The G20’s Time for Climate Leadership since Donald Trump’s America won’t


April 30, 2017

The G20’s Time for Climate Leadership since Donald Trump won’t

by Teresa Ribera*

*Teresa Ribera, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, was Spain’s Secretary of State for Climate Change.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/g20-climate-change-in-trump-era-by-teresa-ribera-2017-04

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At the start of 2016, the United States was well positioned to lead the global fight against climate change. As the chair of the G20 for 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been counting on the US to help drive a deep transformation in the global economy. And even after Donald Trump won the US presidential election, Merkel gave him the benefit of the doubt, hoping against hope that the US might still play a leading role in reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions.

But at Merkel and Trump’s first in-person meeting, no substantive statements were issued, and their body language made the prospect of future dialogue appear dim. Trump’s slogan “America first” seems to mean “America alone.”

By reversing his predecessor’s policies to reduce CO2 emissions, Trump is rolling back the new model of cooperative global governance embodied in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The countries that signed on to that accord committed themselves to sharing the risks and benefits of a global economic and technological transformation.
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“Trump’s climate-change policy does not bode for US citizens”–Teresa Ribera

Trump’s climate-change policy does not bode well for US citizens – many of whom are now mobilizing resistance to his administration – or the world. But the rest of the world will still develop low-carbon, resilient systems. Private- and public-sector players across the developed and developing worlds are making the coming economic shift all but inevitable, and their agendas will not change simply because the US has a capricious new administration. China, India, the European Union, and many African and Latin American countries are still adopting clean-energy systems.

As long as this is the case, businesses, local governments, and other stakeholders will continue to pursue low-carbon strategies. To be sure, Trump’s policies might introduce new dangers and costs, domestically and worldwide; but he will not succeed in prolonging the fossil-fuel era.

Still, an effective US exit from the Paris agreement is a menacing development. The absence of such an important player from the fight against climate change could undermine new forms of multilateralism, even if it reinvigorates climate activism as global public opinion turns against the US.

More immediately, the Trump administration has introduced significant financial risks that could impede efforts to address climate change. Trump’s proposed budget would place restrictions on federal funding for clean-energy development and climate research. Likewise, his recent executive orders will minimize the financial costs of US businesses’ carbon footprint, by changing how the “social cost of carbon” is calculated. And his administration has already insisted that language about climate change be omitted from a joint statement issued by G20 finance ministers.

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Congrats, Tan Sri  Dr. Jeffery Cheah of Malaysia and Prof. Dr Jeffery Sachs, The Earth Institute @Columbia University,  New York for this initiative. If we cannot take care of Nature, don’t expect Nature to protect us.–Din Merican

These are all unwise decisions that pose serious risks to the US economy, and to global stability, as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently pointed out. The US financial system plays a leading role in the world economy, and Trump wants to take us all back to a time when investors and the general public did not account for climate-change risks when making financial decisions.

Since 2008, the regulatory approach taken by the US and the G20 has been geared toward increasing transparency and improving our understanding of possible systemic risks to the global financial system, not least those associated with climate change and fossil-fuel dependency. Developing more stringent transparency rules and better risk-assessment tools has been a top priority for the financial community itself. Implementing these new rules and tools can accelerate the overall trend in divestment from fossil fuels, ensure a smooth transition to a more resilient, clean-energy economy, and provide confidence and clarity for long-term investors.

Given the heightened financial risks associated with climate change, resisting Trump’s executive order to roll back Wall Street transparency regulations should be a top priority. The fact that Warren Buffet and the asset-management firm Black Rock have warned about the investment risks of climate change suggests that the battle is not yet lost.

Creating the G20 was a good idea. Now, it must confront its biggest challenge. It is up to Merkel and other G20 leaders to overcome US (and Saudi) resistance and stay the course on climate action. They can count as allies some of the world’s large institutional investors, who seem to agree on the need for a transitional framework of self-regulation. It is incumbent upon other world leaders to devise a coherent response to Trump, and to continue establishing a new development paradigm that is compatible across different financial systems.

At the same time, the EU – which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome this year – now has a chance to think about the future that it wants to build. These are difficult times, to be sure; but we can still decide what kind of world we want to live in.

100 Days of Trump Gubberish


April 29, 2017

NY Times Editorial: 100 Days of Trump Gubberish

It was fitting that President Trump closed out his first 100 days in another bumbling attack on Obamacare, trying and failing to jam a bill through the House this week that had no chance of passing the Senate, just to create the illusion of action.

The sorry saga of health care under this president bears all the Trumpian hallmarks that Americans are learning to expect: the dishonest campaign promise (“health care for everyone”); the clownish attempts to write a bill; the miniaturization of Paul Ryan (remember that guy?); the rivalrous White House confederation of Bannonite anarchists and glittering cosmopolites; the dearth of nonwhites and nonmales at the table; the absence of any strategy and of any vision beyond “winning.”

All that’s needed to complete the Trump pattern is the insultingly obvious effort by the president’s kin to cash in. A health care summit meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, maybe…

READ ON:

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)?


March 24, 2017

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)–Maybe it’s Time to screw the  Economists and start looking at alternative ways to measure what makes life worthwhile

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Listen to this TED presentation by Chip Conley and reflect. I enjoyed it and wonder why we continue to measure only the measurable (the tangibles) and ignore the intangibles. As  someone who is trained in Economics (and does being taught this academic discipline make a economist?), I am wonder how it is that  I can be so misled and still have not abandoned GDP as a measurement of national wealth if I know it is misleading when intangibles matter more today. Maybe it is a force of habit. Should be I Aristotelian or Maslowian?  Let me know what you think.–Din Merican

 

Much Ado over the word “Alleged”– But Missing Dean’s Message


March 18, 2017

Much Ado over the word “Alleged— But Missing Dean’s Message

by Dean Johns @www.malaysiakini.com

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The Alleged Malaysian Official No. 1 who allegedly stole Billions of Ringgit from 1MDB

Many readers have complained about what they see as the over-use of the word ‘alleged’ in the alleged columns that allegedly appear in Malaysiakini under my alleged name. And I sympathise with these critics in the sense that constant over-use of ‘alleged’ or indeed any other word can be very tedious.

But in my own defence I have to say that a good many appearances of ‘alleged’ in my columns are there by courtesy of my long-suffering sub-editors, in their ceaseless attempts to lend some sense of journalistic propriety to my practice of accusing members of Malaysia’s UMNO-BN regime of crimes of which, despite apparently overwhelming evidence, they have not, at least so far, been proven guilty.

Far from convicted, in fact, most have never even tried, investigated or identified as suspects, or even, for that matter, have even admitted that the crimes I and others allege against them have ever actually occurred.

As, for example, in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case, which the court of public opinion and a good many legal jurisdictions around the world regard as a monstrous swindle and money-laundering scam, but whose alleged mastermind, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak aka Malaysian Official 1 or MO1 and his alleged accomplices and supporters claim is entirely free of any shred of irregularity or impropriety, let alone criminality.

A situation that explains why I have to plead guilty of frequently pre-empting my sub-editors by personally employing, and in the process arguably over-employing, the word ‘alleged’ for the purpose of making the point that there is no evidence, let alone proof, that any of the UMNO-BN regime’s alleged agencies of alleged government can be accused of honestly carrying-out its sworn duty.

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Malaysia’s Attorney-General who allegedly cleared Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak of any wrongdoing over RM2.6 billion of 1MDB money that went to the latter’s personal bank account

There’s precious little or no proof, for example, that the alleged Royal Malaysian Police Force properly performs its function of impartially and equally enforcing the laws of the land and protecting the populace, as it is evidently far too busy protecting the interests, allegedly criminal and otherwise, of the regime that effectively owns it.

Just as there is lamentably little evidence for the proposition that the alleged judiciary administers the laws, either criminal or civil, for the benefit of the Malaysian people at large.

Especially in light of the fact that an Attorney-General (AG) who some time ago showed signs of intending to investigate the 1MDB can of worms was summarily ‘retired’ in favour of a successor who immediately decided that allegations against Najib/MO1 and his fellow suspects were false and without foundation.

Similarly, the alleged ‘journalists’ of Malaysia’s alleged mainstream ‘news’ media can never be suspected or accused of performing their professional duty of reporting the news without fear or favour, or indeed of reporting anything at all that might inconvenience, embarrass or more likely incriminate the ruling regime.

Image result for Malaysia's Attorney General The Pious Saudi Royals who were allegedly donated RM2.6 billion to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak

While the regime’s alleged ‘religious’ authorities, for their part, persistently support UMNO’s alleged, indeed all-too-obviously false claim to be the ‘defender’ of Islam, despite the regime’s routinely committing such excesses of corruption and criminality as to disgrace Islam or any other alleged ‘faith’.

And the alleged Electoral Commission (EC) is apparently on a mission to avoid even the hint of any suggestion that it might honestly perform its function of ensuring relatively equal numbers of voters across electorates, as specifically required by the constitution, let alone polls free of bribery or other forms of rigging in the regime’s favour.

Indeed, the alleged EC is so extremely biased toward UMNO-BN that the current alleged government, since it lost the majority vote in the 2013 general election, can arguably be considered not guilty of actually being legitimately in power at all.

Preferring a more presidential role?

 Prime minister Najib Razak has denied accusations that he stole money from state fund 1MDB.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied accusations that he alledgly stole money from state fund 1MDB. Allegedly  Pious Muslim. Photograph: Fazry Ismail/EPA

And as far as many of us are concerned, Najib Abdul Razak is only allegedly Prime Minister of the country, as he clearly prefers playing a more presidential role in which he seldom deigns to attend Parliament, and he and his alleged ministers are protected from replying to questions by an alleged speaker who perceives his function solely in terms of preventing the alleged opposition from speaking.

Speaking of speaking, I suspect that at least some of the readers of Malaysiakini who allege that ‘allege’ appears far too often in my alleged columns are themselves only allegedly regular, honest Malaysians.

In other words, a great many anonymous alleged readers, to judge by the low standard of their alleged English and the idiocy and suspicious uniformity of their alleged ‘opinions’, are actually so-called ‘cybertroopers’, or in other words paid propagandists, or, if you prefer, propagandistutes, for UMNO-BN’s alleged ‘government’.

Admittedly, of course, it could be alleged that my ceaseless allegations against UMNO-BN and its members and minions could be nothing but figments of my alleged imagination, and evidence of a tendency to paranoia into the bargain.

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Kevin Morais who was allegedly murdered

It’s altogether possible, of course. But, as boring as all my alleging may be to some, I can’t bring myself to either apologise for this practice or to allege that I intend to engage in it any less.

After all, I owe it to myself as a genuine rather than merely alleged writer, and even more so to you as a truly rather than allegedly respectable and intelligent reader, to go right on expressing my allergy to UMNO-BN’s countless alleged Ali Babas and their ridiculous alleged alibis.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

 

The Kim Jong-nam Assassination: Tussle between China and North Korea


February 21, 2017

The Kim Jong-nam Assassination:Kuala Lumpur caught in an Ongoing Tussle between Beijing and Pyongyang

As dramatic and disturbing as the assassination of Kim Jong-nam is, it is simply a sideshow in the ongoing tussle between Beijing and Pyongyang. 

An uppity client state 

North Korea has long been a Chinese client state. It owes its very existence to China which also accounts for 89% of North Korea’s foreign trade. Chinese economic assistance, food aid and investments literally keep North Korea afloat.

As a client state, North Korea is expected to be mindful of China’s overall strategic interests in the region. No one, however, apparently briefed North Korea’s brash young leader about the niceties of client state behaviour. Since coming to power in 2011, Kim Jong-un’s actions have caused alarm and concern in Beijing.

His nuclear weapons programme and poorly timed missile testing threaten to upset the delicate balance of power that China is seeking to maintain in East Asia at a time when there is an unpredictable new occupant in the White House. The Chinese were also chagrined by the 2013 execution for treason of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who was well respected in Beijing. There were also a number of other unpleasant incidents between the two countries involving the treatment of Chinese investors and businessmen in North Korea.

More than anything else, however, a credible nuclear capability would give the North Korean dictator greater manoeuvrability vis-à-vis China and other powers, a worrying prospect for the Chinese leadership. As one Chinese professor put it, “If we choose an ally that can’t be tamed, we might become the biggest loser.”

To show its displeasure, China joined the international criticism of North Korea’s missile tests and last week rejected a shipment of coal from North Korea.

A slap in the face

Kim Jong-nam’s assassination has now plunged China-North Korea relations to a new low. It was no secret that Kim Jong-nam, the elder half-brother of Kim Jong-un, was under China’s protection, having lived in China since he fell from favour more than a decade ago. His presence in China was a constant reminder to Kim Jong-un that China had a convenient replacement, one who had perhaps a better claim to the throne as the eldest son, if he proved too unreasonable. For that reason alone, Kim Jong-nam was a marked man.

However, not even the mercurial and impulsive North Korean leader would have dared act against his half-brother while he was on Chinese soil. It would have been an insult that China would simply not have tolerated.

Malaysia, on the other hand, with its open doors, lax security and indulgent attitude towards North Korea is another story. Certainly, the North Korean leadership would not have expected that Malaysia would react the way it did. The law of unintended consequences just keeps cropping up in international affairs.

The reaction from Beijing was also not long in coming. Shortly after the assassination, China suspended all shipments of coal from North Korea until the end of the year. While the move was presented as part of China’s efforts to implement UN sanctions against North Korea, it is almost certainly a direct response to the Kim assassination in Kuala Lumpur.

As coal is North Korea’s single largest export item to China, the suspension is bound to hit the North Korean regime particularly hard. No doubt other measures are being planned as well although China is unlikely, at least at this stage, to attempt regime change in Pyongyang.

A tougher than expected response

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, Malaysia appeared to go out of its way to avoid doing anything that would further exacerbate the situation. The Home Minister indicated that the body would, in due course, be returned to Pyongyang in accordance with international practice. He also insisted that the incident would not affect bilateral relations.

The provocative response of the North Korean Ambassador, however, appears to have stiffened Malaysia’s resolve.

In two rambling press conferences, the Ambassador accused Malaysia of a litany of offenses – colluding with his country’s enemies, scheming to implicate North Korea in the assassination, roughing up North Korean citizens and violating human rights and international law.

Failure to respond appropriately to such a provocation would have made the Malaysian government, already beset by a number of domestic scandals, look weak.

Interestingly, while the Ambassador alluded to South Korea when he accused Malaysia of colluding with “hostile forces,” his comments could apply to China as well.

Wisma Putra, which was largely silent in the early days of the drama, quickly responded by summoning the North Korean Ambassador for a dressing down. More significantly, Wisma Putra announced that Malaysia’s Ambassador in Pyongyang had been recalled for consultations – the strongest diplomatic show of displeasure short of breaking off relations.

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Recalling our Ambassador is absolutely the right thing to do given that it is now pretty clear that North Korea was complicit in the assassination. No country can look with equanimity upon such outrageous behaviour.

The North Korean Ambassador is, of course, in a very delicate situation; he has a Damocles sword hanging over him. If he is not seen to be zealous and conscientious enough in defence of the regime, he could suffer the same fate as his predecessor who found himself at the wrong end of a firing squad after being recalled from Kuala Lumpur. It is this fear of the consequences of failure, as much as anything else, that might have pushed him to the point where his actions have now done serious damage to the bilateral relations. It is hard to see him continuing in his present post for long.

Such are the perils of working in the North Korean foreign service.

Diplomatic and protocol issues

The assassination also raises interesting protocol issues. According to Satow’s Guide to Diplomatic Practice, long the go to handbook for diplomats, “If the death [of a diplomat] takes place in circumstances where ordinarily an inquest would be held, the authorities in the receiving state should if necessary be reminded that it has been general international practice not to hold an inquest where a diplomatic agent or other member of a mission dies in office, whether in inviolable premises or not.”

Some would argue, therefore, that Malaysia did not have the authority to carry out the post-mortem and that North Korea is within its rights to demand the return of Kim Jong-nam’s remains given that he was travelling on a diplomatic passport.

However, it can also be argued that although Kim Jong-nam was travelling on a diplomatic passport he was not formally accredited here and is, therefore, not subject to the same protocol.

What this means is that Malaysia has a great deal of latitude in deciding how to proceed with the case. Given that other countries – China and South Korea come to mind – also have a vested interest in the outcome, Malaysia will have to tread a careful path if it wishes to avoid being caught up in the bigger power play that is unfolding behind the scenes.

For now at least, both China and South Korea will no doubt be pleased with Malaysia’s tough stance. They will take satisfaction that the investigation has resulted in prolonged negative exposure for Pyongyang that will both further isolate and discredit the regime.

What happens now will depend, to a large degree, on how things play out between Beijing and Pyongyang. Where the remains of Kim Jong-nam finally ends up will provide interesting clues.

Malaysia, which has been increasingly deferential to China – even quietly sending back to China Muslim Uighur refugees who sought asylum in Malaysia – will likely be mindful of China’s interest in the matter.

Rethinking Malaysia-North Korea relations 

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Address: Diplomatic Enclave Munhung-dong, Taedonggang District Pyongyang …Malaysian Embassy

If nothing else, hopefully the assassination and the angry North Korean response to Kuala Lumpur’s handling of the case will prompt a reassessment of relations with Pyongyang.

For some unfathomable reason, Malaysia has had a resident diplomatic mission in Pyongyang since 2003, one of only 23 missions in the North Korean capital. Unfathomable because trade is practically non-existent (with almost zero prospects of improvement) and there are simply no bilateral issues worth talking about that would warrant the expense of a mission.

Perhaps in a desperate bid to add some substance to the relationship, both countries even explored ways to enhance tourism, never mind that North Korea is a country with no outbound tourists and only a few, possibly insane, inbound travelers.

What is more preposterous, however, was the decision some years ago to quietly take in 300 North Korean workers to work in Sarawak’s mining sector. Why Malaysia would even think of employing North Korean workers – slave labour, to all intent and purposes, toiling in a distant land to augment the regime’s scarce foreign reserves – is a mystery.

Malaysia also plays host to an approximately 1000 strong tightly knit community of North Korean businessmen, restaurant workers and other dubious ‘professionals,’ all of whom are controlled by the North Korean embassy and serve the interests of the state in one form or another.

Clearly, this is a one-sided relationship that benefits North Korea rather than Malaysia. Certainly, not many Malaysian taxpayers will lose any sleep if our mission in Pyongyang is shut for good.

 

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies–Thinking the Unthinkable


February 6, 2017

Remembering Herman Kahn–A Pioneer in Future Studies

In Defense of Thinking

by Herman Kahn

Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.–Herman Kahn

https://hudson.org/research/2211-in-defense-of-thinking

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Futurist Herman Kahn with President Gerald Ford and Donald Rumsfeld

Seventy-five years ago white slavery was rampant in England. Each year thousands of young girls were forced into brothels and kept there against their will. While some of the victims had been sold by their families, a large proportion were seized and held by force or fraud. The victims were not from the lower classes only; no level of English society was immune to having its daughters seized. Because this practice continued in England for years after it had been largely wiped out on the Continent, thousands of English girls were shipped across the Channel to supply the brothels of Europe. One reason why this lasted as long as it did was that it could not be talked about openly in Victorian England; moral standards as to subjects of discussion made it difficult to arouse the community to necessary action. Moreover, the extreme innocence considered appropriate for English girls made them easy victims, helpless to cope with the situations in which they were trapped. Victorian standards, besides perpetuating the white slave trade, intensified the damage to those involved. Social inhibitions which reinforce natural tendencies to avoid thinking about unpleasant subjects are hardly uncommon.

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A Message  for Donald J. Tump

The psychological factors involved in ostrich-like behavior have parallels in communities and nations. Nevertheless, during the sixty years of the twentieth century many problems have come increasingly into the realm of acceptable public discussion. Among various unmentionable diseases, tuberculosis has lost almost all taint of impropriety; and venereal disease statistics can now be reported by the press. Mental illness is more and more regarded as unfortunate instead of shameful. The word “cancer” has lost its stigma, although the horror of the disease has been only partially abated by medical progress.

Despite the progress in removing barriers in the way of discussing diseases formerly considered shameful, there are doubtless thousands going without vital medical treatment today because of their inhibitions against learning, thinking, or talking about certain diseases. Some will not get treatment because they do not know enough to recognize the symptoms, some because they are consciously ashamed to reveal illness, and some because they refuse to think about their condition it seems too horrible to think about. It may now be possible to condemn unequivocally the extremes of Victorian prudery, but less doctrinaire forms of ostrichism must be considered with more care; they are, after all, often based on healthy instincts.

Everyone is going to die, but surely it is a good thing that few of us spend much time dwelling on that fact. Life would be nearly impossible if we did. If thinking about something bad will not improve it, it is often better not to think about it. Perhaps some evils can be avoided or reduced if people do not think or talk about them. But when our reluctance to consider danger brings danger nearer, repression has gone too far.

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In 1960 I published a book (pic above) that attempted to direct attention to the possibility of a thermonuclear war, to ways of reducing the likelihood of such a war, and to methods for coping with the consequences should war occur despite our efforts to avoid it. The book was greeted by a large range of responses, some of them sharply critical. Some of this criticism was substantive, touching on greater or smaller questions of strategy, policy, or research techniques. But much of the criticism was not concerned with the correctness or incorrectness of the views I expressed.

It was concerned with whether any book should have been written on this subject at all. It is characteristic of our times that many intelligent and sincere people are willing to argue that it is immoral to think and even more immoral to write in detail about having to fight a thermonuclear war.

By and large this criticism was not personal; it simply reflected the fact that we Americans and many people throughout the world are not prepared to face reality, that we transfer our horror of thermonuclear war to reports about the realities of thermonuclear war. In a sense we are acting like those ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news. This did not change the news; it simply slowed up its delivery. On occasion it meant that the kings were ill informed and, lacking truth, made serious errors in judgment and strategy. In our times, thermonuclear war may seem unthinkable, immoral, insane, hideous, or highly unlikely, but it is not impossible.

To act intelligently we must learn as much as we can about the risks. We may thereby be able better to avoid nuclear war. We may even be able to avoid the crises that bring us to the brink of war. But despite our efforts we may some day come face to face with a blunt choice between surrender or war. We may even have war thrust upon us without being given any kind of choice. We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away. Nor should we overestimate and assume the worst is inevitable. This leads only to defeatism, inadequate preparations (because they seem useless), and pressures toward either preventive war or undue accommodation.

Many terrible questions are raised when one considers objectively and realistically the problems created by the cold war and the armaments race. For some years I have spent my time on exactly these questions both in thinking about ways to prevent war, and in thinking about how to fight, survive, and terminate a war, should it occur. My colleagues and I have sought answers to such questions as these: How likely is accidental war? How can one make it less likely? How dangerous is the arms race today? What will it be like in the future? What would conditions be if a nuclear attack leveled fifty of America’s largest cities? Would the survivors envy the dead? How many million American lives would an American President risk by standing firm in differing types of crises? By starting a nuclear war? By continuing a nuclear war with the hope of avoiding surrender? How many lives would he risk? How is it most likely to break down? If it does break down, what will be the consequence? Are we really risking an end to all human life with our current system? If true, are we willing to risk it? Do we then prefer some degree of unilateral disarmament? If we do, will we be relying on the Russians to protect us from the Chinese? Will the world be more or less stable? Should we attempt to disarm unilaterally? If the answers to these last questions depend on the degree of damage that is envisaged, are we willing to argue that it is all right to risk a half billion or a billion people but not three billion?

There seem to be three basic objections to asking these types of questions:

1. No one should attempt to think about these problems in a detailed and rational way. 2. What thinking there is on these problems should be done in secret by the military exclusively, or at least by the government. 3. Even if some of this thinking must be done outside the government, the results of any such thought should not be made available to the public.

It is argued that thinking about the indescribable horror of nuclear war breeds callousness and indifference to the future of civilization in our planners and decision makers. It is true that detailed and dispassionate discussion of such questions is likely to look incredibly hard-hearted. It should also be clear, at least to thoughtful readers, that such questions must be considered. The reality may be so unpleasant that decision makers would prefer not to face it; but to a great extent this reality has been forced on them, or has come uninvited.

Thanks to our ever-increasing technology, we are living in a terrible and dangerous world; but, unlike the lady in the cartoon we cannot say, “Stop the world, I want to get off. We cannot get off. Even the most utopian of today’s visionaries will have to concede that the mere existence of modern technology involves a risk to civilization that would have been unthinkable twenty-five years ago. While we are going to make major attempts to change the nature of this reality, accepting great risks if necessary, most of us are unwilling to choose either a pronounced degree of unilateral disarmament or a preventive war designed to “settle” our problems one way or another. We therefore must face the facts that thermonuclear bombs now exist [and that] unless we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities, we are pledged to the maintenance of terrifying weapon systems with known and unknown, calculable and incalculable risks, unless and until better arrangements can be made.

If we are to have an expensive and lethal defense establishment, we must weigh all the risks and benefits. We must at least ask ourselves what are the likely and unlikely results of an inadvertent war, the possibilities of accident, irresponsibility, or unauthorized behavior on the other side as well as on our own.

A variation of the objection to careful consideration of these problems focuses on the personality of the thinker. This argument goes: Better no thought than evil thought; and since only evil and callous people can think about this, better no thought. Alternatively, the thinker’s motives are analyzed: This man studies war; he must like war much like the suspicion that a surgeon is a repressed sadist. Even if the charge were true, which in general it is not, it is not relevant. Like the repressed sadist who can perform a socially useful function by sublimating his urges into surgery, the man who loves war or violence may be able to successfully sublimate his desires into a careful and valuable study of war. It does indeed take an iron will or an unpleasant degree of detachment to go about this task. Ideally it should be possible for the analyst to have a disciplined empathy. In fact, the mind recoils from simultaneously probing deeply and creatively into these problems and being conscious at all times of the human tragedy involved.

This is not new. We do not continually remind the surgeon while he is operating of the humanity of his patient. We do not flash pictures of his patient’s wife or children in front of him. We want him to be careful, and we want him to be aware of the importance and frailty of the patient; we do not want him to be distracted or fearful. We do not expect illustrations in a book on surgery to be captioned: “A particularly deplorable tumor,” or “Good health is preferable to this kind of cancer.” Excessive comments such as, “And now there’s a lot of blood,” or “This particular cut really hurts,” are out-of-place although these are important things for a surgeon to know. To mention such things may be important. To dwell on them is morbid, and gets in the way of the information. The same tolerance needs be extended to thought on national security.

Some feel that we should consider these problems but view them with such awe and horror that we should not discuss them in normal, neutral, professional everyday language. I tend to disagree, at least so far as technical discussions and research are concerned. One does not do research in a cathedral. Awe is fine for those who come to worship or admire, but for those who come to analyze, to tamper, to change, to criticize, a factual and dispassionate, and sometimes even colorful, approach is to be preferred. And if the use of everyday language jars, that is all the more reason for using it. Why would one expect a realistic discussion of thermonuclear war not to be disturbing?

The very complexity of the questions raised is another reason why many object to their consideration. There is no doubt that if we reject hard thinking about alternatives in favor of uncritical acceptance of an extreme position we make the argument simpler and most of us prefer simple arguments.

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To summarize: Many people believe that the current system must inevitably end in total annihilation. They reject, sometimes very emotionally, any attempts to analyze this notion. Either they are afraid of where the thinking will lead them or they are afraid of thinking at all. They want to make the choice, between a risk and the certainty of disaster, between sanity and insanity, between good and evil; therefore, as moral and sane men they need no longer hesitate. I hold that an intelligent and responsible person cannot pose the problem so simply.

The last objection to detailed thought on thermonuclear war rests on the view that the subject is not only unpleasant but difficult. Many people feel that it is useless to apply rationality and calculation in any area dominated by irrational decision makers. This is almost comparable to feeling that it would be impossible to design a safety system for an insane asylum by rational methods, since, after all, the inmates are irrational. Of course, no governor or superintendent would consider firing the trained engineer, and turning the design over to one of the lunatics. The engineer is expected to take the irrationality of the inmates into account by a rational approach. Rational discussions of war and peace can explicitly include the possibility of irrational behavior.

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The Danger for America Today–The Unthinkable is Thinkable under Donald J. Trump  45th  POTUS

Of course, analysts may be misled by oversimplified models or misleading assumptions, and their competence readily attacked. However, except for irrelevant references to game theory and computers, such attacks are rare, and are usually so half-hearted that it is clear that their main motivation is not to expose incompetency. Given the difficulty of the problems, one would expect the critics to work more effectively on the obvious methodological problems and other weaknesses of present-day analysts.

Critics frequently refer to the icy rationality of the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation, and other such organizations. I’m always tempted to ask in reply, “Would you prefer a warm, human error? Do you feel better with a nice emotional mistake?” We cannot expect good discussion of security problems if we are going to label every attempt at detachment as callous, every attempt at objectivity as immoral. Such attitudes not only block discussion of the immediate issues, they lead to a disunity and fragmentation of the intellectual community that can be disastrous to the democratic dialogue between specialist and layman. The former tends to withdraw to secret and private discussions; the latter becomes more and more innocent, or naive, and more likely to be outraged if he is ever exposed to a professional discussion.

Finally, there is the objection that thermonuclear war should not, at least in detail, be discussed publicly. Even some who admit the usefulness of asking unpleasant questions have advocated raising them only in secret. One objector pointed out to me that if a parent in a burning building is faced with the problem of having to save one of two children, but not both, he will make a decision on the spur of the moment; it wouldn’t have made any difference if the parent had agonized over the problem ahead of time, and it would have been particularly bad to agonize in the presence of the children. This may be true, but other considerations dominate our nation’s choices; our capabilities for action and the risks we are assuming for ourselves and thrusting on others will be strongly influenced by our preparations both intellectual and physical.

Other reasons for this objection to public discussion range all the way from concern about telling the Soviets too much, and a fear of weakening the resolve of our own people, through a feeling that public discussion of death and destruction is distastefully comparable to a drugstore display of the tools, methods, and products of the mortician. Perhaps some or all of these objections to public discussion are well taken. I do not know for sure, but I think they are wrong.

They are wrong if we expect our people to participate rationally in the decision-making process in matters that are vital to their existence as individuals and as a nation. As one author has put it: “In a democracy, when experts disagree, laymen must resolve the disagreement.” One issue is whether it is better that the lay public, which will directly or indirectly decide policy, be more or less informed. A second issue is whether the discussion itself may not be significantly improved by eliciting ideas from people outside of official policy-making channels.

There are in any case at least two significant obstacles to full public debate of national security matters. The first, of course, is the constantly increasing problem of communication between the technologist and the layman, because of the specialization (one might almost say fragmentation) of knowledge. The other lies in the serious and paramount need to maintain security. Technical details of weapons’ capabilities and weaknesses must remain classified to some degree. Nonetheless, technical details may be of vital importance in resolving much broader problems. (For instance, who can presume to say whether the military advantages of atomic weapons testing outweigh the obvious political and physical disadvantages unless he knows what the military advantages are.) Moreover, those who feel that in some areas “security” has been unnecessarily extended must concede that in certain areas it has its place. To that extent the functioning of the democratic processes must be compromised with the requirements of the cold war and modem technology. Fortunately, non-classified sources often give reasonable approximations to the classified data. I would say that many of the agonizing problems facing us today can be debated and understood just about as easily without classified material as with provided one carefully considers the facts that are available.

It is quite clear that technical details are not the only important operative facts. Human and moral factors must always be considered. They must never be missing from policies and from public discussion. But emotionalism and sentimentality, as opposed to morality and concern, only confuse debates. Nor can experts be expected to repeat, “If, heaven forbid. ….,” before every sentence. Responsible decision makers and researchers cannot afford the luxury of denying the existence of agonizing questions. The public, whose lives and freedom are at stake, expects them to face such questions squarely and, where necessary, the expert should expect little less of the public.

*Herman Kahn, Founder, Hudson Institute

January 1st, 1962 Adapted from Thinking About the Unthinkable (Horizon Press), © Hudson Institute

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