As of 5 March 2008, this weblog is closed. The views contained in the entries and archives are those of the author and not those of the United Nations, UNV, UNDP or any other associated agencies.
Sorry Brazil, in this analysis the 'big four' are the contender states, Eurasian military-economic powers Russia, India and China plus the rival-cum-ally, the US.
Interesting that coinciding with a Condi trip to Beijing comes a possible US military deal with New Delhi that might undermine Russia's virtual monopoly over its defence equipment. Russia continues to supply China, of course, no big.
If India were to become dependent on the US both for nuclear power, Gulf-related energy security and military hardware, that truly would seal it into Washington's orbit as anti-American social forces in Pakistan begin to spin away and thus towards China instead.
Also interesting to note that China's defence budget took another leap last year, as revealed in the annual Pentagon estimate. Part of the 18% hike is probably down to rising oil and food prices, but there can be no doubt that China is building up its capability while hardly making a major contribution to UN peacekeeping (as does India).
All things being considered, it looks like simple geopolitics to me.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan
Gates' talking points in Delhi related primarily to defense trade. India's procurement of 126 multi-role combat aircraft in a deal estimated at $10 billion - and possibly, as high as $ 16 billion - was number one priority for him and for the American defense contractors accompanying him. The principal bidders include Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet.
The importance of the deal is not only commercial, but that the new generation aircraft will be in use with the Indian Air Force for the next 40-year period and, therefore, clinching the deal becomes absolutely vital for the US if it is to aim at "inter-operability" with India. Gates knows it is the sort of deal that will ensure US-India military-to-military cooperation becomes irreversible and pin India down as the US's strategic ally in the region...
Gates expressed satisfaction over the entry that the US has made in the Indian market, which is traditionally dominated by Russia. He said, "We have tried for some years now to get a seat at the table, and we're finally there." Washington is determined to throw Russia out of the Indian defense market in the coming years. The assertiveness of the US sales pitch is evident from the remark by a US official in Gates's entourage, "When you go into joint production [and] cooperative development [with the US], you're getting not only the best product in the world, but you have the best support system, the best maintenance package over the life of the product. You also have companies that operate with integrity, which is different than what India has seen with other partners in the world. We're very transparent."
Interesting to see US intelligence crawl out of the shadows again, this time making strong comments about Afghanistan. Like the Iran report back in December, this seems to be a sign of a growing political movement within the intelligence community, perhaps a reaction to the misunderstandings of the role of intelligence that led to the failure in Iraq.
Afghanistan mission close to failing - US | World news | The Guardian
After six years of US-led military support and billions of pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and President Hamid Karzai's government controls less than a third of the country, America's top intelligence official has admitted.
Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control...
But the gloomy comments echoed even more strongly worded recent reports by thinktanks, including one headed by the former Nato commander General James Jones, which concluded that "urgent changes" were required now to "prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state".
General Jones's comment requires a little deconstruction: Afghanistan is not going to "become a failed state" - it has pretty much always been one. I would argue that it is not even a state at all, dominated as it is by tribal factions.
McConnell mentions that "Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control." There's your key. Rather than 'Afghanisation', it may be better to recognise that the 60% under tribal control is the key ground. Just as with Pakistan's NWFP, it's impossible to rule over these chaps in a conventional manner - so why try?
The way to bring stability is to support local governance networks and hope that security and development will mean that they in turn don't support the Taliban. Unfortunately that means massive amounts of troops and cash, not the paltry 30,000 troops or so under ISAF and the other 30,000 separately-led and counter-productive US contingent.
Force multipliers such as PNGs and AH-64s help, but do not solve the problem of space. To cover an area as large as Afghanistan you need a lot more than that. Can't find the stats but I'm sure that there was ten times that number in the initial occupation of Germany post-WW2. Boots on the ground.
Here's the thing, right? There are two clear underlying causes to all the major problems on earth. The first is overpopulation. Overpopulation means that there are too many people chasing after too many resources - energy, water, land etc. which inevitably leads to conflict. Enough has been written about that to sink a battleship.
Second, there's subjectivity. What's that? It's a lack of objectivity in our approaches to these problems. It's a natural trait of humanity to form into groups, but every group defines itself by a subjective outlook on the world around it. It's thus these groups that enter into conflicts.
Some examples. No objective discussion of the Middle East is possible due to Israel's emotional outlook: thanks to the Holocaust, any criticism or compromise is decried as 'anti-Semitic'. Likewise, Arab nations and Islamic terrorist groups cannot see past the Palestinian question.
The same is true wherever you look. Such is China's emotional attachment to Taiwan and Tibet that any questioning of the situation is condemned as "interference in our internal affairs". Same goes for Serbia, Russia and Kosovo. The dysfunctional tendencies of the UN and EU are all down to questions of national interest. Even the US defines itself these days with reference to 9/11 and any attempt to rationally tackle the greater issues are met with the same response.
So states and other actors are not rational - they are indeed irrational. International relations theory has it exactly wrong.
The only answer is to find a unifying threat or goal, a way to bring all the conflicting groups together into one. And, ironically, overpopulation provides us with that. We are faced with a significant common problem, that of climate change, for which overpopulation is a major cause. Too many people needing too many products, burning too much fuel and cutting down too many trees... you get the picture.
So work together to solve the population crisis and you have an answer to the irrationality that causes conflict and environmental degradation. It's so simple.
, IR theory
, Middle East
Contrary to my expectations, Pakistan appeared to have behaved very sensibly in this critical election. Despite the violence preceding the ballot, with the eyes of the world upon him, Musharraf neither imposed damaging restrictions on the process of democracy nor attempted to rig the poll.
The people themselves chose as wisely as they could under the circumstances, and the Islamist MMA was routed - illustrating a laudable commitment to secularist politics.
Furthermore, Bhutto's tainted widower, Asif Zardari, will not stand for prime minister which is quite a relief. That does leave us, however, with a major question: is there anyone out there with the strength and popular support to lead the country?
Reinstating Nawaz Sharif would be a major mistake: an Islamist appeaser in the mould of General Zia, he is demonstrably not a safe pair of hands. Musharraf's initial coup in 1999 was something of a deliverance.
But no name springs to mind that could hold together a PPP/PML(N) coalition for long, even if the bombers don't strike first. If the civilian leadership proves weak, and begins to crack under pressure from the US to take more decisive action on the militants, would the army or ISI effect another coup?
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Pakistan parties agree coalition
"We will work together to form the government in the centre and in the provinces," Mr Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), said at a joint news conference with Mr Zardari.
He said the two parties had agreed that the country's chief justice, sacked by President Musharraf in November, should be immediately reinstated.
Mr Zardari said there was "a lot of ground to cover" between the two parties, but "in principle, we have agreed to stay together".
Doubts remain about who will emerge as a possible prime minister.
Can Musharaff, the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's PML(N) forge a workable coalition? If not, which will be the first to go?
Musharraf's party admits defeat | World news | guardian.co.uk
As president, Musharraf, a former army chief, did not contest the elections, aimed at completing a transition to civilian rule, but the outcome could hasten his political demise.
"It's the moment of truth for the president," Abbas Nasir, the editor of the Dawn newspaper told Reuters. "There will be thoughts swirling in his mind, whether he can forge a working relationship with two parties whose leadership he kept out of the country."
And something else to consider:
The results could hold important implications for the US-led "war on terror", especially Pakistani military operations against al-Qaida and Taliban-style militants in the border areas with Afghanistan.
Sharif and others have called for dialogue with the extremists and have criticised military operations in the area because of heavy civilian casualties.
What would that mean for Afghanistan and US policy in the region? Can the US accept the result?
Shock and awe! Call out the National Guard and move to DefCon 3!
Come on, what did they expect? Everyone knows that the biggest show on earth is also its biggest political platform. Think of the Mexico 1968 Black Power salute, the 1972 Munich atrocity, the 1976 apartheid boycotts at Montreal, the Cold War tit-for-tat spat in the 1980s and the 1996 Atlanta bombings - not to mention Hitler's notorious Berlin 1936. Am I saying anything new?
It should be of no surprise to the Chinese, therefore, that there is going to be a political element. Indeed, they are the ones who are politicizing Beijing 2008 the most.
By presenting it as the showcase event of the 'peaceful rise' of China and the return of the Chinese civilisation to the centre of world affairs, they themselves are couching it in the language of politics. By building several hugely expensive architectural masterpieces, they are deliberately sending a message about their renewed capabilities. And if China wins the biggest haul of gold medals, it will see it not merely as a sporting triumph but as a reification of national superiority.
So of course the games are political: the very last to see it as a mere athletic event are the Chinese themselves. Why pretend the two are separated?
Protests over Beijing games 'will grow' | World news | The Guardian
Qiao Mu, the director of international communication studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the government could no longer ignore foreign opinion.
"China needs big events like the Olympics to prove itself as a powerful nation," he said. "In Mao's days, the government did not need to care about the foreign media because they were easily able to ban information easily and live in the fantasy they created for themselves. But now that we live in an age of globalised information, the government must pay more attention to outside opinion."
Steven Spielberg's decision to withdraw from involvement in Beijing 2008 is laudable (I suspect premeditated from the moment he first signed up), yet misguided. Of all the things he could have chosen to remark upon, choosing Darfur merely gives Beijing ammunition against him as quoted below.
If anything, it is counterproductive. Those who called for Spielberg's 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha to be banned in China are probably rubbing their hands with glee.
By now the Chinese media corps will busily be drafting editorials brimming with righteous indignation. How dare he meddle in our internal affairs! Had Spielberg commented on human rights, democracy, censorship, political prisoners, corruption, pollution, trade practices, Xinjiang or Tibet, on the other hand, the presses would be silent.
China calls Spielberg's resignation from Olympic role 'unfair' | World news | guardian.co.uk
Hollywood stars have been at the forefront of an international campaign linking China to violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, saying that money and weapons from Beijing have helped fuel a conflict which has claimed 200,000 lives and forced 2.5 million people from their homes.
But the Chinese embassy in Washington said attempts to connect Darfur with the Beijing games goes against the Olympic spirit. "As the Darfur issue is neither an internal issue of China, nor is it caused by China, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair for certain organisations and individuals to link the two as one," it said in a statement.
Suppose that would make it the IPC. Need to source this article, but it's potentially significant. All of course rests on the outcome of Pakistan's election on 18 February.
It comes against the backdrop of an Indian admiral's concerns about Gwadar and its "serious strategic implications for India".
China ready to join gas pipeline project if India stays away - International Business-News-The Economic Times
ISLAMABAD: China is ready to join Pakistan and Iran to build a pipeline to transport Iranian gas if India does not participate in the project, the media reported on Monday.
Pakistan plans to import 2.2 billion cubic feet of gas a day from Iran through the pipeline and has said it is willing to consume an additional 1.05 billion cubic feet of gas if India does not join the project.
China has told Pakistan that it is interested in importing the additional gas if India does not join the project, sources. The sources also said Iran has no objection to exporting gas to China.
Pakistan and Iran have finalised a gas purchase agreement. However, Pakistan and India have been unable to narrow their differences over the transit fee to be charged by Islamabad for the Iranian gas.
Reports from India have suggested that it will hold discussions with Pakistan on the pipeline once a new government is formed in the country after the February 18 general election.
In case China joins the project, the pipeline might pass through Gilgit in Pakistan's Northern Area, the sources said. Pakistan has already approved a project in the same area to widen the Karakoram Highway that links it to China.
Pakistan also plans to extend a railway track to China to connect the neighbouring country to the Gwadar port on the Balochistan coast. Chinese experts will visit Pakistan to finalise the route of the pipeline if Beijing joins the project, the sources said.
Iran and Pakistan might sign the gas purchase agreement on February 24, the sources said.
, natural gas
It's looking increasingly like we have just one week to go before the big events of 2008 really begin. Many of the papers are giving 17 February as the date for Kosovo to declare independence, and it already appears that there's a behind-the-scenes plan.
Under the current Cold War climate, that's really not a good idea. Deliberately orchestrating recognition of Kosovo before the UNSC can meet - and Russia veto - is going to be seen as a big provocation in Moscow. That's not good. We've already got guys getting poisoned with polonium, energy cut-offs and Tupolevs making incursions into sovereign airspace... all getting a bit Tom Clancy for my liking.
What's worse, possibly Beijing will object too. Kosovo's recognition by the US and EU nations may set a precedent for Taiwan, which is set to hold its own referendum on a UN bid in March. If Kosovo can secede and be recognised, Taipei will say, then why can't we? Thus the schism in the UNSC will widen further, undoing much of the good work that's been done in recent years.
Though the prospects of Serbian and Russian tanks rolling in are remote, what may occur could be a re-run of Israel's declaration of independence back in 1948. Just as the Palestinians took up arms and ended up a displaced people, so too could the 200,000-odd Kosovar Serbians. Just as the Arab countries failed to recognise Israel, so too may a number of black sheep within the 'international system'.
An insidious problem that could last for decades may be in the offing. And who's going to manage it? The EU - which can't even come up with a unanimous position on Kosovan independence, let alone deploy a peacekeeping force that can cope when things go bad. Yes, they've been handling Bosnia, but this may heat up.
The biggest contradiction in the UN charter is its respect for both self-determination and sovereignty. If things kick off this month, then there's going to be some grave implications. Better that the situation was managed differently - it's still not too late for compromise.
Serbs warn of Kosovo clash | World news | The Observer
Critics of the plan to declare independence, which follows the failure of Serbia and the Kosovo-Albania leaders to negotiate terms for separation, have already warned of the risk that Kosovo's Serbian population, concentrated in northern Mitrovica, would respond by declaring their own independence, setting the stage for violent confrontation.
The renewed Serbian warning comes as Kosovo's leaders struggled to calm rising 'independence fever', fearful that wild celebrations from the ethnic Albanian majority could spark violent clashes with scared and furious Serbs.
Kosovo is expected to proclaim itself the world's newest state next Sunday or Monday, allowing European Union foreign ministers meeting on Monday to give the green light to a 2,000-strong mission to oversee the running of the ethnically divided region.
While Washington and most EU members will quickly welcome independent Kosovo into the world, Tadic's grim predictions of spiralling instability in the Balkans, still scarred by a bloody decade that ended with Nato bombing Serb troops out of Kosovo in 1999, will gain credence if the region's long-awaited independence celebrations give way to ethnic violence.
Kosovo's parliament is expected to meet next weekend and Hashim Thaci, the former separatist rebel who is now Kosovo's Prime Minister, or President Fatmir Sejdiu is likely to announce independence on Sunday or Monday morning, preventing Russia from immediately responding through the Security Council, six hours behind in New York.
By the time Russia can muster an emergency meeting of the council, the US and major EU nations will have drawn its diplomatic sting by recognising the sovereignty of Kosovo's two million citizens. 'We have the confirmation from some 100 states which say they are ready to recognise Kosovo's independence immediately after we declare it,' Thaci insisted last week after Serbia said that it expected a declaration on 17 February.
With the Beijing Olympics very much round the corner, there's been a real slew of articles recently, reflecting a renewed and critical interest into what's really going on in China.
While the article quoted below really adds little new to the debate (see, for example, my own take on this from some years back) it does provide an insight into the situation: useful for the majority of people who don't yet understand what the conditions are in China.
Also pleasing to see a couple of intelligent opinion-makers such as Jeremy Goldkorn and Isaac Mao (both of whom I knew vaguely during my Living in China days) given a voice.
Behind the Great Firewall | Technology | The Guardian
Hong Bo, who blogs under the name Keso, says the opportunity to speak out online is cherished by a growing band of bloggers and BBS users.
"The Chinese internet has a distinctive character. Its one of the most strictly controlled in the world, but netizens' behaviour still confounds the government's expectations. They ban websites and delete posts, but they haven't got everything under control."
Isaac Mao, a pioneer blogger and researcher, says the number of users is less important than the quality of their online experience, where he says there is a big gap with the United States.
His organisation encourages netizens to connect their real and their virtual lives through blogs and discussions of social issues, including censorship.
"Rulers believe they can build a better system and get others to follow. But even though they want to change the internet, it is part of a globalised world and nobody can afford to build an isolated system.
"I believe the internet will change China more than China changes the internet."