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JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: They don’t want to eliminate the weapons any more, which is what we’ve been doing for 40 years. They want to eliminate certain regimes that have the weapons. They have a whole different paradigm.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Plus, checking the time on the infamous doomsday clock.
STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: What people need to understand about the clock is that it reacts to things. It doesn’t anticipate them. And while there’s certainly a lot of heated rhetoric and concern right now and a lot of potential for things to happen, there’s also a lot of potential for things not to happen.
MCHUGH: And China’s tight control over Internet access.
SHANTHI KALATHIL: Usually what will happen when people cross that line is Beijing will arrest them and make a case study out of them, essentially to show people “Look, you should keep track of what you say and as long as you’re relatively politically safe in what you say, it’s fine. But just make sure that you don’t cross that line.”
PORTER: These stories—coming up next.
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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. During the Cold War, the nuclear threat was plain and well understood, chillingly summed up in the phrase “mutual assured destruction.” Nowadays, the prospect of an apocalyptic showdown between two heavily armed superpowers has receded, as a more complicated set of dangers emerges.
PORTER: Pessimists foresee a time in which smaller nations in bad neighborhoods, as well as so-called “rogue” states and even possibly terrorists, acquire nuclear weapons. Other close observers have a more positive outlook, although even they warn that much hangs in the balance. Common Ground‘s Malcolm Brown takes a look at the future of nonproliferation efforts.
[The sound of a military control room underneath Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado.]
MALCOLM BROWN: The operations center inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, watches for ballistic missile or air attack on North America, just as it did during the Cold War.
[The sound of an intercontinental ballistic missile being launched.]
BROWN: In a worst-case scenario, retaliation could still involve a massive response using the US strategic nuclear arsenal. But old assumptions are changing, as the world confronts the prospect that nuclear weapons will spread beyond the eight nations now known or presumed to have them. Those pessimistic about the future include the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
US DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: What’s taking place in the world today in—with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—is so pervasive that as you look out over the horizon—you guess, five years, ten years?—there are going to be three, four, five more nuclear powers, and they’re not going to be countries like the United Kingdom or France or the United States. They’re going to be countries like North Korea; they’re going to be terrorist states; and they’re going to be states that have relationships with terrorist organizations.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: That is simply not true. Weapons proliferation is not pervasive.
BROWN: Joseph Cirinicione is the Director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. While acknowledging the 1998 nuclear tests, carried out by arch-rivals India and Pakistan, he says the current situation could have been much worse.
CIRINCIONE: There are more countries that have given up nuclear weapons in the past 10 or 15 years than have acquired them. There are fewer nuclear weapons in the world now than there were 15 years ago—fewer chemical, fewer biological, fewer missiles. The trends actually are pointing down. We are contending today with actually the few remaining hard cases. Top of the list of hard cases are Iran and North Korea. On the other end of the scale are the arms control success stories, like Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and South Africa, which have all given up nuclear arsenals. In fact, on paper, the cornerstone of international arms control efforts—the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—looks good. One hundred eighty-eight nations—including the United States—have joined the NPT, which came into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995. The treaty aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. But the nonproliferation regime faces a number of challenges. Peter Scoblic, the editor of Arms Control Today, says much hangs on whether the international community can stop states from acquiring nuclear weapons.
PETER SCOBLIC: We’re in a lot better shape today than many people thought we were going to be 30 years ago, when they predicted what the 21st century would look like. When you look to the future, I think a lot of the future depends on how we deal with these problems today and with a few other unresolved questions, like fissile material coming from Russia, potential conflict between India and Pakistan, potential Chinese reaction to US deployment of national missile defenses.
BROWN: Even relative optimists are worried and warn that the world stands at a crossroads. Joseph Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment is particularly concerned about North Korea, which announced its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty early this year. He sees the regime in Pyongyang as a possible exporter of nuclear know-how and material.
CIRINCIONE: If North Korea goes into the plutonium production business, becomes a worldwide plutonium supermarket, not only will you have to worry about who they are going to sell it to, but also what the reaction would be of North Korea’s neighbors. Would South Korea feel that it now needs to have a nuclear bomb? Would Japan develop a nuclear weapon? If either one of those two happens, then you’ve just shattered the nonproliferation regime.
BROWN: Critics of the Bush administration’s approach to arms control say that Washington has added to the strains on the international nonproliferation regime, which is built on a network of treaties and agreements. Peter Scoblic at Arms Control Today again.
SCOBLIC: The will of the international community is dependent disproportionately on the political will of the United States and a number of the actions that the Bush administration has taken in the last year have suggested that our support for diplomatic resolution of these problems is not going to be particularly strong.
BROWN: He cites the most recent US Nuclear Posture Review—which has drawn criticism from arms control advocates—who argue it breaks the taboo surrounding the use of nuclear weapons. They say the document treats them as another war fighting tool and not just an arsenal designed to deter an enemy nuclear attack. Among other things, the document advocates the development of smaller, ground-penetrating warheads to attack deeply buried enemy targets which can’t be destroyed using conventional weapons. However, Baker Spring, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says the review actually reduces America’s reliance on nuclear weapons. Even so, he says, the threat they pose to potential adversaries must remain credible.
BAKER SPRING: Deterrence means convincing any potential foe that the US has a way to use nuclear weapons effectively if it must, and so that this idea that you’re going to divorce deterrence from war-fighting, I think, is a fool’s journey.
BROWN: Another charge leveled against the Bush administration is that it has undermined the nonproliferation regime with its perceived willingness to go it alone on arms control and other international issues.
CIRINCIONE: This administration has a whole different view of nonproliferation. They’re not really interested in treaties.
BROWN: Joseph Cirincione says the Bush team isn’t interested in reducing weapons stockpiles through negotiation.
CIRINCIONE: They don’t want to eliminate the weapons any more, which is what we’ve been doing for 40 years. They want to eliminate certain regimes that have the weapons. They have a whole different paradigm, a whole different framework that they’ve put in place over the last couple of years.
BROWN: Critics point to the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the decision not to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, already rejected by the US Senate before this president came to office.
[The sound of a nuclear bomb test.]
BROWN: The US continues to observe a moratorium on nuclear testing, announced in 1992. The White House says there are no plans for a resumption, although the president “has not ruled out testing in the future.” Administration supporters, like Baker Spring at the Heritage Foundation, say the overall nuclear policy reflects new international realities.
SPRING: The administration is not wedded to the Cold War-style arms control treaties that were appropriate for that time because this is a different age, different era, different problems. The other thing too, that is clear, which I think is much to the administration’s credit, is that it’s not overly focused on the diplomatic and arms control solutions to these problems and looks at things in the military field and in the intelligence field to help us address these problems.
BROWN: Baker Spring says the administration will use a treaty-based approach when required. He highlights the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed with Russia, which calls for cuts in the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads. That’s in line with President Bush’s stated desire to dismantle the legacy of the Cold War. His administration is also calling on the rest of the world to do more to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. John Wolf, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation calls for more passion from other nations.
JOHN WOLF: I actually am concerned that, while this is a core issue for the United States, it’s only one of many issues that seems to be out there for a lot of countries. And indeed, while we get into big wrangles with some of our friends and allies about this architecture, about treaties and whatnot, that the actual willingness to engage and, in essence, to confront the issue, either by tightening export controls, more rigorous enforcement of national laws, more rigorous enforcement of multilateral conventions, more rigorous approach to the proliferation wannabes, that’s sometimes missing.
BROWN: Sometimes entirely lost in the debate is the ultimate aim, as enshrined in the landmark Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that is total nuclear disarmament. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown.
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MCHUGH: When the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—or NPT—entered into force in 1970, it was hailed as a landmark arms control measure that could end the spread of nuclear weapons around the globe. And while some disarmament benchmarks outlined in the original treaty have been met, a growing number of world leaders and analysts say the Cold War era document is no longer relevant in today’s post-9/11 political climate. I recently spoke with Jayantha Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs for the United Nations and Stephen Schwartz, the publisher and executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about their opinion of the much debated Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. Jayantha Dhanapala believes the treaty’s success is greatly understated.
JAYANTHA DHANAPALA: Well, the crisis is certainly there, but we’ve had crises before. In the 1960s remember that John F. Kennedy had a nightmare vision of about 20 to 25 nuclear weapon states. And as a result of that we negotiated and got the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Today we have five acknowledged nuclear weapons states within the NPT and probably three outside it. There is, of course, suspicions about nuclear weapons development in a clandestine manner in several states. But it is certainly not as bad as we had feared, and the NPT has acted as a bulwark. But we must also remember that what triggers horizontal proliferation, as we call it, is the very existence of nuclear weapons on the part of certain states who have not disarmed to the extent that was promised under Article VI of the NPT.
MCHUGH: The states that you’re talking about that haven’t met their requirements under Article VI—the United States is included in that?
DHANAPALA: All five states who have nuclear weapons—that is the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the Russian Federation.
MCHUGH: Stephen Schwartz, what’s your outlook and view of the proliferation issue today?
STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: I think it’s unlikely that we’ll see arsenals in any time. I mean, the fact is, there’s around 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, about 20,000 of which are operational. I don’t think we’re going to see another arms race on the scale of what we had between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Not only because it’s so expensive that nobody, including us, can afford it. But I think you’re likely to see a significant slowing in the momentum toward reductions in nuclear weapons. Which could be quite significant over time. We have made some progress certainly since the NPT was signed. There is no longer a de facto arms race between the United States and Russia. And that’s certainly all to the well and good. But there are other commitments, as we just heard, under the NPT which are not being adhered to and which are causing the nonnuclear parties to the treaty to question just exactly how long they should remain party to this.
MCHUGH: Mr. Dhanapala, when you were on our show three years ago you said that the Treaty for Nuclear Non-Proliferation, the NPT, is the linchpin and that it’s vital to hold it and keep it intact. North Korea has withdrawn; Israel, Pakistan, and India, who we know have nuclear weapons programs, they never signed on. A number of people have suggested that the treaty really is ready to fail. But you’re more optimistic.
DHANAPALA: Well, I think it cannot fail. Because if it fails then we are having a breakdown of international law and order and this is a very important treaty which helps to shore up the international peace and stability that we have. The existence of three holdout states does not in any way disprove the norm. We have to continue through patient diplomacy and pressure perhaps, to try to persuade these three countries to join the NPT. And with regard to both the DPRK and Iraq, where there are proven cases of noncompliance, and in the case of DPRK, the withdrawal that they have announced, we have to work hard at it and find out new ways and means of ensuring that the treaty remains a powerful norm.
MCHUGH: Stephen Schwartz, is taking a regional approach potentially one of the solutions to addressing your concerns about the NPT?
SCHWARTZ: I think that may be one thing to look at. The potential for, for proliferation in the Middle East, the potential for proliferation in Northeast Asia, is very significant. And, particularly in Northeast Asia, could touch off a series of miniature arms races if you will, that could affect Taiwan, South Korea, China, Japan. And then, of course, once you get China involved then you’ve got India, then you’ve got Pakistan. That would be a really, really dangerous situation.
MCHUGH: Mr. Dhanapala, I saw you nodding your head in agreement.
DHANAPALA: Well, regional approaches are part of the answer. But in the case of India, India’s decision to go nuclear was more than just the rivalry between India and Pakistan. India regards itself as a global power. And unfortunately it has become today a attribute of great powers to have a nuclear weapon. I think this is a false value system that has unfortunately grown in the world, but as long as the great powers continue to have their nuclear arsenals it is seen as an important symbol of your power status to have nuclear weapons.
SCHWARTZ: We have to delegitimize nuclear weapons. We have to make them unacceptable as weapons. They are not, in fact, weapons. They are simply, they are effective perhaps as political instruments and as military deterrence, but they are not usable as weapons. We have the capability in this country—and other countries have their own capabilities—to do what they need to do militarily without resorting to nuclear weapons. So number one is we have to delegitimize them. And the United States has a very important role to play there. And unfortunately the Bush administration’s nuclear posture view, national security strategy, and particularly it’s national strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction are taking us very much in the wrong direction there.
MCHUGH: You mentioned the Bush administration policy and plan. How alarming is it when you see language that tactical nuclear weapons can and will be used, if for some reason we perceive a threat?
SCHWARTZ: The United States has always has had these policies in place. The difference is that we’re now talking about them in a very public way. And the problem is that that sends a message to the rest of the world that nuclear weapons are acceptable to use and to, and therefore, we will be propelling other people to acquire them, to potentially use against us or our allies.
MCHUGH: Mr. Dhanapala, it seems to me though that this is a step backwards in the goals of eliminating nuclear weapons.
DHANAPALA: Well, for over 50 years we have not had nuclear weapons used and what has evolved is a kind of taboo against the use of nuclear weapons, or indeed, any weapon of mass destruction. And when one talks about the preemptive use of nuclear weapons, when one talks about earth penetrators using nuclear weapons, I think it’s very dangerous. As a first step I would hope that we can agree on a no first use of nuclear weapons. Now, unfortunately, it is in the military doctrines of many countries to not rule out the first use of nuclear weapons. I think this is a very unfortunate situation because I think if we can lower the threshold for the actual use of nuclear weapons we are beginning to move in the direction of nuclear disarmament and I think this important step must be taken.
MCHUGH: Jayantha Dhanapala, is the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs for the United Nations. We also heard from Stephen Schwartz, the publisher and executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists may be best known as the keeper of the doomsday clock. The clock, which debuted in 1947, measures the world’s nuclear danger. The threat has fluctuated over the years and the clock currently stands at seven minutes to midnight. I asked Stephen Schwartz if the clock is inching closer to doomsday.
SCHWARTZ: Well, people have been asking that of us quite a lot in the last month or two. And it’s always an interesting gauge of where the public sentiment is, when we start getting calls and e-mails from people and letters to the editor wanting to know when the hands of the clock are going to move next. Of course, the last time we moved the hands was February 27th of last year and we did that in response to any number of factors. And people can go to our Web site at thebulletin.org and read the statement that we released that explains all that. But there were nuclear terrorism and a lack of progress in US-Russian disarmament and problems between India and Pakistan that were escalating toward conflict again and so forth.
We don’t have any plans at the moment to do anything but the clock is always ticking, of course. What people need to understand about the clock is that it reacts to things. It doesn’t anticipate them. And while there’s certainly a lot of heated rhetoric and concern right now and a lot of potential for things to happen, there’s also a lot of potential for things not to happen. So we don’t have any plans at the moment but of course that could change as world events develop.
PORTER: China’s control of the Internet, coming up next on Common Ground.
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PORTER: When the Internet first began to boom in the West, political analysts viewed the wealth of information available online as something that would become synonymous with free speech and increased political freedom around the world. But that’s not the case in China. China has the second largest number of Internet users in the world. But as Celia Hatton reports from Beijing, there is no apparent democracy movement in sight.
[The sound of a clacking computer keyboard.]
CELIA HATTON: President Bill Clinton once said that trying to crack down on the Internet in China would be like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Many agreed with him. The idea that increased Internet access would inevitably lead to a more open and accountable government seemed to be indisputable. That theory stayed alive until the Internet actually became a reality in China, a country that now has 59 million Internet users but only one political party that remains firmly in control without any formal political opposition.
[The sound of a modem logging onto the Internet.]
HATTON: This dichotomy lead many people to question: what happened to the prediction that it would be impossible for any government to control the political effects of the Internet? This is the question tackled in Open Networks, Closed Regimes, a new book co-authored by Shanthi Kalathil, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Kalathil explains how the Chinese government keeps a reign on Internet use in China.
SHANTHI KALATHIL: Well, China has essentially succeeded in creating an essentially safe Chinese Internet for people to play in. They can communicate, they can talk to each other, they can even debate a lot of subjects that may be politically significant, but the test comes when people stray towards the outer limits of what’s politically acceptable. And usually what will happen when people cross that line is Beijing will arrest them and make a case study out of them, essentially to show people “Look, you should keep track of what you say and as long as you’re relatively politically safe in what you say, it’s fine. But just make sure that you don’t cross that line.”
HATTON: In China, the government uses firewalls to block Web sites that are contrary to the official government line, ranging from sites that push for the independence of Tibet and Taiwan to Western media outlets such as CNN and the New York Times. Chinese officials have also arrested thousands of people for using the Internet to mount political opposition to the state. Online chat rooms and Internet cafes are constantly monitored by government officials. All Chinese-based Internet Web sites must be pre-approved. The list of rules goes on and on. One of the most striking cases of Internet control in China occurred last year when the Chinese government shut down the online search site Google until company executives agreed to limit politically sensitive search terms so that they would lead only to Chinese-government approved sites. Again, Shanthi Kalathil.
KALATHIL: The Google case is interesting because when Google came back online, you know, the Chinese government had instituted certain filters that really allowed people to search for most terms, but not all terms. And so, in a way, I think that this defines right now the Chinese approach to the Internet, which is to give people most of what they want. Maybe not all of what they want but enough so that they get a sense of the Internet without straying into politically sensitive territory.
HATTON: But despite these strict measures, the very nature of Internet technology means that it is extremely difficult to dominate. Beijing-based IT consultant Ted Dean argues that the Chinese government still lacks control over the Net.
TED DEAN: Of the media tools that are out there, it’s clearly the one they have the least control on. There is no independent voice on the evening news on TV, but there are clearly many, many independent voices on the Internet. It hasn’t had a revolutionary impact yet, but it’s also not simply become a tool of the state at the same time.
HATTON: As such, the government has learned to tolerate and even benefit from certain forms of political expression by Chinese Internet users. Shanthi Kalathil points to the popularity of Internet chat rooms in China as a sort of safety valve that allows Chinese citizens to relieve political frustration in a semiprivate location. Ted Dean says such chat rooms also present an opportunity for the government to gauge public opinion.
DEAN: On political issues, there is no opinion polling in this country. It’s a little bit of a way for some people in the government to actually see what people are saying, to see what the issues of the day in the eyes of Internet users are.
HATTON: Dean says that the threat of the deadly SARS epidemic in China is a good example to illustrate how the Internet was used by the Chinese public to share information behind the government’s back.
DEAN: One of the best examples of that is the extent to which information about the current SARS outbreak has been communicated through chat rooms. So that any doctor can go log on to the Internet and say “We actually have 100 cases in this hospital while the government is saying there are two.” Some of the pressure that built up for the government to finally change its policy and at least begin to come clean about the extent of the problem here, I think, was the pressure was made possible by the fact that that information could be distributed through the Internet.
HATTON: Chinese Internet Entrepreneur Hong Li has a positive view of the power of the Net to act as a deterrent for government corruption. He says that as more people in China learn to trade information online, government officials will be unable to cover up issues like the SARS epidemic.
HONG LI: Less and less examples where the government will try to hide something. Instead, they will find out that it’s useless to hide something. No matter what, the people are going to know it sooner or later.
HATTON: However, Hong Li also criticizes the Western view that Chinese Internet users are somehow deprived because they cannot access a handful of politically sensitive Web sites. He says that Chinese Internet users are just like everyone else around the world—they use the Web to check e-mail, read local Chinese news, and to find out the latest sports scores—not to find ways to gain access to American news sites like CNN.
HONG LI:: Almost all the persons that I know, none of them complains, “Oh, I cannot access CNN.” Why? Because what is CNN? That’s just a news Web site. Life will go on without CNN or not.
HATTON: Ted Dean agrees—the sheer increase of information available on the Internet is a dramatic change from Communist China’s propaganda-filled past.
DEAN: For the people who, you know, grew up in the Cultural Revolution or grew up in previous decades in China, they’ve already seen such a dramatic increase that whether the CNN Web site is blocked is a very, very minor point.
HATTON: Despite the general level of satisfaction that many Chinese citizens exhibit towards the Internet, the central government in China does not seem to be able to drop its defenses to allow users to freely exchange information on the Web. Shanthi Kalathil points to an incident in 1998 when Chinese citizens used Internet chat rooms to express their rage over racist riots against ethnic Chinese citizens in Indonesia. Mass anger over this incident eventually lead to protest on the streets of Beijing. Kalathil says that the government worries that this type of Internet use might eventually turn against the Chinese government itself.
KALATHIL: I think that’s the sort of thing that scares the Chinese government. The sense that people might get really up in arms about a certain issue and quickly translate that from simply talking about it to actual action, protesting in the streets. And that’s something I think the government is very sensitive to and I think that’s a real possibility.
HATTON: For Common Ground, I’m Celia Hatton in Beijing.
MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, competition takes shapes in the world’s newest free media market.
EDMUND GHAREEB: This effort is a recognition that there is a need to do something. That there is a need to try to communicate and reach out to the people of the region, and in this case specifically to the people of Iraq.
MCHUGH: Plus, Iraq’s huge debt. And Russia’s booming economy.
JAMES FENKNER: Normal consumption patterns are coming to Russia. You can get what you need. The choices are increasing. And I think it’s really a function of the wealth that has come back into the country.
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PORTER: With the military conflict in Iraq over, the United States is grappling with the massive task of rebuilding the country. But despite the physical end of the war, the media battle in Iraq is only just beginning. As Iraqis use their new found freedom to express their views, foreign governments and broadcasting organizations see the changed circumstances in Iraq as a major opportunity. Before the war, official television and radio stations loyal to Saddam Hussein were the only legal broadcasts heard in the country. But as Steve Mort reports, the fall of the Ba’ath Party regime has left Iraq as one of the most competitive media markets in the world.
STEVE MORT: Iraq, the United States hopes, will be a blueprint for democracy in the Middle East. And with democracy comes a free media.
[The sound of Radio Sawa broadcasting in Iraq.]
STEVE MORT: Radio Sawa, which replaced the Arabic Service of the Voice of America in 2002, is now in Iraq broadcasting pop music on FM. Its studios are in Washington, DC, and it’s just one of dozens of radio and television stations jockeying for position in the new and highly competitive Iraqi media market.
[The sound of Radio Sawa broadcasting in Iraq.]
JOAN MOWER: We reached Iraqis via large AM transmitters in Kuwait which reached all the way to Baghdad and we had short wave, Internet, digital audio satellite. And we believe, that prior to the war, we were the number one station in Baghdad.
MORT: Joan Mower is from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the US agency responsible for American government broadcasts overseas, including Iraq. She sees it as vital for the US to get a slice of the action on Iraq’s airwaves.
MOWER: As an American, as an American citizen, I know people I work with are for free information, a free press. We like to see a multiplicity of voices. The problem has been that it’s been very difficult to get anything but an anti-American view point in the Arab owned and Arab controlled media in the Middle East.
MORT: Radio Sawa is just one American radio service available in Iraq. Radio Free Iraq, with studios in Prague, has been reaching the country for years.
[The sound of Radio Free Iraq broadcasting.]
MORT: But the difficulty for the United States is that it’s not the only country trying to reach the Iraqi audience. Radio stations from Britain, Turkey, Israel, and elsewhere can also be heard on the dial. In fact, one of the most popular stations in Iraq comes from Radio France International’s service, Radio Monte Carlo.
[The sound of Radio Monte Carlo.]
MORT: Facing this level of radio competition, the US is developing plans for a full-time Arabic television channel. Edmund Ghareeb is a Middle East media expert at Georgetown University, He says the introduction of American TV broadcasts to Iraq is significant.
EDMUND GHAREEB: This effort is a recognition that there is a need to do something. There is a need to try to communicate and reach out to the people of the region, and in this case specifically to the people of Iraq. And the significance of this, in my opinion, is that perhaps the most important one is that they are aware that there is a need and that they’re trying to address that need.
MORT: Indeed the importance of reaching Iraqis through broadcasts is recognized at the highest levels of the American government. President Bush used US television transmissions to directly address the Iraqi people during the war.
US PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over. You are a good and gifted people. The heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity. You deserve better than tyranny and corruption and torture chambers. You deserve to live as free people. And I assure every citizen of Iraq; your nation will soon be free.
MORT: The US is currently broadcasting six hours of television programs a night to Iraq, providing a mix of US government generated shows, and American network television news.
[The introductions to ABC World News Tonight.]
MORT: Congress is considering President Bush’s budget which demands a big boost in funds for US media in Iraq, some $60 million in total, with the aim of creating a 24-hour-a-day presence on Iraqi TV screens. Joan Mower says the channel will take on existing Arabic networks like al-Jazeera, which the US considers biased against America.
MOWER: This will be a direct to home, satellite television operation that will be a competitor to al-Jazeera. And it will be 24/7 and it will be full service, meaning, we’ll have most likely, a morning show, we’ll have talk shows, we’ll have public affairs shows, we’ll have women’s shows, children’s shows, Sesame Street, family entertainment, an evening newscast. It will be very much like an American network, only it will be in Arabic.
MORT: But Edmund Ghareeb from Georgetown University says the US will face similar competition in the TV market as it does in radio. He says competition, which includes a TV station from America’s longtime foe Iran, combined with a US credibility problem in the Middle East, creates a fundamental problem for American broadcasters attempting to reach Iraq.
GAREEB: There are serious challenges. There are real difficulties. There’s a great deal of competition from channels like al-Jazeera, like al-Arabiya, like Abu Dhabi Television. From the beginning it will operate at a disadvantage. People are going to think—or many people, maybe not everybody—but many people are going to think that this is American propaganda.
MORT: But Joan Mower from the Broadcasting Board of Governors says the way to overcome the credibility problem is not to appear to be a US government mouthpiece.
MOWER: We’re not an organization that seeks to win heart and minds or to get America’s message out to people. That’s traditional public diplomacy. That’s not what we do. We believe that the best way to maintain our integrity is to reach people with accurate news and information and to be a reflection of American journalism traditions.
MORT: Until 24-hour-a-day television from the US begins in Iraq, it’ll be difficult to judge whether the $60 million earmarked for the project is money well spent. However, given the importance of public opinion on the Arab street, the success of the broadcasts could very well be crucial in determining America’s long-term overall policy in the Middle East. For Common Ground, I’m Steve Mort in Washington.
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MCHUGH: Iraq faces a crushing national debt as it attempts to rebuild the country following the war. Two advisors with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington estimate the oil rich country’s debt at $383 billion. That’s about $16,000 for each person in Iraq. Rick Barton tells Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman a series of bad choices by Saddam Hussein pushed the debt to its astronomical level.
FREDERICK BARTON: Initially the war with Iran; secondly the war with the United States and a variety of other parties, but the attack on Kuwait, basically—the Gulf War; and then the sanctions that were imposed as a result of that war, which there were opportunities for the Hussein regime to minimize but they didn’t really take that path. So, it’s mostly debt from the first war and then reparations from the second war.
CLIFF BROCKMAN: Bathsheba Crocker is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She says there a couple of ways Iraq might overcome its massive debt.
BATHSHEBA CROCKER: One that we’ve recommended is that the international community needs to think in terms of a moratorium at least for some period of time in paying back any of the debt. But then we’re also gonna have to think in terms of a major restructuring of the debt. So we have to come up first of all with some sort of a reasonable number of what Iraq can sustain in terms of a debt burden, given the size of its economy. And then take that number and do a restructuring so that we come to some more rational payback terms, rates, etc. But even given a restructuring, I think we’ll probably need to think of some period of time where we just give the Iraqi people a break from this debt burden overall, so that there is some time for the economy to get back up on its feet.
BROCKMAN: But what do you think are the possibilities that some of this debt might be forgiven or restructured as you proposed?
CROCKER: Well, I think there’s a good possibility for restructuring because I just think there’s no other option. I don’t think anyone really expects that the debt will be paid back entirely. The question of forgiveness is a little bit different. The US is pushing forgiveness for now but we already have some indication from some of the major debt holders, the creditors, that they will not want to forgive this debt. I think an important thing also to remember is that the debt has a lot of different pieces, as Rick was mentioning earlier. So that you have to talk about the sovereign debt, the sovereign creditors, but there aren’t—that’s not actually the major portion of the debt. And then you have the claims burden, which is handled under the UN system. And then you have what is the private commercial debt.
And that’s sort of the most difficult piece of it perhaps. So these are very complex questions. And again, it gets to the point that this is all a sort of a reason and argument for keeping this within the UN system. Because as long as you do you may have some ability to control every different player coming at this from different angles and making demands on the same pot of money. Which, although is large—I mean, we will see a lot of oil revenue—it’s never going to be enough to pay back everything that’s owed.
BROCKMAN: Besides the debt, what are a couple of other major challenges in rebuilding Iraq?
BARTON: The number one challenge is public safety. Because you can’t really move on rebuilding the country unless people feel safe. Investors won’t come in, Iraqis won’t start to reconstruct their own homes and their businesses if they think this is, that there’s an insecure environment. And the number two challenge is really to capture the imagination of the Iraqi people so that they feel that this is heading in the right direction and it’s an enterprise worth being part of.
BROCKMAN: The United States’ track record isn’t very good in nation-building. The Carnegie Endowment reports that of the 16 attempts in the past century democracy lasted for 10 years or longer in only four of those countries. Rick, let’s start with you. What do you predict for Iraq?
BARTON: We haven’t really made a whole-hearted commitment to this rather challenging task. We believe that there has been 100 times as much planning and resource allocation to the fighting of the war as there has been to the planning for the peace. By virtually every measure the delivery of the peace looks to be as big a job. Some of us who work in the field would say it’s an even bigger job.
CROCKER: I would just second everything that Rick said and also just follow it with saying, you don’t only need to see the sincerity at the opening in terms of the efforts and planning and initial preparation and the initial efforts, but also we need to be very sure that we’re going to see the longer term commitment. The international community, the US and the rest of the world, has a very short attention span when it comes to these things. And whatever the next crisis is sort of tends to take our attention away from this one, on the next one. It’s understandable—resources are limited and all the rest of it. But we’ve made a lot of promises here and it will be very important, particularly given the stakes in this region, that we actually have the wherewithal to follow through with our commitment.
BROCKMAN: Bathsheba Crocker and Frederick Barton are with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They are the project directors for a report entitled A Wiser Peace: An Action Strategy for a Post-Conflict Iraq. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.
MCHUGH: Coming up next, Russia’s rebounding economy.
PORTER: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.
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PORTER: The Russian economy is experiencing an unprecedented boom, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Last year alone, Russia’s GDP growth was estimated at 4.3 percent—a remarkable achievement for a country that suffered a major financial crisis only five years ago. A large part of Russia’s revenues come from its oil exports. And with oil prices sky high the country finds itself awash in cash. Financial well-being is one of the reasons why Russia could afford to take such a critical stance towards the US-led war with Iraq. As Anya Ardayeva reports from the Russian capital, for the moment Moscow can afford to confront Washington.
[The sounds from a large shopping mall.]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: Moscow’s new Mega Mall is reported to be the largest shopping center in Russia. Opened in December, the mall has never been empty since. The so-called hypermarket has 250 shops, two kilometers of shop fronts, a skating rink, and Russia’s biggest cinema complex with 11 movie screens—just about everything necessary to attract crowds of visitors every day. Mega’s shopping area consists of a whole variety of shops—among them is IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant. IKEA opened its first store in Moscow only two years ago and has seen outstanding profits since then. During its first year in Russia alone, the turnover was three times higher than expected and reached $100 million. IKEA’s General Director in Russia, Lenhard Dahlgren, says doing business in Russia these days is just like doing it anywhere else in the world.
LENHARD DAHLGREN: If you compare IKEA statistics with statistics in UK, in Sweden, everywhere, Russians are absolutely the same. They are buying for the same amount, and they are visiting the restaurant and buying in the restaurant for the same amount.
ARDAYEVA: When the first McDonald’s opened in Moscow more than 10 years ago, it was considered an enormous breakthrough. People waited in lines for hours to get inside, even though Big Macs were unaffordable to most people back then. Today, one can find pretty much everything in Moscow—from Hard Rock Café and Domino’s Pizza to Tiffany’s and Ferrari.
JAMES FENKNER: As someone who’s schlepped back a number of things from Europe and the States that I couldn’t get here over the last, you know, 8 to 10 years I’m pretty happy to find these shops.
ARDAYEVA: James Fenkner is the head of research at Troika Dialogue Investment Company. He says Russia’s consumer spending has increased dramatically over the past few years.
FENKNER: Basically, some kind of normal consumption patterns are coming to Russia. You can get what you need. The choices are increasing. And I think it’s really a function of the wealth that has come back into the country and also just normal consumption, that people want to have mobile phones, they want to have cars, they want to have, to go to nice restaurants. And now within most parts of Russia, at least in the large cities, you can do that.
ARDAYEVA: The retail industry boom is only a part of the overall economic growth Russia is currently experiencing. A large part of it comes from massive oil revenues the country has been receiving in recent years. As oil prices are staying high, Russia is receiving billions of additional dollars and no longer needs financial support from the West. Instead, it uses the extra funds to pay back its massive debt to Western countries. Again, James Fenkner of Troika Dialogue Investment.
FENKNER: Russia doesn’t depend on foreign aid as much as it had in the Yeltsin administration. In fact this is a hallmark of what I call the Putin administration’s move towards independence. What’s happened is, the Russian government has used the windfall oil revenues to pay down not only their sovereign debts and not to take out additional debt, but they’ve paid back the IMF and the World Bank years early. So in order to kind of, if you will, take these monkeys off their back, if you quote a Russian economist. The kind of move therefore is for more independence, not to have to wait on and get policies approved in Washington, DC.
ARDAYEVA: Russia’s financial independence was part of the reason why Moscow was able to join France and Germany in opposing the US-led war against Iraq. Iraq is a long-time Russian ally, and Moscow has developed important economic ties with Baghdad in recent years. However, while it seems that Moscow is leaning towards developing closer ties with Europe by supporting France and Germany in opposing the US-led war, it did not want to completely spoil its relations with Washington. Germany is Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe at the moment, but James Fenkner with Troika Dialogue Investment says many Russian companies want to remain friendly with the US.
FENKNER: It’s true, Russia is more economically dependent on the government level. At the corporate level, no. The corporations are going to the West in terms of financing; they are going into the West in terms of placing shares. So there’s an interesting dynamic that you kind of see on a political arena where a lot of the government officials are hesitant to move closer to the US in particular, where the business leaders are much more actively perusing that route. The view has been that Russia has been moving closer to Germany and France and this kind of anti-American platform. It seems to be very thin. The French are, of course, already reversing their positions. And on an economic basis, the Europeans haven’t done too many favors for Russia in return. For example, WTO membership for Russia is largely being helped up by the Europeans who are fearful of Russian competitiveness on natural resources.
[Sounds from the Mega Mall.]
ARDAYEVA: And the Russians shopping at the Mega say they are simply enjoying the pleasures of spending, just like Europeans or Americans.
RUSSIAN SHOPPER LARISA SPITSYNA: [via a translator] We can afford pretty much everything we need. Before, we lacked goods. Now, we lack money.
ARDAYEVA: Still, although the Russian economy is blossoming, some analysts here warn that this prosperity might not last. Oil prices won’t stay high forever, and in order to maintain the current level of stability, Russia needs to implement deeper economic reforms. Shopping malls and expensive restaurants might be multiplying in Moscow, but many hospitals and schools are in the same disastrous condition they were in five years ago. Corruption and bureaucracy too, are still hampering many business activities. And since the West no longer pays Russia to reform its economy, there is no one to make sure these reforms are carried out. For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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