Monday, May 15, 2006

The Nuclear Turns into "Green"

The recently concluded summit of eight developing nations (D-8) in Bali has resulted in one interesting phenomenon. Amidst international objection on nuclear technology proliferation by non-nuclear states and seemingly inspired by the determination of one of its members, Iran, to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, the D-8 declared in their joint statement that they fully supported the development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes by any country in the world. The D-8 believes that is in the basic right of any sovereign country in the world to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. They also agreed that nuclear technology would provide a very important alternative way to fulfill any shortage of energy in future.

The decision by the D-8 to adopt a nuclear friendly policy as an alternative source of energy has become an instant headlines in international news. The fact that most of the members in the grouping are big oil producers, their bold declaration has raised some eyebrows. If the continuing increase of oil price in international market is the source of worry to immediately shift their focus of energy sources to fuel their economic machineries to nuclear technology, it seems this reason is little bit hard chew. With the abundant reserve in oil and other natural energy resources, this price increase should not be a worry for them.

But if the facts that these natural energy resources like oil, gas or coal do not last forever and cannot be recycled become the main reason of adopting this policy and the fact that there is a possibility to create a cheaper and affordable source of energy through nuclear technology, then this reason is, in my opinion, wholly acceptable. Because in the world which is increasingly demanding higher supply of oil and natural resources to keep the economic machineries running steadily, the abundant reserve of oil and other natural energy resources in these countries cannot keep these machineries running in a long period of time.

Shortage of oil and natural energy resources would soon become an unavoidable reality in the near future. Thus, there is a good reason to give nuclear technology a fresher look.

Uranium which becomes the main fuel in nuclear technology is abundant in number and inexpensive in price as compared to oil and other natural energy resources. Nuclear energy produced through this technology can replace fossil-fuel power plants for generating electricity and other industrial needs thus reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute heavily to global warming. Through nuclear technology there would be diversification of energy resources thus minimizes the use of oil and other natural energy resources and prolongs its usage. Nuclear technology is thus the most likely alternative source of energy in the future and the decision by the D-8 to choose nuclear technology as its future alternative source of energy is wholly perfect.

But the question now is how this declaration would affect the nuclear equation in international stage dominated by the US and Europe? Because, even though the manifesto of the grouping does not restrict its membership to only developing Muslim countries, but the current members of the grouping are eight Muslim dominated countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. This gives an impression that the nuclear now goes ‘green’ and Iran has found more supporters to cheer her on in the quest of becoming a nuclear power state.

This declaration by the D-8 certainly could alter the international nuclear equation in the future. Because this declaration came in a time when there is an immense pressure by the US and its allies as well as by the international communities to Tehran, a member of the D-8, to stop its efforts to develop nuclear technology. Furthermore, this declaration seems to challenge the status quo of nuclear power and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Even though nuclear technology does not mean nuclear weapon, but once a country is capable of acquiring a nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, it is also, in the long run, capable of creating nuclear weapons from it. There is always possibility for that country to turn the spent fuel rod of uranium into nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan are clear examples. Or even worse, the current nuclear powers supply developing nations with uranium and taking the spent fuel rods back to create nuclear weaponry. The double standard given by the US on nuclear policy through a nuclear deal with India would further aggravate the situation.

To quote an editorial from the New York Times, “How much impact nuclear power could really have in slowing carbon emissions has yet to be spelled out, but there is no doubt that nuclear power could serve as a useful bridge to even greener sources of energy.” And with the declaration by the D-8, the nuclear has become ‘green’. But how far this ‘green’ would affect the nuclear equation in the future still remains to be watched closely. For now, nuclear technology is the most likely alternative source of energy which is green, affordable yet dangerous.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Between Economy and Politics: A New Challenge for D-8

Going by the statistics of the economic relations among the members of the Developing Eight for the past 9 years after its establishment in June 1997, less than 4 per cent of their total foreign trade with the whole world, the up coming summit to be held in Bali on 13-14 May 2006 has resulted in some degree of pessimism in certain quarters. Questions like could this meeting boost economic relations in a tangible way? or would this meeting be just another routine meeting without any tangible results? have come up as the result of this pessimism.

Furthermore, in the world which is flat, to use the term popularized by Thomas L. Friedman, the D-8 faces a difficult choice between sticking to its agreed manifesto of sole economic cooperation and a temptation to indulge in responding to political issues that emerge between now and then among its member states. The ever-increasing interconnection between politics and economy in this globalized world has prevented the separation of economic development and political issues. This dilemma of choice is the most difficult challenge that needs to be addressed by the grouping at the earliest possible time. How?

Adopting a new manifesto that acknowledges the importance of political implications to the development of economy is, in my opinion, one most tangible answer possible to cope with this new challenge. Because by expanding the old manifesto into a manifesto that also deals with political issues, the grouping would be able to develop a new approach and design suitable framework to balance the implications of political issues on their economic development. Besides, this type of manifesto would allow the grouping to become a single entity in voicing their stand on certain political issues. In this way, their voice possesses much heavier political importance than a single voice of a developing country.

However, adoption of this kind of manifesto is certainly not without any challenge and obstacle. Even though the member states in D-8 share certain degree of democracy, but except Iran and Pakistan, the remaining member states in D-8 are not Islamic states. The Muslims in these countries, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Turkey, practice secularism to run the administration in their countries. Homogeneity through democracy and Muslim-dominated population is very much apparent in the grouping but heterogeneity among them cannot be neglected.

Thus, for an example, if the grouping responds to an international challenge faced by one of its member states solely based on their emotional relation of being Muslim-dominated countries would only further polarized the already fragmented world. The grouping must instead formulate an approach that would contribute to the elevation of humanitarianism and not to indulge in emotional responses solely based on hatred and enmity. The ability of the D-8 leaders to come up with this kind of formula to cope with the new challenges will be of great benefit to the long-term standing of this grouping in international politics.

By understanding the global implications of political issues on the development of economic growth and cooperation and immediately adopting appropriate approach to tackle the challenge, there is a greater possibility of the D-8 member countries to utilize their trade potentials to the maximum. In other words, since politics and economy are parallel to each other, the balance between the two will be very beneficial to improve economic growth and development.

If the grouping finally decides to adopt this kind of approach by considering the importance of political implications to economic development and cooperation, the Bali Summit would certainly not only just another routine summit without any tangible result. A whole new meaning in the grouping would emerge as a result of it. Besides, if Indonesia, as the next chairman of the grouping, could bring about an initiative in this direction, I believe, there would be positive responses from different quarters due to the increasing international standing of Indonesia as the biggest country in the world with biggest number of moderate Muslim population.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Between Poverty and Destruction

Recently, there was a report on an international newspaper on a number of Saudi youth who drank alcohol-based cologne to ease out their ‘misery’. But instead of becoming ‘high’, they died due to the deadly type of alcohol found in it. This recent incident was a repeat of similar incident occurred four year before. 17 youth throughout the kingdom has been reportedly died while several others who drank it are now under the medical treatment for blood poisoning. It is not known how far this deadly habit has taken victim.

What drove these youth to take this deadly action? The report said that an urge to achieve instant relief from misery due to poverty and the lack of parental supervision have driven these youth to take this action. Besides, the lack of knowledge on the drinkable alcohol seen by these youth on international television programs widely accessible through satellite discs across the Kingdom also contributed to this incident. Some young people made the mistake thinking that anything that says alcohol is consumable. They are wrong.

In liquors, the alcohol used is known as ethyl alcohol, which is safe and consumable. In cologne products, a different type of alcohol called methyl alcohol is used as the main substance. The later type of alcohol is a deadly poison and is never intended for use as a beverage in any culture. The ignorant Saudi youth thought that the alcohol found in cologne products is safe and consumable thus they drank it and died because of it. To avoid any further incident, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry withdrew all the cologne from the market where ethyl alcohol exceeded 90 percent and methyl alcohol exceeded 50 percent.

One interesting point that I wanted to raise here is not about the legality or illegality of consuming alcohol in Islam or the correct type of alcohol which is consumable but instead it is about the statement by an expert of Islamic studies in this Kingdom, Dr. Saleh Awad Al-Garni, regarding this incident. He said that, “…Claiming unemployment or poverty are the reasons for it is nonsense. Since when was poverty the road that leads to destruction? Being unemployed does not mean killing ourselves.”

This statement seems to be true in a rich kingdom like Saudi Arabia where poverty and unemployment seems to be foreign vocabularies. True that unemployed does not mean killing ourselves. And to prove how true this statement is, more elaborate studies are needed. However, a paper by Afshin Molavi called Young and Restless published in Smithsonian Magazine, April 1, 2006, gave a different picture of Saudi Arabia at present. To quote,

“… The boomers, however, did not grow into fantastic wealth. In 1981, the kingdom’s per capita income was $28,000, making it one of the richest countries on earth. But by 1993, … the kingdom was recovering from both a long recession (oil prices had dwindled) and a war on its border (the Persian Gulf war of 1991). Per capita income was declining rapidly, and boomers were straining the finances of a largely welfare-driven state. Government jobs and scholarships for foreign study grew scarce. (In 2001, per capita income was a quarter of what it had been in 1981.)”

Clearly, the paper showed the changes that occur in the Saudi society, especially the distribution of wealth from the petrodollar. It is no wonder then that poverty and unemployment start to surface. Furthermore, with some 75 percent of the population under 30 and 60 percent under 21; more than one in three Saudis is under 14, the kingdom is a young nation ruled by old generation who has quite different approach to the reality. And even though the recently installed monarch, King Abdullah, has done his part to reform the society, but it is still not enough. More works still need to be done and more reform should be introduced to avoid any clash between the old generation and the young one.

On the contrary, in India where there has been recent surge in its economic growth, with a steady economic growth of 8 per cent, and increasing employment opportunities, suicide and indulgence in alcoholic drinks by poor people, especially farmers in the drought-hit regions, and unemployed seem to be an avoidable phenomenon. This is the contradiction of the two India: urban India and rural (real) India.

The urban India enjoys the fruit of economic growth and greater employment opportunities while the rural India still lags behind with its underdevelopment and lack of employment opportunities. The imbalance between the two India resulted in the almost everyday report in Indian national newspaper on suicide by Indians in the rural India who decide to take their lives due to severe poverty and mounting debt traps.

This is totally the opposite of the view given by Al-Garni. In India, poverty surely leads the road to destruction.

In conclusion, for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the recent incident is, I believe, just a tip of an iceberg of a much bigger problem faced by the Kingdom. The reform by the new administration is still far from being a success. A lot more efforts still need to be done to create jobs and employment opportunities for the young generation. With the growing competition from its neighbors and the shrinking world due to globalization, the new administration has to create a new approach suitable to accommodate with the new challenges.

Similarly, in India, the suicide by farmers in rural India can be understood as wake up call for the government, both the state and the central government, to give more attention to the rural India, the real India. It is time for the government to balance the development program between rural and the urban India. Poverty should be eradicated at all cost and all efforts should be mustered to achieve it. Agriculture should become the main focus of the administration. A second green revolution should be started at the earliest possible so that the Gharibi Hatao is not only just a meaningless slogan to gain votes and instead the slogan should really be applied and practiced by the government to eradicate poverty for the welfare of the people.