Archive for January, 2016
By Jan Oberg
Permit a digression to neighbouring Sweden.
Sweden has – shamefully – not only closed its borders for people without valid documents, scrapped the right to asylum embedded in the Human Rights Declaration. It has declared (January 28, 2016) that it intends to deport 60.000-80.000 refugees already inside Sweden.
It was Sweden’s ambassador, the courageous Harald Edelstam, who in 1973 stood at the stadium in Santiago after the Pinochet coup and murder of president Allende and told thousands that they would always be welcome in Sweden. Thousands came and made a good life in Sweden. (There were 90 Chileans living in Sweden before the coup, today over 40,000). A small internationalist country took humanitarian leadership and we could all be proud.
But we can’t take that many people now, I hear many say.
The head of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Region (SKL) has stated that 40-50 municipalities are facing crisis in Sweden but that, significantly, 200-220 municipalities “say they can do more.”
But then what about the country’s security and stability? The risk of social disorder, criminality, hatred?
Of course that is a risk. But that is an old one – xenophobia and racism has been around for long in Sweden, however less visible at the surface. An enlightened government’s response should be to serve as a role model and combat racism, Islamophobia in particular – not to combat and deport refugees.
Sweden’s new overall refugee-repelling strategy is a deplorable bending down for the worst forces in society instead of mobilising a demonstratively humanitarian and visionary policy for the common good – good for Sweden and good for Europe. If you behave like Denmark and Sweden you lose your goodwill and certainly every chance to influence or take leadership among other EU countries.
Where there is a will there is a way. But it also requires a little creativity.
The Swedish government lacks the will. Like Denmark – albeit in different ways.
Are we moving from democracy towards some kind of kakistocracy – i.e.“government by the worst, least qualified or most unprincipled citizens”?
New Danish fighter planes and reduced development assistance
Back to Denmark and one more piquant aspect. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
One can point to many reasons for such a tragic development in an otherwise decent, wealthy and hitherto well-respected country.
• It’s become too easy to go to war. The generation of politicians who might have a sense of war are long gone. If you take property owned by people who have fled thousands of kilometres because their life opportunities have been smashed and who carry just what they could grab in a hurry and carry – you simply have no idea of what life is like in a war zone. Neither do you see any need for advisers.
• Only a small percentage of Danish politicians have any international experience, no special competence, in international affairs – in sharp contrast to the 1970s-80s.
• Knowledge, broad civic education and cultured manners have been replaced by marketing consultants, styling experts, and fast politics salesmanship.
• Politics nowadays attracts a different kind of people than before. They fight more for their power positions than for an ideology, values, norms or a vision of a better world – all of which is totally outdated in today’s politics.
• Politics is a job or profession, not a calling based on deepy held individual values and visions about a better society for all.
• Anyone mentioning ethics or existential responsibilities would be ridiculed. And neither do media people raise such dimensions. An expert in ethics is hardly ever invited to the TV debates.
• Since the end of the Cold War, there has been no international balancing factor to take into account – the US/NATO and EU could do virtually what they pleased, riskfree violations of all good norms and international law – and implicit, if not intended, humiliation of Russia.
• The social democratic party developed from a working class solidarity movement to a middle class power elite losing on the way all ideals, ideology and solidarity with disadvantaged classes domestically and internationally. It lost its narrative and party identity as a social transformation agent for the better sometime in the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
It was a few days ago when Swedish Army chief, Major-General Anders Brännström stated in a (leaked) internal document that ‘Sweden could be at war within a few years.’
This is, of course, nothing but ‘fearology’ and very bad judgement. He may be a great soldier but a victim of his own system’s bizarre threat perceptions – always pointing as they do to the Russians.
As I explain here, this is part of a much larger picture – and it isn’t good. The statement – that is not and has not been backed up by any analysis – ought to be enough for general Brännström to be replaced.
But that is something both mainstream media and scholars are too diplomatic to suggest. Had he stated something about Sweden being drawn into a war if it were a NATO member it would certainly have caused quite a media debate and discussions about his qualifications.
By Jan Oberg
Or, where there is a will, there is a way
2001 – the ‘war on terror’
The war on terror was initiatied after 9/11 – Afghanistan 10/7. Denmark went along without thinking. The idea came from Washington, so what was there to think about?
At the time about 400 people were killed in international terrorism per year; today the Global Terror Index informs us that 32.000 people are killed in terrorism. It must be the stupidest war in modern time and the majority of the victims are found in the Middle East, not in Europe and not in the US.
But we bomb – and create more terrorism. And more refugees. Politics having become anti-intellectual and devoid of ethical considerations, few connect the dots. Fewer see Denmark’s own co-responsibility for causing the problems and even fewer see the moral responsibility of taking care. No, steal their belongings.
It was prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of the liberal Party, Venstre (meaning left but it’s neo-liberal right) whose government made Denmark an occupying power in Iraq over four years (2003-2007). By any standards the most serious foreign policy blunder of Danish foreign policy since 1945.
Asked recently on Danish television how he felt about the tragic situation in today’s Iraq he answered that – well, we stretched out our hand to the Iraqi people but unfortunately they didn’t take it.
No remorse there, Mr. Always Right. But quite a statement when you are a non-convicted war criminal having joined a project that killed about 1 million Iraqis during war, occupation and 13 years of sanction. The Danish politicians and people are still, it seems, unable or unwilling to understand the dimensions of this blunder – which is one reason they also don’t understand today what it means to be a refugee.
It was under his leadership – or lack if it – the Muhamed caricatures became a diplomatic disaster. He refused to meet with Muslim leaders in Denmark and also ignored a letter of concern from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the global voice of Muslims with 57 member states and 1,6 billion people.
Probably no one in the PM’s and foreign minister’s office had a clue what the OIC was.
But he did know who Khadaffi was when later, rewarded for his good deeds by the US and catapulted to S-G of NATO, he spearheaded the coalition member states’ violation of the very limited UN mandate, their destruction of that country and the killing of Khadaffi. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Or, where there is a will there is a way*
Once again Denmark appears in the international community and media for the wrong things, this time for a law package with three main, draconian anti-refugee laws. One legalises stealing – that’s what it is – valuables owned by refugees upon arrival if they exceed US$ 1450; the second cuts down on the already meagre daily benefit and the third extends the family reuinion period from 1 to 3 years.
81 MPs voted yes, 27 No, 1 abstained and 70 MPs were absent. The main argument is that Denmark wants to “signal” that asylum seekers should go elsewhere. Otherwise marketing-conscious politicians have overlooked that there are millions upon millions out there who are not asylum seekers and they get an extremely bad impression of Denmark. Like they did when Denmark put ads in Middle Eastern newspaper some time ago to deter potential refugees.
The three laws – of which the first clearly provokes memories of what the Nazis did to the Jews – are just a peak point in a long (mal)development of Denmark’s foreign policy. It can be characterised by incremental absence of ethics, solidarity, compassion, empathy and sound human judgement – all concepts outside the domain of ‘real’ politics – combined with increased interventionism, militarism and lofty contempt for international laws.
By passing these laws, the country’s parliamentarians – with a few exceptions – have soiled the image of the country abroad even more and for a very long time ahead, one must fear.
It is not unreasonable to assume that terrorists will pay attention to this development which is de facto targetting refugees which are almost 100% Muslims.
Many Danish citizens including myself now recognise that ‘Dane’ rhymes with ‘Shame’. This trend in Danish policitics doesn’t happen in our name.
Once upon a time
Denmark used to be known and appreciated around the world Read the rest of this entry »
By Jonathan Power
Political freedom is going down.
Date: January 27th 2016.
Life, said Martin Luther King “is a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign”. He must have said that when his spirits were flagging as most of the time he was optimistic about making the world a better place.
I was reminded of this when reading a new report, “Freedom in the World, 2016”, written by the US-based Freedom House. For the tenth consecutive year, it says, freedom has declined.
72 countries slipped back in the amount of political, civil rights and press freedom they allowed their citizens. 43 countries made gains. However, to keep it in proportion, the number of countries which are free is much higher than when the Cold War ended. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of countries going backwards have small populations.
This report has given my own optimistic spirit a bang over the head. In the first decade after the Cold War I used to quote Freedom House whose annual reports showed democracy and freedom gaining ground across the world at a rapid rate. Read the rest of this entry »
By Johan Galtung
The state system emerged in the 17th century, with institutions for force. One was for internal and one for external use: the national police and the national military, national standing for the dominant nation in the states. The role of the police was to protect elites against theft and violence by the people; crimes by the law. And the role of the military was to protect the states against each other. Both police and military occasionally initiated violence.
The description just given still holds very well for the USA. “Banking scandals” give us insight in class-conscious “justice”. Police patrol the streets, not the boardrooms. And no arrests.
But wars between states are now dwindling. They yield to wars between dominant and other nations within states, and dominant and other civilizations in the world; using state and non-state terrorism.
How did “modern” elites get these ideas? From intellectuals.
They picked Thucydides who told them that wars there will always be, and von Clausewitz who trivialized them, from Hobbes who told them that people are born violent and have to be controlled, and Machiavelli who told them that the prince has to be feared, not loved.
Or they decided themselves and picked intellectuals to confirm.
The military had an agenda: fight for victory, unconditional surrender of the other side, dictate the terms; call it peace.
The police had an agenda: detect, arrest, court, confession, sentence, punishment; call it justice. Theory: individual and general prevention, punishment not to do it again and as a warning to others.
All false, all nonsense. And wars and crimes are still with us. Read the rest of this entry »
By Farhang Jahanpour
Since achieving their independence from Western colonialism, most Arab countries have never experienced events such as they have seen during the past few years. The demonstrators in Tunisia got rid of their autocratic ruler in a remarkably short time.
And the events in Egypt starting exactly five years ago today (25 January, 2015) spelled the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The fire of revolutions and uprisings spread to other Arab countries, and are still continuing.
Although those revolutions have not yet led to any lasting democracy or improvements in the lives of their citizens, nevertheless, what has happened during the past five years cannot be reversed, no matter how hard the autocratic rulers try to set the clock back.
For better or worse, the Arab world is undergoing profound changes, which will affect both the lives of Arab citizens and the relations between those countries and the rest of the world for a long time to come.
Let us remember that the Prague Spring began on 5 January 1968, but it took more than another two decades for East European countries to achieve their independence and a greater degree of democracy. The Prague Spring was short-lived, as was the Arab Spring, but the spark that it ignited never died.
The spark of the revolution in Tunisia was an Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Negotiations were supposed to start in Geneva today, January 25. The media is full of analyses of why it won’t happen and how virtually everybody disagrees with everybody else about who should be there and who should not. That’s all surface, however.
Objectively speaking is it of course hugely difficult. No one would envy chief UN envoy, Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura. That said, a totally different perspective may be helpful:
It has to do with a simple distinction that few still in the international community are able to make – that between the conflict and the violence in the conflict zone. Almost all conflicts can be mitigated or solved – but the more violence infused into the conflict (and the longer it lasts), the more difficult it will be to find a solution – because on top of the original conflict you build anger, sorrow, wish for revenge, traumas and justifications for counter-violence.
It’s a simple as that.
Everybody confuses the two – the underlying conflict that should have been addressed from Day One and the violent means that should not have been delivered from outside in the shape of arms, ammunition and bombings.
However, the world’s decision-makers continue – seemingly unable to learn – to put weapons before peace.
The Syrian conflict had to do with peaceful demonstrations, an authoritarian human rights violating national leadership, an environmental crisis that had made people migrate into cities; it had to do with an immensely complex history, society with many groups and fractions – and with the interests of neighbouring countries. And it came in the wake of failed wars and weaponization/wars of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
And all conflicts have to do with grievances, incomptaible goals and wishes, fears, trauma, economic and other structures as shaped through history – and they have to do with the West’s historical influence – most violent and detrimental – in the region.
All of it is left aside. The focus is on nine other amateurish, superficial matters – see below.
So, yes, turmoil all over the place – but also something somebody somewhere should have learned something from. They did not. They put the outdated military “security and stability” before peace – and lost it all.
The Western world – read US/NATO, Russia joining later – un/anti-intellectually brought it all on the old hopelessly false and counterproductive formula’s 9 elements: Read the rest of this entry »
By Richard Falk, David Krieger and Robert Laney
What follows here is An Open Letter to the American People: Political Responsibility in the Nuclear Age. It was jointly written by Richard Falk in collaboration with David Krieger and Robert Laney. The three of us have been long connected with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, NAPF.
The NAPF focuses its effort on the menace posed by nuclear weaponry and the urgency of seeking nuclear disarmament. The nuclear agreement with Iran and the North Korean nuclear test explosion are reminders of the gravity of the issue, and should serve as warnings against the persistence of complacency, which seems to be the prevailing political mood judging from the policy debates that have taken place during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign.
This complacency is encouraged by the media that seems to have forgotten about nuclear dangers since the end of the Cold War, except for those concerned with proliferation of the weaponry to countries hostile to the United States and the West (Iran, North Korea).
Our letter proceeds on the assumption that the core of the problem is associated with the possession, development, and deployment of the weaponry, that is, with the nine nuclear weapons states. The essence of a solution is to eliminate existing nuclear weapons arsenals through a phased, verified process of nuclear disarmament as legally mandated by Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968).
We would be grateful if you could help us reach the widest possible audience through reposting and dissemination via social media networks.*
Dear fellow citizens:
By their purported test of a hydrogen bomb early in 2016, North Korea reminded the world that nuclear dangers are not an abstraction, but a continuing menace that the governments and peoples of the world ignore at their peril. Even if the test were not of a hydrogen bomb but of a smaller atomic weapon, as many experts suggest, we are still reminded that we live in the Nuclear Age, an age in which accident, miscalculation, insanity or intention could lead to devastating nuclear catastrophe.
What is most notable about the Nuclear Age is that we humans, by our scientific and technological ingenuity, have created the means of our own demise. The world currently is confronted by many threats to human wellbeing, and even civilizational survival, but we focus here on the particular grave dangers posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear war.
Even a relatively small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, with each country using 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons on the other side’s cities, could result in a nuclear famine killing some two billion of the most vulnerable people on the planet. A nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia could destroy civilization in a single afternoon and send temperatures on Earth plummeting into a new ice age.
Such a war could destroy most complex life on the planet. Despite the gravity of such threats, they are being ignored, which is morally reprehensible and politically irresponsible.
We in the United States are in the midst of hotly contested campaigns to determine the candidates of both major political parties in the 2016 presidential faceoff, and yet none of the frontrunners for the nominations have even voiced concern about the nuclear war dangers we face. This is an appalling oversight. It reflects the underlying situation of denial and complacency that disconnects the American people as a whole from the risks of use of nuclear weapons in the years ahead.
This menacing disconnect is reinforced by the media, Read the rest of this entry »