More sophisticated response needed
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans has some sharp
criticisms of the handling of the war on terror in his current role as
head of an international crisis resolution organisation
In his previous calling as Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans
would have found more diplomatic words to express his disagreement with
United States foreign policy, but in his current role as the President
and CEO of the International Crisis Group, a multinational think tank
that seeks to resolve and prevent conflict, he is not holding back.
'The net result of the war on terror, so far at least, has been more
war and more terror', he said last month. 'In Iraq, the least plausible
of all the reasons for going to war - terrorism - has now become the
most harrowing of its consequences'. In an exclusive interview with
Perspective on the first day of his visit to Bangkok, Mr Evans expands
on the theme.
'A one-dimensional military response, supplemented by a criminal
justice response... only takes you so far,' he says. 'You've got to
have a broad ranging, sophisticated agenda of responses which deal with
the sources of grievance and the way in which that grievance gets
channelled into extreme violent behaviour.'
Mr Evans' brings his insights on defeating terrorism to Thailand at a
time when acts of violence by Muslim separatists continue to ravage the
South. On Friday, he held wide-ranging discussions with the Prime
Minister, Dr Thaksin Shinawatra, and Foreign Minister Dr Surakiart
Sathirathai. Mr Evans relationship with both men goes back several
As Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Evans worked with Dr Surakiart, then
a senior policy advisor to then Prime Minister Maj-Gen Chatichai
Choonhaven, on the United Nations peace plan for Cambodia.
Prime Minister Thaksin was Thai Foreign Minister in the mid 1990s when
Mr Evans was Australian foreign minister, and was briefly on the board
of the International Crisis Group, before he was forced to resign his
board position on becoming prime minister.
'I'm extremely interested in the policy positions the Thai government
takes. It's fair to say Thailand is emerging as a major regional leader
_ it's well and truly emerged from the shadow of Indonesia _ so Thaksin
himself is obviously assuming a very prominent and significant place in
the order of things, particularly since Mahatir's departure,' says
The ICG have been keeping an eye on the events in the South from afar,
but Mr Evans says the group is not in a position to be giving advice on
this situation specifically.'Obviously since these characters have not
articulated any kind of agenda, either religious or political, it is
difficult to get a fix on what this is all about', he says.
'It's difficult to get a sense of how significant it is, whether it's
just some localised exercise and a repetition of things that have
happened in the fairly distant past now or whether it's more sinister
than that and linked with the emerging concern about new terrorist
forms of organisation around the region with a larger political agenda,
nobody knows at the moment and it's one of the things I'm going to be
interested in trying to find out. But I'm not sure the government knows
either at the moment, so it's obviously a rather delicate situation.'
In general, however, Mr Evans has much to say on how the war on terror
should be waged. It is crucial, Mr Evans says, that the United States
and its allies systematically address the underlying political
grievances of the Arab-Islamic world, most obviously the
It is also vital, he says, to create the capacity and the will in the
governments of nations where terrorism originates, to tackle the
problem. 'They have to feel that there is community support, because
the worst possible thing when you're trying to deal with a terrorist
phenomenon is for people to melt away into the community rather as they
seem to have in the South (of Thailand). When the community is hostile
to what they see as a disruptive influence, then it's very easy to keep
the thing under control... but when people feel a sense of
hopelessness... then that's an environment in which terrorists will
Those wishing to defeat terrorism, he says, also have to deal with 'the
mechanisms that transmit generalised grievance', such as the extremist
religious clerics who persuade disaffected young people to commit acts
The United States has failed to do these things, Mr Evans says, and
instead, in the invasion of Iraq, 'has just given a whole new
recruitment poster to terrorist organisations.'
Mr Evans says Thailand's involvement in the war on terror, in the form
of sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, may have slightly increased
the risk of terrorist attacks in the Kingdom, but he says Thailand is
not as vulnerable as the Western countries that have figured more
prominently in the campaign.
However, he says Thailand should use its influence with the United
States-led coalition to push for a different approach. 'I think it is
important for Thailand's voice to be heard in favour of a more broad
based strategy, so it's not just part of the military response, not
just part of the criminal justice response, but that it's also helping
to develop a more creative political response.'
TOWARDS A CULTURE OF PEACE
On Monday, Mr Evans will give a keynote address to the Asian Institute
of Technology on the topic 'conflict resolution and humanitarian
intervention in response to genocide' as part of the International
Peace Foundation's 'Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace.'
The issue is a topical one, as, in the absence of weapons of mass
destruction, supporters of the war in Iraq advance humanitarian
justifications for invasion. In his speech, Mr Evans draws on his
experience as co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention
and State Sovereignty to set out six guidelines for when military
action is appropriate.
He will argue that the international community must make 'a serious
effort to enforce the international rules we have, and to supplement
them with further principled guidelines and criteria'. The alternative,
he says, is 'to abandon the field to those who are more comfortable
with the ad hoc exercise of power'.
'We will not be well-served if wars of naked territory-expanding
aggression become a thing of the past - only to be replaced in the
future by wars fought for almost as self-serving reasons but sought to
be justified by an ever-widening interpretation of what is embraced by
self-defence or 'threats to international peace and security'.
' Asia, like the rest of the world, may soon have to face up to the
dilemma of sovereignty versus intervention, he says, citing mass
starvation in North Korea and repression in Burma as possible scenarios
which may necessitate military action for humanitarian purposes.
When asked whether he supports the Burmese government's road map to
democracy, Mr Evans is non-committal. '(I) support anything which would
break out of the present almost complete impasse but I'm profoundly
sceptical as to whether it's going to go anywhere fast', he says.
'The proof of all this will be in actual performance, not in desultory
announcements of good intentions. There have been too many such
announcements in the past which have proved to be manifestly empty.'
The regime's demonstrated capacity to survive in isolation means
Western sanctions are largely ineffective, he says, so it is up to the
country's regional neighbours to apply pressure on the military junta
to make a transition towards democracy.
'It's the trade and the investment and the political acceptability in
the neighbourhood that is the thing that the regime leaders most want,
and if that acceptability is able to be bought at too cheap a price as
it rather has been until now, there is simply no pressure on them to
According to Mr Evans, Asean nations should take advantage of Burma's
chairing of Asean in 2006, to put the heat on the country's leadership.
'It's clearly going to be profoundly embarrassing for Asean to be
chaired by a country which is an international pariah, and its very
much in Asean's interest to get it out of that state... I think the
time for backing off is well and truly over _ Asean will have some
presentational problems with the rest of the world if it doesn't see
major progress on this front by the time Myanmar (Burma) picks up that
baton.' DAN HARRISON