Gwynne Dyer

  • The evolution of Islamic State

    As always after a major terrorist attack on the West, the right question to ask after the slaughter in Paris is: what were the strategic aims behind the attack? This requires getting your head around the concept terrorists have rational strategies, but once you have done that the motives behind the attacks are easy to figure out. It also becomes clear the motives have changed. The 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001 followed the classical terrorist strategy of trying to trick the target government into overreacting in ways that ultimately serve the terrorists' interests. Al-Qaeda's goal was to sucker the United States into invading Muslim countries.
  • Winning election not a vote to separate

    "WE would have preferred a referendum like in Quebec and Scotland, but the only course left to us was to organize these elections,” said Artur Mas, president of the regional government of Catalonia. So, he said, the election that was held on Sunday in Spain’s richest province should be seen as a referendum on independence — and he won it. It was not a big win: the pro-independence parties needed 68 seats for a majority in the 135-seat regional parliament, and they got 72. But it was a win nevertheless, and Mas says he will unilaterally declare Catalonia independent in the next 18 months on the strength of this vote.
  • Economic crises all connected

    You know how it is with buses? You wait ages for one, far longer than seems reasonable, and then three arrive all at once. Financial crises are a bit like that, too. The financial crisis everybody in the business has really been waiting for is a "hard landing" of the Chinese economy, now one of the two motors of the global economy. (The other is still the United States.) Everybody thought it was bound to come eventually -- well, everybody who was not too heavily invested in the Chinese market -- and it now appears to be here, although the Chinese government is still denying it.
  • Korean crisis control

    Having just been on holiday with two very strong-willed little boys aged eight and nine, I feel particularly well qualified to explain why the two Koreas have gone to the brink of war over some loudspeakers, but probably won't go over the edge. George and James could explain the process even better themselves, but child labour laws prevent them from writing for newspapers, so I'll do it for them. It began with a landmine explosion in the demilitarized zone between the two countries that severely wounded two South Korean army sergeants. The mine was of an old Soviet design, so Seoul said it must have been put there by North Korea and demanded an apology from Pyongyang.
  • The search for intelligent life showing promise

    One by one, the empty boxes in the Drake Equation are being filled in with actual numbers, and it's looking good. So good, Yuri Milner is spending US$100 million of his own money over the next 10 years to fund the search for non-human civilizations orbiting other stars. But it's a pity the Philae lander from the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission didn't have more time to look for life on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Yuri Milner is a Silicon Valley billionaire who was working on a PhD in theoretical physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences before he moved to the United States and got rich. His money will buy thousands of hours of radio-telescope time each year to look for radio transmissions from other star systems.
  • Everybody a minority in Israel

    Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel, is an outspoken man, but he knows when to hold his fire. He condemned the killing of an 18-month-old Palestinian child in an arson attack in the West Bank by suspected Jewish settlers last Friday as terrorism, but he did not say the suspects were from the extreme wing of the "national religious tribe." Rivlin has not yet commented publicly on the knife attack on gay pride marchers in Jerusalem the previous day that wounded six people (one of whom, 16-year-old Shira Banki, has now died of her wounds). But if and when he does, he will not point out that the killer, Yishai Schlissel, belongs to the extremist fringe of the "Haredi tribe," the ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not even recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
  • Iran deal necessary in IS fight

    The thing to bear in mind about Tuesday’s deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) is that without it Iran could get nuclear weapons whenever it wants in a short time. It has the technologies for enriching uranium, it could make the actual bombs any time it likes (every major country knows how), and the sanctions against Iran could not get much worse than they are now. If you don’t like the current deal, and you really believe that Iran is hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons, then your only remaining option is massive air strikes on Iran. Not even the Republican Party stalwarts in the U.S. Congress are up for committing the U.S. Air Force to that folly, and Israel without American support simply couldn’t do it on its own.
  • Sorry seems to be the hardest word

    It's hard to say sorry, but it's even harder to say you're sorry for a genocide. The word just sticks in the throats of those who should be saying it, as the Turks have been demonstrating for the past 100 years in the case of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia. And the Serbs have just shown themselves to be just as tongue-tied in the case of the Bosnian Muslims slaughtered at Srebrenica. Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the murder of between 7,000 and 8,000 people when Srebrenica was taken by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995. The town's population was swollen by refugees who had fled there to escape the "ethnic cleansing" that was being carried out against Muslims elsewhere in eastern Bosnia, because it was a United Nations-designated "safe area" defended by NATO troops. Or rather, not defended.
  • Greece and the Euro: now what?

    In theory, it could still work. It only requires three miracles. Maybe the resounding "no" to the eurozone's terms for a third bailout in Sunday's referendum in Greece (61 per cent against) will force the euro currency's real managers, Germany and France, to reconsider. French President François Hollande is already advocating a return to negotiations with Greece.
  • IS targets Mideast, not the West

    In France, on Friday, an Islamist named Yahya Salhi killed his employer, Herve Cornara. He attached the victim's severed head to the fence around a chemical plant, together with a cloth saying "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet" -- and then rammed his vehicle into a warehouse full of chemicals hoping (but failing) to cause a massive explosion.
  • Dutch leader incites violence

    Geert Wilders is a deeply cynical Dutch politician who is willing to get people killed to advance his political career. Sometimes they are Muslims, sometimes they are people of Christian heritage -- that doesn't really matter, so long as he reaps the publicity. And now he has come up with a clever new way to outrage foolish young Muslims and get them to murder people for him. Wilders realized a little-known Dutch law obliges the television networks to show anything a politician wishes to include in a party political broadcast. No censorship is allowed on the grounds of truth, of taste, or even of safety. So the far-right politician, whose whole political career has been based on attacking Islam, decided to air some truly nasty cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.
  • The walking dead

    "THERE are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” said Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich. “We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on.” He was talking about the "Sixth Extinction," the huge loss of species that is underway right now. It's been discussed in public before, of course, but what Ehrlich and other scientists from Stanford and Princeton universities and the University of California, Berkeley have done is to document it statistically.
  • Waterloo: The fall of a superpower

    Thursday is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and in the course of the day you are almost bound to hear or read somebody claiming that it “changed history.” It was a very big battle, after all, and it would be a century before Europe saw war on that scale again. But did the events of June 18, 1815, “change history”? Probably not. The really decisive battle, the ‘Battle of the Nations,’ was fought a year and a half before that near Leipzig in Germany. Three times more men were involved in that battle than fought at Waterloo. There were many more battles before the Russian, Austrian and Prussian armies entered Paris and Napoleon finally abdicated as emperor of the French in the spring of 1814, but he never won another battle.
  • Greece: The never-ending crisis

    “The Greek government would be well-advised to act quickly — for the Greek banks, it is five minutes to midnight,” said Andreas Dombret, an executive board member of the German central bank, last weekend. And everybody whose memory extends back a few years goes: “That again? Somebody has been saying that every three months or so since 2010. Why should we believe it this time?” The answer is that you probably shouldn’t. The ability of the European Union to dodge the issue and kick the can down the road another few months is unparalleled. But it’s the wrong question. The right one is: why is this crisis still going on five years after it began?
  • Rescuing Assad Ugly, but the least worse option in Syria

    The fall of Ramadi to Islamic State troops on Wednesday was not a big deal. The city was deep inside IS-held territory, IS fighters had controlled 80 per cent of it since March, and we already knew that the Iraqi army can't fight. Even so, Islamic State is not going to take much more of Iraq. What it doesn't already hold is either Shia or just not Arab at all (Kurdistan), and that is not fertile ground for Sunni Arab fanatics.
  • Another Bush damaged by Iraq

    He just misheard the question. A basically friendly interviewer on Fox News asked Jeb Bush, now seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency: "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion (of Iraq)?" And he replied: "I would have." When the storm of protest, even from Republicans, swept over him, he explained that he thought the interviewer had said: "Knowing what we KNEW THEN."
  • The folly of anti-terror laws

    Left-wing, right-wing, it makes no difference. Almost every elected government, confronted with even the slightest terrorist threat, responds by attacking the civil liberties of its own citizens. And the citizens often cheer them on. Last week, the French government passed a new bill through the National Assembly that vastly expanded the powers of the country’s intelligence services. French intelligence agents will now be free to plant cameras and recording devices in private homes and cars, intercept phone conversations without judicial oversight, even install “keylogger” devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time.
  • Democracy stalls in Myanmar

    There was supposed to be a referendum in Myanmar this month. It would have addressed all the cynical clauses that the military regime wrote into the 2008 constitution to safeguard its own hold on power. But that isn’t going to happen: not now, and probably not before the national election that is due in October or November of this year. There are even people in Myanmar who wonder whether the election itself will be held on time. “I would just like to remind you,” said Aung San Suu Kyi, for almost thirty years the leader of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, “that I have been saying since 2012 that a bit of healthy scepticism (about the army’s real intentions) would be very, very good.” Speaking to The Guardian newspaper last month, she warned that “too many of our Western friends are too optimistic about the democratization process.”
  • Europe’s disgraceful excuses

    “What’s emerging is what we need, which is a comprehensive plan, going after the criminal gangs, going after the traffickers, going after the owners of the boats ... and stabilizing the countries from which these people are coming.” And when you have finished “stabilizing” Syria, Somalia and Libya, overthrowing the Eritrean dictatorship, and ending poverty in West Africa, could you drop by and fix my plumbing? Oh, and Yemen. Fix Yemen too. “These people” are the 1,300 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean in the past two weeks, the 30,000 who will drown by the end of this year while trying to cross if nothing more is done — and of course, the estimated half million who will make it safely to Italy, Malta or Greece. The speaker was Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, but he was just one voice in the European Union choir.
  • Half a Titanic

    The first thing to do, if you want to cut the number of refugees from Africa and the Middle East dying while trying to cross the Mediterranean, is to drop leaflets all along the Libyan coast teaching them about ship stability. Don't all rush to one side when you spot a ship that might save you, the pamphlets will say, because your boat will capsize and you will drown. That's what happened this weekend off the Libyan coast, where a boat filled with at least 700 refugees overturned when the people aboard spotted a Portuguese freighter and tried to attract its attention. (One survivor says there were 950 people aboard, including those locked below decks.) At least 650 people died -- half a Titanic's worth of casualties -- although the boat in question was only 20 metres (70 ft.) long. Only 28 people were saved.
  • The battle over the Armenian genocide

    It is with great reluctance that I write about the Armenian genocide, as I know from experience that what I say will infuriate both sides. But it is the 100th anniversary of the catastrophe this month, and Pope Francis has just declared that the mass killing of Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 was indeed a genocide. Turkey, predictably, has responded by withdrawing its ambassador from the Vatican. Well, surprise! We've been listening to this argument for several generations now, and it rarely gets much further than "Yes, you did!" "No, I didn't!" Unfortunately, I know a lot more about it than that.
  • The world in 2050 (or not)

    “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable,” said John Kenneth Galbraith, the wisest American economist of his generation. (“A paltry honour,” he would have murmured.) But you still can’t resist wondering when the Chinese economy will be bigger than the U.S. economy — or the Brazilian bigger than the British, or the Turkish bigger than the Italian — as if it were some kind of horse race. The latest document to tackle these questions is The World in 2050, drawn up by HSBC bank, which ranks the world’s hundred biggest economies as they are now, and as (it thinks) they will be in 2050. It contains the usual little surprises, like a prediction that per capita incomes in the Philippines and Indonesia, now roughly the same, will diverge so fast that the average Filipino will have twice the income of the average Indonesian by 2050.
  • Nigeria: A plunge into the unknown

    “I think, once a dictator, always a dictator,” said Sonnie Ekwowusi, a columnist for Nigeria’s This Day newspaper. “Many people are afraid that if (Muhammadu Buhari) wins, they will go to prison.” Well, Buhari did win the presidential election, and there are many people in Nigeria who really should go to prison, mainly for corruption while in political office. Quite a lot of them worked with or for the outgoing president, Goodluck Jonathan, whose six years in office were marked by corruption that was impressive even by Nigeria’s demanding standards.
  • Message to aliens: Can we talk?

    I really liked the furious debate that broke out recently among astronomers about whether we should send out signals to the universe saying “we are here.” It implicitly assumes that somehow, if your science is really advanced, then interstellar travel is possible. I like it because I hate the idea that the human race will never be able to go beyond this little planetary system “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy,” as Douglas Adams put it in his Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Bombing Yemen likely to backfire

    The Sunni Arab countries that started bombing Yemen on Wednesday seem to think they are fighting an Iranian-backed plot to expand Shia power and influence in the Arab world. Most other countries find that hard to believe, but even if the Sunni countries are right, wars often have unintended consequences. This military intervention is likely to have results Saudi Arabia and its friends don't like one bit. They've all shown up for this war. Saudi Arabia and the other monarchies of the Arab world (Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and even Morocco) have all committed aircraft to bombing Yemen. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan have offered to send ground troops. And the United States (which just pulled the last American troops out of Yemen) promises to provide logistical and intelligence support.


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