Thursday, August 27, 2015

How can we address the causes of migration effectively?

The current migration crisis is a Green issue. In fact, it can be argued that it is not a "crisis" (in the sense of a temporary deviation from the normal) at all, but is the new normal, with climate change a key driver, both indirectly, and in the future, directly.

So, what is the solution?

First, the rejectionist Ukip/Tory solution is no solution at all. It is physically impossible to build a Berlin Wall around the UK, or even around Europe, and failing rejectionism will inevitably turn into hate speech and hate actions.

Building physical barriers is a simplistic solution to political problems that goes back to the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, the 700 kilometre Israel West Bank Barrier/Wall, and, currently, the Great Razor Wire Fence in Hungary. These barriers are symptomatic treatments, and like all symptomatic treatments, they will in the end, fail. The only real solution to the problem is the one that addresses the root causes of the problem.

The underlying causes are fourfold:

  1. War
  2. Governments that abuse human rights
  3. Poverty
  4. Climate change

War, and its aftermath, is responsible for most migration movements into Europe. Iraq, Syria and, Afghanistan are major contributors to the total numbers.

Eritrea's post-war military government with its totalitarian control drives many young Eritreans to leave. We must not forget also that Burma's military regime is driving the a huge proportion of the Rohingya people into boats.

Many others, especially Africans, are trying to escape poverty. It is wrong to believe Tory tabloid editors and Ministers when they portray these people as merely making a lifestyle choice. They are fleeing extreme poverty, and this pattern will increase as climate change places further pressure on food prices.

A study by Richard Seager of Columbia University shows that climate change  is a factor in the Syrian conflict, primarily through drought affecting food production.

So, migration is a symptom of war, governments that abuse human rights, poverty and climate change. There are two opposing conclusions that we can draw from this.

Some will just want to give up, or try with increasing desperation and anger to pull up the drawbridge.
The other approach, the humane and rational response, is to work out and apply global solutions to what is a global problem.

The Green Party, and indeed all rational thinkers, should be at the forefront of the second approach, which deserves a name to identify itself. I would propose simply to call it "the New Globalisation", in order to distinguish it from economic Globalisation which is well known, and lies behind much that is wrong in the world, as Caroline Lucas and Mike Woodin showed in their book Green Alternatives to Globalisation in 2004.

It is now time for greens, and indeed, all thinkers and politicians who prefer to deal in realities rather than knee-jerk reactions, to start looking at these global problems and coming up with answers. And answers do exist. The process will be long and slow, measured in decades rather than months or years, but the journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step, and the time to start is now.

The majority of current wars are due to dictators, Islamism and separatism.

Dictatorships can be inhibited by the Green Party's Global Human Rights Index.

Islamism is a bit of a difficult problem that deserves a post all to itself, but the essential principle of treatment is that if we stop bombing Islamic countries, there is a chance that they will stop bombing us (and also other Islamic people: we must remember that jihadis kill far more Muslims than they kill "Christians" and Jews).

The third most important cause of current wars, separatism, is an issue that can usefully be addressed by the United Nations.

There are many other actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of conflict on people. Peace Direct is an excellent organisation that supports local people who take action to stop conflict. There have been successful agreements that will inhibit the arms trade. Attention could fruitfully switch now to the control of ammunition. (See PD434 in Green Party policies here).

So if we wish to address migration, we need to address the problem of war and dictators with their attendant human rights abuses. What of the other promoters of migration, which are poverty and climate change? Again there are solutions available, and again the solutions assist each other.

Poverty is complex, intimately interwoven with environmental issues, but one of the key insights is that poor countries tend to be hot countries, that is, countries with plentiful resources of solar energy. Solar energy offers to help poor countries, not just on a small scale, but also on a large scale, since large solar arrays and Concentrated Solar Power  will turn hitherto poor countries into net exporters of energy.

Development patterns that promote equality will reduce the pressure to migrate.

The points made here are not exhaustive. There are many other issues to be considered, and as ever, if we do not manage to get a handle on human population growth we are not going to get very far with any progress.

In conclusion, the only way to manage the "migration crisis" is to address the global causes of migration - war, dictatorship, poverty and environmental degradation. These are global problems, but we live in a small world, and a new programme of action, a New Globalisation that addresses humanitarian and environmental issues, is the only effective way forward.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Overpowering hijackers

A heavily armed man has been overpowered by passengers on a high speed train Amasterdam-Paris. 

Soon after 9/11 I wrote to Government suggesting that they should advocate this policy as routine. 0

The reason went like this:
The best chance of survival for people on board a hijacked airliner is to overpower the hijackers, and to do so instantly, as a reflex. This is a risky procedure: some of the passengers and crew could get hurt, and in the event that the hijacker has smuggled a bomb or gun aboard, past the detectors, the plane could be blown apart. Even given these risks, the chances are better, and the agony of anticipation is less, than the alternative option of sitting obediently to await the fate that crazed individuals, or the State in whose airspace the plane is flying, may hand out. 
Airlines should add to the emergency drill " . . . Your lifejacket is under the seat . . . And finally, if someone tries to hijack this aircraft, would all able bodied passengers please act together to overpower them immediately." (See Airline Security here)

After consideration, Government wrote back turning down the idea on grounds of Health and Safely. Someone might get injured (as indeed happened on the Paris train) and could end up taking Government to court. 

It's great living in a world where lawyers have the final say in all matters.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Nuclear war is a possibility until we dismantle the whole global arsenal

Letter to the Guardian that got spiked:

"The atomic bomb haunts our world as much as ever" (Leader, August 6th). Why so? If the deterrence strategy is perfect, the balance of terror means that nuclear weapons will never be used. They will stay forever in their silos, a symbol of the power of the states that own them, and as a tool of international diplomacy. We may cavil about their cost, and we may worry about and work against proliferation, but there it ends, if deterrence is perfect.

If on the other hand there is a greater than zero chance that any nuke will be fired in anger (or even by accident), then deterrence policy must be terminated and the world must destroy these weapons totally, because the consequence  of a global nuclear war is unimaginably severe, and even a single use will almost certainly escalate into total war.

If the consequence of the breakdown of a system is infinitely negative, we may use that system if and only if the probability of its breakdown is zero. This is the reason that we must set aside nuclear weapons, and this is the primary realisation that we must grasp. Once we have got this into our heads, then we can start to work realistically on the details of how we get rid of the damned things on a global basis.

And in case you may think that accidental nuclear war is just a theoretical concept, read this link, about Sergei Petrov, who correctly diagnosed not one but two false alarms in the nuclear Command and Control system. The post mentions four similar incidents which could have led to all-out nuclear war.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Promise of Hiroshima

It was all so beautiful.
Mathematics could dissect reality itself,
Complex, and finely balanced,
A logan rock that moves with just a touch,
and through these mysteries
we came to understand
the energy constrained within a grain of sand.

Infinitesimal becomes
unbounded power.
One plane, one flash
One whole town gone to dust.
Nothing except a few skeletal lines
Some shadow where a man had been.
Silence, apart from screams.

For some, that was success.
And this is how it stays. We live
under the sword of Damocles
peace dangling by a hair,
our fallibility denied.
Living beneath the constant threat,
in wilful ignorance of death.

As if the sheer perfection of the science
could purge our politicians' faults.
As if the discipline
that led them to unlock the door
could somehow spread itself
into the corrupted soul and mind
of those whose stock in trade is lies.

  1. Richard Lawson

Hiroshima then, deterrence now

70 years ago, a city was annihilated as a demonstration by the USA of what it could do to Soviet Russia.

Now we still have nuclear weapons - 16,000 of the damned things, all part of a system of deterrence that is believed to create peace through a balance of terror.

So let us look at the deterrence system.

If the consequences of the failure of a system would be infinitely destructive to civilisation, it is reasonable to use that system if and only if the probability of its failure are zero.

The argument here is that there is a greater than zero chance of nuclear deterrence leading to nuclear war, and that war would be infinitely destructive of human civilisation. This leads to the conclusion that the world needs to scrap nuclear weapons absolutely and completely.

The possession of nuclear weapons by a number of states in the international community does constitute a system, that is, a group of interrelated parts forming a whole.

Can the system fail? Nuclear deterrence is a complex arrangement of electronic sensors embedded in a command and control network composed of humans working to hard protocols that are interwoven with pattern judgments and valuations which are affected by the emotional state of the individuals and groups that make the judgments. The groups themselves, particularly the supreme decision making groups, are isolated from the common body of humanity, and are known to be susceptible to a condition known as group think – defined as A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.[i] Moreover, the interplay of decision makers is now far more complex than in the days of the cold war, with players coming on to the field who might not view the destruction of the prevailing world civilisation as a thing to be avoided at all costs, and other players already on the scene who believe that nuclear weapons could be used tactically without risking a strategic exchange.

In short, it is entirely reasonable to judge that the probability of failure of the nuclear deterrence system is greater than zero. [ii]

Would the breakdown of the nuclear deterrence be infinitely destructive? This is a point that must be settled by a value judgment. First, would it be possible to get away with a limited exchange, or would one nuclear detonation inevitably escalate into an all out global nuclear war?

It is impossible to give a definitive answer to that question, but the safest assumption to make is that if one weapon is detonated, they will all be fired. The reason for this lies in the doctrine of first strike, which aims to destroy the opponent’s weapons before they can be fired. Once it is known that an opponent has detonated a nuclear weapon, the pressure will be on for supreme commanders to fire all their nuclear weapons before they lose them to a first strike. In view of this, although we cannot say that any exchange would inevitably lead to a first strike, it would be the height of folly for anyone to assume that they could use weapons in a limited tactical strike and believe that matters would then be allowed to rest by the opposition.

Unfortunately this limited tactical strike idea is the prevailing nuclear doctrine of the United States of America. They consider that nuclear weapons could be used tactically, as an extension of a conventional military campaign. In doing so, they may trigger an all-out nuclear war.

Would an all out strategic nuclear exchange be infinitely destructive? There are estimated to be at least 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world held by at least eight countries, 96 percent of them in the possession of the United States and Russia. [iii]
The effects of all-out nuclear war were well studied in the 1980s. Physically, the most interesting possible effect is the so-called Nuclear Winter, where atmospheric soot cuts off sunlight for a period of weeks or months.[iv] When the sunlight returns, the effects of city and forest fires will have been to increase the atmospheric CO2 load, thus exacerbating global warming. Species loss will increase, secondary to habitat loss. Of these, the loss of bees will be most important, since cessation of their pollination services will lead to failure of such crops as survivors may try to plant. Ironically, rats and cockroaches are resistant to radiation, and so will flourish, given the plentiful quantities of human and animal carrion available.

To say the least, economic growth after a nuclear war would be unlikely. In fact a global economic recession or even a depression is almost inevitable, and to be replaced by a survival economy based around obtaining water, food, warmth and shelter for the group. Life will be short, and cancers plentiful, but health services would be rudimentary, and analgesics in short supply. Gangsterism, like the rats, will flourish, and self interest is likely to become the ethical norm.

In summary, it is entirely reasonable to expect that an all out nuclear exchange would lead to the end of western civilisation. It would therefore be infinitely destructive.

In terms of the model set out at the beginning, the consequences of the failure of a nuclear deterrence system would indeed be infinitely destructive to our civilisation, the probability of its failure is greater than zero, and therefore it is illogical for our civilisation to use that system.

Since the syllogism contains a value judgment, and there will inevitably be others who take a different view. However, they are compelled to argue either that the deterrence system is perfectly safe, which is manifestly not the case, or that a tactical weapon would not lead to an all-out nuclear war, which is clearly not provable, or that an all-out nuclear war would not destroy civilisation, which is clearly unreasonable.

In the circumstances, however, because of the uncertainties involved, it is safer to take a precautionary view. The great majority of humanity view the possibility of all out nuclear war with a great deal of distaste. They should be helped to understand that the nuclear deterrence system is not infallible, and that these weapons are quite capable of being used in anger. This should then motivate them to exercise their democratic right and duty to remove from political office anyone who believes that it is reasonable for any state to possess nuclear weapons.

Dr Richard Lawson

[i] Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972, page 9.
[ii] Lachlan Forrow and others, "Accidental Nuclear War --A Post Cold War Assessment," NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE Vol. 338, No. 18 (April 30, 1998), pgs. 1326-1331
[iv] Nuclear winter: Physics and physical mechanisms," R. P. Turco, O. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B. Pollack and C. Sagan, Ann. Rev. Earth and Planet. Sci., 19, 383-422 (1991).

See also: Trident is not anything like an "Insurance Policy"