Archive for August, 2012

“Maintained its output”

31/08/2012

Iran maintained its output of enriched uranium that world powers say may eventually be used for nuclear weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium grew 31 percent to 189.4 kilograms (417.6 pounds) from 145 kilograms in May, the IAEA said today in an 11-page restricted report. The Persian Gulf country had raised production of the 20 percent enriched material by a third in the three-month period ending May 25″.

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Four more years of what?

31/08/2012

In an interesting article, the Economist poses the question, what would President Obama do if re-elected in November.

It opens, “Obama will address his fellow Democrats at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, with little of this hopeful agenda completed. Three million more Americans are out of work than four years ago, and the national debt is $5 trillion bigger. Partisan gridlock is worse than ever: health-care reform, a genuinely impressive achievement, has become a prime source of rancour. Businessfolk are split over whether he dislikes capitalism or is merely indifferent to it. His global-warming efforts have evaporated. America’s standing in the Muslim world is no higher than it was under George W. Bush, Iran remains dangerous, Russia and China are still prickly despite the promised resets, and the prison in Guantánamo remains open”.

Leaving aside the articles foregin policy concerns, the passing of the health care law was a great achievement, yet it would be unfair to blame Obama for the crisis in Europe and debt. Although, the Bowles-Simpson Commission report continues to gather dust this is as much to do with Democratic intransigence over welfare reform as Republican refusal to raise taxes.

The article goes on to say the “defence of Mr Obama’s record comes down to one phrase: it could all have been a lot worse. He inherited an economy in free fall thanks to the banking crash and the fiscal profligacy that occurred under his predecessor; his stimulus measures and his saving of Detroit carmakers helped avert a second Depression; overall, he deserves decent if patchy grades on the economy (see article). Confronted by obstructionist Republicans in Congress, he did well to get anything through at all”, adding “this does not amount to a compelling case for re-election, in the view of either this paper or the American people. More than 60% of voters believe their country to be on the wrong track. Mr Obama’s approval ratings are well under 50%; almost two-thirds of voters are unimpressed”. It goes on to heavily criticise Obama for his negative attack ads on Romney’s personality and career rather than defending his own achievements, which are still, it notes, unpopular.

The piece goes on to say that “even if negative campaigning works, a re-elected Mr Obama will need the strength that comes from a convincing agenda. Otherwise the Republicans, who will control the House and possibly the Senate too, will make mincemeat of him. And, third, it is not just Mr Obama who needs a plan. America does too”. Yet, there are countless reports that advise on how to fix the deficit, mend broken infrastructure and schools. The political process, needs, as has been said before, radical overhaul with a truly powerful executive.

The article ends, “Appealing to the centre is not easy for Mr Obama. His allies on the left are powerful and, in a country so polarised, the middle ground can be a dangerous place. But there are plenty of things that many on both sides of the political aisle could agree on, including tax and immigration reform, investment in schools and aid to businesses that are creating jobs. Crucially, Mr Obama could explain how he intends to cut the still-soaring debt without pretending that taxing only the rich will help in any meaningful way. Mr Obama has a strong belief in social justice. It drove his health-care reform”.

Yet, this is exactly the opposite criticism the magazine just made of Mitt Romney, that he had no beliefs and would bend to the political wind too easily. Surely it cannot be both? Americans have a truly agonistic election. Two distinct candidates offering radically different views. For that, it should be counted as lucky.

Romney’s foreign policy?

31/08/2012

“Mitt Romney’s approach to foreign policy has remained so gauzy that commentators are increasingly sounding like foreign diplomats trying to parse Chinese wall posters to better understand who was up or down in Chairman Mao’s inner circle. Mitt will be pragmatic like Nixon. No, he can be like Ronald Reagan. Romney has been captured be the Bush neocons. Romney is a lightweight. No, he is a visionary.” No, it is within the mainstream of the American foreign policy tradition.

A clean slate

31/08/2012

After the ousting of Bob Diamond as chief executive of Barclays a new successor has been appointed, Antony Jenkins.

Now things are going to hopefully change. It notes that under Diamond, “Barclays’ capital-markets arm had expanded from a tiny business to a leader in many important investment-banking markets. And despite efforts by the firm to expand its traditional retail and commercial banking, the investment bank came to dominate both Barclays’ profits—and, more important, its culture”.

Now this ingrained culture will have to change under Jenkins, who the magazine says means “the bank hopes to focus again on the somewhat slower-paced business of collecting savings and making loans. It comes after the appointment earlier this month of Sir David Walker, a vocal critic of the remuneration of investment bankers, as chairman. Mr Jenkins is as experienced a retail and commercial banker as you might hope to find. He has spent much of his career in retail banking. His former roles include heading Barclaycard, the bank’s international credit-card division, as well as leading its retail and business-banking arms”.

It goes on to mention that “Jenkins is highly regarded within the bank and is seen by analysts as having a very good grasp of the detail of retail banking. Yet despite his experience in a part of the business that the bank would like to expand—as well as the fact that he is British and soft-spoken, in stark contrast to his American predecessor—Mr Jenkins’s appointment is not an obvious one. He is almost unknown to the wider public and investment community and is not a comfortable public speaker”.

However he will face a huge task of changing the culture of instant profit into a more sustainable model. It must be hoped that his soft spokeness hides a steely determination and a strong moral compass to do what is in the best interests of both the bank and the UK as a whole. Indeed, the board should be commended for taking such a radical step. It is hoped that they will support him in his new, vital task.

It concludes that “retail banking is not as safe a bet as it seems. In Britain this part of Barclays’ business has underperformed for at least a decade. The bank’s international retail businesses are also struggling. Absa, its South African subsidiary, has suffered a spate of bad loans and its Spanish operations are being buffeted by the euro crisis. All this suggests that Barclays may still have to rely on its investment bank for profits. Yet that part of its business will be under pressure, too”.

Others have noted that ” Mr Jenkins was clear that one of his main priorities would be dealing with the fallout from recent scandals, namely Libor-rigging, interest rate swap mis-selling, and the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the fees paid by the bank in relation to a capital injection by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund at the height of the financial crisis in 2008″.

The Economist piece finally mentions that “Jenkins may struggle to retain staff at the investment bank if they think it will be shrunk. Regaining the trust of those outside the bank while retaining the trust of those who work for it will be a tall order”. Jenkins, should hopefully realise that the bank is run for customers and citizens, and not for staff, which is part of the reason the Western banking model brought the world economy to its knees in the first place.

Doctrinal assessment

31/08/2012

Full text of the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“A businessman without a credible plan”

30/08/2012

In a problem that affects David Cameron and nearly all other Western politicans the Economist examines what Mitt Romney actually believes.

It notes that during his time as governor “he supported abortion, gun control, tackling climate change and a requirement that everyone should buy health insurance, backed up with generous subsidies for those who could not afford it”. Now the article notes that he opposes all of these things.

The article notes that “All politicians flip-flop from time to time; but Mr Romney could win an Olympic medal in it (see article). And that is a pity, because this newspaper finds much to like in the history of this uncharismatic but dogged man, from his obvious business acumen to the way he worked across the political aisle as governor to get health reform passed”.  Having said that, Romney is successful at business because he seems totally devoid of moral scruples. Lacking such morals, it would be hard not to achieve success.

The article adds that “competence is worthless without direction and, frankly, character. Would that Candidate Romney had indeed presented himself as a solid chief executive who got things done. Instead he has appeared as a fawning PR man”. The piece goes on to argue that “willing to do or say just about anything to get elected. In some areas, notably social policy and foreign affairs, the result is that he is now committed to needlessly extreme or dangerous courses that he may not actually believe in but will find hard to drop”.

Yet, these same extreme positions were advocated by then-Senator Obama. This was seen when he said he would brand China as a currency manipulator if he was elected. This is the same threat used by Romney in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in February this year. Whatever about Romney’s  supposedly extreme social policy, as has been said here repeatedly, nothing will change with regards to how America conducts itself in the world.

It goes on to say that “Behind all this sits the worrying idea of a man who does not really know his own mind. America won’t vote for that man; nor would this newspaper. The convention offers Mr Romney his best chance to say what he really believes”, adding that “Some of his anti-immigration policies won’t help, either. And his attempts to lure American Jews with near-racist talk about Arabs and belligerence against Iran could ill serve the interests of his country (and, for that matter, Israel’s)”.

The piece damns Romney for his supposed economic prowess, noting “this election will be fought on the economy. This is where Manager Romney should be at his strongest. But he has yet to convince: sometimes, again, being needlessly extremist, more often evasive and vague. In theory, Mr Romney has a detailed 59-point economic plan. In practice, it ignores virtually all the difficult or interesting questions”.

The article goes on to “Romney began by saying that he wanted to bring down the deficit; now he stresses lower tax rates. Both are admirable aims, but they could well be contradictory: so which is his primary objective? His running-mate, Paul Ryan, thinks the Republicans can lower tax rates without losing tax revenues, by closing loopholes”. Of course, the magazine is in correct in its assertion that there is a contradiction yet, it is incorrect to argue that lowers are positive.

It adds that this is not the only area where there is little real policy, “Romney is promising both to slim Leviathan and to boost defence spending dramatically. So what is he going to cut? How is he going to trim the huge entitlement programmes? Which bits of Mr Ryan’s scheme does he agree with?”.

It concludes tellingly “Romney may calculate that it is best to keep quiet: the faltering economy will drive voters towards him. It is more likely, however, that his evasiveness will erode his main competitive advantage. A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper. Indeed, all this underlines the main doubt: nobody knows who this strange man really is. It is half a decade since he ran something. Why won’t he talk about his business career openly? Why has he been so reluctant to disclose his tax returns? How can a leader change tack so often? Where does he really want to take the world’s most powerful country?”.

Qatar’s proxy

30/08/2012

President Morsi of Egypt has during the summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, “likened the uprising in Syria to the revolutions that swept away longtime leaders in North Africa. ‘The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,’ Mr. Morsi said, suggesting that all parties at the gathering shared responsibility for the bloodshed. ‘We must all be fully aware that this will not stop unless we act.’ Mr. Morsi, pointedly, did not mention unrest in Bahrain, possibly to avoid offending Saudi Arabia, which has helped Bahrain’s monarchy suppress the uprising. With the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sitting beside him, Mr. Morsi spoke of an ‘oppressive regime’ in Syria and said the opposition should unite in its effort to unseat President Bashar al-Assad”.

A 265 billion barrel reserve?

30/08/2012

Amy Jaffe discusses the interdependence between Saudi Arabia and he United States.

She writes that the recent leak by the administration that it might use the 700 million barrel Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is most likely a hint “that Washington wants Gulf countries to take action to lower oil prices. It might also have been an attempt to wring the risk premium out of current prices by reassuring the market that America won’t let a potential war with Iran shut off the spigot”.

She goes on to argue that “The one thing we can say for sure is that the announcement highlights two interrelated problems with U.S. energy policy: that every president since Ronald Reagan has used Saudi Arabia as his de facto SPR and that there exist no clear standards for when to dip onto the actual SPR. Both problems have the potential to bite us — badly”. The problem with this argument however is that according to the Energy Information Administration, 50% of imported oil into the United States comes from, that bastion on instability and danger, Canada.

Her point that the use of the SPR is not regulated is however well taken. Indeed, it is suprising that no such regulation’s have been put in place at all.  She does argue cogently however that “Over the years, the United States has been surprisingly reluctant to release SPR during times of crisis, preferring instead to let Saudi Arabia handle the problem by simply increasing its production. For decades, in fact, U.S. presidents have been able to count on the Middle Eastern petro giant to pre-release oil in anticipation of times of war. For example, Riyadh flooded the market ahead of the first Gulf War and, though many do not remember, it also put extra oil on the market ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003”.  She adds that the Saudis obliged again this spring by raising production.

She goes on to mention that “The most obvious is that the Saudis have come under increased pressure — both internal and external — as a result of their longstanding oil-for-security alliance with Washington. Iran has warned its fellow Gulf producer not to make up the slack resulting from American and European sanctions, threatening direct retaliation if it does”. However, this may simply be an empty threat on Iran’s part with Saudi Arabia well aware that its own security is guaranteed by America.  Jaffe tends to overlook this, rather important, aspect of the relationship. Indeed, there was a threat of Iraqi incursion into Saudi territory in the 1991 war but this, of course, did not occur.

She does add however that as a result of these threats from Iran, “Saudi Arabia isn’t taking any chances. In recent months, it has arrested prominent Shiite dissidents — always suspected of possible ties to Iran –and doubled the number of Saudi National Guard forces in the Eastern Province, home to the vast majority its 2 million-plus Shiite citizens as well as the close to 90 percent of its oil production”.

She goes on to mention that “Oil markets might have taken solace in Saudi preparedness until rumors surfaced of an assassination attempt aimed at the kingdom’s intelligence chief, a move purported to be a revenge killing by Iranfor similar assassinations of senior military leaders in Syria. The rumors proved to be false, but like much of the region’s murky political intrigue, it moved markets”. Jaffe continues building on the theme of instability, noting “Saudi Arabia’s own rumored pursuit of new nuclear-style ballistic missiles from China adds an additional layer of uncertainty about a nuclear arms race in the region”. She says that the kingdom has many problems such as political instability and economic challenges as well as problems with ever increasing native oil consumption. Yet these problems, though difficult, are not insurmountable given disive leadership. She mentions that “Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment predicts that Saudi Arabia will be forced to run budget deficits from 2014 onwards, even at a break-even price forecast of $90.70 per barrel in 2015. Other forecasts are even bleaker in the medium term, estimating the breakeven price at $110 a barrel in 2015. Either way, the kingdom’s thirst for cash is likely to mean that U.S. and Saudi interests diverge”.
She concludes that “The oil-for-security deal between the two countries has destabilized the kingdom in the past by igniting support for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”. Yet, she writes in the past tense and fails to acknowledge the work down by the late Crown Prince Nayef in this regard. She thankfully notes “the common interest in containing Iran has brought Saudi oil policy closer in line with White House goals — at least for now. Saudi oil shipments to the United States have been on the upswing this year — a reversal of previous policy that favored sales to China”.

Finally she argues “Not only does Washington need to break its habit of falling back on the Saudis, it needs clearer definitions for the goals and mechanisms of an SPR release. It should also consider requiring U.S. refiners to hold a mandated minimum level of gasoline inventories”. However, she overstates the problems in the US/Saudi relationship but as has been stated above, her advice on the SPR is well made and should be implemented.

Decline, defined

30/08/2012

“Absolute decline, in which there is a loss of critical power resources or of the ability to use one’s own resources effectively, is less common than relative decline in which the power resources of others grow greater or are used more effectively. Neither type of decline requires nor implies domestic decay”.

Joseph Nye, Bound to Lead pg 16

“Promises far too much”

30/08/2012

The debate about American energy independence rolls on, with an article noting that Romney’s energy team “released its own plan, promising energy independence by the end of this decade. That plan contains important elements that Obama would benefit from adopting as his own. But ultimately, the Romney plan overpromises on results while ignoring many of the biggest energy problems the United States faces”.

He goes on to describe some of the GOP plan that would entail “Romney plan solves that problem by substituting a narrow fossil-fuel production strategy for a genuinely comprehensive plan. Much in that fossil-fuel strategy is reasonable. Romney would shift more power to the states by allowing them to approve drilling on their lands and near their coasts without federal intervention. He would streamline environmental reviews, in part through clear deadlines, and in part by handing more control to the states”.

Yet this is exactly the opposite of what should be happening. The Federal Government through the Department of Energy and up to the president should effectively control the states in this area. By handing control to the states this would mean that local concerns would take precedence. While the DoE and president woudl have, by defination, a national picture, rather that merely a local one, seeing all of the problems and benefits rather than just the next gubernatorial election.

The author goes on to argue that “the Romney plan promises far too much as a result of these policy shifts. It extensively cites recent Citigroup research to back up its claims its contention that North America could eliminate all imports by 2020 as well as to support its claims about jobs and economic growth. Yet that study is not just about oil supplies — it assumes that the United States will continue with strict fuel economy standards that lower its oil demand. Romney, though, has argued that such standards are the wrong way to go, and proposes no alternative scheme in his energy plan. The plan also promises ‘freedom from dependence on foreign energy supplies.’ As I explained in a Foreign Policy essay earlier this year, achieving energy independence through expanded supplies is a pipe dream”.

Levi adds that as “long as the United States is part of a global market, domestic crude prices will rise in the face of turmoil overseas, putting the U.S. economy at risk and constraining U.S. freedom of action. The only way to break that link without clashing U.S. oil consumption is to bar energy exports from the United States altogether — something that Romney, quite correctly, has explicitly opposed”.

He goes on to write that “the Romney plan would (rightly) permit pipeline infrastructure that would raise the price of Canadian oil by giving Canadian producers full access to the world market”. Levi does argue that there will be job growth, as per the Romney plan but “according to the Citigroup study that is the source of the Romney figure, 785,000 of the jobs would come from the improved fuel economy that Romney would no longer pursue”.

He mentions that the Romney plan does not address the consumption that, Levi argues, leaves America liable to upsets in both foreign and domestic policy. However as long as the price of oil remains high, America will be better placed that most other nations in the world to take advantage of technology and geography to become more secure in this regard.

Shaped by Rand

30/08/2012

Paul Ryan’s policy has been shaped by “Rand’s ideas on Ryan’s outlook is marked, though uneven and sometimes overstated. Religion, in particular, has driven a wedge between Ryan, who would enact Catholic dogma into law, and Rand, an atheist, who championed the separation of church and state. But what has received far less attention is Ryan’s outlook on foreign policy — and whether it bears the mark of Rand’s thought. Ayn Rand’s foreign policy, if we can construct one from her writings, would be grounded in her view of man’s rights and the nature of government. In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand argues that the ideal government is the servant, not the master, of the individual”.

A real and visible threat

30/08/2012

What these pages have consistently tried to do is warn of the dangers of underestimating China’s weakness, with its economy flatlining and restitive populace, it is no future global leader but facing long, perhaps violent decline.

Thus, when Dr Walt argues that “you might have missed the latest round of threat inflation about China. Last week, the New York Times reported that China was ‘increasing its existing ability to deliver nuclear warheads to the United States and to overwhelm missile defense systems.’  The online journal Salon offered an even more breathless appraisal: the headline announced a ‘big story’–that “China’s missiles could thwart U.S.”–and the text offered the alarming forecast that ‘the United States may be falling behind China when it comes to weapon technology.’ What is really going on here?  Not much”.

Walt goes on to make the point that “China presently has a modest strategic nuclear force.  It is believed to have only about 240 nuclear warheads, and only a handful of its ballistic missiles can presently reach the United States.  By way of comparison, the United States has over 2000 operational nuclear warheads deployed on ICBMs, SLBMs, and cruise missiles, all of them capable of reaching China.  And if that were not enough, the U.S. has nearly 3000 nuclear warheads in reserve”. While all of this is true, it is quite unnerving that a regime such as China has missiles aimed at the United States. Many would say that is is hpycritical, however, due to China’s inherent instability it would be a mistake to view the current and future leadership as they present themselves, dry technocrats wanting only the best for China and its neighbours.

Walt argues that “China is understandably worried by U.S. missile defense efforts.  Why?  Chinese officials worry about the scenario where the United States uses its larger and much more sophisticated nuclear arsenal to launch a first strike, and then relies on ballistic missile defenses to deal with whatever small and ragged second-strike the Chinese managed to muster”, however, this has been dealt with above, America has much more reason to fear China’s instability than for China to fear America.

He goes on to write that China is “doing precisely what any sensible power would do: they are trying to preserve their own second-strike deterrent by modernizing their force, to include the development of multiple-warhead missiles that would be able to overcome any defenses the United States might choose to build”.

He adds that “First, hawks are likely to use developments such as these to portray China as a rising revisionist threat, but such claims do not follow logically from the evidence presented. To repeat: what China is doing is a sensible defensive move”. Yet, while this is perhaps true in relation to the United States directly, indirectly the United States should be concerned what is happening in the seas around China and how it is acting to allies of the America. Indeed, China’s own hamfisted diplomacy in the region and general aggression, if reduced would allow those like Dr Walt to put forward a far more persuasive argument.

Walt goes on to argue that “if you wanted to cap or slow Chinese nuclear modernization, the smart way to do it would be to abandon the futile pursuit of strategic missile defenses and bring China into the same negotiating framework that capped and eventually reduced the U.S. and Russian arsenals”, indeed this is exactly what the United States aims at. China has made no such statements.

He concludes making a sensible point about missile defence systems.

An illustrious member

30/08/2012

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir stands charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating a campaign of genocide in Darfur. So what better place to defend oneself than with a seat on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council? A couple of months back, Sudan was quietly included on a slate of five African countries — the others are Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone — due to run unchallenged for seats on the 47-member council this November”.

The Syrian testing ground

30/08/2012

Now the the crisis in Syria is spreading beyond its own borders and that some have noted that American policy needs to change towards Syria, others have argued that the crisis in Syria can prepare the region for Iran

The writer mentions that “In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman argued for stepped-up U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war. They called for providing Syria’s rebels with weapons, training, and intelligence. They also called on the United States to support the establishment of safe zones inside Syria, to be protected by U.S. air power and other capabilities (but not American ground troops)”.

He goes on to write that “Failure to take these steps, they argued, would prolong Syria’s bloody civil war, boost the role of Islamic radicals such as al Qaeda, increase the chance that Syria’s chemical weapons will end up in dangerous hands”. Hadddick cogently argues that “shortening Syria’s war, determining which factions come out on top, and seizing control of Syria’s most threatening weapons in the midst of chaotic combat are goals very likely beyond the grasp of U.S. policymakers, at least at reasonable cost. The senators’ rationale for U.S. intervention implies an ability to influence events in Syria beyond what seems feasible”. He goes on to say that if American intervention does on end the conflict quickly, and there is no assurance that it will, then Haddick argues that America could be drawn into a prolonged fight on many sides.

He makes the point that “U.S. policymakers should instead focus on strengthening America’s diplomatic position and on building irregular warfare capabilities that will be crucial in future conflicts in the region. Modest and carefully circumscribed intervention in Syria, in coordination with America’s Sunni allies who are already players in the war, will bolster critical relationships and irregular warfare capabilities the United States and its allies will need for the future”.

He adds that GCC countries have clashed with Iran in regional conflicts such as Yemen and Iraq, he mentions that “Qatar, whose special forces played a large role in the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, is a major sponsor, alongside Saudi Arabia, of the rebels in Syria. On the other side, the capture this week of 48 Iranian Revolutionary Guard advisers by the Syrian rebels illustrates Iran’s role in the country. This kind of irregular warfare will very likely continue to be the most common manifestation of the security competition between Iran and the Sunni countries”.

He goes on, making the point that “This kind of irregular warfare will very likely continue to be the most common manifestation of the security competition between Iran and the Sunni countries”. Haddick goes on to argue that “For the United States, supporting Syria’s rebels would constitute a classic unconventional warfare campaign, a basic Special Forces mission. Such missions are typically covert and usually performed in cooperation with regional allies. So, U.S. and GCC intelligence officers and special forces could use an unconventional warfare campaign in Syria as an opportunity to exchange skills and training, share resources, improve trust, and establish combined operational procedures. Such field experience would be highly useful in future contingencies”.

He makes the crucuial point that “Rather than committing to the goal of overthrowing the Assad regime, an elusive task that could result in an unpleasant spiral of escalation, the U.S. should limit itself to the goal of growing coalition irregular warfare expertise”.
The writer goes on to say that in line with these goals “U.S. policymakers should consider the limited use of air power — for example, drones for intelligence-gathering and close air support. Since the principal U.S. goal would be the buildup of GCC irregular warfare capacity, GCC intelligence and special forces officers should have the lead”.

Haddick lays out an excellent argument, and it should be taken seriously. It is in the interests of America, the GCC member states as well as the region as a whole. Any and all attempts should be made to stop Iran attaining nuclear weapons, even as evidence builds that the government there is speeding up the process.

Hollande urges recognition

30/08/2012

France has urged “world recognition of a shadow Syrian government that the United States considers premature. In making his plea, French President Francois Hollande became the first Western leader to call on Syria’s rebel movement to form a provisional government, putting additional pressure on President Obama to back the diplomatic gambit or authorize U.S. military action to protect civilians”.

Bubbling in Bahrain

28/08/2012

With President Morsi consolidating power in Egypt and the problems of Libya attempting to be dealt with the problems of Bahrain continue.

It has been argued that “Bahrain postponed verdicts in the controversial trial of 13 high-profile opposition leaders until September 4. Their legal battle may be receiving little media attention, but it reveals much about the uncertain political scene in the strategically important country”.

She goes on to mention that “government has not managed to use last year’s famous inquiry by M. Cherif Bassiouni’s commission to draw a line under the events of 2011. As a result, the public remains polarized, though more on political than on sectarian grounds, while the protest movement has survived the detention of key leaders. Meanwhile, the root causes of the uprising remain unaddressed”. She writes that “inquiry into last year’s unrest, commonly known as the Bassiouni report, was intended to be the basis for a national consensus on the causes of and the events during the uprising, as well as making recommendations for human rights reforms” yet as ever “despite public relations efforts by the Bahraini government, its recommendations have not been fully implemented. Various practices criticized in the report — from nighttime house raids to imprisonment for offenses involving political expression — are recurring”.

She adds that “the frustrated opposition shows signs of further radicalization. A small but increasing minority of protesters lob Molotov cocktails and iron rods at security forces and police stations and are looking for new ways to improvise weapons. While the mainstream opposition leaders routinely condemn violence, a rising number of voices online are seeking to justify violence as ‘self-defense’ or ‘resistance.'” The Bahraini government must surely realise that if it does not act the radicals will become more radical. Not only that but there will be an ever greater restlessness in the population for change, which the radicals could sieze on and manipulate to their own ends.

She argues that those pushing for reform have been stymied by the simple fact “that almost all of the senior decision makers who oversaw last year’s crackdown have retained their posts”, adding that “There remain differences within the royal family, the Al Khalifa, over whether to make concessions to the opposition and how to handle any process of dialogue. Such divides manifest in mixed messages”.

She concludes that “Unlike Waad and Wefaq, these more revolutionary or rejectionist opposition groups have always refused to participate in the half-elected parliament, given its limited powers, and have focused instead on direct action and street protests. Their call for a republic was one of the tipping points in last year’s uprising, representing a red line for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies, which sent troops into Bahrain just one week later”.

 

The ony hope now for the monarchy is to isolate these radicals and slowly allow some of the reforms in the report to be implemented. Failure to do otherwise would be dangerous for the monarchy and regional security more generally.

The Saudis go shopping

28/08/2012

Except it’s not for handbags or cars but weapons, noting “a new Congressional Research Service report which finds that U.S. arms sales reached a record high of $66.3 billion last year, more than three quarters of the total global arms market. About half of that comes from sales to Saudi Arabia”. It adds that “purchase is several times the size of Iran’s entire defense budget. Put it another way, that purchase alone would give Saudi Arabia the world’s 11th highest military spending.”

“Doing too much”

28/08/2012

With the euro crisis dragging on and talk of a currency collapse, coupled with a rising lack of trust in the EU, two opinion polls done for The Irish Times in Germany and Ireland reveal some interesting facts. It mentions that Germans are ” favourably disposed to Ireland than to any of the other EU bailout countries”. Indeed this should not come as a shock, with Ireland being among the “best in class” for sticking to the “bailout” demanded by Merkel. However, this should not be taken as Ireland being resolutely pro-EU, it is down to their strange society where there is little societal pressure willing to voice the problems being faced. This can turn into suspicion and anger if left unchecked and lead to increasingly malolevant forces in the Irish populace. The report goes on to mention that “German respondents had a broadly positive attitude to Ireland, with just 3 per cent of them wanting us out of the EU and a majority believing Irish people worked longer hours than they do”.

It adds worryingly, “Asked to assess how Germany was responding to the euro zone crisis, 52 per cent of Germans said their country was doing too much; 36 per cent said they were doing just enough, 6 per cent said not enough and 6 per cent had no opinion”.  The fact that the poll said 52% of Germans thought their country was doing too much is both astounding and unsuprising. It is barely belivable that Germans think they are doing too much, yet at the same time explains why the euro crisis has dragged on for so long, due almost entiely down to German inaction.

The currency was the great Franco-German project that would free the lowly peoples of the European continent from thier squalid nationalisms and unite them all into one family. Except now that the currency is only half a currency, the most pro-EU, and understandably anti-nationalist Germans are unwilling to pay to save the project they, or perhaps more accurately, their leaders pushed ahead with.

The report goes on to mention that of “the bailout countries, 46 per cent of Germans felt Ireland was trying hard to fix its economy, 23 per cent said we should try harder and the remainder had no opinion. By contrast, 13 per cent of Germans felt Greece was trying hard, 78 per cent felt it should try harder and 9 per cent had no opinion. The other two bailout countries came in between. On Portugal, 32 per cent of Germans said the country was trying hard, 45 per cent said it should try harder and 23 per cent had no opinion. On Spain, 31 per cent said it was trying hard, 56 per cent said it should try harder and 13 per cent had no opinion. Asked which, if any, of the bailout countries they felt should leave the European Union, 3 per cent said Ireland, 5 per cent said Portugal and Spain and 42 per cent said Greece”.

Interestingly, “A total of 49 per cent of German respondents said none of the bailout countries should leave the EU, while 8 per cent had no opinion”. This number, if accurate, shows that Germany has some understanding of the gravity of the situation, yet at the same time 42% said Greece should leave. This of course shows the dangers of populism and thus to ruin.

The report goes on to discuss tax, working hours and other related issues. It concludes “Asked to assess the German response to the euro crisis, 44 per cent of Irish respondents said it was doing just enough, 20 per cent said it was being asked to do too much, 24 per cent said not enough and 11 per cent did not know”.

The Germans and Irish have more in common than was once thought, they are both deluding themselves.

Another day another discovery

28/08/2012

Reports say that “Statoil, Norway’s largest oil company, discovered oil at the Geitungen prospect in the North Sea in a potential expansion of the Johan Sverdrup deposit, Norway’s largest oil find since 1974. As much as 270 million barrels of recoverable oil equivalent was found at Geitungen, which is located 3 kilometres north of the Sverdrup discovery, Statoil said in a statement”, it adds that “Data indicates that the there is probably a link between the two finds, the company said. The Johan Sverdrup discovery has been estimated to hold as much as 3.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent”.

Spillover from Syria

28/08/2012

The effects are already being seen, the conflict in Syria is spliing over into neighbouring Lebanon. The joint authors of the piece write “In 2006, as Iraq spiraled downward into the depths of intercommunal carnage, we conducted a study of spillover from recent civil wars in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere in order to identify patterns in how conflicts spread across borders. Since then, Iraq itself, along with Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen, have furnished additional examples of how dangerous spillover can be”.  The anology is taken too far in this instance however by including Afghanistan and Libya in this list. The neighbouring countries of both these nations were already weak and disorganised, this is especially true of Pakistan, and there was little that could have been lost by America defending its vital interests in Afghanistan, and supposedly making things “worse”.

They continue that Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Israel are some of the nations that have been effected. Though, in the long run, some have argued that a selection of countries will actually benefit from the eventual demise of the regime. They write that “much will depend on how exactly this spillover plays out — and certainly no one yet knows what will happen in the wildly unpredictable war for control of Syria. But if past informs present, the intensity of the war effect typically correlates strongly to the intensity of the spillover, often with devastating consequences. At their worst, civil wars in one country can cause civil wars in neighboring states or can metastasize into regional war. And it’s the severity of the spillover that should dictate the appropriate response”.

They go on to posit that there are five patterns of spillover. The first they argue is refugees. The fleeing of Christians, some Catholic, has been mentioned here before but also Shia Muslims and others closely tied to the regime. They go on to mention terrorism noting “after years of punishing U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, al Qaeda’a core is weak, but its offshoots remain strong in countries wracked by internal conflict such as Yemen and Somalia. The most recent flare-up is in Mali, where fighters fleeing Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya fled with arms looted from his arsenals, and have seized parts of Mali, in some areas even imposing a draconian form of Islamic law. While there had been intermittent rebellions in Northern Mali for years, the civil war in Libya vastly increased the capability of the rebels and created a worse terrorism problem for the region, andpotentially for the world”. Yet some terrorist groups will be weakened from Syria as well as Iran itself. Though it is hard to say what will replace them, but some kind of Qatari/Saudi backed Sunni state seems most likely at this moment in time.

The third of the five is secessionism. Some have mentioned that the attachment to the Syrian state, irrespetive of the regime is already weak and this will make any attempts any rebuilding it to say the least, hard, or perhaps impossible. They write that “Sometimes it is the desire of one subgroup within a state to break away that triggers the civil war in the first place. In other cases, different groups vie for control of the state, but as the fighting drags on, one or more groups may decide that their only recourse is to secede. At times, a minority comfortable under the old regime may fear discrimination from a new government”. Fouthly they identify radicalisation noting “One of the most ineffable but also one of the most potent manifestations of spillover is the tendency for a civil war in one country to galvanize and radicalize neighboring populations. They regularly radicalize neighboring populations when a group in a neighboring state identifies with a related group caught up in the civil war across the border”.

Lastly, they mention intervention, arguing “perhaps the most dangerous form of spillover is when neighboring states intervene in a civil war, transforming a local conflict into a regional one. Perversely, the goal is often to diminish the risks of spillover such as terrorism and radicalization. But it can take many forms: intervening in a limited fashion either to shut down the civil war, to help one side win, or just to eliminate the source of the spillover”.

Among the effects, they note that “Jordan has escaped relatively unscathed, but that may not last. Amman already faces huge challenges from its Palestinian and Iraqi refugee populations, and now refugees from Syria have begun to flow in (almost 40,000 officially at last count, but other sources put the number closer to 140,000). Syrian army and Jordanian border patrol forces have clashed as the Jordanians have tried to help Syrian refugees. Moreover, many Jordanians, including not only those of Palestinian descent but also the monarchy’s more traditional supporters, have lost patience with King Abdullah II’s endless unfulfilled promises of reform triggering rioting and terrorism there unrelated to Syria’s troubles”.

Worse will come.

“From exporter to importer”

28/08/2012

Reports note that, Venezuela, the nation that possess the world’s largest reserves of oil, at 295 billion barrels has begun importing gas, largely due to the incompentence of Hugo Chavez.

An interesting day

28/08/2012

Open Euope notes that “On 12 September, elections will take place in the Netherlands. Due to the country’s traditional role as an ally to Germany in monetary affairs, they will be watched with close attention (and by coincidence the German Constitutional Court is due to rule on the ESM Treaty the same day)”.

It would be hard for the German court to block the ESM in toto, however, some have speculated that the court will add further restrictions on the German government in adding funds to the ESM. The blog post mentions that “latest opinion poll shows that caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-of-centre-liberal VVD party and the EU-critical left-wing Socialist Party would get the most votes, with each obtaining 34 seats in Parliament. Sniffing around third place are four parties: the social democratic PvdA (21), the Christian democratic CDA (16), Geert Wilders’ PVV (14) and the left-liberal D66 (13). The Christian Union, which sits with the Tories in the ECR-group in the European Parliament, would get around 7 seats, and GreenLeft 4″.

It goes on to note that the main coalition options, which it sees as “a centrist coalition might emerge from the VVD, PvdA and CDA. However, the polls suggest this currently falls a few seats short of the necessary majority. This coalition could be expanded to include D66, which would make for a eurofederalist formation, but this might not be convenient in the face of an EU-critical, although disparate, opposition composed of the Socialist Party and Wilders’ PVV.  Alternatively, the seats of the moderately EU-critical Christian Union might be sufficient but then the government would only have a narrow majority, if the current poll results materialise”.

The second option it notes “the preferred solution of the Dutch social democrats (PvdA), would be a government with the Socialist Party, CDA, and GreenLeft. This would only narrowly obtain a majority and probably also need the support of D66. While the CDA would need to be convinced, it is questionable whether a government led by what many consider a far-left party is a viable political option in the Netherlands”.

It concludes that “Other options are theoretically possible, but unlikely: the divisions between the VVD and Socialists look too deep, while it’s unlikely that the VVD would choose a new deal with Geert Wilders”. The post goes on to deal with the background of the election and the political climate with which it takes place in.

However, of greater interest is when it says that “daily De Volkskrant ran an article earlier this month noting that the current Dutch government has increasingly been playing EU hard-ball behind the scenes, under the headline ‘European patience with the annoying Dutch is almost up’. An EU diplomat was quoted as saying, ‘the problem is not that the Netherlands is obstructing, the problem is that the Netherlands is almost always obstructing'”. The post concludes that ” Given that around a third or more of the Dutch electorate now seem prepared to vote for more or less EU-critical parties, that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Still, it will make a big difference whether the Socialist Party will make it into government or not, and perhaps more symbolically, whether it will become the biggest party in the country. Both remain uncertain”.

Just another day in the eurozone.

“Shoddy construction”

26/08/2012

Reports state that “A section of a multi-million dollar bridge in China that opened in November has collapsed, leaving three people dead and five injured, state media say. Four lorries fell off the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin City, Heilongjiang province, when part of it collapsed, Xinhua news agency said. Shoddy construction and over-loading have been blamed for the incident, it added”. This is reminiscent of the train crash that killed many and was swiftly covered up.

Full of holes

26/08/2012

Christina Larson, in an excellent piece notes that the “trial” of Gu Kailai, “the 53-year-old wife of China’s dethroned political heavyweight Bo Xilai” is full of holes.

She mentions that the official narrative of the crime “Heywood perished in room 1605 of the 16th building of Chongqing’s Lucky Holiday Hotel” she adds that he “checked in on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, one day after he’d received a phone call in Beijing from Gu’s aide, Zhang, that she wished to meet with him in Chongqing for an unspecified reason. Since at least 2005, Heywood had been a business associate of the Bo family, facilitating connections with foreign companies and possibly more”. She goes on to write that “On Sunday, Gu visited his hotel room at around 9 p.m. She carried alcohol and tea, while Zhang waited in the hallway with two glass bottles: one contained a cyanide-laced poison, and the other drug capsules, which would be part of a cover-up story. Some time later, Heywood became so intoxicated drinking with Gu that he went to vomit in the bathroom. At Gu’s orders, Zhang then entered the room and helped to drag Heywood’s body to the bed. Heywood asked for water, but Gu dripped the cyanide compound into his mouth instead. Whether or not he registered what was happening to him was not specified. She later scattered the drug capsules nearby, perhaps to give the impression of an accidental overdose. When Gu and Zhang left the room, she flipped on the door’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ light and instructed hotel staff not to enter”.

She says that the trial and the events surrounding it are unbelievable. She writes that “Heywood’s vomit sample was said to contain cyanide ions, but the trial account holds that he vomited before being poisoned. Friends of Heywood have said he was a very light drinker, not someone given to binge drinking in a hotel room. The chain of custody of the blood sample extracted at the crime scene — as well as other evidence — is in doubt. (All of the material evidence from the crime scene — Heywood’s blood and vomit samples, as well as DNA material on bottle caps allegedly linked to Gu and Zhang — had to have been gathered, stored for several months, and transferred to court authorities by officials within Chongqing’s public security bureau, which the trial also alleges are guilty of earlier fraud and cover-up.)”

She goes on to write that “Perhaps the largest unresolved questions concern motive. The Chinese public is being asked to swallow the account of a worried mother who committed murder to defend the life of her only son — then residing on the campus of an elite university in the United States — against a British man in Beijing with no prior record of violent crime. Experts testified that Gu had received past treatment for insomnia, anxiety, depression, and paranoia. They said she had become dependent on ‘sedative hypnotic drugs.’ But insanity was not used as a defense; rather, Gu was simply alleged to have ‘weakened’ willpower to control her actions”.

She argues that Chinese police interviewed hundreds of people but she writes that “but one must take on faith that such evidence was not, like the false interviews initially recorded by Chongqing’s police department, concocted”. Larson mentions that “the conviction rate in 2009 for rate for first- and second-instance criminal trials was 99.9 percent, according to the China Law Yearbook, a reference series published by the China Law Society. (That year, 997,872 criminal defendants were tried in China; just 1,206 were acquitted.)”.

Perhaps most importantly of all she adds that “One way to think of the Gu courtroom drama is as a show trial with two purposes: to make Gu look like a murderess (which she may be, although for different motives), and to make the Chinese legal system appear to be functioning fairly (which it almost certainly is not). After all, the appearance of evidence and deliberation is just that — appearance”.

Larson ends that “The trial’s most notable feature may be its striking omission. There was no recorded mention of Bo Xilai, either his whereabouts or his knowledge of events. But surely the mafia-like state of Chongqing politics — in which Bo’s strong, ruthless, and ubiquitous personal and party networks enabled everything he accomplished, from real-estate deals to cracking down on crime — constituted the essential background drama”.

Naturally the talk of the trial will continue as long as the details remain so elusive.

Another victory against evil

26/08/2012

It has been reported by the BBC that a “key commander in the Pakistan-based militant Haqqani network has been killed in a US drone strike, according to a family member and local sources. Badruddin Haqqani died last Tuesday in North Waziristan, a relative said. The death has not been confirmed by US or Pakistani officials. The Haqqani network has carried out high-profile attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan. If confirmed, the death would be a major victory for US forces, correspondents say”.

LCWR fightback

26/08/2012

The debate between the Holy See and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) continues.

A press release states that the LCWR recieved calls from people around the world “urging that the response be one that helps to reconclie the differences that exist within the Catholic Church and creates space for honest and open on the critical moral and ethical questions that face the global community”. Naturally, this cannot be verified in any strict sense, but the fact that the LCWR felt that it needed to be said, albeit, with some cover, shows how stridently they view the issues they support. The release goes on to describe how various LCWR members across the United States met to discuss the report, it states that “the participants expressed the hope of maintaining the LCWR’s official role representing US women religious in the Catholic Church”. Similarly, the fact that the note mentions “the hope” says volumes. This could be read in two ways; firstly that the groups “official role” would not be “transfer” to the more theoligically orthodox Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). Secondly it could be interpreted as a veiled threat to Rome that the LCWR would voluntarly, dissolve itself rather than submit to Rome’s demands for it to change. The release mentions that “open and honest dialouge may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church”. This latter reference is an obvious reference to “women priests”, that he group supports, despite Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of 22 May 1994, issued by John Paul II.

The president of the umbrella body that represents the vast majority of women religious orders in the United States, Patricia Farrell, OSF gave an address at the LCWR annual convention, “Navigating the Shifts”. Interestingly she opened noting that “Some larger movement in the Church, in the world, has landed on LCWR”. She seems to imply that the LCWR had no role in seeking the apostolic visistation and that it was simply passive in its work and was suprised by the call from the Holy See that there would be a visisation.

During the address she goes on to say that “I think it would be a mistake to make too much of the doctrinal assessment. We cannot allow it to consume an inordinate amount of our time and energy or to distract us from our mission. It is not the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the institutional Church. Nor will it be the last”. Indeed, there is some truth in this. The homeless shelters and clinics run the the groups members cannot, and must not, just cease to operate while this is going on. However, there is as has been said here before a fork in the road for the long term future of the group and how it sees its mission and what can and cannot be compromised on. As Farrell herself says “I also think it would be a mistake to make too little of the doctrinal assessment. The historical impact of this moment is clear to all of us. It is reflected in the care with which LCWR members have both responded and not responded”. She then goes on to describe how the group can navigate through its current time with the two most noteworthy being through prophetic voice and solidarity with the marginalised. Neither of these, or any of the others Farrell mentions leads the reader to the belief that the group will bow to Rome’s demands.

This is seen when a brief press release was issued after the meeting with Archbishop Sartain, which stated that “The expectation of the LCWR members  is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church. Furthermore, the assembly instructed the board to articulate its belief that religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised”.

A USCCB statement was then issued by Sartain on the LCWR which noted “Along with the members of the LCWR, I remain committed to working to address the issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue.  We must also work toward clearing up any misunderstandings, and I remain truly hopeful that we will work together without compromising Church teaching or the important role of the LCWR.  I look forward to our continued discussions as we collaborate in promoting consecrated life in the United States”.

Lastly, NPR carried an interview with a president emeritus of the LCWR, Mary Hughes. It looks as if the LCWR and Rome are preparing for a fight which could prove very public and very negative for both sides. If such a fight does occur Rome will almost certainly win, in one sense, but lose in every other meaning of the word.

Piling on the pressure

26/08/2012

French President Francois Hollande has urged Greece to prove it can pass reforms demanded by international creditors, after talks with Greek leader Antonis Samaras. Mr Samaras has been appealing for more time to introduce the reforms”. It could be argued that Hollande is doing this simply to move Merkel to deal with Spain and Italy.

A religion of peace

25/08/2012

After the recent collapse of the Iranian nunclear talks, and reports note that “Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to report soon that, despite efforts at sabotage, Iran has sped up work on its nuclear enrichment program”.

An interesting argument has been published. In it she argues that “harnessing moral and religious norms as a source of nuclear restraint. Incongruous as it may seem, Iran’s leaders have repeatedly stated that nuclear weapons are ‘un-Islamic.'”

She goes on to write that “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa, a religious decree, in 2004, describing the use of nuclear weapons as ‘immoral.’ In a statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in August 2005, the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Sirus Naseri, read a statement reiterating Khameini’s fatwa that ‘the production, stockpiling, or use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam.’ Many regime figures have repeated the prohibition, including Khamanei himself”.

She mentions that “Iran’s leaders could be dissembling, of course, as part of their effort to mislead the international community. But no one forced them to say this — let alone to repeat it publicly — and Khameini has not repudiated this fatwa even as Iran’s nuclear program has advanced. It would be strange for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its adherence to Islam to keep asserting this point if it were really totally insincere”. This point however overlooks the fact that the Iranian regime, to cling to some form of legitimacy, in this case Islam, must be seen to be Islamic to the people of Iran. Thus, this particular point is not well made and can therefore be overlooked.

She then takes the flawed premise and writes that “We don’t need to take the Iranians at face value, but why not take advantage of the opening their own words provide? The international community should capitalize on this element of restraint. We should hold them to it”, adding later on in the piece that “Diplomats should refer to the statements approvingly and frequently. President Obama should use his rhetorical gifts to publicly acknowledge the Iranian prohibition and state that, as a person of faith himself, he respects and welcomes the testament. The goal would be to invoke Islamic moral values as a positive contribution to both Iranian and global nuclear restraint”. This is certainly somewhere that the United States and its allies could use as leverage to go over the heads of the Iranian leadership and use this to pressure the regime by using the regime’s own arguments.

She then argues that “A second approach would involve “Track II” diplomacy. This would entail holding conferences that bring together religious scholars and ethicists from different religions, along with government officials and nuclear strategists from key countries to discuss ethical constraints on nuclear weapons. This would be a good project for foundations to support. This strategy — a normative one — would not replace sanctions. Rather, by invoking Islam’s moral contribution in a positive way, and by connecting it to longer term efforts toward global nuclear disarmament, it could help provide Iranian leaders with the political cover and respect to engage in negotiations over their nuclear program”.

She concludes “Like anything else, this moral appeal may not work. But there is little to lose”. This is true but, as she argues, it must work with other strategies to bring Iran to abandon its programme and the consequences that it could bring to the region, and beyond.

A positive sign

25/08/2012

The BBC reports that “More than 100 tanks have been seized from a militia group loyal to former Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, government officials say. Nearly 30 rocket launchers were also captured when security forces raided a camp in Tarhuna, near Tripoli. The officials say the Brigade of the Faithful group was behind last Sunday’s car bombings which killed two people”. This is exactly what the new government must do to gain respect and bring the country into normalcy.

Benefits of Chinese economic collapse

25/08/2012

As there is ever increasing evidence for the end of the Chinese “miracle” some have argued that this is not neccesarily a bad thing.

Patrick Chovanec is interviewed for CFR and says that “what happened in 2008 was primarily due to external causes–a fall-off in exports caused by the economic crisis in the United States. What’s happening now in China is mainly due to internal reasons”. He adds that “The main growth driver of the past several years has been an investment boom that was engineered in response to the global financial crisis, the last slowdown, and this investment boom is buckling under its own weight. It’s not sustainable, and it has given rise to inflation and now to bad debt, and that bad debt is dragging down Chinese growth”.

When asked if a long term slowdown is due he replies that “China is due for correction. That correction will be good for China in the sense that a lot of the growth we’ve been seeing over the past several years is not sustainable and in many ways does more harm than good. So in some ways, slower growth, if it’s part of an adjustment toward a more sustainable growth path, is actually good”, adding later in his answer that if China’s leaders “resist a meaningful adjustment and if they try to pump up the economy even more–try to push this growth model to its limits and beyond–then the repercussions could be more damaging and painful than embracing any economic adjustment, painful as that might be”.

Chovanec adds later in the course of the interview that “the short-term response we have seen is to fixate on GDP growth. Even though they talk about the need for quality GDP growth over quantity”. He discusses the political implications of this slowdown during the CCP transisition year, arguing “The slowdown we are seeing, and particularly the pressures that it has created in the financial system and the credit system in China–the danger of default and the danger of a domino effect rippling through the Chinese economy–has pressed some difficult choices on [the] leadership at a point where they are least prepared to make decisions”.

The interviewer asks about the repercussions to the US and world economy, Chovanec answers that “for those countries–like Australia selling iron ore, Chile selling copper, Brazil selling iron ore, Germany selling machinery–they’re very exposed to this economic adjustment that’s taking place, this correction”, he goes on to mention that “if your goal over the long term is to sell to the Chinese consumer, and if you have an economy positioned to do that–if you’re a producer of finished goods or a producer of food–then this economic adjustment could be a good thing if it unlocks the buying power of the Chinese consumer”.

The political, and economic, consequences for the current Chinese model expiring while not apparent on a large scale currently will evenutally soon be visible for all too see. While this will bring internal turmoil to China and uncertainty to its neighbours in the short term, in the medium to long term it would allow talk an an “Asia century” to rightly fade and for the United States to reassert its global primacy for the good of world order.

The pivot debate goes on

25/08/2012

The debate about the American pivot to Asia continues.

Finally learning lessons

24/08/2012

The UK Govenment is finally learning lessons. Philip Hammond, Secretary of State of Defence has given an interview with the left leaning, Independent on the topic of security at the Olympic Games in London.

The article mentions that “G4S’s failure to provide enough Olympic security guards has taught ministers that private firms are unsuited to providing many public services, the Defence Secretary has admitted”, the piece adds that “Hammond said the G4S saga had caused him to rethink his scepticism towards the public sector – and made him appreciate there were some things that only state organisations like the Army could be relied upon to do”.

The piece closes noting “‘I’m learning that the application of the lean commercial model does have relevance in areas of the MoD but, equally, you can’t look at a warship and say, ‘How can I bring a lean management model to this?’ – because it’s doing different things with different levels of resilience that are not generally required in the private sector.’ Mr Hammond said he is considering legislating to make it illegal for employers to ask whether a potential employee is a member of the reserves. The Government needs to find another 15,000 reservists by 2020 to fill the gap left by cuts in the Army and the Defence Secretary is concerned some employers might avoid taking people on if they knew they would be called away”.

Many on the Right and as guilty as those on the Left for taking extremes in this debate. In this particular instance, the Right have found that the private sector does not inherently mean efficiency and better delivery of services. Many on the Left also have similar predjuces. They mistakenly believe everything the State does is correct and private enterprise should have no role. The rule for whether the State should provide services, or not, is the common good. Will the weakest in society benefit, or not. Of course the most dangerous assumption is that the State/private sector is inherently better than the other.

Storm in a teacup

24/08/2012

An article notes that “an estimated 7,000 Tunisians flocked through a broad boulevard in downtown Tunis to protest Article 28 of the recently released draft constitution. Most of the protesters were upper class, unveiled women strongly opposed to the country’s governing Islamist party, Ennahda”. She adds that “The full text of the draft was released on August 8, and a constitutional commission is scheduled to begin reviewing the proposed legislation in September. The draft includes the contentious Article 28, which some secularists believe explicitly refers to women as the ‘associates’ and ‘complements’ of men. A recent Reuters report quoted Article 28 as stipulating that women are ‘complementary to men.'”

“Lack of trust”

24/08/2012

As the tensions in Asia continue to mount some have noted that the divisions between the nations, both  historical and recent, are still very much present.

An author writing a piece on these tensions however says that “On paper, progress appears to be occurring rapidly. In 2010,China, Australia, and New Zealand implemented free trade arrangements with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), providing preferential access to each others’ markets. China, Japan and South Korea are negotiating a free trade agreement. Even erstwhile enemies China and Taiwan entered into an economic agreement that reduces trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas on both sides: trade between Taiwan and China reached $128 billion in 2011, a 13 percent increase from the previous year, when the agreement went into effect”. Yet, if tensions were simply a matter of economics, the world would be, and would have been, a much more peaceful place.

He writes that “East Asia’s patchwork of economic alliances is weighed down by history and hobbled by ineffective security arrangements. The region’s three biggest flashpoints stretch back decades, if not centuries, and are like volcanoes — mostly dormant but occasionally deadly”. He mentions the historical tensions that plauge the region, adding more specifically that “After Chinese guerrillas kicked out the Japanese in 1945, Mao Zedong and his Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949, an island China still claims (and at which it still points an estimated 1,000 missiles)”. He goes on to write that about the islands “known as Diaouyu in China and Taiwan, and Senkaku in Japan” of which there has been much written recently.

He writes that many Asian countries would seek alliances with each other, however he argues that “his is a region of shifting diplomatic sands, and mistrust continues to stymie apparently rational arrangements. Incredibly, there is only one regional alliance that requires a military response to an attack — it’s between China and North Korea, an agreement ‘sealed in blood,’ as China’s Defense Minister Liang Guanglie described it in 2009″.

Naturally enough he mentions the United States, saying that it has defence agreements “with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia, and close security partnerships (a step down from alliances) with Taiwan, Singapore, and Indonesia. But these agreements have not been tested since the Korean War”. He goes on to describe “the Five-Power Defense Arrangement, a pact between Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore signed in 1971″ as a “mere historical footnote”.

As a result of all this suspicion and living in the Hobbesian world that still exists, everywhere except Europe, he writes that “Military budgets are growing rapidly. China’s defense budget will nearly double in 3 years, Southeast Asian countries increased defense spending by an average of 13.5 percent in 2011, and Asia’s overall military spending will likely outstrip Europe’s for the first time this year. It’s just that Asian countries aren’t growing closer together”.

He ends noting that ASEAN “was not explicitly a defense pact” adding the Thailand and Cambodia had minor fighting recently. He argues that China’s “neighbors are nervous about its growing military muscle and nationalist rhetoric, they are reluctant to place their economies at risk by confronting it directly”, due of course to basic realist calculations. These of course, can change.

The Egypt of Morsi

24/08/2012

After the power grab by President Morsi of Egypt, a collection of essays, many covered here before, has been produced into a single document. The introduction of the document chillingly notes that “many now fear that he and the Muslim Brotherhood stand at the brink of nigh-totalitarian domination”.

Back from the dead

24/08/2012

As the presidential campaign enters its last, intense, months attention is turning to the other elections. The elections in the Senate has been under scrunity. However, the Tea Party , for all its positives and negatives, are part of this particular discussion.

An article notes that “The Tea Party is very much alive in the drive for Republican control of the Senate, portending a potential shake-up in the mind-set of the chamber. The easy Republican primary victory in Texas on Tuesday of Ted Cruz, the 41-year-old Sarah Palin-blessed upstart, virtually assured the latest Tea Party candidate a seat in the chamber next year. And he will not be alone when it comes to those backed by the movement, which propelled Republicans to control of the House in 2010”.

It adds that “The infusion of new conservative blood could alter the complexion of the Senate, increasing the sorts of conflicts between moderates and far-right Republicans disinclined toward compromise that have characterized the House for two years. From Indiana, where Richard E. Mourdock recently toppled the veteran Republican Senator Richard G. Lugar”. Interestingly it adds that “In Missouri, three Republicans are fighting to portray themselves as the candidate most strongly aligned with Tea Party values”. It adds that if theses candidates are elected they will move with Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-KT).

It makes the point that “As a result, the group could also present the sort of added aggravations for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, that befell the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, as he sought to draft difficult deals with Democrats and the White House at a time of a complex fiscal mess. Should Republicans gain control of the Senate — as they have a fair shot of doing — Mr. McConnell could find himself having to balance the demands of Republicans like Mr. Cruz against those of remaining centrists like Senator Susan Collins of Maine”.

The reason for this temporary resurgence is people like Olympia Snowe (R-ME) leaving Congress. It concludes, importantly, “The dynamic was not lost on Democrats. “I think it’s more of their problem than ours,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Democrats involved in campaigns further insist that Tea Party candidates will be disadvantaged among the much-coveted independent voters come November”.

With a divisive GOP ticket, President Obama may have a public too frightening to vote for a GOP both nationally and locally.

Romeny at Bain

24/08/2012

Romney privatised the gains and socialized the losses“.

China’s new leaders

24/08/2012

As the once in a decade handover of power in China is about to get underway this autumn it has been commented here before that this transistation could be the Communist Party’s last. Due largely to a failing economy and rising tensions with Japan and scandal in their own ranks all of which, taken together could transpire to bring the government down, through popular revolt or military coup, or both.

He writes that “Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to replace Hu Jintao, followed by Li Keqiang, whom party watchers expect will replace Wen Jiabao as premier. The next seven spots (or five or six; Hu Jintao is reportedly pushing for a smaller Standing Committee so that he maintains more influence after he steps down) are likely open and fiercely contested by roughly a dozen powerful men — and one woman. Wang Yang, party secretary of Guangdong, China’s most popular province and the subject of a profile in Foreign Policy’s latest issue is one contender”.

He writes that “Wang Qishan is currently the vice premier responsible for economic, energy, and financial affairs, serving under outgoing premier Wen. Wang’s former counterpart, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, called him ‘decisive and inquisitive,’ with a ‘wicked sense of humor.’ The son-in-law of the late Vice Premier Yao Yilin, Wang is one of the princelings, a group of often high-ranking leaders who are the sons and daughters of top officials”. The section concludes noting, “is almost certain to obtain a seat on the Standing Committee”.

Moving to Zhang Gaoli, Fish says that he is the “party secretary of the metropolis of Tianjin and an economist who formerly worked in the oil industry, Zhang is known as being low-key, even for a Chinese official. In 2011, Tianjin under his stewardship grew at 16.4 percent, the highest rate in China, tied with the metropolis of Chongqing. Zhang is seen as a protégé of Jiang Zemin and Jiang advisor Zeng Qinghong; he is known for his pro-market leanings, having served as party secretary of Shenzhen, China’s center of cowboy capitalism, from 1997 to 2001. But if Binhai, the development zone that has driven much of Tianjin’s growth, fails under Zhang’s stewardship, it could hurt his chances of promotion”.

He mentions Hu Chunhua who he says is seen “as an ally of Hu Jintao, ‘Little Hu,’ as he’s known in China (he’s unrelated to Hu Jintao) is party secretary of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a massive, coal-rich area in the country’s north. If the 49-year-old Hu does ascend to the Standing Committee, he will be the youngest member and possibly the core of the sixth generation of Chinese Communist Party leaders, a strong contender to replace Xi Jinping as party secretary in 2022. (Hu Jintao was also 49, and the youngest member, when appointed to the Standing Committee in 1992.)” Interestingly, Fish writes that “Hu Chunhua has extensive experience dealing with Chinese minorities, an important qualification given the instability of areas like Tibet and Xinjiang”.

The final two he makes note of are, Liu Yandong who is “the only woman in the 25-member Politburo, the decision-making body a rung down from the Standing Committee, Liu is state councilor, an assistant to China’s premier and vice-premiers. She’s seen as a protégé of both Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin”. Fish adds that she “is a princeling; her father was formerly a vice minister of agriculture and introduced Jiang Zemin’s adopted father to the Communist Party in 1927. She would be the first woman in Chinese Communist Party history to make it to the Standing Committee, though Liu, at 66, might be too old. The Politburo has an unofficial retirement age of 68″.

He closes mentioning  Yu Zhengsheng, the “Shanghai Party Secretary Yu’s career has had the most public vicissitudesof any current Chinese leader. In 1985, Yu’s brother, the former director of the Beijing National Security Bureau, defected to the United States. Yu, a princeling who reportedly had close ties to the family of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, managed to salvage his career and spent six years as the party secretary of Hubei province before being appointed to his current position in 2007. But everyone else on this list might have similar skeletons in their closet”.

It is almost impossible to tell where these people will take China in the coming decade, but the level of change facing the country, as much internally, as externally, will pressure these men to either adapt, or double down on state control. If they choose the latter they will be leading China further down a road it cannot last on.

Reform in North Korea?

24/08/2012

The North Korean regime will not change because Little Kim studied in Switzerland, likes Mickey Mouse, and has a hot wife“.

An all time low

24/08/2012

Open Europe reports that “Trust in the EU has, on average, reached an all-time low, now standing at 31% – a 3% decrease since autumn 2011. At the same time, the average level of trust in national governments and parliaments has increased, reaching 28% for both. Country-by-country results are equally worrying. Both in Greece and Spain, for instance, the level of trust in the respective governments has decreased since last autumn”

It goes on to report that “trust in the EU has dropped like a stone – and fallen to a much greater extent than trust in national governments. Only 19% of Greeks now trust the EU – down a full 10% in less than a year, while 21% of Spaniards, down 9%, say they ‘tend to trust’ the EU”, they go on to write that this “suggests that trust in the EU as a counter-balance to unpredictable national politics is starting to diminish. As we’ve argued repeatedly, a key deciding factor for the future of the euro will be if and when the tipping point occurs: when the Mediterranean countries start to associate the EU and/or the euro with outright pain and erosion of national self-determination”.

Worryingly for the future of the eurozone, it adds that “trust in the German government received a boost, increasing by 7% from the previous Eurobarometer. In the meantime, the number of Germans who ‘tend to trust’ the EU remained unchanged at 30%, while the number of those who ‘tend not to trust’ the EU rose to 61% – 4% higher than in autumn 2011”.

This in effect means that the EU is getting hammered for “bailing out” countries like Greece and its general handeling of the crisis, while that the same time it is getting hammered by countries like Greece that criticise it for not dealing with the crisis fast enough.

They conclude saying “The average share of Europeans who think that the EU is ‘best able’ to tackle the current economic crisis has decreased to 21%, down 23%, as big a share that think national governments are better placed”. As has been said here before, the EU has come up against something that they thought would have disappeared by now, nationalism. The fact that they pressed ahead with the political project that is the euro shows how both out of touch they were/are and at the same time how they assumed the peoples of the continent would simply accept what was needed to make the euro work, full political and economic integration, through the back door on the laughable assumption/hope that prosperity would continue.

Another step on the road

22/08/2012

Burma has “abolished direct media censorship on Monday, the latest dramatic reform by its quasi-civilian regime, but journalists face other formidable restrictions including a ban on private daily newspapers and a pervasive culture of self-censorship. Under the new rules, journalists no longer have to submit reports to state censors before publication, ending a practice strictly enforced during nearly half a century of military rule that ended in March last year”.

“Not be a rout for China”

22/08/2012

After the recent ASEAN summit ended in acrimony and the increasing level of disuputes between China and Japan, much of it driven by the citizens themselves, some have investiaged the possibility that if the two nations fought what the outcome might be.

Holmes mentions that a “Chinese major general, Luo Yuan, called on China to dispatch 100 boats to defend the Diaoyus. In an op-ed published Aug. 20, the nationalistic Chinese broadsheet Global Times warned,’Japan will pay a price for its actions … and the result will be far worse than they anticipated.'” He goes on to write that “In July, China’s East Sea Fleet conducted an exercise simulating an amphibious assault on the islands. China’s leaders are clearly thinking about the unthinkable. And with protesters taking to the streets to smash Japanese cars and attack sushi restaurants, their people may be behind them”.

Interestingly, he argues that “a naval war would not be a rout for China” and that “the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has accumulated several pockets of material excellence”. He adds that “If commanders manage their human, material, and geographic advantages artfully, Tokyo could make a maritime war with China a close-run thing — and perhaps even prevail”. He cites Japan winning the 1895 war with China, a war which eventually, led to China surrendering Taiwan to Japan.

He goes on to argue that ” A straightforward China-on-Japan war is doubtful unless Beijing manages to isolate Tokyo diplomatically — as wise practitioners of limited war attempt to do — or Tokyo isolates itself through foolish diplomacy”. Yet, while China would have great difficulty in isolating Japan, the second senario is possible, if not likely. This was seen firstly in the ASEAN summit where China pressured Cambodia and the result was a Chinese victory but the rest of ASEAN growing increasingly suspicious of China and its schemes. Secondly in order to maintain legitimacy the Communist Party could decide, if they fail to control public opinion in the first place, that war is an “easier” option than not.  Thus, the internal pressure to go to war among the Chinese people could be so great that the Party would have no other choice. However, this senario could only happen if the Chinese fail to reduce tensions. All this is happening at a time when the economy is slowing/imploding and the scandal over Bo/Gu is still fresh in the air.

Naturally, he says, “a conflict would probably ensnare the United States as an active combatant on the Japanese side”. He argues that “In raw numerical terms, there is no contest. Japansnavy boasts 48 “major surface combatants,” ships designed to attack enemy main fleets while taking a pounding themselves. For the JMSDF these include “helicopter destroyers,” or light aircraft carriers; guided-missile destroyers equipped with the state-of-the-art Aegis combat system“. He adds that this is “against the PLANavy‘s 73 major surface combatants, 84 missile-firing patrol craft, and 63 submarines, and the bidding appears grim for Japan. China’s navy is far superior in sheer weight of steel. But raw numbers can be misleading”.

He gives three reasons why numbers are not the entire story. He writes that “weapons are like “blackboxes” until actually used in combat: no one knows for sure whether they will perform as advertised. Battle, not technical specifications, is the true arbiter of military technology’s value. Accurately forecasting how ships, planes, and missiles will perform amid the stresses and chaos of combat thus verges on impossible”. He says, secondly, that “of material and human factors. The latter is measured in seamanship, gunnery, and the myriad of traits that set one navy apart from others. Mariners hone these traits not by sitting in port and polishing their equipment but by going to sea. JMSDF flotillas ply Asian waters continually, operating solo or with other navies. The PLA Navy is inert by comparison”. Lastly he argues that ” it’s misleading to reduce the problem solely to fleets. There will be no purely fleet-on-fleet engagement in Northeast Asia. Geography situated the two Asian titans close to each other: their landmasses, including outlying islands, are unsinkable aircraft carriers and missile firing platforms. Suitably armed and fortified, land-based sites constitute formidable implements of sea power. So we need to factor in both countries’ land-based firepower”.

He concludes “PLA conventional ballistic missiles can strike at land sites throughout Asia, putting Japanese assets at risk before they ever leave port or take to the sky. And China’s Second Artillery Corps, or missile force, has reportedly fielded anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) able to strike at moving ships at sea from the mainland”, adding importantly, that “doesn’t need to defeat China’s military in order to win a showdown at sea, because it already holds the contested real estate; all it needs to do is deny China access”. He finishes writing “Chinese leaders would be forced to consider how far a marine war would set back their sea-power project”.

Of course, this does not factor in the US Navy, which would be a different senario altogether.

History of wikileaks

22/08/2012

Assange’s website began life controversially but “Since 2010, however, it has been pretty hard to make the case that WikiLeaks is a neutral transmission system. Nearly all its major operations have targeted the U.S. government or American corporations. When WikiLeaks released U.S. government cables, its stated purpose was to reveal ‘the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors.’ By contrast, when it released Syrian government cables in July, Assange was quick to point out, ‘The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.’ This at a time when 14,000 people had already been killed in the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime”.

Just another plan?

22/08/2012

There have been many EU summits, each that ended on a small bounce for the markets. There was a brief moment when the world thought that Frau Merkel had relented, but that too turned out to be yet another false dawn.

Now there are reports that the German “representative” at the European Central Bank, Jörg Asmussen, “signalled full backing for the bond rescue plan of ECB chief Mario Draghi, brushing aside warnings from the German Bundesbank that large-scale purchases would amount to debt monetisation and a back-door fiscal rescue of insolvent states in breach of EU treaty law”.

The piece goes on to report that “Asmussen told the Frankfurter Rundschauthat the surge in Club Med bond yields over recent months ‘reflects fears about the reversibility of the euro, and thus a currency exchange risk’ rather than bad economic policies in struggling states. The choice of wording is crucial. If it can be shown that the ECB is acting to avert EMU break-up – known as ‘convertibility risk’ – bond purchases would no longer be deemed a bail-out for Italy and Spain. Mr Asmussen confirmed that purchases may be ‘unlimited’ in scale, a far cry from the half-hearted intervention of the past two years, which failed to stem capital flight”.

If this were to happen the euro crisis that has plauged the contient for two years would begin to subside. Asmussen seems to be the first German, in this crisis, attached to some form of reality. The fact that he is willing to ignore EU law is another positive step, though it remains to be seen if what he says will go ahead or not. The news article goes on to mention that “The Daily Telegraph can confirm reports in Der Spiegel that ECB technicians are examining plans to cap Spanish and Italian bond yields, among other options. This may prove to be the ‘game changer’ that critics around the world have been demanding for two years. The ECB’s director-general of market operations, Ulrich Bindseil, is spearheading the plans in talks with experts from the ECB’s family of national central banks. Market, monetary policy and risk management committees are working to put together a draft”.

However, it would be wise to use caution, as the report mentions that Asmussen’s “support for Mr Draghi is crucial. While the ECB can, in theory, enforce its policy by majority vote, it would be hazardous to do so against German opposition. ‘This is a significant turning point,’ said Raoul Ruparel from Open Europe. ‘Asmussen was hand-picked for the role by Merkel. It means that Draghi has managed to crack what seemed like a solid German wall.'” The report goes on to say that “Chancellor Merkel said last week that the Draghi Plan is ‘in line’ with German policy so long as the conditions imposed on Spain and Italy are tough enough, but Berlin has been sending mixed messages. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said on Sunday that ECB financing of state deficits was anathema: ‘If we start doing that, we won’t stop. It’s like when you start trying to solve your problems with drugs.’ The Bundesbank slammed the Draghi Plan in its monthly report yesterday, saying bond purchases entail ‘considerable risks for stability'”.

It will be crucial for Germany to decide what it’s policy is, or else the euro zone will simply collapse under the ill designed concept it always was. Open Europe make the argument that the above proposed plan is merely a quick fix,  while in a seperate post they argue that a number of “showdowns” will define Europe into the future.

Diplomatic asylum?

22/08/2012

Reports mention that the US State Department notes “that the United States does not believe in the concept of ‘diplomatic asylum’ as a matter of international law”. The report adds that “Ecuador formally granted Assange political asylum Thursday, but today the State Department said the United States doesn’t agree that such a thing exists”.

Moving along the path

21/08/2012

Today marks the 49th birthday of King Mohammed VI of Morroco. He has given the country a new constitution, although some have claimed that the document is merely a political tool to fool “the West” and evade real control being taken from his hands.

Others have taken a different line note that “Unlike Algeria, Morocco was treated as a colony rather than an integral part of France, and it parted relatively quietly at independence in 1956. The experience left Moroccans with little in the way of virulent anti-colonial feeling. Mohammed V, grandfather of the current king, chose a pro-Western, free-market path; and the country’s dependence on tourism, as well its own cultural diversity”.

He adds to this image of Morocco when he writes that “Morocco, in fact, has a remarkable gift for not attracting unwelcome attention to itself. While the Arab world has been turned upside-down over the last 18 months, Morocco experienced a brief moment at the barricades and then embarked on a process of political reform”, later mentioning that “Morocco does not meddle in other people’s problems”. He continues, “Morocco’s foreign policy consists chiefly of hanging on to the disputed territory of the Sahara. If Turkey’s policy is ‘zero problems with neighbors,’ Morocco’s is ‘zero problems with anyone.'”

Traub mentions that he travelled around the country and heard “about ‘the third way’ between revolution and inertia. And I hope it’s true; I hope Morocco proves to be the one country in the Arab world that liberalizes without a violent convulsion. I will have much more to say about this down the road, but for the moment I would just say that I’m not altogether convinced”. He notes that “Liberalization-from-above was the great paradigm of “modernization theory,” popularized by Samuel Huntington and Seymour Martin Lipset 50 years ago. Forward-looking autocrats like Ayub Khan in Pakistan or Augusto Pinochet in Chile would use their powers to promote growth and development, at which point an emergent middle class would demand political rights, leading to a political transition”.

He goes on to discuss that the alternative to this is “autocrats retarded development and dangled the prospect of liberalization in order to keep their opponents off balance. The Arab Spring exploded this incrementalist narrative”.

Traub writes that “defenders of the current order vehemently insist that the mass demonstrations of early 2011, known as ‘the February 20 Movement,’ did not force the King’s hand but simply accelerated pre-existing plans to rewrite a new constitution. There is very little evidence, however, that the king had any such plans as of January 2011. A likelier explanation is that he hoped to continue ‘modernizing’ without surrendering his near-absolute hold on power”, adding a little later on that “to acknowledge this is to concede that the gains of the last year were, in fact, seized from below rather granted from above. And once you have done that, you have begun to erode the model of a benevolent monarch”.

He defends the new constitution that others attacked arguing, “Nor was the new constitution simply an astute political move. Despite its flaws and a good deal of remaining ambivalence, the new constitution makes the prime minister ‘chief of government’ (as opposed to an instrument of the palace), stipulates the competence of the government to decide policy in virtually all domestic areas (though not in defense or national security), and clarifies that only the parliament has the standing to create law (though the king retains the right to issue decrees within his own sphere, which includes the regulation of religion and the military). The document enumerates a comprehensive list of individual rights, such as are found in most European constitutions, and commits Morocco to the protection of human rights ‘as they are universally understood.'”

He says that the real block is “the new government, led by Abdelilah Benkirane, a wily populist, suffers from a timidity bred by years of cautious accommodation with the makhzen, as Morocco’s wider network of power and privilege is known. The party has yet to pass any of the organic laws required to put the constitution into effect, or to seriously challenge the king’s traditional powers. Party members complain that the palace has blocked their efforts”. Traub notes that the 37 public bodies who’s heads the king appoints is against the new PM who wants the number reduced to six.

He concludes “The protestors steered clear of the king, though it’s hard to say if out of fear or reverence, but they did angrily question the role of the éminences grises of the palace, especially of Mounir Majidi, who both serves as the king’s secretary and oversees his colossal wealth. (Mohammed VI is richer than any monarch without oil and richer than many with oil, including the Emir of Qatar.)”

He warns that “Moroccans may increasingly find themselves balancing their reverence for the king with their frustration at their lot. And they won’t keep blaming the government, rather than the palace, forever”.

 

 

The end of the matter?

20/08/2012

News reports state that a Chinese court ruled on Gu Kaili, wife of Bo Xilai, that Gu “had prepared a solution of cyanide hydrochloride and used it to poison Mr Heywood, 42, in a hotel room in Chongqing last November”. It goes on to say that “the court explained it had suspended the sentence in light of Gu’s mental state, her admissions of guilt and remorse, and her cooperation with the investigation. Her death penalty is likely to be commuted to life imprisonment after two years of good behaviour, and further good behaviour could see her sentence reduced again”. There has been no word of what will happen to Bo.

In the national interest

20/08/2012

A number of Republican senators have taken to oppose the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In a piece in Foreign Affairs has taken to criticise the party for its opposition.

The author writes that Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-OH) oppose the treaty along with Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). The author notes importantly that “First, they argue, the treaty is an unacceptable encroachment on U.S. sovereignty; it empowers an international organization — the International Seabed Authority — to regulate commercial activity and distribute revenue from that activity. Yet sovereignty is not a problem: During the 1994 renegotiation, the United States ensured that it would have a veto over how the ISA distributes funds if it ever ratified the treaty. As written, UNCLOS would actually increase the United States’ economic and resource jurisdiction. In fact, Ayotte, DeMint, and Portman’s worst fears are more likely to come to pass if the United States does not ratify the treaty. If the country abdicates its leadership role in the ISA, others will be able to shape it to their own liking and to the United States’ disadvantage”.

UNCLOS was first negotiated 30 years ago. But back then, U.S. President Ronald Reagan objected to it because, he argued, it would jeopardize U.S. national and business interests, most notably with respect to seabed mining. A major renegotiation in 1994 addressed his concerns, and the United States signed. Now, the U.S. Navy and business community are among UNCLOS’ strongest supporters. So, too, was the George W. Bush administration, which tried to get the treaty ratified in 2007 but failed due to Republican opposition in the Senate”.

The article adds that these fear of the GOP are unfounded and that “The opponents’ second claim is that the treaty would prevent the U.S. Navy from undertaking unilateral action, such as collecting intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region, because permission to do so is not explicitly granted in the text. According to Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, however, ‘The convention in no way restricts our ability or legal right to conduct military activities in the maritime domain.’ On the contrary, as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it, U.S. accession to the convention ‘secures our freedom of navigation and overflight rights as bedrock treaty law.'” The author adds that “UNCLOS has become an important barometer of U.S. power in the Pacific Ocean. At stake is the country’s capacity to uphold, preserve, and strengthen a rules-based order in Asia as China rises. In July 2010, at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the United States believes that all maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved multilaterally and in accordance with international law. It is a policy that she repeated at the deadlocked 2012 ARF in Cambodia. For its part, China objected to the ‘multilateralization’ of maritime disputes then and continues to do so now”. Indeed this is crucial to the success of the pivot containing China and its neferious actions.

He argues, compellingly, that “The United States should not take sides in other countries’ disputes, but it can and must insist upon a strong regional framework to ensure that a rising China does not destabilize the status quo. On this issue, the 34 senators who oppose the treaty are taking Beijing’s side”. Yet, he fails to understand that if the US does not sides, as it already has done, then China will run roughshod over the rest of the smaller nations just becuse it can.

He concludes “Unfortunately, however, doctrinal statements against the very idea of participation in multilateral organizations and agreements are now routinely undermining U.S. leadership overseas. This may have been an indulgence the United States could afford in the ‘unipolar’ 1990s, but faced with a power transition in Asia, it is a strategic blunder that only emboldens those who long for the end of the U.S.-led international order”. With pressure rising in Asia, the US would only be acting according to basic realism if it passed UNCLOS.

Ryan the hypocrite

20/08/2012

Public high school. Public university. Worked for family business. Congressional staffer, with service jobs for additional money. Speechwriter for Jack Kemp. Staffer for Sam Brownback. Member of Congress. Capitalism, just as Rand envisioned

Tensions continuing to rise

20/08/2012

The tension in the South China Sea continues to rise, after disagreement at the end of an ASEAN summit and increasingly noisy territorial disputes. This time however the main culprit is not China, but Japan.

A piece notes that Shintaro Ishihara “in his fourth term as the outspoken governor of Tokyo — is still following Katsumi’s mantra: doing what he wants, in this case pushing Japan toward a confrontation with neighboring China that he believes is inevitable. Ishihara warned in May that ‘Japan could become the sixth star on China’s national flag’ if it appeases Beijing. In his public speeches, he refers to the People’s Republic as ‘Shina,’ a derogatory term associated with Japan’s 1937-1945 occupation”.

The author gives further evidence writing that “Ishihara has made himself the most prominent right-wing figure by bluntly saying what many Japanese are quietly thinking. Crime in Tokyo was on the rise because Japan allowed in too many foreigners, he said shortly after first being elected governor in 1999. In March 2011, he called the massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that smashed Japan’s northeast coast that month and left almost 20,000 dead and missing ‘divine punishment’ for Japan’s materialistic lifestyle; he was easily reelected to a fourth term just weeks later”. The writer adds that Ishihara “told a Playboy interviewer in 1990″ that the brutual Nanking massacre was a myth created by the Chinese. Such words will no doubt be re-aired in the Chinese press, with an aim of both selling papers and at the same time stoking nationalism.

The article gets to the point when it says that “In April, Ishihara announced that he planned to purchase the Senkaku Islands, five uninhabited rocks southwest of Okinawa and east of Taiwan, four of which have been privately owned by a Japanese family for the past four decades, but which both China and Taiwan also claim. China is embroiled in tense territorial disputes in other spots as well — in late July it sent soldiers to an island in the South China Sea also claimed by Vietnam. But it’s the Senkakus (known in China as the Diaoyus) where a wider war could break out”. The role of the Chinese press in stirring the tension is rightly noted when he writes that “On Aug. 14, the English-language version of the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper published by the official People’s Daily, warned that if Japan sends military forces to block Chinese activists ‘it will force China to send warships to the Diaoyu Islands’ waters.'”

He adds that there have been previous disputes between the tow historical enemies, “The last time Japan tried to take a stand over the Senkakus, in September 2010, China replied by seeming to tighten its exports of rare-earth metals, a resource crucial to Japan’s high-tech industries (though China denied exports were affected)”.

The situation is made worse by the fact that, “Since Ishihara announced his purchase plan, more than $17 million in donations have poured in via a special website established by the Tokyo government’s ‘Senkaku Islands Project Team.’ Members of the Kurihara family, the family that owns the islets — who admit they haven’t set foot on the islands for 15 years — have come out in favor of Ishihara’s bid”. The writer says that Ishihara is stoking the controversy for his own political ends.

Naturally, “China won’t back away from another game of chicken over who owns the islets. Nationalists have suggested Beijing should reply to the Senkaku purchase plan by extending its claim to the entire Ryukyu archipelago, including even the main island of Okinawa, which happens to host a major U.S. air base”. America, which is formally neutral in the South China Sea conflict, must be trying to extend its China Taiwan duel deterrence policy to include Japan.

Matters are even more complicated due to the fact that seven of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committeeare retiring, he goes on to write that “No one harboring any hope of being selected to the next Standing Committee can sound anything less than strident on an issue of territory”. These maximilist positions of both China and Japan are a key factor that makes it hard for them to back down with both publics driving their politicans on. Interestingly, though he writes that “Beijing’s claim is based on the uninhabited islands appearing on Chinese maps for centuries before that. Actually, neither side had much interest in the islets until 1969, when United Nations surveyors determined there were potentially large oil and gas deposits in seabed near the archipelago”.

This was followed by a highly charged visit on 15 August of “two cabinet ministers to the Yakusuni shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 1,054 war criminals and 14 ‘Class A’ war criminals”, the same article notes that “a group of Chinese activists managed to evade Japan’s coastguard, which fired on them with water cannons, and plant a Chinese flag on the Diaoyu islands”. The next day it was reported that China demands that Japan release the troublemakers.

The New York Times reports that “as many as 10 Japanese activists swam to an uninhabited island in the chain that Japan calls the Senkaku Islands and China labels the Diaoyu Islands. Japan has long controlled the islands, but China also claims them”. The article notes that Photographs on Sina Weibo, the country’s most widely used microblogging service, showed a protest in the southwestern city of Chengdu where the number of participants appeared to be in the tens of thousands. ‘Defend the Diaoyu Islands to the death,’ one banner read. Another said, ‘Even if China is covered with graves, we must kill all Japanese.'”

Predicatably, the 2005 anti Japan protests were repeated over the current crisis. These events show the dangers of excessive nationalism and the obvious fact that geopolitics never really left the international sphere.