September 18, 2014
SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 | 0436
Though Iran has been broadcasting pictures and videos of top state officials and noted foreign dignitaries visiting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the hospital, the health of the man who has held the most powerful post in the Islamic Republic remains unclear. The unusual public relations management of what has been described as a prostate surgery suggests Tehran may be preparing the nation and the world for a transition to a third supreme leader. Iranian efforts to project an atmosphere of normalcy conceal concerns among players in the Iranian political system that a power vacuum will emerge just as the Islamic republic has reached a geopolitical crossroads.
Any transition comes at the most crucial time in the 35-year history of the Islamic Republic due to unprecedented domestic political shifts underway and, more importantly, due to international events.
Pragmatic conservative President Hassan Rouhani's election in June 2013 elections led to a social, political and economic reform program facing considerable resistance from within the hard-right factions within the clerical and security establishments. The biggest issue between the presidential camp and its opponents is the ongoing process of negotiations with the United States over the Iranian nuclear program.
Nuclear Talks and Syria
After an unprecedented breakthrough in November 2013 that saw an interim agreement, the negotiation process has hit a major snag, with a final agreement not reached by a July 20, 2014, deadline, though the deadline for negotiations was extended to Nov. 24, 2014. Some form of partial agreement had been expected, with talks kicking into high gear ahead of the opening session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on Sept. 18.
A mood of pessimism in Tehran has since been reported, however, with senior Foreign Ministry officials prepping the media for the eventuality that the talks might fail. The risk of failure comes from the fact that Rouhani can only go so far in accepting caps on Iran's ability to pursue a civilian nuclear program before his hawkish opponents will gain the upper hand in Iran's domestic political struggle. Stratfor sources say Rouhani did not want to attend this year's General Assembly, but Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif reportedly convinced the president that his visit might help the negotiating process.
As if the negotiation itself was not enough of a problem for Rouhani, the U.S. move to support rebel forces in Syria that would fight both the Islamic State and Iran's ally, the Assad regime, is a major problem for Tehran. U.S. and Iranian interests overlapped with regard to the IS threat in Iraq. But in Syria, the United States must rely on anti-Iranian actors to fight IS and the Obama administration seeks to topple the Assad regime. Accordingly, less than a year after the two sides embarked upon a rapprochement, tensions seem to be returning.
A New Supreme Leader
On top of this stressor, uncertainties surrounding Khamenei's health have shifted Iran's priorities to the search for a new supreme leader. The unusual manner in which Tehran continues to telegraph Khamenei's hospitalization to show that all is well -- while at the same time psychologically preparing the country and the outside world for the inevitable change -- coupled with the (albeit unverified) 2010 release by WikiLeaks of a U.S. diplomatic cable reporting that the supreme leader was suffering from terminal cancer suggests the political establishment in Tehran is preparing for a succession. Khamenei himself would want to prepare a succession before he can no longer carry out his official responsibilities.
Before Khamenei was elected supreme leader in 1989, the idea of a collective clerical body was in vogue among many clerics. The country's second-most influential cleric, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, on several occasions has proposed a "jurisprudential council" consisting of several top clerics as an alternative to the supreme leader's post. His proposal has not gained much traction, but with succession imminent, it might seem more attractive as a compromise should the competing factions prove unable to reach a consensus.
Constitutionally, an interim leadership council takes over should the incumbent supreme leader no longer be able to carry out his duties until the Assembly of Experts elects a successor. Considering the factionalized nature of the Iranian political elite, it is only normal to assume that the process to replace Khamenei will be marred by a major struggle between the various camps that make up the conservative establishment. After all, this is an extremely rare opportunity for those seeking change and for those seeking continuity to shape the future of the republic.
For the hardliners, already deeply unnerved by what they see as an extremely troubling moderate path adopted by Rouhani, it is imperative that the next supreme leader not be sympathetic to the president. From their point of view, Khamenei has given the government far too much leeway. For his part, Rouhani knows that if his opponents get their way in the transition, his troubles promoting his domestic and foreign policy agenda could increase exponentially.
The country's elite ideological military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, will no doubt play a key role in who gets to be supreme leader. Likewise, the religious establishment in Qom will definitely have a say in the matter. The revolutionary-era clerics who have long dominated the political establishment are a dying breed, and the Assembly of Experts would not want to appoint someone of advanced age, since this would quickly lead to another succession.
Stratfor has learned that potential replacements for Khamenei include former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a cleric close to Khamenei and known for his relative moderate stances. They also include Hassan Khomeini, the oldest grandson of the founder of the republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He is close to the president's pragmatic conservative camp and the reformists, but pedigree may not compensate for his relatively left-wing leanings and his relatively young age of 42. Finally, they include current judiciary chief Mohammed-Sadegh Larijani, the younger brother of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani who some believe is the preferred candidate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The key problem that has surrounded the post of the supreme leader since the death of the founder of the republic is the very small pool of potential candidates to choose a replacement from: Most clerics either lack political skills, while those that do have political savvy lack requisite religious credentials. Khamenei was a lesser cleric to the status of ayatollah shortly before assuming the role of supreme leader, though he has demonstrated great political acumen since then. Khomeini was unique in that he had solid credentials as a noted religious scholar, but also had solid political credentials given his longtime leadership of the movement that culminated in the overthrow of shah in 1979. Since Khomeini fell out with his designated successor, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, in 1987, no one has had both qualities. Whoever takes over from Khamenei will be no exception to this, even though he will need to be able to manage factional rivalries at one of the most critical junctures in the evolution of the Islamic Republic.
Read more: Iran Prepares for a Leadership Transition | Stratfor
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Posted by Naxal Watch at 2:54 AM
Last month, India called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, scheduled for August 25, after Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit met separatist leaders just a week before the talks. Last month, India called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, scheduled for August 25, after Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit met separatist leaders just a week before the talks.
Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Posted: September 9, 2014 2:40 am
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Monday said that there is "no full stop" in diplomacy, only "comma or semicolon" — an indication that New Delhi is willing to move ahead with its relations with Islamabad.
Responding to a question at her first media interaction since taking charge as minister, Swaraj said, "Diplomacy mein kabhi bhi purn viraam nahin lagta, there is no full stop in diplomacy. It's always comma or semicolon. And, after all this, people always move forward. There are no full stops in diplomatic journey."
Last month, India called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, scheduled for August 25, after Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit met separatist leaders just a week before the talks.
Swaraj's conciliatory remarks came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered help to Pakistan for rescue and relief operations in flood-hit Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and weeks ahead of the UN General Assembly in New York, which Modi is scheduled to attend. Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif is also expected to attend the meet.
Sharif responded to Modi's offer Monday. "The offer for assistance in our relief efforts is thoughtful. Such solidarity in the face of adversity is indeed valuable," he said. "I am aware that the Kashmiris on the other side of the Line of Control have also faced heavy loss of life and material damage. Our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families in this difficult time, and we remain prepared to extend a helping hand, in whatever way possible, to the efforts for their relief and rehabilitation," Sharif added.
Swaraj also blamed Basit for "derailing" the dialogue process. "I do not know what was the need for their High Commissioner to invite the Kashmiri separatists and talk to them. He himself invited them. Why did they derail the talks (with India)? What did they achieve?… Who derailed the initiative? Pakistan," Swaraj said. She added that it was not "too much" to expect from Pakistan that it refrain from interfering in India's internal affairs.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh had called up Basit about 20 minutes before his meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah on August 18, asking him to cancel it. Basit, who got a last-minute nod from Islamabad, went ahead with the meeting since it was a long-standing practice. Subsequently, the decision to call off the foreign secretary-level talks was taken at the highest political level.
Asked if Modi will meet Sharif on the sideline of UN General Assembly later this month, Swaraj said it will depend on how the situation will emerge in the coming days, and they were not going with any "preset mind". She also played down the Pakistan Foreign Ministry's statement offering help to India, in which Kashmir was referred to as India-occupied Kashmir.
Swaraj, who was presenting a 'report card' of the NDA government's 100 days in office, also expressed disappointment over the delay in the Mumbai terror attacks case trial in Pakistan.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 1:35 AM
September 17, 2014
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.
Whatever Russia does, doubt does not even enter the equation. The answer is sanctions. So here we go again. The US Treasury-EU latest sanction package targets Russian banking, the energy industry and the defense industry.
The sanctions are mean. The sanctions are nasty. And there's no euphemism to describe them; they amount to a declaration of economic war.
Sberbank, Russia's largest won't be able to access Western capital for long-term funding, including every kind of borrowing over 30 days. And the current 90-day lending bans affecting six other large Russian banks – a previous sanctions package - will also be reduced to 30 days.
On the energy front, what the US-EU want is to shut down new Russian exploration projects in Siberia and the Arctic, barring Western Big Oil from selling equipment and technology to offshore, deepwater or shale gas projects.
This means Exxon and Shell, for instance, are frozen in their operations with five top Russian oil/gas/pipeline companies: Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz, and Rosneft.
No one ever lost money betting on the stupidity of the usual, unknown "senior US officials" – who are now spinning the latest sanction package is to force Moscow to "respect international law and state sovereignty." A cursory examination of the historical record allows this paragraph to be accompanied by roaring laughter.
And then there's the US Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, who insists the package will further "isolate" Russia from the global financial system.
Members of the European Parliament stand to applaud during a voting session on the EU-Ukraine Association agreement at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 16, 2014. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)Members of the European Parliament stand to applaud during a voting session on the EU-Ukraine Association agreement at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 16, 2014. (Reuters/Vincent Kessler)
The package was also described by Western corporate media as capable of "unnerving already jittery financial markets." Well, they were not exactly "unnerved." In Russia, the stocks of companies on the sanctions list went up. In the US, energy stocks went down. Short translation; the "unnerved" markets interpreted the latest package as yet another own goal by Washington and Brussels.
Splitting up Eurasia
As for Russia's "isolation", companies are barred from, in Washington-Wall Street newspeak, "important dollar-denominated funding sources." Or, euphemistically, "Western capital." This means the US dollar and the euro. Anyone following superimposed moves towards a multipolar world knows Russia does not need more US dollars and euro.
Moscow might use both to cross-purchase goods and services in the US and the EU. Yet these goods and services may be bought elsewhere around the world. For that, you don't need "Western capital" – as Moscow is fast advancing the use of national currencies with other trade partners. The Atlanticist gang assumes Moscow needs goods and services from the US and the EU much more than the other way around. That's a fallacy.
Russia can sell its abundant energy resources in any currency apart from US dollars and euro. Russia can buy all the clothing it needs from Asia and South America. On the electronics and high-tech front, most of it is made in China anyway.
Crucially, on the energy front, it would be no less than thrilling to watch the EU – which still does not even have a common energy policy - trying to come up with alternative suppliers. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Qatar, for a number of complex reasons – ranging from insufficient gas to be committed, to an absence of pipelines – are out of the picture.
The Obama administration, for its part, simply won't allow the EU to start importing energy from Iran like, virtually, tomorrow. Even with a now quite wobbly nuclear deal reached before the end of 2014 - presumably opening the way to an end to sanctions.
The "irrational" markets see what's really goin' on; they are not "irrational" but moved by profit derived from realpolitik.
And all this while Moscow has not even counterpunched. And that could be quite lethal – targeting EU exporters to Russia and even energy supplies from Russia. Then the EU will retaliate. And Russia will counter-counterpunch. That's exactly what Washington wants: a trade/economic war ravaging and splitting up Eurasia.
United States President Barack Obama (Reuters/Gary Cameron)United States President Barack Obama (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
About that $20 trillion…
On the political front, Ukraine and EU had initially agreed to "postpone the EU Association Agreement until the end of 2016." You can't make this stuff up; that's exactly what Yanukovich did last November, as he knew Kiev could not allow itself to lose most of its certified trading with Russia in favor of a vague "free trade" with the EU. This agreement to "postpone" the agreement was in fact overseen by astonishing mediocrity and outgoing European Commission (EC) President Jose Manuel Barroso.
But then the European Parliament, during a plenary session in Strasbourg, hurried up to ratify Ukraine's Association Agreement as President Petro Poroshenko simultaneously submitted it to the Ukrainian Parliament. This does not mean the agreement goes immediately into effect. Economic "integration" with the EU – a euphemism for a one-way invasion of Ukraine by EU products - will start only in January 2016. And there's no way a crisis-hit EU will incorporate Ukraine anytime soon – or ever.
On Thursday, Poroshenko meets his master, US President Barack Obama, and addresses a joint session of the US Congress. Expect "evil empire" rhetoric to reach interstellar levels.
But it's on Saturday in Berlin that the real thing starts unfolding; energy negotiations between Russia, the EU and Ukraine. Needless to say, Moscow holds all the key cards.
Washington's humongous debt is reaching almost $20 trillion – and counting. With a monster crisis approaching like a tsunami from hell, no wonder Washington had to resort to the perfect diversionary tactic; the return of the "evil empire." It's the Marvel Comics school of politics all over again.
Russia has a huge surplus of foreign capital - and is able to weather the storm. Germany – the EU's top economy – on the other hand, is already suffering. Growth is already at a negative 0.2%. This is the way the hysterical sanction wind is blowing – further derailing EU economies. And no one is betting the EU will have the balls to stand up to Washington. Not in vassal-infested Brussels.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 9:17 PM
Published time: September 17, 2014 23:42 Get short URL
NATO is launching exercises in the international waters of the Balkans, with warships and troops of several member countries also "visiting" Bulgaria until September 22. It comes as a new submarine enters service in the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Starting Friday, naval exercises will take place in the southeast of Constanta, off the territorial waters of Romania. Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 – which includes the US, the UK, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, as well as the naval forces of Bulgaria, Romania, and Canada - is taking part in the drills.
The drills include PASSEX type exercises. These will feature communication drills, joint tactical maneuvers, and data exchange on viewing surface and underwater situations. The naval forces will also be tasked with defeating attacks of simulated air and surface enemies.
Two ships of the Romanian Naval Forces, a Spanish frigate (ESPS Almirante Juan de Borbon, military classification F-102), a Canadian frigate (HMCS Toronto), and a Drazki frigate of the Bulgarian Naval Forces will be involved in the drills.
The warships of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 will pay an unofficial "visit," or port call, to Varna, Bulgaria, where they will be staying between September 19-22, Itar-Tass reports.
Bulgarian navy frigate "Drazki".(Reuters / Stoyan Nenov )Bulgarian navy frigate "Drazki".(Reuters / Stoyan Nenov )
Romania earlier called on the United States and NATO to boost their presence in the Balkan country.
As a former communist state, Romania has been among the staunchest advocates of Western sanctions against Russia after the accession of Crimea.
Since the standoff between Russia and the West began over Ukraine, Romania - together with Bulgaria - has taken part in navy drills in the Black Sea and hosted military exercises with US troops.
Meanwhile, Russia's first Varshavyanka-class submarine has entered service with the Black Sea Fleet. The vessel will head to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk after completing final trials with the Northern Fleet.
Russia's Defense Ministry has ordered a total of six submarines to be completed by 2016. These are primarily intended for anti-ship and anti-submarine missions in relatively shallow waters. They will be run by 52 crew, have an underwater speed of 20 knots, and a cruising range of 400 miles with the ability to patrol for 45 days.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 9:14 PM
Michael Stephens, JDW Correspondent - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
11 September 2014
While the Islamic State (IS) has swept away the armies that have stood before it, a little-known group fighting its own war against the extremist group has done remarkably well.
The People's Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel: YPG) are the defence force of the Democratic Administration of Rojava: the de facto autonomous Kurdish region that has been formed in northeast Syria since the outbreak of that country's conflict in 2011. Currently engaged in combat against the IS on five front lines across northern Syria, the YPG is perhaps one of the only forces that knows how to take on the extremists at their own game.
Relying on speed, stealth, and surprise, it is the archetypal guerrilla army, able to deploy quickly to front lines and concentrate its forces before quickly redirecting the axis of its attack to outflank and ambush its enemy. The key to its success is autonomy. Although operating under an overarching tactical rubric, YPG brigades are inculcated with a high degree of freedom and can adapt to the changing battlefield.
The IS has fared well against more static forces using Soviet-based doctrines, which have proven wholly incapable of countering its highly mobile forces. Both the IS and the YPG, however, have emerged from the ashes of the Syrian conflict and have adapted their fighting styles to the territory in which they operate.
The YPG relies heavily on snipers, backed by mobile support weaponry (mainly 12.7 mm Russian-issue heavy machine guns) that carve up the battlefield and suppress enemy fire. It also uses roadside bombs to limit enemy movement and prevent outflanking manoeuvres, particularly at night.
While Iraqi Kurdish forces (known collectively as the peshmerga) are receiving military assistance from countries including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Syrian Kurds have received little such help. Accusations that they remain close to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces withdrew from Kurdish territory in 2012, and that they are closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is fighting for Kurdish independence from Turkey, make them an unpalatable choice.
Turkey in particular believes the YPG to be a tool of Damascus, while those who believe the Rojava government's aims run against the goals of the Syrian opposition often accuse the Syrian Kurdish region of being a haven for Iranian influence.
The Syrian Kurds are essentially operating in an isolated canton facing the IS to the south and a deeply suspicious and hostile Turkey to the north, while Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cannot decide whether they are friend or foe.
As a result, YPG units are poorly equipped. None observed by IHS Jane's during a recent visit to Syrian Kurdistan used body armour or helmets. Weapons and ammunition are purchased on the black market.
The Syrian Kurds have also suffered significant casualties in the constant attacks and counterattacks along the 900 km front. For example, the battle of Jazza'a (a strategic town on the Syria-Iraq border that protects the humanitarian corridor) lasted for nine days from 19 August and cost both sides tens of casualties.
Yet the YPG's lines have yet to break when attacked by better-equipped IS forces. The YPG has even managed to expand into Iraq, largely thanks to the retreat of the KRG's peshmerga from around Mount Sinjar following the IS advance in early August. The persecuted Yazidi minority fleeing the conflict were protected by YPG units before making their way north via the humanitarian corridor running through northeast Syria into Turkey.
Eager to avenge IS atrocities, many Yazidis have asked the YPG for weapons and training. The YPG has so far trained more than 1,000 in one-week military courses and sent them back to Sinjar, where they operate as local defence units under YPG and PKK supervision. The result is that the YPG now occupies areas in Iraq previously controlled by the peshmerga.
YPG officials deny having permanent intentions on Iraqi territory, but it is unclear what the future holds. Even if the YPG withdraws from the Sinjar area, the Yazidi units left behind appear loyal to the YPG, not the peshmerga. For their part, the Iraqi Kurds have insisted there can be no discussion on this matter and that the YPG presence is a violation of sovereignty.
For now the YPG and peshmerga appear to be putting their differences aside. However, serious problems could emerge once the IS threat recedes. Indeed, both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish officials told IHS Jane's they will try to resolve the issue amicably, while each casting the other side as the instigator.
The future for the YPG holds more conflict. The IS is unlikely to cease its attacks on the Kurds for the time being, given that they control strategic border crossings and block the road from its capital in Syria's Al-Raqqah across to the city of Aleppo. Syria's Kurds appear capable of holding out, but they know that more martyrs (who are glorified in their culture) will fall before the IS is permanently beaten back.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 9:07 PM
Tribal forces from western Libya, allied with loyalists of former leader Muammar Ghaddafi and remnants of the former army, are fighting against a coalition of Islamist forces primarily from the coastal area between Misratah and Tripoli.
Limited military intervention in the conflict is likely by Algeria and Egypt, although this will be insufficient to turn the tide of the battle without arming the fighters on the ground.
The Libyan government is unlikely to recover its authority in the coming year, and in a best-case scenario will remain dependent on quasi-independent militias and remnants of the former army for several years to come.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 9:06 PM
17 September 2014
Scotland risks having a "very hollow military force" as a result of a limited defence budget should the country become independent on 18 September, according to Edward Hunt, an IHS Senior Defence Consultant.
"Maintaining a country's armed forces is inherently expensive and requires a sustained commitment of public funds not easily amended or reversed," he said. "In addition to the costs of buying, maintaining and, in some cases, upgrading equipment, there is the long-term cost of supporting personnel.
"Hiring, training and supporting personnel and their families is a long-term commitment that can span up to 20 or 30 years."
The budgetary costs of supporting a smaller force can be promotionally higher than that of a larger force owing to the inherent fixed costs such as training, maintenance and basing. While any equipment used in the short-term would be from existing UK stocks, recapitalising or replacing the defence equipment in the long-term is likely to prove very expensive as small numbers of modern systems would have to be purchased. This is likely to result in a need to reduce overall capability in order to focus on what is cost-effective.
"Illustrative of this trend, Italian fighter aircraft earlier this year had to intercept a rogue airliner over Switzerland, as the Swiss Air Force did not operate 'out of hours'," explained Hunt.
"Similarly, the Austrian Air Force has cut its 18 Typhoon fighters pilots by a third due to cost concerns. The aircraft are now only operated between 8:00 and 16:00. Such limitations on military capabilities are precisely why the US is likely to view independence as further fragmentation of European defence capabilities."
With regards to fighter aircraft and patrol vessels, operating fighter aircraft will be difficult due to the limited requirement for an independent Scottish combat air capability. This is especially so given the Scottish National Party's stated aim to focus on domestic security and low-level overseas deployments for peacekeeping operations.
"Since Scotland would lack the force multipliers of intelligence-gathering aircraft, refuelling aircraft and similar, it would be difficult to deploy and support any kind of force without significant assistance from friendly nations," said Hunt.
"Patrol vessels for protection of fishery and offshore oil installations and other maritime capabilities are perfectly feasible in terms of cost-benefit analysis given Scotland's geography. In the longer term, Scotland's offshore interests would include the growing importance of northern waters as a trade route and natural resource exploration."
Posted by Naxal Watch at 9:02 PM
By Ahmed Ali
On September 15, Iraqi Shi'a militias issued statements concerning any further involvement by U.S. military personnel in Iraq or neighboring countries. The groups included the Sadrist Trend, which has fully reactivated its Mahdi Army under the banner of the "Peace Brigades," Asai'b Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Katai'b Hizballah (KH). Both AAH and KH are supported by the Iranian government while the Sadrists have had more complex relations with the Iranian government. The three groups, along with the Badr organization, have also had a forward-deploying role in the Iraqi government's ground campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The role of KH and AAH has been coordinated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force (QF). The Peace Brigades have avoided public association with the Iranian government and may be coordinating with QF to a lesser extent in comparison to AAH and KH.
In his statement, leader of the Sadrist Trend Moqtada al-Sadr stated that the Iraqi government should not call on assistance from the "occupier," A reference to the U.S. Sadr added that "as we made you taste the heat of our fire and [power] in the past, we will make you taste the scourge of your decision." Sadr ordered his forces state to withdraw from the frontlines if "U.S. forces or others [forces] intervened through land or sea, directly or indirectly." KH also stated that its elements will withdraw from the frontline against ISIS due to the U.S. role in Iraq. KH also attributed this decision to its belief that if "we and America are in one place, we have to be in a fighting situation not cooperation and peace." AAH also stated that it will attack the U.S. embassy with its "Avenger" rocket if it thought about "sending its soldiers to Iraq."
These statements are a reaction to President Barack Obama's speech last week announcing the U.S. effort to counter ISIS. Furthermore, they represent an Iranian government position against the anti-ISIS coalition that the Administration is consolidating, which has not included the Iranian government. In short, the Iranian government is replicating its strategy before the withdrawal of U.S. Forces in 2011 by directing the militias to attack U.S. forces and presence in Iraq. Furthermore, the Iraqi Shi'a militias want to maintain their influence, and the presence of U.S. forces will result in limiting their influence.
Iraq's Shi'a militias will have to acknowledge the active involvement of U.S. and other western countries in breaking the siege of Amerli. They will also have to contend with expanded U.S. air support that has included areas south of Baghdad on September 14-15, both of which support the Iraqi government against the threat of ISIS. It will be important to watch how the Badr organization will react to these statements given its close ties to the Iranian government and Badr's desire to occupy one of Iraq's security portfolio ministries of either Defense or Interior.
Ahmed Ali is a Senior Iraq Research Analyst and the Iraq Team Lead.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 4:16 AM
Published September 03, 2014FoxNews.com
Kurdistan Regional Government Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani told Fox News' Bret Baier Wednesday that there is a "great imbalance" between the weaponry used by the Islamic State militants and that of the Kurdish peshmerga security forces, imploring the U.S. to provide the Kurds with advanced weapons.
Talabani said on "Special Report with Bret Baier" that the caliber of the weapons used by the Islamic State fighters, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is far greater than that of the Kurdish forces.
"There is a great imbalance in the weaponry because ISIS have state of-the-art, U.S.-supplied weaponry that they were able to take with ease from the Iraq armed forces," he said.
Talabani was referring to the fact that the militant group seized a large arsenal of U.S.-supplied weapons from the Iraqi army when the group captured the city of Mosul. In contrast, Talabani said the Kurdish forces are working with decades-old Soviet weaponry previously used in many other battles.
"Our weaponry cannot be compared to the weaponry that ISIS has, but we have the heart, the spirit, the bravery, and we have the dedication required to win this fight," he said, "if that is coupled with upgraded weaponry, with updated cooperation with our friends and allies in the United States, we will have no doubt eliminate ISIS from Iraq."
Talabani emphatically insisted that if the U.S. would supply the Kurdish peshmerga security forces with advanced weaponry, the Kurdish troops can be an effective, boots-on-the-ground force to drive out the militants.
"Collectively Iraq, Kurdistan and the United States can do this, can accomplish this mission and drive ISIS from Iraq," he said. "But this requires decisive action and decisive action now."
The U.S. has provided small arms and mortars to the Kurds, but has not armed them directly. A defense official told Fox News Wednesday that the U.S. is not planning on changing its policy.
"The Department of Defense has not provided direct arms to the Kurds and has no plans to do so in the future," the official said.
Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 4:14 AM
By RUDAW 13 hours ago
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Kurdish security officials said that Peshmerga forces had killed senior Islamic State (IS) commander Yasin Ali Suleiman Shlash known as Abu Abdullah near Khazir on Tuesday.
"He was killed with a number of other terrorists during a military operation by Peshmerga forces in coordination with the US air force to liberate Hassan Sham and its vicinities," Kurdistan Region's Security Council said in statement.
According to the statement, Abu Abdullah was a senior military commander and a top IS official in the state (Wilayat) of Mosul.
"Abu Abdullah was the mastermind behind the 2007 explosion in front of the ministry of the interior in Erbil," said the security statement.
The Kurdish Security Council described Abu Abdullah, also known as Abu Sumaya, as a native of Mosul, 39 years old and former Arabic language teacher in Mosul.
"In 2010 he was arrested by the American forces and later transferred to the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government, where he was set free during the infamous Abu Ghraib jailbreak in 2013 and fled to Syria where he joined the Islamic State group," read the statement.
Abu Abdulla is said to have had strong ties with the former Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The security statement said that Abu Abdullah was in charge of IS's military operations in Nineveh and responsible for the abduction of many Yezidi women after the capture of Shingal last month.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 4:04 AM
Posted by Naxal Watch at 3:59 AM
Grouping. Grouping (and its corollary, Establishing Relationships) is probably the most useful of the convergent thinking techniques. In order to get a handle on all of the ideas that typically emerge from any divergent thinking exercise, it is important to be able to group similar ideas or hypotheses together. Critical to this effort are the labels assigned to the various groups. All sorts of cultural and cognitive biases can easily come into play with poorly chosen group names (For example, think how easily the labels "terrorist", "freedom fighter", "good" or "evil" can influence future analysis). Mindmapping and other concept mapping techniques are very useful when attempting to use grouping as a way to deal with an overabundance of ideas.
Prioritizing. Deciding which ideas, concepts or hypotheses deserve the most emphasis is crucial if collection and analytic resources are to be used efficiently. Treating every idea as if it is equal to all the others generated by the divergent thinking process makes no sense. Yet, as with any convergent thinking process, the decision regarding which concept is first among the putative equals should be made carefully. Problems typically arise when the team setting the priorities is not diverse enough. For example, a team of economists might well give economics issues undue emphasis.
Filtering. Filtering, as a convergent thinking technique, explicitly recognizes the awful truth of intelligence analysis - there is never enough time. Filtering can be used to eliminate, in its extreme application, some possibilities entirely from further consideration. Typically, however, analysts will use filtering to limit the level and extent of collection activities. For example, intel professionals looking at pre-election activity in a certain country might decide to focus their collection activities at the county rather than at the city or town level. As with grouping and prioritizing, where to drawn these kinds of lines is fraught with difficulty and should not be done lightly.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 3:36 AM
Over the next few weeks, American undergraduates flooding back to campus will take part in a university tradition even older than drinking from Solo cups or inhaling stale pizza: They'll be setting up homes inside the rock-hewn walls of Gothic buildings that look like Medieval castles, retrofitted for serious scholars. Many of these buildings were designed a century ago, when young American colleges—desperate to assert their legitimacy—went on a knock-off binge. They cloned British universities' libraries, cathedrals, quads, sculptures and even dress codes in the hopes of recreating the feel (and prestige) of Oxford and Cambridge. READ MORE
Posted by Naxal Watch at 3:33 AM
Is the silence over Israeli nukes doing more harm than good?
DOUGLAS BIRCH AND R. JEFFREY SMITHSEP 16 2014, 5:00 AM ET
Israel has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Former CIA Director Robert Gates said so during his 2006 Senate confirmation hearings for secretary of defense, when he noted—while serving as a university president—that Iran is surrounded by "powers with nuclear weapons," including "the Israelis to the west." Former President Jimmy Carter said so in 2008 and again this year, in interviews and speeches in which he pegged the number of Israel's nuclear warheads at 150 to around 300.
But due to a quirk of federal secrecy rules, such remarks generally cannot be made even now by those who work for the U.S. government and hold active security clearances. In fact, U.S. officials, even those on Capitol Hill, are routinely admonished not to mention the existence of an Israeli nuclear arsenal and occasionally punished when they do so.
The policy of never publicly confirming what a scholar once called one of the world's "worst-kept secrets" dates from a political deal between the United States and Israel in the late 1960s. Its consequence has been to help Israel maintain a distinctive military posture in the Middle East while avoiding the scrutiny—and occasional disapprobation—applied to the world's eight acknowledged nuclear powers.
But the U.S. policy of shielding the Israeli program has recently provoked new controversy, partly because of allegations that it played a role in the censure of a well-known national-laboratory arms researcher in July, after he published an article in which he acknowledged that Israel has nuclear arms. Some scholars and experts are also complaining that the government's lack of candor is complicating its high-profile campaign to block the development of nuclear arms in Iran, as well as U.S.-led planning for a potential treaty prohibiting nuclear arms anywhere in the region.
The U.S. silence is largely unwavering, however. "We would never say flatly that Israel has nuclear weapons," explained a former senior State Department official who dealt with nuclear issues during the Bush administration. "We would have to couch it in other language, we would have to say 'we assume' or 'we presume that Israel has nuclear weapons,' or 'it's reported' that they have them," the former official said, requesting that his name not be used due to the political sensitivity surrounding the topic.
President Barack Obama made clear that this four-decade-old U.S. policy would persist at his first White House press conference in 2009, when journalist Helen Thomas asked if he knew of any nations in the Middle East with nuclear arms. "With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don't want to speculate," Obama said, as though Israel's established status as a nuclear-weapons state was only a matter of rumor and conjecture.
So wary is Paul Pillar, a former U.S. national-intelligence officer for the Middle East, of making any direct, public reference to Israel's nuclear arsenal that when he wrote an article this month in The National Interest, entitled "Israel's Widely Suspected Unmentionables," he referred to warheads as "kumquats" throughout his manuscript.
Even Congress has been coy on the subject. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a 2008 report titled "Chain Reaction: Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East," it included chapters on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey—but not Israel. The 61-page report relegated Israel's nuclear arms to a footnote that suggested that Israel's arsenal was a "perception."
"This report does not take a position on the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons," the report said. "Although Israel has not officially acknowledged it possesses nuclear weapons, a widespread consensus exists in the region and among experts in the United States that Israel possesses a number of nuclear weapons. For Israel's neighbors, this perception is more important than reality."
While former White House or cabinet-level officers—such as Gates—have gotten away with more candor, the bureaucracy does not take honesty by junior officials lightly. James Doyle, a veteran nuclear analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was recently censured, evidently left himself open to punishment by straying minutely from U.S. policy in a February 2013 article published by the British journal Survival.
"Nuclear weapons did not deter Egypt and Syria from attacking Israel in 1973, Argentina from attacking British territory in the 1982 Falklands War or Iraq from attacking Israel during the 1991 Gulf War," Doyle said in a bitingly critical appraisal of Western nuclear policy, which angered his superiors at the nuclear-weapons lab as well as a Republican staff member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Even though three secrecy specialists at the lab concluded the article contained no secrets, more senior officials overruled them and cited an unspecified breach as justification for censuring Doyle and declaring the article classified, after its publication. They docked his pay, searched his home computer, and, eventually, fired him this summer. The lab has said his firing—as opposed to the censure and search—was not related to the article's content, but Doyle and his lawyer have said they are convinced it was pure punishment for his skepticism about the tenets of nuclear deterrence.
Neither Doyle nor his colleagues revealed if the sentence in his article about Israel's arsenal was the one that provoked officials to nitpick about a security violation, but several independent experts have surmised it was.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said the clues lie in the Energy Department's citation—in a document summarizing the facts behind Doyle's unsuccessful appeal of his ill treatment—of a classification bulletin numbered "WPN-136."
Paul Pillar was so wary of writing about Israel's warheads directly that he referred to them as "kumquats" instead.
The full, correct title of that bulletin, according to an Energy Department circular, is "WNP-136, Foreign Nuclear Capabilities." The classification bulletin itself is not public. But Aftergood said Doyle's only reference to a sensitive foreign nuclear program was his mention of Israel's, making it highly probable this was the cudgel the lab used against him. "I'm certain that that's what it is," Aftergood said in an interview.
The circumstances surrounding Doyle's censure are among several cases now being examined by Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General Gregory Friedman, as part of a broader examination of inconsistent classification practices within the department and the national laboratories, several officials said.
Doyle's reference to the existence of Israel's nuclear arsenal reflects the consensus intelligence judgment within DOE nuclear weapons-related laboratories, former officials say. But some said they find it so hard to avoid any public reference to the weapons that classification officers periodically hold special briefings about skirting the issue.
"It was one of those things that was not obvious," a former laboratory official said, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the topic. "Especially when there's so much about it in the open domain."
Israel's nuclear-weapons program began in the 1950s, and the country is widely believed to have assembled its first three weapons during the crisis leading to the Six-Day War in 1967, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit group in Washington that tracks nuclear-weapons developments.
For decades, however, Israel itself has wrapped its nuclear program in a policy it calls amimut, meaning opacity or ambiguity. By hinting at but not confirming that it has these weapons, Israel has sought to deter its enemies from a major attack without provoking a concerted effort by others to develop a matching arsenal.
Israeli-American historian Avner Cohen has written that U.S. adherence to this policy evidently grew out of a September 1969 meeting between President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. No transcript of the meeting has surfaced, but Cohen said it is clear the two leaders struck a deal: Israel would not test its nuclear weapons or announce it possessed them, while the United States wouldn't press Israel to give them up or to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and would halt its annual inspections of Dimona, the site of Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center.
As an outgrowth of the deal, Washington, moreover, would adopt Israel's secret as its own, eventually acquiescing to a public formulation of Israeli policy that was initially strenuously opposed by top U.S. officials.
Golda Meir, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger in 1973, four years after an earlier meeting that may have established the policy of mutual silence regarding Israel's nuclear armaments. (Wikimedia)
"Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East," the boilerplate Israeli account has long stated. "Israel supports a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction following the attainment of peace." When Nixon's aides sought assurances that this pledge meant Israel would not actually build any bombs, Israeli officials said the word "introduce" would have a different meaning: It meant the country would not publicly test bombs or admit to possessing them, leaving ample room for its unacknowledged arsenal.
"While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession," then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger wrote in a July 1969 memo to Nixon that summarized Washington's enduring policy, "what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact."
Even when Mordechai Vanunu, a technician at Dimona, provided the first detailed, public account of the program in 1986 and released photos he had snapped there of nuclear-weapons components, both countries refused to shift gears. After being snatched from Italy, Vanunu was imprisoned by Israel for 18 years, mostly in solitary confinement, and subsequently forbidden to travel abroad or deal substantively with foreign journalists. In an email exchange with the Center for Public Integrity, Vanunu indicated that he still faces restrictions but did not elaborate. "You can write me again when I am free, out of Israel," he said.
The avoidance of candor has sometimes extended to private government channels. A former U.S. intelligence official said he recalled being flabbergasted in the 1990s by the absence of any mention of Israel in a classified document purporting to describe all foreign nuclear-weapons programs. He said he complained to colleagues at the time that "we've really got a problem if we can't acknowledge the truth even in classified documents," and finally won a grudging but spare mention of the country's weaponry.
Gary Samore, who was President Obama's top advisor on nuclear nonproliferation from 2009 to 2013, said the United States has long preferred that Israel hold to its policy of amimut, out of concern that other Middle Eastern nations would feel threatened by Israel's coming out of the nuclear closet.
"For the Israelis to acknowledge and declare it, that would be seen as provocative," he said. "It could spur some of the Arab states and Iran to produce weapons. So we like calculated ambiguity." But when asked point-blank if the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons is classified, Samore—who is now at Harvard University—answered: "It doesn't sound very classified to me—that Israel has nuclear weapons?"
The U.S. government's official silence was broken only by accident, when, in 1979, the CIA released a four-page summary of an intelligence memorandum titled "Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons" in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group.
"We believe that Israel already has produced nuclear weapons," the 1974 report said, citing Israel's stockpiling of large quantities of uranium, its uranium-enrichment program, and its investment in a costly missile system capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Release of the report triggered a spate of headlines. "CIA said in 1974 Israel had A-Bombs," a New York Times headline declared. "Israel a Nuclear Club Member Since 1974, CIA Study Indicates," announced The Washington Star.
For decades, Israel itself has wrapped its nuclear program in a policy it calls amimut, meaning opacity or ambiguity.
But it stemmed from a goof.
John Despres, who was the CIA's national-intelligence officer for nuclear proliferation at the time, said he was in charge of censoring or "redacting" the secret material from the report prior to its release. But portions he wanted withheld were released, he said in an interview, while sections that were supposed to be released were withheld.
"This was a sort of classic case of a bureaucratic screw-up," said Despres, now retired. "People misinterpreted my instructions." He said that as far as he knows, no one was disciplined for the mix-up. Moreover, in 2008, when the National Security Archive obtained a copy of the document under the Freedom of Information Act, that judgment remained unexcised.
But Washington's refusal to confirm the obvious in any other way has produced some weird trips down the rabbit hole for those seeking official data about the Israeli arsenal. Bryan Siebert, who was the most senior career executive in charge of guarding DOE's nuclear-weapons secrets from 1992 to 2002, said he recalls seeing a two-cubic-foot stack at one point of CIA, FBI, Justice, and Energy department documents about Israel's nuclear program.
John Fitzpatrick, who since 2011 has served as director of the federal Information Security Oversight Office, confirmed that "aspects" of Israel's nuclear status are considered secret by the United States. "We know this from classifying authorities at agencies who handle that material," said Fitzpatrick, who declined to provide more details.
Kerry Brodie, director of communications for the Israeli embassy in Washington, similarly said no one there would discuss the subject of the country's nuclear status. "Unfortunately, we do not have any comment we can share at this point," she wrote in an email. A former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, was less discrete during a December 2013 conference in Haifa, where he said "Israel has nuclear and chemical weapons" and called the policy of ambiguity "outdated and childish."
Through a spokesman, Robert Gates declined to discuss the issue. But a growing number of U.S. experts agree with Burg.
Pillar, for example, wrote in his article this month that the 45-year-old U.S. policy of shielding Israel's program is seen around the world "as not just a double standard but living a lie. Whatever the United States says about nuclear weapons will always be taken with a grain of salt or with some measure of disdain as long as the United States says nothing about kumquats."
Victor Gilinsky, a physicist and former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who has written about the history of the Israeli program, complained in a recent book that "the pretense of ignorance about Israeli bombs does not wash anymore. … The evident double standard undermines efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide."
J. William Leonard, who ran a government-wide declassification effort as President George W. Bush's director of the Information Security Oversight Office from 2002 to 2008, commented that "in some regards, it undermines the integrity of the classification system when you're using classification to officially protect a known secret. It can get exceedingly awkward, obviously."
Aftergood said the secrecy surrounding Israel's nuclear weapons is "obsolete and fraying around the edges. … It takes an effort to preserve the fiction that this is a secret," he said. Meanwhile, he added, it can still be abused as an instrument for punishing federal employees such as Doyle for unrelated or politically inspired reasons. "Managers have broad discretion to overlook or forgive a particular infraction," Aftergood said. "The problem is that discretion can be abused. And some employees get punished severely while others do not."
Dana H. Allin, the editor of Doyle's article in Survival magazine, said in a recent commentary published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London that "anyone with a passing knowledge of international affairs knows about these weapons." He called the government's claim that the article contained secrets "ludicrous" and said Doyle's ordeal at the hands of the classification authorities was nothing short of Kafkaesque.
This article appears courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity's National Security team.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 3:30 AM
An activist's controversial crusade against genetically modified crops.
BY MICHAEL SPECTER
Vandana Shiva accuses multinational corporations such as Monsanto of attempting to impose "food totalitarianism" on the world.
Vandana Shiva accuses multinational corporations such as Monsanto of attempting to impose "food totalitarianism" on the world.
Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy, to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d'Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed.
Shiva's fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe, she had told me a few weeks earlier, was to focus attention there on "the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and G.M.O.s." At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose "food totalitarianism" on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
"There are two trends," she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. "One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives." She paused to let silence fill the square. "And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don't want that world of death." The audience, a mixture of people attending the festival and tourists on their way to the Duomo, stood transfixed. Shiva, dressed in a burgundy sari and a shawl the color of rust, was a formidable sight. "We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers," she said. "They want to take that away."
Shiva, along with a growing army of supporters, argues that the prevailing model of industrial agriculture, heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels, and a seemingly limitless supply of cheap water, places an unacceptable burden on the Earth's resources. She promotes, as most knowledgeable farmers do, more diversity in crops, greater care for the soil, and more support for people who work the land every day. Shiva has particular contempt for farmers who plant monocultures—vast fields of a single crop. "They are ruining the planet," she told me. "They are destroying this beautiful world."
The global food supply is indeed in danger. Feeding the expanding population without further harming the Earth presents one of the greatest challenges of our time, perhaps of all time. By the end of the century, the world may well have to accommodate ten billion inhabitants—roughly the equivalent of adding two new Indias. Sustaining that many people will require farmers to grow more food in the next seventy-five years than has been produced in all of human history. For most of the past ten thousand years, feeding more people simply meant farming more land. That option no longer exists; nearly every arable patch of ground has been cultivated, and irrigation for agriculture already consumes seventy per cent of the Earth's freshwater.
The nutritional demands of the developing world's rapidly growing middle class—more protein from pork, beef, chicken, and eggs—will add to the pressure; so will the ecological impact of climate change, particularly in India and other countries where farmers depend on monsoons. Many scientists are convinced that we can hope to meet those demands only with help from the advanced tools of plant genetics. Shiva disagrees; she looks upon any seed bred in a laboratory as an abomination.
The fight has not been easy. Few technologies, not the car, the phone, or even the computer, have been adopted as rapidly and as widely as the products of agricultural biotechnology. Between 1996, when genetically engineered crops were first planted, and last year, the area they cover has increased a hundredfold—from 1.7 million hectares to a hundred and seventy million. Nearly half of the world's soybeans and a third of its corn are products of biotechnology. Cotton that has been engineered to repel the devastating bollworm dominates the Indian market, as it does almost everywhere it has been introduced.
Those statistics have not deterred Shiva. At the age of sixty-one, she is constantly in motion: this year, she has travelled not only across Europe but throughout South Asia, Africa, and Canada, and twice to the United States. In the past quarter century, she has turned out nearly a book a year, including "The Violence of the Green Revolution," "Monocultures of the Mind," "Stolen Harvest," and "Water Wars." In each, she has argued that modern agricultural practices have done little but plunder the Earth.
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Nowhere is Shiva embraced more fully than in the West, where, as Bill Moyers recently noted, she has become a "rock star in the worldwide battle against genetically modified seeds." She has been called the Gandhi of grain and compared to Mother Teresa. If she personally accepted all the awards, degrees, and honors offered to her, she would have time for little else. In 1993, Shiva received the Right Livelihood Award, often called the alternative Nobel Prize, for her activism on behalf of ecology and women. Time, the Guardian, Forbes, and Asia Week have all placed her on lists of the world's most important activists. Shiva, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, has received honorary doctorates from universities in Paris, Oslo, and Toronto, among others. In 2010, she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for her commitment to social justice and her tireless efforts on behalf of the poor. Earlier this year, Beloit College, in Wisconsin, honored Shiva with its Weissberg Chair in International Studies, calling her "a one-woman movement for peace, sustainability, and social justice."
"For me, the idea of owning intellectual-property rights for seeds is a bad, pathetic attempt at seed dictatorship," Shiva told the audience in Florence. "Our commitment is to make sure that dictatorship never flourishes." While she spoke, I stood among the volunteers who were selling heirloom vegetable seeds and handing out information about organic farming. Most were Italian college students in for the day from Bologna or Rome, and few could take their eyes off her. I asked a twenty-year-old student named Victoria if she had been aware of Shiva's work. "For years," she said. Then, acknowledging Shiva's undeniable charisma, she added, "I was just in a room with her. I have followed her all my life, but you can't be prepared for her physical presence." She hesitated and glanced at the platform where Shiva was speaking. "Isn't she just magic?"
At least sixty million Indians have starved to death in the past four centuries. In 1943 alone, during the final years of the British Raj, more than two million people died in the Bengal Famine. "By the time we became free of colonial rule, the country was sucked dry," Suman Sahai told me recently. Sahai, a geneticist and a prominent environmental activist, is the founder of the Delhi-based Gene Campaign, a farmers'-rights organization. "The British destroyed the agricultural system and made no investments. They wanted food to feed their Army and food to sell overseas. They cared about nothing else." Independence, in 1947, brought euphoria but also desperation. Tons of grain were imported each year from the United States; without it, famine would have been inevitable.
To become independent in more than name, India also needed to become self-reliant. The Green Revolution—a series of agricultural innovations producing improved varieties of wheat that could respond better to irrigation and benefit from fertilizer—provided that opportunity. In 1966, India imported eleven million tons of grain. Today, it produces more than two hundred million tons, much of it for export. Between 1950 and the end of the twentieth century, the world's grain production rose from seven hundred million tons to 1.9 billion, all on nearly the same amount of land.
"Without the nitrogen fertilizer to grow crops used to feed our recent ancestors so they could reproduce, many of us probably wouldn't be here today," Raoul Adamchack told me. "It would have been a different planet, smaller, poorer, and far more agrarian." Adamchack runs an organic farm in Northern California, and has served as the president of California Certified Organic Farmers. His wife, Pamela Ronald, is a professor of plant genetics at the University of California at Davis, and their book "Tomorrow's Table" was among the first to demonstrate the ways in which advanced technologies can combine with traditional farming to help feed the world.
There is another perspective on the Green Revolution. Shiva believes that it destroyed India's traditional way of life. "Until the 1960s, India was successfully pursuing an agricultural development policy based on strengthening the ecological base of agriculture and the self-reliance of peasants," she writes in "The Violence of the Green Revolution." She told me that, by shifting the focus of farming from variety to productivity, the Green Revolution actually was responsible for killing Indian farmers. Few people accept that analysis, though, and more than one study has concluded that if India had stuck to its traditional farming methods millions would have starved.
The Green Revolution relied heavily on fertilizers and pesticides, but in the nineteen-sixties little thought was given to the environmental consequences. Runoff polluted many rivers and lakes, and some of India's best farmland was destroyed. "At first, the Green Revolution was wonderful," Sahai told me. "But, without a lot of water, it could not be sustained, and it should have ended long before it did."
To feed ten billion people, most of whom will live in the developing world, we will need what the Indian agricultural pioneer M. S. Swaminathan has called "an evergreen revolution," one that combines the most advanced science with a clear focus on sustaining the environment. Until recently, these have seemed like separate goals. For thousands of years, people have crossed sexually compatible plants and then chosen among their offspring for what seemed like desirable characteristics (sturdy roots, for example, or resistance to disease). Farmers learned how to make better plants and varieties, but it was a process of trial and error until the middle of the nineteenth century, when Gregor Mendel demonstrated that many of the characteristics of a pea plant were passed from one generation to the next according to predictable rules. That created a new science, genetics, which helped make breeding far more precise. Nearly all the plants we cultivate—corn, wheat, rice, roses, Christmas trees—have been genetically modified through breeding to last longer, look better, taste sweeter, or grow more vigorously in arid soil.
Genetic engineering takes the process one step further. By inserting genes from one species into another, plant breeders today can select traits with even greater specificity. Bt cotton, for instance, contains genes from a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that is found naturally in the soil. The bacterium produces a toxin that targets cotton bollworm, a pest that infests millions of acres each year. Twenty-five per cent of the world's insecticides have typically been used on cotton, and many of them are carcinogenic. By engineering part of the bacterium's DNA into a cotton seed, scientists made it possible for the cotton boll to produce its own insecticide. Soon after the pest bites the plant, it dies.
Molecular biology transformed medicine, agriculture, and nearly every other scientific discipline. But it has also prompted a rancorous debate over the consequences of that knowledge. Genetically modified products have often been advertised as the best way to slow the impact of climate change, produce greater yields, provide more nutrients in food, and feed the world's poorest people. Most of the transgenic crops on the market today, however, have been designed to meet the needs of industrial farmers and their customers in the West.
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Shiva and other opponents of agricultural biotechnology argue that the higher cost of patented seeds, produced by giant corporations, prevents poor farmers from sowing them in their fields. And they worry that pollen from genetically engineered crops will drift into the wild, altering plant ecosystems forever. Many people, however, raise an even more fundamental objection: crossing varieties and growing them in fields is one thing, but using a gene gun to fire a bacterium into seeds seems like a violation of the rules of life.
Vandana Shiva was born in Dehradun, in the foothills of the Himalayas. A Brahmin, she was raised in prosperity. Her father was a forestry official for the Indian government; her mother worked as a school inspector in Lahore, and, after Partition, when the city became part of Pakistan, she returned to India. In the nineteen-seventies, Shiva joined a women's movement that was determined to prevent outside logging companies from cutting down forests in the highlands of northern India. Their tactic was simple and, ultimately, successful: they would form a circle and hug the trees. Shiva was, literally, one of the early tree huggers.
The first time we spoke, in New York, she explained why she became an environmental activist. "I was busy with quantum theory for my doctoral work, so I had no idea what was going on with the Green Revolution," she said. Shiva had studied physics as an undergraduate. We were sitting in a small café near the United Nations, where she was about to attend an agricultural forum. She had just stepped off the plane from New Delhi, but she gathered energy as she told her story. "In the late eighties, I went to a conference on biotechnology, on the future of food," she said. "There were no genetically modified organisms then. These people were talking about having to do genetic engineering in order to take patents.
"They said the most amazing things," she went on. "They said Europe and the U.S. are too small a market. We have to have a global market, and that is why we need an intellectual-property-rights law." That meeting set her on a new trajectory. "I realized they want to patent life, and life is not an invention," she said. "They want to release G.M.O.s without testing, and they want to impose this order worldwide. I decided on the flight back I didn't want that world." She returned to India and started Navdanya, which in Hindi means "nine seeds." According to its mandate, the organization was created to "protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, and to promote organic farming and fair trade." Under Shiva's leadership, Navdanya rapidly evolved into a national movement.
In contrast to most agricultural ecologists, Shiva remains committed to the idea that organic farming can feed the world. Owing almost wholly to the efforts of Shiva and other activists, India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption. Only four African nations—South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan—permit the commercial use of products that contain G.M.O.s. Europe remains the epicenter of anti-G.M.O. advocacy, but recent polls show that the vast majority of Americans, ever more focussed on the connection between food, farming, and their health, favor mandatory labelling for products that are made with genetically modified ingredients. Most say they would use such labels to avoid eating those foods. For her part, Shiva insists that the only acceptable path is to return to the principles and practices of an earlier era. "Fertilizer should never have been allowed in agriculture," she said in a 2011 speech. "I think it's time to ban it. It's a weapon of mass destruction. Its use is like war, because it came from war."
Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Charles, perhaps the world's best-known critic of modern life, has for years denounced transgenic crops. "This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone," he wrote in the nineteen-nineties, when Monsanto tried to sell its genetically engineered seeds in Europe. Shiva, too, invokes religion in her assault on agricultural biotechnology. "G.M.O. stands for 'God, Move Over,' we are the creators now," she said in a speech earlier this year. Navdanya does not report its contributions publicly, but, according to a recent Indian government report, foreign N.G.O.s have contributed significantly in the past decade to help the campaign against adoption of G.M.O.s in India. In June, the government banned most such contributions. Shiva, who was named in the report, called it "an attack on civil society," and biased in favor of foreign corporations.
Shiva maintains a savvy presence in social media, and her tweets, intense and dramatic, circulate rapidly among tens of thousands of followers across the globe. They also allow her to police the movement and ostracize defectors. The British environmentalist Mark Lynas, for example, stood strongly against the use of biotechnology in agriculture for more than a decade. But last year, after careful study of the scientific data on which his assumptions were based, he reversed his position. In a speech to the annual Oxford Farming Conference, he described as "green urban myths" his former view that genetically modified crops increase reliance on chemicals, pose dangers to the environment, and threaten human health. "For the record, here and up front, I apologize for having spent several years ripping up G.M. crops," he said. "I am also sorry that I . . . assisted in demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment." Lynas now regards the assumption that the world could be fed solely with organic food as "simplistic nonsense."
With that speech, and the publicity that accompanied it, Lynas became the Benedict Arnold of the anti-G.M.O. movement. "If you want to get your name splattered all over the Web, there's nothing like recanting your once strongly held beliefs," Jason Mark, the editor of Earth Island Journal, wrote.
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Perhaps nobody was more incensed by Lynas's conversion than Shiva, who expressed her anger on Twitter: "#MarkLynas saying farmers shd be free to grow #GMOs which can contaminate #organic farms is like saying #rapists shd have freedom to rape." The message caused immediate outrage. "Shame on you for comparing GMOs to rape," Karl Haro von Mogel, who runs Biology Fortified, a Web site devoted to plant genetics, responded, also in a tweet. "That is a despicable argument that devalues women, men, and children." Shiva tweeted back at once. "We need to move from a patriarchal, anthropocentric worldview to one based on #EarthDemocracy," she wrote.
Shiva has a flair for incendiary analogies. Recently, she compared what she calls "seed slavery," inflicted upon the world by the forces of globalization, to human slavery. "When starting to fight for seed freedom, it's because I saw a parallel," she said at a food conference in the Netherlands. "That time, it was blacks who were captured in Africa and taken to work on the cotton and sugarcane fields of America. Today, it is all of life being enslaved. All of life. All species."
Shiva cannot tolerate any group that endorses the use of genetic engineering in agriculture, no matter what else the organization does, or how qualified its support. When I mentioned that Monsanto, in addition to making genetically engineered seeds, has also become one of the world's largest producers of conventionally bred seeds, she laughed. "That's just public relations," she said. She has a similarly low regard for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has taken strong positions in support of biotechnology. Not long ago, Shiva wrote that the billions of dollars the foundation has invested in agricultural research and assistance poses "the greatest threat to farmers in the developing world." She dismisses the American scientific organizations responsible for regulating genetically modified products, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Department of Agriculture, as little more than tools of the international seed conglomerates.
At times, Shiva's absolutism about G.M.O.s can lead her in strange directions. In 1999, ten thousand people were killed and millions were left homeless when a cyclone hit India's eastern coastal state of Orissa. When the U.S. government dispatched grain and soy to help feed the desperate victims, Shiva held a news conference in New Delhi and said that the donation was proof that "the United States has been using the Orissa victims as guinea pigs" for genetically engineered products. She also wrote to the international relief agency Oxfam to say that she hoped it wasn't planning to send genetically modified foods to feed the starving survivors. When neither the U.S. nor Oxfam altered its plans, she condemned the Indian government for accepting the provisions.
On March 29th, in Winnipeg, Shiva began a speech to a local food-rights group by revealing alarming new information about the impact of agricultural biotechnology on human health. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that in two years the figure of autism has jumped from one in eighty-eight to one in sixty-eight," she said, referring to an article in USA Today. "Then they go on to say obviously this is a trend showing that something's wrong, and that whether something in the environment could be causing the uptick remains the million-dollar question.
"That question's been answered," Shiva continued. She mentioned glyphosate, the Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with modified crops. "If you look at the graph of the growth of G.M.O.s, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it's literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer's."
Hundreds of millions of people, in twenty-eight countries, eat transgenic products every day, and if any of Shiva's assertions were true the implications would be catastrophic. But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered. Her claims were based on a single research paper, released last year, in a journal called Entropy, which charges scientists to publish their findings. The paper contains no new research. Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)
Shiva refers to her scientific credentials in almost every appearance, yet she often dispenses with the conventions of scientific inquiry. She is usually described in interviews and on television as a nuclear physicist, a quantum physicist, or a world-renowned physicist. Most of her book jackets include the following biographical note: "Before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India's leading physicists." When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn't list any such position in her biography.
Shiva argues that because many varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola have been engineered to resist glyphosate, there has been an increase in the use of herbicides. That is certainly true, and in high enough amounts glyphosate, like other herbicides, is toxic. Moreover, whenever farmers rely too heavily on one chemical, whether it occurs naturally or is made in a factory, weeds develop resistance. In some regions, that has already happened with glyphosate—and the results can be disastrous. But farmers face the problem whether or not they plant genetically modified crops. Scores of weed species have become resistant to the herbicide atrazine, for example, even though no crops have been modified to tolerate it. In fact, glyphosate has become the most popular herbicide in the world, largely because it's not nearly so toxic as those which it generally replaces. The E.P.A. has labelled water unsafe to drink if it contains three parts per billion of atrazine; the comparable limit for glyphosate is seven hundred parts per billion. By this measure, glyphosate is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine.
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For years, people have been afraid that eating genetically modified foods would make them sick, and Shiva's speeches are filled with terrifying anecdotes that play to that fear. But since 1996, when the crops were first planted, humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and have draped themselves in thousands of tons of clothing made from genetically engineered cotton, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result. That is one reason that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, the U.K.'s Royal Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the European Commission, and dozens of other scientific organizations have all concluded that foods derived from genetically modified crops are as safe to eat as any other food.
"It is absolutely remarkable to me how Vandana Shiva is able to get away with saying whatever people want to hear," Gordon Conway told me recently. Conway is the former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a professor at London's Imperial College. His book "One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?" has become an essential text for those who study poverty, agriculture, and development.
"Shiva is lionized, particularly in the West, because she presents the romantic view of the farm," Conway said. "Truth be damned. People in the rich world love to dabble in a past they were lucky enough to avoid—you know, a couple of chickens running around with the children in the back yard. But farming is bloody tough, as anyone who does it knows. It is like those people who romanticize villages in the developing world. Nobody who ever lived in one would do that."
I arrived in Maharashtra in late spring, after most of the season's cotton had been picked. I drove east from Aurangabad on rutted roadways, where the contradictions of modern India are always on display: bright-green pyramids of sweet limes, along with wooden trinkets, jewelry salesmen, cell-phone stands, and elaborately decorated water-delivery trucks. Behind the stands were giant, newly constructed houses, all safely tucked away in gated communities. Regional power companies in that part of the country pay two rupees (about three cents) a kilogram for discarded cotton stalks, and, as I drove past, the fields were full of women pulling them out of the ground.
Although India bans genetically modified food crops, Bt cotton, modified to resist the bollworm, is planted widely. Since the nineteen-nineties, Shiva has focussed the world's attention on Maharashtra by referring to the region as India's "suicide belt," and saying that Monsanto's introduction of genetically modified cotton there has caused a "genocide." There is no place where the battle over the value, safety, ecological impact, and economic implications of genetically engineered products has been fought more fiercely. Shiva says that two hundred and eighty-four thousand Indian farmers have killed themselves because they cannot afford to plant Bt cotton. Earlier this year, she said, "Farmers are dying because Monsanto is making profits—by owning life that it never created but it pretends to create. That is why we need to reclaim the seed. That is why we need to get rid of the G.M.O.s. That is why we need to stop the patenting of life."
When Shiva and I met in New York, for about an hour, I told her that I have often written favorably about agricultural biotechnology. She seemed to know that, but said that the only way I could understand the scale of the disaster would be to visit the region myself. She also proposed that I join the seed caravan in Europe and then travel with her to the Navdanya farm. We exchanged several logistical texts and e-mails, but by the time I got to Italy Shiva had stopped writing or responding to my messages. In Florence, where she spoke to me briefly as she walked to a meeting, she said that I could try to see her in New Delhi but she doubted that she would be free. When I arrived in India, one of her assistants told me that I should submit any questions in writing. I did, but Shiva declined to answer them.
Shiva contends that modified seeds were created almost exclusively to serve large industrial farms, and there is some truth to that. But Bt cotton has been planted by millions of people in the developing world, many of whom maintain lots not much larger than the back yard of a house in the American suburbs. In India, more than seven million farmers, occupying twenty-six million acres, have adopted the technology. That's nearly ninety per cent of all Indian cotton fields. At first, the new seeds were extremely expensive. Counterfeiters flooded the market with fakes and sold them, as well as fake glyphosate, at reduced prices. The crops failed, and many people suffered. Shiva said last year that Bt-cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002.
In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily. While they remain higher than those of conventional seeds, in most cases the modified seeds provide greater benefits. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, Bt farmers spend at least fifteen per cent more on crops, but their pesticide costs are fifty per cent lower. Since the seed was introduced, yields have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Only China grows and sells more cotton.
Shiva also says that Monsanto's patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers' Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to "save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell" his seeds. Most farmers, though, even those with tiny fields, choose to buy newly bred seeds each year, whether genetically engineered or not, because they insure better yields and bigger profits.
I visited about a dozen farmers in Dhoksal, a village with a Hindu temple, a few seed shops, and little else. Dhoksal is about three hundred miles northeast of Mumbai, but it seems to belong to another century. It's dusty and tired, and by noon the temperature had passed a hundred degrees. The majority of local farmers travel to the market by bullock cart. Some walk, and a few drive. A week earlier, a local agricultural inspector told me, he had seen a cotton farmer on an elephant and waved to him. The man did not respond, however, because he was too busy talking on his cell phone.
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In the West, the debate over the value of Bt cotton focusses on two closely related issues: the financial implications of planting the seeds, and whether the costs have driven farmers to suicide. The first thing that the cotton farmers I visited wanted to discuss, though, was their improved health and that of their families. Before Bt genes were inserted into cotton, they would typically spray their crops with powerful chemicals dozens of times each season. Now they spray once a month. Bt is not toxic to humans or to other mammals. Organic farmers, who have strict rules against using synthetic fertilizers or chemicals, have used a spray version of the toxin on their crops for years.
Everyone had a story to tell about insecticide poisoning. "Before Bt cotton came in, we used the other seeds," Rameshwar Mamdev told me when I stopped by his six-acre farm, not far from the main dirt road that leads to the village. He plants corn in addition to cotton. "My wife would spray," he said. "She would get sick. We would all get sick." According to a recent study by the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, there has been a sevenfold reduction in the use of pesticide since the introduction of Bt cotton; the number of cases of pesticide poisoning has fallen by nearly ninety per cent. Similar reductions have occurred in China. The growers, particularly women, by reducing their exposure to insecticide, not only have lowered their risk of serious illness but also are able to spend more time with their children.
"Why do rich people tell us to plant crops that will ruin our farms?" Narhari Pawar asked. Pawar is forty-seven, with skin the color of burnt molasses and the texture of a well-worn saddle. "Bt cotton is the only positive part of farming," he said. "It has changed our lives. Without it, we would have no crops. Nothing."
Genetically engineered plants are not without risk. One concern is that their pollen will drift into the surrounding environment. Pollen does spread, but that doesn't happen so easily; producing new seeds requires a sexually compatible plant. Farmers can reduce the risk of contamination by staggering planting schedules, which insures that different kinds of plants pollinate at different times.
There is a bigger problem: pests can develop resistance to the toxins in engineered crops. The bollworm isn't Bt cotton's only enemy; the plant has many other pests as well. In the U.S., Bt-cotton farmers are required to use a "refuge" strategy: they surround their Bt crops with a moat of plants that do not make Bt toxins. This forces pests that develop resistance to Bt cotton to mate with pests that have not. In most cases, they will produce offspring that are still susceptible. Natural selection breeds resistance; such tactics only delay the process. But this is true everywhere in nature, not just on farms. Treatments for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and H.I.V. rely on a cocktail of drugs because the infection would quickly grow resistant to a single medication. Nevertheless, none of the farmers I spoke with in Dhoksal planted a refuge. When I asked why, they had no idea what I was talking about.
Responsible newspapers and reputable writers, often echoing Shiva's rhetoric, have written about the "suicide-seed" connection as if it were an established fact. In 2011, an American filmmaker, Micha Peled, released "Bitter Seeds," which argues that Monsanto and its seeds have been responsible for the suicides of thousands of farmers. The film received warm recommendations from food activists in the U.S. "Films like this can change the world," the celebrity chef Alice Waters said when she saw it. As the journalist Keith Kloor pointed out earlier this year, in the journal Issues in Science and Technology, the farmer-suicide story even found its way into the scientific community. Last October, at a public discussion devoted to food security, the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich stated that Monsanto had "killed most of those farmers in India." Ehrlich also famously predicted, in the nineteen-sixties, that famine would strike India and that, within a decade, "hundreds of millions of people will starve to death." Not only was he wrong but, between 1965 and 1972, India's wheat production doubled.
The World Health Organization has estimated that a hundred and seventy thousand Indians commit suicide each year—nearly five hundred a day. Although many Indian farmers kill themselves, their suicide rate has not risen in a decade, according to a study by Ian Plewis, of the University of Manchester. In fact, the suicide rate among Indian farmers is lower than for other Indians and is comparable to that among French farmers. Plewis found that "the pattern of changes in suicide rates over the last fifteen years is consistent with a beneficial effect of Bt cotton for India as a whole, albeit perhaps not in every cotton-growing state."
Most farmers I met in Maharashtra seemed to know at least one person who had killed himself, however, and they all agreed on the reasons: there is almost no affordable credit, no social security, and no meaningful crop-insurance program. The only commercial farmers in the United States without crop insurance are those who have a philosophical objection to government support. In India, if you fail you are on your own. Farmers all need credit, but banks will rarely lend to them. "We want to send our children to school," Pawar told me. "We want to live better. We want to buy equipment. But when the crop fails we cannot pay." In most cases, there is no choice but to turn to money lenders, and, in villages like Dhoksal, they are often the same people who sell seeds. The annual interest rate on loans can rise to forty per cent, which few farmers anywhere could hope to pay.
"I am at serious odds with my colleagues who argue that these suicides are about Bt cotton," Suman Sahai told me when I spoke to her in Delhi. Sahai is not ideologically opposed to the use of genetically engineered crops, but she believes that the Indian government regulates them poorly. Nonetheless, she says that the Bt-suicide talk is exaggerated. "If you revoked the permit to plant Bt cotton tomorrow, would that stop suicides on farms?" she said. "It wouldn't make much difference. Studies have shown that unbearable credit and a lack of financial support for agriculture is the killer. It's hardly a secret."
December 1, 2003"It's not a shawl, hombre—it's a hand-woven poncho."
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It would be presumptuous to generalize about the complex financial realities of India's two hundred and sixty million farmers after having met a dozen of them. But I neither saw nor heard anything that supported Vandana Shiva's theory that Bt cotton has caused an "epidemic" of suicides. "When you call somebody a fraud, that suggests the person knows she is lying," Mark Lynas told me on the phone recently. "I don't think Vandana Shiva necessarily knows that. But she is blinded by her ideology and her political beliefs. That is why she is so effective and so dangerous." Lynas currently advises the Bangladeshi government on trials it is conducting of Bt brinjal (eggplant), a crop that, despite several peer-reviewed approvals, was rejected by the environmental minister in India. Brinjal is the first G.M. food crop in South Asia. Shiva wrote recently that the Bangladeshi project not only will fail but will kill the farmers who participate.
"She is very canny about how she uses her power," Lynas said. "But on a fundamental level she is a demagogue who opposes the universal values of the Enlightenment."
It long ago became impossible to talk about genetically engineered crops without talking about Monsanto—a company so widely detested that a week rarely passes without at least one protest against its power and its products occurring somewhere in the world. Shiva has repeatedly said that the company should be tried for "ecocide and genocide." When I asked Monsanto's chairman, Hugh Grant, how he dealt with such charges, he looked at me and shook his head, slowly. "We are a science-based company," he said. "I feel very strongly that you need to be grounded in the science or you lose the drift."
It was an unusually hot day in St. Louis, where Monsanto has its headquarters, and Grant was in shirtsleeves, rolled halfway up his arm. "Obviously, I am an optimistic Scotsman," he said, in an accent that has been softened by many years in the U.S. "Or I would be doing something else for a living." Grant often stresses the need to develop crops that use less water—and has argued for years that G.M.O.s alone could never feed the world.
Nonetheless, Monsanto has pursued the market for transgenic crops with a zeal that has sometimes troubled even proponents of the underlying science. "When G.M. technology was in its infancy, many people were concerned," Anne Glover, the chief scientific adviser to the president of the European Commission, said recently. Glover considers it unethical to ignore G.M. crops if other approaches have failed. "People are still concerned about G.M.," she said. "Most of them are uneasy not with the technology per se but, rather, with the business practices in the agrifood sector, which is dominated by multinational companies." She said that those companies need to do a much better job of communicating with their customers.
Grant concedes the point. "For years, we would have said that we are a biotech company," he said. "We are so far down the food chain . . . we always felt that we were divorced from what ends up on the shelf. And we are not." He noted that, during the past fifty years, the connection between American farmers and their customers had become increasingly tenuous, but that had begun to change. "People may despise us," he said, "but we are all talking about the same issues now, and that is a change I welcome. Food and agriculture are finally part of the conversation." Grant told me that, in 2002, he had commissioned a study to explore the idea of changing the company's name. "It would have cost twenty-five million dollars," he said. "At the time, that seemed like a waste of money." He paused for a moment. "It was my call, and it was a big mistake."
The all-encompassing obsession with Monsanto has made rational discussion of the risks and benefits of genetically modified products difficult. Many academic scientists who don't work for Monsanto or any other large corporation are struggling to develop crops that have added nutrients and others that will tolerate drought, floods, or salty soil—all traits needed desperately by the world's poorest farmers. Golden Rice—enriched with vitamin A—is the best-known example. More than a hundred and ninety million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin-A deficiency. Every year, as many as half a million will go blind. Rice plants produce beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, in the leaves but not in the grain. To make Golden Rice, scientists insert genes in the edible part of the plant, too.
Golden Rice would never offer more than a partial solution to micronutrient deficiency, and the intellectual-property rights have long been controlled by the nonprofit International Rice Research Institute, which makes the rights available to researchers at no cost. Still, after more than a decade of opposition, the rice is prohibited everywhere. Two economists, one from Berkeley and the other from Munich, recently examined the impact of that ban. In their study "The Economic Power of the Golden Rice Opposition," they calculated that the absence of Golden Rice in the past decade has caused the loss of at least 1,424,680 life years in India alone. (Earlier this year, vandals destroyed some of the world's first test plots, in the Philippines.)
The need for more resilient crops has never been so great. "In Africa, the pests and diseases of agriculture are as devastating as human diseases," Gordon Conway, who is on the board of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, told me. He added that the impact of diseases like the fungus black sigatoka, the parasitic weed striga, and the newly identified syndrome maize lethal necrosis—all of which attack Africa's most important crops—are "in many instances every bit as deadly as H.I.V. and TB." For years, in Tanzania, a disease called brown-streak virus has attacked cassava, a critical source of carbohydrates in the region. Researchers have developed a virus-resistant version of the starchy root vegetable, which is now being tested in field trials. But, again, the opposition, led in part by Shiva, who visited this summer, has been strong.
Maize is the most commonly grown staple crop in Africa, but it is highly susceptible to drought. Researchers are working on a strain that resists both striga and the African endemic maize-streak virus; there have also been promising advances with insect-resistant cowpea and nutritionally enriched sorghum. Other scientists are working on plants that greatly reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers, and several that produce healthful omega-3 fatty acids. None of the products have so far managed to overcome regulatory opposition.
While I was in India, I visited Deepak Pental, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi. Pental, an elegant, soft-spoken man, is a professor of genetics and also one of the country's most distinguished scientists. "We made a mistake in hyper-propagandizing G.M. products, saying it was a technology that would sort out every problem," he began. "The hype has hurt us." Pental, who received his doctorate from Rutgers, has devoted much of his career to research on Brassica juncea, mustard seed. Mustard and canola, Brassica napus, share a common parent.
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Mustard is grown on six million hectares in India. There are parts of the country where farmers raise few other crops. "We have developed a line of mustard oil with a composition that is even better than olive oil," he said. "It has a lot of omega-3 in it, and that is essential for a vegetarian food"—not a minor consideration in a country with half a billion people who eat no meat. The pungency that most people associate with mustard has been bred out of the oil, which is also low in saturated fats. "It is a beautiful, robust system," he said, adding that there have been several successful trials of the mustard seed. "All our work was funded by the public. Nobody will see any profits; that was never our intention. It is a safe, nutritious, and important crop." It also grows well in dry soil. Yet it was made in a laboratory, and, two decades later, the seed remains on the shelf.
Nearly twenty per cent of the world's population lives in India. But the country has only five per cent of the planet's potable water. "Every time we export one kilogram of basmati rice, we export five thousand kilograms of water," Pental said. "This is a suicidal path. We have no nutritional priorities. We are exporting millions of tons of soy meal to Asia. The Japanese feed it to cows. The nutritive value of what a cow is eating in Japan is more than what a human being eats in India. This has to stop."
Pental struggled to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "White rice is the most ridiculous food that human beings can cultivate," he said. "It is just a bunch of starch, and we are filling our bellies with it." He shrugged. "But it's natural," he said, placing ironic emphasis on the final word. "So it passes the Luddite test."
In a recent speech, Shiva explained why she rejects studies suggesting that genetically engineered products like Pental's mustard oil are safe. Monsanto, she said, had simply paid for false stories, and "now they control the entire scientific literature of the world." Nature, Science, and Scientific American, three widely admired publications, "have just become extensions of their propaganda. There is no independent science left in the world."
Monsanto is certainly rich, but it is simply not that powerful. Exxon Mobil is worth seven times as much as Monsanto, yet it has never been able to alter the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of climate change. Tobacco companies spend more money lobbying in Washington each year than Monsanto does, but it's hard to find scientists who endorse smoking. The gulf between the truth about G.M.O.s and what people say about them keeps growing wider. The Internet brims with videos that purport to expose the lies about genetically modified products. Mike Adams, who runs a popular Web site called Natural News, recently compared journalists who are critical of anti-G.M.O. activists such as Shiva to Nazi collaborators.
The most persistent objection to agricultural biotechnology, and the most common, is that, by cutting DNA from one species and splicing it into another, we have crossed an invisible line and created forms of life unlike anything found in "nature." That fear is unquestionably sincere. Yet, as a walk through any supermarket would demonstrate, nearly every food we eat has been modified, if not by genetic engineering then by more traditional cross-breeding, or by nature itself. Corn in its present form wouldn't exist if humans hadn't cultivated the crop. The plant doesn't grow in the wild and would not survive if we suddenly stopped eating it.
When it comes to medicine, most Americans couldn't care less about nature's boundaries. Surgeons routinely suture pig valves into the hearts of humans; the operation has kept tens of thousands of people alive. Synthetic insulin, the first genetically modified product, is consumed each day by millions of diabetics. To make the drug, scientists insert human proteins into a common bacteria, which is then grown in giant industrial vats. Protesters don't march to oppose those advances. In fact, consumers demand them, and it doesn't seem to matter where the replacement parts come from.
When Shiva writes that "Golden Rice will make the malnutrition crisis worse" and that it will kill people, she reinforces the worst fears of her largely Western audience. Much of what she says resonates with the many people who feel that profit-seeking corporations hold too much power over the food they eat. Theirs is an argument well worth making. But her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist.
Genetically modified crops will not solve the problem of the hundreds of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night. It would be far better if the world's foods contained an adequate supply of vitamins. It would also help the people of many poverty-stricken countries if their governments were less corrupt. Working roads would do more to reduce nutritional deficits than any G.M.O. possibly could, and so would a more equitable distribution of the Earth's dwindling supply of freshwater. No single crop or approach to farming can possibly feed the world. To prevent billions of people from living in hunger, we will need to use every one of them. ♦
Michael Specter has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998, and has written frequently about AIDS, T.B., and malaria in the developing world, as well as about agricultural biotechnology, avian influenza, the world's diminishing freshwater resources, and synthetic biology.
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