Outlining a Progressive Future

A Nuclear Free World Starts with An End to the Hypocrisy

News today that North Korea has tested a nuclear device just north of Pyongyang has sent shivers down the spine of many around the world. The test was confirmed earlier today as a nuclear test from the North Korean Government who stated that it was part of its ‘nuclear deterrent policy’. It was quickly condemned by leaders from around the world, with US President Barack Obama calling it a “blatant violation of international law”. 

Whilst this test is a scary reminder of what the North Korean Government can and may be willing to do in the future, it should also serve as a reminder of the great hypocrisies of the nuclear powers of the world. At the same time this test was completed and its condemnations occurred a total of 8 other countries (The US, Russia, China, France, UK, Israel, Pakistan and India) continue to posses large stocks of nuclear weapons with none of these countries having formal plans for disarmament (even though Barack Obama has declared it to be a goal).

This post is not designed to condone North Korea’s nuclear test (under the guise of ‘if the US can have them, why can’t North Korea) and in fact I strongly condemn and hope the world does everything it can to stop this nuclear program in its tracks, but is rather here to argue that to stop further nuclear proliferation from nations such as North Korea we must see an end to the hypocrisy of the world’s nuclear powers and the beginning of nuclear disarmament by these powers. 

The logic behind the need for nuclear disarmament is simple. First, there is the obvious threat that nuclear powers pose to the world; a threat that is terrifying when one thinks about it. Nuclear weapons are without doubt the most awful inventions of human kind and an invention that the people of the world should be able to live without. Second to this however, is the mere fact that the continued ownership of nuclear weapons by the world’s nuclear powers creates a negative feedback, in which more states desire to own nuclear weapons. In other words if state A owns a nuclear weapon and state B, which does not own a nuclear  weapon perceives state A to be a threat, then state B is likely to attempt to obtain a nuclear weapon. When state B obtains this nuclear weapon, it is then likely that state A will boost its stocks to ‘out-muscle’ state B creating a continued cycle. On top of this, if state C perceives state B to be a threat it is likely that state C would desire to become a nuclear power and therefore create a new cycle. It is this sort of situation that originally saw the development of the vast nuclear stocks held by the then USSR and the United States and is seeing the creation of arms races in the Middle East (between Iran and Israel) and Southern Asia (between India and Pakistan) and in this situation the only way to end the nuclear cycle is for state A to act to disarm its nuclear weapons and therefore remove the original threat.

However, there would be people who would disagree with such an analysis and would bring up the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The MAD theory states that if two states hold nuclear weapons, neither would ever dare to deploy a weapon as they would be assured destruction by the weapons of their foe. It is this reasoning that it is theorised stopped the possibility of nuclear war between the US and USSR during the cold war. However, with the end of the Cold War this theory has become defunct. Why? Because with the end of the Cold War we saw an end to a struggle between two large nations that held nearly all of the world’s nuclear weapons and the opening of the nuclear stage to many more countries, some of whom do not have a threat posed to them by other nuclear powers. For example, if Israel determined to drop a nuclear weapon on Iran sometime in the future, which nation would dare to use a nuclear weapon against Israel (given that Iran has no proven nuclear capabilities just yet)? Unlike the US and the USSR in the Cold War, Israel does not have the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

The threat of nuclear weapons is still real and still extremely terrifying and it is about time that the world’s nuclear powers gave up on the hypocrisy and began to take action on disarming their nuclear weapons and ridding the world of human’s most atrocious invention. I congratulate Barack Obama for his call to begin action to start nuclear disarmament and hope it is followed with some serious concrete actions during his term as President. 

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , , | Leave a comment

Could We All Be A Terrorist?

I was once told a story about a lecturer at the ANU who I considered to be one of the best. The lecturer had a number of students walk out of her class in protest because she dared to suggest that if put under similar circumstances any person could be pushed the a level where they participate in acts of terror. In doing so the lecturer challenged the idea that there is something fundamentally different about people who participate in terrorism that could and would not be replicated in other people. The students walked out because they couldn’t see that there could be any discussion around providing a reason for terrorism and simply that it is due to something fundamentally more ‘evil’ about terrorists and it is this evilness that has made them participate in these horrible acts. Essentially, they were ‘othering’ the terrorists; something that is not an unusual or somewhat surprising reaction.

What do I mean by othering?

Simply stated, ‘othering’ is the creation of a mindset where one puts them as fundamentally and inherently different to an ‘other’. These differences are generally considered to be something that are natural, rather than being something that may be due to circumstance and provide no logical reasons for differences (it is therefore important to note the difference between those who acknowledge differences between people and those who ‘other’ people). Othering normally occurs with severe negative connotations (as this generally occurs in negative situations and one generally sees themselves as better than others) and therefore is an extremely dangerous political tool. Othering occurs as a way to provide reasons to negative activities that are based wholly around the nature of a person and not through any logical discussions of the situations that may lead to someone to participate in particular actions. This is extremely dangerous because:

  1. It breeds nationalistic racism: By discussing the ‘evilness’ of the Muslim terrorist or the ‘evilness’ of the Somali pirate we add seriously to the problem of racism. The idea of ‘othering’ is that it discusses fundamental differences between one group of people and another. As this othering usually occurs in a racial context (i.e. Muslims, Somalis, Africans) and with extremely negative connotations the use of othering adds severely to racism in the contemporary world.
  2. It doesn’t help the problem: The second issue with this is that it simply doesn’t help the problem at all. Whilst discussing the use of the ‘other’ may be good politically it does absolutely nothing to help solve the problems that are leading people to participate in such actions as terrorism. This is simply not useful in any way as just leads to the continuation of the activities, which in the end causes more harm.

Using the ‘other’ as a political tool

However, even with such problems the use of the ‘other’ as a political tool is still extremely prevalent in today’s society. Whether discussing terrorists from the Middle East or pirates from Somalia it is still extremely common to see politicians, political commentators and members of the public still discuss these issues without any talk about why people participate in such actions and what the background is behind these problems. This occurs as the discussion of the other in this way allows for the continuation of nationalistic ideals, which continue to ensure the strength of the modern state. This argument requires quite a bit more discussion and will require me to write another post on nationalism later on, but I will just take one look at how discussing the other enhances nationalism.

One only needs to look at the Presidency of George W. Bush to see how discussing the other enhances nationalistic ideals.  After the attacks of the 11th of September 2001, ‘othering’ those who participating in terrorism became one the trademarks of the Bush Presidency. Whether discussing the ‘axis of evil’ or talking about Bin Laden Bush was very good at drawing a distinction between the ‘evil’ terrorists and the ‘good’ Americans. In doing so he therefore stoked the flames of American nationalism through promoting The United States as better than other nations around the world. Unfortunately for the large Islamic population in the country Bush’s promotion of The United States came at the expense of the Islamic people who continue to suffer from serious racism due to the way Bush ‘othered’ terrorists.

If you want to see more examples all you need to look at is the way John Howard ‘othered’ asylum seekers and especially those in the ‘Children Overboard’ scandal as a way to enhance support for him as a Prime Minister. Othering is now also a common factor in the discussion of Somali Pirates, where we are completely ignoring the reasons people enter into piracy and simply assuming that it is just because they are ‘evil’ or ‘bad’.  

How should we change this?

There is only one way to defeat the problems that come with this and that is to turn the discussion about problems such as terrorism and piracy away from the discussion of the inherently evil other and onto a discussion about what causes such problems. Actions never occur without reason and unless we accept and discuss that fact we are never going to be able to solve the problems that lead to actions like terrorism. For example, there is quite clear evidence that the majority of piracy of the coast of Somalia occurs due to severe pollution in the waters that has destroyed fish stocks and therefore people’s livelihoods. Most of this pollution has occurred due to the dumping of a range of pollutants from ships in the waters. In this situation it is not too difficult to make a jump as to why you might start to see piracy in this region. If we therefore began a discussion around why so much pollution occurs in this area, who is responsible for it and how it can be stopped we would have a much better chance and ending the practice in the future than if we were to just talk about piracy as an action that occurs due a natural ‘evilness’ of those who participate in it.

The question then must be asked; doesn’t this just allow for the justification of bad acts? There is definitely something to this; if we discuss these issues in a way that provides logical reasons for why negative actions occur it could be seen to be justifying why people did them and therefore ‘normalising’ particular crimes to a certain extent. However, I seriously do not believe that this is a major problem. I do so with the understanding that our justice system should have two main goals: (1) to reduce crime and (2) to ‘rehabilitate’ those who have participated in crimes so they can become active members in society once again (more on this in another blog). I believe that as long as we continue to describe those who participate in such crimes as ‘inherently different’ to us and refuse to acknowledge the reasons behind their crimes than we will never achieve these two goals. If ‘normalising’ a crime to a certain extent is a consequence of this than I am happy to live with that.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Right, Security, War and Violence | , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Coming Closer to Going Further into Interrogations

After a long time rejecting the idea, President of the United States, Barack Obama is now opening up to the idea of having a probe into the Bush administration tactics during the war on terror, focused especially around interrogation methods and torture.

It is good to see that Obama is now opening up to this idea. A full investigation, with the possibility of prosecutions to follow (as Obama has now admitted could occur), will ensure that the United States is given a real opportunity to find out about the horrors of the Bush Administration and properly move on from them. As discussed earlier, the US will not be able to properly move on from these past disgraces and ensure that they don’t occur again until adequate recognition and punishment of those who perpetrated them by society occurs. I hope this talk leads to future action and provides a real opportunity for the US to move away from being a nature that accepts torture.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | , | 2 Comments

Prosecutions Must Follow the Release of the Torture Memos

Yesterday, President of the United States, Barack Obama released the well known ‘torture memos’  of the Bush Administration which outlined the torture methods that were deemed as suitable for use by the CIA in interrogations of suspected terrorists. The memos outlined a number of methods, including water boarding, leaving someone in a dark room with an insect, leaving someone in cramped conditions and sleep deprivation as some of the acceptable methods for interrogation. 

I fully congratulate President Obama for releasing these memos and ensuring no parts of them were blacked out when they were released. However I strongly agree with Keith Olbermann in his discussion over the need for prosecutions to follow the release of these documents (which President Obama has refused to allow). Without prosecuting those who authorised and participated in these actions Obama has taken the easy road out and has left the door open for these sorts of actions to occur in the future; something that must be avoided at all costs. To create a progressive future one not only needs to acknowledge the shameful actions of the past, but also allow for a society to create a form of ‘justice’ for those who suffered in those actions and it is only through initiating prosecutions that at least some form of justice can be attained. 

April 18, 2009 Posted by | Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future, Security, War and Violence | | 1 Comment