Disarmament: social issues

2000-10-25   Update 2000-11-25

CNN has improved recently on it's coverage of how people with the perspective of an arab intellectual view the western world. For example, Edward Said was given the opportunity to make a critical, albeit very brief characterization of the skewed policies of the United States in the Middle East. American intellectuals could do a better job in learning and informing the public about the facts of the situation. It's very easy to get cynical and accept things the way they are, blaming the media etc. But there is a need for a greater fraction of the educated people of the United States to make themselves informed and to become heard in the debate. There is a need for a balancing of the very powerful business interests that have prevented the rise of democracy in that part of the world. Not in order to pity anybody. The whole situation is dangerous since it leaves room for future, serious conflicts, with possible use of weapons of mass destruction. And possible terrorist actions using such weapons anywhere on the globe. The very predictable response will be significant infringements on privacy and possibly martial law all over the western world.
A single high-jacking of a swedish airliner in 1973 led to an unconstitutional terrorist law still in operation, depriving the suspect of every right to defend himself since he is not informed about it.
What about a more serious event involving weapons of mass destruction in some american city?
This kind of problem is a very good reason not to cause animosity in intelligence circles, so we can trust them not to hide information important for the preservation of the open society. It ought to be an openly stated ambition within the system to protect the public against the system. To view the military and intelligence organisations as potential threats to their own people. Even if 99% of the people there are honest,(which would be a higher percentage than in other subgroups of the population) the remaining 1 % might drag the world into a major catastrophy.

This is a period of time when the economy is operating satisfactorily and people are busy working. But I wish some of these hard-working people would consider cutting down a bit on their work if they can afford it and get into these matters and organize and try to change the policies in a way in better accordance with a fair treatment of the palestinians.

Digression on internet democracy.
It seems to me that there is a great need for a working scheme of 'internetting' of democratic activities making it easier and less time consuming for people to organize. I am thinking of well-informed people with a full working schedule everyday who might be reluctant to begin a political career in the old sense, but who are nevertheless concerned and would be motivated to organize in the mentioned way. Lets recapitulate. There are a limited number of professional politicians: congressmen etc. They are in many cases partisan to various business agendas but not necessarily well informed with respect to the people in foreign countries who are affected by those same agendas. On the other hand there is a much greater number of well-informed people in the universities and in private businesses. They practically never have any time to influence the policies of their government. I just feel that if the majority of this cadre of the people have opinions that differ strongly from the official policies, then it ought to make a big difference, which is not the case presently. It wouldn't be democracy, since there is a clear elitism in the selection contemplated. But neither is the lobbying for powerful business interests. Note that this doesn't mean that the outcome would necessarily be to the disadvantage of those businesses. This is repeated below. The outcome would be a more enlightened arrangement. Nothing wrong with an all-win situation. In any case, I beleive free people make better business partners in the long run.
There is plenty of room for invention here. Schemes of moderating/filtering and bringing together/condensing the collective wisdom. Clearly moderators and other new specialties are needed. Possibly such qualities can be taught and perfected. People who can summarize and conclude well from a wide variety of suggestions and views. Actually this is a just a variation of other hierarchical types of rule, only it has potential for much greater flexibility and performance. As well as more confusion someone might add. Next problem is how these internetted ideas would force themselves into the policies proper. In a slightly longer perspective it would be regulated by law, but in this connection I was thinking more of lobbying. Professional lobbyists would press for the ideas extracted from the internetted opinions. One important aspect is that a much larger number of people would be able to cooperate and share each others burdens. There would also be a lot of room for provocateurs and troublemakers for sure. But that's where we need inventions. Many interesting challenges for high-tech people and anyone who can contribute in the current and future world of politics.

Although the people of the United States finance a formidable military system through their taxes, their protection against terrorism is limited due to the openness of the society.

There is no better way to protect against terrorism than to eliminate its motives.

It is possible to build extremely complex defence systems, but the terrorists or other contemplated adversaries could simply use bribes against any form of control. Safety cannot be based on high-tech systems only. There will always be ways to find weak spots.
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The reason I am bringing up the middle east is that I beleive the military systems are so oversized that there is an implicit demand for war. There is a hungry machinery of careers and profitable production. Most people in the military wouldn't say that they want war, because most of them don't want it. But it would be hypocrazy to deny that there is an element of truth in saying that there is a demand for war. Maybe not a full scale nuclear one, but adequate to make use of the equipment and to test the strategy and maybe harvest some glory and stories to tell the grand children. Further, although we are presently in a relatively calm period, the worlds nuclear powers, the United States, Russia, China and probably others have been extending and perfecting advanced underground facilities in which the elites of these powers would be able to survive a full scale nuclear war and strike back. I don't think we should expect that these facilities are aimed at saving the entire population, but probably less than a few percent. In view of possible future scenarios involving overpopulation and other problems, it seems possible that authoritarian minorities among the ruling elites, might contemplate to actively seek conflicts leading to the use of weapons of mass destruction, as a way to solve the problem of overpopulation and/or as a way to accomplish ethnic cleansing. This could happen even if the majority of the political leaders wouldn't have any such intention at all. The mere fact that there is a lot of secret activity going on and that there is no accountability there is no easy way to estimate the probability for such dramatic scenarios. Moreover even intelligent and well-educated people have a way of not wanting to know about deception used to provoke the bad guys to start wars.
Even if you only followed the Gulf war through the main stream media, things didn't look right. Saddam Hussein was given the impression by a high US official that USA wouldn't stop him, whereafter his assault on Kuwait began and you know the rest. This was described by some as a mistake by the US official. Does any well-educated person seriously beleive that?
And does anybody beleive that the official would have been given this kind of misleading instruction by mistake? Never. At this stage the buildup was such that they wanted to see a raging bull. They wanted the drama to unfold.
I remember my own reaction from this time although I feel ashamed about it. I would have been disappointed if they had called the thing off...
If I am not mistaken the leader George Bush was involved in other deceptive activities as well. Such as influencing the Iranians not to release the american hostages in Iran too quickly with the intention of making Jimmy Carter loose the election in 1980.
The regimes that Bush set out to protect against this wanted attack from Saddam Hussein, do not have any legitimacy anymore than that of Saddam. The people in some arab countries are presently denied the chance of building democracies due to the western priorities regarding the control of the supply and prices of oil. The west has a moral responsibility as well as selfinterest to help bringing about a stable reversion of the previous policies. There are ways to avoid having negative consequencies for western economies in this process. Such as a well thought-out scheme for joint business ventures with the deliberate aim to make it an all-win situation for both western and arab business interests, even when acting in a democratic environment.
Further, the oil crisis in 1973, has been explained by some observers to be a consequence of deliberate conspiracies against the public in the western countries, by the notorious oil companies, who undoubtedly profited from the situation. That is, that too a western affair. This is not what we were told at the time.
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It would be nice if the progressive forces in Israel could be much bolder and distance themselves from the reactionaries. And act as world citizens.

And be aware of the existence of machiawellian deceptive tactics. Provocateurs acting among the miscontent could come from both sides. Those who don't want to return occupied territory do have motives for covert provocatory actions.
Currently, there may not be any need for covert provocateurs from the adversary to explain the desperate actions from the palestinians, since they have good reasons for being impatient. Especially regarding the double standards in the priorities of the west.
Nevertheless, in the general case, I think it is always relevant to ask who might have a motive for bringing about violence and not always assume that things are the way they seem. Otherwise it's too tempting to use deceptive tactics.

The hatred won't go away quickly, since the palestinians have been humiliated for a long time, but economic development helps. When people own property and have career opportunities they are more reluctant to risk everything and are more likely to look for pragmatic solutions. If I am not mistaken, the people in the region are closely related ethnically, which ought to make it much easier to assimilate the people, once their economic conditions are less disparate.
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What to do about the oversized military systems?
The word official is used frequently below. I am not sure it's the right nuance. I mean people who have a comfortable military career but who might have difficulties in maintaining their standard of living if they had to leave the military.
Here I will limit myself to discuss one thing:
the job opportunities for officials in the military bureaucracies. Previously I have been talking about key individuals in the intelligence agencies and the military migrating from the military side to a much more interesting type of career in an international space exploration project, consciously organized with the intention of posing the kind of challenges to the scientific community, that would lead to a flood of spinoffs and thereby quickly affecting world economy in a favorable direction and not much later profits would begin to be generated from the exploitation of space. Make business, not war. So the argument went. This time, I am not talking about the key individuals, but about the relatively well to do people working as officials in the military organization/bureaucracy and correspondingly in the weapons industry and who may not be the most competitive if they loose those jobs. They may be competent in their particular area of activity but their skills may not be demanded to the extent necessary to keep their standard of living. I beleive this category of people are important in connection with military policies. The profits of the weapons industry are of course important. But there is this human side of it too. Not just the people who get very rich. It's about the people who would loose a comfortable and relatively well-payed job and find themselves unwanted in the civilian economy. Their private economy ruined, divorce and so forth. I beleive many of the voters who favor military buildups (politicians don't use that word but it is the truth) belong to that group of people. It's not really because the american people beleive that the weapons systems currently under discussion will make them any safer.
Previously I was putting all the emphasis on the key individuals, without trying to make an estimate of how many they are. But I am sure that they have what it takes to make things happen even if they are not so many. I mean I think they are able to make things happen whether or not the vast majority of the officials in the mentioned bureaucracies would find the changes to their advantage in the short perspective.
Now in order to make things operate smoothly, both what regards peace and space projects, I beleive it is important to consider this group of people separately from other people in the civilian economy. And to figure out how the oversized military industrial complex can be downsized to a reasonable level without the kind of social disasters that would face some of these people in connection with the downsizing. Note that the task is to make sure that a downsizing takes place and that not new people are filling the left positions. If these people want to be more competitive and try a new civilian career, they should be offered some privileges to be able to afford such studies at a mature age without having to reduce their standard of living unacceptably.

I think it is a serious mistake to disregard such social issues, if we want to get out of the deadlock. Maybe some of these people, would be motivated to begin studying and or working actively on solving problems related to global peace issues. With their background they would have useful contacts and insights based on their own experience.

We need a world where war is not on demand. This was a suggestion of how to make the process smoother, hoping that this would make it easier for the elected leaders to get the democratic backing for taking bold strides towards a world with much less of militarism. We need a globally shrinking military. A modern military, efficient and well informed, preferably not foreign to diplomatic activities, keeping an open mind to making themselves obsolete if possible. And perhaps well studied into the cultures of their potential adversaries.
Not the traditional military who are sorry that they never went to war like dad or grand dad, dreaming about the glory of the past. I think it would be an interesting possibility to offer the worlds remaining military, (preferably much fewer than today) a bonus connected with the degree to which the world is free of conflicts. So that they would have an economic incentive to cooperate with various civilian groupings and consider the overall picture and not just the conventional military aspects of the situation. Military people are disciplined and could perhaps influence some of the civilian leaders to do more, to make necessary reforms etc.

Note added 2000-11-25:
Recently on CNN, George Cril (?) interviewed General Eugene Harbiger, former head of all US nuclear forces. He and other US Generals as well appear to be inclined towards a sizeable worldwide nuclear disarmament. He said he would, if asked for advice by the coming president, give recommendations in that direction. Before the war against Serbia, there had been serious diplomatic contacts with his Russian counterpart (I didn't catch the name) towards that end. Those talks had ceased in connection with the mentioned war.
**a search on E Harbiger gave:
The Sunflower March 2000 (No. 34) Free monthly online newsletter of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation http://www.napf.org/sf/sunflower_0003.html
"We have reached the point where the senior military generals responsible for nuclear forces are advocating, more vocally, more vehemently, than our politicians, to get down to lower and lower weapons." US Air Force General Eugene Harbiger, newly retired Commander-in-Chief of US Strategic Command who was recently in charge of all US nuclear forces.

Another General:
"With respect to nuclear weapons, abolition is the only defensible goal - and that goal matters enormously... the goal is not a few thousand warheads or a few hundred, but zero. The United States must take the lead in working toward the goal. No other nation is in a position to make it happen." General Lee Butler, former Commander-in-Chief of US Strategic Command in an article titled "Zero Tolerance" in the Jan/Feb 2000 issues of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

My comment:
It is interesting to consider the options connected with securing world peace what regards the precise level of armament. What is the optimum level of armament for safe coexistence? Obviously, the lower the level of armament, the more some people will fear that some small actor will be tempted to use extortion, threatening to use nuclear or maybe even more likely bioweapons. Ethnically selective genetically engineered weapons are likely to be available within a not too distant future. By going down to zero, we would be motivated to overcome all remaining serious obstacles for world peace. However I don't think anybody among the main players would trust the potential adversaries enough to really go down to zero anyway. They would keep secret resources available. I think that the probable secret level is the more realistic level to aim for. But there would always be a motive for keeping some extras hidden up the sleeve. In order to get one step further from that situation of mutual distrust, where every important actor really distrusts everyone else and only wants to rely on his own strength. Always expecting the others to try to come on top if given a chance. The law of the djungle.
I beleive part of this distrust is grounded in a realism. There really is some foundation for that kind of distrust. However there is in addition the problem of cultural differences and ignorance. In particular the english speaking world, where people find they can be understood (language-wise) in most parts of the world, don't have to bother to learn other languages. I don't know how this dominance affects their inclination to show the same kind of disinterest for learning about other cultures, regarding their customs, their way of thinking, history, their view of the west etc. It isn't obvious that there should be such a connection. But one may wonder whether this dominance actually leads to a kind of arrogance and neglect in that respect. Since Brittish and Americans have this advantage of being easily understood, I challenge them to give something back to the world in the sense of trying to be the best rather than showing the above kind of arrogance. Trying to be the best in their understanding of other cultures in particular what regards the potential adversaries, like China. It ought to be an interesting challenge for people within the military, to become the best in communicating multicultural understanding and help in getting the worlds nations closer together. If it comes from the military it would probably be considered favorably by many of us. There is no reason why Brittish and Americans should be burdened more than everyone else, but I sense they would benefit if they gained that kind of understanding and any nation that counts multicultural expertise is likely to ripe economical benefits from such insights. It certainly helps in connection with business contacts.
That would be a natural closing line.
But instead, I want to point to a problematic side. Lets assume that military and others from the mentioned nations would gain a profound expertise about everything related to the arab world. Chances are these experts would become extremely critical against the role played by their own nations in that area. It's obvious that there is a complete lack of democracy, and that this is connected with the western oil interests. How to change the world without causing economical damage to their own side? Normally such problems are the main reason for maintaining silence about the dark side of western influence on the global situation. That the truth seems to be too costly to do something about. Nobody knows what the world will be like if the arab world evolves towards democracy. I beleive there is a need for making plans in that direction and try seriously to overcome the obstacles. Not above the heads of the people afflicted but since the situation is so hard to predict there is need for considering creatively all options for a peaceful and prosperous evolution towards democracy. I hope there are, or soon will be, organized efforts in that direction. The first step must be to get wellinformed across the cultural borders.

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