"THE VISION THING"
Fact : The worlds largest democracies give only short-term assured power to their elected executives and governments: the US President four years; UK five; France five; Germany four years; India five. When elections fail to confirm an existing government, it can result in a ninety-degree shift away from many policies of the outgoing administration. All of this means that short-termism is King of democratic politics and therefore the way we run our lives. It is likely to remain so
Non-democracies are saved in this regard from the discontinuity of elections - but budgets remain and long-term projects have to compete with contemporary ones, often under pressure to improve life for a restive citizenry. Nevertheless, of the two states with billion-plus populations, China has been able to enforce an unpopular policy of birth control, and so at least limit the dire problems of perhaps again, a doubling of population. India, a secular democracy, but beset with powerful religious lobbies, has not. This predicates within perhaps a quarter of a century, a population of India way beyond its capacity to cope, in terms of probable resources - food, water, energy, education, health-care, town, city, transport infrastructure, and with no territory not equally crowded adjacent, for population 'overspill' to head for.
These simple truths mean without doubt, that because of the overarching domestic agendas of each of the world's nearly two hundred nations, added to the unbridled capitalism and exploitation in many, the myopia that this causes has become a major contributor to a web of recognizable and because unheeded, growing threats against nothing less than our very species and our home planet.
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
Many of the vital problems that the world faces are not short-term, and consequently are not being addressed. Even when governments realize the importance of these issues they usually take a position based on two key short-term criteria. The 'dividend' effect upon upcoming elections; and on the degree of pressure it would put on current spending plans.
This "How does it play with the voters" approach, means that ultimately, it is the Karl Roves and Alastair Campbells of politics that become the final arbiters to determine all of our destinies.
Governments have far greater resources than any other institutions to anticipate developments of the kind we outline here. Political leaders are served by experts: scientific advisors and committees, university and other research; military considerations, medical developments - they are provided with a whole raft of knowledge-based information on all of these topics
It must be true and proper that a nation's senior executives need to be able to take decisions with all deliberate speed, with as much information on the consequential fall-out as is possible. But many recent examples question whether as well resourced a government as the most powerful one, that of the USA, gives much weight to such advice.
THE MILITARY MODEL
IRAQ is now the archetypal example of the future of warfare in the foreseeable part of this century. It has become that, although conceived as a superpower prerogative by neocon geopoliticians, who sneaked it in under the wire of the response to the outrage of 9/11. The out-fall of the invasion, since it was globally predicted throughout the non-American world, including by the governments of Germany, France and Russia, must surely have been similarly analysed by the expert arabists of the State Department and CIA specialists, (if not by the US media which suffered a collective nation-wide myopic seizure at that time).
Here follow just some aspects of this outfall, yet to be resolved. The important point is that theoretical parallels could be easily demonstrated, if future candidates for invasion like
IRAN, SYRIA, NORTH KOREA, VENEZUELA, were to get so unlucky:
The very negative reaction in an Arab world where Saddam was not loved. Following the long perceived unity of purpose between Israel and the US - more recently, the concordat between Likud and the Republican Party, Arab reactions were eminently predictable. Perhaps, because of the disgraceful Cheney campaign to spuriously badge
IRAQ with 9/11 and with George.W. Bush literally preaching a crusade, this caused a reaction by the wider Islamic world who knew better, and felt that now Moslems generally were being targeted for revenge by gung-ho western crusaders, rather than the acknowledged fanatical terrorists still at large, then and now.
The intervention in Iraq was initially understood by the Arab man-in-the-street, and in-the-limo, as nothing more than US oil-seeking imperialism. Much of Europe, indeed the r-o-w saw it that way also, whilst originally taking note of the WMD argument, assuming (perhaps against experience), that surely the CIA 'must know' what the very competent UN agencies did not! Consequently this US administration is deeply unpopular not just with Arab and Islamic populations, but with a high proportion of that 95% of the world's population who are not Americans. But it should also be remembered that a majority of US electors voted against Bush in 2000, and then nearly a half of all US voters opposed his re-election. Now in 2006, a clear majority of US citizens, becoming better informed over the passage of time, are similarly against him.
The attraction of IRAQ to Islamic jihadists reinvigorated by 9/11, was as a theatre of war, to replace Afghanistan as the crucible for armed confrontation with the godless foreigners and their collaborators (and on the terrorists terms).
The proximity of IRAN, and the identification with it of the majority Shi-ite population of
IRAQ, has hideously complicated the objective handling of a resurgent
IRAN, and the subsequent nuclear crisis.
The policy vacuum still remains as what to do with a militarily defeated
IRAQ and with no Plan B for when the rose petals didn't materialize and cheering crowds failed to greet their liberators? How to create that democracy which in the wake of the WMD debacle, assumed a leading role, post hoc, in rationalising the reason for the invasion? It's not looking good!
Where to find an exit strategy that isn't 'cut and run', that doesn't leave
IRAN plus the Shia of southern IRAQ, squared off in a regional war against the Sunni Arab neighbours, without US troops to 'hold the ring'?
"Kicking Martian Butt," an earlier report in this series, reviewed the military build-up of the USA, concluding that no earthly adversary is, or would be available, to face such an array of weaponry. Despite the clear warning of President Eisenhower long ago in his retirement speech, about the military -industrial complex, the latter clearly came out on top. These are US taxpayer's resources being used who may think it to be a good idea. But twelve aircraft-carrier groups, and squadrons of newly developed Mach 3 fighter aircraft of stunning technological complexity, each one worth a king's ransom, seem to have little to do with the car bombs and street fighting which characterise the nation's known enemies - and likely warfare in the foreseeable future. Other nations continue to spend great amounts of often-scarce funds to keep up with the 'military Joneses', for reasons that now have little to do with the fear of war.
Just as when in the 19th C the revolver appeared and was dubbed the 'great equalizer,' with which a puny individual could stand up to a giant, so the possession of nuclear weapons make for an equivalency between nations, hence the attraction for some. President J.F. Kennedy was said to have been apprehensive that some 20 to 25 nations might acquire nuclear weapons. Great efforts have been made to restrict ownership and development by any other nation than the original five, (the permanent members of the Security Council). The primary means of doing that was to have been the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which has had some achievements, but it can be seen to have not achieved its core aim. Now we find ourselves looking at Doomsday scenarios.
Currently there are about nine states that are known or believed to own nuclear weapons.
IRAN is in the eye of the storm over its desire to become number ten and develop nuclear technology - it says for peaceful purposes, but the world suspects for military purposes also. The UN agencies responsible for monitoring these things have had some success but this can only go as far as the co-operation of 'candidate' nations will permit. For example, Israel just denies that it has them - end of story.
IRAN's nuclear ambitions have much to do with the fact that (like everyone else), they don't believe Israel, but
IRAN in addition feels threatened by this.
JFK's feared 25 could easily be approached in terms of regional reaction to any further overt brandishing by
NORTH KOREA which hangs on the cusp (South Korea, Japan); or
IRAN - if they get that far (Saudi Arabia,
TURKEY). If a Latin American state like the often excoriated Venezuela, felt that possession of the nuclear weapon would insure them against US invasion in what may be regarded as the
NORTH KOREAN / IRANIAN porcupine theory, it could obviously provoke the bigger neighbours into following suit.
As world policeman, Washington has tried to limit national ambitions of this sort, with carrot and stick (although their leg-biting UN Ambassador, John Bolton recently said, "I don't do carrot").
LIBYA was a recent success. Earlier Brazil, Argentina,
SOUTH AFRICA, all abandoned such development and on the dissolution of the
USSR; KAZAKSTAN and UKRAINE were persuaded, with the help of large quantities of folding money, to transfer their residual soviet nuclear stockholding to
The US is not only a part of the solution here but a part of the problem, choosing as it does to prefer its own diplomatic resources to using those of the UN. There is no moral high ground for the US to deploy, quite the contrary. It is the only nation that has used the weapon in warfare. Since those two bombs over Japan in 1945, it has caused more than 2000 nuclear explosions in testing for more 'efficient' weapons, and still has not sworn off future tests if considered necessary. But it is the fear of the US, primarily by
NORTH KOREA, or the US's Israeli client in the case of
IRAN, that lies behind these nation's nuclear ambitions.
The other awkward factor in containment is the concept of the sovereignty of nations, as enshrined in the UN charter. So what cannot be argued on moral grounds, falls back on persuasion, whether in Ambassador Bolton's abrasive style perhaps leading to war, or a more benign variety, dealt with on a case basis. Surely, this way of dealing with the future of 'ultimate weapons' is a ludicrous position for the world to have got into.
WEATHER-WISE IT'S SUCH A SCARY DAY
To experience a tsunsami, a tropical storm, a hurricane, a white-out blizzard, a bio-plague, an earthquake, or a volcano, to name but a few items on nature's menu, demonstrates as no words can, the scale of the power of nature, contrasted with the puny strength of mankind's efforts to master his environment. At best, the human tribe has only very recently, in terms of this planet's story, inhabited much of the solid bits of the earth's crust, living in uneasy conjunction and at the disposal of elemental forces we often do not yet fully understand, can seldom meaningfully predict, and certainly cannot control.
Another example of lack of 'The Vision Thing,' is the Katrina debacle in New Orleans and what it indicated about ignoring even short-term predictions. Bush at his Texan ranch, with neroesque indolence, was party to a video conference the day before the hit, which fully weighted the scale of the approaching Hurricane. After asking a total of no questions about their predictions, he magisterially assured his interlocutors, the nation's top specialists, that: "we are fully prepared", just that, before retiring into the ranch house and continuing his vacation with more congenial occupations, for the next three days.
Longer term climate trends in the global big picture have been current for many years, since long before the Kyoto Agreements were devised and adopted by almost all of the nations of the earth. This is the best answer the world in collaboration could devise, to answer the abuse of the climate that had been inflicted by the unknowing, uncaring, actions of predecessor governments of the recent past, presiding over rapid industrialization. Now whilst many, indeed most governments both know and care, a few choose not to know, seeing through their short-term prisms only electoral minuses in taking the obvious remedial steps.
Carbon and other toxic emissions are identified as the main culprits of global warming, the main sources broadly being automobile exhausts, and industrial and domestic energy waste. How to find alternative means of sustaining mechanised personal transport, now a perquisite of contemporary life, should be a matter for governments. The oil majors, the world's largest corporations, advertise their leading-edge research involvement, but their vested interest in the present system is exemplified by the fact that their massive investments are all in the existing oil extraction, refining and transportation industries. Does anybody believe that were it possible, for example, to find 'the fix' in some electro-magnetic system, rendering at one fell swoop all mineral fuels redundant, that the oil majors would seek to promote that? Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.
Governments, it should be said, as an inheritance of their various industrial revolutions, do normally take the lead in deciding on the provision of industrial energy, but the future of the cleanest fuel - that of nuclear reactors, is enmeshed with the military and security aspects that they trail behind them, as well as faulty engineering risks (Chernobyl) . The fact is that of the non-nuclear states, only the USA in real terms can decide who is to be allowed or denied access to this form of energy.
Global warming has the concomitant capability of melting Antartic and Artic ice and thereby raising the ocean levels, with the effect that most of Bangladesh and all of the Maldives could disappear under water and many other island nations would be badly affected. But this is not restricted to faraway lands. Coastal flooding everywhere would change the lower lying areas of all continents. New Orleans this time would disappear with much of Florida. New York's Manhattan and other coastal cities could become tidal. Worldwide, the human and economic costs would be profound. The Bush government have not yet arrived at first base, because rather as the South African government for so many years refused to accept treatment for AIDS, the land of the urban SUV does not yet acknowledge that there is a global warming crisis.
Understandably, energy security is the US's main foreign policy consideration. Industrial energy is broadly supplied by hydro-carbon fuels and in many modern countries by nuclear power. The fairly easily recovered and transported oil is a finite resource, as is gas, but although there still are vast reserves of both, so there is a vaster and growing appetite which has forced up the price whilst consumption remains at record levels. Whilst the western world agonises about alternatives, Brazil has converted a large part of it's sugar cane industry into the production of ethanol, which now supplies half of their automobile needs. Sweden similarly is a big user, and Canada is going in the same direction. Ethanol is widely available in the US but there is very little enthusiasm about promoting it to the automobile market by the oil majors, despite or perhaps because of the sky high prices of oil. By mid-century it is not inconceivable that poor agricultural nations, often amongst the worlds most backward, might have replaced the existing oil states as leading sources of fuel supply - but this isn't going to happen without the leadership and capital expenditure required, both upstream and downstream - as they say in the oil industry.
Hydro-energy also is available and at a slow rate is being exploited, but since large capital sums are required to dam great rivers and drill long tunnels through mountains, this development is far from being advanced with the urgency required. Such big money for long distance future returns, does not ride well with the modalities of non-governmental international finance.
WORLD POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT
The policy of the spread of democracy has been a touchstone of the Bush administration. Most would regard that as a highly desirable and admirable policy. But, it can be seen that elections alone are not the way forward. In the face of expert advice, reinforced by recent experience, the sudden imposition of a free choice thrust upon a previously downtrodden people has proved disastrous. Where no alternative democratic movements have been allowed to exist, where there has never been the rule of law or any of the institutions of democracy - free press, independent courts, fair elections, etc; then it is unsurprising that electors go for the only known alternative to the often hated existing authoritarian government (in the case of the Palestinian elections, despised), the only other widespread institution they know of, that of organized religion. In its turn, religion has a great interest in power and the laws that follow its exercise, but none in a future democracy that could displace them.
In 1991 a militarily controlled Algeria, urged on by the USA had its first free election. Overwhelmingly the new electorate voted for the religious party and then the military simply 'cancelled' the election. It is estimated that a minimum 100,000 people died following the years of revolt that followed as the reaction.
IRAQ too has had its election, to replace the Saddam / Baath dictatorship. This previously secular state had no experience of secular opposition parties, but a lot about the troublesome, to the regime, Shi'ites and Kurds. As a consequence, it has become neatly divided up electorally on strictly religious, in Kurdistan ethnic grounds, (secular candidates were swept aside), with every intention of devolving power - and oil wealth to their own clans, co-religionists and communities. The concept of
IRAQ, the nation and the national interest was entirely missing.
Egypt, the Arab state most familiar with the ways of western world, recently had, under US pressure, its first although controlled presidential election, not surprisingly won by the military dictator who already had the job. The opposition candidate was jailed on spurious grounds after the election, and his friends and family abused and ill-treated. In the parliamentary elections characterized by the widespread abuse and violence of the authorities, the Islamic opposition nevertheless made surprising gains.
KAZAKSTAN learned as an FSU nation like many of the others, that just the facade of a fair election is all that is needed to 'present' to the outside world, and enough money can help to obtain that result. In this case the dictator, who previously was the Kazak SSR Communist First Secretary and is now effectively the president-for-life, was just 're-elected' with congratulations from the White House. With the elections out of the way, some of his prominent political adversaries in that country have since been professionally murdered.
SYRIA, seen as a rogue nation because of its part in neighbouring Lebanon, is the only remaining secular Arab state, but in no way a democracy. It has been earmarked as an enemy by the US, who are seen in this to be reflecting Israel's interests, and challenged to hold free and democratic elections. This, if it ever happened, would be the clearest re-run of ALGERIA and a shoe-in for the Islamist Moslem Brotherhood.
A pattern for successful democracies can nevertheless be identified. In Europe, at the time that the Soviet Union broke up, three of the fifteen component 'all-union' republics were in the Baltic region. With a lot of help from their North European neighbours, (and the same international institutions that were prepared and tried to help all the new nations that emerged from the Soviet break-up), very quickly
LATVIA, LITHUANIA and ESTONIA became credible democracies and market economies. In most of the remaining FSU republics, the power nexus was only interested in consolidating themselves and their cronies. There was never anything other than pretence about seeking the forms of democracy: free media, human rights, independent courts, outlawing of corruption. Above all there was no possibility of accountability to a citizenry who had never mattered under communism, and no more do they now.
The bogus democracies have unfair, actually fraudulent elections. Reliable institutions such as the OECD monitor them and pronounce on the many derelictions, but as they are advisory not executive, the result is never in doubt - it is what the rulers say it is, the latest technique being to have this now reinforced by expensive western PR agencies.
As our www.worldaudit.org website demonstrates, at least half of the 150 nations (with populations exceeding one million), are not even approaching democracy, indeed only about 35 qualify as fully recognizable democracies. Many of 'the lower half' are nations run as private estates, or family businesses with the majority of these having consolidated their power behind troops and special police.
FOOD AND WATER
Apart from the melting icecap, with expanding world populations, there isn't going to be enough water. Given the geography of the world's approximately 200 nations, seldom except for the largest, or island states, do great rivers rise and find the sea all within the frontiers of that single country. In water-scarce nations too often for peace of mind, other water-hungry nations lie upstream. It has cogently been predicted that scarce water resources offer a more likely cause of war in the future than perhaps any other. Nature is quite unpredictable regarding rainfall, and thus harvests. Drought is a continuing enemy of mankind. Climate changes have side effects on where and how much rain falls.
Without a comprehensive and co-ordinated response for the future, water issues are currently being dealt with by nation states, naturally acting in their own interests. Food in so many countries clearly depends on the amount of water that can be made available. Religious considerations also affect what can be eaten. In India for example, the cow is for milk alone, which admittedly makes that nation the world's largest milk producer, but cows also consume grain and drinking water. So apart from UN agencies that seek to co-ordinate development, but without executive powers, the fundamental questions of food and water are divided up by 200 national considerations.
Russia, at 143 million, has a declining population (and for males a low life expectation), yet occupies the largest landmass on earth. East of the Urals, only about 30 million Russians (just 5 million in the Far East), live in the vast, unfriendly terrain of Siberia, where between hard frosts there are no more than about 71 days in any year where a crop can be sown and harvested. Along the bulging northern borders of China there are about 120 millions in the frontier provinces in very overcrowded conditions. It is a reasonable supposition that when
RUSSIA first developed the nuclear bomb during the cold war, it was as much to do with the fear of being overwhelmed by a resurgent China than of matching the US. Certainly a high proportion of the large numbers of Soviet missiles were pointing east, not west.
There have been experiments where Chinese farmers have been allowed in on annual contracts in the Irkutsk area, where they have had considerable success with modified crops and their well known propensity for hard work. Now the Russians and the Chinese have shown great pragmatism in agreeing that there are no longer any territorial disputes between them. It augurs well that one day, with all the checks and balances required, that parts of Siberian territory may be franchised to ease the strains of Chinese population growth.
But this is bi-lateral progression. It does not speak of the strains of economic migrants from Latin America and Africa, pushing north in ever increasing numbers.
Organised crime is now in the process of making people-smuggling bigger even than narcotics. Bilateral agreements will never stop that flow as populations increase in the poorer countries, resulting in the risks and hardships of migration. As to solutions - there are none, except the exporting of economic well-being from the rich nations to the poor and no individual nation state can or would take that on, without the involvement of many others. Consequently it doesn't get done.
Developed nations suffer from another population problem, that of ageing populations and declining workforces. Japan is one of the worst affected where it is estimated that half the population before mid-century will be past retirement age, supported by a work force demonstrably too small. Japan has been famously unenthusiastic about immigration of any kind, so there is there much angst and no obvious answers, but it will probably result in an increased influx of Koreans in the longer term.
Controlled immigration is the inevitable solution but creates massive social problems. If a third or more of a nation's work force were from an alien culture, the strains within the ageing native-born population would become near intolerable as to national identity, language, voting powers, education, religious and cultural differences. A famous example was the Pacific island state of Fiji, where during the British raj, Indian workers were imported to do coolie work the Fijians disdained to do, but where as a consequence, the Indians over time outgrew the native population, with power squabbles and communal violence amounting to civil war, resulting.
Already countries like the UK have strained to accommodate immigrants from cultures totally different to their own, at considerably smaller percentages than predicated here and much of the developed EU seems to be in a similar position. Here again, the problems can clearly be seen to be more than any single state or likely combination of states can resolve.
THE POWER OF RELIGION
The late twentieth century witnessed a further retrogression in human affairs, given a massive boost by the collapse of the secular Soviet Union. This was the resurgence of organized religion as a political force. No single Arab state was ever a democracy and in many cases the pent-up frustration of their peoples has found an outlet in religion, which has stepped up to the plate as a contender for political power. The problem with that is that the tenets of the religion translated into power are infinitely malleable, depending on who it is interpreting the authoritative but obscure 8th century (and thereafter) scriptures. Contrast this with Asian Moslem states where the religion is certainly emblematic of its people and life is run with a clear nod to scripture, but also according to the pragmatic deliberations of it's power holders. At its most extreme, the concept reverts for a thousand years to a nation of Islam, transcending political borders, with a missionary zeal to bring the world to acknowledge the prophet and his present day spokesmen, all very distinct from the ritual customs most societies comfortably observe, or not, during that part of life set aside for religion.
Christianity has in many of its traditional host nations, become largely a cultural inheritance with only a minority any more believing in the literal truth of the ancient holy books, or being much concerned with it. It also has its emblematic role, Poland during the cold war was a supreme example, but generally a religious tolerance to the point almost of irrelevance, is the mark of most developed nations. Until that is, there was during the cold war, a resurgence of a primitive, unsophisticated form of basic, literal Christianity in of all places, the so-materialistic United States. That gained adherents, perhaps seeking certainties in a world of which we still know little. Then with easy radio and TV communications, the political power of this self-disciplined group began to show results out of proportion to their numbers. A famous recent case was that of the TV preacher and friend of George.W Bush, Pat Robertson advising Washington, on his show, to assassinate President Chavez of Venezuela. Not quite brotherly love, but remarkable for its assumption that preachers could or should seek to influence international policy!
The end of the cold war and dispersal of the devils of communism, found an easy target after the terrorist outrage of 9/11, itself to its participants a classic 'faith based initiative', so that militant Islamics were matched by militant Christians. It didn't help that Jewish religious extremists in Israel were simultaneously also claiming their unique authority direct from God, ensuring that religion differently interpreted in the world, now plays a disproportionate, perhaps no longer benevolent part in the affairs of mankind.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
On a different scale, these are the realities replicated to a greater or lesser extent in some 200 nation states, this being as far as humanity has got at this time in seeking the way forward. The world, as at present organized, is incapable of successfully engaging with these myriad problems, many of which carry more than just the seeds of our destruction. This includes a financial 'system' which is actually out of control. EVERY DAY, $4 trillion, a sum larger than the annual GDP of the USA, is traded in the world's currency markets, not accountable to any governments or citizens. With US external debt standing at $1.4 trillion and an excess of expenditure over income of $476 billion, the worlds largest economy, to which all others are intimately linked, looks distinctly anaemic.
There is a world-wide criminal economy which through drugs, illegal arms and people smuggling, continues inexorably to grow, despite the best efforts of many good people and determined governments.
There are few realms of human activity in the early 21st C, which are not now questionable in terms of excessive or misplaced, or even self-destructive consumption.
It seems obvious the nation state alone or in small combinations is no more appropriate to this time or the future, than the tribe or the clan was to the 20th C. Whilst the gradual surrender of certain nation state prerogatives to a trusted international and inclusive partnership would obviously make the most sense, everything we know about national politics, national media and the ingrained attitudes of ordinary citizens, militates against that.
The UN itself came about only after the world had witnessed the horrors of two devastating world-wars, within the space of a few years. But as that memory recedes into history with the generation that lived through it, so the sense of urgency to prevent it ever happening again dissipates in the more urgent torrent of short-termism. Leadership of the visionary quality required to meet the challenge is notably absent. In many areas outlined here, and others not even mentioned, breakdown could happen quickly, with far reaching consequences amounting even to disaster scenarios for ours, and other species.
Short of that, it is unlikely that anything conclusively a solution to these problems will even be attempted in any conceivable time scale, let alone carried into action. Perhaps our children, or theirs will make a better job of it and look back to these times as we look back at the world of two and more centuries ago.
Clive Lindley - Publisher