In an exclusive interview to ECSSR Website, former Secretary General of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) His Excellency Jaap de Hoop Scheffer spoke on critical and burning issues facing the Arab world presently, namely the NATO intervention in Libya and the unrest in Bahrain. The interview was conducted on the sidelines of ECSSR’s 16th Annual Conference entitled “Global Strategic Developments: A Futuristic Vision”. Following is the edited version of the interview:
Question: Sir, do you think Western intervention in Libya has been fully thought through? Have Western powers accounted for the possibility that the crisis could prolong and demand greater international involvement in the future?
Answer: In the case of Libya, one has to understand that the international community had to act quickly as thousands of innocent civilians had already succumbed to the brutality of Qaddafi’s forces. When a major humanitarian crisis unfolds in real time, decision-makers have to take immediate and effective action. Sometimes every aspect cannot be fully thought through, but the right thing needs to be done. I am teaching nowadays, but I know from my experience that reality can sometimes be very different from the dry casuistry of textbooks.
I would also add here that this time the West acted only after receiving the clear support of Arab states, who correctly understood the enormity of the situation. Moreover, military action was taken to implement the UN resolution 1973. I would also compliment here the role of GCC states, particularly the UAE and Qatar for their rightful stance to stop the crisis from worsening. Moreover, the United States and its allies rightly thought through that they would not engage in any intervention without clear Arab support and UN mandate.
Question: But is it not true that NATO forces are already overstretched and that it is possible they might be drawn into other theatres of conflict in the region, such as Yemen.
Answer: Without condoning the violence against civilians in Yemen, I would say that the situation there is currently not comparable to the situation in Libya. Meanwhile, one cannot overemphasize in this regard the need for active Arab participation in settling their own conflicts. This year has witnessed, what many people are calling, a remarkable political awakening in Arab world. Therefore, it is time Arab states actively participate in enforcing UN Resolution 1973 on the Libyan regime. Otherwise, I am afraid the present intervention in Libya would be seen by many in the Arab world, as another Western action in the region, which is simply not true.
It is also important to note that my good friend Mr. Amr Moussa (Secretary General of Arab League) has now clarified that the remarks on his purported reservations over the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya were misconstrued. This is welcome news, as it is important that the international community takes a united stand and Arab states in particular play a pro-active role with the international community in settling this crisis by enforcing the UN Resolution.
Question: It is said that ‘no-fly zones’ have seldom proved effective. There was a no-fly zone over Iraq for over a decade, but it could not avert a showdown. Thus, when President Bush went to war he was criticized around the world. Is President Obama being inadvertently drawn into a similar situation in Libya?
Answer: The no-fly zone over Iraq was in place to stop Saddam Hussein from attacking the Kurds in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south. It was effective in that respect but he war could not be averted. However, it would not be correct to compare the Iraq war with the current situation in Libya, or to even compare the two US Presidents you have mentioned. It is clear to all that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, does not follow interventionist policies.
Question: But people are asking the rationale of another military engagement at a time when NATO forces appear overstretched, are bogged down in Afghanistan, and there are major financial and resource constraints. Questions are also being asked about the goals and endgame of the mission in Libya.
Answer: I think the goals of the mission are clear. It is not regime change but the protection of civilians from the violence perpetrated by the Qaddafi regime. There is no denying some of the issues you have mentioned, but the international community could not have allowed the killings to continue before its eyes and do nothing about it. As I said reality is at times completely different from all that is written in books.
Question: There has not been a clear and categorical US position over the unrest in Bahrain. There have been a lot of conflicting messages emanating from the Obama administration in this regard. Do you agree?
Answer: I agree that there has been lack of clarity in this regard. However, it is my personal view, that Bahrain has sovereign right to call upon its allies in times of crisis for its defense. Having said that, I believe that violence can never solve anything. I sincerely hope that a non-violent solution will soon be found in Bahrain. I have the privilege of knowing His Majesty the King of Bahrain and His Highness the Crown Prince, and I know they would be inclined toward a non-violent solution. Bahrain has to be mindful that it cannot offer any excuse or argument to Iran on a silver platter that the latter might exploit in international forums.