Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ban Ki-moon: Another Dismal Year

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has had another dismal year in office. Not only has the UN made no progress on any front under his leadership, his personal efforts at conflict-resolution, especially in Africa, have all come a cropper.

In the Sudan, the largest projected UN peacekeeping effort is in suspended animation because of foot-dragging by Khartoum and a basic lack of international confidence in the efficacy of a UN force in the face of significant armed opposition. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a case in point: UN peacekeepers have been completely ineffective in stopping a civil war that has claimed over five million lives because the foreign profiteers who fuel the war have nothing to gain from peace.

In situation after situation the UN under Ban stands on slippery ground. It has been unable to get a handle on the lawless turmoil of Somalia. In Kenya, it was sidelined by retired UN head Kofi Annan simply because he inspires much more confidence than Ban. In Zimbabwe, the UN has no role because Ban's close relationship with the British has shorn him of all credibility in the eyes of the country's embattled President, Robert Mugabe, and the regional mediator, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

Ban's frustration at Zimbabwe's refusal to let his Special Representative even enter the country found expression at a recent closed-door meeting of the Security Council attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. In remarks that were released to the Press by his spokesman despite their supposedly secret provenance, Ban railed at the economic, social, political and health crisis in Zimbabwe. For all of 2008 there had been no effective government of the country. There had been a "failure of leadership ... to do what is best for the people of Zimbabwe." Including Thabo Mbeki in the criticism, Ban said: "Despite our continued efforts, I, unfortunately, have to conclude that neither the government nor the mediator welcomes a United Nations political role, and there is limited space for my good offices."

I wonder if Ban ever asks himself why he's getting so little respect. If he does, the answer is in print: former US envoy to the UN John Bolton, whose support for Ban was critical in getting him the job, says in his July 2008 memoir that a criterion in picking Ban was that he would be unlikely to rock the boat. Bolton told one interviewer Ban was chosen because he "wouldn’t get up one morning and conclude he was God’s gift to humanity."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Terrorist Info? Call 1090

India now has a nation-wide terrorism hotline: 1090. It is hooked up to a national center and to local police or Anti-Terror squad, who are under instructions to act as quickly as possible on information received. The number is toll free number and can be dialed from mobile phones. The identity of callers will be kept confidential. Readers in India are requested to spread news of the new number to as many people as possible.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shashi Tharoor Unplugged

My old UN colleague Shashi Tharoor has been much in the news in Mumbai.

In the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 attack his column in the Times of India refering to the "savage irony" of the terrorists landing at the Gateway of India which was built to "welcome the King-Emperor" in 1911 got some unfavourable notice, but then he bounced back on Mumbai television talk shows. A little item in the TOI saying he had been asked by Sonia Gandhi to stand for Parliament from Thiruvanthapuram also got him some notice. (The Malayalam Press had a slightly different take on that story: he was reported to have attended a Congress meeting in Thiruvanthapuram along with 10,000 others, to hear Sonia Gandhi speak. The Mathrubhumi quoted him as saying that no one had asked him yet to run for Parliament.)

Shashi has made clear that if asked, he is willing to be drafted into politics. Speaking on the unfortunately titled program, Shashi Tharoor Unplugged, he told an interviewer from Mumbai's NEWS-X station that the Indian middle class had to get involved in politics, and that he was prepared to do his bit.

Asked about 26/11 he offered the observation that because people of all communities had died in the attack, there had been no subsequent sectarian fallout. The interviewer tried unsuccessfully to direct his attention to the very large sectarian flap set off by Minorities Affairs Minister A.R. Antulay's speculation about the possible role of "Hindu" extremists in the murder of Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism chief Hemant Karkare by one of the terrorists. On 22 December both houses of Parliament had to be adjourned because of the Antulay storm; the BJP was calling not only for his ouster from the cabinet but his arrest on charges of treason.

Also somewhat surprising was Shashi's contention that Pakistan's sinister spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was established by the CIA in 1979 to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. While the ISI has done a great deal of work for and with the CIA, it was actually established in 1948 by a British officer who stayed on in independent Pakistan as Deputy Chief of Army Staff; its primary role then, as now, was/is to fight India.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Apologies to Amitav Ghosh

The hurried analysis of Indian media punditry which I did in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 attacks got Amitav Ghosh's column in the Hindustan Times profoundly wrong. The inadvertent omission of a few words completely changed the intended meaning. The column by Ghosh was perhaps the most nuanced and perceptive of the those reviewed. He did not accept the easy references to the attack on Mumbai as "India's 9/11" and advised against a response comparable to that of the United States to the demolition of the World Trade Center. The error in the original post has been corrected. My apologies to readers -- and Ghosh.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mumbai Postmortem

In all the comment and analysis that has followed the 26/11 terrorist invasion of Mumbai there seems to be a general consensus that jihadists sponsored by Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, were responsible for the attack. The United States and Britain have energetically taken up this traditionally Indian view, and even China, a strong ally of Pakistan, joined in the unanimous call by the United Nations Security Council urging Islamabad to act.

Amidst this heartening consensus there is a niggling question that remains unaddressed: what has the ISI to gain from an attack on India at this time? Even the most die-hard India-haters in the ISI leadership must surely see that improved ties with New Delhi have eased the mounting pressures on Pakistan from a set of potentially disastrous problems that include terrorism at the hands of drug mafias pretending to be Islamists, and a national economy on tenuous life-support from the International Monetary Fund. In this situation it makes little sense for New Delhi to blame Pakistan for the Mumbai attack or threaten military action. No matter how "surgical" the strike on terrorist training camps, its only real effect will be to derail a peace process that is critically important to both countries. Which brings us back to the question: who benefits from the Mumbai attack?

For an answer we must look to Indian history, specifically to the creation of Pakistan at the time of Indian independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Though billed as a homeland for Indian Muslims, Pakistan was conceived by British policy-makers primarily as a tool to defend and promote their strategic interests in the region. That required animosity between the two newly independent countries, which was achieved by the conflict over Kashmir, initiated when both Indian and Pakistani armies were still under British command. (The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi at this time removed from the scene the major agent for peace.)

Pakistan’s Directorate of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which was established by a British officer serving as Deputy Chief of the Pakistani Army after the country's independence, has been a primary tool for manipulating the region. Set up to coordinate action against Indian forces in Kashmir in 1948, its primary aim has remained unchanged for six decades. However, its roles and capacities grew enormously during the Cold War, when Pakistan emerged as a key Western proxy. In the 1950s and 1960s it was the base for American U-2 surveillance aircraft operating over the Soviet Union and China, and in the 1980s it became the staging area for the Mujaheddin, with the ISI serving as the conduit for massive financial and arms aid from the United States. After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pakistan became the pivot of a Western effort during the 1990s to control the rich resources of the newly independent Central Asian republics. That involved the ISI in promoting jihadist groups, organizing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and overseeing the rise of Al-Qaeda.

During most of this period British and American interests in South Asia were coherent, but that began to change after 1998, when, in the wake of the Indian declaration that it had become a nuclear-weapon State, the United States initiated a major revaluation of its policies towards the region. The Indo-US strategic relationship that emerged, and American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, accelerated the growing UK-US divergence; Tony Blair’s “poodle” reputation and his resignation from office were rooted in his attempt to continue traditional support for Washington.

The transatlantic split became more visible in January 2008 when London failed to gain firmer control of Afghanistan by having one of its former intelligence operatives take charge of the UN, EU and NATO operations in the country. Word of the appointment was leaked at the UN, and generally taken to be a fait accompli till Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to endorse it; his opposition was a clear signal that Washington and London were not on the same page. At just about the same time, the Karzai government told two senior British officials in Afghanistan, one working for the UN and other for the EU, to leave the country within 48 hours; they had been conducting unauthorized negotiations with the Taliban insurgents.

What is the reason for the US-UK split over South Asia?

The cause is not ephemeral policy; it is rooted in basic differences in the nature of American and British power. The United States is a large country with a continental economy, global military reach, and a fundamentally democratic society; it is the dominant force in international affairs, confident of meeting any challenge to its power. Britain is a medium/small country with an unspectacular economy, governed by a social/political elite that grew rich on the criminalities of the colonial era, including the slave and opium trades, and the economic strangulation of dependent territories. Because of that, and despite centuries of parliamentary democracy and a free Press, the British impact on the world has been fundamentally undemocratic; globally, Britain’s power now continues to depend on its capacity to subvert and manipulate developing countries, especially the resource-rich countries of Africa, and the populous countries of Asia.

The new Indo-US strategic relationship that has emerged over the last decade has thus been inherently threatening to Britain. So is the more recent détente between India and Pakistan. Add Afghanistan to the mix, and a war directed at the drug lords who finance “Islamic terrorism” – the prime instrument for manipulating societies across Asia and Africa – and we have panic time for the remnants of imperial Britain. Over the last decade, just as all these developments were in train, terrorist attacks on India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have risen to an unprecedented crescendo. All three governments would do well to take seriously the declarations of innocence by the official authorities of their neighbors. They should also look to British proxies within the region if they want to defend their people from gratuitous assaults.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Media Punditry on Mumbai

The recent terrorist attack on Mumbai has received massive global media coverage, but analysts and commentators have displayed little insight or understanding. Here's what editorials/columnists had to say in two of the India's "elite" newspapers on Sunday (30 November)

Times of India
On page one, under the incendiary headline "Our Politicians Fiddle As Innocents Die," India's largest circulation English newspaper berated the country's leadership without naming names or noting specific failures. On the editorial page commentators had this to say:

Swapan Dasgupta: Noted "two small points of reassurance" from the Bombay carnage. The first is that the television coverage of the event has "brought home to Indians" the "ugly face of terrorism." The second is that the "fatalism" of Mumbay citizens in the face of terrorism in the past (which "wasn't a display of the gritty stiff upper lip resolve Londoners showed during the Blitz in 1940-1941"), has given way to palpable anger. Mumbai wasn't a victim of "ordinary intelligence failure." The "grim truth is that there was zero intelligence. India was caught napping." This was evidently written before it was reported that there had been numerous and specific warnings from a variety of intelligence agencies.

Swaminathan Aiyar: Mentioned the Mumbai attack towards the end of a long piece headlined "Electoral Mood is Anti-incumbent." While the attacks have shown the Congress to be "more incompetent than ever," there have been "terrorist incidents" also in BJP-ruled Rajasthan.

Bachi Karkaria: An affecting account of how her friend and TOI colleague Sabina came from Delhi to attend a Karkaria wedding, and was thus placed in Death's way at the Taj.

Jug Suraiya: A meditation titled "Athiest's Prayer" noted the "appalling selectiveness of God's mercy" as evidenced by TOI colleague Sabina's "appointment in Samara" at the Taj. (The reference is to the story about the merchant of old Baghdad whose servant saw Death make a threatening gesture at him in the marketplace and ran in a panic to borrow his masters horse to ride away to Samarra and escape. After the man had ridden away, the merchant went to the marketplace and asked Death why he had made a threatening gesture at his servant. "That was not a threatening gesture" said Death; "I was just surprised to see him here, for I have an appointment with him at Samara tonight.)

Gurcharan Das: A piece titled "Changing Rules of Dharma" began with criticism of Sonia Gandhi for saying the nationalization of Indian banks by Indira Gandhi gave the country "stability and resilience." It then hopped sequentially to: (1) the current "dire" financial crisis, amidst which "we don't seem to realize how much we are hurting;" (2) a defense of the strong action taken by governments to intervene in the free market (the Mahabharatha, it noted, recommends adaptation of Dharma in times of crisis); (3) a recommendation for making credit cheaper in India; and finally, (4) a reassurance that "capitalism will eventually correct itself."

Shashi Tharoor: In "Keep Up The Spirit to Fight" Tharoor noted the"savage irony" that the terrorists had disembarked at the Gateway of India, which was built in 1911 "to welcome the King-Emperor George V." (It is rather less ironic if we consider that George was part of a line of terrorists who presided over the deaths of some 500 million Indians.) In the wake of the Mumbai attack "platitudes flow like blood," and "inevitably, the questions have begun to be asked: 'is it all over for India? Can the country ever recover from this?'" The answers are provided: "No" and Yes."

Hindustan Times
Vir Singhvi:
In "We're All Bombayites Today" Singhvi asked why India is in the company of Afghanistan and Pakistan in experiencing an unchecked reign of terrorism. The question went unanswered as the article swung easily into a condemnation of inept politicians. The people of India were described as "fed up of politicians who use terrorism as an excuse to win votes. ... fed up of the way they seek to pit Muslim against Hindu over the dead bodies of victims of terror in the cynical hope of winning the next election. ... fed up of their incompetence."

Manas Chakravarty: In an article titled "A Sitting Duck Country" the self-described "Loose Canon" (sic) imagined what Osama bin Laden might say about India in writing to his supporters. The piece ended: "Is there any chance that we may be attacking them too many times and that they're close to losing their legenday patience? ... Don't worry, they'll do absolutely nothing, except go quack, quack, quack."

Karan Thapar: "When Zardari Spoke To Us" recounted the Pakistani President's astonishingly conciliatory speech to a Delhi audience a week ago via a television hook-up. He broke with past policy in declaring that his country would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. He said how Indians and Pakistanis all had a bit of each other in them. He declared that Pakistan did not see India as a threat. Thapar did not mention the attack on Mumbai.

Indrajit Hazra: In "Fight Terror? Whatever" adopted a world-weary attitude to terrorism and the political platitudes trotted out in response. Anyone who thinks he is cynical is directed to those who "blow us up with drop-dead ease and delirious smiles on their faces."

The Sunday Hindustan Times also had several guest columnists, most notable among them novelist Amitav Ghosh. In a piece headlined "Defeat or victory isn't determined by the success of the strike itself, but by the response," Ghosh warned against an Indian response to the Mumbai attack based on accepting 9/11 as a precedent; if we do that the "outcome will be profoundly counterproductive." Another guest columnist was Naresh Fernandes, editor of Time Out magazine. He wrote how the attack on the Jewish outpost at Nariman House made Indian Jews "feel like Jews" (i.e. endangered) for the first time in the country's history. "That, to me, has been among the most tragic casualties of this terroist attack" Fernandes concluded.

The columnists in The New York Times and the Times of London were hardly better; will review them asap.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Slippery Eel" at UN Obstacle to Reform

When South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon first took up his job as United Nations Secretary-General in January 2007, a story in The New York Times noted that the Press corps in Seoul had nicknamed him “slippery eel”. Ban then took to referring to himself at Press conferences as the slippery eel, obviously trying to pull the sting of criticism with his openness. The strategy did not work, for his early days in office resounded with a number of high-profile controversies that reinforced his unflattering image. Nearly two years later, the controversies have been largely forgotten, but it is clearer now that issues of character and competence are real, and could stand in the way of any real reform of the United Nations.

The first of the controversies was the appointment of Asha Rose Migiro of Tanzania as Deputy Secretary-General. She was hired without any kind of selection process, not even a formal interview. When asked about that Ban told journalists that he had talked to her; then it came out that he had done so a year earlier, when they happened to sit next to each other on a flight into Addis Ababa. Ban's assertions that Migiro was the best person for the job were hard to swallow, for she had no visible qualifications for the post, having been Tanzania's Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for five of the previous six years. The unkind construction put on this by UN insiders was that Tanzania, a member of the Security Council when it picked Ban to be Secretary-General in 2006, was being repaid for helping his candidacy.Another slippery situation was precipitated by the appointment of Britain's ambassador to France, John Holmes, as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, a post that requires hands-on operational experience, of which he had none. Non-governmental emergency aid organizations dismayed at the appointment were not mollified by the assurance that Holmes, a former private secretary to Tony Blair, was a quick study. They saw the appointment as payoff for the British decision to lift its opposition to Ban in the Security Council straw polls that preceded formal action on the appointment of the new Secretary-General.

Quid pro quo arrangements in personnel appointments have continued over the past two years. The most visible case was that of Gita Sen of India, who a search panel picked from a field of over 150 candidates to be appointed the head of UNIFEM, the UN Women's development fund. Sen has a sterling background in public policy (she teaches at the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore and at Harvard), and is a respected activist on women's issues. The panel made its recommendation in November 2007, but nothing happened. Then after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had attended the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, it was given out that he would initiate a fresh review of the six candidates the panel had short-listed before picking Sen. He set aside the panel's recommendation and chose Inés Alberdi of Spain. Non-governmental activists who had been looking forward to having a live wire at UNIFEM erupted in anger, charging that Ban had nixed the panel's recommendation because Spain had offered money for UNIFEM. One NGO representative told me: "The Spaniards have just bought themselves a UN job."

As an administrator Ban has proved to be secretive, building his own little clique of officials imported from the South Korean Foreign Service. Although brought in as members of his Executive Office (thus avoiding the normal recruitment process) they have been posted to key Departments as his eyes and ears, short-circuiting established hierarchies. The most senior of them was made deputy to the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar of India, who was thus put in the unenviable position of being constantly second-guessed and sidelined by a Ban confidante.

Diplomatically, Ban proved to be even more ham-fisted. Shortly after taking office, he set off a noisy flap by trying to make major structural changes in the Secretariat without consulting the 132-member “Group of 77”, the influential caucus of developing countries. The G-77, which is convinced that UN top brass serve a handful of powerful countries, reacted with fury, and Ban had to reverse himself. That was followed by a fait accompli directed at African countries: Ban eliminated the post of Special Adviser on Africa, saying that his High Representative for Least Developed, Land-locked and Small Island Countries could do the job. As the focus of the High Representative is on countries scattered around the world which have problems quite different from those facing most African countries, the latter saw the move as a dilution of attention to their own concerns. There was widespread outrage, and all of Ban’s subsequent initiatives on Africa ­– the region that accounts for some 80 per cent of UN activities – have floundered.

The most obvious of the UN’s African failures has been in the Sudan, where only a small fraction of a projected 26,000-strong force for Darfur has been able to deploy. Another is in the Horn of Africa, from where Eritrean harassment forced UN peacekeepers to pull up stakes earlier this year. Meanwhile, the “commercial wars” over the rich resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have continued unabated despite the presence of a large UN force; the mostly civilian death toll of the decade-long conflict is estimated to be between five and ten million.

Clearly, these failures cannot be blamed on Ban alone, for they are symptomatic of large institutional and political problems on which no Secretary-General can have much purchase. The Security Council is far more responsible for UN failures in Africa; its five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) are perennially at odds with each other as they pursue colonial, neocolonial and strategic interests in the region. The five have been unable to muster the will to act even to protect children caught up in armed conflict, a problem put firmly on the international table by a ground-breaking 1996 report from Graca Machel (the widow of President Samora Machel of Mozambique).

Just in the past decade, said the report: "an estimated two million children have been killed in armed conflict. Three times as many have been seriously injured or permanently disabled, many of them maimed by landmines. Countless others have been forced to witness or even to take part in horrifying acts of violence."More than a decade later, and despite annual reports with ever more specific details about the horrific crimes being perpetrated against children, the Security Council has done nothing effective to deal with what is unarguably the most unequivocal moral issue on the UN agenda. Every annual report to the Council for the last five years has identified 16 armed groups making brutal use of child soldiers, but instead of establishing a sanctions committee and initiating meaningful action, all it has done is issue worthless declarations and call -- in 2005 -- for a "monitoring and reporting mechanism" that has no funding or independence from existing UN structures.

On more complex issues such as global warming, or most recently, the financial crisis that has swept the world into economic turmoil, the United Nations has been largely a spectator. The Secretary-General has claimed repeatedly that he is “working very hard” on global warming, leaving unspecified what exactly he is doing. UN insiders say his efforts consist of traveling around the world urging leaders to act. At the end of his first year in office he had chalked up more travel than any of his predecessors in a comparable period: 125,000 miles according to AP; 346,000 Km according to Reuters.

On the financial crisis, Ban’s statements leave the impression that he doesn’t really understand the issue. On his recent visit to Delhi, for instance, he told Walk The Talk host Shekhar Gupta that “when Bretton Woods institutions were established in 1945, the International Monetary Fund was not given the mandate to oversee and monitor all these financial and banking regulations”. He seemed to be confusing monetary and financial affairs (one has to do with the macro relationship of national economies as reflected in the relative values of their currencies, the other has to do with the actual flows and use of money). Ban also seemed to be unaware that the UN has a long history of pushing for a global regulatory framework for transnational corporations (which are the major agents of global financial flows). They have ranged from an abortive effort to negotiate a Code of Conduct for TNCs in the 1970s and 1980s, to much fruitful and continuing work to standardize accounting practices. Such lack of knowledge about UN history is probably as serious a problem as lack of principle and political savvy in a Secretary-General, especially in a period when the entire Organization stands in need of fundamental reform.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who's Behind The Indian Mujaheddin?

The terrorist attacks on Delhi have brought forth the usual condemnations and declarations, but nothing has been said that adds anything to our understanding of a phenomenon that seems beyond rational analysis. Who are the “Indian Mujaheddin?” Who finances them, and to what end?

It no longer makes much sense to accuse Pakistan of being the villain, for Islamabad is itself under terrorist assault, and in a state of near-terminal crisis. Despite the claim of the authorities that they have firm leads, it would be unrealistic to expect much. The search for clues in the bloody mess left by the four bombs that exploded and the three that did not will, at most, lead to the “narco-analysis” of yet more SIMI suspects, but it is unlikely to add anything to our capacity to prevent the next spate of terrorist attacks.

In this situation, it is essential to examine our basic assumptions about what is happening. Do they rest solidly on the available historical evidence? Do they make sense in the current international context? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Our basic assumptions about terrorism do not reflect our own historical experience, but are based on the highly selective rendering of history by Western analysts. What has been happening makes no sense in the current international context, for neither Indian Muslims nor any Islamic State has anything to gain from supporting terrorism that immediately boomerangs on their own interests. Repeated public opinion surveys have shown a dramatic decline of support for terrorism among ordinary Muslims worldwide, and the anti-terrorist fatwa of the Deobandi ulema earlier this year has clarified the situation within India. In Pakistan, approval ratings for erstwhile jihadist hero Osama bin Laden have plummeted, and some American journalists have reported that he is viewed as a CIA agent whose activities allow Western intervention in and control of the Islamic world. Clearly, there is need for a new paradigm to make sense of the current situation.

To arrive at a new non-Western paradigm we must locate events in a post-colonial context; in India that means putting the relationship between Britain and India at the core of the construct. That will require us to question the prevalent Indian tendency to assume that the two countries parted as “friends” in 1947, and that all has been well between them because of the cultural affinities created by a century of colonial association. Neither assumption is correct. The British left India after arranging for the holocaust of partition, which killed a million people and devastated the lives of many millions more. This was done not because the demands of the Muslim League for Pakistan were politically irresistible, but because the division of India was deemed essential to British strategic interests.

In War and Diplomacy in Kashmir (2002), former Indian diplomat C. Dasgupta quoted from two British reports in 1946 that outlined those interests. One concluded that “If India was dominated by Russia with powerful air forces it is likely that we should have to abandon our command of the Persian Gulf and the Northern Indian Ocean routes;” the other pointed out how essential India was to any future “offensive air action” that might be necessary in the region, requiring “the right to move formations and units, particularly air units, into India at short notice, in case of threatened international emergency.” If independent India could not “be persuaded to accept the assistance of the necessary number of British personnel,” the report said, there was only one course open, to split the country and create a weak entity that would accept a continuing British role.

David Monteath, Permanent Under-Secretary at the British Foreign Office, summed up the situation in a memo: “If India falls apart we may, I suppose, expect the Muslims to try and enlist British support by offering us all sorts of military and political facilities, to commit ourselves to what would be in effect the defense of one Indian state against another.” Things turned out exactly as he foresaw: Pakistan became a firm “ally” of the West in the Cold War (which Winston Churchill flagged off with his March 1946 “iron curtain” speech). In the decades that followed, it became, under a succession of military leaders, a largely helpless appendage of the West, used as a base of operations against the Soviet Union, as a tool to influence and manipulate other Islamic countries, and as a “balance” to neutralize and contain Non-Aligned India.

From the earliest days of the “tribal” invasion of Kashmir in 1947, Pakistan's relations with India involved terrorism; however, the brain behind that operation and all those that followed was Western, specifically British. The Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was established in 1948 to direct the war against India by Major-General R Cawthorne, a British Army officer who stayed on in independent Pakistan as the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff. Since then, the West has been the unseen factor in everything that has happened in Kashmir; without the support of the West, Pakistan would hardly have dared to behave the way it has. It is significant that the first foreign trip Pakistan's new President has taken is to Britain.Relations between the ISI and the British intelligence community have been close over the decades, and have extended into a variety of areas. Britain's post World War II role as patron of the Muslim Brotherhood (inherited from Nazi Germany), developed into a low-profile alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to guide the most effective anti-communist movement in the Islamic world. The Brotherhood has provided the leadership of every major “Islamic” terrorist organization, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The cooperation of Britain and Pakistan in supporting terrorism was most open in the effort to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan during the 1980s. Those operations involved running the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was wound up when American regulators began an open investigation of its activities after the end of the Cold War. US Congressional reports have detailed BCCI involvement in a range of criminalities, including laundering drug money and supporting terrorists. The specifics of British involvement in BCCI have been difficult to put on the record because the Bank of England has claimed sovereign immunity to shield itself from investor law suits aimed at discovering them.

Media coverage of the escalation of terrorist action against India in the wake of the Cold War has focused on Pakistan's role in Kashmir, but evidence of British involvement is not altogether lacking. The curious case of British national Peter Bleach provides the most direct evidence. He was caught by Indian authorities in 1995 after dropping a plane-load of lethal arms for use by terrorists in Bengal, and at his trial in Kolkata, produced a taped conversation to prove he was not personally responsible but was working for MI6, British Military Intelligence. That had little effect on the outcome of the case: Bleach was convicted of making war on the Indian State and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he served less than a decade of his sentence: after Tony Blair interceded personally with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Bleach was released in 2004 as the BJP government prepared for general elections.Publicly, the Indian government has done little to make an issue of the Bleach case or to draw the unavoidable policy conclusions from it. The only time when New Delhi complained publicly about British support for violent insurrection in India was when, in the wake of Operation Blue Star in June 1984, a Sikh spokesman appeared on BBC television and called for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. A few months later Mrs. Gandhi was murdered as she was walking to a BBC interview that had been set up so that she would have to pass a gate manned by two Sikh security guards, one of whom had specifically asked to be posted there that morning. The occasion for the interview was the visit to India of Princess Anne, and to conduct it the BBC had rolled out Peter Ustinov (whose father, incidentally, was a British intelligence operative during World War II).

When Prime Minister Thatcher came to attend Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral in New Delhi, she was asked at a Press conference about her government’s failure to take action against the individual who had called for the assassination on the BBC. Her reply was that the British government was faced with an “apparent paradox, that if you are a free country, then you are free to say what you think within the law. But a free society offers many more opportunities for doing the wrong thing than, of course, a tyranny. But then, of course, who would wish to live under a tyranny?”Terrorist attacks on India have escalated every time when there has been a major effort at opening up the Indian economy to foreign investment. Rajiv Gandhi's efforts to do so in 1985 were derailed by the blaze of bad publicity brought on by the sabotage of the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal.As Narasimha Rao renewed efforts at economic reform, there was more financial and political mayhem. By coincidence – or not – a member of Britain’s shadowy world of “former” military officers arrived in Mumbai just about the same time as the Rao reforms were being introduced. Mark Bullough came as the Managing Director of Jardine Fleming, an investment bank with a name that traces its lineage back to one of the biggest opium traffickers into China in the 19th century.

A year after Bullough’s arrival in India there was a major financial scandal involving domestic and foreign banks: money siphoned off from them, supposedly without their knowledge, was used to manipulate the Bombay Stock Exchange. When the scheme was exposed by an enterprising journalist, it caused such a momentous loss of confidence that the exchange had to be closed for the first time in its history while regulators reviewed what had happened. A parliamentary investigation later concluded that there had been a criminal conspiracy to manipulate the Exchange, but attempts to trace responsibility beyond the central figure in the scandal, stock broker Harshad Mehta, were not successful. In part that was because some of the major institutional victims, including Standard Chartered Grindlays, a British bank which claimed to have lost $300 million, refused to press charges.

There were several other significant developments in India during Bullough’s five-year stay in the country (he left in 1996 and when last heard of in 2004, was in Iraq, helping another British operative, Tim Spicer, set up the world’s largest private army). One was the rise of a suddenly well-funded “fundamentalist Hindu” movement to demolish Babri Masjid. The demolition of the mosque in December 1992 was followed by communal riots all over India, and that in turn, by the multiple “revenge” bomb blasts that demolished the Bombay stock exchange building. It is necessary to remember in this context that Britain invented the Indian “communal riot”, which was unheard of before the final phase of the British Raj. William Shirer, the Chicago Tribune correspondent in India who wrote a book on Gandhi in 1979, recounted in it how it was difficult to find out how many of the riots “were incited by the British in their effort to keep both communities at each other’s throats so that they could not unite in their drive for self-rule.” Shirer noted: the “British Chief of Police in Bombay once told me – almost as a joke – that it was very easy to provoke a Hindu-Muslim riot. For a hundred dollars, he said, you could start something really savage. Pay some Muslims to throw the carcass of a cow into a Hindu temple, or some Hindus to toss a dead pig into a mosque, and you could have, he said, a bloody mess, in which a lot of people would be knifed, beaten and killed.”

In recent years, as the Indian economy has boomed, terrorist attacks have become widespread, targeting political targets and key centres of growth and innovation. However, except in Gujarat after Godhra, these attacks have not resulted in “communal riots” and the Indian economy has continued its rapid growth. One reason for this is obviously the growing political maturity of Indians; another is India's emerging strategic alliance with the United States, which has put a growing distance between Washington and London on South Asia policy. (A strong indicator of that dissonance was Afghan President Hamid Karzai's January 2008 rejection of Paddy Ashdown, Britain's candidate to head the UN-NATO-EU presence in Afghanistan; he could not have done it without American support.) Following the 12 July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the United States took another clear step away from the Britain-ISI tie-up in Pakistan, when it sent two high-level emissaries to Islamabad to express concern and demand explanations.

British Motivations
What are Britain's interests in maintaining its anti-Indian stance? Obviously, the reasoning of 1948 is now completely outdated, for Britain's vestigial military power is irrelevant to Asian equations. To understand the imperatives driving London we have to look at the nature of the international power it does command: as a financial centre that is a growing rival to New York. If we ask how a mid-size nation can possibly rival the American economic behemoth, there is only one answer: London is the world centre for money-laundering (a term popularized by Americans as they began pushing in the 1980s for G-7 action to keep tabs on the vast amounts of money swilling around a globalized world economy). And where does most of the estimated $2 trillion that is laundered every year originate? In drug trafficking, gun-running and other criminal enterprises, most of it located in the former British Empire.South Asia is a key element in Britain's underground empire. Afghanistan produces 80% of the world's heroin. Pakistan, through “rogue elements” of the ISI, provides links to “Islamic” terrorist groups. Both are essential to keep up the flow of illicit money that feeds London's financial power. Britain's control of these assets is threatened by the growth of Indian economic, political and military power, so we can expect terrorist attacks to continue. It does not bode well that London is the first foreign capital that Pakistan's new President has chosen to visit, and that he is consulting with the bigwigs there on how to respond to Washington's activist new policy on attacking terrorists in Pakistani territory.

How can India best deal with this situation? In addition to tightened security all-round, and the education of ordinary Indians to be watchful of their own welfare, it might be useful to call for an Independent International Truth Commission on the Colonial Era. The colonial period passed into history with no reckoning of its many sins because the world slid into the Cold War as Asia and Africa were shaking off foreign rule. If India works with African nations (which have suffered far worse at the hands of their former rulers), we could together expose the cabals responsible for much of the mayhem in the developing world.

[Originally published by on 27 September 2008]

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Taking up the blog again

After several months away from this blog I'm impelled to take it up again, as much to help me remember what I am going through as to comment on what's been happening.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining this book that Im writing.

It began as an effort to write an honest book about the United Nations. Everything I've read on the topic is biased. Those who support the organization as an item of faith bend over backwards to avoid mentioning its numerous problems; those who are against it for ideological reasons, focus only on the problems. Both viewpoints are equally dishonest; my book was to be a corrective.

After a year of research and writing, I came to the conclusion that the book would have to be broader than originally planned. I could not explain what had happened to the UN without telling of the major national actors that have shaped its work. Research in that direction led me to the conclusion that I could not describe contemporary world affairs without coloring in the historical background. And that, in turn, led to the insight that the colonial era never really ended.

After World War II, as the world segued into the Cold War, European colonial empires faded into the political background, free to deal with their territories as they wished. Contrary to the popular impression there was no rapid and smooth decolonization. Britain manipulated India into an enormously destructive partition (one million killed, 14 million rendered refugees in their own land), creating Pakistan as a weak and vulnerable country that it could use to manipulate South Asia and the Islamic world; it supported bloody opposition to independence by settler colonists in Rhodesia and Kenya, and engaged constructively with the apartheid regime in South Africa. France fought bloody wars in Algeria and Indochina, and established indirect colonial rule in its sub-Saharan African territories. The Portuguese fought long and bloody wars in Angola and Mozambique, as did Spain in Western Sahara; the Dutch fought briefly to try and retake Indonesia.

The net result of this process was that the enormously destructive record of the colonial era went largely unexamined, and the world it shaped was accepted as the foundation on which the United Nations was built. Three of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the countries charged with special responsibility to keep the peace of the world, were the largest of the colonial Powers: Britain, France and the Soviet Union (nee Russian empire). China was represented by a rump, Taiwan, and after 1972, by another major empire, that of the Manchus, reconstructed as a totalitarian dictatorship. The United States, the only member of the five dedicated to the spread of democracy, was forced by the exigencies of the Cold War to do just the opposite; it supported colonial Europe down the line. The history of the UN is thus one of prolonged struggle to realize the democratic and liberal ideals of its Charter against strong opposition from its most powerful members.

In the long struggle to escape the colonial era, India on the side of the global South (developing countries) and Britain as the predominant colonial strategist, have played key roles. My book therefore came to focus on the relationship between the two countries: my working title for it is "Escaping the British Raj." Subsequent posts will tell of this work in progress in bits and pieces; a coherent narrative will emerge in the book itself.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Stuff From The Financial Times

Sorry for the break in postings. Trying to get a book written.

The Financial Times got my attention with a promotional letter with the following information:

PetroChina pushes past Exxon Mobil to become the world's largest listed energy company.

General Motors now sells 59 percent of its vehicles overseas.

China and India account for 45 percent of global coal use.

Royal Dutch Shell announces plans to produce biodiesel from algae in two years

The United States is borrowing at the rate of $800 billion a year.

The Taj Mahal and other Indian heritage sites now reuire tourists to pay in rupees, rather than in dollars.

An article by Meghnad Desai in the 6 June issue of the paper itself had more interesting stuff. Desai says the bubble in oil prices has nothing to do with increased demand from India and China. It is caused entirely by hedge funds pouring speculative money into the New York Mercantile Exchange, which was originally created so that people who actually bought and sold oil could insulate themselves against volatility in prices. The market is thus doing exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do.
Publish Post

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Could Myanmar Be The First Case of RTP?

At the Summit of the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 world leaders agreed that in the event a national government failed to protect its population from "genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," the "international community" could step in and do so. That "Responsibility to Protect" (RTP) principle has not been invoked anywhere, not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where several million people have been killed in a continuing struggle for the country's rich resources, nor in the Sudan, where ethnic cleansing has been in progress in full view of a watching world. But there is corridor talk at the UN of invoking the principle to get international aid workers into Myanmar to help with the deadly mess left by Typhoon Nargis.

Talk of such action is far-fetched, if only because China would veto any Security Council action to invoke RTP in the case of Myanmar, but the country's envoy at the UN seems nervous at the possibility. At an informal meeting of the General Assembly on Friday (16 May), at which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed delegates on his so far ineffective efforts to even talk to the junta's ranking General, Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe accused France of sending a warship to the Bay of Bengal. French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert denied the accusation, saying that the ship was only carrying 1,500 metric tons of food and relief supplies. He told reporters that the ship also had the capacity to establish a field hospital, which could be put ashore by helicopter or by the small boats capable of navigating the shallow waters of the Irrawaddy delta.

Whether an attempt to deliver aid from the ship will be made without the authorization of the junta in Yangon is a matter of speculation. If it is indeed made, and meets armed resistance, the response could sidestep the Security Council. If there is no resistance, a more pervasive aid effort could be set in motion without the junta's ukase. The case for international action is being clearly laid by French and British comments on the situation. On Friday French UN envoy Ripert told journalists that the Myanmar government's failure to allow foreign aid could "lead to a true crime against humanity." On Saturday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the BBC that the refusal of the junta to "allow the international community to do what it wants to do" was "inhuman treatment of the Burmese people."

The possibility of international intervention without its permission is bound to weigh on the junta as it receives a third letter on Sunday from Ban Ki-moon, this one carried by UN Humanitarian Affairs chief John Holmes; the first two letters were sent through the Myanmar mission at the UN, and neither has brought a reply. Ban has failed repeatedly to reach Myanmar's "Senior General," Than Shwe by phone.

The latest assessment from the UN is that only about 500,000 of the approximately 2.5 million victims of Typhoon Nargis have received any form of aid.

Part of the problem might be that the junta itself is in the middle of a power struggle; 74-year old Than Shwe had surgery to remove an intestinal tumor last year (in Singapore), and is clearly on his last legs. Who will succeed him as head of the Orwellian "State Peace and Democracy Council" is not clear. The current "second in command" is reported to not have "political support," though it is anyone's guess what exactly that means in a country where a popular democracy movement has been brutally put down for decades.

The UN's diplomatic efforts at the moment seem to be focused on getting ASEAN countries to take the lead in pressuring Myanmar to open up to foreign aid. Ban Ki-moon is said to harbor hopes of visiting the country himself once a certain "comfort level" has been established in relations with the regime.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fateful May

"April is the cruellest month" wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land. " But as an Indian, I have always thought the cruellest month is the "depraved May" of Gerontion, Eliot's darkly allusive poem centered on the nature of history:

Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, 35
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed, 40
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues 45
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

I was reminded of the poem by the commentaries in the Indian Press on the 10th anniversary of the nuclear weapons tests of 11 May 1998; they were predictably pro and con, but none showed the awareness of history that anniversaries demand.

No one remembered -- and this where my Gerontion sense of May comes in -- that Vasco da Gama arrived off the coast of Malabar in May 1498; that the first great uprising against British colonial rule broke out in May 1857; that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi snuck India's first nuclear test past Richard Nixon just as the United States Congress convened hearings to impeach him in May 1974; that the day picked for that test was Buddha's birthday. But on the hopeful side: it was in May 1915 that Mohandas Gandhi established Satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad. It was moved later to the banks of the Sabarmati river, and from there the Mahatma fashioned the strategies the led India to freedom. There is hope yet.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ban Ki-moon Puts Pressure on Burma

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with the UN Press corps on Monday, 12 January to publicly press the repressive regime in Myanmar (nee Burma), to allow a larger number of foreign aid workers into the country to help with the huge humanitarian crisis created by Typhoon Nargis. In his opening remarks, read from a written text, Ban expressed "deep concern and immense frustration" at the refusal of the Rangoon regime to give visas to most foreign applicants, and warned that in the absence of swift action infectious diseases could "dwarf today's crisis."

"Over the weekend and throughout much of last week
I tried repeatedly to telephone senior General Than Swe," Ban said. "I wanted to ask his cooperation with the international community and offer the United Nations’ full support. I was not able to reach him and so delivered a letter earlier this morning through diplomatic channels. This was my second letter to him since Cyclone Nargis." After noting that the UN was making a "flash appeal" for $187 million in humanitarian aid for Myanmar, he took questions from the Press. It went this way:

Q: Mr. Secretary, the time is brief here. Will you ask the Security Council, or at least push, using the power of your office, for sanctions or any tougher measures on the Government, which appears to have no fear for any type of action in this current crisis?

SG: This is up to the members of the Security Council, to decide whether they will discuss or take up this matter. But at this time, what I am focusing on is to deliver humanitarian assistance as soon as possible. I would like to make this issue on purely humanitarian grounds.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I would like to go back to that question. There are several members of the Security Council who are opposed to discussing humanitarian aid, and they don’t share the same view about the responsibility to protect civilians in case of a natural disaster. I wonder if you should really go to the Security Council and ask them to put their act together, because you need political pressure to make things work. This is not just politics.

SG: You already know the history of the Security Council’s debate on the situation in Myanmar, not necessarily on this humanitarian issue. My understanding is that there are some differences of opinion among the members of the Security Council on how to deal with the situation in Myanmar, whether it poses a threat to the region. Therefore, while I leave it to members of the Security Council to decide among themselves, as the Secretary-General, at this time, first and foremost, I am focusing on delivering humanitarian assistance to minimize as much as possible the unnecessary sacrifices on the part of the Myanmar people. And we are there to help recover and overcome these difficulties.

Q: While you are making every effort to deal with the Myanmar issue, what acts will it take to cooperate with the Chinese Government to help the people in the earthquake region?

SG: The Chinese Government, in the past and now, has been playing a very constructive role in all the questions relating to Myanmar, including the human rights situation. Now it is time – I have spoken to the Chinese authorities very closely, and they are very much fully on board, and they promised that they will do all in their power to help with United Nations humanitarian activities. And I appreciate that support and cooperation.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, based on your knowledge of the Myanmar leadership, through your constant discussion with Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, your discussions with them, their ambassador, your general world-view, what do you think is going on here? Is this just an isolated and suspicious regime, that just wants to cling to power? Why aren’t they more open? What is their motivation? What is their thought process, in your view?

SG: This is one of the poor countries, and it has been isolated. This is kind of some self-imposed isolation, unfortunately. They seem to be not fully confident in coming out to the international community. At this time of humanitarian crisis, the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis, is not the time when you are talking about politics. We are now talking only about saving human lives and how to stem the spread of diseases and how to keep humanitarian assistance flowing, as we have experienced in the case of the tsunami, which happened in Indonesia. We need to have constructive cooperation all throughout the international community. That is why publicly on many occasions, I have stated clearly that I will ensure that this will be a purely humanitarian operation, and we will be able to have an opportunity to discuss political issues or human rights issues. Thank you very much."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

UN Gut Renovation Begins

I once saw Benon Sevan, when he was Assistant-Secretary-General in charge of general housekeeping at the UN, head into a meeting of the General Assembly's Budget Committee, brandishing a length of pipe crusty with age and wear. "These bastards don't believe me when I tell them the building is falling apart," he explained at the door to the conference room.

The pipe had been extracted from a bathroom that had sprung a leak and Benon held it up for delegates to see as he made the case for additional funds for repair and renovation. He got the money, but it took another leak, in the General Assembly's domed roof, to bring home to member States how decrepit the UN's physical plant had become.

When Kofi Annan first broached the idea of a general overhaul of the iconic UN building complex, he was asked why repairs couldn't just be done as and when they were needed. A study on options showed that the cost of such maintenance, some $1.1 billion, would be roughly the same as a gut renovation. The repair-as-you-go option would not have allowed the removal of the asbestos in UN walls, or brought the building into compliance with New York City fire and safety codes. Nor would it have upgraded security or expanded facilities which were originally meant to accommodate a membership of 75 countries and some 700 meetings a year. There are now 192 member States, and they hold over 8,000 meetings a year in New York.

The decision to go ahead with a total renovation was made in 1995, and the Swedish firm Skanska was given a $7 million pre-construction contract to chalk out what should be done. After much exciting talk of UN staff working in a cruise liner moored in the East River, or in tents pitched on the North Lawn, it was decided that a new building on a little-used city park across 42nd street, should be used as "swing space" while the renovation was in progress. But then some powerful real estate interests in New York raised the immortal question "What's in it for us!" Under pressure, the City Council and the state legislature in Albany turned down the proposal, and the UN decided to rent rather than build office space for staff. In March it signed a deal for 460,000 square feet of office space at 380 Madison Avenue. Most UN staff will operate from there once the Secretariat building is emptied in 2009; others will be scattered to several other locations, including the new UN Credit Union building across the East River in Long Island City.

The only new construction will be a temporary three-storied structure on the North Lawn, to house the UN's main intergovernmental bodies and the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. The UN Press corps will also continue to have a presence in the headquarters complex; where exactly has not been revealed. Whether the temporary facilities will have a Delegate's Lounge and Dining Room has also not been announced. UN Guided Tours will presumably be discontinued during the renovation, but the refurbished building will have a much expanded Visitor's Center.

On 5 May, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the temporary building. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a cohort of other "stakeholders" donned blue hard-hats and turned shovels of grass and dirt. "Today we turn the soil which the United Nations stands on to mark the rebirth, or renovation, of our headquarters," Ban intoned before he dug. "Over the next five years, we will make our facilities safer, greener, and more modern and efficient."

The architect overseeing the project, Michael Adlerstein, former Vice President of the New York Botanical Garden, told reporters that the temporary building on the North Lawn will be an ugly one, to prevent any proposal that it be kept in place permanently. He also said that most of the 25 trees on the site will be saved, and the site itself restored after the building comes down in five years.

The cost of the entire "Capital Master Plan" will be nearly $1.9 billion. (Donald Trump boasted in February that he could do the job for less -- $750 million -- and in less time than the currently projected five years; the UN responded that he should have put in a bid.) The money will come from governments, the bulk of it from the UN's richest member States. All of it will flow back into private coffers in a few affluent countries. Here's the line-up of major contractors:

Program Manager: Gardiner & Theobald, London
Construction Manager: Skanska USA Building, Parsippany, N.J.
Architect - Structural Engineer - Secretariat Building: HLW, New York
Architect - Conference Building, General Assembly Building: Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering, Albany
Architect - Library: Helpern Architects, New York
Curtain Wall Consultant: R.A. Heintges & Associates, New York
M-E-P Engineer: Syska & Hennessy, New York
Space Programming Consultant: Perkins + Will, Chicago
Security Consultant: Kroll Schiff & Associates, New York
Building Code Consultant: Charles Rizzo Associates, New York.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Social Values

This is an edited version of a message making the rounds of email lists:

Social values are an important element in voting for a president. Take the following quiz and see if you have what it takes to make the right choices:

Question 1:

If you knew a woman with syphilis who was pregnant and already had 8 kids, three of whom were deaf, two blind, and one mentally retarded, would you recommend that she have an abortion?

Question 2:

Who would you vote for among the following three candidates for national office:

Candidate A, who associated with crooked politicians, consulted an astrologer, was unfaithful to his devoted wife, chain smoked and drank 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B, who used opium in college, put away a quart of whiskey every evening, and thought the genocide of American Indians was entirely in keeping with the natural order of things because they were replaced by a superior race.

Candidate C, who was a decorated war hero, a painter, a vegetarian and a non-smoker, who restricted his drinking to an occasional beer and never cheated on his wife.


If you recommended an abortion for the unfortunate woman in Question 1 you would have killed Beethoven.

The descriptions in Question 2 are of :

Candidate A: Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Candidate B: Winston Churchill.
Candidate C: Adolph Hitler.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Food: The New Colonial Imperative?

The search for food security has always been a major factor in establishing patterns of dominance among groups of people, but can it happen in the globalized 21st century? The front page story in London's Financial Times of 9 May didn't spell it out in those terms, but the meaning between the lines was unmistakable.

"Chinese companies will be encouraged to buy farmland abroad, particularly in Africa and South America, to help guarantee food security under a plan being considered in Beijing," said the lead. Under a proposal from the Agricultural Ministry, reported Jamil Anderlini from Beijing, China would officially encourage "offshore land acquisition" by domestic companies. If approved, "the plan could face intense opposition abroad." He cited "an official close to the deliberations" saying the proposal by the Agricultural Ministry "was likely to be adopted" even though opposition to the plan "might come from foreign governments unwilling to give up large areas of agricultural land."

Anderlini reported that food-poor oil-exporting countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa are also exploring similar options. Libya is talking to Ukraine about growing wheat; Saudi Arabia has said it will invest in food production abroad.

Chinese inability to meet the growing food demands of its population is driving the new policy, Anderlini noted: "China has about 40 per cent of the world's farmers, but just 9 per cent of the world's arable land." He cited a Chinese scholar's argument that "domestic agricultural companies must expand overseas" if the country is to "guarantee its food security and reduce its exposure to global market fluctuations." This was seen as a "win-win" situation, benefiting all parties involved, even if other countries might not see it that way. Anderlini noted that "Some countries would find it particularly problematic if Beijing supported Chinese companies to use Chinese labor on land bought or rented abroad - a common practice for most companies operating overseas."

Whether intentionally or not, the article will make developing countries insecure about cooperating with China on large "Model Farms" and infrastructure projects like ports and railways that ease access to agricultural resources. Such projects are spread across a number of key countries, from Pakistan to the Sudan, and they are often lauded as disinterested "South-South" cooperation.

The 2007-2009 "Beijing Action Plan" adopted at the 2006 China-Africa Forum stressed the importance of intensified agricultural cooperation in "ensuring food security for both sides. " China pledged to "Send 100 senior experts on agricultural technologies to Africa and set up in Africa 10 demonstration centers of agricultural technology with special features; Give encouragement and support to Chinese enterprises in expanding their investment in agriculture in Africa and getting more involved in agricultural infrastructure development, production of agricultural machinery and processing of agricultural produce in Africa."

India, Russia and South-East Asian countries are also likely to experience increased mistrust in Chinese protestations of goodwill, for they have rich agricultural regions on which China has or had territorial claims. China has significant territorial disputes with the Russian Federation, India, and Vietnam.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

UN Acts to Avoid Global Famine

Perhaps there won't be a "great famine of 2008 -2009."

If we do avoid mass starvation, much of the credit should go to the UN System. Here's what happened in the last few days:

The UN System's Chief Executive's Board (CEB) met in Berne, Switzerland, and agreed on a coordinated strategy with short, medium and long-term aims. Those were, respectively, to feed the hungry; improve food security; and address the "structural" problems responsible for precipitating the current situation. UN field staff will monitor and assess the impact of changes in food price and sound the alarm when necessary.

The meeting urged donors to ante up an additional $755 million for immediate relief by the World Food Programme, and $1.7 billion for the Food and Agriculture Organization to boost food production in poor countries. On longer term action, the meeting did not agree on much.

The incendiary Jean Ziegler, the "expert" on the Right to Food appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, called for a five-year moratorium on the production of biofuels from grain. He accused the United States and the European Union of having taken a "criminal path" by using food grains to produce biofuels. He claimed confidently that "speculation on international markets was behind 30 per cent of the increase in food prices," and that a third of the US corn crop had been diverted to produce biofuels; the EU, he said, planned on replacing 10 per cent of its petrol consumption with them.The US food multinational Cargill, he added, controlled "a quarter of all cereal production." Further, hedge funds were "also making huge profits from raw materials markets;" he called for "new financial regulations to prevent such speculation." The UN's News Service, which reported Ziegler's statements, did not mention if he attributed his statistics to any particular source.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a long-winded "first lecture" in a series on global issues organized by UNITAR* made only a single passing reference to speculation as a cause of food inflation. "We are familiar with the causes" of the current crisis, he said in the 29 April speech: "rising oil prices, growing global demand, bad trade policies, bad weather, panic buying and speculation, the new craze of biofuels derived from food products and so on and so on." [*UNITAR stands for the UN Institute for Training and Research. As it draws on many ex-UN staff, it is also known fondly as the UN Institute for the Tired and the Retired.]

Neither Ban nor Ziegler mentioned agricultural subsidies doled out by the United States and the European Union to their own farmers as a major, perhaps even the most significant, reason for the low agricultural productivity of many poor countries. There is an extensive expert literature on that subject; for instance, this is what a 2005 report of the World Resources Institute had to say:
  • "The United States, the European Union (EU), Japan, and other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries provide about $300 billion annually in support to farmers (Chigunta et al. 2004; OECD 2004). This is the equivalent of 1.3 percent of GDP in OECD countries and roughly six times all official development assistance (Greig-Gran 2003). The $300 billion figure refers to total support and includes payments to farmers as well as import restrictions and other government interventions such as research and development (Elliott 2004). Of support that is considered most trade-distorting, OECD countries are estimated to have spent approximately $180 billion a year between 2001 and 2003 (Elliott 2004)." [Subsidies have gone up since 2005.]
  • "While agricultural subsidies’ original goals were to enable small family farms to operate and to ensure food security, their current use is far from this vision. The distribution of subsidies is uneven, significantly skewed in favor of larger farmers and agribusiness with capital-intensive, highly mechanized operations on vast commercial estates rather than small farmers considered poor by developed-country standards (Cline 2003). The WTO Annual Report (2003) estimates that in the EU, United States, Canada, and Japan the largest 25 percent of farms receive 70 percent, 89 percent, 75 percent, and 68 percent of total agricultural subsidies, respectively. In the United States, 60 percent of farmers are provided no support at all, while the biggest 7 percent account for 50 percent of government payments (Diao et al. 2003)."
  • Overproduction of certain crops in developed countries, encouraged by subsidies, has led to dumping — selling at prices below those that would prevail in undistorted markets and, in many cases, at prices below the cost of production — of excess agricultural commodities on the world market (Diao et al. 2003). This has contributed to the general downward trend of world market prices for agricultural commodities over the past several decades. The impact of developed country subsidies is felt by agricultural sectors in developing countries. According to a WTO report (2003), these subsidies “constrain agricultural growth and development opportunities in non-OECD countries.” One estimate shows that trade distortions caused by agricultural subsidies cost developing countries $200 billion per annum (Akande 2002). Among the developing countries, those in sub-Saharan Africa have suffered the largest loss (in percentage terms) of about 10–15 percent of total agricultural and agro-industrial incomes (Diao et al. 2003)."
The report also said that subsidies to cotton farmers in the United States lowered prices globally, cutting the income of poor farmers in developing countries. "Estimates suggest that in West and Central African countries, where an estimated 10 million people rely on cotton for their livelihood, up to $250 million is lost every year as a result of these subsidies" it said. Citing a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the report said that "a 40 percent reduction in farm-level cotton prices leads to a 21 percent reduction in income for cotton farmers and a 6–7 percent increase in rural poverty."

As long as the world's food security depends on international markets that are deeply distorted and subject to a variety of speculative pressures, the dodging of the crisis of 2008 will be a temporary achievement. Not till we root food security firmly in local and subregional production-consumption cycles, with broader trade providing no more than an additional cushion against shortages, will we be able to say goodbye to the specter of global famine.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Words, Words, Words

Last week I surfaced from a long-term writing project to go to a book reading: T.P. Sreenivasan, India's former Ambassador in Vienna, reading from his book "Words, Words, Words, Adventures in Diplomacy." Tunku Vardarajan, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, moderated the event at the Indian Consulate on East 64th street.

Getting there after the preliminary munch-time was over, I found T.P. (who I knew when he held the key post of Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations in the early 1990s), already at the lectern. He was saying nice things about Vardarajan, who had obviously just finished introducing him. The large and stately public room of the Consulate (which is in a palatial mansion steps from Fifth Avenue), was filled almost to capacity. With a plate of spicy chicken wings in hand I tip-toed into a seat at the far end of the room and spent the next hour or so listening to a very personal account of recent history.

The first chapter in the book, "My Story," tells of T.P.'s progress from a small village in Kerala, where his father was a school teacher, to the elite Indian Foreign Service, a process that included passing a competitive examination and immediately thereafter, fending off scores of marriage proposals. The other chapters recount, with a nice surfeit of interesting anecdotes, the highlights of a diplomatic career that took him, after the UN stint, to Washington at a time when the growing post-Cold War intimacy between India and the United States hit the speed-bump of the May 1998 nuclear tests, and then to Vienna, where he represented India in the Governing Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Words, Words, Words is more than a memoir. It is an important book about Indian foreign policy, dealing with issues of central importance, served up lightly by a master raconteur. But perhaps the treatment (and the title) do a disservice to the substantive content of the book. T.P. is one of India's foremost experts on the Indo-US nuclear deal and he could have steered perceptions of the matter in a way that none of the various policy axe-grinders can. But then he might have moved on from his status of dispassionate retired diplomat by accepting the responsibility of chairing* an eminent panel on the future of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That panel, he told the audience at the Consulate, had agreed at its last meeting that nuclear energy would and should have a renaissance.

When it came time for audience participation, I asked T.P. to take a step back from that statement and consider the larger issue of whether India should follow the Western model of development. To do anything else, he said, would be too expensive.

This is a matter that cannot be so easily dismissed. Indians (and all of Africa, Asia and Latin America), must seriously consider if nuclear energy should have any role in their future, for it only makes sense in an economic model based on high and wasteful consumption of all resources; if we take that route, there is no way to avoid general environmental disaster.

The issue of nuclear energy is, of course, also inextricably tied in with that of nuclear weapons. If we reject nuclear energy, we are rejecting nuclear weapons; perhaps not right away, but eventually. The argument of nuclear hawks is that this would be suicidal; we must hang on to our nuclear weapons to avoid intimidation. Thus, we must have nuclear energy, even if it generates thousands of tons of deadly radioactive material we have no safe way of handling. The argument is impregnable in its circular rationale.

The trick of dealing with that argument is to sidestep it altogether. Nuclear weapons exemplify the peak of the raw violence that has given coherence to the Western model of development from its very beginning. Without violence that model cannot survive. It is no accident that it developed during the most brutal and bloody period of human history, that the rest of the world sank into great poverty at the same time, or that its impact on the natural environment has been so deadly that other species are now being driven to extinction at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared. The model is fundamentally untenable.

Of course, it will be expensive to escape this state of affairs. It will also be highly risky. The greed and fear that drive violence are without vision. But people are not. They can be stirred to look beyond personal advantage, as indeed, can nations and international agencies. No matter what the expense or risk we have to try. And in doing so it is good to remember that always, at the beginning, is the Word.
* See Ambassador Sreenivasan's comment for correction

Friday, April 25, 2008

UN Posts for Sale?

In the infamous days when Kurt Waldheim was Secretary-General of the United Nations I was a staff member there, still very much an innocent in the ways of the world. So when an Arab colleague came into my office one morning and, after a few preliminaries, asked if I would co-sign a loan from the UN Credit Union, I assumed he faced some family emergency, and agreed without thought or question.

It was a small sum he wanted, $15,000 if I remember right. After the formalities we went down to the cafeteria for coffee. I thought he might unburden himself of whatever problems faced him, but the conversation was all about in-house politics. Then, as we prepared to leave, he said casually: "You know, I needed the loan to get a promotion." My blank stare prompted an explanation. The Assistant-Secretary-General for Personnel would arrange for a promotion if he was paid; there was a set scale, depending on the level of the job. His promotion would take $14,000. (What the extra $1,000 was for, I never found out.)

The confession left me speechless and wondering about the United Nations, which till then I had considered in the fuzzy light of its own propaganda and my idealism. My colleague got his promotion within a few months, and we never talked about the matter again, not even when the Assistant-Secretary-General in question became the subject of a very hush-hush official investigation and was quietly allowed to resign.

I bring all this up because of what has happened with the the appointment of the Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Last year, after UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer (Singapore) was appointed to head the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok, her old post in New York was advertised. Some 150 applications were received. The UN Development Programme (UNDP), the parent organization of UNIFEM, convened a panel to go through the applications, and after much labor it short-listed six. The six were interviewed, and the panel agreed unanimously to recommend Gita Sen of India, who has a sterling background in public policy (she teaches at the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore and at Harvard), and as an activist on women's issues.

The panel made its recommendation in November 2007, but nothing happened. Then after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had attended the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile (where Spanish Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero got into his famous exchange with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez), it was given out that he would initiate a fresh review of the short-listed candidates. After interviewing four of the candidates himself in February, Ban did not act on the appointment till after Prime Minister Zapatero was re-elected in March. Then he announced on April 8 that the UNIFEM job would go to Inés Alberdi of Spain.

Non-governmental activists who had been looking forward to having a live wire at UNIFEM were bitterly disappointed, and have issued a stream of statements complaining about the manner in which the formal and rigorous appointments process had been nullified. High-level UNDP staff are also reported to be not too happy with the outcome. "There's no doubt about it" one NGO representative told me. "The Spaniards have just bought themselves a UN job. It's clear what happened. Even the timing; Ban just waited to see if Zapatero would be re-elected and would pay up."

No one is saying that Ban was personally paid off; the presumption is that additional Spanish funds will go to UNIFEM. But it still leaves the impression of corruption. UN jobs should go to the best qualified, not to those whose governments offer money.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

High-Level Talk With Low Level Impact

There was wall-to-wall talk about the world economy at the United Nations on Monday (14 April). The occasion was the annual high-level meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). There were official Press conferences, informal briefings, chats in the corridors, and of course, continuous speechifying in the graciously appointed ECOSOC chamber. It was a typical UN affair, with hardly a thought given to how meaningful the proceedings were to the real world of financial fraud, foreclosures and food riots.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's opening speech had a hastily inserted paragraph echoing World Bank president Robert Zoellick's call for action on the growing problem of rising food prices, which "could mean seven lost years in the fight against worldwide poverty." The World Bank, he said, had "indicated that the doubling of food crisis (sic) over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty. We need not only short-term emergency measures to meet urgent critical needs and avert starvation in many regions across the world, but also a significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production." The international community would "also need to take urgent and concerted action in order to avert the larger political and security implications of this growing crisis." The UN needed "to examine ways to lead a process for the immediate and longer term responses to this global problem."

After that Ban passed on to the theme of the day: “Coherence, coordination and cooperation in the context of the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus, including new challenges and emerging issues." The 2002 Monterrey Consensus on financing for development was supposed to provide significantly more support for developing countries but it has had little impact. Aid has increased but most poor countries have not benefited; in fact they continue to transfer large amounts of money to the rich. This reverse flow of capital has continued over the decades since the end of formal colonial rule because of unfavorable terms of trade and a variety of illicit transfers. Norway noted that about half of the $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion a year in illicit financial flows is estimated to originate from developing countries.

Ban announced that he had appointed M. Philippe Douste-Blazy, former Foreign Minister of France as "Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development" to lead the UN Secretariat’s "efforts to support that important process." (Bruised feelings at the Quai d'Orsay at its loss of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are unlikely to be salved by the appointment.) He also designated two Special Envoys for the Doha Review Conference: Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Minister of Development Cooperation of Germany, and Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance of South Africa; they will "help mobilize political support for, and high-level participation in, the Conference." Ban left the meeting with the uplifting exhortation:
“Let us make 2008 a truly great year in the field of development.”

Another moment of unintended comic relief came in the speech of a representative of the World Bank (not Zellick but someone of the order of Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief). He told the meeting that a "Monitoring Report" prepared in collaboration with the IMF showed that the world is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on gender parity in schools but not on nutrition, education, health and sanitation. Many "fragile" countries are "falling behind on most, if not all, the Millennium Goals." However, he added cheerily, the MDGs could still be met if global economic growth momentum is sustained, there is more progress on human development, aid is scaled up, trade is harnessed to inclusive and sustainable growth, international financial institutions provide more "leverage," and environmental sustainability is ensured -- all at the national and international levels. Sad to say, the audience did not laugh.

At the end of the day ECOSOC president Leo Merores of Haiti told delegates that a special meeting of the Council "in the very near future" would consider a global response to the food crisis.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Great Famine of 2008-2009?

Over the last year rising food prices have affected poor people in countries around the world and in recent days many thousands of them have taken to the streets to protest. There have been food riots in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Haiti, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal.

The World Food Program has reported food crises in 37 countries, and told governments that it faces a $500 million shortfall to meet the needs of 89 million hungry people. That number could rise dramatically if the inflation in food prices -- which analysts ascribe to a perfect storm of soaring petroleum prices, natural disasters linked to climate change, growing demand in China and India, and the ever-rising demand for raw materials to make biofuels -- is not brought under control. The rampant speculation that has contributed to skyrocketing food and fuel prices is hardly ever mentioned as a cause of the crisis; however the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has noted that speculation and market failures have reduced the impact of increased production.

Recommendations to deal with the situation have not been too specific. World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who has warned that the inflation in food prices "is not a this-year phenomenon," has proposed a "New Deal for a Global Food Policy"combining emergency aid and long-term initiatives to boost agricultural productivity. The "Group of 24" Developing Countries in the World Bank-IMF has urged affluent countries to increase financial aid.

There does not seem to be an air of urgency about the situation yet, much less one of panic; but that could develop within a matter of weeks if it becomes apparent that governments do not have a handle on the situation.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

UN Scorned in US-Russian World View

There is just one mention of the United Nations in the White House summary highlighting noteworthy aspects of the "strategic framework" agreed to by Presidents Bush and Putin at Sochi on 6 April. It occurs in the final paragraph, and refers to their commitment to "work with all major emitting economies to advance key elements of the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

There are more references in the full text but they do little to recognize that the United Nations was conceived as an organization central to the international strategies of all its 192 member States. In fact the first mention of the UN puts that idea firmly aside: "Going forward, we intend to deepen our cooperation wherever possible, while taking further, even more far-reaching steps, to demonstrate our joint leadership in addressing new challenges to global peace and security in accordance with the principles of international law, taking into consideration the role of the United Nations."

The next mention comes in passing, as the two sides take note of their "Joint Statement on the INF Treaty at the sixty-second session of the UN General Assembly." (The statement committed them to "a high-level dialogue to analyze current and future intermediate-range and shorter-range ballistic and cruise missile threats and inventory options for dealing with them.")

The third reference is more direct but hardly supportive of the primacy of the UN in multilateral affairs: "We are determined to work closely together on all the major global international issues that confront us, including the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, security and stability in North East Asia through the Six-Party process, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere around the world, working with other nations through the United Nations, as well as other international and regional mechanisms, including the NATO-Russia Council and the G-8, to strengthen our cooperation wherever possible."

The fourth reference is more of the same: "We will expand our cooperative efforts through continued partnership in the United Nations and in other multilateral fora to include the OSCE, NATO-Russia Council, and the G-8, and in expanding the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. We will advance our counterterrorism goals at the United Nations, including through strengthening the Counterterrorism Committee and the [Security Council resolution #] 1267 sanctions regime."

That is it.


Three days after the Sochi Summit UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in Moscow, his first visit since assuming office. He met with Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev, who assured Ban, according to ITAR-TASS, "that the UN was the only global body with the authority to resolve international disputes." That was a lead-in to expressions of discontent with what has happened in Kosovo, a Muslim-majority province of Serbia that declared itself independent in February and was immediately recognized by the three Western Powers on the Security Council.

With China and Russia in opposition, the Security Council cannot legitimize Kosovo's secession, but Ban has been less than eager to note that or the danger of a widely destabilizing conflict if the situation is not peacefully resolved. Russian unhappiness with that is said to have been conveyed in rather personal terms: a threat that Moscow would veto a second term for Ban as Secretary-General.

According to published reports Medvedev also offered a carrot, the prospect that the Russian Federation would be open to a significant increase in its contribution to the UN budget. (One publication cited a Kremlin source in saying that Moscow would be willing to match Washington's 22 per cent share of the UN's $2 billion biennial budget; that would be a stunning spike from its current 1.2 per cent.) But it was to no avail. At a Press conference Ban said it was impossible to retrieve the pre-February position of Kosovo, and unrealistic to expect that it could be done.

Meanwhile, Kosovo authorities are reported to have moved quickly to dismantle the infrastructure of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), asking it to vacate two centrally located buildings in Pristina. Reports in Kosovo newspapers say that UNMIK will close its doors in June, and be replaced with a "UN Office in Pristina;" how that can be arranged in the teeth of Chinese and Russian opposition remains to be seen. Also subject to speculation is whether the Serbs in Kosovo will now declare the independence of territories where they are in a majority; if they do, we could be in for another murderous confrontation in the Balkans.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Picking Sides For Armageddon

Two United Nations conferences, one in April 2008, the other in 2009 will bring into focus the concepts, priorities and strategies guiding the economic growth of developing countries. One is the 12th UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be held in Accra, Ghana; the other is the UN Conference on South-South Cooperation (CSSC), which will convene in Buenos Aires, Argentina, next year. Both are likely to sleepwalk through or entirely ignore the need for decisions on four key issues that will decide whether the world will evolve towards general peace or face a cataclysmic future:

  • Environment and Development: If developing countries continue to follow the Western model of development, the global environmental impact will be disastrous. There is no way that the three billion people now living in poverty can achieve anything approaching Western levels of prosperity without accelerating global warming, desertification, pollution of terrestrial and marine habitats, and the increasingly rapid extinction of species (which is already at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs disappeared). A new development paradigm is needed, but that is not on the agenda of either UN conference (or indeed, anywhere else) .

  • The Power of China: The growing economic and military power of China is pushing the world into territory that is increasingly hostile to liberal democracy, yet both UN conferences will studiously ignore that dire trend as they celebrate “South-South cooperation for development.” The phrase refers to cooperation among developing countries which now account for some 48 per cent of world GDP estimated on the basis of “purchasing power parity.” Unless there is a creative democratic response to the mutual support system of tyrannical regimes, we face an Orwellian future.

  • The Rich Poor Gap: Despite the spectacular economic growth of a number of developing countries some three billion people remain mired in poverty. The rapid economic globalization supporting the growth is widening the gap between poor and rich in every country, developing and developed. Both UN conferences can be expected to make empty declarations on this issue and do little. Unless the problem is effectively addressed we will continue to have a world in which a rich and powerful global elite will be at constant war with an impoverished and disenfranchised underclass.

  • An Ineffective United Nations: The United Nations is now as ineffective as the League of Nations was in its long final phase. It was not able to prevent the proxy conflicts of the “Cold War” that killed over one hundred million people, nor has it been able to check the commercial and “ethnic” wars that have continued to kill millions every year after the end of East-West ideological confrontation. It has stood idly by as repeated episodes of genocide have occurred in full view of the world's mass media. The UN, as the repository of hopes for the rule of international law, is critically important to developing countries; but neither conference will say much beyond expressing formulaic support for the organization, and meaningless reform efforts will continue, as they have for over a quarter century. Unless we have an effective peace organization, the trends described in the three previous paragraphs will push the world into ever more destructive conflict. With the continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, it is possible for conflicts to escalate rapidly to a scale at which all civilization will be at risk.

The world's governments are unlikely to act on any of these problems. An effective response must come from ordinary people. See my post of 2-20-08 for suggestions on what can be done.