As we commemorate 100 years on from Versailles and the end of World War I, what has happened to the self-determination of peoples and the inadmissibility of acquisitions of territory by war? The propagation of security through insecurity for most people in this region is a direct correlation to the flouting of the two principals I have just mentioned.
I recall a phone call in 1982 (when Jordan was the 15th member of the extended Security Council) between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and my late brother, King Hussein, when I heard her speak of the non-acquisition of territory by war and the self-determination of peoples. I asked her, “Prime Minister ‘why do the sheep bells of the Falklands ring louder than the church bells of Jerusalem?’” She replied, “You know how it is.”
I had used this quotation from a Lebanese friend who, like the peoples of the Levant (Jordan, Palestinian, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) cannot accept that stability for all is at the expense of instability for most peoples of the region. Those who are genuinely bleeding as the result of the flouting of these two principles are not members of the Security Council, permanent or enlarged, but the peoples of this region itself. Every calculated (political) action of the Security Council members brings about the equally calculated degradation of all human beings, whether refugees or nationals, as well as the moral contamination of those who stand for good governance and the support of the vulnerable. In the words of Woodrow Wilson, “self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.”
Many of us of my age have lived through at least one war every decade. We cannot now sit by and watch hatred and cruelty ratcheting up again; fomenting the current trend towards retrenchment, polarization and chauvinistic nationalism until it explodes in another devastating confrontation of peoples. In the words of one bystander, “Enough is enough. Either we live on our own or we stop the aggression.”
I repeat what I first said in 1981: “we all have the right to expect to see our country’s statehood respected, to be free of armed threats and to exist in peace with our neighbors, but such rights confer no valid claim to occupy and change the character of a territory.”
Winding down the clock over the century since the Armistice church bells first rang out, it is easy to think that that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet we cannot give up hope, not least for the sake of the voiceless now and for the generations to come. Doing so denies us the possibility of creatively analyzing the unanalysable – the end of the application of the principle of non-acquisition of territory by war and the principle of self-determination of peoples. To speak of the significance of democratic security of all peoples suggests that those of us who are independent thinkers – or so we would like to describe ourselves – should be the one to turn on the light within the tunnel itself. We must now collectively look to a “Track 1½” approach – that is, neither solely governmental nor purely civic-led diplomacy. Only then can we begin to develop sight and insight of how to extricate the Levant from this juggernaut of evil: evil is as evil does.
Prince El Hassan Bin Talal is chairman of the Arab Thought Forum and chairman of the WANA Institute.