About the Author

Gwynne Dyer

Books by this Author
Climate Wars

Climate Wars

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CHAPTER ONE
The Geopolitics of Climate Change

The scenario I’ve just described is not the sort that the climate modellers produce; they wisely stay well clear of any attempt to describe the political, demographic and strategic impacts of the changes they foresee. My scenario also posits a higher global average temperature for 2045 than the bulk of the models predict, but 2.8 degrees Celsius higher by that date is within the range of possibility, especially if some of the positive feedback mechanisms, such as the partial failure of the oceanic carbon sinks, the melting of the permafrost, and an ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summertime, begin to operate within this period. Unhappily, recent data from the tropical oceans, the permafrost belt and the Arctic Ocean suggest that all these feedbacks may be starting to kick in now, much earlier than expected.

The scenario also assumes that the governments of the planet will not have taken advantage of the twenty-year window of opportunity that we still have to get global emissions of greenhouse gases down by 80 percent. It assumes that mid-century will see the world on the upper path of global heating, with the planet’s average temperature already two or three degrees Celsius hotter and heading for eight, nine or ten degrees hotter by century’s end. In this world, our worries are not just hotter summers, bigger hurricanes, rising sea levels and polar bears swimming for their lives. We are trying to avoid megadeaths from mass starvation and, quite possibly, from nuclear wars – and the odds aren’t good.

This is a world in which food imports are no longer available at any price, as there is a global food shortage. But there are still relative winners and relative losers: the higher-latitude countries – northern Europe, Russia, Canada – are still getting adequate rainfall and are able to feed themselves, while those in the mid-latitudes are in serious trouble. Even the United States has lost a large amount of its crop-growing area as the rain fails to fall over the high plains west of the Mississippi, persistent droughts beset the southeast, and the rivers that provided irrigation water for the Central Valley of California cease to flow in the summertime. Countries of smaller size, like Spain, Italy and Turkey on the northern side of the Mediterranean (not to mention those on the southern side), find that their entire land area is turning into desert and that they can no longer feed their populations. The northeastern monsoon that brought rain to the north Chinese plain has failed, and the rivers that watered southern China have suffered the same fate as those that provided California’s water: now they only flow in the wintertime.

This is a world where people are starting to starve, but it is not always the familiar scene of helpless peasant societies facing famine with numb resignation. Some of the victims now are fully developed, technologically competent countries, and their people will not watch their children starve so long as there is any recourse, however illegitimate, that might save them. So the lucky countries in the northern tier that can still feed themselves – but have little or no food to spare – must be able to turn back hordes of hungry refugees, quite probably by force. They must also be able to deal with neighbours who try to extort food by threats – and these desperate neighbours may even have nuclear weapons. Appeals to reason will be pointless, as it is reasonable for nations to do anything they can to avoid mass starvation.

If the climate modellers will not generate this kind of scenario, who will? The military, of course.

The military profession, especially in the long-established great powers, is deeply pessimistic about the likelihood that people and countries will behave well under stress. Professional officers are trained to think in terms of emergent threats, and this is as big a threat as you are going to find. Never mind what the pundits are telling the public about the perils of climate change; what are the military strategists telling their governments? That will tell us a great deal about the probable shape of the future, although it may not tell us anything that we want to hear.

In Britain, climate change has been taken seriously at the official level for a long time, and the British Armed Forces are free to discuss any scenarios they want. The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007—2036, third edition, 2006, a ninety-one-page document produced by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre within the British Ministry of Defence and regularly updated online, is “a source document for the development of UK Defence Policy.”

In many ways, it is a remarkably sophisticated document. At one point, for example, it observes that “by the end of the period [2036] it is likely that the majority of the global population will find it difficult to ‘turn the outside world off.’ ICT [information and communication technology] is likely to be so pervasive that people are permanently connected to a network or two-way data stream with inherent challenges to civil liberties; being disconnected could be considered suspicious.” But on the political and strategic impacts of climate change, it is surprisingly terse. Here is all it has to say on the matter:

The future effects of climate change will stem from a more unstable process, involving sudden and possibly in some cases catastrophic changes. It is possible that the effects will be felt more rapidly and widely than anticipated, leading, for example, to an unexpected increase in extreme weather events, challenging the individual and collective capacity to respond . . .
Increasing demand and climate change are likely to place pressure on the supply of key staples, for example, a drastic depletion of fish stocks or a significantly reduced capacity to grow rice in SE Asia or wheat on the US plains. A succession of poor harvests may cause a major price spike, resulting in significant economic and political turbulence, as well as humanitarian crises of significant proportions and frequency . . .
Water stress will increase, with the risk that disputes over water will contribute significantly to tensions in already volatile regions, possibly triggering military action and population movements . . . Areas most at risk are in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, including China whose growing problems of water scarcity and contamination may lead it to attempt to re-route the waters of rivers flowing into neighbouring India, such as the Brahmaputra . . .
A combination of resource pressure, climate change and the pursuit of economic advantage may stimulate rapid large-scale shifts in population. In particular, sub-Saharan populations will be drawn towards the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East, while in Southern Asia coastal inundation, environmental pressure on land and acute economic competition will affect large populations in Bangladesh and on the East coast of India. Similar effects may be felt in the major East Asian archipelagos, while low-lying islands may become uninhabitable.
There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? A shortage of fish here, a major price spike in food there, a little border war between China and India over re-routing the rivers, and a few tens of millions of climate refugees heading north out of sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh. If that’s the sum of the damage climate change that will bring in the next thirty years, we can live with that.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of it. This exercise in future-gazing only takes us out to 2036, not to 2045. Far more importantly, it is dated December 2006, which means that the climate forecasts it is using come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2001 report, not its 2007 report. Essentially, the data it is using are on average close to ten years old. That makes a big difference, because the data and the forecasts have been getting steadily worse. The next iteration of the DCDC report will at least refer to the 2007 IPCC report (although that is already seriously out of date, too), and is likely to feature much darker scenarios on the climate-change front.

So, if the British Armed Forces aren’t producing up-to-date scenarios about the political and strategic impacts of climate change, who is? The American military? But here we have the problem that the U.S. government, from the inauguration of President George W. Bush in January 2001 until sometime in late 2006, was in complete denial about climate change. In subsequent months the phrase “climate change” was finally heard to pass the president’s lips unaccompanied by disparaging remarks several times, so, in late March 2007, the U.S. Army War College sponsored a two-day conference on “The National Security Implications of Climate Change,” at which civilian strategists and active duty and retired officers explored a wide range of climate-related security issues. It seems clear that the military had been chafing at the bit for some time previously, however, since the following month saw the publication of a study that had been in the works for at least two years. At the time when it was commissioned, no bureaucratic warrior experienced in Washington’s ways would have risked putting his or her name on a study of the geopolitics of climate change, so the Pentagon farmed the job out to the CNA Corporation.

I have long been interested in and concerned about how environment affects security, and I spent eight years at the Department of Defense with that portfolio, environmental security. I was approached by a group of foundations several years ago and asked specifically if I would examine the national security implications of climate change, and for that purpose I assembled the Military Advisory Board of retired three- and four-star generals to assist us in that effort.
In our report, we were looking primarily over the next thirty to forty years. There are certainly disruptive events that could potentially occur earlier. An extreme weather event, or multiple extreme weather events, could occur at any time. But the more significant implications probably occur over the next several decades, and then of course far into the future. Unless we begin to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and change the way we use energy, we really have some frightening futures.
–Sherri Goodman, general counsel, CNA Corporation, in an interview with the author, February 4, 2008

The CNA Corporation is actually the old Center for Naval Analyses, descended from the group of scientists who brought the fledgling methodology of “operational research” to bear on the problem of anti-submarine warfare during the Second World War, and subsequently on other problems of naval strategy and tactics as well. It is now described as “a federally funded research and development center serving the Department of the Navy and other defense agencies.” It produced its report, National Security and Climate Change, in April 2007.

The exercise involved choosing eleven recently retired three- and four- star generals and admirals from all four services, exposing them to the views of a large number of people working on climate change or related fields, and then writing a study on which the retired military men were asked to comment and elaborate. It created quite a stir when it was published, precisely because it effectively circumvented the Bush ban on treating climate change as a real and serious phenomenon.

You already have great tension over water [in the Middle East]. These are cultures often built around a single source of water. So any stresses on the rivers and aquifers can be a source of conflict. If you consider land loss, the Nile Delta region is the most fertile ground in Egypt. Any losses there [from a storm surge] could cause a real problem, again because the region is so fragile . . .
We will pay for this one way or another. We will pay to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind. Or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives. There will be a human toll. There is no way out of this that does not have real costs attached to it.
–General Anthony C. “Tony” Zinni, USMC (Ret.), former commander in chief, U.S. Central Command, National Security and Climate Change, April 2007

The National Security and Climate Change study is sixty-two pages long and very well sourced, but it doesn’t really offer scenarios. It covers all the bad things that may happen if global warming progresses past a certain point, region by region, but it doesn’t even specify what that point is. Indeed, it resembles a more concise version of all the books that have been published by various luminaries over the past couple of years rehearsing all the undesirable things that will happen to us if we don’t pull our socks up and deal with global warming: a dab of science, a shopping list of small and large disasters in no particular order (not even in a likely time sequence), and a good deal of exhortation to take this seriously.

The real point of the exercise was probably to persuade a largely military audience of the importance of climate change by having the retired generals and admirals give it their imprimatur. A panel of experts wrote the actual report, but the senior officers were each given an entire page to express their views on the contents and the topic – and it is their testimony that is the heart of the matter. They are intelligent men of considerable experience, so they offer coherent and convincing testimony. But they are clearly selling something.

People are saying they want to be convinced, perfectly. They want to know the climate science projections with 100 percent certainty. Well, we know a great deal, and even with that, there is still uncertainty. But the trend line is very clear. We never have 100 percent certainty. We never have it. If you wait till you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield. That’s something we know. You have to act with incomplete information. You have to act based on the trend line . . .
The situation, for much of the Cold War, was stable. And the challenge was to keep it stable, to stop the catastrophic event from happening. We spent billions on that strategy. Climate change is exactly the opposite. We have a catastrophic event that appears to be inevitable. And the challenge is to stabilize things – to stabilize carbon in the atmosphere. Back then, the challenge was to stop a particular action. Now, the challenge is to inspire a particular action. We have to act if we’re to avoid the worst effects.
–General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret.), former chief of staff, U.S. Army, National Security and Climate Change, April 2007

What they are selling is a mission. The next mission of the U.S. Armed Forces is going to be the long struggle to maintain stability as climate change continually undermines it. The “war on terror” has more or less had its day, and besides, climate change is a real, full-spectrum challenge that may require everything from special forces to aircraft carriers. So it’s time to jolt the rank and file of the officer corps out of their complacency, re-orient them towards the new threat, and get them moving.

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Crawling from the Wreckage
Excerpt

1.
NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP

History doesn't really have a plot, and even the patterns that we imagine we see depend mainly upon our own standpoint. The arc of the past five years would seem very different from a Chinese perspective than from a Western one, and different again from a Middle Eastern one. But from my Western perspective, our recent history is about a painfully slow recovery from a very bad time.

So, here are some articles about the United States, because that country still sets the tone. I've been going to the U.S. fairly frequently for most of my life, but it never felt as alien as it did in 2004. They were even going to re-elect George Bush. How could they possibly have failed to notice?

I was starting to lose patience - and then my son Owen (aka "Nameless") put me back on track.

October 21, 2004
ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT FOR BUSH

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants George W. Bush to be re-elected, Osama bin Laden undoubtedly wants him to be re-elected, and the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council has just endorsed him for re-election, so it's hardly surprising that one of my sons has done the same. He must remain nameless, of course, but he has given me permission to quote his exact words on the subject of Mr. Bush's candidacy: "He has sown the wind; let him reap the whirlwind."

This nameless offspring of mine has never worked for the KGB, planned terrorist attacks or been nominated as a member of the "Axis of Evil," but he does share with the three gentlemen above a rather Machiavellian turn of mind. His point is that Iraq will go to hell and the U.S. economy will run into heavy weather in the next four years no matter who is president. Those things are already practically set in stone - so let the man who actually caused them carry the can.

There is no way that Iraqi hostility to the American occupation can be turned around at this point, and the current outbreak of fiscal irresponsibility in the U.S. - a huge budget deficit and a huge trade deficit, amounting to almost half a trillion dollars each - will certainly result in a great deal of economic pain and misery for ordinary Americans in the coming years. We all know who got the U.S. into Iraq and who created the budget deficit, but the man who is president when military defeat and economic crisis can no longer be denied will bear the political blame.

The main concern of Nameless was that a Kerry election victory, followed by a humiliating scuttle from Iraq and a crash in the U.S. dollar at home, would generate a "Dolchstoss" myth on the American right. He was referring to the alleged "stab in the back" by the German left that was used to explain Germany's defeat in the First World War. (In fact, the German left had loyally supported the war, but had little say in its conduct - until, after Germany's generals admitted irretrievable military defeat on the Western Front, the government was swiftly handed over to the Social Democrats, so that they could surrender and take the blame.)

The Dolchstoss myth, which denied that it had been a mistake to start the war and instead blamed Germany's defeat on a failure of will, poisoned all subsequent efforts to create a healthy democratic republic on German soil. No analogy is perfect, but similar myths exist in U.S. politics.

Many on the American right still believe that the Vietnam War could have been won if only the spineless traitors on the left had not weakened American "resolve" - and they say this even though President Richard Nixon, who was elected on a promise to end the Vietnam War and presided over the whole latter phase of it, was a Republican. What could they do with a lost war on a Democratic president's watch?

My son's point was that the mess created by the last administration cannot be fixed and forgotten before the 2008 election, no matter who wins next month - so why not vote for George W. Bush to ensure that the blame is pinned on the right man? That way, there can be no "stab-in-the-back" legend that haunts the Democratic Party in years to come, or that fuels a drive by hard-right radicals flying the Republican banner to regain the White House in 2008.

The downside of this, from a Democratic point of view, is four more years out of executive power, a Supreme Court packed with Bush appointees, and significant damage to both America's reputation and the U.S. economy. The negative consequences from Iraq's point of view are even bigger: years more of violence and death.

It is Hobson's choice, and I am almost glad I do not have a vote in this election: it saves me from the responsibility of choice. If I were an American, however, I would probably abandon all these "tactical" voting calculations: one look at Vice-President Dick Cheney and you know that it's just not worth the risk.

Sin comentario.

November 3, 2004
THE DIVIDED STATES: A MODEST PROPOSAL

Looking at that extraordinary electoral map of the United States with all the liberal, quiche-eating, Kerry-supporting states of the northeast and the west coast coloured Democratic blue, while the "heartland" and the south are solid Republican red, the solution to the problem suddenly occurred to me: "Blueland" should join Canada.

It is getting harder for the two tribes of Americans to understand or even tolerate each other. Once again, as in 2000, the country is divided with almost mathematical precision into two halves, one of which adores President George W. Bush while the other loathes him. And it goes far deeper than mere personalities or even the old left-right split; the clash now is about social norms and fundamental values, about which few are willing to compromise.

Opinions on the foreign issues that seemed to dominate the election - the war in Iraq and the "war on terror" - just mapped onto that existing cultural division. People who go to church regularly and oppose abortion and gay marriage were also far more likely to believe that U.S. troops had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein had sponsored the terrorists of 9/11, so they voted for Mr. Bush. People who don't hold such beliefs, didn't.

"Irreconcilable" is the word that springs to mind. Two separate populations have evolved in the U.S., and they are increasingly unhappy living together.

One subspecies, Homo canadiensis, thinks universal health care is a good idea, would rather send peacekeepers than bombers, and longs for the wimpy, wispy liberalism enjoyed by their neighbours to the north. The other breed, Homo iraniensis, prefers the full-blooded religious certainties and the militant political slogans - "Death to [fill in the blank]" - that play such a large and fulfilling part in Iranian public life.

It is cruel to force these two populations to go on living together, especially since American political life has lost its centre and now pits these two irreconcilable opposites directly against each other in a winner-takes-all election every four years. Since the pseudo-Iranians slightly outnumber the proto-Canadians, the obvious solution is for the latter group actually to go to Canada - and indeed, I have lost count of the number of American friends who have told me that if George W. Bush wins again, they are going to move to Canada.

There are problems with this solution, however. A mass migration northwards would leave large chunks of the U.S. virtually empty, and the parts of Canada where people can live in any comfort are pretty full already. Besides, the winters in Canada really are severe, and Californians might not be up to the challenge. Then, looking at the two-colour map of the electoral outcome, the solution hit me. You don't have to move the people; just move the border.

It would all join up just fine: the parts of the U.S. inhabited by Homo canadiensis all lie along the Canadian border or next to other states that do (although the blue bit dangles down a long, long way in the case of the Washington-Oregon-California strip fondly known as the Left Coast). True, the U.S. would lose its whole Pacific coast, but we could arrange for an American free port in, say, Tijuana. Plus, lots of Canadians could move to a warmer clime without actually having to leave their country.

At the global level, everybody else would be quite happy with a bigger Canada and a smaller United States. That smaller U.S. would have to pull in its horns a bit, as it would no longer have the money to maintain military bases in every country on the planet, but it would retain enough resources to invade someone every year or so. And the new Canadians would be free to have abortions, enter into gay marriages, do stem-cell research and engage in all the other wickednesses that flourish in Canada. They could even speak French if they wanted to.

No solution is perfect: there would be limp-wristed liberals trapped in the U.S. and God-fearing rednecks who suddenly found themselves in Canada, so some degree of population exchange would be necessary. It's even possible that a few right-wing bits of Canada - parts of Alberta, for example - might prefer to join the U.S. But you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and think how happy every body will be when they are living exclusively among like-minded people.

Fast-forward four years, and the Bush era is finally stumbling to a close. A man we had barely heard of four years ago is heading for the White House, and we are all trying to figure out whether he can really make a difference. How much of the disaster has been the personal fault of Bush and his friends, and how much is implicit in the system?

May 7, 2008
PRESIDENT OBAMA

It is now a near certainty that Obama will be the next American president. The media will try to maintain the illusion of a race for the Democratic nomination until Senator Hillary Clinton finally retires from the race - which may not be until the convention in August - because such an illusion helps to fill the awful gap between the twenty-four-hour news cycle and the actual amount of news available. But, as leading independent pollster John Zogby put it on Wednesday, "To all intents and purposes the race for the Democratic nomination is over."

Having seen off the Hard Man of the Democratic Party, Obama must now defeat the Hard Man of the Republican Party in November. (Senator Hillary Clinton promised to "obliterate" Iran if it attacks Israel; Senator John McCain has threatened North Korea with "extinction.") But it will be hard for Obama to lose while the United States is plunging into a deep recession and the Republican candidate is still shackled to the Bush administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So Obama gets the presidency - and then what? He will probably be able to depend on solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress but he will inherit a ravaged economy and two lost wars, so he has little room for expensive domestic reforms or dramatic initiatives abroad. Also, he will not be able to cut bloated U.S. military spending, so there is no early "peace bonus" waiting for him on the fiscal front.

Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama will ultimately have the job of repairing the huge budget deficit bequeathed to him by his Republican predecessor, but the only step he can take in the short run is to roll back the huge Bush tax cuts for the rich. So what else can the Democrats do in the meantime that doesn't cost too much?

Obama has said very little about this during his campaign (and Hillary Clinton, haunted by her failure to reform health care in her husband's first term as president, has said even less). But the fact that one-sixth of the American population has no access to high-quality medical care is an astonishing failure in a rich democracy, and Obama has travelled enough to see it for the scandal that it is. He may be unconvincing as a gun-loving, truck-driving, fast-food-addicted son of toil, but he is the candidate of the American poor, even if many of the white poor don't recognize him as such. No single reform would do as much to improve the lives of poor Americans as a fully comprehensive health-care system that is free at the point of delivery. Obama has given us few clues about his intentions but my money says that this will be his first priority in domestic affairs. He might even succeed.

Well, I got that right. I just never imagined that it would take up a full year of congressional time, while everything else had to wait. Neither did he. But I'm a much happier camper now. Let nobody tell you that the United States doesn't matter anymore.

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Don't Panic

Don't Panic

ISIS, Terror and Today's Middle East
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Future: Tense

Future: Tense

The Coming World Order?
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It was never about Iraq. It is not really about terrorism any more either, though the terrorists are still there. Suddenly, to the vast surprise of practically everybody, it is about the whole way we run the world.

There is a classic scene, lovingly replicated in a hundred cartoons, in which Our Hero removes just one brick from a wall – and one after another, in an endless, slo-mo domino sequence, every structure in sight collapses into rubble. Osama bin Laden is a bit like that hero. With one spectacular act of terrorism, he has undermined the United Nations (UN), the international rule of law, the whole multilateral system of collaboration and compromise that keeps the world safe – half a century of slow and painful progress all suddenly at risk. It’s likely, of course, that bin Laden doesn’t even understand how much his actions have destabilized the entire international system, for his frame of reference is radically different – but if he did, he wouldn’t mind a bit.

He had help: the Bush administration was his “objective ally,” as the Marxists used to put it. Its world-changing ambitions might never have got off the ground without the opportunity that bin Laden handed it on September 11, 2001, but three years later, American troops have plunged deep into the Middle East and Central Asia, the UN is struggling to survive, and most of America’s traditional allies and friends are in shock.

There is now a symbiotic relationship between the Islamist terrorists and the coalition of interests in Washington that has clambered aboard the “war on terror.” Neither side wishes the other to triumph, but both thrive on the confrontation – and they have grown far beyond the original small groups of determined people who dragged the rest of us into this mess. In fact, neither the death of Osama bin Laden nor the fall of the neo-conservatives would necessarily bring a return to normality. The rhetoric of jihads and crusades has grown more familiar, and the number of people whose emotions or career interests have committed them to an apocalyptic confrontation has grown greatly.

It is the far side of bizarre, for both the Islamist and the American projects as originally conceived are doomed to fail. The notion that Islamist revolutionaries will sweep to power all across the Muslim world, Talibanize it, and then wage a victorious jihad against the West is as implausible as the idea that the United States can permanently assume the role of global policeman (or, rather, global vigilante), that other countries will acquiesce in this unilateral declaration of hegemony, and that U.S. voters will be willing to pay the cost in American lives and money over the long term. It’s not going to happen: the danger is not that extremists from the margins will dominate the global future, but that they will do enormous damage to our future before they go under.

What is really at risk here is the global project to abolish war and replace the rule of force in the world with the rule of law, the project whose centrepiece is the United Nations. It was mainly an American initiative at the start, almost sixty years ago, and today it still commands the support of almost every government on the planet (although the Bush administration has been an exception). It is a hundred-year project at the least, for it is trying to change international habits that had at least five thousand years to take root. The slowness of change causes immense frustration, especially given the urgency of change in an era of nuclear weapons, and yet the project continues to enjoy majority popular support in almost every country, including the United States. But it is now under serious threat.

The core rule of the UN is that war, except in immediate self-defence or in obedience to Security Council resolutions, is illegal. The new American strategic policy, post-9/11, asserts that the United States has the right to use military force wherever and whenever it judges necessary. Of course, the United States has used military force against foreigners without Security Council approval before, but this time is different.

The UN is a hundred-year project because it will take at least that long for the great powers to stop yielding to the temptation, from time to time, to impose their will on weaker countries by force. The great powers do understand that a world under the rule of law, where the resort to force has become almost unthinkable by long habit, is also in their own long-term self-interest, because they, too, are vulnerable to destruction if war gets out of hand – but every so often they simply cannot resist “solving” a problem by using their own superior force.

The UN system recognized from the start that the great powers were the problem: they were given vetoes precisely so that the Security Council would never find itself in the hopelessly compromised position of trying to enforce the law against them. All hope of progress therefore lies with the gradual habituation of the great powers to obeying the new international law that forbids a unilateral resort to force – and since that is ultimately in their interest too, they have generally at least tried to cloak their actions in legal justifications acceptable to the UN. But current American strategic doctrine requires the destruction of the international law embedded in the United Nations Charter.

To believe that this huge shift of doctrine is really driven solely by the “terrorist threat” is about as sensible as believing in fairies. According to the U.S. government’s own figures, only 625 people, the vast majority of them non-American, were killed by “international terrorism” in 2003, down from 726 people worldwide in 2002: about two people a day, far fewer than die from dog bites. It truly is not about terrorism.

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Growing Pains

Growing Pains

the future of democracy (and work)
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Ignorant Armies

Ignorant Armies

Sliding into War in Iraq
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The Mess They Made

The Mess They Made

The Middle East After Iraq
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INTRODUCTION

The Middle East as we have known it for the past ninety years is coming to an end, because the Americans will soon be leaving. President Bush is so determined to resist that conclusion that the legions will not finally depart until he has left office, but it is coming as surely as the sun sets in the west. And although Bush will leave defeated and disgraced, he has set events and emotions in train that will transform the region — if not quite in the way he intended.

Ali Allawi, defence minister in the first American puppet government in Baghdad, got it exactly right in a regional peace proposal he floated recently: “The Iraqi state that was formed in the aftermath of the First World War has come to an end. Its successor state is struggling to be born in an environment of crises and chaos. The collapse of the entire order in the Middle East now threatens as the Iraq imbroglio unleashes forces in the area that have been gathering in virulence over the past decades.”

Allawi is not exaggerating. The destruction of the Iraqi state and the subsequent defeat of U.S. military power there have finally destabilized the Middle East, a notional region that came into being after the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918 (though it did not become widely known as the “Middle East” until the Second World War). It was initially controlled by the British and French empires, who drew most of the borders, but a surge of revolutions in the 1940s and 1950s brought independence to the Arab countries. By then, however, both oil and Israel had made the region of great interest to the United States, which took over as the dominant power from the 1960s onwards. And under that American dispensation, there have been no further changes of regime for forty years, apart from the revolution in Iran in 1978 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003: the undemocratic regimes that were in power in 1967 are all still in power, within the borders that the European empires drew in 1918.

It is that Middle East that is now coming to an end. It is ending because defeat and humiliation in Iraq mean that soon there will no longer be the will in the United States to go on with the task of maintaining the status quo, and because the forces unleashed by the destruction of Iraq are going to overwhelm the status quo. Everything is now up for grabs: regimes, ethnic pecking orders within states, even the 1918 borders themselves might change. Five years from now there could be an Islamic Republic of Arabia, an independent Kurdistan, almost anything you care to imagine.

So what should the rest of the world do about this? Nothing. Just stand back and let it happen. Outsiders to the region have no solutions left to peddle any more (nor any credibility even if they did have solutions), and they no longer have the power or the will to impose their ideas. For the first time in a century, the region is going to choose its future for itself — and it may, of course, make a dreadful mess of it. Even then outsiders should not intervene, because foreign intervention generally makes things worse — but also because it’s none of their business.

For several generations the West has insisted that the Middle East is its business, because that is where half the world’s oil comes from. Radical change cannot be allowed there because it might interrupt the flow of oil, and so the region has remained politically and socially frozen for generations. But today every major oil-producing country in the Middle East depends on the cash flow from oil exports to feed its growing population, so they are all compelled to sell pretty much every barrel they can pump — and to sell it into a single global market that sets the price for buyer and seller alike. So it doesn’t matter to us who runs these countries.

It matters a great deal to their own people, of course, but the oil will go on flowing no matter who’s in charge, so it’s all the same to the customers. If the new regime is better than the old, good; if not, too bad. But it’s their business, not ours. There is the question of Middle Eastern terrorism, but Islamist extremism and the terrorism it breeds are both responses to a century of foreign domination and manipulation of the region. It wouldn’t all stop right away if the West ceased meddling in the area, but the resentment and humiliation that fuel it would dwindle rapidly. Just as well, because this is not a policy proposal; it is a prediction. The West will stop meddling in the region’s affairs, because the United States is going home hurt.

Finally, the question of Israel. The Middle East was definitely the wrong place to put a Jewish state if the idea was to create a safe haven for the world’s Jews, but that’s done now and the question is: Will Israel survive? The answer is probably yes, because it has and will retain the ability to take the entire region down with it in a nuclear Armageddon. But the opportunity of the 1990s has been wasted, and it probably faces another generation of confrontation — perhaps, this time, without the comforting support of the United States.

What we are seeing at the moment is a clear demonstration, both to the American and the Middle Eastern publics, of the inability of American military power to dictate outcomes in the region. Once that demonstration has been concluded, we shall see what comes out of the box in the Middle East.

It will undoubtedly be messy, since it will be a sudden thaw after centuries of political glaciation under Ottoman rule, Anglo-French domination, and American hegemony. In places, it will probably be bloody. The West will not like some of the regimes that emerge (but it’s still none of our business). In the long run, it will certainly be better for the peoples of the region than perpetual foreign tutelage. And it will not harm the West’s interests, so long as the oil continues to flow. Apart from that, the entire region is of little economic or strategic importance to the rest of the world. Lie back, and try to enjoy the ride.

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The Mess They Made (Revised Edition)

The Mess They Made (Revised Edition)

The Middle East After Iraq
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INTRODUCTION

The Middle East as we have known it for the past ninety years is coming to an end, because the Americans will soon be leaving. President Bush is so determined to resist that conclusion that the legions will not finally depart until he has left office, but it is coming as surely as the sun sets in the west. And although Bush will leave defeated and disgraced, he has set events and emotions in train that will transform the region — if not quite in the way he intended.

Ali Allawi, defence minister in the first American puppet government in Baghdad, got it exactly right in a regional peace proposal he floated recently: “The Iraqi state that was formed in the aftermath of the First World War has come to an end. Its successor state is struggling to be born in an environment of crises and chaos. The collapse of the entire order in the Middle East now threatens as the Iraq imbroglio unleashes forces in the area that have been gathering in virulence over the past decades.”

Allawi is not exaggerating. The destruction of the Iraqi state and the subsequent defeat of U.S. military power there have finally destabilized the Middle East, a notional region that came into being after the collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1918 (though it did not become widely known as the “Middle East” until the Second World War). It was initially controlled by the British and French empires, who drew most of the borders, but a surge of revolutions in the 1940s and 1950s brought independence to the Arab countries. By then, however, both oil and Israel had made the region of great interest to the United States, which took over as the dominant power from the 1960s onwards. And under that American dispensation, there have been no further changes of regime for forty years, apart from the revolution in Iran in 1978 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003: the undemocratic regimes that were in power in 1967 are all still in power, within the borders that the European empires drew in 1918.

It is that Middle East that is now coming to an end. It is ending because defeat and humiliation in Iraq mean that soon there will no longer be the will in the United States to go on with the task of maintaining the status quo, and because the forces unleashed by the destruction of Iraq are going to overwhelm the status quo. Everything is now up for grabs: regimes, ethnic pecking orders within states, even the 1918 borders themselves might change. Five years from now there could be an Islamic Republic of Arabia, an independent Kurdistan, almost anything you care to imagine.

So what should the rest of the world do about this? Nothing. Just stand back and let it happen. Outsiders to the region have no solutions left to peddle any more (nor any credibility even if they did have solutions), and they no longer have the power or the will to impose their ideas. For the first time in a century, the region is going to choose its future for itself — and it may, of course, make a dreadful mess of it. Even then outsiders should not intervene, because foreign intervention generally makes things worse — but also because it’s none of their business.

For several generations the West has insisted that the Middle East is its business, because that is where half the world’s oil comes from. Radical change cannot be allowed there because it might interrupt the flow of oil, and so the region has remained politically and socially frozen for generations. But today every major oil-producing country in the Middle East depends on the cash flow from oil exports to feed its growing population, so they are all compelled to sell pretty much every barrel they can pump — and to sell it into a single global market that sets the price for buyer and seller alike. So it doesn’t matter to us who runs these countries.

It matters a great deal to their own people, of course, but the oil will go on flowing no matter who’s in charge, so it’s all the same to the customers. If the new regime is better than the old, good; if not, too bad. But it’s their business, not ours. There is the question of Middle Eastern terrorism, but Islamist extremism and the terrorism it breeds are both responses to a century of foreign domination and manipulation of the region. It wouldn’t all stop right away if the West ceased meddling in the area, but the resentment and humiliation that fuel it would dwindle rapidly. Just as well, because this is not a policy proposal; it is a prediction. The West will stop meddling in the region’s affairs, because the United States is going home hurt.

Finally, the question of Israel. The Middle East was definitely the wrong place to put a Jewish state if the idea was to create a safe haven for the world’s Jews, but that’s done now and the question is: Will Israel survive? The answer is probably yes, because it has and will retain the ability to take the entire region down with it in a nuclear Armageddon. But the opportunity of the 1990s has been wasted, and it probably faces another generation of confrontation — perhaps, this time, without the comforting support of the United States.

What we are seeing at the moment is a clear demonstration, both to the American and the Middle Eastern publics, of the inability of American military power to dictate outcomes in the region. Once that demonstration has been concluded, we shall see what comes out of the box in the Middle East.

It will undoubtedly be messy, since it will be a sudden thaw after centuries of political glaciation under Ottoman rule, Anglo-French domination, and American hegemony. In places, it will probably be bloody. The West will not like some of the regimes that emerge (but it’s still none of our business). In the long run, it will certainly be better for the peoples of the region than perpetual foreign tutelage. And it will not harm the West’s interests, so long as the oil continues to flow. Apart from that, the entire region is of little economic or strategic importance to the rest of the world. Lie back, and try to enjoy the ride.

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War

War

The New Edition
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The Nature of the Beast

If the bombardment [of London by V-bombs] really becomes a serious nuisance and great rockets with far-reaching and devastating effect fall on many centres . . . I may certainly have to ask you to support me in using poison gas. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention.
—Winston Churchill to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, July 1944

The rain of large sparks, blowing down the street, were each as large as a five-mark piece. I struggled to run against the wind but could only reach a house on the corner of the Sorbenstrasse. . . . [We] couldn’t go on across the Eiffestrasse because the asphalt road had melted. There were people on the roadway, some already dead, some still lying alive but stuck in the asphalt. They must have rushed onto the roadway without thinking. Their feet had got stuck and then they had put out their hands to try to get out again. They were on their hands and knees screaming.
—Kate Hoffmeister, then nineteen, on the firestorm in Hamburg in 19431

The conclusion was getting hard to avoid even before the advent of nuclear weapons: the game of war is up, and we are going to have to change the rules if we are to survive. The brief, one-sided campaigns of well-armed Western countries against dysfunctional Third World autocracies kill in the tens of thousands, and the genocidal ethnic conflicts of fragile post-colonial states are local tragedies, but during the last two years of World War II, over one million people were being killed each month. If the great powers were to go to war with one another just once more, using all the weapons they now have, a million people could die each minute. They have no current intention of doing that, but so long as the old structures survive, Big War is not dead. It is just on holiday.

It is technology that has invalidated all our assumptions about the way we run our world, but the easiest and worst mistake we could make would be to blame our current dilemma on the mere technology of war. Napalm, nerve gas, and nuclear weapons were not dropped into our laps by some malevolent god; we put a great deal of effort into inventing and producing them because we intended to fight wars with them.

A lot of people know that seventy thousand died at Hiroshima, but few people know that two hundred and twenty-five thousand died in Tokyo, as a result of only two raids with conventional bombs. I was a bomber pilot a long time ago. I bombed Hamburg. Seventy thousand people died there when the air caught fire. Eighty thousand or so died at Dresden. And if you want to talk about numbers, one hundred and twenty-three thousand died at Iwo Jima . . . and so the problem is war, not nuclear war.
—Man in the street in Washington, D.C.

The essential soldier remains the same. Whether he was handling a sling-shot weapon on Hadrian’s Wall or whether he’s in a main battle tank today, he is essentially the same.
—Gen. Sir John Hackett

The soldier was one of the first inventions of civilization, and he has changed remarkably little over the five thousand years or so that real armies have existed. The teenage Iranian volunteers stumbling across minefields east of Basra in 1984 or the doomed British battalions going over the top in the July Drive on the Somme in 1916 were taking part in the same act of sacrifice and slaughter that destroyed the young men of Rome at Cannae in 216 bc. The emotions, the odds, and the outcome were fundamentally the same. Battle, the central act of civilized warfare, is a unique event in which ordinary men willingly kill and die as though those extraordinary actions were normal and acceptable. Changes in weapons and tactics have not altered those essential elements of its character.

However, the consequences of war can and do change. Force is the ultimate argument, and once it has been invoked, the only effective reply is superior force. The internal logic of war has frequently caused it to grow far bigger in scale than the importance of the issue originally at dispute would justify. In our time, the likely consequences of major war have grown drastically and irreversibly, so that they potentially include the destruction of the entire human habitat. Yet modern soldiers do not behave any more ruthlessly than their ancestors.

The residents of Dresden and Hiroshima in 1945 suffered no worse fate than the citizens of Babylon in 680 bc, when the city fell to Sennacherib of Assyria, who boasted: “I levelled the city and its houses from the foundations to the top, I destroyed them, and I consumed them with fire. I tore down and removed the outer and inner walls, the temples and ziggurats built of brick, and dumped the rubble in the Arahtu canal. And after I destroyed Babylon, smashed its gods and massacred its population, I tore up its soil and threw it into the Euphrates so that it was carried by the river down to the sea.”2 It was a more labour-intensive method of destruction than nuclear weapons, but the effect (at least for an individual city) was about the same.

Most of the major cities of antiquity sooner or later met a fate similar to Babylon’s—some of them many times—when the fortunes of war eventually left them exposed to their enemies. The difference between ancient military commanders and those who control the ultimate weapons of today (apart from a strikingly different approach to public relations) is more in the technologies and resources at their disposal than in their basic approach to the job. Soldiers often prefer to cloak the harsh realities of their trade in idealism or sentimentality, as much to protect themselves from the truth as to hide it from the rest of us, but at the professional level they have never lost sight of the fact that the key to military success is cost-effective killing. The relentless search for efficiency in killing that ultimately led to the development of nuclear weapons was just as methodical when the only means of introducing lethal bits of metal into an enemy’s body was by muscle power. Consider the following instructions on the use of a sword in a Roman army training manual:

A slash cut rarely kills, however powerfully delivered, because the vitals are protected by the enemy’s weapons, and also by his bones. A thrust going in two inches, however, can be mortal. You must penetrate the vitals to kill a man. Moreover, when a man is slashing, the right arm and side are left exposed. When thrusting, however, the body is covered, and the enemy is wounded before he realises what has happened. So this method of fighting is especially favoured by the Romans.

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With Every Mistake
Excerpt

Introduction

I can remember telephone numbers that I haven’t called in years. I can even remember all my children’s names. But I generally cannot remember the topic, let alone the title, of the article I wrote twenty-­four hours ago.

It’s a defensive measure, an anti—brain-clutter device; I write at least a hundred of the things a year, and it has never caused me any anguish. Since I go through a laptop about every eighteen months, the old articles are not easily available for me to peruse even if I did want to revisit the scene of the crime. So it has been a new and rather humbling experience to make a selection of my newspaper pieces from 2001 to 2004 – the first time I have done such a thing in thirty-two years of writing the column.

The main reason for doing so now is to try to understand why we all got things so badly wrong in the past few years. Not seeing the terrorist attacks of 9/11 coming was understandable enough because they did come rather out of the blue. But not foreseeing the scale of the American response, and not understanding the thinking that lay behind the neoconservatives’ strategy, were major failures for which the Western media – we journalists, really – bear a heavy responsibility. As we watched, the world’s greatest power was going rogue and the lies were growing bigger and more brazen than they had been in living memory, but we clung for far too long to the belief–the hope, maybe–that it was all just an aberration driven by the shock of 9/11.

I don’t expect journalists to be wiser than other people, but we do have the time to think hard about what is actually going on in the world and the duty to tell the truth as we see it. Most other people don’t have the time or the access to do this sort of investigation and interpretation, whereas that is actually our full-time job. The historians will only get at the same events far too late to make any difference, and everybody directly involved in them at the time will be spinning like mad for their particular interest, so who else is going to do the job of making sense of them for the public if journalists don’t? We will disagree in our conclusions, of course, but at least we can agree on most of the facts and offer a range of coherent interpretations of those facts for the public to choose from. This privileged role imposes a corresponding obligation on journalists. At the risk of sounding idealistic, I would say that being truthful and, if necessary, brave, are objective requirements of the journalist’s trade – but there was not nearly enough of those qualities on display during the period under discussion.

Let’s begin with the most shaming moment in the modern history of American journalism: it was at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association in June 2003. The guest of honour was Vice-President Dick Cheney and his closing remarks were about the journalists’ contribution to the US invasion of Iraq. “You did well,” he said. “You have my thanks.” Some of the journalists presumably had the decency to squirm in their seats at that unsolicited testimonial, but a great many of them weren’t even embarrassed. Which tells you that the American media, at least, are in serious trouble.

There were some special reasons for that response. The shock of the 9/11 attacks inevitably unleashed a tremendous burst of raw nationalism in the United States, and there were few Americans journalists who were willing to be openly critical of their government’s actions in the period that followed. The attacks also came at the end of a decade when there had been huge cutbacks in American coverage of foreign news, and even 9/11 didn’t really change that for long. There are entire parts of the world that simply don’t exist as far as the American media – especially the broadcast media – are concerned.

Two factors converged in the 1990s to dumb down and demobilize the news-gathering operations of the American electronic media. The end of the Cold War provided an excuse to scale back sharply on foreign news, and the takeover of the major networks by large corporations whose principal interests lay elsewhere – abc by Disney, nbc by General Electric and cbs by Viacom – created a strong incentive to do so. In the old scheme of things, television news had been treated as a loss leader to draw audiences for the network’s profitable entertainment programming. Now news was expected to be a profit centre in its own right, and foreign news costs were about twice as much per broadcast minute as domestic news.

Add to all this the domination of American commercial radio by shock-jocks and right-wing ranters and the rise of Fox News, a thinly disguised political propaganda operation, and the utter failure of American broadcast news to challenge the Bush administration’s spin on the “war on terror” becomes easier to understand. For more than 80 percent of Americans, radio and television are the principal sources of news, which explains most of what went wrong in the American media’s coverage over the past four years. But American newspapers didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory either. Several of them, including the New York Times, have had the decency to apologize to their readers for their uncritical acceptance of the administration’s arguments in favour of invading Iraq and they have conducted internal inquiries into how they betrayed their own values. But there is one aspect of the problem that goes deeper than those inquiries can delve: even at the best of times, the American media are notably more deferential to authority than their counterparts in other English-speaking countries.

This attitude is a question of national culture: can you imagine the British or Australian or even Canadian media letting a national leader get away with a stunt like donning a flight-suit and landing on a carrier to announce the (allegedly) victorious end of a war? The United States is a deeply conservative, militaristic, church-going society, and even the boldest and most cynical of American journalists must work within the bounds of a national culture that views both its elected leaders and its armed forces with something near to reverence. In addition, the chill on critical comment that descended on the US media after 9/11 was still very much in force at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, so maybe the American media’s failure to do its job can be seen as a one-time aberration. But the truth is that the rest of us didn’t do very well either.

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