Let’s prevent a new world war

This article is a translation of (a part of) "Laten we een nieuwe wereldoorlog voorkomen"

Last night a public debate was held in Amsterdam titled ‘Ukraine: Western media and geopolitics. It was announced that the speakers, the journalists, Karel van Wolferen, Jan van der Putten and Joost Niemöller, would engage with the question whether the Western media are capable of factual reporting concerning the Ukraine conflict, cast light on the geopolitical and historical backgrounds and situate it all in both the European and the global contexts. It turned out that among the around 90-strong audience this caused some confusion, as some of them expected a meeting entirely devoted to Ukraine (and not so much about the broader geopolitical background) and they would be informed objectively about it that evening—and not about the one-sidedness and incompleteness of Western reporting.

The evening was opened with three anecdotes about the journalistic careers of the speakers. Jan van der Putten related how in the autumn of 1973 he had been fired as Latin America correspondent by NRC Handelsblad because in his reporting on the coup in Chile and his analysis that this might well be possible in Argentina too, ‘he did not follow the Kissinger line’ which apparently had been adopted by the newspaper. The next day he continued his employment at De Volkskrant and he remained their Latin America correspondent for quite a while.

In fact he would have a comparable experience, meanwhile as China correspondent, at the latter newspaper too. In 2003 Van der Putten was critical of the American invasion plans regarding Iraq, but the newspapers editorial board wanted to support the Bush line. He was then confronted with an article by himself that dealt with the problem of the North Korean nuclear arms programme, which was cited by the editors as explaining why an American invasion was necessary to prevent a comparable problem in Iraq.

Looking back on his dismissal in 1973 and the grounds for it, he concluded however that whilst his reporting and judgement certainly did not follow the Kissinger line, it was supported by broad layers of Dutch society. And yet in those days people were far more dependent on what their paper told them than they are today. The Internet did not yet exist and not many would have had contacts of their own in Latin America, so what a correspondent wrote had a much greater impact and could not by directly checked as is possible today. And even in 2003 the majority of the Dutch population did not let itself be fooled by De Volkskrant.

Joost Niemöller earlier this year published the book ‘MH17, the cover-up deal’ (in Dutch) in which he reported his conclusions from the reporting on MH17. He found for instance that the investigation into the disaster was organised by Kiev, and not, as the Dutch media unanimously reported, by the Netherlands. Niemöller explained that whilst we are continually referring to Russian propaganda, you would almost forget that here and in the West at large, there is also a barrage of propaganda. One might even claim that the Russian propaganda compares favourably to that of the West, because in Russia they begin with reviewing what the Western media present before contrasting it with their own narrative. In the Netherlands or the West we never get to hear the Russian story, or at best a caricature of it.

When his book was published, he was approached by several media (newspapers, TV programmes) with the request for an interview, preferably exclusively. One could count on what happened next, though. Some three hours after the appointment had been made, the same reporter would call up in a despondent mood with the message that the editors had spoken about it again and that the subject on reflection was not topical enough for that evening’s broadcast, or tomorrow’s print edition. Criticism of the reporting on Ukraine in other words was not welcome and this precisely was what he claimed in the book. Indeed one would think that the propagandistic slant of Cold War reporting was less extreme than it is today.

Karel van Wolferen for more than half his life lived in Asia and this gave him the experience that people over there have a completely different world view than what is conveyed by the Western media. Since he visits the Netherlands regularly he is struck by the steady changes in the Dutch media. From his perspective, objective journalism here is dead and gone. But even more so, it is incomplete. On very important issues happening in the world we are not being kept informed and the ‘analyses’ that appear in the media are based on fantasies. One of those is the demonisation of Putin. As a consequence of all this nonsense we fail to see certain facts, such as the intentional isolation of Russia by the US.

Being a Japan specialist, for instance, he failed to see any report in the Dutch media about the fact that the US a few years ago brought down a Japanese government that wanted to improve relations with China. In part as a consequence of this relations between Japan and China have deteriorated seriously again, whilst China has been pushed into the arms of Russia. This has vast geopolitical consequences, but as noted, the Dutch media apparently do not consider this important enough to report on it.

Yet ignorance about, and distortion of what is going on in the world are most dangerous. We are not able to place developments in the proper perspective, and neither can we judge the consequences of Western, European or Dutch foreign policy. Of course we are not heading yet for an actual Third world War, but history teaches that it sometimes only a very small incident to trigger such a war, which begins in a regional setting but through tensions and alliances built up already then spreads like wildfire across the globe. Just think of the First World War, 101 years ago.

Joost Niemöller adds that the webside, ‘TheBricsPost.com’, reported that 57 countries have announced to assist in establishing, next Monday, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’, a Chinese initiative. This is the first sizeable global financial institution outside the Bretton Woods system of IMF and World Bank. That itself is a revolutionary act with vast consequences. The US and Japan are dead against it will attempt to hinder the founding and operation of this bank as much as possible. However, among the countries supporting the AIIB are a number of EU member states such as the UK, France, Germany and Italy. That too is important information affecting the relations between the US and the European allies. Yet Niemöller predicts that this information will either not reach Dutch newspapers at all, or will be stacked away as a small item on a back page.
Jan van der Putten revealed that he is a classicist by training but has never practiced it. From his education however he know Thucydides and his extensive writings on the Peloponnesian War. The dominant Greek city-state of Athens did not countenance that ascendant Sparta challenged it and conducted a war against this rival power that ended in disaster. That is just what America is doing today with respect to Russia and China. However, in the West we do not see that because since 1492 we are used to look at the world from a vantage point of dominance. When one rules the world, it is superfluous to profoundly penetrate its workings and as a result, ignorance in the West about the rest of the world abounds. Also we measure all developments by Western standards and understand modernisation exclusively as Westernization.

Thus we assess all developments happening for instance in China by asking whether they go in our direction or not. We also expect that mechanisms there operate exactly as they do here in the West. When Deng Xiaoping announced economic reforms, it was immediately concluded that it would generate a middle class and as a result, democracy. In both cases things went differently. Both wishful and fearful thinking in the West when it comes to China (and these are the only way we think) are based on disinformation and ignorance concerning Chinese society, which nobody cares to correct.

Karel van Wolferen relates how Putin glued together the pieces in which Russia had fractured after the fire-sale that took place under Yeltsin. Restoring state authority did not fit in neo-capitalism however, and hence Putin was branded a rogue leader in the West. But as a consequence of this sort of blackballing Putin and also the Chinese leadership have decided to part ways with the Bretton Woods system and crerate their own BRICS structures. Van der Putten emphasises that China in this respect has followed a two-track strategy: joining the Bretton Woords system (which did not pay off badly for them) and establish a system of their own. A system that not only consists of a bank, but also includes the construction of land routes (the new Silk Road) to find a way round the sea lanes controlled by the Americans, a Eurasian Union to counter the TTP alternative which the US is negotiating with the countries on the Pacific.

Here Niemöller adds that China in this way is making the geopolitical Eurasian Heartland a central feature on the world map from which America is in fact marginalised. And oddly enough the US fosters this development by pushing China and Russia, actually rivals among themselves, into each other’s arms. According to Van Wolferen this is a consequence of the neoconservative Wolfowitz Doctrine. Instead of the aspiration, after the end of the Cold War, to have all countries and peoples live together in freedom, as brothers and sisters on the basis of equality, and with the United States possibly as a primus inter pares, Wolfowitz emphasised that the US role should not settle for that but instead dominate the world.

To this we should add that the Military Industrial Complex had to be fed, also after the Cold War. The military industry the United States had built up during that period was gigantic and its demolition would be a disaster for the country. Van Wolferen calls this the American addiction to an enemy. You need a force justifying your defence effort. That is why communism by the Americans was exchanged for terrorism even though they are rather incommensurable. But the US needs a new enemy and the Dutch media were so gullible that they adopted the (new) images of the enemy the US invented without hesitation. You are a NATO member, so you follow the line also in this respect. When MH17 was downed, foreign secretary Timmermans did not travel to the area where the plane had come down, because that was controlled by the eastern Ukrainian rebels who are the enemies of the US and hence, ours; he went to Kiev, many hundreds of kilometres to the west, where the friends of the Americans, hence our friends, hold office.

Niemöller recounts that the Americans in fact have perpetrated a coup d’état in Kiev which in our media was sold as a revolution by the people. The facts supporting the qualification of a coup ar on the table, but the media do not report them, and people accept the narrative of a popular revolt that that they do report. On the one hand one may object to such distortion of the facts, but one cannot help admire the sophistication with which this is being achieved. The Americans have apparently learned from previous coups supported or even initiated by them in the past, which were immediately recognized as such and criticised accordingly; the example of the coup in Chile in 1973 (that led to the dismissal of Jan van der Putten at NRC Handelsblad) comes to mind.

And now again we hear the narrative of how the people want democracy, and earlier this month took to the streets in Macedonia and these days again in Armenia. Niemöller predicts that the negotiations this week on the Greek debt will lead to the fall of the current Greek government. Just as happened when the EU brought down Berlusconi. Regime change need not happen by an American military intervention; it can also be achieved by other, non-violent means. All these developments take place against the background of the gas pipeline Russia initially wanted to build across the Black Sea floor to Bulgaria and Serbia and on to the EU, but which has now been substituted by a Turkish-Greek-Macedonian alternative after Bulgaria withdrew from the project under EU pressure. The United States tries to prevent this with all its might, and if it does not work with political means, it still has a giant military base in Kosovo if need be.

In response to a question why we do not read about this at all, Niemöller argues that his colleagues (and hence, their readers) do not distinguish between contemporary Russia and the former Soviet Union. Yet the difference is rather essential. Not just because today’s Russia does not have the ambition to spread an ideology, but also and partly related, because the USSR had global ambitions, Russia only regional ones. Yet we suspect Putin to have set his sights on the world too, which is a dangerous misunderstanding. That was also his reply to a Russia journalist who recently asked him, ‘Why do they hate us?’.

Jan Schaake

(a complete report on the ensuing discussion is in the Dutch version)

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