World View:* Son of Star Wars * The politics of poverty in Zambia
Son of Star Wars
Rarely have Americans elected to office a president as impetuous, callous and as indifferent to the well-being of others as George W Bush, who even as a presidential candidate, signing more death warrants than any Governor in history, made no secret of his hawkish ambitions, determined to forge ahead with the “Son of Star Wars” National Missile Defence (NMB) system and to propel the world into another arms race and all the old cold war hostilities that accompany it and, indeed, perhaps signing the future death warrants of hundreds of millions.
The recent Pentagon report Proliferation: Threat and Response came as a godsend for the Bush camp, anxious to rationalise a planned $60 billion increase in defence spending, inclusive of investment in the NMD programme which would deploy thousands of air defence missiles to intercept intercontinental ballistic weapons fired by the proverbial “rogue states”.
The report would have it that the threat to mainland America is as great now as during the Cold War era and that apocalypse is just over the horizon, discerning a credible threat from North Korea within 10 years, Iran within 15 years and Iraq within 20 years. The report is critical of China for its continuing use of arms sales to “advance its strategic and economic interests”, but is silent on the US domination of the global arms market and its related hegemonic aspirations. Likewise, the amnesiacs who compiled the report lambast Iraq for its “pursuit of regional hegemony”, Syria for its excessive $1 billion defence budget (the US defence budget is currently $300 billion) and North Korea for its stockpiling of chemical weapons (when the US has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons on the planet). At every turn, it seems, there’s a rogue state just itching to lob a nuclear or biological weapon at the defender of global peace and democracy, and it is this warped logic that informs the hawkish stance in Washington. No mention is made of the fact that even without NMD, any state stupid enough to throw anything bigger than a grenade at the US would be bombed back into the Stone Age.
Nevertheless, it is talk that is demanding a $60 billion increase in US defence spending (which is actually China’s total military budget), and rhetoric that the cold warriors Bush has given cabinet posts to are more than familiar with. Once a critic of NMD, Colin Powell, of Gulf War fame (a man who came to prominence covering up the My Lai massacre and later up to his neck in the arms for hostages scandal and the illegal supplying of arms to the Contras) is now Secretary of State and the Pentagon’s top NMD salesperson. Other cabinet posts have gone to other Reaganite hawks such as Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Candaleezza Rice. Bush’s choice for key cabinet posts alone should warn us there is some serious ass kicking is going to be done.
Whereas Bush sees NMD as a “constitutional and moral requisite” (he incidentally also believes humans and fish can coexist peacefully) US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld agrees that “it is in many respects a moral issue”, that NMD is essential to counter “the raw and random violence of the outlaw regime or the rogue state armed with missiles of mass destruction”, that NMD would make the US “less isolationist”, “less vulnerable and more prepared to help its allies”.
At a defence conference in Munich in early February, at which the implications of NMD were discussed, concern was raised that NMD would undoubtedly spark an arms race. Rumsfeld declared that NMD would not destroy arms control agreements including the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but later suggested the 1972 treaty was “ancient history”.
Sergei Ivanov, head of the Russian National Security Council told the conference that “the destruction of the 1972 ABM Treaty will result in annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability and create prerequisites for a new arms race”. As much, and more, was hinted at back in late 1999 when Republican hawks celebrated a Senate vote not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and announced their intention to scupper the 1972 ABM Treaty which outlawed Star Wars’ missiles systems capable of intercepting incoming missiles. For it was then that Russian Defence Minister Nikolai Mikolov, acknowledging Russia could not match US technology, declared Russia would simply deploy more warheads capable of overwhelming the US nuclear umbrella system.
In November last year the Kremlin announced plans to cut its number of men under arms by 360,000 and to shift the emphasis from nuclear weapons to conventional arms. This decision has since been shelved and will be reconsidered in March at the earliest. Meanwhile, in direct response to Washington’s announcement that the US intends to go through with the Son of Star Wars anti-missile programme, whatever shape this may be (air-based, sea-based, space-based) and regardless of any objections, Russia has announced it will seek an anti-US diplomatic alliance with China, North Korea and Iran.
As well as Russia, both India and China have expressed concern about the NMD, fearing it will very much provoke an arms race and force them to expand their own nuclear weapons programmes. Whist France and Germany are wholly opposed to NMD, the British government is currently playing its cards close to its chest. Though the MoD and the Foreign Office claim they are “not convinced of the merits” of NMD, Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, asked if the US would be allowed to upgrade their early warning system at Fylingdales in Yorkshire replied: “We share of course US concerns about emerging threats. The US is our closest ally”.
For Tony Blair’s part, whilst it is felt he is bending towards the idea, keen to placate his US cronies, his government is under no pressure to make a decision for several months, which suits New Labour down to the ground. It should also be remembered that Blair is facing a general election this year so has no intentions of losing votes as a result of arguments with anti-nuclear protestors. It is, however, a safe bet that Blair will indeed see an election victory as his mandate to commit Britain to Bush’s wider game plan for global US domination.
It is a fair guess that there is more behind NMD than Washington lets on. For instance, the moment you begin installing a sophisticated missile defence shield is the moment your adversaries begin seeking ways around it. Whilst NMD may well take out the incoming missile, what of the biological or nuclear bomb in the suitcase or the suicide bomber?
A more likely explanation lies in the fears of the Republican right that the only discernible threat to US hegemony in the 21st Century will come from China as it develops into the economic giant many think it capable of—a serious challenger for US profits. What better way to curtail China’s economic ambitions than to compel it to channel more money into defence and away from other social programmes, economically hamstringing it? A similar tactic had been employed against the former Soviet Union during the Reagan administration in the late eighties, forcing state capitalism into an early grave as it found itself unable to meet the costly demands of an escalating arms race weighted heavily in the favour of the US.
It is poignantly ironic that George W Bush is preparing to raise the global security stakes when just over ten years ago his father George Bush, as president, announced to the world the benefits of the coming “peace dividend” in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the “collapse of communism”; a world in which there would no longer be the need for countries to invest heavily in military hardware now the bogeyman had been exorcised—that money was now to be used for health, education and other social programmes. But there again, George senior did announce at his inauguration that the 20th Century had been the “American Century” and that he’d be doing his damnedest to ensure the 21st was also an American century. So maybe George junior is simply following out his father’s promises. Ensuring the 21st century will also be ruled by force and woe betides any one silly enough to mess with US interests.
One thing is sure. The US is deadly serious about possible threats to its strategic and economic interests in the 21st century and has already toyed with a future confrontation with a possible rising superpower. In January, the US air force, along with 250 military and civilian “experts”, completed its first major war games in space at the Space Warfare Centre in Colorado, rehearsing a conflict set in 2017 between China and the US. It is no great leap of the imagination to envisage the projected winner.
As we have announced several times in the past year, if we are to prevent the 21st century becoming a more violent re-run of the 20th, that witnessed two world wars, the first use of nuclear weapons and many hundreds of smaller conflicts—all in the name of profit—it is essential we, the victims, the cannon fodder, the class that has the biggest price to pay to satisfy the whims of the mighty, begin to organise now; not tomorrow when NMD is in place, nor in years to come when the sirens are screaming. We as a class have suffered too much and have too much to lose to leave decisions regarding the future of our planet in the hands of group of arrogant, conceited and profit-crazed individuals. Let’s really organise to take their power away, before it is too late.
We are approaching the 2001 presidential and general elections and the political situation remains tense. Unemployment, poverty and the lack of viable education and health care has bred outright social discontent and resentment throughout Zambia.
President Frederick Chiluba’s MMD government is still in power and commands majority support in Parliament. The opposition parties remain weak and unable to capture a national consensus, because political allegiance in Zambia is determined by linguistic and tribal affiliations. Thus many of the opposition parties are little known in other provinces or areas. The only notable opposition parties are the UNIP, the Republican Party and the National Party for Democratic Development.
UNIP, after the retirement of Kenneth Kaunda from active politics, is embroiled in a leadership fiasco and stands a slim chance to command a large following. UNIP has a strong regional support in the Eastern province. The Republican Party, led by the local tycoon and former MMD party stalwart, Ben Muria, has a large following in the Copperbelt and Wapula provinces. The National Party for Democratic Development is led by former LONRHO group chairman in Zambia, Anderson Mazoka. This party has managed to scoop a number of parliamentary seats, mainly in the Southern and Western provinces. Its regional base is the Southern province.
An analysis of Zambia’s political scene reveals that the opposition parties have come to concentrate their election campaigns in the Copperbelt Province, especially in Kitwe. This is because historically this province has come to play a dominant role in Zambia’s domestic politics. The mining town of Kitwe is the hub of the copperbelt, inhabited by a vocal and politically aligned working class population. In this semi-industrial and mining town political consciousness and social discontent seem to be expressed more than anywhere else on the copperbelt.
The demise of the copper-mining giant ZCCM has had a marked impact on the commercial and industrial sector in Zambia. Economic development of any kind in Zambia depends upon the export potential of Zambia’s mono-copper-mining sector. Thus the privatisation of the copper mining industry has entailed the loss of revenue to the government. There has occurred a startling decline in overall commercial and industrial production in the copper belt mining towns.
The working class on the copper belt have been subjected to untold misery. The public sector has shed its labour force while those who have remained in active employment receive salaries in arrears and work under shoddy conditions. Privatisation of the public and commercial sector has led to widespread unemployment in Zambia. The surrendering of city council housing units to people paying rent to themselves has deprived the city council of revenue and thus led to a decline in community welfare.
The sale of the council houses was a presidential directive and thus political. But the future consequences were not taken into consideration; nor could these consequences be corrected by the government. Urban cities have been turned into villages overnight, characterised by social poverty, child malnutrition and squalor. This voluntary creation of slum townships is a new development in Zambia and has led to the frantic manoeuvres of President Chiluba to retain a large following.
The city townships have been turned in havens of social poverty. Because those who have purchased council houses cannot go back to rural areas when they retire, this tends to have a marked pressure on land in urban areas. Most of the retrenched working class population remain restricted in the townships, where they engage in household commercial activities of one kind or another. The unpaved roads, unlit streets and unmaintained water and sewage systems means that life in these townships remains hard and unbearable.
In an economy characterised by endemic social poverty and unemployment the MMD government is concentrating on handing out hefty amounts of money through well-timed presidential donations to needy members of society. But this is a naked political campaign gimmick which has brought rebuke upon the MMD government and tarnished the charismatic status of President Chiluba. Recently in Kitwe’s Mindolo township a Catholic priest turned down the presidential donation of K10,000,000 from the MMD Member of Parliament for Nkana constituency. It was an incident that shocked and which had never happened before.
Because the MMD government is heavily funded by mining investors like the Anglo-American Corporation, the opposition political fraternity stands a little chance to compete with the MMD in terms of campaign expenditure. Nor does anyone need to be told what purpose the colossal sums of money realised from the sale of privatised para-statal firms has been used for. If the MMD government is unable to find funds for expenditure on education and health, from where does the president get the money he hands out in donations? The widely publicised calls for a third term of office for President Chiluba are merely designed to create an image of his popularity and thus win the confidence of the overseas private investors, since, legislatively, Chiluba cannot stand for a third presidential term.
In its political composition the MMD government retains its linguistic and provincial allegiances as a party of the Wapula province. Linguistic and provincial allegiances determine the strength and popularity of every political party in Zambia. Thus tribalism acts as an impediment to multi-party politics in Zambia, and political domination comes to depend upon the entrenched historical pattern of linguistic and cultural complexities. Political consciousness is more pronounced among the relatively educated and working class in urban areas, more so than among the backward and static rural traditional societies.
Because the MMD is the ruling party, the large following it can command must be attributed more to curiosity than to sympathetic support as such. A large number of people flock to MMD political rallies just to have a glimpse of President Chiluba. But every politically conscious Zambian is aware that the MMD government has disastrously failed to resuscitate Zambia’s ailing economy.