Murari Sharma: Europe is edging towards a catastrophe

I am afraid that Europe is sleepwalking into a catastrophe.

The Cold War, through its threat of mutually assured destruction, had saved Europe for decades. After the post-Cold War lull, connoisseurs of war have raised their ominous head again.

War has remained more of a constant than peace in human history. Peace has often been the interregnum of wars, a time to prepare and launch another war. European countries have fought wars — with outsiders and with each other — for several centuries. The relative peace between World War II and now seems like a rare break from continued conflict and it looks like it is about to end.

History is likely repeat itself once again. Another war in Europe will be the most destructive ever. World War II took six million lives. The next will take several fold lives, because the weapons used would be so much more annihilating.

The next war will likely start as a consequence of a mistake or miscalculation between the main protagonists and rival powers rather than as a result of deliberate strategy.

Well, the dark clouds of war have begun to appear on the horizon already. The journey to this war seems to have started from Ukraine but it will blow up in the face of Europe as a whole.

In Ukraine, Western countries miscalculated the Russian interest and commitment. Consequently, they supported and propagated the Maidan uprising against the pro-Moscow President Yanukovych, who opposed integration with the European Union. Though Yanukovych was corrupt, he was legitimately elected.

Consequently, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and supported anti-Kiev rebels in eastern Ukraine. It has started increased military surveillance around its territories, alarming its immediate neighbors. It also failed to size up the Western reaction.

Yanukovych’s successor, Poroshenko, thought he could fight Russia, the regional hegemon, and seek a mutually acceptable modus vivendi keeping by his country’s best interest front and center.

In response, the United States, eager to undermine Russia in its backyard, offered military support to Kiev to squash the rebellion in eastern Ukraine; it has now sent military advisers. It has also moved its heavy weapons to Poland and Baltic states. Russia will not sit on its hands if the West threatens its vital interest at its door, as America would not in its neighborhood. Remember the Monroe Doctrine?

This is an invitation to war in Europe. There is no shortage of crazy people in Washington and Moscow that would want to destroy each other, even it means their own destruction.

In Washington, you have the Tea Party and Neo-cons zealots. Tea Party Republicans would not mind cutting their own nose to spite their own face if it hurts the Democratic Party.

They do not mind shutting down the US government or taking away health insurance of millions of Americans if it hurts Obama’s image. Who knows, extreme rightists like Senator Ted Cruz may sometime in the future could be an American president and do something crazy to go down in history.

The Neo-Cons are no better in their attitude. They would not mind letting many Americans die if it insures American supremacy or promotes the interests of Israel. The war in Iraq was their idea.

The Kremlin has its own crazy people — Silovikis. President Putin himself is a hawk. The Silovikis prop him up further. They will do anything to restore the lost Russian glory of the Soviet days and repeal attack on Russia physically or psychologically. Who replaces Putin could be even worse.

Although both sides say their preparations are defensive, I wish there could be a difference between offensive and defensive preparation. What is defensive could be turned into offensive or vice versa.

If push comes to shove, many analysts in the West believe, Moscow will first use nuclear weapons this time. That might be true. At the same time, the record shows that the Washington has been first to use such horrendous weapons — the use of first and the second nuclear weapon, the first use of napalm bomb, the first use of the bunker buster, and so on.

Two things often prompt Americans to be first in such overwhelming and disproportionate use of force: The availability of such technology and force and the sense of entitlement known as American exceptionalism. To sustain American superiority, Washington tries to pulverize the enemy quickly and decisively.

The same elements may prompt an American president to use a powerful nuclear bomb against Russia, hoping that the US defense shield would prevent the Russian weapons heading to its shores. Russia will certainly retaliate. The US defensive shield is not as foolproof as it is expected. It can never be. Some Russian nuclear weapons will land on their targets.

Such a nuclear exchange will not only demolish Russia and America, it will also destroy much of the rest of the world. Is this a crazy scenario that I have projected? You bet it is. But remember this: History has been full of crazy people.

If Changis Khan were not crazy, he would not have sent his fighters on horseback from China all the way to Hungary. I Alexander was not crazy, he would not have gone all the way to invade India from Istanbul. If the British were not crazy, they would not have sought to rule the world.

If Hitler were not crazy, he would not have started World War II. If Emperor Hirohito were not crazy, he would not have sought to control Asia during World War II. If Netanyahu were not crazy, he would not have dismissed the idea of two-state solution for Palestine.

There is only a small difference between being crazy and great. If crazy people succeed in their crazy goal, they are deemed as great. If they fail, they are deemed as insane. It is like being a terrorist and a revolutionary.

History is written by the victor. If Hitler had won World War II, he would have been elevated as a deity. Since he lost, he is demonized. Lenin was a hero for Communist Russia, but he became a villain of sorts after communism collapsed in his country.

Besides the crazy people we have, we also have an unprecedented toxicity in international relations now, more than what was observed during Cold War days. Together, they make anything possible. Would it be Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin to push the nuclear button? I do not know. But anyone could make a mistake or miscalculate the rival’s reaction.

If Washington and Moscow fight, they will sustain considerable damage. But they might not be necessarily obliterated due to their vast landmass and strategic depth. Europe has no such luxury. So it will the one to be obliterated if a major war erupts between the United States and Russia over Europe.

Europeans therefore should avert such an annihilation.


Murari Sharma: Alternatives will be worse

Iran Nuclear Deal

Two days ago, the United States and other countries reached a framework deal with Iran on the Iranian nuclear program. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to reduce its uranium enrichment centrifuges by two-thirds over the next 10 years, reduce its enriched uranium by 98 percent in next 15 year, turn the Fordow uranium enrichment facility into a medical research center and open itself to extensive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This agreement is likely push Iran’s prospects of acquiring nuclear weapons at least by a decade or more. A comprehensive agreement will follow by 30 June 2015.

The agreement generated opposite reactions. Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister returned to a hero’s welcome to Tehran where the Iranian people look forward to the lifting of the international community’s economic sanctions and having an easier time. American secretary of state John Kerrey was not so fortunate. Kerry faces jeers and boos from Congress, especially from the Republicans.

More broadly, Germany, France, Russia and China have welcomed the agreement. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said: “This is well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago . . . There is a very rigorous transparency and inspection regime with access for international inspectors on a daily basis, high-tech surveillance of all the facilities, TV cameras, electronic seals on equipment, so we know remotely if any equipment has been moved.”

In sharp contrast, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the members of US Congress, particularly the Republicans, have opposed it. While they may have genuine concerns, their opposition to the agreement is plain wrong.

Israel’s opposition to the deal is understandable but untenable. Iran has not accepted the Jewish state’s right to exist and its leaders have occasionally have vowed to destroy it. But it was wrong for Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to address the US Congress opposing the deal before it was inked without taking President Obama into confidence days before the general elections in his country.

He knew, and so did Obama, that the United States has had no better option than a negotiated deal to thwart Iran. The call of the former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, for war against Iran in his recent New York Times article is a non sequitur. First, America cannot afford to fight another war in the Middle East. Second, an external attack will only unify the Iranians behind an accelerated program of making the bomb as a deterrent.

The Sunni Saudi Arabia is rightly concerned that if its Shia rival has a bomb, it will further expand its tentacles in the Arab world. Iran is already presenting a challenge to the Sunnis from Lebanon to Syria to Yemen.  While it is in the US interest to defend its allies in Riyadh, the Obama administration is not blind to the fact that American and Saudi strategic interests are gradually diverging, mainly due to the declining US dependence on Saudi oil and the Saudi support for Muslim fundamentalists like ISIS and Al-Qaida.

That brings us to the US lawmakers. American legislators are genuinely worried that their allies in the Middle East, particularly Israel, will face a serious challenge from a nuclear powered Iran. The framework agreement just signed should have allayed their fears, because Tehran will have no bomb for at least a decade. However, the opposite has happened. Why?

The answer could be quite complex. First, the American lawmakers appear to have refused to acknowledge the divergence of strategic interests between the United States and Israel. They are too smart not to see it, but they resist admitting it due to ideology or loyalty to Israel. Such refusal manifests itself at two levels.

One, the United States wants to keep the newly belligerent Russia at bay by preventing Iran-Russia relations and cooperation from deepening further and rapidly growing strategic heft of China. Israeli interests are regional and do not include containing Russia or China. Two, Washington still believes in the two-state solution, whereas Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear on the eve of his country’s recent general elections that he does not believe in the two-state solution and will not allow it to happen on his watch.

Second, the US legislators may fear that Tehran will cheat on the agreement, which is possible. But through intrusive inspections, the agreement helps to reveal if it does so. If there were no agreement, as the opponents prefer to have a flawed one, there would be no way to find that Iran is clandestinely making the bomb. So it is better to have the agreement than not to have it.

Third, the Republicans in Congress want their voice in such momentous decisions. If that is the case, it is not entirely wrong. But since such agreements have not always been subjected to the Senate’s approval, they can claim no strong locus standi on this accord either.

Fourth and most important, politically tinted glasses often distort vision. Perhaps, the Republicans in US Congress do not want President Obama to succeed. The circumstantial evidence is irrefutable: They have passed a bill seeking to abolish Obamacare more than 50 times; opposed his immigration measures; written a letter to the Iranian regime not to strike a deal with Obama; called Obama an illegitimate president. The Republicans would not want to give Obama the credit of preventing Iran from having a nuclear bomb.

But this would be irresponsible and myopic in foreign affairs. It would weaken not only Obama’s standing, but also reduce America’s heft in the international community. So anyone who cares about America’s positive role in the world – which has not always been positive, though – should take their foot off the anti-Obama accelerator and welcome the Iran nuclear deal as an unprecedented opportunity to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb anytime soon.

The agreement is just the first step towards the comprehensive deal, but it is a step in the right direction. Do not scuttle it, because the alternative – war or no agreement — would be much worse.