Anno Hellenbroich

Could the banking shakeup that is emanating from the US Silicon Valley Bank perhaps lead to a much bigger banking crash than the 2008/9 global crash? Or is the appearance of President Biden, with his five-minute speech assuring “Americans can have confidence that their investments are all protected,” enough to calm down the situation? Braunberger, the economics editor in chief of the German Daily FAZ entitled his editorial (14.03.23) “American weather lightening.”  This could possibly point to a much bigger storm in the financial markets that also will have an impact on the Ukraine war.

Almost like a “force of nature” this rumbling has confronted political officials and the people with the real “big questions of the present”. Most recently, Pope Francis, during his pastoral  trip to Congo and South Sudan, had castigated with harsh words the conditions prevailing there: famine, murderous conflicts, corruption, and destruction of families, women and children. He used words that are reminiscent of the Old Testament accounts.

But except for a few reports internationally, little notice has been taken of the pope’s dramatic warnings.  In Kinshasa (31.01.2023), Pope Francis spoke about the ongoing “exploitation” of the battered country, by stating: “There is a slogan that emerges from the subconscious of many cultures and peoples: ‘Africa must be exploited’.  This is terrible!  Political exploitation gave way to an ‘economic colonialism’ that was equally enslaving.  As a result, this country, massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its immense resources: paradoxically, the riches of its land have made it “foreign” to its very inhabitants. The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood.  This is a tragedy to which the economically more advanced world often closes its eyes, ears and mouth.  Yet this country and this continent deserve to be respected and listened to; they deserve to find space and receive attention.  Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo!  Hands off Africa!  Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.  May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!  May the world acknowledge the catastrophic things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples, and not forget this country and this continent. May Africa, the smile and hope of the world, count for more. May it be spoken of more frequently, and have greater weight and prestige among the nations!”

The pope further stated: “Room needs to be made for diplomacy that is authentically human, for a diplomacy where peoples are concerned for other peoples, for diplomacy centered not on control over land and resources, expansionism and increased profits, but rather on providing opportunities for people to grow and develop.  In the case of this people, one has the impression that the international community has practically resigned itself to the violence devouring it.  We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere.  What is happening here needs to be known.  The current peace processes, which I greatly encourage, need to be sustained by concrete deeds, and commitments should be maintained.”

In this outcry of the Pope, the current African situation is getting denounced as a consequence of the colonial era and the indifference of the leaders of the so-called “West”. Now the people around the globe are to pay for the greed of the self-indulgent, the super-rich, who pose as masters of the world, who think that their “rule-based order”, which is susceptible to the manipulation of the strongest (“Who makes the rules?”), is the measure of all things! In the past, this was understood as an order based on “law” which referred to “responsibility before God and man”. The preamble of the German Basic Law, adopted as a direct response to the horrors of World War II in 1949, speaks of this.

Negotiating does not mean capitulating

Some time ago already (28.12.2022) Professor Reinhard Merkel (*), under the headline “Negotiating does not mean capitulating,” put it this way in the subheading: “Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine is illegal under international law and the country is obliged to stop the violence.” But he adds to this two sentences that are question-marked, underlining that there might be circumstances, where it becomes a “duty for Ukrainians to do so,” which has provoked great public controversy in Germany. In my view this becomes even more important today, three months later with many 10,000 more dead and wounded.  Prof. Merkel  asked the questions: “But is there also a duty for Ukraine to engage in negotiations? And who could claim that duty?”

In a brief concise sketch of the development of international law on the question of “Just War” since ancient times and the modification since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Reinhard Merkel highlights four aspects: the right to war (ius ad bellum), the permissible forms of military force in war (ius in bello), the addition made by Immanuel Kant for law after war (ius post bellum). More recently, however, a debate has developed as to whether there are any “legal principle obligations [to] seek ways to end war (ius ex bello), even when these would frustrate the military or political objectives of the parties in conflict?” In a forceful argument, Reinhard Merkel elaborates on the pros and cons of the justifications – as in the case of Ukraine being under attack-, by stating: “Governments have the duty to protect the citizens of their countries. This includes the defense of the state against aggressors, but also the protection of life and limb and the future of its citizens.  Beyond a threshold of pain, when the devastation of the country and its people exceeds any moral proportionality, to still insist solely on the continuation of violence and refuse any negotiation to bring this to an end, is not brave, but reprehensible.”

In another part of his essay, Reinhard Merkel analyses in a differentiating way the possibilities of Ukrainians concerning their negotiation goals. But he warns that a military re-conquest militarily of Crimea according to international law would be “illegitimate”, since it does not represent the “continuation of defense against the Russian aggression of last February, but represents itself an armed attack”.

In this respect the banking shake up and the continuation of the Ukrainian war- in light of the fact that no way out of this war is publically being discussed,  are an unmistakable signal to the political headquarters in Washington and Moscow, Beijing, Kiev and Brussels not to slip further into the big war now. We should pay more attention to the warnings which the pope made in Africa during his visit to the Republic of Kongo, which were also addressed to the world: “Room needs to be made for diplomacy that is authentically human, for a diplomacy where peoples are concerned for other peoples, for diplomacy centered not on control over land and resources, expansionism and increased profits, but rather on providing opportunities for people to grow and develop.”

(* Reinhard Merkel is Professor Emeritus of Criminal Law and Philosophy of Law at the University of Hamburg and was a member of the German Ethics Council until 2020).


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