West meddling in Mideast 'kiss of death'
An interview with Dr. Karin Kneissl, one of Europe's most insightful
scholars on Middle Eastern politics. Dr. Kneissl is a teacher of International
Relations at Webster University in Vienna, and a guest lecturer at universities
in Lebanon and Germany.
Previously she was a Professor at the
Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, University of Vienna and IMADEC University. She
has served in the Foreign Service of the Republic of Austria (i.e., the
political section, office of the Legal Adviser: Department of Human Rights,
Cabinet of the Federal Minister,) at the Austrian Delegation to UNESCO in Paris,
the Austrian Mission to the UN (UNOV) in Vienna, and at the Austrian Embassy in
Madrid, Spain. She has just recently had published an analytical book on the
Middle East The Cycle of Violence between Orient and Occident. Dr.
Kneissl has shared some of her insights with our reporter in Vienna, Austria.
Q: Do you think the EU as an organization is becoming more and
more centralized or decentralized?
A: It's a difficult question.
Well, with the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaty when the European Community
turned into the European Union, actually the momentum was more toward
inter-governmental cooperation rather than integration. That was so because the
member countries were realizing that through these treaties too much power went
to Brussels; they wanted to stop that - therefore I think this lead to more
Actually, I think that you cannot fully define the EU
as an international organization or a federation, its something in between.
Actually, many people don't want it ever to become a federation. However, in
certain areas it's still possible to say that the EU has really centralized,
this would include agriculture. In other areas - such as energy politics,
foreign affairs and security issues - it is NOT centralized, because these
matters are the most important symbols of state sovereignty. Many EU member
states are not willing to give up their most important attributes of state
Q: Interestingly you mentioned foreign policy and
energy as symbols of sovereignty. It's understandable why foreign policy is a
sign of sovereignty, but how is it that along with that you mentioned energy?
A: The reason I linked foreign policy and energy together is
because energy is the precondition for any economy to work. The EU is energy
dependent. We import most of our energy from outside. Therefore it's closely
related to our relations with other states. This can change if we autonomously
produce energy, but I don't think this will take place at any time in the near
Q: You mentioned that the EU imports most of its energy,
where does it import its energy from?
A: Most of our oil comes
from the Middle East; most of our gas comes from Russia and North Africa. The EU
wants to diversify its energy imports. By this I mean that they do not want to
be dependent on any one particular area of the world for energy import.
Q: Do you think that the EU has specifically chosen unattainable
goals for Turkey so as to prevent it from entering into the EU? Is the EU
serious in its negotiations with Turkey?
A: I think the
conditions for Turkey are the same as for any other country which wants to enter
the EU; these conditions cannot actually be called negotiations. The reason for
that is because there are agreed upon standards based on which the state is
admitted into the EU. The states which want to be part of the EU have to meet
them. However, for example, in the case of Turkey adapting certain parts of its
legislation would be harder then, let's say, for Croatia. But the goals are not
Q: Do you think it is realistic to believe that
Turkey will become an EU member?
A: It's very hard to say for me
because even if Turkey does achieve all of its legislative reforms in accordance
with the EU standards, there are other areas where a lot of work and reform must
be done. On the other hand, we have some EU member states openly proclaiming
their opposition to Turkey's entrance into the EU. Some states clearly stated
that they will put this matter on a national referendum and if one of the EU
member countries says that we do not want Turkey in the EU, the entire process
of Turkish admission will be put into limbo. I think such an approach in dealing
with Turkey is not an honest one. Therefore, I think it may happen that in two
or three years Turkey will say that it does not want to join the EU anymore. I
have also observed less and less enthusiasm in Turkey about joining the EU.
Q: Will Turkish intervention in Iraq further decrease its chances
of becoming an EU member?
A: Yes, it definitely will decrease its
chances for entering the EU simply because one of the criteria of entering the
EU is not to be in armed conflict and have the rule of law.
you know one of the hot issues being discussed in the region currently is the US
Congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide. There were many
editorials published in the Middle East saying that one of the reasons for such
a harsh resolution against a very sensitive issue for Turkey is the results of
the last parliamentary elections where the Turkish population by voting for the
AK party shifted its path towards an Islamic identity. Do you think that one of
the reasons for this resolution is to signal Turkey to be careful in its
A: I think the issue of the Armenian genocide is not
linked to the last elections. It is purely a matter related to the influence of
the Armenian lobby in the US and elsewhere. For example, this issue had been in
the French parliament two years ago which was before the current elections.
Q: How do you think the EU reacted towards the last parliamentary
election results in Turkey?
A: The EU reacted calmly. The outcome
of the election was expected. Actually I think that this kind of government was
pushed more by the United States of America rather than by the Europeans. The
reason for this is that the US wants to show that AKP party is the right model
of an Islamic party. I personally don't think that the AKP party is a typical
model of an Islamic party. The US and Britain, who pushed for the AKP victory
wanted to show that the path for all Islamic parties to follow was the path
taken by the AKP.
Q: Do you think that the EU is mistaken in
coming closer and closer towards the US position on some crucial issues in the
ME; specifically in relation to its approach towards the democratically elected
HAMAS government and the Iranian nuclear issue?
A: I think there
is no clear European position. There is a position of states who are members of
the EU. Some of those states are keener in following the coercive diplomacy of
the US and some are less keen. For example today the French government is much
closer to the US then the previous government, but this can change because
governments come and go. Italy and Spain totally defected from the US camp of
coercive diplomacy. Five years ago the US could totally count on Madrid and Rome
in their support, but today Italy and Spain are not in favor of the American
We must also take into account that public opinion
in the EU is against any sort of military intervention in the Middle East.
However, there is a big gap between the public opinion and the European
governments. For example, the European public is not interested in who HAMAS is
and who Fatah is, but they see the injustices being done to Palestinians and
they are against that. Nevertheless, the EU governments and specifically Germany
and Austria will not take a clear-cut position against Israel because of the so
called shadow of the Second World War.
However, such positions weaken
the credibility of the EU in the region. For example, the EU approach towards
the HAMAS victory in the parliamentary elections in 2006 was of a kind which
harmed its credibility. The EU basically openly said that we acknowledge the
fairness of the elections and their results, but we will not recognize them
because we don't like HAMAS. Such an approach toward HAMAS seriously harms the
credibility of the EU. The west can say a hundred times “Be more democratic,
treat women better, be nice to your environment” and so on, but if we don't act
according to our own standards, then we loose our credibility. However, I think
in relation to HAMAS the EU is on the move, but it is not yet totally clear
towards which sort of position they will lean.
Q: As you have
seen in the past 10 years, there is a strong Islamic revival in the Middle East.
As a person who is familiar with the roots of political issues in the Middle
East I would like to ask you if you think that the EU and the West [NATO
members] in general are ready to deal with the increasing political power and
popularity specifically of Hezbollah, The Muslim Brotherhood and HAMAS? Do they
want to deal with them?
A: I think they have no clue how to deal
with them. Well, let me mention Hezbollah as an example with which I am more
familiar. The EU does not regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The US
regards Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and this is one of the major
disagreements between the EU and the US. I remember during last year's war in
Lebanon at one of the press conferences which I attended, the High
Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU Javier
Solana stated that the “EU does not regard Hezbollah as a terrorist
organization.” The Italian government throughout the war had contacts with
Hezbollah to arrange a cease fire.
When it comes to other Islamic
movements stretching from Southeast Asia to North Africa, the west and the EU
has a case by case approach. In some cases it gets involved where it has
interests and in other cases they don't care. However, if you compare the EU and
the US, the US gets involved much more often. In the past the US supported many
of the Islamic movements; this was so even after the Cold War because the US saw
them as some sort of a deterrent to whatever other “evil” forces they saw.
In general, when the West gets involved with political movements in the
Middle East, it's often a “kiss of death” situation as was the case with the
PLO. Many years ago the PLO was taboo in the West. Then, when the West embraced
them and the PLO embraced the West, the PLO lost a lot of its credibility. I
personally think that the main thing the EU and the West should not do is
interfere, specifically with the election results as they did in Algeria in 1991
by supporting the military takeover, or as they recently did in the Palestinian
territories by isolating HAMAS. It's up to the people to vote for whom they want
to vote for.
Q: Do you foresee a major shift in the arena of Arab
politics in the near future; do you think any major leadership or policy changes
will take place?
A: Yes I think transition will take place simply
because of biology. Old people pass away. For example, such change can happen in
Egypt. If the son of President Mubarak cannot take over, then slowly an
evolutionary change can happen in Egypt, maybe towards the Muslim Brotherhood
which is the best organized political movement.
Q: As you
mentioned earlier, the West lost a lot of its credibility by not acting
according to its own standards. Do you think that the West will start to act in
accordance with its own standards and ideals?
A: We had a strange
and not so bright experience practicing “moral” politics which in reality was
not “moral” politics, because in general I personally believe that there are no
morals in politics, but instead interests. Therefore today the policies are
interest-driven, because we are not acting in accordance with our own standards
as we have witnessed in Algeria and recently in Palestine. This should not be
so, because if it continues, the extremist forces will have grounds to convince
people to join their side.
Q: Do you personally believe in moral
A: I believe that there must be a general framework of
morale in politics which must include honesty and the principle of not doing to
others what you don't what to be done to yourself.
Q: What are
the chances of a US attack on Iran in your opinion? What specific steps do you
think China and Russia will take if the US attacks Iran?
think that a military attack on Iran will not happen unless there is some crazy
decision making in Washington. I see the talk of war right now as a sort of
psychological war. However, unfortunately things happen out of coincidence and
not because they were planned. But if some crazy decision does take place and
the war with Iran does start then I think the Chinese and the Russians will
react harshly. We already see that these two countries are opposed to a third
set of UN sanctions. They did agree on the previous two sets of sanctions
because they were very light. The Chinese can apply economic pressure on the US.
Today, the United States of America is in a very bad economic situation. If the
Chinese simply refuse to buy the US dollar bonds, that alone can bring the US to
Q: In what direction is the issue of the Iranian
nuclear program going now?
A: I think its going in the direction
of a diplomatic stalemate. I think a big mistake that the Americans have made is
that they took the Iranian nuclear program issue out of the IAEA and gave it to
the UN Security Council. The US should have known that they cannot do much to
Iran through the UN Security Council. By keeping it at the level of the agency
(the IAEA) they could have saved face on the diplomatic field.
Are you saying that diplomatically the US is leading itself into a dead end?
A: Well, diplomacy was never the strength of the US. If the US
wants to gain a diplomatic victory and the ability to use the UN Security
Council against Iran then they need the Chinese and the Russians. They should do
their outmost not to annoy the Chinese and the Russians. However, they are doing
the opposite. They are irritating the Chinese by inviting the Dalai Lama and
annoying the Russians with the missile defense shield.
leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement member countries have often proposed a
change in the structure of the UN Security Council. The latest leader to do so
was President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad stated that “The present structure
and working methods of the Security Council, which are legacies of the Second
World War, are not responsive to the expectations of the current generation and
the contemporary needs of humanity.” He suggested that “the Non-Aligned
Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the African continent
should each have a representative as a permanent member of the Security Council,
with veto privilege.” Do you think the current UN Security Council structure can
be changed without a major war?
A: The restructure of the UN
Security Council has been under debate for over 15 years now. There exists a
panel which worked on the restructuring issue and they have submitted some nice
recipes even on how to reform the UN charter and not just the UN Security
Council. However, we have not yet seen any of it in action. I believe that we
should merge the seat of France and Britain on the UN Security Council into one
EU seat and have more countries in the UN Security Council. However, those who
have power now will not give it up so easily.
I fear that in case we
might face a military confrontation of global dimension, as you mention, such a
war would destroy the entire UN-system as a whole as it happened to the League
of Nations during the Second World War. Given the degree of armament, the
overkill factor in the nuclear arsenals and the many other weapons of mass
destruction existent in so many states, humankind would suffer from such a war
in a horrible way.
Albert Einstein once said: “I don't know what World
War III will look like, but the next war after WW III people will fight again
with stones.” So my sincere hope is that all decision-makers are aware of the
risk in launching wars of such a dimension. We have simply rented this planet
earth from the next generation and it is our obligation to hand it over to the
children in a responsible way. We are condemned to work together peacefully if
we wish to survive in a decent way.
... Payvand News - 10/27/07 ... --