Sleepwalking into disaster
A world still hurting from the financial shocks that seemed to come from
nowhere, could quite conceivably have woken up on March 27th to find that a
nuclear war had suddenly broken out, and this a war with every possibility
of spreading beyond its flash point. It would have been equivalent to
that 4am White House awakening moment that featured as a key test in the US
presidential campaign. “In rhetoric extravagant even by
Pyongyang’s usual standards (we quote from our April Report on
“the KPA General Staff had threatened:- ‘unprecedented nuclear strikes of [our]
invincible army against the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet
warmongers,’ if they sought to bring down the DPRK”.
A few hours after that apparently unprovoked outburst of bile, came high drama:-
A 1,200 tonnes South Korean naval vessel, up at the
maritime borders of the two Koreas sank within minutes, following a mysterious
explosion which tore a great hole below the waterline.” Any rush to
judgement would likely have concluded: torpedo, or mine. Fortunately there was
no rush to judgement. The South Koreans went into an emergency cabinet meeting
and after considering several possibilities as to the cause of the explosion
issued a diplomatic statement “that given the investigations… so far, they
judged it was not caused by North Korea, although the reason has not yet been
“Had this been indubitably a North Korean attack…not to
respond would have been read in both halves of Korea as weakness, yet a hasty or
excessive riposte ..might escalate into a second Korean war”.
‘But that’s all a long way away’, might be a western readers response, not
realising that the North Korean Army is a million strong, they do have nuclear
weapons and are in a permanent state of war psychosis. The border itself is
almost within artillery range of the South’s capital Seoul, with a civilian
population of over ten million. The US have some 35,000 troops on the ground
there, which they would be bound to reinforce, initially in all probability by
air strikes, and if the Chinese took against such a response near their own
borders against some species of a ‘client state’, the conditions would exist for
a major conflagration. The full nasty story is at
With that example of how far we are from outgrowing war as a means of
settling disputes, and how quickly disaster can strike, we turn to NATO, the
west’s most important military alliance which is facing it’s own moment of
NATO and Europe’s disarray
US geopols are quite reasonably pointing to Europe’s disarray, in the context of
defining a new NATO doctrine – a project planned for this year. Four years ago
newnations published a special report, “What
is Nato for?” With a new doctrine up for discussion we
inevitably return to that question. It is many years since the forces of
international communism loomed across Europe (the USSR ceased to exist from
December 1991). This is reflected both by the wide re-dispersal of US forces
around the globe and the substantial run-down of the forces of the former USSR,
now famously divided between fifteen independent republics, the Russian
Federation being the most powerful.
up with all the USSR’s nuclear armoury, which must safeguard them against any
invasion, as well as having a doomsday offensive capability. The current good
news is that the two presidents of Russia and the USA, have just agreed a near
30% reduction in warheads. But in terms of conventional foreign wars, whilst
during this time the US has engaged in two such wars, Russia, apart from a
weekend’s unpleasantness in
seems to have been a predictable response to Georgian adventurism, has not
fought outside its formal frontiers, (although it sustained two bloody wars
against its unwilling colony of Chechenya which had the evil luck to have been a
republic within the extant Russian Federation, rather than the dissolved Soviet
So what is NATO for? The questions we posed in 2006 and the answers, are still
We quoted the president of the parliamentary assembly,
“Frankness compels me to say that considerable vagueness appears to reign over
the concepts and even the raison d’etre of our organisation” …and that
was then! Now the Secretary General of NATO is warning the Europeans
that of all NATO countries, it is the citizens of the US
that are the most lukewarm to NATO, so it cannot be assumed that the US will be
want to be there for ever!
Our conclusion after reviewing its exploits, was that
perhaps NATO’s most valuable role is just to exist! To be there ready to
develop, as circumstances themselves develop over the next decades. As to in
what circumstances to be deployed, some may fit – others not! Inevitably there
will always be armed situations short of war, peacekeeping for example, too
robust for civilian police alone. The recent Balkans clashes fully illustrate
Who makes the decisions?
Apart from its Council drawn from all the 28 member states and civilian
administrators, NATO is largely run as an adjunct to the US military, with the
US Defence Secretary appointing a 5 star American general to be its supreme
commander. It was not involved in the invasion of
alliance of the willing’ nations there, were seeking to display their loyalty to
the US, since a great deal of US ambassadorial pressure was exerted upon many
small nations, to maximise the national flags on display.
however is a NATO theatre of operations, with NATO forces fighting
alongside US and Afghan soldiers. That involvement again started out in support
of the US ally, on whose behalf NATO for the first and only time in history,
invoked (the day after 9/11), Article Five of its treaty, which says that ‘an
attack on any member, is an attack on all’. Viewed through one unconvincing
prism, the Afghan involvement is an international mission to assist a third
world country in a civil war, whose enemy is also the enemy of the west. Far
more importantly, and a more credible objective, is to render this state
harmless in future to the international community, from its former role as a
remote base for international terrorists - who haven’t gone away and whose
presence and attempted outrages are currently felt more frequently in Europe
than in the US.
So is NATO’s future role to be that of international policeman? If so, why not
invite Russia and China into membership and contribute their substantial armed
manpower to the many hotspots and conflicts around the globe? That’s not going
to happen, as we all know. Apart from the fundamental fact that they are neither
of them trusted (any more than they trust the west), neither of them is about to
accept permanent supreme US military command, without which the US
would surely decline to participate. Looked at in these terms, the role of
international policeman rightly, and more sensibly belongs to the UN, which has
the authority as well as the experience for inclusive multi-national force
deployment, on an ad hoc basis.
So what future then for NATO which is a permanent and experienced military
institution? That would depend to a great extent on who was in the White House.
If it were a George W Bush kind of lamebrain – who, apart from probably the UK,
would now follow in that direction? Historically Bush Snr; Clinton; Obama could
attract a following, but after George.W.Bush the precedent has been established.
The US system it has been demonstrated, allows such inadequates to get the
top job and hold it, even for a full eight year term, whilst doing immense
damage. This renders supporting the US leadership unconditionally in perpetuity,
as during the cold war, quite impossible. NATO members cannot just be uncritical
permanent US allies, when the US has got ‘form’ for getting into useless and
plain wrong foreign wars, like
IRAQ, and Vietnam
Ideally a solution would be to combine the forces of the two ‘mature’ political
systems, those of the US and of Europe to handle this situation, except that
Europe does not speak with one voice but within NATO, twenty six out of the
twenty eight members. European NATO members individually have mostly mature
political systems, yet geographical Europe itself in its structures is still not
collectively mature, either politically or militarily. EU and NATO memberships
are anyway not fully contiguous.
Despite the theoretical ‘telephone number for Europe’, requested by Kissinger
long ago, the larger individual European states primarily see their armed forces
in the traditional role of defence, alternatively an instrument of their
nation’s foreign policy, which historically was largely imperialist but now
looks for advantage, even if that is only membership of an important club.
Lacking now a common enemy, there is little cohesion of purpose outside of the
current strife in Afghanistan. Whilst happily there is no common threat of a
powerful military kind, on the downside this was the glue that bound the allies
together - the lack of it is a fundamental problem in achieving any common
Of Europe’s big boys, Germany and France seem to be the most capable of
working together as leaders in Europe. Spain, Italy even Poland can usually be
brought along, if the others agree, but the semi-detached UK is really the fly
in the ointment. The UK is also one of the big boys of Europe, but is plagued by
domestic politics. They are there torn between an influential minority who
favour integration with the EU and European institutions, who are faced with a
vociferous and continuous barrage of anti-European bile, orchestrated over many
years by the Murdoch media and other right wing tabloids. They noisily want as
little as possible to do with Europe (except for their vacations), on the basis
of an illusory independence and find much support amongst the sentimental
nationalists and those who blame immigration for economic decline.
As a result, in European terms, the UK has become a populist nay-sayer, not the
leader it could and should have been, on initiatives that would push Europe
towards achieving its political and economic potential. Other European
nations of course all have their own nationalists and these minorities are
greatly encouraged by British negativity.
So any moves to enable the Europeans in NATO to speak with one voice,
necessarily involves a degree of cohesion and delegation of powers from the
European members as Europeans and the British populists would
fight that every inch of the way.
History we believe, will point to the lost opportunities of the times we live
in, which militate in favour of ‘joining’ and ‘healing.’ It is due to a false
prospectus that small (in world terms) nation states, can coast along on their
history, despite the actual irrelevance of that, and the sad reliance on a
hollow patriotism, which has nowhere to go beyond international sport.
What might be militarily possible is that the professional command structure of
NATO could be delegated by its member nations to become the core command
structure for UN ad hoc deployments, in world policing. The troops themselves
all belong to national armies whose own governments would decide in which, if
any UN deployments they would serve. More, newnations
would argue in favour of taking the opportunity to get the politics right, and
replace the veto-wielding Security Council of the UN with the far more
Crossing the Freedom Line
Maintaining democracy, even in the bastion of the USA displays a narrow
margin between the balance of human rights and politically motivated assaults on
traditional freedoms. That includes that fundamental one that the accused - any
accused, is entitled to a court hearing and a defence. There is an
organisation named ‘Keep America Safe,’ in which (couldn’t you guess), Dick
Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney is a leader. It has produced a ‘hit list’ of
defence lawyers who have been prepared to represent defendants accused of
terrorism, which they have dubbed (the targeted lawyers) ‘the al Qaeda seven’.
The logic of the attack is that to defend someone accused
of an offence against the state, is to indicate that the defending lawyer is
really ‘one of them’. That inexorably leads to the proposition that the accused
shouldn’t have a defence. What else can they be trying to achieve?
If they were successful in this approach then the US justice system would be on
all fours with the court systems in the former Soviet Union, or PRC China. In
the latter, the most heavily populated country on earth, there were until
recently perhaps two or three lawyers in the whole vast country prepared to
represent a defendant charged by the state. It was really all quite simple.
If the police or other organs of the state brought charges against a
defendant, then they must be guilty. QED! There would be nothing else to
say. All a lawyer could be allowed to do was to plead in mitigation.
The irony is that ‘Keep America Safe’ probably don’t even
realise that only the communists of evil memory, ran their law courts this way,
hardly a role model if you want to “Keep America Safe”.
Britain’s Press –v-British Politicals
There continue to be two big political scandals in the UK, one long-running
story, trickled out over three weeks by a heavyweight paper “The Telegraph,”
using a glossed-over data theft to obtain details of lawmaker’s expense
accounts. Unsurprisingly, this caused a continuing storm, and a crisis in public
confidence. The outfall has been that some individual legislators have been
charged with criminal offences, which of course are attracting a lot of media
coverage. The second scandal, because it is too ‘close to home’ is scarcely
mentioned in a wide swathe of the media and it is reasonable to assume that many
whose only source of political information is the tabloids, don’t even know
about it. It ostensibly involves only the Murdoch group of newspapers, but
probably includes other tabloids. This scandal exposed by “The Guardian,”
is about Murdoch journo’s using professional hackers (describing themselves as
private detectives), pirating e-mails and bugging phone calls of celebs and
It started some years back with preying on the Royals, for which one journo and
one hacker went to jail. The recent two big instances so far, are not going to
court, but have been ‘settled’ by compensation paid by the Murdoch group,
reported as being over a million pounds in each case. This could be cheap at the
price, since it avoids cross-examination revealing the extent of the offences
widening the known hit-list, possibly sparking off a series of new claims.
The suggestion that other tabloids have similarly ‘been at it,’ since the
tabloids are highly competitive and a lot of journos knew about it, is
strengthened by the fact that all the tabloids (not just the Murdoch
ones), failed to follow-up or even carry the story of “The Guardian” report in
their editions. Yet these tabloids over numerous editions have been in
the forefront of the ‘pressfest’ that followed “The Telegraph” story about the
politicals. This bugging ‘celebs’ scandal of course is familiar enough to
tabloid editors and journo’s. There seems to be a consensus to rapidly move on,
not least by concentrating attention on the issue of the wicked lawmakers and
their phoney expenses.
One further troubling aspect is that the British police,
apart from the hacking of the royals which was treated as a criminal case, seem
to have been “hands off “- notably reluctant to investigate and pursue
wrongdoing by the powerful press. Maybe one day we will get an expose of that!
The ‘settled out of court’ cases were civil claims for damages.
This obviously does not look good for the integrity of this section of the
British police. But in this trial of strength between the nation’s lawmakers and
its tabloid journalists, there seems to be no contest.
All the Kings Horses…
Given all the available fire power and a cause in the interest of all maritime
powers, insurance companies and international trade generally, it seems
astonishing that Somali pirates still are operational, and indeed ever more
far-reaching in their depredations. Several maritime nations currently have
naval vessels stationed in the wide expanse of ocean off East Africa. It now
seems to be a case of ‘win some lose some’ for these navies, but the menace
It is a proud part of their history that early in the 19th century, the US
Marines invaded “the shores of Tripoli,” the Barbary coast, precisely because of
the continuing acts of the Barbary pirates inflicted on their merchant ships, in
the Mediterranean. After the experience of the “Black Hawk Down” intervention
onshore in Somalia, there isn’t likely to be any re-run of that disaster for the
modern US military. As is well known, various attempts to see some sort of
government in Mogadishu have continued to fail, which removes the obvious
solution, because the Somalis themselves should deal with this menace.
Interestingly, that part of historical Somalia called Puntland, now
quasi-independent, has been prepared to take responsibility for captured
pirates, delivered to them by various navies. That small unrecognised state has
so far jailed 154 for involvement in piracy, and 72 are awaiting trial.
But the question still remains, since several modern
navies have ships deployed, how can it be, if they are using aerial
reconnaissance, modern radar, and if merchant shipping is induced to stick to
sea-lanes, that they cannot intercept any and all attempts at piracy?
Maybe the pirate boats are too small for conventional radar, but many a time
there have been successful searches for similar-sized solitary lifeboats in
Why didn’t the watchdogs bark?
It took a disaster to sink the mammoth Enron back in 2002 How could it have
happened? The key question for many was the role played by the auditors Arthur
Andersen, who were disgraced and destroyed by the revelations. The submergence
of Lehman Bros Bank in 2008 once again points towards the key role of the
auditors, this time Ernst and Young. This has emerged as a result of a
government investigation now published and draws attention to an accounting
device known as Repo105, used between internationally separated regulatory
regimes. At a time when Lehmans, under pressure from short-sellers were
seeking to reassure the public about their finances being fine, they were in
fact massively distorted via this accounting gimmick, by as much as $50 billion!
In both these cases of questionable (or worse) accounting, these ‘grotesqueries’
only came to light because of the ultimate failure of each company.
So how about all the other Wall St Banks and indeed major
corporations still happily in business under ‘famous name’ audit supervision?
The question now is a crisis for national regulators and the auditing industry,
let alone investors. What is really going on with other financial
giants, that have not so far failed? At a time when many
banks and major corporations are larger than the economies of most nation
states, it is no longer reassuring to see a ‘famous name auditor’ signing off
accounts. Now the suspicion is growing that the contemptuous Lords of the
Universe, en masse, are playing smart games with the market, governments, and
the rest of us. Why should we in future suspend disbelief at the published
results for many corporations – and more seriously banks, or trust the ratings
doled out by big name credit agencies.
“Iran Tough” but not too tough
There is a feeling in the air that maybe…just maybe, significant things are
starting to happen about
determination to acquire a military nuclear capability. Since the respected IAEA
gave a thumbs-down in terms of their earlier ‘not-proven’ stance, saying that
they now believed IRAN
had deceived them by non-disclosure, there has been a hardening of positions
internationally, excepting only China. This months
tells of the effect that existing sanctions –on importing petroleum – are
having, and the lining up of measures to interrupt Iran’s oil exports. It seems,
for example, that Lloyds will no longer insure oil cargoes from Iran.
There is a psychological war already starting. The US has moved a supply of
‘bunker-buster’ bombs to its island base at Diego Garcia. The fact that we are
allowed to know that, qualifies it under this heading. Iran for their part
announced that the Revolutionary Guard has promoted a new General Commander, who
is a specialist in asymmetric warfare, joining their ground force commander who
has the same speciality.
Meanwhile supply and demand don’t go away. China looks to have taken up the
slack in customer demand for Iranian oil. These imports are now valued at an
annual $31 billion. Tehran seems also to have pressed on the accelerator in
reviving the gas-supply pipeline project to
Iraq: Counting and Horse trading
It really was an election that no one could call, but we now analyse the results
which clearly show winners and losers. There is talk of recounts and of
coalitions in IRAQ.
One undoubted winner is President Obama who now can feel justified in pulling
the bulk of his troops out on timetable. But whilst certain pols did very
well, Allawi and al-Sadr in particular, how that will play in terms of control,
it is too soon to say. The two possible prime ministers are Maliki, if he can
get a majority, and Allawi, whom we believe may have an edge. He did
particularly well as a secular Shi-ite, in gaining impressive support from the
Sunni voters, who in the first election abstained, but now have re-entered the
political fray. He has a small overall lead and has immediately offered to
cooperate with other parties. Surprisingly, the Kurdish vote was not as
monolithic as previously, partly because the Sunni did turn out and vote this
time, and in mixed Kurdish /Sunni seats they made their presence felt. Yet the
Kurdish alliance could still be kingmakers. Indeed before the election that
looked very likely, but now it is by no means the only possible outcome. Our
Update reviews the performance of the several groups and speculates about who
will join whom, about which more of course in our reports to follow.
Pakistan’s problems don’t go away
As we noted above in
IRAN, efforts have increased to get the gas pipeline through to
neighbouring Iran, since
PAKISTAN’s electricity supply falls well short of demand. Of
course they are aware of the hostility of the US to any deal that helps the
economy of IRAN,
but the gas pipeline would also continue to India. It is unlikely that the US
could be too strenuous about this, partly because it already has a strained
relationship with Islamabad, and wouldn’t want that to extend to New Delhi. The
other point is that energy transfer is politically in a class of its own. Japan
for example has for many years taken much of its oil from Iran and it is not
feasible for the world to stop buying oil from that country, on the say-so of
countries who get their supplies elsewhere. It is probable then that the gas
will go through as planned. This is quite distinct from the TAPI project where
gas from TURKMENISTAN
about which is at
The strain between the US and Pakistan has much to do with money. The US offered
a billion dollars in aid and as we explain, it is coming up $400 million short.
This is due to the absence of proof of expenditure, and over-billing. Auditing
of US expenditure in military aid seems to have tightened up since the wild and
wonderful early days in Iraq, when dollar bills were coming in, not in the
proverbial ‘shiploads,’ but certainly in plane loads. The Pakistani bureaucracy
and military are not immune to corruption, and are not used to being frustrated
in its pursuit.
Our April issue reviews the latest tribulations of
President Zardari (who knows a thing or two about corruption), and in his
general retreat the process of passing on to parliament hitherto presidential
powers of appointments at top level, ie provincial governors, heads of armed
services etc. The army, the courts, the parliament, all of these power-holders
could bring him down, as he is well aware.
Afghanistan treads warily
In almost every direction President Karzai has to step very warily. His
foreign sponsors have certainly got his measure. The US would have liked to
replace him but there was no better prospect on any horizon. He is under great
international pressure to clamp down on corruption, but he has made his main
internal policy plank to allow his family, his numerous cronies, the warlords,
the tribal leaders, all those in fact that make his low quality administration
operate at all, the opportunity for getting their share of what is available.
We give an insight into the present scale of corruption, starting with an
estimate of $10 million flying out of Kabul airport daily.
Karzai’s policy of achieving peace via a deal with the Taliban, understandably
has many backers, not least in the west, but the ISI’s arrest of Mullah Baradur
in Pakistan has put a stop to that, for the time being. What we don’t know, now
that the spooks have got hold of him, is whether he is being subjected to ‘harsh
interrogation’ for what he knows as operational chief of the Taliban, or being
set up to negotiate peace with his fellow Taliban leaders; or whether the
Pakistani ISI have devious plans of their own, not for the first time, of
perhaps bringing back the Taliban under their control.
This issue looks at crony capitalism; also the renewed prospects for TAPI – the
long proposed gas pipeline to run
also a small upsurge in foreign trade; as well as our considered current views
on the politics of this country.
Libya: not at any price
Libya’s leader is renowned for his ‘excesses,’ but now with a growing family
around him, they are more and more causing the headlines. The Qadaffi sons are
not quite on a par with the Saddam Hussein boys – but they have the potential!
The world is not so jaded that it cannot have noticed that Colonel Qadaffi has
called down a jihad on unsuspecting Switzerland. It is true that this
small, rich central European state whose name is synonymous with peacemaking and
healing (aka The Red Cross), also big-time private banking, did pass a change in
zoning laws prohibiting minarets on new buildings. But the real reason and cause
of antagonism from North African
explained in our March, and this April report on that country. We also note that
is an important nation in the oil and gas world, it is not as vital as it was
once thought to be -we seek to justify that comment.
Russia –US: The Elephant in the Room
report looks at the state of negotiations that have now resulted in replacing
the START treaty which have just been concluded. President Obama quite rightly
wants to put US Russian relations on a better basis than before, by concluding
the deal for both to substantially cut their nuclear stockpiles –by up to 30%. A
US administration spokesman suggested that the Russians kept on introducing
‘trivia’ just as it seemed that the negotiations were concluded. It seems that
he had the chutzpah to refer to the January announcement of the US Missile
defence system, to be based on US ships on the Romanian Black Sea coast as
’trivia.’ It was in fact ‘the elephant in the room’. In our last issue we
referred to this as comparable to the Cuban missiles project with the roles
reversed. We can expect to hear more about this development. It now seems that
the reduction of nuclear warheads deal leading to the new START treaty will
proceed and for the time being, the US Missile Defence System will remain on the
table. There will be separate discussions, indeed the Russians have said that if
‘missile defence’ becomes more clearly designed against them, they will insist
that the whole missiles reduction agreement comes back for further negotiations,
but we cannot see the Russians shrugging this off as unimportant.
The origins of the horrific Moscow Metro bombing are suggested currently as
being in the Northern Caucasus, where apart from Chechnya, other neighbouring
republics within the Russian Federation have their share of Islamic
militants with the same resentment of Russian overlordship.
RUSSIA is the
world’s last imperial power, in a post-colonial age. The hatred that has built
up in the repression of national movements manifested itself in this evil strike
against innocent civilians in Moscow, just as innocent civilians from those
outlying republics were rolled over by the military machine. Moscow will now
certainly concentrate on the symptoms not the causes, for that would mean the
break-up of empire, but future leaderships will have to address the problem of
Particularly horrifying perhaps because they were female suicide bombers, the
big question for Russians now is will there be more such indiscriminate mass
murder, and how will life change as a result?
In this issue we also look at
relations following a top level meeting between Vice- President Xi Jinping and
Prime-minister Putin, who clearly seek to provide a counterbalance to the
international weight of the USA. They already have the Shanghai co-operation
agreement not specifically aimed at anybody, but ….
Al Qaida re-enters the Saudi frame
Just as things were quietening down in Yemen – the small war on Saudi’s frontier
with a Yemeni tribe, is easing off, the threat of Al Qaida in
itself is resurrected, with the arrest of up to a one hundred strong Al Qaida
cell, it is suggested. We examine that news and its various implications. We
also note that SAUDI
ARABIA is addressing the US directly on the question of Israeli
intransigence in the peace process, asking: “why is Israel allowed to disregard
the international community’s will by insisting on its continuing settlement
program?” Saudi earlier saw its own very reasonable peace plan snubbed by
Israel, and now, like many another, sees the actual, (as opposed to the
hypocritical) Netanyahu stance, on a two-state solution to the Israel Palestine
problem, as a serious factor in influencing the course of Islamic terrorism.
Their argument is that this depends on young, idealistic, impressionable Islamic
volunteers, undoubtedly moved by the plight of the Palestinians. Saudi is also
concerned about the unresolved elections in its northern neighbour
fear is that a predominantly Shi-ite regime in Iraq would de facto be in
alliance with Iran. That these two together with their combined clout in oil
supplies could knock Saudi off its pro-western stance, in terms or more or less
determining oil pricing through OPEC.
Syria from pariah to ally?
We note that in the five years since the unresolved murder of Lebanese Prime
Minister Hariri that the stock of President al Assad (junior) has risen, so that
once again regarded as a useful intermediary on the outstanding question of
settling the Israel-Palestine problem. Indeed, we suspect that Netanyahu will
play for time and not get down to serious negotiations with the Palestinians,
expecting the powerful Israeli lobby in the US to exert maximum leverage on his
behalf, the closer it comes to the presidential and congressional elections. In
such circumstances, President Obama, if faced with unchanging Israeli
intransigence, may need to find another route to set up the new state of
Palestine, in which
SYRIA would be vital. Apart from that, SYRIA remains on good terms
and has a potential role there as an intermediary, if the nuclear impasse
continues to deteriorate.
Syria also may become internationally more significant, because it is one of the
few secular Arab states (Iraq used to be). The possibility remains that
particularly after the US forces move out of Iraq, a Shi-ite dominated
government there, if that is what emerges, will find themselves in de facto
alliance with the Shi-ite government in Iran on many issues. Syria from its
secular position can at least be rational about future decisions. Of course,
given its geographical position, cheek-by-jowl with Israel, it can reasonably
expect the international community to help by persuading Israel to negotiate
honestly with regard to restoring that part of Syria occupied by Israel, since
the wars of the 1960’s.
Taiwan: the enduring power of democracy
Taiwan did not have democracy thrust upon them like nearby Japan, but achieved
it the hard way. They first had to endure a long military regime as a result of
the defeated KuoMinTang armies retreating to the large island, following the
military triumph of the PLA on the mainland of China. It truly evolved in Taiwan
into being quite an admirable system, as well as achieving great economic
success, with two major parties contending for power. The revived KMT which is
now very supportive of their former enemies in Beijing, are currently in power.
Our previous reports have chronicled how they railroaded the former president
into jail through a kangaroo court, with a deeply unconvincing trial, and have
acted in other ways as a surrogate of China. Our report this month tells how the
citizens of TAIWAN
have, by using the democratic means at their disposal, reacted powerfully
against these policies of the regime, sending a clear message to the present
President Ma, that he is quite unlikely to be re-elected. It is so far a
heart-warming story for democrats everywhere.
India at the cutting edge
On the topic of democracy, India (as the world’s largest) has led the way on
women’s representation. They have approved a bill to reserve a third of all
legislative seats at national and state levels. The nation has produced
great women political leaders, Mrs Indira Gandhi and more recently her
daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi. At present, women make up just 10% of the Lok
Sabha and significantly fewer in state assemblies.
A new and unforeseen green weapon has emerged that has
been found fit for use, after trials in Indian defence laboratories. It is ‘the
Chili Grenade’ whose powerful acrid flavour is from the world’s hottest chilli,
the ‘bhut jolokia’ and has shown the capability of immobilizing suspects. It may
be true that Mexico is working on a rival version. Where it’s use stands under
the Geneva convention, has not been clarified.
Ukraine: Out with the old
Following the defeat of the former ‘Orangeists’, losing both the presidency and
the prime-ministership to the Russia-inclined new President Yanukovich, without
delay the personnel changes at the top have taken place and the new team have
got down to business. Obtaining a voting majority in the
parliament has given birth to a constitutional row which the outgoing
prime-minister Yulia Timoshenko will be sure to exploit. It could even,
depending on the constitutional court decision, lead to a new election.
Meanwhile, the new majority in parliament let it be known that they would be
passing a law to prevent Ukraine joining foreign-inspired military alliances,
thus putting paid to the previous regime’s hopes of joining NATO, and indeed
NATO’s hopes of including this large Slavic nation. Whether this means equally
will reject joining the Russia-backed military Alliance CSTO, made up of seven
other FSU republics, remains to be seen, but it really seems, given the wording
of the resolution - that they would not join any military alliance
at this time. Since the former administration’s ambitions to join the EU were
not mentioned, it seems that this will not be pursued. Unsurprisingly, the
change of regime has tilted
from a western leaning stance, back towards Moscow, but in a parliamentary
democracy as this now is, the opposition will be campaigning and indeed have
chances of success in the longer term.
Philippines readying for elections
Elections here are known to be lethal. Our report looks at
the preparations including no less than 117 private armies, formed by
politicians to protect their turf on election day. Newspapers are
suggesting that this could be the most violent election on record. Already 90
people have been killed in pre-election violence, including 57 murdered in
Mindanao last December. The 2004 poll, saw 148 deaths, but violence and politics
and crime and corruption are brothers in the Philippines.
Conspiracies and Paranoia in Turkey
This issue’s Update of
TURKEY describes a nation unique in many ways, but with a population
split between holding deep suspicions of quite different conspiracies, having in
common only that their proponents aim to control the state.
is uniquely a Moslem (but not Arab) democracy. Many, perhaps most of the Arab
states were at one time a part of the Turkish empire that ended only after WWI.
But unlike its former vassals,
under its enlightened leader, Mustafa Kemal threw off the shackles of formal
religion (the last Ottoman Sultan was also the last Caliph).
Nevertheless there is a ‘soft’ Islamic government which is quite effective, and
there lies the rub. The secular ‘old guard’ known as ‘the Deep State’ following
in the tradition of Kemal, is convinced that the AKP party of government has a
secret agenda to return the nation to its Islamic thralldom. They have the dread
example of next door
IRAN, with its government of mullahs. We describe the contravening
conspiracy stories in some detail, together with recent events. Matters are
probably going to calm down,
after all wishes to join the EU, but their candidature is far from certain.
Central Asia: Competing for Ascendency
the two largest countries in Central Asia, have never been genuinely warm, as
they compete for ascendancy in the region. However, a recent meeting in Tashkent
between the two countries was reported as cordial. Kazakhstan’s President
Nazarbayev secured Uzbek support for his aim of hosting an OSCE summit later
this year. [Kazakhstan-OSCE
mid-month report]. In return, he offered unqualified backing for
Uzbekistan’s stance on hydropower development in Central Asia. That is that no
hydropower facilities should be built in upstream countries, until international
feasibility studies are completed. [WATER
WARS special report] Securing Tashkent’s support is seen as a sign
of diplomatic reconciliation between the two countries. During his visit,
Nazarbayev was at pains to deny any rivalry between the two countries, insisting
that any such reports are "invented." He called instead for regional unity. "It
is important as never before not to allow fragmentation and diffusion in our
region. I am convinced that without serious dynamics in our personal and
interstate relations, the region will not be able to join forces for development
and prosperity." How long this warmth will last, remains to be seen.
lacks the abundant natural resources of
However its long border with Afghanistan gives it a special geopolitical
significance. Our update reports the continuing crackdown inside Uzbekistan by
the repressive Karimov regime. Some of the wealthiest people in
have reportedly been arrested or detained recently, or are being hunted down by
the Uzbek authorities. They include the president of one of Tashkent's premier
football clubs, the owner of the country's largest wholesale market,
construction magnates and bankers, according to media reports. Others with ties
to big business have reportedly fled the country. Uzbek officials are portraying
this campaign as an anti-corruption drive. One official confirmed reports that
some leading business people are being investigated and some have been arrested.
The official denied that business elites in general are being targeted,
insisting it was just criminals. Media outlets that cover Uzbekistan, abound
with theories on the reasons behind the crackdown. One theory is that the state
needs money and that the authorities are forced to find new means of generating
revenue. By taking over an established and successful business or threatening
legal action, the rich are ’persuaded’ to put huge amounts of money into state
Turkmenistan: new possibilities for TAPI
This Caspian nation has been reported by us since we first commenced
offering the newnations service and there was a momentous change of regime in
two years ago, significant because the Turkmenbashi (“Father of the Turkmen”)
was his official title, suddenly disappeared off the scene. He was renowned for
the tightness of his police state and for the massive gas and oil wealth which
appeared to accrue to his personal benefit. He died, the world was told, of
natural causes, and his successor, referred to variously as his nephew, his son
and his dentist, who rejoices in the longest name in world politics (see the
report), made a remarkably smooth transition to become the new ‘boss’. He must
now be one of the richest men in the world.
There is undoubtedly a tale yet to be told about this succession, and its
aftermath. Suffice it to say that the chief of Turkmenbashi’s palace guard, the
Turkmen KGB, was a key player in the handover drama, but six months or so later,
he and apparently all of those aides close to the late Turkmenbashi, found
themselves in jail with long sentences. The story one day to emerge, will
hopefully determine who was behind this (and was it a) coup? However,
Turkmenistan remains a police state with some 20,000 political prisoners.
Watchdog groups perennially rank Turkmenistan as one of the world’s foremost
human rights abusers. But the closed nature of the Turkmen political system
hampers outsiders from getting a full picture of the country’s authoritarian
This thinly populated former soviet republic is an important supplier of natural
gas to Russia, China and others, and in this month’s issue, our Turkmenistan
report reconsiders the revived project of a gas pipeline - the TAPI project, to
transit through Afghanistan, Pakistan, (it is also an item in these countries
current reports) and India. A strategically critical pipeline, if it can be
achieved - but it’s a big ‘if,’ since the original project was already being
planned by a forward-looking US oil company, before 9/11 and the arrival of US
forces to fight a war in Afghanistan. That shut down the prospects, until
recently. However, gas-rich
TURKMENISTAN will be making efforts to
revive the project convening India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to join them in a
meeting in April. Experts from the four countries are about to meet in
Turkmenistan's capital to discuss the $4 billion pipeline's route and the volume
of gas that Turkmenistan can contract to supply to India and Pakistan.
In the Caucasus there was a bizarre event. Georgian television viewers were
treated to the news headline: "Russia invades Georgia, Saakashvili dead". The
government-controlled Imedi TV channel aired a 30-minute “news report” showing
Russian troops invading
GEORGIA. However, most viewers missed the initial short warning
that the report was an example of possible events that could only occur “if
Georgian society is not brought together against Russia’s plans.” Thousands
rushed out onto the streets. President Saakashvili claimed that such “staging”
of a war situation might be useful to protect Georgia from a new war with
Russia's leadership is furious, as are many Georgians, and has let its anger be
known via Brussels. Russian NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin stated that the fake
news report may have the intention to create an atmosphere of paranoia in order
to sway public opinion in favour of another war in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
He added: “They’re trying to create an image of Russia as a permanent
enemy of Georgia, and create a tense situation on its borders with South Ossetia
and Abkhazia. This report is just part of the information war Mikhail
Saakashvili has been waging. It’s part of state propaganda to promote a new war.
Of course, Saakashvili knew about preparations for this report. The Imedi
channel is controlled by the Georgian government, so this couldn’t have been
done without his blessing. It’s a well-planned act aimed at scheming new armed
conflicts in the Caucasus region.”
The Georgian invasion hoax has been causing concern in neighbouring
the Russians ever were to occupy
would be neighbours of the Azeris. The Azeri leadership is therefore
concerned about the reaction of their own people to the ‘invasion’. President
Ilham Aliyev and his ministers regard it as the height of irresponsibility for
Georgian President Saakashvili to have licensed this folly. The Azeris
are very aware of Russia’s support of Armenia in occupying Nagorno-Karabakh, and
20% of Azeri territory. Latest reports are not good on any prospects of a
peaceful resolution of that conflict, which is what makes the TV hoax the more
cannot get over their astonishment at what has happened in Georgia. They regard
the Russians as their dearest allies and have no desire to foment enmity with
them. Russia was their great ally against Azerbaijan in the 1988-94 war over
Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave there. On this, progress on the Madrid
proposals of the OSCE is stalled, with the Armenians being intransigent. It
would be political suicide for any Armenian leader to relinquish
Nagorno-Karabakh, or even the Lachin corridor between themselves and their
enclave in Azerbaijan, which taken alone might offer a solution. It is
increasingly looking like one of those long lasting, insoluble geopolitical
We learn that the intractable problems of
Balkans and the world beyond may have a religious dimension. For almost 30
years, the Virgin Mary has been said to appear daily in Medjugorje in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, dressed sometimes in a grey dress and veil and sometimes in
gold, crowned with stars and floating on a cloud. Speaking in Croatian it is
claimed that she has been heard to say: "I've come because there are many true
believers here. I wish to be with you to convert and reconcile the whole world."
Pending that eventuality, Bosnia continues to be haunted by the horrors of the
1992-5 war. One of them is the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995 in which
7/8,000 Bosnian Muslim youths and men were slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs.
Investigations into the Srebrenica massacre have found the massacre occurred
partly because the UN troops, an isolated Dutch battalion’s duty to protect the
enclave, was fatally hampered by a lack of numbers, no heavy weapons and the
United Nations’ failure to give it either adequate terms of engagement, or the
air support that it urgently requested.
Our updates on SERBIA
reveal that a recent Balkans summit in Slovenia meant to revive regional
cooperation, in fact revealed the deep divisions between Balkan states. The
conference on March 20-21, organized by Slovenia and Croatia, hoped to boost
cooperation and rekindle enthusiasm for the EU.
to attend unless its former province of Kosovo was represented only as ‘a UN-run
protectorate’, which Pristina refused.
vowed never to recognize Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.
to join the EU in 2012 while others have a long way to go. All of them have to
implement political and economic reforms, while Serbia also has to cooperate
with the UN war crimes tribunal and show a more constructive stance on Kosovo.
Serbia is the largest former Yugoslav republic and the slowest to embrace the
EU, because of the isolation into which it was plunged after the Balkan wars of
the 1990s. Serbia however won visa-free travel for its citizens to the EU and
started a free-trade agreement in 2009.
The Balkan states have expressed serious concerns about the political and
economic impact on them of the ongoing financial crisis in Greece.
member of the EU, and
ALBANIA are particularly vulnerable. Greece is a major investor in
the Balkans and is also host to several hundred thousand economic migrants from
the region. Remittances from Greece to the Balkans have amounted to many
millions of dollars annually, providing livelihoods for many families. The main
beneficiaries have been
Greek food processing, small food retailers and clothing and textile companies
have moved to Bulgaria, FYR-Macedonia and Albania. Major investments in the
construction, telecommunication and energy sectors of these neighbouring
countries have followed. Greek banking capital has been the forerunner in this
process. During the last 15 years, Greek banks have penetrated deeply into the
banking system of the Balkan countries.
Up-to-Date April Reports on all of the above,
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