Climate change, intervention and objective reporting

Murari Sharma

After years of procrastination and tough negotiations, the Paris Conference on climate change has the other day clearly admitted in its outcome that there is a positive correlation between conflict and environmental degradation and agreed to limit the emission to 2 percent. Governments hailed it as a historic milestone, while environmentalists say the deal does not go far enough to arrest climate change.

However, the agreement is a lucky break for mother earth and a salutary achievement for countries around the world, particularly for the island states that may be submerged within the coming decades if global warming is not arrested. But elsewhere, there has been no such lucky break for decades, even for centuries.

For instance, unwanted and unwarranted military and economic intervention by big powers, directly or through their proxies, in smaller countries has continued, even though damage it inflicts clearly outweigh the benefit. We know for centuries that such interventions trigger conflict, shatter society, and bring disintegration in the victim countries.

Let us start with the end of the Cold War. The United States attacked Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein, killing more than 200,000 people, destroying the once a thriving economy, diving the country into the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds sections, and making it ungovernable. The next step will be the nation’s partition.

Similarly, the United States intervened militarily in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban and al-Qaeda. After 15 years of continued US military engagement, Taliban and al-Qaeda remain major forces in Afghanistan, which remains ungovernable as well. The Afghan economy is in tatters and society is fragmented more than ever.

The United States, the United Kingdom and France removed Col. Gaddafi by using military force. Gaddafi was killed and Libya, once a prosperous and united country, has now two parallel governments, one in Tripoli and another in Benghazi, and several insurgent groups. It has become the lawless gateway for migrants to head to Europe and its economy and society have been shattered.

Ethiopia sent its forces to Somalia and India to Sri Lanka, only to worsen the conflicts in the receiving countries.  Only a timely Indian withdrawal from the island country prevented its fragmentation.

Russia sent its soldiers to Eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and these countries remain riddled with conflict and death. Now Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom have intervened Syria militarily. And Syria is headed towards disintegration, which will allow the Islamic State to consolidate its power and grasp further.

India, with the largest military and economy in South Asia, recently imposed economic blockade on Nepal, visibly in support of some political parties from the Nepali plains, but invisibly to consolidate its political and economic control, using the pro-Indian sectors north of its border. It might be the beginning of the end of Nepal as we know it.

Why do big powers intervene in smaller countries? Each case might have some specific reasons for it, but at the root are their economic interest and their leaders’ arrogance and hubris.

Western countries would probably not have attacked Iraq, Kuwait and Libya, if these were not oil-rich nations. Without economic interest, France would not have sent its military to suppress the Islamic rebellion in Mali. For instance, western countries have not sent their militaries to Somalia or Yemen, both resource poor countries being destroyed by civil war.

When there is no direct economic interest, the arrogance and hubris of the leaders of powerful countries work as a trigger for intervention. If Saddam Hussein had not displayed the picture of George Bush,  senior, in the reception area of a Baghdad hotel to be trampled by its guests, perhaps the second Gulf War might not have happened.

If Ukraine had followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s diktat, there might not have been a civil war in Eastern Ukraine. If Moldova and Georgia had caved in to Moscow’s wish, they would not have their territories occupied by the Russian forces.

If Nepal had accommodated India’s demands in Nepal’s new constitution, promulgated on 20 September 2015, New Delhi would not have supported the Madheshi parties against Kathmandu and not allowed to block the border.

How do big powers justify such interventions? Lenin has said lies are integral to statecraft. While he might be wrong about many things, he is right in this respect. In other words, such interventions are justified with distorted facts and outright lies.

To attack Iraq, President Bush and CIA director-general Tenet said Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, though he did not have any. Hussein was also accused of working in collaboration with al-Qaida, though no such links were ever found.

Besides, while Western countries highlight Hussein’s brutal and murderous dictatorship, he seems to have killed fewer Iraqi people, excluding in wars with Iran and the United States, than the United States killed the Iraqis from 2003-11.

In Libya, western countries said they wanted to end civil war and bring democracy by removing Col. Gaddafi. But today, after so many years of Gaddafi’s death, the country has two parallel governments, in Tripoli and Benghazi, several insurgents groups, increased poverty for most people, insecurity, shattered economy, broken society, and no democracy on the horizon.

Russia has justified its military intervention in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the name of protecting minority Russians, even though most Russian in those countries do not want Moscow to lord over their countries.

It is not that only governments lie. Even the media reports are frequently contestable. BBC said American media reported on the second Gulf War covering themselves in their flag. CNN or Al Jazeera reports differ significantly on Middle Eastern conflicts; so do the western and Russian reports on the Ukrainian conflict.

Evidently, you cannot expect much objectivity from journalists when they report covering themselves in their flag or when they are embedded with their countries’ militaries.

Something similar happened in the reporting on the Nepal-India border blockade recently. The Nepali government and media maintained that India had imposed economic embargo. The Indian government and media asserted that there was no Indian blockade. They said the flow of goods was hampered by the picketing on the common border by the Madheshi protestors who wanted the new constitution amended.

The problem with the Indian narrative was two-fold. One, the flow of goods was restricted not only where the Madheshi protestors were present, but also at those boarder points where the protestors were never seen. Two, while the perishable products exported by Indian businesses were allowed to enter, vital petroleum products were reduced to trickle. Consequently, thousands of trucks still wait on the Indian side of the border to get into Nepal.

For ordinary people, something that looks and quacks like a duck must be a duck. But different rules apply for governments, diplomats and nationalistic media. But sometimes, there might be some aberrations as well, as in the case of the recent climate change agreement.



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