Archive for April, 2013

King Willem Alexander

30/04/2013

Willem-Alexander has been sworn in as king of the Netherlands following the abdication of Queen Beatrix. He became the country’s first king since 1890 when his 75-year-old mother signed the abdication deed earlier on Tuesday after 33 years on the throne. The day’s celebrations culminated in a water pageant, with the king sailing down Amsterdam’s River IJ, greeting the thousands of people lining the banks. Some 200 boats took part in the royal flotilla, many decorated in orange”.

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“They will need to match words and deeds”

30/04/2013

The legendary Joseph Nye has written an article on the soft power of China and Russia. China’s lack of soft power is well known and a vital detriment to the country

He writes “When Foreign Policy first published my essay “Soft Power” in 1990, who would have expected that someday the term would be used by the likes of Hu Jintao or Vladimir Putin? Yet Hu told the Chinese Communist Party in 2007 that China needed to increase its soft power, and Putin recently urged Russian diplomats to apply soft power more extensively. Neither leader, however, seems to have understood how to accomplish his goals”.

Nye then goes on to  note correctly, “Establishing, say, a Confucius Institute in Manila to teach Chinese culture might help produce soft power, but it is less likely to do so in a context where China has just bullied the Philippines over possession of Scarborough Reef. Similarly, Putin has told his diplomats that ‘the priority has been shifting to the literate use of soft power, strengthening positions of the Russian language,’ but as Russian scholar Sergei Karaganov noted in the aftermath of the dispute with Georgia, Russia has to use ‘hard power, including military force, because it lives in a much more dangerous world … and because it has little soft power — that is, social, cultural, political and economic attractiveness.’

Nye then mentions that “In his new book, China Goes Global, George Washington University’s David Shambaugh shows how China has spent billions of dollars on a charm offensive to increase its soft power. Chinese aid programs to Africa and Latin America are not limited by the institutional or human rights concerns that constrain Western aid. The Chinese style emphasizes high-profile gestures. But for all its efforts, China has earned a limited return on its investment. Polls show that opinions of China’s influence are positive in much of Africa and Latin America, but predominantly negative in the United States, Europe, as well as India, Japan and South Korea”.

He ends the piece “The development of soft power need not be a zero-sum game. All countries can gain from finding each other attractive. But for China and Russia to succeed, they will need to match words and deeds in their policies, be self-critical, and unleash the full talents of their civil societies. Unfortunately, that is not about to happen soon”.

“Consequences of America’s targeted killings”

30/04/2013

A bipartisan panel of senators held a spirited and unusually public debate Tuesday afternoon [entitled ‘Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterrorism Implications of Targeted Killings.’] about the legality and unintended consequences of America’s targeted killings overseas, a forum convened amid growing calls for stronger oversight of the government’s use of armed drones outside conventional battlefields. Among those testifying before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee was a young Yemeni activist who argued passionately that American drone strikes in Yemen are emboldening the country’s al-Qaeda franchise, embittering Yemenis against the United States and delegitimizing the government in Sanaa”.

Negatives of independence

30/04/2013

After the recent milestone of China overtaking America as the world’s largest importer of oil, coupled with a dramatic rise in domestic US production whch outstrips imports, there is an increasingly widespread view that America will be energy independent. Some have critised this as it will, it has been claimed, mean that the dollar will inflate and the US economy will not deal with long term problems. An article in the New York Times discusses the negative effects of independence.

It opens noting that “Just as the world was writing off America as a declining power, the country now finds itself on the cusp of realizing one of its longstanding goals: energy independence. A wave of new technologies has made it possible to extract oil and gas from shale rock formations, and the results have been astonishing. By some estimates, the United States is on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer as early as 2017, start exporting more oil and gas than it imports by 2025, and achieve full energy self-sufficiency by 2030. American politicians in both parties have long dreamed of energy independence — not only for its potential economic benefits, but also because it could free the United States from the vicissitudes of the outside world”.

The piece goes on to write “President Obama said that new energy sources and technologies would make America ‘less dependent on what’s going on in the Middle East.’ The Romney campaign, meanwhile, argued that energy independence would mean that ‘the nation’s security is no longer beholden to unstable but oil-rich regions halfway around the world.’ But that is a fantasy. While the latest energy revolution will be a boon to America’s economy, it will in no way allow the United States to turn its back on the rest of the world.  That’s because America’s oil and gas bonanza will drive down global energy prices, undercutting the foundations of petrostates everywhere. According to Francisco Blanch, the head of commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, oil could fall to just $50 a barrel within the next two years, which could unleash unrest in regions crucial to American interests. Far from releasing the United States from the burden of global leadership, this process would force Washington to assume an even greater international role than it currently plays”.

They go on to elobrate on this argument, “lower energy prices will undermine the stability of the Persian Gulf monarchies, whose hefty oil revenues have allowed them to win their populations’ loyalties through patronage and a lack of taxation. These countries do not always share American values or help advance American interests, but anything that destabilizes them would create problems that Washington could not afford to ignore. Consider Bahrain, which earns 70 percent of its revenues through petroleum production and refining. The small island monarchy has undergone deeply destabilizing protests since the start of the Arab Spring. A drop in global energy prices would hurt the already weak government, breathing new life into opposition forces. A populist revolution in Bahrain could empower the country’s long-repressed Shiite majority, who already resent Washington’s support for the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family. A new regime in Bahrain might even seek to expel the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, complicating America’s efforts to protect international shipping lanes, fight piracy and check Iran’s regional ambitions.  Even more alarming is the prospect of instability in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, the Saudi royal family was able to head off an Arab Spring-style revolution because of its enormous oil revenues, doling out $130 billion in benefits to pacify the country’s younger and poorer inhabitants. Should lower oil prices make such patronage impossible in the future, the kingdom could face domestic unrest — making the country a far less reliable partner for America in fighting terrorism and countering Iran. Moreover, if Saudi Arabia has less of its own money to spend on regional security, Washington will have to make up for the shortfall”.

While the point is valid, it is too simplistic to say that because of US energy independece the Middle Eastern monarchies will simply collapse as others have noted here under difference circumstances. There are myarid other factors to take into account, not least of which will be Iran’s severly weakened position after the eventual fall of the Assad regime.

They go on to write plausibly, that a fall in oil prices could affect Russia again as it did last year,, “Even a temporary drop in oil prices would constrain Mr. Putin’s ability to pay off his enemies: experts at the Russian School of Economics predict that the country’s oil wealth fund, a stash of petrodollars reserved for times of need, would be depleted if prices fell to $60 a barrel for just one year.  If he’s unable to buy loyalty through patronage, Mr. Putin could turn to more pernicious methods like bullying neighbors and fanning the flames of nationalism. With outstanding border disputes and age-old rivals circling Russian territory, another conflict along the lines of the 2008 war against Georgia is not out of the question”.

Ultimately however these regimes will be forced to reform anyway if the marchs of the GCC wish to keep their crowns. As for Putin, weakened Russia could tip the balance against him and bring both the urban middle class and poorer people out onto the streets against him. If this were to happen it would be uncertain as to what would follow and whether it would be better or worse than what came before.

Increasingly authoritarian

30/04/2013

Iraq’s government on Sunday revoked the operating licenses of Al Jazeera and nine other television channels, saying that they were inciting sectarian conflict. All but one of the channels are aligned with Sunni financial backers, and the move was widely perceived as a crackdown on dissent by the Shiite-led government that is facing an increasingly violent Sunni uprising. The decision will not banish the channels from the airwaves: as satellite channels based abroad, they are beyond the reach of the Iraqi government. But it prohibits the channels’ journalists from reporting inside Iraq”.

 

A new failed state

28/04/2013

There has been much focus on Pakistan given its links with the Taliban and the resultant mess that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of US and other NATO service personnel during the war in Afghanistan. One of many illustrative moments came recently when Secretary of State John Kerry met with Hamid Karzai and not the Prime Minister, or President, of Pakistan or other senior civilian leader but the head of the Pakistani Armed Forces, General Kayani.

A article published some time ago by the noted scholar, Ahmed Rashid, argues that such are the problems of Pakistan that even the notoriously powerful generals have no wish to stage a coup. It notes “It was a sign of the misguided times in Pakistan that on June 5 — a day when the country faced massive rolling electricity blackouts, a crashing economy, civil war in two out of four provinces, violence from the Himalayas to the Arabian Gulf, and a cratering relationship with the United States — the Pakistani army decided it was the best moment to test fire a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It was the fifth such test since April, supposedly a morale booster for a wildly depressed public, a signal to India that Pakistan would not put its guard down despite its problems, and a message to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who had arrived in Delhi that morning, that Pakistan could not be bullied”.

The piece goes on to mention “considering the mayhem it faces and the lack of solutions it can offer the nation (especially after having irked the United States and NATO) — the army is unlikely to mount a coup. Instead, the army would like to see the present PPP government be ousted by the Supreme Court, to be followed by an interim government that would oversee general elections. In this scenario, both the Supreme Court and the army could join hands to bring corruption cases against large numbers of politicians while the tough economic reforms demanded by the IMF, which the current civilian government has refused to carry out, can be implemented. This could mean an indefinite extension of the interim government and delayed general elections. The ruling elites’ failure to carry out reforms is at the root of Pakistan’s troubles. The army and successive governments have long lacked the courage or will to make the necessary tough decisions, from making peace with India to blocking the growth of extremism to raising sufficient revenues from the landed gentry. In the 1990s, when the rest of the world was enjoying the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War, along with the spread of global markets and traded goods, Pakistan’s economy remained stubbornly feudal”. Yet perhaps the real reason there is no need for a coup is that such is influence and power of the Army that they have no need to take full control of the country, again, as their wishes are carried out by most “civilian” governments anyway.

The counter argument has also been published with the author arguing that the generals are playing a long term game to undermine the civilian government. She writes that “The Army knows that another military government would be a tough sell. Another reason is that, while the Army made much of the sanguinary NATO strike that killed 24 soldiers in November, both it and the ISI — Pakistan’s most notorious intelligence agency — are still smoldering over the humiliating facts that Osama Bin Laden enjoyed sanctuary in a cantonment town a short distance from the premier Pakistan Military Academy and that the United States could conduct a unilateral raid to kill and extract him before the Army even had a clue. Thus, the Army has been forced to work behind the scenes and through other institutions, such as the judiciary, to keep this government on his heels. Third, no matter how detestable Zardari, Inc. may be to the men in khaki, they have had no real alternative until now. The primary rival to Zardari and his PPP is former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his political fiefdom, the Pakistan Muslim League”.

Even more worry she goes on to mention that “the Army’s luck is changing along with that of Imran Khan, whose political fortunes have shifted in recent months. For years, the lothario cricket star turned politician could barely win his own seat. However, with what Pakistanis suspect is support from the military and ISI, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has successfully wooed numerous turncoat politicians and their swollen vote banks. Khan has asked politicians who are now joining PTI to vacate their current elected seats in the parliament both as a means of ensuring that they do not reverse course but also as a ploy to bring about fresh elections earlier than 2013″, adding that “Not only does the Army have a palatable political alternative to either the PPP or PML-N — it now has a mechanism to bring about the downfall of this government”.

In a separate article, from September 2012, Fair goes on to argue that, “There can be no doubt that Pakistan’s unrelenting support for the Afghan Taliban and allied militant organizations, of which the Haqqani network is just one of many, has made any kind of victory — however defined — elusive if not unobtainable for the United States and its allies. The crux of the matter: The United States and Pakistan have fundamentally divergent strategic interests in Afghanistan. America’s allies, such as India, are Pakistan’s enemies, while Pakistan’s allies, such as the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, are America’s enemies. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s ongoing support for these groups has become an altogether easy hook on which the Americans and their allies have hung their failures in Afghanistan”.

Fair goes on to criticise US policy for being badly managed giving the example that ” Pakistanis have long exploited these inconsistencies in U.S. policy to advance their own interests — by noting, for instance, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conceded in the fall of 2011 that the United States was meeting with the Haqqani network. She defended the engagements by explaining that the United States saw no contradiction in fighting while talking. Pakistan could clearly justify its own inaction in light of America’s discordant policy towards the group. And it did”. Worse still she writes that “America should declare Pakistan a sponsor of terrorism, yet at the same time she urges caution with this approach,”Of course, one of the principal reasons not to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism is that it is virtually impossible to get off that list. It also punishes the elected civilian government, which has no control over Pakistan’s jihad policies even if it objects to them. The United States needs to find a way to be selective in its punitive actions — there should be a clear path forward with identified and verifiable steps that Pakistan can take to rehabilitate itself over time. Efforts to designate Pakistan as a state that sponsors terrorism must lay out key milestones that would enable it to remove this pariah status should it choose to, and offer inducements for doing so”.

Others have questioned why Pakistan has slid into religious extremism, “Some say it’s because moderate Muslims are unwilling to speak out against militancy. Others believe jihadist ideology justifies violence. A more controversial view holds Pakistan’s legal system responsible for empowering extremists. The trend is a dangerous one where violence is regularly used as retribution for being on the wrong side of politics or religion”. The same piece notes the problems facing governance in Pakistan, “Despite the expenditure, the lights can go out for up to 20 hours at a time in some parts of the country. That’s not a shortage of electricity — it is an absence of electricity. Most efforts to improve energy provision are short-lived because the government can’t get buy-in from Parliament, even from members of its own coalition. Long-term reforms will be costly to the government and to the average Pakistani, who will likely end up having to pay more for power that is not guaranteed. The initiatives that do make it through the political gridlock are often temporary measures intended to alleviate short-term economic burden for equally immediate political gain. But when the lights go out, people take to the streets — and this year, several protests turned violent”.

Finally some have noted the violence in Karachi, ” According to estimates from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, close to 2,284 people were killed in violent attacks in Karachi in 2012. By some media estimates, targeted killings and a string of deadly bomb blasts cost the lives of 500 people in 72 days of this year alone. Victims range from civilians to policemen, the paramilitary Rangers to development workers, journalists to lawyers. Pakistan as a whole has recently witnessed a sharp rise in brutal attacks by Sunni extremists on the minority Shia group, which constitutes close to 20% of the population”.

Lastly and perhaps most ominously some have questioned whether Pakistan’s current status is terminal, ” Pakistan gives the appearance of a state not merely in decline, but in terminal decline.  Its institutions are broken, its economy lagging, its government finances slipshod, its social indicators deplorable. Corruption is rampant, while tax evasion is the national sport; a Pakistani investigative reporter last fall discovered that two-thirds of federal lawmakers paid no taxes in 2011, nor had the president.  Journalists are regularly detained or murdered because their reporting has come too close to truths those in power prefer to obscure-the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom index has found that for the second consecutive year, Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.  Assassination is also an ever-present danger for politicians who espouse progressive views or challenge the authority of extremists.  Political and civic leadership is absent, while sectarian violence against Shi’as and other minorities is all too present – witness, for instance, the anti-Christian rampage in Lahore earlier this [March 2013] month”.

He ends the piece citing countries that have turned themselves around like Colombia, Indonesia and others but crucailly he states, “Pakistan has failed abysmally in cultivating leadership, vision, and a national commitment to turn around the fortunes of an ailing state.  Equally bad, the people of Pakistan have for too long tolerated shoddy governance, venal politicians, failing institutions, and second-best performance.  The equanimity with which Pakistanis accept bad governance and reward those culpable with new terms of office remains astonishing”.

All of this in a country with nuclear weapons.

Beijing threatens Asia?

28/04/2013

Interpreting any country’s pronouncements about its nuclear weapons can be a study in fine distinctions, but occasionally a state says — or fails to say — something in a clear break from the past. A Chinese white paper on defense, released on Tuesday, falls into this category and now demands our attention, because it omits a promise that China will never use nuclear weapons first.  That explicit pledge had been the cornerstone of Beijing’s stated nuclear policy for the last half-century. The white paper, however, introduces ambiguity. It endorses the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack but does not rule out other uses”.

End of the Gulf monarchies?

28/04/2013

After a long debate over monarchical exceptionalism since the Arab revolutions some have recently argued that monarchy in the Middle East is effectively doomed.

Christopher Davidson writes that “On April 22, a Kuwaiti judge announced that opposition figure Musallam al-Barrak would be released on bail, prompting cheers from his supporters packing the court. Barrak’s refusal to hand himself over to the authorities last week to serve a five-year sentence for criticizing the emir symbolized the intensifying resistance to autocracy in the oil-rich state”. He adds importantly that “The stage now seems set for a long summer of confrontations between large sections of Kuwait’s emboldened citizenry and an entrenched, traditional monarchy that has abandoned its democratic pretensions and is pressing ahead with police state strategies”.

What he does not say however is just how many people were at the rally to support Barrak and at the same time he fails to answer the question that are these protestors the same people that would protest anyway or are there ranks swelling and thus real popular support behind the demonstrators. If there has been a real shift in the support, or lack thereof, for the monarchies of the Gulf then there stability is unsure but it would be unwise to assume that they are about to fall en masse.

The article continues noting “Using a mixture of carrots and sticks, the poorer Gulf monarchies had managed to contain most of the protests that had spilled onto their streets in the immediate aftermath of the revolutions in North Africa. Meanwhile, the wealthier monarchies seemingly remained in command of largely apolitical, well-heeled societies with little if anything in common with those dwelling in the angry tenements of Tunis, Cairo, or Tripoli. Since then, however, much has changed. By winter 2012, Western media had begun carrying articles foreshadowing either monarchical collapse — or at least some serious impending turbulence. Reports on protests, trials, growing poverty, and cyberspace activism in the Gulf states became commonplace — even leading U.S. think tanks broached the topic of ‘Revolution in Riyadh.'”

His contention that all monarchies, especially that of Saudi Arabia is in danger of falling is perhaps, slightly alarmist. Saudi Arabia seems to be immune to revolution partly due to theological reasons put forth by the ulema and partly as a result of the package of measures proposed by King Abdullah two years ago. In addition to all of this add a young population that seems in some ways more conservative then the previous generation and the House of Saud seems safe.

He goes on to argue that “Most of the Gulf states are now caught between unsustainable wealth distribution mechanisms and increasingly powerful ‘super modernizing forces’ that can no longer be controlled or co-opted by elites. The former dynamic continues to manifest itself in widening wealth gaps and increasing real unemployment, despite ramped up public spending programs and urgent public sector job creation schemes. These counter-revolutionary ‘rentier outlays’ are likely to keep spiraling — the International Monetary Fund has already predicted that even the wealthiest of the monarchies will run budget deficits within a few years”. An example showing the scale of the problem is that by 2038, Saudi Arabia will have to begin importing oil.

He then adds that “And in the poorer states, where this strategy is now increasingly inapplicable, street protests keep growing and regimes have had little option but to openly crack down on dissidents. As for ‘super modernizing forces,’ notably including social media, a veritable battle in cyberspace has now begun. New legislation has been introduced, or is about to be introduced, in all six monarchies, with the aim of tightly policing online dissent and meting out heavy punishments to all would-be critics. But this strategy seems as unsustainable as sky-high public spending: Several of these states now have the highest social media usage rates in the world — massive online political discussions have made Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube the region’s new de facto parliament”.

He then mentions that even the non Shia in Saudi Arabia have been protesting, “The nascent protests in predominantly Sunni provinces of the kingdom are in some ways even more problematic for the House of Saud. These demonstrations are much harder to frame as a sectarian clash, and have mainly been campaigns for the release of political prisoners. In the northern Al-Qassim Province, for instance, large numbers of women and children have taken to the streets. In some cases, demonstrators have burned pictures of key ruling family members and resisted arrest”.

The piece ends “With even larger protests on the horizon, the window of opportunity for the region’s autocratic rulers to agree to some sort of compromise solution — possibly constitutional monarchies with elected legislatures — seems to be closing. With only minor exceptions, these regimes have adopted zero-tolerance policies on dissent — regardless of the cost to their long term legitimacy and prosperity. Even though the Gulf version of the Arab Spring may look a little different to its manifestations in North Africa and Syria — and however inconvenient it may be to international allies and partners — it is now a phenomenon that cannot be avoided”.

Cultural terrorism

28/04/2013

The minaret of one of Syria’s most famous mosques has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo. The state news agency Sana accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque. However, activists say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire. The mosque, which is a Unesco world heritage site, has been in rebel hands since earlier this year but the area around it is still contested. Last October Unesco appealed for the protection of the site, which it described as “one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world”. Images posted on the internet showed the minaret reduced to a pile of rubble in the mosque’s tiled courtyard”.

Unrest in China

28/04/2013

The BBC has reported that after the violence that led to the deaths of 21 people in the northern province of Xinjiang that “China has sentenced 20 men to jail terms of up to life imprisonment on charges of terrorism and inciting secession in Xinjiang, state media say. Some of the men, who are all thought to be members of the ethnic Uighur group who live in the region, were accused of plotting to assassinate local police. An exiled Uighur group described the sentences as ‘repressive’. It said the men had been persecuted for listening to foreign radio broadcasts and forwarding video clips. The men were convicted of a number of crimes, the local state-run news agency reported. These include circulating extremist religious material and attempting to promote ethnic separatism on the internet”. Other reports have cast serious doubt on the official story of the Chinese authorities, “Rather than ‘terrorists’, local people told us the violence involved a local family who had had a long-standing dispute with officials.”

An article by Isaac Stone Fish in Foreign Policy argues that “After the United States declined to condemn the Xinjiang attack, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that its “refusal to do so showed double standards, considering that it had been the recent victim of a terrorist attack.” Like with many events in Xinjiang, and in nearby Tibet, what actually happened remains unknown”. This alone should and does cast doubt over the story used by the authorities to further their aims at eliminating dissent.

He writes that the scale of what is going on in China is vast, and not just in the Xinjiang, “a resource-rich region of 22 million people, often erupts in ethnic violence between the roughly 45 percent of the population that is of the Turkic-speaking Uighur minority, and Han Chinese, most of whom have migrated to the region since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Tuesday’s alleged incident was the deadliest since riots in July 2009 killed nearly 200 people. Tibet is worse. The independent watchdog organization Freedom House annually ranks countries and territories on their level of political rights and civil liberties. The group’s most recent report, released Jan 2013, included Tibet in its “Worst of the Worst” category, joining North Korea and Somalia. More than 100 Tibetans have immolated themselves in protest since 2011; three apparently did so on Wednesday, though details are sparse”.

He goes on to add that “Fear ‘prevents them from speaking their mind and reporting what is happening to them,’ explains Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch”, yet the problem with maintaining order through fear is that it only takes a few people brave enough to risk the consequences and then the dam will burst with unknown consequences in their scale, if not there action. What effect this will have on the whatever gloss remains on the regime in China will swiftly disappear.

Small scale usage

26/04/2013

Reports note that “The United States now says it has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons on a “small scale” — an announcement that follows similar declarations by the French, British, Israelis, and Qataris. But the question no one has been able to answer is this: Why would Bashar al-Assad have used chemical weapons on a small scale after repeated warnings from Barack Obama that any use of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer” for the United States?”. However, some have noted the problems with President Obama’s wording, “even if the White House doesgo ahead and decide that Obama’s murky, pinkish-reddish-orange line has in fact been crossed, it doesn’t seem prepared to do much about it. The plan is to press for a United Nations investigation of the alleged chemical-weapons use, not to fire up the B-52s. The odds of Assad letting that happen are extremely low, not to mention the time it would take for an investigation to reach a clear conclusion one way or the other”.

The root cause

26/04/2013

An excellent article, It’s Not About Us,  has been written on the topic of Islam and terrorism by Christian Caryl. In a theme brought up by Pope Benedict in his masterful and misunderstood Regensburg lecture he stressed the need for religion to dialogue with reason and raised some questions, however subtly, for Islam on this topic. Once Islam was at the heart of learning and knowledge with the finest mathematicians, astronomers as well as poets, artists and writers besting, or at least equaling those of Europe.  Since then however Islam seems to have become unanchored from reason.

Caryl opens his piece noting “I hate to be the one to bring this up, but it’s probably time to start getting educated. Like it or not, the 21st century will be dominated by the political reverberations of the rivalry within Islam. The so-called “war on terror” pales in comparison. If anyone had any doubt about this, just take a look at the recent headlines. Earlier this week, 89 Shiite Hazaras were killed in a bombing in the city of Quetta in Pakistan. Pakistani’s 30 million Shiites (the second-largest population in the world, right after Iran) are increasing targets of persecution by the country’s Sunni majority. Another attack five weeks earlier killed 100 other Shiites in the same city. The very same day as the Quetta bombing, six car bombs and three roadside explosions killed 21 people in Baghdad. All of the attacks targeted Shiite neighborhoods. Some 60 percent of Iraqis are Shiites, but that only seems to fuel the sectarian violence there, which has been going on now for almost seven years”.

He goes on to say “why should non-Muslims care? Because the dynamic of mutual hatred and distrust between the two camps shows every sign of intensifying — and given that 1 billion believers are caught up within this theological and demographical battle, the rest of us are bound to feel the shock waves”, adding that America is involved through its support for the ruling families in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia both of which have Shia minorities and are treated with suspicion due to it being Iran’s predominant religion.

He later summarises the dispute between the two groups, “The differences between Shiites and Sunnis go back almost to the dawn of Islam itself. The crucial distinction has to do with the nature of religious authority. Sunnis essentially believed that the leader of the Muslim community, the caliph, should be chosen from among its members. (In the early days, they were usually selected from the original group of companions of the Prophet Mohammed.) Shiites were those who insisted that the leader could only come from the line of Mohammed’s direct descendants, and they soon came tochallenge the caliphs’ right to leadership. The dispute took a fateful turn for the worse when Hussein ibn Ali, the Shiites’ leader and the Prophet’s grandson, refused to pledge allegiance to the caliph Yazid, and died at the hand of the caliph’s troops in the battle of Karbala in 680 — igniting an intensely emotional narrative of injustice and martyrdom that still infuses Shiite thinking today”.

Importantly he then writes that these differences made little difference until the 1979 Iranian revolution which brought a proudly theocratic Shia government to power. He later goes on to mention “By profiling itself as the new vanguard in the fight against Israel, says Roy, Iran was in a position to challenge the claims of hitherto dominant countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia. The Iranians also began sponsoring their sectarian cousins in places like Lebanon and Iraq. ‘So the Shiites became politicized,’ notes Roy”.

Caryl then mentions that “The other trend is what Roy calls ‘the Salafization’ of Islam. The Salafis— staunch religious conservatives who have much in common with the puritanical outlook of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia — have been steadily rising in influence around the Middle East over the past decade, a trend more recently reinforced by the Arab Spring. In 1959, Roy points out, a leading Sunni scholar published a fatwathat described Shiism merely as one of the recognized ‘schools’ of Islam. Even the members of the Muslim Brotherhood have generally had relatively few negative things too say about Shiism”.

If and when Iran alters its course of backing terrorism and when the Syrian crisis ends it will lose out regionally and this crisis will lessen but a narrow streak of Islam both Sunni and Shia have disrupted an otherwise peaceful religion and until this split can be lessened and until Islam reasserts its relationship with reason it will go on as before.

“Only did so for monetary reasons”

22/04/2013

For years, Assange has been dogged by allegations that he never cared if his WikiLeaks disclosures endangered the lives of innocent civilians. ‘If they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them,’ Assange allegedly said, according to the Guardian‘s investigative journalist David Leigh. ‘They deserve it.’ But Assange has always denied saying this, and has insisted that thousands of WikiLeaks files were carefully redacted out of concern for innocent people exposed by the cables. ‘We don’t want innocent people who have a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt,’ he told PBS. But now, in his new book, Schmidt says Assange never wanted to redact the cables — and only did so for monetary reasons”.

Still under CIA?

22/04/2013

Micah Zenko writes that the case for moving drones to the oversight of the Department of Defence, as opposed to the CIA where it is now, are manifold. The plan was first reported last month but Zenko writes that this is not certain, “Other journalists report that this is not a certainty or that ‘it would most likely leave drone operations in Pakistan under the CIA,’ making any transition meaningless since over 80 percent of all U.S. targeted killings have occurred in Pakistan. But if Obama is serious about reforming targeted killing policies, as he has stated, then he needs to sign an executive order transferring lead executive authority for non-battlefield targeted killings from the CIA to the Defense Department”.

Zenko writes that transferring drones to DoD would “increase the transparency of targeted killings, including what methods are used to prevent civilian harm. Strikes by the CIA are classified as Title 50 ‘covert action,’ which under law are ‘activities of the United States Government…where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly, but does not include traditional…military activities.’ CIA operations purportedly allow for deniability about the U.S. role, though this rationale no longer applies to the highly-publicised drone campaign in Pakistan, which Obama personally acknowledged in January 2012”.

This is an interesting argument as Klaidman himself cast some doubt in his article, reporting the potential move from CIA to DoD, may in fact make the process less transparent. However there is the broader point about the scale of transparency that is beneficial. Obviously the nonsense that the administration does not discuss drones yet everyone is aware of their existence is a farce and has rightfully as Zenko notes, been ended.

His second point in favour of handing it from the CIA to DoD is that “it would focus the finite resources and bandwidth of the CIA on its primary responsibilities of intelligence collection, analysis, and early warning. Last year, the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board — a semi-independent executive branch body, the findings of which rarely leak — reportedly told Obama that ‘U.S. spy agencies were paying inadequate attention to China, the Middle East and other national security flash points because they had become too focused on military operations and drone strikes.’ This is not a new charge, since every few years an independent group or congressional report determines that ‘the CIA has been ignoring its core mission activities.'” Indeed there is some sense in this argument.

His final point argues “it would provide clear and unified congressional oversight. CIA drone strikes are reported to the congressional intelligence committees. Sen. Dianne Feinstein confirmed that the Senate’s intelligence committee, which she chairs, receives post-strike notifications, reviews video footage, and holds monthly meetings to “question every aspect of the program.” Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has claimed repeatedly that he reviews every single counterterrorism airstrike, whether conducted by the CIA or JSOC. This raised eyebrows among some congressional and Pentagon staffers, since while the House committee can statutorily exercise oversight of tactical military activities, its authority does not extend JSOC operations”.

Under President Obama the drone programme will be moved to DoD and whether that is the correct course of action of not from a security point of view is another matter. It is just a question of when rather than if.

Patriarch Shevchuk?

22/04/2013

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the new pope, had a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest as his mentor and is familiar with the Church’s rites, says Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the UGCC. Major Archbishop Shevchuk previously served in Buenos Aires and got to know the future pope there. Many in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church hope that Francis will elevate it to a patriarchate, from its current status as a Major Archepiscopate“.

Future of the Church in Ireland

22/04/2013

As part of a series on the Church in Ireland, the Irish Times has written a number of articles on the subject.

The first article discusses the notions of belief in Ireland. The piece begins “Despite the fallout from clerical sex abuse scandals, a significant proportion of the country – including non-Catholics – believe the church has had a broadly positive influence on Ireland. The national survey was undertaken last month among a representative sample of 1,000 voters aged 18 and over. A total of 89 per cent of respondents were Catholic. The remainder were either not religious (6 per cent), Protestant (3 per cent) or from other faiths. Fianna Fáil supporters were most likely to be Catholic (95 per cent), followed by Sinn Féin (89 per cent), Fine Gael (88 per cent), Labour (85 per cent) and Greens (58 per cent). Overall, just under a third (31 per cent) of Catholics said they attended Mass at least once a week. More than two-thirds attended services far less frequently. Some 39 per cent said they either never or very occasionally went to Mass. A further 20 per cent said they attended every two to three months, while 8 per cent went once a fortnight. Those who attend Mass regularly are twice as likely to live in rural rather than urban areas. They are also more likely to be older and support Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. When it comes to the church’s teachings, many Catholics do not subscribe to key tenets such as transubstantiation. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ. Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent)”.

It is heartening to see that many still think of the benefits of the Church in Ireland however, these people are normally too afraid to speak up and defend the Church when it comes under attack from those who preach nihilism and relativism. Either unaware of unconcerned by its consequences.  Thankfully there are some who do defend the Church. To be welcomed is the number of people still attending Mass, which is probably among the highest in Europe. Obviously what the survey does not highlight is the age profile of these people and it can be safely assumed that the vast majority are over 60 with only a small fraction under 30.

In a related article in the series notes “Nearly two-thirds of the over-65s attend Mass once a week or more, compared to 13 per cent of those aged 18-24. Interestingly, while women have always been perceived as the stereotypical daily Mass attenders, the gap between male and female attendance is not as wide as might be expected. Four per cent of women attend daily, while 3 per cent of men do. The gap widens to 8 per cent in the once-a-week or more category: 35 per cent of women versus 27 per cent of men. Overall, the gap between the two is about 10 per cent – substantial but still probably narrower than expected”.

The piece adds “Amid increasingly vocal proponents of rationality and science over belief in gods and supernatural explanations for the meaning of life and death, it is interesting to note that over 80 per cent continue to believe in heaven, a belief shared fairly equally across regions, party and class, and rising to 90 per cent among the over-65s and women” but worryingly for the supposed tolerance of society “Do people think the country would be better off without it? The question was asked of all respondents, not only Catholics, and the remarkable fact is only 9 per cent said yes. Nearly 40 per cent said the country would be a worse place without it, a figure that includes 29 per cent of Protestants. It also includes a third of those under 34, rising to nearly half of the over-65s”.

Again this obvious lack of tolerance is seen when another article notes “On one of his first visits to Poland, Scally almost laughed out loud when a Polish friend mentioned that he was a member of the Club of Catholic Intellectuals. The idea of Catholic intellectuals seemed hilarious. But when Polish people needed a bulwark against the communist authorities, the Catholic Church offered people a place to meet and an alternative space to think. It remains the case today: one of Poland’s leading weekly publications is a Catholic newspaper”. The fact that the Solidarity movement worked with the Church to overthrow Communist tyranny and have free speech, the rule of law and a free press after its downfall and the fact that Scally should be so narrowminded and dismissive of the Church speaks volumes.

Predictably reform is mentioned, “Fr Crombie distances himself from themes closely associated with the Association of Catholic Priests, such as the call for national assemblies and dialogue on the looming dearth of priests, on compulsory celibacy and on the ordination of women. Priesthood and celibacy are indivisible for him”. Indeed the ACP, far from being a canonical organisation is totally opposed to any thoughful (liturgical) reform as envisioned by Pope Benedict dismissing it out of hand. As for the question of celibacy it is not practiced in the Eastern Catholic Churches or the Orthodox Church so it should not be ruled out completely. The article goes on “A question that preoccupies the Association of Catholic Priests – the second Vatican Council’s unfulfilled decision that every parish would have a lay-dominated council, linked to a diocesan council, feeding into a national assembly – seems to puzzle him. He has never heard of it”. There is also the issue of what such a proposed assembly would be for.

Lastly, a piece notes the admittedly depressing figures, “In 1970 Ireland had almost 4,000 diocesan priests. Today that figure is 2,160, with 687 others retired, ill, on study leave or working elsewhere. Their average age is 64. In 1970 164 men entered Irish seminaries. Last year the figure was 22. The Amárach survey also found weekly Mass attendance in Ireland was 35 per cent. Last December [2011] Archbishop Martin disclosed that weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent and said that within eight years just 235 priests will be available to serve full time in Dublin’s 199 parishes. Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese was facing its biggest crisis since Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the archbishop said”.

Finally a piece calls for “new thinking”. The article mentions that “By 2020, the number of priests in Dublin will drop by about 36 per cent, from 456 to about 294. Just 235 will be available to serve full-time in Dublin’s 199 parishes, he said, with the remainder serving as chaplains or at central services. Meanwhile priests’ income in Dublin has fallen 15 per cent in the past two years to an average of €24,079 per annum, as weekly Mass attendance hovers at 14 per cent. What has been happening in Dublin is reflected in each of the 26 Catholic dioceses on the island. In each, too, as the priests get older and their income drops, their workload increases. This is due to parish clustering, whereby priests who would normally serve in just one parish must now also take care of the needs of the faithful in nearby parishes as well. This, itself, is due to the growing shortage of priests. No wonder morale is low among Irish Catholic priests”. However he adds that this is not the only story, “Of the 1,965 priests currently in parish ministry in Ireland, 838 are 54 years and under. Even the 54-year-olds will not have reached retirement age by 2032. And between now and 2032 more priests will be ordained on an annual basis, though nobody should get too excited about that”.

He adds ” in 2032 there will also be additional permanent deacons. Eight such men were ordained in Dublin’s pro-cathedral last Monday, with other such ordinations to take place in seven more Catholic dioceses in Ireland. It is highly likely this pattern will be followed in the church’s remaining dioceses on the island also. These permanent deacons will be able to officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals. In so doing, they will greatly lessen the workload of priests. Another way of freeing up, indeed liberating, priests to exclusively exercise their essential spiritual function is for the laity to take over parish administrative duties. This is happening already and is a source of immense satisfaction to the great majority of priests”. Indeed this does make some sense. There is little reason for a priest to spend his time filling in forms when it could be far better spent elsewhere.

Yet is obvious from these reports is the the Church in Ireland faces organisational, financial, “personnel” and credibility problems. However,  the common thread that runs through these reports is that the Church is treated as some political actor rather than a divine institution run by flawed human beings who are trying to achieve some beyond the transitory existence of this life and at the same time aim for something more than just material possessions and whatever else this world offers.

“Tried to dismiss”

20/04/2013

“[Chancellor George] Osborne had tried to dismiss calls by the IMF’s chief economist Olivier Blanchard last week for the UK to ease the £130bn programme of spending cuts and tax rises as ‘just one voice’, claiming: ‘The IMF’s position has not changed.’ But David Lipton, the IMF’s second-in-charge, has waded into the battle alongside Mr Blanchard. ‘The UK economy has turned out to be somewhat weaker than had been foreseen, so our view is that the pace of consolidation ought to be reconsidered, and we’ll want to come and have some discussions about that,’ he told Sky News. Mr Lipton’s intervention will heap more pressure on Mr Osborne to change course after a difficult week in which a second credit rating agency stripped the UK of its AAA status and the Chancellor’s favourite economists had their work called into question”.

Temporary co-operation

20/04/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs discusses the relationship between America and the International Criminal Court.

David Kaye writes that “the Brookings Institution hosted what would have been unthinkable a decade ago: a fulsome discussion, at times an outright lovefest, between officials from the U.S. government and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, lauded Washington for bolstering the court’s efforts to bring war criminals to justice. In turn, Stephen Rapp, the U.S. war crimes ambassador, declared,  “Every one of the situations in which arrest warrants have been issued [by the ICC] merit the support of the United States.” For the first time, the United States is not only cooperating with the ICC but encouraging cooperation and information-sharing with the court, which is based in The Hague”.

Kaye goes on to mention further instances of US-ICC co-operation “In March, Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo wanted by the ICC since 2006 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Despite the Rwandan government’s opposition to the ICC, U.S. officials quickly transferred Ntaganda into ICC custody. Less than two weeks later, Washington announced an expansion of the Rewards for Justice program, offering up to five million dollars for information that leads to the arrest, transfer, and conviction of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and others wanted for arrest by the ICC”.

Yet at the same time Kaye writes that the US Government’s normal posture is one of outright hostility, “although the United States is not a party to the ICC’s charter, the Rome Statute, it is arguably doing as much as, if not more than, member states are doing to bolster the work of the court. The Obama administration’s support stands in stark contrast to the high-profile assault that the George W. Bush administration waged against the ICC from 2001 to 2005. At the prodding of John Bolton, who served as undersecretary of state and then as U.S. ambassador to the UN, Washington denounced the Rome Statute and, by threatening to cut off military assistance, secured so-called Article 98 agreements from dozens of governments, promising that they would never send U.S. citizens to the ICC. At the same time, Congress passed the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, which prohibits cooperation with and funding of the court”.

Kaye then mentions that the Bush-ICC relationship softened in 2005 with “In 2005, Bush did not veto the UN Security Council’s referral of the Darfur conflict to the court. In addition, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened channels of communication with ICC officials. Publicly, however, Washington maintained an arm’s-length relationship”.

He then writes that President Obama has had good relations with the ICC, “The Obama administration has not only walked back Bush-era policies but has actively sought out opportunities to help the court. U.S. officials enthusiastically attend the ICC’s annual meetings of its member states and no longer seek Article 98 agreements. They speak in support of the court at the UN Security Council. In February 2011, Washington voted with a unanimous UN Security Council to refer the worsening situation in Libya to the ICC. The same year, Obama sent 100 U.S. military advisers to central Africa to train local troops tracking down Kony and other members of the LRA wanted by the ICC. Even more remarkable, the administration’s embrace of the court has been met with little, if any, resistance from Congress”.

The piece ends noting that while there are benefits to America joining the ICC, “as it would afford Washington an opportunity to populate the court with American judges and prosecutors who could shape the development of international criminal law and exercise influence over the ICC’s actions. However, even ardent ICC supporters recognize that seeking ratification would be the wrong move at this time. Congress is unlikely to support joining an institution that hypothetically could investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens. And Congress is generally skeptical of international obligations; it recently rejected the UN Disabilities Convention, even though it was modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. To quash the agreement, Senate Republicans, echoing a long-held conservative attitude toward treaties, raised unfounded fears that the convention would allow UN bureaucrats to violate U.S. sovereignty. If senators blocked even this relatively uncontroversial international agreement, there is little chance that they would sign off on a global criminal court”.

It finishes, “even without a ratification effort, certain developments could rekindle congressional opposition of the ICC. For example, if Palestinian leaders renew their request for an ICC investigation into Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza, including into settlement activity, Congress will almost certainly pressure the administration to walk back its support of the court. A court investigation into alleged crimes committed by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, an ICC member state, would spark similar opposition”.

What Kaye is describing is nothing new. America will always attempt to work with international organisations when it suits its interests and values however, when either or sometimes both, of these are being threatened, America will rightly walk away.

“Back to prison”

20/04/2013

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been ordered back to prison from military hospital. Mr Mubarak’s retrial will open on 11 May, a Cairo appeals court says. He is charged alongside his former interior minister and six former security chiefs with complicity in the murder and attempted murder of hundreds of protesters in January 2011. The retrial was meant to begin on 13 April but collapsed when the presiding judge withdrew from the case.”

Always the victim?

20/04/2013

Ely Ratner writes an excellent piece in Foreign Policy about how China always sees itself as the victim rather than the aggressor and thus cause of the specific problem. He begins his piece noting “Every two years, Beijing issues a defense white paper assessing its national security environment and describing the ongoing modernization of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). And every two years, U.S. defense analysts are disappointed by just how little useful information it contains”.

He then goes on to write that the latest version of this report, “‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces,’ released in mid-April, does provide some new details on the roles, organisation, and size of the PLA and its paramilitary force, the People’s Armed Police. Building on the previous seven editions, the report also describes the widening scope of Chinese military missions as well as China’s growing ability to protect those interests overseas. But mostly the paper regurgitates propagandistic platitudes and pre-existing material. What the 2013 white paper does show is a China deeply concerned about the ‘pivot’ to Asia by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. China is facing a ‘volatile security situation,’ it reads, in part because U.S. rebalancing is sabotaging regional stability”.

This of course overlooks all the China has done to stir divisions since at least last year with the failed ASEAN summit and since then a number of ill-conceived bullying tactics that have only made China’s position worse. Naturally this has only strengthened America’s hand though this is not to say the the rest of Asia will automatically support America. It must nudge and cajole China’s neighbours into seeing sense and the threat that China poses to them without America at the same time overplaying its hand too much.

Ratner goes on to write that “Although the document innocuously notes that the United States is ‘adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy,’ it goes on to suggest: ‘Some country [read: the United States] has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser.’ This argument is frequently heard in China and regularly devolves into conspiracy theories about how Washington has been pushing and prodding its allies to challenge Beijing. Senior Chinese officials claim, even in private, that the United States masterminded a number of actions against China in the region, including Burma’s September 2011 suspension of the corruption-ridden Chinese-sponsored Myitsone Dam project; the Philippines’ April 2012 decision to detain illegal Chinese fishermen near Scarborough Shoal, which both countries claim; and the former Tokyo governor’s April 2012 announcement that he intended to purchase three Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese claim as their own and call the Diaoyu Islands, from a private Japanese citizen”. Ratner goes on to argue that this is the exact opposite that America has actually done, “this argument runs counter to both reality and U.S. strategy. The United States has de-escalated tensions by responding to crises in the South China and East China seas with intense, high-level U.S. diplomacy. U.S. policymakers know that it is counterproductive for the United States to ignite regional crises, which are bad for business and unnecessarily complicate relations with Beijing”.

He goes on to argue persusaivoly that “Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks in Tokyo in mid-April urging countries to avoid ‘unilateral’ and ‘provocative’ actions were intended for capitals throughout the region, not just Beijing. Although allies could always miscalculate, it does not appear that their foreign-policy decisions are distorted by a serious misunderstanding of U.S. intentions and expectations. Nevertheless, what is striking about Chinese assessments of the U.S. rebalancing is that they are rarely, if ever, accompanied by an awareness of the self-defeating consequences of China’s own coercive behavior. Instead, a deeply embedded historical perception of victimization persists in China”. Ratner further re-enforces his argument when he writes that “In the last year alone, it erected a rope barrier to block Philippine ships during a standoff at Scarborough Shoal, sent maritime and naval vessels into waters it has not historically administered, and engaged in economic coercion to exact financial pain on its antagonists. Whatever one thinks about the misdeeds of the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam, in the last few years no country in the region has even come close to this level of provocation. And Beijing’s undiplomatic behavior is often in sharp and bewildering contrast to the ‘charm offensive‘ that scholars were describing less than a decade ago”.

Ratner ends the piece arguing that this “foreign policy” is not just a few rogue and overzealous PLAN captains but instead a massive distraction to the CCP domestic audience, “The most likely — and worrisome — explanation is that domestic priorities drive China’s foreign policies, which are therefore often formulated at the expense of strategic and diplomatic considerations. And while the implications of coercing neighbors and illegally seizing territory are not necessarily desirable, they pale in comparison to the consequences of failing to confront the regime’s existential domestic challenges: economic slowdown, energy insecurity, and the growing political instabilities associated with dead pigs floating in rivers, a potential nationwide outbreak of avian flu, terrible traffic jams, sky-high real estate prices, and unbreathable air. No wonder the Chinese Communist Party works hard to keep populist foreign-policy issues in the headlines”.

The danger is that if China does not use foreign policy as an outlet the populace are in danger of realising the deep problems China faces. However, it if continues to use foreign policy in the way it has, to appease domestic audiences, then Asia will move further and further away from China’s view with Burma being the primary example of this. Perhaps even Cambodia will follow.

Musharraf arrested

20/04/2013

Pakistani police arrested former president Pervez Musharraf on Friday to face allegations he overstepped his powers while in office, marking a dramatic break with a political culture in which military rulers have remained untouchable. The one-time army chief had hoped to rekindle a degree of influence by standing in a general election in May, but has instead become ensnared in a showdown with judges who fought bruising battles with him while he was still in office. A magistrate had raised the stakes earlier on Friday when he ordered Musharraf be placed under house arrest for two days before he is due to appear in court on allegations of illegally detaining judges during a crackdown on the judiciary in 2007″.

Who are the eight?

20/04/2013

In an analysis of the recent decision of Pope Francis to appoint eight cardinals to assist him, John Allen notes a number of points.

Allen writes that the group is actually quite powerful with a wide remit, “reading Saturday’s announcement, that’s not what it says. The key line states that Francis has assembled this group ‘to advise him in the government of the universal church,’ and only then ‘to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus.’ In other words, curial reform is only the second task. The first is to advise the pope on decisions about the universal church, meaning there’s almost nothing that falls outside its purview”.

Interestingly he mentions that “Cardinal George Pell of Sydney may be a solid doctrinal conservative, but during the pre-conclave period, no one was more outspoken about dysfunction in Vatican management. He famously said of the Benedict years, ‘Governance is done by most of the people around the pope, and that wasn’t always done brilliantly.’ Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga has crossed swords with Vatican potentates, including a standoff with his fellow Salesian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone regarding an overhaul of Caritas Internationalis. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston joined Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in 2010 in criticising Cardinal Angelo Sodano for referring to criticism of the church’s record on sex abuse as ‘petty gossip.’ Over the years, both Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India have argued for greater latitude for both local churches and regional conferences of bishops. This background suggests Francis has turned to prelates likely to give him real advice”

In what is perhaps a the most fundamental point about just how far Pope Francis is about to go Allen notes that “Since the election of the new pope, there has been a steady drumbeat of speculation in Rome about whom Francis might pick as the next Secretary of State, with that choice usually styled as the key first test of how serious Francis may be about reform. In light of Saturday’s announcement, however, it now seems less critical who takes over from Bertone because the role of the Secretariat of State seems destined to be diminished under Francis. Rather than being the über-dicastery where all the important decisions about church governance are made, it may function more like a support staff to the pope and his body of eight advisers. Even without the new group, the Secretary of State likely would have been less central. Everything about the administrative style of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, suggests he prefers to take the important decisions directly in hand rather than relying on a ‘right arm.’ The creation of the ‘G8,’ however, provides another firebreak between Francis and overdependence on the usual bureaucratic structures”.

What is certain is the the Church is effectively in uncharted waters with this new group and as a result almost anything is possible

“Targeting secular-leaning party members”

18/04/2013

Pakistani Taliban have attacked two leaders of an anti-militant political party, killing one and wounding the other in the latest attack targeting secular-leaning party members during their campaigns for next month’s parliamentary election. In the first incident, Mukarram Shah was killed in an explosion as he entered his car in the village of Banjot, north-west Pakistan, said Abdullah Khan, police chief of the nearby city of Mingora. The explosives appeared to have been set off by remote control, he added. In the second attack, a blast struck the convoy of Masoom Shah, the provincial assembly candidate, as he was returning from a campaign meeting, a police officer said. Zahir Khan added that Shah and three aides suffered wounds from the roadside bomb. Both politicians are from the secular Awami National party, which supported military operations against extremists in the region”.

Blind to the realities

18/04/2013

In a bid that has horrified many the US Senate has rejected a series of proposals on gun control. Reports have noted that “The Senate delivered a devastating blow to President Obama’s agenda Wednesday by defeating a bipartisan proposal that would have expanded background checks on gun sales. It failed by a vote of 54-46, short of the necessary 60. A handful of Democrats voted against it and only four Republicans supported the measure backed by the White House. The vote effectively halted gun control in the upper chamber. Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) voted no. Reid strongly supports the bill, and his vote was a procedural one that allows him to bring the measure up again in the future”.

This is a small ray of good hope but the fact the the otherwise sensible proposals were defeated after the slew of gun violence that has affected America seems to paint the Senate has blind to the realities of the outside world. Thankfully there was some sense of bipartisanship with the report mentioning that “GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) voted yes”.

The report goes on to add that “The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Toomey, captured political momentum last week, but it faded over the last several days. The bill would have expanded checks to cover all firearm sales at gun shows and over the Internet, with exemptions for sales between friends and acquaintances outside of commercial venues.  Democrats felt confident the compromise could pass once Toomey, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), signed on. They were caught off guard when the NRA’s vigorous lobbying campaign trumped Toomey’s support. The gun lobby warned lawmakers that the Manchin-Toomey bill would be a factor in its lawmaker ratings. What appeared to be a likely victory for the president was defeated by the Senate as jittery Democrats facing tough reelections next year joined nearly the entire Republican conference”.

The article ends noting “A visibly irritated Obama ripped the GOP and groups that opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment, saying they ‘willfully lied’ about the contents of the background-check bill. He added that the vote represented a ‘pretty shameful day for Washington.’ Obama vowed to keep up the fight for gun control, calling for proponents to turn the heat up on Congress: ‘Sooner or later we are going to get this right.’ Now Democratic leaders, who had deemed background checks the “sweet spot” of gun control, will have to overhaul the pending gun control bill to give it a chance of passing the Senate in diminished form. It remains to be seen if a gun bill will pass the GOP-led House. The failure of Manchin-Toomey means the broader bill still includes Democratic language passed by the Judiciary Committee to establish universal background checks. That language failed to attract a single Republican vote during the panel markup, and conservative Democrats such as Manchin and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have said they cannot support the package without changes to the language on background checks. The Senate’s failure to expand background checks means the three pillars of Obama’s gun control agenda have stalled. The chamber also rejected a proposal to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines. However, a gun-rights amendment deemed a poison pill by Democratic leaders fell three votes short on Wednesday”.

“Just barely managed”

18/04/2013

Venezuela’s vice president, Nicolás Maduro, has just barely managed to ride a wave of emotion triggered by the death of the late ex-president Hugo Chavez to claim victory as his successor. On Sunday, Maduro beat opposition leader Henrique Capriles by a little over one percentage point (roughly 200,000 votes), according to the official tally. Maduro now faces two problems: First, his margin of victory was much smaller than what recent polls were suggesting, and second, Capriles is not accepting the results”.

Pretending to be friends

18/04/2013

After the recent article on the strength, or lack thereof, of the People’s Liberation Army a new piece has been published noting the strangely good relations between the PLA and the US Armed Forces.

Garnaut writes that the leaders of the US forces and PLA will meet in the hope of putting “the world’s most dangerous military relationship on a safer track”. He goes on to mention “Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is known as an affable and straight-talking army man. So too is Gen. Fang Fenghui, his counterpart at China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). ‘Fang is smart, he’s impressive, he’s his own person and he wants to make a more professional force,’ says one of several recent visitors who has spent productive hours with him in Beijing. PLA leaders have always calculated that their interests are best served by allowing minimal genuine communication and revealing nothing about capabilities, intentions or systems of command. But as China’s military gets bigger and more powerful, there are signs that the calculus of secrecy is changing. Does China have “more than 100 nuclear weapons,” as the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimated in 2006, or 3,000, as guesstimated by a recent Georgetown University study? In what circumstances would it use them and who has the power to press the button?”

Garnaut goes on to argue that “after two decades of double-digit budget hikes, the PLA can no longer use secrecy to disguise its capabilities. It has flight-tested a stealth fighter, deployed the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile — dubbed the ‘assassin’s mace’ in China — and launched its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. ‘A bigger power does not have the option of appearing weak’, says Christopher Ford, the former U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation”.

He argues that relations are largely going back to their mistrust and uneasiness, largely due to Chinese actions when he writes ” The PLA Navy is pushing harder into disputed territories and causing almost every maritime nation in the region to increase military spending, form new security linkages with each other, and encourage the United States to accelerate its “pivot” toward China. In December, Ford, who was then at the Hudson Institute in Washington, explained the diminishing returns of secrecy. He told PLA colonels and generals that an element of uncertainty can sometimes aid deterrence, particularly around the question of what provocation might trigger nuclear attack, but a profound lack of clarity will lead the other party to assume the worst. And this is what’s happening with China. ‘Beijing’s strategic secretiveness has contributed to making it increasingly easy for Americans, and China’s own neighbors, to assume the worst about the PRC’s strategic planning and the intentions such planning supports,’ said Ford, in his paper on Sino-American distrust, delivered at a PLA conference on the topic in Beijing’s Fragrant Hills”.

He ends the article, “The PLA still defines the United States as its enemy-in-chief, as Gen. Fang’s deputy, Qi Jianguo, made clear in an essay in Study Times earlier this year. But the strategic calculus of secrecy may be changing with President Xi Jinping’s new leadership team. Since October, PLA officials have been treating their U.S. counterparts with relative warmth and openness, to the point that one shocked Pentagon official privately described it as a “love fest.” Australia — which has more open channels of cooperation with China than the United States or any other U.S. ally — has proposed an ambitious program of joint exercises and exchanges. Behind closed doors, it has received a “positive” in-principle reply, according to officials familiar with the talks. Prime Minister Julia Gillard publicly broached the possibility of trilateral exercises with China and the United States while touring China this week”.

Garnaut ends his article that at least now the generals are talking but all of that will come to naught unless China engages openly with the US. Given its past history as well as theory, this is highly unlikely.

An insult

16/04/2013

Today marks the 86th birthday of Pope Benedict. In a special Mass offered by Pope Francis for his predecessor it was reported he [Francis] went on, ‘everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it’s not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it.’ The Pope said one example of this resistance was the Second Vatican council which he called ‘a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.’ But 50 years later, ‘have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council,’ he asked. The answer is ‘No,’ said Pope Francis. ‘We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don’t want it to upset us. We don’t want to change and what’s more there are those who wish to turn the clock back.'” This goes against all the Benedict worked for, as he wrote in the letter with Summorum Pontificum, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful”.

10 suggestions

14/04/2013

In her latest blog post Rosa Brooks says that she has envisioned “10 things Congress and/or the president could do to ensure that U.S. targeted killings comport with rule of law norms. I take no credit (or blame!) for these ideas, none of which is original to me. (Some sources of these suggestions include Human Rights First, the Council on Foreign Relations, Lawfare, Human Rights Watch, and numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues and friends.) But I am sure the list of ideas below is neither perfect nor complete”.

The first on her list is that Congress should “encourage administration transparency and public debate by continuing to hold hearings on drone strikes, targeted killing policy, and its relationship to and impact on broader U.S. counterterrorism, national security, and foreign policy goals. Congress should also consider hearings on the longer-term challenge of adapting the law of war and law of self-defense to 21st century threats”. This is eminently sensible both for the administration and public. The only concern is that it could be turned into a partisan issue on some of the minor points which may render any benefits null.

The second suggestion she makes is “Congress should also encourage administration transparency by imposing reporting requirements. Congress could require that the executive branch provide thorough reports on any uses of force not expressly authorized by Congress, and that such reports contain both classified sections and unclassified sections in which the administration provides a legal and policy analysis of any use of force in self-defense or other uses of force outside traditional battlefields”. This sounds like a reasonable suggestion but the concern is that targets that are in the expansive national interest will be deemed too broad and therefore come up against mounting public pressure which would harm both the short, and long term security of the United States.

Her third suggestion is “Congress should consider creating a judicial mechanism, perhaps similar to the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to authorize and review the legality of targeted killings outside of traditional battlefields. While the administration argues that such targeting decisions present a non-justiciable political question because of the president’s commander-in-chief authority, the use of military force outside of traditional battlefields and against geographically dispersed non-state actors straddles the lines between war and law enforcement. While the president must clearly be granted substantial discretion in the context of armed conflicts, the applicability of the law of armed conflict to a particular situation requires that the law be interpreted and applied to a particular factual situation, and this is squarely the type of inquiry the judiciary is bested suited to making”. The arguments against a FISA style drone court are too many to list here but have been dealt with elsewhere. However, the problems are manifold from having judges act as commanders of the US Armed Forces to operational delays to a host of other problems.

Her fourth suggestion is that ” Congress should consider repealing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. The Obama administration’s domestic legal justification for most drone strikes relies on the AUMF, which it interprets to authorize the use of force not only against those individuals and organizations with some real connection to the 9/11 attacks, but also against all “associates” of al Qaeda. This infinitely flexible interpretation of the AUMF has lowered the threshold for using force”. Again this has been discussed here before but her contention that it is “infinitely flexible” is incorrect and does not accept the new realities of warfare.

Her tenth point is perhaps most worthwhile, “The administration should convene, through appropriate formal and Track II diplomatic channels, an international dialogue on norms governing the use of drone technologies and targeted killings. The goal should be to develop consensus on the legal principles applicable to targeted killing outside a state’s territory, including those relating to sovereignty, proportionality, and distinction, and on appropriate procedural safeguards to prevent and redress error and abuse”.

“Retreating to its comfort zone”?

14/04/2013

Lord Reid of Cardowan, the former home secretary, said Labour had to move beyond criticising the coalition and must propose its own solutions on issues such as welfare, the economy and housing. David Blunkett, another former New Labour Cabinet member, said the party’s MPs were too quiet and urged his colleagues to work harder at promoting their plans. Their comments followed Mr Miliband’s public clash with Tony Blair last week after the former prime minister warned that Labour was in danger of retreating to its “comfort zone” as a party of protest. Lord Reid, who held six Cabinet posts, including defence secretary and health secretary, said that while Mr Miliband had succeeded in establishing an effective opposition, he had yet to offer an alternative agenda for government”.

 

Eight cardinals

14/04/2013

Exactly a month after his election Pope Francis has set up a group of cardinals “to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, ‘Pastor Bonus'”. The members of the group are  Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, Francisco Javier Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley,  George Cardinal Pell and Oscar Andrés Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga. The statement then closes “The group’s first meeting has been scheduled for 1-3 October 2013. His Holiness is, however, currently in contact with the aforementioned cardinals”.

Interestingly only Cardinal Bertello could be described as an active curialist having been a nuncio and now president of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State. All others were/are residential archbishops. Cardinal Errazuriz Ossa served in the curia before as secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The inclusion of Cardinal Pell is interesting as he was almost appointed as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops replacing Vatican lifer and PEA graduate, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, but it never occurred due to intense curial opposition.

Rocco adds another layer of context noting that “In retrospect, the idea has apparently been on Francis’ mind since the first days following his election – the new Pope had his first announced audience of any sort with Semeraro on the evening of March 17th, the same night he met with the Father-General of the Jesuits, Adolfo Nicolás”.

Rocco goes on to write that Cardinal Errazuriz Ossa “is a former president of the CELAM – the mega-conference of the Latin American bishops – while Gracias is the current head of the umbrella-group of the Asian episcopal conferences, the FABC, and Marx (a sociologist by training) oversees COMECE, the Brussels-based commission of European bishops’ conferences”. 

He ends the piece “As for the group’s coordinator, despite having served as archbishop of the Honduran capital since 1993, Rodríguez (above) – like Errázuriz, another past president of CELAM – is a well-known figure on the Roman scene thanks both his days in the continental post and his current side-role as president of Caritas Internationalis, the federation of the global church’s charitable and humanitarian-aid agencies. In the latter capacity, the 70 year-old cardinal was involved in a scrap with B16’s Curia over its 2012 push to overhaul Caritas, a process which saw the forced departure of the group’s secretary-general, Leslie Ann Knight, allegedly for having been overtly ‘critical of the Vatican machine.'”

Blame South Korea?

14/04/2013

South Korea has matched the North’s bellicosity with its own strategic perversity: It remains obsessed with an utterly unthreatening Japan and has been purchasing air power to contend with imagined threats from Tokyo as opposed to the real ones just north of the demilitarized zone. Seoul is simply unwilling to acquire military strength to match its vastly superior economy. Instead, it spends billions of dollars to develop its proudly “indigenous” T-50 jet fighters, Surion helicopters, and coastal defense frigates — alternatives for which could be much better, and cheaper, imported from the United States. Meanwhile, gaping holes remain in South Korean defenses (and thus we see the ridiculous spectacle of last-minute scrambling for missing equipment and munitions in the present crisis). And the cycle continues: Because the South allows itself to remain so vulnerable, it cannot react effectively against North Korea’s perpetual threats and periodic attacks. Instead, Seoul checks its bank account and gets ready for the next payoff. It’s time for this to end. The United States cannot force the North to give up its bellicosity, but surely it can force the South to renounce its perversity. The price of continued U.S. protection should be the adoption of a serious defense policy”.

Still the leader

14/04/2013

After writing a piece in Foreign Affairs on the weakness of the BRIC countries, Ruchir Sharma has written in Foreign Policy that America is much stronger than many think.

He begins the piece “In recent decades, the chattering classes have continued to show the same reflex, bowing down before the rise of Japan in the 1980s, Silicon Valley in the 1990s, and the broad rise of the big emerging markets — known as the BRICS — in recent years. After a decade in which the U.S. share of the global economy declined from 32 to 22 percent, while the emerging market’s share rose from 20 to 35 percent, many intellectuals assumed emerging countries led by Brazil, Russia, India, and China were to be the conquerors of the future”.

He goes on to argue “Only China is growing faster than the emerging-market average, and even there the annual GDP growth rate dropped from the 11 percent pace of the past decade to below 8 percent last year — and will possibly slow to 5 to 6 percent in the next few years, weighed down by the sheer size and age of China’s increasingly middle-income economy. India has slowed just as dramatically, Russia and Brazil even more so, and it is now possible the latter two will grow slower than the United States in coming years”.

Sharma then makes the valid point that “despite the recent uptick in unemployment, the United States is the leading ‘breakout nation’ — the one most likely to beat the growth rate of rivals in its income class, as well as expectations for that class, over the next five years” he then goes on to write that China faces yet more problems, “United States is winning the race to dig its way out of debt, a process called “deleveraging.” While total U.S. debt (combining government, corporate, and household debt) is now strikingly high, at 340 percent of GDP, what matters most for growth is the pace and direction of change. The McKinsey Global Institute has shown that the United States is the only major developed economy that since 2008 has lowered its total debt as a share of GDP, while that burden is rising in the leading European economies. One reason is that the U.S. system allows banks to force delinquent mortgage holders into foreclosure, from which Europeans are still heavily protected. This is brutal but effective because an economy is hard-pressed to recover when its debt pile is growing. China, with a total debt burden that has hit 200 percent of GDP and is still rising fast, arguably faces a bigger challenge than the United States, in part because it’s much less wealthy”.

He then argues, convincingly that ” The falling value of the dollar over the past decade is another important sign of American competitive flexibility that has been widely misinterpreted as a symbol of weakness. The dollar is now around 25 percent below its peak in inflation-adjusted terms against its trading partners, which makes U.S. exports more affordable abroad. The U.S. share of global exports is currently up a full point from its all-time low of 7.5 percent, hit in 2008. More importantly, for all the talk about the dollar’s demise, its international status has not slipped in decades”.

Events in Europe have assisted America in particular with the euro crisis still raging with little real end in sight in the short term at least. For now the continent will lumber on, as it does, from crisis to crisis until a genuine solution is achieved or failing that the “logic” of the markets will get tired of the “logic” of the euro and end the system altogether, although this is in no-one’s interest. The situation in China is no better, or perhaps even worse for that country in the long term. Even the much lauded German economy is slowing and in the long term facing significant challenges.

Sharma then writes that “The competitive exchange rate also fuels the renaissance of manufacturing in the United States, which reacted much more quickly than Europe or Japan to new competition from the emerging world” he then argues that this has resulted in 200,000 new jobs “in each of the last two years” something which Europe can only dream of.

He then argues that America has another edge over its competitors as a result of the energy boom, “Often, America’s economic rivals lack the large supplies of water required for blasting gas out of shale rock or the clear land-use laws and ready financing that make the revolution possible in the United States. As a result, the United States now has a huge lead in fracking technology, with 425 gas rigs drilling in operation versus about 30 in Europe. The United States also has a significant lead over the BRICS countries in developing the expertise and infrastructure for this energy boom”.

He ends on a note of caution, “In a global economy now defined by competing forms of capitalism, the American brand appears to be winning. The biggest risk by far is government debt because the U.S. government lags well behind its households and companies in beginning the painful deleveraging process. In coming years, the U.S. government debt burden is likely to slow GDP growth by about a point, to around 2.5 percent, compared with the historical average — but that will still be fast enough to lead the rich world”.

Confirmed by Musharraf

12/04/2013

CNN confirms what was reported recently on the agreement between America and Pakistan, “Musharraf’s admission, though, suggests he and others did play some role, even if they didn’t oversee the program or approve every attack. In an interview this week in Islamabad, Musharraf insisted Pakistan’s government signed off on strikes ‘only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage.’ Still, his admission that Pakistani leaders agreed to even a limited number of strikes runs counter to their repeated denunciations of a program they long claimed the United States was operating without their approval. The drone strikes — which the nonpartisan public policy group New American Foundation estimates have killed at least 1,990 people in Pakistan, including hundreds of civilians — are unpopular in Pakistan”.

Damascus, twinned with Pyongyang?

12/04/2013

An interesting article argues that there is a connection between Syria and the inevitable downfall of President Assad and North Korea and the downfall of Kim Jong un.

He begins arguing that “There is a real risk that the Korean Peninsula will follow Syria’s descent into war, with open conflict breaking out between North Korea and South Korea. This is because Pyongyang shares with the Damascus regime a key ingredient that can produce open conflict — an inexperienced ruler with shaky legitimacy”.

He goes on to give background to the Syrian regime, “Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled from 1970 to 2000, was ruthless — but canny and flexible. He knew how to wield power and how to keep it; he balanced Syria among the Soviet Union, the United States, Egypt, and Israel, and he exercised a persistent influence in the Middle East. His regime was personal but also had a strong party — the Baath Party — and the military behind it”.

The article then begins to draw comparisons between the two regimes, “When Bashar al-Assad took power after his father’s death in 2000, he lacked the skills to manage a complex regime. He proved ruthless, to be sure — but also inflexible, overreactive, and lacking deep support among the population. He has led Syria into a horribly bloody civil war, largely due to the poor caliber of his leadership. His response to the uprising has made him a pariah to many of his own people and dependent on his ties to Hezbollah and Iran, which wish to keep his country as a transit lane between Tehran and Beirut. The parallel with North Korea is striking. The dynasty’s founder, Kim Il Sung, was a strong leader, liberation hero, and communist strongman — much like his patron, Stalin. But he moved toward personalized rule by appointing his son Kim Jong Il as successor. Unlike with Bashar al-Assad, this was no unexpected rise: The younger Kim was groomed through 30 years of political life”.

He goes on to mention how Kim Jong un came to power, “The same cannot be said of Kim’s son Kim Jong Un. The youngest Kim is — like Bashar al-Assad was — a virtual unknown. Even he expected his older brother Kim Jong Nam to take power. But his brother fell out of favor, and Kim Jong Un had a painfully short grooming period before he ascended to the top of the power structure in Pyongyang. He became a general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2010 despite having no prior political or military experience”.

Yet despite these similarities there are vast contrasts. North Korea is a one party state with little or no communication between it and the outside world. Therefore, unlike Syria it is far easier for the regime in the DPRK to control its citizens and the information they receive. Whereas Syria is if not the total opposition, far enough removed from North Korea to make a world of difference to how the state is run and how the people perceive the government and themselves vis a vis the outside world.

He ends the piece “Kim’s position is weak. If he starts a war, North Korea is certain to lose, and it is likely that his government will be overthrown. But his inexperience is such that he may, like Bashar al-Assad, blunder into a war without intending to — destroying his own country in the process”.

 

Pakistani Taliban make advances

12/04/2013

A report form the New York Times notes “When Taliban fighters swept into the Tirah Valley of northern Pakistan last month, grabbing a remote but strategic area that was previously known for criminal activity, Pakistan’s military seized a chance to bloody the insurgents before they dug in. But the counteroffensive took a dismal turn over the past week, as the Taliban struck back with a combination of guerrilla tactics and dexterous tribal politics, defending their new perch and increasing their ability to disrupt Pakistan’s approaching election. After five days of fighting, at least 26 soldiers, many from the elite commandos unit, have been killed, according to several senior security and tribal officials. Dozens of Taliban militants have also died, they said. ‘Resistance is stiff,’ said one of those officials in Peshawar, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. The battle for Tirah, a mountain redoubt of steep walls backing onto the border with Afghanistan in the Khyber agency, highlights the complexity of the war that has slowly engulfed Pakistan’s tribal belt over the past five years”.

A complicated women

12/04/2013

A more nuanced portrait of Marget Thatcher has been published in light of her recent death. He opens the piece thoughtfully,”To her fans she remains the very embodiment of self-assured conservatism, the woman who unapologetically celebrated the values of patriotism and free enterprise. To her foes she remains Thatcher the Milk Snatcher, the sneering prima donna who slashed away at the British welfare state, spared little time for the poor, and opened the way to an era of excess and greed. Both of these images are caricatures”.

He goes on to discuss her view on the role of government writing “One of Thatcher’s signature achievements was her privatization program, which took some of the key industries that had been nationalized by the Labour Party in 1945 and restored them to private ownership. British Gas, the telephone company, and industrial firms were removed from state control, their shares sold off to investors. The idea was to get government out of the direct day-to-day management of companies that were better off exposed to the bracing discipline of the markets”. However he goes on to temper this when he writes “yet she pointedly shied away from any radical restructuring of the core institutions of the “cradle-to-grave” welfare state that the Labourites had established three decades before her. She was especially reluctant to take on the National Health Service, the all-encompassing health-care system that remains a mainstay of British society today. Though she attempted a few piecemeal reforms of the NHS, she notably refused to expose it fully to market discipline, all too aware that the British public would never stand for that”.

On the point about her passion for cutting taxes he writes “Britain became notorious in the 1970s for its astonishingly high rates of tax on top earners, prompting many a rock star and CEO to seek more hospitable financial climes. One of the Thatcher’s first moves after her election as British prime minister in 1979 was to slash income taxes. (In 1979 the top rate was an astonishing 83 percent, which her government cut to 60 percent.) By reducing the tax burden on earnings, she aimed to unleash long-suppressed entrepreneurial impulses”. All of this is well and good but thankfully he goes on to mention that “In stark contrast to today’s Republicans in the United States, though, Thatcher acknowledged that it was impossible to balance the government’s books without raising revenues elsewhere — which she did, in her first term, by boosting taxes on consumption. Though government finances during her early years received a huge boost from the flow of North Sea oil”

On the issue of social conservatism he notes that Thatcher “was the product of a strict Methodist upbringing that emphasized individual responsibility and respect for traditional values, her record as a Conservative Party parliamentarian shows that she approved of legal abortion and also voted for a landmark law in the 1960s that decriminalized homosexuality. (To be sure, she later angered gay rights advocates with her support for a 1988 measure that prohibited schools from teaching ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’) She might have found some common ground with today’s U.S. Republicans over capital punishment, of which she strongly approved. Yet it’s hard to imagine that her other views on social issues would have proved amenable to the American conservatives who today hold her in such high regard”.

He goes on in a similar vein to inject some nuance into her relationship with President Reagan, “the public image of a serenely harmonious “power couple” obscures more than it reveals. Both were fervent defenders of their countries’ respective national interests, which sometimes clashed. As Thatcher biographer John Campbell notes, Thatcher was profoundly disappointed when the Reagan administration failed to take her side after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands: The White House pushed her to seek mediation rather than a military solution to the conflict”.

“Move forward on gun control”

12/04/2013

The Senate voted to move forward on gun control Thursday, clearing the first of what is expected to be many 60-vote hurdles for the legislation. In a 68-31 vote, the Senate approved a procedural motion that will allow debate on the Democratic measure to begin. Sixty votes were required for approval. Sixteen Republicans voted in favor of the motion, while two Democrats — both from states President Obama lost in the 2012 election — voted against it. The two Democrats were Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), both of whom face reelection next year.

“Less well grasped”

12/04/2013

An article in Foreign Affairs discusses the legacy of Thatcher. It begins arguing that “The outlines of Thatcherism on the socio-economic front are well known: rolling back the frontiers of the state, emphasizing individual responsibility, and championing entrepreneurial creativity. Today, the legacy of Thatcherism is ambivalent. On the one hand, Thatcher pulled the country out of the economic tailspin of the 1970s; on the other hand, her war on regulation facilitated the banking extravaganzas that eventually resulted in the ongoing financial crisis. What is less well grasped, however, is Thatcher’s legacy in foreign policy”.

He writes that the “sobriquet “Iron Lady” was bestowed on Thatcher not by British miners or Thatcher’s many other domestic opponents, but by the Soviet press in the mid-1980s. It reflected her reputation for toughness on the military and diplomatic fronts, particularly in the joint effort with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to strengthen the West’s nuclear defenses during the Cold War”.

Sims goes on to argue that “Three interlocking — but not always mutually reinforcing — impulses drove Thatcher’s foreign policy. First, the Iron Lady hated dictators and bullies of any kind. She refused to be intimidated by IRA violence, and she despised the culture of fear that the Irish republican movement fostered to keep its community in line. Her toughness on the Falklands reflected a determination not to hand island’s inhabitants over to the military regime in Buenos Aires, whose abysmal human rights record was well known. And her opposition to the Soviet bloc was informed by a deep sympathy for the dissident movements in such places as Czechoslovakia and Poland. Later, Thatcher was one of the few members of the British political establishment to speak out strongly against Serb ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.”

However he refusal to “be intimidated” by the IRA while certainly welcome also belied an ignorance and insensitivity when dealing the the government in Dublin. She gave the impression that Northern Ireland was simply her problem when in fact, if she had worked with the government in Dublin sooner and more willingly than much bloodshed could have possibly been avoided.  On more than one occasion she seemed no to understand the complexities of the situation in Ireland and in a perverse way seemed proud of this fact. Her attempts to sideline Dublin completely did little for peace and only made grievances worse. Similarly, she did nothing to halt the rise in Unionist terrorists and preachers that fomented anger among the Unionist community.

The article then goes on, continuing the uncritical style to note “Underpinning this hatred of dictators was the second impulse that drove Thatcher’s foreign policy: her passionate commitment to democracy. She was outraged that the National Union of Mineworkers refused to allow its members to vote on whether to strike, a decision that was ultimately made for the miners by an authoritarian, Soviet-leaning leadership. Her unyielding line against IRA terror was rooted in the knowledge that the majority of those in Northern Ireland wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Thatcher’s close relationship with Reagan was based, above all, on their shared belief in economic liberalization at home and democracy promotion abroad, at least in the Communist world”.

The article mentions her “hatred of dictators” yet this is too simplistic. She believed in democracy but at the same time did little to end apartheid in South Africa and at the same time giving support to Pinochet in Chile despite his utter contempt for human rights. Even after vast quanitites of evidence were found to show Pinochet’s involvement in murder and corruption she steadfastly stood by him . Therefore to oversimplify her record is at best, distasteful.

He adds later on that “Where Thatcher ultimately came unstuck was in her third principle, which was a preoccupation with German power — and a related profound ambivalence about European integration. She was a strong supporter of the European common market, partly because of her belief in free trade and partly because she thought that a reinvigorated and economically robust Europe would help contain the Soviet Union. At the same time, however, Thatcher belonged to a generation that had gone through World War II and naturally feared German power and German unification. By the late 1980s, she began to view the growing influence of the European Commission in Brussels not only as an encroachment on the democratic rights of the British people, but also as a vehicle for the reassertion of German power on the continent. This divided her not only from the French, for whom Europe was a device to contain its historical enemy, but also from German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose genuine commitment to a united Europe she mistakenly saw as a fig leaf for the reassertion of German power. In 1989–90, Thatcher’s commitment to democracy and her fear of Germany were in direct contradiction. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet bloc cleared the way for the German people to express their democratic desire for reunification. Thatcher now expressed concern that a united republic would ‘once again, dominate the whole of Europe.’ For a time, it seemed as if she would team up with Gorbachev and French President Francois Mitterand to prevent it. It was only with difficulty that the United States and her own advisers persuaded her to accept the inevitable. Nearly 25 years later, as Europe struggles with its sovereign debt crisis and the ever-widening gulf between Berlin and continent’s periphery, Thatcher’s concerns seem less far-fetched”.

It should be noted however that this is simply ascribing something to Thatcher that she did not know about and came into being long after she left office. Any “foresight” she had was in that sense, purely accidental. Not only that but she did after all sign the Single European Act so any hostility she had to Europe was measured by pragmatism rather than blind rage.  The article does little to balance her obvious good points with those acts that will not be judged kindly by history. It is more a  hagiography than a piece of serious historical scholarship.

Qatar to the rescue again

12/04/2013

Egypt has been offered an economic lifeline by Qatar, which will buy $3bn worth of its bonds. The cash will come in addition to a previously promised $18bn investment in Egypt from Qatar by 2018. Qatar will also supply Egypt with natural gas when needed, Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said. Earlier, Egypt’s planning minister Ashraf El-Araby said it was “very possible” that the country would ask the IMF to lend it more money”.

Time to cough up

12/04/2013

Writing in Foreign Policy, the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has said that. This is not a new topic and has been spoke on before. Among the most pressing, and most forthright of these speeches dealing with this was that delivered by then Defence Secretary Dr Bob Gates.

He writes “John Kerry chose Europe as the destination for his first trip abroad as U.S. secretary of state, and he made clear that was no accident. It followed on from President Barack Obama’s pledge to launch talks on a broad Transatlantic Trade and Investment agreement aiming to provide new opportunities for more than 800 million people on both sides of the Atlantic. These are timely reminders that in the 21st century, the transatlantic link remains the foundation of our freedom, our security, and our prosperity. Europe is still America’s partner of choice when it comes to shaping the global agenda and setting global standards in line with the values we share”.

Behind this standard rhetoric it must be asked is this going to be the case in the future? What role will Europe, either as individual nations or collectively have to play in the great threats of our age be they cyber attacks from China or threats from North Korea not to mention other rouge groups such as AQIM and AQAP. In reality a trend is beginning to develop with the and France being actively involved in regional security issues in Libya to Mali. Naturally just because these two nations had a role in these conflicts does not add up to a trend in itself but of all the countries on the European continent these are among the leaders when it comes to these issues.

Fogh Rasmussen goes on to write “the transatlantic bond that unites us cannot be taken for granted — and that means making smarter and more evenly distributed investments. Although the European Union and the United States together generate about half of global economic output, and NATO countries together account for over half of global defense spending, there are increasing concerns that the current balance of responsibilities and contributions within the alliance is neither satisfactory nor sustainable”.

He goes on to argue “Only by taking more responsibility for its own security — and by making a more robust contribution to NATO’s capabilities — can Europe remain a strong global actor and sustain America’s commitment to the alliance. Maintaining this link is vital for all of us, because we are all stronger when we stand together”.

Secretary Gates issued a warning to Europeans in his speech that his is among the last generation to be committed to European defence and NATO faces an uncertain future on the contient if members are unwilling to play their part by spending enough of their own, collective, defence.

The article continues with him noting the role NATO play’s, “NATO must be prepared for all contingencies. No two operations are alike” adding that it must also “The second lesson is that the ability of personnel — as well as equipment — from different allied countries to work seamlessly together is the most powerful asset we have. It means that NATO can deliver a collective punch that few nations can deliver alone — or only at a much greater cost. For example, combat aircraft from any NATO country are able to provide support to ground forces from any other allied country”.

Getting to the main point of his piece he notes that “Overall, NATO investment in major modern equipment has risen in recent years, but defense spending has become increasingly uneven. This has led to some growing — and dangerous — gaps, both within NATO and with the rest of the world. The biggest gap is between the United States and the other allies. Today, the United States represents 72 percent of total NATO defense spending, up from 63 percent in 2001.The fact that the U.S. defense budget has more than doubled since 2001 provides only a partial explanation for this shift. Over the same period, European defense budgets have either stagnated or decreased. This has serious operational, as well as political, consequences. Once again, the Libya operation is a case in point. The United States was the only country able to provide critical capabilities — such as air-to-air refuelling and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance — at sufficient levels. This imbalance has rightly prompted a new generation of American politicians and voters to wonder why they should continue to “subsidize” Europe’s security if Europeans themselves appear unwilling to make the necessary investment”.

Importantly he goes on to make the point that has been made by other a number of times “A second gap can be observed within Europe itself. European allies account for 68 percent of NATO’s common funding, covering collective requirements such as command and communication arrangements, which are not the responsibility of any single member. However, nearly 50 percent is provided by just four of them — the United States, Britain, France, and Germany and only a few allies still have the full spectrum of capabilities”. Interestingly he warns that gaps have also developed between NATO and some nations in Asia, “total defense spending by new and emerging powers has been going up — particularly in Russia, Brazil, the wider Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region. In 2012, for the first time ever, Asian defense spending exceeded that of Europe in nominal terms”.

Being diplomatic does not hide who he is referring to when he mentions “the Asia-Pacific region”, it is of course China. How can NATO members protect themselves have Chinese aggression if they are not equipped to do so?

He ends the piece “In a world where we are all interconnected, we must recognize that the transatlantic relationship remains the most important relationship we have. It is not only vital for the freedom, security, and prosperity of Europe and North America, but it also provides the bedrock of the rules-based global order. To remain America’s partner of choice, Europe must choose to become the strong partner that America needs”.

“Dramatically diminished”

12/04/2013

The Vatican reiterated Wednesday that Benedict XVI does not have any specific illness apart from the problems associated with old age after a Spanish author claimed the Pope Emeritus must have a grave illness after suffering a ‘dramatic’ deterioration in his health. Paloma Gomez Borrero, a correspondent at the Vatican, said Benedict XVI’s health had ‘dramatically diminished over the past 15 days,’ adding that one can only conclude ‘he must have something very serious.’ ‘We won’t have him with us for very much longer,’ she said in a report in the Spanish newspaper ABC. ‘It is unlikely that the Pope Emeritus will appear again in public,’ she said. Gomez made the comments on Tuesday, at the launch of her new book on the conclave called ‘From Benedict to Francis’.  The journalist added the Pope’s decision to resign was a ‘very bitter chalice’ for him and that he showed ‘great humility’ in doing so.

Too efficient?

12/04/2013

Reports mention “Despite White House assurances that its lethal drone policy merely targets “senior operational leaders” of al Qaeda and its associates, a new McClatchy report finds that the majority of drone targets in Pakistan include a mix of unidentified ‘extremists’ and lower-level Afghan and Pakistani militants. The blockbuster report is based on copies of ‘top-secret U.S. intelligence reports’ obtained by reporter Jonathan Landay and includes data on drone strikes in Pakistan in a 12-month period ending in September 2011″.

With unabashed glee Micah Zenko writes in a separate, though related, article, “It turns out that the Obama administration has not been honest about who the CIA has been targeting with drones in Pakistan. Jonathan Landay, national security reporter at McClatchy Newspapers, has provided the first analysis of drone-strike victims that is based upon internal, top-secret U.S. intelligence reports. It is the most important reporting on U.S. drone strikes to date because Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides — that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland — is false”.

Zenko goes on to write “Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter’s right to self-defense. A Department of Justice white paper said that the United States can target a ‘senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force’ who ‘poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.’ Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration targets ‘specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces,’ and Harold Koh, the senior State Department legal adviser dubbed them ‘high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.’ Obama said during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012: ‘These strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after al-Qaeda suspects.’ Finally, Obama claimed in September: ‘Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.'”

Ultimately, this is unimportant. The fact that the drone strikes are being carried out on any al-Qaeda operatives whether high level or not, is what is important. America is facing a very dangerous enemy and to pretend otherwise would be reckless. As is well known Pakistan has done its utmost to hinder, slow and stop all US actions in Afghanistan out of a supposed, and ultimately warped “national interest”.  Indeed what would be far more worrying is that if the administration was overly selective in picking targets to strike.

Zenko goes on to add “Landay’s reporting primarily covers the most intensive period of CIA drone strikes, from September 2010 to September 2011. ‘[T]he documents reveal estimates of deaths and injuries; locations of militant bases and compounds; the identities of some of those targeted or killed; the movements of targets from village to village or compound to compound; and, to a limited degree, the rationale for unleashing missiles,’ he writes”. Zenko then quotes directly from the report, “Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals”.

Surely this is the whole point of drones? Yes the administration “lied” which it never should have done but instead of praising it for weakening other groups that wish to destroy America Zenko is in effect, saying that drones are too effective and protecting America. This shows just how strange the position he is trying to argue really is.

He then writes “This scope of targeting complicates the Obama administration’s claim that only those al Qaeda members who are an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland can be killed. In reality, starting in the summer of 2008, when President Bush first authorized signature strikes in Pakistan, the vast majority of drone-strike victims were from groups focused on establishing some form of Sharia law, attacking Pakistani security forces, and destabilizing Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban and attacking U.S. servicemembers”.

He ends the article, “Landay also writes that “the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan.” This should finally demolish John Brennan’s claim in June 2011 that “For the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” As I noted previously, either Brennan did not receive the information in these top-secret documents (an implausible notion given his central role in managing the targeted killings program), or he was being dishonest”.

It is however Zenko that is being dishonest, or at the very least naive. Drone strikes are not perfect and sadly some innocent civilians have, obviously, died. However the question that must be asked is what is the alternative? Sending dozens, or hundreds of US troops into harm’s way with uncertain results?

The article closes ,”The Obama administration has a fundamental choice to make if it is serious about reforming its targeted-killing program: Either target who officials claim they are targeting, or change their justifications to match the actual practice. If they unable or unwilling to do this, then other White House efforts toward drone-strike reform or transparency will be met with skepticism”.

A meeting last month

10/04/2013

A top State Department official met with a top representative of the North Korean government in New York in March, The Cable has learned. Clifford Hart, the State Department’s special envoy to the now-defunct six-party talks, met North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations Han Song-ryol in mid-March, just before North Korea began its latest string of provocative statements and actions, diplomatic sources said. The meeting was done through what’s known in diplomatic circles as the ‘New York channel,’ the most common method of direct communication between Washington and Pyongyang. No real progress was made during the meeting and no new offers were made by the U.S. officials present, the sources said. The U.S. side simply reiterated the administration’s call for North Korea to avoid provocative actions as well as its offer for a return to diplomacy if North Korea recommitted to fulfilling its international obligations and pursuing a path of denuclearization. The North Korean side simply agreed to communicate that information back to Pyongyang”.

“United with a kindred Syrian group”

10/04/2013

Reuters reports that, “Iraq’s al Qaeda wing has united with a kindred Syrian group in the frontline of a struggle to oust President Bashar al-Assad, sharpening a dilemma for nations that back the revolt, but fear rising Islamist militancy. The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said his group had trained and funded fighters from Syria’s al-Nusra Front – which is blacklisted by the United States – since the early days of the two-year-old uprising. He said in a statement posted on Islamist websites and seen by Reuters on Tuesday that the two groups would operate under the joint title of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”.

Unusually the report goes on to mention that “The militant Islamist element of the Syrian conflict poses a quandary for Western powers and their Arab allies, which favor Assad’s overthrow but are alarmed at the growing power of Sunni Muslim jihadi fighters whose fiercely anti-Shi’ite ideology has fuelled sectarian tensions in the Middle East. A U.S. analyst said the announcement was no game-changer, but reflected al Qaeda’s confidence in its position in Syria. ‘I don’t think it necessarily changes anybody’s calculus since … the United States already knew about this connection last year and there hasn’t been any change in policy per se by the United State or its allies in Syria in the last six months,’ said Aaron Zelin, of the Washington Institute for Near East policy”.

The piece goes on to say “Baghdadi’s statement, first reported by the U.S.-based SITE monitoring service, could not immediately be authenticated, and there was no immediate comment from al-Nusra on the merger. Baghdadi said his group had deployed battle-hardened fighters and sent funds to local al-Nusra cells set up in Syria to lay the groundwork for the armed uprising – which grew out of anti-Assad protests that erupted in March 2011 – but that it had refrained from announcing the link for security reasons. The Front burst into prominence early last year, when it claimed responsibility for several powerful bombings in the Syrian capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo. Since then it has expanded operations nationwide, winning recruits among rebels who see it as the most effective fighting force against Assad’s troops, and taking a leading role in capturing territory in the north, south and east of Syria”.

It does however seem strange that this proposed merger would have no effect on the conflict in Syria as the merged group would have presumably a unified command structure in addition to the two groups having joined forces with all the incumbent benefits, for want of a better word, that this brings. The merger of the two groups could also mean that it could set in motion similar mergers by other similar groups. While it would be a mistake to overstate the possibility of this trend if it were to take hold it would in effect mean a jihadist army.

The piece ends “Security officials say Anbar province, once the heartland of al Qaeda’s war on American troops, is again becoming a haven for the group as Iraqi forces struggle to cover a vast territory without the air support that U.S. forces troops once supplied. A porous border where the Euphrates river snakes though both countries, and the remote caves and hills of the desert make ideal territory for insurgents to evade Iraqi security forces and smuggle arms and fighters between Iraq and Syria. Zelin said In December, the U.S. State Department designated al-Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization, essentially classifying it as an affiliate of al Qaeda in Iraq. Last week, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called in an Internet statement for the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria after Assad’s ouster, as a step towards the Islamist goal of re-establishing an Islamic caliphate over Muslim lands. That prospect alarms many in Syria, from minority Druze, Christians, Alawites and Shi’ites to conservative but tolerant Sunnis who fear al-Nusra would try to impose Taliban-style rule”.

Message vs actions

10/04/2013

China is spending more on high-tech, yet unproven systems, such as stealth fighters, in an effort to keep up with the Pentagon. But that ambition is eating at its wider budget, said James Mulvenon, director of Defense Group, Inc.’s Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. Additionally, he said, the cost for PLA personnel has risen from about one-third of its budget to roughly one-half, in an effort to increase the quality of the Chinese force. China, last month, released its annual public disclosure of its military spending at $119 billion. That compares to roughly $526 billion in defense spending that President Obama reportedly will request for fiscal 2014, according to Bloomberg. There was little fear on Monday about what China plans to do with its military, and even a tepid appreciation that China has become more transparent and willing to talk about its intentions. But U.S. analysts remain frustrated that Beijing continues to say one thing, but do another, with the PLA”.

Agreed a deal

10/04/2013

An article in the New York Times has noted that the United States and Pakistan agreed a deal on the use of drones in Pakistan.

The piece opens describing that how Nek Muhammad, living in South Waziristan was killed in June 2004. The piece describes how “a missile tore through the compound, severing Mr. Muhammad’s left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16. A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound. That was a lie. Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a ‘targeted killing.’ The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies”.

The article goes on to mention “That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization”.

This deal between the United States and Pakistan shows just how schizophrenic between the two countries were as it was done just three years after the infamous Kunduz airlift where dozens of Taliban fighters were airlifted out of Afghanistan over a number of hours with direct assistance from the Pakistani government.

The article later adds background “By 2004, Mr. Muhammad had become the undisputed star of the tribal areas, the fierce mountain lands populated by the Wazirs, Mehsuds and other Pashtun tribes who for decades had lived independent of the writ of the central government in Islamabad. A brash member of the Wazir tribe, Mr. Muhammad had raised an army to fight government troops and had forced the government into negotiations. He saw no cause for loyalty to the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani military spy service that had given an earlier generation of Pashtuns support during the war against the Soviets. Many Pakistanis in the tribal areas viewed with disdain the alliance that President Pervez Musharraf had forged with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They regarded the Pakistani military that had entered the tribal areas as no different from the Americans”

The piece goes on to mention “When the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, he [Muhammad] seized an opportunity to host the Arab and Chechen fighters from Al Qaeda who crossed into Pakistan to escape the American bombing”.

It goes on to say “C.I.A. officers in Islamabad urged Pakistani spies to lean on the Waziri tribesman to hand over the foreign fighters, but under Pashtun tribal customs that would be treachery. Reluctantly, Mr. Musharraf ordered his troops into the forbidding mountains to deliver rough justice to Mr. Muhammad and his fighters, hoping the operation might put a stop to the attacks on Pakistani soil, including two attempts on his life in December 2003. But it was only the beginning. In March 2004, Pakistani helicopter gunships and artillery pounded Wana and its surrounding villages. Government troops shelled pickup trucks that were carrying civilians away from the fighting and destroyed the compounds of tribesmen suspected of harboring foreign fighters. The Pakistani commander declared the operation an unqualified success, but for Islamabad, it had not been worth the cost in casualties. A cease-fire was negotiated in April during a hastily arranged meeting in South Waziristan, during which a senior Pakistani commander hung a garland of bright flowers around Mr. Muhammad’s neck. The two men sat together and sipped tea as photographers and television cameras recorded the event. Both sides spoke of peace, but there was little doubt who was negotiating from strength. Mr. Muhammad would later brag that the government had agreed to meet inside a religious madrasa rather than in a public location where tribal meetings are traditionally held”

Importantly it goes on to describe how “Pakistani officials had, for several years, balked at the idea of allowing armed C.I.A. Predators to roam their skies. They considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, and worried that they would invite further criticism of Mr. Musharraf as being Washington’s lackey. But Mr. Muhammad’s rise to power forced them to reconsider. The C.I.A. had been monitoring the rise of Mr. Muhammad, but officials considered him to be more Pakistan’s problem than America’s. In Washington, officials were watching with growing alarm the gathering of Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas, and George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, authorized officers in the agency’s Islamabad station to push Pakistani officials to allow armed drones. Negotiations were handled primarily by the Islamabad station”.

The piece goes on to clarify the terms of the deal between the two countries, “In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets. And they insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India”.

Interestingly the report mentions the context in which the extenstion of the drone programme under the CIA took place, “A new generation of C.I.A. officers had ascended to leadership positions, having joined the agency after the 1975 Congressional committee led by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, which revealed extensive C.I.A. plots to kill foreign leaders, and President Gerald Ford’s subsequent ban on assassinations. The rise to power of this post-Church generation had a direct impact on the type of clandestine operations the C.I.A. chose to conduct”.

“Need higher-grade enriched uranium”

10/04/2013

Iran said on Tuesday operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant and that Western opposition would not slow its nuclear work, days after talks with world powers made no breakthrough. Marking its annual National Nuclear Technology Day, Iran also said it would continue to need higher-grade enriched uranium – the part of its atomic activity that most worries the West – to fuel additional research reactors it plans to build.The United States and its allies want Iran to stop refining uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent as it represents a relatively short technical step away from potential bomb material. Iran says it uses it to produce medical isotopes.  “We have started the design of a 10-megawatt reactor and the process for determining the location is under way,” Iranian atomic energy chief Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani said, ISNA news agency reported. Construction may start this year, he added”.

Already lost?

08/04/2013

An article argues that China-US relations are already “lost” with America losing out to China again and again. While this view may be overly pessimistic it could form the basis of a lesson for how America should behave toward China in the future.

The article opens “Since the dawn of geopolitics, there has always been tension between the world’s greatest power and the world’s greatest emerging power. No great power likes to cede its No. 1 spot. One of the few times the top power ceded its position to the No. 2 power peacefully was when Great Britain allowed the United States to surge ahead in the late 19th century. Many books have been written on why this transition happened peacefully. But the basic reason seems cultural: One Anglo-Saxon power was giving way to another”. This is accurate but its importance should not be ignored or diminished. The UK was “losing” but the same interests/values were being cultivated by America.  This is clearly not the case with Sino-American relations.

He goes on to write that this time it is different, “The No. 1 power is the United States, the standard-bearer of the West. The No. 2 power rapidly catching up is China, an Asian power. If China passes America in the next decade or two, it will be the first time in two centuries that a non-Western power has emerged as No. 1. (According to economic historian Angus Maddison’s calculations, China was the world’s No. 1 economy until 1890.) The logic of history tells us that such power transitions do not happen peacefully. Indeed, we should expect to see a rising level of tension as America worries more and more about losing its primacy”. As has been stated here a number of times China’s strengthen should not be overestimated and it is much more fragile both demographically, internally and regionally where it has done little to use its great wealth to bolster its image.

He goes on to ask why America “has done little to act on these fears thus far. It would have been quite natural for America to carry out various moves to thwart China’s rise. That’s what great powers have done throughout history. That’s how America faced the Soviet Union. So why isn’t this happening?”

The answer he gives to his own question is that “The view in Beijing is that the calm in Sino-American relations is a result of the extraordinary patience and forbearance shown by China. Chinese leaders believe they have followed the wise advice of Deng Xiaoping, the late reformist leader, and decided not to challenge American leadership in any way or in any area. And when China has felt that it was directly provoked, it has also followed Deng’s advice and swallowed its humiliation. Few Americans remember any such instances of provocation. Chinese leaders remember many. In May 1999, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, a U.S. plane bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. America apologized, but no Chinese leader believed it was a mistake. Similarly, a Chinese fighter jet was downed when it crashed into a U.S. spy plane near Hainan Island, China, in April 2001. Here, too, China felt humiliated. Few Americans will recall the humiliation Premier Zhu Rongji suffered in April 1999 when he went to Washington to negotiate China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO); Chinese elites haven’t forgotten. In their minds, China has been responsible for the low levels of tension in U.S.-China relations because China has swallowed such bitter pills time and again. The view in Washington is almost exactly the opposite. Few Americans believe that China has been able to rise peacefully because of China’s geopolitical acumen or America’s geopolitical mistakes. Instead, the prevailing view is that America has been remarkably generous to China and allowed it to emerge peacefully because the United States is an inherently virtuous and generous country”.

He goes on to make the point “China’s benign rise was a result of American neglect, not a result of any long-term strategy. China acted strategically; America did not. After the 9/11 attacks, for instance, the United States focused on the Middle East instead of the rise of China”. Yet this is overly simplistic as America had and continues, to deal with Islamist terrorism that poses a real threat to American interests. Ironically China has actually benefited from US actions in this area although the regimes continued unwavering support for Pakistan lessens its benefits in this regard. He does not quantify or even expand on China’s gain as against that of America. How has China gained? Where? How? Is this gain permanent, could America restore its advantage that it supposedly lost?

He ends the piece “I am convinced that there is great simmering anger in Beijing about being pushed around callously by Washington. The Chinese resent, for instance, allegations of Chinese cyberspying that make no mention of America’s own activities in this area. The Chinese do not believe that they are the only ones playing this game. Given the many simmering tensions, it would be unwise to assume smooth sailing ahead for the United States and China. The need to cooperate is rising each day, as is the potential for a major U.S.-China misunderstanding. In November 2011, then-Secretary Clinton announced loudly and boldly a “pivot” to Asia, signifying a turning point in U.S. foreign policy that would reduce the focus on the Middle East. Barack Obama’s administration took pains to avoid saying that this was America’s response to a rising China, but nobody, including China, was fooled”.

Baroness Thatcher dies

08/04/2013

The former British Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher LG OM PC FRS, known for, amongst other things, her stauch defence of “the market” has died at 87.

Exaggerating the differences

08/04/2013

The highly regarded Norm Ornstein has written about the retirement of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). He contends that “smart” foreign policy will suffer as a result.

He opens the piece “In 1947, Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican from Michigan, famously declared that ‘politics stops at the water’s edge’ as he became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Vandenberg was not just talking; he was a critical player in helping Harry Truman shepherd the Marshall Plan through a Republican Congress” and goes on to  note that “even then, Vandenberg’s comment was at best a shaky aphorism. He himself had been a strong isolationist going into the fierce debate over America’s entry into the Second World War. He had bitterly opposed the extension of the draft in 1941, a bill that barely passed and was signed by Franklin Roosevelt months before Pearl Harbour. Although he converted back to internationalism after December 1941, Vandenberg was not uniformly followed by his colleagues”.

Ornstein however exaggerates the differences by focusing too narrowly on a what is admittedly important events in Vadenberg’s career. Ornstein goes on to argue “No one epitomized the intensification of partisan politics more than Tom DeLay (R-TX), who during his tenure as House Majority Whip bitterly opposed Bill Clinton on all fronts, including foreign policy. When a congressional leader says things like ‘You can support the troops but not the president’ or ‘I cannot support a failed foreign policy,’ one can safely say the political atmosphere is not very Vanderbergian. That was in the Clinton years; tribalism, of course, has for the most part gotten worse in the Bush and Obama presidencies”.

Yet while impossible to confirm DeLay and his colleagues would probably not have acted much differently from President Clinton if they were held the executive branch and to pretend so is to miss a central plank in US foreign policy. What Ornstein thesis is based on is simply political posturing. That is not to say he is wrong when it comes to domestic matter where there is cause for real concern at the almost non-existent level of co-operation between the two parties.

He goes on to argue that Levin “is a straight-shooter who does not demagogue or posture for narrow political considerations. He can be, and has been, sharply critical of presidential actions on foreign and defense policy, but he has done so within reasonable bounds of propriety. On foreign and defense policy, Levin has managed to build alliances across party lines without alienating his adversaries, whether on worldview or partisan dimensions. In other words, he is a proud inheritor of the Vandenberg tradition, and the anti-DeLay”. Surely the fact that Levin can forge a consensus says more about the substance of foreign policy than the details which Ornstein seems to think will be irreparably damaged with Levin leaving.

While this is not the case what will be damaged is the ever diminishing ability to compromise on domestic issues which will hurt the US further, something it can ill afford.