According to Valdai Club experts, the search of President Evo Morales’ plane at a Vienna airport was not so much a violation of international law as it was a breach of international norms. The Europeans demonstrated to the Bolivian president that his country, like other countries of Latin America, has peripheral status.
According to Valdai Club experts, the search of President Evo Morales’ plane at a Vienna airport was not so much a violation of international law as it was a breach of international norms. The scandal is likely to seriously complicate European-Latin American relations.
On Wednesday night, the authorities of France and Portugal denied the Bolivian president’s plane (which had been airborne for 3.5 hours after departing Moscow) access to their airspace and airports. Subsequently the plane was diverted to an airfield near Vienna. Presumably the French and the Portuguese suspected that the plane was carrying fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden, whose extradition is sought by the US. After failing to find Snowden on board, the Austrians let the presidential plane leave Vienna.
Anarchy in international relations
According to Prof. Piotr Dutkiewicz , Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Management at Carleton University, Canada, and member of the Consultative Council of Valdai International Discussion Club, turning away the Bolivian President’s plane cannot be regarded as a violation of international law because both France and Portugal have sovereignty over their airspace. But what they did is a serious violation of international norms.
“I can’t recall anything like this happening between states that aren’t at war,” he said.
Dutkiewicz believes that the Bolivian plane incident is indicative of the extremely close cooperation between European and US security services.
“This would not have happened if there weren’t such close cooperation and the Europeans didn’t get signals from the US that it would be OK to close the airspace,” he said. “Secondly, this is a demonstration of power outside the bounds of international law or other standards. It’s a sign that international relations are moving towards anarchy, where raw power is much more important than any rules of international behavior.”
The Europeans demonstrated to the Bolivian president that his country, like other countries of Latin America, has peripheral status. Dutkiewicz expects a strong response from Latin America.
Scared of the US?
German political scientist and Valdai Club expert Alexander Rahr believes the incident is unprecedented in recent history.
“I can’t remember any other time in Europe where airspace was closed to the presidential plane of a respectable country like Bolivia, which, incidentally, is rich in mineral resources that Europeans, among others, are eager to buy. The reason they did it looks even more ridiculous. They suspected that Edward Snowden, a man wanted by the US, was stowed away on board” he said.
None of this is technically illegal, he went on, but the risk run by the EU countries – quarreling with Bolivia and other Latin American countries that have expressed solidarity with their colleague – is considerable.
“I don’t know what the consequences will be. But my initial read on the situation is that it shows the surprising degree of influence that the US still has on EU governments and top leaders,” Rahr said. “European leaders in Spain, France, Portugal and Austria have become scared of US retaliation or problems they might have with the US, even though European public opinion is on Snowden’s side. This shows the extent to which the EU continues to play a role in US interests and the greater trans-Atlantic space.”
Jan Carnogursky, former Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic and member of Valdai International Discussion Club, believes that the Austrian authorities violated international law. “I think the fact that they did not find Snowden on board is just deserts,” he said.
In his view, the Bolivian side is entitled to file a complaint against Vienna. “It can do that, of course, but nothing will come out of it. This will drag on for quite long and at some point the Austrian authorities will invent a reason, like they were hunting for a dangerous terrorist,” he said, adding that he also cannot recall a similar incident.