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Military Madness

About the author
Dominic Hilton was a commissioning editor, columnist and diarist for openDemocracy from 2001-05.
Note to readers: The World Diary is published every Thursday on www.openDemocracy.net – be sure not to miss it!

The Ice Cold War

Bad news, peaceniks.

It seems the whole world has gone military.

We start in that most warmongering of nations, Iceland.

Chew on these words of justice minister, Bjorn Bjarnason: “Without the military forces deployed to Iceland and without the security guarantee of the 1951 Defence Agreement, this country would be defenceless against any armed bands of criminals, mercenaries or military forces that might wish to raid or occupy Iceland.”

Excuse me?

“The creation of our own defence component,” Bjarnason goes on, sounding like a Pentagon hawk, “would be a concrete step by Icelanders to start thinking about national defence as a necessary tool to preserve national independence.”

In other words, following the US decision to withdraw its fighter aircraft from the naval station at Keflavik, Iceland is considering establishing its own military force.

And they’ve already got all the ice!

Iceland is currently in that most coveted of positions: a member of Nato, with no military budget.

Yet another example of a nation longing for the good old days of the cold war.

As the world gets hotter, the US is reducing its reliance on old strategic military posts. Germany, for one, knows all about this.

Bjanarson urges Iceland form a national guard of 500-1,000 people, before it’s too late.

“[T]he public have become too prone to think that a friendly government such as the US may indefinitely provide the security of the nation. This we cannot and must not assume.”

A statement for our time?

(Sources: Associated Press, International Herald Tribune)

Something strange in the neighbourhood

As yet, Washington seems unconcerned by manoeuvres in the North Atlantic.

Iceland, the Diary believes, is not about to be added to the “axis of evil”.

However, current members Iran and North Korea are jostling for position as America’s new public enemy no.1.

You know there’s trouble when The Economist runs a piece under the headline “Apocalypse soon?”

Fears grew this week that North Korea has built a second secret plant for producing weapons-grade plutonium. A report in the New York Times said that sensors on North Korea’s borders had detected high levels of krypton-85, an emission of plutonium production.

Following former US defense secretary William Perry’s warning last week that “we are on a path to war”, diplomacy, it would seem, is straining to stay alive.

North Korea is preparing for a pre-emptive attack.

However, British prime minister Tony Blair met with Chinese leader Hu Jintao and South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun this week, and “expressed optimism that three-way talks between North Korea, America and China would be held in the next few weeks.”

President Bush echoed Blair, saying, “I do believe we can solve this issue diplomatically.” The key, insists Bush, is what he calls “the neighbourhood” – the cooperation of China, South Korea and Japan.

Of course, as ever, no-one knows if Pyongyang is telling the truth about its nuclear capabilities. But as the NYT says, “each week the White House’s efforts to sound low-key is being undercut by both North Korea’s aggressive statements and new evidence that the country is driving toward production.”

Mohamed El-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the very man who annoyed the White House by questioning the claims over Iraq’s alleged weapons programme, has voiced his concern over North Korea. As far as he is concerned, Pyongyang is top of the list – what he calls “the most serious threat to the nuclear non-proliferation regime.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, UN inspectors found enriched uranium in samples taken from Iran. Two days later, Ayatollah Ali Khameinei unveiled the Shahab-3, a new long-range ballistic missile that brings Israel within range of Iran. “This divine force has answered all threats, and we are witnessing today that this divine force is now doing the same for the Lebanese and Palestinian people,” the supreme leader said at the ceremony.

Make of that what you will.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman David Saranga said the missile “is a threat not only to Israel but to the whole region and also to Europe.”

The EU, for its part, insisted Monday that Iran “show full transparency and cooperate fully” with the IAEA. No cooperation, the EU warns, no trade deal.

Iran replied as so: “Imposing preconditions or using threatening language is totally unacceptable.”

President Bush went for another angle, warning Iran, along with Syria, to stop supporting terror groups. “Syria and Iran continue to harbour and assist terrorists,” he said. “This behaviour is completely unacceptable, and states that support terror will be held accountable.”

(Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, BBC)

Pentagon relies on foreign tools shocker

Still, at the moment, it appears Washington is too busy at war with itself (not literally, of course).

A split has emerged between the Pentagon, the White House, and Congress.

It centres around Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Hunter is a hawk, and has inserted an important clause in the House legislation that will authorise the 2004 Pentagon budget: “buy American”.

In the words of the New York Times, “Countries that failed to help the United States, [Hunter] argues, should not enjoy the spoils of American military contracts.”

Some Diary readers may find this hard to believe, but opposition to this unilateral policy of America-first is being fiercely led by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Rummy is said to so oppose Hunter’s jingoistic narrow-mindedness that he will recommend to President Bush that he veto the entire 2004 Pentagon budget, worth a cool $400 billion.

The White House says that Hunter’s proposals would “undermine our efforts to promote cooperation with our allies.”

That’s worth repeating.

The White House says that Hunter’s proposals would “undermine our efforts to promote cooperation with our allies.”

Sounds even better the second time.

Says Hunter, “If the American worker is going to pay for the defense of the free world, he should participate fully in the manufacture of military goods. This is a warning shot, a red flag.”

Allegiances are curious on this one. The military contractors who fill Hunter’s campaign trough are alarmed at his efforts to stop them buying cheap foreign imports. The British defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, accused domestically of being more devoted to Bush than the Queen, has written to Rumsfeld saying Hunter’s bill “would seriously undermine our ability to work together.”

In an internal analysis, the Pentagon itself speaks of “catastrophic effects”. In one Raytheon plant in Texas, the NYT says, 95% of tools are foreign.

Should the patriotism have been limited to “Freedom fries”?

(Click here to read New York Times article)

Good Morning Iraaan!

Finally, the Cuban government has been forced to deny that it is intentionally jamming US satellite broadcasts to Iran.

The US has discovered rogue signals emanating from Fidel Castro’s island that have prevented Iranians from waking up to Voice of America.

National Iranian TV, based in Los Angeles, has also been affected.

Richard Boucher of the US state department is convinced the jamming is intentional.

But Cuba insists it only intentionally blocks US broadcasting to Cuba itself.

According to the BBC, the signal is believed to originate from a monitoring complex outside Havana, built by the Soviets for cold war eavesdropping on the US.

The news comes as the US launches Hi, a new Arabic-language lifestyle magazine for youths in the Middle East.

Hi is said to be “a window on American culture” – much needed in the region – and is sponsored by the state department.

“It will fill a niche between political news publications and glossy beauty and fashion by offering cultural information about the United States not readily available in the Middle East,” said Jane Ottenberg, president of publishers the Magazine group. “With its vibrant editorial and eye-catching format, we hope the magazine can serve as a springboard for greater dialogue and understanding between young Arab readers and young Americans.”

In the same week, the US House of Representatives agreed to fund a 24-hour TV and radio network designed to do the same job as Hi.

(Source: BBC News)

Document of the week

“Nos Amis Les Francais.”
Readers following the ongoing hostilities between the US and France, cannot afford to miss this. Click here to read more.

Quotes of the week

“I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq.”
A gem from US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

“The battle is not over yet.”
Saddam Hussein in a voice-recorded tape dated 20 July.

“Saddam’s regime is gone and will not be coming back.”
President George W. Bush

“Those miserable creatures.”
Paul Wolfowitz on Uday and Qusay Hussein, who were killed this week.

“We hope we will manage to stop the expansion of the brothels, but also to start a discussion about whether this is in line with Olympic ideals, using women and girls in this way.”
Margareta Winberg, Swedish deputy prime minister and minister for gender equality, on the news that Athens City Council plans to boost permits for brothels to meet demand during the 2004 Olympic games. (Read more)

“Our country is too little for all this. Leave the oil and violence in Africa. In Sāo Tome, we may be poor, but we have our bananas, our breadfruit and cocoa, so we’ll never starve to death. It’s better that way.”
A taxi driver in the African state of Sāo Tome and Principe, as quoted by Reuters. Last week, Sāo Tome President Fradique de Menezes was toppled in a coup led by Major Fernando Pereira, head of the military training school of Sao Tome’s army. This week, Menezes returned home after signing an accord with the coup leaders. Sāo Tome is oil-rich (Bush has his eye on the place) and hopes to join Africa’s club of oil exporters by 2007.

“I’ll try to soften it and become boring, maybe even very boring, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to.”
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, promising to be more in tune with the EU in Time magazine.

“Selfishness, narcissism and division shall never win.”
Berlusconi again.

“Gentle violence.”
Berlusconi’s term for his efforts to ensure the EU draft constitution is not radically altered over the months ahead.

Click here to see the World Diary list in full

Contact the Diary Editor: Dominic.Hilton@openDemocracy.net


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