October 21, 2008

Children of the Twilight

An era of instability awaits Europe. Decisive action is required.

An era of instability awaits Europe. Decisive action is required.


Kaarel Kaas

Children of the Twilight

An era of instability awaits Europe. Decisive action is required.

There are various types of boomerang. Some fall helplessly to the ground after hitting their target. Others appear to be genuine striking weapons, hardly different from simple clubs. But the third type – and this is the type we usually have in mind when we say “boomerang” – always returns to its thrower. Its flight ends in the same place where it started. In this way part of the energy the thrower initially put into propelling the boomerang is transferred back to him. If the hunter is unlucky, it also might involve a painful blow to the head.
The logic behind the development and operation of technology could, with some reservations, be illustrated using the example of the latter type of boomerang. As all the military, social and political changes resulting from a revolution will in the end start to influence the living conditions of the revolutionaries themselves, so will the external surroundings transformed by major technological breakthroughs eventually and irrefutably affect the environment where those breakthroughs were conceived.
And Europe is the place from where the most important technological innovations and breakthroughs influencing the lives of wide masses originate. The USA could also be quite justifiably classified as “Europe,” because North America was originally founded on the overflow of the European population boom as well as hunger for resources and trade. It was foreign and peripheral to Western civilisation. Now it has become the centre and embodiment of that very same civilisation, if not in the eyes of the Old World, then the more so for everyone else.
This kind of reasoning might seem politically incorrect, arrogant, ethnocentric or even racist. But such assessments are irrelevant because they are merely opinions about the possible world outlook and normative position of the person who does such reasoning, as well as about that person’s location within the ethical and behavioural coordinate system. However, facts are independent of opinions based on morality and philosophy.
It is an independent fact that our contemporary world and its everyday processes mostly stem from Western concepts, production methods and technology, starting from the cigarettes between the fingers of practically every man in China to the suits worn by Communist Party functionaries representing the Chinese at the UN General Assembly. Or, to prolong the list, from the UN itself, international relations as such, the concept of a modern nation state to the electrical energy used to detonate bombs by terrorists (or from a different viewpoint – insurgents), who are opposed to the very concept of a nation state.
Moreover, this concerns mechanisms for the reproduction and synthesis of information and knowledge as well as methods for the distribution and spreading of information. The centres where such know-how is reproduced and synthesised are modern schools, universities, research institutes and academies whose structure and operations reflect the Western (now even universal) institutional model. Information, knowledge and their interpretations – world views – spread and are distributed via mass media (printed newspapers, magazines and books; radio and television; computer networks). This is a crucial point because all the realised and materialised notions existed previously only in the abstract as an idea, concept or description.
The fall of the Western monopoly
In view of the aforementioned it may be said that one outstanding circumstance, which will affect the West as a whole and European security in particular in the coming decades, is the fact that even though the whole world is now dominated by Western technology, the West does not dominate the world, as it did in the 1920s and 1930s. Again, this should not be considered in terms of good or bad – this is just a fact.
Secondly, it is noteworthy that the West has more or less lost the exclusive ownership of its technology. This concerns at least two levels: the user’s and the producer’s level. Driving and production of cars and fighter aircraft, modern banking systems, photography, mass communication from newspapers to satellite television, computer literacy, contemporary medical care as a means to decrease mortality rates and extend the human lifespan – all these technological improvements ceased to be “the secret knowledge of the white man” long ago.
It is a perfectly natural process and its consequences are inescapable. Once technical solutions and technologies are developed, they start to spread, transform and quite frequently obtain new qualities. For example, a book in its contemporary form – rectangular pages bound in a cover – constitutes a derivation of a technical solution developed by ancient Persians.  The Greco-Roman cultural domain as well as most parts of the ancient Middle-East preferred scrolls. When typography (with movable metal printing type) combined its forces with books in the beginning of the 15th century, the outcome was our contemporary printing technology, which in turn brought about the explosive dissemination of information and knowledge. By the way, the first Koran printed in the Islamic region was published in Persia in 1833…
The technological advances are now starting to boomerang against the Old World and at least four tendencies should be mentioned with regard to security.
First, the use of the Internet against its creators. The Internet originated from a project series of the US Department of Defense. The aim of the projects was to create a decentralised computer and information network which would secure the management processes and information exchange in case of a massive nuclear attack by the Soviets.
By now the Internet has turned into a major asset in the hands of the Islamists who oppose the West or even modernity. Or, indeed, more than an asset, something which secures the existence of the current extensive Salafist-Jihadist movement without central coordination. The web is used to circulate instructions and technical tips on how to execute terror attacks, how to evade the attention of the security forces etc. This kind of information is important, but not decisive. The Internet, a virtual environment, has become a new and powerful means for uniting people separated by space and time, for coordinating their activities and, last of all, for mobilising the masses – this is the decisive factor.  These processes have very significant consequences in the real world. Is it possible to set some kind of limits? No, it is actually impossible. Uncontrollability is intrinsic to the principal structure of the Internet – it is a characteristic feature of all decentralised systems and networks.
Taming the genie
The second trend is the spread of the production capability of conventional weapons and military electronics. Ten or fifteen years ago most conventional weapons – combat aircraft, helicopters, tanks, artillery – were purchased from the West and/or the Soviet Union/Russia or were assembled under licence from the same countries. China has been the largest weapons exporter besides the West and Russia, but the Chinese offered mostly copies of the relatively antiquated weapons of the Soviet Union.
At present the situation is changing. Iran’s national defence industry enterprises can produce digital communication systems, electronic warfare equipment, surveillance and reconnaissance systems and much more.
It is true that China’s armaments still mainly consist of purchases from Russia and equipment produced under licences, but Beijing’s long-term and coordinated efforts are finally bearing fruit.
China’s defence industry manufactures an ever increasing range of weapons systems the complexity of which is constantly evolving. The aviation industry, space technology sector and all areas connected with reconnaissance, communication, control and computer systems are developing especially rapidly. Substantial technology purchases from abroad, a critical mass of Chinese students who have obtained engineering qualifications from the West and defence cooperation with European high-tech companies are all factors that have contributed to such a speedy development.
For example, in 2001-2003 the military technology exports from the European Union member states to China grew 8 times – from 54 million euros to 416 million euros, e.g. the technology supplied by the EU played a key role in the development of China’s next generation attack helicopter.  It is very hard to block such technology transfers because, firstly, many technical solutions and devices necessary for the development of military systems are so-called dual-use technologies (i.e. they can be employed for peaceful as well as military purposes) and, secondly, the competition among corporations on the global market is fierce. If trade barriers were to be established, they would be incompatible with the fundamentals of global capitalism. Of course, restrictions can be imposed to a certain extent. For example, Israel recently had to apply stricter measures to control defence exports under strong pressure from the US who criticised Tel Aviv for a proposed sales transaction with China concerning airborne early warning systems and anti-radar unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
It is not just one state we should be concerned about – it is the very nature of the spreading of military technology. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it satisfies everyone’s needs sooner or later, providing they have enough money, technological know-how and desire as well as the persistence to tame it.
International missile market
This brings us to the third major factor – the proliferation of missile technology. Missiles have several significant advantages over air forces: their flight speed is faster, their flight range is often longer (compared with combat aircraft), weather conditions have no impact on them and, as a rule, they are more likely than aircraft to reach their target because an air defence has fewer counter measures available against missiles.  Missile systems are important for developing countries because, in the near future, air forces will not be able to penetrate the powerful air defence systems of Western countries, but missiles will.
Only 20 years ago most of the countries of the Middle-East were armed with missiles purchased from abroad, mainly from the Soviet Union and China, with flight ranges of 200-300 kilometres. In the middle of the last decade they were manufacturing copies and modifications of those missiles. By now Pakistan has at its disposal domestically produced Shaheen-2 missiles (range: 2000 km), Iran stocks Shahab-3 missiles (range: 1300 km) and North Korea holds Taepo-Dong 1 missiles (range: 2500 km).
Iran’s progress stems from cooperation with China, North Korea and Russia;  Pakistan was supported by China and North Korea in developing its missile programme; North Korea has to thank China and Russia for the aid they once provided. Technology is spreading from country to country. When disseminating its know-how, China wanted to play potential regional powers off against each other and then to play them off collectively against the US and Russia; for North Korea it has been one of the few sources of income; from the beginning of the 1990s Moscow has been selling military technology for the same reason to practically anyone who can pay and who is not too disagreeable for its generous creditor – the West. Iran, in its turn, shared its missile technology with Syria who safeguards the existence and effectiveness of Hezbollah, which provides Iran with regional leverage. In addition to that, Syria has recently become Tehran’s official “strategic ally.”
Furthermore, the reliability, flight range and assortment of missiles are still increasing. While the Shahab-3 missile, which Iran manufactured in June 2003, has a range of 1300 kilometres and is able to hit half of Anatolia in Turkey, Tehran is now allegedly increasing its range to 2000 kilometres in which case it could target even Istanbul.
In February 2005 the general public discovered that in 1999-2001 Iran had quietly purchased from Ukraine a part of its Soviet legacy – 12 KH-55 Raduga cruise missiles.  Designed to be launched from strategic bomber aircraft, this missile has a range of up to 3000 kilometres and was built to carry a nuclear warhead. At the present moment Iran does not have the knowledge or the technical base necessary for their application, but after examining their construction Tehran will probably learn to manufacture copies domestically.
As a result it is very likely that the same process, which has affected other military technologies and specific solutions, will be triggered – the know-how will furtively, but persistently leak to other countries.
The logic of a potential regional arms race should also be considered. The military might of one regional power, in this case Iran, gives rise to ambitions by other countries to achieve parity with it – indeed, this has happened before. The progress of Shiite Iran in modernising its conventional armed forces and in the field of missile technology already causes anxiety among the Sunni countries in the Persian Gulf region, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Arms control presumes a gentleman’s agreement
Presently we must admit that arms control measures are of no particular use, because they only have an effect, if the know-how is confined to a limited circle and those privy to it are interested in following the respective restrictions. Arms control mechanisms will not work in the absence of even one of these two factors. In this case, reality is more overwhelming than diplomatic wishful thinking.
Arms control mechanisms have been in place for decades. Different parties have laboured to improve, not to weaken them. Despite all efforts, the number of countries in possession of missile technology and other solutions essential for security reasons has not decreased, but increased. This growth rate has not been constant or decelerated – it has accelerated.
Now we come to the fourth trend: the spread of nuclear technology. In 1953 major Oskar Käbala, exiled to London, published a popular-scientific book in Estonian titled Aatompomm ja relvastuse areng selleni (The Atomic Bomb and Arms Development Until Its Creation) where he made the following brief statement: “Every country has the opportunity to produce an atomic bomb, providing it has enough raw material (uranium or plutonium), competent scientists and, more importantly, sufficient resources.”
After the publication of this statement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), founded in 1957, other control mechanisms for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the intelligence services of the great Western powers have been successfully fooled by Israel, the Republic of South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran. As yet, the last two countries have been unable to produce nuclear weapons. In addition to that, the Republic of South Africa destroyed its nuclear weapons voluntarily.
Last summer the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in the United Kingdom, estimated that by 2009 Iran might have produced 25 kilograms of the enriched uranium necessary for its first atomic bomb.  At the beginning of this year Meir Dagan, the chief of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, stated publicly that Iran will be able to build a nuclear weapon as soon as in 2009.  According to one hypothesis, Tehran is not aiming to produce stocks of ready-made nuclear weapons, but it wants to be able to quickly manufacture bombs and warheads when needed (so-called breakout capability).  In this case Iran will be a de facto nuclear-weapon state because the actual production of weapons is just a formality.
Several experts claim that the nuclearisation of Iran would trigger a chain reaction in the whole region and cause a nuclear arms race, the main participants of which would be Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but Turkey has also been mentioned.  Furthermore, at the end of the 1980s Algeria was also planning to get hold of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Old and vulnerable Europe
In the last fifty years Europe’s capability to withstand a potential nuclear attack or threats of one has not grown. On the contrary, it has diminished. However, the cause for this is quite clear and, paradoxically, associated with the high level of technology enjoyed in European countries and societies.
The atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 had a twofold effect. Firstly, the shock wave and intense heat destroyed all the existing infrastructure – houses, factories, bridges etc. – and killed every living organism in the impact area. Secondly, the devastating nuclear radiation damaged the living organisms severely or lethally as well as polluted the area with its facilities.
More than 60 years ago Japan was not an information society, but modern European countries usually are. Hence the importance of the third factor: the annihilating effect of the electromagnetic shock wave produced by a nuclear explosion. It would paralyse power networks because substations would melt down. Computers, information technology systems, electronic databases and mobile phones – all these things would not function any more and it would almost entirely incapacitate the banking sector, public administration, transport and mass media.  Or, figuratively speaking, the affected area would be knocked back to the 19th century.
We might not have to worry about the technological tornado which whirls like a dangerous boomerang about the Middle-East, if the region were stable, but unfortunately it is not. This region, as if embracing Europe from the other crescent side of the Mediterranean, is volatile and it is more than likely that the volatility will increase in the next decades. Moreover, it is experiencing a phase of demographic transition which will continue for decades to come.
Demographic transition is in its essence a complicated and troublesome demographic process, a symptom of which is a dramatic rise in population during a very short period of time (normally a short period would entail a couple of years, but in the demographic context it involves a couple of generations). Demographic transition is characterised by significant social upheavals, economic shocks as well as political turmoil, which has time and again ended in violence and even war. This transition befell Europe in the 18th-19th century, depending on the specific region, but in some places it lasted up to the 20th century. We could say that these were not the most peaceful times in the history of the Old World.
Let us now consider demographic dynamics in numerical terms: in 2005 the estimated population size of Egypt was 77.5 million, whereas in 2025 it will increase to 103.35 million,  which would equal the combined present population of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. During the same period Algeria’s population will rise from 32.5 million to 40.25 million; Morocco’s population from 32.73 million to 42.55 million; Iraq’s population from 26 million to 40.42 million; Iran’s population from 68 million to 83.19 million.
The population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will grow from 60.76 million to 107.98 million and Ethiopia’s population from 73 million to 107.8 million. The UN predicts that a powerful demographic explosion will hit Sub-Saharan Africa in the next fifty years: compared with the present level, in 2050 the size of the world’s population will have increased by 2.7 billion people, of whom about 40 per cent will be born in Sub-Saharan Africa.  And we are referring to the very same “Black Africa,” where fragile countries are usually kept from falling apart only by force, i.e. by the military. However, the proportion of HIV-positives in the armed forces of Black Africa is already ranging from 10-20 per cent (e.g. Nigeria) to 40-60 per cent (e.g. Congo, Angola), whereas even now the ratio of HIV-positives is 90 per cent in some army units of the Republic of South Africa.  A significant proportion of the army personnel in Black Africa will simply perish in the near future. Officers and administrators of a certain age bracket will be gone. This will increase the pressure at grass roots level. This pressure will be directed at the larger Middle-East which will be already quite unstable due to its own demographic processes. And in addition to that the water intake per capita (water has always been a strategically important resource in the Middle-East) will decrease two times during the next 20 years…
But what will happen to us here in Europe? Nothing special. Our population will fall slightly, but we will all become a little older, because we will live longer and have fewer children. Or, to be more precise, we have been having fewer children for a long time. There are fewer youngsters walking around. We spend more on welfare services and medical care for the elderly and less on education, science and security. Maybe we will erect a wall in the middle of the Mediterranean to keep all those dark-skinned angry young men from disturbing the peace in our large public rest home. Or maybe not. (And what would be the point? You cannot stop cruise or ballistic missiles with a wall.) Because we have stopped trying to influence processes over there. Because this would presume that we wanted to do something or had some energy or vitality. Unfortunately, these faculties are not typical to societies which are degenerating, pampered and internationally marginalised. And we live in such societies. We live in countries and societies which have evolved and developed under the sun of welfare and benevolent technological superiority. We live without realising that our sun will set permanently, if we do nothing. Then again, maybe this incomprehension is comprehensible or even unavoidable. Because that is what we are – children of the twilight.

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