Monday, June 18, 2012

Time - Which Advanced Economy Has the Most Debt?

The Most Indebted Countries

May 18, 2012
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Athens, Greece

With all the talk of Greece’s impending exit from the euro zone, debt is once again in the headlines. Greece’s massive public sector debt, coupled with its inability to devalue its currency, has put the country at risk of default. But the global economy is straining under the weight of more than just public sector debt. In the developed world, consumers, financial institutions, and other corporations have each accumulated unprecedented levels of debt — and how that total debt is managed will ultimately determine the economic fate of the global economy going forward. The following is a look at the total debt of the world’s largest mature economies — in ascending order of indebtedness — drawn from a recent presentation by Jeffery Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Funds.

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Toronto, Canada

With an unemployment rate of 7.3% and a projected federal budget deficit of just 1.5%, Canada is avoiding many of the economic headaches that have plagued other nations. Fiscally conservative leadership combined with robust regulations have kept Canadian banks from melting down during the crisis that crippled many American and European firms. Those factors, combined with low public debt levels, allowed a nimble response to the crisis from the Canadian government. Still, observers are worried that low interest rates and high levels of household debt are now putting the country at risk of an American-style real estate bubble. As McLean’s wrote in February, “pry through the pocketbooks and bank accounts of the average Canadian and the country looks remarkably like the America of 2005—or even worse by some measures—complete with record house prices and unprecedented debt.”

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 276%

Household: 91%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 53%

Financial Institutions: 63%

Government: 69%

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Sydney, Australia

Australia’s booming natural-resources industry and proximity to fast growing economies like China helped it weather much of the financial crisis. Australia has also done a good job of reigning in its public debt – with the federal government promising a budget surplus this year of $1.52 billion. Such fiscal restraint has helped Australia achieve the lowest public debt-to-GDP ratio of any country on our list, but the island nation is not without its own challenges. A potential hard landing in China could damage Australia’s export economy, and large consumer and financial institution debt means neither the average citizen nor the country’s large banks have much of a cushion to withstand another global economic downturn.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 277%

Household: 105%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 59%

Financial Institutions: 91 %

Government: 21%

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Berlin, Germany

Germany has been in the headlines for its hardline support of austerity measures for Europe’s peripheral economies. With low unemployment and a growing economy, Germany is in a position to make demands – although many observers are arguing that it should do more to stimulate the rest of the euro zone. At the very least, German policy makers seem to be tolerating more domestic inflation to help peripheral euro zone members become more competitive.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 278%

Household: 49%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 87%

Financial Institutions: 87 %

Government: 83%

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New York, USA

Debt has dominated the national debate since the U.S. escaped economic free-fall in early 2009. Conventional wisdom suggests that America has been particularly profligate, but in fact American consumers and institutions aren’t worse off than their counterparts in other developed nations.  The most striking aspect of these numbers is the small amount of debt that American financial institutions have relative to U.S. GDP. This could ultimately be a weakness for the financial system, however, as the debt of U.S.-based financial institutions isn’t low in absolute terms, only in comparison to America’s very large GDP. The large size of the American economy (and the proportionate financial capacity of the American government) has served to reinforce the market’s belief that too-big-to-fail banks will always get bailed out.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 279%

Household: 87%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 72%

Financial Institutions: 40 %

Government: 80%

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Seoul, South Korea

It is a truism that every crisis is also an opportunity, and South Korea used the financial panic of 2008 as a means to solidify its status as one of the world’s leading economies. While the won, South Korea’s currency, took a pounding in 2009, this only buttressed the country’s export and tourism markets, which powered the nation back to solid growth in 2010. All the while, the world’s 15th largest economy has maintained low budget deficits and government debt. Of course, it is not immune to the same headwinds that other mature economies face. South Korea is rapidly aging, which will put pressure on government budgets going forward. It is also dominated by a few large conglomerates like the world-famous Samsung, which are dealing with high debt levels and must prove their ability to innovate as world markets continue to become more competitive.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 314%

Household: 81%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 107%

Financial Institutions: 93%

Government: 33%

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Rome, Italy

Since the ouster of former Primer Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has receded from the headlines as extra-squeaky wheels Greece and Spain get the media grease. But the world’s 8th largest economy is still perilously close to bond yields that would render its public-debt burden unmanageable. Though Italians have low amounts of household debt, generous welfare-state provisions and strict labor laws have contributed to bloated government budgets and an uncompetitive economy. Technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti is seeking to reform the Italian economy and bring government debt under control – and he’s hoping bond markets cooperate long enough for him to be successful.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 314%

Household: 45%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 82%

Financial Institutions: 76%

Government: 111%

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Paris, France

Though the bond markets have yet to turn on the second most powerful member of the euro zone, a look at France’s debt figures show why some are worried they might. The French government and corporations are stretched to their limits debt-wise, and though newly elected French President Francois Hollande won his post on a campaign to fight austerity, he’s still sticking to an EU commitment to cut France’s deficit to 3% of GDP by 2013. And while France hasn’t had a balanced budget in forty years, Hollande seeks to match revenues and expenses by 2017.  The new President indeed has a tough row to hoe as he works toward the seemingly opposing goals of reigning in budgets and promoting growth, but perhaps the debt levels below are just the motivation he and his countrymen need to get the job done.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 346%

Household: 48%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 111%

Financial Institutions: 97%

Government: 90%

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Madrid, Spain

Spain has by some measures superseded Greece and Italy as Europe’s most troubled economy. But Spain took a much different path to perdition than it’s Mediterranean neighbors. Spain’s troubles were caused by a housing bubble that rivaled and possibly exceeded the real estate bubble in the U.S. From 1998 to 2006, housing prices in Spain increased 150%, with housing stock doubling in that same time period. When the bubble burst, demands of the welfare state and bank bailouts caused  government debt to balloon.

All the while, this bubble masked competitiveness problems that had been mounting in Spain over the past several decades. The result is an economy that is up to its eyeballs in debt and suffering from depression-level unemployment. But efforts on the part of the Spanish government and financial institutions to reduce debt have only sunk the economy deeper in trouble. As my TIME colleague Michael Schuman wrote last month, “Whatever numbers you look at, Spain is in a death spiral, a self-defeating circle of recession and austerity that is sending one of Europe’s most important members into an economic dark ages. Spain today represents all of the failings of the monetary union, from its misconceived inception to its misguided approach to the debt crisis.”

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 363%

Household: 82%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 134%

Financial Institutions: 76%

Government: 71%

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London, England

The United Kingdom has recently entered a double-dip recession, due to the double-whammy of the euro zone crisis — which is endangering its biggest trading partners — and an aggressive austerity program instigated by the conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron. But the British economy may have been able to survive Europe and austerity if its corporations and households weren’t leveraged to the hilt as well. Consumers, businesses and especially financial institutions are unable to spend freely given their current debt levels. You might think U.S. banks were irresponsible, but by most measures British banks fared much worse during the financial crisis, requiring bigger bailouts by the U.K. government — especially when compared to the size of its home country.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 507%

Household: 98%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 109%

Financial Institutions: 219%

Government: 81%

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Tokyo, Japan

By the first three measures of debt on our list, Japan is no worse off than its developed peers, but Japan’s government debt comes in at a whopping 226% of GDP. Japan’s rapidly declining population is increasing in the ratio of retirees drawing benefits to workers paying for them, and causing government debt to skyrocket as a result. The slowing of population growth is occuring all over the developed world, but in Japan it’s happening at breakneck speed. The Associated Press reports that the Japanese population will shrink by one-third by 2060, and as the country adjusts to these demographic shifts, it will have to decrease benefits and raise taxes, too. (Luckily for the Japanese, they are starting with the lowest tax burden in the OECD — just 17% of GDP.) Meanwhile, the ratings agencies aren’t particularly confident that the country will find the political will to enact changes that could begin fixing its debt problem.

Total Debt as a percentage of GDP: 512%

Household: 67%

Nonfinancial Corporations: 99%

Financial Institutions: 120%

Government: 226%

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

AP - Drones, computers new weapons of US shadow wars


WASHINGTON (AP) — After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile.

Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.

It’s war in the shadows, with the U.S. public largely in the dark.

In Pakistan, armed drones, not U.S. ground troops or B-52 bombers, are hunting down al-Qaida terrorists, and a CIA-run raid of Osama bin Laden’s hide-out was executed by a stealthy team of Navy SEALs.

In Yemen, drones and several dozen U.S. military advisers are trying to help the government tip the balance against an al-Qaida offshoot that harbors hopes of one day attacking the U.S. homeland.

In Somalia, the Horn of Africa country that has not had a fully functioning government since 1991, President Barack Obama secretly has authorized two drone strikes and two commando raids against terrorists.

In Iran, surveillance drones have kept an eye on nuclear activities while a computer attack reportedly has infected its nuclear enrichment facilities with a virus, possibly delaying the day when the U.S. or Israel might feel compelled to drop real bombs on Iran and risk a wider war in the Middle East.

The high-tech warfare allows Obama to target what the administration sees as the greatest threats to U.S. security, without the cost and liabilities of sending a swarm of ground troops to capture territory; some of them almost certainly would come home maimed or dead.

But it also raises questions about accountability and the implications for international norms regarding the use of force outside of traditional armed conflict. The White House took an incremental step Friday toward greater openness about the basic dimensions of its shadowy wars by telling Congress for the first time that the U.S. military has been launching lethal attacks on terrorist targets in Somalia and Yemen. It did not mention drones, and its admission did not apply to CIA operations.

“Congressional oversight of these operations appears to be cursory and insufficient,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, a private group.

“It is Congress’ responsibility to declare war under the Constitution, but instead it appears to have adopted a largely passive role while the executive takes the initiative in war fighting,” Aftergood said in an interview.

That’s partly because lawmakers relinquished their authority by passing a law just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that essentially granted the White House open-ended authority for armed action against al-Qaida.

Secret wars are not new.

For decades, the CIA has carried out covert operations abroad at the president’s direction and with congressional notice. It armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who fought Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, for example. In recent years the U.S. military’s secretive commando units have operated more widely, even in countries where the U.S. is not at war, and that’s blurred the lines between the intelligence and military spheres.

In this shroud of secrecy, leaks to the news media of classified details about certain covert operations have led to charges that the White House orchestrated the revelations to bolster Obama’s national security credentials and thereby improve his re-election chances. The White House has denied the accusations.

The leaks exposed details of U.S. computer virus attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, the foiling of an al-Qaida bomb plot targeting U.S. aircraft, and other secret operations.

Two U.S. attorneys are heading separate FBI investigations into leaks of national security information, and Congress is conducting its own probe.

It’s not just the news media that has pressed the administration for information about its shadowy wars.

Some in Congress, particularly those lawmakers most skeptical of the need for U.S. foreign interventions, are objecting to the administration’s drone wars. They are demanding a fuller explanation of how, for example, drone strikes are authorized and executed in cases in which the identity of the targeted terrorist is not confirmed.

“Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and 25 other mostly anti-war members of Congress wrote Obama on Tuesday.

A few dozen lawmakers are briefed on the CIA’s covert action and clandestine military activity, and some may ask to review drone strike video and be granted access to after-action reports on strikes and other clandestine actions. But until two months ago, the administration had not formally confirmed in public its use of armed drones.

In an April speech in Washington, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, acknowledged that despite presidential assurances of a judicious use of force against terrorists, some still question the legality of drone strikes.

“So let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives — the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” he said.

President George W. Bush authorized drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, but Obama has vastly increased the numbers. According to Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks U.S. counterterrorism operations, the U.S. under Obama has carried out an estimated 254 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That compares with 47 strikes during the Bush administration.

In at least one case the target was an American. Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September.

According to a White House list released late last year, U.S. counterterrorism operations have removed more than 30 terrorist leaders around the globe. They include al-Qaida in East Africa “planner” Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in a helicopter strike in Somalia.

The drone campaign is highly unpopular overseas.

A Pew Research Center survey on the U.S. image abroad found that in 17 of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders in such places as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In the U.S., 62 percent approved of the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.

The U.S. use of cyberweapons, like viruses that sabotage computer networks or other high-tech tools that can invade computers and steal data, is even more closely shielded by official secrecy and, arguably, less well understood.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a leading critic of the administration’s handling of information about using computers as a tool of war.

“I think that cyberattacks are one of the greatest threats that we face,” McCain said in a recent interview, “and we have a very divided and not very well-informed Congress addressing it.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and national security officials often talk publicly about improving U.S. defenses against cyberattack, not only on U.S. government computer systems but also against defense contractors and other private networks linked, for example, to the U.S. financial system or electrical grid. Left largely unexplained is the U.S. capacity to use computer viruses and other cyberweapons against foreign targets.

In the view of some, the White House has cut Congress out of the loop, even in the realm of overt warfare.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., who saw combat in Vietnam as a Marine, introduced legislation last month that would require that the president seek congressional approval before committing U.S. forces in civil conflicts, such as last year’s armed intervention in Libya, in which there is no imminent security threat to the U.S.

“Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed has diminished,” Webb said.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

RT - Germany cracks down on Salafist Muslims

A man is inspected by policemen after he attended a demonstration called by ultra-conservative Muslims Salafist movement against the small extreme-right party Pro NRW on May 5, 2012 in Bonn. (AFP Photo / Henning Kaiser)

A man is inspected by policemen after he attended a demonstration called by ultra-conservative Muslims Salafist movement against the small extreme-right party Pro NRW on May 5, 2012 in Bonn. (AFP Photo / Henning Kaiser)

Nationwide raids targeting Islamic Salafists have swept Germany, with one Salafi group being banned, as Berlin steps up pressure on the ultra-conservative movement to quell its members' “anti-democratic behavior."

Announcing the crackdown, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the freshly outlawed Millatu Ibrahim group “works against our constitutional order and against understanding between peoples.” 

Raids across seven German states, involving searches in about 70 apartments in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and other locations, could produce evidence allowing the ban of two more Salafists groups associated with extremism and violence, Friedrich added.

Some 4,000 Salafis are believed to reside in Germany, while not all of them are considered violent, remarks national broadcaster ARD. Despite the group looking insignificantly small in numbers compared to the four million Muslims living in the country, Berlin fears Salafists still manage to fuel militancy among socially alienated Muslims. 

"Today's operation shows we are raising the pressure on the Salafists and are acting with resolve against their anti-democratic behavior," Ralf Jaeger, the Interior Minister of North-Rhine Westphalia, told Spiegel Online.

A legal ban on all Salafist groups was considered months ago, with the country’s Interior Minister saying at that time that the movement was "ideologically close to al-Qaeda" and bent on destroying liberal democracy.

"Germany will not allow anybody to impose religious wars on us, neither radical Salafists nor far-right parties such as the Pro NRW," Friedrich said, referring to the ultra-nationalist group that clashed with the Salafists in Bonn in May.

The clashes between the two groups resulted in Salafis eventually turning to police. In Bonn, 29 police officers sustained injuries and 109 arrests were made. The standoff between the far-rights and ultra-conservative Muslims spread to Cologne and other German towns. Hundreds of law enforcement officers had to be deployed to keep the conflicting parties apart. 

This and Salafists’ recent campaign to hand out Korans across Germany seem to be among the reasons underlying the newly announced crackdown. Still, it remains unclear how Berlin is going to convince the far-rights to stop bringing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to their rallies to purposely infuriate Salafists.

In general, Salafists, who promote the use of Sharia law in Europe, have been the focus of police investigations in Germany since a man from Kosovo shot dead two US soldiers at Frankfurt International Airport in March 2011. Security officials estimate that 24 Salafists present a threat of Islamist attack in the country.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Noam Chomsky - Somebody Else's Atrocities

In his penetrating study “Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights,” international affairs scholar James Peck observes, “In the history of human rights, the worst atrocities are always committed by somebody else, never us” – whoever “us” is.

Almost any moment in history yields innumerable illustrations. Let’s keep to the past few weeks.

On May 10, the Summer Olympics were inaugurated at the Greek birthplace of the ancient games. A few days before, virtually unnoticed, the government of Vietnam addressed a letter to the International Olympic Committee expressing the “profound concerns of the Government and people of Viet Nam about the decision of IOC to accept the Dow Chemical Company as a global partner sponsoring the Olympic Movement.”

Dow provided the chemicals that Washington used from 1961 onward to destroy crops and forests in South Vietnam, drenching the country with Agent Orange.

These poisons contain dioxin, one of the most lethal carcinogens known, affecting millions of Vietnamese and many U.S. soldiers. To this day in Vietnam, aborted fetuses and deformed infants are very likely the effects of these crimes – though, in light of Washington’s refusal to investigate, we have only the studies of Vietnamese scientists and independent analysts.

Joining the Vietnamese appeal against Dow are the government of India, the Indian Olympic Association, and the survivors of the horrendous 1984 Bhopal gas leak, one of history’s worst industrial disasters, which killed thousands and injured more than half a million.

Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for the disaster, was taken over by Dow, for whom the matter is of no slight concern. In February, Wikileaks revealed that Dow hired the U.S. private investigative agency Stratfor to monitor activists seeking compensation for the victims and prosecution of those responsible.

Another major crime with very serious persisting effects is the Marine assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November 2004.

Women and children were permitted to escape if they could. After several weeks of bombing, the attack opened with a carefully planned war crime: invasion of the Fallujah General Hospital, where patients and staff were ordered to the floor, their hands tied. Soon the bonds were loosened; the compound was secure.

The official justification was that the hospital was reporting civilian casualties, and therefore was considered a propaganda weapon.

Much of the city was left in “smoking ruins,” the press reported while the Marines sought out insurgents in their “warrens.” The invaders barred entry to the Red Crescent relief organization. Absent an official inquiry, the scale of the crimes is unknown.

If the Fallujah events are reminiscent of the events that took place in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, now again in the news with the genocide trial of Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, there’s a good reason. An honest comparison would be instructive, but there’s no fear of that: One is an atrocity, the other not, by definition.

As in Vietnam, independent investigators are reporting long-term effects of the Fallujah assault.

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Medical researchers have found dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia, even higher than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Uranium levels in hair and soil samples are far beyond comparable cases.

One of the rare investigators from the invading countries is Dr. Kypros Nicolaides, director of the fetal-medicine research center at London’s King’s College Hospital. “I’m sure the Americans used weapons that caused these deformities,” Nicolaides says.

The lingering effects of a vastly greater nonatrocity were reported last month by U.S. law professor James Anaya, the U.N. rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Anaya dared to tread on forbidden territory by investigating the shocking conditions among the remnants of the Native American population in the U.S. – “poverty, poor health conditions, lack of attainment of formal education (and) social ills at rates that far exceed those of other segments of the American population,” Anaya reported. No member of Congress was willing to meet him. Press coverage was minimal.

Dissidents have been much in the news after the dramatic rescue of the blind Chinese civil-rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

“The international commotion,” Samuel Moyn wrote in The New York Times last month, “aroused memories of earlier dissidents like Andrei D. Sakharov and Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the Eastern bloc heroes of another age who first made ‘international human rights’ a rallying cry for activists across the globe and a high-profile item on Western governments’ agendas.”

Moyn is the author of “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History,” released in 2010. In The New York Times Book Review, Belinda Cooper questioned Moyn’s tracing the contemporary prominence of these ideals to “(President Jimmy) Carter’s abortive steps to inject human rights into foreign policy and the 1975 Helsinki accords with the Soviet Union,” focusing on abuses in the Soviet sphere. She finds Moyn’s thesis unpersuasive because “an alternative history to his own is far too easy to construct.”

True enough: The obvious alternative is the one that James Peck provides, which the mainstream can hardly consider, though the relevant facts are strikingly clear and known at least to scholarship.

Thus in the “Cambridge History of the Cold War,” John Coatsworth recalls that from 1960 to “the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.” But being nonatrocities, these crimes, substantially traceable to U.S. intervention, didn’t inspire a human-rights crusade.

Also inspired by the Chen rescue, New York Times columnist Bill Keller writes that “Dissidents are heroic,” but they can be “irritants to American diplomats who have important business to transact with countries that don’t share our values.” Keller criticizes Washington for sometimes failing to live up to our values with prompt action when others commit crimes.

There is no shortage of heroic dissidents within the domains of U.S. influence and power, but they are as invisible as the Latin American victims. Looking almost at random around the world, we find Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, now facing death in prison from a long hunger strike.

And Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, the elderly Korean priest who was severely injured while holding mass as part of the protest against the construction of a U.S. naval base on Jeju Island, named an Island of Peace, now occupied by security forces for the first time since the 1948 massacres by the U.S.-imposed South Korean government.

And Turkish scholar Ismail Besikci, facing trial again for defending the rights of Kurds. He already has spent much of his life in prison on the same charge, including the 1990s, when the Clinton administration was providing Turkey with huge quantities of military aid – at a time when the Turkish military perpetrated some of the period’s worst atrocities.

But these instances are all nonexistent, on standard principles, along with others too numerous to mention.

© The New York Times Company 
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John Cassidy - What about Israel’s Nukes?

MARCH 5, 2012

In case you’d forgotten about them—and that wouldn’t be hard, given how seldom their existence is mentioned in public debates—Israel has perhaps a hundred nuclear weapons, maybe even a few times more than that, and it has the capacity to launch them from underground silos, submarines, and F-16 fighter bombers.


Outside of the Israeli defense ministry, very few people know precisely how many nuclear-armed missiles the country has. According to a non-classified 1999 estimate from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, which was cited in a 2007 bulletin from the Federation of American Scientists, Israel had between sixty and eighty nuclear warheads. More recent estimates say the figure is considerably higher.


The London-based Institute of Strategic Studies says Israel has “up to 200” warheads loaded on land-based Jericho 1 and Jericho 2 short- and medium-range missiles. Jane’s, the defense-information company, estimates that the over-all number of warheads is between a hundred and three hundred, which puts the Israeli nuclear arsenal roughly on a par with the British and French capabilities. And some of these warheads are widely believed to have been loaded onto the new Jericho 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, which has a range of up to four thousand five hundred miles—meaning it could theoretically strike targets in Europe and Asia.


Ever since the 1960s, when Israel constructed its first nuke, successive governments have refused to acknowledge the existence of its weapons program—an official stance known by the Hebrew word for opacity, amimut. And it isn’t just a matter of non-acknowledgement. Israelis who reveal details about the weapons program can face prosecution and lengthy prison terms. In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician, gave photographs he had taken of the Negev Nuclear Research Center, near the city of Dimona, in the Negev desert, to the Sunday Times of London. After the publication of Vanunu’s story, Mossad agents snatched him from Rome, where he had been lured on vacation, and returned him to Israel. There he served eighteen years in jail, eleven of them in solitary confinement.


Avner Cohen, the Israeli-American historian who, in 1998, published a scholarly history of the Israeli nuclear program, “Israel and the Bomb,” didn’t meet that same fate. But when he returned to Israel in 2001, for an academic conference, he was subjected to fifty hours of questioning by the security arm of the Ministry of Defense about his sources and his motives in writing the book. And in 2002, Yitzhak Yaakov, a former head of the Israel Defense Force’s weapons-research program, received a suspended sentence of two years after writing his memoir. “This entire thing is a nightmare for me,” Yaakov said, during his trial. ”I wake up in the morning and remember that I was interrogated for espionage. I was told that I was worse than Vanunu and my wife is Mata Hari.”


Now that Israel is threatening to bomb Iran’s undeclared nuclear research program—a program that the American intelligence services don’t believe to have progressed to the stage of attempting to construct actual warheads, according to the Times—the pretence continues. Take this 2010 interview in The Atlantic with Benjamin Netanyahu, by my former colleague Jeffrey Goldberg:

Netanyahu would not frame the issue in terms of nuclear parity—the Israeli policy of amimut, or opacity, prohibits acknowledging the existence of the country’s nuclear arsenal, which consists of more than 100 weapons, mainly two-stage thermonuclear devices, capable of being delivered by missile, fighter-bomber, or submarine (two of which are said by intelligence sources to be currently positioned in the Persian Gulf). Instead, he framed the Iranian program as a threat not only to Israel but to all of Western civilization.

It is, of course, up to the government of Israel to formulate its policies based upon its view of the country’s self-interest. And, surely, the United States must do the same thing. In his speech to AIPAC yesterday, President Obama said this:

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national-security interests of the United States. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the nonproliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

In what was a lengthy speech, there was no mention of Israel’s nuclear weapons, or of its long-standing refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Has any American president publicly acknowledged these facts? In his latest book, “The Worse Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb,” Avner Cohen refers to a meeting in September, 1969, between President Richard Nixon and Golda Meir about Israel’s clandestine nukes.

No written record of or oral testimony about what transpired at this meeting is known to have survived, so what the leaders discussed remains shrouded in mystery. In retrospect, we can say that it was at this meeting that amimut as strategic posture mutually supported by Israel and the United States came into being. The Nixon-Meir meeting is the birthplace of the bargain.

At a time when the Israeli lobby in this country, with the coöperation of the Republican candidates, is exerting pressure on the United States to support Netanyahu’s hard line on Iran, it might be time to revisit this bargain. It wouldn’t necessarily change much. The regime in Tehran is a deeply unpleasant one, and many of our other allies, including Britain, France, and Saudi Arabia, are also determined to prevent it from joining the nuclear club. But publicly acknowledging what everybody already knows about Israel—that it’s one of the world’s nuclear powers—would make the United States less vulnerable to the charge of double standards.

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