is radical reduction on arm industry worldwide.

Our call thus is not only to broaden the cause of IHL and siyar. There has to be fundamental restructuring of relation among powerful countries, although we are not saying that we have to wait for structural reform to happen before we can engage in humanitarian assistance. As we said, man’s innate values remain the same. That is why individuals and families are the ones responding more spontaneously to the cause of humanitarianism across the world while many countries remain vacillating.

By way of reflection, it is probably the reason why the Qur’an does not emphasize political and social institutions as instruments in attending the cause of humanity. It even does not rely on dawla or state. What the Qur’an emphasized are organic communities identified invariably as ummah wahidah (single community), khaira ummah (good community), and ummah wasah (community justly-balanced).

In other words, it is organic community that is more reliable – not a Leviathan or political animal. Whereas individuals remain consistent with the values of compassion and mercy, modern Leviathans can be so jealous of their national interests and deny themselves the noble cause of humanity.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. A khutbah (second part, with revision) delivered at UP-Institute of Islamic Studies on 04 September 2015. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines.]