New US-Russian arms race, Iraq's problem and others

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Weapons in space signal new US-Russian arms race

Weapons in space signal new US-Russian arms race

Sir: Last week, two events slipped by, causing barely a ripple. However, either one could signal the beginning to a very costly and very worrying new arms race.

The first was Russia's testing of a new generation of missile that would be able to avoid defences such as the National Missile Defense under way in the US. While Russia was at pains to emphasise that this system was not aimed at the US, it is exactly the kind of response that could be expected after America's decision to leave the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and set up a defensive shield. Russia's move is precisely what many detractors of the NMD feared and predicted.

The second event is a new US Air Force report, benignly titled Flight Transformation Plan, which was made public last week. This maps out a wide-scale plan to place a host of weapons systems into space. These include lasers, space "bombers" and amongst many other things an arcane-sounding system called hypervelocity rod bundles. While previously the American military has alluded to such a plan only in a vague sense, the report signals that weaponising space has now become policy. And while the militarisation of space has previously been justified in terms of protecting space assets such as satellites, the weapons outlined in the new report will be distinctly offensive, and with the capability to strike any target anywhere on the globe.

As President Chirac recently noted, there will always be a struggle between the sword and the shield. The arena of space is no different. One set of measures will always beget another set of countermeasures. If this is the first move to make space the next battlefield, then it is time we sat up to take notice. This time Star Wars could be for real.

Dr MARK HILBORNE
Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham

We are Iraq's problem, not the solution

Sir: It is ironic that The Independent's principled stance against the illegal invasion of Iraq does not extend to the illegitimate occupation it brought about. The bloodbath in Iraq on Tuesday was a monstrous act, but it is nonsense to imply as your leading article (3 March) did, that the attack was aimed at forestalling a democratic future for Iraqis, the rosy outcome, we are invited to believe, their occupiers are benevolently crafting for them.

How do you forge democracy for a people most of whom bitterly resent your presence in the first place? In the immediate aftermath of all the attacks against the Shia, the gathering crowds don't chant their resentment of Sunni extremists, the most likely culprits, they reserve their ire for Bush and the United states, their self-appointed protectors.

The Shia and Sunni have been living peaceably together in Iraq for decades. Historically, foreign rule invariably accentuates and emphasises subterranean sectarian and ethnic tensions. Playing one section of society against the other and then falsely presenting its occupation as the balm to heal the resultant wounds has always been the hallmark of imperial politics.

The much-vaunted 30 June date for the handover of sovereignty, parroted by the media as a milestone in Iraq's march to democracy, is in reality a farcical footnote to what is becoming an open-ended tragedy. Power is to be transferred to coalition-appointed puppets, no doubt in a blaze of hype. Real authority will of course reside in the new US "embassy"

As long as foreign fighters, and I mean the visible ones of fact, who speak English, Polish, Spanish, Japanese etc, not the invisible ones of myth, who speak Arabic, remain in an Iraq they have starved, bombed and violated over the last 14 years, there will be no peace in that land.

You can build a throne of bayonets, but you can't sit on it. The French learnt this in Algeria and remembered. The Americans learnt it in Vietnam and forgot.

KOLA ODETOLA
Luton

Sir: I found the "good and evil" comments of Mr Blair in response to the bombs in Iraq on Tuesday quite unnerving. That the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth should view the world in such simplistic, comic book and, dare I say it, biblical terms, is staggering. Perhaps he and George Bush just spend too much time together.

The logic of his statement is as follows. The "good" are those who kill civilians by dropping cluster bombs on them from several thousand feet and then return to their aircraft carrier for a good dinner and a video. On the ground the foot-soldiers clean up the mess, hose down the streets and sanitise the area before the media is allowed in. The "bad" are those who die with their innocent victims, their shattered limbs strewn around the battlefield with no sanitising possible, the rivers of blood in the full view of the media.

"Good" and "bad" Mr Blair? More like two sides of the same evil coin.

ALAN McPARTLAND
Dublin

Sir: In your first leader of 3 March you make a rather flat statement : "If the Shia and the Kurds react to terror by breaking free of Iraq and forming separate states.... the Iraqi leadership and the international community must make sure [this] does not happen."

You don't explain why you hold that opinion. The map of modern Iraq was drawn by the victorious European colonial powers following the First World War. Why should its peoples not now be allowed a peaceful return to historic boundaries? Or is it all about oil again?

TERRY EATON
Milton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire

Sir: Never before in the history of humankind have so few naïve and arrogant neo-conservative blockheads made life even more intolerable for the 25 million poor souls who seriously imagined they could never live more intolerably than they did under Saddam Hussein.

DAVID MARSDEN
St Peter, Barbados, West Indies

Fifties food

Sir: The 1950s diet that I remember was not nearly so insipid as that experienced by your reporter Clint Witchalls (Review, 1 March). He should try stuffed hearts, rissoles, soused herring and boiled salt beef and carrots.

Steamed puddings were a treat, but after a hefty first course the dessert was usually stewed fruit, sometimes bottled or canned and including such standbys as rhubarb, dried apricots and apples or pears flavoured with cloves.

As for his lack of vitamins, I was born in 1947 and consumed about a dozen oranges a week. Most people who lived through the war had been taught the importance of a balanced diet.

On average, children ate a freshly prepared two-course lunch and sat down to afternoon tea, bread and butter, jam, boiled eggs and usually home made cakes or scones. Their fathers ate a freshly prepared dinner when they came home from work.

My mother was working-class and quite poor but percolated fresh coffee every day and would have been ashamed of producing tasteless food. Maybe your reporter should learn how to cook.

VAL MOTT
Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Sir: Clint Witchalls probably felt "uncomfortably full" because he was not regularly either running for a bus with a heavy briefcase or satchel, or carting shopping bags up and down the High Street (no supermarkets in the 1950s). Also - where on the menu was the grilled spam, tinned garden peas and mash followed by tinned plums and evaporated milk? (My favourite lunch as a 12-year-old.)

GLENIS GURNEY
London E4

Eau de Sidcup

Sir: Much fun has unfairly been poked at Sidcup. It may not be in the French Alps, nor, like Evian, on the southern shore of Lake Geneva. It is near the south-eastern slopes of Shooter's Hill and the southern shore of Danson Park Lake. There are three named streams in the area. The Danson and the Wyncham are tributaries of the Shuttle which joins the Cray at Old Bexley.

Coca-Cola could have used the geography of Sidcup positively and marketed their bottled water from Sidcup as "Wyncham" or "Old Bexley" with a picture of a stream in rural south-east London and Shooter's Hill in the background.

KEITH FERRIS
Coxheath, Kent

Sir: The mark up percentage on Dasani is reported as 3,166 per cent (2 March). In fact it is a mark up factor of 3,166, which equates to a percentage of an even more staggering 316,600. I need a drink to recover from that!

ROGER BLASSBERG
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Gay civil rights

Sir: Larry Rushton's letter (28 February) suggests that gays should develop their own form of "marriage" with a new name. As a partner in a gay relationship of 43 years' standing and knowing a number of other gay couples who have been in stable relationships for over 50 years, I can but agree with him. However, whatever name is invented for the formalisation of a gay partnership it must carry with it the rights of next of kin, equality in tax including inheritance tax and the recognition of the "marriage" for the purposes of NHS pension rights.

My partner and I have no desire to be married (especially) by "the church". What we do require is legal recognition for tax and pension fund purposes. As citizens/subjects we desire the right to have our longstanding relationship legally recognised, however it might be labelled. Without the legal rights that go with it, it is nothing.

ROGER F FISHER
Croydon, Surrey

Sir: When women were given the right to vote it wasn't given a different name because they were women. When slavery was abolished the freedom of the slave was still called freedom.

The current restrictive dictionary definition of marriage is an anomaly created over centuries by religious bigotry and ignorance. That this anomaly should be held up as a reason to prevent same-sex civil marriages in the 21st century is indefensible. If a civil partnership confers the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, then it should be called marriage.

I suspect the reason we are being presented with this "alternative" option is for reasons akin to those that lay behind the previously unequal age of consent. It's the old political "let's not upset the right-wing press" fence-sitting exercise. Until public opinion can be persuaded to accept the irrationality of discrimination, the official message remains that same-sex love is not as profound as opposite-sex love and of less value to society; I feel curiously ungrateful.

As for marrying one's horse, hasn't that already happened somewhere in the US? Though how the horse gave consent can only be guessed at.

MARK BROWN
London SW19

Queen's move

Sir: Medievalists will be encouraged - Charles Clarke please note - that The Independent can devote half a page (2 March) to an argument about how the moves of a chess piece changed over 500 years ago.

The more powerful queen of about 1490 may or may not be modelled on Isabella of Castile and attractive ideas still need proof. Other theories abound, such as the psychoanalyst who claimed that the inventor of the new game must have been a weak man fascinated by female power.

But one fact: the suggestion that the chess queen "only became female about 1475" can be refuted by anyone who cares to look at the 12th-century Isle of Lewis chessmen in the British Museum.

RICHARD EALES
School of History, University of Kent
Canterbury

Winterton's laugh

Sir: As Dr M E J Wise writes (letter, 3 March), surgeons and medical students often use black humour as a defence mechanism against painful emotions. Ann Winterton, however, is not a medic but a politician with a track record of insensitivity and arrogance. It would be reasonable to presume that her retelling of the notorious "joke" about the Chinese cockle-pickers was prompted by no more than her inability to resist the chance of a cheap laugh.

GORDON PETER DUFF
Sheffield

Sir: With all the indignant spluttering about Ms Winterton's Morecambe wisecrack, isn't it time for a reality check? Her "joke" is typical of the kind of humour you encounter in any office, pub or club up and down the land. Yes, it is in poor taste, but surely dishonesty (Blair), incompetence (take your pick) and adultery (most of them) are more valid reasons to call for an MP to resign than having a questionable sense of humour.

PETER VICKERS
London W5

Typical voter

Sir: You report the millionairess Margot James as saying that her selection as the first openly gay female Conservative parliamentary candidate showed that the Conservative Party was becoming more representative of the general population. This is indeed good news for all the millionaire lesbians in the country.

JOHN SHARKEY
Stafford

Good news, bad news

Sir: The publisher who plans a newspaper based on good news only (Media, 2 March) recalls a similar project in America during the 1960s. The Good Newspaper was launched with a policy never to publish stories of crime, violence, conflicts, obituaries or even bankruptcy. Readers lived in a carefree world. Sadly, it folded after a short time but the final edition in my newspaper archive does not mention that it was to cease publication - that would have been unhappy news!

JOHN FROST
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Uncrowned

Sir: Why all the fuss over Mr Blunkett's proposal to rename the Crown Prosecution Service by dropping the word "Crown" and replacing it with "Public"? Given that organisation's ever-expanding catalogue of cocked-up prosecutions, one would think that Her Majesty would be only too pleased to have herself disassociated from it.

ROBERT READMAN
Boscombe, Dorset

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