The morality of dolphin soldiers

A bottle-nosed dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Florida. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lieutenant Flipper, reporting for duty

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Could the Black Sea be the site of a US-Russian marine mammal conflict this summer?

According to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, the US is sending a team of trained dolphins and sea lions to conduct training in the global hotspot, where they will work in waters already occupied by Russian aquatic forces.

The story got a fair amount of press - until the US Navy disputed the report, saying the "official" quoted by the Russian paper no longer works for the Marine Mammal Program and the unit has no plans to head to the waters off Crimea.

Whether or not the rumours are true, the University of Southampton's Philip Hoare thinks that the use of dolphins for military purposes is a "delicate moral dilemma" that humans must address:

We humans, it seems, can't leave the natural world alone. Assuming our biblical rights of dominion, we must reshape the world in our image. So, on one hand, whales and dolphins can be sleek and cute, the stuff of Flipper and Free Willy. On the other, their intelligence can be used to do our dirty work. If man may be venal and warlike, so, too, must be his animal servants.

He writes that while we often have a romanticised view of dolphins, they can be a violent, group-sex-enjoying, hallucinogenic-pufferfish-toxin sucking species. So why not put these watery deviants to work?

"Many ethicists and environmentalists question the morality of keeping cetaceans in captivity," he writes. "But if we accept cavorting orcas and dolphins at SeaWorld, then why not working dolphins in the Navy?"

With their high intelligence and "very genetic closeness to us", however, might dolphins deserve special deference?

"Our objections to the use of dolphins in war may be sentimental, because we project idealized notions of placidity on their perennially smiling faces," he concludes. "We are imposing our own values, good and bad, on wild animals. But if we apprehend that dolphins are moral beings, then might they themselves object to being weapons of war?"

Saudi Arabia

The end of the US alliance - Saudi Arabia's recent military exercises demonstrate that the nation can stand on its own without support from the US, writes Faisal Al Yafai in United Arab Emirates' the National.

"Saudi Arabia wants to establish itself publicly as capable of withstanding any threat," he writes. "The Arab Spring has pushed Saudi from its traditional comfort zone of operating behind the scenes into more of a leadership role for the region."

The US, through its lack of involvement in the Syrian civil war and willingness to seek peace with Iran, he concludes, is proving to be an unreliable ally.

"Gradually, the Gulf is preparing for the day America's warships sail away," he says.


US should stay out of Venezuelan affairs - Unlike the US, which is mired in partisan gridlock, Venezuela is taking action to address its people's stagnant wages and healthcare, writes human rights lawyer Dan Kovalik in the Huffington Post.

Nevertheless, he says, US President Barack Obama seems willing to justify meddling in Venezuelan internal affairs to promote "rights and freedoms".

"The US, which has its own, profound democracy deficit," he writes, "is working with reactionary forces in Venezuela to force it back to the bad old days when the poor and racial minorities lived under the thumb of Venezuela's rich oligarchy."


An Internet 'Bill of Rights' - Modern society is "completely dependent on the internet", writes former Brazilian Secretary of Justice Pedro Abramovay, which is why his nation last week enacted into law an "internet constitution".

The law protects "net neutrality", he writes, and "seeks to safeguard online freedom of expression and limit government collection and usage of Internet users' metadata".

Although internet freedom is being curtailed in the US and around the world, he says, "those who are losing their resolve need to only look south, where Brazil is leading the way".


A growing military power - The Defence Analytical Global Firepower 2014 survey ranks Malaysia 38th in world military strength. The New Straits Times's Syed Nadzri notes that this puts his nation just three rungs below North Korea and 15 above Portugal, which conquered Malaysia in 1511.

He writes that those who criticise Malaysia's $4.3bn (£2.5bn) annual military spending are "the first to criticise defence shortcomings", such as "the gross lack of proper resources at Malaysia's disposal in the search for the missing MH370 aircraft".

Malaysia's goal is to achieve developed nation status by 2020, Nadzri writes. Military power, along with economic and sports strength, are the three main areas in which it must "affirm its position".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Ukrainian commentators react to the ongoing unrest in Eastern Ukraine.

"There is no combat-ready army in Ukraine. Even the best generals cannot help in this situation. One defence minister has already been replaced, and how did that help?" - Vadym Karasyov in Segodnya.

"When law is not in action, when the authorities fail to protect the citizens from brazen murderers (in some cases 'werewolves in uniforms' even bring bullets to the killers), then citizens either choose the role of victims, as it repeatedly happened in Kharkiv or Donetsk, or stand up to protect themselves on their own, as Ukrainian patriots in Odessa did." - Ivan Leonov in Ukrayina Moloda.

"Russia's Nazism needs the hybrid war to continue without resistance from Ukraine. It would not benefit from the terrorists' defeat or from serious attacks on them. However, a full-scale invasion to support them is not a good option for the Kremlin either. So today's main contradiction is that it is the Ukrainian army which is now defending Russia's national interests." - Editorial in Den.

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