The dangerous standoff between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un

The world is basically sitting on a powder keg with the ongoing sabre-rattling between US President Donald Trump and South Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un

Matters of the Moment

The world is basically sitting on a powder keg with a short fuse with the ongoing sabre-rattling between US President Donald Trump and South Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. There is a dangerous escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea fuelled by the two leaders trading threats and insults over recent months, daring each other in an endless exercise of brinkmanship.

Rankled by the annual naval, land and air exercises carried out by the US and South Korea which included mock landing exercises between U.S. Marines and South Korean troops in mid August, Kim Jong-un has responded with a series of provocative ballistic missile tests and detonated a nuclear bomb which is almost seven times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Long range ballistic missiles have been fired over Japan and North Korea has threatened to fire missiles at the US territory of Guam in the Pacific. Despite sanctions imposed by the UN and warnings by Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un remains extremely defiant and has continued his bellicose posturing with new ballistic missile tests. Tensions are also being exacerbated by the enormous egos of two leaders bent on browbeating each other.

What is particularly alarming is the escalating belligerence of both protagonists bent on locking horns in a mano-a-mano which carries serious risks of triggering an Armageddon involving nuclear arms and engulfing South Korea, Japan and the region. No wonder there is a growing apprehension in the world.

A nuclear war with its extremely damaging consequences is anathema to countries across the world. Unequivocal lessons have been well learnt from the destruction wreaked by nuclear bombs and their destructive fall-outs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, which led to the end of the Second World War. Lessons have also been learnt from the numerous and endless areas of conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and in Afghanistan resulting in an unprecedented refugee crisis with millions of displaced people in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey or swarming to Europe and the west to seek asylum.

The world certainly does not want to be drawn into an even more destructive armed conflict, let alone one carrying the risk of nuclear warfare. Everything must therefore be done to defuse such risks.

Diplomacy not war

Voices of reason are being raised across the world to snuff this nuclear tinderbox through diplomacy. There is no other reasonable way to end this senseless warmongering. War does resolve anything. It only heightens human sufferings and hardships as well as cause immeasurable and costly destruction. There is growing alarm in Europe at the inherent risks associated with Donald Trump’s rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran agreed and signed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany and his repeated threats of using military force against North Korea in the current standoff.

The July 2015 Iran nuclear deal has ended one of the enduring world crises after years of mistrust and suspicion. Iran agreed to significantly limit its nuclear activities exclusively for peaceful purposes, as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, sanctions imposed by the UN, US and the EU have been lifted in January 2016 and tens of billions of dollars in assets frozen overseas released after the IAEA confirmed that Iran had complied with the terms of the agreement aimed at preventing it from developing nuclear weapons. The deal has enabled Iran to come out of 10 years of isolation and reconnect with the global economy

During his first address at the UN General Assembly this week, President Donald Trump speaking of the righteous many against the evil few stated: ‘If the US is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.’ Recent history has showed us that war has not resolved anything. War has left Iraq and Syria in shambles with large swathes of these countries under the harsh rule of the Islamic State until recently.

The China factor

In any case, the balance of geopolitical interests in the Sea of Japan is such that any solution regarding North Korea has to be agreed upon by China. China and deft diplomacy are the keys to finding a lasting and peaceful solution to the North Korean crisis. War cannot therefore be the solution, the more so as it would most probably spread the conflict to other countries in the region and cause immense damage if nuclear weapons are used. Everything must therefore be done to prevent an armed conflict involving ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

There is also no sense in pushing a rogue regime headed by a trigger happy omnipotent leader having nuclear capability into rash reactions. The only rational way forward is diplomatic. Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed that the nuclear deal with Iran could be a blueprint for a similar process of negotiation with North Korea in which Germany and Europe would play a very active part. China will also have to play a key role in this process whose aim would be to mothball North Korea’s nuclear programme as verified by IAEA in return for a lift of sanctions, peace and the normalization of relations with the world community.

It is easily said that done but with goodwill from all parties including the US and North Korea, this is a more viable way forward than an ego driven nuclear showdown.

* * *

‘Soodhun fait honte au pays’

Ms Nirmala Maruthamuthu’s scathing verdict aptly echoes the pervasive sense of alienation towards the whole political class trapped in their own bloated egos

Ms Nirmala Maruthamuthu’s scathing verdict pronounced in an interview over the weekend aptly echoes the pervasive sense of alienation towards the whole political class trapped in their own bloated egos and bumbling ineptitude. It also reflects the exasperated and irate sentiment of the multitude against the repugnant behaviour of a politician rightly upbraided by a citizen determined to uphold her rights.

Ms Maruthamuthu’s stance and views epitomize the real and authentic values which underpin our democracy. The national support that she has been receiving from people from all walks of life reflects a general ras le bol towards the arrogance of members of the political establishment and their odious behaviour towards the people they have been elected to serve. Not being vocal does not mean that the silent majority made up of citizens and mainstream Mauritius does not have clear views on the appalling state of governance and political ethics in the country or the legitimacy and performance of the government and its individual members or the way to robustly defend their rights when these are being trampled upon.

It is this simple democratic spirit which prompted Ms Maruthamuthu to interrupt the rambling and endless speech of VPM Showkutally Soodhun on Saudi Arabia and his political diatribes, on a point of order. She simply reminded him that he needed to focus instead on the purpose of the meeting which was a seminar on ‘Building a better Mauritius for our children’ which she and others had taken a day off from work to participate in. This incident yet again showcases how politicians are unable to see the wood for the trees.

So many times in our chequered history, the multitude made of ordinary citizens have stood up for the fundamental principles, core values and ethos we collectively stand for as a nation to thwart the vested agendas of discredited leaders. The latest disparaging rantings of the Deputy Chief Whip against journalists has riled the people and angered the nation.

It is high time for the nation and the common man to reboot the country with the seminal values and ethos of our democracy. This can only be achieved by replacing the whole political class which has repeatedly breached their trust and flouted our democracy over the past decades by a new generation of able and talented young men and women with a proven track record of achievements in different professional fields and committed to selflessly serve the people to build a better, more inclusive and prosperous society for all.

* * *

 The Cassini Mission to Saturn

Last week, on 15 September, the Cassini-Huygens probe sent in the hinterland of space through a collaboration between NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and various European space agencies to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and moons was ended after being active for more than 19 years in space. It was the first dedicated space mission to the planet Saturn. The mission was launched in October 1997. On its journey to Saturn, the Cassini probe had flybys of Venus in April 1998 and July 1999 and Jupiter in December 2000 before entering orbit around Saturn in July 2004 after a seven-year journey through the solar system. In January 2005, the Huygens lander was detached from the probe and landed by parachute on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Using the orbiter as a relay, it sent data to Earth for about 90 minutes. The probe thus spent 13 years orbiting Saturn, studying the planet, its moons, rings and its system.

It discovered additional gaps in Saturn’s rings, its storms, new moons and found the presence of a variety of molecules. The Huygens lander even found evidence of flowing, liquid methane, a gas that is often associated with living things, on Titan’s surface. Among the many significant discoveries of the Cassini mission is the presence of water, warmth, and organic molecules all thought to exist on Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moon, making it one of the most likely candidates for life in our solar system. There could be a subsurface ocean of briny and liquid water beneath Enceladus’ surface. Based on observations of other bodies in the solar system, Enceladus probably contains the raw ingredients for life as well.

As Cassini lacked sufficient rocket propellant to leave the Saturn system, it was decided in a space eco-friendly move to fly it last week into Saturn’s upper atmosphere so that it burns up in order not to contaminate Saturn’s moons with any terrestrial microbes. The overriding object was to preserve and maintain for the future the pristine conditions of Saturn’s moons as likely habitats for life in our solar system.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is one of the most remarkable ventures of space exploration realized by man. The data collected and analyzed have produced some 4,000 scientific articles. It has involved two generations of space scientists, including some who have devoted most of their professional career to the project, monitoring and analyzing data sent by the probe. More than 450,000 photographs have been taken by the probe.

The primeval quest goes on

The mission was named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini (8 June 1625 – 14 September 1712) who discovered Saturn’s rings and four of its moons and the Dutch astronomer and mathematician Christiaan Huygens 1(4 April 1629 – 8 July 1695) who discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

From the earliest times Man has scrutinized and studied space and the immensity of the universe to fathom its many secrets. Ancient Vedic literature reveals a profound tradition of astronomical observations and codification. The Egyptian and pre-Columbian Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations placed a great importance on astronomy. They tracked the movements of celestial bodies such as the sun, moon, stars, constellations and planets and decoded some of the secrets of our solar system with tremendous accuracy. The Aztec thus developed a complex calendar based on overlapping time cycles and planned cities according to astronomical alignments. This primeval quest inexorably goes on further towards new frontiers of space and science for the benefit of all mankind.

  • Published in print edition on 22 September 2017

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