Intelligence service September 10, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.
Some may have mentioned this already, but what of this here? In a report on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, one which suggests that Assad was not personally involved (something that, and I’m no fan of the man, would seem entirely likely given he would be aware of the counterproductive nature of any such use of those weapons in this conflict) it states:
The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said.
What precisely is a German intelligence ship doing off the coast of Syria in the first place? It’s a fascinating question in the sense that it reveals just how far flung intelligence operations appear to be. And it raises further questions. Are there German, French, Brazilian, or whoever, intelligence ships off the coast, of say, the PRC? Vast fleets of vessels listening in on other states, and non-state actors, communications. A sort of covert panopticon.
By the way, it’s worth noting that if the BND picked up a communication like this then most likely others would have done so too (and interesting too the way this crisis is unfolding, not least the Russian response in the last twenty-four hours. It will be telling if the Syrians bow to pressure from Moscow, or rather if they feel they have no choice but to).
Characteristically gracious in victory… September 7, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, International Politics.
The News Corp chief took to Twitter shortly after Abbott delivered his victory speech in Sydney. Murdoch tweeted: “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Others nations to follow in time.”
Lovely – clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of his media outlets. Let’s hope he’s wrong.
Just on that election, what a mess. But an interesting mess in a way, because broadly speaking the economic conditions were good to great for the government (albeit softening very slightly in recent months) and the opposition was notably coy about what it intended to do once in power. In fact it seems to have been the chaos in the Labor Party leadership which ultimately sunk their chances.
How that would map onto the Irish situation is another question entirely.
Back in the DPRK, again. This time they mean business! September 4, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, US Politics.
Here from NPR’s Planet Money economics podcast one about:
U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters.
…we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.
You can also see the letters in the original at the web address above.
The podcast mentions, North Korea Economy Watch, an economy blog on that very topic, and has a fascinating interview with the guy behind it. He argues that far from the DPRK being unaware of the ‘kitsch’ or ‘novelty’ aspect of products being produced there, is very very aware and modifies its message according to the recipients.
After yesterday’s vote. August 30, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, European Politics, International Politics.
The result of the vote in the House of Commons on Syria, 285 votes against involvement in military action as against 272 for, are positive for a number of reasons. Here’s a few of them.
Firstly, because all the supposed ‘actions’ by the US or the UK are so entirely cosmetic, driven largely by domestic US political concerns. They – and this is known by everyone involved, whether pro or contra them, will make absolutely no difference on the ground. Their intention is not to damage the capacity of the Syrian state to prosecute its side of what is clearly a civil war. They assist those on the opposing side in no functional way.
All they are there to do is to reassert US ‘authority’ and in the most pointless way possible.
Secondly, because Cameron’s defeat and subsequent retreat points up the first. By being prevented from participating, and by a democratic vote, it pushed back against those who would underwrite the cosmetic action outlined above. Indeed there’s been something of a retreat even in Washington – not that that will stop some actions eventually. But it may yet underscore the futility of such approaches in this instance.
None of those arguing that Obama should be ‘tougher’ intend for US troops to land on Syrian soil. And that is what it would take – putting aside the likely catastrophic consequences of same for one moment – to seriously alter the nature of the conflict there. If that’s not going to happen, and the US isn’t going to push the regime over, then all is is effectively rhetoric.
Notably it was a defeat to Cameron delivered in part by his own, Conservatives were conspicuous in their antipathy to the prospect of intervention. This is a strand that has long been extant in Conservatism. Douglas Hurd exemplified it best during the 1990s, but I wonder is it now much more dominant as the right libertarian element becomes an increasingly significant part of the mix in that party?
Thirdly, it underscores just how partisan and self-serving Cameron and his circle were in their attacks on the vastly more cautious Ed Miliband. Whatever about Miliband’s own position, and there was no small political calculation in that, the nature of those attacks was both absurd and abysmal – and perhaps hinted in their extremity at the fact Cameron was going down to defeat. Indeed the more that comes out the more absurd the Cameron position – not least the charge that Miliband was ‘siding with the Russians’. One has to admire Jim Fitzpatrick who resigned as a shadow minister because he couldn’t accept Miliband’s proposals. Good for him, even if perhaps it was a little premature given the immanence of the government defeat.
Michael Gove et al made a right show of themselves, and crucially demonstrated their inability to accept democratic decision making. Indeed Gove’s partner Sarah Vine in attacks on twitter on those who voted against the government merely underlined how hollow the exercise was.
I am SO angry about today’s vote. No military action would have come out of it. It was simply about sending a signal. Cowardice.
What’s interesting is that Vine doesn’t appreciate the contradiction in her own words. If Vine knows that, and Cameron knows that then presumably Assad knows that too and can and will act accordingly. And what is the particular signal, and what would Assad have done on foot of receiving it? He’s unlikely to step back from attempting to consolidate his regime on foot of a ‘signal’, and all other options appear so much moonshine short of a more decisive military advantage to his opponents. And so the dance goes one.
As to the central issue of the Syrian civil war, given that no one actually wants to do anything very much about it one way or – and given that militarily there’s not very much that can be done about, short of the sort of massive intervention that characterised Iraq, it will continue much as it has done. But without in any sense wanting to appear to champion that regime, it is of a different character to Saddam and more importantly appears much less unpopular and – arguably, more stable (ironically the Syrian regime always appeared much more ramshackle than Iraq under Saddam – not so much in material terms, but in political terms, but it has proven remarkably resilient). And yet Iraq demonstrates that even in a context of a broadly loathed regime nationalist sentiment will emerge rapidly against those who intervene. What then of a serious effort to push Assad over?
But again, that’s not on the table.
So if the Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the disastrous and potentially catastrophic limits of hard power in relation to interventions, Syria appears to point up to the limits of soft to medium power. While having clear implications for the future exercise of British power, and in fairness other European states have been generally extremely leery of involvement, that – one would hope – will have implications further afield.
That Cold War Space Race? Some think it’s back on! August 9, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, International Politics, Science.
Interesting piece here in Foreign Policy magazine about how China is moving steadily towards a point where it will be ahead of the US in terms of space activity. In a sense the PRC is already ahead given that they have an usable system to launch humans into space whereas at the present moment the US is dependent upon the Russians and will be until such time as a successor to the Shuttle emerges.
In a way the major problem for the US is that it is trying to return to 1960s and 1970 approaches whereas Chine is moving through those approaches without the diversion of a space shuttle or all that that entailed.
In an accompanying article John Hickman makes two salient points. Firstly that:
The Chinese have not only matched many of the achievements of the US and Russians in space – and in far less time than it took their predecessors to reach the same milestones – they did so while avoiding their biggest mistakes.
The Chinese space program enjoys some important advantages over its U.S. rival. As the recent surge in missions attest, the Chines space program likely enjoys generous and stable government funding.
The first point can be expanded upon, in fairness – and this in no way detracts from Chinese achievement in the area – the PRC is using Soviet technology as its basis, but the great advantage of that is that that technology is tried and tested. In ten years they’ve moved from getting humans into orbit to having small scale but functional space stations, something that took almost two decades for the US and Soviets.
And he makes a further interesting point that:
…the programme has the support of a unified Chinese leadership; President Xi Jinping won’t be shutting down the Shenzhou missions to diminish the legacy of his predecessors, as President Richard Nixon did by ending manned lunar exploration.
One aspect of this is the rather cosmetic privatisation of US spaceflight, where launch capacity is being farmed out to the private sector – the federal state still having to pay, naturally (and to see how cosmetic this is consider the involvement of the aerospace industry in the past). The inability of the private sector to step up rapidly is, one might hope, educative. That and a lack of political will to fund it has hobbled the US return to human spaceflight.
But that political will is central. Obviously the PRC sees long term strategic interest in pursuing these programmes, and it’s not the only one. India has a small but efficient programme in train. What will be telling is whether these developments concentrate minds in Washington. It is hard to see how they could not, but there’s a strange mood abroad these days. We live in a time when anti-statism in its rightward form is dominant. Could it really be that that sentiment might come into direct conflict with US strategic interests?
Friends Forever …… Almost…. August 2, 2013Posted by irishelectionliterature in International Politics.
1969 poster “…Long live the eternal and unbreakable friendship in battle between the peoples of China and Albania!.
Long live the friendship between the parties of China and Albania and the revolutionary struggle of the peoples of the two countries”
Some French Posters against The World Cup in Argentina 1978 April 15, 2013Posted by irishelectionliterature in Human Rights, International Politics.
Some French Posters against The World Cup in Argentina 1978. The first one translates ‘roughly’ as “…..when you applaud the French team , cheers cover the sounds of people being tortured…”
I was 8 going on 9 at the time and wasn’t that aware of the Human Rights issues in Argentina back then. Looking now at the squads of the various teams its striking to see how few players played their trade abroad compared to nowadays.
Strangely I loved that Argentina team that won it, especially Mario Kempes (my sons middle name is ‘Kempes’).
Anyway powerful posters
Back in the DPRK… April 8, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro warned ally North Korea against war yesterday and described the current tensions on the Korean peninsula as one of the “gravest risks” for nuclear holocaust since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Saying he spoke as a friend, Mr Castro (86) wrote in Cuban state media that North Korea, led by Kim Jong-un (30), had shown the world its technical prowess and now it was time to remember its duties to others.
Good for him.
For some measure of the sheer strangeness of the DPRK it’s worth turning to an interesting piece in Prospect on the relationship between China and the DPRK (which perhaps is a bit less close after this). Granted this is Prospect, and that entails all necessary caveats, but the piece itself comes down sharply on the side of that relationship being in essence a marriage of convenience with the PRC utilising the DPRK as a strategic pivot in terms of the regional balance of power, and indeed that makes some sense – albeit it’s a bit of a cynical calculus.
But some eye-raising stuff in amongst the information – and remember, the DPRK by its actions as deeply strange (not least in for a period kidnapping Japanese nationals from that latter nation’s beaches – and admitting to same).
What’s fascinating is how openly this is discussed by those from China interviewed in the Prospect piece. There’s no punches pulled, as the following example demonstrates.
North Korean officials routinely tear up investment contracts and walk away with Chinese money. Their soldiers regularly shoot Chinese traders across the Yalu River and treat Chinese fisherman to a style of hospitality that China sometimes shows to the Vietnamese.
“They abused the Chinese crew, smashed the boat and desecrated the Chinese national flag,” says a leading Korea expert, Zhang Liangui, referring to the “kidnapping” of 28 Chinese fishermen on 8th May last year. “North Korea has always been an untrustworthy nation, China has given it so much aid, it really is a weird state,” says Zhang, who is a professor of international strategic research at the Communist Party School, from which Xi recently retired as president.
If that is how their nominal friends view them…
Mandela and the SACP December 19, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, The Left.
Many thanks to Garibaldy for pointing to the following from the Telegraph, a report on supposed proof that Nelson Mandela joined the South African Communist Party at some point. It’s all a bit vague and the framing of the story is particularly notable with the headline which very cautiously is structured as follows ‘Nelson Mandela ‘proven’ to be a member of the Communist Party after decades of denial’.
…research by a British historian, Professor Stephen Ellis, has unearthed fresh evidence that during his early years as an activist, Mr Mandela did hold senior rank in the South African Communist Party, or SACP. He says Mr Mandela joined the SACP to enlist the help of the Communist superpowers for the ANC’s campaign of armed resistance to white rule.
The evidence consists of minutes from SACP meetings where Mandela appears to be a member. To be honest I wonder is this much of a surprise to anyone if accurate. The toleration, and more, of the apartheid regime by the West in the post-war period – and the history of sanctions and the resistance to same by the US and UK is telling – deeply constraining the terrain on which the ANC could operate and that the SACP played a far from ignoble role in the resistance to apartheid.
The very, some would say remarkably, close working and political relationship between the SCAP and the ANC which continues to this day (and is – by the way – not beyond criticism in many regards) would naturally generate a context within which it might make sense for Mandela to join, if only in name. And as he famously said “There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?”.
And there’s links both to Ireland and the Eastern bloc.
His book also provides fresh detail on how the ANC’s military wing had bomb-making lessons from the IRA, and intelligence training from the East German Stasi, which it used to carry out brutal interrogations of suspected “spies” at secret prison camps.
And there’s more on the IRA connection.
In his book, Professor Ellis, who also authored a publication on the Liberian civil war, elaborates on other murky aspects of the ANC’s past. One is that bomb-making experts from the IRA trained the ANC at a secret base in Angola in the late 1970s, a link disclosed last year in the posthumous memoirs of Kader Asmal, a South African politician of Indian extraction who was exiled in Ireland. He was a member of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, which, Prof Mr Ellis says, in turn had close links to the British and South African Communist parties.
The IRA tutoring, which was allegedly brokered partly through Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, led to the ANC fighters improving their bombing skills considerably, thanks to the expertise of what Mr Ellis describes as “the world’s most sophisticated urban guerrilla force”.
All very interesting I think many will agree. That said for an insight into a very particular world view check out the comments under the Telegraph piece. Depressing.
Gramsci: Everything that Concerns People July 24, 2012Posted by irishelectionliterature in Communism, International Politics, The Left.
Thought this might be of interest, a documentary on Antonio Gramsci that I came across on Twitter.
“Gramsci: Everything that Concerns People” (1987), made for Channel4 (Scotland) by Mike Alexander and Douglas Eadie, with Tom Nairn as script consultant.