A Failed Globe

Here we are one year later. Forget that fruitless search for missing weapons of mass destruction or the way our leaders inadvertently cemented in place a connection between Islamist terrorists and Iraqi resistance groups that, twelve months ago, existed only in the most perfervid fantasies of the neocons. These are but the fallout from something far larger — the loosing of a principle of brute force on the world by a country intent on global domination. It’s clear enough now that the “successful” war in Iraq, followed by a Pentagon-run bout of “nation-building,” turned out to be a road to nowhere anyone should want to go. But with its doctrine of “preventive war,” the Bush administration has loosed another principle on the world as well — of international chaos. Jonathan Schell in a remarkable look into the depths of our anniversary moment in The Nation (and posted on ZNet) calls this the “globalization of proliferation.”


It’s strange. In the years before the second Gulf War, much was written by various pundits on the “failed states” of what used to be called the Third World; those dangerous places where no government could get a toehold, and life, it seemed, was on an endless spiral downward into the maelstrom of all-against-all. Now, just a year after our most recent Iraq war, the Bush administration has somehow involved itself in potentially unending “nation-building” occupations of three countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently Haiti — all of which are in a state of literal or incipient collapse, sectarianism, rampant violence, warlordism, and/or terrorism; but worse, as Schell describes below, it seems to be presiding over what threatens to become a failed globe. How the ante’s been upped!


At the level of proliferation, every day brings new and dispiriting rumors or news. Just last week, according to Julian Borger of the British Guardian (3/3/04):


Pakistan… offered to share military assistance, including ‘nuclear power’ with Nigeria, in defiance of President George Bush’s new counter-proliferation initiative. The offer was announced by the Nigerian defence ministry in a statement saying that General Muhammad Aziz Khan, chairman of Pakistan‘s joint chiefs of staff, had made the offer to the Nigerian defence minister, Rabiu Kwankwaso, during a visit to the west African state’s capital, Abuja. ‘Speaking at the opening of the discussions, the Pakistani chairman of joint chiefs of staff … said that his country is working out the dynamics of how they can assist Nigeria‘s armed forces to strengthen its military capability and to acquire nuclear power,’ the Nigerian press release said. Neither the Pakistani nor the Nigerian governments clarified what Gen Khan had in mind.”


Meanwhile in one homeland of nuclear proliferation, the courageous Pakistani antinuclear activist and physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy, writing at the openDemocracy website (Pakistan: Inside the Nuclear Closet) suggests that the “father” of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, the corrupt metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan (who, with part of his ill-gotten gains, bought a hotel in Timbuktu and named it after his wife), operated an “empire of patronage” that went to the very highest levels of his society. His bomb-making system was, in essence, a global open secret, condoned (or at least ignored) by American presidents and the distribution system that sprang from it by CIA director George Tenet among others. It is a system that — as the Nigerian announcement evidently indicates — has hardly been shut down today.


Meanwhile, in the homeland of homelands, Mother Jones‘ impressive Washington correspondent Michael Scherer has written a chilling report on our own accelerated bioweapons research program (“defensive” only, of course; no proliferation here, folks) that’s bound to be the pride and glory of some future Anthrax murderer. His piece, “The Next Worst Thing” (Mother Jones, March-April 2004), begins:


“It has been called a modern-day Manhattan Project-a spending spree so vast and rapid that it might change the face of biological science. In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. government is funding a massive new biodefense research effort, redirecting up to $10 billion toward projects related to biological weapons such as anthrax. The Pentagon’s budget for chemical and biological defense has doubled; high-security nuclear-weapons labs have begun conducting genetic research on dangerous pathogens; universities are receiving government funding to build high-tech labs equipped to handle deadly infectious organisms; and Fort Detrick, Maryland, once the home of America’s secret bioweapons program, is about to break ground on two new high-tech biodefense centers… With poor oversight, government-funded scientists could actually be paving the way for the next generation of killer germs-and given the explosion of research, there is no way to keep track of what is being done.”


Preventive biowar, anyone?


And speaking of all the evil parties and rogue states considering dispatching enriched uranium far and wide in our increasingly lawless world, just the other day Joel Brinkley and William J. Broad of the New York Times reported this charming little bit of information in a piece tucked away inside the paper (“U.S. Lags in Recovering Fuel Suitable for Nuclear Arms,” 3/7/04):


“As the United States presses Iran and other countries to shut down their nuclear weapons development programs, government auditors have disclosed that the United States is making little effort to recover large quantities of weapons-grade uranium – enough to make roughly 1,000 nuclear bombs – that the government dispersed to 43 countries over the last several decades.”


Among the countries that received our enriched uranium and have not yet returned it are Pakistan, Iran, and Israel.


And this is just to nibble at the surface of a world that, over two years after the September 11th assaults and a year after the planet’s only hyperpower launched a “preventive war” against Iraq, seems hell-bent on hell itself and whose already modest structures and treaties meant to limit proliferating weaponry of all sorts and violence of every variety have increasingly been dismantled or sidelined by our own government.


[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]

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