Monday, May 17, 2010

‘Keynote Address’ “World War II & the Rise of Multilateralism” At the International Conference on WW2

By Honorable Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar
Member of Parliament Malaysia
KL Convention Centre , 13 May 2010 (Thursday) @ 10.30 am

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Let me begin by thanking the organizers for inviting me to address the conference on World War II and the Rise of Multilateralism. I also like to congratulate you for holding a conference on a subject of great importance. To look at the past and to chart our future and avoid pitfalls. I am sure it is not the intention of the organizers simply to remind us on the atrocities but more on the lessons to be learned. I realize though that this is a subject, we can without any difficulty find voluminous materials written by historians, academics and war experts.

2. I was born in 1944, close to the end of the war and when the Japanese were about to surrender. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the end of the WW II. Though 65 years divide us from the date of the final victory over the aggressors who unleashed the most violent and murderous confrontation mankind ever saw, the lessons of the WW II must not be forgotten. The atrocities committed, the deprivation and violation of human rights and the acts of criminality were just ugly and downright frightening and despicable. Nonetheless it has been contended by some that the only way to stop a war against the aggressors is to declare another war on the basis that it is necessary to achieve peace. This is the paradox and irony of wars. Right or wrong is not an issue.

3. The far reaching effects and devastation of WW II are before us to see even to this day and age. We can view the causes of war from multifarious perspectives, be it political, philosophical, moral or social. There are those who would justify war by saying it’s inevitable as it is inherent in the culture of mankind. There are those who would attribute the causes of war to greed for power, the desire to conquer and expand territorial boundaries or regain lost territories. Personally whatever the reason may be I am just simply appalled by the kind of atrocities committed in the conduct of war. In my opinion, war should not be used as a tool of resolving differences and conflicts although admittedly this is easier said than done.

4. What is obvious, WW II brought about changes that resulted in inevitable transformation. Statistics have shown us the many lives lost as a result of this global military conflict lasting from 1939-1945. Even though no conclusive figure can be obtained on the actual number of casualties because many deaths were not recorded, it is believed that about 60 million people died, comprising of 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians. The Soviet Union suffered the most, with 27 million deaths, almost half of all the number of casualties of WW II. The largest number of civilian deaths in a single city was 1.2 million citizens in The Siege of Leningrad. The total deaths, approximately 85% on the Allied side (mostly Soviet and Chinese) and 15% on the Axis side. In Nazi concentration camps alone, it is estimated 12 million people were killed.

5. It cannot be denied that many of the deaths were acts of genocide and other war crimes, committed by German and Japanese forces. The most notorious of German atrocities was the ‘Holocaust’ and the ‘Japanese Nanking Massacre’, where Chinese civilians were raped and murdered. This part of our human history can now be visibly viewed on films and documentaries. All of us I am sure would find it difficult to fathom the absence of compassion in the commission of the most horrendous crimes by human being upon another human being.

6. As an outcome of the war new dynamics emerged. European boundaries were redrawn, the United Kingdom became a welfare state, and the communist took over China and Eastern Europe. Vietnam became two states of North and South Vietnam. WW II also caused the beginning of many multilateral organizations including the United Nations (UN), The World Bank, GATT and later the World Trade Organization (WTO) and The International Monetary Fund (IMF). It also brought technological changes such as nuclear fission, the electronic computer and jet engine, to name but a few.

7. At the political level, the world turned from a multi polar world to a bipolar one, dominated by the US and Soviet Union, the superpowers. With the end of the WW II and the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the war, a new multilateral institution, the UN was formed in 1945. It was also the UN that was responsible for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 as an answer to the Holocaust and following the British undertaking under the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

8. After her defeat, Germany was partitioned into 4 zones of occupation. The American, British and French zones which were later grouped as West Germany and The Soviet zone became East Germany. Austria became a separate state from Germany, originally divided into four zones, which later was reunited as the Republic of Austria. After the Korean war, Korea was divided into two – North and South Korea. The war also created continental, national and local phenomena.

9. The UN Charter clearly spells out interstate relations and the rights and obligations of its members. The Preamble to The Charter outlines the reason for its formation. The UN is a byproduct of the failure of the League of Nations. The participation and support of the world superpowers namely the US and Soviet Union made it possible for the new UN not to face the quagmire of its predecessor, the League of Nation and gave it necessary clout and international power. Consequently this body would play a more active role than the League of Nations in world affairs, including fighting diseases and providing humanitarian aid to nations that need assistance badly. It was able during the Cold War to play an intermediary role at the diplomatic level between both sides.

10. One of the most prominent aftermaths of WW II was the adverse impact on the reputation of the imperial nations as they were no longer considered invincible. Indeed the war was an eye opener and led to growing sense of nationalism and patriotism amongst its citizens. It also marked the end of United Kingdom as a global superpower and the emergence of a new and dominant power namely the United States and the Soviet Union. The relationship between the two victors worsened and the military lines of demarcation became de-facto the new countries boundaries. This was the beginning of the Cold War and two blocs namely NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

11. When UN was established, it incorporated in its Charter provisions to ensure the shortcomings of the League of Nations are not repeated to avoid another world war. Due to this, UN was able to play an active and proactive role to prevent war as well sustain peace and stability globally. However, although the UN was able to prevent the occurrence of a third world war, it has failed to prevent and act decisively in preventing military conflicts within state inter and intra states. This multilateral vehicle may slow the process of open military conflict but it cannot constitute a guarantee for sustaining a lasting peace. This is because there is always that unequal relationship between states and the absence of a level playing field.

12. Questions are often asked, whether the multilateral system can establish an international order that would be just and equitable to all? There have been some suggestions that the multilateral system has outlived its usefulness as a mechanism to achieve global peace and security. The truth is even if there are setbacks the international community has not found a credible substitute to replace the UN. Under the circumstances, until a better, effective and efficient system is found, members have to manage and cope under the constellation of this system. It is for this reason I consider it absolutely necessary to be a member of a regional or sub-regional grouping in order to have a sense of safety and protection.

13. Many of us may think that with the appearance of a unipolar world and the absence of countervailing force this further emphasizes the imbalance in the current world order. The US started the war in Iraq unilaterally. Countries of the south did not like the stranglehold of the IMF economically. GATT (subsequently replaced by the WTO) a creation of multilateralism, is supposed to bring a more conducive and mutually beneficial environment for trade between states. Has it then been able to do so? Yes but it has benefited the economically strong and powerful nations more than the developing nations of the south.

14. The reality is that all specialized agencies of the UN are governed by multilateralism. Philippe Moreau Defarges in his article on “Multilateralism and the End of History” interalia said, “Multilateralism is the application of democratic principles to international relations”. What type of democracy are we intending to establish? Is it the desire to create homogeneity or to empower universal diversities?

15. The popular subject debated widely amongst politicians analysts and diplomats for years was their concern on the ability of the multilateral system to be sustained when its credibility and integrity has been badly undermined by unilateral actions. Some even say UN might as well be construed as dead but no solution was offered in lieu of it. However, many still consider it as a working and useful institution, that allowed the presence of multilateral diplomacy to augment bilateral diplomacy. The UN has undertaken reformed, but not to the extent that member states desire in order to reflect the current situation. Multilateralism is meant to function for the good and well being of the committee of nations.

16. Understanding multilateralism as practiced today is a very challenging task in view of the changing global geopolitical landscape of the world. For some of us we may have nostalgic feeling about the ‘good old days’. Be that as it may, for sure we cannot bring it back. Even the bipolar world a product of the confrontation era of the Cold War, has made the poor nations poorer. The multilateral system itself has gone through tremendous transformation since the end of WW II. What is clear is that the multilateral system is part and parcel of the UN system. The demand for the UN to reform by member states including Malaysia has been going on for more than two decades so that it is consistent with the dictates and requirements of today. Furthermore multilateralism itself is being viewed and interpreted especially by the dominant powers to suit their particular circumstances and situations to support legitimacy of their actions or inactions. There are about 5000 international treaties and conventions signed by states. New non-state actors and the NGO’s are playing more conspicuous roles.

17. During the Cold war period UN was not able to play an effective role as the P5 members were at odds with each other. Nevertheless with the end of the Cold War, international relations has somewhat improved but the issues of Middle East conflict, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan remained unresolved. However new trends have surfaced where internal affairs have been internationalized under the pretext of championing the cause of democracy and human rights. Furthermore Chapter VII of UN Charter has been used and abused. Another phenomenon confronting the global community is on the issues of failed/collapsed states issues.

18. The WW II remained a German-Polish affair until September 3, 1939 when Britain and France, bound to Poland by military pacts, declared war on Nazi Germany, pulling their then powerful empires into the war. In Russia, meanwhile, what is known as the “Great Patriotic War” started on June 22,1941.

19. For West European, it remained the so called “Phoney War” until 1940. That year, Nazis swept through Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and attacked Britain from the air, and Germany’s ally Fascist Italy entered the war. The United States found itself at war on December 7,1941 with the Japanese bombing of the US Navy’s base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

20. In the meantime American forces in the Pacific continued to press back the Japanese perimeter and in the middle of June they started an offensive against the Mariana and Palau Islands scoring a decisive victory against Japanese forces in the Philippine Sea within a few days. These defeats led to the resignation of the Japanese prime minister Tojo and provided the United States with air bases to launch intensive heavy bomber attacks on the Japanese home Islands. In late October the US forces invaded the Filipino island of Leyte and soon after Allied naval forces scored another large victory during the Battle of Leyte Gulf – one of the largest naval battles in history.

21. The most bloody conflict in the world history ended with the Germany’s crushing defeat in May 1945 and the Japanese capitulation in September 1945.

22. The unconditional surrender of the German forces in Europe and the defeat of the so called “thousand Years” Third Reich was achieved due to the close cooperation between the Allies – USSR, Great Britain and the USA whose leaders wisely preferred to put aside differences in opinions and approaches while consolidating their forces to fight the common enemy. This noble principle carried out by the leaders is outside the timeframe and should be followed by the Great Power even today and especially in the face of challenges we encounter in our unstable modern world.

23. Despite certain notorious attempts to rewrite history and classify aggressors as victims of circumstances, there’s one forcible argument that defeats decisively all the faint effort of those not knowing their roots – the judgement of the Nuremberg trial. No trial in the history of the humankind provides a better basis for understanding the real nature and causes of evil and brutality than do the Nuremberg trials that took place in the defeated Germany from 1945 to 1949.

24. On August 6, 1945 the representatives of the Allies signed the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, establishing the law and procedures that would govern the Nuremberg trials. After numerous witnesses and hundreds of exhibits that had been committed in Europe declaring the war: Unfortunately several criminals escaped trial and punishment by committing suicide or fleeing abroad. But the majority that had been captured by the Allies were tried and got the just retribution they deserved.

25. In over half a century the images and testimonies that came out of Nuremberg court rooms have not lost their capacity to shock. The trials also helped expose many defendants for the criminals they were, thus denying them a martyrdom in the eyes of the public that they might otherwise have achieved.

26. It is the moral duty of all nations to cherish the memory of the enduring importance of the victory over Nazism, Fascism and militarism and the genuine Allied effort that took place over the dramatic events in the world history. And it is the moral duty as well to keep firm to the rulings of the Nuremberg Trial that condemned war criminals who started the bloodiest war in the world history.

27. The most significant development of WW II for Asia was that local leaders were able to advance the cause of nationalism in the region, leading the way towards independence. This may have been the most positive impact of the WW II in this part of the world.

28. The war also resulted in the re-configuration of the world’s superpowers. The British Empire for instance, gave way to American domination in all parts of the world except for the communist bloc, which became a force to be reckoned with, led by Russia and China. The end of war also witnessed the emergence of the arms race spearheaded by the United States. Japan joined the rest of Western Europe and United States in becoming economically powerful. A new international political equation has surfaced, resulting in the emergence of conflicting ideologies and animosities which could once again set the world on the war path.

29. In a multipolar world there are many centres of power to ensure checks and balances that in turn prevent the dominance of any one single nation or group of nations over the rest of the world. This phenomenon of multipolarity and the balance of power that it ensures, need to be clarified and deliberated in depth, for clearer understanding and awareness of both current as well as future world trends to emerge.

30. The world seems not to have learned from history since we are still witnessing violation of sovereignty, oppression of the human rights, military invasions and operation, coup d’etat and other manifests of intolerance, injustice and brutality. Every simmering conflict could start a fire of another devastating war as in the Middle East, Afghanistan and other hotspots. This can be another beginning of a possible clash of interests of existing and emerging superpowers. This time the war may be fought between states and non state actors.

31. I hope that this international conference will do its best in helping to impart the culture of peace, trust, understanding and goodwill, WW II should have taught us to resolve whatever conflicts peacefully and diplomatically and surely not through the power of all-devouring weaponry. It’s the main aim of all of us to create an awareness that war is not the answer or the resolution for conflict or differences. Let there not be a World War III.

32. I am confident the conference will hence focus on the reasons that lead to the war and not to rewrite the history of the Second World War. There is a necessity to revisit the role of nations. The world paid a heavy price for the war.

33. Victor or victim, war is a great waste to both sides. As we are all aware war kills innocent lives, young and old, which of course a huge loss of human resources. Wars also destroy farmlands, towns, cities and irreplaceable ancient and historical sites were not spared.

34. As for the survivors of war, the bitterness, emptiness, disillusionment, hate and rage will have to be endured with each passing day.

35. Someone once wrote, “Though nothing can bring back, the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flowers, we may grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind”.

36. In concluding my speech I would like to thank the organizers of this conference – World Future Online Islamic portal and its partners for inviting me to this event.

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