Focal Points Blog

China Has a Vested Interest in the Defeat of the Islamic State

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is an extremist movement founded by Uighurs. (Image: DPA.com)

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is an extremist movement founded by Uighurs. (Image: DPA.com)

“China’s official policy is of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs,” reports the Financial Times (behind a paywall). However

Growing economic and strategic interests have tested that policy. China’s navy began escorting ship convoys around the Horn of Africa after Somali piracy threatened oil and ore cargoes. Last year for the first time it contributed troops to a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali. A battalion of 700 Chinese troops is now joining UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan, with a mandate to guard Chinese-invested oilfields there.

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Nuclear Victims, Past and Prospective, Fight Back at Third Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow’s testimony was both a highlight and lowlight of the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: Dragan Tatic / Flickr Commons)

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow’s testimony was a highlight of the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. (Photo: Dragan Tatic / Flickr Commons)

Winding up on Dec. 9 in Vienna, the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons included representatives from 155 countries, as well as the United Nations and the Red Cross. In the second of her three articles for Open Democracy, Rebecca Johnson wrote: “the conference heard a range of panellists who addressed nuclear doctrine, operations, failures of deterrence in theory and practice, risks, accidents and other human and technological mistakes and nuclear dangers.”
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Rationalizing the Nuclear Weapons Have and Have-Nots Regime

A nuclear warhead. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

A nuclear warhead. (Photo: Steve Jurveston / Wikimedia Commons)

Occasionally, I like to surf JStor, the resource for scholaars, for articles about nuclear weapons and disarmament. I found a piece in the May 2007 issue of International Affairs by William Walker titled “Nuclear enlightenment and counter-enlightenment.” Since it’s not germane to the post, we’ll skip explaining what that means. Instead we’ll go straight to this quote: “A highly dangerous absence of political and instrumental mastery accompanied the rapid development and accumulation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in the early Cold War.” In other words, our technological achievements outstrip our ability to make moral choices about them. Or, perhaps, we just suffer from a blind faith that if we’re able to develop advanced technologies — from nuclear weapons to artificial intelligence — we should certainly be able to develop the ability to manage them. On the face of it, that would seem light years less difficult.
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Watch Out What You Wish For: China Now No. 1 Economy

Just as with the U.S., at times, there’s a house made of cards quality to the Chinese economy.  (Photo of an abandoned construction site: Nico2302 / Flickr Commons)

Just as with the U.S., at times, there’s a house made of cards quality to the Chinese economy. (Photo of an abandoned construction site: Nico2302 / Flickr Commons)

In the January 2014 Vanity Fair, Joseph Stiglitz, the esteemed progressive economist, writes about China’s ascension to the world’s number one economy.

The latest assessment, released last spring, was more contentious and, in some ways, more momentous than those in previous years.

… The source of contention would surprise many Americans, and it says a lot about the differences between China and the U.S.—and about the dangers of projecting onto the Chinese some of our own attitudes. Americans want very much to be No. 1—we enjoy having that status. In contrast, China is not so eager.

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Pity Poor Michael Hayden

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden feels like he’s being treated unfairly in the Senate Intelligence Agency report on torture. (Photo: Kevin Wolf / AP)

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden feels like he’s being treated unfairly in the Senate Intelligence Agency report on torture. (Photo: Kevin Wolf / AP)

In the wake of the release of the “executive summary” of the Senate Intelligence Agency reports on the CIA’s torture program, Michael Hirsh of Politico magazine scored an interview with Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush’s third CIA director. The report alleges that Bush, Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell were out of the loop when it came to key details of the “enhanced” — heck, why not just call them value-added? — interrogation programs. Hayden took, um, umbrage at that.

The president personally approved the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah [in 2002]. It’s in his book! … What I can say is that the president never knew where the [black] sites were. That’s the only fact I’m aware that he didn’t know.

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Britain’s “Minimum Credible Nuclear Deterrent” Begs the Question of Who’s Being Deterred

Britain’s Trident submarine fleet has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had as a deterrent. (Photo: Bodger Brooks / Wikimedia)

Britain’s Trident submarine fleet has outlived whatever usefulness it might have had as a deterrent. (Photo: Bodger Brooks / Wikimedia)

One hundred and fifty seven nations got together in the Austrian capital Vienna from December 8-9 for a conference on ‘the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons’. Among the more notable absentees were more than half of the world’s nuclear weapons states (Russia, France, China, Israel, North Korea).

Kudos then to the U.S. and Britain, as well as nuclear outlaws India and Pakistan, for at least turning up. That said, the statement to the conference of the U.K.’s representative, the improbably named Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, was far from positive, at least if you believe in nuclear disarmament. 
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French Assembly Calls on President Hollande to Recognize Palestine Statehood

The French Assemblé Nationale. (Photo: Jean Marc / Flickr Commons)

The French Assemblé Nationale. (Photo: Jean Marc / Flickr Commons)

On 2 December the French Assemblé nationale, the equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives, adopted a resolution calling on the government of wildly unpopular President François Hollande to recognize Palestine as a state. The vote was presaged by a lengthy speech on the issue by socialist foreign minister and multi-millionaire Laurent Fabius, who declared that France would extend official recognition to Palestine two years hence if talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiations continue to go nowhere (at present they’re not even talking).

The vote in France came on the heels of similar moves by the U.K., Irish, and Spanish legislatures. Most significantly of all, the government of Sweden at the end of October courageously broke ranks with the rest of western Europe and officially recognized Palestine, although the country’s foreign minister observed that the decision might have come ‘too late’ to do much good.
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The Threshold for Nuclear War Between Pakistan and India Keeps Dropping

The Pakistan-India border. (Photo: Storm Crypt / Flickr Commons)

The Pakistan-India border. (Photo: Storm Crypt / Flickr Commons)

Most people think that, since the end of the Cold War, chances that a nuclear war will break out are slim to none. Though some nervousness has surfaced since the Ukraine crisis, it’s true that, barring an accident, the United States and Russia are unlikely to attack each other with nuclear weapons. Southeast Asia is another matter, as Gregory Koblentz warns in a report for the Council of Foreign Relations titled Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age. Interviewed about the report by Deutsche Welle, Koblentz pointed out: “The only four countries currently expanding their nuclear arsenals are China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.”
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Robert Alvarez on How Hard It Is to Kill a Nuclear Weapon

Nuclear Dismantlement National Nuclear Security Administration

A nuclear weapon being dismantled. (Photo: The National Nuclear Security Administration)

The November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists features an article by IPS nuclear policy senior scholar Robert Alvarez titled “The nuclear weapons dismantlement problem” (behind a paywall). You can be forgiven if you didn’t know it was a problem or even if you never actually wondered where nuclear weapons go to die.

It seems that the United States wants to look like it’s demonstrating a commitment to disarmament for next year’s review conference of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). One way is by actually dismantling nuclear weapons which have been decommissioned. The United States, writes Alvarez, “has committed to dismantling all of the nuclear weapons retired from its nuclear stockpile before 2009. This level of dismantlement is projected to be achieved by 2022.”

But,

The next day … the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented a very different picture of the US weapons dismantlement program to the US Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee … finding that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees dismantlement within the Energy Department, “does not track the actual date that dismantled weapons were retired’.” … Also, the GAO found, the NNSA “will not dismantle some weapons retired prior to fiscal year 2009, but will instead reinstate them to the stockpile.”

“Perhaps most troublesome,” writes Alvarez, “for the upcoming NPT review conference,” and, one might add, for the prospects of disarmament in our lifetime — well, not ours, but maybe in the lifetime of recent newborns —

… the GAO report noted that the Obama administration plans to refrain from dismantling weapons taken out of the active military forces under the arms control agreement known as New START until there is a ‘successful restoration of the NNSA weapons production infrastructure’.

Say what?

That restoration, it has been estimated, will cost tens of billions of dollars, and the schedule for completion of the program has now slipped into the early 2030s. In effect, the dismantlement of old nuclear weapons is being held hostage until the United States can establish several new and enormously costly facilities to make potentially large numbers of new nuclear weapons well into the 21st century and beyond—even though it is unclear how many new or refurbished nuclear weapons will actually be needed.

Y0u may ask: what’s the point of dismantling nuclear weapons as evidence you’re disarming when you’re only planning to build new ones? Wryly, Alvarez writes:

Whether the non-nuclear signatories of the NPT will see this US plan as progress toward the disarmament that nuclear nations promise under the treaty is, to say the least, an open question.

Before Solidarity, There Was the Polish Church

The church of St. Bernardino of Siena in Kraków, Poland. (Photo: Magro / Flickr Commons)

The church of St. Bernardino of Siena in Kraków, Poland. (Photo: Magro / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Before the Solidarity trade union emerged in 1980, Poland’s primary non-state institution – and often anti-state institution — was the Church. Catholic intellectuals created discussion clubs and published periodicals. Churches were relatively safe places to voice dissent. John Paul II, originally Karol Wojtyla, became the first Polish Pope in 1978 and inspired many in his home country to take a public stand against the Communist regime.

One of the most prominent voices of Catholic opposition was Tygodnik Powszechny (Universal Weekly), which published some of Karol Wojtyla’s early writings as well as the poems of Czeslaw Milosz even when he was in exile. Established after World War II, Tygodnik declared its independence by refusing to publish Stalin’s obituary in 1953. Under the editorial direction of Jerzy Turowicz, the newspaper served as both a forum for discussions of reforming the system and, later, a place to push for more radical change. Poland’s first non-Communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, came out of the Tygodnik milieu as did a number of leading politicians.
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