Sunday, April 20, 2014


Cogito Ergo Sum! I Think Therefore I Am

Researcher, Media Commentator, Journalist and Poet, I see the world from within and without. Having vast experience in research institutions as well as online and print media, my expertise include analytical feature writing,  conducting interviews with eminent personalities, conceptualizing as well as executing publication projects, composing poems and writing book and film reviews.

As a journalist I have interviewed several internationally renowned personalities like former US Secretary of State Leone Panetta, former NATO Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamed, 1st Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission Hans Blix, Bollywood legends Dilip Kumar , Lata Mangeshkar and many more.

I received a Ph.D. Degree in English Literature on the thesis: ‘Cinematic Techniques in the Novels of Christopher Isherwood,’ from JMI University, New Delhi in 1995. This was an interdisciplinary study on the way narrative techniques employed in films revolutionized literary techniques of narration in the 20th century, with special reference to the novels of Christopher Isherwood.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


ABU DHABI (APRIL 23, 2013) The Editor of the ECSSR Website Dr. Adil Rasheed was granted exclusive audience with former US Secretary of State Leon Panetta on the sidelines of his lecture – The US Defense Budget: Repercussions for US Global Commitments – delivered on April 22, 2013 at the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Hall, ECSSR office complex in Abu Dhabi.

During the interview, the veteran statesman warned Iran against intimidating countries in the region and spoke on vital issues such as implications of latest terrorist bombings in Boston, the Palestinian-Israel two-state solution and the US Congressional impasse over the debt ceiling. Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: The UAE and the US are very close allies. Some people in the UAE wish there was more coverage in the Western world — in the media and in the political space — about Iran’s occupation of the three UAE islands. Iran does not seem interested in addressing the issue. What are your views on this matter?

A: We are very strong allies and partners with the UAE and we have worked together on intelligence issues and we have built one of the strongest relationships and we strongly support the UAE and its claims and we work with the UAE and try to make sure that should Iran take any steps to close the Strait of Hormuz we would do whatever we can to defend against that. We think it is extremely important that Iran understands that not only the world community but all the Gulf nations are unified in making clear to them that they cannot intimidate other countries in this region, that they ought to abide by international rules and international requirements.

Q: There is a perception that even if the current regime in Iran leaves the scene, Iran would continue with its controversial nuclear program as Iranians see it as a symbol of national pride. Do you see the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program would persist even if there is a more agreeable dispensation in place?

A: The whole emphasis has been to urge Iran to abide by international rules and standards. There have been situations where they have violated UN resolutions, they clearly have proceeded with enrichment in violation of international rules. If they want to join the international family, if they want to abide by the rules that we all follow in the international family, then that’s something we are prepared to discuss and work on.

When it comes to the peaceful use of nuclear power there are many countries which are abiding by the requirements. There is no reason why Iran cannot do the same thing, but the first thing for us is to be able to negotiate the fact that they cannot proceed to highly enrich fuel because that creates the danger that they will use that fuel in order to create a nuclear weapon. That is unacceptable. The world has made it clear that that is unacceptable and it is in Iran’s interest to try to resolve this issue, if they fail to resolve it peacefully, then make no mistake about it, all options are on the table.

Q. Are we any closer to determining whether the Boston bombings were carried out by ‘lone wolves’ or were they part of a larger conspiracy hatched by terrorist organizations?

A: Well obviously anytime these kinds of terrorist attacks take place, the United States is very concerned about what happened. We certainly will not be intimidated by these kinds of actions, we made clear on 9/11 that we are a resilient country and we will go after those who are trying to attack our people and we have done that against Al-Qaeda and we will do that against any terrorist.

This situation appears to have involved two brothers, whether or not they were ‘lone wolves,’ whether or not anything they did was tied to more organized terrorism, we just don’t know the
answer to it at this point and that is being investigated. But I want to make clear that after 9/11 the United States aggressively went after Al-Qaeda and we decimated their leadership. I think we made clear that we will do everything necessary to ensure that we never again suffer a 9/11 attack. America is safer as a consequence, but we have to be vigilant with regards to other forms of terrorism and one of the dangers I talked about is, when I was the Director of the CIA, is the danger of people who are lone wolves, who are located in the United States and who become self-radicalized because it is very difficult to be able to anticipate that kind of terrorism.

Q: It is said that if the attackers were lone wolves, the implications could be far-reaching, because it will be more difficult to combat the threat of terrorism as it is more daunting to track down small groups. What new measures will the US take in such a scenario and how will it balance it with the values and freedoms on which the great nation is founded?

A: You see, I am the one who does not believe that we have to choose between providing security for our people and our freedom as a democracy. I believe that we can balance both of those in a way that respects our freedom, respects what our Bill of Rights is all about and at the same time take steps to ensure that we go after those who try to attack our country. Coming out of 9/11, obviously steps were taken to allow the government to proceed vigorously in that area. These steps still follow our constitutional rules, they still follow our Bill of Rights but we have been much more aggressive in pulling together intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies to make sure that we track potential terrorists and we have actually been very successful in going after them. We have deterred a number of potential attacks, through good intelligence we have been able to anticipate some of those who would attack our country, we have to continue to be vigilant, we have to continue to ensure that we have very good intelligence, the very best law enforcement and if we continue to emphasize that I think ultimately we can continue to keep our country safe.

Q: How do you see the crisis in Syria unfolding and what is the current US position on the worsening situation?

A: First of all I have always supported taking very aggressive actions to support the opposition in Syria, I believe that is necessary. The United States has organized an international effort to try to ensure that we provide whatever help we can to the opposition and we are doing that now. We are not only providing humanitarian aid, but we are also working with the opposition very closely, helping to train them, working with other countries that provide support to them so that they can better organize their opposition to the Assad regime. I think this is a critical time that the international community has to provide greater assistance to the opposition so that it has the capability of confronting the Assad forces and ultimately being able to prevail. This is not easy. Obviously, it is difficult. The opposition is divided and it is difficult for them to get to work together. But in recent months, I believe the opposition has done much better at organizing itself and in conducting operations in Syria. We have no choice. Assad has to come down, Assad will come down and the key right now is to ensure that when that happens we have a peaceful transition at that point and so to have that happen we have to exert whatever influence we can to assist the opposition. I believe that that is necessary.

Q: Is the two-state solution still viable and what are your views on Israel-Palestine solution?

A: Experience tells us that this is an issue that is not going to be resolved by itself. The parties are going to have to engage. The United States is going to have to play a key role in trying to arbitrate between the parties and there has to be constant pressure to move the parties toward some kind of an agreement. If we hesitate, if we back off, if we are not involved then make no mistake about it, it will not happen. We have got to be able to pressure both the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down and negotiate this issue. We know what the answers are, we know what steps have to be taken. There is no reason why we can’t get them to move forward and resolve these issues, but it will only happen if the international community and the United States continue to bring pressure on both parties to sit down and negotiate these issues.

Q: Your Excellency, you did not just get Bin Laden when you were Secretary of State but you are also known to have worked on cutting the US deficit under the Clinton administration pretty well. In this respect, are you optimistic that a Grand Bargain would be reached between the two US political parties before the May 31 deadline when the US is expected to hit the debt ceiling? Again, what strains does the US Defense Department feels in wake of budgetary constraints?

A: My experience tells me that there is absolutely no alternative to both parties making a deal with regards to the budget. They have to do that. That means that both sides have to give. When it comes to budget issues, there are only so many areas that you can turn to if you want to reduce budget deficits. You have to deal with entitlements, which now represent two-thirds of the federal budget, you have to deal with raising more revenues and you have to deal with limits on discretionary spending. All three have to be part of the deal. And the reality is that both the Republicans and Democrats are going to have to deal with all three of those areas.

Q: Is there little progress in cutting discretionary spending?

A: We are cutting discretionary spending now, but you cannot balance the budget on just discretionary spending. That’s what is false about what’s happening now especially with this
Panetta on the piano
sequester. When two thirds of the federal budget are made up of entitlement programs you can’t expect to balance the budget on the one-third of discretionary spending that’s involved and at the same time the United States has to maintain a strong defense, we have to maintain strong programs to provide security for people in the United States, that’s what makes us a strong democracy. What is lacking right now is the political will and the political courage to take the steps necessary to get it done. We have the resources to do it, we have the know-how to do it, what it takes now is political courage.

Q: So you think at present there is little hope of an agreement?
A: I tell the students (at The Panetta Institute for Public Policy) that we govern either by

leadership or crisis. If leadership is there we can avoid crisis, if not we are governed by crisis and today we are governed by crisis. Every time we come to a deadline, it creates another crisis. We can’t continue to do that. Through leadership, we have to find the solutions that are necessary. The concern right now is that both parties are in a gridlock. They couldn’t even pass a gun-control measure last week, which only tells you they are not moving toward some kind of consensus.

Q: The US has said that in coming years its defense strategy would focus more on the Pacific. Does that mean it would shift its focus away from the Middle East? Should America’s European partners in NATO and allies in the Middle East be apprehensive?

A: They shouldn’t be because the defense strategy that we put together at the Defense Department made very clear that although we are going to be smaller and leaner in the future, that we still have major responsibilities to deal with and so we said we need to have force projection in the Pacific, but we also need to have force projection in the Middle East. Frankly, that’s what we have now. We have very substantial military presence in both the Pacific as well as here in the Middle East. In addition to that we have to have a presence elsewhere in the world and so when it comes to Europe, Africa or Latin America, what we have to do is engage in what we call is rotational deployments, where we can provide forces that go in and help train, help develop capabilities of other countries, develop alliances and partnerships that allow us to provide security for the world and we very much intend to continue that effort as well.

Q: How do you see the future of warfare, particularly the impact of new technology?

A: The battlefield of the future is in cyberspace. Our financial institutions have been under cyber attack for the past year. One day, one of these attacks may cause serious damage. I have said that the next attack on America, the next Pearl Harbor, could very well be a cyber attack.

Q: Finally, can I ask you if you still play the piano?

Mahathir Flays US Theory of Asian Savings Glut

On May 5, 2010 at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, former Prime Minister of Malaysia His Excellency Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad gave an interview to Dr. Adil Rasheed of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR).

During the course of the interview, he criticized the US for advancing the theory of Asian saving glut (propounded by US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) as a cause for the current global financial crisis. In addition, the legendary Asian leader and maverick thinker openly aired his views on a host of controversial issues, and proposed his own set of recommendations for addressing the present global economic downturn. Given below is the transcript of the interview:

Q: Your Excellency, you have very correctly and presciently been issuing warnings about the systemic flaws in the global financial system for several years now, but currently we are seeing not just banks but countries going bust, with governments adding debt to service their existing debt and states  vying with each other to devalue their currencies. What solutions would Your Excellency like to propose to the world for overcoming this crisis?

A: First, we need to accept that the whole system has failed and failed very badly. When such a failure occurs and when you come to know the causes, you have to change the system or at least modify it. One of the worst things that happened in America was that the government believed the market can regulate itself, which is a load of nonsense. Therefore, whenever a new system is developed, it must have a role for the government. Next, governments would then have to be very strict in checking abuses of the system. We cannot have banks lending too much money—which they don’t have—to people who are unable to pay. In addition, we also have to address the problem caused by certain financial products, products which are designed by people with the idea of making quick money without thinking about the morality of it, even to the point of advising people to cheat. So, all these things need to be looked carefully into. To begin with, however, let’s not be in a state of denial.

Q: But, Your Excellency, it is said that many of these big banks—‘the too-big-to fail entities’—have become very difficult to regulate and that the whole structure has become so vulnerable that if you pursue matters aggressively, there is danger that the whole financial system might collapse?

A: But there is no choice. If you want to do something, you have to make a clean sweep. We must get rid of the idea of ‘too-big-to-fail’ because they have caused huge problems for the whole world. In fact, if they really are that big that they could cause this crisis, then there is every reason they should be reduced in size.

Q. Western governments and economists often blame Asian economies for artificially devaluing their currencies. They also moot the ‘savings glut’ theory that blames Asian economies for parking their export-driven savings in Western financial institutions that lead to creation of asset bubbles and subsequent crashes. Does Your Excellency think this is a fair assessment of the problem?

A: It is grossly unfair. It is the Americans who proposed this solution for people with a lot of money. In fact, the whole idea that countries must have reserves was mooted by them and they provide the means to hold your reserves through purchasing of their bonds. You see we should really buy gold, etc. But they offer their bonds as a way of saving. You have to have American dollars as your reserves, whereas they themselves do not have any reserves at all. You see this terrible case of double standard.

Q: There are proposals that the IMF and the World Bank should be strengthened further, they should have more funds, they should be regulating global economy. Do you think we need global financial institutions managing globalized world economy?

A: Where we have been wrong with the World Bank and the IMF is they are basically instruments of the US. You can have a World Bank and an IMF that is not controlled by anybody. Nobody should have any final say as to what they can do. The reason why these organizations fail is that they are not looking for solving problems, but are trying to figure out how the US and other rich countries can benefit from their advice.

Q. Your Excellency, you have been an advocate of an Islamic trading bloc and gold dinar currency for international trade as a replacement for the existing fiat paper currency. Do you think the idea is feasible and is it time to launch such an initiative?

A: Well, like all things we have to have a beginning and although it would appear not to be feasible, but as you go along you make corrections. I think eventually you would be able to do it but not in one sudden big chunk. It’s not that we are using this Islamic system to totally replace the present system, we have to bring it about slowly. Even if it is an arrangement between two countries, once you try it is possible others can come in. Even the big banking system we see today is the result of one money lender deciding to convert his money lending business into a bank, it was small but it has grown and today it encompasses the whole world.

Q: Your Excellency, do you believe the Muslim world and its leadership is presently ready to get its house in order and avail of the opportunities offered by changes in global political and economic order. If not, what ails our polity, societies, and economies and how can we overcome the challenges?

A: Far too many Muslims and Muslim leaders are beholden to Europe and America and think that people there are genius, and even if they get some other advice it has to be okayed by Europeans. They think that Europeans can do no wrong, despite the fact that they have been wrong so many times. Thus, they will not do anything in this period to find their own solutions. So, I do not think that Muslims are going to take this opportunity to promote themselves, to be well placed and not always to kowtow to Western countries


Prof. Yunus receiving Medal of Freedom
from US President Barack Obama
In an exclusive interview with Dr. Adil Rasheed for the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) Website, Professor Muhammad Yunus (Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his “efforts through microcredit to create economic and social development from below”) made highly informative and insightful comments on the problems facing the global economic system and his remarkable success in developing the system of microfinance. The interview with the internationally acclaimed economist and social activist (Chairman at Yunus Centre and the Founder of Grameen Bank) was conducted on the sidelines of his lecture at the ECSSR titled: "Social Business: A way to solve society's most pressing problems." Following is the text of the interview:

Q. Many theories have been proposed to explain the causes of current global financial turmoil, which began in 2008. In your view, are these distortions the result of highly complex financial instruments, a shift in global economy to the East or the fact that global economy is pegged to the vagaries of one country’s currency? 

Ans: The first thing I would like to say here is that I do not see the financial crisis as a standalone problem. This is just one of the many major global problems. In 2008, this crisis became more visible and grabbed the global headlines because it hit the financial sector — i.e. the moneyed people got hit by it and that is why it became so important. Do you also remember that in 2008 there was an energy crisis? People forgot! That is the year when oil prices hit the ceiling at around $150 per barrel. But the energy crisis has not disappeared; it is just that we don’t talk about it. It is still simmering in the back burner. This was also the year of the food crisis. Two governments fell during that year. Many countries had street demonstrations because of food shortages. India stopped exporting wheat. Thailand stopped exporting its rice and countries like the Philippines faced difficulty in importing food. Thus, food crisis has not disappeared; it is simply not on the front burner now. Poverty is still here, environmental deterioration is continuing. So I see this as a bundle of crises, some of which came together in 2008 and raised their heads and have not been resolved yet.

Secondly — as far as the financial crisis is concerned — it was simply a naked problem of greed. The financial crisis was not created by people around the world, it was not created by several countries, it was not even created by one country or city but by a few people on Wall Street. These few people made millions of people around the world suffer. Many people lost their jobs, their livelihood, factories closed down, etc. This happen because a few people wanted to make money. It was said that they converted the market place into a gambling casino. So it was no longer economics. All these other crises also got tied up.

This is the fundamental flaw in the concept of capitalism. The concept of capitalism has been interpreted as a theory of maximizing profit. So the world has become a place where everyone is seeking to maximize profit. This is the reason why we face all the problems ranging from financial crisis, the food crisis, the energy crisis, the environmental crisis and others. 2008 gave us a wakeup call, but we have not woken up. We have not reformed anything but have only found short-term solutions.

Q: But many people in the business world say that the problem was caused by sub-prime mortgage lending. Perhaps, you are the best person to answer this accusation because your banks and businesses lend money to the poor. Still how does one counter the accusation that giving loans to poor people, who were unable to pay back, caused the crisis? 

Ans: That is one way of looking at it. The way I look at it is that it was not the people but the salesmen who caused the problem. They told the poor or middle-income people that they could make a lot of money by buying a house. The salesman asked them to just sign and get a house and after a few years they will make a lot of money. So it was not the people but the salesman working for a company that caused the problem. This spurred speculation, people started buying many houses with little or no money and then the market fell. So greed took over. Many people who make billions of dollars these days do not have to work for it. They put their money in the stock market and make a lot more overnight. Thus, work has got disconnected from making money In fact, the money now works for such people. This is the problem.

Q: Some people say that your banks also follow the same fractional reserve system which is viewed by many as the cause of economic ills, although your institutions have a humanitarian goal. In this context, what is the basic ideology of your banks and how do they function? 

Ans: You see I believe that poverty is not created by the poor people. Poverty is created by the system. The poor person is the victim. So if you are trying to eradicate poverty, you don’t just give some assurance or charity to the poor person, because the system will push the person back into poverty, as that is the cause of the problem. So if we want to remove poverty we have to fix the system, fix the policies, fix the conceptual framework. Now, coming to your point, we tried to fix the problem and said that in this structure of capitalism you created institutions which are not fair. Banking is an institution which is totally unfair.

Q: Are you admitting this as a banker! Are you saying that the banking system is fundamentally unfair? 

Ans: Absolutely! Yes it is unfair. First of all the bank was created to lend money to people. You take deposit and you lend money. But you have created a bank that lends money to people who already have a lot of money. Shouldn’t you be lending money to those who do not have money? That is the logical thing to do. But you have done the opposite and took it further. Your first priority was to lend money to the people who have the largest amount of money. How wrong can you get! And then you create a worldwide banking institution and take a lot of pride in it and call it the core of the capitalist system. This is a wrongly designed system because you do not lend money to two-thirds of the global population, not a few but two-thirds of the global population. This population has been left out. So how can you run a global system which denies its services to such a large section of the global population? You say that this cannot be done because such borrowers cannot pay back, they are not creditworthy. We get all such charming explanations. But we have challenged that (at Grameen Bank). We demonstrated that poor people can take money and pay it back. So if you look at Grameen Bank, it is not just a bank that lends money to poor people. It reverses the conventional system of banking. It is a completely different system and it works.

The word credit means trust. However, banks built a whole system based on distrust. In fact, there is no room for trust in banking. You cannot do a single thing without the lawyers coming in. We (at Grameen Bank) changed this. We built an institution on trust. There are no lawyers in our bank. This is what turned the whole system upside down. Then, it was said that it may work in Bangladesh, but not in India or Pakistan. Now it is working in every part of the world, even in the richest country, the United States.

Q: Do you have your microcredit banking units in the Middle East? 

Ans: There are microcredit programs in Saudi Arabia, in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Bahrain etc. I am satisfied with the progress. We are in this work for the last 37 years and everyone talks about it everywhere. However, it is not part of mainstream banking. It is still a footnote. Why should it be? This is banking for two-thirds of the population. So you have seen demonstrated success, but you do not take it up for serious business.

Q: How do you see Islamic finance and its role in social business? 

Ans: Islamic finance follows the same banking system. They simply interpret things in a different way. They put new words into it but the system remains the same. However, we ourselves provide Islamic finance in many countries.

Q: If we have to categorize your economic viewpoint, where do we place you? Are you a socialist, a libertarian, do you belong to the right or the left? 

Ans: I don’t know. I just look around and do what I think is the right thing. I do not know whether I am a capitalist myself or whether I am destroying capitalism. I say the capitalist system is wrong, but it is still a great idea. We can fix it and I am trying to fix it.
In my view, the world of business is not about maximizing profit. Profit-making is selfish. But all human beings have two sides to them, or at least two sides. We do have any single dimensional human being. Human beings are selfish, but at the same time they are also selfless. The capitalist system, however, never looks at the selfless part. So if you are selfless you have to go outside the economic system and become a philanthropist, etc. I say I want to be a selfless person within the economic system. And this is where the concept of social business comes in.
Q: At present we find that countries that may not have conventional systems of democracy have delivered more in terms of governance, whereas many democratic countries have been bogged down by too much politics in the name of democracy and economic progress has suffered, particularly in Asia. Do you agree with this assessment?
Ans: The fundamental principle of democracy that everybody’s voice in the country, i.e. the voice of every citizen, counts cannot be compromised. The problem is how do you express that voice. Holding of elections is one way of doing that. To develop a system of continuity despite intellectual differences, the idea of political parties was developed, where each party advocated a distinctive approach or policy in aspects of governance. However, there is no denying that there are some flaws I such a process. For example in the US, entrenched positions of political parties are hampering the passing of the country’s budget etc. Coalition politics and growing public apathy affect democratic governance. However these are some aberrations that we are witnessing. Maybe we have to find some new ways of expressing democratic values. Today, we have technology that can facilitate a more direct system of democracy. Perhaps, we no longer need to put up with representative system of democracy and allow people to get directly involved in the decision making process. We may also have instantaneous election and not have the need for an election commission to preside over. We can have a resolution in parliament and we can ask people to directly vote on it. We could not do this earlier so the people used to send their representatives to parliament. The representative became a new kind of monster, who started throwing his weight around by asserting he has the support of say half-a-million people. So we have to find ways to revert to the original form of direct democracy, which is still practiced in Switzerland.

Q: It has also been said that sometimes in a democracy people are sometimes given what they demand, but not what they actually need. Sometimes ruling parties give a lot of subsidies and unwarranted dole to the electorate to cling on to power. How do you view this argument?

Ans: Sometimes politicians take the easy way out. They hand out dole to keep people quiet. This is not only bad for the national interest, but for the people at the individual level also. You are not sincere toward the individual as you have decapacitated that person, impaired his creative potential and his human ability to find solutions to problems. This subservience and dependence on government dole will also affect the second generation raised on such benefits.


Dr. Hans Blix
Abu Dhabi (November 3, 2011) In an exclusive interview to the Website of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Dr. Hans M. Blix, Director General Emeritus of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that Iran has the ability to refine its uranium to weapons-grade level at any moment. The former Foreign Minister of Sweden and former Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) for Iraq called on countries of the Middle East not only to agree on turning their region into a nuclear weapons free zone but also a uranium enrichment free zone. Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Despite willingness to cooperate with certain countries in the Arab world on the building of nuclear reactors, there seem to be certain reservations in the West over countries in the region developing nuclear know-how. What is your view on this issue?

Ans: Well, the reservations are about sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. It’s about enrichment in particular and it’s also about reprocessing—though I don’t see many going for reprocessing.

However, it is not something that is directed specifically to the Middle East. There is a restraint on export of enrichment technology anywhere in the world. The reasons are that if you can enrich, set up an industrial production of enrichment of, up to 4 percent to get your nuclear fuel, then you can also go on to 94% (weapons grade level). This is what they fear that the Iranians could do—although the Iranians haven’t gone up anymore than just below 20% . They say they need it for their research reactor—but they could at any moment, and that means that if the intention were there, they (the Iranians) could get close to a nuclear weapon and tensions could increase. This is what has happened here with the Iranian enrichment program. They say themselves that they will not go for nuclear weapons, but many people aren’t assured. Maybe they won’t but they are getting closer toward the option and even that—getting closer toward the option—is increasing tensions considerably in the region.

Therefore, I think it would be desirable if the region could agree, both not to have any weapons but also not to have any enrichment because there is ample enrichment capacity in the world. It is cheaper to buy it. There is no economic reason to go for it. South Korea has 20 nuclear power reactors, they don’t enrich but they buy it in the international market. My own country, Sweden, has 10 nuclear reactors, we do not enrich but we buy it in the market. So anyone comes around now and says we would like to enrich our own raw uranium, well I will be a little suspicious—as it can’t be for economic reasons but for some other reasons.

Maybe in the future the whole Middle East may rally around developing one joint capacity, and there may be transparency, and then perhaps it may be fine; but not now and I don’t think it is directed specifically at the Middle East, it is a general concern.

Q: In view of the climate of military tensions in the Middle East, how feasible is it to build nuclear reactors? Many experts in the Gulf region have voiced concerns over the probability of an accident in one of Iran’s nuclear reactors or a military strike targeting them, with the fallout engulfing the region. How valid are such concerns?

Ans: Well, you could even get pretty good bonfires if you bombard fossil fuel facilities. Nothing is particularly secure from missiles, or cruise missiles for that matter.

It is true that Iraqis shot missiles at the Bushehr plant and I have myself seen the two holes at Bushehr, but nowhere has there been an attack on a nuclear power plant. Moreover, if there were to be a conflict, I am sure they would shut off the nuclear plants because what you fear above all in a war is damage to big and valuable installations as well as emissions of radioactivity. That can be prevented. In the first place they (nuclear power plants) are very secure; they are built to withstand an airplane crashing into them. But you actually want them to be shut off so that the uranium fuel is stocked.

There is also an international agreement prohibiting the bombing and attack on nuclear power plants, although it does not apply to enrichment plants or reprocessing plants. The framework also seals installations like the Aswan Dam. In addition, one should not have about 80 percent of one’s energy generated from nuclear power plants because then it would be difficult to shut them off.

Q. You are an advocate of a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but currently how realistic is it to make progress in this regard?

Ans: Right now disarmament has had an intermission. Obama and Medvedev met in London in 2010 and there was a tremendous wave of enthusiasm for their willingness to go for disarmament. The NPT 2010 Conference went rather well. However, when it all came down to the US Senate, it was like running into a wall of conservative and defensive attitudes. So it was realized that the resistance in the US was so strong that there was no chance for putting forward the Comprehensive Test Ban Agreement through the Senate. And that’s where we are! We have not made any progress since the autumn of 2010. START came through, but I don’t really have much hope for any great progress until the US presidential election. After that, if Obama is reelected then there is a real chance for it.

Similarly, the Geneva Disarmament Conference is going into a second decade of coma. They have not been able to agree on their agenda for over 10 years and they are not doing it now. The Comprehensive Test Ban Agreement is standing still and the US cannot present it to the Senate yet, maybe after the US presidential election. A Fissile Material Cut-off Agreement is blocked by Pakistan and NATO does not seem even ready to withdraw 200 tactical nuclear weapons in Western Europe when everybody agrees that they are useless. So far from nuclear disarmament, no disarmament is panning well at the present moment.

Worst! you have a fair amount of rearmament, not so much in nuclear but in other areas. The world is spending around $1,500 billion a year now in military expenditure, 40% of which is happening in the US, about 6% of it in China, 4% in Russia, and a tremendous increase in the Gulf region, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia.

Q There has been criticism in some quarters over the evenhandedness of international organizations when it comes to inspections of nuclear sites of some countries vis-à-vis others, particularly in the Middle East. How should international agencies conduct themselves under such intense international pressure?

Ans: I think the international organizations try very hard to be independent and faithful servants of the world community. At times, they come under pressure from all sides and I have experienced it. However, it is very important that they remain international civil servants, because if you are not evenhanded, then you will lose the confidence of those whom you are to inspect.

Syria is now suspected of having perhaps violated their safeguards agreement. At the same time, when an agency deals with Syria it should not assume guilt but it should carry out an impartial investigation. It may be that they come out with criticism and if they say to Iran that Iran has not lived up to its  safeguards agreement, it’s perfectly right and they should do so, but at the same time they should guard their innocence, as it were.