Would it be a great disaster if Iran had nuclear weapons? As a habitual contrarian, I pose the question because almost everyone seems to believe that it would, and that it must be prevented at all costs. But is that true?
Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, has been calling for the creation of a “League of Democracies.” This new international group would possess a formidable military capacity, based partly on NATO and partly on a “new quadrilateral security partnership” in the Pacific between Australia, India, Japan, and the US. Neither Russia nor China, of course, would be invited to join: indeed, McCain wants to exclude Russia from the G8.
It was only to be expected that former US Vice President Al Gore would give this month’s Burmese cyclone an apocalyptic twist. “Last year,” he said, “a catastrophic storm hit Bangladesh. The year before, the strongest cyclone in more than 50 years hit China….We’re seeing the consequences that scientists have long predicted might be associated with continual global warming.”
Kosovo’s recent unilateral declaration of independence brought back memories. I publicly opposed NATO’s attack on Serbia – carried out in the name of protecting the Kosovars from Serb atrocities – in March 1999. At that time, I was a member of the Opposition Front Bench – or Shadow Government – in Britain’s House of Lords. The then Conservative leader, William Hague, immediately expelled me to the “back benches.” Thus ended my (minor) political career. Ever since, I have wondered whether I was right or wrong.
Today, there seems to be no coherent alternative to capitalism, yet anti-market feelings are alive and well, expressed for example in the moralistic backlash against globalization. Because no social system can survive for long without a moral basis, the issues posed by anti-globalization campaigners are urgent – all the more so in the midst of the current economic crisis.
The greatest disappointment of the postcommunist era has been the failure of the West – particularly Europe – to build a successful relationship with Russia. Most policymakers and experts expected that, after an inevitably troublesome period of transition, Russia would join the United States and Europe in a strategic and economic partnership, based on shared interests and values. The pace of change might be doubtful, but not its direction. Vladimir Putin’s massive electoral triumph in this week’s Duma elections has put the lie to that notion.
The global oil situation is particularly interesting at the moment. At around $30 a barrel, oil prices are remaining high even though a soft global economy means that world demand is low. The previously fashionable view that the American seizure of Iraqi oil resources would break OPEC and send the price of oil plummeting has turned out to be nonsense. Even with improved security, it will take five years to get Iraq oil fully on stream. With the American economy now recovering strongly, the price of oil should stay high, or even rise further, in the foreseeable future.