Thursday, 13 December 2007

What happened to our Peace Dividend?

Tired, jaded, and sick of reporting on kids being killed. A personal rant.

Dragging myself through the usual litany of death and destruction as I worked my night shift on the anchor’s desk at PressTV in Tehran, I began to wonder, “What on earth happened to the peace dividend we were promised at the end of the Cold War?”

In the headlines. Lebanese general killed in car bomb attack. CIA directors Tenet and Goss to testify over destruction of “torture” tapes. Four car bombs kill 46 in Iraq. Gordon Brown says Taliban fighters could win role in government, if they renounce violence. Bosnian Serb gets 33 years jail for war crimes. Relations between Moscow and London deteriorate.

And there was the genetically altered mouse that is not afraid of cats. Mind you, the cat used in the experiment looked like it would be afraid of its own shadow, so nothing really conclusive there.

For a spectacularly short period of time I suppose we kidded ourselves that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and one remaining superpower to police the planet – under the auspices of the United Nations of course – all of that money that had been earmarked for weapons that would never be used could now be diverted to more altruistic programs.

Universal health care, Third World infrastructure, the eradication of poverty, the war on HIV/AIDS. The shopping list was endless. The more selfish among us also looked forward to lower taxes, huge returns on our savings and negligible interest rates on our mortgages and car loans.

Yes, we were going to see a quantum change in the 1990s, and the new millennium was a going to be a golden age.

I can’t say for certain, but the euphoria lasted for perhaps a weekend, maybe two.

What we didn’t realize was that instead of one remaining superpower, we had one remaining super-megalomaniac-power, a former superpower that was seething with embarrassment under its new found democracy, and any number of wannabe “important players” straining at the leash to make their mark.

And there was another emerging power, keen to reclaim its past glory and influence, and it would have a profound impact on Europe and the world. A reunited Germany.

Policies shifted. Goals changed. Age old animosities and ambitions, often installed and fostered by the historical major players, boiled over and the final decade of the 20th century once again witnessed the worst excesses of brutal warfare on the European continent.

Supported by Germany, which had been arming it with surplus weapons from the now defunct East German Army, in December 1990 Croatia declared sovereignty and its secession from the Yugoslav Federation. Germany’s action appalled their fellow members of the then European Community.

Not long afterwards, President Franjo Tudjman introduced a new Croatian constitution that effectively relegated Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Muslims to second class citizens. According to historians, this replicated the events of 1941 after Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia and established Croatia as a nation state of the Croatian people.

The ethnic purging, or “cleansing” as it became known, began in Croatia with Serbs losing their jobs in government and the civil service, being evicted from their own homes and businesses. It was, in fact, the Second World War being replayed where up to a million non-Croatians were murdered by the feared Ustasha, the Croatian fascists.

The Nazi puppet state of Croatia murdered or “ethnically cleansed” hundreds of thousands of Serbs.

For those of you who still put sole blame on Serb President Slobodan Milosevic for the catastrophe of the former Yugoslavia, think again.

Belgrade refused to accept the secession, and eventually sent in the Yugoslav Army – not the Serb Army. A former friend and colleague of mine, a proud Macedonian, took part in the campaign. The Balkan Wars had begun.

But let’s not forget the super-megalomaniac-power. In November 1990, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would, without warning, cut all aid, trade credits and loans to Yugoslavia. The Foreign Operations Appropriation Law essentially stated that the state of Yugoslavia had ceased to exist and Washington would deal with directly with the constituent republics.

As a consequence, the Balkans was a disaster waiting to happen – and Germany lit the fuse. In Bosnia, an agreement between the leaders of the three main ethnic groups – the Muslims, the Serbs and the Croats – fell apart after Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic reneged on the power sharing deal. He wanted control of the whole country, not just the Muslim entity.

The currently wanted war criminal, Serb-leader Radovan Karadzic, had welcomed the deal and was initially forced into hiding when Izetbegovic unilaterally decided he didn’t want to share.

Bosnia became the killing fields of the Balkans, with some of the most brutal fighting and war crimes committed during the entire Balkan conflict. By all three sides.

Meanwhile, as they say, U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad April Glaspie had given her big “wink” to Saddam Hussein to “recover the province of Kuwait” to punish them for horizontal drilling and stealing Iraqi oil. A year later Desert Storm was rolling into Southern Iraq.

This was followed by a decade of some of the most cruel and harsh sanctions that led to the deaths of an estimated million Iraqis, with a disproportionate number of children among the victims.

Then came the Weapons of Mass Destruction charade and Persian Gulf War Two that finally toppled Saddam and installed American style democracy where there had previously been dictatorship.

No one has seriously asked the average Iraqi if the 4 million refugees, the more than 1 million dead and the continued unstable security situation in the country quite matches the American Dream they imagined it would be.

The Balkan Wars and the humanitarian situation in Iraq had driven many people to suffer from “sympathy fatigue” – there had been just too many heart wrenching stories.

A distraction from the Balkans and “starving babies in Iraq” was the 100 days from April 6 to mid-July 1994 when rampaging Hutu Interahamwe milita butchered up to a million of their mainly Tutsi and Hutu countrymen in Rwanda. The world watched and did nothing.

The impotence of the United Nations “peacekeepers” to stop the slaughter – and the refusal of former colonial powers to do anything except mount an operation to evacuate Europeans – ranks as possibly one of the biggest examples of international cowardice since we began to enjoy the Peace Dividend.

Later in the decade we saw international confusion and indecision as people died in their hundreds, perhaps thousands, in East Timor. The country eventually became truly independent again in May, 2002.

East Timor has an interesting history, but significantly it was invaded by Indonesia less than 24 hours after then U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger left Indonesia after meeting then President Suharto in December 1975. To prevent the territory falling like a “domino” into to the far left, Kissinger gave a Glaspie-style “big wink” to invade. Ford and Kissinger apparently made only one serious condition. Allow their aircraft to clear Indonesian airspace before the invasion began.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the promise of a Peace Dividend, there have been more than 60 major conflicts in more than 45 locations around the world. Casualties? Incalculable.

We have seen a complete failure on the part of the United Nations to keep the peace. We have witnessed United Nations sanctions being responsible for more youth and child deaths than actual armed conflict in some areas.

And as I pack my bag to head to Baghdad to cover security talks between the United States and Iran, we are still hearing belligerent comments from Washington and suggestions from Israel that a military strike against Iran is still on the table.

What the hell happened to our, to my, peace dividend!

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