Thursday, 31 March 2011

Economist: Cry havoc! And let slip the maths of war

Warfare seems to obey mathematical rules. Whether soldiers can make use of that fact remains to be seen

The Economist today has an interesting article for those of us with a mathematical bent....
In 1948 Lewis Fry Richardson, a British scientist, published what was probably the first rigorous analysis of the statistics of war. Richardson had spent seven years gathering data on the wars waged in the century or so prior to his study. There were almost 300 of them. The list runs from conflicts that claimed a thousand or so lives to the devastation of the two world wars. But when he plotted his results, he found that these diverse events fell into a regular pattern. It was as if the chaos of war seemed to comply with some hitherto unknown law of nature.

At first glance the pattern seems obvious. Richardson found that wars with low death tolls far outnumber high-fatality conflicts. But that obvious observation conceals a precise mathematical description: the link between the severity and frequency of conflicts follows a smooth curve, known as a power law. One consequence is that extreme events such as the world wars do not appear to be anomalies. They are simply what should be expected to occur occasionally, given the frequency with which conflicts take place.

The results have fascinated mathematicians and military strategists ever since. They have also been replicated many times. But they have not had much impact on the conduct of actual wars. As a result, there is a certain “so what” quality to Richardson’s results. It is one thing to show that a pattern exists, another to do something useful with it.

In a paper currently under review at Science, however, Neil Johnson of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, and his colleagues hint at what that something useful might be. Dr Johnson’s team is one of several groups who, in previous papers, have shown that Richardson’s power law also applies to attacks by terrorists and insurgents. They and others have broadened Richardson’s scope of inquiry to include the timing of attacks, as well as the severity. This prepared the ground for the new paper, which outlines a method for forecasting the evolution of conflicts.
The article goes on to outline the theoretical basis for this approach and—although the practical application is not yet fully worked out—it nonetheless makes very interesting reading and raises some thought-provoking questions. How does this fit into the Realist / Liberal interpretations of conflict and human nature, for example?

Watch Out for Falling Bullets

A small diversion from the serious business of exam preparation:

Brian Palmer in a Slate magazine 'Explainer' asks - "Is it dangerous to fire a gun into the air?"

Worth a read, although the answer is highly problematic... Take a look!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

BBC News: China tops global clean energy table

BBC News has the report:
China remains the world's leading investor in low-carbon energy technology, a global study has shown.

The table, published by the US Pew Environment Group, showed that the Chinese invested $54.4bn (£34.1bn) in 2010, up from $39.1bn in 2009. While the US saw investment increase by 51% to $34bn, it still slipped from 2nd to 3rd in the ranking, behind Germany's $41.2bn.

However, the UK slipped outside the top 10 as investment fell by 70% in 2010.

Globally, the sector - which does not include nuclear power - attracted $243bn of investment, a 30% increase from 2009 and a whopping 630% rise since 2004. The authors also said that 40 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 17GW of solar energy were installed during 2010, taking the global clean power capacity to 388GW.

The report Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race (link), using data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, examined the clean energy sector's investment and technological trends in the G20 leading economies.
Read the rest—a good example of how economic demand is driving investment within the 'clean energy' sector, a positive development vis à vis our environmental future. Interesting that recent concerns with Japanese nuclear reactors is touted to stoke demand for other energy sources even more. Let's just hope that the UK gets back on track with this approach!

Monday, 28 March 2011

China and US among top punishers but death penalty in decline

The Guardian has a summary today of the latest report regarding global use of capital punishment (the death penalty) by the human rights watchdog Amnesty International:
China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US carried out the most executions last year, bucking a global trends towards abolition of the death penalty, a report has said.

China again was by far the world's most prolific executioner in putting to death thousands, said Amnesty International in its report on the death penalty worldwide. Amnesty does not provide a precise figure of executions in China as Beijing keeps such figures secret.

Instead, it has challenged the Chinese authorities to publish figures for the number of people sentenced to death and executed each year to confirm claims of a reduction in the use of the death penalty.

China, however, last year did move to cut down the number of offences that carry the death penalty, which applies to no less than 68 crimes. If the changes go through, the death penalty would be removed for such crimes as tax fraud, and for smuggling valuables and cultural relics. Amendments to the criminal code may also remove it as a punishment for those over 75. In all, the changes would affect 13 death penalty offences.

Setting China aside, Amnesty said at least 527 executions were carried out last year. Almost half of those took place in Iran (252). North Korea executed 60, Yemen 53 and the US 46. The minimum number of executions was down from at least 714 in 2009.

Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and various kinds of shooting (by firing squad, and at close range to the heart or the head). No stonings were recorded in 2010, but stoning sentences were reported in Nigeria, Pakistan and Iran, where at least 10 women and four men remain under stoning sentences. At least 2,024 new death sentences were imposed during 2010 in 67 countries, including 365 in Pakistan alone, meaning it has some 8,000 people currently on death row. Amnesty expressed particular alarm that a significant proportion of executions or death sentences recorded in 2010 were for drug-related offences. They accounted for more than half of 114 sentences in Malaysia. Meanwhile, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates ignored international prohibitions and imposed death sentences on child offenders -people aged 17 or less when alleged crimes were committed, with Iran executing one such offender named as Mohammad A.

The underlying trend on the death penalty, however, is strongly toward abolition, Amnesty said, with 31 countries removing the punishment in law or in practice in the last 10 years. Last year, Gabon became the 139th country to either abolish the penalty outright or to cease to use it in practice.

"In spite of some setbacks, developments in 2010 brought us closer to global abolition," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general. "The President of Mongolia announced a moratorium on the death penalty, an important first step as capital punishment is still classified as state secret. For the third time and with more support than ever before, the UN general assembly called for a global moratorium on executions. Any country that continues to execute is flying in the face of the fact that both human rights law and UN human rights bodies consistently hold that abolition should be the objective."
If you're interested (and you probably should be!), the original AI report can be found on their website for free download (PDF). Altogether, a timely report, considering that we are about to start examining Human Rights as a topic in class!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

CFR: Global Governance Monitor

The US-based think tank the Council for Foreign Relations monitors developing situations worldwide—an important feature resident on their excellent website is an interactive utility which they have called the Global Governance Monitor (click to link)

Its function? - "Tracks, maps and evaluates multilateral efforts to address today's global challenges". Sounds perfect for our needs in the Global Politics strand of the A2 syllabus....!
About the Global Governance Monitor
The challenge of global governance has never been more imperative and more daunting to realize. The headlines are filled with transnational challenges, from terrorism to climate change to weapons of mass destruction. To foster better understanding of modern global challenges--and the international community's record in responding to them--the International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program has launched the Global Governance Monitor.
The Global Governance Monitor is a tool that shows how the international community is doing in addressing the most daunting threats that it faces. For each issue area, the monitor provides:
  • a cinematic overview of the challenge, which explains why international cooperation is needed;
  • an interactive timeline that traces the world's efforts to craft collective responses to the challenge;
  • an issue brief that evaluates the overall performance of the regime and suggests potential reforms to improve international cooperation;
  • a matrix that catalogs relevant international treaties, organizations, and initiatives;
  • an interactive map that details critical countries and groups; and
  • a resource guide for further information on the topic.
We hope that by monitoring the world's performance now, we can help U.S. and international policymakers identify remaining gaps in global regimes and propose new institutions or partnerships to fill them.
It's pleasing to see that each of the areas reported on within the CFR Global Governance Monitor have fairly recent updates... Two areas of current concern to us—War and Nuclear Proliferation—have updates of 28 February and 18 November respectively.

Definitely worth a look in effort to broaden our knowledge of these topics!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Stephen Glover (Daily Mail): Foreign Aid Betrays Countries Targetted

Interesting reading in the Daily Mail today from their columnist Stephen Glover (overlong headline follows):

The Tories are squandering our billions on foreign aid that in reality betrays the countries it's meant to help

Definitely worth a read. Once you filter out the typical Daily Mail rant, this is an article that makes some useful points from the viewpoint of those who distrust the wise expenditure of British taxpayers' pounds on foreign aid projects. It's therefore highly relevant to our study of Poverty and Development in Unit 4 of Global Issues.

A selection of the article's main points:

Thursday, 24 March 2011

New Statesman: Ethical dimensions of interventionist foreign policy

John Stuart Mill (lived 1806-1873)
Jason Cowley in today's New Statesman has an excellent article pointing up the dangers inherent in the idea of liberal intervention—such as we have seen in Libya today.

Cowley suggests that an essay by the key liberal thinker John Stuart Mill, first published in 1859, offers keen insight into the thinking behind the west’s UN-backed air strikes...

Offering an argument against this particular intervention, Cowley joins the long-dead Mills in doubting the necessity, the utility and the altruism in going to war against the Gaddafi regime:
The art of successful foreign policy is the art of measuring competing objectives; of knowing when to intervene (as in Kosovo in 1999 and Sierra Leone in 2000) and when not to (Iraq in 2003). Under Tony Blair, liberal interventionism itself became a kind of absolutist dogma. For Blair, there was a "moral obligation" to intervene "to make the world better". Emboldened by the success of his action in Sierra Leone to defeat the militias that had laid waste to an entire nation, and the Nato-led assault on Serbia during the Kosovo war, Blair wrongfully supported the Americans in their illegal war in Iraq. The inconsistencies of his positions abounded. Why intervene in Iraq and not in, say, Iran or Darfur? Similarly, why now should we intervene in Libya and not in Yemen, where civilians are being murdered by an autocrat every bit as repugnant as Gaddafi?

Perhaps we should turn to the great liberal philosopher J S Mill for help. In 1859, writing against the backdrop of the Crimean war, the Indian mutiny and the construction of the Suez Canal, Mill published an essay titled "A Few Words on Non-intervention", still one of the best I have read on the subject. Mill was not opposed to all foreign adventurism. As a servant of imperialism, he believed in the "civilising" mission of the British empire, but he set limits on when a state should intervene in the internal affairs of another, especially during a civil war or revolt. Mill was conscious that any foreign intervention would be viewed from the outside as an act not of humanitarianism, but of cynical self-interest. It's all about the oil! He believed that if a people did not have "a sufficient love of liberty to be able to wrest it from merely domestic oppressors, the liberty which is bestowed on them by other hands rather than their own, will have nothing real, nothing permanent".
Mill continued: "When the contest is only with native rulers, and with such native strength as those rulers can enlist in their defence, the answer I should give to the question of the legitimacy of intervention is, as a general rule, No."

No people, Mill thought, "ever was or remained free, but because it was determined to be so . . . If a people - especially one whose freedom has not yet become prescriptive - does not value it sufficiently to fight for it, and maintain it against any force which can be mustered within the country, even by those who have the command of the public revenue, it is only a question of how few years or months that people will be enslaved."

Unlike in Sierra Leone, where militias were supported by an outside agent - the Liberian warlord Charles Taylor - or Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians were struggling against the aggression of a Greater Serbia, the struggle of the Libyan rebels is against a native ruler. How long would they have been prepared to continue the freedom fight? We shall never know, because of the haste with which the western powers have rushed to intervene as they seek to police the earth, ghosts orbiting forever lost.
A useful article, providing important reasoned balance in the current intervention debate and the practical application of liberalism as an approach to global politics. Take the time to read the whole piece!

Economist Daily Chart: Behind the Big Push (Libya)

France and Britain led the diplomatic push for military action against Libya. The Arab League's vote, on March 12th, to call on the United Nations to enforce a no-fly zone was crucial in securing international legitimacy. The Americans were initially hesitant but were eventually won around. So much is familiar to observers of the unfolding Libya story. But what of the other diplomatic players? Why did China and Russia, both of whom are traditionally hostile to military intervention in sovereign affairs, abstain in the UN Security Council vote authorising action? Why did David Cameron work so hard to bring the South Africans on board? And just what are the Turks up to? The Economist's interactive map explains:

Will Rio+20 squander green legacy of original Earth summit?

Jim Thomas in Grist magazine has a useful preview of next year's Rio +20 Earth Summit:
I've got good news and bad news about the future of the planet.

Good news first. Next year, a honking big global Earth Summit is coming our way -- one with a proud heritage. Formally titled the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, the meeting is known as RIO+20 because it will come 20 years after the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. That original Earth Summit (itself 20 years after the equally important Stockholm Convention on the Environment and Human Development) gave us an embarrassment of policy riches: the Climate Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Sustainable Development Commission, the Precautionary Principle, a long and ambitious list of promises called Agenda 21, The Forest Principles, and much more. Over a hundred heads of state turned up to Rio Di Janeiro last time amidst intense global attention. This time, the reunion party is going back to Rio again on June 4-6 2012. Chances are it will all be a big deal again.

At a recent preparatory meeting in New York, the agenda for this next Earth Summit became clear. The leaders will issue a "focused political document" tackling the transition to a global "green economy" and reform of the international institutions responsible for sustainable development. This second "reform" strand could feasibly restructure everything ranging from the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Program to the 500 different multilateral environmental treaties and agreements currently in place. These cover toxic chemicals, ocean conservation, biodiversity, desertification, climate change, ozone depletion, forest protection, and more. Given the rising trends of global temperature, hunger, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss, the existing mishmash of eco-governance is clearly failing to deliver. RIO+20 is a precious chance for decision-makers to take stock of where the world went wrong in the last 20 years and plan intelligently for the next 20. Hopefully RIO+20 will deliver a jolt of political will to the global environmental agenda, as well as a smart plan to get the planet back on track.

Or at least that's the theory. And now we come to the bad news: Far from cooking up a plan to save the Earth, what may come out of the summit could instead be a deal to surrender the living world to a small cabal of bankers and engineers -- one that will dump the promises of the first Rio summit along the way. Tensions are already rising between northern countries and southern countries over the poorly defined concept of a global "Green Economy" that will be the centerpiece of the summit.
Thomas's article goes on to discuss how economic concerns and economic motives might hijack that which environmentalists might consider the best approach to the next 20 years of global environmental planning and initiatives:
20 years ago, governments at Rio were bold enough to lay out a set of commitments that might credibly have rescued us from some of the dire predicaments we are now in but they never fulfilled their own promises. With under 13 months to go, it's now up to all of us in global society to demand that those promises, however belated, be fulfilled. Most importantly those promises should not be abandoned for a hollow "green economy" that amounts to a Trojan horse for ongoing destruction-as-usual. The bad news on the road to Rio is that the hijackers are already seizing the reins. The good news is that we have time to organize massive campaigns to get the Earth Summit back on course -- not just for a green economy, but for a green, equitable, and just future.
Definitely worth reading and something worth thinking about...

NB: The Guardian has syndicated this particular article through the Guardian Environment Network - check there for Guardian readers' comments also.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Economist Daily Chart: Present Arms

The world's biggest weapons suppliers (as revealed by the The Economist):

Three-quarters of global arms exports were supplied by just five countries between 2006 and 2010, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a think-tank. The volume of such exports rose by almost 25% compared with 2001-05. SIPRI counts the deliveries of large conventional weapons, each of which is assigned a value according to cost, strategic importance and other criteria. The two biggest importers of arms over the past five years, India and China, both bought over 80% of their weapons from Russia. The third- and fourth-biggest importers, South Korea and Pakistan, favoured American-made items.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Wired: Drones’ Suicidal Cousins Lead Libya Attack

Wired Magazine's Danger Room brings news of the active use of a new generation of cruise missile:
When the U.S. military wanted to take out Moammar Gadhafi’s air defense systems, it unleashed a barrage of 122 Tomahawk cruise missiles. But these munitions aren’t like most others in the American arsenal.

Smart, maneuverable, able to see its surroundings and shift to new targets in mid-flight, the newest Tomahawks are closer to the unmanned planes flying over Afghanistan than to the weapons they fire. In some ways, the Tomahawk is the drone’s suicidal cousin: a robotic aircraft, packed with explosives, that has no intention of ever coming home.
The article's worth a read.... The current crop of missiles are reviewed as to capability, with a nod to the past history of the cruise missile. Most interesting is news of yet another generation of cruise missile, one that will certainly add to the impression of a 'post-modern' phase of warfare:
... if an experimental Air Force program pans out. ... The X-51a aircraft is designed to test technologies for a next-gen cruise missile — one that would fly at six times the speed of sound. Which means tomorrow’s cruise missiles could be like suicidal, smart, and more than eight times faster than today’s Tomahawks.

Thomas L. Friedman: Tribes with Flags

Widely-respected New York Times Op-Ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman has a brilliant piece out today discussing the widely varying standards of statehood and sovereignty in the Middle East. Here's a flavour:
David Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for The Times, wrote an article from Libya on Monday that posed the key question, not only about Libya but about all the new revolutions brewing in the Arab world: “The question has hovered over the Libyan uprising from the moment the first tank commander defected to join his cousins protesting in the streets of Benghazi: Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?”
This is the question because there are two kinds of states in the Middle East: “real countries” with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran); and those that might be called “tribes with flags,” or more artificial states with boundaries drawn in sharp straight lines by pens of colonial powers that have trapped inside their borders myriad tribes and sects who not only never volunteered to live together but have never fully melded into a unified family of citizens. They are Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The tribes and sects that make up these more artificial states have long been held together by the iron fist of colonial powers, kings or military dictators. They have no real “citizens” in the modern sense. Democratic rotations in power are impossible because each tribe lives by the motto “rule or die” — either my tribe or sect is in power or we’re dead.
It is no accident that the Mideast democracy rebellions began in three of the real countries — Iran, Egypt and Tunisia — where the populations are modern, with big homogenous majorities that put nation before sect or tribe and have enough mutual trust to come together like a family: “everyone against dad.” But as these revolutions have spread to the more tribal/sectarian societies, it becomes difficult to discern where the quest for democracy stops and the desire that “my tribe take over from your tribe” begins.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Guardian Comment: Kosovo - a template for disaster

David Gibbs in The Guardian's Comment is Free section argues today that the idea that Kosovo is a model for humanitarian intervention in Libya is based on a series of myths...

This is important reading for us as the NATO bombing of Serb forces in Kosovo to protect ethnic Albanians in the late 1990s is often cited as a successful example of humanitarian intervention. Current events in Libya are heightening the debate over the use of the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) doctrine. There are also long-held concerns as to just how effective just air power can be in resolving issues over the long term.

An introductory excerpt:
As they weigh up whether to support the attack on Muammar Gaddafi's regime, some western commentators are taking comfort from the 1999 Nato air war against Serbia, which is widely viewed as a successful humanitarian mission that protected Kosovans from Serbian aggression. Moreover it was done at low cost to the intervening powers, who suffered no combat casualties. And ultimately it led to the ousting of Serbia's villainous leader, Slobodan Milosevic. The Libya intervention, it is hoped, will have a similarly positive outcome.

In reality, Kosovo presents little basis for optimism with regard to Libya. Its success is based on a series of myths.

Drones 'winning' war against al-Qaeda, says ex-CIA head

BBC News Online has a summary of opinion expressed in tonight's second part of BBC2's The Secret War on Terror (catch up on iPlayer):
More than 40 people were killed in Pakistan last week in a US drone attack near the Afghan border. The use of unmanned drones have always been controversial, but ex-CIA director Michael Hayden says they are winning the war.

Ten years on from 9/11, al-Qaeda appears to be on the back foot. One of the main reasons is that its leadership no longer enjoys untouchable sanctuary in the tribal areas of Pakistan where for many years it has been able to plot and train its recruits.

The reason? Pilotless American drone aircraft with a payload of deadly Hellfire missiles, guided to their targets by remote control from thousands of miles away in the American desert. Not for nothing are the drones known as "Predators".
The program explores both the effectiveness and the controversial legality of this example of 'new warfare'.... Whatever the various opinions, the former head of the CIA is convinced:
"It has been a very strong significant force in making the al-Qaeda senior leadership spend most of their waking moments worrying about their survival, rather than threatening yours or mine. And that is a war-winning effort," he told me.
 The program goes on to discuss other opinions regarding the prospect of victory in the 'war against terror', not least that of retired MI5 Director, Baroness Manningham-Buller:
At the end of the interview, given her long experience in fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland and her intimate knowledge of the secret talks between MI5 and the IRA, I asked her if we should talk to al-Qaeda as we had once talked to the IRA.

"It's always better to talk to the people who are attacking you than attacking them, if you can.Her reply took me by surprise. "I would hope that people are trying to do so," she said. I don't know whether they are, but I would hope that people are trying to reach out to the Taliban, to people on the edges of al-Qaeda to talk to them."

I then asked her if she thought that al-Qaeda would listen.

"I don't know," she said. "Doesn't mean to say it's not worth trying."
Do read the whole article - do watch the program!

Friday, 18 March 2011

UN Security Council Resolution on Libya: key points

The Guardian today features a convenient outline of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorising action to protect Libyan civilians from the actions of the Muammar Gaddafi regime:
  • The resolution expresses the UN's "grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties", condemns "the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions" and says the attacks against civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity" and pose a "threat to international peace and security".
  • A no-fly zone is "an important element for the protection of civilians as well as the safety of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a decisive step for the cessation of hostilities in Libya".
  • It "demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians" and "that the Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law ... and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance".
  • It authorises UN member states "to take all necessary measures [notwithstanding the previous arms embargo] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory''.
  • It requests the co-operation of the Arab League member states in the previous measure.
  • It decides to "establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians", exempting humanitarian flights, and authorises member states and Arab League nations "acting nationally or through regional organisations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights".
  • It calls on member states to intercept boats and aircraft it believes may be taking arms and other items banned under the previously passed UN embargo and includes "armed mercenary personnel'' in that category – telling members states to "comply strictly with their obligations ... to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya''.
  • Member states should ensure domestic businesses "exercise vigilance when doing business with entities incorporated" in Libya "if the states have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that such business could contribute to violence and use of force against civilians".
  • It requests that the UN secretary general creates "a group of up to eight experts" to oversee the implementation of the resolution.
 UNSC Resolution 1973 represents an important current example of the Security Council in operation.

Details of Resolution are additionally summarised on Wikipedia.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Economist: Failed states - Where life is cheap and talk is loose

Modish jargon or a useful category? The term “failed state” conceals many tangles...

The Economist today features an extremely useful article looking at the semantics (meaning)  of the "failed state", a phenomenon that defies easy description. It's difficult to isolate a convenient extract from this excellent piece, so do read the whole thing...

The article includes an informative table laying out several prime candidates for fulfillment of the definition of a "failed state":

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

CFR Crisis Guide: Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Council for Foreign Relations has yet another Crisis Guide published on its website, allowing an interactive multimedia exploration of issues within and surrounding the ongoing Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Extremely useful as a means of gaining perspective on this fraught conflict that provides so many examples for our study of Conflict, War and Terrorism in Unit 4.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Guardian: A no-fly zone over Libya? The case for and against

As the UN Security Council currently debates the issue, Julian Borger in a balanced article appearing in The Guardian today looks at the arguments for and against implementing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Definitely worth a read for our most current example of (possible) intervention! Particularly useful for those studying Global Issues is the article's exploration of arguments concerning the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and R2P, while providing some historical background as to how the doctrine developed.

BBC 2: The Secret War on Terror (iPlayer)

Currently available on BBC iPlayer (60 minutes duration):

The inside story of the intelligence war which has been fought against Al Qaeda since 9/11. This episode looks at how the Western services successfully disrupt terrorist plots.

The Secret War on Terror reveals the astonishing inside story of the intelligence war which has been fought against Al Qaeda over the last decade since 9/11.

With unparalleled access to Western intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and with a host of exclusive interviews with those who have been at the sharp end of fighting the terrorists - from the CIA and the FBI to MI5 - Peter Taylor asks whether there is any end in sight and whether we are any safer from attack. The series includes the first ever television interview with the former director-general of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller, and an extensive interview with the recent director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden.

This first episode looks at how the West became involved in abductions, secret prisons and even torture, and how the intelligence services successfully disrupt major terrorist plots.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Commentary: What if Qaddafi Wins?

Seasoned Middle Eastern observer Michael J. Totten makes the case for some form of Western intervention in Libya in an article published today in Commentary magazine:
If something doesn’t change soon, Muammar Qaddafi will kill his way back into power over all Libya’s territory. His forces are retaking rebel positions. The opposition is crumbling. And it looks like the United States and Europe will stand back and just let it happen.

This isn’t the first time an Arab tyrant has made a startling comeback after an uprising nearly swept him away. Saddam Hussein lost control of most of Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, but tens of thousands of dead bodies later, he was firmly and ruthlessly back in the saddle.

There are good arguments against getting involved. Not even the most hawkish interventionist would have chosen a war against Qaddafi a month ago. There aren’t many worse human-rights abusers out there, though there are some. And there are certainly countries where the West has more national interests at stake, the most obvious being Iran. But let’s not pretend there won’t be consequences beyond the shores of Tripoli if Qaddafi butchers his way back to Benghazi.

He’ll emerge meaner and more isolated than ever and hell-bent on revenge. We can forget about going back to the status quo ante when his relations with others were more or less “normal.” Whatever reluctance he felt against acting out will be eroded, if not lost entirely, now that he knows the West has little appetite to move against him, even when he is cornered and at his most vulnerable.

If the only Arab rulers to be deposed by revolution are the nominally pro-American “moderates,” while the mass-murdering state sponsors of terrorism hang on, change indeed will be coming to the Middle East and North Africa, but it won’t be the change we were hoping for. One thing, however, will not have changed an iota: the Middle East will be governed by violence just as it always has.

If the Caligula of North Africa survives by fighting to the death and prevailing, he will surely inspire the other hard rulers to take the same strategy, especially after the humiliating and mostly nonviolent defeats of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali. The killers of the resistance bloc — Iran’s Islamic Republic, Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza — won’t likely be overthrown by peaceful demonstrations but by massive internally  or externally driven wars.

Observer: Iran 'using child soldiers' to suppress Tehran protests

The Observer today reports allegations of further examples of the abuse of human rights under the current Iranian regime—this time, involving children:
Iran's Islamic regime is using "child soldiers" to suppress anti-government demonstrations, a tactic that could breach international law forbidding the use of underage combatants, human rights activists have told the Observer.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says troops aged between 14 and 16 have been armed with batons, clubs and air guns and ordered to attack demonstrators who have tried to gather in Tehran. The youths – apparently recruited from rural areas – are being deployed in regular riot police roles and comprise up to one-third of the total force, according to witnesses.

One middle-aged woman, who said she was attacked by the youths, reported that some were as young as 12 and were possibly prepubescent. They had rural accents, which indicated they had been brought in from villages far from Tehran, she said.

Some told her they had been attracted by the promise of chelo kebab dinners, one of Iran's national dishes.

"It's really a violation of international law. It's no different than child soldiers, which is the custom in many zones of conflict," said Hadi Ghaemi, the campaign's executive director. "They are being recruited into being part of the conflict and armed for it."

The UN convention on the rights of the child requires states to take "all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities".

The allegation comes amid efforts by Iran's opposition Green movement to revive the mass protests that challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009, which opponents say was rigged. Drawing encouragement from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, organisers have vowed to stage demonstrations every Tuesday.

Protesters who gathered on 1 March and a week later were met by a blanket security presence, which activists say refined the tactics used to crush the post-election revolt, when smaller detachments of youths were used informally by the hardline Basij militia.

Last Tuesday youthful riot squads formed along Valiasr Street, Tehran's central thoroughfare, and forced pedestrians to run an intimidating gauntlet. Protesters chanting anti-government slogans were attacked. Multiple arrests were reported.

"They are very keen to display violence. Teenage boys are notorious for that," said Ghaemi. "They are being used to ensure there is a good ratio of government forces to protesters and because the average policeman in Tehran could have some kind of family connection to the people they have to beat up. It's a classic tactic to bring people from outside, because they have no sense of sympathy for city dwellers."

The renewed clampdown coincides with concern over the whereabouts of the Green movement's nominal leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Both were apparently placed under house arrest last month and then reported to have been taken into detention, despite official denials.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Tea with the Economist: Richard Branson and Climate Change

The Economist last year made available an interview with Richard Branson in their Tea with the Economist series, filmed last September at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting:

The British entrepreneur spoke on the carbon war room, how to battle climate change and the clean-energy revolution ahead (duration 10'30")... All grist to our Environmental Issues mill! Take a look!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

BBC News: Polar ice loss quickens, raising seas

Richard Black, the Environment correspondent at BBC News Online, brings news today of a research article—soon to be published—proving recent accelerated ice loss in polar regions:
Ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland has accelerated over the last 20 years, research shows, and will soon become the biggest driver of sea level rise.

From satellite data and climate models, scientists calculate that the two polar ice sheets are losing enough ice to raise sea levels by 1.3mm each year. Overall, sea levels are rising by about 3mm (0.12 inches) per year.

Writing in Geophysical Research Letters, the team says ice loss here is speeding up faster than models predict. They add their voices to several other studies that have concluded sea levels will rise faster than projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its landmark 2007 assessment.

By 2006, the Greenland and Antarctic sheets were losing a combined mass of 475Gt (gigatonnes - billion tonnes) of ice per year.

On average, loss from the Greenland sheet is increasing by nearly 22Gt per year, while the much larger and colder Antarctic sheet is shedding an additional 14.5Gt each year. If these increases persist, water from the two polar ice sheets could have added 15cm (5.9 inches) to the average global sea level by 2050.

A rise of similar size is projected to come from a combination of melt water from mountain glaciers and thermal expansion of seawater.
That last detail is particularly worrying...

Hague fury as 'Iranian arms' bound for Taliban seized

BBC News Online has the story, a prime example of proxy war waged by an aspiring regional power against a superpower and its allies:
The foreign secretary has condemned Tehran's "completely unacceptable" behaviour after British Special Forces seized a shipment of suspected Iranian arms intended for the Taliban.

The 48 rockets are understood to have been intercepted in Nimruz Province, in southern Afghanistan, on 5 February. UK officials say technical analysis showed they had come from Iran. William Hague said Iran's actions were at odds with its claim to "support stability and security in Afghanistan".

The rockets are understood to have a much greater range than the weapons currently available to Taliban insurgents.

It is believed that both UK and Afghan troops were involved in the operation to intercept them in Nimruz, which borders Iran.
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Guardian: Soft power best way for West to intervene in Libya

Simon Tisdall in today's Guardian reviews the various "hard power" options open to a West confronted by growing evidence of the Libyan regime's treatment of protesters and rebels. In his opinion, none are satisfactory, leading to a conclusion is the only viable alternative that will have long-term and less-damaging (to the West) results...

Hard power possibilities: no-fly zone; targeted missile strikes; arms drops to rebels; covert operations (including special forces)...
The remaining, simpler options are easily the best – and easiest to choose. They include co-ordinated international diplomatic efforts to talk to opposition leaders, build personal and political ties with the Benghazi council, advise on organisation and outreach as rebel-held territory expands, and help create a roadmap towards a post-Gaddafi, democratic future. Soft power options also involve stepping up immediate humanitarian relief operations and evolving plans for long-term development assistance.
Meanwhile, spreading the word that western countries are there to help, not to take over or subvert the revolution, is vital. Gaddafi has been using propaganda to great effect. A media counter-offensive is overdue. Such methods take longer and are less dramatic than other options. And they must sometimes be combined with "hard power", for example to protect humanitarian transport corridors with air power. But because they are non-confrontational and must be negotiated they have a greater chance of achieving lasting change.
This represents a useful article for A-Level students trying to understand the difference between "soft" and "hard" power in the modern world.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Video: The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence

A useful video presenting one side of the debate regarding Nuclear Deterrence from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:

Former Cold Warriors: Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation

Just yesterday, Martin Hellman announced the publication of an important position paper against nuclear proliferation with the following words:
George Shultz served as President Reagan's Secretary of State, and Bill Perry as President Clinton's Secretary of Defense. Henry Kissinger was National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to both President Nixon and Ford. Sam Nunn was Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years. Their key roles in the Cold War has led many to call them 'Cold Warriors.' That status makes their recent, repeated calls for fundamentally re-examining our nuclear posture all the more noteworthy. Their most recent attempt to awaken society to the unacceptable risk posed by nuclear weapons is an Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal titled Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation. [subscription-free link]
With such an authorship, this short document is definitely worth a read!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Oil prices: Steps needed to wean UK onto other energy sources

The Guardian has a story underlining the seemingly radical influence of recent events affecting the globally-interconnected oil economy on UK government policy (as an exemplar, no doubt, amongst many other developed economies' policies):
As Middle East conflicts cause oil prices to rise dramatically, government spells out plans for radical energy shift

Ministers will be ordered to adopt urgent measures to wean the country off oil, amid rising concern that the Libya crisis has left the economy exposed to a dramatic rise in fuel prices.

With fears growing that the cost of petrol could hit £2 a litre if instability in the Middle East persists and deepens, every government department will be told this week to comply with a new national "carbon plan" aimed specifically at "getting off the oil hook".

The energy secretary, Chris Huhne, told the Observer that the UK had no option but to speed up efforts to move away from oil. "Getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East. We cannot afford to go on relying on such a volatile source of energy when we can have clean, green and secure energy from low-carbon sources," he said. "The carbon plan is about ensuring that the whole of government is engaged in a joined-up effort to lead us into a low-carbon world."

The transport secretary, Philip Hammond, who has infuriated green groups by floating the idea of raising the motorway speed limit from 70mph to 80mph, will be told he must produce a nationwide strategy to promote installation of infrastructure for electric cars by June.

It is also expected that new deadlines will be set for building low-carbon homes, and that a firm starting date of September 2012 will be established for a new "green investment bank" to become fully operational.

The Carbon Plan will be launched this week by David Cameron, his deputy Nick Clegg and Huhne. In a tacit admission that ministers have failed so far to live up to their claim to be part of the "greenest government ever", the prime minister will, in effect, make their job security dependent on "green achievement" by demanding that those whose departments fall short of environmental targets write to him with a full explanation of what went wrong.

And in another extraordinary move, non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, will be asked to play a monitoring role to ensure progress across each department is maintained.
Do read the rest!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The main Wikipedia article for Muammar Gaddafi (Arabic: معمر القذافي‎) has a useful diagram showing the various permutations possible when transliterating his name from Arabic script / pronunciation into English:

New Republic: Tyranny, the West, and the Rest

This morning, Josef Joffe in The New Republic asks in a single brilliant article: "Why is everyone acting so shocked about Muammar Qaddafi’s crackdown?":
When Casablanca’s corrupt police captain Louis Renault closes down Rick’s Bar Américain to please Major Strasser, he huffs: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” A second later, the croupier hands him a pile of money: “Your winnings, sir.” It took the West and the Rest 42 years to be shocked by what has been happening in Muammar’s Café Libyien. And it wasn’t gambling.

Now, it’s no more U.N. Human Rights Council for Qaddafi. Now, the International Criminal Court is investigating. Now, the E.U. is cutting off arms supplies and freezing bank accounts. Even the supple Swiss are getting religion, sequestering funds thought to belong Gaddafi and relatives. The U.N. Security Council, no assembly of choirboys, suddenly performs as the world’s conscience. It has imposed an asset freeze and a travel ban on the Qaddafi clan. Foreign ministers vie with one another in the shrillness of their indictment of a tyrant variously called “mass murderer,” “state terrorist,” or “psychopath.” “Outraged,” President Obama demands, “He must leave.” The U.S. and Britain are mulling “no-fly zones” to pin Qaddafi’s air force to the ground.

There is no reason to be “shocked, shocked.” Everybody—and that goes for the West as well as for Arabs, African, and Asians—has been able to see all along what’s been happening in Libya. But the Human Rights Council did not seem notice—perhaps because it was too busy passing 32 resolutions against Israel since its creation in 2006, almost half of the total it’s issued. The Council must have acted in a fit of dizziness when it elected Libya as a member.

The African Union—with around 50 members, depending on who is suspended when—anointed Qaddafi as chairman in 2009. This was the same Qaddafi who attacked Egypt in 1977 to demonstrate his displeasure with Cairo’s shift toward peace with Israel, and who invaded Chad in 1978 for a bit of territorial enlargement. In the 1980s, Qaddafi never met a terror outfit he didn’t like, supporting each and all with cash and arms—all the way to Ireland and the Philippines. He graduated from paymaster to puppet master with the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie. Though he never assumed responsibility, Libya did offer to pay $2.7 billion in 2002 as compensation to the families of the 270 victims. Compared to this blood orgy, you might call the three American soldiers killed in a terror attack on West Berlin’s La Belle disco in 1986 an act of restraint.

And yet. The only time shock led to counter-shock was when Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli in 1986. The attack unleashed an uproar in Europe; this was worse than the slaughter of Libyan civilians, it was neo-imperialism! Four years earlier, a delegation of German Greens—idealists and pacifists all—had come to Tripoli to pay their respects to “Brother Leader.”

Yes, there were also economic sanctions, such as America’s Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. But it didn’t keep American, let alone French and Italian, oil companies from doing business with Libya. There was simply too much cash in the country, such as a sovereign wealth fund worth $ 70 billion. Formalized in 2007, the fund, reports The New York Times,drew into its “orbit” the Great and the Good, “including the Rothschild family, Prince Andrew, the former European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, the cream of corporate society in Italy” as well as a couple of big-time U.S. investors.

In 2009, while Qaddafi was in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi praised him as “man of deep wisdom.” In 2007, French President Sarkozy’s “good friend” got to pitch his tent in the middle of Paris, presumably rent-free. But never mind. The visit brought in a deal worth 10 billion euros for a little nuclear reactor here, 14 Rafale combat planes there.

And now, he is our friend no more. “Treason,” the cynic Talleyrand pontificated, “is a matter of date.” “Unfriending,” too, we might add. Apropos of date: Britain and the U.S. came down really hard on Qaddafi in 2003, right after spectacular victory in Iraq. A few weeks later, Qaddafi came clean on his nukes, promising to scrap whatever he had and opening his country to inspections. The moral of this tale is that power talks. When there is the demonstrated will to use it, even the worst tyrants start purring.

Yet nobody told Qaddafi to stop being Qaddafi: an oppressor of his own people who would have made NKVD/KGB and the Gestapo proud. How is 2011 different from the 41 years before? The current mayhem does not bespeak a new quality; it is just more visible. So why the new outrage? Talleyrand might have mused: “Never go after tyrants before they falter, but hit them hard when they can’t hit back.” In German: Realpolitik beats idealpolitik; power and interest matter more than decency.

As we can see now, however, an excess of self-interest always begets an excess of self-righteousness. Unfortunately, to indulge in piety afterward is always easier than to walk that fine line between justice and expediency beforehand—in human affairs as well as in the life of nations. Nor will this ever end. Only in the movies do flawed heroes like Rick and Louis dispatch Major Strasser and go on to join the Free French Forces in Brazzaville.