When Jerome Binde, Director of the Analysis and Forecasting Unit of UNESCO in Paris addressed a conference in Brisbane last year he spoke about developing an "ethics of the future". With a re-run of the Gulf War having been averted by the quick footwork of Koffi Anan and his team perhaps it's time to forget developing an ethics of the future and start living an ethic now. What do I mean?
A report published by the Medical Educational Trust in London almost seven years ago summarised the costs. Up to a quarter of a million people were killed or died during and immediately after the United States and its 'coalition' allies attacked Iraq. As a direct result, child mortality doubled; 170,000 under fives were expected to die in the months after the report's release. This estimate was described as 'conservative'; UNICEF said five million could die in the region. Where was the voice of UNICEF during the crisis?
When Australian prime minister John Howard decided to become an ally of the latest United States "global peace keeping team", did his advisers tell him that there is a body of international law codified in the 1977 Geneva Protocols, sub-joined to the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, which expressly prohibits attacks on 'objects dispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas ... crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works'. Article 56 states that 'dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such an attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population ...' And that Ramsey Clarke, the former US attorney general, set up an international commission of inquiry and war crimes tribunal noting that there is 'abundant prima facie evidence to support the allegation of war crimes ... the US Air Force between January 16 and February 27 carried out the most sophisticated and violent assault in history against a virtually defenceless people. A deliberate policy of bombing civilians and civilian life-sustaining facilities has resulted in the destruction of the Iraqi economy and urban infrastructure'. And if they did tell Howard do you think he would have risked negotiating Australia's participation conditional upon the fact that the US honour international conventions? Or did he opt for "economic sweetners" the way Turkey, Egypt, China, Syria, Israel, Iran, the Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and Zaire did to vote on passing the dubious Resolution 678 which enabled the US to proceed with its last "peace keeping mission" to Iraq? I guess it's better than risk the type of severe punishment dealt out to those impoverished countries that supported Iraq; Sudan was denied a shipment of food aid even though in the grip of famine.
As Peter Lennon wrote in the Guardian:
War engenders corruption in all directions. As the broadcasters were arranging the terms of the stay in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty published an account of torture, detention and arbitrary arrests by the Saudis. Twenty thousand Yemen's were being deported every day and up to 800 had been tortured or ill treated. Neither the BBC or ITV reported this ... It is common knowledge in television that fear of not being granted visas was the only consideration in withholding coverage of that embarrassing story.
The actions of UNICEF, John Howard, the pro Resolution 678 voters, and the media reveal the greatest enemy of humanity. That enemy is our own fear. Our fear is what the US government was "capitalising on" to enable it to proceed against Iraq.
Maybe the actions of the UN Secretary-General are to teach us that the ethics of the future is to understand that there is no such thing as the future. All we ever have is this very moment. All that exists is now. The past, present, and future are all wrapped up in this moment. And the only way to truly behave ethically is to face our own fear right now - assess our own actions honestly - then follow our heart and conscience. After all we are going to spend the rest of our lives living in the here and now!