US advances to 83rd on the Global Peace Index

This year, the US advanced from 97th to 83rd on the Global Peace Index ( GPI). On this day of peace, it’s not just parochial competition that makes me wish that it ranked much higher. When the nation with the most powerful military and the largest weapons industry ranks low, the whole world suffers.

The GPI is a project of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which identifies some of the drivers of peace and then ranks the nations of the world by their peacefulness (or ‘absence of violence’).

144 countries are ranked on 24 measures within, as well as between, nations. These measures include levels of democracy and transparency, education and material well being, military expenditure, relations with neighboring countries, and respect for human rights. The data used come from the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the World Bank, various UN offices and Peace Institutes, and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

On the map, red indicates violence and blue the absence of violence. Yellow is in between.


Engelhardt, Tom (2009, December 22). In nightmares begin responsibilities: Why war will take no holiday in 2010. “Excuse the gloom in the holiday season, but I feel like we’re all locked inside a malign version of the movie Groundhog Day…”

Howard Zinn’s “Three Holy Wars”

Howard Zinn spoke at the Progressive magazine’s 100 Anniversary Conference. He makes a persuasive case for questioning even the good wars, such as the “three holy wars” of US history.

It’s worth thinking about Zinn’s argument in light of Obama’s Nobel Prize lecture, in which he says “Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed.” Is the war in Afghanistan a more holy war than the ones that Zinn questions?

Preserving the $ by invading Iraq

This is old news, but I was reminded of it by a discussion on this weekend. It’s worth thinking about again in these parlous economic times.

Sharma, Tracy, and Kumar (2004) talk about one of the major, but little-discussed reasons for invading Iraq. Is militarism the best way to boost our economy?

What prompted the U.S. attack on Iraq, a country under sanctions for 12 years (1991-2003), struggling to obtain clean water and basic medicines? A little discussed factor responsible for the invasion was the desire to preserve “dollar imperialism” as this hegemony began to be challenged by the euro.


Caryl, Christian (2009, October 16). Decline of the dollar. Foreign Policy.

Sharma, Sohan; Tracy, Sue; & Kumar, Surinder (2004, February). The Invasion of Iraq: Dollar vs Euro Re-denominating Iraqi oil in U. S. dollars, instead of the euro. Z magazine.

The US supplies the guns

weaponsAfter the 9/11 attacks I wrote about 12 steps to respond to 9/11, because “we have to do something!” Number 3 on that list was for the US to stop being the world’s top supplier of arms around the world, at that time selling over 1/2 of all the weapons.

The New York Times Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker, provides a helpful update, showing that the US market share has grown to 2/3, establishing a virtual monopoly:

Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world’s leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

via Despite Slump, U.S. Role as Top Arms Supplier Grows –

When we wonder about wars around the world, why don’t we ask about our own role in supplying the weapons that people use to fight them?

Tom Engelhardt raises some more disturbing questions in his essay, Is America hooked on war?


Engelhardt, Tom (2009, September 17). Is America hooked on war?. Mother Jones.

Understanding what we’re doing in Afghanistan

It’s refreshing to hear an admission that we really don’t know much about the country we’ve invaded, and that it would help if we did. Wouldn’t it be even more refreshing if we bothered to do that learning before we invade the next country?

We’re trying to understand what are the … factors that the people of Afghanistan are willing to sacrifice … to achieve,” he says. “And, I think, that right now it’s different depending on where you go, but I don’t think we have as good a grasp of that as we should. –Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Aug. 11, 2009

via U.S. General: Taliban ‘Comfortable’ In Kandahar : NPR.

In This World

in this world-2There are times when a movie just grabs me, despite technical flaws, my low expectations, and even a boring DVD case cover. In This World is one of those. The political message is clear, but understated, conveyed instead by an intimate look at the consequences of war and greed on the lives of decent people.

The movie presents a fictitious journey that conveys disturbing truths of life “in this world” we inhabit. Although it’s low-key and rough as cinema, it produces an intimate connection to its characters, Afghan refugees Jamal and Enayatullah, as they travel from Shamshatoo refugee camp near Peshāwar, Pakistan, across Pakistan, through Iran, Turkey, Italy and France, towards London.

ITW_trailerLike thousands of others every year, their desperation feeds the multibillion dollar human smuggling business, an unconscionable stain on any of our pretensions to justice. The smuggling fuels crime, violence, corruption, illegal drug trade, and too often leads to death, no longer being “in this world.”

The actors are Afghan refugees themselves, and the encounters in the movie elide life and art. I was fascinated by the places they moved through, and their resourcefulness in learning how to cope with diverse languages and unscrupulous people.

The camps near Peshāwar are filled with people displaced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and later, US bombing. UNHCR says that there are currently “1.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 percent residing in refugee villages and the rest scattered among host communities.” But the total, including children born to refugees, may be several million. The humanitarian crisis is compounded now by two million civilians fleeing the fighting in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier.

Even though the story is depressing about our institutions, I finished it feeling hopeful about our human capacity. I wanted to travel the modern silk road and more still to learn about the world of these refugees and the policies that lead to their plight.

A new beginning against extremism

300px-CairoUnivObama’s speech yesterday at Cairo University (photo at left) was beautiful. It represents a new beginning against extremism both in the US and abroad. Even Osama Bin Laden recognized that it challenges a linchpin of al-Qaida’s message.

I don’t agree with many of the current Administration’s foreign policies (escalation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war, inadequate engagement with the Caribbean, especially with respect to Cuba, and not doing more for Haiti, failure to close Guantanamo and re-establish justice following years of officially sanctioned torture and renditions, etc.), but opening dialogue is a first step towards a rational, humane, and effective foreign policy.

The ending of the speech is classic Obama:

89px-A_Boat_in_the_Nile_RiverIt’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”72px-Barack_Obama_at_Cairo_University_cropped

The Holy Bible tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you.

See Obama hits a home run, by Robert Dreyfuss.