Gwynne Dyer

  • Scotland stays and questions linger

    A week ago, the Kurdistan Times warned "the British are exercising the old colonialist tongue to control the minds and dampen the aspirations of Scottish people who want to vote Yes (to independence)." And lo! It came to pass just as the Kurdistan Times predicted. The silver-tongued colonialists lured the Scots into voting No, and by a fairly healthy margin, too: 55 per cent No, 45 per cent Yes. It is, indeed, a much wider margin for the No than the last time a proposal for secession was voted on in a western country, in Canada in 1995. In that referendum, just 50.5 per cent of Quebecers voted No, compared to 49.5 per cent who voted Yes.
  • Scottish revolt on conservatives

    If the Scots vote Yes to independence on Thursday, as one poll suggests they will, three things are likely to happen in the following week. First, David Cameron may cease to be the leader of the Conservative Party and the prime minister of the U.K. He would be removed by his own Conservative MPs, who would hold him responsible for allowing the break-up of a very successful union that has lasted 307 years.
  • Russia, Ukraine play a dangerous game of chicken

    It is quite possible for soldiers to cross a frontier "by accident on an unmarked section," and that is how Moscow explains the capture of a group of Russian paratroopers on Ukrainian territory last weekend. Poor lambs, they just wandered across the border by mistake. When they get home, they'll have to be sent on a refresher course in cross-country navigation. The flaw in this story is that the 10 captured Russian soldiers, from the 331st Regiment of the 98th Guards Airborne Division, were caught in a group of unmarked vehicles 20 kilometres inside Ukraine. That's a third of the way from the Russian border to the besieged rebel city of Donetsk, and it's really hard to explain away as a navigational error.
  • The Middle East: new strategic realities

    After half a century of stasis, there are big new strategic realities in the Middle East, but people are having trouble getting their heads around them. Take the United States, for example. Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state in President Barack Obama's first administration, is still lamenting her former boss's failure to send more military help to the "moderate" rebels in Syria. "The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled," Clinton told the Atlantic magazine recently. She's actually claiming early and lavish military aid to the right people would have overthrown Syria's dictator, Bashar Assad, while freezing the al-Qaida/ISIS jihadis out. If only.
  • Big Pharma in no rush for Ebola vaccine

    Ebola is a truly frightening disease, with a fatality rate as high as 95 per cent (although the death rate in the current outbreak in West Africa is only 55 to 60 per cent). At the moment, it is largely confined to a heavily forested inland area where the borders of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea meet, although cases have already appeared in the capital cities of all three countries. It could get much worse. If Ebola gained a significant foothold in a prosperous, densely populated country such as Nigeria, whose citizens travel all over the world, the current 800 recorded deaths could become 8,000, or 80,000, or even more. And the worst of it is there is no effective vaccine or treatment for Ebola.
  • First World War's legacy still growing

    "It was not worth even one life," said Harry Patch shortly before he died in 2009 at the age of 111. He was the last survivor of the 65 million soldiers who fought in the First World War, and by the time he died, it was a normal, quite unremarkable thing to say. But he would never have said it in 1914. Very few people thought war was a bad thing in 1914. Losing a war could be a bad thing, but the obvious solution to that problem was to be very good at war. Human beings had always fought wars, military values were deeply embedded in our culture, and nobody expected those attitudes to change. And then they did change.
  • Minority Christian Arabs are on the move

    Two high-profile incidents last week, at opposite ends of the Arab world. In northern Iraq, recently conquered by the zealots of the newly proclaimed "Islamic State," the Christians in Mosul were given three choices: convert to Islam, pay a special tax (about $750, on this occasion), or be killed. They all fled, and now Mosul is Christian-free for the first time in almost two millennia. Meanwhile, in Sudan, Meriam Ibrahim finally got permission to leave her homeland after spending months chained up in a jail cell. The young woman had been condemned to hang by a Sudanese court for the crime of having "converted" to Christianity, but the government couldn't legally kill her until after her baby was born.
  • Newest Gaza conflict follows same old script

    Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said something cryptic last Friday, shortly after the Israelis began their latest round of attacks on the Gaza Strip. Condemning Hamas's conditions for accepting a ceasefire as "exaggerated and unnecessary," he offered his condolences "to the families of the martyrs in Gaza who are fuel to those who trade in war. I oppose these traders, on both sides." What could he mean by that? Surely he was not suggesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the leaders of Hamas, the Islamist organization that has effective control of the Gaza Strip, have a common interest in perpetuating the current bloodbath for at least a little while longer.
  • Morale of Russian-backed rebels cracking

    As the Russian-backed rebels abandoned almost all their positions in eastern Ukraine apart from the two regional capital cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, the various players made predictable statements. Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said cautiously this could be "the beginning of the turning point in the fight against militants." Don't make promises that you are not sure you can keep.
  • Quietness doesn't mean acceptance of Thai coup

    "It's quiet out there. Too quiet." In the old Hollywood movies, that's the line one of the intrepid explorers utters just before all hell breaks loose in the jungle. But the army chiefs are probably saying it in Thailand, too.
  • United States an increasingly reluctant ally

    'The Polish American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It's bull----," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski, secretly taped in early 2014. Discuss. Use only one side of the paper. The publication of Radoslav Sikorski's comments in the Polish weekly magazine Wprost will not help his bid to become the European Union's foreign policy chief, but there are senior foreign policy officials elsewhere who might be tempted to make similar remarks (though perhaps not in alcohol-fuelled conversations in well-known restaurants where they might be overheard). And there are those in Washington who are saying the same thing.
  • Imagine if Iraq had not been invaded

    Whatever else you may say about the "young war criminal" (as British journalist Alan Watkins used to call former prime minister Tony Blair), he certainly fights his corner with great determination. He is condemned to spend his life defending his part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and last weekend he was at it again. In a 3,000-word essay on his website, Tony Blair wrote about last week's conquest of almost half Iraq's territory by the fanatical fighters of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): "We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that 'we' have caused this. We haven't." What he really meant by "we," of course, was "I."
  • ISIS rises

    The Iraqi army will have to destroy Mosul in order to save it -- and it's not clear whether it can do the job even then. It isn't so much an army as a vast system of patronage providing employment of a sort for 900,000 people. When fewer than a thousand ISIS jihadis fought their way into Mosul, Iraq's second city, over the past few days, most of the government's soldiers shed their uniforms and fled. The government troops never felt comfortable in Mosul anyway, for they are mostly Shia Muslims, and the vast majority of Mosul's 1.8 million residents are Sunni. (Or maybe it's only 1.3 million people now, for up to 500,000 of the city's residents are reported to be fleeing the triumphant jihadis: Shias, non-Muslim minorities and even Kurdish Sunnis have faced execution in other areas that have fallen under the control of ISIS.)
  • Redemption in Kosovo

    “The signs of collusion between the criminal class and the highest political and institutional office holders are too numerous and too serious to be ignored,” concluded the report submitted to the Council of Europe in December, 2010. The name of Hashim Thaci, then prime minister of Kosovo and former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was mentioned 27 times in 27 pages. Hashim Thaci is still prime minister of Kosovo. Indeed, he has just been re-elected to the job, although the turnout was a feeble 42 percent. The European Union and NATO, the two organisations that helped the Kosovars free themselves from Serbian rule, seem quite happy about his victory – and even the Serbian government urged the Serbian minority who still live there to vote in Kosovo’s election. So redemption is possible, after all.
  • Hard truths of D-Day: A date at Normandy

    The presence of President Vladimir Putin on the Normandy beaches on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was planned long before the current conflict over Ukraine, but it is a useful reminder of the fact that Russia is not some Asiatic tyranny on Europe's eastern borders. It is a European country that has played a major role in the continent's affairs for centuries. Not only were the Russians on the same side as the western Allies in the Second World War, they did most of the heavy lifting in the war against Nazi Germany and they paid by far the highest price.
  • Egypt's man of destiny, for a while

    To the vast surprise of absolutely nobody, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi won the Egyptian presidential election last week. Moreover, he won it with a majority that would pass for a resounding triumph in most countries. But it is a disarmingly modest majority for an Arab Man of Destiny. Not for Sisi the implausible margins of victory claimed by Men of Destiny in other Arab countries, such as the 96.3 per cent Egypt's last dictator, Hosni Mubarak, claimed in his first election 21 years ago, or the spectacular 100 per cent Iraq's Saddam Hussein allegedly got in his last election in 2002. No, Sisi just claimed 93.3 per cent of the votes, a number low enough it might actually be true.
  • Welcome to the human era

    There is no doubt that human beings are the dominant species on Earth. The seven billion of us account for about one-third of the total body mass of large animals on the planet, with our domestic animals accounting for most of the rest. (Wild animals only amount to three to five per cent.) But are we really central to the scheme of things? That is a different question. Almost all the scientific discoveries of the past few centuries have moved human beings away from the centre of things towards the periphery. In the 16th century we learned that Earth went around the sun, not the other way round.
  • Reclaiming Spain's Jews

    The Spanish parliament still has to pass the new citizenship law, but the cabinet has already approved it and Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardòn is sure there won't be a problem. "In Spain, a clear majority realize we have committed a historical error and have an opportunity to repair it, so I am sure that law will pass with an immense majority in parliament," he said. Historical apologies are in fashion -- ex-South African president F.W. De Klerk apologized for apartheid, ex-British prime minister Tony Blair apologized for the slave trade and the Irish potato famine, and Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Church's historical oppression of women.
  • How to avoid an ugly war in Ukraine

    On one hand, eastern Ukraine appears to be slipping out of the government's control, as pro-Russian groups seize control of official buildings in big eastern cities such as Donetsk and Luhansk and demand referendums on union with Russia. They almost certainly do not represent majority opinion in those cities, but the police stand aside and people who support Ukrainian unity are nervous about expressing their opinions in public.
  • Putin's aim to dismantle Ukraine heats up Cold War

    Two things were clear after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's four hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris last Sunday. One was that the United States accepts that nothing can be done about Russia's annexation of Crimea. Kerry continues to describe Russia's action as "illegal and illegitimate," but Crimea was not even mentioned in the communiqué released to the public. The other is that the transformation of Ukraine into a neutral, federal state is now firmly on the table. Kerry repeatedly voiced the mantra that there must be "no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine," but he also agreed with Lavrov that the subjects that need to be discussed include rights for national minorities, language rights, the disarmament of irregular forces and a constitutional reform that would make Ukraine a federal state.
  • Meanwhile, in Libya

    The Red Wadi (Wadi al Ahmar) lies a bit to the west of the old Roman border between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, but if Libya splits in two it will serve quite well as the new frontier. The deadline for the fighting to resume there was last March 27, but neither side is very good at organizing a battle and we will have to wait for a bit. It will probably happen in the end, though. Libya has been a chaos of rival militias holding down local fiefdoms ever since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship in 2011, but in the past month the disintegration has accelerated. A formal division of the country into two successor states is now a real possibility, but it’s unlikely to happen without some further fighting.
  • Prepare for a world of hunger

    If you want to go on eating regularly in a rapidly warming world, then live in a place that's either high in latitude or high in altitude. Alternatively, be rich, because the rich never starve. But otherwise, prepare to be hungry. That's the real message of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report on the impact of warming on human beings, released Monday. The main impact is on the food supply. Of course, everybody who was paying attention has already known that for years, including the scientists. It's just that scientists are professionally cautious, and will not say anything they cannot prove beyond any shadow of a doubt.
  • How far will 'paranoia' drive Putin?

    Crimea is going to be part of Russia, and there is nothing anybody else can do about it. The petty sanctions the United States and the European Union are currently imposing have been discounted in advance by Moscow, and even much more serious sanctions would not move it to reconsider its actions. But President Vladimir Putin still has to decide what he does next. One option, of course, is to do nothing more. He has his little local triumph in Crimea, which is of considerable emotional value to most Russians, and he has erased the loss of face he suffered when he mishandled the crisis in Kyiv so badly. If he just stops now, those sanctions will be quietly removed in a year or two, and it will be business as usual between Moscow and the West.
  • Libyan official was framed for Lockerbie bombing

    They lied, they're still lying, and they'll go on lying until Libya calms down enough to allow a thorough search of its archives. That's what intelligence agencies do, and being angry at them for lying is like being angry at a scorpion for stinging. But we now know that they lied about the Libyans planting the bomb on Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan airline official who was convicted of placing the bomb aboard the plane and sentenced to 27 years in prison by a special international court in 2001, was freed from jail in 2009 and sent home, allegedly dying from cancer and with only three months to live. He eventually did die three YEARS later, but it was a very peculiar thing for the Scottish government to do.
  • Afghanistan: Mission not accomplished

    Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron rambled a bit on his visit to Afghanistan last December, but ended up sounding just as deluded as U.S. President George W. Bush had been when he proclaimed “Mission accomplished” six weeks after the invasion of Iraq. British troops were sent to Afghanistan, Cameron said, “so it doesn’t become a haven for terror. That is the mission... and I think we will have accomplished that mission.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper was equally upbeat when addressing Canadian troops just before they pulled out in 2011. Afghanistan no longer represents a “geostrategic risk to the world (and) is no longer a source of global terrorism,” he said.

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