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Dual injustice: Is Canada outsourcing torture in an unjust war?

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By Stephen Gowans

There are two questions about the justice of any war. Are the reasons for fighting it just? Is it fought in a just way? When it comes to Canada’s involvement in the war on Afghanistan, it looks like the country fails on both counts.

Let me defer to the end the question of whether Canada’s participation in the US-led war on Afghanistan is just, noting only at this point that an April public opinion poll by the Canadian pollster Angus Reid shows that only 39 percent of Canadians support their country’s military mission in Afghanistan. [1] Take away an enormous propaganda effort to rally Canadians to support the war and these numbers would be smaller still. The propaganda effort has included a “wear red on Friday” campaign to “support our troops”, bumper stickers warning that anyone who doesn’t stand behind the troops shouldn’t dare stand in front of them, and the first intermission of the popular Hockey Night in Canada TV broadcast being transformed into an ongoing PR campaign for the Canadian Forces’ role in Afghanistan.

Hockey Night in Canada’s first intermission revolves around former National Hockey League coach Don Cherry, a pugnacious, inarticulate and bigoted blowhard, whose jingoist leitmotif is that Canada distinguishes itself on the world stage in two ways: by producing the world’s best hockey players and the world’s best soldiers. He has, ever since Canadian soldiers shipped out to Afghanistan, turned his Coach’s Corner segment into a platform for promoting unquestioning support of the Canadian military.

Don Cherry, a pugnacious, inarticulate and bigoted blowhard, whose jingoist leitmotif is that Canada distinguishes itself on the world stage in two ways: by producing the world’s best hockey players and the world’s best soldiers. He has, ever since Canadian soldiers shipped out to Afghanistan, turned his Hockey Night in Canada Coach’s Corner segment into a platform for promoting unquestioning support of the Canadian military’s role in Afghanistan.

The more immediate question is whether Canadian troops have conducted themselves justly in the war, and specifically, whether they’ve been complicit in the torture of the Afghan militants they’ve captured. We do know that Afghan authorities have tortured prisoners. The question is: Did Canadian troops know that the captives they transferred to Afghan authorities would be abused? While we can’t at this point say for sure that that they did, what we do know fails to support Ottawa’s denials that they did.

Canadian troops have detained Afghans for years. They haven’t held the detainees in a Canadian detention facility, because no Canadian detention facility exists. No facility exists because Canada refuses to build one. Several countries and branches of the Afghan government have urged Ottawa to build its own prison in Afghanistan to get the notorious Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) out of the business of holding detainees. [2]

Numerous concerns have been raised about the NDS, and it is hardly a secret that the organization has a reputation for torturing prisoners.

In “September, 2006, near the beginning of the Canadian and British military operations in the south…a memo from [British] military lawyers describe[d] efforts to have a NATO-monitored prison facility opened and run in order to get the NDS out of the detainee-handling chain. The memo [said] that a desirable option would be to build a facility in an unused building in Kandahar, but… that the ‘proposal is meeting resistance from the Canadians and the Dutch.’” [3]

Documentation drawn from British military files alleged that “in six known cases in which Afghan captives [were] handed by British forces to the [NDS] prisons, including one in Canada’s military jurisdiction in Kandahar,” detainees had been “tortured using electric shocks, beatings with wires, whips and metal rods, sleep deprivation and cuts, between early 2007 and late 2008.” [4]

In 2007, both an Amnesty International report and investigation by the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail warned that the NDS was torturing captives turned over to them by Western forces. [5]

Richard Colvin, a Canadian diplomat who was posted to Afghanistan for 17 months, testified before a complaints commission that he had warned Ottawa that “the NDS tortures people. That’s what they do, so if we don’t want detainees tortured we shouldn’t give them to the NDS.” [6] The commission, known as the Military Police Complaints Commission, was established after the Canadian military tried to cover up the torture of Somali captives by Canadian troops. Canada sent a military mission to Somalia in 1993.

Earlier, Colvin had told the Canadian parliament that he had informed Ottawa as early as May 2006 that the NDS was torturing prisoners. “According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured. For interrogators in Kandahar, it was standard operating procedure.” [7]

Richard Colvin, Canadian diplomat who served 17 months in Afghanistan: “According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured.”

But neither Colvin’s bosses nor the Canadian military were interested. It took a whole year before Ottawa changed its prisoner-transfer policy to allow “for follow-up visits to ensure detainees weren’t tortured.” [8] “But on February 11, 2009, Canada signed a letter along with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands” offering “to provide (NDS) intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh advance warning of monitoring trips to detention facilities.” [9] The advance warning would give the NDS time to cover up evidence of torture, allowing Ottawa to claim it had no evidence the NDS was abusing the captives Canadian troops were transferring to NDS custody. And when “the Red Cross tried to raise concerns about detainees with the Canadian army, the ‘Canadian Forces in Kandahar wouldn’t even take their phone calls.’” [10] As further evidence that Ottawa was deliberately turning a blind eye, Colvin said “the Canadian government responded to his frequent warnings by telling him to stop writing these concerns into reports.” [11]

Earlier this month, Ahmadshah Malgarai, a Canadian citizen born in Afghanistan who worked as an interpreter for the Canadian army in Afghanistan, testified that “the (Canadian) military used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture.” [12]

He said that Canadian soldiers transferred prisoners to Afghan officials knowing they would be tortured. “I saw Canadian military intelligence sending detainees to the NDS when the detainees did not tell them what they expected to hear.” He added that “If the [Canadian] interrogator thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to NDS for more questions, Afghan style. Translation: abuse and torture.” [13]

The response of the Canadian government to these allegations has been to stonewall requests for pubic access to documents that would show whether the Canadian military did indeed turn over prisoners to the NDS knowing they would be tortured.
Canada’s Parliament has demanded that the government make public thousands of pages of heavily censored documents. But the government refuses.

While it says it can’t publically disclose the documents for national security reasons, there are other reasons Ottawa might be reluctant to comply with Parliament’s order. Twenty-three years ago, Canada wrote the United Nations Convention against Torture into its criminal code. The convention prohibits the transfer of a prisoner to a state “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” [14]

Ahmadshah Malgarai, a Canadian citizen born in Afghanistan who worked as an interpreter for the Canadian army in Afghanistan: “If the interrogator thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to NDS for more questions, Afghan style. Translation: abuse and torture.”

Given that there are substantial grounds for believing the NDS is torturing prisoners, and that Ottawa has received ample (though apparently unwelcome) warning that prisoners transferred by Canadian soldiers to the NDS were being abused, public disclosure of the documents could open senior members of the Canadian government and top military brass to war crimes charges.

As Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom points out, “Technically, there seem to be grounds for charging Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former defence minister Gordon O’Connor, current Defence Minister Peter MacKay, former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier and various others under both Section 269.1 of the Criminal Code and Canada’s Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act.” [15]

On top of complicating efforts to determine whether the Canadian government and military have committed war crimes, the Harper government’s refusal to comply with Parliament’s directive tramples “centuries of precedent [which] dictate[s] that Parliament is supreme in holding the government to account.” If Canada’s parliamentary speaker rules that the government is in contempt of Parliament, and the government continues to refuse to disclose documents in its possession, Canada’s whole system of government will have been undermined, according to University of Ottawa law professor, Errol Mendes. “The executive would no longer be accountable to the House of Commons.” [16]

Here, then, is what we know. Canadian troops are in the business of detaining and interrogating Afghan militants. They don’t hold the militants in Canadian-run detention facilities. There are none. Canada has been asked by several countries and Afghan government departments to build its own detention facilities in order to protect detainees from torture at the hands of the NDS. Canada refuses. Instead, the Canadian military transfers captives to the NDS, despite the organization’s notorious reputation for abusing prisoners. “If we don’t want detainees tortured we shouldn’t give them to the NDS,” warns diplomat Richard Colvin. An Afghan who worked as a Canadian army interpreter testifies that Canadian interrogators transferred detainees they suspected of lying to the NDS, knowing the NDS would use torture. The Canadian government stonewalls demands for public disclosure of documents that could show whether the government and military were complicit in torture. The stonewalling places the government in contempt of Parliament. The fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy — that the executive is answerable to parliament — has been undermined. Does it seem likely, given this, that Ottawa and the Canadian military are innocent of all charges?

NDS intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh: Canada offered to provide him with advance warning of monitoring trips to his detention facilities. Advanced warning would allow the NDS to cover up evidence of torture before Canadian monitors arrived.

The justification for Canada’s involvement in the war on Afghanistan has never been strong. The US attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was carried out in violation of international law. The claim that Afghanistan must be made safe against the return of al Qaeda holds no water. Al Qaeda’s operations can be planned practically anywhere, and have been. Crushing the Taliban, if that’s even possible, won’t stop al Qaeda. On the contrary, Western wars of aggression on Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, on top of military and diplomatic support for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist forces, simply enrage more southwest Asians and north Africans, making it more likely they will be galvanized into action against Western aggression under the banner of Islamic fundamentalism or, in Afghanistan and Iran, under the banner of liberation from foreign occupation. For example, “There is no doubt among (US) intelligence officials that the barrage of attacks by CIA drones over the past year have made Pakistan’s Taliban…increasingly determined to seek revenge by finding any way possible to strike at the United States.” [17] The failed attempt of Faisal Shahzad to carry out a car bomb attack in Times Square is now seen as a possible revenge attack.

Canada’s Afghan mission represents complicity with the United States in predatory wars which do nothing to prevent the aggrieved of southwest Asia from striking out against the West and everything to increase the number of aggrieved.

And while Canadians have looked askance at the US-led war on Iraq, the minority that continues to support Canada’s Afghan mission should recognize that the mission they support – and the troops they support who carry out the mission — have assisted the United States by freeing up US troops to serve in Iraq. Canada, then, has made its own (indirect) contribution to an Iraq war which is unjustifiable on moral and legal grounds and, far from promoting or defending the interests of ordinary people in the United States, does the opposite. It is ordinary Americans who carry the burdens of fighting the wars and paying for them through their taxes and who bear the burdens of the retaliation the wars inevitably provoke.

Finally, while Canada’s Afghan mission is sometimes justified as necessary to defend the Karzai regime, who wants to defend a regime that beats prisoners with wires, whips and metal rods and hooks their genitals up to car batteries? Apparently the Canadian government does, and worse, appears to count on the Karzai regime’s torturers to act as an outsourced shop for torturing prisoners who don’t bend under the interrogation of the Canadian military.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Technically, there seem to be grounds for charging him, along with former defence minister Gordon O'Connor, current Defence Minister Peter MacKay, former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier and various others under both Section 269.1 of the Criminal Code and Canada's Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

If we consider that it’s not the Karzai government that exercises real power in Afghanistan — it’s the US-led occupation force that calls the shots — a critical question arises. Could the NDS’s regular use of torture continue without the occupation’s implicit support? The answer is obvious. No. That the NDS continues to use torture suggests that the practice is tolerated because it serves a purpose: it offers an outsourced means of torturing recalcitrant prisoners, allowing Western militaries to preserve a carefully cultivated but undeserved pristine image for conducting themselves justly in war. “We would never stoop to the brutality of torturing prisoners,” the Canadian military seems to say, (ignoring the 1993 torture of Somalis by Canadian troops) “but we’re perfectly willing to outsource torture to the NDS” (and provide advance notice of our monitoring visits to allow evidence of torture to be covered up.) [18]

On top of becoming embroiled in a conflict with no justification, and one which depletes the public purse of funds that could otherwise be used for humane purposes, it appears that Ottawa and the Canadian military are complicit in the torture of Afghans. Considering that the occupation’s rational is indefensible and that Afghans therefore have every right to resist the foreign troops who exercise the occupation, Canada’s probable complicity in the abuse of Afghans puts the Canadian government even more decisively on the wrong side of justice, morality and history. The war is doubly unjust. There are no defensible grounds for it, and the actions of Canada’s military in it, appear on the basis of what we know, to be criminal.

1. “Support for Afghanistan Mission Falls Markedly in Canada,” http://www.visioncritical.com/2010/04/support-for-afghanistan-mission-falls-markedly-in-canada/
2. Doug Saunders, “British officers recorded claims of detainee torture, memos reveal”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 20, 2010.
3. Doug Saunders, “Detainee-torture allegations spread to Britain”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 19, 2010.
4. Saunders, April 20.
5. Saunders, April 19.
6. Ibid.
7. Steven Chase, “Canada complicit in torture of innocent Afghans, diplomat says,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), November 18, 2009.
8. Ibid.
9. Steven Chase, “Afghan detainee monitoring not undermined by offer of advanced notice, Ottawa insists”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 22, 2010. Ottawa says the letter was a “slip-up” and that the offer was retracted.
10. Chase, November 18.
11. Ibid.
12. Steven Chase, “Soldiers did not unlawfully shoot unarmed Afghan: Natynczyk”, The Globe & Mail (Toronto), April 16, 2010.
13. Ibid.
14. Thomas Walkom, “Walkom: Only the losers need to fear war-crime laws,” The Toronto Star, November 21, 2009.
15. Ibid.
16. John Ibbitson, “Historic ruling to decide who holds real power in Ottawa”, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 20, 2010.
17. Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, “Evidence mounts for Taliban role in car bomb plot”, The New York Times, May 5, 2010.
18. The US-led occupation is also the de facto authority in Iraq. How is that, as Steven Lee Myers reported in the April 21, 2010 edition of The New York Times that “Torture and other abuses of prisoners are pervasive in Iraq”? (“Secret Baghdad jail held Sunnis from the north”). Myers reports that “An Iraqi security force under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s direct command held hundreds of detainees from northern Iraq in an undisclosed prison in Baghdad, torturing dozens of them” and that 505 cases of torture were recorded in 2009 alone. This raises questions about why the United States is supporting a government known to practice torture, and whether it tolerates the practice in order to use Iraqi security forces as an outsourced shop for the coercive extraction of information from captives through maltreatment.

The Guardian’s (UK) Mark Tran reported on April 28, 2010 (“Iraqis tortured at secret Baghdad prison, says watchdog”) that Human Rights Watch “had interviewed 42 men who were among about 300 detainees transferred from (a) secret facility” that “was under the jurisdiction of Maliki’s military office.”

According to the rights organization,

“The jailers suspended their captives handcuffed and blindfolded upside down by means of two bars, one placed behind their calves and the other against their shins. All had terrible scabs and bruising on their legs. The interrogators then kicked, whipped and beat the detainees. Interrogators also placed a dirty plastic bag over the detainee’s head to close off his air supply. Typically, when the detainee passed out from this ordeal, his interrogators awakened him with electric shocks to his genitals or other parts of his body.”

Wasn’t putting an end to ‘Saddam’s rape rooms and torture chambers’ one of the US pretexts for the invasion of Iraq? Perhaps an end has been put to Saddam’s torture chambers, but torture continues, now under the direction of a new local puppet. How is it that torture persists in the lands the US has ostensibly liberated in the name of human rights, if not through its complicity and (in Afghanistan) that of Canada and other errand-boys of US foreign policy?

Last updated May 6, 2010.

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April 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm

The Nuclear Posture Review

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April 15, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Nuclear Posture Review 2010

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Inducing potential victims to surrender their right to self-defense under threat of nuclear annihilation

By Stephen Gowans

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Washington named Iraq, Iran and north Korea as forming an axis of evil. Soon after, the first of these countries was invaded by US and British forces on entirely spurious grounds. The invading forces met little resistance, for Iraq had effectively disarmed under a regime of international sanctions championed by Washington and London that led to the deaths of more than one million over its decade-plus-long existence. The pretext for the aggression was that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction. It had none.

Around the same time, Washington tore up an accord with north Korea that committed the latter to shuttering its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and forswearing the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the former to building light water reactors and delivering fuel oil while the reactors were being built. Washington tarried on the reactor construction, convinced the Juche regime would collapse before the United States had to make good on its commitment. As the date for completion of the reactors drew near, and with only the foundations of the reactors having been built, Washington declared that north Korea had admitted to operating a secret uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang denied the charge. One Bush administration official warned the north Koreans to draw the appropriate lesson from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. They did. North Korea fired up its Yongbyon reactor and embarked upon development of a nuclear deterrent.

US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.

Whether Iran drew the same lesson is unclear. The National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of the US intelligence community, is that Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program until 2003, the year of the US-British invasion of Iraq, but has since abandoned it. Iran has worked to develop its own capability to generate enriched uranium for use in civilian nuclear power plants, while at the same time working on long range missiles. Irrespective of its nuclear weapons intentions, which Tehran says it doesn’t have, both activities converge on providing the country with the capability of developing nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them. While Tehran is not in the position to present a nuclear deterrent today, it may in the not too distant future be able to rapidly develop one to deter a US or Israeli attack.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from the above and a third that is axiomatic.

1. The United States and Britain have long records of highly provocative behavior based on policies of military aggression, the most conspicuous recent example of which is the invasion of Iraq. Naming countries as forming an axis of evil is a virtual declaration of war. Invading one of them, without provocation and on entirely contrived grounds, is a repugnant act and an international crime of the highest order. North Korea and Iran, the two remaining countries of the US-designated axis, have reasonable cause to fear military aggression by the United States or its proxies.

2. If the case of Iraq is definitive, US policy is to pressure its targets to surrender their means of self-defense to facilitate US pursuit of a subsequent war of aggression.

3. Countries that possess a nuclear weapons capability reduce the Pentagon’s room for manoeuvre and therefore reduce the probability that they will become the object of US military aggression.

From these three points may be drawn a fourth: The United States, as the world’s major agent of military aggression, is the principal cause of nuclear proliferation.

If read superficially, Washington’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) would lead you to believe that US policy makers have finally figured out that the cardinal rule of nonproliferation is to abjure military aggression. Countries that aren’t threatened by nuclear powers have no need to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense. However, a closer reading of the review shows that nothing has changed. US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.

The NPR declares “that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states”, even if they attack the United States, its vital interest or allies and partners with chemical or biological weapons. This differs, but only on the surface, from the policy of preceding administrations which refused to renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. There are a number of reasons why the difference is apparent only.

While nuclear weapons are widely regarded as being unparalleled in their destructive power (and they are), the United States is able to deliver overwhelming destructive force through its conventional military capabilities. A promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is not the same as an assurance not to use or threaten to use devastating military force. Six decades ago it was possible to obliterate a city through conventional means, as the United States and Britain demonstrated in the firebombing of Dresden. If a city could be destroyed by conventional means more than half a century ago, imagine what the Pentagon could do today through conventional forces alone. Indeed, the NPR makes clear that the United States is prepared to shrink its nuclear arsenal partly because “the growth of unrivalled U.S. conventional military capabilities” allows Washington to fulfill its geostrategic goals “with significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.”

The NPR also provides a number of escape hatches that allow Washington to continue to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over the heads of the two remaining axis of evil countries. One is that nuclear weapons can be used, or their used threatened, against a country that is not “party to the NPT” (the nuclear non-proliferation treaty) even if the country doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, or it is unclear whether it does. This is the north Korea escape clause. It allows Washington to continue to threaten north Korea (which may or may not have a working crude nuclear weapon) with nuclear obliteration, just as it has done since the early 1990s when the US Strategic Command announced it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles on the DPRK (the reason why north Korea withdrew from the NPT.)

Another escape hatch allows Washington to reach for the nuclear trigger whenever it deems a country to have fallen short of “compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” even if the country doesn’t have nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. This is the Iran escape hatch, intended to allow Washington to maintain the threat of nuclear annihilation vis-à-vis Iran or any other country Washington unilaterally declares to be noncompliant with the treaty’s obligations. Washington has a history of fabricating casus belli. 10-100,000 Kosovo Albanian dead and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, neither of which were ever found, represent recent examples of the United States waging war on entirely fictitious grounds. Washington could readily produce “sexed up” intelligence to declare Iran or any other NPT signatory to be in breach of its treaty obligations, thereby justifying the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.

As for the United States’ commitment not to reach for its nuclear arsenal in response to a chemical or biological attack on itself, its vital interests (a term that defies geography and democracy, for how is it that the United States’ vital interests extend to other people’s countries?) its allies and its partners, this too is verbal legerdemain. As a careful reading of the NPR makes clear, the truth of the matter is that the United States will attack any country with nuclear weapons if such an attack is deemed necessary by Washington to protect its interests, which is to say, the interests of the corporations, banks and investors whose senior officials and representatives dominate policy formulation in Washington and provide the major funding, and post-political jobs, to the country’s politicians. According to the NPR, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in [its commitment] that may be warranted…” Translation: We won’t attack non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons unless we decide it’s in our interests to do so.

Washington’s attachment of escape clauses and reservations to its commitment calls to mind Rajani Palme Dutt’s description of how the great powers made a mockery of the Kellog Pact, an agreement to renounce recourse to war as an instrument of foreign policy.

“The United States government exempted from its operation any action for the maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine. The French Government insisted that the pact must not be understood to refer to wars of self-defense or in fulfillment of treaty obligations. The British Government made the most sweeping reservation of all…

“Not content with the ‘defense’ of the Empire, covering a quarter of the world, Britain…reserved for itself full ‘freedom of action’ in any unspecified ‘regions of the world,’ where it might at any time claim ‘a special and vital interest.’ This sweeping claim of British imperialism left the Monroe Doctrine behind as a parochial affair in comparison. Needless to say, this claim was thereafter taken as equally applicable to themselves by the other Powers: thus the Italian representative at Geneva specifically referred to it as justifying Italy’s claim that its war on Abyssinia was no breach of the Kellog Pact.

“What, then, remained of the Kellog Pact even on the day that it was signed? Wars of ‘defense’ were clearly understood to be excluded from its operation. Wars for the maintenance of colonial possession or in execution of treaties were equally understood to be excluded. So were wars on behalf of ‘special and vital interests’ in any ‘regions of the world.’ With these small exceptions the imperialist signatories ‘renounced’ war.” (R. Palme Dutt, World Politics: 1918-1936, Random House, New York, pp. 151-152.)

What, then, remains of the Obama administration’s assurance, even on the day the NPR was published, that Washington won’t attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons? Countries that may or may not have nuclear weapons are excluded. Countries that don’t have nuclear arms and are party to the NPT, but which may develop a nuclear arms capability, and importantly, are independent of the United States, are excluded. Countries which, through their pursuit of independent economic development policies, threaten the special and vital interests of the United States in any region of the world, are excluded. With these small exceptions, Washington has renounced the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.

The NPR is said to be based on “the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” But it’s clear from the very beginning of the review that US policy stands in the way of the president’s ostensible aim. “As long as nuclear weapons exist,” the review begins, “the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal…to deter potential adversaries…” The implication is that the country to first develop nuclear weapons, and the only country to have ever used them, intends to be the last country to have them, arrogating onto itself the monopoly right to maintain a nuclear arsenal to deter potential adversaries. Only if every other country surrenders their rights to deter potential adversaries, and yields this right exclusively to the United States, can the implications of the president’s aim be realized. But given the United States’ sanguinary history of busting down the doors of weak countries to lay claim to their land, labor, resources and markets on behalf of its economic elite, only the insane, opportunistic, unprincipled, cowardly or co-opted would yield their right to self-defense to such a predatory country. The president’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is more aptly described as an agenda for inducing potential victims to surrender their right of self-defense, and under the threat of nuclear annihilation. In other words, US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.

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April 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Washington Post: North Korean, Iranian nuclear capability threatens US imperialism

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By Stephen Gowans

Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus has put his finger on what’s wrong with north Korea and Iran developing nuclear weapons, or having the capability to do so.

The problem is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent, which means that if either country possesses a credible nuclear arsenal and the means of delivering warheads, their conquest by US forces isn’t in the cards. And that is something Pincus seems to regard as regrettable.

In his March 30 column Pincus points to General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command.

Chilton reminded US legislators that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest, nor has the world witnessed the globe-consuming conflicts of earlier history.” [1]

Pincus regarded this as a warning, “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability.” [2]

Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus thinks north Korea and Iran should be conquered before their pursuit of nuclear capability makes them unconquerable.

In other words, the implication of Chilton’s view, as Pincus interprets it, is that there is little chance that a nuclear-armed north Korea or Iran could be conquered or even put at risk of conquest, a prospect so alarming to him, that he urges government officials to think through what would happen if Tehran and Pyongyang developed a credible threat of self-defense.

Pincus’s circularity (we ought to conquer these countries before they’re no longer conquerable) invites the question: Why conquer them at all? The standard answer, that both countries are threats to their neighbors, doesn’t work, for two reasons.

First, the real threat, as Pincus implicitly acknowledges, isn’t one of north Korea endangering south Korea or Iran wiping Israel off the map, but of both countries acquiring the means to make themselves effectively unconquerable.

Second, other countries have acquired large nuclear arsenals, and far from being treated as threats that must be pressed to relinquish their nuclear arms, are aided by the United States in acquiring more of them.

Consider India. The very same issue of The Washington Post that found Picus worrying about north Korea and Iran becoming unconquerable carried an article on negotiations between the United States and India, the outcome of which is that the latter will soon import spent nuclear fuel from the former. [3]

India will be able to extract plutonium from the fuel it imports to make nuclear weapons. Although India has pledged not to do so, “it diverted civilian nuclear fuel to build its first nuclear weapons three decades ago.” [4] Already India has manufactured weapons-grade plutonium for an estimated 100 warheads and has “has built weapons with yields of up to 200 kilotons.” [5]

Washington portrays the nuclear programs of north Korea and Iran as threats, while preparing to export spent fuel to India, a country that refuses to join the nonproliferation treaty.

What’s more, the country is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, portrayed by Pincus’s colleagues as a looming nuclear threat is a treaty signatory, while north Korea was, until Chilton’s predecessors at Strategic Command announced in 1993 that the DPRK would be targeted with strategic nuclear missiles.

Strange that Pincus wasn’t warning government officials to ponder Chilton’s words about nuclear powers avoiding the risk of conquest as they watch India strengthen its nuclear capability, with US assistance.

But then India is already part of Washington’s informal empire. Plus, exporting nuclear fuel to India promises to fatten the bottom line of the US nuclear industry.

It’s not so curious to discover that north Korea, a country Pincus seems to think really should be conquered before it’s too late, comes in dead last on the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index, a ranking of how congenial countries are to the profit-making interests of banks, corporations and wealthy investors. Countries that have low tax rates, welcome foreign investment and trade, and spend little on government programs are considered economically free, while countries whose governments intervene in the economy to achieve public policy goals, or to prohibit exploitation, are relegated to the basement of the list.

Generally speaking, where a country appears on the list, offers a pretty good gauge of whether a country is in or out of favor with Washington, whose foreign policy since the Bolshevik Revolution and before has been guided by how open other countries are to US investment and exports. US policy leans toward prying open closed economies and rhapsodizing about open ones.

The places of selected countries on the Heritage Foundation 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, are shown below. (The index ranks 179 countries.)

• North Korea, 179
• Zimbabwe, 178
• Cuba, 177
• Myanmar (Burma), 175
• Venezuela, 174
• Iran, 168

Notice that the bottom dwelling countries are the objects of various Western efforts of regime change, some involving the threat of military intervention and all involving destabilization carried out, in most cases, with the participation of “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” groups that profess to be progressive and anti-imperialist but are in reality lieutenants of the US foreign policy estblishment. No surprise that their major funding comes from such wealthy individuals as Peter Ackerman and George Soros, who play prominent roles in US ruling class circles. Ackerman is a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations and was head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. Soros is a veteran anti-communist warrior.

It’s no accident that the countries that are on Washington’s regime change hit list also happen to be on the Heritage Foundation’s list of countries that are least accommodating to business interests, no accident because US corporations, investors and banks dominate the formulation of US foreign policy. It makes sense that they would go after “closed economies” (i.e., closed to export of capital and commodities on favorable terms) since these economies represent an unrealized potential for profit-making, and also the threat of a bad example if they’re allowed to get away with shaping economic policy to serve local interests rather than those of foreign capital.

While not among the Index of Economic Freedom stars, India ranks much higher on the list (124) and has been praised for moving “forward with market-oriented economic reforms” and opening its trade regime.

North Korea, Cuba and Zimbabwe: Dead last on the Heritage Foundation’s index of countries that offer themselves up as profitable investment opportunities for US capital. Iran is also among the basement-dwellers. It’s no accident that the same countries are on Washington’s regime change hit list.

We might ask why anyone would create an index of economic freedom in the first place. It is safe to say that the only people interested in creating a map of favourable opportunities for the export of capital and commodities are those with capital and commodities to export. You won’t find north Koreans, Cubans or Zimbabweans surveying the world to find out whose policies are geared toward promoting attractive returns for investors, largely because they haven’t surplus capital to export. In these countries, the development of internal productive forces is the top priority. And north Korea and Cuba haven’t structural compulsions to export capital. But imperialist countries have plenty of surplus capital, which is why “economic freedom” and rolling over governments that oppose it, is an obsession in Washington and other major capitals.

Pincus strays from the script in calling for north Korea and Iran to be conquered before they can make themselves unconquerable, rather than repeating the accustomed nonsense about the dangers of first strikes launched against neighbors, Europe or even the United States. At the same time, his employer makes US hypocrisy plain by running a story about the United States preparing to export spent nuclear fuel to a country that refuses to join the nonproliferation treaty and has amassed a substantial nuclear arsenal. Finally, the failure of north Korea and Iran to serve themselves up as profitable fields for US investment, while India displays a greater willingness to cater to the profit-making requirements of US corporations, offers a glimpse into the real reasons behind Washington’s double-standard.

1. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
2. Ibid.
3. Rama Lakshmi and Steven Mufson, “US, India reach agreement on nuclear fuel reprocessing”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
4. Ibid.
5. James Lamont and James Blitz, ‘India raises nuclear stakes,’ Financial Times, September 27, 2009.

Written by what's left

April 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Iran, Media, north Korea

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