Is Peace on Earth a Pipedream?

The outlook for 2023 is gloomy for all too many, optimism and confidence that the governments and the political class can solve the main problems is fading. Supposedly stable party systems are disintegrating and visions for a brighter future are hard to find among those who feel destined for leadership.

Nevertheless, we wish you, at least on the private level, good luck, success, health and happiness!!!

A version of the following article on a neglected aspect of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the military conflicts in many other places has been published in several media in Germany. If you know of a political leader or a party aware of this problem, please tell me.

Military, Arms Race and War: A Devastating Environmental Balance Sheet

According to the latest surveys, the willingness in the USA and the main donor countries in Europe to support Ukraine in the fight against Russia with whatever is necessary and for as long as it is necessary, is sinking. On the European side, this involves private aid and the accommodation of millions of Ukrainian refugees, but above all the unconditional supply of weapons and ammunition. For the latter, the donor countries’ own reserves are apparently running low, and weapons manufacturers are unable to replenish the quantities needed for their own defense quickly enough, even in the United States. Generally, moral support remains high, but many believe that the Russian attack was not as “unprovoked” as the Western mainstream media repeat since February. According to the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank in Washington, the latest budget approvals are pushing the US support for Ukraine to 113 billion dollars. The Quincy study sees that in the perspective that, in the past twelve months, Ukraine has been awarded more taxpayer dollars than 40 US states altogether and asks how long that can continue if the war drags on for years. If both sides refuse to revise their maximum goals, there is no chance for negotiations, not even for a limited ceasefire.   

Wars and their long-term environmental damage

The international fallout of the war, the energy crisis in Europe and many other countries far away, the disruption of the supply chains for vital goods and the increasing unpredictability of food security, is mostly being discussed under economic aspects. But on one important side effect of the grinding war, its environmental damage, politicians, and media are remarkably quiet.

Historical environmental damage, such as that caused by the endless wars in ancient Rome, is still visible 2000 years later. The Mediterranean region, which was densely forested in ancient times, was extensively deforested by the massive fleet and housing construction of the Romans and developed its characteristic arid fauna and flora due to the resulting karstification. In German and other European cities, unexploded ordnance from WWII is regularly found during construction work and often requires widespread evacuation of residents when it is defused. Since the war damage has now been so largely removed and only the very old can still remember the ruined landscapes, the topic of war and the environment apparently no longer makes it onto the current agenda. And the future reconstruction of Ukraine is discussed more under financial aspects. At least one reads less about the social and emotional consequences for the people there and even less about the polluted environment.

In other countries, the consequences of war are more strongly remembered for the continuing maiming of people who unexpectedly step on a landmine. The mining of large areas of even sparsely populated Indochina during the Vietnam War or the deformities of babies caused by the widespread spraying of forest areas with defoliants are unforgotten there. International attention was given in January to a report about Magawa the rat, who had helped clear mines for five years with his fabulous sense of smell, was awarded a gold medal, and died peacefully shortly thereafter. Presumably, the attention was more on the cute rodent than the dangerous mines. But almost fifty years after the end of the war, in which Cambodia was not even involved, the material damage is far from being repaired. The government launched a new program in early December to remove at least the remaining land mines by the end of 2025. At the same time, tens of thousands of new land and sea mines are being laid in Ukraine.

Futile warnings?

Ecologically devastating war damage has been studied in the Middle East. In 1991, more than 700 oil wells burned in Kuwait, destroying six million barrels of crude oil a day, 9% of world consumption at the time. Released were millions of tons of Sulphur, nitrogen, soot and hydrocarbons, a blanket of soot and oil covered 60% of Kuwait’s total area. War waste, and unexploded ordnance still make entire areas inaccessible, and radiation from uranium-hardened munitions remains an invisible threat for generations. The dramatic images of burning oil wells may have contributed to discussions about these all-too-visible consequences of war. But it was not until November 5, 2001, that the United Nations General Assembly declared November 6 of each year as the “International Day for the Prevention of the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict” (RES 56/4).  For this year’s International Day, the echo in was almost inaudible. On the Internet it is mentioned at least on the web pages, which remind in a calendar of such events. In the leading media it did not take place, and the Green parties in many European government coalitions, who had their roots in the peace movement of the 1960s, or the strong climate change demonstrators, were all quiet.

Environmental damage and the current arms race.

What one can assume anyway in the regions with air bases, namely that military air traffic is a considerable environmental burden in addition to civil aviation, is confirmed by pertinent research reports. A critical study from June 2019 by Brown University near Boston calls the U.S. military the biggest polluter. According to the study, the military has produced a total of 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases since 2001, more than twice as much as all of the nation’s passenger cars combined emit in a year. The Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil energy, making it a major contributor to climate change. President Biden and his Energy Secretary, Jennifer M. Granholm, have initiated a number of programs to decarbonize, but they can only be implemented over the long term. The Brown University researchers, by the way, got their figures from Granholm’s ministry, because the Pentagon itself does not provide these figures even to Congress. (The study can be viewed at

Comparable data is naturally not available for Russia or China but can be roughly guessed at. The latest figures from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) at least do not indicate a decline. According to them, the hundred largest arms corporations turned over $592 billion last year, far ahead of long time leaders Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and British firm BAE Systems, and now four Chinese corporations. Total U.S. spending on military and security, including intelligence agencies and the National Security Agency, which also handles cybersecurity, is estimated at $1.4 trillion. In the 2021 figures released by Statista in April, the U.S. leads with 801 billion in direct military spending, followed by catching-up China with 292 and India with 76. The U.K. still spent about 2.5 billion more than Russia before the Ukraine invasion, at 68.4 billion, and France and Germany are nearly tied at about 56 billion.

Meanwhile, “dreamers” can be found on the Internet who want to theoretically convert the presumed world military expenditures to fabulous per capita incomes for each of the earth’s eight billion citizens, which would unfortunately be too good to ever come true. On the other hand, it would do the world and all of us good to give the issue of war and the environment the priority it deserves.

Singapore, 28 December 2022                                             by Dr Wolfgang Sachsenröder

Can (Young) Voters be Trusted?

GE 15, the 15th Malaysian general election on 19th November 2022, has been analyzed in many ways. Probably the most commented elements of its outcome were the appointment of veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim (74) as Prime Minister and the decline of the Barisan Nasional, the vehicle for decades of UMNO’s dominance. What is coming up with some delay is the much-anticipated impact of a change to the constitution. In July 2019, the Parliament had enacted the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019, which contained provisions to lower the voting age to 18 and allow for the automatic registration of voters. The inclusion of young voters was a success story of the advocacy group Undi18, which was born as a student movement in 2016 and started to officially lobby for its cause with a memorandum to then Prime Minister Najib Razak in April 2017.

Since the constitutional amendment, and especially in and long before the official election campaign, politicians and commentators were speculating about possible changes by the enlarged and much younger electorate. Indeed, with the similarly new automatic registration the number of voters increased to 21.1 million, and the reduced age limit added 1.4 million young and first-time voters, with a total of 6.9 million potential new voters. There was a clear expectation that the role of young and younger voters below 40 would be pivotal. All post-mortem election analyses, as usual, depend very much on the party affiliation or programmatic and ideological preference of the analysts. Losing parties tend to believe that those who have given their vote to other parties are ungrateful, mistaken, uninformed, or outright stupid. And even if a party has won because of the lack of alternatives, their top dogs will attribute the success to their own convincing leadership and their farsighted programs for the glorious future of the country.  

Concerning the real voting patterns of the youngsters, some research results have come up in the meantime. Hisomuddin Bakar, director of Ilham Centre, a market research company in Kuala Lumpur, found that almost 90 per cent were unaware of current political developments, that some were unable to differentiate between MPs and assemblymen, or even recognise existing political parties. According to his research results, most of them followed family traditions or relied on social media as main source of political information. But the encouraging result of the Ilham survey is the assumption that around 80 percent of the first-time voters exercised their right to vote. That is a fabulous increase from the Johor state election in March, when the turnout of young voters was only five per cent.

Interestingly, Hisomuddin adds to his critical assessment that young voters are slightly more politically literate than older generations, as they can access information online. The influence of the social media consumption, Hisomuddin says, can be seen in the success of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition among young voters. PN had used social media in its campaigning, including narrative content on TikTok. But in a regional comparison, Malaysia seems to be behind the Philippines, where the landslide victory of President Marcos in May was prepared by an army of trolls in the social media. Candidates there were all hiring trolls and have created tens of thousands of easy jobs for which you need just a SIM-card and a telephone or a PC and Wi-Fi.

Whatever politicians, parties, and analysts may say about the ideal voter and how first-time voters might qualify to be taken seriously, a comparison must encompass young and old, urban and rural, enlightened or not. For many decades, political scientists are debating how informed the average and the ideal voter should be, whether voting is a rational decision at all or just emotional and following the all-too-common herd instinct in politics. Very important for the outcome is, of course, the current political situation before the election, in the GE15 a mix of complications of utmost impact for the stability and the future of the country. And, not to forget, a political impasse can be such a deterrent that many voters, young or old, don’t bother at all to go and cast their vote. In Europe, where in many countries the non-voters outnumber the leading parties, civic education in schools and comfortable voting by mail are not really boosting the turnout. The so-called mature democracies don’t appear to be more mature in political knowledge and voter decisions. According to figures of the European Commission, visualized by Statista, the turnout of young voters between 18 and 30 varies between 79 per cent in Austria and 35 per cent in Luxemburg. And in the USA, the overall voter turnout notoriously remains below 50 per cent.
For the outcome of GE15 in Malaysia in November, the youth vote was not decisive. The formation of the new ruling coalition under Anwar Ibrahim, according to many analysts, shows much more the moderating influence of the King and his fellow rulers.


Fairy Tales and Election Promises: Party Manifestoes in a Splintered Party Landscape

The recent election in Malaysia offers interesting examples of the value of party manifestoes and what voters read or believe. Here is a fascinating analysis by Dr Lee Hwok Aun, senior fellow at the ISEAS Yusuf Ishak Institute, Singapore

Highly recommended to researchers and party practitioners alike
by Partyforum Southeast Asia