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The Express Tribune Editorial 17 February 2020

A cynic’s guide to arms races

 

There is an old Latin saying that insists “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Pacifists might scoff at what seems to be an inherent irony – it does seem unthinkable that war could ever lead to peace – but as with most things in life, it is not as simple as we would like.
A report published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has revealed that last year global defence spending saw its biggest increase in a decade. The think tank attributed the rise to increasing competition between the US and China, introduction of new technologies and ongoing conflict in various parts of the world.
In a bid to increase its influence, China has long been investing in ways to erode the military might that has allowed the US to be the world’s sole superpower. In particular, as the report also pointed out, Beijing has been developing hypersonic missiles that, by flying at speeds at least five times the speed of sound, can threaten US power projection assets like its famed carrier strike groups.
Meanwhile, the US continues to have the gargantuan task of not only maintaining the size of the world’s largest military but also to ensure it retains the technological superiority that can guarantee its apex position in the world. Neither of these comes cheap.
Arms races, as the aforementioned Latin adage reminds us, are as old as time. In some ways, they are hardwired into life itself. One of the main drivers of evolution, for instance, was a biological arms race between predator and prey.
They are not necessarily entirely negative either. On a more direct level, a constant rebalancing of military capabilities does ensure some measure of peace, precarious as it may be. They also, inadvertently, enable technologies that find untold utility beyond their martial progenitors. From rubber to radio waves, the list is endless.
That said, as states and world powers engage in military buildup, it would do their leaders well to remember just who they plan on fighting for and whether some of those resources could better serve elsewhere.

 
 

Saddled with liabilities

 

The national flag carrier is no stranger to taking flak for loss-making and all sorts of operational ills from politicians, aviation analysts and the public at large. But to be fair to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), it is not the only carrier in the world that finds itself floundering. A closer look at the global aviation industry reveals that profitable airlines are few and far between, so the censure to which PIA is often subjected, is sometimes off the mark. Like many airlines, which have a hard time riding out the ill-effects of a steep drop in air passenger demand following 9/11, PIA perpetually stays in the red.
But this does not mean its top brass should stop aiming to fly high, no matter how formidable the odds. Trying to cut unnecessary costs and the employee bulge is the perfect starting point. Pursuing a professionally crafted business plan can then begin making the difference. But as things stand today, there is no escape from plummeting profits and soaring liabilities, as a recent report in this paper illustrates. The airline added Rs75 billion to its total liabilities in the first six months of calendar year 2019, observes the report.
The national flag carrier had accumulated liabilities of Rs558 billion as on June 30, 2019 against Rs483 billion as of December 31, 2018. However, in dollar terms, the losses remained nearly stagnant as PIA reported a nominal increase in liabilities to $3.49 billion in the period under review compared to $3.48 billion as of December 31, 2018. A PIA spokesman puts this down to foreign exchange losses. Stats speak for themselves: In the six months ended June 30, 2019, the airline reported net exchange losses of Rs14.6 billion against Rs5.8 billion in the corresponding period of previous year.

 
 

If not now, when?

 

Over the past nine years, the Syrian revolution-turned-war keeps slipping from news headlines, only to occasionally reclaim the spot. The return to the headlines in most cases is mostly after a major catastrophe and that usually does not last that long.
During these years, the country has witnessed extremes that include torture, state-sponsored massacre of civilians, barrel bombs and even the use of chemical weapons. Each episode of brutality has had one common casualty — the ordinary people of Syria who continue to pay the price for the extended conflict.
Last week’s Russian-backed attack on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold, has once again targeted the civilians. The assault triggered the largest mass displacement of Syrians in the war to date, leaving hundreds of thousands camped on the Turkish border in subzero conditions. This latest mass exodus comes at a time when clashes between the Syrian army and Turkish forces have moved the two countries closer to all-out conflict, perhaps allowing the simmering crisis to return from absolute oblivion to reclaim the headlines one more time. While Syria may have assigned itself to the position of a footnote in a long list of world crises, it remains one of the most crucial issues that has single-handedly destabilized the Middle East and the world.
The latest catastrophe in Idlib not only appears as a symptom of the utter failure of diplomacy, and the international community’s abandonment of Syrian people but also serves as a grim reminder to world leaders about the harrowing consequences of their absolute disregard of the situation. For leaders, who convene major summits to decide the future of the world, the conflict in Syria, that once transfixed everyone in horror, the events in Idlib are a clear warning, that requires meaningful solution-oriented intervention. If not now, when?
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