The Echo Chamber That Are Western Humanitarian Summits

Who really benefits from self indulgent Western summits and campaigns about problems a world away?

This week sees the UK play host to a global summit on sexual violence in war, part of a wider campaign spearheaded by the Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollywood celebrity Angelina Jolie, with delegates from 140 countries have apparently all arrived for the four-day event.

Meanwhile, women continue to be kidnapped and raped around the world by groups such as Boko Harem. Western fantasy meets harsh, real-world reality.

This summit epitomises everything that is wrong with the current political class who, so obsessed with spin and public image, seem to think that they can claim to be taking action simply by making a few speeches. This summit on sexual violence is the latest in a long line of summits that all follow roughly the same format – groups of delegates making speeches while their audience either nod sagely or clap like captive seals waiting for a fish, expensive hotels (often in luxury tourist resorts), fleets of private jets and limousines and smug, self-righteous back-slapping afterwards as the organisers congratulate themselves on having made a difference when in actuality they have done nothing.

William Hague and Angelina Jolie (or should that be “Wingelina”, given the trend for blending celebrity names?) are spearheading a worthy and important cause. Too many women and girls (and men) are victims of kidnap and sexual violence during warfare. Too many are victims outside of warfare as well, but they don’t have a summit as presumably they aren’t deemed important enough to warrant one. Men and boys who are brutalised into hating their enemy see the enemy’s women and girls as trophies. Spoils of battles that are to be taken and enjoyed. It’s the kind of dehumanising indoctrination that led to the atrocities of the Second World War, where the Germans slaughtered Jews and other “üntermenchen” in their millions, the Japanese brutalised prisoners and took comfort women, the Soviets raped their way through Eastern Europe and the Americans boiled the heads and limbs of dead Japanese soldiers in order to send the bones home as war trophies. Men do it because they have been indoctrinated not to think of their enemies as human beings. Action needs to be taken to show these men that their actions are not acceptable, and it comes not only from training them to recognise and respect the laws of war but also punishing them severely if they step over the line. Western Governments have significantly more experience of investigating and dealing with this kind of atrocity, so we should be taking action to support Governments around the world that are less able to do the job themselves. Talk is cheap, but actions speak louder.

Unfortunately for the victims of sexual violence in war, Western Governments are more interested in appearing to be doing something than in actually doing something, so beyond the small task force created within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, all they are likely to see are summits where groups of well-intentioned rich people give speeches in an echo chamber to people who agree with them. The British Embassy in Japan tweeted that they are unveiling some new artwork in Tokyo as part of this campaign. I’m sure the rebels of Boko Harem are quaking in their shoes. Oh wait, no they aren’t, they’re kidnapping more women.

The predilection of Western politicians and activists to talk rather than act is widespread. Riots in the UK? Make a speech about how something must be done and pat yourself on the back at a job well done. Floods? Go down to the flood area and have your photo taken ankle-deep in muddy water, make a speech about how something must be done and pat yourself on the back at a job well done. Two hundred schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria, forcibly converted to another religion and “married” off to a group of men? Have your picture taken holding a piece of paper that says “#BringBackOurGirls” and pat yourself on the back at a job well done. So obsessed with their own image and being seen to be either doing something or “in touch”, you now get politicians commenting on the most ridiculous things. The Prime Minister actually made a statement about the BBC firing a DJ in Devon for playing a version of a song that included the n-word.

Echo chamber summits are particularly prevalent in the environmental movement, where climate change summits are even more lavish, even more expensive and even more hypocritical. World leaders (and their entourages) all fly to whichever luxury resort takes their fancy – recent events have been held in Bali and Cancun – and make speeches about how we, the people, should be flying less. They drive around in luxury limousines to seminars about how we, the people, should be driving less. They hold lavish dinners and talk about how we, the people, should be eating less. They all sit together in their echo chamber clapping like seals, and make plans for the following year’s summit where they will go through the whole charade once more. We’re told that these problems are so massive and so significant that our Leaders have to get together in luxury hotels to talk about it every year. Have none of them heard of a video conference?

For some libertarians this situation is ideal. The more speeches in echo chambers that politicians give, the less likely they are to actually be doing things and interfering in our lives, and in some cases this is true. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, and often they’ll come away from a summit and implement a cack-handed new law that invariably results in higher taxes and/or costs for both businesses and consumers (but not politicians, naturally, who get subsidised by the taxpayers) while delivering zero net benefit to the country. Carbon credits, green taxes, subsidies for electric cars, air passenger duty – all of these things get pats on the back from delegates at summits who don’t have to pay them while those of us who do have to pay for them struggle to make ends meet. This situation is compounded when summits are held for things where action is definitely required, because those are invariably the summits where nothing happens. I can almost guarantee that nothing will come out of the sexual violence summit this week beyond an agreement to hold another one in a different luxury location. For the women who right now are being violated in conflicts around the world, that simply isn’t good enough.

Bob Foster studied Military History at university and now lives in the North West. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, his passions include American history, military history and defence policy, and can usually be found building models of aircraft and warships. He works in the defence industry but speaks for himself. He tweets as @Bobski1984


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