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September 2010 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW SEPTEMBER '10

CALAMITY CORPS


Give basic humanity the chance to transcend the evil that men do.
Dramatic world events at their extreme include such natural disasters as the present Pakistani floods, those of Hurricane Katrina in the Bush era; the Asian Tsunami of 2004. In each instance the reaction from the authorities only really began to take off once the military were called in. Their ability to react meaningfully can be compared with those fast military interventions that have taken place in the immediate reaction to surprise ‘shock’ events such as ‘9/11’, or the Falklands invasion by the Argentine of 1982, or the 2008 Georgian military surprise attack to grab back South Ossetia. In each instance the military of involved nations reacted FAST! They were the key players in the remedy, simply because military crises expect military solutions. But looking at the armed forces role in civil disaster management, universally they are the only big enough institutions that can react fast enough and be truly effective, once summoned. Yet politically in international civil disasters it is some way down the line, after many lives are lost, before they can become involved.

In the devastating floods in the Indus valley (see PAKISTAN), it is quite properly the Pakistani army that leads and the aid arms of several foreign governments, particularly the heavy lift planes give support. Critically the NGO’s that were there perhaps soonest, are doing what they do so effectively to help. Indeed, some NGOs are so well organised for quick response that whilst they are appealing to ordinary citizens for financial support, they have already moved experts, their equipment and initial supplies to where they are needed, but given their resources, the NGO’s are limited in scale. Governments wanting to exhibit good-will in civil disasters, unless it is their own territory, tend to move slower, sometimes much slower, but their involvement in such disasters, particularly with the heavy lifting, medical assistance, military engineering and sheer numbers of organised disciplined young servicemen and women, can be essential.

The United Nations has never been allowed by its members to have a UN army as a standing force, capable of separating combatants, or indeed providing quick response aid. Instead, in military confrontations where a UN force is to be organised there are ad hoc negotiations with those nations who might become involved, with many decisions to be agreed about the terms of engagement, the command structures, etc. Yet there can be no doubt that in major disasters, it is only the military that can provide the manpower, the skills, the intercontinental transport, all in a timely fashion for an adequate response to a crisis.

We live in an era when it is quite conceivable that conventional large scale wars between nations, because of ultimate weapons, are not going to happen again, other than on a small scale between smaller protagonists. Even without WMD’s, after witnessing in two successive wars the high tech demolition from the air of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army, conventionally drawn up in defensive positions barring the way to Baghdad, what nation in future would dream of confronting a superior enemy in that way, offering up their ground forces ‘in place’ for certain destruction from the skies? Whilst it is possible to predict that most nation states for the forseeable future will maintain armies including sea and air-forces, there is quite a reasonable expectation that they will never have to go to war, unlike the generations of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Obviously there are hotspots where big scale military involvement just might happen and unexpected rescue missions when order breaks down, in such as failed states. Military planners will permanently be conscious of the need to be prepared for this, but such places are few, and often detailed plans are in place. The military in some nations it is true, need to be a last resort back-up to their police forces in any heavyweight challenge to law and order. There are also undoubtedly many totalitarian states whose armies exist to control, rather than defend their citizens and the record indicates who they are, from the roster of nations with major forces who do not contribute to international crises. They might add up to about two thirds of all nation states, which still leaves about fifty fully or partially democratic nations.

In essence what we are suggesting is that already the time is not far off when people in democracies will reasonably ask, what are armies, navies and air forces for? Particularly so since unmanned aerial and naval warfare can increasingly be effective and deputed to remote control?

The probability is that the time is coming when many, most perhaps of the millions of personnel serving in the armed forces of those fifty or so broadly democratic nation states with a total population of a million or more [WORLD AUDIT DEMOCRACY TABLE], will never be called on to fire a shot in anger.

Give basic humanity the chance to transcend the evil that men do.

There are many civil situations when only the military can do what needs to be done. The UN is not likely any time soon to be given the right to deploy a standing army- the world is not ready for that. Yet, that should not prevent a UN ‘Calamity Corps’. We are writing here about civil disasters and the rapid response of trained disciplined men and women, and provision of the necessary materials, regardless of nationality.

We argue that the UN should be encouraged to have a permanent seconded military /civilian staff capable initially of planning responses for all kinds of large scale natural disasters world-wide, negotiating committed numbers and resources from member nations prepared to take part in such a scheme, including the use of transport aircraft from engaged nations. The object would be to have the capability of quickly deploying rapid response teams and their back-up to civil disasters, wherever the need arises.
It would be a sign of maturity that the world has not yet achieved, but could easily reach.

The goodwill resulting would be enormous, not least to the United Nations itself which could do with such a boost to its prestige - Swords may not be beaten into ploughshares, but in this proposal where humanity transcends politics, men and women who otherwise might spend their whole careers in the military and never see action, yet with their training, discipline and skills on detachment to civilian relief, could create such honour for their nations and create bonds of goodwill that otherwise can hardly be imagined.

Justice in Bangladesh
Consider, here is BANGLADESH a nation in which simultaneously, the High Court has denounced the 7th amendment to the Constitution as illegal (it was the instrument that validated the regime of General Ershad) and the 5th Amendment, which did the same thing for the regime of General Zia-ur-Rahman. It’s a bit late, but better late than never. But in case anyone thinks the courts are a fine democratic institution, we also report in this issue that a thousand prisoners have been released because of overcrowding in the jails and most of them have served almost 20 years without ever receiving a trial!

North Korea: Succession plan looking likely
Reading the runes, our September update on NORTH KOREA looks at the evidence that the leadership succession may really be shown to the world, quite soon. We think the teasing point may have passed but our report enables you to judge for yourself. Things are difficult in North Korea right now with a delicate succession problem, a clapped-out economy and a slow-burn nuclear crisis, but it does look as though Kim Jong-eun, the Dear Leader’s third son can safely start to measure up for a Marshal’s uniform soon. All this and much more of course in the attempts to restart the Six party talks.

India and China exchange military insults
All at a low enough level, but nevertheless signs of strain in military exchanges. INDIA this issue also tells that the Parliament has agreed to privatise the nuclear industry. That will open up the $150 billion atomic energy market to overseas suppliers. A matter decided here is that India’s fourteen civil nuclear reactors will be opened up for scrutiny by the IAEA, whilst eight military reactors will not

South Africa: A worm in the Apple
After the soccer circus left town with the masses of foreign visitors, South Africans have been trying to agree on what it had all meant for their country. They were well aware –and marvelled- that there were very few strikes, regrettably a normal feature of life here (which is now back ‘in spades’), but they were glad that their country was seen to its advantage as it is, the most developed nation in Africa.

Bafana bafana, the national soccer team, translatable as ‘the lads,’ had tried hard against the best in the world but had not really, except by blinkered optimists, been expected to do better than they did. The fact was that the whole national show was impressive and reflects immense credit on the South African organisers of the series of events, which had been given the priorities they needed. The stadiums as the world saw on TV, were state of the art. The hotels, transport systems and other infrastructure came through very well, setting a high bench mark for Brazil, the next host to the world in four years time. The doomsayers were scattered and the ordinary citizens quite surprised and certainly proud of how the nation came across in the world’s consciousness.

The cost, those stadiums, the publicised high jinks? Yes there were those who compared that with the alternative ways of spending that sort of money, unrealistically because it wouldn’t have been available for perhaps more ‘socially worthy’ causes. Yet, the unquantifiable benefits to SOUTH AFRICA might be summed up in that the world saw for itself that unlike most of the rest of the continent this is not a third world state. It has a big industrial infrastructure as readers of our monthly reports will know. Certainly there are many poor, but many of those are immigrants from failed or failing states in other parts of Africa, attracted by the relative prosperity of this large well-found nation. Visitors will be able to tell their friends that this country has a lot to offer for tourism of a very varied kind. Potential investors will not be discouraged from coming here.

But now the blissful season of goodwill and bonhomie is over. Strikes were held off when the world was watching but they are back with a vengeance. Our September issue of SOUTH AFRICA describes how bad it is! A particularly nasty union campaign in respect of health-workers has required court action resulting in court orders which may or may not be observed. When nurses and doctors are assaulted for going to work, and strikers threatening those who regard their duty to sick patients as a higher priority than industrial action, then you have a society that is itself sick. This September issue is a shocking read. Not just because of the strikes, which are bad enough, but because other news – the way in which President Zuma’s kinfolk are being enriched. His nephew who has achieved little on his own account is being groomed to be another African Big Man. The ‘soft’ way for foreign businesses to succeed in South Africa is to appoint him as a director, or better a partner.

Long-term friends of democracy wonder if South Africa will avoid the fate of neighbouring Zimbabwe, once in all respects a leading light in Africa, now a ruin bogged down in tribalism and the ‘African Big Man’ syndrome. The African population there, as in South Africa now, had high expectations of lifestyles under democracy which the economy cannot meet. Thus it was in Zim where the government started to break up farms of citizens of European origins, and redistribute capital in the form of land, leading to the ruination of the agri-industry and the nation’s economy.

The jury for SA is out in the longer term. Success in democratic terms will depend on the continuing independence of robust courts of justice and a free media independent of party affiliation. There is afoot a move to restrict press freedom which in any modern western nation would be thrown out with the sewage and the voices of liberty in South Africa are recognising that. A concern now is that a new newspaper is about to emerge, as we report. ‘New Age’ owned by the Gupta group already very close to the ANC, is seeking to get even closer (Singaporean style) and commercially to get the pick of government advertising in return for ‘sympathetic reporting’.

There are problems of corruption and others, but that is par for the course in Africa, as in so much of the world. The key test is what is done when the malefactors are proven guilty. In the case of the Chief of Police see our August Report, it was impressive! Due process was followed and a hefty sentence handed down. In the case of the ‘African Big Man’ of a president who when charged with big time corruption, was shielded from the courts, they failed the test. The results can be seen in the continuing preferment of his family members and indeed senior members of the ANC.

Politically the country is still at the stage where the long term independence-winning movement, the ANC which in its independence fight had broad support, is now the dominant day-to-day political party in charge of government. The ANC will not disclose how it funds itself and is widely suspected of receiving kick-backs for deals done at government level. It is and chooses to be indistinguishable from government whilst legally it is just another political party. It has a powerful influence exercised by the Trades Unions movement (COSATU) who whilst courageous in past times of repression, are now ‘out of control’ in the sense of irresponsibility.

The political force which is the ANC achieved marvels but now is past its sell-by date. South Africa does not need greedy colossi like this. It has become counter-productive, but instead what are needed are regular political parties of left, right and centre, which can bid for support on competitive personalities and political programmes.

Iraq: Is the war all over then?
We hear that the last combat brigade has left Iraq so that means then that ‘the US Troops have left’? Except that is, the 50,000 left to do residual tasks and of course several thousand others who, it seems are not yet ready to leave - so in fact they haven’t left at all. Newnations has been consistent in that we didn’t believe that once in country, the US military presence would ever be totally withdrawn. Politically, the US is still at ‘daggers drawn’ with next door IRAN which shares a frontier with IRAQ. Then there is the oil. IRAQ is sitting on what may be the largest reserves of oil in the world, adjacent to the giant Saudi fields currently supposed to hold that distinction. In all the unconvincing statements and speeches of former President George W Bush and even more of Vice President Cheney explaining their military presence in Iraq, the only one that did ring true was the perceived US need for middle-east oil, specifically to be able to control the oilfields of Iraq. There can be little doubt, since Ariel Sharon was effectively steering US middle-east policy in the early Bush years, that the Israeli interest was right in there as well, when the decision came to invade.

Having taken 4415 military fatalities there, the US do now after nearly eight years certainly have a continuing interest in IRAQ. Leaving a declared 50,000 troops behind we are told, is to train up the Iraqi army and police, but unless training is a one on one affair, the inferred suggestion that five divisions of troops are needed for training doesn’t seem remotely plausible. The senior Iraqi general apparently thinks it will take another ten years (until 2020) before the national army will be ready to stand alone, which is certainly thought provoking - particularly who then does he see them confronting?

One Iraqi leader who has been absolutely consistent throughout the whole period since the US/British invasion, insisting from the very beginning that US and foreign troops (all of them) must leave, is the fiery Moqtar al Sadr who controls a large well-armed militia, has logistical support from across the Iranian border and deploys a respectable number of MPs in Baghdad. Unpleasant though many will find him, his pedigree in surviving (only just) under Saddam, and his uncompromising objections to foreign armies occupying his country, have been a distinctive feature of his patriotism. He has survived with his power base in the Shia “street” and we think it likely that one day he will emerge at the very top of the national tree.

Our report this issue describes the labyrinthine manoeuvrings between the power groups in IRAQ. Five months since the elections and still no government! Apart from the different factions of Shi’ites, some more beholden to Iran than others, there are the Sunni to consider- a minority to be sure but by no means an inconsiderable force. Always hovering around them are al Qaeda - their mission to provoke a civil war between the Sunni and the hated, (by them) Shia, whom Osama bin Laden once described in Iraqi terms as “worse than the American invaders”. That kind of Sunni -Shia hatred is the mid-east version of the religious wars between Catholic and Protestant that Europe suffered about four centuries ago. Happily there are secular politicians in Iraq as well and grouped together with Sunni politicians under a former prime minister, a ‘secular Shi’ite’ al Alawi, they came out of the elections as the largest single voting bloc. Al Maliki the outvoted prime minister refused to go and efforts continue by him and others to put together a voting bloc with a majority. There are Kurds also to be persuaded and foreign governments seeking to influence the outcome, specifically the USA, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are prominent. It may be recalled that the government of Saddam Hussein was secular, so there is some irony that the main religious sects are apparently unable to agree on a government.

Syria: Caught between ‘two Lebanons’
In the light of US troops withdrawal, albeit partial, the SYRIA report we offer this month presents a new perspective. SYRIA now is the only remaining secular Arab state in this neighbourhood. IRAQ increasingly looks more like Lebanon than the centrally controlled state it once was, dominated now by sectarian politics. It is the playground of contending religio-political groups whose mutual hatred transcends normal political rivalries. Just as SAUDI ARABIA and IRAN seek to have the dominant interest in Baghdad, let alone the USA, so does SYRIA, which sees itself becoming more embroiled in IRAQI affairs, remembering that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to their country as refugees- so much so that the nation has had to issue new laws to safeguard its secular nature! It has urged two prominent Iraqis, the secular Allawi to meet with Moqtada al Sadr, leader of the Sadrist Shi’ite bloc, indeed they met in Damascus at the end of July, to see if they could form a coalition. SYRIA is pushing for a strong non-sectarian government –hence support for Allawi, which is different to the wishes of IRAN that seeks a weak IRAQ embroiled in sectarianism. But we have long believed that SYRIA was not a cypher for IRAN and would follow its own interests, even if they differed from those of Tehran. IRAQ, once the source of the greatest strains between Washington and Damascus could be an avenue through which the US and SYRIA will develop closer ties.

Saudi Arabia might itself ‘go nuclear’
Along with UAE states, Saudi is contemplating investment in a nuclear program of its own. This clearly would be intended as a balance against its neighbour across the Gulf, being about generating civil nuclear power, yet if IRAN turned out to be pushing further for a military capability, then so might SAUDI follow suit. The Kingdom anyway intends to acquire USD 60 billion worth of weapons, notably 80 F-15 fighter aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters and related weaponry, which will create much joy amongst the US armaments industries. In this issue we also look at the Blackberry issue in Saudi and other Gulf countries. As usual, we include relevant news from Yemen where two al Qaeda attacks took place in late July.

Dr David Kelly, his death and the consequences
Dr Kelly it may be remembered was a UK government expert who contradicted the government of Tony Blair on their (false) assertion that Iraq had nuclear weapons. He was found in woodland near to his home with knife wounds which it was suggested were self-inflicted, a judgement that very many around the world found unconvincing, not least because he had forecast exactly that outcome. There are numerous problems in the official account that cry out for clarification. There is now increasing pressure on all sides for an inquest, where witnesses are questioned in front of a Coroner, and in certain circumstances a jury determines the cause of death. The necessity for a jury includes situations where the death needed to have been reported to a government department, clearly relevant (on several different levels) to this case.

To say that his death in 2003 was not satisfactorily explained is an understatement! It invites the rejoinder that a UK government inquiry conducted by Lord Hutton dealt with the matter and pronounced it as suicide. The fact is that there is widespread disbelief –it just won’t do, when it is the government itself or its agencies, or those of its US allies that are the prime suspects, to shelve the normal Coroners inquest. The problem was and remains that few people were convinced by the findings of that enquiry, partly because whilst inquiries ordered by governments are political measures, the procedure of inquests are an instrument of statutory law not under the control of politicians.

At the time, political expediency was widely regarded as having kept it out of a coroner’s court, which of course gave wings to rumours that this inconvenient civil servant had been murdered by, or with the involvement of agents of the British secret service. We have long since passed the time when such an idea could be dismissed as ludicrous. We want to believe that this is not the explanation but only due process will satisfy that need to know.

It was certainly widely assumed in the USA that this inconvenient Britisher had been disposed of, given the top level decision in both countries to invade IRAQ and although comment was muted in the UK, nevertheless the Hutton enquiry was regarded by few as being the end of the matter. Now there is growing pressure, both from legal experts, elected politicians and the media addressing the new coalition government, for an inquest to be empanelled to bring the matter to a conclusion.

The interests of democracy and justice coincide to resolve this death in a credible manner.

Russia reshuffles its second tier leaders
Our September issue of RUSSIA looks at leadership changes when the Kremlin’s principal lieutenants running their 89 republics and assorted territories, need to be replaced. Not a matter for the people of course but for the administration, working through their tame political party, United Russia. The change that has not yet happened but is now anticipated, is the Mayoralty of Moscow.

The incumbent Yuri Luzhkov is anticipated to be about to ‘move on’ having done a brilliant job for Muscovites turning Moscow into a world-class city, as well as for himself – it is speculated that he is worth $32bn. His property interests go far beyond his pole position in Moscow. In his achieving that status, ‘old Russia hands’ used to relish the Luzhkov stories – what he got up to, the ‘strokes’ he pulled etc. The story of post-Soviet Russia in its early stages, will have to include the as yet unwritten, but highly entertaining Luzhkov chapters.

Such was his power and influence that after Yeltsin’s demise he toyed with having a tilt at the top job, but wisely recognising that Putin was the KGB’s candidate for the job, he settled and was allowed to settle for the not inconsiderable prize of the city of Moscow. His name turns up occasionally in the ownership of one or another corporation, but it is in real estate that the Luzkhov fortunes are founded. He is held to be one of the principal property owners of the former Serbian Adriatic port, now the tiny independent nation state of Montenegro, joining other Russian investors in what very quickly became approximately a Russian enclave, in a location given the status of a nation state, that will probably cause the EU, in particular, a degree of embarrassment in future.

Iran unsettled
There is much that is unsettled in present day IRAN. Our September report looks at the political opposition to Ahmadinejad, currently coming from the right, a group of establishment figures lobbying Supreme Leader Khamenei to curb the President whom they regard as adventurist and divisive. Internationally it is being asked if the Islamic republic will be the form of government of the future and that question did not arise until comparatively recently. Politically it can be said that things have not yet settled down after the upheavals of the presidential election.

Teheran is of course a city under economic siege but business goes on. We observe that a new outlet for Iranian gas may be coming with a proposed pipeline crossing IRAQ to reach SYRIA and the Mediterranean which could then be ongoing to Europe. This is a change of strategy where formerly gas exports were planned to mainly be in the form of LNG, but that requires technology and co-operation from foreign countries, which is not Ahmadinejad’s strong suit right now. We report that IRAN’s oil exports have been cut back – China is definitely buying less - 9 million barrels in June as opposed to 22 million barrels in June of last year. The PRC has been compensating by taking extra supply from Saudi and Iraq, although it is not known if this because of better pricing, always a strong possibility.

Unhappy Afghanistan
It is fair to observe that the political situation is dire, as our September report makes very clear. The military situation is deeply problematic with large numbers of mainly US, but British and other troops as well, fighting an elusive enemy to persuade them to seek peace as a better alternative. But the state of peace has become more important than the solution, which with a civilian government as corrupt and generally useless as can be imagined, is what is on offer to capitulating rebels. For the west military defeat was not a likelihood, but victory – a general surrender of the opposing force, is not feasible.

There is more and more informed comment on engaging with the Taliban off the battlefield with the objective of finding a political solution, which we applaud. But comment usually assumes that government acceptable to the Taleban, would follow. That would mean a government where their political clout in the country would see them back in charge. What nobody seems to address is that before the US became involved, there was already a civil war raging and the US took the side of the Northern Alliance. That alliance amongst others comprised Hazara (shi’ites) from the Iranian end of the country; Uzbeks from the northwest, largely secular/sunni, backed by the FSU republic of Uzbekistan; the sunni Tajiks (who provide the bulk of the officer corps in the Afghan army) from the North east, backed by the FSU republic of Tajikistan.

The Northern Alliance won the civil war and then were encouraged to disband by the US who put in power a western-orientated Pashtun, President Karzai, with a bevy of Pashtuns surrounding him. The problem for the several minorities in a Taleban dominated nation would be tribal as well as religious, since the Taleban are largely Pashtuns from the south of the country. There has been little proposed as to how any balance can be maintained without a new civil war.

As to why a political solution should be found, for the US and allies, the objectives of this war were first to apprehend or destroy the Al Qaeda high command, who it appears have not been in this country since the days of Bora Bora. Additionally it was to clamp down on the opiates trade in this the world’s largest narco-state. Finally, to introduce a working democracy to this unpromising central Asian collection of mutually antipathetic tribes. Mission NOT accomplished!

Neighbouring tribal PAKISTAN appears to have more in common with these hillmen, in fact outside of the cities and plains, they are virtually indistinguishable in terms at least of the great Pashtun collection of tribes (with some 37 million people), to whom national boundaries imposed by western geographers, along with western culture and irreligious behaviour, are not worthy of consideration. That is, excepting the advantages of such frontiers in terms of smuggling, escaping pursuit, etc. So Pakistan has possibly in equal parts, been a part of the problem as much as a part of the solution. Since the stable Pakistan of General Musharraf, it changed its character, completely and for the worse.

The US President and his military commanders have inherited a situation stemming from the doctrine of ‘hot pursuit’ nine years ago in 2001. At the time the Taleban government were shielding the high command of the al Qaeda perpetrators of 9/11. There was a civil war going on and it looked like a good idea at the time, to add the value of US high tech weaponry and specialists to the tribal warriors of the mujahaddin. That enabled the Northern Alliance to gain the edge to push the Taleban out of the capital, and then under US tutelage to form up some species of a perhaps-to-be democratic state.

There was a time to come into this theatre but also a time to get out, once it was clear that the Al Qaeda leadership had gone off to be nurtured by the leaders of Pakistan’s untamed Tribal areas. Future historians may well point out a place and a time when that would have made sense. The Northern Alliance had won their civil war, but President GW Bush despite all his expressed scorn for nation building, opted to try to do just that. A deeply unintelligent president, advised and guided by a scheming vice-president was not intellectually equipped to get the necessary handle to control the situation.

Pakistan: from bad to worse
Nature has been cruel indeed and it is unsurprising that the government was not up to handling a crisis of such proportions. The valley of the Indus that bisects the country along its length rising in the Himalayas emerging through deep valleys, has delivered a horrifying scenario which places about a third of the country underwater. Where is the administration of any country that could cope with such a disaster? [see our leading article Calamity Corps]. On almost every level the floods will scar the immediate and perhaps long term future. Most people here survive in agriculture and it is the farmland that has sustained such a body-blow. The textile industry is a major employer and now will have to import cotton to stay in business, obviously more costly and with what effects on employment and taxation?

The army apparently did well within their limitations in alleviating and rescuing victims. But the army is the one institution that works in this country. A pity that they have their own agenda, which is often at odds with that of the international community. Their relationships with the Taleban, be it the Afghan Taleban or their own variety, including the Taleban ‘look-alike’ of Jalaluddin Haqqani of North Waziristan, have been an open secret (ie no secret at all). It was inevitable that sooner or later the ’Wikileaks’ revelations would have effectively given ‘chapter and verse’ to a story for which the term duplicity is too harsh. It was after all, as we said, an open secret. Our September report looks at all these and more of the problems that beset the nation, and by extension its allies, if that is how the west sees itself.

Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia
Croatia’s slow but steady progress towards European Union membership continues. Slovenia and Croatia agreed on August 14 on ways to settle the problem of Croat depositors in a now-defunct Slovenian bank, removing one of the last bilateral obstacles to Croatia's bid to join the EU. With these obstacles removed, Slovenia, already a member of the EU, has no need to stand in the way of Croatia’s prospective membership. We also learn that Croatia’s EU accession talks with the European Commission have made progress. Zagreb started accession negotiations with the EU in October 2005, and will almost certainly be the second former Yugoslav republic to become a member of the bloc, (Slovenia joined in 2004).

Meanwhile Serbia continues to be traumatised by the loss of Kosovo and is vigorously campaigning against international recognition of Kosovo’s independent status. Russia, China and Spain have refused to do this, each having separatist problems of their own. But many states have recognised Kosovo and the mini-state is expecting more countries to recognise its independence before the UN General Assembly meets on September 14.

Bosnia is facing elections in October. This has inspired a new initiative from Brussels, which fears that voters will favour ultra-nationalist candidates, especially in the Serb areas.

Baroness Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy supremo, has drawn up a plan to take direct control of running Bosnia, with new EU powers to target Serb hardliners accused of challenging the state and blocking political reform. A confidential paper, tabled by Europe's foreign minister, has urged the creation of a powerful European envoy this autumn, based in Sarajevo, to push through a new constitutional order for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bulgaria, Romania
In our update this month we tell that Bulgaria is being transformed from an energy consumer to an energy producer. The opening of new fields in Bulgaria will boost production by 7,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day, according to Melrose Resources, the Edinburgh-based oil and gas group. Melrose, which has operations in Egypt, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, expects to receive a profits boost when the first of two Bulgarian fields begins production in September.

Both Bulgaria and Romania entered the EU in 2007. Their admission permits the entry of migrants into the EU, notably Gypsies, or Romany people. We are reminded that Hitler's Holocaust killed as high a proportion of Europe's Romanies as it did Jews, two million Gypsies. Nonetheless, President Sarkhozy of France has got away with targeting Bulgarian and Romanian Gypsies for eviction. They have been settling in Southern France. They are deeply unpopular with the citizenry and are now to go. Romanian newspapers came out on August 19 with bitter criticism against French President Nicolas Sarkozy over the decision to deport Roma from France back to Bulgaria and Romania. The first dozens of Roma arrived back in Bucharest after the French government followed up on earlier vows to deport people from illegal camps in an alleged bid to stop crime and begging, which latter field Romanian gypsies have elevated to a high art with continuing performances in many of the larger cities of EU nations.

The ‘Stans’ of Central Asia
In troubled KYRGYZSTAN , President Roza Otunbayeva, the first woman ruler in the region, has launched the run-up to the first free election for a parliamentary republic in Central Asia, on 10th October. The Kyrgyz government had delayed the announcement until it could lift the curfew on the troubled southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad. The curfew, which has been in place since up to 2,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced by ethnic violence in June, was ended at the same time. This has prompted Edil Baisalov, a civil rights campaigner who is now leader of the new Aikyol-El party, to claim that for the first time there is to be an open contest when the people are free to choose between right and left. In our update on UZBEKISTAN, we learn that Kyrgyz President Otunbayeva has acknowledged that Kyrgyz security forces abused the rights of minority Uzbeks during the June conflict, including in a police sweep of the village of Nariman. The admission comes following allegations from rights groups and the United Nations that it was the Kyrgyz security forces that targeted Uzbeks after the riots.

On August 2, a Kyrgyz national commission set up by presidential decree began investigating the violence in the south. Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun said that he is performing his own investigation with another commission made up of 13 people from different ethnic groups, including Uzbeks. Akun said he will make the results of his inquiry know by September 30, i.e. before the October parliamentary elections. Finnish MP Kimmo Kiljunen, who is heading up an international investigation at the request of Otunbayeva, visited Moscow and Geneva in a quest for more support for his inquiry, which reportedly would not be completed before the elections.

UZBEKISTAN chaired a meeting of the five former Soviet Central Asian nations with Japan, which opened on July 31. This was the first such meeting of Central Asian foreign ministers with Japan's foreign minister since 2004. The meeting's agenda included discussions on regional security and advancement of various economic programmes. Japan has made considerable investment in the Central Asian countries. According to the European Union, Uzbekistan exported 66.8 million euros' worth of goods to Japan in 2009. In May, Uzbekistan signed a $300 million loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The performance of KAZAKHSTAN as chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe continues to generate mixed reviews. Critics contend that Kazakhstan’s wish to hold the first OSCE summit for 11 years in Kazakhstan itself will, if held, send Astana the wrong message, by acting as a tacit reward for its controversial democratization record. Opponents also assume that Kazakhstani officials will try to exploit the summit to try to burnish Kazakhstan’s global image, as well as President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s personal reputation. Our guess is that it will happen.

TURKMENISTAN is one of the biggest energy giants of all time. Its portion of the Caspian Sea holds an estimated 11 billion tonnes of oil and 5.5 tcm of gas; 32 licensed blocks are now up for tender. The former Soviet state is anxious to shake off its past and diversify its relationships. On August 13 it offered U.S. energy majors their first concessions in the Central Asian state and said it was pursuing a $4.1 billion loan from China to develop one of the world's five largest natural gas fields and ship the gas east. State television named Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, Houston-based TXOil Ltd and Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Oil and Gas as the preferred bidders for two offshore oil blocks in Turkmenistan's part of the Caspian Sea. It also reported that Turkmenistan expected to secure a loan from China to develop the lucrative South Iolotan gas deposit, the second round of financing for a project contracted out to Chinese state oil and gas firm CNPC and other Asian companies.

Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Georgia
The rapprochement between UKRAINE and RUSSIA continues. Our update reports that the Ukrainian President Vyktor Yanukovych held talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on a wide-range of issues on August 1. The meeting took place at Mr. Yanukovych's vacation home in the Crimea peninsula. Russian media reports say the talks focused on trade issues. Mr. Putin's visit to the Crimea coincided with Russia's Navy Day, which is observed on August 2 every year. Sevastopol is home to Ukrainian naval forces and to Russia's Black Sea fleet. The Russian base at Sevastopol was a major issue of contention between Russia and Ukraine after the break up of the Soviet Union. Ukraine's previous government wanted the Russian fleet to leave after its lease expired in 2017. However after Mr. Yanukovych came to power in February, Moscow and Kiev speedily signed an agreement to extend the Russian lease by another 25 years to the year 2042.

ARMENIA also has a special relationship with Russia. The Russian and Armenian governments have finalized a far-reaching agreement that will prolong and upgrade Russia's military presence in amendments to a 1995 treaty. They were signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Armenia in mid-August. The amendments extend Russia’s basing rights by 24 years, to 2044, and upgrade the mission of its troops headquartered in Gyumri. It was reported that the troops will have not only “functions stemming from the interests of the Russian Federation,” but also “protect Armenia's security together with Armenian Army units.” It also commits Russia to supplying its regional ally with “modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware.” Not surprisingly, some Armenian opposition figures and commentators have expressed concern, saying that these agreements could make Armenia even more dependent on Russia.

However, Russia has to balance its relations with Armenia with its interests in Azerbaijan, with whom Armenia is in semi-permanent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (see Turkey, Azerbaijan below). Relations with Azerbaijan are very important for Russia from the strategic viewpoint, as Azerbaijan is a major oil producer and borders Iran, which historically gave Russia leverage in its relations with Tehran.
In the Caucasus, the Russians are in greater difficulty. Our report on GEORGIA asks: will the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 bring a rapprochement between them and RUSSIA? Two years ago war erupted between them. At the time many expressed fears of a new cold war between Moscow and the West. While bonhomie has broken out between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev on a range of issues, their governments still trade accusations over Georgia. Moscow insists that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now fully independent states. South Ossetia, with a population of about 30,000, will never be really independent, their citizens travel on Russian passports and the ruble is the currency, but the bloodshed of 2008 has set back any rapprochement with Georgia by many years. Abkhazia is semi-Moslem, much bigger and has broken decisively with GEORGIA, of which it was never fully a part, except administratively during the period of the USSR. Most Abkhaz welcome the Russian military presence as a guarantor of their security. Our update discusses whether all these conflicts could be solved with the help of Moscow and the West. But for this to happen, it is argued, the global parties will have to wind down their rhetoric and stop looking at these conflicts through a cold war prism.

However, RUSSIA has had more pressing problems nearer to home. August has witnessed forest wildfires across Western Russia, levelling homes and villages and leaving Moscow, the capital, swathed in acrid smog. Moscow health authorities announced that the number of deaths each day in the capital had nearly doubled to 700 as most of central Russia entered the seventh week of a heat wave. The high temperatures, hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), have destroyed 30% of the nation's grain crops and triggered massive peat bog and forest fires that alone have killed an untold number of people and devastated dozens of villages. There is mounting public anger at the authorities’ struggle to slow the spread of wildfires that have scorched thousands of hectares of forest, with innumerable human casualties.

TURKEY, AZERBAIJAN
Our update reports that the PKK Kurdish rebel group declared on August 13 a temporary truce in their campaign against TURKEY's armed forces during the holy month of Ramadan. The PKK announced that it had moved from the position of ‘active’ to ‘passive’ defence. (It will not undertake any action, but it will use its right of self-defence in case of attack). The truce will also coincide with a referendum on September 12, when Turks will vote on a reform of the constitution aimed at democratising Turkish institutions.

The long term territorial problem of ARMENIA occupying the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakhan and other parts of AZERBAIJAN is back on the agenda. As a problem it goes back to the 19th century when a Russian tsar of that time settled a displaced community of ethnic Armenians in the remote mountainous part of Azerbaijan. When the Soviet Union broke up there was a short sharp war between the two Caucasian countries. Armenia with Russian assistance came out on top, but in doing so, not only did they control the disputed territory but in addition occupied a corridor through Azerbaijan and associated territory totalling about 20% of Azerbaijan’s landmass, which not unreasonably Azerbaijan wants back.

AZERBAIJAN’s president Ilham Aliyev, has declared that his country "will continue to make political and diplomatic efforts for its territorial integrity. I believe that we will realize Azerbaijan's territorial integrity". Speaking at a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, in Baku, he added that the two leaders exchanged views on various issues, including Upper Karabakh. “As you know”, he said, “Azeri territory (Nagorno Karabakh) has been under Armenian occupation for long years. Armenians have been pursuing an 'ethnic cleansing policy' in the territory under occupation and have violated international laws”. He thanked Turkey for their support in this matter( Turkey traditionally supports Azerbaijan just as Russia has supported Armenia, going back to the days of squabbling Sultans and Tsars).

Turkish Outrage leaves civilisation appalled
Credit if you will, the shocking story of a group of boats from Israel sailing towards Istanbul with a bunch of voluble peaceniks and a cargo of cement, building materials, wheelchairs and other non-contentious items, all closely observed by the world’s press, when the flotilla was intercepted whilst still in international waters, by a combined helicopter and sea assault carried out by teams of crack Turkish naval commandos.

The Turkish intelligence service which had been closely monitoring the activities of the protesting group had already ascertained that it was a publicity stunt in publicising the blockade imposed on an extra-territorial group located outside Turkey but near its coast; that these seaborne ‘protestors’ (called terrorists by the Turkish government) were unarmed, and that they fully expected to be intercepted with their cargo rigorously inspected for any warlike ‘materiel’ of which there was none. Notwithstanding, the Turkish government had ordered the full military interception which duly took place before the vessels had reached Turkish territorial waters, during the hours of darkness. As a result, nine of the Israeli protestors had been shot to death, many with multiple wounds in killings, which resembled executions. The vessels and the survivors were brought to shore under escort and the cargos searched. The outraged Israeli government protested strongly to that of Turkey and also to the United Nations who as a result planned to set up an investigation, with which Turkey stated that it was unlikely to cooperate. The media of many nations and some governments opined that there was a massive disproportion in this use of force, but broadly speaking no further action was taken, except that the US government confirmed various arms supplies would be delivered to Turkey as previously planned. The Turks refused to give an apology or to pay compensation for the Israeli civilians who had been shot by their commandos.

Sounds familiar, but by simply reversing the roles, wouldn’t US reactions have been different?
 

Clive Lindley
Publisher


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