Absolutely nothing in the news!
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October 23, 2009
LONDON - The serious newspapers I read used to take me an hour to get through. These days it is fifteen minutes. Nothing much is happening, at least in foreign affairs.
Iraq has all but disappeared from the front page. Afghanistan and Pakistan remain there (but even so investors are still steadily upping their investments in Pakistan, presumably judging that the conflict is being over hyped). The argument with Iran over whether it is building nuclear weapons drags on, despite the forgotten report of the CIA two years ago that found that Iran was probably not, not to mention that the West and Russia look a bit silly when they turn a blind eye to Brazil for doing exactly the same as Iran. More recently is Iran’s suggestion that it might ship some of its used uranium to Russia to be converted into fuel to provide medical isotopes, or else to import from Europe enriched uranium instead of manufacturing its own. The conflict should now be relatively easy to wrap up.
What else is there? Georgia is out of the picture and long ago was Chechnya. The Russians and the U.S. sweet talk each other. Now that Washington has decided to abandon its ill judged anti-missile system in Eastern Europe the Russians have switched off their angst and are happily agreeing to the first major nuclear arms cuts for nearly a decade. China is now part of the “system”. The priorities are economic growth, dealing with financial imbalances and, unfortunately, keeping the lid on dissent at home. It has made peaceful settlements of its border disputes with Laos, Russia, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and is working on its age old dispute of border demarcation with India. Its bitter clash with Taiwan, which once commentators said was potentially the most explosive issue on the map, is now quiescent. Japan and China are finally getting on fine.
Add to that that India’s reflex anti-Americanism is dead and buried - thanks to President George W. Bush’s decision to lift the embargo on nuclear materials. North Korea is isolated even from its old mentor China. Who on earth is it going to use its two or three nuclear weapons against?
Black Africa has taken a big hit from the economic crisis. But unlike past crises it hasn’t gone under. It should soon return to its pre crisis rapid economic growth of over 5%, over 8% in a number of cases including once badly run Nigeria, the continent’s most populous state. This week Nigeria has announced it is taking another big step to solving the insurgency in its Niger delta oil producing region. Having recently secured an effective truce President Umaru Yar ‘Adua has decided he wants to give back 10% of oil revenues to the people and villages of the delta. Presumably he will use the mechanism of the mobile phone which in Africa is further ahead in its applications than it is in the West to send individuals the money by phone.
Africa too has seen over the last five years its perennial conflicts wind down to almost zero. There are still serious skirmishes in the Congo, Sudan and Somalia, but military observers no longer label these as wars. Worldwide the number of war of self-determination has dropped dramatically.
Israel-Palestine remains the most potent conflict. But even there hopes have been raised by President Barack Obama’s clever speech in Cairo. Only a died in the wool pessimist would doubt that when Obama puts his shoulder to the wheel once he has secured the passing of the health reform bill the standoff will not rapidly move forward to at least an interim settlement.
For the first time in history a not insignificant number of states have been free from war for the best part of two centuries. In Europe, there are Sweden and Switzerland, both despite a long tradition of warfare. In Latin America, Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica and Brazil have now lived a century without war. Indeed entire regions of our planet have escaped internal war for over a century - North America most importantly. Neither Canada nor Mexico, nor the USA maintains troops on each other’s borders.
Not least there have been the momentous changes in Europe, the source of most of the great wars of the last two centuries. No one else has done what the Europeans have done - emerge from two devastating wars and build a whole continent of peace. Moreover, it’s not so long ago - 1942 - when only four countries in Europe were electoral democracies - Sweden, Ireland, Britain and Switzerland.
Unquestionably, the present peace is built more securely than was the balance of power that kept the peace for most of the 19th and the early 20th centuries.
No one person, country or movement can claim credit for this. But certainly Barack Obama has pushed peace forward another good step. After the insouciance of Bill Clinton and the aggressiveness of George W. Bush he has introduced a new serious tone into the job of worldwide peacemaking.
There was everything right in awarding him the Noble Peace Prize. He has a good chance of delivering on his promise. But that also depends on him winding down the self-defeating war in Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Copyright © 2009 Jonathan
Jonathan Power can be
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The Quest for Global Justice
of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging
from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can
we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will
China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of
his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the
International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the
hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.
William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
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