Back to Common Ground Archive

Week of September 9, 2003

Program 0336


America’s Foreign Army | Transcript | MP3

Water Wars | Transcript | MP3

Iraqi Marshes | Transcript | MP3

Destination: Iran Horse Track | Transcript | MP3

Russian Car Insurance | Transcript | MP3

Border Space | Transcript | MP3

Global Citizen Lord Johnston | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

CADET CAPTAIN TROY VAUGHN: The language barrier is a little bit difficult sometimes, but I think it offers a lot to the academy as far as bringing diversity to the personnel and it allows everyone to mix and to see opposite sides of the world and different mentalities and it really brings a lot to the individual.

MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, America’s foreign army.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, the politics of water.

DIANE RAINES WARD: Water problems are certainly in our future. While the population doubled after the middle of the last century, water withdrawals tripled.

PORTER: And a visit to an Iranian horse track.

SHIRIN ASEFI: [via a translator] In my opinion, horse riding is the only sport that lets you exercise with an animal, and there is mutual cooperation between the horse and the person. It gives a sense of pleasure, power, and calmness.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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America’s Foreign Army

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MCHUGH : Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Amidst the ongoing debate about whether the military is spread too thin to meet commitments around the globe, America’s armed forces continue the drive to transform themselves, to counter the perceived threats of the future. In a post-9/11 world, it’s not just a question of purchasing new, high-tech weapons systems. There’s also an effort to produce young leaders who can operate in far-flung conflict zones. Malcolm Brown visited the storied US Military Academy at West Point, to see how it’s adapting.

[The sound of marching cadets.]

MALCOLM BROWN: These cadets, members of the newest class at West Point, are part of the largest intake at the academy in more than a decade. It’s a fact which officials here attribute to the publicity surrounding the institution’s 2002 bicentennial and a continued patriotic surge, inspired by the 9/11 attacks.

CADET SERGEANT JOHN HITCHINGS: I was there for a year prior and then afterward. I’ve seen a great increase in the motivation and dedication of the army.

BROWN: Cadet Sergeant John Hitchings, who’s in his third year at West Point, witnessed first hand the effect of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the sense of purpose at the academy. Since then, the US military has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The academy’s superintendent, Lieutenant General William Lennox says the lessons of September 11th and the subsequent conflicts are already reflected in the West Point syllabus.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM LENNOX: We now have a counter-terrorism center. We’ve invited in instructors that are knowledgeable in certain areas of the world. I think the whole attitude has changed. The cadets now are very focused. They know that when they come in, just a short time after they graduate, four years later, they could be on the ground anywhere in the world.

[The sound of cadets rappelling down a cliff.]

BROWN: That knowledge adds an edge to the training which takes place on the academy’s 16,000 acres. Here, first year cadets watch instructors rappel down a rock face, knowing that these are skills that could one day be tested in somewhere like mountainous Afghanistan.

[The sound of applause.]

BROWN: Instructor Lieutenant Ian Grimstad says the prospect makes the training more realistic.

LIEUTENANT IAN GRIMSTAD: We really feel we need to train now. We would have trained on it anyways, but now it’s more purposeful.

[The sound of chanting cadets undergoing military training.]

BROWN: Basic training provides six weeks of military instruction to newly arrived cadets. And it’s not just Americans being put through their paces.

LEE MOO HYEONG: My name is Lee Moo Hyeong. I am from South Korea, in Seoul.

BROWN: Cadet Lee was one of 11 foreigners to join the class that is due to graduate in 2007.

LEE MOO HYEONG: So fun. So fun. Yes, so exciting.

BROWN: The enthusiastic Lee is not the first South Korean to attend West Point—a reflection of his country’s long alliance with the US. But there’s also evidence of the recent shake-up in international relations. Afghanistan and Pakistan—neither of which have ever produced a West Point graduate but both of which are now on the frontlines of the war on terrorism—were among those given priority in the admissions process for the class of 2007. Despite that, there are no Afghanis or Pakistanis at the academy at the moment. Instead, the latest international intake of nearly a dozen included cadets from countries as far afield as the West African state of Benin and the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, in Central Asia. Troy Vaughn, a cadet captain, says that after a period of adjustment the whole class benefits from the international presence.

CADET CAPTAIN TROY VAUGHN: The language barrier is a little bit difficult sometimes, but I think it offers a lot to the academy as far as bringing diversity to the personnel and it allows everyone to mix and to see opposite sides of the world and different mentalities and it really brings a lot to the individual.

BROWN: Cadet Sergeant Ryan Chlebek says he’s certainly learned from his overseas counterparts.

CADET SERGEANT RYAN CHLEBEK: Talking with them, you know, gives us a broader aspect of what their army is like, how it maybe differs from us and they have a lot of good input that they give to us.

[The sound of chanting cadets on parade.]

BROWN: At West Point, getting used to foreign military cultures and planning for the wars of the future, all takes place against the backdrop of two centuries of tradition. Dr Stephen Grove is the academy’s historian.

DR. STEPHEN GROVE: The heavy hand of tradition is very powerful at the military academy. When the military academy had success on many occasions, those people who tried to bring about reforms were talked down by the academy leadership, saying, “We are the institution that brought you Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant and Phil Sherman and Stonewall Jackson. Why do we need to change anything?”

[The sound of chanting cadets on parade.]

BROWN: Dr. Grove says that West Point overcame the resistance to change and now actively seeks out feedback on the recent graduates it sends to the army.

DR. GROVE: We get responses back from the commanders in the field. Do these new second lieutenants have the skills and training that they are looking for from an academy graduate?

BROWN: The task that West Point sets itself is to innovate continually and plan for the future, while retaining the sense of history which permeates every aspect of life at the academy. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown at West Point.

[The sound of chanting cadets on parade.]

[Musical interlude]

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Water Wars

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PORTER: In the United States access to clean water for most people is as close as the kitchen tap. But globally nearly 40 percent of the population hand carries their water from rivers, streams, and other small sources. And more than a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water at all.

MCHUGH: Journalist and author Diane Raines Ward believes the global thirst for water could fuel conflicts even greater than today’s battles for oil and other natural resources. Diane Raines Ward visited five continents and spent more than a decade researching her latest book: Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst.

DIANE RAINES WARD: It depends a lot on where you live. I live in the eastern United States, so I’d grown up in a green landscape. People who live in the American West have a different story to tell. And it’s much more serious an issue there already. But I suspect many people are going to be facing water shortages now, water crises of one sort or another. Even Christine Todd Whitman, who was George Bush’s head of the EPA, said that she thought that water was going to be the big problem of this century. And she had no idea what we were going to do about it. Water problems are certainly in our future. While the population doubled after the middle of the last century, water withdrawals tripled. At the same time we’re just pulling more and more things into our water. Whether directly or indirectly we’re polluting more and more water. Half the world’s rivers are now either very polluted or running dry.

MCHUGH: In the book you use the term “water stress.” How do you define water stress? Because you say that a third of all countries already suffer from water stress?

RAINES WARD: 1.5 billion people don’t have enough water to meet their daily needs. I tend to think of it in a simple way these days because when I wash my dishes at night I have water to wash my dishes. I can take a shower, I can water my plants. But I’ve seen women around the world washing their dishes with a dirty rag. Or sometimes with dirt. It’s very hard for us, when we get our water from a tap, to envision what real water shortage is in the lives of people who don’t have enough. Two million people die every year—that’s, I think, the rough figure—I’ve heard it be higher, I’ve heard it be lower, I think two million is safe to say, really—a lot of those people are children and they’re dying of water-related diseases. That’s water stress.

MCHUGH: What’s the number one reason for all of that stress.

RAINES WARD: Well, nothing about water is simple. So there’s never one answer to anything nor is there one statistic. There are many reasons. Just adequate treatment of sewage, adequate water supply systems in developing countries are a major, major problem. But really, enough water is also getting to be more and more of a problem as our population grows. It took all of our history until 1830 A.D. to put a billion people on the planet. But the next billion were added in only a hundred years and the last billion we’ll put on the planet in 12. So we’ve got to face now what it means to keep this population alive, because agriculture takes about 70 percent of our water use around the world, at the same time we’re fouling more and more of it with the stresses of industry, the things that industry adds to water. There’s agricultural pollution—fertilizers, pesticides. Those things don’t necessarily get dumped directly into a river but they go into aquifers that go into the ground and what happens on the ground happens to our water.

MCHUGH: I wonder, when does the population top out? Ten billion? Twenty billion? Then the Earth can no longer handle all of that in terms of water supply.

RAINES WARD: That’s a very interesting question. And I think we don’t have the answers to that. Scientists use the term “carrying capacity.” A lot of people use the term “carrying capacity.” And you have to think about land which can carry enough agriculture to feed six billion people for awhile, may be so damaged by that process that it cannot feed even a quarter of that number indefinitely. It takes a thousand tons of water to produce a ton of grain. Two thousand tons of water for a ton of rice. And 20 tons for a pound of hamburger. A hundred tons of water for a one kilo steak. And your automobile, by the time it hits the road has sucked up 50 times it’s own weight in water. So the amounts of water we use in agriculture and industry are staggering. And, in fact, our consumption is enormous compared to people in developing countries.

MCHUGH: It was interesting in reading your book, it struck me that it’s human intervention—whether it’s building a dam or redirecting water—that seems to cause a number of the major crises around the world in terms of water. And yet, you argue that human intervention is necessary to save water. It seems a bit ironic in some ways.

RAINES WARD: [laughing] Well, it’s not simple. And human intervention has done a great deal of harm and it can do a lot more harm. There are 261 rivers that flow from one country into another. An example that I like to use of the damage that can be done is, of course, a country like Turkey, which can deprive Syria and Iraq of water. But also China, in a wetter place, China is building a series of large dams in the upper Mekong delta which endanger all of the nations that depend on that river for life. So when you have this kind of intervention you have politically difficult situations.

MCHUGH: There seems to be a number of conflicts that are always fought over natural resources. Do you think that conflicts in the future will be fought over water?

RAINES WARD: This is a big question. And obviously the title of my book, which my publisher encouraged, by the way—that actually wasn’t my title, I have to admit that—my title was Praying for Rain because the book is more about people than water. But the subject of water wars is an interesting one. I think water has been a factor in many wars that have been fought. It certainly was a major factor in the Six Days War in, with Israel and her neighbors. In Iraq, if you are a Marsh Arab and your, you had been deprived of all the water in which you lived by Saddam Hussein, who built a canal to send that water away, essentially cutting off the life flow of your home, you’d think you were the victim of water war. So, although it has been part of wars it hasn’t really been a single major cause of wars.

MCHUGH: So whose responsibility is it to help the world’s water system stay intact and provide enough benefits to everyone all around the world.

RAINES WARD: All decisions about water are made by governments. Every dam that’s built, there’s government approval. In a study that recently looked at water shortages and how many people have water than in a country like Haiti, where the government is less responsible and there’s less care many more people are without water than next door on the same island in the Dominican Republic, which has a more responsible government and its people really have more water. Governments make all the difference in the world. And a wonderful thing to me has been to see an explosion in the United States of coalitions and groups of people, all kinds of people—from environmentalists to government organizations to Kiwanis Clubs—working together to save their rivers, save their urban water supply. I just spoke to a group in New Paltz, New York, the Mohonk Conservancy; they asked me to come and speak and they’re getting interested in water issues. They formed a group to deal with pollution in their watershed. Things like this are enormously encouraging. It used to be somebody else’s issue but now I think certainly it’s our issue for our own, our own water. And if we get involved on that level then I think that word spreads.

MCHUGH: One final question. It might seem a little strange. But you’ve traveled all over the world. You’ve been to, I don’t know, a countless number of countries. What is the one spot that has the best tasting tap water?

RAINES WARD: [laughing] The best tasting tap water? The best tasting tap water… It might be here. Because in many of the places I’ve traveled I don’t drink the tap water. I have no idea what the tap water tastes like. You know, it comes out of a bottle for me. And I know if I don’t drink that water I’m gonna be very unhappy. Because I’ve drank the tap water in some places where I really shouldn’t have. So I, I tend to be very careful. New York City tap water has long been famous as supposedly the best tap water in the country. That’s unfortunate as there are more and more ‘burbs, and more population, and this beautiful old system of reservoirs that delivers our water to us is quite creaky. So the water isn’t as good as it used to be. And I now boil my water, filter my water, even here in New York City.

MCHUGH: Diane Raines Ward is the author of Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst. I spoke with her in New York.

PORTER: Restoring Iraq’s marshlands, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Iraqi Marshes

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PORTER: In southern Iraq, along the border with Iran, there’s a large swath of land that just three decades ago was covered by the largest wetland in the Middle East. But between the often brutal policies of Saddam Hussein and the natural forces of human development, much of this marshland has been drained and many of its inhabitants forced to leave. As Judith Smelser first reported this summer, the new Iraqi leadership faces the enormous task of reviving the marsh ecosystem and repatriating the refugees and displaced persons.

[Sounds of water and wildlife from the marshes of southern Iraq.]

SMELSER: Some believe these marshlands inspired the Biblical Garden of Eden. Created from the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, at the very heart of human civilization, this legendary paradise has provided shelter for scores of animal species and for a human civilization that’s been around for 5,000 years.

[Sounds of water and wildlife from the marshes of southern Iraq.]

SMELSER: But in just a few decades, the marshlands have been all but destroyed and thousands of the so-called marsh Arabs have been killed or displaced.

[The sounds of combat.]

SMELSER: The Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s took a terrible toll on the marsh dwellers. Since the marshlands straddle the border between the two countries, the idyllic setting was transformed into a battlefield. But things deteriorated even further after the first Gulf War in 1991. Shi’ites in the area staged an uprising, which was quickly suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Iraqi leader then engaged in what is widely understood to have been a deliberate program of punishing the Marsh Arabs.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Soldiers reportedly killed tens of thousands and some estimates are as high as between 50 and 100 thousand; burned their communities to the ground; poisoned the water; destroyed the livestock; and planted unmarked land and water mines throughout the region.

SMELSER: Andrew Natsios, the head of the US Agency for International Development, spoke at a Washington seminar that looked specifically at the state of the marshes and their people.

NATSIOS: The population numbered more than a quarter of a million in 1990, according to some estimates, and may have been reduced to 20 to 40 thousand.

SMELSER: Tens of thousands fled into neighboring Iran; others were internally displaced within the marshlands. Some Westerners who have visited the area since the end of the most recent Iraq war have discovered that there may actually be more Marsh Arabs left than most estimates suggest. But whatever the number, those who do remain are struggling. Among the punitive actions the Iraqi government took in the early ’90s was a program to drain the marshes, magnifying the effect of dams built upstream on the Tigris and Euphrates as early as the 1950s. As a result, two of the area’s main marshes have shrunk to less than 10% of their original size, according to USAID’s figures. Not only did the drainage program severely damage the area’s delicate ecosystem, but it also decimated the farming and fishing lifestyle of the Marsh Arab culture. Now that Saddam Hussein’s government is out of power, some in the international community see an opportunity to reverse some of that damage. After the first Gulf War, Emma Nicholson, who’s now a member of the European Parliament, founded a charity devoted exclusively to helping the Marsh Arabs. She hopes the region’s fortunes will soon begin to change.

EMMA NICHOLSON: This is rural regeneration and fishing regeneration of a wide variety of products that were produced and marketed over 5,000 years in a self-sustaining, mixed farming economy of the type and style that we all wish still survived. It did and it does, but it had been reduced to a very low level.

SMELSER: Nicholson now has the attention of the US government. USAID chief Andrew Natsios suggests his agency could give Iraqi scientists and environmentalists tips on wetland management.

NATSIOS: They certainly have skills, but we have learned, for example, in AID a lot about river basin management across national boundaries. AID has extensive experience in this in Latin America, in North Africa, and now in the Lumpopo and the Zambazi river systems in Southern Africa.

SMELSER: He also mentioned the importance of funding for marsh preservation and regeneration, without specifying who would provide that funding.

[Sounds of water and wildlife from the marshes of southern Iraq.]

SMELSER: Along with the immense technical challenge of reflooding the marshlands and trying to return them to their former pristine state, there’s also the complex question of refugee resettlement. Victor Tanner of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says that will be no easy task.

VICTOR TANNER: Not everyone may want to return to where they came from, but everyone has a right. If justice is to be done, everyone has a right to either return or to some form of compensation. This will be extremely hard on the Marsh Arabs because there’s very little documentation on to what land belonged to whom, and indeed much of the land was communally owned.

SMELSER: Emma Nicholson says that information does exist—but only in the minds of the Marsh Arabs themselves.

NICHOLSON: Already we’ve found a quarter of a million of those people, all of them in one way or another off the land in which they were born, their grandfathers were born, and as one of them said to me, “We go back to Sumerian days. We’ve always been here.” So they’re the only people who know where those various different families have the right to go back and live.

SMELSER: In Nicholson’s view, it’s time for the world to undo what it failed to prevent in the first place. And it’s her hope that someday the Iraqi marshlands can once again be a place of paradise, instead of a place of pain.

[Sounds of water and wildlife from the marshes of southern Iraq.]

SMELSER: For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser.

[Musical interlude]

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Destination: Iran Horse Track

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PORTER: This week, we are debuting a new feature to our line-up: The Destination Spotlight. In the weeks and months ahead, Common Ground correspondents will take you on a personally guided tour of interesting global destinations. This spot could be a coffee bar in Moscow, a public square in Beijing, or a subway stop in London. Today, we kick off our destination spotlight series in a place well-known for great kicks.

MCHUGH: Horse riding is a source of pride for many Iranians. The first record of riding comes from the region more than 4,000 years ago. After Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, women found fewer opportunities to continue the sport. But now women are making a comeback. Roxanna Saberi visited one of the oldest horse riding clubs of Iran and brings us our first Destination Spotlight.

[The sound of trotting horses.]

ROXANA SABERI: In the southeast corner of Iran’s capital city, you can find a bit of nature, culture, and competition.

[The sound of applause at a horse show.]

SABERI: Every other week at the Shoha-da’ Riding Club, women take turns guiding their horses into a tidy simple stadium. Today, 19 women—teenagers and adults—skillfully ride their horses over high hurdles scattered across the dusty round arena.

[The sound of an announcer at a horse show.]

SABERI: Judges and nearly 200 spectators watch the competition from the bleachers above. Thirty-year-old Shirin Asefi is one of the riders aiming for trophies.

SHIRIN ASEFI: [via a translator] In my opinion, horse riding is the only sport that lets you exercise with an animal, and there is mutual cooperation between the horse and the person. It gives a sense of pleasure, power, and calmness.

SABERI: This club, owned by the government, has attracted both women and men riders for years. Managers say it was built around 40 years ago as a private hunting ground for Iran’s leader at the time, Mohammed Reza Shah. A revolution in 1979 put the grounds in the hands of the new Islamic government. But manager Soraya Bahrami says until six years ago, women could not ride here, mostly because they did not have the proper Islamic clothing.

SORAYA BAHRAMI: [via a translator] Considering the situation and rules of the country and system, we designed a kind of riding outfit for women. It’s beautiful, and women are very comfortable wearing it while riding. Women stopped riding until we prepared these clothes.

SABERI: Women riders here substitute the required long coat or chador for long-sleeve shirts under vests and black, tight trousers. Like elsewhere in public, they must cover their hair—here, they wear small black caps.

[Sounds from the crowd at the horse show.]

SABERI: Today women and men riders and spectators are separated. Many of the participants here say there are still fewer women than men in this sport, though the number of women is rising. Riders here estimate 10,000 women across the country are taking riding lessons at the nation’s 80 or so clubs. Shirin says the women who come here are mostly upper-class, highly educated, and have open minds.

SHIRIN: [via a translator] There is no prohibition against women riding horses, but altogether the number of ladies is very low. Maybe families do not agree with women’s horse riding. It is quite dangerous and more common among men.

[The sound of applause.]

SABERI: Many women here, like the manager Soraya, say this club offers more than just exercise and lessons in riding and judging.

BAHRAMI: [via a translator] The rider and the horse can have an emotional relationship, which can affect a woman spiritually . If a woman is an athlete, she can educate her children better.

SABERI: To them, the Shohada Riding Club takes them out of their everyday routines and gives them a sense of spirituality that affects other parts of their lives. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, Russians learn the ABC’s of car insurance.

IGOR IVANOV: This is the first and the biggest project of compulsory insurance in our country that will involve more than 30 million of our citizens who will be buying each year an insurance.

MCHUGH: Plus, adapting international borders. And a new segment in our Global Citizen Profile series.

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Russian Car Insurance

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MCHUGH: Until recently, car insurance was not mandatory in Russia. Drivers involved in accidents were simply forced to pay for car repairs and medical treatment themselves. But a new law requires Russians to insure their vehicles. Denis Levkovich reports from Moscow.

[Sounds from a busy Moscow insurance office]

DENIS LEVKOVICH: In a Moscow insurance office, new client Elena Dementyeva is exchanging rubles for a windshield sticker—a sign that her car is now insured. In many aspects of life, Russia has caught up with the rest of the world since the collapse of communist rule.

[The sound of Moscow street traffic.]

LEVKOVICH: But driving is another matter. It’s not that Russian drivers lack skill or experience. However, one thing they don’t have is car insurance. It became a popular Russian joke—a story about a poor driver crashing into an expensive Mercedes and having to pay for repairs in cash and up front—or else. But the joke may soon be a thing of the past. The Russian government has introduced a new law that every driver must have liability insurance. Drivers may stop laughing, but so will insurers. Igor Ivanov, manager of one of Russia’s largest insurance companies, agrees.

IGOR IVANOV: Quite soon we’ll stop laughing about it and we’ll start crying while paying for that poor guys who are driving, still driving that old-fashioned Russian, Soviet-made cars.

LEVKOVICH: Igor’s company’s been in business for 12 years. Previously, insurers did not enjoy the support of the government, but Mr. Ivanov says the new law is set to take the insurance business to a new level.

IVANOV: We are sure that this compulsory insurance will be a locomotive for all our insurance industry in Russia. Because we have no tradition of insurance in our country. This is the first and the biggest project of compulsory insurance in our country that will involve more than 30 millions of our citizens who will be buying each year an insurance.

[The sound of Moscow street traffic.]

LEVKOVICH: However a few problems remain. In Moscow’s chaotic traffic, few drivers obey traffic rules, resulting in dozens of accidents each day, a great expense for the insurance companies. Not surprisingly, the price of insurance is high. It starts at 100 US dollars a year for a typical Russian-made car. That would be a good deal by Western standards, but it’s still more than some Russians’ monthly paycheck. Still, drivers like Elena Dementyeva says it’s money well spent.

ELENA DEMENTYEVA: [via a translator] The price is a bit steep, but I think it’s important to have the insurance. I’ve been in a car accident once and it was very difficult to get my car fixed, because the driver who wrecked it had no money to pay.

LEVKOVICH: Russian drivers have another six months to arrange car insurance. In January, the traffic police will issue fines to drivers without an insurance sticker. For Common Ground, I’m Denis Levkovich in Moscow.

[Musical interlude]

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Border Space

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PORTER: A recent special issue of the technology magazine WIRED focused on how our conception of space, borders, and territory is changing. One article by Contributing Editor Jeff Howe examined how formal international borders are surviving and adapting to 21st-century realities. I spoke with Howe about the six areas he chose. We started with a heavily fortified border, which separates Europe from Africa. Two Spanish cities, Ceuta and Melilla, actually lie across the Strait of Gibraltar in northern Africa. But the cities are isolated from the rest of the continent by 10-foot fences topped with barbed wire.

HOWE: Basically what happened when the EU opened all its borders in 1995, there was just a crush of immigrants from other parts of the world that wanted to get into the EU. You know, which is it’s own sort of interesting little border story. As the borders within the EU dissolved, the borders surrounding them had to crystallize, had to harden in order to, you know, control this rush of workers that, that were coming in. And so, you know, it Ceuta and Melilla there’s, there’s a fair amount of high technology employed. Ironically as these things have gone up in the last 10 years in these two cities, it’s pushed, you know, all of this immigration into open water where, where a lot of people die. They drown.

PORTER: The next one on the list is the DMZ in Korea.

HOWE: Yeah.

PORTER: And you make the point that…

HOWE: The scariest point in the, place in the world.

PORTER: …the demilitarized zone really doesn’t, doesn’t describe it at all, does it?

HOWE: No, no. One million landmines was the figure that really hit me. That’s, that’s a lot of TNT, a lot of killing power. One of the other things that I found interesting about the DMZ was that, that in fact it hasn’t been peaceful since the close of the Korean War. There’s been a low-level, you know, conflict that’s been ongoing. Several American soldiers have died. There’s quite real and felt animosity between the actual soldiers who are, who are guarding the DMZ. But borders by their nature have to be porous for countries to function. So when you have something like North Korea and South Korea, you know, like the DMZ, it’s really, it’s a significant anomaly.

PORTER: It’s much more like the Berlin Wall. I mean, something that was clearly meant….

HOWE: Absolutely.

PORTER: …you know, to keep two peoples apart.

HOWE: Absolutely, yeah.

PORTER: Next on your list is the Forghana Valley, something you know a lot about.

HOWE: The Forghana Valley itself is one of the most historically rich areas of the world. It was part of the Silk Route. You know, it was a cradle of Islamic culture and scholarship for hundreds of years. It’s really an incredible region. And the Forghana Valley is particularly sort of a tragic place. When Russia invaded Central Asia, you know, in, and really formally came to control in the Soviet era under Stalin’s reign, they, they created jigsaw borders. And it’s hardly the only time that, you know, autocrats have decided where a border will lay but basically as, you know, as a divide and conquer strategy. And Forghana Valley, which has traditionally been a, you know, heartland and, and because it’s fairly inaccessible—it’s surrounded by mountains—a, you know, a very powerful center of control for whoever held it—he divided it up, you know, amongst both, you know, what came to be Tazhikistan, Khirgistan, and Uzbekistan. You know, however, people who live in Forghana Valley tend to, you know, regard themselves rightly as citizens of Forghana Valley. That’s, you know, where they’ve lived for generations and generations.

This was okay during the Soviet reign because these borders, you know, were, were essentially as borders are in the United States between states. They, you know, and so there was a lot of traffic between them and, you know, it wasn’t significant that, that they were technically different provinces. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has emerged as the regional hegemon and has, has larded these borders with land mines and barbed wire, which, you know, ostensibly to control the small but you know, threatening Islamic militia presence that’s in the Forghana Valley. But, you know, it winds up normally just killing a whole lot of villagers who innocently are just trying to get hold of some water or see their family in the village. So it’s, you know, I, I—we called it “the pointless border.” But, I, I called it “the stupid border.” And then that got changed in a later edit.

PORTER: The fourth one on your list is one that most of us are familiar with, the one between the United States and Mexico. Why is it on the list?

HOWE: The technology that is, is being employed down there is, is really, you know, astounding. I mean, it’s, it’s really state of the art stuff. And not just as people would think, you know, employed in the service of keeping people out, but a lot of its actually at the service of, of, of letting people in. We have a vested interest in letting goods and people in from Mexico. And in a lot of areas where, where people have family or jobs, you know, just on the other side of the border, in both directions, you know, they basically have what—well, on the East Coast we have the EZ-Pass. They have something that sticks up on their window and they can cross that freely. So increasingly this border is coming to look more like almost an internal EU border. I mean, not quite. There, you know, there’s still is a flow of illegal immigration that the US tries to control. But I was amazed by how porous it was.

PORTER: One time many years ago I was at an international conference and a man pulled me aside and he drew me a map on a blank piece of paper, of Kashmir. And as I was young at the time and I really didn’t know anything about it, but I was amazed that this guy carried around in his head this picture of Kashmir. And he was able to just write it down. And that’s number five on your list here, the border of, of what would be Kashmir.

HOWE: You know, I think that’s a perfect anecdote about Kashmir. Because this is, you know, Kashmir could almost also be called “the pointless border.” Both India and Pakistan would be greatly served by a resolution to this. And but this has become such a fetish, such an object of obsession and fascination. You know, it’s a point of pride, it’s a point of, you know, many grudges going back to, you know, partition in ’47, between India and Pakistan. That people will recognize logically that, you know, that there’s not much point in fighting over this, this region. It’s not rich in any natural resource. It’s not agriculturally rich. It’s, it’s, you know, the only value is political and conceptual. Really it’s a grudge match.

PORTER: The last one on your list is the one that we’re all familiar with as well. And even the words here get politicized, whether we call it the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or Palestine, or the Occupied Territories, or Israel, as some people would call it. And, and the borders themselves seem to move all the time. And, and I even have this picture in my head of a former US envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, who would go out into the street personally carrying the tape measure to measure, to find the exact middle of a street when peace settle, when peace deals were being negotiated.

HOWE: That’s fascinating, yeah.

PORTER: I mean, this is, this is really amazing. Tell us something about what you found out about that border.

HOWE: It’s funny, you’re absolutely right about, about, you know, it’s a war of semantics and rhetoric in a lot of ways. I’ve, I’ve received hate mail for using the term “border,” even, which, you know, I think by any popular conception of what a border is, you know, the, the 1967, the so-called Green Line, certainly, you know, constitutes a border of sorts. You know, even if won’t be the permanent border. But, and “settlement” also is a contested word. The irony with, with this wall that’s going up is, is it’s highly unpopular for both, you know, for basically all sides, for both doves and hawks within Israel. The hawks, of course, they want the whole West Bank so they don’t see any wall that would crystallize the idea of a Palestinian state. The doves which contest that, you know, the wall inhibits movement and keeps Palestinians from coming into Israel to work and make money, which they desperately need to do in the, in the Occupied Territories. And of course the Palestinians hate it because, you know, in fact the wall dips into, you know, what would be considered, you know—well, the West Bank we can at least call it. But, you know, it’s even difficult to talk about because the semantics are so sensitive.

PORTER: Yeah, yeah, amazing. Now tell me something about this interesting, unique, innovative sort of potential solution, or at least new way of thinking about this border that you wrote about here.

HOWE: I, I should really give full credit here to the architect Eyal Weizman, who is the thinker I reference in my piece. He, he wrote an essay “The Politics of Verticality,” which, which—and I believe he’s the first one to, to theorize in any, you know, deep sort of sense that, that borders especially in, between Israel and Palestine, have gained a third dimension. If you look at a map of the Occupied Territory of the West Bank, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not a matter of Israeli settlements being close to Israel. And, in fact, the first Israeli settlements were closer to Jordan, all the way to the east. So it’s really a checkerboard map of Palestinian-controlled territories and Israel-controlled, you know, Jewish territories. So to connect these you need these roads that go under and above. So you know, you, actually have a situation where the aquifer, the water that rests below the West Bank and then parts of the West Bank itself, they also claim the airspace above it. And this, this is especially poignant—you know, this was, never came to real fruition, but Bill Clinton’s proposal at the 2000 Camp David meeting was that Temple Mount be divided, you know, into vertical dimensions. That the Palestinians would have sovereignty over the mosque while Israel would have sovereignty beneath the pavement, which includes the wailing wall and a lot of, you know, invaluable artifacts that are beneath, you know, rest beneath that mosque. And of course then the airspace itself would once again be controlled by Israel. So, you know, there’s several different layers there, you know.

PORTER: That is amazing. Is there some big picture? Is there anything here, any message that you draw out of these six different border areas that, that you looked at for this article?

HOWE: We write about technology so much at WIRED, and technology often is full of promise for mankind. But this was, this was one instance where technology in a lot of these areas has been, has been employed to more effectively control movement between peoples on these borders. And this is especially true on borders that are essentially, you know, vestiges of a colonial age.

PORTER: Jeff Howe is contributing editor of WIRED magazine.

MCHUGH: Coming up next, this week’s global citizen profile. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

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Global Citizen Lord Johnston

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MCHUGH: Lord Russell-Johnston is a British peer whose career has taken him across borders. He started with a seat in Britain’s national parliament and ended as president of the 45-nation Council of Europe. In that role Lord Russell-Johnston was involved in many projects, from democracy building in the Balkans to human rights monitoring in Chechnya. Lord Russell-Johnston says as for language he gets by in all his travels with what he calls the world’s lingua franca: bad English. And does he consider himself a global citizen? Alastair Wanklyn asked him, in Strasbourg as part of our ongoing Global Citizen Profile series.

LORD RUSSELL-JOHNSTON: Perhaps. I mean certainly when I was president of the Parliamentary Assembly for three years, I was less, much less in Britain than anywhere else. And moving around continuously dealing with people of different nationalities day by day by day. And one realized something which I think I probably have appreciated before, that the important thing about somebody is not where he comes from or where she comes from, but what they want to do, what they believe in, what their attitude to life is.

ALASTAIR WANKLYN: How might one encourage people in other walks of life to see themselves as not necessarily a person of the time and place that they’re in, but of a broader, broader picture, more of a global citizen themselves? Is it possible to encourage people to see themselves as part of the global picture?

LORD RUSSELL-JOHNSTON: Well, you can really only do it by encouraging people to travel, in the first place. I am told various figures about the number of senators and representatives in Congress who possess passports. And I’m told it’s a very, relatively small number. Now, you can understand that because they don’t really need to cross the Channel. And I suppose, I don’t know if they require passports to go to Mexico or Canada. But in Europe you do need passports to go very far before you reach a boundary in Europe, a border. Europeans have also come to this business rather slowly. European Union is still, what is it, 1957 it was established by the Treaty of Rome? It’s not very old. And it’s still having difficulties and probably will for some time. But there is an inevitable process going on.

WANKLYN: So in Europe you say people are having more of a global sense of themselves because of the European Union integration. Do you think that elsewhere in the world regional integration might help to get people more of that feeling as well?

LORD RUSSELL-JOHNSTON: It’s possible anywhere. I mean, human beings are human beings wherever they were born. And in the end they have the same kind of emotions, they have the same kind of needs, and in a broad way they have the same kind of concepts of right and wrong and fairness and unfairness. And therefore it is perfectly possible for people anywhere to come together. It’s really a question of proximity for a certain time and it happens.

WANKLYN: On your travels you must use the media to keep in touch with what’s happening around the world. Can I ask you what you watch, what you listen to, maybe what you read?

LORD RUSSELL-JOHNSTON: Well, I must give a little bit of credit to the United States because I read the International Herald Tribune regularly. It’s more available I gather in the wider world than in the Midwest of the United States. But I find it a very good and fair and balanced newspaper. I’m not very fond of CNN, I have to say. But I watch the BBC World sometimes. But I find all, increasingly television is, treats things too brief a way, headlines all the time. Sensation, if possible, and I don’t particularly like that. I prefer to read than to watch.

But if you’re traveling you very often for three or four days get out of touch with what’s happening throughout the world because for some reason or other you, you’re never available when the newscast is coming out or you can’t get a newspaper. You have to depend on other people just telling you if anything startling happens. I was in Armenia at a dinner on the 11th of September when the terrible events happened in New York. I remember it vividly. The speaker had arranged a dinner at a table outside. When I arrived I knew nothing about what was going on. And they told me, and I couldn’t believe it. So somebody produced a television which was placed beside the dining table, which had CNN pictures with a Russian commentary. And I didn’t eat a single bit of food that night. I smoked like a chimney and I drank a fair amount of vodka. And I saw these awful pictures again and again and again. And so that night I was in touch with what was happening in the rest of the world.

WANKLYN: Thank you very much. Can I ask a final question? Do you ever try to escape by reading a novel or, or anything? What do you like for relaxation?

LORD RUSSELL-JOHNSTON: Oh yes, I read, I read quite a lot. I read thrillers, I read detective stories. I usually do that while I’m eating. I quite like eating by myself occasionally.

WANKLYN: Lord Russell-Johnston, thank you very much indeed.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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