As global power shifts, Japan mulls new alliances and weapons

As it shifts away from pacifism, Tokyo hopes to leverage the technological edge of native defense contractors to piggyback new missiles and fighters off US systems


Japan and the United Kingdom fought ferocious naval battles in World War II, but bygones are bygones: The two island democracies are planning joint naval exercises next year.

The proposed maneuvers – the first by the two navies since World War I – are part of a cooperation pact announced by London and Tokyo on December 14. The pact also includes jointly developing a new air-to-air missile for the US F-35 stealth fighter used by both countries.

Behind these moves are a fear of China’s naval advances. Japan also has doubts about Washington’s security commitment, while a pre-Brexit Britain looks tentatively beyond European shores.

“The Japanese are really trying to find friends anywhere they can,” Eric Wertheim, a US naval weapons analyst said. “China has been increasingly assertive and aggressive in their part of the world.”

“Japan and Britain are two island nations that are feeling a little more isolated than they were just a few years ago, so it’s not surprising that they are building a new defense relationship,” added Rockford Weitz, director of the Maritime Studies Program at the Fletcher School of Tufts University.

The moves come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe floats a raft of new proposals for indigenous weapons that illustrate how far the sector has come in a nervous new Japan that is shifting away from the pacificism of yore.

Serious moves

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Royal Navy will hold separate (rather than multilateral) joint exercises when British frigates deploy to Asia-Pacific next year. Ground forces from both nations will also hold joint maneuvers in 2018, and the Royal Air Force has already held a joint exercise in Japan. Japan and Britain, moreover, inked an agreement earlier in 2017 to exchange data that can be used in co-developing an advanced fighter jet.

The Japanese Navy has also held joint drills with US, Indian and Australian vessels, while Tokyo is in discussions to expand defense cooperation with Australia and various Southeast Asian nations.

“Why not have a Japanese, Indian and Australian alliance?” asked Joseph F. Callo, a naval expert and retired rear admiral in the US Navy Reserve. That would reflect Washington’s policy: the new US national security strategy includes diplomatic alliances between the US, India and Japan to deter China in the region.

Abe’s agenda

Japan’s hawkish PM called for sweeping overhauls of existing defense program guidelines on December 15. Tokyo is expected to revise Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines by year’s end, although Abe still faces hurdles in revising chunks of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

Tokyo is seeking to leverage the technological edge of native defense contractors to improve on US weapons already in the country’s arsenal, or to come up with entirely new ones. If Abe can fully overturn curbs on military exports, indigenous weapons could also generate new revenues.

The US-designed F-35A is a launch platform. Japan is assembling the US stealth fighter at local plants and has joined with Australia as the servicer for F-35s operated by US allies in the region. Japan is slated to receive 42 F-35As from the US and may buy additional jets.

The country proved it could piggyback improved weapons off US originals with the Mitsubishi F-2 – a larger, longer-range variant of the US F-16C. The F-2 and related projects helped prompt the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin program, Japan’s first domestically built stealth aircraft. The X-2 program will be concluded next year, then Japanese defense officials will assess whether to develop a new indigenous fighter, the F-3, or develop one with a foreign partner. Regardless, long-term Japanese thinking is increasingly focused on developing indigenous weapons systems against China.

In this vein, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Japan is mulling developing a stealthy, specialized Japanese cruise missile: an improved version of the US Tomahawk that Japan already uses. Upgrades are expected to have a radar-evading stealth shape and the capability to change course in mid-flight.

Recent Japanese interest in expanding its defense shield to include downing Chinese cruise missiles is expected to intensify cooperation with Washington, as is a December 19 cabinet decision to add a US land-based Aegis anti-missile system to bolster defenses against North Korea. But these moves could also spur new Japanese innovations.

The sun rises for Japanese defense firms

Japanese defense contractors have advanced greatly since the Cold War, when their sector was hamstrung by strong anti-war sentiment. Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, which forever renounces war as “a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” is no longer sacrosanct, now that the country’s pacifist-leaning war generation is mostly in the grave.

Companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have been assembling US-designed fighters, helicopters, Aegis missile destroyers and other weapons for decades under co-licensing arrangements with US firms. They have also built domestically-designed diesel submarines, armored vehicles and limited suites of other conventional arms that fit the constitutional definition of “defensive” weapons. US products such as radar systems and the Patriot anti-missile system were bought off the shelf.

Now Japan is moving to build indigenous and hybrid weapons systems. “The Japanese defense industry is very good and very capable, as are their defense forces,” said Eric Wertheim, a US naval weapons expert, adding that China’s numerical superiority relates not just to manpower, but also to arms production.

Japan’s potential prowess as an arms maker was apparent in the 1980s. Coatings used on Japanese microwave ovens and other advanced materials drew the notice of US defense researchers for possible use in stealth fighters. Computer-aided Japanese machine tools were so superior that the Soviets tried to illegally acquire them to make super-silent submarine propellers.

The Pentagon pushed Tokyo during the Cold War to leverage the country’s technological edge in developing cutting-edge weapons, but Japanese officials balked, citing public opposition.

Some projects went “clunk.” Mitsubishi had trouble emulating US avionics and other “black box” fighter tech; plans for Japanese warplanes were shelved in favor of producing US variants; and a “kneeling tank” with a low battlefield profile proved obsolete by the time it was deployed.

That was then. Now, Japan fields a Type 10 fourth-generation main battle tank with expanded countermeasures against anti-tank weapons and has successfully tested the indigenous X-2.

In a nod to constitutional sensitivities, Japan’s helicopter carriers are designated “destroyers.” However, its four “helicopter destroyers” are de facto mini aircraft carriers that can be used by the vertical-landing F-35. This is a far cry from the mid-1980s, when the mere mention of building a “defensive” helicopter carrier in a government white paper stirred public protests.

Japanese diesel submarines are also world class. Though a Japanese consortium unexpectedly lost to France’s DCNS in bidding for a US$40 billion Australian contract for new submarines, Abe is likely to keep beating the drum for such overseas arms sales.

“Japan will continue to put feelers out and they will get contracts,” said Weitz of the Fletcher School. “Their diesel-electric subs are phenomenal.”

Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times

China’s $900 billion New Silk Road. What you need to know


You’ve probably heard of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that once ran between China and the West during the days of the Roman Empire. It’s how oriental silk first made it to Europe. It’s also the reason China is no stranger to carrots.

And now it’s being resurrected. Announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, a brand new double trade corridor is set to reopen channels between China and its neighbours in the west: most notably Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

According to the Belt and Road Action Plan released in 2015, the initiative will encompass land routes (the “Belt”) and maritime routes (the “Road”) with the goal of improving trade relationships in the region primarily through infrastructure investments.

The aim of the $900 billion scheme, as China explained recently, is to kindle a “new era of globalization”, a golden age of commerce that will benefit all. Beijing says it will ultimately lend as much as $8 trillion for infrastructure in 68 countries. That adds up to as much as 65% of the global population and a third of global GDP, according to the global consultancy McKinsey.

But reviews from the rest of the world have been mixed, with several countries expressing suspicion about China’s true geopolitical intentions, even while others attended a summit in Beijing earlier this month to praise the scale and scope of the project.


The project has proved vast, expensive and controversial. Four years after it was first unveiled, the question remains:


Why is China doing it?

One strong incentive is that Trans-Eurasian trade infrastructure could bolster poorer countries to the south of China, as well as boost global trade. Domestic regions are also expected to benefit – especially the less-developed border regions in the west of the country, such as Xinjiang.

The economic benefits, both domestically and abroad, are many, but perhaps the most obvious is that trading with new markets could go a long way towards keeping China’s national economy buoyant.

Among domestic markets set to gain from future trade are Chinese companies – such as those in transport and telecoms – which now look poised to grow into global brands.

Chinese manufacturing also stands to gain. The country’s vast industrial overcapacity – mainly in the creation of steel and heavy equipment – could find lucrative outlets along the New Silk Road, and this could allow Chinese manufacturing to swing towards higher-end industrial goods.

A new global superpower

Some Western diplomats have been wary in their response to the proposed trade corridor, seeing it as a land grab designed to promote China’s influence globally, but there’s little evidence to suggest the route will benefit China alone.

The scheme is essentially a “domestic policy with geostrategic consequences, rather than a foreign policy,” Charles Parton, a former EU diplomat in China, told the Financial Times.

There’s no doubt that China is growing into a geopolitical heavyweight, stepping into the breach left by the United States on matters of free trade and climate change.

“As some Western countries move backwards by erecting ‘walls’, China is contriving to build bridges, both literal and metaphorical,” ran a recent commentary by Xinhua, a Chinese state-run media agency.

Bridges are key to China’s strategy, says Kevin Liu, Chairman of Asia, Partners Group.

He explains: “The superpower status the US has achieved is to a great extent grounded on the security blanket it offered to its allies. Geopolitically, China decided a long time ago that security was too expensive an offer to make. Instead, this new superpower may offer connectivity.”

If combined with enhanced global connectivity, China’s enormous gravity could become an even more meaningful engine for the global economy,” Liu adds.

Which countries stand to gain?

Sixty-two countries could see investments of up to US$500 billion over the next five years, according to Credit Suisse, with most of that channelled to India, Russia, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, the Philippines and Pakistan.

Chinese companies are already behind several energy projects, including oil and gas pipelines between China and Russia, Kazakhstan and Myanmar. Roads and infrastructure projects are also underway in Ethiopia, Kenya, Laos and Thailand.

Pakistan is one of the New Silk Road’s foremost supporters. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the trade route marked the “dawn of a truly new era of synergetic intercontinental cooperation”. Unsurprising praise perhaps from a country that stands at one end of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where it is poised to benefit from $46 billion in new roads, bridges, wind farms and other China-backed infrastructure projects.

Support has come from further afield as well, with Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, predicting the route would “pave the way for a more inclusive, equal, just, prosperous and peaceful society with development for all”.

Who’s against it?

Perhaps the route’s most vocal critic so far has been India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Vehemently opposed to the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which runs through a part of Kashmir claimed by India, he has called the route a “colonial enterprise” that threatens to strew “debt and broken communities in its wake”. He even boycotted the recent One Belt One Road summit in Beijing.

Modi wasn’t the only leader notably absent from the gathering. No officials from Japan, South Korea or North Korea made an appearance, and of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations, the only representative to attend was Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

“While countries welcome Beijing’s generosity, they are simultaneously wary of its largesse. China’s growing influence is a concern for nations whose political interests do not always align with Beijing’s,” explains Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy.

While China’s growing influence is a concern for nations whose political interests aren’t aligned with Beijing’s, Chinese spokespeople have repeatedly denied charges of a play for global dominance.

The New Silk Road is “not and will never be neocolonialism by stealth”, China announced recently in state media.

Who’ll foot the bill?

The One Belt One Road project already has $1 trillion of projects underway, including major infrastructure works in Africa and Central Asia.

Ahead of the Beijing summit earlier this month, the China Development Bank had set aside almost $900 billion alone for more than 900 projects. China’s Big Four state-owned banks extended an estimated $90 billion in loans to the economies related to the initiative last year alone.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was launched in January 2016, has authorized capital of $100 billion. $20 billion will be paid-in capital from 80 shareholders, of which China is the largest with a 28% share.

Despite this largesse, though, the AIIB has provided less than $2 billion in funding over the past year. The bank’s president, Jin Liquin, told the World Economic Forum summit in China last year: “We will support the One Belt, One Road project. But before we spend shareholders’ money, which is really the taxpayers’ money, we have three requirements.”

What were these? The new trade route would have to promote growth, be socially acceptable and abide by environmental laws, Jin said. How well the project fares against these three criteria has yet to be seen.

Source: World Economic Forum


Turkey switches to full defiance of US, continues Putin courtship


On Monday, US National Security Advisor HR McMaster added to tensions in the Middle East when he condemned Turkey and Qatar as prime sponsors of extremist Islamist ideology.

He tore into the Turkish leadership, saying the country’s growing problems with the West are largely due to the rise of the Justice and Development Party in Ankara.

A few days ago, McMaster had described China and Russia as “revisionist powers” encroaching on US allies and undermining the international order, and castigated Iran and North Korea as outlaw regimes that “support terror and are seeking weapons of mass destruction.”

McMaster now rounds on Turkey and Qatar for mentoring a radical Islamist ideology that “is obviously a grave threat to all civilized people.” The stunning part is that Turkey is a NATO ally, while the US Central Command is headquartered in Qatar.

Arguably, Turkey no longer qualifies to be a NATO member. McMaster spoke at a rare public policy platform with his British counterpart Mark Sedwill, at an event hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank in Washington. How any of this transmutes into Anglo-American policy will bear watching. (Interestingly, on a visit to Greece last week, Erdogan publicly sought a revision of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which was negotiated under the tutelage of Britain and the US and ceded, amongst other things, all Turkish claims on the Dodecanese Islands and Cyprus.

Significantly, McMaster’s outburst came within hours of a meeting in Ankara between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, their eighth this year, during a combined day-long trip by the Russian leader which included stops in Egypt, Turkey and the Hmeimim airbase in Syria.

Ironically, if it was the perceived Soviet threat to Turkey that Harry Truman and Dean Acheson blew out of proportion to lay the ground for an enthusiastically pro-American Turkish prime minister, Adnan Menderes, to bring Turkey into the NATO fold in 1952, 55 years later the blossoming of Russo-Turkish cooperation prompts Washington to doubt Turkey’s credentials as an ally.

But then, NATO has no precedents of ousting a member state and its decisions are taken unanimously. To be sure, Erdogan will only leave the NATO tent kicking and screaming. His intent is to shake off US hegemony, which he can do better while inside the NATO tent. He is in turn taunting, provoking, snubbing, defying and – worse still –ridiculing US regional strategies.

Erdogan’s talks with Putin on Monday suggest a new stage in their coordination to undermine US interests in the Middle East. Putin announced that they agreed on a loan agreement, which will be signed “very shortly,” to pursue the “significant prospects for expanding our military and technical cooperation.”

Erdogan added that “the relevant agencies of our two countries are expected to complete what needs to be done this week” with regard to Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system. It is a huge snub to Washington and some of its NATO allies that the Russian system cannot be integrated into the alliance’s defenses.

Again, Erdogan announced that Turkey and Russia are “determined to complete in the shortest possible time” the Turkish Stream (which will bring more Russian gas to Turkey and use Turkey as a hub to supply southern Europe) and the US$25 billion Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. The US opposes the Turkish Stream, which will frustrate its plans to export LNG to Europe.

Putin joined Erdogan to criticize the US decision regarding Jerusalem. Putin said, “It is destabilizing the region and wiping out the prospect of peace”; Erdogan said he was “pleased” by Putin’s stand. Erdogan said the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) summit in Istanbul on Wednesday would be a “turning point” on the crisis; Putin promised to send a representative.

Most stunning, though, are the emerging contours of a profound Russo-Turkish action plan in Syria. They attribute centrality to the Astana peace process, which also includes Iran but leaves the US and its regional allies in the cold. Following Putin-Erdogan talks, the next meeting at Astana has been announced.

Equally, Russia and Turkey are collaborating to organize a congress of Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu signaled on Tuesday that Turkey no longer objects to Kurdish participation. Evidently, Russia is leveraging its influence with the Kurdish groups. This badly isolates the US, which is increasingly left with rump elements of Kurdish militant groups as its remaining allies. An open-ended US military presence in Syria becomes pointless since the capacity to influence a Syrian settlement is nearing zero.

After returning to Moscow, Putin submitted to the Duma a new agreement on expanding the Russian base in the Syrian port city of Tartus. The balance of forces in the Mediterranean region is dramatically shifting even before a Syrian settlement is negotiated.

Meanwhile, Cavusoglu hinted that Turkey and Russia plan to create new facts on the ground in northern Syria. “Threats for Turkey are coming from Afrin. We may enter this region without a warning. If we carry out the operation there, we will agree on all its aspects with our allies, including Russia.”

Putin apparently heeded Erdogan’s concerns that Afrin is a crucial region for Turkish national security. This is a paradigm shift. If Turkey kicks out the Kurdish militia from Afrin in coordination with Russia, it is a slap to America’s face. A flashpoint may arise.

What emerges is that denying the US any form of land access to Syria’s Mediterranean coast and reducing the American bases in Syria as remote and isolated pockets would be a Russo-Turkish enterprise. McMaster’s rage is understandable.

M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for the Asia Times since 2001.


Why the documentary must not be allowed to die

Journalist, film-maker and author, John Pilger is one of two to win British journalism’s highest award twice. For his documentary films, he has won an Emmy and a British Academy Award, a BAFTA. Among numerous other awards, he has won a Royal Television Society Best Documentary Award. His epic 1979 Cambodia Year Zero is ranked by the British Film Institute as one of the ten most important documentaries of the 20th century.

I first understood the power of the documentary during the editing of my first film, The Quiet Mutiny.

In the commentary, I make reference to a chicken, which my crew and I encountered while on patrol with American soldiers in Vietnam. “It must be a Vietcong chicken – a communist chicken,” said the sergeant. He wrote in his report: “enemy sighted.”

The chicken moment seemed to underline the farce of the war – so I included it in the film. That may have been unwise.

The regulator of commercial television in Britain – then the Independent Television Authority or ITA – had demanded to see my script.

What was my source for the political affiliation of the chicken? I was asked. Was it really a communist chicken, or could it have been a pro-American chicken?

Of course, this nonsense had a serious purpose; when The Quiet Mutiny was broadcast by ITV in 1970, the US ambassador to Britain, Walter Annenberg, a personal friend of President Richard Nixon, complained to the ITA. He complained not about the chicken, but about the whole film.

I intend to inform the White House,” the ambassador wrote. Gosh.

The Quiet Mutiny had revealed the US army in Vietnam was tearing itself apart. There was open rebellion: drafted men were refusing orders and shooting their officers in the back or “fragging” them with grenades as they slept.

None of this had been news. What it meant was that the war was lost, and the messenger was not appreciated.

The Director-General of the ITA was Sir Robert Fraser. He summoned Denis Forman, then Director of Programs at Granada TV, and went into a state of apoplexy. Spraying expletives, Sir Robert described me as a “dangerous subversive.

What concerned the regulator and the ambassador was the power of a single documentary film: the power of its facts and witnesses: especially young soldiers speaking the truth and treated sympathetically by the filmmaker.

I was a newspaper journalist. I had never made a film before, and I was indebted to Charles Denton, a renegade producer from the BBC, who taught me that facts and evidence told straight to the camera and to the audience could indeed be subversive.

This subversion of official lies is the power of documentary. I have now made 60 films, and I believe there is nothing like this power in any other medium.

In the 1960s, a brilliant young filmmaker, Peter Watkins, made The War Game for the BBC. Watkins reconstructed the aftermath of a nuclear attack on London.

The War Game was banned. “The effect of this film,” said the BBC, “has been judged to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.

The then chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors was Lord Normanbrook, who had been Secretary to the Cabinet. He wrote to his successor in the Cabinet, Sir Burke Trend: “The War Game is not designed as propaganda: it is intended as a purely factual statement and is based on careful research into official material … but the subject is alarming, and the showing of the film on television might have a significant effect on public attitudes toward the policy of the nuclear deterrent.

In other words, the power of this documentary was such that it might alert people to the true horrors of nuclear war and cause them to question the very existence of nuclear weapons.

The Cabinet papers show that the BBC secretly colluded with the government to ban Watkins’ film. The cover story was that the BBC had a responsibility to protect “the elderly living alone and people of limited mental intelligence.”

Most of the press swallowed this. The ban on The War Game ended the career of Peter Watkins in British television at the age of 30. This remarkable filmmaker left the BBC and Britain, and angrily launched a worldwide campaign against censorship.

Telling the truth, and dissenting from the official truth, can be hazardous for a documentary filmmaker.

In 1988, Thames Television broadcast Death on the Rock, a documentary about the war in Northern Ireland. It was a risky and courageous venture. Censorship of the reporting of the so-called Irish Troubles was rife, and many of us in documentaries were actively discouraged from making films north of the border. If we tried, we were drawn into a quagmire of compliance.

The journalist Liz Curtis calculated that the BBC had banned, doctored or delayed some 50 major TV programs on Ireland. There were, of course, honorable exceptions, such as John Ware.

Roger Bolton, the producer of Death on the Rock, was another. Death on the Rock revealed the British government deployed SAS death squads overseas against the IRA, murdering four unarmed people in Gibraltar.

A vicious smear campaign was mounted against the film, led by the government of Margaret Thatcher and the Murdoch press, notably the Sunday Times, edited by Andrew Neil.

It was the first documentary ever subjected to an official inquiry – and its facts were vindicated. Murdoch had to pay up for the defamation of one of the film’s principal witnesses.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Thames Television, one of the most innovative broadcasters in the world, was eventually stripped of its franchise in the United Kingdom.

Did the prime minister exact her revenge on ITV and the filmmakers, as she had done to the miners? We don’t know. What we do know is that the power of this one documentary stood by the truth and, like The War Game, marked a high point in filmed journalism.

I believe great documentaries exude an artistic heresy. They are difficult to categorize. They are not like great fiction. They are not like great feature movies. Yet, they can combine the sheer power of both.

The Battle of Chile: the fight of an unarmed people, is an epic documentary by Patricio Guzman. It is an extraordinary film: actually a trilogy of films.

When it was released in the 1970s, the New Yorker asked: “How could a team of five people, some with no previous film experience, working with one Éclair camera, one Nagra sound-recorder, and a package of black and white film, produce a work of this magnitude?

Guzman’s documentary is about the overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 by fascists led by General Pinochet and directed by the CIA.

Almost everything is filmed hand-held, on the shoulder. And remember this is a film camera, not video. You have to change the magazine every ten minutes, or the camera stops; and the slightest movement and change of light affects the image.

In the Battle of Chile, there is a scene at the funeral of a naval officer, loyal to President Salvador Allende, who was murdered by those plotting to destroy Allende’s reformist government.

The camera moves among the military faces: human totems with their medals and ribbons, their coiffed hair and opaque eyes. The sheer menace of the faces says you are watching the funeral of a whole society: of democracy itself.

There is a price to pay for filming so bravely. The cameraman, Jorge Muller, was arrested and taken to a torture camp, where he “disappeared” until his grave was found many years later. He was 27. I salute his memory.

In Britain, the pioneering work of John Grierson, Denis Mitchell, Norman Swallow, Richard Cawston and other filmmakers in the early 20th century crossed the great divide of class and presented another country.

They dared put cameras and microphones in front of ordinary Britons and allowed them to talk in their own language.

John Grierson is said by some to have coined the term “documentary.” “The drama is on your doorstep,” he said in the 1920s, “wherever the slums are, wherever there is malnutrition, wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

These early British filmmakers believed that the documentary should speak from below, not from above: it should be the medium of people, not authority. In other words, it was the blood, sweat, and tears of ordinary people that gave us the documentary.

Denis Mitchell was famous for his portraits of a working-class street. “Throughout my career,” he said, “I have been absolutely astonished at the quality of people’s strength and dignity.”

When I read those words, I think of the survivors of Grenfell Tower, most of them still waiting to be re-housed, all of them still waiting for justice, as the cameras move on to the repetitive circus of a royal wedding.

The late David Munro and I made Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia in 1979.

This film broke a silence about a country subjected to more than a decade of bombing and genocide, and its power involved millions of ordinary men, women, and children in the rescue of a society on the other side of the world.

Even now, Year Zero puts the lie to the myth that the public doesn’t care, or that those who do care eventually fall victim to something called “compassion fatigue.”

Year Zero was watched by an audience greater than the audience of the current, immensely popular British “reality” program Bake Off. It was shown on mainstream TV in more than 30 countries, but not in the United States, where PBS rejected it outright, fearful, according to an executive, of the reaction of the new Reagan administration.

In Britain and Australia, it was broadcast without advertising – the only time, to my knowledge, this has happened on commercial television.

Following the British broadcast, more than 40 sacks of post arrived at ATV’s offices in Birmingham, 26,000 first-class letters in the first post alone. Remember this was a time before email and Facebook.

In the letters was £1 million – most of it in small amounts from those who could least afford to give. “This is for Cambodia,” wrote a bus driver, enclosing his week’s wages. Pensioners sent their pension. A single mother sent her savings of £50.

People came to my home with toys and cash, and petitions for Thatcher and poems of indignation for Pol Pot and for his collaborator, President Richard Nixon, whose bombs had accelerated the fanatic’s rise.

For the first time, the BBC supported an ITV film. The Blue Peter program asked children to “bring and buy” toys at Oxfam shops throughout the country. By Christmas, the children had raised the astonishing amount of £3,500,000.

Across the world, Year Zero raised more than $55 million, mostly unsolicited, and which brought help directly to Cambodia: medicines, vaccines and the installation of an entire clothing factory that allowed people to throw away the black uniforms they had been forced to wear by Pol Pot. It was as if the audience had ceased to be onlookers and had become participants.

Something similar happened in the United States when CBS Television broadcast Edward R. Murrow’s film, Harvest of Shame, in 1960. This was the first time that many middle-class Americans glimpsed the scale of poverty in their midst.

Harvest of Shame is the story of migrant agricultural workers who were treated little better than slaves. Today, their struggle has such resonance as migrants and refugees fight for work and safety in foreign places. What seems extraordinary is that the children and grandchildren of some of the people in this film will be bearing the brunt of the abuse and strictures of President Trump.

In the United States today, there is no equivalent of Edward R. Murrow. His eloquent, unflinching kind of American journalism has been abolished in the so-called mainstream and has taken refuge in the internet.

Britain remains one of the few countries where documentaries are still shown on mainstream television in the hours when most people are still awake. But documentaries that go against the received wisdom are becoming an endangered species, at the very time we need them perhaps more than ever.

In survey after survey, when people are asked what they would like more of on television, they say documentaries.

I don’t believe they mean a type of current affairs program that is a platform for politicians and “experts” who affect a specious balance between great power and its victims.

Observational documentaries are popular; but films about airports and motorway police do not make sense of the world. They entertain.

David Attenborough’s brilliant programs on the natural world are making sense of climate change – belatedly.

The BBC’s Panorama is making sense of Britain’s secret support of jihadism in Syria – belatedly.

But why is Trump setting fire to the Middle East? Why is the West edging closer to war with Russia and China?

Mark the words of the narrator in Peter Watkins’ The War Game: “On almost the entire subject of nuclear weapons, there is now practically total silence in the press, and on TV. There is hope in any unresolved or unpredictable situation. But is there real hope to be found in this silence?”

In 2017, that silence has returned.

It is not news that the safeguards on nuclear weapons have been quietly removed and that the United States is now spending $4.6 million per hour on nuclear weapons: that’s $4.6 million every hour, 24 hours a day, every day. Who knows that?

The Coming War on China, which I completed last year, has been broadcast in the UK, but not in the United States – where 90 percent of the population cannot name or locate the capital of North Korea or explain why Trump wants to destroy it. China is next door to North Korea.

According to one “progressive” film distributor in the US, the American people are interested only in what she calls “character-driven” documentaries.

This is code for a “look at me” consumerist cult that now consumes and intimidates and exploits so much of our popular culture while turning away filmmakers from a subject as urgent as any in modern times.

When the truth is replaced by silence,” wrote the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.

Whenever young documentary filmmakers ask me how they can “make a difference,” I reply that it is really quite simple. They need to break the silence.

This is an edited version of an address John Pilger gave at the British Library on 9 December as part of a retrospective festival, ‘The Power of the Documentary’, held to mark the Library’s acquisition of Pilger’s written archive.

China may once again be the leader in mankind’s technical adventure

In this essay, we weave together four apparently different ideas, showing how they are, in fact, closely linked. One: China is not now, nor has it ever been, “less developed” than the West. Two: China did not have a Western-style industrial revolution, but rather had sophisticated industrial/technical skills, albeit devoted to religious and political purposes, earlier than did the West.

Three: William Petty’s “law” for economic development was never universal, and may not even have applied to England. William Petty (1623-87) was an English economist, philosopher, scientist, and adviser to Oliver Cromwell, Charles ll and King James. Petty said economic development proceeded in three steps: primitive farming improves and evolves, eventually producing a surplus of labor. The labor spills over into manufacturing, which itself makes efficiency gains, yielding a surplus of labor. That labor spills over into service industries, allowing the creation of sophisticated government, finance, education and the arts, both practical and esthetic. The jump from manufacturing to service involves the industrial revolution.

Four: Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a mistake if he uses the expanded powers he has recently been granted in a way that “denies credit” to China’s innovators, inventors and enterprisers. Xi’s potential error is one that has been committed by the Middle Kingdom’s leaders (too) many times in China’s past, and has always been, in historical fact, contrary to the real interest of all China’s players, from top to bottom.

First, remind yourself of China’s technical history. Evidence in Yuchanyan Cave in Dao county, Hunan province, hints that rice was domesticated there 16,000 years ago. Clear evidence of cultivated rice has been found in the Yangtze River Valley and in Poyang Lake sediments in Jiangxi province from 12,600 years ago. For context, cereal farming had a tenuous beginning in Britain 6,000 years ago, but a hunter-gatherer lifestyle persisted there nearly up to Caesar’s landfall in 55 BC.

Bronze (copper and tin) as well as brass (copper and zinc) objects (rings and tubes) have been unearthed in Jiangzhai, Shaanxi province, dating from 4700 BC.

China-made bloomery iron or sponge iron dates from the 14th century BC. It is a type of iron that results from an early form of smelting. It is distinguished from meteoric iron, which is more easily obtained and worked.

Some 2,200 years ago, China’s first emperor, Qin, armed the 6,000 terra-cotta warriors buried with him with bronze swords having edges still shiny sharp because they have a 15-micron coating of chromium oxide.

Some 3,500 years ago in the Yellow River basin, China’s elaborate bronze grave goods were produced by piece-mold casting, an elaborate method, unique to China at the time, that allowed intricate, sharp-edged relief images to be placed inside and outside of open-vessel type “vases” or cauldrons. One such object, cast as single item, held at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, measures 23 centimeters high, 15cm wide, and 18cm deep. It stands on incorporated bronze legs. It is covered with cast-in elaborate surface “carvings,” some on the outer and others on the inner surface of the casting.

Other such objects appear covered with script, so it is clear that the makers or artisans were literate. The writings relate to a dedication, the maker, or a special event.

Castings so intricate (called “ding vessels”) are a significant technical achievement. Although Amesbury Man (2300 BC), dug up in 2003 in Wiltshire, England, died in possession of a copper knife, gold hair ornaments and flint arrowheads, he was a visitor from continental Europe, and nobody knows his name. In contrast, we know the name of the maker of the cauldron mentioned above, as well as the reason the vessel was created (to honor his ancestor).

In AD 142, Chinese gunpowder was mentioned in the First Book of The Kinship of the Three, composed by scribe Wei Boyang during the Han Dynasty. In 1267 Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus makes the first European mention of gunpowder.

In AD 1040, northern Song Dynasty writer Bi Sheng (990-1051) discusses movable type. In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg, surrounded by examples of books imported by missionaries and deposited in Oxford libraries in 1055, but produced in China via movable type, printed his 42-line Bible.

In 221 BC Chinese mariners were using magnetic compasses. Italian sailors from Amalfi were the first Europeans to use the item, having gone without compass guidance until the 14th century.

China expert Francesca Bray says tame oxen and buffalo were pulling plows in aid of Chinese cereal cultivation around 3000 BC: That is just about the time Stonehenge was set up in Britain.

Chinese woven paper-making was well established under Emperor Ho-di (AD 105) but more simple paper likely dates back, in the form of pulped and dried mulberry bark, to 100 BC. European-made paper of woven type “originated” in northern Spain in the 12th century.

In AD 100, Chinese sailing ships were steered by stern-mounted rudders of a type not seen in Europe until 1180. The nuance of a “balanced rudder” (part of the rudder blade is placed ahead of the steering post) appeared in the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220). This ship-steering refinement did not appear in Britain until 1843.

Need we further debate which is the less developed society in ancient times?

Complex bronze objects were used along the Yellow River in political and reverential ceremonies, conducted among the elites. The practice arguably helped bring about social cohesion, tribal identity, memorials to leaders and events, all these being a sort of William Petty-type “service” in support of political, social and economic unity, connecting the top and bottom, or at least the top and middle, of the then-current but still nascent Chinese civilization.

The point of the story is that Chinese technical expertise existed at an early time in human history, and this social asset of “manufacturing” served a social, rather than a strictly individual, purpose. Moreover, the identity of the “manufacturer”, while known in the specific case discussed above, was not a significant element in the use or the (ancient) “reputational” payoff to the “entrepreneur” who was responsible for the technical achievement.

In addition, these technical breakthroughs did not culminate or group themselves into an “industrial revolution.” Our argument is that such a dramatic, catalyzing process or initializing event requires a special kind of social environment: that environment is not necessarily “capitalistic” but is an individualistic and “class mobile” or at least “class flexible” social community.

There must be reputational independence for the innovators, who must have some kind of personal, reputational, status-awarding payoff from their iconoclastic contributions. The “shock and awe” that come from their inventions cannot be “absorbed” by the emperor, the priestly caste, the dead or the gods.

Chinese manufacturing, or at least technical sophistication, did advance Petty’s “service” sector, in that it made possible, and indeed significantly advanced, social cohesion and national unity. The “problem” was, the manufactured products were so deeply absorbed into the holistic interconnectedness of “One China” that the dividends, rewards and consequences that, in enlightenment Europe, were at least partially “privatized” caused China’s competitive status uncharacteristically to “fall behind” the West at just the wrong moment: the time of the Industrial Revolution.

The new ideas of the Scottish enlightenment that filled the minds of the Britons of the 18th century allowed them, at least for a while, and perhaps only for superficial appearances, to seem to be, as a civilization, well in advance of the rest of the world, and especially, in their eyes, to be well ahead of Asia.

And now we come to President Xi and the degree to which he seems to be ever more in command of his rapidly evolving, increasingly technical, buoyantly expanding, youthfully exuberant Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo). What should he do to regain for China the status of leader of the human adventure?

Ideally, he might abandon the rigid, bureaucratic, inefficient (oddly enough) 19th-century-Western ideology of communism, and allow capitalistic market processes of profit, reward, dividend and self-interest to raise up a new class of Chinese leaders, spokesmen, model citizens and icon-busters to create in China an even more dynamic (and unpredictable) leading-edge society, fit to become this century’s economic and social engine for change. But that won’t happen, even though it could be done without Xi losing his own status: Indeed, if he carried out that reform wisely, he would go down in history as the “father” of a new world order.

But as a minimum, he could recognize that his society, from the dawn of civilization, could always be trusted to lead the world in terms of technical achievement and intellectual evolution. William Petty’s third stage of economic development – the stage where learning, governance, economic progress, elegance and refinement in the arts evolve to the point where high civilization becomes firmly established – was achieved in Asia without need of a break-out revolution.

Yes, there was an eventual shortcoming. In the 18th century, China’s shortfall accidentally coincided with the West’s Industrial Revolution and gave misleading credence to the idea that Petty’s story was a good one. Nonetheless, we say Petty was wrong, and a wider view of mankind’s social history shows he was generally wrong.

After the long record of leadership, what was missing from China’s de facto “plan” of development? What was missing, in order for Asia’s model to be fully competitive with that of the West, for ages past, was an ideological revolution wherein Asian leaders were willing to share with the active, local “makers” (whose inventions, discoveries and ideas combined to make the Middle Kingdom, at least some time in the past, the center of the technical world) the stage of action and control.

To paraphrase the late US president Ronald Reagan, whose good advice allowed the Russian people a chance to evolve (and might help them again if only President Vladimir Putin will listen) – President Xi, knock down the metaphorical wall of privilege and status that has, from China’s beginnings, separated men like you from the dynamic, creative spirit of your countrymen (and women).

There is at least one example in China’s past where a leader understood our argument, and acted accordingly. The semi-mythical Chinese Emperor Yu (The Great, 2200-2101 BC) is said to have slept together as an equal with common workmen as they together struggled to construct the massive collection of earthworks needed to control flooding and to move water to where it best served the agricultural needs of the people who lived along the Yellow River, the Wei River and other waterways in central China. There were dredging operations, irrigation canals and flood-control systems installed, with Yu openly accepting guidance from a “citizen engineer” named Houji, whose technical genius allowed these “infrastructure innovations” to work and to work well.

It is highly significant that we know the name of this “water master.” Emperor Yu was wise enough to allow us to know the name. Emperor Yu did not claim all the credit for himself, for the state or for the gods. He was no Scotsman, but he understood the key idea of the enlightenment (thousands of years before “we” expressed it). Individual genius must not be hidden or submerged in order to glorify kings, priests, gods or ideology. Individual accomplishment need not be paid for with money, but it must receive respect and dignity.

President Xi, you are a big man who should not fear the competition of other big thinkers and doers. Some progress is being made. One current effort (the State Science and Technology Prize) is undertaken by the State Council: National recognition is given in five different categories of technical achievement.

In a speech about East-West links, and the “Belt and Road” project, in which you gave general support to the need for market-oriented, foreign-funded Chinese development projects, you said your country will “not be closed … but rather create an open pattern” benefiting both East and West. It is already true that successful Chinese citizens, operating in the wider world of international academia, finance and entrepreneurship earn well-deserved awards and rewards independently, without need of support or subsidy from China’s government.

One reason China’s president has overshadowed, minimized and removed persons who have improper influence is that corrupt players do not deserve to have a high place in New China. A recent report listed the current prices charged by corrupt officials, when they sell political offices to newly inducted, next-generation corrupt state officers. A survey conducted in Hunan province by reform-minded writer Sha Yexin provides a sample of the price list (the unit is 10,000 yuan): County Party Secretary 200; County Committee 60; Mayor of North Lake District (Suxian district) 100; Deputy Mayor, Beihu District 40.

As in the case of Russia, aging communist systems fail because of cynical loss of ideological faith, combined with endemic inefficiency and decay. Corruption, bribery and vice expand to fill the power vacuum left behind. But a return to singular, arbitrary governance is not the only alternative.

Mr President, perhaps it is out of an excess of zeal (for the diminishment of corrupt practice) that you take on added authority. But your reach may exceed your grasp. Today’s China has evolved beyond any one man’s capacity to manage it or any one ideology’s rigid institutions to comprehend it.

Be mindful of our paraphrase of Alexis de Tocqueville’s language: A good parent’s obligation is to prepare his children for manhood. It is tragic if instead, he keeps them in perpetual childhood. A people will then be smothered, stupefied and even extinguished, becoming no better than a flock of timid and industrious sheep, of which the state is shepherd. A people tempted into social somnolence will eventually regret their loss of independence, and become dangerously resentful of their leaders. On the other hand, a wise leader who knows when to let his people find their own path, and realize their unknowable destiny, will be remembered as Great.

The Great Emperor Yu’s legacy, achieved in adult partnership with his people and his engineers, was to redirect the rivers and metaphorically control the floodwaters of China’s destiny. President Xi, set China’s other leaders free to stand alongside you as equals, and join them as you, together, sail into the new century.


Hague Tribunal Exonerates Slobodan Milosevic Again

by Andy Wilcoxson, via Strategic Culture

More than eleven years after his death, a second trial chamber at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has concluded that former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed in Bosnia where the worst atrocities associated with the break-up of Yugoslavia took place.

Buried in a footnote deep in the fourth volume of the judgment against Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladic the judges unanimously conclude that “The evidence received by the trial chamber did not show that Slobodan Milosevic, Jovica Stanisic, Franko Simatovic, Zeljko Raznatovic, or Vojislav Seselj participated in the realization of the common criminal objective” to establish an ethnically-homogenous Bosnian-Serb entity through the commission of crimes alleged in the indictment.[1]

This is an important admission because practically the entire Western press corps and virtually every political leader in every Western country has spent the last 25 years telling us that Slobodan Milosevic was a genocidal monster cut from the same cloth as Adolf Hitler. We were told that he was the “Butcher of the Balkans,” but there was never any evidence to support those accusations. We were lied to in order to justify economic sanctions and NATO military aggression against the people of Serbia – just like they lied to us to justify the Iraq war.

This is the second successive trial chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to conclude that Slobodan Milosevic was not guilty of the most serious crimes he was accused of.

Last year, the Radovan Karadzic trial chamber also concluded that “the Chamber is not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence presented in this case to find that Slobodan Milosevic agreed with the common plan” to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb claimed territory.[2]

The Tribunal has done nothing to publicize these findings despite the fact that Slobodan Milosevic was accused of 66 counts of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the Tribunal.

Milosevic died in the Tribunal’s custody before the conclusion of his own trial. He was found dead in his cell after suffering a heart attack in the UN Detention Unit two weeks after the Tribunal denied his request for provisional release so that he could have heart surgery that would have saved his life.[3]

Dr. Leo Bokeria, the coronary specialist who would have overseen Milosevic’s treatment at the Bakulev Medical Center, said: “If Milosevic was taken to any specialized Russian hospital, the more so to such a stationary medical institution as ours, he would have been subjected to coronographic examination, two stents would be made, and he would have lived for many long years to come. A person has died in our contemporary epoch, when all the methods to treat him were available and the proposals of our country and the reputation of our medicine were ignored. As a result, they did what they wanted to do.”[4]

Less than 72 hours before his death, Milosevic’s lawyer delivered a letter to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which Milosevic expressed fear that he was being poisoned.[5]

The Tribunal’s inquiry into Milosevic’s death confirmed that Rifampicin (an unprescribed drug that would have compromised the efficacy of his high blood pressure medication) was found in one of his blood tests, but that that he was not informed of the results until months later “because of the difficult legal position in which Dr. Falke (the Tribunal’s chief medical officer) found himself by virtue of the Dutch legal provisions concerning medical confidentiality.”[6]

There are no Dutch legal provisions that prohibit a doctor from telling a patient the result of their own blood test, and U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks show that the Tribunal had zero regard for medical confidentiality laws when they gave detailed information about Slobodan Milosevic’s health and medical records to personnel at the US embassy in The Hague without his consent.[7]

Milosevic’s trial had been going badly for the prosecution. It was glaringly obvious to any fair-minded observer that he was innocent of the crimes he was accused of. James Bissett, Canada’s former ambassador to Yugoslavia, said Milosevic’s trial “had taken on all the characteristics of a Stalinist show trial.” George Kenny, who manned the U.S. State Department’s Yugoslavia desk, also denounced the Milosevic trial proceedings as “inherently unfair, amounting to little more than a political show trial”.[8]

The trial was a public relations disaster for the Tribunal. Midway through the Prosecution’s case, the London Times published an article smearing Slobodan Milosevic’s wife and lamenting the fact that “One of the ironies of Slobodan’s trial is that it has bolstered his popularity. Hours of airtime, courtesy of the televised trial, have made many Serbs fall in love with him again.”[9]

While the trial enhanced Milosevic’s favorability, it destroyed the Tribunal’s credibility with the Serbian public. The Serbian public had been watching the trial on television, and when the Serbian Human Rights Ministry conducted a public opinion poll three years into the trial it found that “three quarters of Serbian citizens believe that The Hague Tribunal is a political rather than a legal institution.”[10]

Tim Judah, a well-known anti-Milosevic journalist and author, was dismayed as he watched the trial unfold. He wrote that “the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague is going horribly wrong, turning him in the eyes of the public from a villain charged with war crimes into a Serbian hero.”[11]

By late 2005, Milosevic’s detractors wanted the live broadcasts of the trial yanked off the air because it was not having the political effect that they had hoped it would. Political analyst Daniel Cveticanin wrote, “It seems that the coverage benefits more those it was supposed to expose than the Serbian public. [The] freedom-loving and democratic intentions of the live coverage have not produced [the] planned effects.”[12]

Milosevic’s supporters, on the other hand, were emphatic. They wanted the live broadcasts to continue because they knew he was innocent and they wanted the public to see that for themselves.[13]

Slobodan Milosevic’s exoneration, by the same Tribunal that killed him eleven years ago, is cold comfort for the people of Serbia. The Serbian people endured years of economic sanctions and a NATO bombing campaign against their country because of the unfounded allegations against their president.

Although the Tribunal eventually admitted that it didn’t have evidence against Slobodan Milosevic, its disreputable behavior should make you think twice before accepting any of its other findings.

[1] ICTY, Mladic Judgment, Vol. IV, 22 November 2017, Pg. 2090, Footnote 15357 ICTY, Karadzic Judgment, 24 March 2016, Para. 3460
[3] ICTY Case No. IT-02-54 Prosecutor v. Slobodan Milosevic, Decision on Assigned Counsel Request for Provisional Release, February 23, 2006
[4] “Milosevic Could Be Saved if He Was Treated in Russia – Bokeria,” Itar-Tass (Russia), March 15, 2006
[5] Text of Slobodan Milosevic’s Letter to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
[6] Judge Kevin Parker (Vice-President of the ICTY), Report to the President of the ICTY: Death of Slobodan Milosevic, May 2006; ¶ 31, 76
[7] U.S. State Dept. Cable #03THEHAGUE2835_a, “ICTY: An Inside Look Into Milosevic’s Health and Support Network”
[8] “Milosevic trial delayed as witnesses refuse to testify,” The Irish Times, September 18, 2004
[9] “Listening to Lady Macbeth,” Sunday Times (London), January 5, 2003
[10] “Public Opinion Firmly Against Hague,” B92 News (Belgrade), August 2, 2004
[11] Tim Judah, “Serbia Backs Milosevic in Trial by TV – Alarm as Former President Gains the Upper Hand in War Crimes Tribunal,” The Observer (London), March 3, 2002
[12] “Debate Opens in Serbia Over Live Coverage of Milosevic War Crimes Trial,” Associated Press Worldstream, September 22, 2005
[13] “Serbian NGO Opposes Decision to Drop Live Broadcast of Milosevic Trial,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, October 8, 2003; Source: FoNet news agency, Belgrade, in Serbian 1300 gmt 8 Oct 03; See Also: “Serbia: Milosevic Sympathisers Protest Inadequate Coverage of Trial,” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, June 10, 2002; Source: RTS TV, Belgrade, in Serbo-Croat 1730 gmt 10 Jun 02

Turkey-Iran-Qatar entente mocks Saudi-led ‘Arab NATO’

Middle East politics just witnessed two contrasting events. In Riyadh on Monday, there was a meeting of Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) defense ministers. The previous day, in Tehran, came a trilateral “commercial” deal signed by Iran, Turkey and Qatar.

The IMCTC spectacle outstripped the modest event in Tehran in terms of sheer pomp and media publicity. Yet it is the latter that needs to be watched closely.

The new military alliance has been hastily called the “Arab NATO,” but it is neither quite Arab nor an alliance. Its steel frame is provided by Pakistan, but Pakistanis themselves are racially akin to north Indians.

The real North Atlantic Treaty Organization came into being on a solid geopolitical and ideological platform and provided the cutting edge to the West’s containment strategy vis a vis the USSR. But the IMCTC’s threat perception is over a protean, non-state phenomenon that mutates within the Muslim world itself. Saudi Arabia is widely reputed to be the principal incubator of “Islamic terrorists” historically, but its current predicament is that the birds are coming home to roost.

An economy in great distress, with foreign exchange reserves fast depleting; a vicious succession struggle that is tearing the royal family apart; signs of resentment in a deeply conservative religious establishment that traditionally lent legitimacy to rulers; deep-rooted social tensions producing demands for “reform” and opening up; seething unrest in Shi’ite oil-rich eastern provinces. Saudi soil is fertile for radical Islamists.

Equally, there’s a complicated external environment: Shi’ite empowerment in Iraq; a quagmire in Yemen; defeat in Syria; loss of Lebanon to Hezbollah; a “post-sanctions” Iranian surge; volatility in the oil market; and American unwillingness to prop up the Saudi regime in any domestic upheaval.

Saudi Arabia doesn’t face the threat of external aggression. Therefore, how useful is the IMCTC in warding off an enemy that slouches within Saudi Arabia itself? Again, will IMCTC countries go to war with Iran to re-establish Saudi pre-eminence in the Muslim Middle East?

Most IMCTC countries – drawn from distant lands in the Maghreb, Africa or Central Asia – maintain friendly relations with Iran. (Even Pakistan seems eager to turn a new leaf with Iran.)

Simply put, the IMCTC is the latest manifestation of the Saudi approach of throwing money at a problem to shoo it away. But the crisis today is existential, and the IMCTC gives a false sense of security. Monday’s photo-op in Riyadh called to mind the Shah of Iran’s festivities in 1971 showcasing the 2,500th Year of the Foundation of the Imperial State of Iran in Persepolis, even as the enemy was knocking at the gates.

By contrast, the Iran-Turkey-Qatar deal struck in Tehran on Sunday was a low-key event, but the substance of it is guaranteed to impact regional and international security.

The agreement, signed by three obscure commerce ministers who do not make headlines in western media, provides for the creation of a “joint working group to facilitate the transit of goods between the three countries” to tackle “obstacles to sending goods from Iran and Turkey to Qatar.”

This may seem a modest effort at streamlining the logistics of trade flow to Qatar, which can no longer access the land route via Saudi Arabia. But it is hugely symbolic – signifying Doha’s strategic defiance of Saudi regional leadership, and open support from Ankara and Tehran. Doha’s dalliance with Tehran was ostensibly the initial reason behind Saudi wrath, but Qatar and Iran are now flaunting a veritable alliance. It undermines Gulf Cooperation Council cohesion, since Iran also enjoys cordial ties with Oman and Kuwait.

On a broader plane, the deepening three-way entente between Russia, Turkey and Iran, against a backdrop of their shared antipathy toward the US, already provides a firewall for Tehran from regional isolation. And Iran’s kinship with Qatar and Turkey, two Sunni Muslim countries, debunks the campaign by Riyadh to give sectarian coloring to its rift with Tehran.

The Qatar-Iran proximity has profound implications for global energy markets. Russia, Iran and Qatar account for around 55% of the world’s proven gas reserves. The three countries are leading players within the Gas Exporting Countries Forum. Besides, Iran “shares” the South Pars gas fields (accounting for 27% of Iranian reserves) with Qatar, and Russia is, of course, deepening its presence in Iran’s energy sector.

Qatar has dominated the LNG markets since the 2000s. But Russia is bolstering its LNG production with the establishment of the Yamal field facility (expected to be fully functional by 2020) and Iran, too, is eyeing a future as an LNG exporter.

US President Donald Trump is set to expand US LNG production, but, to be sure, the world LNG market is getting crowded. A quasi-alliance between Russia, Iran and Qatar can therefore seriously derail Trump’s best-laid plans for American LNG exports.

This also adds to US sensitivities about its 6500-plus troops currently stationed in Qatar, which hosts the regional headquarters of US Central Command, at Al-Udeid Airbase. There are, likewise, gathering storms in US-Turkey relations. Turkey has a military base in Qatar, too.

Meanwhile, a giant new port opened in Qatar in September that becomes a gateway for Iran, just across the waterway, to boost trade, even as Fifa’s 2022 Qatar World Cup draws ever closer. Iran, moreover, is offering its airspace to reroute Qatar Airways flights to Europe and the Americas.

Iran hopes to attract Qatari investments. There is even talk of listing Iranian government debt, such as treasury bonds, on the Qatar Stock Exchange someday. Suffice to say, in geopolitical terms, the budding alliance with Qatar provides Iran with much strategic depth.

Iran has a history of outwitting the Saudis through a mix of brainpower and guile, projected through diplomacy, and that seems to be repeating. Fundamentally, though, the Turkey-Iran-Qatar alliance resets the balance of forces in the Muslim Middle East by openly challenging Saudi Arabia’s leadership role.