International alert series: The BIG Issues - Bob Hawke

Keeping the peace: avoiding the cost of conflict in humanitarian aid

Tuesday 3 October 2006

What changes are needed for a fairer global trading system?

The Hon Bob Hawke AC, former Prime Minister of Australia

I congratulate World Vision, AusAid and the Hawke Centre for their imagination in establishing this International Alert Series – in their words – "as a means to identify ways in which people can act and advocate for a change to current conditions in order to create greater freedom, justice, peace and opportunity for everyone in the world." This is indeed a worthwhile, I would say noble, objective and I am of course proud of the association with it of the Hawke Centre at the University of South Australia.

If we are to address the issue of the avoidance of conflict it seems to me there is one essential starting point. While traditional sources of conflict will remain, eg ethnic rivalries, there is no doubt that we now live in a new world where the threat of terror and "the war against terror" constitute the gravest source of substantial conflict and indeed widespread conflagration. I intend therefore in the brief time available to go to this question and to advance two practical proposals that I believe are fundamental to meeting this challenge and around which all men and women of goodwill, irrespective of party or faith can coalesce in support and persuasion.

The elements of instability– and the implications for appropriate action – in this new world have changed dramatically from the parameters to which we had become accustomed during the long period of the Cold War. During that period the threat was constituted by an hegemonistic nation-State – the Soviet Union. States and forces of differing political persuasions were united against a threat which was equally offensive to the Judaeo-Christian and the Islamic religious traditions. The menace of Soviet communism made allies of Bin-Ladens and Bushes.

But with the dissolution of the cement of anti-Sovietism, restrained hatreds were released and have been violently manifested from September 11th 2001 in New York and subsequently in Bali, Madrid and London. This new conflict situation differs from the Cold War in two fundamental respects. First, at that time the enemy was identifiable within precise geographical boundaries – now the enemy is amorphous and not capable of such ready identification. Second, during the Cold War the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), while not morally elegant, was practically effective in ensuring that no one on either side pushed the nuclear button in the well-grounded apprehension that to do so could bring about their own demise. Today, significant elements of the terrorist movement not only do not have any such apprehension but positively welcome a glorious passage to paradise.

We are, in consequence, in a situation where there is no accumulated body of knowledge, no text books written from decades of experience on which to draw on in waging this new war. And without attempting to make any political point-scoring – for this is not the platform for such an exercise – I believe this is the basic reason why, by fairly general consensus, mistakes have been made thus far in the war on terror.

In all of this uncertainty two points, I believe, stand out. First, the forces of terror designate the United States, the world super-power, and those deemed to be its supporters as the "enemy" for having no respect, understanding or sympathy for Islamic people and their aspirations, and indeed for contemptuously acting against those interests.

Second, whatever may be said or done in an attempt to correct this extremist representation, which resonates in so much of the globe, nothing effective can be done in this direction while the festering sore of the Palestine problem continues. This issue is used to encapsulate and dramatise the "enemy" syndrome with America and its deemed supporters cast as the villains.

It is imperative therefore that an entirely new approach be formulated to the Palestinian question, an issue which in any case cries out for resolution in terms of the aspirations of the Palestinians themselves, and the security of Israel and the region. I do not argue that resolving this issue resolves the challenge of international terrorism but that it is a sine qua non for meeting that challenge.

The only proposition that can be advanced with any certainty concerning the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is that everything that has been tried to this point has not worked, and that, if anything, the situation is now worse than it has ever been. The hurdy-gurdy of hatred has spun on remorselessly with increasing causalities and diminishing hope. The cycle of hatred and violence, I repeat, can only be broken and a positive outcome achieved by radically new thinking.

The deficiency of every past proposal addressing this issue, including the so-called Road Map, has been the exclusive or virtually exclusive concentration on political matters to the exclusion of questions going to the creation of a viable economic entity in Palestine.

In looking for historical support for such an approach we can do no better than look to immediate post-war Europe and the Marshall Plan, named after the then Secretary of State, George Marshall. In an act displaying a generosity of spirit and enlightened self-interest unequalled in the twentieth century the Truman Administration poured billions of dollars into creating viable economic entities in the war-torn countries of Western Europe. In addressing, practically, the needs and aspirations of the peoples of those countries it did as much to meet the threat of Soviet hegemony as any military outlays.

There is a general recognition, including among the majority of Israelis, that the Palestinians are entitled to their own independent State, an outcome that was envisioned by the 1947 United Nations Resolution enabling the creation of the State of Israel. But the political shell of a State lacking a viable and vibrant economy is a recipe for even greater disaster.

Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians, exist in a dysfunctional economic environment with virtually no hope of employment or maintenance, let alone improvement, of their living standards. This is a breeding ground for despair and worse – while there is no hope among the young for jobs and the constructive development of their talents there will be no shortage of recruits for the martyrdom of the suicide bomber.

What is required now is the equivalent of the Marshall Plan The United States should take the lead, with the support of Europe, the moderate Arab States and Israel in making an unequivocal commitment to a massive supply of capital, technical and educational expertise and equipment dedicated to the creation of an education system and an economic structure that will give the reality of hope to the Palestinian people.

The World Bank should provide the delivery mechanism and technical assistance for the implementation of this program and there should be co-operation through the W.T.O. to provide a period of most favoured access to export markets for the products from the new economy. The genuine commitment of the United States and other donors should be communicated and detailed to the Palestinian Authority, the leaders of the militant groups and, through television and other media, to the people of Palestine and the region.

Nothing could do more to change the anti-American mind-set of so much of the Muslim world if America were to take the lead in such an initiative. The financial and technical capacity of the United States and others to meet the requirements of this initiative is not in question. What is required is the will and the imagination. It is easy enough to list the difficulties that may lie in the path of carrying through with the initiative, but that is the counsel of despair and hopelessness. If genuinely embraced, I believe this concept can mark the beginning of a sea-change in the poisonous atmosphere of hatreds and misconceptions that threaten the very stability and existence of the world as we know it.

I have spoken about this concept now to a range of leaders around the world including the then deputy and now Prime Minister of Israel Olmert, the late President Arafat and many others. I particularly thank Alexander Downer for his support and his facilitation of the meeting with Arafat. I would urge all of you to press upon your Federal parliamentary representatives the desirability of the Australian government using its warm relationship with the US administration to advance this proposition.

But you may well ask what is it that we can do at a personal level to make some positive contribution towards helping to face these dangerous new challenges of our times? I would suggest it would begin to make a huge difference in our country if men and women of goodwill like yourselves were to make a personal commitment, individually or with a group of others, to engage in and promote dialogue and social intercourse between Muslim and non-Muslim members of our community.

There is a far too easy tendency for non-Muslims to stereotype all Muslims in terms of fanatical Islamists who invoke their God to justify the killing of innocent people. And no doubt Muslims will have a tendency to think unwell of us as they see the President of the United States invoke his God to justify his counter-war on terror which has seen the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives in Iraq. There must indeed be much perplexity in heaven.

But we need not be perplexed. The more we meet together and genuinely welcome each other the more likely it is that we can dispel misunderstandings or potential animosities. For the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims, like the rest of the community have the same aspirations for a peaceful and stable environment within which they can achieve an improving standard and quality of life for themselves and their children.

My friends, the dimensions of the humanitarian challenge already facing the world are huge. Twenty-eight countries are host to over ten million refugees with more than two-thirds of that number being in countries with a per capita income of less than $2000. In addition, within another twenty-seven countries there are twenty-one million persons internally displaced by persecution, armed conflict or widespread violence. These are the most poor and wretched of our world, to the alleviation of whose plight these great organisations World Vision and AusAid – and others – are dedicated and they deserve our full support.

My fear is that we are facing the possibility of potentially cataclysmic events that could vastly multiply these already daunting figures. We are at a unique point in history. The technological genius of man has given us an opportunity unparalleled in history to either a) lift the standard and quality of life of all people in a way never before achievable or b) to make civilised life between nations virtually impossible.

Let us do what we can in our own way, however small, to tilt the world towards reason.

R J L Hawke

While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy – valuing our cultural diversity – and building our future.