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new internationalist
issue 239 - January 1993



Qualms becalmed
Recession prompts sales drive

The curtain is down on the Cold War drama. But there is a growing fear that weapons of mass destruction are changing hands more freely than ever.

It is focused on the former Soviet Union, which has dissolved into a handful of highly-militarized states desperately searching for hard currency to prop up their gutted economies. While the volume of trade in arms has fallen sharply since the late 1980s, the current recession also means that some producers are more than willing to sell to anyone ready to buy, regardless of the consequences.

Rumours persist that Iran has procured two atomic warheads from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, along with missile delivery systems from North Korea, and that Iraq may still be importing nuclear devices despite a UN arms embargo. These are, it must be stressed, only rumours.

But the basic process of producing crude nuclear weapons is now within the grasp of a growing club of countries. While China, France and South Africa have all agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty within the past year, India, Pakistan and North Korea have not.

Russia promises to stand by the former Soviet Union's treaties and agreements, but for Ukraine and Kazakhstan the future is not that clear. In July, for example, the Ukrainian leadership reneged on a promise to surrender control of all its nuclear weapons to the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States. Today, this issue remains unresolved, as does the whereabouts of the former Soviet Union's huge stock of chemical and biological weapons. Russian dealers are also said to have supplied arms covertly to Serbian forces and sent illegal shipments of machine guns to Britain, possibly for the IRA.

In the Middle East, Iran has embarked on a massive arms build-up since the end of the Gulf War, buying one billion dollars' worth of weaponry from Moscow and a further $500 million from Kirgiziya. The Russian government appears to have few qualms about rearming Iran, despite that region's record of instability. 'We have finished with the practice of political priorities in the arms trade,' Sergei Galziev, Russia's Deputy Minister for Foreign Economic Relations, declared recently. 'Payment in hard currency is now the main principle for weapons sales.'

On the other hand, the NATO powers are competing fiercely to build up the armed might of other Middle Eastern 'friendly' states. Since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the United States alone has approved over $20 billion in arms sales to the Middle East, a third of which have been agreed since George Bush called for a regional arms control initiative in May of 1991.

He has further cancelled export bans on a wide range of dual-use - civilian and military - high-technology products. The US economy remains mired in recession and the lifting of these bans could mean as much as $3 billion in new business for US companies. Scrambling to grab scarce contracts, the US has been blocking the control proposals of some of its European allies.

Constant and indiscriminate arms trafficking is making sure that the world is becoming less and not more safe. Ironically enough, the top five exporters of conventional weapons are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council

Richard Evans

Top 10 exporters of major conventional weapons, 1987-91


Soul in the soil
Farmers face ruin

Olives under arms - a Palestinian child's-eye view of harvesting under military control. The Palestinian farmer raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders when asked why he no longer looked after his almond trees. 'My land is all loss for me,' he explained.

Hassan an Sawalha lives in Ben Na'im village, close to Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He owns 20 danums of land (about two hectares) and grows almonds, grapes and olives. He has had to turn to teaching in the local elementary school as he can no longer make a living from farming.

Nearly 40,000 Palestinians are involved in some form of agriculture in the Occupied Territories. Water has always been a problem in the West Bank and recent years have seen worsening droughts. Since the 1967 occupation Israeli authorities have prevented the renovation of existing wells, restricted the quantity of water that can be extracted and prevented Palestinians from digging new wells.

Unlike their Israeli counterparts, Palestinian farmers cannot reclaim Value Added Tax on the agricultural materials they buy and in addition are restricted by curfews, travel bans and land confiscations. During the Gulf War, when the Occupied Territories were put under continuous curfew, an estimated 30 per cent of vegetable crops in the Jordan Valley were destroyed because farmers could not tend their land. Israeli farmers can market their goods to Palestinians, but not vice versa.

Amazingly, in a land which has olives and almonds in abundance, Israel imports olives from Spain and almonds from California - small local farmers find it impossible to compete in saturated markets. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee, which is funded by UK charity Christian Aid, has helped Palestinian farmers to find export outlets. In a trial scheme, the Agricultural Services Centre recently exported 1.5 tonnes of almonds for distribution by 'alternative trading' organizations to avoid local agents. The UK-based Equal Exchange and Traidcraft are contracting for a minimum of 10 tonnes of sweet almonds this year from five or six farmers in the Hebron area.

Planting almond and olive trees is vital to Palestinians in another way. If land is evidently under cultivation the risk of confiscation for Israeli settlement is reduced. Ben Na'im has had large areas taken away and the villagers are unlikely to get it back.

'It's as if they're taking the soul out of our bodies,' says Hassan an Sawalha. 'My father was a child and played on this land. I played on this land. My son played on this land. Our land is just as dear to us as our children.'

Dee Sullivan / International Agricultural Development

Singapore slackers

Singapore slackers
Although the success of modern Singapore has been built on the backs of merchants and central planners, the best and brightest are directed towards a career in public service.

But the Government is now wondering if this is a healthy state of affairs. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father and senior minister, believes that Singapore now needs risk-taking entrepreneurs willing to take part in East Asia's economic boom. But, he sighs, life is so comfortable that Singaporeans 'are reluctant to go into environments which are the exact opposite of Singapore's.

The Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, has hinted that 'comfortable' careers may be harder to come by. He indicated that fewer university places might be available in future to train lawyers and specialist doctors.

Creating an entrepreneurial spirit in Singapore is not going to be easy. Politicians will have to encourage character traits hitherto regarded as suspect: unorthodoxy; a willingness to risk failure; and heresy - a certain irreverence about the Government.

The Economist, Vol 325, No 7782



I Rigoberta
Nobel prize brings media to attention

The awarding of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize to Guatemala's Rigoberta Menchu sets the seal on a new international concern for the indigenous population of Latin America.

The world's media and politicians had been steadily warmed up to the cause by controversy over 'celebrations' of Columbus' arrival in the Americas 500 years ago; by Amnesty International's condemnation of governments from Argentina to Canada for their treatment of the continent's indigenous peoples; and by the United Nations' declaration that 1993 will be the Year of Indigenous Peoples.

But it was the Nobel Prize committee's decision in favour of a 33-year-old Quiche Indian activist that brought the biggest outpouring of international concern for the continent's 40 million Indian peoples.

Few people outside Guatemala had heard of Rigoberta Menchu 12 years ago when personal tragedy and anger at the brutal repression of her nation's 60-per-cent Indian population prompted the former coffee-picker to begin a campaign of protest.

Now her life story - particularly the burning alive of her father in 1980 by police during a human-rights protest; the torture and murder of her mother later that same year; and her 1983 book I Rigoberta documenting her personal experience of persecution - is becoming known around the globe. Her life's work has arguably become the most fashionable and worthy international cause of the 1990s.

Rigoberta and her supporters hope and believe change is coming in the continent whose original inhabitants live everywhere in the most extreme poverty, wield the least political influence and suffer the worst human-rights abuses.

The new wave of optimism was exemplified by Guatemala's National Congress president. Edmund Mulet, at a reception for Menchu in Guatemala City. From now on Guatemala is not going to be the same. This is an historic event that is going to change things in a most fundamental way,' said Mulet, an outspoken supporter of indigenous rights in a country where at least 100,000 people have died - many at the hands of right-wing death-squads - in 30 years of civil war.

And Menchu herself declared: 'I am very hopeful that it will help the Indian peoples of America to live on for ever'.

But such views are balanced by the more pessimistic outlook of most independent observers. 'After the fuss dies down it will all quickly be forgotten,' said Juan Manuel Lopez Garduño, an anthropologist in Mexico, where Menchu lives in self-imposed exile. 'What we are hearing and reading now is all just lip-service. There won't be any real consequences. The questions and the problems will remain. You can't reverse five centuries of injustice overnight, no matter how much media hype and political rhetoric there is.'

Andrew Cawthorne

Tree A going concern?
The cloud of concern over rainforest destruction has yet to form over another group - the dryland forests of the Sahel. They were not on the 'Earth Summit' agenda in Rio and will have to wait until 1994, when there will be an International Convention on Desertification.

The Sahel forests lack 'bio-diversity' (a wide range of species) and so are routinely ignored by environmental lobbyists. Yet accelerating land degradation and deforestation affect the lives of millions. The majority of Sahelians depend on the dwindling tropical dryland forests for all their domestic fuel, for building materials and food supplements, and for soil protection.

Saving these dryland forests is just as urgent as saving the rainforests - maybe more so as there is not yet a dryland forest campaign.

For more information contact SOS Sahel, / Tolpuddle Street, London, NI OXT


"Black slaves are no longer brought to Brazil from Africa; the modern
badge of slavery is not colour but poverty and unemployment."

Father Ricardo Rezende, winner of the 1092 Anti-Slavery Award

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