Gwynne Dyer

  • 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.
  • Scotland might look at impact of Quebec's 'neverendums'

    The referendum on Scotland's independence is only six months away, and suddenly the cautious sparring between the Conservative-led coalition government in London and First Minister Alex Salmond's pro-independence government in Edinburgh has turned into open war. London won the first battles, and the No side will probably win the referendum in September -- but it is going to be a long war. The opening shot was fired by Chancellor George Osborne in London, who declared an independent Scotland could not negotiate a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom. With only one-tenth of Britain's population, Scotland is just too small to demand an equal say in how the pound is run. Besides, why would London want to keep the responsibility for Scotland's huge and rather dodgy banking sector?
  • The brink of the second Cold War?

    The first mistake of the Ukrainian revolutionaries was to abandon the Feb. 23 agreement to create a national unity government, including some of the revolutionary leaders, that would administer the country until new elections in December. It would have left President Viktor Yanukovych in office until then, but with severely diminished powers, as the constitution would have been changed to restore the authority of parliament. Leaving a man who ordered the murder of dozens of protesters in power, even temporarily, was a bitter pill to swallow, but it had tacit Russian support because it saved President Vladimir Putin's face. However, the crowds on Independence Square refused to accept the deal, and Yanukovych was forced to flee.
  • Ukraine after the revolution

    From a Ukrainian point of view, the priority is not to throw their revolution away again as they did after the Orange Revolution 10 years ago. But from everybody else's point of view, the priority now is to avoid an irreparable breach between Russia and the West. One Cold War was enough. The Yanukovych era is finished; the former president will not make another comeback. He has killed too many people, and the vulgar ostentation of his former palace (the architect of which understandably chose to remain anonymous) has shocked Ukrainians even though they already knew he was deeply corrupt. Besides, Russia will not bet on this horse again.
  • Kerry’s charge is magnificent, but so what

    John Kerry has been U.S. Secretary of State for precisely one year, and he has already 1) rescued President Barack Obama from his ill-considered promise to bomb Syria if it crossed the “red line” and used poison gas; 2) opened serious negotiations with Iran on its alleged attempt to build nuclear weapons; and 3) taken on the job of brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Getting Obama off the hook was useful, and may yet lead to the U.S. ending its support for the insurgency in Syria, which at this point would probably be the least bad outcome. Opening negotiations with Iran was long overdue, and makes the nightmare prospect of an American or a joint US-Israeli air attack on Iran daily less likely. But even King Solomon and Avicenna (Ibn Sina), sitting jointly in judgement on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, could not broker a peace accord there.
  • Europe 1848 shows Arab Spring might still flourish

    It has taken a little longer than it did after the 1848 revolutions in Europe, but on the third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution we can definitely say that the “Arab Spring” is finished. The popular, mostly non-violent revolutions that tried to overthrow the single-party dictatorships and absolute monarchies of the Arab world had their moments of glory, but the party is over and the bosses are back. People in the Middle East hate having their triumphs and tragedies treated as a second-hand version of European history, but the parallels with Europe in 1848 are hard to resist. The Arab tyrants had been in power for just as long, the revolutions were fuelled by the same mixture of democratic idealism and frustrated nationalism, and once again the trigger for the revolutions (if you had to highlight just one factor) was soaring food prices.
  • Greenland's quest for modernity

    Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world: one in five Greenlanders tries to commit suicide at some point in their lives. Everybody in Greenland (all 56,000 of them) knows this. In fact, everybody knows quite a few people who have tried to commit suicide, and one or two who succeeded. So is it really a good idea to subject this population to an experiment in high-speed cultural and economic change? Greenland is not fully independent: Denmark still controls its defence and foreign affairs, and subsidizes the population at the annual rate of about $10,000 per person. But Greenlanders are one of the few aboriginal societies on the planet that is dominant (almost 90 per cent of the population) on a large territory: the world's biggest island. And it is heading for independence.
  • Yanukovych risks Second Cold War

    “The protest mood in Ukraine is at a higher temperature than ever before,” said Vitali Klitschko, the de facto leader of the anti-government protests that have filled central Kiev for the past two months, in an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday. “We only need a small spark for the situation to develop in a way that will be completely out of control for the authorities.” It’s make-or-break time, because on Wednesday a raft of new laws came into effect that make almost everything the protesters have been doing illegal. The laws, which were rushed through the Ukrainian parliament last week on a show of hands, ban helmets, hard hats and masks at rallies, and impose fines and prison sentences for setting up unauthorized tents, stages or sound systems in public places.
  • Jihadis save Assad's regime

    It would be interesting to know just what tidbits of information the U.S. National Security Agency's eavesdropping has turned up on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. He certainly caved in very fast: On Sunday, he invited Iran to join the long-delayed peace talks aimed at ending the three-year-old civil war in Syria; on Sunday evening, the United States loudly objected, and on Monday, he obediently uninvited Iran. So the peace talks get underway in Switzerland this week after all, and the omens for peace are not that bad. Unless, of course, you were also hoping for the overthrow of the brutal regime of Bashar Assad and the emergence of a democratic Syria, in which case the omens are positively awful.
  • Bangladesh — the deal breaks down

    Last Sunday they held an election in Bangladesh, and nobody came. Well, practically nobody: turn-out was down from 70 per cent in the last election to only 20 per cent. Some of the absentees stayed away on principle, but others were just frightened away by the violence: more than a hundred polling stations set on fire, and 200 dead in political violence in the last two months. The past is back with a vengeance in Bangladesh. It wasn’t actually former U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger who predicted that an independent Bangladesh would be “an international basket case.” That was American diplomat Ural Alexis Johnson, at a meeting in December 1971, only days before Pakistani forces surrendered and Bangladesh won its independence. Kissinger merely observed that it would “not necessarily (be) our basket case.”
  • Supervolcanoes -- another reason to worry

    The good thing about volcanoes is you know where they are. If you don't want to get hurt, just stay away from them. The bad thing about supervolcanoes is you may know where they are, but there's no getting away from them. They only blow up very rarely, but when they do, the whole world is affected. They can cover an entire continent with ash and lower temperatures sharply worldwide for years. "This is something that, as a species, we will eventually have to deal with. It will happen in future," said Wim Malfait of ETH Zurich (the Swiss federal institute of technology), lead author of a recent paper in Nature Geoscience that says supervolcano eruptions don't even need an earthquake as a trigger. "You could compare it to an asteroid impact," he says. "The risk at any given time is small, but when it happens, the consequences will be catastrophic."
  • Threat of North Korea's purge

    Purges in Communist states have rarely stopped with the execution of one senior party member, especially when he has been tortured into "confessing" at his show trial that he was planning to stage a coup using "high-ranking military officers" and other close allies. "I didn't fix the definite time for the coup," Jang Song Thaek, the former No. 2 in the hierarchy of the world's last totalitarian state, said at his trial. "But it was my intention to concentrate (my allies in) my department and in all the economic organs in the cabinet and become premier when the economy goes totally bankrupt and the state is on the verge of collapse."
  • East Timor trampled by subterfuge

    And now for something completely different: a spy story that isn't about Edward Snowden's disclosures and the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance of everything and everybody. This one could come straight out of a 1950s spy thriller: a microphone buried in a wall, a listening post manned by people with headphones, and transcripts of secret conversations delivered to negotiators.
  • A genocide in Africa forestalled

    The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest and most inaccessible countries in the world. It's the size of France, but it only has four and a half million people. It is a serious contender for the title of Worst Governed Country in Africa, and it is now teetering on the brink of a genocide. Something has to be done, and only France was able and willing to do it.
  • EU not blameless in Ukrainian debacle

    Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych had much explaining to do at the summit meeting of the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania, last Thursday. After six years of negotiation on an EU-Ukraine trade pact and political association agreement, which was finally due to be signed at Vilnius, he had to explain why he wasn't going to sign it after all. "The economic situation in Ukraine is very hard, and we have big difficulties with Moscow," Yanukovych said in a private conversation with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel that was broadcast by Lithuanian television. "I would like you to hear me. I was alone for 31/2 years (since his election in 2010) in very unequal conditions with Russia... one to one."
  • Philippines' early warning

    SDLqWE'VE been telling the rest of the world we don't want what's happening to us to happen to everyone else," said Lucille L. Sering, the vice-chairwoman of the Philippines' Climate Commission, as the country struggled to cope with the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan. "This is your early warning system... we will all eventually be victims of this phenomenon." A full week after the typhoon roared through the eastern Visayas, the number of people killed is still unknown. Ten thousand dead is the number being used in the media, but the area around Tacloban city alone may have lost that many. Many other parts of Samar and Leyte islands are still inaccessible to both media and aid workers.
  • Aftermath of nuclear deal in Iran

    What will the Middle East look like after Iran and the great powers that are negotiating over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons ambitions -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) -- sign a deal that ends the confrontation? It's time to ask the question, because there is going to be a deal. It didn't get signed in Geneva last weekend, but it came close. The only foreign minister at the Geneva talks on Friday was Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, but progress was so rapid that by Saturday almost all the foreign ministers of the "P5+1" -- American, British, French, German and Russian -- dropped whatever they were doing and flew in for the grand finale. Only the Chinese foreign minister was absent.
  • Power-drunk fools the NSA's downfall

    Politicians and government officials rarely tell outright lies; the cost of being caught out in a lie is too high. Instead, they make carefully worded statements that seem to address the issue, but avoid the truth. Such as, for example, Caitlin Hayden, the White House spokeswoman who replied on Oct. 24 to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's angry protest at the tapping of her mobile phone by the U.S. National Security Agency. "The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel," she said. Yes, but has the U.S. been listening to Merkel's mobile phone calls from 2002 until the day before yesterday? "Beyond that, I'm not in a position to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity."
  • Everyone winning except Syrians

    "That prize should have been given to me," joked Syria's President Bashar Assad shortly after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 11. The guests gathered in his palace in Damascus presumably laughed, out of courtesy to their host, but they all knew giving up Syria's chemical weapons hadn't been Assad's idea at all.

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