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Thunder in the east

By Henry Lamb
web posted January 30, 2006

More than two thousand Americans have died in Iraq, since Saddam was dethroned. Anti-war types have had a field day complaining. The death and destruction displayed on the nightly news, however, could well be little more than a schoolyard brawl compared to the conflicts brewing in the thunderheads on the eastern horizon.

Iran insists on developing the capability for producing nuclear energy - and weapons - despite having an abundant supply of both oil and coal. Years of negotiations have failed to convince Iran to comply with the Non-proliferation Treaty, which they ratified in 1970. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported Iran's non-compliance with the treaty since 2003.

The next step in international diplomacy is a referral by the IAEA to the U.N. Security Council which is empowered to impose economic and other sanctions against Iran. Russia, and China, however, have extensive business arrangements with Iran, and have indicated that they are less than eager to impose sanctions. Once again, as was the case with the situation in Iraq, the U.N. Security Council is poised to debate endlessly, while Iran continues to develop its nuclear capability.

The United States, Great Britain, Germany, and France, have all declared that Iran must not be allowed to achieve nuclear capability, especially in view of Iran's recent public announcements that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. Without U.N. approval, how can Iran be stopped?

Further East, is North Korea, which abandoned the Non-proliferation Treaty in 1993 and launched a program to develop both nuclear, and long-range missile capability. In 1994, Bill Clinton agreed to supply two nuclear power reactors in exchange for North Korea's agreement to shut down their nuclear and missile programs. This agreement was abandoned, and a covert nuclear program was discovered in 2002. In 2003, the IAEA declared North Korea "in breach of atomic safeguards" and referred the case to the U.N. Security Council.

North Korea quickly warned the United States not to discuss its suspected nuclear weapons program at the U.N., saying such a move would be "a grave criminal act" that was "little short of a prelude to war." North Korea continues to talk, while resuming testing its missiles and developing its nuclear capability. Even with U.N. Security Council involvement, North Korea has not been stopped.

Almost unnoticed on the eastern horizon, is China, with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and a veto. China has been slowly developing its nuclear and missile capability since the 1960s, relying mostly on Russia in the early years. Its staggering population of 1.2 billion people has kept China in the "developing" nation category for decades. But in recent years, it has become one of the fastest growing economies.

Energy and military capacity have been among the nation's top priorities. China has announced double-digit increases in military spending nearly every year, for more than a decade. China admits to spending nearly $30 billion in 2005, but U.S. experts estimate the actual expenditure is closer to $70 billion. China's military force size has been reduced from 4.2 million in 1987 to 2.5 million in 2003, in order to make "Our military march toward the goal of an appropriately sized, structurally balanced, lean, command-responsive fighting force."

By contrast, the United States has about 1.3 million people in uniform around the world. In the 1960s, when China was just beginning its nuclear ambition, the U.S. spent about 45 per cent of its total budget on the military. Last year, only 17 per cent of the budget went to the military, as other domestic pressures had to be satisfied.

The United States still has the most powerful fighting force in the world. Whether that superiority can be maintained is an open question. According to media reports, Iraq has stretched thin U.S. military capability, which makes military action in Iran, or North Korea doubtful, if not impossible. With anti-war types filling the streets at every opportunity, and increasing demands for ever-expanding social programs, military preparedness is not as high a priority as it once was.

No one knows what the future might hold. A future in which nations such as Iran and North Korea have the ability to make nuclear weapons is not very inviting. A future which includes a Communist nation such as China, with economic and military power equal to, or exceeding the power of the United States is, at best, uncertain. The United Nations has proven to be useless in dealing with the real problems that exist, and, in fact, is an obstacle to resolving the potential problems that lie ahead.

Every citizen should realize that America's hope for the future rests upon the shoulders of the American people, who must be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our military superior to any other force, and willing to use it whenever America is in jeopardy.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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