Vijay Prashad, Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, says Europe is shifting from humanitarian assistance to a military blockade.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is the Vijay Prashad Report, on The Real News Network. On Monday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the EU approved plans to use military force against people smugglers in Libya and the Mediterranean coast. Now she will await the approval of UN Security Council. In 2015 thus far, 60,000 migrants have tried to cross from Libya to Europe looking for sanctuary from horrid conditions they’re facing both in Libya and due to conflicts in Iraq and Syria. According to the International Organization of Migration, over 2,000 of them have died crossing the Mediterranean. Now, Europe is considering a solution. A military one. That is the topic of this week’s report by Vijay Prashad. Joining us from Northampton, Massachusetts is Vijay Prashad. He is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian history and professor of international studies at Trinity College. His latest book is Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation. Vijay, thank you so much for joining us today. VIJAY PRASHAD, PROF. OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, TRINITY COLLEGE: Pleasure. Thanks a lot. PERIES: Vijay, give us some sense of the magnitude of the problem we are facing. PRASHAD: Well, it it is a serious problem. So far, as you said, in 2015 60,000 people at least have tried to cross from Libya, which is in a sense the launchpad into Europe. This is a very large number of people. Most of them are fleeing wars such as the war in Syria. Or they are fleeing economic collapse due to trade policy. And this is of course what has pushed a very large number of people out of West Africa. And so from wars, from adverse trade policy, you get tens of thousands of people fleeing to the closest port of call where they feel that there’s some economic opportunities. And that’s Europe. Unfortunately for them they have to go through a very dangerous country at this point, which is Libya. And because of xenophobia and other kinds of intolerances inside Europe, they are now going to say it’s a European military challenge on the Mediterranean. It’s not been enough that the Mediterranean itself has been a perilous crossing which has taken already this year over 2,000 lives. But now they’re going to say it’s–a blockade, essentially, by the Europeans. But this decision made by the Council of Ministers in Brussels is actually a convoluted decision. Because they are calling for entering Libya to disrupt the boats and to disrupt the smugglers network. But the Europeans themselves cannot decide to enter Libya, or to enter Libyan territorial waters. So this particular decision by the EU is a rather toothless decision, unless they mean to shoot at boats filled with unarmed migrants who are already in the middle of the Mediterranean. And it’s because they don’t have authorization to enter Libya or Libyan waters that it’s been so important for the EU’s head on this, Federica Mogherini, to insist upon a UN Security Council resolution under so-called Chapter 7, which would allow Europeans, if it were under Chapter 7, to use force. PERIES: What is exasperating the problem at the moment? Now, they’re saying that migrants arriving in Europe, it has multiplied. Why? PRASHAD: Well I mean, in fact the International Organization of Migration doesn’t show that there is an incredible increase in the number of migrants. It’s not a huge increase. It certainly increased over the last ten years. And this is, as I said, for two reasons. One is the Syrian conflict is a serious problem. I mean, 6 percent of the Syrian population has been killed. More than half the Syrian population has been displaced. That is, millions of Syrians are outside their country. And many of them are beginning to find that in the neighboring countries that have taken them, in other words Lebanon, to some extent Egypt, Jordan, Turkey. These countries are not entirely able to absorb more migrants. That’s the general feeling. And as well, the conflict both in Iraq and Syria is intensifying on the ground. This has pushed a large number of people to seek sanctuary in Europe. You have to understand that neither the Europeans nor the United States are taking commensurate numbers of refugees from these wars. The United States has only taken 546 refugees from the Syrian war. Compare that to over a million people who are right now refugees in Lebanon. So one of the main push factors is war. The other main push factor is adverse trade policy, particularly around food and agriculture. You know, and of course things like cotton. The United States in the West have pushed to design a trade architecture that favors their very large, very productive farmers, very efficient farmers, highly mechanized, et cetera. And these farmers in the West benefit from a subsidy regime which has been disguised. Whereas farmers in Mali, in Burkina Faso, in much of West Africa neither have been allowed to have a subsidy regime, nor is their farming highly mechanized. So just as NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, just as NAFTA freed up so-called Mexican farmers to come north into the United States, so too have the WTO, the World Trade Organization’s trade policies created deep distress in parts of West Africa and Central Africa, and have sent people northward. You have to compound this with the wars in that region that are also ongoing. These are very desperate people who are in a sense refugees of wars and trade policy. There is a United Nations convention in 1951 on refugees which should allow them free passage into Europe. But of course, this is not how the Europeans see things. PERIES: Now Vijay, it used to be that dealing with refugees was a humanitarian effort on the part of the UN. Now it is asking for a military–or at least Europe is asking for a military solution. This must actually be splitting Europe itself, in terms of how to deal with the problem. What are the conflicts there? PRASHAD: Well, it’s interesting that only four countries in the Security Council joined together to write the resolution under Chapter 7 that is under the use of military force. That’s the European resolution. And that’s France, Italy, Lithuania, and the fourth one is Spain. Sorry, not Italy. France, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Spain. These are the four that have joined together. It’s not clear that inside Europe there’s unanimity on this, although there are very few alternative voices being articulated inside Europe. It’s very unlikely that the resolution is going to go through the Security Council. The Russians have already indicated that they will not allow [jets] to operate against Libyan targets. They have said that there might be the possibility of a very small naval force, but even this is under heavy dispute. So it’s not clear that the Europeans will get a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter 7. If they don’t get that, then the policy in the Mediterranean is going to be much weakened because they won’t be able to do what they claim to want to do, which is to disrupt the smugglers networks. The smugglers networks are not on the boats. They are not on the shores of Italy. They are in Libya. And the Europeans will not be able to get there with their guns. PERIES: And what are the Libyans saying about all of this? PRASHAD: Well, you’ll have to remember that there are two Libyan governments at this time, and neither of them have complete authority over the country. There is a great deal of chaos in Libya. There is a very strong sense among both of the governments, both the Tobruk and Bayda government, and the government in Tripoli, that they don’t really want to get involved with this. You know, the government in Tobruk has been calling for Western help within Libya, but they don’t see this as contributing to stability in Libya. It might actually have the opposite effect. In order to in a sense raise fears to a pitched level, the Europeans are saying that smugglers have been hiding ISIS fighters in these boats, sending ISIS fighters into Europe. This is of course a way to make this no longer about humanitarianism, about refugees, but to make it about terrorism. And that’s a very dangerous kind of logic. There’s no evidence that ISIS fighters are on board these boats. The Europeans haven’t even attempted to produce any evidence. There’s some scaremongering happening but I don’t think it’s going to work, largely because very few people believe that European bombardment of the Libyan coastline is going to stop the problem. PERIES: Vijay Prashad, I hope you keep us abreast of what’s going on on this issue as it goes through the United Nations. PRASHAD: Sure. Thanks a lot. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.