Klaatu Barada Nikto

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Articles

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite movies. An alien and his robot visit Earth to warn humans that they must live in peace or die. In the movie’s immortal line, actress Patricia Neal stops the robot from destroying the world by intoning the untranslatable words “Klaatu barada nikto.” Reagan, who developed much of his worldview from such B movies, proposed to Gorbachev in one of their meetings that if aliens were to attack the earth, Americans and Russians should join forces to defeat the invaders. Gorbachev was reportedly taken aback by the proposal. Reagan’s faith in the unifying force of an external threat also contributed to his support for a space shield against nuclear weapons, technology that he occasionally suggested sharing with the Soviets.

World leaders no longer have to wait for aliens to show up with apocalyptic threats and mysterious weapons. We are perfectly capable of destroying the planet ourselves without outside help. Indeed, we are currently doing so by simply driving our SUVs and ripping up the rainforests.

So, imagine if the world leaders, pushed by an aroused populace, came together to agree to put aside their differences and focus on addressing climate change. It’s a difficult challenge. It’s expensive. It requires considerable human resources. And the answer is a no-brainer. There’s really only one pot of money in the world big enough to finance a new Manhattan Project. Finally coming to their senses, the world leaders agree to shift 50% of their military expenditures to stop global warming. Half the money now used for waging war will be used for saving the planet.

As FPIF’s Miriam Pemberton explains in a new special report, Military vs. Climate Security, the Pentagon is not exactly leading the charge. “For every dollar allocated for stabilizing the climate,” she writes, “the government will spend $88 on achieving security by military force.” And the United States spends 50 times as much arming the world as it does helping other countries address global warming.

Climate change is not bowling the head of the Statue of Liberty down midtown Manhattan (a la Cloverfield). But the threat is nevertheless very real. By shifting military spending into climate security spending, which world leader will have the courage to be the first to say “Klaatu barada nikto” to the military establishment and the energy industry?

Bush’s Last SOTU

In his last State of the Union address, President Bush did address climate change. “The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change,” he said. “And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology.”

Ah, if this were only true. “If the United States were really concerned about climate change, the Bush administration would sign and support binding agreements to reduce greenhouse emissions,” FPIF contributor Stephen Zunes writes in his annotation of the Bush speech. “Currently the United States is the only advanced industrialized country that has failed to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol. The United States would also dramatically scale back its military operations and basing throughout the globe, which contribute enormously to carbon emissions. In addition, U.S. foreign aid would primarily support the development of appropriate technology and sustainable agriculture that stresses self-sufficiency rather than help facilitate the massive carbon-emitting international trade of commodities that can be produced locally. Furthermore, rather than subsidize giant corporations for dubious capital-intensive oil-substitution projects, the Bush administration needs to get serious about dramatically increasing federal support for public transportation, encouraging conservation efforts, and backing the development of renewable sources of energy.”

American politicians are not waiting for leadership at a national level. The United States has failed to ratify Kyoto, but local leaders have raised their voices. “After Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle started a nationwide effort to get cities to agree to the protocol,” writes FPIF contributor Karen Dolan in Foreign Policy Goes Local, “740 U.S. cities in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, representing over 76 million Americans now support Kyoto.” As Dolan explains, climate activism is only the tip of the iceberg of municipal foreign policy. States and cities across the United States are opposing the Iraq War, challenging free trade agreements, declaring sanctuaries for undocumented, and opposing the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

Chomsky on the South

Or course, it’s not just the U.S. mayors and U.S. governors who are standing up to Washington. Countries all over the Global South are just saying no. In the second part of his interview with FPIF contributor Michael Shank, Noam Chomsky talks about the new archipelago of resistance, beginning with Bolivia.

“The mostly white, Europeanized elite, which is a minority, happens to be sitting on most of the hydrocarbon reserves,” Chomsky relates. “And for the first time Bolivia is becoming democratic. So it’s therefore bitterly hated by the West, which despises democracy, because it’s much too dangerous. But when the indigenous majority actually took political power for the first time, in a very democratic election of the kind we can’t imagine here, the reaction in the West was quite hostile. I recall, for example, an article – I think it was the Financial Times – condemning Morales as moving toward dictatorship because he was calling for nationalization of oil. They omitted to mention, with the support of about 90% of the population. But that’s tyranny. Tyranny means you don’t do what the United States says. Just like moderation means that you’re like Saudi Arabia and you do do what we say.”

Middle East Instability

Bush has been upbeat these days about Iraq. Look at all the Iraqi refugees who are returning to their country, he says. But as Michael Shank points out in False Sense of Security in Iraq, the 40,000 returnees are just a drop in the ocean. Roughly 2.2 million Iraqis fled the country, and another 2 million remain internally displaced.

More troubling has been the U.S. response to the refugee situation. “Afraid that a flood of refugees will incite further sectarian violence, General David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, refuses to put resettlement responsibilities in the hands of U.S. forces,” Shank writes. “In his words, ‘We obviously do not have that kind of capability on the ground here.’ That means that over 4 million total displaced Iraqis, 2.2 million inside Iraq and over 2 million outside, are on their own. To put it differently, one-fifth of the nation’s entire population, many of whom left in response to the 2003 U.S. invasion, should head home without expectation of American assistance.”

Bush’s recent trip to the region has only served to add fuel to the fires of instability. As Stephen Zunes reports, the chief result of the trip has been putting the final touches on a huge arms package to Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

In addition to putting more weapons into the hands of autocrats, the arms deals may ultimately turn out to be literally self-defeating. “There is also the possibility that, as with Iran following the 1979 revolution, U.S. arms provided to one or more of these autocratic Arab regimes could end up in the hands of radical anti-American forces should the government be overthrown,” Zunes writes in Arming the Middle East. “Indeed, seeing their countries’ wealth squandered on unnecessary weapons systems pushed on them by the U.S. government and suffering under their despotic rulers kept in power in large part through such military support are major causes of the growing appeal of anti-American extremism among the peoples of Middle East.”

Troubling policies abroad are mirrored by troubling polices at home. Bryan Farrell recently spent a night in jail after protesting the detentions at Guantanamo. “Even if Guantánamo is shut down – and many top U.S. officials have spoken publicly in favor of such an action, including President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – there’s no telling what will happen to the remaining 275 prisoners,” he writes in Lessons from Protesting Guantanamo. “Some could be extricated with little hassle, much like the more than 500 released or transferred out over the last few years, while others face an ironic legal snafu that prevents the deportation of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture. Those prisoners may have to wait for the United States to find a country willing to grant them asylum, which will not be an easy task so long as our government refuses to share the burden.

FPIF, February 4, 2008

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