Archive for July, 2013

Protecting Edward Snowden

By Richard Falk

Such self-designated ‘wise men’ of our time as David Brooks and Tom Friedman, highly influential opinion and opinionated writers of the NY Times, have been telling their readers that Edward Snowden was decent and intelligent, but overstepped the law by arrogating to himself the disclosure of the ‘total data’ surveillance programs of the National Security Agency of the U.S. Government.

By deliberately releasing abundant evidence of the astonishing breadth and depth of surveillance, Snowden was clearly motivated by the concern that rights of privacy, the quality of democratic life, and respect for the sovereignty of foreign countries and the confidentiality of diplomatic events were being placed in jeopardy. For some, this bold decision to expose American intelligence gathering made Snowden a villain, called ‘a traitor’ by a variety of public officials including John Kerry, the Secretary of State.

There is no doubt that Snowden is guilty of violating espionage laws, which automatically almost constitutes treason for those who possess an ultra-nationalist mentality. Those who think this way believe Snowden deserves to be punished to the limits of the law, and that foreign governments friendly to this country should accede to Washington’s request for his detention and expulsion to the United States to face charges.

Of course for many others Snowden is a hero for our times, actions that should be honored by a Nobel Prize. Read the rest of this entry »

Russia’s power is not weapons, it’s culture

By Jonathan Power

Observers say that what drives President Vladimir Putin is to make Russia respected. But perhaps Putin overestimates how much power Russia already has. He has overlooked which trumpets to blow – it is not his “hang tough” policies in international affairs, especially vis-a-vis the United States. It is Russia’s culture.

These thoughts were prompted by watching the opening of the new, quite beautiful, extension of the Mariinsky theatre in St Petersburg on Mezzo television, the French cable station for classical music. (You can see it on U-Tube.)

The Mariinsky is run by Valery Gergiev and he arranged a show (and conducted it) so rich and of such supreme achievement that it overshadowed in my memory all the great performances I’ve seen, whether in London, New York, Paris or Moscow. Each segment lasted a bare 4 minutes and it alternated between opera, ballet and two solo violinists and one pianist. It went on for two hours or more with the greatest stars of the Russian firmament, plus two or three Western performers.

Putin was in the audience, not in the official box but down in the middle of the stalls. Was he aware of the political power of an event like this? I doubt it. Nor of the power of the rest of Russia’s great inheritance. Read the rest of this entry »

Humankind 2050: Making peace with our futures

By Johan Galtung

Keynote Speech, World Futures Studies Federation 40th anniversary – Bucuresti, România

Future studies, like peace-development-environment studies, is an inter-disciplinary, inter-national effort to get a grip on key issues; divided into preferred futures–utopias–whose?; predicted futures–forecasting–who does it for whom?; and future practice–scenarios bending the predicted toward the preferred–by and for whom?

The title of Ravi Morey’s Looking Backward: 2050-2013 catches future studies in a nutshell: exploring intermediate stages between a fully democratic world government and our 2013 present. The road may pass through a bankrupt USA bailed out by a democratic China in 2025. Some may argue that is already happening, with China – more democratic than the West knows – being creditor No. 1, and the USA – more bankrupt than the USA admits – debtor No. 1; Nos. 1 and 190 among 190 countries.

Like in 1967, in Oslo, for the predecessor organization Mankind 2000 this keynote is on international futures. Preferred futures: Read the rest of this entry »

Whither Turkey: First thoughts after Gezi Park

By Richard Falk

Written in Turkey, June 30, 2013

Preliminary Disclaimers

As the dramatic Turkish protests subside, or declare an intermission, this is a time to take stock, but cautiously.

Precisely when political reality explodes in unexpected ways, pundits come along suggesting comparisons, offering hastily constructed explanations, and cite influences and antecedents. Surprise is suppressed by most ‘experts’ who do all that they can to hide these awkward exposures of how little they knew about the explosive forces in society, which erupted without any advance notice. After the explosion these wannabe gurus step forth with undiminished confidence to tell us with learned demeanor why and how it happened, why it was almost inevitable to turn out as it did, and the most arrogant and often most influential even dare tell us what to expect next, and why it is good or bad.

While appreciating this fact of public life, let us take note that even the most wily intelligence agencies, with billions at their disposal, total command over mountains of secret data, running roughshod over the privacy and legal rights of even their own citizens and others to get it right on behalf of their government employers, still invariably miss ‘the jumps’ of change that are the real stuff of history.

Why are the historians of change so bad at anticipating these jumps of history? Partly, for the same reasons that even the most sophisticated vulcanists cannot predict with any accuracy an earthquake or volcano – as in politics, the tipping points in nature and society are rarely anticipated by interpreting scientific trends or through the analysis of incremental changes, but generally disclose themselves with an unforeseeable abruptness.

In reaction, an appropriate level of humility and tentativeness goes a long way, acknowledging these limits of understanding, suggesting hesitantly and explaining as best we can such charismatic events when they occur, taking due account of their distinctiveness and admitting our inability to access deeper meaning that lie beneath the surface of cascades of events.

Another type of difficulty associated with these interpretative ventures is the bias associated with the observer’s gaze. We are habitually trained and experienced to look at politics from above, whether our perspective is that of elites or counter-elites, but revolutionary impulses come, if and when they come, almost invariably from pressures generated from below, that is, from the ‘multitude,’ pressures that materialize by suddenly bursting forth as happenings that startle and reverberate (e.g. Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the velvet revolution, the Jasmine Revolution, Tahrir Square, Occupy Wall Street).

The Gezi Park Protests

Was Gezi Park in Istanbul such a happening, as many here in Turkey hope? Read the rest of this entry »

Political infernos: United States, Turkey and Egypt

By Richard Falk

Written June 28, 2013


To begin with, I know of no truly mature political democracy on this, although to be sure some rest on a more stable political base than others. Most importantly, some forces of opposition despair of ever succeeding by democratic procedures, while others pin their hopes on the next election, or the one after that. Some democracies have greater economic stability or can boast of high growth rates, possess a larger private sector and bigger middle class with more to lose, than others. Some states are more vulnerable to foreign interference than others, and some have formidable foreign enemies that seek regime change or something worse.

Perhaps, more victimized than any most modern societies, Germany devastated after World War I was caught in the midst of recovering from a humiliating military defeat accentuated by vindictive victors, a resulting economic depression featuring high unemployment and runaway inflation. Its pathetic enactment of liberal democracy could neither find credible solutions nor adopt principled positions. It should not be surprising that an extreme form of political polarization emerged in response, producing disastrous results not only for Germany but for Europe and the world: Communism versus Fascism. Battles raged between these antagonists in the streets of German cities, and the Nazis emerged triumphant even at the ballot box, helped by the complicity of cartelized big business and the ethos of the Bavarian elites hostile to any hint of democratic politics. The rest is history.

Today, there exist an assortment of deeply worrisome encounters between political extremes brought on by a range of conditioning circumstances. As a first approximation I would mention three disturbing instances, each distinctive, yet each afflicted by destructive polarized politics: Egypt, Turkey, and the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

The U.S.’s Afghan exit depend on a Syrian one

By Sharmine Narwani

Washington’s options in Syria are dwindling – and dwindling fast.

Trumped up chemical weapons charges against the Syrian government this month failed to produce evidence to convince a skeptical global community of any direct linkage. And the US’s follow-up pledge to arm rebels served only to immediately underline the difficulty of such a task, given the fungibility of weapons-flow among increasingly extremist militias.

Yes, for a brief few days, Syrian oppositionists congratulated themselves on this long-awaited American entry into Syria’s bloodied waters. They spoke about “game-changing” weapons that would reverse Syrian army gains and the establishment of a no-fly zone on Syria’s Jordanian border – a la Libya. Eight thousand troops from 19 countries flashed their military hardware in a joint exercise on that border, dangling F-16s and Patriot missiles and “superb cooperation” in a made-for-TV show of force.

But it took only days to realize that Washington’s announcement didn’t really have any legs.

Forget the arguments now slowly dribbling out about why the US won’t/can’t get involved directly. Yes, they all have merit – from the difficulties in selecting militia recipients for their weapons, to the illegalities involved in establishing a no-fly zone, to the fact that more than 70% of Americans don’t support an intervention.

The single most critical reason for why Washington will not risk entering the Syrian military theater – almost entirely ignored by DC policy wonks – may be this: the 2014 US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Help, we can’t get out” Read the rest of this entry »

Inclusivity: Vital for negotiations in Afghanistan

By Heela Najibullah

As a student in peace studies, any initiative to curb violence through peaceful means is a subject of interest for me. But yesterday, the news that the U.S. government has agreed to engage directly in peace talks with the Taliban caught my attention for three reasons in particular:

1) Who are the actors participating in the negotiations – is the U.S. an actor in the peace talks, a negotiator, a mediator or all the above?

2) What are the roles of the Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan in this transition?

3) Why was the U.S.’ willingness to negotiate met with an attack on U.S. soldiers by the Taliban, putting the group’s long awaited objectives to negotiate with the U.S. directly in jeopardy?

While analyzing the current situation surrounding the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and peace talks with the Taliban, instead of feeling optimistic for potential peace in my country, I became highly concerned.

Why? Read the rest of this entry »


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