Sunday, 28 November 2010

Wikileaks: Saudis urge US attack on Iran to stop nuclear programme

As reported in The Guardian today, the big story from the Wikileaks US Cable release today is the (un)surprising revelation that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked the US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran:

The list of countries in the Middle East region seen lining up against Iran in the cables is significant: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.

A convenient summary of an article that you should definitely read in full:
The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.

The Saudi king was recorded as having "frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme", one cable stated. "He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Economist Videographic: EU Enlargement

Back in January this year, The Economist published a useful videographic on the topic of European Union enlargement, an important focus within the syllabus for the topic of Regionalisation:

Friday, 26 November 2010

Telegraph: Nato mission in Afghanistan as long as Soviet occupation

The Telegraph points up a significant way point for NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, due tomorrow:
The Nato-led mission in Afghanistan has now lasted as long as the Soviet army's doomed occupation during the 1980s.

Coalition troops, including 9,500 British, will on Saturday surpass the nine years and fifty days which the Red Army spent unsuccessfully trying to build a socialist state.

The milestone comes as Nato has 140,000 troops deployed in the country and levels of violence are at their highest since the US-backed ousting of the Taliban in October 2001.
A useful article, contrasting motivations, methods and possible outcomes of the intervention. Read it!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Economist Videographic: World Population Growth

The Economist has today released a new videographic exploring the background—as well as the future—of world population growth:

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Observer: Rise of the robots and the future of war

With the RAF and the Pentagon pouring huge sums into robotics, Jon Cartwright asks how this could change warfare and what ethical and legal challenges will follow...

Worth a read!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

ICOS: 92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11

The Raw Story features an interesting—and quite frankly amazing—report (PDF) from the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS):
Fewer than one in 10 Afghans are aware of the 9/11 attacks and their precipitation of the war in Afghanistan, says a study from an international think tank.
A report from the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) shows that 92 percent of those surveyed had never heard of the coordinated multiple attacks on US soil on September 11, 2001. It also shows that four in 10 Afghans believe the US is on their soil in order to "destroy Islam or occupy Afghanistan."
To be sure, the survey can't claim to be definitive: It only canvassed men, and relied primarily on respondents from Helmand and Kandahar, the two most war-torn provinces in the country. But the results nonetheless show that Western forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan have largely failed to connect with the local population.
Could it be that this (a) lack of awareness and (b) complete misunderstanding is responsible for the deaths of many Western troops and aid workers in Afghanistan? It seems impossible to conclude otherwise...

Friday, 19 November 2010

Economist Videographic: Climate Change and Food

Again exactly one year ago, The Economist published a useful videographic on the topic of Climate Change and Food. The two models presented in the video differ in details, but both agree that food will grow more expensive as the earth warms:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

UN: Food prices may rise by up to 20%

The Guardian summarises the current report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO):

Poor harvests put global food reserves under pressure, with African and Asian countries likely to be worst hit. Opening paragraphs:
The UN today warned that food prices could rise by 10%-20% next year after poor harvests and an expected rundown of global reserves. More than 70 African and Asian countries will be the worst hit, said the Food and Agricultural Organisation in its monthly report.

In its gloomiest forecast since the 2007/08 food crisis, which saw food riots in more than 25 countries and 100 million extra hungry people, the report's authors urged states to prepare for hardship.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Economist Videographic: India, Pakistan and Kashmir

Exactly one year ago, The Economist published a very useful videographic on an enduring flashpoint between the two nuclear powers in South Asia. Kashmir's history of division and conflict are explored:

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Times (archive): Europe rises as the modest superpower

From behind the great Times paywall comes an archived article that should be of interest to students of global power, global governance and the European Union (that's you!):

(It's a two page article, so make sure you lick through to the second page).

Published a year ago on the eve of the appointment of the first European President, the article concisely spells out reasons for considering the European Union as a nascent superpower.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

West cannot defeat al-Qaeda, says UK forces chief

BBC Online today reports on recent comments made by General Sir David Richards:
The West can only contain not defeat militant groups such as al-Qaeda, the head of the UK's armed forces has said.

General Sir David Richards, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, said Islamist militancy would pose a threat to the UK for at least 30 years.

But he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper a clear-cut victory over militants was not achievable.

The BBC's Frank Gardner said the comments reflect a "new realism" in UK and US counter-terrorism circles.
Full article:

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Tea with the Economist: Shami Chakrabarti on Human Rights

Some time ago now, Tea with the Economist released a video interview with Shami Chakrabarti on the topic of human rights. Human rights flourished after the Second World War.... The director of Liberty now hopes their recent decline is an anomaly:

Friday, 12 November 2010

MEMRI: New Trends in Arab Anti-Semitism

This MEMRI production shows examples of anti-semitism in modern-day Arab media, including using original national socialist footage to justify Islamic resentment against Jews. Originally presented to the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva, September 28th 2010, this presentation serves to illustrate how fundamentalist religious beliefs can be employed to produce conflict and hatred.

New Trends in Arabic Anti-semitism from Henrik Clausen on Vimeo.

AFP: North Korea 'giving nuclear material to Iran, Syria'

Google News has the AFP report on worrying findings published this week at the United Nations [link]:
UNITED NATIONS — North Korea is supplying banned nuclear and ballistic equipment to Iran, Syria and Myanmar using "surreptitious" means to avoid international sanctions, according to a UN report released Friday.

China had blocked publication of the report which has been ready for six months, diplomats said.
North Korea is involved with "the surreptitious transfer of nuclear-related and ballistic missile-related equipment, know-how and technology" to countries including Iran, Syria and Myanmar, said the report.

A UN sanctions committee panel of experts called for heightened vigilance to stop the nuclear trade and for more detailed investigation into the sophisticated means used by North Korea to circumvent sanctions.

North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "employs a broad range of techniques to mask its transactions, including the use of overseas entities, shell companies, informal transfer mechanisms, cash couriers and barter arrangements," said the investigators.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Economist: Thinking the UNthinkable (UN Security Council)

Redesigning the United Nations Security Council might not be easy, but it would be a great prize

... so says the Leader in this week's issue of The Economist:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason, T.S. Eliot wrote, is “the greatest treason”—a familiar one in the world of politics. This week’s culprit is Barack Obama, who has pledged American support for reforming the Security Council of the United Nations (UN), and giving India a permanent seat on it.

By backing India, the president proved that America rates it as a world power and helped set it against China, which quietly opposes permanent Indian membership. And, since UN reform has long been blocked by regional rivalries and powerful countries with something to lose, America can be pretty sure that nothing will come of it.

Mr Obama’s pledge was all the more forceful because his foreign-policy rhetoric has put store by rules and international consensus. Stoking India’s unfulfilled ambition will only fuel the sense that the UN’s most senior body fails to represent the world as it is. That will do the UN no good at all.

To lessen the chance that his India policy comes at the expense of his UN policy, Mr Obama needs to be as good as his word and to put America squarely behind a reform of the Security Council. Reform would be just, it is overdue, and it would make the UN work better. It might even be achievable.

Pretty much everyone agrees that the Security Council’s permanent, veto-wielding membership reflects a bygone age, when what mattered was who won the second world war. An increasingly unrepresentative, anachronistic Security Council speaks with diminishing authority. It is less able to debate the issues that matter, because important actors may be missing. And it is less able to hand down opinions that count, because they do not bear the seal of all the world’s great powers. Whether you think the UN can accomplish a little or a lot, a better Security Council would be able to get more done.

Who shall come to the ball?
Alas, the consensus ends there. Among today’s permanent members France and Britain worry about their declining influence. China objects to Japan as a permanent member. Mexico and Argentina object to Brazil. Italy objects to Germany. African states cannot choose between South Africa and Nigeria. Do you need a Muslim state? And if so, which?

It is a mess and it has been debated fruitlessly for years. Diplomats roll their eyes and say that talking about reform is a waste of breath. Yet international governance can eventually change—just ask the IMF, where Europe is finally giving up some of its clout, or ask the leaders turning up this weekend in Seoul for a summit of the G20, eclipser of the G7.

Any plausible UN reform starts with compromise. The Security Council needs to be large enough to be representative, but small enough to do business. It should reflect real power in the world, but aim not to reward anti-social behaviour. It should strive for the best council for today, but it cannot start with a clean sheet, because the original membership controls the reform under the original rules. Extending permanent membership would help the council, but extending the veto to a lot of new countries risks making it unworkable.

Such ideas help sketch out a plan. Emerging countries need more say. Brazil is the most plausible candidate from Latin America, as Britain’s foreign secretary reiterated this week. In Africa Nigeria is too anarchic, despite its size and supply of peace-keepers. South Africa would be better. Ideally the European Union would have one seat, but Britain and France would veto that, so Germany makes it by default. As an economic power, but not a geopolitical one, Japan barely scrapes in, despite an American promise to back it. A Muslim country would give the council clout: best would be Turkey or Indonesia, which increasingly see themselves as regional powers. And Mr Obama is right: India has the strongest claim of all.

The case for reform is overwhelming. America’s unipolar moment has passed. Rules help in a world where power is shifting. The longer Britain and France wait, the weaker their negotiating position. Russia could probably live with reform, so long as it kept its veto. If China were faced with a united front, it might go along, however reluctantly. Nobody should think that designing a new UN would be easy. But the alternative is a declining UN in a messy, interconnected world. That would not be easy either.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Location, location and how the West was won

Ian Morris, Stanford University professor and author of a recent book entitled Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History, and What they Reveal About the Future has placed a summary of his findings in the BBC News Magazine:

full article:
On his current visit to Beijing, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said China will soon reclaim its position as the world's biggest economy - a role it has held for 18 of the past 20 centuries. But how did the US, Britain and the rest of Europe interrupt this reign of supremacy? It comes down to location.
Morris combines a close examination of developing economic realities with a large dose of geographical determinism to explain the world we live in—and the world we may yet live in!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Obama backs India on permanent Security Council seat

Big news yesterday, reported (amongst others) by BBC News and arising from US President Barack Obama's current visit to India and several other Asian states:
US President Barack Obama has backed India's ambition for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. In an address to India's parliament at the end of a three-day visit, Mr Obama lavishly praised India's development.

His remarks will delight India, which has been lobbying for a seat at the UN's top table for years. Analysts say it does not mean India will get a permanent seat immediately; the unspecified UN reforms Mr Obama mentioned could take years.

India's long-term rival Pakistan issued a quick response opposing the move, saying the US should not be swayed by "power politics".

Mr Obama said the Washington-Delhi relationship would be one of this century's defining partnerships. The loudest applause came when Mr Obama told dignitaries: "As two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security - especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years.

"Indeed the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate.

"And that is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

There are currently five permanent members of the Security Council: the US, China, France, the UK and Russia, which have the power to veto resolutions. Some nations have criticised the format as not reflecting the 21st century world.
The article goes on to discuss the possible regional political ramifications and describes the increasingly close nature of the US-India relationship. Take a look!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Guardian: Globalisation at the crossroads

Economist Kenneth Rogoff argues in The Guardian's Comment is Free section that the US has championed free trade – at grave cost to itself. Rogoff asserts that in order too avoid a trade war, other countries must now share the burden...
American hegemony over the global economy is perhaps in its final decades. China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets are in ascendancy. Will the transition will go smoothly and lead to a global economy that is both fairer and more prosperous?

However much we may hope for this, the current rut in which the US finds itself could prove to be a problem for the rest of the world. Unemployment in the US is high, while fiscal and monetary policies have been stretched to their limits. Exports are the best way out, but the US needs help. Otherwise, simmering trade frictions could suddenly throw globalisation sharply into reverse. It wouldn't be the first time.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Economist Videographic: Smart Systems

The Economist today published an interesting videographic feature on "smart systems"—yet another example of how technology and globalisation are making the world a smaller, more interconnected place:

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Infographic: The Carbon Economy

A year ago today, XPLANE and the The Economist put out a video infographic—entitled "The Carbon Economy" to coincide with the latter's Carbon Economy Summit:

Definitely worth watching a year later as a means of getting some handle on how government and business worldwide are getting to grips with the new thinking on the environment.