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Archive for April, 2018

Iran Deal: A Bird in the Hand…

It is generally agreed that a bird in the hand is worth two (or three, or more) in the bush. President Trump, however, does not see it that way.

It has been a busy week in Washington as first French President Emmanuel Macron and then German Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped in to try to persuade Trump not to pull out of the 2015 deal that prevented Iran from developing nuclear weapons for the next ten years. They failed.

As Macron said: “My view is that [Trump] will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.” The response of America’s three most important allies has been to break decisively with the United States on the issue: on Sunday Macron and Merkel joined with British Prime Minister Theresa May in declaring that the Iran nuclear deal is “the best way of neutralising the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.”

This is the most dramatic split in the Western alliance since Germany and France refused to go along with the foolish and illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 (but Britain went along with it to preserve its imaginary influence in Washington). Indeed, the only American allies that have been urging Trump to pull the plug on the nuclear deal are Israel and the conservative Arab states, which hope to draw the US into a war with Iran.

They are the exceptions because they are the only countries that actually feel threatened by Iranian nuclear weapons. Well, maybe Pakistan too, since that country’s six nuclear explosions in 1998 were the catalyst that set Iran’s nuclear weapons programme in motion. On the other hand, Israel already has hundreds of nuclear weapons and shouldn’t worry so much. Deterrence works.

A nuclear-armed Iran would certainly pose no threat to any of the six countries that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal that put Iran’s nuclear weapons programme on hold. The US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China all have far more nuclear weapons than Iran would ever possess (or, in Germany’s case, belongs to an alliance that does). Deterrence still works.

So why did they all bother? Probably because they prefer an Israeli monopoly on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. They don’t all love Israel, but if more countries in the region had nukes, the Middle East’s endless wars might one day lead to a local nuclear exchange. Maybe that could be contained in the region, but maybe not; some of the major regional powers have outside allies.

So there was general support on the United Nations Security Council for stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and UN economic sanctions were placed on Iran from 2006 onwards. US sanctions were far older, but the deal that was signed in 2015 ended all UN sanctions and the most severe US sanctions, which targeted Iranian banks and oil exports.

Unfortunately for Iran, the country remained largely excluded from the world banking system because banks feared the re-imposition of the sanctions, and so much of the economic relief Iran expected from the end of sanctions never arrived. There is therefore growing hostility in Iran to the JCPOA deal, but why is it even stronger in the White House?

Trump talks about Iran “cheating” on the deal. (International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have certified eleven times since 2016 that Iran is meeting its obligations.)

He calls the deal “insane” and the “worst ever”, complaining that it imposed only a ten-year ban on Iran’s suspect nuclear activities, did not stop the country from testing ballistic missiles, and did not stop Iran from interfering in other countries. “They should have made a deal that covered Yemen, that covered Syria, that covered other parts of the Middle East,” he said.

These are birds in the bush, and they were never within reach. It took two years of negotiation just to get a deal for 10 years of restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in return for an end to UN economic sanctions. There was no way that Iran was going to place its foreign, military and energy policies under UN supervision forever. The deal accepted by Obama in 2015 was realistic; Trump’s preferred substitute is pure fantasy.

What really drives Trump’s hatred of the deal, in all likelihood, is simply the fact that it was one of Obama’s major successes – what Macron referred to as “domestic reasons”. It fits a pattern: Trump’s cancellation of the trans-Pacific trade deal, the US withdrawal from the climate pact, the largely unsuccessful assault on health care (‘Obamacare’), and now the attack on the Iran nuclear deal.

So Trump will repudiate the Iran deal on 12 May, or maybe a little later. It will probably then die (although the other five countries will try to keep it going), because Iranians’ pride will not let them stay in a deal whose benefits, in terms of access to world trade, have evaporated. And in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un will draw his conclusions about the reliability of the United States as a negotiating partner.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“This…works”)

The Muslim Diaspora

“Every Continental [European] under the age of 40—make that 60, if not 75—is all but guaranteed to end his days living in an Islamified Europe,” wrote polemicist Mark Steyn in 2006. “Native populations on the continent are aging and fading and being supplanted remorselessly by a young Muslim demographic.”

So ‘Eurabia’, as Steyn called that Islamified Europe, ought to be a reality by now: people who were 75 when he wrote his book ‘America Alone’ in 2006 would be 87 now if they were still alive, but at least half of them aren’t. Yet Europe’s population is still only 5 percent Muslim, which is a very long way from a majority.

The hysterical discourse about Muslims taking over Europe and leaving the United States ‘Alone’ in the world is a staple of far-right rhetoric in the United States, and it has a devoted band of imitators on the racist, anti-immigrant right of European politics. There is a large and growing Muslim population in Europe, but its growth does not begin to match the predictions of the panic-stricken.

According to the calculations of the Washington-based Pew Research Center, by 2050 the Muslim share of Europe’s population would grow to 7.4 percent by natural increase even if there is no further migration. If migration reverted to its pre-2014 pattern, the Muslim population would be 11 percent of the total by 2050. And even if the huge flow of Muslim refugees in 2014-17 continued, it would only reach 14 percent by mid-century.

It was the surge in refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2014-17 that sparked rising support for racist and anti-immigrant policies in many European countries. Pictures of UKIP leader Nigel Farage standing in front of a huge poster showing a seemingly endless column of Syrian refugees and labelled ‘Breaking Point’ may have been the key event that gave the Brexit referendum a narrow ‘Leave’ majority in Britain.

In France, neo-fascist National Front leader Marine Le Pen got one-third of the vote in the presidential election of 2017 by blowing on the same dog-whistle. German Chancellor Angela Merkel saw her party’s vote shrink dramatically in last September’s election, probably because she let a million refugees into Germany in 2016. No good deed goes unpunished.

But the Iraq war is now over, and the Syrian war is staggering to an end. The Afghan war may drag on for years, but the refugee pressure on Europe is already declining. Twenty or thirty years from now, when global warming has destroyed agriculture in much of the Middle East and North Africa, there will be another, much bigger wave of refugees, but at that point Europe will certainly slam the door shut. There will never be a ‘Eurabia’.

There are some Western European countries – the United Kingdom, France, Germany Sweden and Belgium – where the Muslim population is around the 10 percent level now, and could increase to as much as 18 or 19 percent by 2050 if the ‘high’ estimate of refugee intake applies. One country, Sweden, could go even higher, ending up 30 percent Muslim by 2050 on the ‘high’ assumption.

But these predictions may be underestimating the speed at which Muslim birth-rates fall to match those of their non-Muslim neighbours. (European Muslim women now have an average of 2.6 children, whereas non-Muslim women have 1.6.) And in any case, what is so bad about having a higher proportion of Muslims in your population?

The whole panic is built on the assumption that Muslim immigrants are fundamentally less likely than Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Sikh immigrants to give their loyalty to their new country, less able and willing to adopt its values and its ways. Why? Because Islam is an all-embracing way of life that is very resistant to change.

Many Muslims think that the beliefs and behaviours they are inherited are indeed uniquely resistant to change, but there is no evidence that this is true. For example, around a quarter of Americans who were raised as Muslims have left the faith, and more than half of those people no longer identify with any faith. Almost exactly the same figures apply to Americans who were raised Christian.

Assimilation operates more quickly where immigrant communities are small and relatively new: American Muslims are only one percent of the population, Australian Muslims 2.6 percent, Canadian Muslims 3.2 percent.

In the United Kingdom and France, where Muslims now comprise 6.3 percent and 8.8 percent of the population respectively, assimilation proceeds more slowly: less than 5 percent of British Muslims marry outside the faith, for example. But it does proceed: the vast majority of Muslims in these countries identify as British or French, and share their democratic values.

The word ‘assimilation’ is unpopular in many quarters, as it is held to imply being absorbed into a dominant and somehow superior culture. ‘Integration’ is to be preferred, as
it leaves the original cultures intact while integrating the immigrants into a splendidly diverse whole. In reality, the two processes operate together, integration more quickly and assimilation more slowly.

The integration of new immigrants always changes the general culture to some extent, and assimilation is always partial, because new immigrants keep arriving. But there is nothing to be feared here: the national identity and values are safe.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 14. (“But the…Eurabia”; and “The word…slowly”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book, ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’, is published this month by Scribe in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

What North Korea Wants

What does Kim Jon-un want? One thing: security.

He doesn’t want to conquer the world. It’s impractical: only one out of every 300 people in the world is North Korean. He doesn’t even want to conquer South Korea. It’s twice as populous as North Korea and ten times richer: eliminate the border and Kim’s regime would crumble in months. And he certainly doesn’t want to attack the United States.

King Kim III (as we would have called him a couple of centuries ago) declared last week that North Korea has now completed the task of building a nuclear deterrent to ward off a possible American attack. It will return to the task of building its economy and prosperity instead. Indeed, it will “ stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” and even shut down a nuclear weapons test site.

He’s obviously laying out his negotiating position for the summit meetings that are planned for this month with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and for next month with US President Donald Trump. He clearly wants a deal, but he has long been afraid of an American attack. There could be a deal, but only if Washington and Seoul acknowledge that his fear is real.

A little story from the Cold War. I only realised how deeply I had been affected by the propaganda I had heard all my young life when I attended my first NATO military exercise in Europe as a journalist. It was the same exercise scenario as always, with Russian tanks surging forward to overrun Western Europe and outnumbered NATO troops struggling to halt the attack.

I did know that NATO wasn’t really outnumbered. It had almost twice as many people as the Soviet Union and its allies, and at least four times the wealth. It just chose to have smaller armies because soldiers are very expensive to maintain, and relied instead on the early use of nuclear weapons. But I had never questioned the threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Nobody did.

Then one day, I was interviewing a senior British army officer and for some reason I asked the obvious question I had never bothered to ask before. What scenario did the Russians use when they ran their military exercises?

Oh, he said airily, their scenarios imagine that we have invaded East Germany, but after a few days they manage to turn it around and start pushing us back west. When their tanks are breaking through the Fulda Gap we use nukes to stop them, and the whole thing rapidly escalates into a general nuclear exchange.

Well, of course. Would the Russians tell their troops that they were launching a deliberate attack on the West that would end in a full-scale nuclear war? No. As the weaker side in the long confrontation, would they ever even consider doing that? Probably not. But I had never considered the fact that the Russians were afraid of us.

It had simply not occurred to me before that a country that had been invaded by everybody from Napoleon to Hitler, and had lost at least 20 million killed in the Second World War, might be obsessed about the threat of being attacked by us. We were the good guys: surely they must realise that we would never do that. But OF COURSE they didn’t.

Maybe we were ‘the good guys’ in that confrontation, in the sense that our countries were democracies and their countries were dictatorships, but in terms of threat perception and over-reaction the two sides were identical. The situation in the Korean peninsula is the same story in microcosm.

The Kim dynasty inherited a devastated country at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Its cities were levelled and at least a million people had been killed. The Chinese troops who had helped North Korea went home after the war, but the American troops stayed in South Korea. Moreover, the Americans had nuclear weapons and would not promise not to use them – and there was no peace treaty, just an armistice.

The Kims built a very big army as a partial and unsatisfactory counter-threat to US nuclear weapons, and started working on their own nukes as soon as the economy had been rebuilt to the required level. However, that big army created a threat perception in the US and South Korea as real and acute as North Korea’s own fears.

So how might you negotiate your way out of this futile and dangerous confrontation? Pyongyang won’t give up the nuclear deterrent it has worked so long and hard to build: there’s not enough trust for that. But Kim is saying that he is willing to leave it at its current small and technologically primitive level. It’s no real threat to the US in its present form.

Concentrate instead on a peace treaty that gives North Korea a sense of security at last. Demand as a quid pro quo that Pyongyang reduces its ridiculously large army to the same size as South Korea’s. And promise that once those cuts have been made, the US troops in South Korea will go home.

It might work. It’s certainly worth a try.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 10. (“I did…did”; and “It had…didn’t”)

If The Model Is Broken, Fix It

If the model is broken, should you try to fix it, or should you scrap it and get a new one?

In questions of technology, increasingly the answer is: scrap it. Computer repair shops are dying out: if your laptop doesn’t work, just buy a new one. What applies to consumer technology, however, does not necessarily apply to politics.

The political model of Western-style democracy, which grew up alongside and then within a capitalist economic model, is now broken. Exhibit Number One is Donald Trump, but there’s lots of other evidence too.

One-third of French voters backed Marine Le Pen, a cleaned-up, user-friendly neo-fascist, in last year’s presidential election. In last September’s German election, one-eighth of the electorate voted for Alternative for Germany, a party whose more extreme wing is neo-Nazi – but it is now leads the opposition in the Bundestag, the German parliament.

Last month in Italy, the two biggest parties to emerge from the election were both led by populist rabble-rousers, one from the left and one from the right. Not to mention Brexit in Britain. And in every case the themes that dominated the populists’ rhetoric were racism, nationalism, hostility to immigrants – and jobs.

Trump rarely talked about anything else during the presidential election campaign: immigrants are stealing the jobs, free-trading American businessmen are exporting the jobs, the foreigners are eating America’s lunch. Down with free trade! America First! Etc.! (Hint: Donald Trump is not a Republican. He is a populist.)

Trump may not know a lot, but he knows One Big Thing. We are living in a new era of mass unemployment, and nobody has noticed. As Trump said the night after he won the New Hampshire primary in February 2016: “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42.”

It’s not really 42 percent, but it’s not 4.1 percent (the current official US rate) either. According to Nicholas Eberstadt’s ‘Men Without Work’, the real unemployment rate among American men of prime working age (24-55) – including those who don’t get counted because they have given up looking for work – is 17 percent.

Why didn’t we notice? Because the unemployed weren’t protesting in the streets like they did in the Great Depression of the 1930s, although the rate is getting up to Depression era levels. After the Second World War, all the Western democracies built welfare states, mainly so a new generation of radical populist leaders would not come to power the next time there is mass unemployment.

It has worked, in the sense that there is not blood in the streets this time around, but the jobless millions are very angry even if the welfare state means that they are not starving. They do vote, and unless something is done to ease their anger, next time they may vote for somebody who makes Trump look good by comparison.

But if the problem is unemployment, then the answer is not obvious, because the main cause of unemployment in Western countries is not immigration or ‘offshoring’ jobs, as Trump pretends. It is computers.

One-third of American manufacturing jobs have vanished in the past 20 years, and the vast majority of them (85 percent) were destroyed by automation. The algorithms and the robot arms have already killed the Rust Belt, and there is a plausible prediction that almost half of existing American jobs may be automated out of existence in the next 20 years.

What would our politics look like then? Not very democratic, unless we do something to ease the anger of the unemployed. This doesn’t just mean giving them more money – a massive expansion of the welfare state – but also finding way of taking the shame out of unemployment, because it is the humiliation of being seen as a loser that breeds the anger.

The leading proposal on the table right now is called universal basic income (UBI). Every citizen would get enough to live a decent life whether they are working or not, although most people would probably keep working as well in order to have more money. And making it ‘universal’ takes the shame and anger out of it: UBI would be a birthright, not charity handed down to those who have lost their jobs.

UBI may not work in practice, but at least it is addressing the right problem. And there is enough money to take this approach: the jobs are being destroyed, but Western economies are still growing richer.

Whatever the solution is, it has to tick two boxes: putting money in the pockets of those without work (which is very much in the interest of the owners and managers, whose business model is also broken unless their customers have money to buy their goods and services), and doing it in a way that does not breed humiliation, resentment and radicalism.

Some may argue that this is saving capitalism, not smashing it, and they would be right. But evolution is better than revolution, and fixing the model that is currently broken, essentially by a major expansion of the welfare state, is a better bet than abandoning it.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2, 11, 15 and 16. (“In questions…politics”; “But if…computers”; and “It may…radicalism”)