25 August 2007

The US will not leave Iraq

By Liam Carroll

In the face of recent reports about enduring military bases in Iraq and the designation by the United States of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation, it is surely worth considering why Washington continues to pursue a strategy, both in Iraq and toward Iran, that many believe has gone hopelessly awry.

The answers might be found in an appreciation of Washington's wider strategic objectives. As the world's largest economy, America's strength is inevitably bound to the well-being of the global trading system which the US has spent no little effort in promoting. From the Marshall Plan, through to the work of the World Bank, the IMF and more recently the WTO, the United States has worked tirelessly to increase demand for, and the production of, globally traded goods. In the post-war world the US found itself commanding huge industrial and financial resources that made it uniquely placed to take advantage of international trade.

In conjunction with its trading strength the US had the military might to defend those political regimes that were willing to respect the rules of global trade, and where possible to overturn regimes that dissented. The history of the last 65 years is replete with examples of nationally popular leaders being overthrown by US backed-proxies, most notably in Iran in 1953, Indonesia in 1962, Chile in 1971 and Nicaragua in 1989, not to mention the failures, including the recent US backing for the removal of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In each case the reasons for regime change were pretty much identical; the political leaders wanted to nationalize their countries’ resources and to keep control of the economy within the nation state, thus removing the country from the American based global system. The ultimate nightmare for Washington in this respect was what they called 'the domino effect' in which if nationalism were seen to prosper in one country, then other countries might follow.

In this context it is worth recalling where Iraq and Iran stood before the invasion of 2003. With the world's second and third largest reserves of oil beneath their feet, the strategic importance of these countries could only grow, and in conjunction with weapons of mass destruction, their ability to undermine Washington's authority in the region was also set to increase. The very harsh sanctions that were imposed on Iraq since 1991 and the determined efforts to disarm the country can also be understood in this light, and it was in no small measure the gradual disintegration of those sanctions that precipitated the invasion. Much as the weapons issue may have been exaggerated to gain public support, there is plenty of evidence that the fear, in Washington, of Saddam's weapons programmes was quite genuine, as indeed it is of Iran's.

In destroying the Ba'ath regime then, the US removed a defiant power from being able to interfere in its long term plans for the region, which inevitably will involve bringing the oilfields under corporate control sooner or later. The threat from small divided militias in Iraq too is surely more manageable, from the Washington’s point of view, than the threat from what would eventually have become a well armed state, and a hostile one at that. The US may not have achieved all its war aims yet, but it has surely at least eliminated a major impediment to long term management of the world's major oil producing region.

The determination of the US to maintain enduring bases in Iraq, to push through the hydrocarbon laws that will open up the oilfields to foreign control, and to continue to stitch together a government that will give the process its legal legitimacy and guard against nationalist or Iranian takeover are all in keeping with America’s long term strategy. A careful reading of US presidential candidates' views on this topic reveals that there is no serious dissent from this position.

Similar objectives are discernable in Washington's policy toward Iran; weaken the regime through every means possible, encourage dissent amongst ethnic groups, sow seeds of division amongst the leadership, build an international sanctions regime and try to deny the country access to any nuclear technologies. Undermining Tehran at every opportunity, most recently by classifying Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as terrorists, is all part and parcel of this same strategy.

The US doesn't expect to achieve its goals over night, as indeed no empire ever did, but it is sure to remain focused on very specific objectives. For the US government the war in Iraq won’t end, it will just be a question of steadily pursuing objectives, and with regard to Iran, the war will never really start, for in many senses, it already has.

18 August 2007

Still time to change fait-accompli decision?

By Jacqui McCarney

Last year, Greenpeace won an injunction forcing the Government to re-consult on nuclear energy and no government decision for new nuclear power stations is lawful until this public consultation is completed. Yet, during PMQs on July 4th, Gordon Brown apparently ignored the Court's ruling and sabotaged the ongoing consultation by stating that: "We have made the decision to continue with nuclear power."

Most people, including many Labour backbenchers, see nuclear energy as a disastrous, dangerous diversion – both literally and economically. Even those supporting the Government, like most in Conservative party, see it as a nasty choice ‘of last resort’ given the industry's long record of accidents.

You can be sure that none would welcome any new stations close to their backyard when Chernobyl fallout in 1986 contaminated about 40% of Europe and restrictions still affect over 300 farms in the UK. The Russian Academy of Medical Sciences declared in 2006 that 212,000 people have died as a direct consequence of the disaster.

Closer to home, a serious radioactive leak went undetected for 8 months at the UK Thorp reprocessing plant in 2005. The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) found the plant "condoned the ignoring of alarms" and failed to learn from previous incidents.

Last month's earthquake in Japan triggered a radioactive leak at the Kashiwazaki nuclear power station, and leading seismologist Professor Katsuhiko Ishi-bashi says that warnings have been repeatedly ignored – luck, as much as anything, had helped to avert a combination of earthquake and nuclear meltdown capable of destroying millions of lives.

Despite industry denial, a review published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, July 2007, concluded that rates of leukaemia are higher in children living near nuclear plants.

The former head of M15 said recently it remains a real possibility that terrorists may attempt a radiological or even nuclear attack, as Independent consultant John Large has warned that our nuclear infrastructure is vulnerable to sabotage.

The difficulties of de-coupling civil nuclear power from nuclear weapons are demonstrated by the ongoing tensions with Iran and North Korea. Dr Rebecca Johnson, former senior adviser to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission says "the only realistic way to minimise the dangers of contamination and proliferation is to wind down nuclear power and eliminate nuclear weapons."

However, just economics alone should be enough to convince a former chancellor PM to reconsider his predetermined views. Nuclear is simply just not profitable without subsidies, and it has bled funding from other cheaper and much more socially acceptable technologies for decades.

Operators have limited insurance liability in the case of an accident, anything over £700 million is covered by the taxpayer. So also, security and bills for radioactive waste and decommissioning and cleaning up the current generation of stations is estimated at £75 billion. Will our grandchildren, living in a less stable world be able to cope with this fiscal burden?

A graph on page 372 of the Stern Review shows just how much money has been wasted on nuclear energy research and development across IEA countries since 1974 – well over 50% of the total of some $300billion. Renewables have a meager single figure percentage – yet we would not face the current clean energy crisis if we had invested in them from the 1970s.

Figure 16.8 from the Stern review

Figure 16.8 from the Stern review

When 70% of centralised, large scale power generation is wasted in heat and electricity cables, policies for demand reduction, energy efficiency, and smaller, decentralised renewables are key to preventing climate change (see (Micro) power to the people! and Blue energy: sea snakes, stingrays and lagoons).

Graph from Allan Jones' presentation

Graph from Allan Jones' presentation.

The UK is particularly suitable for developing energy from tides, waves, geothermal, wind, solar, biomass and gas from landfill sites. The UK and Norfolk are in a prime position to be at the forefront of the renewable energy industry with all the economic benefits which would follow.

Although the government seems unable to think innovatively and sensibly about our energy future some local communities are acting independently to build up their resilience to the challenges ahead and at the same time reduce their carbon footprint. The transition town movement that is gathering momentum is trail blazing radically different community based, decentralised microgeneration.

Despite Gordon Brown’s predetermined and illegal policy statements, the consultation should be an opportunity for serious scrutiny exposing how a huge bleeding of resources into nuclear will divert us from developing the energy strategy that really could help prevent climate chaos. To prevent this undemocratic fait accompli, take part in the government's consultation on nuclear power at nuclearpower2007.direct.gov.uk.

I am grateful to Anne Dismorr of the http://www.newnuclearpowernothanks.org/ campaign for help in researching this column.

11 August 2007

Optimistic intertwingling

By Andrew Boswell

The musician Utah Phillips said "The earth is not dying - it is being killed - and the people who are killing it have names and addresses". A man who knows this more than most is best-selling environmental writer, Paul Hawken, who has been telling governments and business this hard truth for decades.

Yet he admits his new book Blessed Unrest is "inadvertently optimistic, I didn't intend it; optimism discovered me". Odd for a veteran of many battles with free-market fundamentalism and its consequences: environmental destruction, widening global social injustice and the destruction of indigenous people's natural resources, community and culture.

Cover of Blessed Unrest by Paul HawkenSubtitled How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, the book is the story of groups emerging across the planet working towards ecological sustainability and social justice.

Hawken is awed by the scale and speed of this movement's growth, and recounts how, for years, he has tried to estimate the number of such groups, with his research ever raising his counts upwards.

He now believes that there are between one and two million such groups, and is emphatic that they comprise not a 'movement of movements', but a single, powerful, non-ideological movement for the first time on earth. Diversity is its strength, but the movement as whole is converging in addressing interlinked, global, systemic problems.

Vietnamese Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes "the sound of the rising tide, you can not help hearing it if you have an attentive ear". And Hawken's book is a "deep listening" on this phenomenon that remains largely under the radar of politicians and the media.

His attentive ear brings to life this 'great underground' current of humanity that can be traced back to healers, priestesses, philosophers, monks, poets and artists. He meticulously explores its roots in women's suffrage, abolition, Gandhi's non-violence, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and the civil rights movement, all the time making his reader aware of the wider interplay between environmentalism, social justice and indigenous rights.

In the global South, environmentalism is the movement of the poor and peasants lead campaigns against corporate hegemony for land reform and rights, food security, trade rights. Hawken rightly challenges northern environmentalists that "the only way we are going to put out the (environmental) fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus". Northern governments must heed these words too - climate change policies like the EU Biofuels directive that encourage deforestation, social disruption and resentment in the South are unacceptable.

Hawken paints his vision of the movement with two biological metaphors. First, he is capturing the taxonomic family network of this unnamed movement at the website wiserearth.org. Like 19th century botanical classifications, this links all the organisations and enables them to recognise, connect and collaborate in different ways. It also captures its decentralised diversity – "there is no centre, there is no one spokeperson". Cheap audio-visual conferencing and internet tools are enabling groups to intertwine, morph and come together much more powerfully – what Hawken calls 'intertwingling'.

The second metaphor is the movement as humanity's immune response that identifies what is not life affirming, and seeks to contain, neutralise or eliminate it. A whole chapter explores the potential and challenges of the movement through this allegory.

As Hawken warns "it's going to be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives in this century", and wrong moves now risk many centuries of chaotic climatic instability, and unsustainable pressures for land, water and resources. Meanwhile the increasing gap between rich and poor, world wide refugees now measured in hundreds of millions, and threats to the very future of indigenous peoples' culture, land, water and resources could lead to prolonged famine killing literally billions. James Lovelock has even concluded climate warming is a fatal 'fever' for the earth, Gaia.

This week, the antigenic BAA have ridiculed themselves in the face of climate campers gathering at Heathrow. This microcosm of the movement is demonstrating today that bottom-up community power can immunise top-down privilege power.

Events like Heathrow, and Seattle before, gives promise to Hawken's infectious optimism for the movement developing into the robust, global immune response needed to avert catastrophe. Daily, the movement's diversity is superseding the uniform and dominating ideologies of the past, and its inclusivity is drawing in many, including some corporates.

Hawken's book is a great way to find out more about this intertwingling movement that is growing rapidly from two centuries of social action, and millennia of human indigenous knowledge.

4 August 2007

It wasn't necessary

By Marguerite Finn

Fifty-one years ago in 1956, a lone woman stood up in the hallowed halls of Oxford University and made an unscheduled and heartfelt speech. Her name was Elizabeth Anscombe. The occasion of her protest was a Convocation of all the colleges to vote on a controversial proposal to include less of the Greek New Testament in the Theology Degree and on a secondary issue of whether to offer President Harry S Truman an honorary degree, a decade after his decision to drop the world's first atomic bombs on the densely populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The scene is described in Jonathan Glover's book Humanity – a Moral History of the Twentieth Century. "The House was preparing to snooze through the routine business before coming to the real reason for their presence, but suddenly and startlingly, Miss Anscombe arose and delivered an impassioned speech against the award of an Oxford degree to the ‘man who pressed the button of the bomb’. The Vice Chancellor called for a vote: she was in a minority of one."

Glover describes how "this speech elicited only the complete silence and impassivity of those present - not the slightest sign of approval or disapproval, not a murmur, not a rustle, not a change of countenance, but only utter imperturbability". Why? Did no one think that this courageous and powerful speech deserved the compliment of rational opposition?

Miss Anscombe's central claim was that killing innocent people as a means to an end is always murder. She accepted that, in the circumstances, dropping the atomic bomb probably saved many lives, but pointed out that the circumstances included the Allies’ demand for unconditional surrender and their disregard of Japan's known desire for a negotiated peace. Professor Anscombe became possibly the greatest English moral philosopher of her generation. She died in 2001 aged 81 years.

On 6 August 2007, the 62nd anniversary of the dropping on the bomb on Hiroshima we must, unlike the dozing Oxford dons in 1956, confront the question of why that bomb was dropped, to ensure that it never happens again – whatever the circumstances.

We know the criteria used in the decision to drop the bomb focussed less on the target’s 'military significance' and more on the fact that:
  • it was a location that had not suffered any damage so that the impact of the atomic bombs could be accurately assessed;

  • it was a target large enough accurately to judge the impact of the atomic bomb.
As well as defying international and humanitarian law, this method of decision-making – far away in the comfort zones of Washington and Los Alamos - meant that for the scientists, politicians and military personnel involved in the bomb, sympathy was inhibited by distance. They were only faintly aware of the people who were to be burnt, blinded, blistered, shrivelled, irradiated and killed. Distance does not just reduce sympathy. It also reduces the feeling of responsibility.

There were some dissenting voices around President Truman. General Dwight Eisenhower questioned the justification of using the bomb on two grounds: "First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country to be the first to use such a weapon". A leading physicist, Leo Szilard, argued that its military use might make it difficult to resist following the precedent. We know that Robert Oppenheimer had doubts when he uttered his immortal words: "Now I am become Death – the Destroyer of Worlds."

But they failed to persuade President Truman – and those two bombs killed over a third of a million people both adults and children, in a hell we can not adequately imagine.

Now the Bush Administration is proposing a new weapons programme, the 'Reliable Replacement Warhead' (RRW) aimed at building a new generation of 'improved' nuclear warheads. Congress has voted $20 million towards the programme - with projected spending in billions. This is in direct defiance of the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and bears out Albert Einstein's prescient comment: "nuclear weapons have changed everything – except our modes of thought". It does little for America's credibility abroad: if the most powerful nation in the world cannot live by these rules, then why should other nations.

Here in Norwich we can do our bit to ensure that the lessons of Hiroshima are never forgotten: there will be an Interfaith Gathering to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to cherish all life on Saturday 4 August 2006 at 7pm in the Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich.