Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill

On a bright fall day last year off the coast of Southern California, an Air Force B-1 bomber launched an experimental missile that may herald the future of warfare.

LRAS Missile launched from B-1 bomber

Initially, pilots aboard the plane directed the missile, but halfway to its destination, it severed communication with its operators. Alone, without human oversight, the missile decided which of three ships to attack, dropping to just above the sea surface and striking a 260-foot unmanned freighter.

Warfare is increasingly guided by software. Today, armed drones can be operated by remote pilots peering into video screens thousands of miles from the battlefield. But now, some scientists say, arms makers have crossed into troubling territory: They are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target and whom to kill.

As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control — or to defend against. And while pinpoint accuracy could save civilian lives, critics fear weapons without human oversight could make war more likely, as easy as flipping a switch.

Britain, Israel and Norway are already deploying missiles and drones that carry out attacks against enemy radar, tanks or ships without direct human control. After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets and to initiate an attack.

Britain’s “fire and forget” Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.

Armaments with even more advanced self-governance are on the drawing board, although the details usually are kept secret. “An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,” said Steve Omohundro, a physicist and artificial intelligence specialist at Self-Aware Systems, a research center in Palo Alto, Calif. “They can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably.”

Concerned by the prospect of a robotics arms race, representatives from dozens of nations will meet on Thursday in Geneva to consider whether development of these weapons should be restricted by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, last year called for a moratorium on the development of these weapons.

The Pentagon has issued a directive requiring high-level authorization for the development of weapons capable of killing without human oversight. But fast-moving technology has already made the directive obsolete, some scientists say.

“Our concern is with how the targets are determined, and more importantly, who determines them,” said Peter Asaro, a co-founder and vice chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a group of scientists that advocates restrictions on the use of military robots. “Are these human-designated targets? Or are these systems automatically deciding what is a target?”

Weapons manufacturers in the United States were the first to develop advanced autonomous weapons. An early version of the Tomahawk cruise missile had the ability to hunt for Soviet ships over the horizon without direct human control. It was withdrawn in the early 1990s after a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Back in 1988, the Navy test-fired a Harpoon antiship missile that employed an early form of self-guidance. The missile mistook an Indian freighter that had strayed onto the test range for its target. The Harpoon, which did not have a warhead, hit the bridge of the freighter, killing a crew member.

Despite the accident, the Harpoon became a mainstay of naval armaments and remains in wide use.

In recent years, artificial intelligence has begun to supplant human decision-making in a variety of fields, such as high-speed stock trading and medical diagnostics, and even in self-driving cars. But technological advances in three particular areas have made self-governing weapons a real possibility.

New types of radar, laser and infrared sensors are helping missiles and drones better calculate their position and orientation. “Machine vision,” resembling that of humans, identifies patterns in images and helps weapons distinguish important targets. This nuanced sensory information can be quickly interpreted by sophisticated artificial intelligence systems, enabling a missile or drone to carry out its own analysis in flight. And computer hardware hosting it all has become relatively inexpensive — and expendable.

The missile tested off the coast of California, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, is under development by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force and Navy. It is intended to fly for hundreds of miles, maneuvering on its own to avoid radar, and out of radio contact with human controllers.

In a directive published in 2012, the Pentagon drew a line between semiautonomous weapons, whose targets are chosen by a human operator, and fully autonomous weapons that can hunt and engage targets without intervention.

Weapons of the future, the directive said, must be “designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”

The Pentagon nonetheless argues that the new antiship missile is only semiautonomous and that humans are sufficiently represented in its targeting and killing decisions. But officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which initially developed the missile, and Lockheed declined to comment on how the weapon decides on targets, saying the information is classified.

“It will be operating autonomously when it searches for the enemy fleet,” said Mark A. Gubrud, a physicist and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and an early critic of so-called smart weapons. “This is pretty sophisticated stuff that I would call artificial intelligence outside human control.”

Paul Scharre, a weapons specialist now at the Center for a New American Security who led the working group that wrote the Pentagon directive, said, “It’s valid to ask if this crosses the line.”

Some arms-control specialists say that requiring only “appropriate” human control of these weapons is too vague, speeding the development of new targeting systems that automate killing.

Mr. Heyns, of the United Nations, said that nations with advanced weapons should agree to limit their weapons systems to those with “meaningful” human control over the selection and attack of targets. “It must be similar to the role a commander has over his troops,” Mr. Heyns said.

Systems that permit humans to override the computer’s decisions may not meet that criterion, he added. Weapons that make their own decisions move so quickly that human overseers soon may not be able to keep up. Yet many of them are explicitly designed to permit human operators to step away from controls. Israel’s antiradar missile, the Harpy, loiters in the sky until an enemy radar is turned on. It then attacks and destroys the radar installation on its own.

Norway plans to equip its fleet of advanced jet fighters with the Joint Strike Missile, which can hunt, recognize and detect a target without human intervention. Opponents have called it a “killer robot.”

Military analysts like Mr. Scharre argue that automated weapons like these should be embraced because they may result in fewer mass killings and civilian casualties. Autonomous weapons, they say, do not commit war crimes.

On Sept. 16, 2011, for example, British warplanes fired two dozen Brimstone missiles at a group of Libyan tanks that were shelling civilians. Eight or more of the tanks were destroyed simultaneously, according to a military spokesman, saving the lives of many civilians.

It would have been difficult for human operators to coordinate the swarm of missiles with similar precision.

“Better, smarter weapons are good if they reduce civilian casualties or indiscriminate killing,” Mr. Scharre said. More

Editorial

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche,, a leading Tibetan academic stated recently; “Today the challenges of the modernity pose existential threat to mankind and earth itself, if not tackled adequately and immediately. The first major challenge is of VIOLENCE. Its most visible forms are war and terrorism. Then there is the systematic or system generated violence. We are neither able to see it or understand it, but its scope and spread are frightening. The present situation is such that we have no will to resist violence, unless it directly affects us. This kind of violence is market driven which necessitates perpetuation of war or its possibility. In brief the entire world today is being governed by the market forces, which are described consumeristic system”. Violence, war and terrorism, along with poverty and disease are governance issues, global governance issies.

As Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), told world leaders in 1998: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.” Governance is the exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Different definitions of good governance have been proposed by development organizations. The definition offered by the UN Development Programme highlights participation, accountability, transparency, consensus, sustainability, the rule of law, and the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable people in making decisions about allocating development resources.

All of the above are issues that we have to technology and resources to alleviate. Doing so would remove the necessity to produce weapons as described above, it could do away for the need for the military as we know it today. The world could be like Costa Rica whose military was abolished on December 1, 1948, by President José Figueres Ferrer. Our world could literally become a Paradise or Garden of Eden where peace reigned as everyones needs were fulfilled. Editor.

 

 

How Israel’s lies are used to justify mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza

Israel's lies make it clear to the Palestinians that it will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions.


ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, including Israel and Hamas. But Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes.


It does not deform the truth; it inverts it. It routinely paints a picture for the outside world that is diametrically opposed to reality. And all of us reporters who have covered the occupied territories have run into Israel's Alice-in-Wonderland narratives, which we dutifully insert into our stories — required under the rules of American journalism — although we know they are untrue.


I saw small boys baited and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. The soldiers swore at the boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle and the soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. I was present more than once as Israeli troops drew out and shot Palestinian children in this way.


Such incidents, in the Israeli lexicon, become children caught in crossfire.


I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded hovels in Gaza City. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory.


I have watched Israel demolish homes and entire apartment blocks to create wide buffer zones between the Palestinians and the Israeli troops that ring Gaza. I have interviewed the destitute and homeless families, some camped out in crude shelters erected in the rubble. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists.


I have stood in the remains of schools — Israel struck two United Nations schools in the last six days, causing at least 10 fatalities at one in Rafah on Sunday and at least 19 at one in the Jebaliya refugee camp Wednesday — as well as medical clinics and mosques. I have heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites.


I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”


There is a perverted logic to Israel's repeated use of the Big Lie — the lie favored by tyrants from Josef Stalin to Saddam Hussein. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit — racism among its supporters and terror among its victims.


By painting a picture of an army that never attacks civilians, that indeed goes out of its way to protect them, the Big Lie says Israelis are civilized and humane, and their Palestinian opponents are inhuman monsters.


The Big Lie serves the idea that the slaughter in Gaza is a clash of civilizations, a war between democracy, decency and honor on one side and Islamic barbarism on the other. And in the uncommon cases when news of atrocities penetrates to the wider public, Israel blames the destruction and casualties on Hamas.


George Orwell in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” called this form of propaganda doublethink. Doublethink uses “logic against logic” and “repudiate[s] morality while laying claim to it.”


The Big Lie does not allow for the nuances and contradictions that can plague conscience. It is a state-orchestrated response to the dilemma of cognitive dissonance. The Big Lie permits no gray zones. The world is black and white, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous.


The Big Lie allows believers to take comfort — a comfort they are desperately seeking — in their own moral superiority at the very moment they have abrogated all morality.


The Big Lie, as the father of American public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote, is limited only by the propagandist's capacity to fathom and harness the undercurrents of individual and mass psychology. And since most supporters of Israel do not have a desire to know the truth, a truth that would force them to examine their own racism and self-delusions about Zionist and Western moral superiority, like packs of famished dogs they lap up the lies fed to them by the Israeli government.


But the Big Lie is also consciously designed to send a chilling message to Gaza's Palestinians, who have lost large numbers of their dwellings, clinics, mosques, and power, water and sewage facilities, along with schools and hospitals, who have suffered some 1,850 deaths since this assault began — most of the victims women and children — and who have seen 400,000 people displaced from their homes.


The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions. The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.


The Israel Defense Forces website is replete with this black propaganda. “Hamas exploits the IDF's sensitivity towards protecting civilian structures, particularly holy sites, by hiding command centers, weapons caches and tunnel entrances in mosques,” the IDF site reads. “In Hamas' world, hospitals are command centers, ambulances are transport vehicles, and medics are human shields,” the site insists.


“… [Israeli] officers are tasked with an enormous responsibility: to protect Palestinian civilians on the ground, no matter how difficult that may be,” the site assures its viewers. And the IDF site provides this quote from a drone operator identified as Lt. Or. “I have personally seen rockets fired at Israel from hospitals and schools, but we couldn't strike back because of civilians nearby. In one instance, we acquired a target but we saw that there were children in the area. We waited around, and when they didn't leave we were forced to abort a strike on an important target.”


Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the “Nobel Peace Prize … a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”


The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality.


And when facts no longer matter, when there is no shared history grounded in the truth, when people foolishly believe their own lies, there can be no useful exchange of information.


The Big Lie, used like a bludgeon by Israel, as perhaps it is designed to be, ultimately reduces all problems in the world to the brutish language of violence. And when oppressed people are addressed only through violence they will answer only through violence. More

 

 

“Containing the Resource Crisis”

LONDON – The proclamation of a new Cold War, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, turned out to be alarmist and premature. However, it reflected the anxiety of today’s decision-makers in the face of a crumbling global order.


With emerging economies far from committed to established norms in international relations, many governments and multinational companies are feeling vulnerable about relying on others for vital resources – the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas being a case in point.

Competition for scarce resources is sorely testing our assumptions about global governance and cooperation, at a time when collective leadership is becoming ever more necessary. But even in the absence of overarching global legal frameworks, it is possible to maintain a sense of common security if the terms of resource investments are founded on long-term political understanding and commercial relationships, rather than short-term competition.

The stakes are high. Resource scarcity is closely linked to political risks. Consider, for example, the drought that decimated Russia’s 2010 wheat harvest. In response, Russia imposed export restrictions to shore up its domestic supplies, sending food prices soaring in its main export markets, especially Egypt. This in turn helped spark the political uprisings that spread rapidly across North Africa and the Middle East. Climate change is expected to trigger many more such chains of events.

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply

One test case for such cooperation is the potentially explosive issue of the Nile Delta’s water resources. Britain’s colonial-era treaty has, since 1929, given Egypt a veto over any upstream river project that might affect the country’s water supply. Several Nile Basin countries, including Sudan and Ethiopia, have now ratified a new, Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework agreement, which Egypt has yet to sign. Given Egypt’s concerns about potential water shortages arising from Ethiopia’s new upstream hydropower plants, its assent is far from assured.

Indeed, in Egypt’s febrile political atmosphere, its newly elected president, General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, may be tempted to escalate the threat of military action in response to Ethiopia’s hydropower projects. Such a move would send shockwaves through a region already reeling from conflict in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.

To avoid another dangerous political-environmental chain reaction, nudging all sides toward agreement will require achieving mutual recognition of resource concerns. Ethiopia must credibly guarantee the supply of water downstream, for example, by establishing a water-replenishment rate at its dam reservoirs that does not threaten the onward flow of water to Egypt. At the same time, Egypt, while retaining the fundamental right to protect its water supply, must recognize the interests of its upstream neighbors and be ready to negotiate in good faith a new Nile Basin treaty.

Multinational companies and sovereign investors like China, which have financed hydropower projects upstream, will come under increasing pressure to adopt a position. They, too, can play a positive role by considering the cross-border investments that will address critical interdependencies, like Egypt’s wasteful agricultural irrigation practices.

Similar resource-related tensions are surfacing in other parts of the world. Water stress and food security threaten to constrain India’s economic promise, as increasing coal-powered electricity generation diverts water resources away from agriculture. The political risks of investing in Nigeria’s agriculture sector are also rising as a result of the country’s demographic explosion, high inflation, weak rule of law, and insecure land rights, with wider political consequences.

These resource strains are aggravated by foreign investments that seek to meet developed-country consumers’ voracious demand for resources without attention to their impact on sustainability in the host countries. This virtual outsourcing of the industrialized world’s environmental impacts, apart from being hypocritical, is no basis for building a strategy for global environmental sustainability.

Instead, the world needs to invest in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and green infrastructure. To be sure, the most promising efforts by leading multinationals today must confront entrenched subsidies and vested political interests. Unless the necessary policy frameworks are put in place green investment initiatives will continue to struggle to achieve a meaningful scale. Moreover, developed and developing countries seem unable even to agree on a fair division of environmental responsibilities, even though they have become increasingly interdependent in trade, investment, and the supply of natural resources.

These difficulties should not stop us from trying. The Earth Security Initiative is working with the BMW Foundation to develop global roundtables on resource security over a two-year period, starting in Hangzhou, China, on July 17- 20. These high-level, informal meetings will bring together leaders from politics, business, and civil society in Europe and emerging economies in an effort to bridge just such differences.

We know what needs to be done, why it is important, and who must be involved to secure our planet’s long-term future. We must now address the equally vital question of how this will be achieved.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/alejandro-litovsky-addresses-the-increasingly-close-links-between-resource-scarcity-and-political-risk#qFDfi1xP668YyhLg.99

 

 

Noam Chomsky, Why National Security Has Nothing to Do With Security

Think of it as the true end of the beginning. Last week, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the final member of the 12-man crew of the Enola Gay, the plane (named after its pilot’s supportive mother) that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died at age 93.

Paul Tibbetts, Jr. in cockpit

When that first A-bomb left its bomb bay at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, and began its descent toward its target, the Aioli (“Live Together”) Bridge, it was inscribed with a series of American messages, some obscene, including “Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis.” (That ship had delivered to the Pacific island of Tinian parts of the very bomb that would turn Hiroshima into an inferno of smoke and fire — “that awful cloud,” Paul Tibbetts, Jr., theEnola Gay's pilot, would call it — and afterward was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine with the loss of hundreds of sailors.)

The bomb, dubbed Little Boy, that had gestated in the belly of the Enola Gay represented not only the near endpoint of a bitter global war of almost unimaginable destruction, but the birthing of something new. The way for its use had been paved by an evolution in warfare: the increasing targeting of civilian populations from the air (something that can be seen again today in the carnage of Gaza). The history of that grim development extends from German airship bombings of London (1915) by way of Guernica (1937), Shanghai (1937), and Coventry (1940), to the fire bombings of Dresden (1945) and Tokyo (1945) in the last year of World War II. It even had an evolutionary history in the human imagination, where for decades writers (among others) had dreamed of the unparalleled release of previously unknown forms of energy for military purposes.

On August 7, 1945, a previous age was ending and a new one was dawning. In the nuclear era, city-busting weapons would be a dime a dozen and would spread from the superpowers to many other countries, including Great Britain, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. Targeted by the planet’s major nuclear arsenals would be the civilian inhabitants not just of single cities but of scores and scores of cities, even of the planet itself. On August 6th, 70 years ago, the possibility of the apocalypse passed out of the hands of God or the gods and into human hands, which meant a new kind of history had begun whose endpoint is unknowable, though we do know that even a “modest” exchange of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan would not only devastate South Asia, but thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter also cause widespread famine on a planetary scale.

In other words, 70 years later, the apocalypse is us. Yet in the United States, the only nuclear bomb you're likely to read about is Iran’s (even though that country possesses no such weapon). For a serious discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, those more than 4,800 increasingly ill-kept weapons that could incinerate several Earth-sized planets, you need to look not to the country’s major newspapers or news programs but to comic John Oliver — or TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky. Tom

How Many Minutes to Midnight?

Hiroshima Day 2014

If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era). The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.

Day one of the NWE was marked by the “success” of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb. On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design. Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid — no mean logistical achievement — attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading “Japan has surrendered.” Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.

Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE. As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived. We can only guess how many years remain.

Some reflections on these grim prospects were offered by General Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which controls nuclear weapons and strategy. Twenty years ago, he wrote that we had so far survived the NWE “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

Reflecting on his long career in developing nuclear weapons strategies and organizing the forces to implement them efficiently, he described himself ruefully as having been “among the most avid of these keepers of the faith in nuclear weapons.” But, he continued, he had come to realize that it was now his “burden to declare with all of the conviction I can muster that in my judgment they served us extremely ill.” And he asked, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear-weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? Most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”

He termed the U.S. strategic plan of 1960 that called for an automated all-out strike on the Communist world “the single most absurd and irresponsible document I have ever reviewed in my life.” Its Soviet counterpart was probably even more insane. But it is important to bear in mind that there are competitors, not least among them the easy acceptance of extraordinary threats to survival.

Survival in the Early Cold War Years

According to received doctrine in scholarship and general intellectual discourse, the prime goal of state policy is “national security.” There is ample evidence, however, that the doctrine of national security does not encompass the security of the population. The record reveals that, for instance, the threat of instant destruction by nuclear weapons has not ranked high among the concerns of planners. That much was demonstrated early on, and remains true to the present moment.

In the early days of the NWE, the U.S. was overwhelmingly powerful and enjoyed remarkable security: it controlled the hemisphere, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the opposite sides of those oceans as well. Long before World War II, it had already become by far the richest country in the world, with incomparable advantages. Its economy boomed during the war, while other industrial societies were devastated or severely weakened. By the opening of the new era, the U.S. possessed about half of total world wealth and an even greater percentage of its manufacturing capacity.

There was, however, a potential threat: intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. That threat was discussed in the standard scholarly study of nuclear policies, carried out with access to high-level sources — Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years by McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies.

Bundy wrote that “the timely development of ballistic missiles during the Eisenhower administration is one of the best achievements of those eight years. Yet it is well to begin with a recognition that both the United States and the Soviet Union might be in much less nuclear danger today if [those] missiles had never been developed.” He then added an instructive comment: “I am aware of no serious contemporary proposal, in or out of either government, that ballistic missiles should somehow be banned by agreement.” In short, there was apparently no thought of trying to prevent the sole serious threat to the U.S., the threat of utter destruction in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Could that threat have been taken off the table? We cannot, of course, be sure, but it was hardly inconceivable. The Russians, far behind in industrial development and technological sophistication, were in a far more threatening environment. Hence, they were significantly more vulnerable to such weapons systems than the U.S. There might have been opportunities to explore these possibilities, but in the extraordinary hysteria of the day they could hardly have even been perceived. And that hysteria was indeed extraordinary. An examination of the rhetoric of central official documents of that moment like National Security Council Paper NSC-68 remains quite shocking, even discounting Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s injunction that it is necessary to be “clearer than truth.” Read More

 

The cruel cease-fire charade

So far, the diplomatic effort to end the violence in Gaza has failed miserably, with Israel on Friday rejecting a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (On Saturday Israel and Hamas agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian pause in the fighting brokered by the United Nations.)

Washington’s attempt is representative of the overall failure of American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only on this occasion the consequences can be measured in the growing pile of dead bodies and the widespread devastation that includes numerous homes, public buildings and even artillery damage to several United Nations schools sheltering Palestinian civilians.

The U.S. approach fails because it exhibits extreme partisanship in a setting where trust, credibility and reciprocity are crucial. Kerry is undoubtedly dedicated to achieving a cease-fire, just as he demonstrated for most of the past year in pushing for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet the United States exhibited its tendency toward extreme partisanship when it designated Martin Indyk, a former staff member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and former ambassador to Israel, as the U.S. special envoy to the peace talks.

The U.S. approach up to this point to achieving a cease-fire in Gaza has been undertaken in a manner that is either woefully ignorant of the real constraints or callously cynical about their relevance. This is especially clear from the attempt to garner a cease-fire by consulting only one side, Israel — the party bearing the major responsibility for causing massive casualties and damage — and leaving Hamas out in the cold. Even if this is a consequence of Hamas being treated as “a terrorist entity,” it still makes no sense. When Israel wanted to deal with Hamas in the past, it had no trouble doing so — for instance, when it arranged the prisoner exchange that led to the release of the single captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit back in 2011.

The basic facts are astounding: The U.S. relied on Egypt as the broker of a proposal it vetted, supposedly with the text delivered personally by Tony Blair to President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo, endorsed by the Netanyahu government, and then announced on July 15 via the media as a cease-fire proposal accepted by Israel, without Hamas even knowing the details. It’s a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd. Last July, then-General Sisi was the Egyptian mastermind of a coup that brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized the entire organization. The Sisi government has made no secret of its unrelenting hostility to Hamas, which it views as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It destroyed the extensive tunnel network connecting Gaza with the outside world to circumvent the punitive Israeli blockade that has been maintained since 2007. Is there any reason for Hamas to go forward with such a cease-fire arrangement? As some respected Israeli commentators have suggested, most prominently Amira Hass, the “normalization” of the occupation is what the Israeli military operation Protective Edge is all about. Hass suggests that Israel seeks a compliant Palestinian response to an occupation that has for all intents and purposes become permanent. Such periodic shows of force aim to break once and for all the will to resist, associated with Hamas and its rockets.

Even more telling, the cease-fire’s terms were communicated to Hamas via the media, making the proposal “take it or leave it.” It also ignored the reasonable conditions Hamas had posited as the basis of a cease-fire it could accept. These conditions included ending the unlawful seven-year siege of Gaza, releasing prisoners arrested in the anti-Hamas campaign prior to launching the military operation on July 8, and stopping interference with the unity government that brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority together on June 3. Kerry, by contrast, has urged restoring the cease-fire text that had been accepted by both sides in November 2012 after the previous major Israeli military attack upon Gaza.

Hamas’ chief leader, Khaled Meshaal, has been called “defiant” by Kerry because he would not go along with this tilted diplomacy. “Everyone wanted us to accept a cease-fire and then negotiate for our rights,” Meshaal said. This was tried by Hamas in 2012 and didn’t work. As soon as the violence ceased, Israel refused to follow through on the cease-fire agreement that had promised negotiations seeking an end of the blockade and an immediate expansion of Gazan fishing rights.

In the aftermath of Protective Edge is it not reasonable, even mandatory, for Hamas to demand a firm commitment to end the siege of Gaza? Israel as the occupying power has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population of an occupied people. Israel claims that its “disengagement” in 2005, involving the withdrawal of security forces and the dismantling of settlements, ended such obligations. Such a position is almost uniformly rejected in the international community, since the persistence of effective Israeli control of entry and exit, as well as air and sea, and violent incursions amounts to a shift in the form of occupation — not its end. Israel is certainly right to complain about the rockets, but it is wrong to impose an oppressive regime of collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza. More

 

Sifting through the wreckage of MH17, searching for sense amid the horror

Any journalist should hesitate before saying this, but news can be bad for you. You don’t have to agree with the analyst who reckons “news is to the mind what sugar is to the body” to see that reading of horror and foreboding hour by hour, day after day, can sap the soul.

This week ended with a double dose, administered within the space of a few hours: Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza and, more shocking because entirely unexpected, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

So in Gaza we look at the wildly lopsided death tolls – nearly 300 Palestinians and two Israelis killed these past nine days.

The different responses these events stir in those of us who are distant, and the strategies we devise to cope with them, say much about our behaviour as consumers of news. But they also go some way to determining our reaction as citizens, as constituent members of the amorphous body we call public, or even world, opinion.

As I write, 18 of the 20 most-read articles on the Guardian website are about MH17. The entry into Gaza by Israeli forces stands at number 21. It’s not hard to fathom why the Malaysian jet strikes the louder chord. As the preacher might put it, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Stated baldly, most of us will never live in Gaza, but we know it could have been us boarding that plane in Amsterdam.

Which is why there is a morbid fascination with tales of the passenger who changed flights at the last minute, thereby cheating death, or with the crew member who made the opposite move, hastily switching to MH17 at the final moment, taking a decision that would have seemed so trivial at the time but which cost him his life. When we read about the debris – the holiday guidebooks strewn over the Ukrainian countryside, the man found next to an iPhone, the boy with his seatbelt still on – our imaginations put us on that flight. Of course we have sympathy for the victims and their families. But our fear is for ourselves.

It’s quite true that if the US truly decided that Israel’s 47-year occupation of Palestinian territory was no longer acceptable, that would bring change.

The reports from Gaza stir a different feeling. When we read the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont describe the sights he saw driving around the strip on Friday morningthree Palestinian siblings killed by an Israeli artillery shell that crashed into their bedroom, a father putting the remains of his two-year-old son into a plastic shopping bag – we are shaken by a different kind of horror. It is compassion for another human being, someone in a situation utterly different to ours. We don’t worry that this might happen to us, as we now might when we contemplate an international flight over a war zone. Our reaction is directed not inward, but outward. More

There is an interesting article by Chris Hedges entitled It's NOT going to be OK on the current economic disparity which, he believes could lead to a drastic decline in democracy as states respond to social protests. The question I ask is what can be done to slow or erradicate this process? Editor

 

How Politics and Lies Triggered an Unintended War in Gaza

In the flood of angry words that poured out of Israel and Gaza during a week of spiraling violence, few statements were more blunt, or more telling, than this throwaway line by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, Brigadier General Moti Almoz, speaking July 8 on Army Radio’s morning show: “We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard.”

That’s unusual language for a military mouthpiece. Typically they spout lines like “We will take all necessary actions” or “The state of Israel will defend its citizens.” You don’t expect to hear: “This is the politicians’ idea. They’re making us do it.”

Admittedly, demurrals on government policy by Israel’s top defense brass, once virtually unthinkable, have become almost routine in the Netanyahu era. Usually, though, there’s some measure of subtlety or discretion. This particular interview was different. Where most disagreements involve policies that might eventually lead to some future unnecessary war, this one was about an unnecessary war they were now stumbling into.

Spokesmen don’t speak for themselves. Almoz was expressing a frustration that was building in the army command for nearly a month, since the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli yeshiva boys. The crime set off a chain of events in which Israel gradually lost control of the situation, finally ending up on the brink of a war that nobody wanted — not the army, not the government, not even the enemy, Hamas.

The frustration had numerous causes. Once the boys’ disappearance was known, troops began a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation, entering thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals, racing against the clock. Only on July 1, after the boys’ bodies were found, did the truth come out: The government had known almost from the beginning that the boys were dead. It maintained the fiction that it hoped to find them alive as a pretext to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations.

The initial evidence was the recording of victim Gilad Shaer’s desperate cellphone call to Moked 100, Israel’s 911. When the tape reached the security services the next morning — neglected for hours by Moked 100 staff — the teen was heard whispering “They’ve kidnapped me” (“hatfu oti”) followed by shouts of “Heads down,” then gunfire, two groans, more shots, then singing in Arabic. That evening searchers found the kidnappers’ abandoned, torched Hyundai, with eight bullet holes and the boys’ DNA. There was no doubt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately placed a gag order on the deaths. Journalists who heard rumors were told the Shin Bet wanted the gag order to aid the search. For public consumption, the official word was that Israel was “acting on the assumption that they’re alive.” It was, simply put, a lie.

Moti Almoz, as army spokesman, was in charge of repeating the lie. True, others backed him up, including Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. But when the truth came out on July 1, Almoz bore the brunt of public derision. Critics said his credibility was shot. He’d only been spokesman since October, after a long career as a blunt-talking field commander with no media experience. Others felt professional frustration. His was personal.

Nor was that the only fib. It was clear from the beginning that the kidnappers weren’t acting on orders from Hamas leadership in Gaza or Damascus. Hamas’ Hebron branch — more a crime family than a clandestine organization — had a history of acting without the leaders’ knowledge, sometimes against their interests. Yet Netanyahu repeatedly insisted Hamas was responsible for the crime and would pay for it.

This put him in a ticklish position. His rhetoric raised expectations that after demolishing Hamas in the West Bank he would proceed to Gaza. Hamas in Gaza began preparing for it. The Israeli right — settler leaders, hardliners in his own party — began demanding it.

But Netanyahu had no such intention. The last attack on Gaza, the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, targeted Hamas leaders and taught a sobering lesson. Hamas hadn’t fired a single rocket since, and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups. Rocket firings, averaging 240 per month in 2007, dropped to five per month in 2013. Neither side had any desire to end the détente. Besides, whatever might replace Hamas in Gaza could only be worse.

The kidnapping and crackdown upset the balance. In Israel, grief and anger over the boys’ disappearance grew steadily as the fabricated mystery stretched into a second and third week. Rallies and prayer meetings were held across the country and in Jewish communities around the world. The mothers were constantly on television. One addressed the United Nations in Geneva to plead for her son’s return. Jews everywhere were in anguish over the unceasing threat of barbaric Arab terror plaguing Israel.

This, too, was misleading. The last seven years have been the most tranquil in Israel’s history. Terror attacks are a fraction of the level during the nightmare intifada years — just six deaths in all of 2013. But few notice. The staged agony of the kidnap search created, probably unintentionally, what amounts to a mass, worldwide attack of post-traumatic stress flashback.

When the bodies were finally found, Israelis’ anger exploded into calls for revenge, street riots and, finally, murder.

Amid the rising tension, cabinet meetings in Jerusalem turned into shouting matches. Ministers on the right demanded the army reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas. Netanyahu replied, backed by the army and liberal ministers, that the response must be measured and careful. It was an unaccustomed and plainly uncomfortable role for him. He was caught between his pragmatic and ideological impulses.

In Gaza, leaders went underground. Rocket enforcement squads stopped functioning and jihadi rocket firing spiked. Terror squads began preparing to counterattack Israel through tunnels. One tunnel exploded on June 19 in an apparent work accident, killing five Hamas gunmen, convincing some in Gaza that the Israeli assault had begun while reinforcing Israeli fears that Hamas was plotting terror all along.

On June 29, an Israeli air attack on a rocket squad killed a Hamas operative. Hamas protested. The next day it unleashed a rocket barrage, its first since 2012. The cease-fire was over. Israel was forced to retaliate for the rockets with air raids. Hamas retaliated for the raids with more rockets. And so on. Finally Israel began calling up reserves on July 8 and preparing for what, as Moti Almoz told Army Radio, “the political echelon instructed.”

Later that morning, Israel’s internal security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told reporters that the “political echelon has given the army a free hand.” Almoz returned to Army Radio that afternoon and confirmed that the army had “received an absolutely free hand” to act.

And how far, the interviewer asked, will the army go? “To the extent that it’s up to the army,” Almoz said, “the army is determined to restore quiet.” Will simply restoring quiet be enough? “That’s not up to us,” he said. The army will continue the operation as long as it’s told.

The operation’s army code-name, incidentally, is “Protective Edge” in English, but the original Hebrew is more revealing: Tzuk Eitan, or “solid cliff.” That, the army seems to feel, is where Israel is headed. More

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com

 

The Unity of Water

MOSCOW – In May, Vietnam became the 35th and decisive signatory of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. As a result, 90 days later, on August 17, the convention will enter into force.

The fact that it took almost 50 years to draft and finally achieve the necessary ratification threshold demonstrates that something is very wrong with the modern system of multilateralism. Regardless of longstanding disagreements over how cross-border freshwater resources should be allocated and managed, and understandable preferences by governments and water professionals to rely on basin agreements rather than on international legal instruments, that half-century wait can be explained only by a lack of political leadership. So, though the world may celebrate the convention’s long-awaited adoption, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Roughly 60% of all freshwater runs within cross-border basins; only an estimated 40% of those basins, however, are governed by some sort of basin agreement. In an increasingly water-stressed world, shared water resources are becoming an instrument of power, fostering competition within and between countries. The struggle for water is heightening political tensions and exacerbating impacts on ecosystems.

But the really bad news is that water consumption is growing faster than population – indeed, in the twentieth century it grew at twice the rate. As a result, several UN agencies forecast that, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions stricken with absolute water scarcity, implying a lack of access to adequate quantities for human and environmental uses. Moreover, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water-stress conditions, meaning a scarcity of renewable freshwater.

Without resolute counter-measures, demand for water will overstretch many societies’ adaptive capacities. This could result in massive migration, economic stagnation, destabilization, and violence, posing a new threat to national and international security.

The UN Watercourses Convention must not become just another ignored international agreement, filed away in a drawer. The stakes are too high. In today’s context of climate change, rising demand, population growth, increasing pollution, and overexploited resources, everything must be done to consolidate the legal framework for managing the world’s watersheds. Our environmental security, economic development, and political stability directly depend on it.

The convention will soon apply to all of the cross-border rivers of its signatories’ territories, not just the biggest basins. It will complement the gaps and shortcomings of existing agreements and provide legal coverage to the numerous cross-border rivers that are under increasing pressure.

Worldwide, there are 276 cross-border freshwater basins and about as many cross-border aquifers. Backed by adequate financing, political will, and the engagement of stakeholders, the convention can help address the water challenges that we are all facing. But will it?

An ambitious agenda should be adopted now, at a time when the international community is negotiating the contents of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the UN Millennium Development Goals, which will expire in 2015. We at Green Cross hope that the new goals, which are to be achieved by 2030, will include a stand-alone target that addresses water-resources management.

Moreover, the international community will soon have to agree on a climate-change framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Climate change directly affects the hydrological cycle, which means that all of the efforts that are undertaken to contain greenhouse-gas emissions will help to stabilize rainfall patterns and mitigate the extreme water events that so many regions are already experiencing.

But the UN Watercourses Convention’s entry into force raises as many new questions as existed in the period before its ratification. What will its implementation mean in practice? How will countries apply its mandates within their borders and in relation to riparian neighbors? How will the American and Asian countries that have largely ignored ratification respond?

Furthermore, how will the convention relate to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which is already in force in most European and Central Asian countries and, since February 2013, has aimed to open its membership to the rest of the world? Similarly, how will the convention’s implementation affect existing regional and local cross-border freshwater agreements?

The countries that ratified the UN Watercourses Convention are expected to engage in its implementation and to go further in their efforts to protect and sustainably use their cross-border waters. What instruments, including financial, will the convention provide to them?

Several legal instruments can be implemented jointly and synergistically: the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to name just a few. The UN Watercourses Convention’s long-delayed enactment should be viewed as an opportunity for signatory states to encourage those that are not yet party to cooperative agreements to work seriously on these issues.

Clearly, politicians and diplomats alone cannot respond effectively to the challenges that the world faces. What the world needs is the engagement of political, business, and civil-society leaders; effective implementation of the UN Watercourses Convention is impossible without it.

This is too often overlooked, but it constitutes the key to the long-term success of cooperation that generates benefits for all. Inclusive participation by stakeholders (including the affected communities), and the development of the capacity to identify, value, and share the benefits of cross-border water resources, should be an integral part of any strategy to achieve effective multilateral collaboration. More

 

Famke Janssen addresses the World Youth Parliament for Water

gcint.org

March 14

Dear friends and distinguished members of the World Youth Parliament for Water.

The efforts of youth from all around the world to offer solutions and to work together to tackle the global water crisis both humble and inspire me. You are truly making a difference.

President Gorbachev, who spoke at the opening of the World Water Forum just two days ago, believes in the power of all people, particularly the youth, to make change aimed at protecting the environment. Young people – who will be tomorrow’s leaders — have a vital role to play to ensure all people can live free of poverty and insecurity, and enjoy a world that conserves – not exploits – its many natural wonders.

I come from the Netherlands, a country that has a lot of experience in “coping” with water. My country is one that is vulnerable to global warming and rising oceans. Fortunately, we have a long history of finding ways to stop the ocean from flooding much of a country that rests largely below sea level. Water is a central part of Dutch life, from our many canals and dikes to the water-powered windmills that are dotted all over the country. Many historians argue that our social organization was built on the need for communities to organize democratically in order to pull together to stop an invading ocean or a broken dike – a recognition that water crises do not discriminate whether they come in the form of floods or drought and, most importantly, that water crises can unite people and not only separate them.

The Netherlands, however, is not a country associated with scarcity of water, a curse for many populations today that will grow much worse. For our world is already buckling under the weight of our 7-billion strong population, and in less than 20 years from now, we will have grown to 8.3 billion . As you know, this will only increase the demand for water. Consequently, by 2025 experts estimate that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.

Water scarcity is the problem that our future generations will have to face. Responsibility for solving this global challenge, some might say, lies unfairly in the hands of you and young people around the world. You did not cause the crisis, but it will be up to today’s youth to be prepared for steering our world toward a more sustainable future, a path that will ensure we respond to the water crisis, fairly share our available water resources, promote conservation and end waste, and help millions upon millions of people realize their basic Human Right to have access to safe Water and Sanitation.

Lack of adequate drinking water and poor or non-existent sanitation target the youth unfairly. For example, 443 million school days are missed every year due to sickness caused by water-related diseases, such as diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera. Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one of the main obstacles to education today. This is bad, but what is absolutely intolerable is that diarrhoea is the world’s second biggest killer of children and accounts for 1.5 million young lives every year. Moreover, in the absence of functioning drainage systems, water forms stagnant puddles that are soon infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes: 3600 people die of malaria each day and 3200 of them are children. These grim statistics do not even take into account the ravages imposed on children as a result of water scarcity, which affects the availability of food and increases the risk of malnutrition among children.

Young girls are especially vulnerable to today’s water problems. For in many communities, young girls fetch water – often walking many miles to do so – placing their health, safety, education and development at grave risk. If a girl’s town or village has no safe source of water, it is often her job to collect it for her family, meaning she cannot attend school. This is a double tragedy that must be overcome.

Another factor against girls is the lack of sanitation facilities in schools, which can force many to stop attending classes when they reach puberty. Without education, futures of children and young women are being lost.

Without access to safe water and education, many young people will find it even harder – if not impossible – to rise out of poverty. As a result, when they become parents themselves, their own children will be trapped by the same problems.

But there are things we can all do today.

You are an extremely powerful voice of change. The more noise you make the more power you have. You have the right to demand a better world, as you are the ones who will inherit the problems we have caused. There are concrete actions that you can take that will result in meaningful change.

Green Crosses’ Green Lane Environmental Diary, which some of you may have participated in, shows ways to reduce our water footprints, from taking shorter showers, to avoiding use of plastic bottles. These basic tips, when practiced by an entire community can result in massive changes in the management of water resources. These are guidelines for individuals but collectively they can have profound impacts.

On a policy level you can demand that countries that have not ratified the United Nations Watercourses Convention do so. Some of you live in places that have not ratified the Convention and just 11 more signatures are needed from governments to validate it. It is the only global set of regulations and measures drafted for governing the more than 270 rivers in the world that are shared by multiple countries. 145 countries share these rivers and the groundwater linked to them. Their basins are home to 40% of the planet’s human population. But only 40% of these rivers are covered by official agreements on how to share and manage them, many of which are unsatisfactory. These weaknesses must be addressed if we are to tackle global challenges such as climate change and growing water demands.

Since you are here you have already developed the taste for politics. As potential future parliamentarians you will demand that the Right to Water and Sanitation is enshrined in your country’s constitutions and laws. It is imperative that you do all in your power to ensure your fellow countrymen and women can realize this fundamental, life-preserving right.

After meeting many of you and seeing what you have done here in Marseille, I have great confidence in your abilities to make a difference when it comes to ensuring all people have access to safe water.

I know you wont forget the experiences you have had here at the World Youth Parliament for Water. But I urge you to apply what you have absorbed, and put it into action, first and foremost in your own communities, and hopefully further afield.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. I encourage you to start believing. Thank you for the honor to speak with you and good luck. More