"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Geopolitics’

“As Nation-States Falter, Capitalism Shines”

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm

https://i1.wp.com/gerrardpanahon.com/wp-content/uploads/anti-corporate-personhood-i13.jpgOldspeak: ” It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a Zero Sum game – somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred – from one perception to another. Like magic. This painting here? I bought it ten years ago for sixty thousand dollars. I could sell it today for six hundred. The illusion has become real, and the more real it becomes, the more desperately they want it. Capitalism at its finest.” –Gordon Gekko, in “Wall Street

‘The point to be made is this: Capitalism’s prime beneficiaries now control every aspect of economic power from political office to the tax code as well as unhindered blatant avoidance of taxes. As it follows, individual citizens of the nation states are left holding the bag and nation states are going broke. How long can this continue? The answer is: As long as nation-states can manage to carry more, and more, and more, and more debt, but Greece has already demonstrated a day of reckoning lurks around the corner… unless the trend of transnational omnipotence, which is capitalism on steroids, is broken, it is probable that the legacy nation-states, like the U.S., will continue to limp along into an ever-deeper pit of indebtedness as social services are slowly disassembled. This trend is accentuated by continuing weak economic behavior within the nation-state, but paradoxically, and regardless, capitalism thrives and shines!” –Robert Hunziker

“The Supra-national control grid continues to take shape. Fear mongering and the illusions of  “safety” and “security” have brought us to this damnable point.  Increased structural violence. Decreased empathy. Societal atomization. Runaway inequality. Perpetual war. Hyper-consumption. Constant surveillance of electronic communications and activities. Privatization of the commons. Cutting of social and public services. Exploding debt. Increasingly militarized and brutalizing “law enforcement” for the smallest infractions among  proles, and little to none for the titanic crimes of those in the  inner party. Dumbed down education. Fewer rights for the proles. The planned bankruptcies and liquidations of nation-states are in progress. With the elites continued secret negotiations of “trade agreements” like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, rendering nation states powerless to hold corporations accountable when they repeatedly and flagrantly violate laws, standards and protections, while giving corporations the power to sue nation states for having their laws, standards and protections which cost them “lost profits”, it seems that the transnational corporate networks’ omnipotence is growing  every day. It is the nature of vampire capitalism. Drain the victim to within an inch of it’s life, but keep it alive enough to keep feeding on indefinitely. Extract indefinitely. “Externalities” be damned. Greed fueled capitalists don’t know the meaning of the word “enough”. “More” is their perpetual objective. There’s only one way that story ends on a diseased & dying planet with only so much blood to extract. Bad. How long will citizens hold the bag?”

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

The world has been ruled by nation-states throughout modern history, ever since kings and queens were put out to pasture, but nation-states may be on the brink of extinction, similar to monarchies over the past 50-200 years.

Nation-states are not meeting the basic needs and requirements of the people, and, in particular, the legacy nation-states are bleeding through the gills. They’re taking on historic levels of debt while prospectively cutting social services wherever possible. This is a prescription for failure. The main problem is a shortage of revenues for the treasury.

But, capitalism, embodied within transnational corporations, does not require upbeat nation-states to thrive. They’re doing beautifully regardless of the drag of some of the world’s biggest countries. Worldwide, several major stock markets have recently set new records; meanwhile, nation-states sustain abnormally high unemployment levels and badly deteriorating finances. The contrast between the two is breathtaking. For example, the Eurozone unemployment rate is now over 12%; meanwhile, the major European bourses have recorded new highs over the past month.

It’s all about power and money. As such, “capitalism,” which is a nickname for global corporate interests, has all of the power and the money. For example, Apple has enough cash on hand to eliminate Cyprus’s debt with plenty of change left over. And, just the five largest NASDAQ high tech listed companies have combined revenues equal to the 30th largest country (Venezuela) in the world. Moreover, corporate balance sheets make most of the world’s leading countries look like financial dolts.

In point of fact, society is witnessing one of the biggest socio-economic disruptions in history as capitalism, consisting of transnational entities, overwhelms, and cripples, the capabilities of nation-states to function.

The inchoate corporate state is a reality, and it knows no borders or allegiances beyond other corporate interests. This is transnationalism at work, and it is feverishly conquering the planet, pushing aside weakened nation-states, which are powerless in the face of rampant, unchecked capitalism.

Twenty years ago, Gus Tyler (1911-2011), the ubiquitous radio commentator and author, conjectured as follows: “The rise of transnational companies has undermined a nation’s ability to manage its private economy. How can national political institutions cope with a global economy that dissolves national boundaries?”1

And, furthering his point, Tyler quoted Keynes, circa 1930: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live is its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.”

It now appears both Keynes’ and Tyler’s forebodings were on the mark. Although, they would likely be surprised by how emphatically their words are ringing true as capitalism’s transnationalistic rise to power is unrivaled. In this pursuit of unrivaled power and influence, corporate interests unabashedly toss high-priced labor into the dustbin of nation-state unemployment rolls in favor or low wage/low regulatory jurisdictions even as these same transnational corporations shirk their responsibilities of paying a fair share of the obligations of the nation-states. And, they get away with it!

For example, Google’s UK subsidiary may have sales of over $3 billion in the UK, but they only pay the UK $6 million in corporate taxes, or 0.002%, somewhat similar to Amazon, Starbucks, and the list goes on. Major multinational corporations sell products in high tax counties but book the same sales in low tax countries.

According to Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “I don’t think companies should decide what tax policies should be. I think governments should… All of us are operating in a very, very longstanding tax regime that was set up for various reasons that don’t necessarily make sense to me or anyone else. But they are the way the global tax regime works.”2

In short, everybody else is doing it, so why not Google?

And, isn’t Mr. Schmidt really stretching the credibility quotient when he states tax policy doesn’t make sense to “me or anyone else.”

The “longstanding tax regime,” referenced by Mr. Schmidt, is all about who has power over the purse. More precisely, the “long-standing tax regime” is the result of supply-side economic theory and globalization embraced by politicians who are beholden to global corporate interests. Over the past 40 years, corporate interests lobbied and supported political operatives to pass the very regulations, and loopholes, criticized by Mr. Schmidt. As it goes, Mr. Schmidt’s statement is an example of the fox lambasting the fox in the henhouse.

Recently, Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley elegantly summarized the issue, as follows: “As global capital becomes ever more powerful, giant corporations are holding governments and citizens up for ransom – eliciting subsidies and tax breaks from countries concerned about their nation’s ‘competitiveness’ – while sheltering their profits in the lowest-tax jurisdictions they can find.”3

As it goes, “who pays how much” to the U.S. federal government tells a big story: According to the U.S. Budget Office, “Tax Receipts By Source As Percentages of GDP: 1934-2015,” since 1950 and up to, and including, 2010: Individual tax payer contributions to the U.S. Treasury as a percentage of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) have rocketed upwards by 60% while corporate tax payments as a percentage of GDP, over the same time frame, have plummeted by 70%.

All the same, if a corporate CEO is confronted with this fact, he/she will explain how the top corporate tax rate is 35%, the same as individuals, but they omit to say that average individual taxpayers cannot conveniently move assets offshore to avoid taxes altogether (although, as for the wealthy, Mitt Romney, who has numerous offshore accounts nestled in prototypical tax havens, proved otherwise, and everybody knows he only pays a tax rate of 15% on the portion of his income that he ‘declares’ for taxes), and individual taxpayers, compared to multinationals, cannot declare taxes in low tax jurisdictions outside of the country where their income originates. This is the domain for corporation interests, not individuals.

Additionally, corporate interests have discovered fascinating ploys whereby corporate officers are enriched at the expense of all individual taxpayers. Here’s how it works, as only one example of many other tax dodges: The companies pay top executives a hefty amount in “stock options,” for which the tax code allows corporations to deduct the appreciated value of the stock. This means corporations eliminate some taxes by enriching executives. This is a win-win for corporations and their officers, and it is a lose-lose for individual taxpayers and the U.S. Treasury.

Indeed, this tinkering with the tax code provides a skillful and surreptitious methodology for grossly rich corporate executives to make tons more money, and allegedly, the “trickle down theory” claims they will invest these funds to create more jobs. This supply-side theory has worked wonders these past several years… correct?

The point to be made is this: Capitalism’s prime beneficiaries now control every aspect of economic power from political office to the tax code as well as unhindered blatant avoidance of taxes. As it follows, individual citizens of the nation states are left holding the bag and nation states are going broke. How long can this continue? The answer is: As long as nation-states can manage to carry more, and more, and more, and more debt, but Greece has already demonstrated a day of reckoning lurks around the corner.

Is it possible that one of the big time legacy nation-states might be next?

Japan: Case Study of a failing Nation-State

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is a dead ringer for economic free-fall, but nobody knows for sure when it will happen. Japan’s government debt/GDP is double Greece’s.

Japan’s debt level is approximately 25 times tax revenue. Japan’s tax revenues are 43 trillion Yen (¥) of which 10 trillion ¥ pays for annual interest on outstanding debt. And, this inordinate complexity is with interest rates below one percent (1%). Imagine what will happen to Japan’s interest expenses when rates go up!

Furthermore, the country’s tax revenues are 43 trillion ¥, but they spend 102 trillion ¥, more than double tax collections. It is no wonder the country has had 10 finance ministers over the past 5 years!

As a result, large Japanese corporations are acquiring or merging businesses outside of Japan, and in typical transnational fashion, they’re looking to get out while the getting is good.

One respected U.S. economic newsletter says of Japan’s economic situation: “It’s a bug in search of a windshield.”

Market economies historically implode when public debt levels exceed five-to-seven times tax revenues for an extended period of time. In Japan’s case, their debt level is more than one quadrillion ¥ or a ‘billion billion’ ¥, which represents twenty-five times revenues of 43 trillion ¥. Along these lines, the ‘bug’ analogy is more than fitting.

Transnationalism Reigns Supreme

In turn, some Japanese multinationals are exiting stage left in order not to get caught in Japan’s continual deflationary anti-bubble. “So far this year, Japanese firms have made more than $52.5 billion in global acquisitions, compared with $34.34 billion in all of 2010. Overall, Japanese companies are the second-largest acquirers in the world this year… according to Dealogic, a deal-tracking firm… It’s a trend that analysts expect to continue, and possible accelerate, as Japanese companies diversify their operations away from Japan’s stagnant economy….”4

Meanwhile, as a short-term preventative measure, and grasping for straws whilst in a quiescent panic mode, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has opened up the monetary spigots like Niagara Falls during the high season. This rapid devaluation of the yen, i.e., printing money like its going out of style, reminiscent of 1920s Germany, is jacking up Japan, Inc.’s worldwide competitiveness over the short term, as Japanese goods become cheaper versus the world because of intentional devaluation of the yen, but this damages economic interests with other countries, including the U.S., not to mention negative consequences for Japan down the line.

As an example, Toyota will book an extra 35 billion ¥, or 352 million USD, for every one Yen devaluation against the dollar. Regardless, Toyota announced plans to start building Lexus sedans in Kentucky as part of its plan to “become free of currency risk.” Hence, even though Toyota appreciates the short-term pop in earnings because of a rapidly depreciating yen, they continue to move operations offshore.

The Japan-Toyota scenario demonstrates the flexibility of transnationals. They can see a precipice on the horizon even though they do not know how imminently it will arrive. So, on a cautionary note, they move some operations to other countries. But, Japan cannot move the country’s governmental operations, infrastructure, schools, power plants, etc. Along these lines, as transnationals seek greener pastures overseas, Japan increasingly loses its tax base as its aging population over 60 grows to 30% versus a worldwide average of only 8% of the population over 60. To say this is a daunting problem is only too obvious.

At the end of the day, the country of Japan is left with an aging population and enormously high debts. Who’s going to care for the aging society? Not transnationals… they hire overseas workers where operations are relocated. Plus, they adroitly maneuver sales to where taxes are lowest. Thus, and increasingly, nation-states are left with the baggage, i.e., costs of infrastructure, unemployed, and medical expenses for the aging as well as depleting tax bases, meanwhile transnationals move on to new frontiers.

In this fashion, nation-states stagnate whilst multinational corporations thrive because of the flexibility to move wherever taxes and labor costs are most favorable. But, by definition, the legacy nation-states like Japan do not meet the criteria necessary for transnationals looking to move operations into their country because they provide too many costly social services and high wages!

The Trend for Nation-States

Over the past 40 years, with the onset of globalization in combination with transnational interests as dictated by the WTO, NAFTA, the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, the U.S. and other extra-international organizations long-standing policies and tax regimes have become embedded such that many of the policies required to maintain nation-states are flippantly at risk to the whims of transnationals. The complexity behind this favorable arrangement for tansnationals vis-à-vis nation-states is beyond the reach of average voting citizens and beyond the power of nation-states.

As it happens, unless the trend of transnational omnipotence, which is capitalism on steroids, is broken, it is probable that the legacy nation-states, like the U.S., will continue to limp along into an ever-deeper pit of indebtedness as social services are slowly disassembled. This trend is accentuated by continuing weak economic behavior within the nation-state, but paradoxically, and regardless, capitalism thrives and shines!

The upshot of this Gordian knot is destined to result in increasing enforcement via police state tactics while the crumbling apparatuses of nation-states threatens outbreaks of civil disobedience. Then, one has to wonder which frontier transnational elites will conquer next.

As follows, it may be in the best interests of the capital class to avoid this pitfall by calling for a return to an equitable distribution of taxes paid to the treasuries of the nation-states. Otherwise, they may run out of frontiers.

  1. Gus Tyler, The Nation-State vs. the Global Economy, Challenge, March-April, 1993.
  2. Cameron Hails Tax ‘Turning Point’ After Google Criticisms, BBC News, May 22, 2013.
  3. robertreich.org, Global Capital and the Nation State, May 20, 2013.
  4. Kathy Chu, Japanese Companies Look Outside for Expansion Opportunities, USA Today, Sept. 28, 2011. 

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

How to Destroy A Planet Without Really Trying: Humanity’s Path To Disaster

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Oil Refinery.Oldspeak: “So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed. 

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.” – Noam Chomsky

It didn’t take long.  In the immediate aftermath of the dropping of the “victory weapon,” the atomic bomb, on two Japanese cities in August 1945, American fears and fantasies ran wild.  Almost immediately, Americans began to reconceive themselves as potential victims of the bomb.  In the scenarios of destruction that would populate newspapers, magazines, radio shows, and private imaginations, our cities were ringed with concentric circles of destruction and up to 10 million people in the U.S. and tens of millions elsewhere died horribly in a few days of imagined battle.  Even victory, when it came in those first post-war years of futuristic dreams of destruction, had the look of defeat.  And the two wartime American stories — of triumphalism beyond imagining and ashes — turned out to be incapable of cohabiting in the same forms.  So the bomb fled the war movie (where it essentially never made an appearance) for the sci-fi flick in which stand-ins of every sort — alien superweapons and radioactive reptilian and other mutant monsters — destroyed the planet, endangered humanity, and pursued the young into every drive-in movie theater in the country.

As late as 1995, those two stories, the triumphalist end of “the Good War” and the disastrous beginning of the atomic age, still couldn’t inhabit the same space.  In that 50th anniversary year, a planned exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum that was supposed to pair the gleaming fuselage of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that carried the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima, with the caramelized remains of a schoolchild’s lunchbox (“No trace of Reiko Watanabe was ever found”) would be cancelled.  The outrage from veterans’ groups and the Republican right was just too much, the discomfort still too strong.

Until 1945, of course, the apocalypse had been the property of the Bible, and “end times” the province of God (and perhaps a budding branch of pulp lit called science fiction), but not of humanity.  Since then, it’s been ours, and as it turned out, we were acting apocalyptically in ways that weren’t apparent in 1945, that weren’t attached to a single wonder weapon, and that remain difficult to grasp and even deal with now.  With that in mind, and with thanks to Javier Navarro, we have adapted a video interview done with TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky by What, the association Navarro helped to found.  Reworked by Chomsky himself, it offers his thoughts on a perilous future that is distinctly in our hands. ” –Tom Engelhardt

Our Grand Era Of “Savage Capitalism” will come to an end. Whether we like it or not. It’s not a matter of if but when. Get Apocalyptic.

By Noam Chomsky @ Tomsdispatch:

What is the future likely to bring?  A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside.  So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now — assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious — and you’re looking back at what’s happening today.  You’d see something quite remarkable.

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves.  That’s been true since 1945.  It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.

And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction.  So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.

How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying

The question is: What are people doing about it?  None of this is a secret.  It’s all perfectly open.  In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.

There have been a range of reactions.  There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them.  If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed.  Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada.  They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.

In fact, all over the world — Australia, India, South America — there are battles going on, sometimes wars.  In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences.  In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand.  The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it — and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil.  He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting.  Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer.  Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product.  In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use.  That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer.  You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background.  Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster.  At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.  Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States.  Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside.  What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere.  Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something.  Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets.  It’s not because the population doesn’t want it.  Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming.  It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

So that’s what the future historian — if there is one — would see.  He might also read today’s scientific journals.  Just about every one you open has a more dire prediction than the last.

“The Most Dangerous Moment in History”

The other issue is nuclear war.  It’s been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow.  You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.  It’s well understood.  So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.

We’ve just passed the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was called “the most dangerous moment in history” by historian Arthur Schlesinger, President John F. Kennedy’s advisor.  Which it was.  It was a very close call, and not the only time either.  In some ways, however, the worst aspect of these grim events is that the lessons haven’t been learned.

What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded.  The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane.  There was a point, as the missile crisis was reaching its peak, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy offering to settle it by a public announcement of a withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey.  Actually, Kennedy hadn’t even known that the U.S. had missiles in Turkey at the time.  They were being withdrawn anyway, because they were being replaced by more lethal Polaris nuclear submarines, which were invulnerable.

So that was the offer.  Kennedy and his advisors considered it — and rejected it.  At the time, Kennedy himself was estimating the likelihood of nuclear war at a third to a half.  So Kennedy was willing to accept a very high risk of massive destruction in order to establish the principle that we — and only we — have the right to offensive missiles beyond our borders, in fact anywhere we like, no matter what the risk to others — and to ourselves, if matters fall out of control. We have that right, but no one else does.

Kennedy did, however, accept a secret agreement to withdraw the missiles the U.S. was already withdrawing, as long as it was never made public.  Khrushchev, in other words, had to openly withdraw the Russian missiles while the U.S. secretly withdrew its obsolete ones; that is, Khrushchev had to be humiliated and Kennedy had to maintain his macho image.  He’s greatly praised for this: courage and coolness under threat, and so on.  The horror of his decisions is not even mentioned — try to find it on the record.

And to add a little more, a couple of months before the crisis blew up the United States had sent missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa.  These were aimed at China during a period of great regional tension.

Well, who cares?  We have the right to do anything we want anywhere in the world.  That was one grim lesson from that era, but there were others to come.

Ten years after that, in 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert.  It was his way of warning the Russians not to interfere in the ongoing Israel-Arab war and, in particular, not to interfere after he had informed the Israelis that they could violate a ceasefire the U.S. and Russia had just agreed upon.  Fortunately, nothing happened.

Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan was in office.  Soon after he entered the White House, he and his advisors had the Air Force start penetrating Russian air space to try to elicit information about Russian warning systems, Operation Able Archer.  Essentially, these were mock attacks.  The Russians were uncertain, some high-level officials fearing that this was a step towards a real first strike.  Fortunately, they didn’t react, though it was a close call.  And it goes on like that.

What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises

At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran.  There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises.  Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try.  They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.

Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West — not in the Arab world, not in Asia — the gravest threat to world peace.  It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here.  Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace?  Actually there are quite a few.  One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran.  In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region.  That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward.  And there were ways to proceed.  Under U.N. auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this.  What happened?

You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported — only in specialist journals.  In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting.  A couple of days later Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right.  The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states.  Nothing resulted.  So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population — it doesn’t hurt the regime — and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?

In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing.  North Korea may be the craziest country in the world.  It’s certainly a good competitor for that title.  But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways.  Why would they behave the way they do?  Just imagine ourselves in their situation.  Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing.  Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.

Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply — a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg.   And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive.  The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination.  It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death.  How magnificent!  It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.

Let’s turn to the present.  There’s an interesting recent history.  In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country.  President Clinton intervened and blocked it.  Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test.  The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides.  When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.

Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea — “axis of evil” and all that — so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program.  By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement.  In between, other things happened.  In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development.  In return, the West, but mainly the United States, was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements.  They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.

It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it.  He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones.  The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program.  And that’s the way it’s been going.

It’s well known.  You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship.  What they say is: it’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy.  You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own.  You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.

Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening.  We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us.  In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.

This surely sets off alarm bells from the past.  They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way.  Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are.  Yes, they are.  But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.

It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of numerous best-selling political works, including Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and most recently (with interviewer David Barsamian), Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).

[Note: This piece was adapted (with the help of Noam Chomsky) from an online video interview done by the website What, which is dedicated to integrating knowledge from different fields with the aim of encouraging the balance between the individual, society, and the environment.]

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Attack Of The Clones: China Is Developing Its Own Drone Technology – For Its Own Use & For Sale Around The World

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm
UAV

Oldspeak: “While U.S. Drone technology is highly restricted and expensive, China’s drone fleet is growing at a tenth of the cost. So these death machines are sure to proliferate as the world continues to militarize. Just as the U.S. has claimed the right to send remote controlled killing machines into foreign lands it has not declared war with, to kill enemies of the state, China has as well, with its recently planed hit on a drug boss in Myanmar. Just think, some time in the near future,  Americans will know the unique terror of being hunted and killed by foreign-made and operated flying deathbots!  Just as it started the nuclear arms race, with terrible results, the U.S. started the drone arms race. These armed robot chickens will one day come home roost in a really bad way.  It seems the global surveillance and control grid is slowly taking shape. “Skynet” soon come.

By Trefor Moss @ The Diplomat:

Unmanned systems have become the legal and ethical problem child of the global defense industry and the governments they supply, rewriting the rules of military engagement in ways that many find disturbing. And this sense of unease about where we’re headed is hardly unfamiliar. Much like the emergence of drone technology, the rise of China and its reshaping of the geopolitical landscape has stirred up a sometimes understandable, sometimes irrational, fear of the unknown.

It’s safe to say, then, that Chinese drones conjure up a particularly intense sense of alarm that the media has begun to embrace as a license to panic. China is indeed developing a range of unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAVs/UASs) at a time when relations with Japan are tense, and when those with the U.S. are delicate. But that hardly justifies claims that “drones have taken center stage in an escalating arms race between China and Japan,” or that the “China drone threat highlights [a] new global arms race,” as some observers would have it. This hyperbole was perhaps fed by a 2012 U.S. Department of Defense report which described China’s development of UAVs as “alarming.”

That’s quite unreasonable. All of the world’s advanced militaries are adopting drones, not just the PLA. That isn’t an arms race, or a reason to fear China, it’s just the direction in which defense technology is naturally progressing. Secondly, while China may be demonstrating impressive advances, Israel and the U.S. retain a substantial lead in the UAV field, with China—alongside Europe, India and Russia— still in the second tier. And thirdly, China is modernizing in all areas of military technology – unmanned systems being no exception.

New unmanned missions

Nonetheless, China has started to show its hand in terms of the roles that it expects its growing fleet of UAVs to fulfill. In a clear indication that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an operational armed UAV capability in which it feels relatively confident, last week reports of a plan to send a UAV into Myanmar to assassinate a drug trafficker who had murdered 13 Chinese nationals came to light. The Chinese government ultimately rejected this tactic, but it is evidently tempted to follow Washington’s lead in reserving the right to use UAVs to target enemies of the state, even on foreign soil.

Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea have also persuaded Beijing to accelerate its deployment of UAVs, which are ideally suited to maritime surveillance missions. UAVs are already used routinely to monitor the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, a PLA general recently claimed. “[Both China and Japan] seem intent on establishing more presence in these disputed zones,” comments Peter Singer, Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution,“both to establish their own claims … and to watch what the other is doing. UAS are helpful in those aims, especially with their longer duration versus traditional manned platforms.” The PLA Air Force has also converted its obsolete J-6 fighters into UAVs; based in Fujian, the J-6s are apparently being used for Diaoyu surveillance, as well as being expendable strike assets in the event of an armed engagement.

Nor is China’s deployment of UAVs limited to the military realm. The government of Liaoning Province is reportedly using UAVs to monitor the North Korean border, and is also said to be establishing two coastal UAV bases from which it will oversee its areas of jurisdiction in the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Gulf. Meanwhile, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) – one of China’s main maritime agencies – announced in August that it is setting up 11 UAV bases, one in each of China’s coastal provinces. It expects to have these bases up and running by 2015 (images of some of the SOA’s current UAVs can be seen here). It’s also worth recalling that all of China’s UAV advances have been enabled by the Beidou satellite constellation, which now includes 16 active satellites providing coverage across China and the Asia-Pacific.

If provincial governments and civilian law enforcement agencies plan to induct UAVs in tandem with the PLA, then that’s a large fleet of unmanned aircraft able to perform a variety of different functions that China will need to bring online over the next few years. But, there is no shortage of technology programs competing to make the cut.

China’s UAV programs

Dozens of Chinese UAV concepts have appeared over the years, most of which will never leave the laboratory, let alone the runway. However, the Chinese aerospace sector has clearly devoted a great deal of energy to producing a range of designs from which the PLA has been able to cherry-pick. Chinese engineers have also been able to draw on Israeli technology, having acquired Harpy UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries in the 1990s. “They’ve gone in the last few years from having none in development to at least 25 different models displayed at arms shows,” says Singer.“So, it’s a very ambitious program. But again, it parallels their growth in capabilities and ambitions in many others beyond UAS, from jet fighters to missiles.” He warns against overhyping China’s UAV effort, noting that for now “we’re talking very small numbers [of Chinese UAVs] … and not yet near U.S. capabilities.”

If the example of the U.S military is anything to go by, the PLA should only have operational requirements for around six to ten UAVs. It appears closer to filling some of these operational niches than others.

The China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) has developed a number of ASN series UAVs, at least two of which appear to be in operational use. First is the ASN-15, a small intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAV similar to the U.S. RQ-11 Raven, a small, man-portable system able to perform basic battlefield ISTAR duties. Second is the ASN-209 medium altitude and medium endurance UAV comparable to the U.S. ScanEagle, a larger ISR asset than the Raven with up to 20 hours of flight time for longer-range battlefield and maritime surveillance. The ASN-209 is probably the same aircraft as the “Silver Eagle” which was widely reported to have taken part in naval exercises over the South China Sea in 2011.

Vertical takeoff UAVs (VTUAV), which are especially useful for naval ISTAR and fire control, are also beginning to enter service (though the U.S. Navy’s comparable MQ-8 Fire Scout is itself yet to receive operational clearance). A PLA Navy frigate was pictured in 2012 operating what was probably one of the 18 Camcopter S-100s China acquired from Austrian company Schiebel, supposedly intended for civilian use. Another VTUAV, the SVU-200, made its first flight late last year, while a third unmanned helicopter, the V750, recently entered civilian service. The PLA Navy is known to be exploring the possible applications of VTUAVs, including their use in anti-submarine warfare, and to be interested in the use of UAVs more broadly on its new and future aircraft carriers, not least because UAVs can significantly augment China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. “A2/AD places a premium on extending your range of monitoring and tracking targets from afar,” Singer says.“UAS are very helpful in that.”

Bigger, more advanced UAVs are also now breaking cover. Two in particular appear to be similar to the U.S.’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAVs best known for conducting lethal operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. These are the Yilong/Wing Loong “Pterodactyl”, built by the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI), and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC’s) CH-4. According to a recent Global Times report, the Yilong is primarily regarded as a Reaper-style strike aircraft, while the CH-4 is more of a multi-role aircraft that will be deployed by civilian agencies, as well as by the military, for surveillance purposes, though it can also be weaponized. These two UAVs appear to be in the same class as the CH-91, built by Aerospace Long March International (ALIT), an ISTAR system which is reported to have already entered production, and the more advanced CH-92, which is due to enter production in 2014. A similar class of UAV, the WJ-600, has been showcased by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), though this system – which is jet-powered, unlike the propeller-driven Yilong and the CH-4 – was not seen at the most recent China Air Show.

Finally, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation is working on the Soaring Eagle, an analogue of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Washington’s high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV. Recent pictures of a Soaring Eagle on the runway suggest that its development is moving forward effectively. There are also hints that China is working on a stealthy UAV called the Wing Blade, which is reminiscent of the U.S.’s black-budget RQ-170 Sentinel, while a stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) called the Dark Sword – perhaps along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s experimental X-74B – may also be in development. Chinese technicians are also undoubtedly experimenting with a new generation of nano-UAVs, like the Black Hornet micro-helicopter now in action with the British Army.

China’s drone boom

The aerospace sector must now supply huge demand from both the PLA and civilian authorities. So it is not hard to envisage several of these seemingly competing UAVs, rather than just one winner, being produced in large numbers in order to help the defense industry meet its growing demand. In fact, last November a senior CASIC executive forecast that Chinese UAV sales would double in 2013.

Chinese firms also have high hopes for export sales. The Predator-style CH-4 in particular is being pushed for export, and was displayed at the recent IDEX defense expo in Abu Dhabi. The system is part of CASC’s CH “Rainbow” family of drones, and is understood to be an upgraded version of the CH-3 UAV, which China has already sold to Pakistan. The Yilong has also “already successfully entered the international market”, according to Chinese sources quoted by RIA Novosti at the recent China Air Show.

China has rightly identified a gap in the market, with relatively few countries having inducted UAVs so far, and few capable of building drones themselves, the low cost of Chinese systems will certainly be an advantage. A U.S. Predator costs around $4.5 million, while a Reaper is closer to $10 million for countries that manage to obtain clearance to buy them. Chinese sources have claimed that their equivalent UAVs cost less than $1 million, making them a highly affordable capability for a host of international customers, especially those unable or unwilling to source U.S. and Israeli technology.

So if there is an alarm bell worth ringing about the emergence of Chinese UAVs, it is probably not the threat they will pose to the U.S. or Japan in the Asia-Pacific – it is the proliferation to the developing world of armed, unmanned systems that China’s low prices, and even lower export barriers, may soon begin to drive.