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Beyond security of sovereign nations

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By Rajesh Ghosh

Article 2(4) of the UN charter is a seemingly robust bulwark that was erected to prevent another deluge of destruction and mayhem that mid 20th century weaponry had become capable of. This accompanied with the institutionalised ‘collective security’ provisions was prophesied to engender and maintain international peace. In the security was the hitherto elusive peace.

These high ideals, however, were benumbed by politics, mutual distrust and suspicion among the great powers during the Cold War. As a result, the Cold War in Europe spilled over as a seething cauldron of violence in other distant parts of the world like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan et al.

Fast forward 70 years and the failures of the UN to ensure peace in various volatile regions – most notably West Asia, where sovereigns (government) have been significantly debilitated by a continuous struggle for power by various warring factions – is conspicuous.

One such case in point is Syria.

A four-year-old civil war has materially and psychologically left an indelible mark on the Syrian people. The unending war has claimed the lives of over 200,000 and has rendered millions homeless, compelling them to live borrowed lives in neighbouring countries under utter destitution. Today, they make dangerous voyages on rickety, infirm and squalid wooden boats across the choppy Mediterranean to reach safer zones of Europe.

As this wave of humanity seeks refuge in Europe from constant persecution in their homelands, their desperation is popularly labelled as a ‘European crises’, conveniently overlooking the intended and unforeseen security crisis of the non-Kalashnikov wielding masses engendered, partly, by the collective effort of the US and its European allies.

The UN continues to be guided by the Cold War era definition of security, where the security of countries’ territorial boundaries from foreign aggression attains pre-eminence. The UN ought to significantly alter its definition of security and provide eminence to human security over that of state security as conventional wars to expand territorial boundaries has significantly receded.

Today, the world is accosted by an ideological battle one that has culminated into severe civil wars in many pockets around the world. The UN’s foundational doctrine of bringing about ‘by peaceful means’ a settlement of international conflicts has been severely dented as a result of continuous failure to inhibit violence.

Security in its true essence can only be attained if the international community starts to recognise the primacy of smaller units like individuals, minorities within states (religious and gendered), national markets and others. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm originating as a result of the 1990’s Rwandan genocide crisis is a welcome step but for the existent mechanisms to be applied fairly, without the brazen and undue invocation of the norm for military action, a stringent system of verification and protocol ought to be established.

International Security can only be measured with the barometer of individual safety without which the post-war objective of avoiding mass murders will continue to remain beyond the grasp of the international community and its representative body – the United Nations.

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Is the US Getting Back to Bomb Shelters? North Korea threats revive Nuclear Bomb fear

North Korea threatens America

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Bomb shelter manufacturer engineers Vincent Carubia, left, and Eward Klein study specifications for a fiber glass dome shelter being installed on an estate in Locust Valley, N.Y
Bomb shelter manufacturer engineers Vincent Carubia, left, and Eward Klein study specifications for a fiber glass dome shelter being installed on an estate in Locust Valley, N.Y. VOA
  • He wondered how much good ducking under a desk could do if a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city fell nearby
  • Then there were backyard bomb shelters, which briefly became the rage during the missile crisis of 1962

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the era of nuclear bomb nightmares -of the atomic arms race, of backyard bomb shelters, of schoolchildren diving under desks to practice their survival skills in the event of an attack -seemed to finally, thankfully, fade into history. Until now.

For some baby boomers, North Korea’s nuclear advances and President Donald Trump’s bellicose response have prompted flashbacks to a time when they were young, and when they prayed each night that they might awaken the next morning. For their children, the North Korean crisis was a taste of what the Cold War was like.

“I’m not concerned to where I can’t sleep at night. But it certainly raises alarms for Guam or even Hawaii, where it might be a real threat,” said 24-year-old banker Christian Zwicky of San Bernardino, California.

People of his parents’ generation were taught to duck and cover when the bombs came.

“Maybe those types of drills should come back,” Zwicky said.

He isn’t old enough to remember the popular 1950s public service announcement in which a cartoon character named Bert the Turtle teaches kids how to dive under their desks for safety. But Zwicky did see it often enough in high school history classes that he can hum the catchy tune that plays at the beginning. That’s when Bert avoids disaster by ducking into his shell, then goes onto explain to schoolchildren what they should do.

“I do remember that,” says 65-year-old retiree Scott Paul of Los Angeles. “And also the drop drills that we had in elementary school, which was a pretty regular thing then.”

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Even as a 10-year-old, Paul said, he wondered how much good ducking under a desk could do if a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city fell nearby. No good at all, his teacher acknowledged.

Then there were backyard bomb shelters, which briefly became the rage during the missile crisis of 1962 when it was learned the Soviets had slipped nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba and pointed them at the USA.

After a tense, two-week standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that some believe brought the world the closest, it’s ever come to nuclear war, the missiles were removed and the shelters faded from public interest.

Now they, too, seem to be having a revival.

“When Trump took office it doubled our sales, and then when he started making crazy statements we got a lot more orders,” says Walton McCarthy of Norad Shelter Systems LLC of Garland, Texas. “Between now and a year ago, we’ve quadrupled our sales.”

His competitor, California-based Atlas Survival Shelters, says it sold 30 shelters in three days last week. During its first year in business in 2011, it sold only 10.

Bill Miller, a 74-year-old retired film director living in Sherborn, Massachusetts, thinks these days are more nerve-wracking than the standoff in October 1962.

“I think it’s much, much crazier, scarier times,” he said. “I think the people who were in charge in the Kennedy administration had much more of a handle on it.”

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Nathan Guerrero, a 22-year-old political science major from Fullerton, California, agrees, saying he learned in history class that the “shining example” of a way to resolve such a conflict was how Kennedy’s brother and attorney general, Robert Kennedy, brokered the tense negotiations.

“But knowing the way the current administration has sort of been carrying itself, it doesn’t look like they are keen to solving things diplomatically,” he said.

“As a young person, honestly, it’s pretty unsettling,” he continued.

Had he given any thought to building backyard bomb shelters?

“I’d be lying if I said such crazy things haven’t crossed my mind,” he said, laughing nervously. “But in reality, it doesn’t strike me as I’d be ready to go shopping for bunkers yet.” Instead, he studies for law school and tries “not to think too much about it.”

Other Americans are more sanguine about the possibility of nuclear war. Rob Stapleton has lived in Anchorage, Alaska, since 1975, and he is aware that Alaska has been considered a possible target because it is within reach of North Korean missiles.

“There’s been some discussion about it around the beer barrel and I’m sure the United States is taking it seriously, but we’re not too concerned around here,” he said.

Alaska is so vast and spread out, said Stapleton, that he and his friends can’t imagine why North Korea would waste its time attacking The Last Frontier. “I mean sure you’d be making a statement, but you’d not really be doing any damage,” he said. (VOA)

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Diplomacy sneaks in as Countries find new ways to stand Up to China

Nations including Japan, India, France and Vietnam joined calls for greater respect for international law to resolve worsening tensions over the South China Sea

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South China Sea. Image source: hpr2.org
  • Nations including Japan, India, France and Vietnam joined calls for greater respect for international law to resolve worsening tensions over the South China Sea
  • Concern at China’s assertiveness over the vital trade route of South China Sea is deepening
  • Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein spelt out the costs to smaller regional countries if great power rivalries escalate

Several delegations were quick to respond to the idea at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, but it seemed to evolve into a form of diplomatic tag-team wrestling as a loose coalition of nations lined up to criticize China.

Nations including Japan, India, France and Vietnam joined calls for greater respect for international law to resolve worsening tensions over the South China Sea, a dig at Beijing which has said it will not accept any ruling by a U.N.-backed court on the dispute.

Chinese officials, meanwhile, stressed Beijing’s commitment to being a peaceful, lawful and inclusive nation but said it would not be bullied.

China
U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter meets with South Korea’s Minister of Defence Han Minkoo (R) and Japan’s Minister of Defence Gen Nakatani for a trilateral at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 4, 2016. Image source: REUTERS/Edgar Su

“No one has the right to point their fingers at us,” said Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the joint staff department of China’s Central Military Commission, as he faced a string of questions at one public forum at the summit on Sunday, June 5.

“Belligerence does not make peace.”

Sun was sharing a podium with Vietnamese deputy defense minister Nguyen Chi Vinh, who said he was cutting short his own responses to allow his Chinese counterpart more time to rebut criticisms raised of Beijing.

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Concern at China’s assertiveness over the vital trade route was deepening, several envoys said on the sidelines of the summit, particularly given the prospect of Chinese military facilities on new artificial islands built by on reefs in the South China Sea.

Those concerns were forcing regional countries to band closer together to find new ways of standing up to Beijing.

Carter’s urging of greater regional efforts, particularly from China, to create his “principled security network” was underpinned by warnings that China risked isolating itself by its actions “on the seas, in cyberspace, and in the region’s airspace”.

Many militaries in the region, he said, were working closer together, both among themselves and with the United States.

Japan’s defense minister, Gen Nakatani, said Japan would seek to participate annually in naval exercises together with the United States and India, similar to drills due to take place off the Japanese port of Sasebo later this week.

“It is very meaningful from the standpoint of securing safety in the wide area of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, for Japan, the United States and India to cooperate on security and defense areas and to conduct training,” Nakatani said.

GREAT WALL OF ISOLATION

Carter’s warnings that China faced a looming “Great Wall of isolation” were rejected by Chinese officials, but some analysts said an “us versus them” divide may suit Beijing in current circumstances.

“It might sound tough talk, but my worry is that Chinese leaders will simply welcome that kind of view,” Lee Chung Min, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, told Reuters.

“If its economy slows, China’s leaders might welcome the chance for the isolationist talk to stir some domestic nationalism.”

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Major General Yao Yunzhu, of China’s Academy of Military Science and prominent figure during the weekend sessions, acknowledged perceptions that some nations might be “ganging up” on China but said this did not represent “objective reality”.

“The South China Sea is not the only security issue in the region, and events like this one are not quite full reality,” she told Reuters. “Each nation has to think of its bilateral relations with China as well, and many other security issues, that pull us closer together.”

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, made clear that while the U.S. military was attempting to engage and co-operate with China’s rapidly modernizing military, it was prepared for a darker outcome.

“The bottom line is this: we want to co-operate where we can, but we just have to be ready as a military to confront them if we must,” he said.

Malaysian defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein spelt out the costs to smaller regional countries if great power rivalries escalate, however.

Whatever happens between major powers must not “leave us on the beach when the tide goes out”.

-Prepared by Saurabh Bodas (with inputs from Reuters), an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @saurabhbodas96

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Obama set to visit Cuba- first in 90 years by a US President

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President Obama is all set to visit Cuba next month on March 21.

VOA reports: “Barack Obama is set to become the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. He and first lady Michelle Obama will travel to the island nation March 21 to build on what the White House says is progress in the normalisation of U.S.-Cuba ties.”

The USA had lifted the embargo on this communist nation a few months back, paving the way to the possibility of bilateral talks and commerce and diplomatic engagements.

However, there is a mixed response to Obama’s visit. Cuba is still a thoroughly communist country, once iron ruled by Fidel Castro, now by his brother Raul Castro. Its economy is a closed one, and the people do not enjoy the freedom of speech and democracy. Poverty, unemployment rule the roost.

IANS reports: But critics in the Republican Party and among the Cuban-American community have decried the move, saying the Obama administration would give Cuba what they called undeserved recognition and would get nothing in return.

In an online post after the trip’s announcement, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote: “There is much more that can be done — by the US and by the Cuban government — to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans, and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is travelling to Cuba.”

But many Republicans continue to view Cuba in an unfavourable light. Two of the biggest critics of Obama’s move are Republican presidential hopefuls Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio.

Experts said both of them have a shot at clinching the Republican nomination for the 2016 race to the White House.

Both senators, sons of Cuban immigrants, hold opinions that reflect a long-standing argument among the Cuban-American community — namely, Washington should not open up to full relations with Havana till certain stipulations are met on issues such as human rights.

In a Wednesday speech on his campaign trail, Rubio said Cuba is “anti-American”, reflecting the opinions of a large chunk of the Cuban-American community. Cruz has also slammed Obama’s Cuba policy as a kind of “weakness and appeasement”.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican, also criticised Obama’s visit, alleging on Thursday that “Cuban workers continue to be exploited”.

The US-based experts are split over whether re-establishing US-Cuban ties is a positive move.

Ana Rosa Quintana, Heritage Foundation’s Latin America analyst, said Cuba has made no concessions whatsoever to the US, reflecting a common argument that the island nation has given the US nothing in exchange for re-established ties with Washington.

She added that re-establishment of relations between the two countries without pre-conditions sends out wrong messages.

Although official ties have once again been established, it remains doubtful that the US trade embargo will be fully lifted anytime soon.

The embargo has been in effect since 1962 amid the Cold War, as the US worried that Cuba would be allied with the Soviet Union in its back yard.

In 1996, the embargo was codified into US law and put under Congressional control, with only the Congress having the full power to reverse it.

Though Obama has chipped away at some stipulations within the embargo, most of the sanctions still exist. It is unlikely that the Republican-led Congress will overturn the embargo.

The US Congress has been unwilling to work with Obama on lifting the embargo, according to Quintana.

“(Obama) is weakening the embargo. He says you know what, I disagree with it, I’m going to see what I can do to undermine it,” she said.

Brookings Institution’s senior fellow Darrell West said Obama wants to push along the relationship with Cuba so the next president can’t roll back his rapprochement.

“His goal is to open up trade and investment and put the policy back on a more normalised basis. Opening up trade will boost the Cuban economy and generate more trade and commerce between the two nations,” West said.

“There is likely to be a flood of American tourists to Cuba so that will encourage the construction of new hotels and restaurants. Cuba likely will be a popular destination for many American businesses,” he added.

Video report by Voice of America’s Aru Pande and Katherine Gypson brought to you by NewsGram in collaboration with VOA.