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23 / 06 / 2004
Ramesh Thakur: “we need United Nations authority and also the diplomatic weight of the United States to make it legal. Iraq has changed everything”

The first day of the Dialogue “Towards a world without violence” was dedicated exclusively to look more deeply into the peaceful resolution of conflicts. At the session entitled “Armed conflicts today: wars, violence and terrorism” were Hortence Mpako Foaleng, analyst on conflicts in Africa from the Norwegian Refugee Council, Ramesh Thakur, from the United Nations University in Tokyo, and Manuela Mesa, from the Centro de Investigación para la Paz (Peace Research Center). The three speakers all pointed out that is necessary to strengthen the international multi-lateralism that the United Nations Organization represents.

Hortence Mpako Foaleng, analyst on conflicts in Africa from the Norwegian Refugee Council, painted a scene characterized by permanent war and violence. She discussed the process of internal breakdown that occurred during the decolonization of Africa, which caused numerous factions and warmongers to appear, and this led to the destabilization of the African political map during recent decades. In her opinion, at the end of the bipolar era (United States-Soviet Union) the difference between government forces and paramilitary forces became less marked. Another of the problems she mentioned is the privatization of security services in many states, as well as the use of mercenaries, mostly by the recruitment of old soldiers who work indiscriminately between states and rebels and who move around the whole of the West African region.

After running through the many conflicts affecting most of the African countries, Foaleng expressed her conviction that “since the Second World War, in Africa there are have not been enough reasons to be optimistic. The basic problem is in the political and operational structure of these African states”.

Ramesh Thakur, who is professor of the United Nations University in Tokyo, has demanded that the UN have a more prominent role. In his opinion, great progress was made in conflict prevention by means of political solutions during the second half of the 20th century. “Unfortunately, arbitrary wars like the Iraq war continue to happen. We must trust the United Nations Organization as the institution that sets the rules of the game.” Thakur pointed at the importance of accomplishing the UN Millennium Goals in order to improve the international order.

The pattern of wars in the last 200 years has been, according to Thakur that of war between states. The end of the Cold War, however, brought new forms of conflict. Despite the fact that inclusive democracies have doubled in the last decades and that international justice is more important than ever, terrorism continues to be a serious threat. In the mid- eighties, an average of 650 terrorist acts were registered. In 2002 this figure was of 200. “Despite the fact that attacks like the September 11 in New York had a great number of victims, we cannot forget the massacres occurred in Africa which counted tens of thousands of dead people.” In his opinion, it is necessary to limit the support some states give to certain non-governmental groups. “Osama Bin Laden was created by the United States as an instrument in their war against the enemy,” he pointed. Thakur also believes that “there is a feeling of paranoia about terrorist groups and possession of weapons of mass destruction”, while he added that international terrorism has stepped up its actions as a consequence of the Iraq war.

Thakur believes in the control of weapons as a fundamental means of improving the international order. “It is impossible to persuade States not to possess nuclear weapons when it is evident that they are very useful for those who have them.” Thakur pointed at the “steps backwards” in disarmament and weapons control in the last years. He also reminded that some experts have pointed that the reason behind the attack on Iraq was the oil reserves and not their possession of weapons of mass destruction, something that North Korea has, albeit not the oil reserves. The war on Iraq has damaged the United Nations, the European Union and also the relationships between the UN and the United States. Thakur has stated, “we need the UN legitimate authority and at the same time the diplomatic presence of the U.S. to make this possible. Iraq has changed things round greatly.”

Manuela Mesa of the Centro de Investigación para la Paz denounced the weakening of the U.N. system following the war on Iraq and regretted that consensus and pacts have been given up in international relations. “The great global problems require global agreements. Iraq sets a serious precedent for the future.” Mesa also criticized that international alliances are now measured by the degree of collaboration with the war on terrorism promoted by the United States. She also stressed the contradiction of granted aid to countries like Pakistan, “a dictatorial régime that is now receiving aid funds that were unthinkable of only two years ago.”

Mesa also presented some arguments in favor of multi-lateralism, while she stressed that the war has destabilized the world political scene. “The U.S. cannot decide unilaterally decide to break the rules of the game and then try to demand that the rules be respected by other countries,” she said. She also reminded that the war will not put an end to terrorism as is proved by the attacks on Casablanca, Madrid, Istanbul, and Karachi. Mesa, who stated that terrorism is based on political fanaticism, has called on a reform of the U.N. in order to manage future international multilateral relations. “The U.N. is, however, the best institution we can count on right now,” she said.

Among the opinions coming from the floor, a retired citizen stated that terrorism feeds on “four forms of terrorism which normally go by unmentioned: injustice, social inequalities, famine and illiteracy,” he said.