Wednesday, March 16, 2011

At least we're not mixing nukes and war, this time

Let's think about the twin horrors of the day together for a moment.

In Japan, as the clip reports, some degree of nuclear meltdown is happening at the damaged power plants. And, perhaps even worse, hundreds of thousands of survivors of the earthquake and tsunami have had their existence literally reduced to rubble. As the social adrenaline abates, what will happen to them?

Meanwhile, the agony in Japan has pulled the world's eyes away from the revolt in the Libyan desert. As of today, it looks as though Colonel Qaddafi will succeed in taking back the rebel-held cities. We probably won't be able to see the violent retribution this dictator will visit on people who turned against him. Nor will we know for awhile whether military defeat means the popular revolt in the North African country is truly crushed or merely forced underground.

Our instinctive response to these horrors, as it is to some many others, is an anguished cry: IT ISN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN LIKE THIS!

But it does happen; it can. Power hungry men with enough money and guns can triumph over hope. Brilliant engineering and even the heroism of nuclear emergency workers can't ensure the safety of our attempt to harness the forces embedded in the stuff of the universe.

We will try over the next few months and years to put those insights out of our minds. That's what our ever-hopeful species does. It's not hard; there's lots of other things to concern us, from trying to help salvage lives for the injured from these events to going back to tweeting about Charlie Sheen.

But, at a minimum, let's try not to bring today's two horrors together. Nobody is talking much about this at the moment, but a year ago just about every developed exporter of nuclear technology was crowing about the possibilities of the Libyan reactor market.

The north African country already has a Russian 10 MWt research reactor, which has been operating since 1981 and is under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. France, Argentina, Ukraine and Russia have all signed agreements on the peaceful use of nuclear energy with Libya since its voluntary decision to halt a clandestine uranium enrichment program and fully open itself to IAEA inspections in 2003. Canada has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the country.

The ongoing Japanese meltdown illustrates, again, that human ingenuity cannot insure against all contingencies. Neither can humans avert war and civil strife. But we can try not to mix the two hazards.


Belisariusorb said...

Please publicize the AAVAZ campaign to sign an urgent petition to support a UN no-fly zone

janinsanfran said...

Thanks for the link, Belisariusorb. I certainly can support calling on the UN to move beyond the relatively minor sanctions they've voted against Qadaffi so far. (I've long supported Avaaz -- MoveOn for the world for US readers.)

However, US participation in a no-fly zone is NOT something I believe the world can stomach. (And it is not clear to me that any other power has the military capacity to do it.) If the "international community" involves itself in Libya at that level, the story becomes the intervention, not the people's revolt. And what matters throughout the region is the people's revolt.

No good answers here, except that the US should keep its grabby paws off any external response.

Rain said...

We could hope we could learn from it but it doesn't sound like it listening to right wingers like Eric Cantor. They don't seem to learn from ANY of it!

On the no-fly, I agree with you. It would mean another war and can we really handle that right now? Would it lead to more wars? My hope is that Qaddafi will not be able to sustain control of Libya and that after things settle down, he will find a way to get out without being hung. He really had no choice as it stood because when a dictator as brutal as he has been is overthrown, they are also put on trial. If he is to leave without that, he has to win now to lose later. That's about the best, I think we can hope for in all of this and then hope it's someone better who takes over. It often is not :(

Belisariusorb said...

Respectfully disagree with the foregoing.
First, the opposition in Libya is actively pleading for help in the form of a no-fly zone. It's probably too late to make much difference but it may well help.
Second, US and allied aircraft are very much superior to anything the Libyan armed forces can use against them, including missiles. There could be several shootings-down as there were in Kosovo 1999, but all captured NATO airmen were released in that case.
Nobody is calling for a ground force intervention, and those who claim "mission creep" will inevitably lead to such action are being disingenuous at best.
Regarding world public perception, as a European I think Americans should know what's being said in Europe even among pro-American circles about cowardice and hypocrisy of the Obama administration. That's the story right now.

janinsanfran said...

@Belisariusorb -- believe me, our European friends are unlikely to surpass what people here are saying about the general cowardice and hypocrisy of the Obama administration. Ask, for example, the US labor movement.

Got to watch US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice give a press conference yesterday. She's an improbable one. Seems the dithering we all hate from the O-guy is over. But I remain deeply distrustful of what follows.

When the elephant jumps in the pool, everyone else gets pushed around. Just yesterday our nuke regulator was saying the Japanese weren't doing it right. Again, that may be true, but from where I sit, you don't sling criticism about an emergency unless you are responsible for fixing it. It's too easy to take potshots.

Rain said...

Americans must do what is right and we have to consider our own people as well as what might be done elsewhere. We cannot let others guilt us into anything. We also have to be able to afford it in terms of soldiers and money.

I heard someone saying today that once you start that, you must stay to enforce it. Assuming it all ended abruptly, then it might not be a long time otherwise it could be another of those-- if you break it, you own it.

Worse is we will take the blame if we intervene unilaterally, with us being the main force (and a token few others), and then the next leader turns out to be brutal and corrupt. We've been there and seen how well that works.

The numbers of the ones in Libya asking us to intervene are hard to determine, but there are likely those who disagree and won't want us there. When Qaddafi is gone, it will potentially lead to a civil war as to who rules next. If the US has become involved militarily how do we let that go if the next ruler is brutal and doesn't allow elections which can easily happen. Once you intervene, you have responsibilities which is why I'd rather it be the UN with the US carrying no more of the load than other nations with a stake in the outcome.

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