Tuesday, 31 May 2011

BBC News: UK beefs up cyber warfare plans

From BBC News today:
'Cyber' soldiers will be put alongside conventional troops as the government puts cyber attacks on an equal footing with other conflicts. The news comes as US defence firm Lockheed Martin admitted it came under a significant cyber attack last week.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it will recruit hundreds of cyber experts to shore up UK defences. It is part of a £650m fund set aside by the government for dealing with cyber security.

"Our forces depend on computer networks, both in the UK and in operations around the world. But our adversaries present an advance and rapidly developing threat to these networks," said the MoD in a statement. "Future conflict will see cyber operations conducted in parallel with more conventional actions the sea, land and air operations," it added.

It will see a growing band of cyber experts deployed by the armed forces to protect vital networks.

"We expect to significantly grow the number of dedicated cyber experts in the MoD and the number will be in the hundreds but precise details are classified," said an MoD spokesman. "As with all personnel they will be expected to serve wherever necessary to do their jobs and this could be in the UK or in operational theatre," he added.

Government networks receive around 20,000 malicious e-mails each month, around 1,000 of which are deliberately targeting them. There has also been a flurry of attacks aimed atother sensitive targets in recent months.

Defence firm Lockheed Martin, which makes weapon systems that are sold around the world, was the latest to be hit. During a cyber attack last week, the firm said it took counter measures "almost immediately" and stressed that none of its programmes had been compromised. The Pentagon is now investigating the incident.
Read the rest!

Thomas L. Friedman: The Bin Laden Decade

New York Times op-ed columnist weighs in today with a long view back over the "Bin Laden Decade"—he makes some good points!
Visiting the Middle East last week, and then coming back to Washington, I am left with one overriding impression: Bin Laden really did a number on all of us.
I am talking in particular about the Arab states, America and Israel — all of whom have deeper holes than ever to dig out of thanks to the Bin Laden decade, 2001 to 2011, and all of whom have less political authority than ever to make the hard decisions needed to get out of the holes.
Take the time to read the whole piece.

Food prices 'will double by 2030', Oxfam warns

Second day in a row with not-so-great news... BBC News reports loud warnings being sounded from an environmental perspective, with significant ramifications for poverty and development and—ultimately—global conflict:
The prices of staple foods will more than double in 20 years unless world leaders take action to reform the global food system, Oxfam has warned. By 2030, the average cost of key crops will increase by between 120% and 180%, the charity forecasts.

Half of that increase will be caused by climate change, Oxfam predicts, in its report Growing a Better Future. It calls on world leaders to improve regulation of food markets and invest in a global climate fund.

"The food system must be overhauled if we are to overcome the increasingly pressing challenges of climate change, spiralling food prices and the scarcity of land, water and energy," said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive.

In its report, Oxfam highlights four "food insecurity hotspots", areas which are already struggling to feed their citizens.
  • in Guatemala, 865,000 people are at risk of food insecurity, due to a lack of state investment in smallholder farmers, who are highly dependent on imported food, the charity says.
  • in India, people spend more than twice the proportion of their income on food than UK residents - paying the equivalent of £10 for a litre of milk and £6 for a kilo of rice.
  • in Azerbaijan, wheat production fell 33% last year due to poor weather, forcing the country to import grains from Russia and Kazakhstan. Food prices were 20% higher in December 2010 than the same month in 2009.
  • in East Africa, eight million people currently face chronic food shortages due to drought, with women and children among the hardest hit.
The World Bank has also warned that rising food prices are pushing millions of people into extreme poverty. In April, it said food prices were 36% above levels of a year ago, driven by problems in the Middle East and North Africa.

Oxfam wants nations to agree new rules to govern food markets, to ensure the poor do not go hungry. It said world leaders must:
  • increase transparency in commodities markets and regulate futures markets
  • scale up food reserves
  • end policies promoting biofuels
  • invest in smallholder farmers, especially women
"We are sleepwalking towards an avoidable age of crisis," said Ms Stocking. "One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone."

Among the many factors driving rising food prices in the coming decades, Oxfam predicts that climate change will have the most serious impact.

Ahead of the UN climate summit in South Africa in December, it calls on world leaders to launch a global climate fund, "so that people can protect themselves from the impacts of climate change and are better equipped to grow the food they need".

Monday, 30 May 2011

Hitchens: Mladic the Monster

Our failure to respond to the Serbian atrocities prolonged the slaughter....

... Or so Christopher Hitchens asserts in today's Slate magazine article (excerpt follows):
I suppose it is possible that the arrest of Gen. Ratko Mladic is as undramatic and uncomplicated as it seems and that in recent years he had been off the active list and gradually became a mumbling old derelict with a rather nasty line in veterans' reminiscences. His demands would probably have been modest and few: the odd glass of slivovitz in company with a sympathetic priest (it's usually the Serbian Orthodox Church that operates the support and counseling network for burned-out or wanted war criminals) and an occasional hunting or skiing trip. Though there is something faintly satisfying about this clichéd outcome—the figure of energetic evil reduced to a husk of exhausted banality—there is also something repellent about it.


At times like this, we are always reliably reminded of what John Quincy Adams said about the risk to the United States of going "abroad in search of monsters to destroy." The monstrous character of Mladic and his movement needed no exaggeration. To this day, a lot of people do not understand how much misery and chaos and suffering it purposely inflicted. But the monstrous nature of his power and reach was paradoxically and enormously exaggerated—not by those who wanted to confront it, but by those who did not! This meant that the whole nightmare was needlessly prolonged and the expense of concluding it greatly increased. On whatever basis the post-Tito Yugoslavia was to be reconstituted, there was one that was utterly impossible as well as unthinkable: a "Greater Serbia," whereby smaller republics and their populations were forcibly cut to fit the requirements of a dictatorial tailoring. It will one day seem incredible that the NATO powers did not see this right away and continued to treat Slobodan Milosevic as a "partner in peace," thus opening the road that led straight to Srebrenica and the murder of people ostensibly under our protection.

Srebrenica is one of the best-documented atrocities in modern history. We have everything, from real-time satellite surveillance (shamefully available to the United States even as the butchery was going on) to film and video taken by the perpetrators, including Mladic himself. The production of this material in court will, one hopes, wipe any potential grin from his face and destroy the propaganda image of the simple patriotic man at arms. Whatever our policy on monsters abroad may turn out to be, at least we should be able to recognize one when we see one.
Food for thought vis à vis the notion of humanitarian intervention....

Global carbon emissions reach record, says IAE

BBC News has a brief summary of a worrying report from the International Energy Agency:
Global carbon emissions reached a record level last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IAE). The watchdog says emissions rose again after a dip caused by the financial crisis in 2009, and ended 5% up from the previous record in 2008. China and India account for most of the rise, though emissions have also grown in developed countries.

The increase raises doubts over whether planned curbs on greenhouse emissions will be achieved, the group says. At a meeting last year in Cancun, Mexico, world leaders agreed that deep cuts were needed to limit the rise in global temperature to 2C above pre-industrial levels. But according to the IAE's estimate, CO2 emissions reached a record 30.6 gigatonnes in 2010.

The IEA's Fatih Birol said the finding was "another wake-up call".

"The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2C target is to be attained," he added.

"Unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun."

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Obama: Now is time for US and West to lead

BBC News reports on the content of US President Barack Obama's speech today to UK parliamentarians in Westminster Hall, revealing that the President appears to have been reading our exam syllabus (!):
In his speech, Mr Obama... :
  • Acknowledged differences in the US and UK approach to deficit reduction but said their end goal was the same
  • Insisted the allies were preparing to "turn a corner" in Afghanistan - allowing Afghans to take the lead against the Taliban and stopping the country from becoming a haven for terrorists
  • Warned North Korea and Iran against flouting their obligations on nuclear weapons
  • Vowed to worked for a resolution to long-running conflicts like that in Sudan, and in supporting a "secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine"
  • Defended action in Libya - saying the intervention had "stopped a massacre"
The report also outlines the setting and summary of the President's historic speech:
President Obama has told British politicians that, despite the rise of new global powers, the time for US and European leadership "is now".

He said the influence of the US, UK and allies would remain "indispensable," in a speech in Parliament on the second day of his UK state visit.

But he said that leadership would need to "change with the times" to reflect economic and security challenges.

He is the first US president to address MPs and peers in Westminster Hall.

Rows of the UK's most senior politicians and other prominent figures lined the historic building to hear the US president talk about the history of the UK's relationship with the United States and its shared values - and outline some of the future challenges facing the world.

Former British prime ministers Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown sat next to each other in the packed hall - the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament - which fell silent as the US president began his 35-minute speech.

As he began, Mr Obama joked that with an "especially active press corps", the relationship between the UK and US was forever being "over analysed".

But he added: "There are few nations that stand firmer, speak louder and fight harder to defend democratic values around the world than the United States and the United Kingdom."
 The Guardian, like most other newspapers, also covered the speech—and included a convenient video summary:

Monday, 23 May 2011

Hitchens: Want To Stop Nuclear Proliferation? Encourage Democracy.

Ignore the shady people promoting sinister theories to the contrary. ...

Or so says Christopher Hitchens who, although suffering from advanced cancer, still manages to crank out reams of eminent good sense—the latest in an article published today in Slate magazine:
It's very unpleasant to be given lectures on good behavior by the profiteers of nuclear proliferation, but if you can hold still and swallow your vomit, there are lessons to be learned from the exposure to it.
On April 27, the New York Times ran a long interview with Aisha el-Qaddafi, daughter of the "King of Kings" and rabid demagogue. Having served as a member of Saddam Hussein's legal defense team—an experience that seems to have taught her little—she had just had the experience of being referred to the International Criminal Court. In between various claims about the traitorous nature of the rebellious Libyans, she managed to insert an interesting retrospective claim about the past:
She complained of the "betrayal" of Arabs whose causes her father had supported and the Western allies to whom he had turned over his weapons of mass destruction. "Is this the reward that we get?" she asked. "This would lead every country that has weapons of mass destruction to keep them or make more so they will not meet the same fate as Libya."
Then last weekend, in an article written for Newsweek that did not even touch upon his role in selling nuclear weaponry to third countries, Pakistan's notorious A.Q. Khan made a similar point, if point it is:
Don't overlook the fact that no nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn. Had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn't have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently. If we had had nuclear capability before 1971, we would not have lost half of our country—present-day Bangladesh—after disgraceful defeat.
Both of the shady characters I have just quoted are, of course, engaged in special pleading. (The shudder-inducing Khan even calmly invites us to think of how Pakistan could have improved upon its conventional-weapons genocide against the Bangladeshis and threatened to level Indian cities into the bargain.) But in various forms, this argument has gotten itself repeated in more respectable forums as well. The vastly overrated Mohamed ElBaradei, in his new book The Age of Deception, attributes almost all rogue-state nuclear delinquency to the arrogance of the United States. The Libyan stockpile, for example—the entire existence of which he managed to miss during his tenure at the International Atomic Energy Agency—was "really" acquired in response to the April 1986 U.S. bombing of Tripoli. He speaks of a meeting with Qaddafi in which the latter "spoke earnestly of his desire to develop Libya." George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a brilliant review of ElBaradei's book, also cites his blissful naiveté about Iran and North Korea. Learning that senior Iranian mullahs planned to go after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he came to any agreement with Washington, he commented: "I sighed. Tehran had been spending way too much time following D.C. politics, I thought."
The regime of Kim Jong-il, meanwhile, is "isolated, impoverished, feeling deeply threatened by the United States but nonetheless defiant." Defiant enough, certainly, to test one of its missiles by firing it without warning across the mainland of non-nuclear Japan, there to "splash down" in the Pacific.
Is it seriously argued that this whole loosely connected nexus would conduct itself more rationally if the United States adopted a more lenient strategy and showed more awareness of the needs and dreads that prompt dictators to go nuclear? We know one thing for sure. No state has ever surrendered its program without having to face the gritty question of regime change. It can do this either voluntarily, or it can do so under compulsion. The two great first instances are Brazil and South Africa, two very influential countries that had gone a long way on the nuclear road in the final Cold War years, only to decide that the nukes were an obstacle to their integration into the warmer and closer global family. (A "swords into ploughshares" sculpture, fashioned from parts of an abandoned nuclear weapon, was presented to the offices of the IAEA in Vienna in 1994.)
Nobody ever threatened either Brazil or South Africa with outside force. Rather, denuclearization was a part of the agreed democratic transformation of both former dictatorships. Turning from carrot to stick, the insane refusal of Saddam Hussein to come into compliance with the U.N. resolutions meant that his country was forcibly and comprehensively "inspected." This in turn led Libya to approach British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush for a handover (of large stockpiles of materiel, not so much of finished or usable weaponry). Inspection of this trove led to the realization that a good deal of it could only have come from our "ally" Pakistan. As a result, the A.Q. Khan network—which had also had dealings with North Korea and probably Syria, and also escaped the attention of El Baradei and the IAEA—was identified and partially shut down. In counterproliferation terms, this process ought to be credited as something of a success. The same goes for Israel's recent obliteration of a secret Syrian site—since belatedly confirmed by the IAEA as a nuclear facility—without even a squeal of protest from an embarrassed Syrian President Bashir Assad.
In studying the remaining cases, it's impossible not to notice the continuing connection between the weapons programs and the character of the regime. North Korea's nukes are the perfect symbol of its own stunted, starved, isolated character and of its continued willingness to risk an apocalyptic outcome on the peninsula. The Iranian program is clearly designed to forward the mullahs' policy of regional military blackmail (and probably also to gratify some of their less rational impulses of Messianism and anti-Semitism). But North Korea is already in a position to destroy much of South Korea with conventional weapons alone, and Tehran can, and does, easily threaten smaller Gulf states with its existing forces. Pakistan can continue to menace India with its own arsenal, but it is vulnerable to an annihilating second strike from New Delhi that would obliterate it as a state. Thus, the course of future confrontation and potential blackmail has already been determined, but by the dictatorships themselves. It is wrong for Aisha Qaddafi and A.Q. Khan to imply that the threats come from the other direction, or that nuclear arsenals can or will underwrite the security of such dictatorships indefinitely. (That logic, after all, would license a pre-emptive strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities.) The possession of illegally acquired nuclear weapons remains a huge threat and burden to neighboring states and to international law, but history shows that it is also nearly insupportable for the offending state and has a long-run tendency to shorten the lifespan of its despots. It's a good thing that, so far, disarmament and democratization have shown themselves to be natural allies.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Economist: Responsibility to protect - The lessons of Libya

Outsiders had good reason to intervene in Libya. But their cause may suffer from it.

So fears The Economist newspaper today in a useful article reviewing the ongoing intervention in Libya by NATO forces:
For those who back muscular humanitarian intervention, both the words and deeds of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi provided absolute moral clarity. “Come out of your homes, attack [the opposition] in their dens,” he told his supporters on February 22nd. He called the protesters “cockroaches” and “rats” who did not deserve to live: language chillingly reminiscent of the broadcasts of Radio Mille Collines, which spurred on the perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994.

As he spoke, his forces had set their sights on Benghazi, their adversaries’ stronghold. According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group, government forces had already killed 233 people in the preceding week. A bloodbath beckoned, in a city of 700,000 people. The United Nations Security Council invoked a fateful formula, urging the regime to meet its “responsibility to protect” its people. On March 17th the council, “expressing its determination to ensure the protection of civilians”, ordered air strikes.

That set the stage for the first full-blown test of a principle that the UN adopted in 2005 and has been refining since. The doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P) holds that when a sovereign state fails to prevent atrocities, foreign governments may intervene to stop them. Human-rights advocates say it saves lives. Sceptics see it as too easily misused to be useful: a cover for imperialism, or even an incentive to kill (because even if a massacre is not looming, an unscrupulous warlord might be tempted to engineer one against his own people to spur outside support).

Previous uses of R2P have been solo ventures. In 2008 Russia used it to justify attacking Georgia, and France cited it after the cyclone in Myanmar, implying that humanitarian aid might have to be brought in by force if the regime persisted in stonewalling (it backed down). But before this year, no mission had been authorised by the UN Security Council that so explicitly cited the new principle.

At first it looked likely that the doctrine would either triumph or die in Libya. But two months and thousands of air strikes later, war’s messy reality has merely hardened views on both sides. On one hand, the decision to go to war was made in good faith at a time when the risk of massacres seemed real. As Mats Berdal, a professor at King’s College London, points out, the world’s leading powers had good reason to think they were “avoiding a Srebrenica”—the massacre of Bosnians which UN forces failed to avert in July 1995.

But as the war drags on and NATO strikes more widely, sceptics also feel their case has been bolstered. “For those of us who feared that R2P was just a warrant for war, our fears have been vindicated,” says David Rieff, an advocate-turned-critic.

Responsibility to protect gained ground after ghastly mass killings in the late 20th century, including massacres by the Khmers Rouges in Cambodia in the 1970s; the use of chemical weapons in Iraq in 1988; and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. In 1999 NATO unleashed an air war, without a UN blessing, to stop a Serbian campaign in the province of Kosovo. It argued that the need to protect civilians was an overwhelming moral imperative. The UN gave a sort of retrospective blessing by endorsing an international tutelage for the territory, led by Bernard Kouchner, a French pioneer of humanitarian intervention.

But the terrible civil war in Iraq that followed America’s invasion in 2003—portrayed as intervention against tyranny—shrivelled support for the doctrine. A possible result of that may have been hesitancy in intervening to stop the Sudanese government’s genocide in Darfur.

Seeking to restore liberal hawkishness’s good name, a group led by Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, pushed the UN’s 60th anniversary conference in 2005 to endorse the idea that the world has a “responsibility to protect” civilians. Eventually 150-plus countries agreed to allow armed intervention through the Security Council “should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

So much for the theory. What about the practice? Colonel Qaddafi provided an all-but-unique test. Regional leaders loathed him and readily dumped him. The Arab League’s support for the intervention stopped Russia and China wielding their vetoes. And the concentration of the rebels in the east, combined with flat desert terrain, at first made the regime’s forces easy bombing targets. “The stars were well and truly aligned in the Libya case,” says Mr Evans. “All the criteria were satisfied.”

The immediate goal of protecting Benghazi from massacre was achieved within days. Having destroyed Libya’s air defences, Western bombers and missiles pummelled the advancing troops into a speedy retreat.

Harder decisions followed. Libya’s army continued to shell other rebel-held cities, and its snipers were plainly targeting civilians. Protecting all Libyans, not just those in the east, would require the end of Colonel Qaddafi’s rule—an outcome that both Western and Arab governments had already called for. NATO stepped up its military campaign, bombing retreating columns as well as advancing ones, and attacking command-and-control centres frequented by Colonel Qaddafi and his family. On April 30th an air strike killed one of his sons. The line between curbing atrocities and an air war for regime change blurred—though a land operation is ruled out, for the moment.

Both sides of the debate will eagerly cite Libya the next time mass murder seems imminent. It shows that a modest dose of air power can save lives; but also that the rhetoric of civilian protection can be stretched to justify a creeping mission. Power politics decides which lives get saved, and which policy aims triumph.

Mr Rieff decries a “two-tiered system of interveners and intervened upon”, where the “old imperial powers” make the rules. But which powers exactly? The Libyan vote passed only because non-Western Russia and China withheld their Security Council vetoes: all but unimaginable until recently. Both countries are now getting cold feet, claiming misuse of the resolution’s elastic language. For different reasons Mr Evans bemoans excess zeal too: he wants to preserve the purity of R2P, and fears an interpretation that allows for “all-out aggressive war”. A lot rides on this war—and not just for the Libyans.

Chinese general: we 'will not match' US military power

BBC News reports comments made yesterday by Chinese General Chen Bingde, currently touring the USA:
China has no intention to match US military power, a top Chinese general has said. Speaking in Washington, Gen Chen Bingde said America's armed forces remained far more advanced than China's despite considerable progress by China in recent years.

But Gen Chen warned that further US arms sales to Taiwan could damage US-China military relations. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunited.

"China never intends to challenge the US," Gen Chen, chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, said at the National Defense University during his week-long visit to the US.

"Although China's defence and military development has come a long way in recent years, a gaping gap between you and us remains."
 But Gen Chen warned that US-Chinese relations would suffer if Washington again sold weapons to Taiwan.

"As to how bad the impact will be, it will depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan," he said.

Last year, Beijing cut off most military-to-military contacts with the US after Washington announced more than $6bn (£4bn) arms sales to Taipei.

Gen Chen's visit to the US has drawn a strongly favourable press in China - a signal of the importance that the Chinese authorities are now placing on better military ties, the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says. But there should be no illusions, our correspondent says, as superficial harmony inevitably masks significant underlying tensions. The aim of China's extensive military modernisation, he adds, is to extend its military reach well beyond its own shores and to potentially neutralise weapons systems where the US has a dominant advantage.
As you might expect, these comments have significant bearing on the question of China as a superpower, and the nature of American decline (if in fact it exists!)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Groomed for suicide: how Taliban recruits children for mass murder

The Guardian has today published an overview of one particular shocking aspect Taliban terrorism tactics—the recruitment and the employment of children:
Young Afghans being coerced into joining jihad with threats of violence and promises of martyrdom
The Taliban gave Noor Mohammad a simple choice – either they would cut off his hand for stealing or he could redeem himself and bring glory on his family by becoming a suicide bomber.

Held in Taliban custody in a different village from his parents, after allegedly stealing mobile phones during a wedding party in his village, the 14-year-old boy went for the second option. He was soon being given basic lessons in how to use a handgun, which he would use to shoot the guards at a nearby US military base in Ghazni, a province in south-east Afghanistan which is considered the most violent in the country.

He was also fitted with a suicide vest that covered his torso with explosives. He was told that when inside the base he should touch two trailing wires together, killing himself and as many US and Afghan soldiers as possible. Having kitted the soon-to-be martyr out in his jihadi outfit, the insurgents took photos and sent him on his way. Such is one method by which the Taliban recruit a growing number of children used for suicide missions.

A tactic pioneered by al-Qaida but almost unheard of in Afghanistan until 2005, suicide bombing is becoming more popular with insurgents attempting to meet the massively intensified Nato campaign with their own surge of violence. In one recent case a 12-year-old boy in Barmal district in Pakitika province, which borders Pakistan, killed four civilians and wounded many more when he detonated a vest full of explosives in a bazaar.

"They are relying more and more on children," said Nader Nadery, from the country's Independent Human Rights Commission, who thought the Taliban were struggling to recruit enough adults. "When somebody runs out of one tool they go to use the second one."

Mohammad, who talked to the Guardian on Tuesday at a children's prison in Kabul, is awaiting trial after surrendering to the Americans rather than going through with the attack. He says he was left by his Taliban handlers to walk the last few miles to the base in Andar district two weeks ago. Instead he sat down and thought about his predicament. "It is a sin to kill yourself and to kill others," he decided. "So I took off the vest and threw it away."

Surrendering proved tricky as the guards he had been supposed to kill were slow to raise the alert and he was questioned only after sleeping outside the camp for a night. He later led the Americans to the village where the Taliban members lived, identifying a house where the Americans recovered weapons and homemade explosives.

Two Taliban from the village were also killed during a shootout after he identified them, Mohammad said. He knows that because he will never be able to go back to his village and will probably never see his family again.

Not all bombers are coerced. Some are tricked, like a group of four children who were recently arrested after travelling alone across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesman for the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said his spy agency's informants in Peshawar had raised the alarm that the four were on their way.

The boys had confessed during questioning, telling the security forces they believed only American soldiers would die when they detonated their bombs and that they would escape unscathed. But, speaking on Tuesday, they claimed they were forced into making a confession after being beaten and threatened with rape by police. Their new account is hard to believe, however, and at times contradictory.

According to Fazal Rahman, a tearful nine-year-old made all the more distressed by the loss of two teeth at the dentist, the idea to travel to Afghanistan came from Maulavi Marouf, the mullah in charge of the Spin Jumad madrasa in the town of Khairabad. They say an "uncle" in Kabul phoned Marouf asking him to send some physically weak children for a couple of days of manual labour, unloading a delivery of car batteries from lorries. None of the boys, who are Afghans but have lived in Pakistan all their lives, has an address or phone number for the man. Nor did they think it necessary to tell their parents they were going to Kabul.

"Our family is very poor," said Niaz Mohammad, a nine-year-old who said he used to help his father beg. "When I was promised 50,000 rupees [£360] to go to Afghanistan, I went immediately."

But they all describe the madrasa as an institution that cultivated in them a hatred for American soldiers in Afghanistan. "All the time in Friday prayers the maulavi talked about the Americans in Afghanistan and he told us that we should do jihad, especially on Fridays," he said.

It is feared that hundreds of children may have been radicalised and turned into bombers in what Haneef Atmar, Afghanistan's former interior minister, describes as "hate madrasas".

Suicide bombing has also developed a sinister glamour among the youth of the Pakistan's tribal areas. A video in which a group of children enact a suicide bombing has circulated widely in Pakistan in February, sparking public alarm at how jihad appears to have reached the playground.

It also seems to have reached the Kabul juvenile detention centre where staff are trying to give the mix of criminals and would-be jihadists a proper education. "When I told my cellmates I refused to do a suicide attack, none of them could understand why I didn't do it," said Mohammad.
Read it and weep.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

WSJ: Sun Setting on British Power (?)

The Wall Street Journal reviews the ramifications of decisions taken by the UK's Coalition government to cut back on defence spending (excerpt follows):
The UK is in the midst of the most aggressive fiscal tightening since World War II—a process that US defense officials are watching with concern. In October, following a strategic review, Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to cut the military budget by 7.5% and the head count by 10% over five years, and to retire lots of equipment, leaving the armed forces with 40% fewer tanks and 35% less heavy artillery. The planned cuts will come on top of an 8% reduction in personnel during the 13-year tenure of the former Labour Party government.
At a hearing Wednesday before a Parliamentary defense committee, the heads of Britain's army, navy and air force said the U.K. would no longer be a "full spectrum" military force—one capable of both low-intensity combat such as counterinsurgency and the kind of major operations required for state-on-state combat.
Air Chief Marshal Stephen Dalton, head of the air force, said simultaneous battles in Libya and Afghanistan have taxed the military. "There are times and there are phases on the operations where we have stretched the capabilities absolutely to the point where we find it very difficult to do anything else at that particular time," he said.
The three service chiefs said that the U.K. will still be able to project power on the international stage. The government has said that the cutbacks won't undermine the nation's ability to support its allies in places like Afghanistan, although they will result in a smaller military that the nation will be "more selective" in using. The U.K. will still have the world's fourth-largest military budget, Mr. Cameron has said.

The cutbacks come as broad geopolitical forces are reshaping the global military landscape. The U.S., which also is trying to curtail military spending, remains the world's dominant military power. China is engaged in a military buildup that has alarmed many of its Asian neighbors. And other NATO members are grappling with budget constraints while keeping a wary eye on Russia and the Middle East.
Do take the time to read the entire article.

FAO: One-third of the world's food goes to waste

1.3bn tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year, UN food agency report says, and reducing losses in developing countries could have 'immediate and significant' impact on poor people

The Guardian today carries a shocking—but hardly surprising—story based on a report recently published by the FAO:
Filipino scavenger in a Manila food market
One-third of the world's food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, according to a study (pdf) released on Wednesday by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Roughly 1.3bn tonnes of food is either lost or wasted globally due to inefficiencies throughout the food supply chain, says the report, based on research by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (Sik). Amid rising global food prices, the study says that reducing food losses in developing countries could have an "immediate and significant" impact on livelihoods and food security in some of the world's poorest countries.

According to the report, industrialised and developing countries waste or lose roughly the same amount of food each year – 670m and 630m tonnes respectively. But while rich countries waste food primarily at the level of the consumer, the main issue for developing countries is food lost due to weak infrastructure – including poor storage, processing and packaging facilities that lack the capacity to keep produce fresh. Food losses mean lost income for small farmers and higher prices for poor consumers in developing countries, says the study.

The average European or North American consumer wastes 95kg-115kg of food a year, above all fruits and vegetables. In contrast, the average consumer in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia or south-east Asia wastes only 6kg-11kg. The study notes that in developing countries poverty and limited incomes make it unacceptable to waste food, and that poor consumers in low-income countries generally buy smaller amounts of food at a time.

Food wasted by consumers in rich countries (222m tonnes) is roughly equal to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230m tonnes).

Looking for solutions, the report argues that reducing reliance on retailers such as big supermarkets could help cut food waste in the north, and suggests promoting the direct sale of farm produce to consumers. It also encourages retailers and charities to work together, to distribute unsold but perfectly edible food that would otherwise go to waste.

For developing countries, the study says the key lies in strengthening food supply chains, urging investment in infrastructure and transportation, along with increased attention to food storage, processing and packaging.

While world food prices fell slightly in March this year – after eight months of successive increases – the overall cost of food in April was 36% higher than it was last year. Prices of wheat, maize and soya reached levels last seen in 2008, when a global food crisis sparked food riots across the developing world. Last month, the World Bank said that rising food prices had pushed 44 million more people into extreme poverty, and the World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, added that an additional 10 million people could soon fall below the $1.25 a day extreme poverty line unless immediate action was taken to increase the supply of food.

But the FAO-backed report says: "Food production must clearly increase significantly to meet the future demands of an increasing and more affluent world population … In a world with limited natural resources (land, water, energy, fertiliser), and where cost-effective solutions are to be found to produce enough safe and nutritious food for all, reducing food losses should not be a forgotten priority."

Guardian: Saudi Arabia flogs orphan girls

The Guardian today has a gruesome story of apparent human rights violation:

Six girls aged between 12 and 18 receive 10 lashes each for attacking head of orphanage

Six orphan girls aged between 12 and 18 have been flogged in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of attacking the head of their orphanage, an official has said. The girls received 10 lashes each at a women's prison in Medina, Islam's second holiest city.

"The order against the six orphans is a legitimate court order," Mohammed al-Awadh, the public relations manager at the ministry of social affairs, told Reuters. "The ministry does not have the right to interfere in a court order."

He gave no details of the ruling, but the Arabic language Okaz newspaper said the girls had been convicted of "acts of mischief" and attacking the director of the orphanage. The girls defended their actions, saying they were harassed by the director, Okaz reported.

International human rights groups have criticised the Saudi justice system for applying corporal punishment for petty crimes, as well as limb amputations for thieves and beheadings for murderers under its strict interpretation of Islamic law. Saudi officials say the practice is widely approved by Saudi society and is a deterrent to crime.

In January 2010, a teenage girl was sentenced to 90 lashes and two months in prison for hitting her school principal on the head with a cup when she took away her mobile phone.

Awadh said the ministry would continue to care for the girls after the floggings were carried out. "What it will do is rehabilitate and take care of the girls' social wellbeing, which is part of its duties and responsibilities," he added.

China: a force fit for a superpower

The technology and firepower of the People’s Liberation Army are growing so fast that observers are no longer curious but concerned, says Malcolm Moore in The Telegraph today:
Chinese navy vessel live firing in the East China Sea
It has been a month to remember for the top brass of China’s People’s Liberation Army. While other armies fret about their funding, China’s generals have unveiled three major new weapons that could challenge the military supremacy of the United States and provide the firepower to underline China’s superpower status.
In a dry dock in the northern city of Dalian, smoke has begun to billow from the chimneys of the Shi Lang, a hulking Soviet-era ship that China bought from Russia and has refitted to become its first aircraft carrier. Named after a Qing dynasty admiral, the carrier is slated to make its maiden voyage later this year, four years ahead of schedule. Five more aircraft carriers could bolster the Chinese fleet further over the next decade.
Meanwhile, at an air base in the central city of Chengdu, China’s first stealth fighter jet has been spotted taxiing along a runway. It has yet to take off, but American plane-spotters have already begun speculating that it might be able to beat an F-22 in a dogfight. Finally, at a command bunker in the north of Beijing, the Chinese Second Artillery Corps controls the jewel in the crown – a new missile that could sink a US aircraft carrier, the first such weapon in the world. The Dong Feng (or East Wind) 21D missile is now “operational”, according to Admiral Robert Willard of the US Pacific Command, which will now have to think twice before committing a $20 billion (£12.8 billion) aircraft carrier and its 6,000 crew anywhere within 900 miles of the Chinese coast.
The unveiling of the new weapons could not have been better timed. Tomorrow, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, is due to visit the tall white skyscraper that serves as the Second Artillery’s headquarters. Mr Gates, who has admitted that US intelligence has underestimated the speed of China’s progress, will be able to see the PLA’s array of nuclear and ballistic missile options for himself.
The transformation of the PLA, from Chairman Mao’s Red Army into a modern fighting force, began in the wake of the first Gulf War, when America’s precision missiles impressed upon Beijing that modern warfare no longer depended on having the biggest army. Ever since then, the PLA has been shedding troops, from some three million during the 1990s to 2.3 million currently. Xu Guangyu, a senior military analyst, predicted that troop numbers would keep falling, to 1.5 million – “Around the same size as the US and Russian armies,” he said.
But while troop numbers have fallen, the quality of the soldiers has risen, said Mr Xu. Almost 80 per cent of officers are now graduates, and a full two-thirds of China’s defence budget is spent on salaries and training. Meanwhile, a stinging submission at the hands of the US in 1996, when Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier strike groups into the East China Sea to support Taiwan during a regional spat, has provoked the PLA into upping its firepower. According to the Pentagon, China has the world’s “most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile programme”. A battery of more than 1,100 short-range missiles faces Taiwan, while medium and longer-range missiles, many bought from Russia, can carry nuclear or conventional warheads to anywhere within 4,000 miles of China, giving Beijing the ability to knock out every US air base in the Pacific.
China’s economic miracle has paid for the munitions, with the PLA’s official budget increasing more than fivefold from $14.6 billion in 2000 to $78.6 billion this year. Unofficially, the spending is thought to be far higher, at $150 billion, with China’s leaders keeping many of the PLA’s deals off the books in order to avoid alarming the rest of the world. And while the sum is still just a fraction of the US budget – Mr Gates has allocated $588 billion for “non-war” military spending this year, after trimming $78 billion of cuts – China has spent the money prudently, focusing on areas of US weakness.
China’s submarine fleet now boasts 65 vessels, and by 2030, according to the Kokoda Foundation, an Australian think tank, the total could rise to between 85 and 100, more than the US and enough to establish an edge in the Pacific. China has also integrated the skills of its military and civilian computer hackers, launched several reconnaissance and guidance satellites, and installed arrays of new radars and underwater sensors to ring its territory.
“There are a number of areas where the PLA has adopted approaches that differ significantly from the US’s approach,” said a Pentagon report to Congress last month. “Examples include the heavy reliance on ballistic and cruise missiles, rather than stealth aircraft, to attack ground targets inside heavily defended airspace; an array of systems to attack intelligence, communications and navigation satellites [and] an emphasis on offensive and defensive electronic warfare.”
While the PLA’s generals have been careful to tone down their nationalistic rhetoric in recent years, dropping the suggestion of an imminent invasion of Taiwan, the army is behaving with more swagger, at least in its own backyard. China insists its only goal is to safeguard “regional peace and stability”, but it has dramatically increased its penetrations of Japanese airspace, resulting in Japanese fighter jets being scrambled 44 times in the past year, double the total for 2006, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “A gap as wide as what seems to be forming between China’s stated intent and its military programmes leaves me more than curious about the end result. Indeed, I have moved from being curious to being genuinely concerned.”
The PLA does, however, have a long list of fundamental weaknesses that have been pointed out by critics both in China and abroad. Its biggest failing is that it cannot, yet, produce the reliable jet engines it needs for its fighters, having to rely on Russia. That relationship was strained, in 2004, when Moscow discovered that China had copied one of the jets it had advance-ordered and put it into production. “China’s army should not have to rely on others or have to buy its equipment,” said Liang Guanglie, the defence minister, despairingly.
Meanwhile, the PLA’s Jin-class nuclear submarine is said, by the US Office of Naval Intelligence, to be noisier than the submarines built by the Soviets 30 years ago. China’s fighter pilots are no match for US Top Guns. A shortage of foreign naval bases makes it difficult for China to maintain ships on long missions. Sailors who took part in exercises against Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden were reported to have run short of water and fresh food.
And perhaps most reassuringly, the new Dong Feng “carrier killer” missile is impaired by China’s undeveloped missile guidance system. While Beijing can launch the deadly missile, it is not clear it can actually hit a ship. Since US satellites would detect the missile upon launch, an aircraft carrier would have enough warning to move several miles out of the way.
For now, Beijing wields enough power to keep the US in check in the Pacific and to discourage Taiwan from relying too heavily on American support. In the future, the Pentagon believes that the PLA could extend further into the Pacific, using its fleet to control shipping lines and oil concessions. The “pace and scale” of the PLA’s modernisation has been “broad and sweeping”, the Pentagon said. But, for now, China’s modern army “remains untested”.
 A balanced article, then: sounding a warning, but noting several important caveats... While aspiring to superpower status, China is not quite there—yet—at least in terms of military power... A highly useful article in any current attempt to assess China's superpower status (as at least one exam question asked students to do previously).

Saturday, 7 May 2011

BBC News: Yemen AQAP head al-Awlaki 'targeted by drone'

The hunt for Osama bin Laden may be over, but the West (and specifically the US) has its counter-terrorist sights on other leaders, possible successors to OBL:
A US drone attack in Yemen targeted but failed to kill one of al-Qaeda's most influential figures, US reports say. The US-born radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 
Two brothers believed to be mid-ranking al-Qaeda officials died in a drone strike in south Yemen on Thursday, Yemeni officials said.

The attack came just days after al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by US Navy Seals. The Pentagon refused to comment on the reports that Anwar al-Awlaki was specifically targeted in Yemen.

According to Yemen's defence ministry, the missile fired by the drone hit a car in in the province of Shabwa carrying two brothers, identified by Yemeni officials as Musa'id and Abdullah Mubarak. But reports from Washington now suggest US commanders had believed they had one of al-Qaeda's most valuable targets in their sights.

"We were hoping it was him," one unnamed US official told CBS News.

The reported attempt to kill Mr Awlaki is believed to be the first known US military strike within Yemen since May 2010, when missiles mistakenly killed one of Mr Saleh's envoys. In September the country's foreign minister said that such unmanned strikes had been suspended.
 BBC News has more: take a look...

Friday, 6 May 2011

Wired: No Pictures, It Did Happen: Al-Qaida Admits Osama’s Dead

Wired Magazine's Danger Room brings indirect confirmation of Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of American special forces, courtesy of an announcement by al-Qaeda itself:
No need to release any gruesome snuff photos to prove it. Al-Qaida itself conceded on Friday that the United States killed its founder and leader. And beyond that big, big confirmation, the terrorist group evidently doesn’t have much else to say about the massive questions it faces about its future.

In its first online statement since the Sunday raid, al-Qaida venerates the life of “the mujahid sheikh Osama bin Laden” and pledges to “continue on the path of jihad” in his absence. But it doesn’t make any specific threats of retaliation, beyond vowing generically to wipe the smile off America’s face and turn its “happiness” to “sorrow.” That’s as far as it goes for the terrorist group displaying continued relevance.

And that’s not the only thing the statement neglects. There’s nothing in here about the crucial question of succession. While the acknowledgement of bin Laden’s death clears the deck for a leadership change, the statement is attributable only to the “general leadership” of al-Qaida. That raises the intriguing prospect that al-Qaida hasn’t actually figured out who replaces bin Laden, despite having over a decade to prepare, and having a cellular structure that replaces lower-level operatives. Somewhere in the White House, counterterrorism aide John Brennan, who’s predicted internal chaos within a post-bin Laden al-Qaida, is smiling.

The biggest irony of the statement is that both the U.S. and al-Qaida suspect Pakistan sold them out. Al-Qaida hectors the “handful of traitors and thieves who have sold everything to the enemies of the nation,” and begs its remaining allies in Pakistan to “rise up to wash [away] this shame.”
The article goes on to survey the fallout of the raid and the successful kill for the terrorist grouping. Take a look!

Economist Daily Chart: Al-Qaeda Attacks

Killing in the name of Islam is the sub-heading applied by The Economist to the latest in its Daily Chart offerings, a cartographic (map) and chronological (timeline) summary of the efforts of al-Qaeda between 1992 and 2008 (Note: only attacks outside of Afghanistan and Iraq are listed for clarity):

Wired: Climate Change Wilts Farming Yields

Wired Science has the story of recent findings:
Set a place at the table for climate change; hotter weather may have already taken a bite out of food crops worldwide.
Farms across the planet produced 3.8 percent less corn and 5.5 percent less wheat than they could have between 1980 and 2008 thanks to rising temperatures, a new analysis estimates. These wilting yields may have contributed to the current sky-high price of food, a team of U.S. researchers reports online May 5 in Science. Climate-induced losses could have driven up prices of corn by 6.4 percent and wheat by 18.9 percent since 1980.
The researchers tracked country-by-country yields of these common foodstuffs over nearly three decades. Harvests of corn and wheat have climbed steadily since 1980 due in part to technological advancements, says David Lobell, a land-use scientist at Stanford University. But based on the team’s statistical analysis, farmers could have produced a lot more food if the weather had been cooler. For corn, global losses amount to millions of tons — about equal to Mexico’s yearly production of the crop. “For every decade of climate change, it sets you back a year,” Lobell says.

For reasons still up for debate, temperatures largely held steady in the U.S. over the study period. So Iowa, by and large, doesn’t seem to have lost out. Rice and soybean yields have also proved resilient to rising temperatures so far, the team discovered.

This analysis of the past three decades largely falls in line with what other studies have projected for the coming century, says Andy Challinor of the University of Leeds in England, who studies the impacts of climate on agriculture. With enough complementary analyses, scientists may start to feel more certain about predicting the future of food. Still, when it comes to agriculture, researchers rely on a very murky crystal ball. Humans can, and probably will, adapt to warmer temperatures, switching to hardier crops or developing new technology to keep harvests high.

While it’s far from a prediction, Lobell says his study identifies a number of problem areas that do need attention — not later but now. “If we really invest a lot in the development of crops that can withstand really high temperatures,” he says, “that would potentially change things a lot.”

Even today, food scarcity is a pressing problem, says Navin Ramankutty, a geographer at McGill University in Montreal. As populations climb steeply, putting added pressure on agricultural production, an estimated one in seven people go hungry across the globe.

Haiti's cholera misery: 5,000 dead – UN peacekeepers to blame

Guy Adams in The Independent reveals the findings of research into the recent outbreak of cholera in Haiti—apparently the (unwitting) fault of UN peacekeepers from Nepal sent there after the January 2010 earthquake. As the article makes clear, the findings will put pressure on the UN regarding its tardy efforts to investigate the outbreak and to facilitate reconstruction efforts:
A girl with cholera recovers at a Port-au-Prince slum hospital
Five thousand dead, 300,000 ill, and a medical emergency that has already lasted six months; now the people of Haiti have someone to blame for the cholera outbreak which has swept through their earthquake-ravaged country: the blue-helmeted peacekeepers of the United Nations.

An official report into the ongoing epidemic, which began last October, has concluded that it was almost certainly caused by a poorly constructed sanitation system installed at a rural camp used by several hundred UN troops from Nepal.

The virulent strain of cholera bacteria began infecting locals after faecal matter from their base seeped from badly designed septic pits into the Meye River, a tributary of the Artibonite River in the country's central region.

The river system is used by tens of thousands of mostly rural Haitians to provide water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing clothes. When large numbers began falling ill, hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. It was then only a matter of time before the outbreak spread to major cities.

The findings will only add to tension between peacekeepers and the citizens of a country which is still barely starting to recover from the worst natural disaster in modern history. The earthquake in January last year left between 200,000 and 300,000 people dead, and 1.5 million homeless.

The UN's glacial response to the initial disaster, and the slow progress of reconstruction efforts – about 750,000 Haitians still live in "temporary" refugee camps – has been a cause of complaint in the capital, Port-au-Prince. With the rainy season approaching, health experts fear cholera could add to their woes by infecting a further 500,000 people.

That would represent a major public relations disaster for the UN mission. Since October, many locals have blamed Nepalese peacekeepers for introducing cholera to their country. Before Christmas, and again last week, the issue sparked protests, with reports of crowds throwing rocks at UN staff.

The report into the cholera outbreak, which was compiled by a four-person panel of medical experts and released on Wednesday night, justifies many of their complaints. It concluded that the cholera in Haiti originated in Asia, as many locals suspected, and matches strains found in Nepal in 2009.
The article continues in similar vein.... Take a look. The UNO will have to be more careful next time!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Economist Daily Chart: World population projections—growing pains

Africa's populations look set to soar by 2100

(detailed in this posting from The Economist's Daily Chart series)

On May 3rd, the United Nations produced its two-yearly update of the world’s population, which includes projections. The numbers show small tweaks since 2008. The global population is likely to reach 7 billion in October 2011, not spring 2012. And it may still be rising in 2100 past 10 billion, rather than being flat by then. But the most dramatic changes are national, not global. America's population, now 310m, is likely to rise to 400m in 2050 and 478m in 2100. China's is forecast to fall by 400m between now and 2100. Russia’s population is now 142m; Afghanistan’s slightly more than a fifth of that; Niger’s barely a tenth. But by 2100, Afghanistan is forecast to have the same population as Russia (111m) and Niger will be larger. Such forecasts need to be taken with a bucketload of salt: tiny shifts in today’s birth rate extrapolated over 90 years produce huge changes. But the general picture is probably right. Sub-Saharan Africa’s current population, at 856m, is little more than Europe’s and a fifth of Asia’s. By 2050 it could be almost three times Europe’s and by 2100 might even be three-quarters of the size of Asia. By any measure, Africa is by far the fastest-growing continent.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Theory in Action: Realism

Soomo Publishing, an academic publishing house, has placed a useful interview on the topic of realism in international relations on YouTube:

Monday, 2 May 2011

BBC News: US forces kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan

HUGE news this morning as US President Barack Obama announces the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, on his orders, by US forces:
Bin Laden was killed in a ground operation outside Islamabad based on US intelligence, the first lead for which emerged last August.

Mr Obama said after "a firefight", US forces took possession of the body.

Bin Laden is believed to be the mastermind of the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 and a number of others. He was top of the US' "most wanted" list. Mr Obama said it was "the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaeda".

The US has put its embassies around the world on alert, warning Americans of the possibility of al-Qaeda reprisal attacks for Bin Laden's killing.

Crowds gathered outside the White House in Washington DC, chanting "USA, USA" after the news emerged.

A US official quoted by Associated Press news agency said Bin Laden's body had been buried at sea, although this has not been confirmed.
BBC News has put extensive coverage in place (tabs at top of page), with live updates, background information on the raid, an analysis of possible future reprisals, as well as reaction in the USA and wider afield.

President Obama's speech can also be seen in full on the BBC News website.

Stay tuned to this story: We have yet to hear the full details, I believe, with regard to Pakistan's involvement in Bin Laden's hiding and eventual killing...