Sunday, 30 January 2011

Foreign Policy magazine: Think Again - American Decline

Gideon Rachman, chief foreign-affairs commentator for the Financial Times and author of Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety, weighs in with a reasoned article in Foreign Policy magazine outlining five reasons why American decline (and China's rise) is now really in the offing:
  • Objections that we've heard about US decline repeatedly before ignore the fact that things are now fundamentally different
  • The idea that China will implode under its own weight is ill-founded
  • The comforting fact that America currently still "leads across the board" is not much more than ill-informed complacency
  • The notion that globalization will always favour Western values is tenuous on current evidence
  • Finally, the idea that "globalization is not a zero-sum game" is incorrect
Clearly there is much that could be said to counter these ideas—read the comments below the article. Nonetheless, an informed opinion from an experienced commentator / observer and one that should be read in a timely fashion.

South Sudan referendum: 99% vote for independence

BBC News Online has a summary report of the first complete results:
Some 99% of South Sudanese voted to secede from the north, according to the first complete results of the region's independence referendum.

A total of 99.57 percent of those polled voted for independence, according to the referendum commission. Early counting had put the outcome of the ballot beyond doubt, indicating Southern Sudan had secured a mandate to become the world's newest nation.

The poll was agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal to end two decades of war.

Final results from the 9-15 January vote, which Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will accept, are expected early next month.

If the result is confirmed, the new country is set to formally declare its independence on 9 July.
 Read the rest...

Saturday, 29 January 2011

David Cameron at Davos: Invest in China at your peril

The Daily Mail today highlights a warning issued by UK PM David Cameron against "authoritarian capitalism" (excerpts follow):

David Cameron last night launched an extraordinary attack on the ‘authoritarian capitalism’ of China and Russia as he warned businesses to invest there at their peril. ....

Mr Cameron poured scorn on those who see ‘political leaders with the powers of juggernauts’ forcing through decisions elsewhere in the world and believe that the democratic values of the West are ‘outdated, ineffective – even an obstacle to success’.

‘I passionately disagree. It’s these values that create the climate for innovation. Look at where the big ideas come from – the Facebooks and the Spotifys – and the vast majority are from open societies,’ the PM told businessmen, economists and world leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

‘That’s because good ideas come through freedom – free thinking and the free association of like-minded people. Our values create the right climate for business, too. If you’re looking to set up a headquarters abroad, are you going to invest where your premises can be taken away from you? Where contracts are routinely dishonoured? Where there’s the threat of political upheaval? Or are you going to invest where there are property rights, the rule of law, democratic accountability? These values aren’t some quaint constitutional add-on, they are an integral and irreducible part of our success today and tomorrow.’

Though he did not refer to China and Russia directly, observers were left in little doubt which countries he was referring to in his attack on ‘authoritarian capitalism’.

Mr Cameron’s remarks risk a row with China, which he has gone out of his way to court as an economic partner since winning power. Only last November, he led Britain’s largest-ever delegation to China with 50 top business leaders joining ministers on a trade mission.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Arctic canary looking sicker than ever

Environment correspondent for BBC News Online Richard Black has assembled an extremely useful summary of recent research findings from ongoing scientific studies of the Arctic region:
If the Arctic really is the "canary in the coal mine" for climate change impacts, as it's often been labelled, then it's a canary about which we know a little more following a spate of scientific papers coming out over the last week or so.

And looking at what they say, as well as readings from instruments monitoring the canary's heath, the signs of sickness appear to be stronger and more certain than before.

There are several distinct symptoms that need monitoring here: sea-ice area and volume, air temperature and wind, water temperature and currents, and the state of the Greenland icecap.

Along with all this is the constant effort to interpret new data and see whether long-term beliefs about how Arctic weather works still hold true, or whether - as with the El Nino Southern Oscillation, for example - the sustained rise in global temperatures may change mechanisms people thought they understood.
Black's blog entry summarises and links conveniently to five or six separate studies, each worrying by themselves, but which together add up to no small concern for the stability of the northern polar zone. Why not spend some time this weekend exploring a selection of the links?

Davos world economic summit

Timothy Garton Ash has an excellent piece in the Guardian's Comment is Free section, discussing the fading glories of Davos:
Western capitalism survives, but limping, wounded, carrying a heavy load of debt, inequality, demography, neglected infrastructure, social discontent and unrealistic expectations. Meanwhile, other variants of capitalism – Chinese, Indian, Russian, Brazilian – are surging ahead, exploiting the advantages of backwardness, and their economic dynamism is rapidly being translated into political power. The result? Not a unipolar world, converging on a single model of liberal democratic capitalism, but a no-polar world, diverging towards many different national versions of often illiberal capitalism. Not a new world order, but a new world disorder. An unstable kaleidoscope world – fractured, overheated, germinating future conflicts.
The BBC equally has excellent coverage of Davos, with a dedicated page:

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Wired: Stats Back Al-Qaida Claim of Drone Pain

Wired Magazine's Danger Room today delivers reports of statistical studies—combined with anecdotal evidence gathered from intelligence—that suggest that America's "drone war" against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and North-West Pakistan is starting to see some (modest) results:
Is the U.S. drone war in Pakistan putting the squeeze on al-Qaida’s safe havens? It’s not a question that lends itself to easy answers, given the difficulties of reporting from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where al-Qaida’s top leaders are believed to be. But a new statistical analysis by researchers at Harvard finds that the deadly robots overhead are reaping modest “counterterrorism dividends” — something that al-Qaida itself is complaining about.

Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, a leading al-Qaida propagandist in Pakistan, says in a new audio message that the terrorist network is “losing people” and “facing shortages of resources” in the area, thanks in large part to the escalated U.S. drone campaign. And he indicates the safe havens aren’t as safe as they once were.

“There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost,” Farooq laments in a January 23 audio message obtained by the terror-trackers at the SITE Intelligence Group. “Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.”
 Make an effort to read the rest of the article.

Economist: Suicide bombs in Moscow - Terror at the airport

The Economist today has a useful round-up regarding the terrorist attack on Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Monday:
Another suicide bomb reflects the Kremlin’s difficulties with the north Caucasus
Half past four in the afternoon is peak time for international arrivals at Domodedovo, Moscow’s busiest and most efficient airport, favoured by foreign airlines. Several European flights land then. As passengers leave the baggage area, they are greeted by taxi touts. On January 24th they were met by a suicide bomb that killed 35 people and injured more than 100. It was designed to cause maximum damage and to kill foreigners and Russians alike.

This was the deadliest attack on any international airport. Nobody has claimed responsibility, but the assumption is that it is the work of Islamist fundamentalists, related to Russia’s troubled north Caucasus—though Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, and Vladimir Putin, its prime minister were careful not to say so publicly.

The details remain hazy, but a male suicide bomber seems to have entered the airport building from the car park, avoiding metal detectors on his way to the arrivals area. A source close to the investigation says CCTV picked up the bomber entering the building just over an hour before the explosion. Intriguingly, the footage suggests he did not look north Caucasian.

The attack was condemned around the world yet greeted with an air of resignation in Moscow, partly because suicide bombings have become tragically common. Last March two female suicide bombers blew themselves up on the Moscow metro, killing 40 people.
A useful article as regards the motivations and methods of terrorism in the Russian Federation. A prime current example which you should read!

Davos 2011: BBC Debate - The role of China?

Nik Gowing hosts the BBC World Debate on global leadership with leading figures from the United States, France, India and China.

He posed the question to China's Victor Chu: "Does China aspire to primacy in global leadership?"

Debate panel: Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations; Christine Lagarde, French Minister of Finance; Anand Sharma, Indian Minister of Commerce; Victor Chu, First Eastern Investment Group, China

8 minutes worth watching!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Economist Audio Slideshow: Rape, A Weapon of War

The Economist features a newly-added audio slideshow in which photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale talks about a selection of his images chronicling the impact of rape in war-torn areas of Africa:

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Visualisation: "So You Still Think the Internet is Free...."

Click on this link to view a brilliant web visualisation of web censorship around the world—and the reasons for it...

2010 warmest ever year, says UN weather agency

AFP, via The Independent, summarises last Thursday's announcement from the UN (complete text below):
The UN's World Meteorological Organisation said Thursday that 2010 was the warmest year on record, confirming a "significant" long-term trend of global warming. The trend also helped to melt Arctic sea ice cover to a record low for December last month, the WMO said in a statement.

Last year "ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998," the WMO added, confirming preliminary findings released at the global climate conference early December that were based on a 10-month period.

"The 2010 data confirm the Earth's significant long-term warming trend," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. "The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998."

In 2010, the global average temperature was 0.53 degrees Celsius (0.95 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 1961 to 1990 mean that is used as a yardstick for climate measurements, according to the WMO. That exceeded 2005 levels by 0.01 C (0.02 F) and was 0.02 C (0.05 F) above the 1998 mark, but within a margin of error that made the difference between the three years statistically insignificant, according to the WMO.

"Arctic sea-ice cover in December 2010 was the lowest on record" for the month, the WMO said.

Sea ice around the northern polar region shrank to an average monthly extent of 12 million square kilometres, 1.35 million square kilometres below the 1979 to 2000 December average, according to the UN weather agency.

Over past decade, global temperatures have been the highest-ever recorded for a 10-year period since the beginning of instrument-based climate records. Last month, even before the year was over, Jarraud confirmed that 2001 to 2010 set a new record as the warmest decade ever.

The WMO says that the temperature observations on their own do not pin the cause on man-made greenhouse gases, although it believes this is confirmed separately by other research into carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
It could be worth reading the original press release from the World Meteorological Organisation as well!

Home fires: the world's most lethal pollution

The Independent has an interesting article on a source of environmental pollution often overlooked, but with profound effects. The UN plans to do something about it:
The world's deadliest pollution does not come from factories billowing smoke, industries tainting water supplies or chemicals seeping into farm land. It comes from within people's own homes. Smoke from domestic fires kills nearly two million people each year and sickens millions more, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A new UN project has now been set up to try to reduce this appalling toll. It aims, over the next nine years, to put 100 million clean cooking stoves into homes in the developing world.

The WHO ranks the problem as one of the worst health risks facing the poor. In low-income countries, such as those in Africa and Asia, indoor smoke from cooking has become the sixth biggest killer. Globally, it kills more people than malaria, and nearly as many as Aids – and far more insidiously than either.
Read the whole article—it conveniently provides an example that crosses a number of our sub-topics (perfect synopticity!—look at the labels below that I have applied to it...)
A Bhutan family gathers for a meal around their improperly ventilated home fire, fueled by yak dung and wood.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Resources: Uppsala University Conflict Database

The Uppsala University Conflict Database—based in Uppsala, Sweden—works to compile information regarding numerous instances of armed conflict since 1975. As such, the database represents an important resource for students studying Conflict, War and Terrorism (Unit 4).

The Conflict Database can be found on the web, from which is has served as a source for numerous articles and discussions (including on Wikipedia):

And for those of you equipped with iPhones, the Database is now available as a free app:

Get downloading!

Seed Magazine: On Peace

Seed magazine today in their Global Reset series has a thought-provoking article suggesting a way forward that might be adopted with great advantage globally to reduce conflict and promote peace:
Whilst the article does not deny the scientific and technological advances promoted by war, author Daniel Zajfman is keen to remember scientific cooperation after WWII between Germany and Israel that subsequently helped to forge the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1965. If these two actors can forge a new relationship, he suggests, we all can—and cites several modern examples to back his case. Worth a read.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Independent: Great Stall of China

Sean O'Grady in The Independent's Econoblog offers a more sober assessment of China's future as an (economic) superpower:
One has to acknowledge that journalists love puns, even bending stories, to fit a headline. So I’m a bit cautious about chucking the phrase “Great Stall of China” into public discourse, but it seems appropriate, in the circumstances.

Sino-sceptics, like me, have long worried wondered whether the hype about China taking over the world was really that well based, given all the distortions in her economy. It’s quite reminiscent of the alarmist, overblown stuff being written about Japan in the mid 1980s, before she succumbed to a 20 year slump. The latest Chinese data support that sort of scepticism.

Specifcially, if you think Britain has a problem with inflation take a little look at China where shop-price inflation has just eased back but will accelerate again soon to 6% or more,  and, more worrying still “asset price inflation” – house  prices really and shares to an extent – have been in a bubble for many months now. It is only matter of time before the Chinese real estate bubble bursts, and loud popping noise form the east seems more likely than not in 2011. That is a grim prospect.

The consequences are unknowable but might include; a mass sell off of dollar assets, causing chaos sin currency markets as the Chinese repatriate their assets; alternatively a renewed effort to return to export lead growth which would mean flooding markets with  more Chinese Yuan, equally destabilising and another ratchet up in the US-China currency war; big losses for Chinese banks, and thus the state that owns them, who lent into the real estate boom; losses for western investors in emerging market funds and companies directly involved in the Chinese economy; general collapse in global investor confidence and “risk appetite” ; slower exports form the west to China, damaging our recovery.

The point is that we can see this crisis coming; we can’t do anything to stop it, but what precautions are the UK authorities taking for the inevitable Great Stall of China?

Profile: IMF and World Bank (BBC News)

Very helpfully, the BBC News website has put together a profile page for the two most important institutions responsible for economic governance and development on a global basis: the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

This concise but useful guide provides an overview of the two bodies, a brief fact sheet, a profile of the institutions' leaders and an insight into issues arising from their work. The BBC profile is particularly useful in providing examples of the latter, both positive and critical. As you hopefully know, the policies and actions of both institutions have provoked protests world-wide, particularly on the occasion of IMF-World Bank summits.

Take a look: This is a convenient source for the revision of notes generated for these key, high profile institutions. The right sidebar also provides links to recent and current (!) news stories in which these examples can be explored in greater detail by motivated students.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

China on equal footing with US as Hu Jintao visits Washington

.... Or so The Guardian's correspondents might have us believe in their analysis piece this morning:

Overall, the newspaper believes that China's inferiority in 'hard power' has turned to Beijing's advantage, and (that) signs of its growing 'soft power' abound...

The article is quite pragmatic, however: For all the talk of China's emergence as a nascent superpower, and discussion of apparent American weaknesses, uncertainty remains as to a future dependent on Beijing's determination and maintenance of current trends. There is still a long way for China to go!

Wired: All-Seeing Blimp Could Be Afghanistan’s Biggest Brain

Wired: Danger Room brings news of a new high-flying (floating?) weapon brought to bear by the Americans in Afghanistan...
Come this fall, there will be a new and extremely powerful supercomputer in Afghanistan. But it won’t be in Dave Petraeus’ headquarters in Kabul or at some three-letter agency’s operations center in Kandahar. It’ll be floating 20,000 feet above the warzone, aboard a giant spy blimp that watches and listens to everything for miles around.
Amazing concept and technology - a new frontier in warfare. Read the whole thing.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Iran hanged 47 people in three weeks, say human rights groups

The Guardian reports recent claims made by a number of respected human rights organisations:
Iran has hanged almost 50 people during the past three weeks, according to human rights groups.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) said 47 prisoners, or an average of about one person every eight hours, have been put to death since the beginning of the new year. Most of the executions are believed to be related to drug-trafficking crimes, although at least two were of political activists.

The news came as it emerged today that Iranian officials had apparently suspended the sentence of hanging for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old woman whose sentence of death by stoning for adultery sparked an international outcry....
.... According to the ICHRI, Iran executes more people per capita than any other country, and in absolute numbers is second only to China. Iran executed at least 179 people in 2010 and 388 in 2009.

The two known political activists hanged recently were Ali Saremi, accused of waging war on God, and Hossein Khezri, a Kurdish prisoner accused of belonging to the Pejak, an armed Kurdish opposition group.

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the ICHRI, said: "There are many questions about proper legal proceedings, charges against executed people, and even their identities. There are serious concerns about the abuse of the judiciary by intelligence and security forces to push their agenda through such widespread executions."
 Read the whole article.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Guardian: Attack of the drones

Unmanned aircraft are now a vital tool in war zones, but our skies could soon be buzzing with spy planes that feed information back to the police – and even the paparazzi... The Guardian reports on the latest developments in remote controlled warfare and surveillance:

The (vexed) meaning of 'terrorism' - thoughts from 2001...

Hunting around on the internet for resources useful to students' exploration of terrorism as a sub-topic (Unit 4d - Conflict, War and Terrorism), I came across two interesting articles from the UK media, published all the way back in 2001...

The first comes before the events on 9/11, having been published on the 7 May of that year:

The second comes from 20 September 2001, just over a week after the Twin Tower and Pentagon attacks:

Green giants: the eco power list (Guardian)

We all agree that the planet is in a perilous position. But what is the best way to save it? The Guardian names the 20 activists, filmmakers, writers, politicians and celebrities who will be setting the global environmental agenda in the coming year:

People profiled include environmentalist David Suzuki, Bolivian President Evo Morales, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, actors Brad Pitt and Arnold Schwarzenegger (until recently California Governor), Prince Charles and even Timberland (the company).

Worth a read: proof positive that the environmental movement is truly global and no longer the domain of the 'lunatic Left'...

While we're at it... There's a Guardian article published last November outlining Arnold Schwarzenegger's stated intention to become a green activist now that his time in Californian political office has come to an end:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: my future as a green activist
Film star turned California governor prepares to leave office and become a global champion in war against climate change

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Wired: Old school jet retooled to slay stealth fighters

More on that story from 3 weeks ago about the flight of the new Chinese stealth fighter..... Now, according to Wired: Danger Room we have the re-use of a 20 year old American classic to counter the new threat:

Things don't stand still long on the military front! (Makes you think that US intelligence must already have known about the J-20....)

Friday, 14 January 2011

Guardian: The population explosion

Leo Hickman in The Guardian asks: "This year, there will be 7 billion people on Earth. But how will the planet will cope with the expanding population – and is there anything we can, or should, do to stop it?"
Later this year – on 31 October, to be precise – a boy will be born in a rural village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. His parents will not know it, but his birth will prove to be a considerable landmark for our species as his arrival will mark the moment when the human population reaches 7 billion.
This ominous event outlined, Hickman proceeds to outline the various shades of opinion surrounding it, ranging from the pessimistic—Ehrlich, The Population Bomb and James Lovelock, proponent of the Gaia Theory—to the optimistic, as represented by delegates to the launch of Future Agenda (authoured by Brit Dr Tim Jones) in Istanbul. Carl Haub is offered the final voice in Hickman's survey... His analysis is mixed, but probably more realistic.

As an insight into current streams of thinking about the environmental future, the article is definitely well worth a read. Do it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Economist: War's overlooked victims

Violence against women - Rape is horrifyingly widespread in conflicts all around the world

The Economist today has a wide-ranging article examining how rape is frequently used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the world.

There's nothing completely new in this, of course - rape has been a feature of war for millennia. Several current conflicts, however, have made rape seemingly routine, perhaps supporting Mary Kaldor's characterisation of "new wars" that are primarily civil in nature and are frequently based on identity (ethnic nationalism or religious radicalism). A further feature of these wars, usually occurring against a back drop of state fragmentation and failure, is the change in legal status of combatants and a new level of atrocities as war is waged ‘among the people’. An important aspect in this is the involvement and the effect on both women and children.

Uncomfortable reading, but worth doing nonetheless. Read the whole thing.

Guardian: The UN was envisaged as a war-fighting machine

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian reminds us (some of us hadn't actually forgotten!) of the underlying military purpose of the fledgling organisation during the Second World War:

"American critics of the United Nations often zero in on its lack of serious military capacity, citing peacekeeping failures in Bosnia and more recently in central and west Africa as examples of ineffective do-goodery gone wrong. Imagine their surprise, then, to learn that the UN was born amid nude scenes in a White House bathroom and that its primary purpose was as a war-fighting machine."
 As ever, worth a read...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Michael Totten: The Israeli Way of War

Independent journalist Michael Totten has an interesting piece describing his typical on-the-ground research into 'the Israeli Way of War'.

Includes a number of interviews and a selection of photographs revealing Israeli preparations for the 'the next war'. Prominent are the threats that Hezbollah currently mounts along the Lebanese border and the pains the IDF are apparently taking to avoid collateral damage when they eventually feel they have to deal with them. Another point of interest is the artificial city that the IDF have built in the desert to train their soldiers in urban warfare - adapting to the changing needs of modern warfare.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Video: Sarah McLachlan "World on Fire"

One of my favourite songs and a great stimulus for an upcoming topic for this syllabus (Poverty and Development) is Sarah McLachlan's World on Fire:

Click this link! >>>>

Although it dates all the way back (!) from 2004, this particular video is highly thought-provoking and puts a lot of things into perspective... Take a look!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Guardian: 'Beware those who sneer at 'human rights imperialism'

A few days back, the Guardian newspaper published a timely and incisive article by the Iranian-American writer and activist Sohrab Ahmari:

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

China gains in battle against desertification but long fight ahead

The Guardian today has a brief but interesting article regarding the ongoing problem of desertification in China—one of the flip sides to the stories about what is commonly regarded as a nascent superpower:
China has gained a sliver of ground in its ancient battle against the desert sands, the government announced today, though it warned another 300 years may be needed to solve "the most serious ecological problem facing the country".

A survey showed more than a quarter of China's land remained either degraded or lost to sand and gravel due to a combination of a naturally dry climate, centuries of over-cultivation and decades of excessive demand on water and soil from the world's biggest population and fastest growing economy.

Unveiling the results, state forestry officials said desertification had been stabilised, but recovery efforts would have to be stepped up. Despite the world's biggest tree-planting campaign, the relocation of millions of "eco-migrants" and restrictions on herding and farming, the report noted the "desertification trend has not fundamentally reversed".

There were small signs of improvement. In the five years to 2010, the authors estimated the area of desert had shrunk by an annual average of 1,717 square kilometres. This was 40% better than the results from 2000-05, the first in China's history to ever show a gain.

But 1.7m hectares - more than six times the area of the UK - is still covered in sand dunes or gobi gravel desert. An even wider swathe of land is plagued by wind and water erosion or salination. The report said desertification continued to pose a "serious hidden danger" to China's security and its capacity for economic development.
 Read the other half of the article as well...

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

BBC News: Sudan - One Country or Two?

BBC News Online features a convenient and (carto)graphic summary of the issues surrounding the referendum to be held in southern Sudan this Sunday:

The Sudanese referendum will (failing any catastrophes) form the main global news story over the first non-holiday weekend of New Year 2011. The BBC provides a convenient summary:
Sudan - Africa's biggest country - seems to be on the verge of splitting in two. Southerners will vote on Sunday whether or not to leave the north. These maps show the extent to which Sudan is already two nations - a richer, Arabic-speaking, Muslim north and a poorer south devastated by years of conflict and neglect.
The internet provides any number of convenient resources for this important event. Wikipedia, of course, represents a convenient starting point:,_2011

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Observer: 20 Predictions for the Next 25 Years

Today's Observer features 20 Predictions for the Next 25 Years, as prophesied by the newspaper's "team of experts:

Not all are supremely relevant to global politics; nonetheless, several are quite interesting in that regard, viz.:
  • Geopolitics: 'Rivals will take greater risks against the US'
  • Global development: 'A vaccine will rid the world of Aids' (and other diseases)
  • Energy: 'Returning to a world that relies on muscle power is not an option'
  • Food: 'Russia will become a global food superpower'
  • Nature: 'We'll redefine the wild'
Each of these is worth reading in full - see what you think!