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July 2010 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW JULY '10

G20 should replace the UN Security Council


The G8 and then the G20 convened in Canada late June and in a tight schedule set themselves to address the world’s very many problems. Entirely to be welcomed we would say, and it has become evident that the G20 in particular are indeed the appropriate forum, much more so than the United Nations. It has long been our argument that the G20 should replace the UN Security Council and end the (often misused) veto that five nations hold, basically for being on the winning side in a war that ended 65 years ago (which only a declining minority of human beings still alive can even remember). It is now both otiose and being unrepresentative, entirely inappropriate.

The new realities of power are likely to remain largely economic, but not excluding the fading importance of military power, the membership of the G20 is far more representative of the 21st century world than the UN Security Council. So many of the worlds problems are clearly international in their character and certainly in their solutions. Many of us, now Bush/Cheney have gone, are content to accept US leadership and with a president like Barack Obama, we have a quality leader, but it is not acceptable that policy across the board, should slavishly follow the line that dribbles out from under the White House door.

Washington’s own international position is often skewed because of the role it seems forced by domestic political considerations to play, particularly regarding Israel. Obama himself published only a few weeks ago his National Security Strategy which pointed out that “…the burdens of a new century cannot fall on US shoulders alone.” We accept that he really meant that. Let us all see where it can take us? One thing is clear, that the interests of the future require institutions for the future and the UN Security Council has passed its sell-by date.


The ‘Repo 105’ boys
The long drawn out ‘chewing the cud’ on the 2008/9 financial crisis moves painfully on. There are many questions not yet satisfactorily answered, not only about the behaviour of the banks, but also the manifest unexplained failures of the handful of Ratings Agencies. Many institutions that were theoretically about serving the pursuit of probity in business and banking, and reassuring the holders of stocks and shares, turned out to be grievously disappointing in their performance. Apart from Regulators which are another story, Auditors are an obvious example. In reporting the affairs of nations, we have witnessed some stunning behaviour from famous name auditors, currently “the big four,” since Arthur Anderson shuffled off following the Enron scam. The newly emergent giant corporations of Russia as we reported at the time, presented top managers that were up to extraordinary tricks, like the directors of a giant oil company gifting company-owned oilfields to their close relations, yet seemed to have no trouble in having a household name auditor sign off their unqualified accounts. A fairly reliable guide to this institutional mischief would be in identifying the size of fee paid to the auditors compared to the standard for other corporations of a similar size - except that of course racehorses and sea-side villas readily change hands with small trace.

We note that Ernst & Young are now under investigation by Britain’s accountancy regulator as auditor to the European arm of Lehmann Brothers and of course the big fear for them is not racehorses but what legal actions might ensue, as a result.

The Agony that is Afghanistan
The change at the top in the Afghan US military command (on which more below) has focused attention on a presumed coming change of policy, but that is not what the McChrystal ‘affaire’ was all about. There appear to be parallel western perspectives on the 8 year old Afghan war, the first obviously being the military confrontation and now looming larger in the public perception, the political undertones. On both approaches, one feels that there is now a more evident will to disengage. Militarily the professionals want to achieve the tasks that have been devised for them, but most will recognise that there is no prospect of a victory of the kind where their Afghan adversary will throw in the towel, or retire exhausted, anymore than the modern US and NATO forces would do that. Such a recognition of the impossibility of a surrender by the Taleban, has led to the peace party, both of Karzai's Kabul and of the western capitals, becoming more vocal in calling for negotiations with the Taleban. The resignation - extended leave - of a senior British diplomat, Britain’s special envoy no less, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles who has clearly spoken out for peace negotiations and insisted that Karzai was a liability -against the current of opinions from his US opposite number Richard Holbrooke - underscores that. But where resignations are concerned, the departure of McChrystal is a far more momentous event. The US media in particular has scoured its past editions and comes up yet again with his description as the originator of ‘THE SURGE’ except that they do acknowledge that his successor General Petraeus was the author of the earlier version in IRAQ.

It is hard to see what a SURGE in military terms can be, other than the obvious - a very large reinforcement of fighting troops, (as opposed to support and admin personnel). That is clearly the essential part of it, but it taxes the imagination how this can be described as ‘a strategy’. It is surely what most war leaders from the beginning of time have hoped for, when their progress was blocked. The separate, not to be under-rated more sensitive aspect, is held to be a more careful approach to collateral killings and mutilation, amongst civilians. This is characteristic of assault from the air, the airforce approach where the sophistication of guidance systems should mean that a more targeted response should be possible, where one house in a cluster was the target. Of course that one house might very well also include the women and children, aged parents etc; of the bad guys, who unfortunately, the generals might reply, cannot be distinguished by high explosive. So what can such a doctrine actually amount to, particularly when the most successful weapons in the armoury, in terms of taking out the enemy leaders are pilotless drones, controlled remotely from a continent and an ocean away?

In terms of conventional airstrikes, the basic pre-bombing intelligence should, but apparently is often unable, to distinguish between a boisterous wedding party and a group of guerrillas. In short when HE is employed, then in a war involving townships and villages there will inevitably be horrible collateral casualties.


There were memories of Douglas MacArthur in the McChrystal episode : Top ranking US General MacArthur a WWII war hero, first lost the Philippines to the Japanese and then eventually won it back, and then with a large force of marines island-hopped, reclaiming Pacific islands and atolls all the way to the surrender of Japan in 1945. He remained in Tokyo as the US viceroy and at the outbreak of the Korean war became leader of the UN force that first lost and then won back the peninsula from the North Koreans supported by China. Macarthur apparently came to believe his own propaganda, seeing himself as an irreplaceable giant compared to the political pygmies in Washington. The general wanted to ‘nuke’ Chinese cities but his boss President Truman famously recalled him in a situation not entirely unlike these latest events, involving another "irreplaceable" commander. This episode with General McChrystal, is a reminder 60 years later that the military are quite rightly subject to political (elected) control, a key lesson of the unforgettable horrors of WW1 where the top brass on both sides were given their head and told to win the war, resulting in casualties that were both astronomical and completely unacceptable. Two of the despised ‘pygmy politicians’ Ambassador Eikenberry and Obama’s national security adviser James Jones, are themselves former generals, so we don’t know whether old military career clashes might be a factor in the backbiting evident in the Rolling Stone article.

There seems small doubt that General Petraeus who succeeds in overall command is a competent commander. Policy now seems to be swinging with greater emphasis towards those who see that the urgency is to leave an Afghan government with an army and police force, capable of sorting out their own affairs with the Taliban, perhaps even a revival in some form of the Northern Alliance for the avoidance of domination by the numerous Pashtun, enabling the west to get the hell out of there. It is hardly a new concept, but there is little else on the table.

The NYT columnist Thomas Friedman made a cogent point, questioning the need for extensively training the new Afghan military. As he points out, the one skill which seems universal in that country is the ability to bear arms and to fight – protracted training is as extraordinary an idea he suggests, as setting out to teach Brazilian boys how to kick a football.

We all know don’t we, that world Islamic militancy is not now dependent (if it ever was), on what goes on in AFGHANISTAN, since the terrorism franchise is so widely distributed?

Both the leadership, the membership and also the conceptual franchisees of Al Qaeda are elsewhere than AFGHANISTAN, being pursued we can believe by intelligence services, security police, and sometimes special forces, all of which will certainly continue with that mission whatever the outcome and timing of the AFGHANISTAN hostilities.

Turkey
Meanwhile we see that TURKEY has been having its own foreign policy headaches, most notably with Israel, thus inevitably also with the joined-at-the-hip USA.

The Israeli interception in international waters of an intentionally ‘blockade-busting’ humanitarian flotilla, bound for Gaza for the relief of the besieged Hamas Palestinians, resulted in the deaths of nine people, eight of them Turks, which in the circumstances ‘had the feel’ more of summary executions than otherwise. Some of the ships had Turkish captains and crews.

Blockade busting is no doubt a great nuisance to Israel, but it is not, or should not be a capital offence implemented with rough justice, that can look dangerously akin to murder! This has already had the most profound repercussions for Israeli-Turkish relations. The Turks are utterly outraged – and they are not alone.

Our
SYRIA report and that of SAUDI ARABIA are very relevant to this with some different perspectives and consideration of possible outcomes.


There were vociferous mass demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul, in which Israeli flags were burnt. Israel has clearly lost its one and only ally in the Middle East. It might be thought that the accession of Barack Obama to the US presidency last year would have changed things for the better in American-Turkish relations. It has not been so. The Turks, members of NATO, earlier didn’t agree with and would not facilitate the US invasion of IRAQ, in the time of Bush/Cheney. Now they clearly do not accept the position of the USA with regard to IRAN, seeing it as essentially Israeli-driven. They have agreed to supply their next door neighbours the Iranians with centrifuges, usable for peaceful purposes, but also for making nuclear bombs.
IRAN insists that it is working within the ambit of the non-proliferation treaty, of which it is a signatory. TURKEY which appears to accept their argument, managed to convince Brazil and South Africa to support their independent move to extract meaningful quantities of partly enriched uranium from IRAN’s stocks, a move initiated by the US only last autumn - but now that it’s yesterday’s idea and no longer in favour, Washington is not at all pleased.

Iraq: The ‘tug of peace’ continues
This issue reports again on the struggle for power in Baghdad, where the enlarged Shi’ite coalition that we forecast, has been unable to break the deadlock in forming a cabinet, let alone deciding on the prime minister. It is unsurprising that in this country as in so many similar ones, the ‘winning’ of a ministry can spell wealth and well-rewarded positions for the minister’s family and clan, as well as friends and supporters. It is a significant demonstration of this that after some years, neither the government nor the parliament has been able to pass an oil bill, due to factions blocking each other, so the nation’s primary source of wealth is not legislated for and ad hoc decisions and accommodations are the inevitable outcome. In this issue we look at how ‘de facto’ power, in the absence of a politically viable government, is distributed. It will be no surprise that both IRAN and SAUDI ARABIA, the champions respectively of the Shia and the Sunni, are intervening heavy-handedly.

There can be little question that Washington will breathe a huge sigh of relief once they have been able to withdraw their military presence from IRAQ, but even present plans can change if the unconcealed hostility between them and IRAN deteriorates further. But on finally leaving, the heat of American TV and tabloid journalism will be off the US administration, just as surely as that happened in Vietnam after the US withdrawal of 1975, yet no-one can seriously claim that IRAQ will be left as the neocon beacon of democracy, that was the constant refrain in the Bush /Cheney years. Even without the interfaith murders and the Al Qaida assassins unleashed upon the large and usually poor Shi’ite community, there is still the unresolved question of power hanging over the north of the country, where a less than elegant division exists with the ‘virtual Kurdistan’. If in future, elections can’t be done democratically with a now benign US presence, backed by its continuing military in-country, then given deadlocks like the one that has existed since the elections all those months ago, the new Iraqi military or the ‘private’ militias (watch out for the al Sadrists), will be tempted to intervene. This has all the dangers of re-cycling a Baath-type structure, probably Shi’ite this time around and heavily influenced by neighbouring IRAN.

Does it have to be this way? We have put our belief in a different structure which would have a better chance of success than that which presently looms on the horizon IRAQ: OUR PRESCRIPTION.

Balkans
Those who report on the politics of the Balkans rarely bear good tidings but our update this month on CROATIA is an exception. In June, SLOVENIAN voters approved a border arbitration deal with Croatia, clearing a major obstacle to Croatia’s EU membership bid. This should boost Croatia's chances of joining the EU in 2012 if it succeeds in completing entry talks in the next year.

Under the deal, an international team will settle a dispute over the land and sea border that dates from the break up of Yugoslavia. The dispute involves land on the Istrian peninsula. Slovenia has demanded direct access to international waters, which could force Croatia to cede some of the sea it regards as its own. Analysts say the approval will end the 19-year old border dispute and ease relations between the two countries. The ruling would be binding for both countries. Slovenia has been a member of the EU since 2004, and like any other member, can veto Croatia's progress towards membership. Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor told Croatia's state television she foresaw no further Slovenian action to bar Zagreb's path towards joining the EU. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has welcomed the referendum result as “an important step forward”. He said, “We now look forward to a final settlement of the dispute. Resolving this bilateral issue is an important signal for the region and the relations between Slovenia and Croatia”. This is good news indeed when one considers that none of the other former Yugoslav republics has opened EU accession talks yet and most of them remain locked in historic rivalries and legacy issues from the wars of the 1990s.

As well as improving its relations with Brussels, Croatia’s new president Ivo Josipovic is conciliatory towards SERBIA. He is anxious to resolve deep bilateral problems. He said:” Croatian and Serbian politicians must work much more proactively" towards reconciliation, because "the current generation owes it to the next not to bequeath its problems" from the past. Both countries have filed claims with the International Court of Justice alleging genocide by the other in the 1991 -1995 war. Both could withdraw their claims as part of the reconciliation process.

Perhaps the touchiest issue is cooperation by Serbia with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, our Serbia update shows. Although Serbia has altered its policy and has started to cooperate, Josipovic added: "..they have still not handed over two key accused." He was referring to Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader, and Goran Hadjic, the Croatian Serb leader. Despite these issues, Serbia and Croatia have the common goal of accession to the EU and through it access to the world's biggest trading bloc. Serbia may barely have reached the waiting-room door, but Croatia is almost there.
As to the remaining Balkan states, our update on BOSNIA shows some kind of progress towards ultimate EU membership, although the EU has signalled that more regional reconciliation is necessary. At talks in Sarajevo in June, the EU pledged to keep its doors open to membership for the poorer states of the western Balkans, despite mounting worries about expanding the EU in the wake of the Greek financial crisis. Senior EU officials sought to reassure government ministers from the Balkan states that once their nations meet the bloc's criteria for joining, they will be admitted. Serious hurdles remain a decade after the EU first held out the promise of membership. Croatia, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro are at different stages of seeking admission. However, Bosnia, whose politics remain fractured along ethnic lines, and Kosovo, whose independence isn't recognized by some EU states, have yet to apply. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief in a statement issued ahead of the one-day meeting declared: "Integrating the western Balkans into the European family of nations remains one of the last challenges to building a democratic and unified Europe.”

The Caucasus
Another area in which conflict retards economic progress is the ARMENIA AZERBAIJAN dispute. Our update on Armenia reveals that the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is to visit Armenia. He may, it appears, have a plan on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to show his Armenian counterpart. This would propose that Armenia would free Azerbaijan’s occupied Agdam, Fuzuli and Kalbajar regions as a first step. They constitute part of the corridor to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. Such a plan, if it exists, would be extremely beneficial for Russia. If Medvedev can contribute towards the resolution of the problem, it would increase his credibility at home and abroad. Russia does have an opportunity to put pressure on Armenia since the country depends on Russia in all areas including in energy and security. But Armenia may never agree to free these three regions which were captured illegally and contrary to international law. Armenia may even want Azerbaijan to reject its right to Nagorno-Karabakh in return for getting their occupied territory back!

The horrors of Kyrgyzstan
There is evidence that the hysterical ethnic violence in the city of Osh was not an accident and that it was initiated by armed gangs, possibly instigated by former president Bakiyev’s powerful regional clan who had been sidelined by his fall from power. The victims this time were ethnic Uzbeks who account for about 15% of the total population. Osh and district is an extraordinary ethnic mix with the national boundaries of the former Soviet republics of Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, intersecting at a dizzying frequency of border posts, which are largely symbolic, except to take bribes from the giant long-distance Iranian lorries. These bring in industrial goods, often as prosaic as domestic hardware and return to their country, it is believed with their loads of wool or whatever, enhanced by smuggled quantities of Afghan opiates, hence their generosity at border posts. In the 1990’s there was a well remembered previous outbreak of ethnic horrors, so bad as almost to defy belief. There were attested reports of babies of the ‘wrong ethnicity’ being impaled and hung on display from butcher’s meat hooks. The details of this latest savage outbreak are in our KYRGYZSTAN report, with more in that for UZBEKISTAN.

Turkmenistan
In Central Asia we learn that TURKMENISTAN has shaken off Russia’s 50 year old buyer’s monopoly of its gas exports. It is working instead with China and IRAN to develop export routes in those directions. This has been helped by sustained demand from China and Iran, against low demand from RUSSIA during the economic recession. Turkmenistan is also targeting European gas markets, in conjunction with the EU-backed Nabucco and Southern Corridor projects, in anticipation of rising gas demand after the recession ends.

Kazakhstan
The riches accruing from a country’s energy resources may be wisely invested for its citizens’ benefit. Alternatively, it can adopt KAZAKHSTAN’S approach. Having moved the capital from temperate Almaty in the south to chilly Astana in the north, the regime realised that the cold, windswept new capital had failed to lure the number of businesses or tourists that would justify the upheaval involved. Rather than admit failure and move the capital back again, President Nazarbayev envisages a new indoor city in Astana itself, capable of housing 20,000 and adorned with Venetian-style canals and Italianate architecture. While hundreds are shivering outside on the steppe in winter cold, the chosen few will be sunning themselves on a beach, taking a gondola-ride in a canal or enjoying a waterslide. Meanwhile on July 6th the President is opening a smaller, climate-controlled tent mall for the Indoor City, called Khan Shatyr. It consists of an indoor park, shopping and entertainment complex. Its upper zone has a tropical climate, with an indoor, 'beach,' waterslides, a wave machine and a tropical garden. Its lower zones have a monorail system, a running track, a small amusement park and a shopping complex. The people have yet to give their verdict on this profligate extravaganza, which on second thoughts, will never see the light of day –since the opinions of the people are absolutely of small concern to the nation’s governors.

Russia
In our update on Russia, we consider the role of RUSSIA in the world as envisaged by Dmitry Medvedev who will want to give the governance of Russia a new stamp, making him the natural next ruler of the country, eventually not conditional as now on the patronage of prime minister Putin. He appears to want a new deal with the West and a 'new European security structure.' (it is fair to observe that maybe the experienced Putin wanted this too. It is not yet possible to believe that Medvedev is a completely free agent in these matters). Perhaps he might be hinting at enlarging NATO to include Russia, although NATO/OTAN’s name and image have been so long characteristic of western imperialism, as to be anathemised in Russian public opinion. However public opinion in Russia boils down to leading cadre/apparatchik opinion, who can actually influence events, the public as such being onlookers. As to an enlarged security structure, Russia’s rulers have always had to be geopolitically conscious of an overpopulated China looming along its lonely, four thousand mile long mutual frontier, separating them from many thousands of square miles of under-populated Siberia.

In speculating on these and other issues, our update assumes that Russia’s new place in the scheme of things has yet to be determined and Medvedev may be exploring the possibilities available in the future, which ought to be good, since the lingering overt enmity towards the USA and the west has largely been dissipated. Indeed an agreeable relationship between the two young presidents might have been in Putin’s mind, conscious of his own somewhat abrasive image when he raised up Medvedev. It is logical that once it was decided (being obvious), that these two nuclear-armed states are not going to go to war with each other, that their relationship could genuinely be a positive one built on mutual need, on the one hand for hydrocarbons and raw materials, and on the other for finance and high technology. It also saves Russia from too much dependence on China, whilst able to deal its own cards, remaining independent of the USA and Europe.

Pakistan: The Siege goes on
That of course is the siege of the presidency where the beleaguered President Zardari manages to cling on, not to power, that has already gone, but to a measure of influence not least because he does occupy the presidential palace and is still a player in his own destiny. Power has swung significantly in this country towards the Supreme Court, but it is not yet apparent whether this is a latter-day renunciation by PAKISTAN’s power brokers of large-scale corruption, which has so long greased the wheels; and towards clean elections, which given that there are deadly serious political rivals and thus a clear consciousness of ballot-rigging, has we believe, a better chance of emerging than the repudiation of corruption and all its works. We report as usual in PAKISTAN on these matters, as well as the current relationship with the USA and the fight against the tribal insurgents. Also we can report a partial economic recovery with GDP growth reaching 4.1% in the last fiscal year compared with only 1.2% in 2008/9.

Philippines: Another new dawn?
With a new government elected if not quite yet in office, we allow ourselves a hint of optimism although we lead with a paraphrase of a local commentator, that here is a new government which (once again) has promised to bring transparency, accountability, reform and the rule of law. ..in a nation that has been hobbled by problems of political instability, bad governance and mass poverty throughout the nine year term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We then compare how dramatically this country has fallen behind the rest of the world.

President-elect Aquino (NoyNoy) is carrying a lot of hope on his shoulders. He is known to be a hard worker and the tasks that lie ahead of him are going to need all of that. It could be exciting or it could be disappointing , we obviously hope for the former. It has always seemed to us outrageous that with no government input in restricting or encouraging birth control (they won’t offend their reactionary friends in the church), the population skies upwards year after year, in a nation that cannot find jobs for a large part of its adult population. This means that many millions of Filipinos have to crew the world’s cargo or passenger ships, or Filipinas housekeep/nanny for families, or nurse in the ‘first’ world’s hospitals. Highly regarded as they are in their host countries, it is their remittances home that keeps the Filipino economy from submerging, yet it is a fearful thing that families are split up by half a world, sometimes for tens or scores of years, just in order to survive. The Philippines have in some ways remained in a time-warp where the local power of landowners and bosses can be that of life and death over those that give offence. Nowhere is that more marked than in the fact that it is, with just one or two other candidates, the most lethally dangerous country in the world for journalists. Unquestionably it is also lethal for would-be courageous labour organisers in this reactionary society, roundly identified and condemned as ‘communists,’ thus giving a licence to kill them which is a frequent and unpunished occurrence.

President NoyNoy has much to do. We wish him well!

India: the latest diplomatic talks with Pakistan
No one can fault the Indians for not trying and in fairness there are those on the Pakistan side that would like to reconcile and move on. We report on the latest ministerial meetings between the two South Asian countries. There must be closure on the terrorism issues, not yet available after the Pakistani High Court released the man India believes to be the master-mind of the Mumbai massacre. Whatever, INDIA wants more and better results with regard to arresting those Pakistani planners and enablers who sent the terrorists of Mumbai to their certain deaths, and those of so many bystanders whose misfortune was simply to be there at that time. Simply they want JUSTICE!

A disaster much further back is revisited in this issue, which in 1984 claimed the innocent lives of fifteen thousand residents of Bhopal. When one thinks of the ongoing massive repercussions for the BP oil company involved in the current oil spill in southern US waters, and the $20 billion they have had to reserve to pay compensation, compare the ecological hurt with the enormous loss of human life following a toxic gas leak at Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal on which damages totalling only $470,000 were finally paid. The comparisons in compensation are so bizarre as to be contemptuous. The sad episode with more developments in criminal law has hit the news again in INDIA, as we describe.

Finally, in INDIA there is news of an imminent deal with Japan, no less than a nuclear pact. If the deal goes through as expected, it will be the first agreement between Japan and a nation which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Whilst the deal seems objectively to make a lot of sense, it nevertheless reminds us of the US administration’s nuclear double standards relating to INDIA, and of course Israel, as distinct from the ‘big, bad’ Iranians of the contemporary legend.
 

Clive Lindley
Publisher



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