War Without End, By Owei Lakemfa
When the First World War broke out, the writer, H.G. Wells in assessing the magnitude, predicted that if German militarism were defeated, that would be “The war to end war” or “The war to end all wars”. Germany was defeated, but a more catastrophic Second World War came thirty two years later.
The world is at war on various fronts and continents, with no end in sight. German chancellor, Angela Merkel on Tuesday May 2, 2017, travelled to Sochi, Russia to discuss the state of two of the wars with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. They skirted around the self-inflicted conflict in Ukraine, which has seen the Crimea part of that country go with Russia and the rest broken into two. In the Ukrainian proxy war, the Merkel-led European Union (EU) backed the coup plotters in Kiev who threw their country into chaos after overthrowing two elected governments. As a follow up, the EU imposed some laughable sanctions on Russia while the war continues. On the other hand, Russia is backing the separatists. While Merkel and Putin spoke politely to themselves, there were no concrete proposals on how to put out the fires in Ukraine.
They also discussed another proxy war where they are also on opposite sides. The Russians have gone far in finding a military solution to the seemingly intractable war in Syria, and enticing the non-fundamentalist rebels to talk peace.
The United States, under Barack Obama, and its allies in Europe and the Middle East had sought to snuff out the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria with the type of aerial bombardment they had unleashed on the Ghadaffi government in Libya. That had given the fundamentalists in Libya victory over the patriotic forces and handed the country over to the fundamentalist ISIS, al-Qeada and other centrifugal forces.
But commonsense had prevailed on Syria, and the ISIS had lost the opportunity of being handed what could have been the first country to become the headquarters of its Caliphate. Syria is a constant reminder that wars may never depart from the doorsteps of humanity. Virtually all the major powers and their supporters are involved in the Syrian conflict – America, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Qatar, Lebanon, France, Iraq, and Jordan. There are also non-state actors like the Pro-American Free Syrian Army (FSA), the fundamentalist al-Nustra Front, the Lebanese Hezbollah – ‘The Party of God’ led by the charismatic Hassan Nassrallah and the ISIS led by the reclusive Abu Bakr al-Baghadi.
With the decisive Russian air strikes against rebels, a demoralised FSA fighting government and fundamentalist forces, ISIS fighting for survival in Iraq, and the pro-American Kurdish and Turkish forces at war in Syria, the al-Assad government is inching towards victory. President Donald Trump had sought to reverse the trend by bombing a Syrian Air Force base under the unsubstantiated claim that the al-Assad government used chemical bombs on its civilian population. Cleverly, al-Assad ignored the provocation while it made limited response to Israel’s March 17, 2017 bombing of Syria. It didn’t want to open other fronts.
Putin told Merkel that the solution to the Syrian war is through United Nations mediation. Meanwhile, the war continues.
Trump is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the fires across the world; his sagging profile was strengthened when he bombed the Syrian Air Force base on April 6. His rating further jumped when five days later, he authorised the drop of a 21,600-pound-bomb on Nangarhar, Afghanistan. With that, he received more applause and America found a place to test its largest non-nuclear bomb. With the applause still ringing in his head, the American Tweeter-in-Chief who has also been active in the multi-national war in Yemen, turned his attention to North Korea where the youthful President Kim Jung-un has been testing nuclear-tipped missiles.
It is not that the military leaders of the world are against nuclear weapons, otherwise they would have significantly reduced their nuclear arsenal and worked towards a nuclear-free world. Rather, they do not want a proliferation, which is why the United Nations has been brought in to impose sanctions against North Korea.
The way so much fuss is being made about the North Korea nuclear tests gives the impression that it is the only the country possessing or improving its nuclear capability, whereas of the nine nuclear countries, it has the least number of nuclear weapons. The Russians have a stockpile of 7,500 nuclear weapons, followed by United states with 7,200, and France coming a distant third with 300. China follows closely with 250 and United Kingdom with 215 nuclear weapons. Pakistan has some 110 and India 100, with Israel having 80. North Korea with 10 nuclear weapons has the least. There are also NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) nuclear ‘sharing states’ like Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey.
With 93 percent of the known world nuclear weapons in their arsenal, Russia and United States have been pressured over the years to reduce their nuclear capabilities under the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. It is not that the military leaders of the world are against nuclear weapons, otherwise they would have significantly reduced their nuclear arsenal and worked towards a nuclear-free world. Rather, they do not want a proliferation, which is why the United Nations has been brought in to impose sanctions against North Korea.
America is also uncomfortable with North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons because its client-state, South Korea does not have such capability. So the Americans have used the excuse of the North Korea nuclear tests to further militarise the Korean Peninsula and built a Nuclear Shield in South Korea.
America was of the opinion that North Korea under former President Kim Jong II should not have nuclear weapons because he was allegedly unpredictable and fanatical. Now, it does not think that country should have nuclear weapons partly because the president is too young, and unpredictable. It argues that North Korea having such weapons is like giving nuclear weapons to a child.
Virtually all the countries leading the campaign against North Korea nuclear tests either have similar weapons, or aspire to own some of their own. The Trump Presidency had in March announced that it would negotiate with North Korea only if it gave up its nuclear weapons, otherwise a military option against it was open. Then in April, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had thundered: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea”, adding that it was ready to take action, if necessary, alone. Then last Wednesday, senators were bussed to the White House for briefing on planned actions against North Korea. It was a farcical drama. The next day, the White House said it was open to negotiations, and twenty four hours later, Trump said the South Koreans will have to pay for the THAAD Missile Defence System America installed. Talking about unpredictability, I’m not sure who can be said to be more unpredictable – Trump or Jung-un?
When the First World War broke out, the writer, H.G. Wells in assessing the magnitude, predicted that if German militarism were defeated, that would be “The war to end war” or “The war to end all wars”. Germany was defeated, but a more catastrophic Second World War came thirty two years later. The combination of the wars going on today across the world may take more lives. We are engaged in a world of wars without end.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.