Interview with Georges Martin* conducted by “Indocile.press”
(31 October 2022) (Edit.) Now retired, Georges Martin, former No. 3 in Swiss diplomacy, is committed to and wants to be an ambassador for peace. The man who served neutrality shows us that he is so attached to this notion that he would not want to corrupt it with the convoluted language of diplomacy. “Indocile” called on this diplomat whose personal commitment to neutrality allows the Iranians to make the pilgrimage to Arabia and the Saudis to Mashhad. This is no mean feat. Taking this into account, one can see his dismay when he sees “his continent” suffering the consequences of the American sanctions that the European states are hastening to apply.
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Joel Toussaint: Your Excellency, you worked as a diplomat at a time when Switzerland called itself a neutral country? You mention a change in this doctrine. When did this change take place in your opinion? And what is the political context within the confederation and the geopolitical context that would explain this change?
Georges Martin: Switzerland has always considered that there are two elements to its neutrality: the “right of neutrality” in case of war, as stipulated in the Hague Convention of 1907, and the “policy of neutrality”.
The obligations of neutral states in wartime are relatively succinct: not to favour one side by supplying military equipment or allowing overflights for military purposes.
Theoretically, this obligation would allow the delivery of arms to belligerents on condition that they are treated fairly. In reality, Switzerland does not deliver weapons to belligerents. As with all rules, there are exceptions or grey areas in their implementation, such as the delivery of war material to Saudi Arabia despite its war against Yemen.
In the case of Ukraine, on the other hand, Switzerland did not allow Denmark and Germany to send arms and ammunition purchased in Switzerland or with Swiss components. Switzerland has also prohibited the overflight of its territory by NATO and other Western countries’ aircraft carrying military equipment en route to Ukraine.
Controversy over Swiss neutrality and sanctions
GM: As for the policy of neutrality, it has evolved over the course of history. It was rather cautious and inactive during the Cold War, but has since become much more proactive. Switzerland has always considered that it had no obligation of neutrality in its attitude towards regimes violating human rights, as in the case of apartheid South Africa.
In recent decades, it has become proactive. Switzerland is involved wherever its services can contribute to peace. It no longer waits to be called upon, even if this still happens, to make proposals. For example, when I was still in office, I personally led the talks that led to a double agreement with Saudi Arabia and Iran on consular protection for Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Saudi pilgrims in Mashhad.
The controversy to which you refer came about because since 24 February 2022, political parties, political figures, a think tank and even the Swiss Foreign Minister have considered that the time has come to rethink neutrality.
They considered that there was no longer any reason for Switzerland to remain neutral “in situations of violation of international law and human rights”. As soon as the aggressor violates international law, Switzerland would no longer have to strictly respect its neutrality. Some even suggested that we should move closer to NATO.
This attitude was of course the consequence of the full resumption of Western sanctions against Russia and the Russian reaction.
Until now, Switzerland has tried to find its own way around sanctions, between not resuming sanctions and not allowing third parties to circumvent them. This worked with Iran and others. But not with Ukraine! Why not? For a very simple reason: the intense American and European pressure left the Swiss government no room for manoeuvre. Russia immediately put Switzerland on the list of “unfriendly states”! Therefore, de facto, Moscow no longer recognises Switzerland’s neutrality.
The events of the last few weeks have taken the wind out of the sails of those who thought it was time to revisit our neutrality. The foreign minister’s proposal for “cooperative neutrality”, the meaning of which no one understood, was swept aside by the government.
In the midst of a crisis, a large majority of Swiss people do not think it is appropriate to change the rules. It is possible that the subject will come up again once the Ukrainian crisis is over. It should be remembered that Swiss neutrality, which dates back to the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and which responded to the interests of the European powers of the time, is no longer very contemporary insofar as the country is now completely surrounded by European Union member countries and de facto under the NATO umbrella, without being a member.
Sergei Lavrov, in a press conference last week at the UN, questioned the neutrality of states involved in the delivery of arms to Ukraine. What do the UN Conventions say about this? Do you share the Russian Foreign Minister’s interpretation?
The issue is political and, as far as I know, not subject to international conventions. Personally, I think it is a question of measurement and perception. In the Vietnam War, the Soviets and the Chinese delivered military equipment to the Vietnamese, without the Americans raising the issue of their cobelligerence. It was widely believed that it was the courage and ingenuity of the Viet Cong rather than the weapons of the communist allies that enabled them to defeat the Americans.
In the case of Ukraine, it is not quite the same thing, insofar as, clearly after the first few weeks of retreat and withdrawal, the Ukrainian army was able to pull itself together thanks to the sophisticated weapons and technical and human assistance probably provided by the Anglo-Saxons, led by the Americans.
Russia is feeling the pinch and is increasingly expressing its frustration and its perception that the West is cobelligerent. This of course increases the overall degree of danger.
The need for a broad popular movement
JT: You are a retired diplomat, but you have engaged in passionate peace activism, especially on social networks. Are today’s diplomats listening to their former colleagues? To what extent can they influence their political leaders to get Europe off the warpath and create the conditions for a ceasefire and the opening of negotiations?
GM: I don’t know if my commitment to peace has any influence on decision-makers. I hope so, but I doubt that I alone can change anything. But I do think that a large popular movement could achieve this. I am modestly trying to mobilise through social media.
Nowadays, leaders follow their people rather than the other way round. They are permanently connected to social media and change their policies according to the wind. Edgar Faure, who said that it was not the weather vanes that turned but the wind, is probably even more right now than he was yesterday. I am surprised to see that European leaders have virtually disappeared from the radar. Lined up in a row behind Washington, they are atonic or content to mumble what the Americans tell them.
This is serious for Europe, which, in the event of a major conflict, would provide the bulk of the theatre of operations and the dead. I found it quite pathetic that, in a remake of Molière’s “Bourgeois gentilhomme”, at the very moment when Joe Biden first spoke of “serious risks of a nuclear apocalypse”, 44 European leaders met in Prague on 6 October to part ways, noting that they shared “the same geography” and, it seems, “common values”! They could have reached the same conclusion without increasing their carbon footprint.
So I think that people could take matters into their own hands by revolting. To do this, they must realise that their survival depends on what happens in Ukraine. This is not yet the case but it could come this winter when they suffer the consequences of Western sanctions which, as we know, destroy Western economies and enrich Russia!
But you are right, if Europe does not commit itself to peace no one will, except maybe Turkey, and why not China! If Europe is not able to act for peace on its continent, it would continue its march towards its exit from history.
Opportunity for peace negotiations was lost
JT: The Ukrainian president is demanding heavy armaments from various EU countries. The German government is divided on the issue: on a visit to Odessa on 2 October, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht promised Ukraine to deliver the state-of-the-art Iris-T SLM air defence system within a few days. However, the Minister of Economy says he is opposed to sending heavy weapons. Volodimir Zelensky criticises some states like France for not doing enough. Is supplying arms to Ukraine contributing to the escalation of the conflict? Could or should the EU have demanded peace negotiations in return for stopping the supply of arms to Ukraine?
GM: An opportunity was indeed lost in the first weeks of the conflict, when Ukrainian troops were retreating everywhere. At the first contacts in Istanbul, both sides were ready to consider moving forward.
The West, which had initially been taken aback by the Russian attack and had even offered to fly Zelensky out, realised that things were not going so well for the Russians and decided, with the Americans in the lead, to support the Ukrainian army massively to “hurt” Russia, as the U.S. Secretary of Defence, General Austin, said in the U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany, on his return from Kiev.
A conflict between the USA and Russia
From then on, it was no longer a question of peace or even Ukraine. The conflict had become a conflict between the USA and Russia through Ukraine. This was also the moment when Zelensky’s language changed. It was no longer a question of damage control and stopping the butchery, but of defeating Russia, and even, today, of retaking Crimea and the Donbass.
To answer your question: yes, the delivery of heavy and sophisticated weapons and also the help of Western military advisers close to the Ukrainian army prolong the conflict and make it more dangerous, as Western cobelligerence is becoming more and more obvious.
The EU has no say. It is under American pressure without the strength to resist, if it has the will to do so. What is surprising is that supposedly pacifist parties, such as the German “Greens”, are the most aggressive and determined to deliver the heaviest possible weapons to Ukraine. So much so that in Germany they are no longer called “Greens” but “Kakis”. A part of the German press seems to be fired up for “decisive strikes against the Russian army”. All this is very worrying and sad for Europe.
The EU leader’s war rhetoric is out of place
JT: Do you think that the head of the EU, Mrs. von der Leyen, is doing her role when she initiates sanctions programmes against Russia? Are there any legal instruments that give her the political authority to override the parliaments of the states? Have the European states abdicated their sovereignty or has the European bureaucracy arrogated to itself political powers over and above those of the national states?
GM: Ursula von der Leyen is certainly competent to propose packages of sanctions to the States, but it is the States that validate them or not. On the other hand, she is clearly not competent when she develops a warlike discourse morning, noon and night. The Commission has no competence in matters of defence and foreign policy, which remain the exclusive competence of the states.
I think that the competition between the Commission and the President of the Council, Charles Michel, explains this headlong rush. It’s about who will be the most hateful towards Russia. Needless to say, the EU does not even have a battalion to commit to the field. I think the member states have given in and let go a bit too much. How else can we understand the verbal violence of the EU representatives, who are not elected, it should be remembered!
JT: How did you interpret Mrs. von der Leyen’s remarks in the run-up to the Italian elections? Is this kind of interference in the internal politics of a sovereign country agreed and acceptable within the parameters of the EU? To what extent does this posture of the EU leader conform to the political traditions and practices of the Swiss Confederation?
GM: The words of the Commission President before the Italian elections are of course unwelcome and incomprehensible. They have probably produced the opposite result, as people do not like to have their decisions dictated from outside. One would have thought that the Austrian example with Jörg Haider would have taught EU officials some wisdom!
We have to admit that a sense of history and wisdom seem to be rather rare commodities in Brussels. Needless to say, Mrs von der Leyen would have been even less successful in Switzerland if we had found ourselves in the same situation as Italy!
Entirely divergent interests of the United States and Europe
Do you think that the populations of the Member States are still willing to bear the cost of these waves of sanctions against Russia? Do the setbacks of these sanctions against Russia mean that they were misguided? Are these setbacks now likely to cause the break-up of the EU?
The people of Europe initially and understandably took up the cause of Ukraine, which was the victim of aggression, in February. People are not supposed to know the whole story, especially the one that goes back 20 years. Riding this wave and pushed by her and the Americans, the European leaders threw themselves into a whirlwind of sanctions. Not a day went by without new sanctions being imposed, each one more “fatal” than the last for the Russian economy.
Let us remember the words of Bruno Lemaire, the French Minister of the Economy, on a news channel, who announced the total collapse of Russia in a few weeks. This Western frenzy actually hid a total impotence on the part of the West, but above all the entirely divergent interests of the United States and Europe.
While the former had always had a fixed idea: to separate Germany from Russia economically and politically, the latter were in a hurry. When you don’t want to wage war yourself, sanctions seem to be a painless panacea. In fact, sanctions are a decoy. They almost never achieve their intended objectives, otherwise there would be no Islamic Republic of Iran or North Korea, and they have unintended side effects.
In this case, Western sanctions could go down in history as a remake of the ‘sprinkler’. Not only have they, financially at least, enriched Russia, which is swimming in roubles and dollars, but they have seriously damaged European economies. Cutting off the essential energy supply from one day to the next, without a plan B, is beyond ordinary amateurism! While Europe is drying up and buying its energy… from Russia, via Saudi or Indian intermediaries, at high prices, the USA is reaping the benefits.
From the energy crisis to the economic crisis
The peoples of Europe will suffer more and more from the impact of their leaders’ hasty decisions. The energy crisis will be compounded by the economic crisis. When you talk to average French and Germans, you can see that the streets are boiling over and that it would not take much for a major social crisis to be added to all these crises, the likes of which the continent has never known. It is perhaps this fear that has convinced Washington to turn a blind eye to Europe’s energy supply through intermediaries, which is nothing more than an unacknowledged bypass of its own sanctions!
As far as the break-up of the EU is concerned, I would say that, apart from the gesticulations of Mrs von der Leyen and Mr Michel, I can no longer see it very clearly behind the USA! One can die and still be formally alive! I think that more than the question of its survival it is the question of its possible revival that is important. I don’t have an answer to this question at the moment.
A “Hippocratic Oath” for journalists?
JT: During the first six months of the military manoeuvres in Ukraine, any dissonant voice in the pro-Ukraine propaganda was labelled de facto pro-Russian and ignored by the media. The tone has begun to change in the last month. Does the Western media consider that their participation in pro-NATO propaganda has failed? Would they now like to get closer to the angry populations?
GM: Your question is important because it raises the issue of the existence or rather the non-existence of a sort of “Hippocratic Oath” for journalists, by which they would commit themselves to working for honest and balanced information for the citizen.
However, since 24 February, most of the major Western media, even those that pride themselves on being reference titles, have taken the editorial decision to support Ukraine and demonise Russia. For them, the story begins on 24 February. This was the choice made by the American media during the second Iraq war, which rightly drew criticism from the European media.
I don’t know if our media will turn with the wind when public opinion, chilled by the cold of a winter without heating, shifts to a more critical attitude. Some may be, like the 24-hour news channels, Edgar Faure’s modern weathervanes, but others will probably continue their ideological line. But you are right, we feel that the front is cracking and that Zelensky’s sometimes hysterical declarations are more and more subjected to the filter of reason and reflection. But for the moment, our media still have a very binary approach to the crisis and the war!
Media disinformation through omission and manipulation
JT: Do you think that the lack of adversarial debate in the Western press may have contributed to the growth of disinformation? Did you expect this kind of reaction and that it would also be adopted by the European press in general?
GM: Disinformation in the Western press is more a matter of omission and manipulation than of spreading false information. I would not put it on trial. But one can consider that the result is the same when one refuses to give a voice to those, and there are many of them in the USA and in Europe, who have a moderate, balanced language, who recall the shared responsibilities of this war and call for the cessation of the fighting and for negotiations.
When you want one of the two parties, in this case Russia, to be annihilated, even without saying so, you do not want the war to end. I sometimes have the impression that certain media outlets act as if they were fantasising about the end of Putin and Russia like Hitler and Germany in 1945!
Western leading media as a sounding board for Ukrainian propaganda
I must admit that I was surprised to discover that my newspapers had become sounding boards for Ukrainian propaganda!
JT: How did you experience the backlash against you on social media? In the digital environment, opposing viewpoints are expressed in a rather harsh and violent way. Has your career as a diplomat helped you to manage these often brutal and violent interactions?
GM: No, I wasn’t surprised by the violence of some of the reactions. If you have understood that social media is for some people the extension of the café du commerce on the global web, whereas in the past the nonsense uttered remained in the smoky atmosphere, you are in for a treat! I am committed to this for a simple reason related to your previous question: the disappearance of discussion in the mainstream media!
As long as this is the case and as long as we risk a major conflict without precedent in our history, I will stay. But I sincerely aspire to return to my cherished occupations as a pensioner, especially my adorable little girls, for whose peaceful future I have no right to abdicate! My little person is insignificant but strong enough to resist the snipers of the web! I have given myself a mission that I will pursue to the end no matter what.
The times of the West’s “moral hegemony” have gone
JT: Jean Ziegler, your compatriot and former head of the World Food Programme, has been sounding the alarm for a long time about the cynicism of European agribusinesses in their predation on the resources of developing countries and Africa in particular. Do you think there is a link between this and the refusal of a majority of African states to condemn Russia?
GM: Jean Ziegler has fought so many worthwhile battles! I am proud that he is Swiss! I know his criticism of the global food distribution system. He was right to denounce it. To answer your question, even if they fear for their food supply, I don’t think that is the main reason why Africa, but not only Africa, has refused to align itself behind the West and against Russia.
The days when almost the entire world was ruled by the West are over. There are several reasons for this: firstly, the power of the West in relation to the rest of the world has continued to decline in every respect and, perhaps most importantly, the “moral hegemony” of the West no longer exists. It no longer exists after all the illegal and murderous wars it has waged all over the planet, always “in the name of God, human rights and morality”! No one believes him anymore and personally I wonder what will be left of this so-called “moral superiority” after this war that is ravaging the centre of our continent.
To come back to the Prague meeting of the “44 leaders” on 6 October, they thought they had identified “our common values”, whereas apart from the value of doing business, if it is a value at all, we are struggling to find them!
Africa was right to remain neutral in this conflict which is not its own. I find it comforting that this continent is teaching us a lesson and returning the condescending words that the West used to address to it. As I said, Africa is not alone in this position. Asia, starting with India, has adopted the same attitude, as have other countries.
“And don’t tell me it’s all Putin’s fault!”
By tearing itself apart again, Europe, which has already provoked two world conflicts that have left it on the ground, is not only showing that it is not learning anything from history but is accelerating its descent into insignificance! I say this with unspeakable sadness! Never, 30 years ago, would I have imagined that “my continent” could sink so low. And don’t tell me it’s all Putin’s fault!
JT: In his press conference last Thursday [6 October] at the UN, Sergei Lavrov referred to the fact that the bulk of the grain cargo destined for developing states was still in European ports. He also mentioned the fact that about 300,000 tonnes of fertiliser destined for African countries are still stuck and cannot be delivered to the recipient countries. Have developing countries become hostages to this war? Is the European Union making Africa pay for its refusal to condemn Russia?
GM: It is difficult without evidence to comment on the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that accompanies any war. It is likely that both sides are trying to use the food issue to their advantage. If the Russians are the first ones directly responsible for the problem, for having started the war, the Ukrainians with the mines in their ports and the Westerners, with their sanctions and their quasi-blockade in the Black Sea concerning the Russian ships entering and leaving, are not innocent.
Wars create more problems than they solve!
This war, like all others, reminds us of its absurdity and the need to stop it as soon as possible. Beyond the innocent victims it causes, it will create more problems than the solutions its “leaders” wanted to find.
Let us remember the wise words of Montesquieu: “the true author of war is not the one who declares it, but the one who makes it necessary” or, one might add, the one who makes it inevitable! Those who feel snotty blow their noses! There is no shortage of them in the West! Pope Francis said nothing other than Montesquieu, when he said that the West kept pushing NATO’s borders towards Russia and that he started barking, pushing Putin to the brink! May Montesquieu and the Pope strike a small spark in the brains of those who have the power to stop or accelerate our march towards “nuclear apocalypse”!
|* Georges Martin was born in 1952 in Chamoson (Valais). He served Switzerland from the time he joined the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) in 1979 until his retirement at the end of 2017. In Bern, he was Deputy Spokesman, Diplomatic Adviser to the President of the Confederation, Head of the Centre for Analysis and Forecasting and of the Security Policy and Crisis Management Division, Deputy State Secretary and Adviser to the Head of the Department for Special Missions. Abroad, he was posted to Germany, New York (UN), South Africa, Israel, Canada, France. He was Ambassador to Indonesia and Timor-Leste, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and the Republic of Seychelles.|
Source:indocile.press, 8 October 2022 (Reprinted with the author’s kind permission) (Translation “Swiss Standpoint”)