Turkey is a member of NATO – the alleged murder took place there. Is the case likely to impact in any way on dealings with NATO partner countries?
Steinberg: I think it will have an impact. Turkey is an important NATO member and a political murder in the heart of a NATO country should in my view also be unanimously sanctioned by all NATO members. However the problem is that so far, Turkey hasn’t demanded any such unanimous response. Then the question arises over what sanctions can achieve. In particular then, when the strongest NATO member state, the United States, also doesn’t want such a response.
So what form could sanctions take – in the case of Germany, shouldn’t one also be thinking about halting weapons exports, if Saudi Arabia turns out to be responsible?
Steinberg: Arrangements could be made to expel diplomats, for example. Such a move would need to be highly targeted – in other words affecting members of the security authorities first and foremost. Then there’s the possibility of punishing the heads of those authorities involved in this case. Other measures are unrealistic.
Many Arab dissidents and also critical journalists have had to leave their home nations and seek protection in other countries. What does this case now mean for you, when you see that there will quite possibly be no consequences to fear from the international community?
Steinberg: The fear felt by many exiles is now considerable. I think we can describe it as a trend. There are more authoritarian states and states that are become even more authoritarian, such as Saudi Arabia for example. These nations are deploying all possible means to gain control of critics and dissidents abroad. They do this in ways we’re now familiar with, right through to assassination attempts. For the nations that take these critics in, this means a growing danger of such attacks.
We’ve been seeing that in recent years in Turkey, which is also persecuting opposition members in Europe. Critics of these governments have been very worried for some time. Saudis, Egyptians but also Syrians living abroad will be following these events in Istanbul very closely and looking for ways to protect themselves. In the end, the responsibility must be assumed by the countries they live in. This is a reason why I would support sanctions if it turns out the Saudis are responsible. They must be sanctions that will persuade the Saudis not to do something like that again, in a NATO country at least.
Mohammad bin Salman has for a long time tried to present himself as a reformer, but in actual fact he has had his critics persecuted, locked up and also executed.
Steinberg: There has indeed been a kind of authoritarian turnabout in Saudi Arabian politics since 2015. But I don’t think we should hold a solely negative view of Mohammad bin Salman. He’s an economic and social reformer. But in the same way that perhaps Ataturk or Resa Pahlavi were – authoritarian reformers who believed that they could only change their societies if they maintained a firm grip on all areas of life. He wants reforms that’ll bring the nation into the 21st century, but a 21st century in line with the Chinese model, not the liberal western model.
If it turns out that Saudi Arabia is behind this, can the Crown Prince come through with his respectability intact?
Steinberg: His reputation has been tarnished and his economic reforms will suffer for that. Few will invest in Saudi Arabia. But I don’t think there’s any threat to his rule – he’s eliminated all competitors.
I’d like to go back to the issue of critics’ security. Should the West start thinking about ways to better protect dissidents and critics in future?
Steinberg: Yes, I think so. There’s an increasing number of authoritarian states conducting themselves in an increasingly authoritarian manner. Accordingly, there are also more exiles who flee these nations and come to the western world. This induces dictators to search for their opponents abroad and engage them there. If you look at this trend like this, then receiving countries must provide them with greater protection, for moral reasons but also for practical political reasons.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the past too, eastern European dissidents, Iranians, Syrians and Libyans were persecuted here in Europe. But I think the phenomenon has grown in importance in recent years. Our security authorities must provide greater and better protection. This can only succeed if they know as much as possible about the nations and their diplomatic missions that present a danger.
I believe that our political sphere must respond by bolstering the organisational units within our security authorities concerned with counter-espionage. They were wantonly neglected after the end of the Cold War, but they’ve been needed with increasing frequency for years.
Interview conducted by Diana Hodali
© Qantara.de 2018
Translated from the German by Nina Coon