Trump’s devilry at the UNGA

By Ameen Izzadeen
Traditionally, the United Nations Secretary General’s office informs ambassadors that their heads of state should confine their speeches to about 15 minutes when they address the General Assembly’s annual session. On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly president reiterated this position. The first to speak was Brazil’s President. Why Brazil first, some may ask. This is because, in terms of a tradition followed in international fora, when no one wanted to speak first, Brazil always offered to speak first. Thus this South American nation earned the right to speak first at the General Assembly. Brazil has done so since the 10th UNGA in 1955.
On Tuesday, the opening day of the UNGA’s 72nd annual sessions, Brazil’s President Michel Temer spoke first and kept his speech to about 15 minutes. The next slot was for the United States. In walked President Donald Trump to deliver his debut speech at the United Nations, an institution he, during the campaign, slammed as a weak and incompetent organisation and even threatened to cut funds. Throwing aside the UNGA president’s 15-minute rule, he spoke for 43 minutes.
True, many world leaders pay little attention to this 15-minute rule. US President Barack Obama, delivering his last UNGA speech in 2016, spoke for 47 minutes. The record for the longest UNGA speech belongs to Fidel Castro for his 269 minute-speech in 1960. It is said that the UN at the 50th anniversary sessions introduced a red light which would start flashing after the 15th minute. Sri Lanka’s former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, it is said, took out his handkerchief, put it on the flashing light and continued to speak. Castro did the same two years later.
The lack of respect for the 15-minute rule, however, brings out a universal truism: On the one hand, it shows most world leaders do not care two hoots about a rule-based order and, on the other, it exposes the United Nations inability to rein in the violators of the rule. The UN is powerless even to switch off the microphone if a world leader violates the 15-minute rule. Perhaps, in UN parlance, the timidity is called diplomatic niceties.
Length of speeches apart, what about the content? There is little to cheer about in Trump’s UN speech. He spoke about the United States’ resilience in the face of devastation caused by the two recent hurricanes, but deliberately avoided climate change, although it is more serious a matter than the North Korean nuclear missile threat. How many natural disasters do world leaders like Trump require for them to understand that it is the damage that we cause to our environment that revisits us in the form of natural disasters with catastrophic consequences?
As expected, Trump’s ‘America first’ speech was mere bombast of gung-ho militarism. Usually, most US presidents in recent time, including Nobel peace prize winner Obama, have held out threats to nations that have challenged the US-dominant world order. But Trump appeared rhetorical and frighteningly fascist. His understanding of world affairs appeared wanting. He turned the world body’s podium into a stage for the burning of the UN Charter, which in its opening paragraph declares “We the peoples of the United Nations are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…”
His speech was virtually a declaration of war on North Korea. Is he as reckless — and ruthless — as North Korean leader Kim Jung-un? Instead of embracing war and declaring he was ready to “totally destroy” North Korea, shouldn’t he have spelt out plans to sort out the dispute with the reclusive nation? So bankrupt, he has no peace formula to end the dispute with North Korea or the wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan, or bring peace to Palestine. War and more war appear to be his policy. Going by the response of North Korea, it appears Trump is expediting World War III. Trump has made the world more dangerous a place than it was before he addressed the UN.
North Korea said it would prepare a resolute and pre-emptive strike if the US showed any slight sign of provocation. “In case the US opts for confrontation and war at last… it will meet horrible nuclear strike and miserable and final ruin,” North Korea’s official news agency KCNA warned yesterday.
It was hardly surprising that Trump drew not much applause during his speech. An air of disapproval appeared to pervade the assembly. The only leader who was nodding in approval of Trump’s tirade was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an oppressor, to whose delight Trump said nothing about peace in Palestine.
Trump was also selective in his condemnation of terrorism. While he whitewashed his Gulf allies who funded myriad terrorist groups in Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, he singled out Iran to project it as the only nation that was promoting terrorism in the world.
Can Trump show a single incident where Hezbollah or any other Iran-backed group has been accused of committing terror attacks in the United States or Europe? Since 9/11, almost all the terror attacks that have taken place in the West are linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS, which have nothing to do with Iran, but are ideologically connected with the United States’ Gulf allies.
In another move that undermined world peace, Trump denounced the world powers’ deal with Iran to dissuade that country from pursuing a nuclear programme. On this score, even Trump’s western allies are not with him.
Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani, addressing the UN, said, “The ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric, filled with ridiculously baseless allegations… was not only unfit to be heard at the United Nations — which was established to promote peace and respect between nations— but indeed contradicted the demands of our nations from this world body to bring governments together to combat war and terror.”
Trump must thank Rouhani for not being a Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela, one of the countries that Trump lambasted in his speech. Chavez through his socialist measures brought prosperity to millions of his people who were languishing in poverty. Addressing the UN in 2006 a day after the war mongering US President, George W. Bush, addressed the UNGA, Chavez said, “Yesterday, the devil came here… And it smells of sulfur still today….”
Trump’s Tuesday speech also stinks. The height of absurdity was when Trump, being one of the world’s biggest capitalist bandits, scorned socialism. Whether socialism has succeeded or not in its effort to achieve income equality, it is certainly better than capitalism which has created a United States where those in the top one percent earn 40 times more income than the bottom 90 percent. The world’s 10 richest billionaires, according to Forbes, own US$505 billion in combined wealth, a sum greater than the total goods and services most nations produce on an annual basis – or more than six times the size of Sri Lanka’s US$ 80 billion economy. Something is not correct, isn’t it? Can someone tell Trump that godless socialism is much better than capitalism that sells even religion and morality?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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War on terror: The deception and real agendas

By Ameen Izzadeen
Sixteen years ago on September 11, the way the world revolved changed drastically, politically speaking. Just, a second before the terror strike on New York’s World Trade Centre at 8.46 am Eastern Time, the world was moving on a positive direction with human rights and democracy dominating the political discourse. Then it all stopped, with the then United States President George W. Bush launching a war on terror.
Exploiting a wave of sympathy following the shocking terror attacks that the world witnessed live on television, Bush vowed to “smoke ‘em out of their holes”, referring to al-Qaeda terrorists. But, instead, he implemented a neocon white paper titled the Plan for New American Century. In the face of signs that the US-scripted global order was undergoing change to the detriment of the US national interest, the plan spelt out a strategy for the US to continue its military and economic dominance of the world.
The five years before 9/11 were perhaps the most enlightened period in post-World War II history, with world leaders taking many positive steps to ensure a rule-based world order in the aftermath of the horrible war crimes in Rwanda and Bosnia.
World leaders in 1998 adopted the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court to try war criminals. The same year, the European Court of Human Rights became a full time institution. During this period, hectic diplomacy was on course to make the toothless United Nations Human Rights Commission into a powerful Human Rights Council. US President Bill Clinton was close to working out a permanent peace deal between Israel and Palestine. He even signed the Kyoto protocol on climate change. On Iraq, the Clinton administration introduced the oil-for-food programme for Baghdad to sell oil to buy food and medicine, after it became clear that the US-sponsored international sanctions had killed a half a million children. The world was seemingly moving towards a fair global order, but the war on terror brought a halt to the march.
Such a rule-based global order is anathema to disaster capitalists. Peace will deal a death blow to the military industrial complex — and also to the oil industry which profits from panic-driven price hikes.
Looking back down 16 years, the war on terror’s biggest beneficiaries were the arms manufacturers, Big Oil, and companies dealing in construction, insurance and private security. Disaster capitalism drives the war on terror.
Way back in the 1950s, George Kennan, a US State Department expert on foreign policy, would advise new diplomats before they took up their postings: “…we have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population… Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity….”
Although, by the turn of this century the US share of the global wealth has declined to 26 per cent and its population accounted for 4.6 per cent of the global population, there is hardly any indication that the US has moved away from Kennan’s advice. The war on terror is a means by which the US maintains this inequality and ensures the survival of greedy capitalism that thrives on other people’s misery.
When the war started, the enemy was al-Qaeda. But later, al Qaeda has become enemy in some places friend in other places. Today, there is another enemy — ISIS, which owes its birth to the failed US policies.
The war on terror began in Afghanistan in October 2001, ostensibly to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but later the war assumed different names in different places with different goals. Ostensibly, regime change was one such goal, but in hindsight, it appears that the war was for oil on behalf of Shell, Chevron, and Exxon. It was also a war to set up more US military bases all over the world – and a war to provide construction companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton, where Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney was once the CEO, multibillion dollar contracts.
Bush’s mad war, which Barack Obama continued, has devastated Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and parts of Pakistan, among other countries. What has Syria and Libya got to do with the terrorists who took part in the 9/11 attacks? Fifteen of them were from Saudi Arabia, which, according to a New York Post article this week, had allegedly financed a dry run of the terror attack.
The twists and turns reached ludicrous heights when Washington allied itself with al-Qaeda elements to oust Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. In a botched attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, the US even armed and trained rebels who subsequently joined al-Qaeda and ISIS. In addition, underscoring the adage that one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, the US is in an open alliance with Syrian Kurdish rebels, whom Nato ally Turkey has branded terrorists.
Lies and deception is the name of the game. Bush deceitfully took the war to Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein was possessing weapons of mass destruction and behind the 9/11 terror attacks. The American public, still recovering from the 9/11 terror shock, overwhelmingly supported Bush.
Although Bush could not find a single weapon of mass destruction even after the US invasion or a single piece of evidence to show Saddam’s links with the 9/11 attacks, the American voters re-elected him for a second term, provoking the British Daily Mirror to ask in a headline, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” It is a sad indictment on all Americans, though a substantial section of them were to later slam Bush for putting the country on a never-ending war that has tarnished America’s image.
Probably the same lot which elected Donald Trump in November last year reelected Bush in 2004. And perhaps to placate these neo-fascist voters that Trump has decided to send more troops to Afghanistan – a climb down from his campaign promise to end the US military role in that country.
The war on terror is today being waged for anything but to combat terrorism. It has only made the world a worse place than it was before. Post-World War II Europe was a peaceful continent, but it is today caught in the grip of ISIS terror. Pakistan was a terror-free nation before 9/11. Today it is paying a huge price for joining Bush’s war, in terms of loss of lives, economic growth and opportunity costs.
After more than 1.5 million civilian deaths, more than 8,000 US and Nato troop casualties in an expenditure of more than 1.7 trillion US dollars, the war on terror is far from over. Its biggest achievement was the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Its miserable failure in ridding the world of terrorism is rooted in its hidden objective of maintaining US military and economic dominance across the globe. It appears that the so-called war on terror will go on forever.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Geopolitics allows Myanmar to cover up Rohingya massacre

By Ameen Izzadeen
A humanitarian crisis of near genocidal proportions is taking place in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, yet the world’s reaction is confined to mere condemnation instead of sanctions or direct intervention. Although international journalists are not allowed to visit the troubled province that has for the past five years been witnessing state-sponsored terror against the hapless Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority living in Rahkine bordering Bangladesh, information pours in through social media. It indicates that another Rwanda or Srebrenica or Darfur is in the making.
If the international community and the United Nations had reacted at the first signs of the troubles, one million minority Tutsis would not have been massacred by the Hutu dominated regime in Rwanda from April 7 to mid-July 1994, more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys would not have been executed by Ratko Mladic’s Serb army in Srebrenica a year later, and more than 300,000 people would not have perished in Darfur from 2003 to 2010.
Post-conflict measures such as taking the perpetrators to war crime tribunals may serve as a warning to killer regimes. Post-conflict UN reports lamenting the world body’s failure to protect civilians caught up in war cannot bring back to life the innocent people killed for the simple reason that they had a different identity to that of the majority within a state.
But immediate intervention under the responsibility to protect (R2P) principle can save life though the concept is highly abused. Powerful states have taken cover behind R2P to justify their self-centred interventions. Yet, a UN-led R2P initiative is the best option available to save the Rohingyas.
The Rohingyas have faced severe persecution and violence at the hands of the state for decades. They have been stripped of their nationality in terms of a 1982 law, though they have been living in Myanmar for generations. They have no access to state education and employment. Successive Myanmar governments have denied the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group, calling the most oppressed people on Earth “illegal Bengalis” instead. However, Bangladesh strongly disputes Myanmar’s claim.
Myanmar’s strategic importance gives it licence to violate international humanitarian laws with impunity and still call itself a fledgling democracy. In other words, geopolitics undermines R2P.
The United States, China and India are in a competition to bring Myanmar under their sphere of influence. They were like three men on their knees proposing to one damsel. They would not mind that she has reddened her lips by sucking the blood of Rohingyas and darkened her eyebrows with charred remnants of Rohingya’s wooden huts.
Geopolitics is why the US condemnation is not commensurate with the crime being committed against 1.3 million Rohingyas. Myanmar during the latter part of military strongman Than Shwe’s administration (1992-2011) adopted an equidistance policy vis-à-vis China, the US and India, after being under China’s economic protection for decades. The visit of the then US President Barack Obama to Myanmar took bilateral relations to a new level where human rights abuses are largely ignored, and if they warrant a mention, the criticism appeared mere routine. With the aim of reducing Myanmar’s economic dependency on China, the US has increased economic aid to Myanmar following the country’s transition to democracy.
Entangling the Rohingya case in big power politics is China’s bid to build a deep sea port at Kyauk Pyu in the troubled Rahkine state – close to Maungdaw — and an oil pipeline extending from there across Myanmar upto China’s hinterland – a shorter energy supply route that circumvents the arduous Malaca Strait. China has won the contract for the port, but is negotiating for an 85 percent stake in the project instead of the 50 percent that formed the basis of the negotiations. The Chinese port project together with an industrial park has ruffled feathers in India’s security circles as the port is overlooking India’s northeast. Also, Rahkine is believed to be rich in resources, including natural gas.
It was to counter China’s strategic foothold in Myanmar that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Myanmar this week. This is why India has not condemned Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingyas. Throwing human rights principles into the dustbin of self-centred politics, Modi during his visit sought to enhance cooperation on intelligence sharing amid politically motivated s claims that linked Rohingya rebels with ISIS terrorists following the August 25 rebel attack on police posts. India and Myanmar are also to ink a deal on a 1640 km highway project that would connect India with Myanmar and Thailand – a highway which India describes as its gateway to Southeast Asia and its response to China’s One-Belt-One-Road initiative.
With big powers in a scramble to improve relations with Myanmar, the new government which came to power promising to strengthen democracy and uphold human rights, finds itself in a comfort zone from where it could spurn international criticism on the armed forces’ oppression against the Rohingyas, whom Pope Francis in a speech in February described as “our brothers and sisters”, while calling on Myanmar to stop the persecution.
It is while sitting in this comfort zone of crime that Myanmar is counting on China to block moves to bring the Rohingyas issue before the UN Security Council, and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi could dismiss international criticism and irrefutable video evidence as “fake news”. The story being churned out by the Suu Kyi’s government is that the Rohingyas killed Rohingyas. Journalists who were taken on a guided tour on Wednesday under police escort were told the Rohingyas fled because the Rohingya rebels were burning their villages. The hard-to-believe story does not provide answers to questions over refugees who bore gunshot wounds, women who were raped and mutilated bodies found in Rakhine jungles.
Suu Kyi’s government has blocked UN aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to the besieged Rohingyas. A few months ago, a dozen Nobel peace prize winners signed a petition calling on fellow Nobel laureate Suu Kyi to protect the Rohingyas. This week, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, in a statemnent called Suu Kyi to condemn the “tragic and shameful treatment” of the Rohingyas.
But Suu Kyi’s conduct is unbecoming of a Nobel laureate. On the one hand she refuses to defy the military, which is the ultimate power in Myanmar — a situation that makes the so-called transition to democracy a charade. On the other, if she acts against the perpetrators, she runs the risk of being labelled unpatriotic by the military and extremists led by monk Ashin Wirathu. She failed to act against the extremists, though she had an opportunity in May this year when the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, Myanmar’s highest Buddhist authority, issued a declaration ordering Wirathu and his Ma Ba Tha organisation to end their activities. Unperturbed, Wirathu continues his hate campaign, while Suu Kyi plays politics with the lives of the Rohingyas.
The Rohingyas crisis is a humanitarian issue. It is not a Muslim issue, though Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingyas has triggered a series of protests in the Islamic world, with Turkey, Pakistan and other Muslim countries issuing strong statements.
Humanitarianism is beyond race, religion and other considerations. If Myanmar cannot solve the Rohingya crisis in a civilized manner, then the international community should intervene. Let the R2P initiative begin with an international conference on the Rohingya crisis.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Despite Trump’s racism, let’s have a dream that all are created equal

By Ameen Izzadeen
Race-based politics wins votes and politicians know that well. Nothing can assert this political truism than the much criticised response of the United States President Donald Trump to Saturday’s clashes at Charlottesville in West Virginia. The controversy indicates that race-based politics or identity politics, however contemptible it is, has come to stay even in so-called liberal societies.
If identity politics is defined as a tendency for people of a particular religion, race or social background to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics, such politics is present not only in the United States, but also in every country that is ethnically diverse and seemingly democratic. Countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Australia are blighted by this reprehensible racist politics practised by far-right extremists.
Sri Lanka is no exception. Can a Tamil or Muslim become the President or Prime Minister of Sri Lanka? Technically, yes. But practically it is a tall order, given the racial prejudices found in every society. Or it can happen only in a dream within a dream of those whom dream of the dawn of a liberal Sri Lanka where differences based on race, religion, caste or social status do not play a role in the election of a legislator or a leader. The closest the country went in that direction was when the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004 mulled the appointment of Lakshman Kadirgamar as prime minister. But she succumbed to racism-driven political pressure and let principles lose the race.
Besides race and religion, Sri Lanka is also beset by caste-based identity politics. It is disheartening to note that in this age of enlightenment, caste still plays a key role in nominations to elections and in deliberations on delimitations.
In India, the world’s biggest laboratory for identity politics, people from minority communities have become presidents. Manmohan Singh from the Sikh community, which forms just two percent of India’s population, was Prime Minister of India from 2004 to 2014.
Though India’s examples are praiseworthy, identity politics’ undercurrents are apparent behind the façade of secularism. The political tolerance seen among the majority community towards the occasional election of a minority community member – a Muslim, a Sikh or a Dalit– to the office of the president probably stems from the fact that India’s president wields no real powers. He or she is only a titular head and acts on the advice of the Cabinet.
The choice of Manmohan Singh as prime minister came as a compromise in the face of a wave of racial outrage against Italian-born Sonia Gandhi. Among those found refuge in racism to oppose Sonia Gandhi becoming the prime minister were the leaders of the Bharatiya Janatha Party, the main partner in the present ruling coalition. The real victory for India’s secularism will be when a Muslim or a Dalit – the so-called untouchable — becomes the prime minister and when communal politics that killed even Mahatma Gandhi is dumped in the dustbin of history.
Electing legislators and leaders on the strength of their racial, religious or caste identity is the anti-thesis of meritocracy or merit-based democracy where the leaders are elected not because of their race, religion or caste, but because of their qualifications, capabilities, expertise and experience.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, like Trump, thrived on race-based politics. He believed that by projecting himself as the protector of Sinhala Buddhist interests and by wooing at least 75 percent of the Sinhala Buddhist votes, he could remain president forever. This explained his failure to crack the whip on racist elements who, encouraged by his regime’s patronage, took the law into their hands and attacked Muslims and Christian places of worship. But at the same time, the Rajapaksa victories at the 2005 and 2010 presidential elections and many other elections in between are no indication of a reflection of racism in the Sinhala Buddhist polity.
Similarly, in the United States, the election of Trump as president does not mean all those 62 million people who voted for him were racists, though it is a fact that white supremacists overwhelmingly campaigned for him and voted for him.
Trump’s victory was to the racists what blood was to Count Dracula. His victory has woken up the racist vampire. His repugnant tweets this week expressing tacit support to neo-Nazi groups on the pretext of protecting heritage and history have given a new lease of life to the dying wizards of Ku Klux Klan.
At an impromptu news conference in New York on Tuesday, a dark day in US history, Trump said, “I think there’s blame on both sides”. He added there were “very fine people” among the fascists and claimed that “not all of those people” at the rally were neo-Nazis or white supremacists “by any stretch.”
Then, referring to Saturday’s clashes in which one anti-fascist protester was killed when a white racist rammed his car into the crowd, Trump asked, “What about the alt-left that came charging at?” The outrageous remark was tantamount to equating Hitler with the Jews whom he gassed. No US President has stooped to such low levels in defending racists. But Trump has, because he counts on their support for his 2020 reelection. To his credit, the US economy has performed relatively well, and Trump believes that the white vote formula which worked in 2016 will also work in 2020.
The fact that alt-right supporters carried symbols of racism without any compunction, shouted racist slogans and clashed with those who stood against racist politics casts serious doubts on the United States’ ability to emerge as an enlightened society. It is a slur on the US Constitution, regarded as the best man-made document the world has ever seen. There were, however, hopes in the First Amendment that kept the church and the state separate, in Abraham Lincoln’s declaration abolishing slavery in 1864 even at the cost of a civil war, in Martin Luther King’s historic speech asserting that all men are created equal, and in Barack Obama election as the country’s first black president (in 2008) and his reelection (in 2012).
But at the same time, we also saw in recent years ‘black lives matter’ protests in the US in the wake of the killings of several unarmed black people by white police officers. Islamophobia, which has been on the rise since 9/11 terror attacks, has more or less become official policy after Trump’s travel ban on Muslims. Since Trump’s election, even anti-Semitism has been on the rise, despite Trump’s open Israeli bias. What’s more, Trump has also brought former Breitbart News head Stephen Bannon, an alt-right advocate, into the White House as chief strategist.
It appears that Trump is fast losing the legitimacy to be the President of the United States, if he has already not lost it. Should we remind that Trump won the 2016 election because of the Electoral College system not due to popular votes, which was won by Hillary Clinton by nearly a three million majority?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight, but there’s a whisper of hope

By Ameen Izzadeen

Every year in November, scientists and public interest activists meet in Chicago to assess the danger to the planet we live in and set the Doomsday Clock accordingly. Early this year, the clock was set to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. It was three minutes to midnight throughout the previous two years.
This week, instead of the scientists and experts, the brinkmanship of the United States President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jung-un set the clock to a few seconds to midnight. Not since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 has the world been brought so close to the brink of nuclear war.
In their 2017 statement, the Science and Security Board, which is behind the Doomsday Clock concept, warned, “It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”
But there is hardly a public demonstration in any world capital against this danger. Most people the world over go on with their daily chores. Probably they believe their leaderrs will take care of the situation. Wake up, folks!
True, nuclear powers do not go to war. In nuclear terminology, this is called ‘deterrent’, the core of which is MAD — mutually assured destruction. The deterrent value of nuclear weapons, however, depends on the condition that countries that possess nuclear weapons are ruled by sane leaders. Given the imbecility of Trump and Kim, a big question mark hangs over the deterrent the nuclear weapons offer. Those who follow the bellicose rhetoric of Trump and Kim since Tuesday could not but fear that the world was to be destroyed by a nuclear war that was to take place any time.
In response to a Washington Post article that claimed that North Korea had developed miniature nuclear warheads that can be fitted into missiles, Trump issued a doomsday warning. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he said.
The credibility of the Post article apart, was Trump, as usual, shooting his mouth off? If so, we need not take what he says seriously. Look at all what he publicly said about the wall on the Mexican border during and after the campaign. But in private he requested the Mexican president not to talk about the wall, indicating that what he said need not be taken seriously.
But beware! He has also meant what he said with regard to the Muslim travel ban and the withdrawal from the Paris climate deal. His presidency’s hallmark is his unpredictability. Thus the world cannot just dismiss Trump’s warning as a headline grabber. After all, the issue is about a nuclear war. We will perish in that war or will be affected by it in some way.
To make the situation more perilous, the North Korean leader, who is as erratic and irrational as Trump or, should we say, even more, apparently beats Trump in brinkmanship.
In response to Trump’s ‘fire-and-fury’ threat, North Korea said yesterday it would send a salvo of four missiles over Japan and towards the US territory of Guam and mocked Trump as a man “bereft of reason”.
The one-upmanship has plunged the world in a hellhole of uncertainty. In Game Theory, the situation is expressed in terms of two racing cars speeding in opposite directions on a single track. Foolhardy, both drivers believe the other will swerve to avoid a crash.
When one nuclear power is not sure what a rival nuclear power will do in a tense situation, the recommended option is a preemptive strike.
All nuclear powers know that in a nuclear confrontation, the one who strikes first has a huge advantage. However, if a nuclear war breaks out, the US may survive, but North Korea faces near wipeout, for today’s nuclear bomb is some 50 times more powerful than what was dropped on Hiroshima 72 years ago this month.
If North Korea fires an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile on a US target, it is more likely that the missile will be shot down before it reaches the destination by US anti-missile missiles deployed in South Korea and other parts of the world. Even in the case of a North Korean nuclear missile hitting a US territory, it will not undermine Washington’s ability to strike back, notwithstanding the devastation. But North Korea can ill-afford this miserable luxury. Kim Jung-un is not unaware of this. Though a bully and sadistic dictator, he may, therefore, act with responsibility. At the same time, he may, on the spur of the moment, order a nuclear strike on a US target.
But can the world trust Trump with the nuclear button, despite the US having a system of a Command, Control and Communications system with regard to nuclear weapons? In this intricate process, the President is the ultimate authority on the use of nuclear weapons.
During the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, the use of nuclear weapons was an option for the US. But President John F Kennedy shot down the advice given by the generals.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon is said to have put US nuclear bombers on standby to attack North Korea after the communist state shot down a US spy plane. Nixon also pondered the use of nuclear weapons against Vietnam. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Advisor, managed to dissuade the President.
Trump, however, does not have a Kissinger. His security advisors are hardline generals. Both his Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are hardline military men who have warned North Korea of dire consequences if it does not stop its nuclear and missile programmes.
Needless to say, such warnings will only provoke the North Korean leader to act more defiantly.
With a series of United Nations resolutions against North Korea coming a cropper, the latest being last week, Trump blames China for his failed North Korea policy. Beijing, no doubt, has the persuasive powers to rein in Kim Jung-un. But it will not take any action at the cost of losing North Korea as a strategic ally — the only ally in the region where almost all other countries have territorial disputes with China and maintain close defence relations with Washington.
If Western media reports are to be believed, another option the US is said to be considering is a commando raid on North Korea to kidnap Kim Jung-un. Well, Kim Jung-un is not Osama bin Laden. With the very first sign of a military raid, Kim can unleash his military power, if not on the US, on South Korea. If a military confrontation breaks out, in the very first hour itself, it is feared that nearly a million South Koreans will be killed. Don’t forget the immense damage the nuclear strikes can cause to the environment. Even if the US shoots down North Korean missiles in the air, we do not know what the consequences will be. Let’s hope, the two maverick leaders will withdraw from brinkmanship and explore the possibilities to solve the crisis diplomatically.

(This story first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Hambantota can become Shanghai if security concerns are handled diligently

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Hambantota port has seen a sea a criticism ever since the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government laid the foundation for it in 2010. In comparison, any opposition to last Saturday’s agreement between the Sri Lanka government and China Merchants Port Holdings seems like a drizzle in the middle of an ocean.
Given the international attention the port deal has been receiving, one cannot rule out the possibility of a foreign hand behind the protests. The danger of Sri Lanka becoming an unwitting victim of international power rivalries is apparent.
Caveats apart, last Saturday’s deal was the best of the worst options before the Government to overcome the debt crisis – a legacy it had inherited from the Rajapaksa regime.
The deal was a welcome relief in adverse circumstances – an “any port in a storm” situation.
The port deal is a gamble that is worth the risk. The final outcome and the benefits could far outweigh negative consequences the protesters and pessimists portray. They fear, rightly or otherwise, that Sri Lanka may be dragged into a regional or even global conflict.
To say that the Hambantota port has become the fulcrum of the Indian Ocean security debate is an understatement.
Situated at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, the harbour is a vantage point. The sea southward from Hambantota extends, without being claimed by any country, all the way to Antarctica. Whoever controls Hambantota, therefore, will control a large part of the southern hemisphere and the Indian Ocean, through which transit more than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil.
Hambantota has been the cynosure of all big powers, ever since the West woke up to the reality of a rising China a decade and a half ago. China’s rise as a maritime power has unnerved the United States and India. They see China’s Road-and-Belt Initiative is not only about trade but also about a strategy aimed at enhancing its military power and undermining the traditional security role of the US and India in the Indian Ocean region.
Critics say most ports China builds across the world are dual purpose facilities, meaning they can be used for commercial and military activities. Hambantota, a key port in China’s Road-and-Belt initiative, is one such facility, they say. To support their argument, they point to the 2014 visit of a Chinese submarine and a warship to the Chinese built terminal at the Colombo port. In case of a war between China and the US or between India and China, Sri Lanka’s Chinese controlled ports could become China’s naval bases, they say.
Have no such fears. With certainty, it can be said that nuclear powers will not go to war. Take heart from Wednesday’s US statement offering peace talks with North Korea. It came days after the maverick regime carried out a successful test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
The deterrent value of nuclear weapons is one of the key factors why the Third World War has still not happened. For nearly two months, China and India have been bogged down in a face-off in the Himalayas. But neither wants to start a major war. Nuclear powers may find themselves in warlike situations, but will not go to war, unless insane leaders take control of affairs. This is why China and the US have not gone to war over the South China Sea disputes.
With war between ‘responsible’ nuclear powers being only a distant possibility, fears about Hambantota port being used as a naval base against Sri Lanka’s will, despite security-related provisions in the agreement, have little validity. However, the possibility of the installation being used as listening post cannot be ruled out.
Security is a crucial aspect in port deals with foreign companies. In 2006, the United States stopped a move to hand over the management of six key ports to Dubai Ports World which won the tender. This was after protests from those who harboured fears that terrorists could easily infiltrate into the US if its ports were managed by Arabs.
In view of these concerns, the best approach is to bring in more safeguards into the agreement with regard to security matters and remain friends with all big powers. Sri Lanka can take lessons from Greece, Turkey, Australia and Djibouti. Nato member Greece, in a debt crisis much worse than that of Sri Lanka, has sold its Piraeus port to China and allows People Liberation Army vessels to call over. Piraeus is one of Europe’s largest ports.
Turkey, another Nato member, has entered into a joint venture with two Chinese port companies, one of them being China Merchants Port Holdings, to develop container terminals in two strategic ports.
In Australia, another key US ally, the regional government in Northern Territory, has handed over a commercial port in Darwin to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease. The US, which has a military base in Darwin, raised security concerns, but the regional government stood by its decision despite Canberra’s reservations.
Djibouti, on the other hand, has gone to another extreme. It makes the most of its strategic value on Africa’s Indian Ocean coast by allowing any big power to set up bases. It sells its strategic value to strengthen its economy. The US, France, China and now Saudi Arabia have a military presence in this small Horn-of-Africa nation.
In Pakistan, China has gained the controlling stakes in the strategic port of Gwadar, which is, like Hambantota, a key link in China’s One-Belt-One-Road Initiative, though it has made India feel insecure. Indian analysts have described China’s presence in ports in countries around India as a “string of pearls’ that undermines India’s dominance in the South Asian part of the Indian Ocean.
If security issues can be handled diligently, Hambantota can even emerge as another Shanghai. A sluggish fishing port city until the Western colonial powers, including Britain, wrested it from China after the First Opium War in 1842, Shanghai soon emerged as a port city and the place to be – the Paris of the East, with the best art, the greatest architecture, and the strongest business in Asia, not to mention its elegant restaurants, race course, and places for vice and indulgence. Industries boomed, financial institutions flourished and the people prospered. The city’s economy survived the World War and the Communist-era hardships. When China began to open up in the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s socialist-led market economy, made Shanghai the engine of the country’s commercial renaissance. If China is a dragon, he said, Shanghai is its head. Today Shanghai makes up one fifth of China’s GDP.
Perhaps, Hambantota can be a Shanghai in the near future. But Sri Lanka has to be eternally vigilant, especially in view of security concerns and criticism that in the Road-and-Belt initiative, there are benefits for China and only crumbs for others.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Jerusalem: Horror in the holy city

By Ameen Izzadeen
Etymologically, Jerusalem means ‘the foundation of peace’. But Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, has seen enough wars and violence and more will be its lot in the future, too. Clashes since July 14 in the nearly 5,000-year-old city, considered sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims, have raised fears of a Palestinian uprising or the third Intifada.
For Israel, a grassroots Palestinian uprising in the city will be a dampener of its diplomatic efforts to gain international recognition for its illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the Arab world’s support for its controversial Gaza plan. Israel has successfully kept the Palestinian issue out of the international radar since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. It has won new friends such as India, which was once a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. Any violent suppression of the Palestinian uprising would only kindle a new interest in the Palestinian problem which the international community has virtually abandoned.
Early signs indicated that the third Intifada, if it had taken off the ground, would have made the previous two – in 1987 and 2000 — appear non-events because it would be driven by people’s power and would have the potential to spread to the rest of the Arab and Islamic world. This is because the issue involved the Aqsa mosque. The world’s 1.7 billion Muslims regard this mosque as the third holiest place of worship after the two mosques in Makkah and Madina.
A Palestinian protester told al-Jazeera television: “We are under occupation and al-Aqsa Mosque is a red-line to everyone in Jerusalem — actually, to everyone in Palestine, and all over the Muslim world — but much more for the people of [Jerusalem]. It’s dearer than their own lives.”
Needless to say, the Arab despots shiver at the first sign of any popular uprising. Instead of their predictable silence, the Arab rulers — some of whom maintain secret ties with Israel, though such contacts are no more secret — reacted with the seriousness the issue deserved. They knew if the Muslims were to lose the Aqsa mosque, the region wide uprising may even destabilize their own regimes. Tough words from Turkey and behind-the-scenes diplomacy between Arab capitals, Washington and Tel Aviv helped defuse the tensions to some extent.
Israel began to relax the security measures it introduced at the Aqsa mosque compound after two Israeli policemen were killed by Palestinian gunmen on July 14. During the two weeks of protests, the Palestinians refused to pray inside the compound in protests against what they saw as attempts to bring the mosque under Israeli control. Yesterday, they celebrated when Israel removed the surveillance devices.
The clashes may be over, but it does not mean Jerusalem is all set to live in peace in keeping with its name. On the contrary, it remains a flashpoint.
Since Palestine’s partition through a lopsided United Nations Security Council resolution in 1947, Jerusalem has been a contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The city has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice – once by a brutal Babylonian emperor and later by the ruthless Romans. During the first Crusade in the 11th century, it is said that the invaders waded in blood up to their knees during their violent conquest of Jerusalem.
From 1516 to 1917, the city remained under the Ottoman Turks. With the Ottoman caliphate’s defeat in World War I, Britain occupied the entire Palestine and the same year issued the notorious Balfour Declaration, pledging a homeland for the European Jews in Palestine. This declaration, which was tantamount to one land thief giving a piece of a property he robbed to another land thief, not only laid the foundation for the creation of Israel but also for many wars between Israel and Arabs, not to mention the misery that befell the Palestinian people.
Under the UN partition plan, Jews, a majority of them being migrated European Jews, got 55 percent of the land though they comprised 30 percent of the territory’s population, while the Palestinians who made up 65 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land. So much for the UN’s commitment to justice and fair play! In terms of the resolution, Jerusalem was to be placed under international administration.
Following wars in 1948 and 1967, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem, but after an agreement with Jordan, the Aqsa administration came under an Islamic trust. Citing security as an excuse, Israel does not allow Palestinian males who are below the age of 40 to enter the compound. During the recent clashes, the age limit was increased to 50.
The Aqsa mosque lies on top of a rock which also contained the holiest Jewish shrine, the Wailing Wall. Both the mosque and the Wall were parts of the Temple which was built by King Solomon, who according to Muslims was a prophet of Allah. Muslims also believe that it was from the Aqsa mosque that Prophet Muhammad ascended to the presence of God. Besides, Jerusalem also receives the Muslims’ respect because it was their first Qiblah. The early Muslims, including Prophet Muhammad turned towards Jerusalem during their daily prayers, until instructions came to them to turn towards Makkah. The Quran refers to the al-Aqsa compound and its surrounding as a sanctified territory.
Disregarding Muslims sentiments, hardline Jews call for the demolition of the Aqsa mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock Mosque, which was built by Muslim conquerors in the 7th century. They want to build the Third Temple. The Palestinians charge that Israel has started archaeological excavation in the compound area with the intention of causing the collapse the two mosques. The politically powerful Jewish hardliners made several attempts to occupy the mosque and conduct Jewish prayers. The Israeli government now allows them to visit the compound under police guard despite Palestinian protests.
The compound is in East Jerusalem which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. But Israel has passed legislation declaring the whole of Jerusalem as its capital. The international community has not recognised this. Even the Donald Trump administration which had earlier said it would shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, now appears to be backpedalling.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians living in Jerusalem have become stateless. They have only resident permits and limited rights, while Israel builds illegal settlements for the Jews in East Jerusalem.
As Jerusalem was being rocked by the recent clashes, details of an Israeli-Egyptian plan for independent Palestinian state emerged. The plan involves Egypt giving up part of Sinai for it to be annexed to Gaza, which will be declared an independent state. Mohammed Dahlan, an exile Palestinian leader favoured by Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, is said to be spearheading efforts to work out the deal. Most Palestinians see the plan as a move to restrict the Palestinian state only to Gaza with the West Bank being divided between Israel and Jordan.
With friends such as these among themselves, do Palestinians need more enemies?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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