Monday, 28 February 2011

War games: conflict becomes child's play for young Pashtuns

The Guardian has today published an article linking to, and analysing, a highly worrying amateur video that has surfaced in recent weeks... The newspaper fears that the video of Pashtun children enacting suicide bombing shows the psychological impact of Taliban violence on a generation:

The unsettling 84-second clip has divided opinions, with some amused by the smiling child actors and fake explosions; others appalled by evidence that suicide bombers have become playground heroes of sorts.
"It's horrifying and alarming. These children have become fascinated by bombers rather than condemning them," said Salma Jafar of Save the Children UK in Pakistan. "If they glamorise violence now, they can become part of it later in life."
The origins of the homemade video, which first surfaced about a week ago, are unknown. Ahsan Masood, a Pashtun from Waziristan who posted it on Facebook, said he believed it had been filmed in Khost, Afghanistan. Masood, who works as a truck driver in the UAE, said he received the video from a friend's mobile phone. "I thought it was funny," he said.
But a sobering reality lies behind the playful drama. Children are both perpetrators and victims in the decade-old Taliban-led conflict that has destabilised both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
An article worth reading full, especiaklly as we try to understand the motivations lying behind terrorism as an expression of political violence.

Human Rights: Libya and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The New York Times today published analysis of an important decision regarding events in Libya taken by the UN Security Council on Saturday night:
In response to Muammar el-Qaddafi’s continued assaults on civilians in Libya, the United Nations Security Council adopted a unanimous and historic resolution in an unusual Saturday night session.

It imposed an arms embargo on Libya, targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against Qaddafi, his family members and senior regime officials, and referred the situation to the International Criminal Court for investigation and potential prosecution of those involved in what was referred to as possible crimes against humanity.

In its statement condemning the violence, the Security Council included a critical reference to Libya’s “responsibility to protect” (RtoP) its own citizens from mass atrocities.

At the U.N. World Summit in 2005, more than 150 heads of state and government unanimously adopted a declaration on the responsibility to protect authorizing international collective action “to protect [a state’s] population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” if that state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens, or worse, as in the case of Libya, if that state is the author of such criminality.

Since then, the doctrine has been only applied once — in the case of Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007-2008. And this is the first time it has been explicitly invoked by the Security Council regarding the situation in a specific country.
Do take the time to read the whole opinion piece. This decision constitutes an important  formal step towards Responsibility to Protect (R2P, or RtoP) by the international community and therefore represents an extremely valuable current example of the protection (potential, or otherwise) of human rights in North Africa for our Unit 4 responses.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Can California scientists end the war on climate change?

The Guardian has a feature today on the work of a group of scientists based in California who have no small ambition—The Berkeley Earth project, led by physicist Richard Muller, say they are about to reveal the definitive truth about global warming...
For the past year, Muller has kept a low profile, working quietly on a new project with a team of academics hand-picked for their skills. They meet on campus regularly, to check progress, thrash out problems and hunt for oversights that might undermine their work. And for good reason. When Muller and his team go public with their findings in a few weeks, they will be muscling in on the ugliest and most hard-fought debate of modern times.

Muller calls his latest obsession the Berkeley Earth project. The aim is so simple that the complexity and magnitude of the undertaking is easy to miss. Starting from scratch, with new computer tools and more data than has ever been used, they will arrive at an independent assessment of global warming. The team will also make every piece of data it uses – 1.6bn data points – freely available on a website. It will post its workings alongside, including full information on how more than 100 years of data from thousands of instruments around the world are stitched together to give a historic record of the planet's temperature.

Muller is fed up with the politicised row that all too often engulfs climate science. By laying all its data and workings out in the open, where they can be checked and challenged by anyone, the Berkeley team hopes to achieve something remarkable: a broader consensus on global warming. In no other field would Muller's dream seem so ambitious, or perhaps, so naive.

"We are bringing the spirit of science back to a subject that has become too argumentative and too contentious," Muller says, over a cup of tea. "We are an independent, non-political, non-partisan group. We will gather the data, do the analysis, present the results and make all of it available. There will be no spin, whatever we find." Why does Muller feel compelled to shake up the world of climate change? "We are doing this because it is the most important project in the world today. Nothing else comes close," he says.
Quite a bit of detail to absorb, but worth the read and a worthy project. Let's hope they can come up with something definitive! If you want to check the project out directly, go to

Saturday, 26 February 2011

CNN Explainer: Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites

CNN has published a basic, but effective, explanation of how ultimately 8th century CE differences between the Sunni and the Shiite brands of Islam can lead to conflict between and amongst Muslim societies. This conflict has manifested itself repeatedly—and to varying degrees—in multiple modern conflicts: the Iran-Iraq War (1980s), the mid-2000s Iraq insurgency, the popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011....

  • Sunni and Shiite Islam are the two major denominations of the Islamic faith
  • Sunnis make up the majority, with only 10% of the Muslim population being Shiite
  • Tensions have arisen in recent years, heightened by events in Iran and Iraq
  • There are fears unrest in places such as Bahrain will spark further tensions
In many instances, of course—and as the article points out—Sunni and Shia Muslims do live peacefully side by side. As an important potential and—all too often—actual rationale for division, this religious divide remains important for understanding sources of conflict within identity politics, as emphasised by Unit 4: War, Conflict and Terrorism. Read the whole explainer.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Economist: To each his own (problems with NAFTA)

The Economist has today published a useful run-down on the current state of play vis à vis NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement.... or, North America's (potential) answer to the EU.

Despite optimistic beginnings in 1994, when NAFTA was founded, more recent concerns have served to take the fullest implementation of NAFTA off the agendas of both the USA and Canada—unfortunately for Mexico, they appear to be the weak link in the political / economic chain...
When Canada, Mexico and the United States implemented the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, it was hailed as a promising first step towards the deeper integration of the continent. Six years later Vicente Fox, then Mexico’s president, called for a customs union, a common external tariff and free labour flows. And in 2005 the leaders of the three countries began a series of annual summits to push an ambitious “security and prosperity” agenda.

Since then the drive for integration has ground to a halt. The “three amigos”, as their leaders were once dubbed, could not find time to meet last year, and the session scheduled for February 26th has been cancelled. When Barack Obama and Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, announced on February 4th that they were exploring ways to harmonise regulations and co-ordinate security—plans that had previously been discussed trilaterally—they did not mention Mexico.

A North American version of the European Union was always a long shot. Having one giant dealing with two relative dwarves is unlikely to produce a deal acceptable to all parties. Moreover, North America lacked the historical impetus of the second world war, which gave European integration a sense of purpose. ...
The article goes on to provide a pleasing level of detail on the reasons for NAFTA's current drift—important as an update to content that might be provided by any textbook. A quick summary would outline the following:
  • US (and some) Canadian concerns regarding border enforcement
  • the ongoing Mexican Drug War
  • the lengthy economic recession that has worked against further trade liberalisation
  • a shift in Canadian focus on emerging markets from Mexico to Asia
  • ongoing difficulties with economic reforms in Mexico
Only a short article - but well worth the read!

BBC News: The Kashmiri fighters who lost their cause

BBC News Online has published an interesting article today concerning the plight of "freedom fighters" (some would call them "terrorists") battling for Kashmiri independence, free of both India and Pakistan.
In Kashmir, such groups are called pro-independence, as opposed to pro-Pakistan groups that advocate union with Pakistan.

Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir in 1948. A ceasefire negotiated by the United Nations left the region divided between the two countries, pending a final resolution which still remains elusive.

While initially there was a predominantly pro-Pakistan sentiment across the region, over the last few decades many pro-independence groups have emerged.
It is interesting to read the story of militants caught between two major players in the region.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Economist Daily Chart: Mapping the Arab World

Published today in The Economist's Daily Chart series is an interactive chart providing a statistical hub containing key data from all the countries of the Arab League:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Guardian: World Bank warns of soaring food price dangers

The Guardian reports warnings by the World Bank president Robert Zoellick that a spike in global food prices has pushed millions more into poverty since last summer:
The World Bank has given a stark warning of the impact of the rising cost of food, saying an estimated 44 million people had been pushed into poverty since last summer by soaring commodity prices.

Robert Zoellick, the Bank's president, said food prices had risen by almost 30% in the past year and were within striking distance of the record levels reached during 2008.

"Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world," Zoellick said. "The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food."
So what, you may ask, is the World Bank doing about it? Well, something....
Announcing the latest findings, the bank said its Global Food Crisis Response Programme was helping some 40 million people in need by providing $1.5bn (£930m) of support. "To date, over 40 low-income countries are receiving or will receive assistance through new and improved seeds, irrigation, and other farm support and food assistance for the most vulnerable people. For example, in Benin, fertilizer provided through these resources led to the production of an extra 100,000 tonnes of cereal."

In the longer term, the bank said it was boosting its spending on agriculture to $6-8bn a year from $4.1bn in 2008.
Read the whole thing.

Slate Magazine: A World Adrift

Why there is no global leadership on climate change, trade policy, energy, and too many other issues. ...

So runs the by-line on Nouriel Roubini's concise analysis of the G-20 and world affairs in general, published today in Slate magazine. (Nouriel Roubini is chairman of Roubini Global Economics and Professor of Economics at New York University's Stern School of Business.) Some tasters from the beginning and the conclusion:
We live in a world where, in theory, global economic and political governance is in the hands of the G-20. In practice, however, there is no global leadership. And there is severe disarray and disagreement among G-20 members about monetary and fiscal policy, exchange rates and global imbalances, climate change, trade, financial stability, the international monetary system, and energy, food, and global security. Indeed, the major powers now see these issues as zero-sum games rather than positive-sum games. Ours is, in essence, a G-Zero world.  ....
.... for the first time since the end of World War II, there is no nation—or strong alliance of nations—with the political will and economic leverage to secure its goals on the global stage. As in previous historical periods, this vacuum may favor the ambitious and the aggressive as they seek their own advantage. In such a world, the absence of a high-level agreement on creating a new collective-security system—focused on economics rather than military power—is not merely irresponsible, but dangerous. A G-Zero world without leadership and multilateral cooperation is an unstable equilibrium for global economic prosperity and security.
It's definitely worth reading the whole piece. Do it. Now.

Monday, 14 February 2011

News Flash: The Taliban Violate Human Rights (Hitchens)

The human rights community finally notices the Taliban's war crimes.

Christopher Hitchens gets stuck into the Taliban—and also into the 'human rights community' that appease them—in a wide-ranging and acerbic article published today in Slate magazine:
Even in a week that concentrated all eyes on the magnificent courage and maturity of the people of Cairo, a report from Kabul began with what must surely be the most jaw-dropping opening paragraph of the year. Under the byline of the excellent Rod Nordland, the New York Times reported:
International and local human rights groups working in Afghanistan have shifted their focus toward condemning abuses committed by the Taliban insurgents, rather than those attributed to the American military and its allies.
The story went on to point out that the Taliban was culpable for "more than three-fourths of all civilian casualties" and informed us that some human-rights groups are now so concerned that they are thinking of indicting the Taliban for war crimes. "The activists' concern," Nordland went on, "would have been unheard-of a year ago," when all the outcry was directed at casualties inflicted by NATO contingents.

The story became more mind-boggling as it unfolded. One had to ask oneself what had taken the human-rights "community" so long. ....
Hitchens then proceeds to expose the rights abuses of the Taliban (once again), before contrasting the aims and actions of NATO operatives in the region. He may have a point. Read the whole thing.

Economist: Poverty and wealth in Angola

In Luanda, Angola's capital, fewer than one in ten people have running water but hotels can still cost $400 a night...

China overtakes Japan as world's second-biggest economy

BBC News Online presents the story (excerpts follow):
China has overtaken Japan as the world's second-biggest economy.

Japan's economy was worth $5.474 trillion (£3.414 trillion) at the end of 2010, figures from Tokyo have shown. China's economy was closer to $5.8 trillion in the same period.

Japan has been hit by a drop in exports and consumer demand, while China has enjoyed a manufacturing boom.

At its current rate of growth, analysts see China replacing the US as the world's top economy in about a decade.

"It's realistic to say that within 10 years China will be roughly the same size as the US economy," said Tom Miller of GK Dragonomics, a Beijing-based economic consultancy. ....
All well and good, but notice the caveats to this story at the end of the article, putting matters in important perspective:
Most economists agree that while China as a whole is growing, and the average person is getting wealthier, comparing only the size of its economy to Japan's does not paint an accurate enough picture.

"GDP per head in China is about $4,500, but in Japan it's about $40,000 per head," said Mr Miller of GK Dragonomics.

"Most people in China are still poor, more people live in the countryside than in cities. The average Japanese person is much much richer than the average Chinese person."
Do read in full: China's status as a superpower was a direct focus in one of the 45 mark examination questions asked last month for Unit 3.

Just yesterday, the BBC sounded warnings about the fragility of the Chinese economy, however impressive the "second biggest economy" news may be:

China could rue hasty dash for growth
As China has grown to become Asia's largest economy, its biggest achievement, most would agree, has been to raise hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty. But you don't have to walk far away from the main streets of Wuhan to find people who worry they are being left behind.

Xiong Qun Hui owns a small store she has to open 18 hours a day just to make ends meet. "The change is too fast," she complains. "Sometimes I stay at home to look after the shop, and if it's a while before I leave the neighbourhood, I get totally lost in the city."

Like Prof Wen, she questions whether the development going on in Wuhan, and the rising prices for real estate that come with it, will really benefit the majority of people who live here - especially those priced out of the housing market.

"This question is hard for the government as well as for the people," she says. "Why is it that those who can afford properties own many of them, when there are others who don't even have a place to live in. How can I put it? This is a problem with the system in this country - and what is wrong with the system. Well, I can't go into that."

For the government, that kind of comment is a worry, because it shows how easily complaints about the economy can turn into criticisms of the country's political system.

Imagine how much worse it would get if the asset prices - housing or land - were to collapse, as some fear could happen, leaving millions of disgruntled investors as unhappy as the poor. That could threaten the country's stability - and in China, that's always what policymakers are most afraid of.
As ever, read the whole article.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Garrett Hardin interviewed on the 'Tragedy of the Commons'

YouTube video of a 1990 interview with environmental thinker Garrett Hardin, discussing the "tragedy of the commons":

As ever, worth watching!

Friday, 11 February 2011

LSE Video Presentation: Living in the Second Nuclear Age

When the Cold War ended, the threat of an all-out war between the superpowers ended with it. Nuclear war apparently went away. But while the political games changed, the nuclear arsenal that had done so much to keep the Cold War from ever turning hot remained very much in place.

In this film (released back in December 2009), renowned LSE historian of the Cold War Professor Arne Westad explains that not only have hopes for a dismantling of the weapons stockpile failed to be realised, but that the period since the end of the Cold War has seen proliferation occur at such a pace that ours is now referred to as "The Second Nuclear Age." Professor Westad also talks of his prevailing hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Guardian: Inequality, the new dynamic of history

Two days ago an interesting opinion piece by the economist Kenneth Rogoff appeared in The Guardian's Comment is Free section. Rogoff's assertion?—that global economic forces are creating ever-greater disparities of wealth within societies, amounting to the great policy challenge of our time...
Food shortage rioters and police in Belcour, Algeria.
As the dramatic events in North Africa continue to unfold, many observers outside the Arab world smugly tell themselves that it is all about corruption and political repression. But high unemployment, glaring inequality and soaring prices for basic commodities are also a huge factor. So observers should not just be asking how far similar events will spread across the region; they should be asking themselves what kind of changes might be coming at home in the face of similar, if not quite so extreme, economic pressures.

Within countries, inequality of income, wealth and opportunity is arguably greater than at any time in the last century. Across Europe, Asia and the Americas, corporations are bulging with cash as their relentless drive for efficiency continues to yield huge profits. Yet workers' share of the pie is falling, thanks to high unemployment, shortened working hours and stagnant wages.

Paradoxically, cross-country measures of income and wealth inequality are actually falling, thanks to continuing robust growth in emerging markets. But most people care far more about how well they are doing relative to their neighbours, than to citizens of distant lands.

The rich are mostly doing well. Global stock markets are back. Many countries are seeing vigorous growth in prices for housing, commercial real estate, or both. Resurgent prices for commodities are creating huge revenues for owners of mines and oil fields, even as price spikes for basic staples are sparking food riots, if not wholesale revolutions, in the developing world. The internet and the financial sector continue to spawn new multimillionaires, and even billionaires, at a staggering pace.

Yet, high and protracted unemployment plagues many less-skilled workers. For example, in financially-distressed Spain, unemployment now exceeds 20%. It cannot help that the government is simultaneously being forced to absorb new austerity measures to deal with the country's precarious debt burden. Indeed, given record-high public-debt levels in many countries, few governments have substantial scope to address inequality through further income redistribution. Countries such as Brazil already have such high levels of transfer payments from rich to poor that further moves would undermine fiscal stability and anti-inflation credibility.

Countries such as China and Russia, with similarly high inequality, have more scope for increasing redistribution. But leaders in both countries have been reluctant to move boldly for fear of destabilising growth. Germany must worry not only about its own vulnerable citizens, but also about how to find the resources to bail out its southern neighbours in Europe.

The causes of growing inequality within countries are well understood, and it is not necessary to belabour them here. We live in an era in which globalisation expands the market for ultra-talented individuals but competes away the income of ordinary employees .Competition among countries for skilled individuals and profitable industries, in turn, constrains governments' abilities to maintain high tax rates on the wealthy. Social mobility is further impeded as the rich shower their children with private education and after-school help, while the poorest in many countries cannot afford even to let their children stay in school.

Writing in the 19th century, Karl Marx famously observed inequality trends in his day and concluded that capitalism could not indefinitely sustain itself politically: eventually, workers would rise up and overthrow the system. Outside Cuba, North Korea and a few leftwing universities around the world, no one takes Marx seriously anymore. Contrary to his predictions, capitalism spawned ever-higher standards of living for more than a century, while attempts to implement radically different systems have fallen spectacularly short.

Yet, with inequality reaching levels similar to 100 years ago, the status quo has to be vulnerable. Instability can express itself anywhere. It was just over four decades ago that urban riots and mass demonstrations rocked the developed world, ultimately catalysing far-reaching social and political reforms.

Yes, the problems facing Egypt and Tunisia today are far more profound than in many other countries. Corruption and failure to embrace meaningful political reform have become acute shortcomings. But it would be very wrong to suppose that gaping inequality is stable as long as it arises through innovation and growth.

How, exactly, will change unfold, and what form will a new social compact ultimately assume? It is difficult to speculate, though in most countries, the process will be peaceful and democratic. What is clear is that inequality is not just a long-term issue. Concerns about the impact of income inequality are already constraining fiscal and monetary policy in developed and developing countries alike, as they attempt to extricate themselves from the hyper-stimulative policies adopted during the financial crisis. More importantly, it is very likely that countries' abilities to navigate the rising social tensions generated by gaping inequality could separate the winners and losers in the next round of globalisation.

Inequality is the big wildcard in the next decade of global growth – and not just in North Africa.
Clearly, as students of Conflict, War and Terrorism, this article should be at the top of our reading list—it contains important insights and current examples as to the source of contemporary conflict worldwide. Interesting, too, that Karl Marx makes a prominent return within analysis of the global scene.

Monday, 7 February 2011

South Sudan backs independence - results

BBC News Online brings news of the official announcement today of the results from the recent week-long referendum in southern Sudan:

Southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence, election officials have confirmed.

Southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence, election officials have confirmed. They said nearly 99% of the voters in January's referendum were in favour of dividing Africa's biggest country.

Earlier, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir again said he would accept the outcome of the vote. The poll was agreed as part of a 2005 peace agreement ending more than two decades of civil war between the south and north Sudan.

Although the vote was peaceful, tension remains high in parts of the oil-rich border region. At least 50 people were killed over the weekend in fighting between soldiers in south Sudan's Upper Nile state.

On Monday, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced in Khartoum that 98.83% of the voters had backed independence.

"Those who voted for unity were 44,888, that is, 1.17%. Those who voted for separation were 3,792,518, that is, 98.83%," commission head Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil said.
Do read the rest of the article—One new country coming up....!

Wired: One in 50 Troops in Afghanistan Is a Robot

Wired Magazine's Danger Room has an interesting article about the use of robotics by US Forces in Afghanistan—another aspect of the changing nature of warfare:
There are more than 2,000 ground robots fighting alongside flesh-and-blood forces in Afghanistan, according to Lt. Col. Dave Thompson, the Marine Corps’ top robot-handler. If his figures are right, it means one in 50 U.S. troops in Afghanistan isn’t even a human being. And America’s swelling ranks of ground-bot warriors are being used in new, unexpected, life-saving ways.

But there’s one small problem: however numerous, these rolling and crawling bots are still pretty stupid. And there’s not much hope they’ll get any smarter anytime soon.

Ground bots first made inroads among bomb-disposal units. The human bomb-techs could take cover and steer in a remote-controlled Talon or PackBot to disable a dangerous explosive device. But a third of the 1,400 fresh ground bots deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 weren’t for EOD, Thompson pointed out during a presentation at a Washington, D.C. trade show “Robots are not just for explosive ordnance disposal teams anymore … They [ground troops] are using them in ways we never expected.”
 Read the whole thing for useful examples of changing methods of fighting modern wars.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Observer: China's economic invasion of Africa

Xan Rice in the Observer speaks to a number of Chinese citizens who have made the move to Africa...

Royal Navy minesweepers patrol the Gulf

BBC News Online thin morning profiles the long-established and largely unsung role of Royal Navy (RN) minesweepers in providing military and economic security within the Arabian / Persian Gulf—like it or not (from an environmental perspective, if nothing else), one of the world's key resource supply routes...
Away from the headlines, the Royal Navy is carrying out a key security task in the Gulf.

For the last few years, four small UK minehunters have been maintaining a valuable if unsung presence in the waterway. It is one that Britain's allies value very highly, according to the Navy. We joined one of the ships, HMS Middleton, as she headed out to sea from her base in the port of Bahrain. As we set sail, the international significance of the Gulf was evident.

As well as the four British minehunters, a frigate and a patrol craft from the Bahraini navy, dotted around the port were a French naval support ship, a US amphibious assault ship, some American minehunters and perhaps most intriguingly, a US Coastguard cutter. There was also a huge British amphibious support ship, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay, another of the total of a dozen British naval vessels in the region. Lyme Bay acts as a mother ship for the minehunters.

Those minehunters themselves are hardly the biggest or most glamorous of warships. HMS Middleton is just 645 tons, with a crew of just 46. But their potential value massively outweighs their size. If the Gulf were to be mined, the bigger ships - even the mighty US Navy aircraft carriers - would be relying on them to carry out their task.

None of the Royal Navy personnel in the Gulf will point a direct finger, but one of the West's nightmare scenarios is that the Gulf could be mined as part of a confrontation with Iran. That could shut off the source of 40% of the world's oil shipments by sea and have a devastating effect on the world economy.
Worth reading the whole thing as a key to understanding this country's contribution to maintaining world / Western economic and political security by military means.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

State multiculturalism has failed, leads to terror, says Cameron

Busy day in the GlobalGovPol blog office! BBC News Online has a good summary (and video excerpt) of the UK Prime Minister's speech to the Munich security conference regarding the failure of 'state multiculturalism':
David Cameron has criticised "state multiculturalism" in his first speech on radicalisation and the causes of terrorism as prime minister.

At a security conference in Germany, he argued the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism. He also signalled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism.

The Muslim Council of Britain said its community was being seen as part of the problem rather than the solution.

Mr Cameron suggested there would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups that get public money but do little to tackle extremism. Ministers should refuse to share platforms or engage with such groups, which should be denied access to public funds and barred from spreading their message in universities and prisons, he argued. ....
.... In the speech in Munich, Mr Cameron drew a clear distinction between Islam the religion and what he described as "Islamist extremism" - a political ideology he said attracted people who feel "rootless" within their own countries.

"We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing," he said.

The government is currently reviewing its policy to prevent violent extremism, known as Prevent, which is a key part of its wider counter-terrorism strategy.
 The transcript of the full speech is available at the Downing Street website.

Hague: Chinese cyber-spies penetrate Foreign Office computers

The Guardian newspaper last night detailed the announcement to a Munich security conference by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague that an attack on British interests was recently repelled from "a hostile state intelligence agency":
China has penetrated the Foreign Office's internal communications in the most audacious example yet of the growing threat posed by state-sponsored cyber-attacks, it emerged tonight.

William Hague told a security conference in Munich that the FO repelled the attack last month from "a hostile state intelligence agency". Although the foreign secretary did not name the country behind the attacks, intelligence sources familiar with the incidents made it clear he was referring to China. The sources did not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

In his speech Hague was reflecting growing anger and concern within the government about the increasing threat posed by cyber-espionage – states, as well as individuals, using cyberspace to steal defence, diplomatic and commercial secrets.

"It is a new development. The UK is prepared to admit the attacks were state-backed," said Alexander Neill, head of the Asia programme at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank.

The foreign secretary said the FO attack came in the form of an email sent to three of his staff "which claimed to be about a forthcoming visit to the region and looked quite innocent". In fact it was from a hostile state intelligence agency and contained computer code embedded in the attached document that would have attacked their machine. Luckily, our systems identified it and stopped it from ever reaching my staff," Hague said.
 As also outlined by Hague, this attack is but the latest of three recent attempts to penetrate UK security in cyberspace... The opinion of the Defence Chiefs regarding these developments is clear:
General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, last month said the UK needed its own Cyber Command, similar to that set by by the US defence department. He said that the advance of cyber technology would lead to a "cultural change" in warfare which the UK must be prepared for."We must learn to defend, delay, attack and manoeuvre in cyberspace, just as we might on the land, sea or air and all together at the same time".

UN 'concerned' by world population growth trends

BBC Online brings news of warnings from the UN Population Division:
The world population growth rate must slow down significantly to avoid reaching unsustainable levels, says a new UN report.

To have a reasonable chance of stabilising world population, fertility must drop to below "replacement level". It must then be maintained at that level for an extended period, says the report.

This replacement level is the fertility level at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next.

The world population is already poised to reach 7 billion later this year and this figure potentially could double to 14 billion by 2100 if action is not taken.

This is of particular concern for the least developed countries worldwide, which are growing at the fastest rate and are already the most vulnerable to famine.
Read the rest of the article, which serves to summarise the findings from six possible models of future world population growth.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Cartoon: Choice on the Nile

A brilliant cartoon from the Chattanooga Times newspaper, depicting the three essential choices ahead for the Egyptian people:

We're studying Conflict, War and Terrorism (Unit 4) at the moment - which of the above options is more likely (from Realist, but especially Liberal viewpoints) to promote conflict, which is more likely to promote peace within the Middle East region?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Wired: Iran, China Block Outside Sites to Muzzle Mideast News

Wired Magazine's Danger Room reports on somewhat predictable behaviour from two regimes peculiarly sensitive to public protest—even when it's not happening at home:
The authoritarian regimes in Iran and China are playing a double game, when it comes to the unrest in the Middle East. Tehran and Beijing are doing their best to spin the protests in their favor, when they talk to the world. But at home, they’re pursuing a different strategy: trying to muzzle anything but the official line on the upheaval

Commentators have been keen to liken the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia both to the 1979 revolution that brought the Iranian regime to power and the electoral protests of the Green Movement which tried to unseat it. Not surprisingly, the Iranian government has preferred to use the latter comparison. ....

.... With large economic interests in Egypt, China’s hopes for Egypt are decidedly less ideological. In public, Beijing is asking for just one thing: quiet.

“We hope Egypt will restore social stability and normal order as soon as possible.” That’s been the consistent refrain from China’s Foreign Ministry when quizzed on its reaction to the events.

At home, China has blocked internet searches for “Egypt” and reportedly ordered Chinese media to follow the state-run news service Xinhua’s line on the protest movements, which has emphasized the disturbance caused by the protests at the expense of explanations of their political grievances.

Worth reading the whole piece for yet another current example of state censorship, propaganda and manipulation of human rights.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Economist Daily Chart: Gruesome Paradox - Mexican Drug War

This interactive map of the Mexican Drug Wars from The Economist today in their Daily Chart series:

FORMALLY, power in Mexico is shared between 31 states and one federal district. Informally, it is also shared by eight large drug-trafficking organisations. These “cartels”, as the mobs are known (despite competing ruthlessly for market share, unlike real cartels), battle each other and the Mexican government for control of multi-billion dollar drug-trafficking routes to the United States. The cartels’ territory, and the routes over which they squabble, have been mapped by Stratfor, an American security analysis company.

The latest update shows how scrappy the battle for territory has become. Whereas a few years ago Mexico’s dope trade was carved up between five big outfits, those territorial distinctions have blurred. A push by the Mexican security forces has upset the pax narcotica that previously reigned, triggering a sickening rise in violence as gangs mark out territory with severed and skinned heads.

The past year has seen the continued rise of the Sinaloa cartel at the expense of mobs such as the Carrillo Fuentes Organisation (also known as the Juárez cartel). Government forces have dealt heavy blows to La Familia Michoacana, and forced the Beltrán Leyva cartel to split into rival factions, one of which was severely weakened by the subsequent arrest of its leader, Édgar Valdez Villareal. Yet the death toll has only risen: 2010’s body count was nearly a third higher than that of 2009.

The map’s most ominous feature is its southern edge. Mexico’s cartels are spreading out of Mexico, into Central America.

AS THE tally of murders linked to organised crime has risen over the past four years in Mexico, analysts have warned that insecurity is spreading to areas that were previously unaffected. The Mexican government insists that, on the contrary, the violence remains highly concentrated. Who is right? The answer, oddly, is both. In 2007, the first full year of the crackdown against the “cartels”, as the mafias are known, 70% of homicides linked to organised crime took place in just 4% of the country’s municipalities. In 2010, again, 70% of killings took place in only 3% of municipalities. If anything, the violence has become slightly more concentrated over time. But total annual killings have risen dramatically. The total for 2010 was more than five times that of 2007 (though there was an encouraging dip towards the end of the year). So although 97% of the country still sees only 30% of all the violence, that 30% represents a much larger number in gross terms than it did four years ago. The map above illustrates the paradox that violence in Mexico has spread extensively, while remaining highly concentrated.