No prophetic figures to challenge self-righteous Israel

By Ameen Izzadeen
We are born free but everywhere we are in fetters, so said the 18th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. In this age of liberal enlightenment any action that is seen as an affront to freedom is looked down upon as deviance. Yet oppression is still practised with impunity.
Nowhere is freedom the rarest of commodities than in Israel and occupied Palestine. The abominable practice of oppressing a people who are crying for freedom goes on largely unhindered and unquestioned in the occupied territories and within Israel, with the United States rewarding, instead of punishing, the Zionist regime. The over-mollycoddled regime is becoming bolder by the day, under the leadership of hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in throwing scorn at whatever international criticism that comes its way.
Thus it came as no surprise when Netanyahu reacted with contempt to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s January 26 statement to the Security Council, though the UN chief has in the past been pliable to Israel’s pressure. The Zionist regime interpreted Ban’s comments as an incitement to terrorism, though the Secretary General in his comments also condemned stabbings, vehicle attacks, and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians.
It is true that Ban as UN Secretary General wields no more power in the international arena than the leader of a tiny island state in the Pacific Ocean. The Secretary General is essentially an international civil servant whose salary is paid by contributions from the member states of the world body. Yet by virtue of the office he holds, his remarks carry moral weight.
This was what Ban said: “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process….” (Please note the period of occupation is not a half century. It began in 1947 with the creation of Israel in what was the Ottoman province of Palestine.)
Back to Ban’s statement:
“Yet as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation…. After nearly 50 years of occupation the Palestinians are losing hope…. They are angered by the stifling policies of the occupation. They are frustrated by the strictures on their daily lives. They watch as Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, expand and expand…. Progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israel’s settlement enterprise. Continued settlement activities are an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community. They rightly raise fundamental questions about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution….”
Those who value freedom, especially those who have regained it after losing it to colonial oppressors or apartheid brutes, could easily relate to Ban’s remarks. But not Israel, the only colonial power shamelessly holding on to the territories it forcibly occupied by overwhelming force with the military help of the United States, Britain and France.
An angry Netanyahu accused the secretary-general of “encouraging terror,” while pro-Israeli lobbies in the US demanded that Ban clarify his comments.
Deviating from the usual silence which UN Secretaries General would diplomatically observe in the face of criticism, Ban, a former South Korean foreign Minister, decided to clarify. Writing an op-ed article for the New York Times, the flagship of American journalism, a partly-apologetic-and-partly-unyielding Ban said he only pointed out a simple truth: “History proves that people will always resist occupation.”
Then he went on to add, “I will always stand up to those who challenge Israel’s right to exist, just as I will always defend the right of Palestinians to have a state of their own.”
Despite a touch of timidity in his clarification, Ban’s measured bravery must be applauded, for he has a history of wilting under the pressure of Israel and the United States.
In August 2014, a leaked US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said Ban collaborated with Israel and the United States to weaken the effects of a Board of Inquiry’s report accusing Israel of human rights violations in Gaza in Dec. 2008 -Jan. 2009.
During Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014, more than 129 peace groups and hundreds of activists wrote to Ban, condemning his biased statements, failure to act and virtual endorsement of Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law. They even described him as a partner in Israel’s crimes.
Last year, he backed out of moves to blacklist Israel as a country that violates rights of children, though the Zionist state is more than qualified to be included in the list, since it has killed thousands of Palestinian children in indiscriminate bombings and shootings, besides imprisoning thousands of children in crackdowns across the occupied territories and hauling them before military courts.
Also conspicuously absent from Ban’s statement and his op-ed article is any mention of the Zionist regime’s discriminatory practices against the Arabs living in Israel. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – a committee that reports to Ban – in its findings says Israel’s Basic Law (or its constitution), does not contain a commitment to equality or to prohibit racial discrimination. It points out that there exist two separate systems of education — one in Hebrew and one in Arabic — and two separate systems of local government — for Jewish municipalities and “municipalities of the minorities.”
CERD says that while Israel continues to build settlements in occupied Palestinian land, it systematically denies construction permits to Palestinians in the West Bank.
According to the rights group Adalah, since 1948 more than 50 Israeli laws have been enacted to directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures.
Even US President Barack Obama’s peace efforts failed because Netanyahu insisted that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state – in other words, a racist state, which will institutionalise discrimination against the Arabs who form 20 percent of the population.
Ban may not disagree that evil thrives and triumphs in the silence of good people. If he needs inspiration to rise for justice and free himself from timidity, he has only to look at how Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wällstrom who has dared to hit out at Israel for its crimes against the Palestinian people. In a recent statement that has made her persona non grata in Israel, Wällstrom, while condemning the stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, asserted that the Israeli response was “disproportionate” and amounted to extra-judicial killings that warrant a thorough investigation.
Ban’s term as UN Secretary General ends at the end of this year, more or less coinciding with the end of the Barack Obama administration. Just as Ban has failed to act justly and decisively to bring peace and justice to Palestine, Obama also has failed, despite nearly eight years of efforts that have seen secretaries of state and special envoys shuttling between key capitals, to little or no avail in the face of Israel’s contempt for peace.
Their hopes dashed, the Palestinians, whose freedom struggle has been overshadowed by events in Syria and Iraq, can hardly place any fresh hopes on the next UN Secretary General and the next US president.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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International players in corrupt politics

By Ameen Izzadeen
Politics is a head-deep mud hole. Those who walk into it, even if they wear the world’s best mud-proof suits, cannot claim while being in it that they are clean. Politics leads to power and authority and involves big money. The greater the authority politicians wield, the greater the temptation to get lured by big money thrown at them by Big Business – local and foreign. One wonders whether corruption and politics are inseparable twins.
But the irony is that the path to political glory and power is paved with strongly worded slogans calling for the eradication of corruption. A new set of rulers come to power often by firing a series of corruption allegations at their predecessors. In Sri Lanka we saw this happening during the last presidential and parliamentary election campaigns. Spoken of with disgust and disdain during the campaigns were corrupt practices linked to the tsunami aid, the LTTE’s election boycott call in 2005, wealth secretly stashed up in banks in Dubai, Seychelles and elsewhere, the multi-billion dollar Chinese-funded highway and port projects, the floating armoury and the Israeli water project, not to mention the Ferraris and Lamborghinis, among others.
But after more than 20 percent of President Maithripala’s presidential term has elapsed – note, he wants to serve only five years in office — none of the mind-boggling corruption deals has been proved beyond doubt and the culprits punished. The state of affairs, on the one hand, may indicate that those charged with corruption allegations are super smart operators. On the other hand, it may point to deals within deals, because it is hard to see a fraction of the government’s enthusiasm that was overly evident before the August parliamentary elections even in its rhetoric now. When confronted with questions as to the slow pace of the investigations, the standard government answer is, “There will be arrests very soon.”
It appears that the saying ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion’ is lost on ‘good governance’ politicians, who should be warned that the kind words for Sri Lanka’s new rulers in Transparency International’s 2015 Report, released on Wednesday, may not be so kind if the sluggishness in the fight against corruption continues.
Corruption is not endemic to Sri Lanka. It is a global phenomenon. When deals are made, when contracts are signed, when elections are held, money is given over the table and under the table. Even if the local politicians try to be honest, international players tempt them to commit sin in breach of the trust the people have placed in them.
The issue has become one of the big headaches for China’s President Xi Jinping. China, which had fallen from the 80th place in the 2013 Transparency International corruption index to the 100th place in 2014 before it rose to the 83 in the 2015 report released on Wednesday, is cracking down on corruption, as several high-profile cases show, especially after President Xi launched his anti-graft drive. But little attention is paid to corrupt practices of state-run companies in securing multi-billion dollar infrastructure development projects overseas, although the criminal law has been amended, making cross-border bribery a crime.
According to the New York-based research group Charney Research, a startling 35 percent of companies in China pay bribes or give gifts. One company went so far as to describe the practice as “an unspoken rule.” Should we speculate on gifts that may have come Sri Lanka’s way?
The public outrage in Malaysia these days over a high profile corruption case is another example of rich and powerful foreign countries paying bribes. The case involves Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third largest economy. On Tuesday, deepening the suspicions and triggering a public outcry, that country’s Attorney General cleared Najib of all charges. The AG’s ruling came despite the recommendation from the country’s anti-graft commission that Najib be charged with “dishonest misappropriation of property”.
At the centre of the investigations were unaccounted-for funds amounting to US$ 681 million in Najib’s personal bank accounts in 2013 – a case that bore some similarities to Sri Lanka’s yet-to-be-fully-exposed Helping Hambantota case. The allegation was that the money had been transferred from the State-run IMDB fund.
Attorney General Mohamed Apandi-Ali, in absolving Najib of wrongdoing, said the money was paid to him by Saudi royals who wanted to prevent an Islamic-minded opposition party linked to the Brotherhood Party in Egypt from winning Malaysia’s 2013 General elections. He claimed the money had been returned to the senders. He also ordered the anti-graft commission to shut down the investigations — a ruling that has made Malaysians say that there is more in it than meets the eye. Discerning readers may compare this ruling with the Sri Lanka Supreme Court judgment in the Helping Hambantota case.
Yesterday, the anti-graft commission called for a review of the ruling of Attorney General Apandi-Ali who had been appointed by Najib himself while the case was being investigated by the previous AG. On Wednesday, Transparency International’s Malaysia chapter president Akhtar Satar, commenting on the multimillion dollar scandal, slammed Najib’s government for dragging Malaysia down four notches in the latest Corruption Perception Index ranking.
The involvement of Saudi ‘bribes’ in the Malaysia scandal reminds us of the infamous Yamama affair that involved US$ one billion in bribes paid to a Saudi royal by British Aerospace (BAE Systems) in return for an arms purchase deal worth more than US$ 40 billion. The case came to light when BAE Systems pleaded guilty, in a 2010 court case in the United States, to charges of false accounting and making misleading statements. This case led to an investigation by the British Serious Fraud Office. But in a shocking move, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered the probe be stopped, claiming that Britain’s national interest was at stake – some 5,000 British jobs. Blair’s order came following a threat from Saudi Arabia that all ties with Britain would be severed if the investigations went ahead.
Bribery is a crime whether the bribe comes from a foreign source or a local source or even if it comes in the form of a little gift or a commission and whether it is given or taken.
In the United States, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits giving bribes to state officials of other countries to secure contracts. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted an Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997, and it makes cross border bribery an international crime. Countries like China and Saudi Arabia are not signatories to this convention. Yet, one way of curbing this foreign bribe menace is for Transparency International to name and shame bribe-giving states also in a separate annual index.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Saudi oil coup fails; diplomatic victory for Iran

By Ameen Izzadeen
During a visit to sanctions-hit Iran in 2012, at Laleh International Hotel, which was Hotel Intercontinental before the 1979 revolution, a shopkeeper told me that business was so bad that he hardly got one customer a day. It was only two months after the United States had imposed the toughest ever trade sanctions on Iran, warning the world’s banks that they would be cut off from the US system if they got involved in oil transactions with Iran.
Foreign currency was in short supply and even the Foreign Ministry found it difficult to pay for air tickets of participants invited for conferences in Iran. The economy was in a major crisis and the people were becoming increasingly restless. The government had to act fast before the situation led to countrywide protests, which could be seized on by the West to implement its regime change formula.
It was against this backdrop that Hasan Rouhani from the moderate camp was elected as president the following year (2013). The dilemma he faced was whether to pursue the peaceful nuclear programme, which was the pride of the nation, or to fold it up in a bid to give the people the prosperity they had been dreaming of since the 1979 revolution. He chose the latter and agreed to comply with the United Nations’ Security Council’s demand to scale down the nuclear programme. Accordingly, Iran, following a deal last year, decommissioned 12,000 centrifuges, shipped 98 percent of its enriched uranium to Russia, removed the core of its heavy-water reactor and filled it with concrete, and allowed UN experts to inspect its nuclear facilities.
Last Saturday, when the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had complied with all the conditions and lifted the sanctions related to the nuclear programme, President Rouhani stood vindicated. The nationalists or the hardliners had criticised him for surrendering Iran’s sovereignty to the West and called his government’s deal with the world powers last year a national humiliation.
The Rouhani government has emerged a winner, after years of confrontation Iran had with the West. The confrontation at times evoked fears of a major region-wide war, with Israel threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, while Washington said all options, including military response, were on the table, and Saudi Arabia urged the US to cut off the snake’s head, referring to Iran.
Given the crisis situation in West Asia today with wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, not to mention the growing ISIS threat, the end of sanctions has placed Iran in a position of strength in the context of the ongoing power struggle with Saudi Arabia.
The two countries back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and other conflict situations in West Asia and elsewhere. It is said the Syrian civil war was orchestrated by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, with the US, nod largely for two reasons: 1. To deny Iran a contiguous zone of influence spreading across Iraq, Syria and Southern Lebanon where the Shiite militia group, Hezbollah, functions as Teheran’s linchpin; 2. To replace pro-Iranian Assad with a pro-Saudi president who would permit the building of a pipeline that would take Saudi and Qatari gas and oil to Europe via Syria and Turkey, a project that, if implemented, would eat into Russia’s share in the European market.
Following the successful negotiations that led to Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, the United States is now inclined to make compromises not palatable to the Saudis and Israelis in a bid find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. This follows a global outcry over the refugee crisis, described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and security concerns over terror attacks in Europe.
To the chagrin of Saudi Arabia, the US has, in recent months, increased contacts with Iran, once pilloried by US presidents as a rogue state, worked out prisoner swaps through secret talks and welcomed the inclusion of Iran in international talks on the Syrian crisis. But at the same time, Washington, hours after the lifting of the international sanctions on Saturday, announced fresh sanctions on Iran with regard to the Islamic Republic’s missile programme. This is perhaps a move to pacify Saudi Arabia and Israel, which see Iran as a bigger threat to the region than the terror group ISIS.
But the biggest misfortune to Saudi Arabia came when its ill-thought-out strategy to bring down oil prices by increasing production boomeranged. The Saudis, in their bid to punish Russia and Iran for their support for Assad, probably thought that falling prices would deal a crushing blow to the oil-export-dependent economies of the two countries that were already struggling to cope with western sanctions.
The Saudi overproduction was also aimed at driving US shale oil producers out of business. But, instead, it is Saudi Arabia which is now suffering with oil prices falling to US$ 27 – the lowest in a decade — this week amid a global economic slowdown and a slump in China’s economic growth.
Now with Iran set to release 500,000 barrels a day to the world market, in addition to millions of barrels of oil in its storage, oil prices are expected to slide further, plunging oil producing nations into an economic crisis, which in turn may lead to a global recession, about which the IMF issued a warning this week.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s arch rival Iran is about to reap a windfall with US$ 100 billion frozen Iranian money being released by the West. It is said Iran will get about US$ 30 billion of this money in the coming weeks and the country has already made plans to use the money to revive the economy. Probably this was why President Rouhani described the lifting of the sanctions last Saturday as a golden page in Iran’s history.
Iran had little to lose by complying with the IAEA conditions. Over the years, it has mastered nuclear technology, and developed short-, medium- and long-range missiles in addition to anti-tank missiles and drones. Besides, in the first place, Iran did not have a weapons programme. It was those pro-Israeli and pro-Saudi strategists who misled the American public into believing that Iran was pursuing a weapons programme just as they lied with regard to Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The US intelligence services, probably, knew this.
The Barack Obama administration should be commended for not getting caught in the trap laid by those who were promoting a US war against Iran.
The ideal situation would be for peacemakers to bind Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, the United States and other players in a peace deal. But the reality on the ground is that conflicts are driven by national interests that manifest themselves in the form of sectarianism, terrorism and greed. Beware; the war corporations are not going to rest.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Iran-Saudi conflict: Shake the sheikdom into realities

By Ameen Izzadeen
Providing protection to a diplomatic mission is the responsibility of the host country. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are signatories to the two Vienna Conventions that spell out privileges, rights and responsibilities with regard to diplomatic missions and consular offices. Iran’s failure to protect the Saudi Arabian embassy premises on Saturday from angry mobs protesting against the execution of a widely-respected Shiite cleric should be condemned however outrageous the actions of Saudi Arabia have been.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was right on this score. But his failure to condemn in the same statement the execution of a political prisoner whose only crime was championing the rights of the oppressed Shiite people, who constitute ten percent of the kingdom’s population, is as bad as Iran’s omission.
However, for a change, the West this time was not as sympathetic towards Saudi Arabia as it had been with the sheikhdom’s political misdeeds and skullduggery in the past.
The United States, in a diplomatically shocking move, adopted a balanced approach. Secretary of State John Kerry made it known that he spoke to his counterparts in not only Saudi Arabia but also in Iran to urge them to exercise restraint. In the past, the US would side with the Saudis even if they were outlandishly wrong. It is also interesting to note that many US commentators found fault not so much with Iran but with Saudi Arabia. In an editorial, the Washington Post called the Kingdom “A Reckless Regime,” and described the execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr risky, ruthless and unjustified, while an opinion piece in Bloomberg said the US could afford to side with Iran against the Saudis.
As the crisis deepened on Sunday with Saudi Arabia severing all ties with Iran, across Europe, too, the reaction has been one of calling for restraint rather than the usual Iran-bashing. The changing mood of the West, perhaps, indicates a realisation that the West stands to gain more by cooperating with Iran than by siding with a trouble-making ally, which is adding more fuel to the Middle Eastern fire by starting a war in Yemen, fomenting the civil war in Syria and preventing democracy from taking root in the region.
It was only six months ago that the world powers reached a landmark deal with Iran to scale down Teheran’s nuclear programme. The deal was a signal achievement of the Obama administration in the foreign policy realm and the biggest feather in Kerry’s diplomatic cap. Soon after the deal, in a move indicative of US recognition of Iran’s importance as a regional power with great influence, Teheran was allowed to be a party to international talks aimed at finding a solution to the crisis in Syria. Washington ignored initial Saudi objections, because it was under mounting pressure from European nations to find a speedy solution to the Syrian crisis in the wake of an unprecedented refugee crisis and acts of terror across Europe.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his son Mohammed, who is the power behind-the-throne and the world’s youngest Defence Minister at 30, would do well to take note of the US policy change so that they would not venture into costly misadventures. But it appears the Saudis, determined to punish Iran, their adversary in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, have not learnt a lesson from their mistakes. Last year the Saudis increased their oil output and brought down the world oil prices partly as a move to punish sanctions-hit Russia which refused to withdraw its support for Syria’s besieged president Bashar al-Assad and partly because they wanted to scuttle the shale oil business in the United States. Far from achieving their objectives, the Saudis suffered. Two weeks ago, the kingdom admitted that it ran a record budget deficit of US$ 97.9 billion in 2015.
Then take Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. With the United Nations, the United States and other Western powers turning a blind eye to thousands of civilian deaths in Saudi bombing, the war in Yemen is fast turning out to be Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.
Then take the Syrian civil war. Like the Libyan civil war, the Syrian civil war was triggered by the Saudis and their Gulf allies with the US and its Nato allies playing an equally significant role in the regime change attempt. But as in the Libyan war, the Saudis, the US and their allies did not care a damn about civilian casualties. They contributed to the creation of ISIS, the most brutish terror group to emerge from the region.
They did not mind the plight of the suffering millions, as long as they achieved their strategic goal of weakening Iran by fuelling sectarian conflicts. Perhaps the Saudi Royals living in luxury and fortified palaces and protected by Franklin D Roosevelt era defence treaties believe in the might is right policy or in the popular saying during the Peloponnesian war, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” It’s sheer hubris.
The weak did suffer in Syria by the millions. The troublemakers did not open their doors to any Syrian refugees or to the parents of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi whose body on the Turkish shore made world headlines and created the urgency to solve the refugee crisis and the Syrian conflict.
No sensible person fleeing war and persecution will find refuge in a country that is known as one of the world capitals for executions. Along with Sheikh Nimr, 46 other people, some of whom were identified as al-Qaeda members, were put to the sword last Friday.
If a country like Sri Lanka, leave alone executing prisoners, had prolonged the detention of terror suspects, the US would have led a global campaign against that nation, by threatening to impose economic sanctions, and by shaming the nation concerned before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Be that as it may. On Tuesday, President Obama was in tears when he recalled the pain and suffering of the victims of gun violence in the US. Notwithstanding the popular myth that tough men don’t cry, a leader shedding tears, meant that he or she lived by a code of values and cared enough to show emotion when things went wrong. In Western culture, a man’s capacity to cry indicates his honesty and integrity. (Derek Whitney: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/10/12/why-is-it-so-hard-for-men-to-cry/)
If his tears indicated honesty and integrity, why didn’t such an honest president cry for the Syrian refugees, the plight of the Palestinian people, the civilian deaths in Yemen and the children killed in US drone attacks? Why is he allowing troublemakers like Saudi Arabia and Israel to create chaos at the immense cost of civilian suffering? Were what he shed strategic tears? No, they were not.
President Obama’s hands are tied. The system runs the show. Recently, the US agreed to sell US$ 13 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, despite its poor human rights records. But as in the gun violence issue, he should take a tough stance against the Saudis, at least for the sake of the suffering Syrians.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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World in transition, Lanka needs to be cautious in foreign policy

By Ameen Izzadeen
As we welcome 2016 today, two issues that will continue to dominate in the New Year are China’s rise and the war on terror. But beneath the brinkmanship of China and the United States or the bloody events in the Middle East where terrorism is being further brutalised are the undercurrents of a global order in transition amid the global balance of power in disequilibrium. This has created uncertainties; and foreign policy decision-making has become a big gamble for developing countries – a situation similar to the one they faced during the Cold War era. Sri Lanka’s Government that pledged to follow a non-aligned foreign policy would do well to take note of this balance of power disequilibrium so that it can make informed foreign policy decisions.
The balance of power disequilibrium indicates the world political order is transiting from the United States-led unipolar world order that came into being with the end of the Cold War in 1991 to a likely bipolar world. The manner in which the Asian and African countries shaped their relations with both China and the United States in 2015 points to a bipolar world order on the horizon, though this may not take the shape of the Cold War that divided the world following the end of World War II.
With China likely to overtake the United States as the world’s number one economic power in the next few year, if not this year, it may not be inappropriate to use a formula worked out by Ray Cline, an author on American intelligence and chief analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. In trying to measure power, Cline devised an equation, which goes something like this:
Perceived Power (PP) = (C+E+M)x(S+W). C in this equation denotes the critical mass consisting of the size of the population and the territory, E economic capability, M military capability, S strategic purpose and W the will to pursue the National Interest. With China, the most populous country in the world, making remarkable headway in economic, scientific and military fields, it is unlikely that any county can match the Asian giant if we apply Cline’s equation that was devised in the late 1950s.
But an improvement to this equation should be the addition of a country’s ability to form defence partnerships with reliable allies. Perhaps, on this score, China may not be as successful as the United States today, but sooner or later it can be a different story.
The year that moved into history’s archives yesterday was a one big megabyte file containing moves and countermoves by the US and China to win allies. These developments were taking place against the backdrop of the United States’ sole superpower position being seriously undermined on the one hand by the rise of China, and on the other by Russia’s assertive policy as seen in Ukraine and Syria.
The world order in 2015 was in such a state of flux that alliance formation was a daunting task for many developing countries. While many countries, with the aim of benefiting from the best of both worlds, avoided being dragged into big power politics, Sri Lanka in 2015 was seen to be making corrections in the foreign policy realm, with President Maithripala Sirisena meeting US President Barak Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Did Sri Lanka make the necessary corrections and maintain the right balance in the light of the global balance of power disequilibrium? Yes, there was some correction but it was far from the new government’s pledge to follow a non-aligned foreign policy. We agree that non-alignment, as a policy, has been dead for a long time. But a revised non-alignment policy is the need of the hour in view of the prevailing uncertainty in the global order, which is best understood in terms of a struggle between nations for power or global dominance.
Just as the rise of China is a reality, the United States’ effort to maintain its global dominance is also a reality. When equilibrium is established in time to come, Sri Lanka should not be seen as backing the loser. This is all the more reason why we should redefine non-alignment and be the friend of both the United States and China. But our foreign policy behaviour sometimes makes us wonder whether we are now placing all our bets on the US, like the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, in casino style, placed all its chips on China.
True, because of the thaw in relations with the United States after the January 8 change, the country has managed to somewhat extricate itself from the United Nations Human Rights Council trap which the US together with its western allies had set. But we should not be so naïve as to believe that the reward is for the new government’s good governance drive. Rather it is for Sri Lanka’s move to keep China at arm’s length or to lower its relations with Beijing to normal from what were hailed as very special. This was what Myanmar’s military-backed regime did in the face of United States’ threat to impose international sanctions.
The visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Sri Lanka, the many visits of Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal and other envoys such as Thomas Shannon indicate Sri Lanka has willingly or unwillingly strayed into the US-led camp instead of steering a newly defined non-alignment course.
Sri Lanka’s apparent drift towards the US camp coincides with South Asia looming large in the nascent cold war between the US and China. The year just ended saw, all of a sudden, the mentioning of a region called Indo-Pacific, especially in US and Indian statements. Till 2015, the term Indo-Pacific was largely a biogeographic term. The term has a serious cold-war-like strategic connotation when used in a political sense.
It could mean that the United States’ ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ policy, which had originally been confined to the Asia Pacific region is now incorporating the Indian Ocean region. The evidence is found in India’s close economic and strategic relations with not only the US but also the countries which China has locked horns with over territorial disputes, and in the United States’ Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which, many analysts believe, is a tool to counter China’s One-Belt-One-Road global economic drive.
However, in an economic sense, the Indo-Pacific region concept needs to be promoted, if China and all the other countries in the region could strike a mega union of sorts.
Sooner or later, Sri Lanka could be drawn into an Indo-Pacific arrangement. If it is for trade, we must say yes. If it has strategic undercurrents, then we must be cautious.
We may even follow Britain’s example or Pakistan’s stance. Though being a close ally of the US and a leading NATO member, Britain in recent years has ignored protests from human rights groups and strengthened its relations with China to gain maximum benefits from China’s economic growth. Pakistan, a key ally of the US in the so-called war on terror, is set to experience an unprecedented economic take off with Beijing pumping in more than US$ 46 billion in the next three years to build an economic corridor that will connect the Middle East with China.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on 01.01.2016)

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2015: No world war; it’s the year of China’s rise

By Ameen Izzadeen
As we get ready to say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016, we can only heave a sigh of relief that we have been saved from World War III. Among the many negatives that shaped the passing year, the resolve of the big powers, in this case the United States and China, to exercise restraint and begin talks to sort out burning issues stands out as a rare positive and gives a glimmer of hope for a shaky peace. We say shaky peace, because the problems that have given rise to a cold war like situation between the United States and China still remain unresolved with both countries resorting to provocations.
Take for instance the December 10 incident. The United States, in yet another calculated move to test China’s resolve to respond, flew a B-52 bomber over a South China Sea islet which Beijing claims belongs to it. The move prompted China to put its military on high alert and issue a stern warning to the US. The incident came two months after a US warship sailed close to a reef, over which China claims sovereignty and seven months after US surveillance aircraft were spotted in the skies over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Washington and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region refuse to recognise China’s claim to sovereignty over much of the South China Sea. They charge that China is filling reefs with sand and constructing artificial islands to claim territorial rights over the 12 mile sea stretch and economic rights over the 200 mile stretch in terms of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. They also accuse China of only adhering to a few ‘favourable’ provisions of the treaty while showing scant regard for other provisions, especially the sections that spell out ways of dividing the sea and dispute resolution.
Recently, the Philippines, which is contesting China’s claim to the Spratly islands, filed a case in the International Court of Arbitration against Beijing, asking the tribunal to recognise its right to exploit waters in the South China Sea. The Philippines’ case was based on the Law of the Sea Convention. The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam. China claims sovereignty over a large area known as the “nine-dash lane” which stretches south and east of mainland China and covers hundreds of disputed islands and reefs. But the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia and other countries have refused to recognise China’s claim, saying the nine-dash lane was only a post-World War II creation.
In a ruling seen as a blow to China, the court said last month that it would hear the case, which, analysts say, could bolster territorial claims by other countries against China in the resource-rich body of water.
China is part of the court system and is expected to abide by its rulings, though the court, set up in 1899 as one of the first international judicial institutions, has no powers of enforcement, and its rulings have been ignored before. As expected, China boycotted the proceedings and rejected the court’s authority in the case.
But the main issue is not the dispute over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea or the crisis between China and Japan over an island which is known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku. It is about China’s rise as a global power. China is the world’s number two economic power and is expected to overtake the United States and rise to the number one position in the next few years. Worried that its global dominance will be undermined by China’s rise, the United States is on a major defence-buildup drive in the Asia Pacific region, under a policy called ‘the Pivot to Asia’, and has been taking calculated measures to check China. The United States has enhanced its military presence in the region in such a way that China feels it is being encircled by US bases in countries in China’s neighbourhood.
China’s response to the United States’ Pivot to Asia came in a Defence White Paper it released in May this year. The policy paper warned: “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked.” In a message that was as lucid as it was stern, the policy paper said China’s new military strategy — which it describes as its ‘maritime security struggle’ — is designed to confront new security challenges, including the United States’ defence buildup in the region, Japan’s decision to overhaul its defence policy and “provocative actions” in the South China Sea by neighbouring countries.
This week, the relations between the two major powers took a further plunge when the United States ignored China’s warning and went on to sell sophisticated weapons and aircraft to Taiwan – a move Beijing says undermines its efforts to unify with the breakaway region. In a tough message, China lambasted the move as the US military’s assault on “China’s sovereignty” in Taiwan.
China’s semi-official newspaper China Daily reported on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Washington must respect Beijing’s “core interests and major concerns.”
Yet there is the proverbial silver lining to the war clouds: Washington and Beijing are holding regular dialogues. In addition, Beijing is also moving to normalise relations with Southeast Asian nations with whom it has territorial disputes. This is because President Xi Jinping is determined to bring to fruition his multi-billion dollar dream project – the One-Belt-One-Road project, part of which is the Maritime Silk Route that links up with Sri Lanka. China believes that the project which is to be completed within a few years would revolutionise world trade and eliminate power rivalries.
But it is easier said than done. The US sees the move as China’s bid to dominate the world. To counter the OBOR project, the US recently launched a somewhat half-baked Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Launching the TPP in October, US President Barack Obama said, “We can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy.” Between the lines is the US determination not to let China become the world’s number one power. We will see more of this in 2016.

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Virtual war criminals on Republican list for presidency

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Republican Party’s debate on Tuesday in Las Vegas looked like nothing but a competition to decide who among the party’s nine presidential hopefuls was the most ruthless of all.
Perhaps with the exception of Senator Rand Paul, the seven men and one woman wanted to out-macho one another to show that they could be the most ruthless of America’s presidents. Libertarian Paul appeared to be the one sober man in a bar full of belligerent drunks. But the Kentucky Senator is unlikely to win the party’s candidacy. If morality alone is a criterion, Paul would be the winner of Tuesday’s debate. His high point was when he hit out at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said if he were the president he would not hesitate to shoot down the Russian planes and look Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye while he did it. Looking at the audience, Paul exclaimed in disgust: “If you are in favour of World War III, you have your candidate! … My goodness, what we want in a leader is someone with judgment, not someone so reckless as to stand on the stage saying, yes, I’m going to shoot down Russian planes.” He also reminded the audience that America might perhaps consider the Bill of Rights from time to time, but his comments hardly received any notice. When machismo and brinkmanship were at a peak, Bill or Rights and Geneva conventions were buried under the Statue of Liberty.
Even Ben Carson, the paediatric neurosurgeon who promotes himself as a doctor who has saved thousands of children from death, supported mass-scale killing of innocent civilians, including children, in the war against ISIS and equated such drastic action to the removal of tumours from paediatric patients. He said: “We’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumour… They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.”
If the kind-hearted doctor could say he can be a killer, it was not surprising that front runner Donald Trump, who is at the centre of controversy over his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, emerged as the most ruthless of all. Trump advocated a life-for-a-life policy or killing the entire family of a terrorist if he kills Americans. He said: “I would be very, very firm with families. And, frankly, that will make people think—because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”
Not to be outdone in this game of high testosterone, Senator Ted Cruz, who is trailing some 26 points behind Trump’s 40 percent in opinion polls, was equal to the task.
Cruz for his part pushed for carpet bombing, little realising that it was illegal. He also admitted that during the first Gulf War, the United States had used carpet bombing that did not discriminate between a combatant and non-combatant.
In the end, except for Senator Paul, they looked like war criminals in waiting. They are ready to kill families and carpet bomb civilians. Besides, they also looked ill-informed when they spoke about the genesis of ISIS. Most of them were of the view that ISIS emerged in Syria because of President Barack Obama’s lack of foresight and a coherent policy. Either they are ignorant or were trying to mislead the American people. ISIS did not spring up all of a sudden to fight Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It first emerged in Iraq to fight the Shiite-dominated government there. It wanted to carve out a separate Sunni state in Iraq. It was in early 2012 that ISIS made its presence felt in Syria.
At Tuesday’s debate, no one talked about how ISIS was supported by America’s regional allies. They expressed concern that ISIS had become rich, but did not speak a word about America’s allies who make ISIS rich by buying the stolen oil. They appeared not to know that the weapons and money meant for so-called moderate rebels had ended up with ISIS. It was heard at the debate that America’s allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan were now not taking part in coalition airstrikes, but none asked the question whether this was due to secret deals between ISIS and America’s regional allies or why ISIS fighters were being treated in Israeli hospitals across the Golan Heights.
In fact, by calling for the toughest possible military response to wipe out ISIS, the Republican Presidential hopefuls were only tackling the symptoms and not the root causes.
The Saudi-led 34-nation Islamic alliance formed this week to deal with terrorism in the Muslim world, is, perhaps, a welcome move, but again its aim is to tackle the symptoms – not the roots.
Even if the US and its allies kill all ISIS members, it is only a matter of time before another group takes up arms to achieve through violent means what it cannot achieve through peaceful means. This is because the root causes of terrorism remain unaddressed.
Since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the people in the Middle East have been caught between tyrants and terrorists. The British and the French created several states from territories captured from the defeated Ottoman Empire and made sure that the people of the region are ruled by tyrants. The Republican presidential hopefuls on Tuesday only saw Assad as a dictator. They conveniently ignored the fact that there were other dictators and dynastic rulers who were worse than Assad. They chose not to speak about them because they are all America’s dictators. Surprisingly, Trump held the view that the US’s meddling in the affairs of the Middle East had created mayhem. However, the dominant viewpoint at the debate was one of intervention in the Middle East. The fact that such a policy is one of the root causes of terrorism in the Middle East was lost on most of the presidential hopefuls.
More than military alliances to defeat terrorism, what the Middle East needs is a comprehensive plan – perhaps a United Nations initiative — to eliminate the root causes of terrorism. First, there should be justice for the Palestinian people. The United Nation’s helplessness in the face of the United States’ brazen support for oppressors like Israel has caused the Arab youth to lose faith in the international justice system and resort to violence. Also important is the introduction of democracy to enable the people of the Arab world to live in hope and feel that they are part of the decision making process. Then there should be reforms in the Islamic education dished out to children and youth — with emphasis on peace, forbearance, non-violence, justice, good neighbourliness, kindness to all living beings, charity, repelling evil with good deeds and community service. In extremists-controlled areas, children as young as five are taught terrorism on the pretext of teaching Islam.
It is high time the Arab and Islamic countries turned the searchlight inwards and find answers to the problems that beset them.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on December 19, 2015)

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