Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 28 March 2011
Nuclear and Libya crises deepen
Two major crises dominate the world – the spreading
effects of Japan’s nuclear problem, and the Western-led coalition’s
bombing of Libya.
Both crises have deepened rather than receded.
Last week, global concerns continued to focus
on two major events – the nuclear disaster in Japan
and the Western allied bombing in Libya.
The effects of the nuclear problem at Fukushima
have worsened, intensifying worldwide concerns about the safety of nuclear
Meanwhile, there was continued confusion over the aims and the exit
policy of the Western strikes in Libya,
as the allies themselves seemed deeply divided, while many around the
world worried whether this had created a new precedent of foreign military
intervention that may spread to other countries in the future.
The Japanese nuclear crisis worsened last week. On 26 March the radioactivity
levels had soared to 1250 times above normal levels in seawater off
the nuclear plant, giving rise to questions as to whether there had
been a crack in a reactor’s core building.
The radioactive effects spread to food items, causing countries to act
against Japanese imports. The tap water in Tokyo had exceeded the government
standard for infants who are especially vulnerable to cancer-causing
Hopes that the situation could now be brought under the control were
dashed. A new problem emerged. Experts are still to determine where
to put the contaminated water, according to the nuclear company Tepco.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano declared
last Saturday that “this is a very serious accident by all standards”
and the crisis could go on for months.
Each day the crisis continues and the effects become more evident in
radioactivity in air, food and water, adds to the intensity of worldwide
concern over the safety of nuclear power.
It had been touted as a key component of the future
energy mix to replace fossil fuels. But it is now unlikely to be included
in the ranks of “renewable energy” that are promoted to counter climate
change and energy insecurity.
Another crisis last week was generated by the
Western allied airstrikes on Libya.
When the Security Council passed a resolution to apply a “no fly zone”
to protect civilians, many around the world thought the term implied
no planes would be allowed over the country.
It soon turned out that this permitted, indeed facilitated, planes belonging
to Allied countries to fly over Libya
to bomb targets inside the country.
A controversy is raging whether the UN resolution allows only military
aircraft and anti-aircraft facilities to be targeted, or whether as
has happened other targets are allowed, such as forces loyal to Gaddafi.
Even the compound of the house of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi
has been bombed.
The immediate aim of the Allies, to stop the rout of the rebels, has
been fulfilled, and the town of Benghazi
remains under rebel control. But the civil war in Libya
continues to rage.
The international anti-Gaddafi forces are deeply divided on goals and
preferred methods. The Secretary General of the Arab League, the organization
of Arab states whose call for a no-fly zone had been cited as a major
rationale for the Security Council resolution, was the first to criticize
the Western air strikes for harming civilians. The African Union has
called for a ceasefire by all sides.
Many developing countries are criticizing the military campaign for
going far beyond the UN mandate.
Among the Western countries, Germany
has refused to be part of the military actions, whilst France has taken the lead.
has relinquished its initial military leadership role, to NATO. It
has a seemingly ambivalent position on Gaddafi – calling for his overthrow
from within while insisting this is not the objective of the bombing.
is evidently uneasy over the Libyan affair. “We should never begin an
operation without knowing how we stand down,” said Joseph Ralston, a
retired general who served as NATO commander.
seems to have recognized the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate
representatives, others have not gone that far.
What happens if Gaddafi is able to retain power? Do some of the Western
countries want to send in troops to remove him, Iraq
style? Or negotiate a settlement with him still in power? What if
(and this is a very big if) Gaddafi is removed?
Besides the obvious criticism that this whole campaign was done in a
hurry with each Western country taking its own actions and having its
own goals, the larger issue is whether the Security Council resolution
has been abused as a fig leaf for military actions and goals that are
beyond or different from the protection of citizens.
The China Daily, a state-run newspaper, in an editorial, severely criticized
the Western military intervention for creating more uncertainties and
worsening the humanitarian crisis in Libya
and the region.
It cites criticisms from many countries against the coalition for abusing
the UN mandate and demands for an immediate end to military intervention
“Recent years have seen the West intervening in many counties,” said
the editorial on 26 March. “Western powers do not think twice before
using force against a sovereign state on the pretext of humanitarianism.
The Libyan crisis marks the pinnacle of such interventionism.”
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