In George's Club (27/3/2006)

This puts the recent Indo-US farm pact into a wider political context - one where if you're not in George Bush's club you risk political isolation, market exclusion and even possible military assault. But if you are in George's club, you face the opening up of your markets to the likes of Monsanto with all the misery that goes with that.

In George's Club
Andy Rowell, 13 March 2006

Once again the sheer hypocrisy and brutality of American foreign policy has been laid bare for all to see. In his latest dealings with Iran and India, Bush's foreign doctrine boils down to whether you are in "George's Club" or not.

Firstly let us look at Iran, a country that is currently seen as an international pariah over its stand-off with the international community because of its nuclear programme. Iran's dispute with America shows what happens if you are not in George's Club. Iran is a signatory to the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows countries to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as long as they do not develop nuclear weapons.

The US is adamant that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons as well as develop civil nuclear power, so it wants to stop the Iranian nuclear programme. Although the process is still in the hands of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, who were debating the issue last week, the US wants Iran taken to the UN Security Council. Moreover America has been asking for sanctions to be applied. And now it has threatened Iran with military action, even though the diplomatic route is not yet exhausted.

Earlier this month, British Members of Parliament (MPs) went on a visit to America. There they met the Bush appointed US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, a real hawk's hawk. Bolton is never one to mince his words. He told the MPs that military action could bring Iran's nuclear programme to a halt if all diplomatic efforts fail. "We can hit different points along the line", said Bolton. "You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down".

In case anyone was in doubt what Bolton meant by "hitting different points along the line", Bolton reiterated his message when he spoke to the leading US-Israeli lobbyists, American-Israel public affairs committee, last week: "The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder and more intractable it will become to solve" said Bolton. He then went on to argue that America must use "all the tools at our disposal to stop the threat that the Iranian regime poses."

"All the tools" is another way of saying the military. To hawks like Bush and Bolton it does not matter that Iran could be trying to develop a civil nuclear programme. What matters is that they are not an ally in the War on Terror and are not to be trusted as they are seen as a rogue state. They are not in George's Club.

Now take another country that is not a signatory to the NPT, but has developed both nuclear power and nuclear weapons: India. All logic would suggest that if Iran is a pariah state for trying to develop nuclear technology then India should be top of Bush’s countries of concern as it has both nuclear power and nuclear weapons, yet India has never signed the one treaty that is meant to regulate countries that have nuclear technology.

But rather than force India to sign up to the NPT, what did Bush do earlier this month on his first trip to India? Bush signed an "historic agreement on nuclear power," whereby India was granted access to US nuclear technology, in return for opening up its nuclear facilities for inspection.

"It is not an easy job for the Prime Minister to conclude this agreement; it is not easy for the American President to conclude this agreement but it's a necessary agreement" argued Bush, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "It is one that will help both our peoples. I applaud you for your courage and leadership".

Some argue that what Bush is doing is rewarding India for bad behaviour. It is certainly not going to stop India's nuclear programme, or even the construction of nuclear weapons. The deal, says Singh "means that India will not be constrained in any way in building future nuclear facilities, whether civilian or military, as per our national requirements."

So India can build nuclear power stations, Iran cannot. India can build nuclear weapons, Iran cannot. That is because India is trusted and Iran is not. As the BBC reported on the nuclear negotiations "the United States government is saying to India 'we trust you, you're one of us, we want you to join our club'". The bottom line is that America wants India in George's Club. It is seen as a mutually beneficial ally, even if the deal smells of hypocrisy.

Alongside the nuclear deal, there was another deal done by the US and India that also smells of hypocrisy. It is called the "Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural Research and Education."

The deal is being touted by Bush as "the second green revolution" that will feed India’s growing population. "By working together, the United States and India will develop better ways to grow crops and get them to market and lead a second green revolution," said Bush. "This initiative will invest 100 million dollars to encourage exchanges between American and Indian scientists and to promote joint research to improve farming technology."

But what knowledge is the US pushing onto India? It is the controversial technology of agricultural biotechnology whereby plants have key characteristics genetically modified.

Critics of the agricultural deal argue that whilst India's first revolution was about improving traditional plant breeding for the benefit of their farmers, this second revolution is all about imposing American technology on India.

These critics contend that the Initiative could spell disaster for local indigenous farming knowledge. Already many Indian cotton farmers are facing a crisis as their recently-introduced American genetically modified cotton crop has failed. "There is a complete blackout at the top about what's going wrong. This is the worst agrarian crises since Independence," says Devinder Sharma, a food policy analyst on India’s Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.

Sharma fears that this new Initiative will just make the crisis worse. "India could become the dumping ground for all the genetically modified crops that there are no takers for in Europe and many other parts of the world," he says.

We can get an indication of what is going to happen by looking at the board of the Initiative. From the American side it includes Monsanto, the leading US company pushing genetically modified crops and Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.

Both companies are controversial. Monsanto because of its brutal campaign to force people to eat genetically modified crops, about which environmental and health questions are unresolved. Wal-Mart has been accused of paying low-wages and forcing competitors out of business.

An article in the Hindu newspaper reported on the first meeting of the Initiative’s Board in December 2005. "Representatives of the Wal-Mart food chain and the Monsanto Seed Corporation were keen on using the Initiative for retailing in agriculture and on trade aspects. Transgenic research in crops, animals and fisheries would be a substantial part of the collaboration in biotechnology, requiring India to pledge huge funds".

Poor Indian farmers do not matter to Bush, but the raw economic power of global giants Monsanto and Wal-Mart do. Bush will promote their interests because they are in George's Club. Poor farmers are not. Indian papers are now abuzz with what the new deal will mean for the millions of poor Indian farmers, many of whom who have planted Monsanto's genetically modified cotton and who have suffered poor harvests. Sources quoted by The Times of India say that "the opening up of the Indian market as a result of the initiative would benefit Monsanto more than any other company.

So Bush is forcing Indian farmers to accept genetically modified crops that have not been a commercial success. Because Monsanto’s crops have failed it has left many farmers with large debts and facing ruin. Some have committed suicide as a result. Just last month India NDTV reported how farmers in the key agricultural province of Andhra Pradesh were "grappling with crippling debt and desperation and choosing to end their lives after their cotton crop failed".

The TV programme went on to add that most farmers believed that Monsanto's genetically modified crops were "introduced to put an end to their problems" but the crop has now "become one of the biggest causes of farmer suicides". One twenty-year-old widow told NDTV that her husband killed himself after running up crippling debts. "We grew Raasi hybrid seeds with great hope but it has ruined us ... Now he is dead and I have debts and two children. What should I do?"

So you see how the international politics of "George's Club" works. It favours the rich over the poor. If you are in favour with Bush you get access to markets and favours. If you are not you get threats and intimidation. This is the new world politics, whether we like it or not.

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