Focal Points Blog

The Arms Race Was Fed by More Than Just the Need for More and Better Nuclear Weapons

Hot on the heels of the development of nuclear weapons, strategies for dealing with them — bad pun alert! — mushroomed. Much of it emanated from the RAND Corporation, home to, as Fred Kaplan explained in The Wizards of Armageddon (Touchstone, 1983) “a small and exceptionally inbred collection of men — mostly economists and mathematicians, a few political scientists — who devoted nearly every moment of their workaday thoughts to thinking about the bomb: how to prevent nuclear war, how to fight nuclear war if it cannot be deterred.”

Specific subjects included fun stuff like first and second strikes, the always popular mutual assured destruction (MAD), launch on warning, and, finally, targeting cities versus targeting “counterforce” (the enemy’s nuclear weapons).

Daunting as that sounds, some of the concepts are deceptively simple. Or, to put it another way, they started out simple, but were worried to death in think tanks and other institutions. For example, the term deterrence, when used in international relations, just means using the threat of an attack to compel a foe to either act or refrain from acting in accordance with the deterring state’s wishes. Yet, applied to nuclear weapons, deterrence has spawned countless books, papers, and conferences.

An arms race, of course, is the principal component of deterrence: each side tries to stockpile weapons more advanced than those of its designated enemy to keep it from attacking. In the field of nuclear weapons, the arms race manifested itself as, for example, development of first, the atomic bomb, then, the exponentially more powerful hydrogen bomb; first, bombers, then intercontinental missiles.

The second element of an arms race besides maintaining a development edge over one’s enemy is building more weapons. Human nature, right? When it comes to nuclear weapons, one assumes that the perceived need to go forth and multiply is determined by how many weapons the enemy has. In fact, it’s more dependent on the number of your enemy’s targets. In the January/February issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Ivan Oelrich explained how this works (behind a pay wall).

Nuclear weapons were first aimed at cities, the centers of population and industrial production. This targeting strategy was, in part, a natural extrapolation of the mass city bombing tactics of World War II. But cities also became nuclear targets by default; with the very inaccurate early missiles, cities were the only targets big enough to hit. As accuracy, weapon numbers, and intelligence on enemy-weapon location increased, it was irresistible for both sides to target the enemy’s nuclear weapons. … The targeting of weapons inevitably led to an arms race. If cities were the only targets, then neither side needed more weapons than the other side had cities to shoot at. But once nuclear weapons became targets, each side had to have as many weapons as the other side for counterforce attacks, plus more to shoot at “value” targets like cities. When each side needed just a few more than the other, an arms race without end was on. [Emphasis added.]

One’s first impression is that attacking weapons is significantly less barbaric than attacking population centers. Alas, in practice, it doesn’t work that way. In its counterintuitiveness, switching a nation’s nuclear weapons policy away from counterforce parallels missile defense. In the first, you’re restraining yourself from taking away your enemy’s weapons. In the second, you surrender the ability to shoot down attacking warheads to keep from inciting your enemy to make more to both overwhelm your missile defense and mount a second attack if the first is thwarted.

That’s part of what makes nuclear races so lethal: the field is fraught with seeming Sophie’s Choices like that.

Will Israeli Dissent Halt the March Towards War?

Excerpted from IPS Special Project Right Web .

The threat of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities this year appears to have substantially subsided over the past several weeks as a result of several developments, including the biting criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced recently by former top national security officials.

The possibility of war seems significantly more remote than it did during the winter months, when tensions reached an all-time high. The New York Times even recently ran a front-page feature entitled “Experts Believe Iran Conflict is Less Likely.”

Judging by actual bets placed on the online trading exchange Intrade, experts believe the chances that the United States or Israel will actually launch air strikes against Iran before the end of the year have fallen by more than half since the high reached in mid-February—from just over 60 percent to about 28 percent as of early May.

That’s still a substantial percentage—about twice what it was before the latest round of Israeli saber-rattling began in November.

It’s difficult to find any close observer who believes that war clouds could not suddenly reappear, particularly if the next meeting of the so-called P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) with Iran scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad should break down or be delayed.

For its part, the Barack Obama administration has shown little inclination to reduce pressure—and the threat of military action—on Tehran.

Not only has it moved more minesweepers and F-15 fighter jets into the Gulf region, but the air force also announced recently that it has deployed an undisclosed number of advanced F-22 stealth fighter-bombers to the area, specifically to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the industry publication Aviation Week.

To read in its entirety, visit Right Web.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web. He blogs at LobeLog.

Ex-Qahdafi Flunkies Debate Claims He Gave Sarkozy 50 Million Euros

Sarkozy GaddafiCross-posted from the Arabist.

The French news site Mediapart has released another document it claims shows that French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his close associates had maintained backdoor ties to the Libyan government from 2005 to 2011, including a 2005–6 agreement to allegedly funnel 50 million Euros worth of Libyan money into Sarkozy’s campaign chest.

The December 10, 2006 letter in question is said to be an official correspondence between Bashir Saleh Bashir 1, then-head of the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, the LAP and Moussa Muhammad Koussa, former head of the Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya (the intelligence service) who in March 2011 quit his post as Foreign Minister and fled to the UK. In the letter, Moussa informs Bashir that per the results of the two men’s October 6, 2006 meeting Sarkozy’s chief of staff Brice Hortefeux and the arms dealer Ziad Takieddine, the LAP would be responsible for making payment of 50 million Euros to Sarkozy’s election campaign. The Libyan document released last week is the first new piece of evidence to be presented by the outlet since French terrorism lawyer Jean-Charles Brisard’s walking back of testimony he gave that had described alleged secret 2005 conferences between Sarkozy’s people and the Libyan regime in 2005.

The document is the latest piece of evidence reported by Mediapart in a now 10 month-long investigation into Sarkozy’s alleged ties to the deceased Libyan dictator. Jean-Charles Brisard, a French counterterrorism expert, had previously provided Mediapart with testimony from a French doctor associate of Takieddine and documentation of contacts among French Interior Ministry staffers, Takieddine and members of Qadhafi’s family, notably Saif al-Islam, former director of the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, and former military intelligence head Abdullah Senussi, who is wanted in France for his alleged role in the bombing of UTA Flight 772 in 1989. Anonymous sources told Reuters last month that the French government is very interested in winning Senussi’s extradition to them because of his contacts with French officials and defense contractors.

This October 6, 2006 meeting would have taken place a year to the day following an alleged October 6, 2005 meeting between some of the principal players in this drama. That 2005 contact reportedly took place during Sarkozy’s only known official visit to Libya. The 2005 meeting recorded by Brisard is said to be where the 50 million Euros payment was first discussed with Hortefeux, with the option of using a front company in Panama and a Swiss bank account to conceal the transactions. Mediapart did not note how it came into possession of the 2006 memo; the outlet’s 2005 sourcing come Brisard, who has since sought to distance himself from the materials of his cited by Mediapart by stating that the testimonies he has gathered “have no probative value” and that Mediapart was misrepresenting his research.

For the record, Sarkozy’s official campaign spending for the 2007 election was approximately 20 million Euros, just short of the maximum spending ceiling for candidates.

Takieddine, according to Mediapart, was the primary fixer between Sarkozy’s team, in particular Hortefeux who made the 2005 visit, as well as Claude Guéant (who replaced Hortefeux as Minister of the Interior last year) and Thierry Gaubert , Hortefeux’s predecessor and a confidant of Sarkozy’s. Takieddine reportedly sought to advance his own agenda of securing sweet deals for French firms with him as the broker through these get-togethers. Amesys, a French IT firm, has also been implicated in these dealings, having sold “Internet-interception equipment” to the Libyan government in 2007, which until early 2011 the regime used to monitor dissidents. Takieddine is thought to have helped broker this agreement, and earned a cut of US$500,000 from the deal, which after Qadhafi’s fall became hugely embarrassing for the telecommunications firm. Takeiddine also reportedly tried to make arrangements for Sakrozy’s 2005 visit by getting to discuss refitting contracts for the Libyan Air Force, now no by the UN from making orders to European defense majors, outside of the purview of the French Defense Ministry.

The arms dealer denies being present at these meetings, but says he believe that this agreement is authentic, claiming to have spoken with an irate Saif al-Islam in March 2011 about the funding and having seen documents he thought Gaubert would fear becoming public. Takeiddine says he is not sure whether the transaction actually went through or not in the end, but Saif al-Islam told him it did and actually went on TV last spring to accuse Sarkozy of “stealing” from the Libyan people.

Takieddine’s testimony is suspect, of course, because he is currently being investigated by a French court for his possible role in a scandal over kickbacks and money-laundering from the sale of warships to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia going to French politican Edouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign. Sarkozy acted as Balladur’s spokesman during that campaign, and Gaubert was investigated last September over his alleged role in securing kickbacks for the 1995 campaign. Takieddine is thought to have maintained contact with the Saudis to secure further kickbacks under Sarkozy’s watch. The Pakistani ties are currently being investigated as a possible motive in a 2002 terrorist attack in Karachi that left 11 French nationals dead. This isn’t the first time key Sarkozy asosicates have come under scrutiny for alleged financial wheelings and dealings: at least two of his associates have been investigated for influence peddling.

Sarkozy denies the allegations, as do all of his associates from the Interior Ministry. It is not clear what effect this election year scandal has had on Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign, but he is widely expected to lose his reelection bid to the Socialist candidate François Hollande, coming in second to him in the first round of elections. The second round of voting, and expected Sarkozy defeat, will take place on May 5–6.

Update: Moussa and Bashir (both in exile) deny they had anything to do with the document; conversely, former Libyan PM Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi (also in exile) asserts it is authentic. In Libya, the interim government that NATO helped install last year says it has not been able to verify the letter. The Sarkozy campaign has denied all allegations and is threatening to sue Mediapart. Sarkozy’s opponents have not made much of this investigation in their campaigning, instead focusing their criticism on Sarkozy’s austerity and immigration policies. The final round of the French presidential election will take place May 5-6.

1Bashir’s name, and that of other Libyan officials, have more recently come up in reports from the British press on foreign intelligence services abetting Qadhafi’s spies in keeping tabs on dissidents in the EU.

Question of Iran Pits Israeli Intelligence Against Meshuggeneh Fringe

Cross-posted from Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

An open clash between Israelis at a major meeting in New York City gives ample evidence of a growing divide in Israel over attacking Iran.

The tensions have been brewing under the surface for some time now, with hints of the depth of the antagonism surfacing from time to time. But just a few days ago, on April 29, 2012, in New York City, before a mostly Jewish, and mostly pro-Netanyahu audience of 1,000 attendees, the political boil was publicly lanced, and nothing Alan Dershowitz had in his bag of articulate tricks could paste over the bitter polarization that has erupted. The meeting was sponsored by the generally conservative and right wing Jerusalem Post.

The issue: Iran.

Just how nasty and deep is the split can be seen from a detailed article published in May 2 edition of the New York City-based Forward — one of America’s longest running and most prestigious Jewish newspapers. In an article entitled Explosive Dust Up Over Iran Policy, Forward journalist J.J. Goldberg exposed the Israeli internal riff over Iran in which it seemed that high-level Israeli officials ripped into one another over claims of “an Iranian threat.”

Sounded like quite the ideological slugfest that ripped the veil off of any semblance of Israeli unity concerning Iran. On the one hand, representatives of Prime Minister Netanyahu openly attacked President Obama’s Middle East policies, with, according to the Forward, “widespread cheering” from the audience. On the other hand, former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and former Mossad Director Meir Dagan attacked Netanyahu’s Iran saber rattling. Last year Dagan had publicly called Netanyahu’s war talk “stupid.” In one exchange on April 29, Dagan called Giliad Erdan, Israel’s Environmental Minister and a Netanyahu man, “a liar.” Ergan responded in kind, claiming Dagan was “threatening Israeli security.”

The Meshuggeneh Fringe vs. the Intelligence Apparatus

In one corner, the ample meshuggeneh fringe of Israeli politics — Prime Minister Netanyahu and his increasingly right-wing and religious followers, including West Bank settlers whose rhetoric has long ago approached “foaming at the mouth” levels concerning “the existential Iranian threat” to Israel. Netanyahu and company have been warning the world of the development of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon since the early 1980s.

In the other corner, strange as it seems at first — but not so strange for those who know anything about the sober (if reactionary) assessments of the Israeli intelligence — security and military communities. Joining them is a growing element of Israeli public opinion so hammered with anti-Iranian vitriol that is something approaching a miracle that they could see through the swamp of lies and exaggerations, and actually speak out for peace. Going against the position of the Israeli prime minister, this element in Israel has been openly contradicting Netanyahu. They argue that Iran isn’t building a nuclear weapon, doesn’t have plans to build one and even it did, wouldn’t represent a threat to Israel.

The breach is nothing new in Israel where it has been discussed for months in the Israeli press; but to see controversy spill over so openly in the United States and then to be picked up by the mainstream media (the New York Times) and a publication like The Forward — this is striking.

The struggle over Iran at top of the Israeli political pyramid only reflects the tension at the grass roots. In a related development and unprecedented gesture, an Israeli posted a message on Facebook — a teacher made a public appeal — both to the people of Israel and the people of Iran — against war. The appeal struck a chord in Iran where it was read, viewed positively and widely circulated; it is circulating heavily in Israel and now around the world.

For the Israeli intelligence and security establishment, it is not Iran which poses a danger to Israeli security but Netanyahu’s rhetoric which has not only increased regional tensions but has in recent months undermined U.S.-Israeli relations, so much so, that at this year’s March 2012 AIPAC annual meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly called on AIPAC — and Israel — to tone down the war talk.

In classic style, Netanyahu responded to Obama’s request by announcing more Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories and ratcheting up his anti-Iran rhetoric in an effort to reconstruct the anti-Iranian alliance (the U.S., Israel, Saudis and other conservative Arab Regimes). This alliance had been strained to the breaking point by the eruption of the Arab Spring which temporarily found Israel more isolated and confused in the region than it had ever been.

Looking for an Election Issue, U.S. Republicans Egg on Netanyahu

Egged on by Republicans, right-wing Zionists and neoconservatives here in the United States, Netanyahu’s anti-Iranian hysteria had reached such subjective heights, that even important elements of Israel’s own circles of power have found it necessary to call their prime minister on the carpet. Besides trying to push the United States into a war with Iran that Israel cannot in any way shape or form fight on its own, Netanyahu’s goal is to make the non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program an election issue here in the USA. At the very least, Netanyahu reasoned, the saber rattling would force Obama to make concessions to Israel . I call it “rage management” — yell and scream enough and you might not get everything you want, but some juicy consolation prize — which did come forth in the form of bunker buster bombs to Israel and silence on the Palestinian issue.

But that wasn’t enough for Netanyahu for whom political moderation is something approaching a cardinal sin. And, with the support of the usual suspects (AIPAC, neoconservative nuts like John Bolton, and that Christian fundamentalist nut case John Hagee), Netanyahu kept up the anti-Iranian drumbeat for war. Of course he’d crossed the line of decency — and outright interfered in U.S. politics so often — and gotten away with it…that why stop now! Having let Israel off the lease for so long, it has proven to be difficult now to rein it in. Can’t blame all that on Netanyahu either.

The Republicans here in the United States whose primary campaign, pushed to the right by the likes of the Tea Party and neoconservatives, had something else in mind. As Netanyahu’s saber rattling grew louder and louder, the price of oil, always subject to political insecurity, began to rise. The bet was racheting up oil prices through fear of war would cut into the weak U.S. (and global) recovery which the Republicans and Netanyahu would help engineer. The Republican candidate — now apparently Romney — could blame the failed recovery on Obama.

Obama — Tactical Retreat From Military Confrontation

Obama understood the Republican-Likud game for the danger it is both to world peace and his re-election possibilities, given American sensitivities to rising oil prices. He acted to help defuse the situation — making it clear in his own pronouncements and those of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, that there will be no military strike against Iran (at least until after the elections). All this challenges — at least in part — that in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations that “it is the tail wagging the dog.” The dog can wag the tail too — when it finds it necessary. While the connections/coordination between Obama and the Israeli military-intelligence community on this issue have not been openly spelled out, the fact that this is the sector that receives gobs of U.S. financial aid since 1979 and is closely coordinated with NATO plans and operations in the Middle East, might just have something to do with it.

It is not so much that the Obama Administration has changed its goal of regime change in Iran — the moral implications are of course brushed aside (again). But with the situation in Afghanistan melting daily before the world’s eyes, with tensions in Pakistan over drone strikes, Iraq in an increasingly explosive mood and Syria in a state approaching civil war, the U.S. is in no position to open up another front militarily, even if it so desired.

Of course, inching back from the brink even if it is for short-sighted election purposes — is a relief. Is it simply a breather from a policy that in the long run inextricably will lead to a military conflict, or the first step away from a policy of arrogance and lunacy that threatens to take us all down with it?

Iran Errata: Encouraging Words Turn Out to Be Repackaged

It seemed like we were hearing some encouraging words on U.S.-Iran relations. On April 27, Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times reported:

In what would be a significant concession, Obama administration officials. … said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity, which is the upper end of the range for most civilian uses, if its government agrees to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded.

But it turned out to be one of those “not much to see here, move along” situations. At the Arms Control Association blog Arms Control NOW, Peter Crail reported:

The conclusions drawn by the L.A. Times misreads the history of the U.S. position and U.S. efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear issue with the P5+1.

In fact, Crail writes, potential discussions with Iran over (emphasis added)

… the conditions under which it could continue enrichment is not new. In fact, it is built into the proposals that the P5+1 have offered Iran since 2006, spanning the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. … The shift by the Obama administration appears to be more a matter of its willingness to publicly state that there could be conditions under which Iran could maintain some enrichment capabilities, rather than a willingness to entertain the idea in the first place.

Meanwhile, at Al Jazeera, Gareth Porter explains what Iran is talking about when it’s talking about its right to enrich uranium.

Iran’s diplomacy strategy is to accumulate centrifuges, not in order to support a weapons programme, but rather to negotiate a larger bargain with the United States.

Because …

Contrary to the convenient argument that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resists agreement with the United States, he and leading officials on the Supreme National Security Council have long viewed negotiations with the United States as the only way that the Iran can achieve full security and emerge as a full-fledged regional power.[At one point] the biggest source of leverage, the Iranians believed, was the Bush administration’s dramatically increased concern about Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, which had taken US intelligence by surprise.

In other words, enriched uranium is the coin of Iran’s international realm.

Newseum Dishonors One of Its Own: Slain Spanish Cameraman Jose Couso

Spanish cameraman Jose Couso

Spanish cameraman Jose Couso

I was looking for updates on the case of slain Spanish cameraman José Couso, murdered by U.S. troops in Baghdad in 2003 as part of a coordinated attack on the independent media, when I came upon a so-called memorial to Couso on the Newseum‘s webpage. I wrote a comprehensive piece on the Couso case last year, and a follow-up piece when the indictments against the soldiers responsible were re-issued last fall.

Far from memorializing Couso, the Newseum article repeats de-bunked falsehoods that even the army had backtracked on in 2003. Here’s what I wrote to the Newseum, I suggest you do the same to prevent these falsehoods from distorting and erasing a very important truth.

Hello,

I just came upon the entry on Spanish cameraman José Couso in the so-called “Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial” and found it to be strikingly and offensively inaccurate.

It reads:

Couso, a television cameraman, was killed when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. The tank crew reportedly had been fired on from the hotel, which housed dozens of journalists covering the war. Couso was 37. Although a U.S. inquiry concluded in 2004 that the three U.S. Army personnel involved had done nothing wrong, Spanish courts pursued the matter. In 2009, the Spanish National Court threw out the charges against the three, ruling that there was no evidence that the three had acted incorrectly, and closed the case.

My points of contention to this slander to the man’s memory are as follows:

1) “The tank crew reportedly had been fired on from the hotel” — in addition to being a poorly framed sentence, this statement is contradicted by the dozens of eyewitnesses to Couso’s killing, as well as the filmed footage from a nearby hotel room focusing on the tank for several minutes prior to the fatal blast. Indeed, even the army’s spokesperson changed his story in response to the overwhelming evidence that he had lied when he stated the tank was fired on: he later stated that there was an enemy spotter in the hotel armed with nothing more than a pair of binoculars. Binoculars like the ones used by camera operators to find newsworthy images. Moreover, the tank’s rules of engagement explicitly forbid such a disproportionate response to unarmed spotters, or even to machine gun fire, as an anti-personnel shell like the one that was fired into a location known by the Pentagon to have been full of journalists.

2) “Although a U.S. inquiry concluded in 2004 that the three U.S. Army personnel involved had done nothing wrong, Spanish courts pursued the matter.” This statement, which can be described as nothing short of imperialist, suggests that the U.S. military (the word “military” does not appear in this sentence to describe the internal investigation of the army) has jurisdiction over not only Iraqi territory (a logical conclusion during a military occupation, legal or not), but also over Spanish citizens whose government is obliged to protect their rights both domestically and abroad. Would an accused murderer be allowed to conduct the investigation of his/her own case in any traditional court of law?

3) “In 2009, the Spanish National Court threw out the charges against the three, ruling that there was no evidence that the three had acted incorrectly, and closed the case.” Diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks show that the Prosecutor’s burial of the case — NOT the National Court’s — was the direct result of pressure from the U.S. Embassy. The prosecutor in this case was a political appointee who was very much under the sway of the Spanish administration of then-Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and acted under explicit order’s from Zapatero’s Vice President. And at no time was the archival of the case a reflection on any lack of evidence, but rather due to the prosecutor’s argument that the investigating judge didn’t have jurisdiction in the case. As the case was never “closed” as your shameful account of the events would have readers believe. As a journalistic institution, you should know that it was reopened when the Spanish Supreme Court overturned the prosecutor’s determination that the investigating judge lacked jurisdiction, effectively reopening the case. As of last October, there are pending charges against the three soldiers — Philip DeCamp, Philip Wolford and Shawn Gibson — and warrants for their arrests. There is also a court summons for their supervising general Buford Blount.

I wrote a piece tracing the Couso case from the event itself up to last summer at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Please acknowledge receipt of this message. I’d be happy to assist in re-writing what you call a memorial to a fallen journalist, what I’d call a falsification, a fraud, and a cover-up.

Best Regards,

Noah Gimbel

V. Noah Gimbel is currently working on a book on Universities and Empire and can be reached at [email protected].

Latin America Delivers a Good, Swift Kick to the U.S.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff

On one level, April’s hemispheric summit meeting was an old-fashioned butt kicking for Washington’s policies in the region. The White House found itself virtually alone—Dudley Do-Right Canada its sole ally—on everything from Cuba to the war on drugs. But the differences go deeper than the exclusion of Havana and the growing body count in Washington’s failed anti-narcotics strategy. They reflect profound disagreements on how to build economies, confront inequity, and reflect a new balance of power in world affairs.

The backdrop for the summit is anger in Latin America over the failure of the U.S. and Europe to stimulate their economies, all the while pursuing policies that have flooded the region with money—a “ monetary tsunami” in the words of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff—driving up the value of southern hemisphere currencies and strangling local industries.

After meeting last month with President Obama, Rousseff said she told him of Brazil’s “concern with the expansionary monetary policies of the rich countries…leading to the depreciation of developed countries currencies and compromising growth among emerging economies.”

While Latin American economies are in better shape than those in Europe and the U.S., the recession dogging the latter areas—plus the cooling of the Chinese economy—has slowed growth throughout much of Latin America. Brazil’s most recent figures indicate a stalled economy, which could have an impact on efforts by the Rousseff government to raise living standards and narrow what was once the world’s biggest gap between rich and poor.

According to the Getulio Vargas Foundation Brazil has lifted 33 million out of extreme poverty since 2003 and, out of a population of 190 million, has created a relatively well-paid workforce of some 105.5 million. In contrast to the U.S. and Europe, where the wealth gap is accelerating, income for the poorest 50 percent of Brazilians has risen 68 percent, while for the top 10 percent, it has grown only 10 percent.

This growth has come about because most countries in Latin America reject the economic model pushed by Washington and the European Union: free trade, financial deregulation, and deep austerity.

Argentina is the poster child for the region’s rejection of the so-called “Washington consensus.” Throughout much of the ’90s, a deeply indebted Argentina followed the strictures of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), slashing government spending and instituting a suffocating austerity. The result was a “debt trap”: cutbacks increased unemployment, which dampened tax revenues, which required yet more cutbacks, and more unemployment. In the end, debts went up. From 1998 to 2002, Argentina’s economy shrank 20 percent. By the time Buenos Aires finally said “enough” and defaulted on its $100 billion sovereign debt, half of its 35 million people were below the poverty line.

Argentina reversed course and primed the economy with government spending on housing, highways and education. It also subsidized 1.9 million low-income families, which cut poverty in half. Since 2002, the economy has grown at an average rate of 6 percent a year, and joblessness has fallen from 20 percent to 8 percent.

Brazil has followed a similar strategy that is now threatened by the fiscal and monetary policies of the U.S. and Europe. Those policies have caused the value of Brazil’s currency, the real, to grow, which prices Brazilian manufactured goods out of the international market.

“There is concern in South America about deindustrialization,” says Alicia Barcena of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America. “Therefore some countries are taking measures to support their productive sectors.” While the Obama Administration calls this support “protectionism,” Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega says, “The measures we are using are to defend ourselves.”

There are other issues Latin Americans are unhappy about that never made it into U.S. media accounts on the summit, in particular the make-up of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that Brazil—along with India and South Africa—would like to join.

As former Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva told the African Union summit last July, “It isn’t possible that the African continent, with 53 countries, has no permanent representation in the Security Council. It isn’t possible that Latin America with its 400 million inhabitants does not have permanent representation. Five countries decide what to do, and how to do it.”

The five permanent members of the Security Council are the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China.

While the U.S. has endorsed India’s bid—in large part because it is wooing New Delhi to join its anti-China coalition—Washington has been consciously silent on Brazil’s bid. Indeed, United Nations U.S. representative Susan Rice has been sharply critical of Brazil, India and South Africa for not supporting intervention in Syria. “We have learned a lot [about these three countries] and frankly, not all of it encouraging.” The message is clear: back us and we will think about it.

The summit was particularly critical of the Obama administration around the exclusion of Cuba, causing the President to turn positively peevish. “Sometimes I feel…we’re caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War.”

But from Latin America’s point of view, by maintaining a half-century-old blockade, it is the U.S. who seems locked into the world of the Cold War. And there are, indeed, some worries about “gun boats,” specifically those that make up the newly re-constituted U.S. Fourth Fleet, mothballed in 1950 and revived by the Bush Administration. The U.S. has also recently established military bases in Colombia and Central America.

The Brazilians are particularly nervous about the security of their newly found offshore oil deposits, and the head of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Luiz Umberto de Mendonca, is pressing Brasilia for surface ships and submarines.

Testifying before the Brazilian House of Representatives, Simon Rosental of the prestigious Escuela Superior de Guerra (ESG) institute warned that “The world has known oil reserves that will only last 25 years and in the United States, only for the next ten years.”

It may be a bit of a stretch to imagine the U.S. actually threatening Brazil’s offshore oil deposits, but Latin Americans can hardly be blamed if they are a tad paranoid about the Colossus of the North. For the past 100 years the U.S. has overthrown governments from Guatemala to Chile, and supported military juntas throughout the region. Brazil only recently emerged from its own U.S.-backed dictatorship.

“South America,” says Moniz Banderia of the ESG, “is really trying to define its own identity, to differentiate itself from the United States, in opposition to its domination, which is evident in the creation of UANSUR [Union of South American Nations] and the South American Defense Council.”

UNASUR was established in 2008 and includes all 12 South American nations, plus observers from Panama and Mexico.

The Defense Council’s Action Plan 2012 aims to integrate the militaries of the region, establish a “peace zone” on the continent, and create a space agency, an essential step for launching satellites.

Certainly issues like Cuba, the war on drugs, and the tensions over Britain’s claim on the Malvinas/Falkland Islands are areas of friction between the U.S., Europe and South America. But it is in the realm of economics, poverty alleviation, and independent foreign policy that the differences are sharp.

South Americans tried the austerity model and found it wanting. They have also seen the U.S. and NATO spark wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and they are deeply suspicious of policy of “humanitarian intervention” in places like Syria because they don’t trust the motives behind it. Members of the BRIC countries, made up of Brazil, South Africa, India, Russia, and China, share those suspicions.

“There’s almost a third-world sense, a post-colonial sense,” says Mark Quarterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “that they were meddled in, in ways that didn’t rebound to their benefit, and now the same countries are claiming humanitarian reasons for meddling.”

Thus in Libya, the UN enforced an arms boycott and an oil embargo on the Qaddafi regime, while the French supplied arms to the rebels and Qatar handled rebel oil sales. Brazil and other BRIC nations see a similar pattern in Syria. In the meantime, the U.S. and Europe are conspicuously silent on oil-rich Bahrain’s suppression of its Shiite majority and the lack of democracy in the monarchy-dominated Persian Gulf states.

So far the Obama Administration has responded to South America’s growing independence by increasing the U.S. military footprint in the region and acting churlish. While the leaders of India and South Korea got formal state affairs, the U.S. President gave Rousseff a two-hour meeting. “Obama could have taken her to dinner,” one Brazilian official complained to The Guardian (UK) “or to the Kennedy Center.”

But Latin Americans no longer pay as much mind to the atmosphere in Washington as they used to. They are too busy confronting poverty and underdevelopment, forging a multi-polar world in which the U.S. is looking increasingly out of touch.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

Radio Tahrir (Part II): The Indignado and Occupy Movement

This is a transcript of one of the two main interviews during Radio Tahrir (Part I is here), a marathon looking back on the Arab awakening, the Indignados and the Occupy movement, live recorded at the Kaaitheather, Brussels, 11th of March 2012, conceived and moderated by Lieven de Cauter. An edited version (by Werner Trio) of the debate was broadcast as “Radio Tahrir” on Radio Klara, a week later. The first skype interview is with Tariq Ali, who shares his view on the developments in the Middle East, the second with Michael Hardt who is being queried on the Occupy and Indignado movement and the political ramifications for Western democracies. Members of the panel in the Kaaitheater are Rudi Vranckx, Sami Zemni, Yassine Channouf, Eva Brems, Christophe Callewaert, Linus van Hellemont, Eric Coryn and Thomas Decreus. Or listen to the program in English and Dutch.

(Transcript by Odette Dijt)

Michael Hardt is co-author with Antonio Negri of the Empire trilogy (Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth). Their latest book, Declaration, which addresses the encampments and occupations of 2011, will be published in May 2012.

LDC: I have been, of course, in the Indignado manifestation, here in Brussels, I have been at Occupy Rotterdam – but I have less experience from concrete realities than some of the members from the panel – what struck me was that the people you talk to, in their stalls, in their tents, were so incredibly apolitical. In fact, it was hard to, sometimes, find out whether they were really against neo-liberalism. So, they were like … harmless. What is your feeling, because you were, of course, closer to the whole Occupy movement in America. Is it also that sort of confused, harmless idealism?

Michael Hardt: I might be talking about the same phenomenon as you, but I approach it from a different angle. I think it’s true that in all of these European and North American encampments and occupations, there’s been a large percentage of the activists who were not experienced militants. Now that has some disadvantages which I think you are pointing to, it also has some real important advantages. I think some of the success has been related to being new to politics of many of the activists. For instance, before the 15th of May, in Spain, in Madrid … you know, there was a large demonstration called for that day and in 60 different cities around Spain, and it was the non-experienced activists that really forced the slogan of “Democracia real, ya!” “Real democracy now!” A lot of the experienced activists in Spain whom I know very well, were very uncomfortable with that as a slogan, as good Leftists. In some ways to be experienced militants means to be cynical about democracy and to have a certain discomfort in proposing democracy as the objective. One of the really exciting things about 2011, that it has reopened the discussion about democracy. In many ways it was made possible by the Arab spring to put democracy on the agenda, in a kind of naive way – but I mean naive here in a really positive sense – this couldn’t have happened simply in the frameworks of the experienced militants and the politics as it was. So, in some sense I agree with you. I, too, have read about it, and had that sensation of a certain disquiet from the inexperience of many of the militants, many of the activists, in this. I think there are also some extremely positive effects of that. Of the influx of populations I mean. The result has been, in many ways better and credits to the success of the movements in 2011. We have to regard it as an extraordinarily powerful, pedagogical moment of people becoming a much wider population, becoming engaged in these kinds of political issues. So, I guess I am more inclined to see the positive aspects of that.

Eva Brems: Occupy Wall Street, in the first place, fights economic injustice and the undemocratic power of financial markets. Right? It’s Wall Street that’s occupied, not the White House. If you look at the testimonies on “We are the 99%” it’s all about economic injustice. Yet, sort of automatically, another agenda, an agenda for political change, for democratic change of institutions and mechanisms seems to be attached to that. And I understand that perfectly in the US context, because power alternates between two political parties, and neither of the parties really has an agenda for true economic justice, I would say. Plus the rules on party financing are so lax that they are actually votes in the pocket of the one percent, you might also say, but I would submit that in Europe things are somewhat different, actually. The parties are not in the pockets of the one percent? And actually, real and even radical claims for change of economic markets or financial markets of economic redistribution are on the agenda of political parties, even some of the change that is so needed in the US, is already realized in some European countries. So, what I am wondering is, whether these automatic attachments of this agenda of change of political mechanisms should be the case also in Europe? I actually think, that the whole movement, could be much more effective and efficient in Europe, by working through what’s already there, through strong unions, through … even political parties?

MH: Let’s start with the US, and then Europe. I think you’re right that there was a quick movement between the question of economic justice and political democracy. I would say, that, when one thinks about the cycle of struggles of 2011 as a whole, in contrast the to Alter-Globalisation movements from ten years earlier, one of the striking differences was the focus on the concept of justice. Global justice, ten years ago, and the focus on democracy, this last year. So, I would say also, like you, that in some ways that Occupy Wall Street translated the struggle against the tyrant, against tyranny, into the struggle against the tyranny of finance. I would say that the political character of Tunisia and Egypt, and also, of course, of Spain and Greece, all of which preceded the Occupy Wall Street, that the political character really was dominant. So, in all of that I am agreeing with you. What I am not as optimistic about – I love to accuse someone else of optimism, because I often get that – I am not as optimistic as you about the European parties of the Left. Certainly, you know we probably have to talk about different countries, but certainly in Spain, the 15th of May, and the occupations of Puerta del Sol in Madrid and in Barcelona, were not in support of the Socialist party. In fact, a lot of the struggle was against the betrayal of the Socialist party, against a movement that had brought them to power, several years earlier. So, I wouldn’t say that either the trade-unions, or the Socialist party or any other Left formation was in this. What I found most interesting, and complex, and challenging… in May, in Spain, was the slogan that “You don’t represent us!” In some ways, which was an echo of Argentina, ten years earlier. The slogan”¡Que se vayan todos!” That they all go – so, not just against any one politician, or any one political party, but against the entire political class, and really against the entire political system. I see this as a challenge to the republican constitutions, this refusal of representation, and a quite serious one. Now, I think that you are saying that the traditional forms of representation, both through trade-unions and through political parties, is still sufficient to lead and guide the populations and in a way they should give up their struggles, or conceive their struggles or allow their struggles to be taken over. Or, maybe just trust in their leaders, in the unions and the parties? Well, there are two ways of responding. One is that I, personally, don’t have much faith in that, but more importantly, maybe is that the content of the encampments have been decidedly against those traditional forms of representation. Not only because they’ve now been corrupted – undoubtedly, of course, they have – but because of the form of representation itself is not adequate to their desires. All I’m trying to do is express a slightly different evaluation than, I think you give to the traditional forms of representation. I think that’s where we differ.

Linus van Hellemont: Hello, Mr. Hardt. Apparently we don’t have time for another analytical question … so, I have a very practical question for you. As you know, Occupy Wall Street and Madrid, the Indignados of Madrid, are calling for a next global mobilization on the 12th of May. You are a leading political philosopher, and you have the capacity to call the scientific community for joining the protest. My question to you is: will you do this? Will you take your responsibility? Yes, or no? A very short question.

MH: Who cares about the scientific community? And who do you mean by that?

LVH: I know of a lot. I will just add, I know of a lot of political philosophers, but also a lot of readers of your books, who are working within the academic milieu, in, academia, who really follow you, and if you would call to join the protest, and ask them to do the same yourself, this will spark maybe the debate on what is a democratic university. On what is democratic academia: should we focus on quantity and produce texts as much as possible or should we go for quality? Et cetera, et cetera. This is part of the outrage, which is there in the Indignados movement, will you take part and will you call with us?

MH: I am not quite clear about the call, yet. I am certainly taking part. Like, there’s no doubt about what I want. I am skeptical about those who think that the revolution will start in the university. I don’t mean to say that the university is not an important site, but it seems to me the wrong location to look for some sort of leading role. And then the second thing I am hesitant about is I would be very much disinclined to think of myself as a leader of any-thing. You’re sort of casting me in some leadership role which I don’t think is appropriate. I think what is more appropriate, is to write about and to participate in the activities, rather than calling on others to do so.

LDC: Okay, on this moral dictum we end. We thank you very much. Give Mr. Hardt a warm applause. Thank you very much. Great. Thank you for your time. It was great talking to you. Bye bye. And hope to meet you soon. Bye. The 12th of May! [applause]

Lieven De Cauter is a philosopher, writer and activist. He teaches philosophy of culture (in Leuven, Brussels and Rotterdam). His latest books: The Capsular Civilization. On the City in the Age of Fear (2004) and, as co-editor, Heterotopia and the city (2008); Art and activism in the Age of globalization (2011) . He is initiator of the BRussells Tribunal.

When Nuclear Weapons Programs Fail to Ripen

One can’t help but suspect that a key reason the public and even many policymakers believe that Iran is close to developing nuclear weapons is the sheer length of time that the words “Iran” and “nuclear” have been uttered in the same sentence by the media. Way back in 1957 Iran signed an agreement to participate President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini temporarily halted Iran’s nuclear efforts, both peaceful and weapons.

In the late eighties and early nineties, AQ Khan, lord of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program as well as the nuclear black market, shared know-how and components with Iran. Then, in late 2002, it was learned that Iran had built a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak. It appears, though, that in 2003 all but vestigial research toward an Iranian nuclear-weapons program ended.

For better or worse, that’s 55 years, off and on, that Iran’s name has been linked with the word nuclear and 25 years since Iran initiated actual work on developing nuclear weapons. By contrast, the United States developed nuclear weapons from scratch in four years during what, compared to today, was the technological dark ages. In the interim, many other states have also succeeded in relatively short timeframes. Thus, it doesn’t strike most in the West as plausible that a developed state like Iran has yet to bring its program — if you’re among those who believe that, in fact, it exists — to fruition.

Jacques E. C. Hymans of the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California addresses Iran’s inability (again, if you accept that it’s trying) to close the nuclear circle in an article in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs titled “Botching the Bomb: Why Nuclear Weapons Programs Often Fail on Their Own — and Why Iran’s Might, Too” (behind a pay wall). He begins by providing an example of an official skeptical of how long it’s taking Iran to close the circle (again, assuming you’re among those who believe that’s what it seeks). [Emphasis added.]

“Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years,” a former chief of Israeli military intelligence recently wrote in The New York Times, echoing a widely held belief. Indeed, the more nuclear technology and know-how have diffused around the world, the more the timeline for building a bomb should have shrunk. But in fact, rather than speeding up over the past four decades, proliferation has gone into slow motion. … Seven countries launched dedicated nuclear weapons projects before 1970, and all seven succeeded in relatively short order. By contrast, of the ten countries that have launched dedicated nuclear weapons projects since 1970, only three have achieved a bomb.

In Iran’s case — and I’ll issue this disclaimer just once more: assuming you believe that they’re trying to develop nuclear weapons — a number of factors have contributed to the delay. Foremost among them is that because Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it’s subject to monitoring and verification. Other reasons include imported nuclear components that the West has sabotaged and killing of scientists, the reduction of the nuclear black market to but a shadow of itself, and sanctions. But here, according to Hymans, is the essential reason in Iran as well as other states:

The great proliferation slowdown. … is mostly the result of the dysfunctional management tendencies of the states that have sought the bomb in recent decades. Weak institutions in those states have permitted political leaders to unintentionally undermine the performance of their nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians.

In fact, according to Hymans,

… most rulers of recent would-be nuclear states have tended to rely on a coercive, authoritarian management approach to advance their quest for the bomb, using appeals to scientists’ greed and fear as the primary motivators. That coercive approach is a major mistake, because it produces a sense of alienation in the workers by removing their sense of professionalism. As a result, nuclear programs lose their way. Moreover, underneath these bad management choices lie bad management cultures. In developing states with inadequate civil service protections, every decision tends to become politicized, and state bureaucrats quickly learn to keep their heads down. Not even the highly technical matters faced by nuclear scientific and technical workers are safe from meddling politicians. The result is precisely the reverse of what the politicians intend: not heightened efficiency but rather a mixture of bureaucratic sloth, corruption, and endless blame shifting.

He uses Iraq as an example. On the other hand, Hymans writes:

… military attacks by foreign powers have tended to unite politicians and scientists in a common cause to build the bomb. Therefore, taking radical steps to rein in Iran would be not only risky but also potentially counterproductive, and much less likely to succeed than the simplest policy of all: getting out of the way and allowing the Iranian nuclear program’s worst enemies — Iran’s political leaders — to hinder the country’s nuclear progress all by themselves. … The world is lucky that during the past few decades, the leaders of would-be nuclear weapons states have been so good at frustrating and alienating their scientists. The United States and its partners must take care not to adopt policies that resolve those leaders’ management problems for them.

Unfortunately policymakers vulnerable to the conventional wisdom that Iran is developing nuclear weapons may well be too susceptible to pressure from hawks to exhibit that degree of patience and restraint.

Mid-East Tweeters Probe the Tenderest of Saudi Sore Spots

Hamza Kashgari

Hamza Kashgari

“On the one hand, it’s deeply worrying that the government is seeking to create a surveillance culture that encompasses spying on all digital media.

“On the other, that same government would struggle to arrange a children’s party if provided with a clown, a bouncy castle, some children and an unlimited supply of jelly.”
– the satirist Daily Mash on new British online surveillance laws

On the one hand, a Wahhabi fatwa against Twitter. On the other, a princely stake from an Al Saud in the platform.

And on the other *other* hand, a growing campaign across the region to censor — and censure — dissent from social media users that is no laughing matter.

Social media is certainty shaking up the Kingdom. Hamza Kashgari was arrested for “blasphemous” tweets — whose supporters now assert that, so desperate were the Saudi authorities to make an example of him, they pressured Malaysian officials into arresting and extraditing him while he was traveling around Malaysia, and then lying abut this by claiming they had detained him at an airport.

In addition to the aforementioned fatwa, at least three Saudi journalists have been arrested and detained for their role in participating in or covering Shia demonstrations in the eastern part of the country. As Toby C. Jones noted, the Shia demonizing campaign of spring 2011 had as much to do with fear of losing influence in Bahrain — and perhaps more so — as it did with fear of having to make concessions to the country’s Shia citizens and rein in the Wahhabi establishment:

In Saudi Arabia, in dozens of places, hundreds of protesters routinely assembled, calling for relatively minor concessions, including greater religious tolerance and the release of Shiite political prisoners. But confronted by the sweeping changes underway across the region, ofï¬cials claimed that the protests at home and especially in Bahrain, if they were allowed to succeed, would lead to a catastrophe — a democratic state next door controlled by a Shiite majority, one they insisted would take marching orders from Tehran.

Given the heavy-handedness of the Saudi authorities, online anonymity is a safer way to organize than congregating in a town square. But the net is heavily monitored nonetheless, and stepping out into the sun rarely ends well. “March 11—the intended Day of Rage—came and went without mass protest,” Madawi Al-Rasheed wrote last month, and in the process of turnout and crackdown, at least one Saudi YouTuber was disappeared by the authorities.

The newest social media “subversive” stirring controversy in Saudi Araia is @Mujtahidd, who is exposing many unwelcome details about the lives of the rich and powerful in Saudi Arabia, such as the jetsetting Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd and Deputy Minister of Defense Khalid bin Sultan. Those he has tweeted about find themselves deluged with angry questions about their alleged extravagances, such as “did your new estate in Riyadh cost the state 12 billion riyals?” or accused of pocketing billions of riyals from arms deals and construction contracts. @Mujtahidd asserts that endemic graft is costing the country 500 billion riyals annually. @Mujtahidd’s moralizing anti-corruption drive has apparently struck a chord among 290,000 followers in digging up old scandals and warning of new ones involving the House of Saud.

Media monitoring, as practiced by governments in Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Iran (to name a few), is not so much enforced by datacenters, wiretaps and informants but by searches of TV stations by police, days in a holding cell and the warrant officer’s truncheon. The technology, of course, plays an increasingly vital role, not least because it makes it so much easier to prepare a mound of “evidence” to the prosecution’s satisfaction. Sultan Al Qassemi notes, governments and their supporters are becoming more social media savvy too: despite clerical criticism of the internet, the Twitterverse exploded with criticism of Kashgari from self-described “devout” Muslims.

Criticism of Gulf states’ human rights records or military policies has proven to be dangerous for social media users in the UAE — where several bloggers have been detained on charges of “sedition” and “blasphemy” for daring to report on activists and criticizing members of the royal family — and Oman. The same goes for the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has arrested several reporters and bloggers who’ve criticized corruption in the government. Ironically, arrests such as these seem to be among the few tasks that Tel Aviv and Washington implicitly trust Ramallah with.

In Iraq, a new law that has been proposed lock internet users away for life they were proven to have “compromis[ed] the independence of the state or its unity, integrity, safety, or any of its high economic, political, social, military, or security interests” or “implement programs or ideas which are disruptive to public order.” Considering that around only 2.5% of the population has ready internet access, this law demonstrates just how unpleasant Iraqi bloggers — as both independent observers of daily life and fixers for foreign media in Iraq — have become to the government (defenders of the law will cry havoc over a Baathist apologist on WordPress to make their case). Reports from Iraqi citizens on decaying infrastructure, missed opportunities, officials’ power trips and sectarian violence are not exactly civil society efforts conducive to cementing what to many Iraqis appears an oligarchy of parliamentarians and police generals. And to the west in Syria – where Western “retail” surveillance technology has been popping up from the U.S. and Germany – censorship is and has long been the norm, especially now that the demonstrations of 2011 have led to open war among the regime and anti-government militias.

This is the other side of cyber-security, the more immediate one than all the industrial sabotage malware or avionics-compromising logic bombs. Censorship of dissent through cyberspace “has a broader meaning in non-democracies: For them, the worst-case scenario is not collapsing power plants, but collapsing political power.”

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