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Why USAID should quit India and look after America

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The 'Feeding America' county-level food insecurity map. the social situation confronting the great mass of the population, young and old, is characterised by economic insecurity, depressed wages and unprecedented levels of debt.

The ‘Feeding America’ county-level food insecurity map. the social situation confronting the great mass of the population, young and old, is characterised by economic insecurity, depressed wages and unprecedented levels of debt.

There is no practical, moral, democratic and defensible reason any longer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue to have anything to do in India (or anywhere else) relating to food or hunger or poverty.

This is because the growth of food insecurity in the USA has paralleled the rise in the numbers of those who are poor, by any measure whether in terms of income, lack of access to a balanced diet, lack of access to essential social sector services. According to studies that have been released from late 2013 onwards, the number of households in the USA that live on less than US$2 per day more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million. Moreover, there are now nearly 3 million children who live in households that earn less than $2 per day.

It is absurd and deeply cynical for the government of Barack Obama, the White House, the US State Department, and a host of top-ranking thinktanks to continue to claim that Indo-American ties require USAID and USDA to continue propagating agricultural models and advocating technology-centric solutions in India to solve our problems of poverty and hunger. India must halt all activity with these two agencies and advise them bluntly to turn inwards – for by their own charters that is where they are needed.

The latest evidence comes from Feeding America, which is the national network of food banks in the USA. It has just released its annual report on local food insecurity which shows that one in six Americans – including one in five children – did not have enough to eat at some point in 2012. The report found that there are dozens of counties where more than a third of children do not get enough to eat. The incidence of hunger has grown dramatically. The percentage of households that are “food insecure” rose from 11.1% in 2007 to 16% in 2012.

According to separate data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), food insecurity is more widespread in the USA than in any other major developed country, with the rate of food insecurity in the US nearly twice that of the European Union average, which is by itself worrying for what purport to be the so-called ‘advanced’ economies (whereas India is ’emerging’).

US_hunger_detail_20140421That we have a situation wherein USAID and USDA (“from the American people”, is the sanctimonious tagline attached to USAID interference, when the American people do not know what injustice is being done to other people in their name, and when they are being robbed of food so that American foreign policy goals are fulfilled) continue to set aid agendas in South Asia while a fifth of American children are hungry is an international social disaster fostered by the current economic system and its political defenders.

In the USA both Democratic and Republican administrations (there is no real difference) have become adept at starving anti-poverty programmes, but have taken that expertise to new levels under Obama. The US Congress and the White House have overseen two successive food stamp cuts in just six months: first in November 2013, when benefits were slashed US$36 per month for a family of four, and again in January 2014, when benefits were cut by an average of US$90 per month for nearly a million households.

Even when the US Census had signalled the new levels of impoverishment reached by the average household, some US$4.1 billion was cut from the food stamps, or SNAP, programme citing “waste, fraud and abuse”. It is significant to note here that exactly the same kind of language has been used in India to call for the curtailing and eventual dismantling of our Public Distribution System (PDS). In cutting about US$90 a month in benefits for 500,000 households – more than a week’s worth of assistance for a typical American family in need – they now encroached on the US$1.50 per person per meal equation (around Rs 90, which may buy two meagre vegetarian thalis in an Indian city).

The government of the USA has done this at a time when, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it spent in 2013 US$640 billion which amounted to 36% of the entire world’s total military expenditure. Still unsatisfied by such heinous perversion, the American White House and Congress discontinued unemployment benefits for some three million people (and their two million dependent children), but continued to stall the prosecution of the financial criminals responsible for the 2008 crash.

The concentration of wealth at one social pole is coupled with disastrous social conditions at the other. A generation of young people in the USA has been thrust into poverty and joblessness – almost 16% of young people aged 25 to 34 have incomes below the national poverty line. In comparison, 10% of people in the same age group were in poverty in 2000. The median income of young households is $8,000 less than it was in 2000, in real terms.

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Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

Global trends to 2030 and the confusion of alternative worlds

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Global_Trends_2030-graph3The National Intelligence Council of the USA, earlier in 2012 December, released the latest Global Trends report, which is titled ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’. The Global Trends project is described as bringing expertise from outside (the American) government on factors of such as globalisation, demography and the environment. In the USA, the Director of National Intelligence serves as the head of what in America is called the ‘intelligence community’, overseeing and directing the implementation of the American National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal adviser to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security. Specifically, the goal of the Director of National Intelligence is described as “to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad”.

Global_Trends_2030-icon1With that background, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ is the fifth installment in the National Intelligence Council’s series aimed at providing to the ruling regime of the USA “a framework for thinking about the future” by “identifying critical trends and potential discontinuities”. This 2012 report distinguishes between ‘megatrends’ (factors that will likely occur under any scenario) and ‘game-changers’ (critical variables whose trajectories are far less certain). Finally, to better explain the diversity and complexity of various factors, the 2012 report sketches out scenarios or alternative worlds.

Global_Trends_2030-graph4From our Asian point of view, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has a most interesting section describing the middle classes, which the report says almost everywhere in the developing world are poised to expand substantially in terms of both absolute numbers and the percentage of the population that can claim middle-class status during the next 15-20 years. “Even the more conservative models see a rise in the global total of those living in the middle class from the current 1 billion or so to over 2 billion people,” said the report.

All the analyses reviewed by the authors of the ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ suggest that the most rapid growth of the middle class will occur in Asia, with India somewhat ahead of China over the long term. According to the Asian Development Bank, if China “achieves the new plan target of increasing household expenditures at least as rapidly as GDP, the size of its middle class will explode” with “75 percent of China’s population enjoying middle-class standards and $2/day poverty will be substantially wiped out”.

The report does not make an attempt to link the impact of the rise of this middle-class with either one of the ‘mega trends’ described or two of the ‘game-changers’ described, which speak in a halting manner about the effects of over-consumption and galloping resource grabbing.

Global_Trends_2030-icon2‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has conceded that “establishing the threshold for determining when someone is middle class versus climbing out of poverty is difficult, particularly because the calculations rely on the use of purchasing power parity”. In India the debate about who is poor is 40 years old and remains intractable – thanks mostly to the intransigence of central planners who still refuse to link the current cost of basics with current low levels of real income.

Instead, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has forecast that most new members of the middle class in 2030 will be at the lower end of the spectrum. “Their per capita incomes will be still rated as ‘poor’ by Western standards even though they will have begun to acquire the trappings of middle-class status. Growth in the number of those living in the top half of the range of this new middle class — which is likely to be more in line with Western middle-class standards — will be substantial, rising from 330 million in 2010 to 679 million in 2030.

Global_Trends_2030-graph2Much of the future global leadership is likely to come from this segment,” said the report, raising a number of worries. Firstly, I would be loath to see any kind of leadership – political, economic or social – come from this segment as such leadership will strengthen, not diminish, the consumption patterns destroying our environment. Second, it is less the chasing of ‘Western’ per capita incomes we need and more the re-education of the middle-class to emphasise the virtues of ‘less’ and ‘small’ that is urgently needed.

More to the point, ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ has forecast that with the expansion of the middle class, income inequalities — and the report says these “have been a striking characteristic of the rising developing states” — may begin to lessen in the developing world. This is astonishingly misread. Approximately a generation of economic liberalisation (which has gone under various names in different large countries) in India, China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia have proven the opposite.

Global_Trends_2030-icon3The report goes on in this befuddled vein: “Even if the Gini coefficients, which are used to measure inequalities, decline in many developing countries, they are still unlikely to approach the level of many current European countries like Germany and Finland where inequality is relatively low”. Again, a decade of ‘austerity’ under various guises (longer in Britain in fact, under Thatcherism) in Europe has created inequalities approaching the true levels seen in the BRICS and similar countries, and these have been camouflaged by welfare measures that are fast-disappearing and by community action. So this ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ is flat wrong on these matters.

However, the report has made an attempt to infuse some social science into what is otherwise good news for the global consumer goods multinationals (and of course for the fossil fuel barons). “That said, a perception of great inequality will remain, particularly between urban- and rural-dwellers, motivating a growing number of rural-dwellers to migrate to the cities to seek economic opportunities. Their chances of becoming richer will be substantially greater in cities, but the increasing migration to urban areas will mean at least an initial expansion in the slums and the specter of poverty,” said the ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ report. More interesting is the warning the report has issued, which is that if new middle-class entrants find it difficult to cling to their new status and are pulled back toward impoverishment, they will pressure governments for change. “Rising expectations that are frustrated have historically been a powerful driver of political turmoil.” Hear, hear. Remember the 99 per cent.

The long orange line – India-Pakistan border from space

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This night-time view of the India-Pakistan border was photographed by an Expedition 28 crew member on the International Space Station. Clusters of yellow lights on the Indo-Gangetic Plain of northern India and northern Pakistan reveal numerous cities both large and small.

What the border looks like on the ground – near Jammu, India. Photo: BBC News

Of the many clusters of light, the largest are the metropolitan areas associated with the capital cities of Islamabad, Pakistan in the foreground and New Delhi, India at the top – for scale these metropolitan areas are approximately 700 kilometres apart. The lines of major highways connecting the larger cities also stand out – also visible are Lahore, Pakistan, which is close to the border, and Srinagar, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. More subtle but still visible at night are the general outlines of the towering and partly cloud-covered Himalayan ranges immediately to the north (left).

The full image from the ISS. Photo: NASA

[For other posts on Pakistan see Pakistan, India and people’s responsibility (new), Floods in Pakistan displace 5.4 million and Pakistan floods, six months later.] The striking feature of this photograph is the line of lights, with a distinctly more orange hue, snaking across the central part of the image. It appears to be more continuous and brighter than most highways in the view. This is the fenced and floodlit border zone between the countries of India and Pakistan. The fence is designed to discourage smuggling and arms trafficking between the two countries. A similar fenced zone separates India’s eastern border from Bangladesh.

NASA has said this image was taken with a 16-mm lens, which provides the wide field of view, as the space station was tracking towards the southeast across the subcontinent of India. [NASA ref: ISS028-E-029679 (21 Aug. 2011)]

Written by makanaka

September 9, 2011 at 11:34

A dying empire is a dangerous empire

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US and western news agencies tell us that the news of bin Laden's death brought many to the streets in US cities. What are they celebrating? The end of a 10-year-old war that has eviscerated middle-class America? Photo: Al Jazeera/AFP

After the triumphalism of the Abbottabad strike, the cold reality of overshoot – In recent months the signals from what America sometimes calls its heartland have been worrying, downright alarming. Manufacturing in the USA is down to a shadow, as a percentage of GDP, of what it used to be 25 years ago. The services economy – which the Bretton Woods twins, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have prescribed to developing countries and then arm-twisted them for it – creates few new jobs and negligible new savings in the USA. First under George Bush the younger, and then under Barack Obama, social sector spending and support has been dwindling.

Working class America, burdened by a decade of wars their government has pursued all around the world, has been brought to its knees with a new round of cuts imposed by the latest in a growing line of war-mongering US presidents. For them, whether Obama is Republican or Democrat makes little difference. Why this is so can be seen from news reports found in the local and independent-minded newspapers (those that still exist) in that country: “Tennessee’s legislative onslaught against teachers”, “Wisconsin Senate rams through anti-worker bill”, “Idaho students walk out over education cuts”, “Momentum builds for austerity budget in California”, “Several thousand demonstrate in Columbus, Ohio” and “Ten thousand attend protest at Indiana statehouse”. These tell the tale of the effect at home of long years of warring abroad.

Today, apart from automobiles, aircraft jet engines and weapons (and, yes, nuclear reactors) there are few material goods the USA gives the world. It gives the world a great deal of weapons to kill, annihilate, destroy and burn, and it pursues this export of death-dealing with heavy-handed foreign policy and ham-fisted trade ‘negotiations’. But Americans, those who want to pursue humble professions and vocations that have nothing to do with their country’s export priorities, must buy some basics for their survival. That is when they contribute to the most visible symbol of imperial overstretch – the USA’s trade balance with its biggest trading partner, China. Rising steadily over 20 years, the US-China trade imbalance (when viewed with American eyes) dipped only slightly after 11 September 2001. In 2008-09, the dip was far greater, but the graph was much higher then, and stands today at just under US$300 billion.

Osama bin Laden, a picture from the Gulf News Archive

It is not a sight to soothe the riled and roiled states of today’s American heartland. Nor does it help the average American that the monetarily unhinged policies of Bush the younger, wherein he forgave the rich their taxes in order to submit the poor to more of them, have been enshrined as principle by his democrat successor, a man whose forefathers were Kenyan. It does not help, as the magazine Mother Jones says, that a New York janitor making slightly more than US$33,000 a year pays an effective tax rate of nearly 25%, but the effective tax rate for a resident of a Park Avenue building, earning an average of US$1.2 million annually, must complain about a 14.7% tax burden.

Perhaps the last word in cold spending logic should come from the Swedes. Two months ago the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest report on international military expenditures. World military spending rose only 1.3% in 2010 to US$1.63 trillion, after average annual growth of 5.1% between 2001 and 2009, said SIPRI. The USA remained by far the biggest defence spender in the world – US$698 billion – and accounted for almost all of global growth in military expenditure in 2010, an increase of US$19.6 billion out of the US$20.6 billion global increase. Today, the USA’s defence budget is 4.8% of its GDP, its budget has increased 81% since 2001 and is six times greater than that of China, the next biggest spender. In contrast, in Europe, military spending fell by 2.8% as governments cut costs to address soaring budget deficits.

A man watches television news on the death of Osama bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo: Al Jazeera/EPA

This is the tenth year since the ‘war on terror’ was declared by No 43, Bush the younger, and it tells us much that all of them, from No 32 during World War Two, have begun or continued wars and military campaigns. No 44, the current president, claimed righteously that the USA “went to war against Al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies”. This is the same claim made by NATO in and about Libya. It has been repeated wherever, in the last half-century, imperial America has wanted to seize economic resources or prevent others from doing so. That is why US armed forces in Afghanistan have tripled since Obama took office. After Abbottabad, nothing in the remarks made by No 44 and his staff and generals have suggested in any way that the killing of bin Laden will lead to a significant change in American foreign policy, let alone an end to the relentless expansion of military interventions.

The announcment of the killing of Osama bin Laden is being underlined by the US Department of State as a milestone in America’s ‘war on terror’. In a campaign that is now in the last half of its tenth year, the costs of this ‘war’ have dwarfed most modern reckoning of conflict. Independent estimates place the cost of the US military engagement in Iraq at over US$780 billion since 2001, and at over US$400 billion for its deployment in Afghanistan over the same period. At more than US$1.1 trillion the sober question that is certainly being asked by those at home in middle America is: has it been worth it to reach this milestone? Perhaps a more accurate question will be: if the death of bin Laden indeed signals the final demise of the al-Qaeda network, what will it take to wind down these wars until the last American soldier goes home?

It will be some time before either of these are answered with some degree of belief, or or trust in Washington’s governance of its military-industrial complex. The US and its allies will enjoy a self-congratulatory glow in the short-term future but, far to the west of Abbottabad, the long-term future of northern Africa is being determined by means no less violent than those which removed forever bin Laden. We would like, as rational and peaceable folk, to agree that war and economic stability, that protracted conflict and human development do not and cannot coexist. Yet for the last decade, the world’s richest countries and most militarily ambitious have done their best to tell us the opposite.

A key influence on bin Laden was Dr Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian professor and member of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Photo: Al Jazeera

In the aftermath of the Abbottabad strike, which is the truer reflection of our times? Agencies of the United Nations, those primarily concerned with helping people live better, healthier, safer lives, have spared no effort in telling us that more, not less, needs to be done for the world’s poor and vulnerable. If the death of bin laden is also a signal that obscenely enormous military spending will now be used to feed the hungry, teach the young and give them a greener future, then perhaps we can indeed call it a milestone.

Any rendering of separatist groups, of insurgencies, of terror networks and their anarchist ideologies however informs us that a milestone, even one as important as this, is only a milestone. While for most governments in the Middle East the al-Qaeda and its allied organisations was a persistent and highly dangerous group under a bin Laden alive, without him it is hardly likely to be less so. The decade since the 11 September attacks has been as remarkable for the new insights into ideology-based armed insurrectionists as it has been for the huge resources it has required to tackle them, not always successfully.

Less than 24 hours after the Abbottabad strike, geo-political analysts and experts on extremist networks were already providing their immediate reaction: be cautious in assuming the damage done to al-Qaeda and be circumspect when predicting the strategic and security consequences of bin Laden’s death. For those entrusted with providing security to their country’s citizens in the face of extremism, the first assessment will be whether bin Laden is considered a martyr whose methods are to be emulated, or whether those who are influenced by al-Qaeda will value economic opportunity more than taking to the gun. It is a difficult assessment to attempt for in the Arab region, as the Arab Human Development Report 2009 underlined forcefully, human insecurity is reflected in the economic vulnerability of one-fifth of the people in some Arab states, and more than half in others, people whose lives are impoverished and cut short by hunger and want.

It is likely, although such a likelihood flies in the face of sanity, that the US regime does not recognise the problems facing us all, many of which have been central to campaigns by United Nations agencies and development organisations, including USAID. Less than two months ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded world leaders: “Millions of people have been pushed into poverty by the latest food price rises. I am especially concerned about the poorest households that often spend three-quarters of their income on food. When prices go up, they go hungry.”

And yet the World Food Programme late last year had to make hard decisions about who to abandon to starvation for lack of money to buy food aid with. Nor is that the only concern. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set up a new fund aimed at mobilising resources to help developing countries mitigate the impact of global warming, to help the transition to low-carbon futures – a seventh of the US annual defence budget will keep it on course for five years, benefiting millions. These are the greater challenges, solved not by attack drones and aircraft carriers, but by co-operation and sharing of ideas in a climate of peace. But No. 44, true to presidential form, will have none of it, just as he won’t from the people of Wisconsin, Idaho and Ohio.

Is the resolution on Libya legal under international law?

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Is the UN Security Council decision concerning the Libya ‘no fly zone’ in alignment with the Charter it is governed by?

A brief examination of this and related questions concerning the UN Security Council decision:

Under the United Nations Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:

* to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
* to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;
* to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
* to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
* to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
* to call on Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;
* to take military action against an aggressor;
* to recommend the admission of new Members;
* to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in “strategic areas”;
* to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.

When adopting resolution 1973(2011) did the Security Council members exhaust all the steps listed under their functions and powers, before the step “to take military action”?

How does authorizing the enforcement of a ‘no fly zone’ by military means “maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations”? What investigation of a dispute in Libya or the situation in Libya was done by the UN Security Council in the weeks before 2011 March 17? Did the UNSC recommend dispute resolutions or settlement methods prior to 2011 March 17 – if so what were they and who were they reported to? Did the UNSC call on UN Members to apply “measures not involving the use of force” such as economic sanctions? If the UNSC members did none of the above – where are their reports to the UN General Assembly and to their national governments? – why did they move directly to taking military action?

This what was done on 2011 March 17:

Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favour to none against, with 5 abstentions…

Who are the members of the UN Security Council?

The Council is composed of five permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. There are ten (10) non-permanent members (with year of term’s end): Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011), Germany (2012), Portugal (2012), Brazil (2011), India (2012), South Africa (2012), Colombia (2012), Lebanon (2011), Gabon (2011), Nigeria (2011).

How did they vote on the Libya ‘no fly zone’ resolution?

The five abstentions were Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation – that is, two permanent members of the Security Council abstained.

Why did these members abstain?

[This text is from the UN press release] “The representative of the United States said that today, the Council had responded to the Libyan peoples’ cry for help.  The Council’s purpose was clear: to protect Libyan civilians.  The Security Council had authorized the use of force, including enforcement of a no-fly zone, to protect civilians and civilian areas targeted by Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi, his allied forces and mercenaries.”

“The representatives of China and the Russian Federation, explaining their abstentions, prioritized peaceful means of resolving the conflict and said that many questions had not been answered in regard to provisions of the resolution, including, as the Russian representative put it, how and by whom the measures would be enforced and what the limits of the engagement would be.  He said the resolution included a sorely needed ceasefire, which he had called for earlier.  China had not blocked the action with a negative vote in consideration of the wishes of the Arab League and the African Union, its representative said.”

“The delegations of India, Germany and Brazil, having also abstained, equally stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the conflict and warned against unintended consequences of armed intervention.”

With reference to the US representative’s explanation, what exactly was the “cry for help”, who voiced it, how is it representative of the people of Libya, and in what way did this “cry for help” reach the UN General Assembly?

The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations,

The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is a member of the UN General Assembly and was admitted on 14-12-1955.

How do Members of the UNSC vote?

This is covered in Chapter VII of the UN Charter

[Rule 40] Voting in the Security Council shall be in accordance with the relevant Articles of the Charter and of the Statute of the International Court of Justice

What does the UN Charter say about the Security Council?

This is covered in Chapter V of the Charter. The composition of the Council is covered by Article 23, which also says: “…due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security …”

The functions and powers of the Security Council are covered in Article 24 of the Charter which also says: “In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security…”

What is the significance of the 10 votes for the Libya resolution?

Voting is covered in Article 27 of the UN Charter:

“1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.

2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.”

This brief background raises questions that must be asked by the representative of the Government of India in the UN. Most important, the UN Charter insists first on the maintenance of international peace and security. This principle has been ignored by the 10 members who voted for the resolution. The functions and powers of the UNSC place military action as following several others – resolution, settlement, economic. The 10 members who voted have violated the procedure. All 15 members have not explained why other measures – including an objective analysis (see India’s member’s explanation in Annex) – were not followed up by them before agreeing to take up the Libya resolution 1973(2011).

Referencess:

Security Council Approves ‘No-Fly Zone’ over Libya, Authorizing ‘All Necessary Measures’ to Protect Civilians, by Vote of 10 in Favour with 5 Abstentions (2011 March 17)

Charter of the United Nations

Annexure:

India’s Explanation of Vote after the vote on Libyan Resolution in the UN Security Council delivered by Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri, Deputy Permanent Representative, on 17 March 2011

1. India has been following with serious concern the developments in Libya, which have led to loss of numerous lives and injuries to many more. We are very concerned with the welfare of the civilian population and foreigners in Libya. We deplore the use of force, which is totally unacceptable, and must not be resorted to.

2. The UN Secretary-General has appointed a Special Envoy, who has just visited Libya. We support his appointment and welcome his mission. We have not had the benefit of his report or even a report from the Secretariat on his assessment as yet. This would have given us an objective analysis of the situation on ground. The African Union is also sending a High Level Panel to Libya to make serious efforts for a peaceful end to the crisis there. We must stress the importance of political efforts, including those of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, to address the situation.

3. The resolution that the Council has adopted today authorizes far reaching measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter with relatively little credible information on the situation on the ground in Libya. We also do not have clarity about details of enforcement measures, including who and with what assets will participate and how these measures will be exactly carried out. It is, of course, very important that there is full respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Libya.

4. Mr President, the financial measures that are proposed in the resolution could impact, directly or through indirect routes, ongoing trade and investment activities of a number of member-states thereby adversely affecting the economic interests of the Libyan people and others dependent on these trade and economic ties. Moreover, we had to ensure that the measures will mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya. Clarity in the resolution on any spill-over affects of these measures would have been very important.

5. Mr President, we have abstained on the resolution in view of the above. I would like to re-emphasize that India continues to be gravely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya and calls on the Libyan authorities to cease fire, protect the civilian population and address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

I thank you.

Written by makanaka

March 21, 2011 at 18:56

Wikileaks files: torture, death squads and occupation

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The site itself is swamped. The media organisations that have done the barest preliminary sifting of information from the mass of files – Al Jazeera, New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the UK’s Channel 4 TV – are equally swamped. Other news outlets are focusing on particular aspects of the leaks, such as Iran (a reflection of recent US political focus), or the Pentagon’s reaction.

What has been uncovered often contradicts the official narrative of the conflict, reports Al Jazeera. “For example, the leaked data shows that the US has been keeping records of Iraqi deaths and injuries throughout the war, despite public statements to the contrary. The latest cache of files pertains to a period of six years – from January 1, 2004, to December 31, 2009 – and shows that 109,000 people died during this time. Of those, a staggering 66,081 – two-thirds of the total – were civilians.”

The figures are much higher than previously estimated and they will inevitably lead to an upward revision of the overall death toll of the conflict. As a result of the information contained in the war logs, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) – an organisation that kept records of the number of people killed – is about to raise its death toll estimates by 15,000: to 122,000 from 107,000.

The new material throws light on the day-to-day horrors of the war. The military calls them SIGACTs – significant action reports – ground-level summaries of the events that punctuated the conflict: raids, searches, roadside bombings, arrests, and more. All of them are classified “secret”. The reports reveal how torture was rampant and how ordinary civilians bore the brunt of the conflict.

The files record horrifying tales: of pregnant women being shot dead at checkpoints, of priests kidnapped and murdered, of Iraqi prison guards using electric drills to force their prisoners to confess. Equally disturbing is the response of the military to the civilian deaths caused by its troops. Excessive use of force was routinely not investigated and the guilty were rarely brought to book.

Britain’s The Independent has said the leaks are important because they prove much of what was previously only suspected but never admitted by the US army or explained in detail. An analysis by the paper says, “It was obvious from 2004 that US forces almost always ignored cases of torture by Iraqi government forces, but this is now shown to have been official policy.”

It was no secret that torture of prisoners had become the norm in Iraqi government prisons as it established its own security services from 2004. Men who were clearly the victims of torture were often put on television where they would confess to murder, torture and rape. But after a time it was noticed that many of those whom they claimed to have killed were still alive.

The Sunni community at this time were terrified of mass sweeps by the US forces, sometimes accompanied by Iraqi government units, in which all young men of military age were arrested. Tribal elders would often rush to the American to demand that the prisoners not be handed over to the Iraqi army or police who were likely to torture or murder them. The power drill was a favourite measure of torture. It is clear that the US military knew all about this.

From the end of 2007 the war began to change as the Americans began to appear as the defenders of the Sunni community. The US military offensives against al-Qa’ida and the Mehdi Army Shiah militia were accompanied by a rash of assassinations. Again it would be interesting to know more detail about how far the US military was involved in these killings, particularly against the followers of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Written by makanaka

October 23, 2010 at 13:55

Declaration of war in Oslo

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Nobel Peace Prize 2009 scandalThe sorry record of the Nobel Prize committee of the last 20 years became sorrier still when it awarded the current US president the 2009 Peace prize. The speech made by the recipient on 10 December 2009 to claim that award would have been sorrier still, if it was not instead a chilling reminder of the words and methods of George W Bush, the winner’s predecessor.

This year’s Peace prize award has joined together black farce, opera noir and state terror in a menacing new construction. One point in the short citation by the Nobel Committee for the prize awarded to Barack Obama reads: “His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” An open-ended pledge to wage indefinite and murderous war is a “value and attitude shared by the majority of the world’s population”?!?

Obama acknowledged that he is the “Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars” and presented war as a legitimate means of pursuing national interests. He declared that “the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace”, that “all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace” and that imperialist troops should be honored “not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace”. Since he has now been awarded the Nobel Peace prize, the Nobel Committee must quickly announce a new Nobel, for Inspired Propaganda, and award the first such prize to Obama’s speech-writer.

Nobel Peace Prize 2009 scandalThe more sensible of the world’s press has struck a note of resigned outrage today. Here’s Granma, the excellent Cuban newspaper, on the Nobel scandal:

“Para iniciar las guerras se necesitó un presidente inculto con mensaje directo y lágrimas fáciles —así era George W. Bush. Pero para continuar las guerras que no se podrían ganar, y al mismo tiempo mantener las ganancias suculentas de Wall Street mientras el pueblo se empobrecía más, se requería un presidente intelectual como Barack Obama, con capacidad de crear promesas hipnotizadoras, con sonrisa fácil y amigable, que haría olvidar por un tiempo al pueblo la incertidumbre económica del país. Como dice el refrán: no importa el color del gato, siempre y cuando cace ratones.”

[Translation]: To start the wars it took an uneducated president with direct message and tears it was so easy-George W. Bush. But to continue the wars that could not win, and at the same time maintain succulent gains on Wall Street while impoverishing more people, they needed a president like Barack Obama intellectual, able to create mesmerizing promises, with an easy smile and friendly, that would put the people for a time of economic uncertainty the country. As the saying goes: no matter the color of the cat as long as it catches mice.

And here’s Die Tageszeitung, Berlin’s excellent analytical daily, on the Nobel scandal:

“Das Thema Afghanistan griff Obama auch bei der Preiszeremonie in seiner Dankesrede auf. Die Menschen müssten akzeptieren, dass Staaten manchmal Kriege führen müssten, um ihre Bürger vor Terror oder feindlichen Regimen zu schützen. Kriege seien nie eine “glorreiche Angelegenheit”, sondern eine bedauerliche Notwendigkeit: “Eine gewaltfreie Bewegung hätte Hitlers Armeen nicht stoppen können. Verhandlungen können die Al-Qaida-Führer nicht dazu bringen, ihre Waffen niederzulegen.” In seiner Würdigung des Preisträgers versuchte Thorbjørn Jagland, Vorsitzender des Nobelpreiskomitees, die Entscheidung noch einmal zu begründen. Er griff dazu den Obama-Satz auf, der Preis sei wohl als Appell gemeint: “Präsident Obama hat das Nobelkomitee ganz perfekt verstanden.”

Nobel Peace Prize 2009 scandal[Translation]: The issue of Afghanistan was taken on by Obama even during the awards ceremony in his acceptance speech. The people must accept that states must sometimes fight wars, to protect its citizens from terrorist or hostile regimes, he said. Wars are never a “glorious affair”, but an unfortunate need for “a nonviolent movement would not be able to stop Hitler’s armies. Negotiations can not take the Al-Qaeda leaders to lay down their weapons.” In its assessment of the winner Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, tried to justify the decision again. He reached to the Obama sentence, that the prize was probably meant as an appeal: “President Obama has understood the Nobel Committee perfectly.”

And here’s the thoughtful and reflective Monthly Review, a reputed leftist journal, about the US military economy, in a comment in October 2008:

Nobel Peace Prize 2009 scandal“The United States is unique today among major states in the degree of its reliance on military spending, and its determination to stand astride the world, militarily as well as economically. No other country in the post-Second World War world has been so globally destructive or inflicted so many war fatalities. Since 2001, acknowledged U.S. national defense spending has increased by almost 60 percent in real dollar terms to a level in 2007 of $553 billion. This is higher than at any point since the Second World War (though lower than previous decades as a percentage of GDP).”

And here’s the fearless and inspiringly independent-minded Le Monde, the French news daily, on the Nobel scandal:

“Le prix Nobel de la paix ayant été fondé par Alfred Nobel l’inventeur de la dynamite, peut-être n’y a-t-il pas lieu de s’étonner. Tout de même, la coïncidence est immanquable. Dix jours après avoir annoncé l’envoi de renforts en Afghanistan, Barack Obama est arrivé jeudi matin 10 décembre, à Oslo (Norvège). Le “war president” est couronné d’un prix Nobel de la paix. La Maison Blanche ne pouvait pas ignorer l’ironie. Depuis plusieurs jours, elle n’entend que cela. Le porte-parole Robert Gibbs a fini par être agacé. Barack Obama “comprend qu’il n’appartient pas à la même catégorie que Mandela ou Mère Teresa”, a-t-il dit. “Mais il est fier des gestes faits par son gouvernement pour renouer avec le monde”. Dans son discours, le président devait lui-même expliquer, comme Franklin Roosevelt en son temps, qu’il y a parfois des guerres justes et “nécessaires”.”

[Translation]: The Nobel Peace was founded by Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite, maybe is there not surprising. Still, the coincidence is inevitable. Ten days after announcing sending reinforcements to Afghanistan, Barack Obama arrived Thursday morning December 10 in Oslo (Norway). The “war president” is crowned with a Nobel Prize for peace. The White House could not ignore the irony. For several days she heard this. The spokesman Robert Gibbs came to be annoyed. Barack Obama “understands that he does not belong to the same category as Mandela or Mother Teresa,” he said. “But he is proud of gestures made by his government to revive the world”. In his speech, the president must explain himself, as Franklin Roosevelt in his time, sometimes there are just wars and “necessary”.

Written by makanaka

December 11, 2009 at 16:31