Johan Galtung on Iraq, Nonviolent Resistance and the World of 2020
[This interview published in: Neues Deutschland, 11/9/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.nd-online.de/funkprint.asp?AID=80667&IDC=2&DB=O2P.]
[The Norwegian political scientist and sociologist Johan Galtung (75) refused military service as a young man and went to prison for that refusal. In 1959 he founded the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo – the first of its kind in Europe. In 1987 he received the Alternative Nobel Peace prize and the Gandhi prize in 1993. He is known worldwide as an advisor of UN organizations, mediator in numerous conflicts and visiting professor at 30 universities between Hawaii and Kyoto. In 1989 he founded Transcend, a development- and peace network for conflict research and globalization (www.transcend.org) in which 300 researchers from 80 countries cooperate. Prof. Galtung recently engaged the US political scientist Samuel P. Huntington in a polemical discussion.]
ND: Did you recently cross swords with Samuel P. Huntington?
Galtung: We have known each other since the 1960s when we taught at Columbia University in New York. Since then we have met several times. Our differences remain even though they have become smaller.
What is your main criticism of Huntington’s thesis in his much-discussed book “The Clash of Civilizations”?
The book is a fraud. It says something about regions and nothing about civilization. Most only read these four words “The Clash of Civilizations.” The book is really only a weary political science analysis about the political, economic and military capacities of the most important regions of the world. Otherwise we are both scholars and see the reality, the globalized world, rather clearly.
The main difference is our view of the United States and its overbearing presence. However Sam Huntington also sees the American empire more critically today than in the past. I believe American imperialism is going downhill. Sam also sees the symptoms. Few countries obey the US as previously. The competition is becoming greater: China, Russia, India, France and Germany. Strangely enough the European Union is hardly noticed in the US. When the elephant is large enough, one does not see him.
I always say: “I love the US but I hate the American empire.” I mean this very seriously. I have seen the effects of the empire all over the world. Its days are numbered. In 2020 the empire will be over.
That is a very spectacular prediction. What is the basis of your forecast?
Let me take the long way. I said the same thing in 1980 about the future of the Soviet Union. I diagnosed six contradictions in the Soviet empire: between the Soviet Union and the satellite states that wanted to be independent, between Russia and the other nations in the Soviet Union that sought more autonomy – and some of them independence, between the countryside and the city and so forth. My thesis was: When one contradiction is deactivated, the others appear. Then demoralization occurs. Ultimately the Soviet empire collapsed. With regard to the US, I compiled a list of 15 contradictions. Number four on my list was the contradiction between state terrorism and terrorism. At that time I said: one cannot kill so many persons for imperial reasons without a counter-reaction. I even predicted such a counter-reaction in the fall of 2001. And it came to pass.
The US could escape a sudden downfall if it recognizes economic equality in the world, appears as one country among others and abandons its military presence in the 140 countries where it presently stations troops.
Iraq’s occupation is currently the most visible expression of the imperial policy of the US aimed at geo-strategic advantages and control of resources. Do you think the Iraq calculation of the Bush administration was wrong?
The US did not have a chance in Iraq. The most important question is not whether they will withdraw their troops. They will obviously withdraw. Rather what is most important is that there is a great difference between Iraq and Vietnam. Vietnam was a country and nation divided by the West. When the US troops withdrew, the two parts reunited without problem. The Vietnamese accomplished this masterfully. In contrast, Iraq is not a uniform country. Two officials of the British Foreign Ministry created Iraq in 1916/18. Therefore there will be great problems when the US troops leave Iraq.
What problems do you foresee?
Iraq is divided in three. Four to 4.5 million Kurds who want to maintain their autonomy live in the north. In the south, there are the Shiites, nearly two-thirds of all Iraqis. The Sunnites are wedged in between. They have governed the area for around 600 years even though they are a minority. The last Sunnite ruler was Saddam Hussein. One solution of the internal Iraqi conflict could consist in the Kurds and Shiites being generous and saying: all groups of the population will share in the oil revenues. Another solution would be the international community subsidizing the Sunnites. At the end a very peaceable federation could arise.
With regard to Iraq, Germany proved itself a real friend of the US when it refused to march into Mesopotamia together with the other “willing” countries. I heard from Ms. Merkel that German foreign policy would not change. The designated new foreign minister comes from the SPD (Schroeder’s Social Democratic party).
Kurds, Shiites and Sunnites – do you think the situation in Iraq will improve after the recent constitutional referendum?
No, because the relations between the three large population groups are not adequately regulated in this constitution. No solution is offered. Consider only the resistance that has not slackened. According to my estimate, 80 percent of Iraqis are against the occupation. Those who express this most ardently are the Islamists. Some persons always have more courage for resistance than others. As an example, I think of the Norwegian resistance against the German occupation during the Second World War. The communists were the most active. Goebbels exploited this and said they only want to protect the Norwegians from communism. This pleased the Norwegian middle class that was rather inactive against the occupation. Then peace came and the communists were not even thanked.
All resistance, you said at the most recent Iraqi tribunal in Istanbul, is legitimate. Do you include the barbaric suicide attacks against innocent civilians?
No, while resistance is legitimate, nonviolent resistance is better. Resistance in fact is partly barbaric. The suicide assailants clearly do not have the sympathies of the world. I also said in Istanbul that a great number of mistakes are always made in resistance – even in Norway. In Norway, people were liquidated.
In Istanbul, you said the peace movement did not succeed in “communicating our insights in nonviolent resistance to our Iraqi friends.”
That was self-critical. I did not succeed and everyone did not succeed. This was very hard given the daily violence. Nevertheless communicating nonviolence is imperative.
You support economic boycotts as a nonviolent method for affecting the empire.
Yes, an economic boycott can be very effective. Think only of Gandhi’s method of fighting the British Empire, the campaigns against the apartheid regime in South Africa, the boycott against Shell in connection with the Brent Spar drilling platform in the North Sea and against French goods during the nuclear tests in Polynesia. Few US goods were purchased in France and Germany after the illegal US invasion in Iraq. Coca-Cola had 24 percent less sales in Germany in the first year of the Iraq war.
Just before the first US war against Iraq in 1991, you presented a 12-point peace plan for the region. What must happen today for a secure peace in the Middle East?
Firstly, a conference on security and cooperation in the Middle East should be convened according to the model of the European Security conference from 1972 to 1975. This conference changed the whole situation. Secondly, the Americans and their “coalition of the willing” must withdraw from Iraq. The Americans have long had a withdrawal plan. They slowly understood that their presence is the reason for the continuing violence. Thirdly, the situation would be stabilized if the “willing” – some, not necessarily all – paid compensation for their devastation in Iraq. My land Norway could lead in this reparation. We were willing; we were in Iraq under a conservative government with Christian fundamentalists. Now we have a red-green cabinet in Oslo.
Do you believe the US sees military threats in Iran and Syria?
They will first seek to reach their goals politically. Success against Syria is possible but not against Iran. Iran has a spiritual core of resistance, not Syria. Syria has its ideology, Baathism. In the diplomatic tug-of-war around Iran, I do not believe the US will have success with its course in the UN Security Council because the veto powers Russia, China and partly France have too many interests in Iran.
For 50 years you have pursued peace research. What is your most important experience?
In over 1000 workshops and hundreds of mediations or consultations, the inadequate creativity in containing and solving conflicts was striking. One must try to go beyond the existing horizons. I was in Sri Lanka 34 times mediating in the Sengalese-Tamalian conflict. I proposed an asymmetrical autonomy for the Tamales intent on independence. However nothing was settled. Both sides wanted to win militarily. My prescription asymmetrical autonomy was better than winning.
You have inherited the work of your friend Robert Jungk as a future researcher.
Yes, we complement each other.
Let us look at the year 2020. What position could China assume in the world? Will there be a power-politics triangle of China-Russia-India?
Yes, the US caused this with the encirclement of these3 states. This encirclement began in 1996 with the extension of NATO to the East. In 2020, 40 percent of the world’s population will live in these three countries. China and India experience great growth. Together with Russia, these countries control enormous resources. I am married to a Japanese woman and would like to see Japan ally with Korea and China. However this will not happen. Rather the China-India-Russia triangle will arise. On the other side we have the European Union. Between them, the United States will slowly lose its status.
You participated in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. What future do you predict for this movement?
One should not expect great things or resolutions from Porto Alegre and the World Social Forum but a thousand little very important things, for example carpenters from Africa, Asia and South America discussed in Porto Alegre local woodworking trades against the increasing use of plaster. This seems politically harmless. However a large number of movements in the world are inspired by Porto Alegre and exchange their experiences with other movements. When we say globalization from above must be reversed into a globalization from below, these many thousand initiatives and non-governmental organizations are crucial. They have already accomplished many things in the land mine treaty, debt remission and the struggle around the International Criminal Court. AQ great future potential lies here.
Doesn’t the world of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow need a new world ethic?
Obviously. I have been occupied with this for a long time. In my book “The Future of Human Rights,” I sketch my vision of a more intensive and richer worldwide ethics culture in which Islamic values like the Zakat, the obligatory poor tax or the absence of violence coming from Hinduism and Buddhism should be encouraged, not only western values.
What is the potential of the UN as a counteracting force to the omnipotence of the empire?
The UN, UNESCO and other special organizations have already accomplished many things but much more is necessary. I plead for a popular world assembly according to the formula one delegate per one million inhabitants. There is a European Parliament. Why can’t there be a World Parliament? That would be good for democracy. However the United Nations also needs a new home. Why shouldn’t the UN locate in Hong Kong, in
an environment not as violent as New York where there is no CIA in the neighborhood?
Do you see the passing of the UNESCO Convention on Protecting and Advancing Cultural Diversity as a signal that the United Nations can resist the pressure of the US?
Fortunately UNESCO does not have a security council with veto powers. The US and Israel voting against the convention prevent this project. The UNESCO convention is an example of the movement all over the world. The US is isolated and will often be isolated on the international plane. As I said, the days of the empire are numbered.