Focal Points Blog

China: What Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the U.S. Have in Common

The Israeli and Chinese Navies. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli and Chinese Navies. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If there is a nation (not “state”) that can successfully convince the Arabs, the Jews and the Persians to sit down simultaneously for a talk, it can only be the Chinese. With the historical cultural links and for immense economic interests, China is both eager and able to lay the table.

Having had the 11,179-kilometer (6,946-mile) iron silk road in operation going through Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and China, Beijing is now working assiduously to push for the implementation of the United Nations 80,900-km Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) project which knits 24 countries including Iran, Armenia and Turkey together. Furthermore, the August 2013 opening of the US$500 million Chinese-built port in Colombo, Sri Lanka, represented the first step of realizing Beijing’s vision of a “maritime silk road” between Africa and East Asia, exposing the Arabian Peninsula as a key mid-way security concern. Being blocked by Japan to go eastward, China has tons of reasons to get the west bound roads through and reliable.
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Nuclear Weapons’ Lofty Safety Standards Often Go Unmet

NuclearMissile


Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

In a blog post for his site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, Martin Hellman quoted from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent speech honoring Gen. Robert Kehler, the outgoing chief of STRATCOM, the military command in charge of nuclear weapons, and cyber- and space warfare. “Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces,” Hagel said at one point. At another: “there is no room for error.”
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Roma and the American Civil Rights Movement

Michael Simmons

Michael Simmons

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The comparison has frequently been made between the experience of Roma in East-Central Europe and African Americans in the United States. Roma have likewise suffered from slavery, segregation, rampant discrimination, forced assimilation. They have also campaigned for their civil rights in nearly every country where they live. So far, however, these campaigns have had only limited effect. Although some Roma have achieved social, economic, or political success, the community as a whole remains on the margins.

In 1995, I participated in an exchange between Roma activists and African American veterans of the civil rights movement  in Szentendre, a town outside of Budapest. The two groups shared many stories about their experiences and their respective histories. Often the stories moved in parallel though at a distance of some years. One African American participant, for instance, described the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins at Woolworth’s in 1960. A Roma participant from the Czech Republic told a story about his recent efforts to organize a sit-in in his hometown where several restaurants had put up signs near the entrances barring Roma.
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We Forget That Deterrence Doesn’t Need to Be Nuclear

NuclearWarhead

The logic of deterrence is irrefutable to most, especially when applied to nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, its effectiveness is questioned by everyone from disarmament activists to revisionist historians ― some of whom maintain that other factors constrained the United States and the U.S.S.R. from attacking each other during the Cold War ― to nuclear-weapons advocates. Among the last are those who assert that deterrence is of little value against a state such as Iran in the event that it were to acquire nuclear weapons. Apocalyptic clerics, they allege, would supposedly martyr their country rather than back down from a nuclear standoff, thus necessitating, at some point, a preemptive strike.
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NSA Surveillance’s Cost-Benefit Ratio

Senator Frank Church, spied on by the NSA

Senator Frank Church, spied on by the NSA

Polls show that a majority of Americans rhetorically oppose the extensive domestic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). But the outrage is far less than one might expect, considering the agency’s profound intrusion into people’s private spheres.

One explanation for this might be that, in the age of Facebook and Google, people are simply used to the massive sharing of information as a condition for using social media services. The currency is information, not money—a price many citizens seem to be very willing to pay.

Many might also think that they are simply not affected by the extensive collection of data—and even if they are, it is unclear why they, innocent citizens with “nothing to hide,” should be concerned. After all, the collection is done for the sake of security, a value many are willing to pay for with their privacy.
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Obama Administration Actually Doesn’t Want Too Good a Nuclear Deal With Iran

Iran Talks

In an article at Truthout, Gareth Porter explains how French objections that undermined the nuclear deal that the six power including the United States were offering Iran were in deference to Israel, with whom the French foreign ministry has been close since the administration of President Sarkozy. He then makes a subtle point.

From the beginning of the talks in October through last week’s negotiations, Iran had been proposing an agreement that would [lead to an] end game [which] for Iran meant the removal of all the sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its enrichment and the acceptance of much more intrusive monitoring by the IAEA.

But, what

… concerned US officials primarily was whether Iran could achieve a breakout to a bomb. … If Iran ended its 20 percent enrichment and systematically was eliminating its stockpile of uranium that could still be enriched to weapons-grade levels (90 percent), the Obama administration might feel that the urgency of the crisis had lessened.
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Cameroon’s Chantal Biya – From the Streets to the Halls of Power

The Biyas and the Obamas. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Biyas and the Obamas. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Library of Congress: only U.S. copy

I am wondering if the copy of Bertrand Teyou’s  La Belle de la Republique Bananière: Chantal Biya – de la rue au Palais* which I acquired is the only copy of the book here in the United States. Most copies of the book were confiscated by the Cameroon government itself. My search for it did produce a lone copy from the Library of Congress, which was sent me through the modern miracle of the inter-library loan system. I doubt it was an original – but seemed instead to be a Xeroxed copy, its pages poorly cut with a paper cutter, so that some of the text was cut away.

Still there it was, and I read it in its entirety.

For his contribution to our understanding of the psychology of power and female upward mobility in Cameroon Teyou was rewarded by being thrown in prison for six months where he nearly died. He would have, if not for an international campaign to free him that included publicity of his fate by organizations like Amnesty International and PEN International.
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The Battle of Berlin: 70 Years Ago This Month

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Despite the lack of a world war since and the Nuremberg Trials, which sent the message that war criminals would be held accountable by a world body in the future, it’s debatable whether the lessons of World War II have been fully learned. By that point, of course, the Western world just wanted to put all the death and devastation behind it and rebuild. But, the speed with which the United States pivoted to the USSR as an enemy and were back on war footing, where we remain as if terrorism and China were threats equal to Germany and Japan, suggests we still haven’t digested World War II. In fact, it should be central to our daily discourse on a daily basis.

It might seem obscure to some, but November 17 and 18 mark the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Berlin. If you haven’t heard of or forgot it, the Battle of Berlin was to Germany as the Blitz was to England, only more so. The following passage is from World War II (Penguin, 1989) by the great British military historian John Keegan, who died last year.
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Typhoon Haiyan Leads the Storm Arms Race

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of Typhoon Haiyan, Jim Pe, vice mayor of the town of Coron on Basuang, said the 150-plus miles-per-hour winds were “like a 747 flying just above my roof.” Or as Alan Boyle reports for NBC News:

Experts say Typhoon Haiyan was about as strong as it could theoretically get when it swept through the Philippines. … If the higher estimates are correct, the warning center said Haiyan’s maximum strength would exceed that of its previous record-holder: Hurricane Camille, which hit the northern Gulf Coast in 1969 with sustained winds of 190 mph. [But] climate models suggest they will keep rising over the decades to come, with the potential for bigger and more devastating storms.
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Democratic Republic of the Congo Test Case for ‘New World Order’

M23. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

M23. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In a reprise of the military operation that helped secure independence for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960, the United Nations finally got tough. It unleashed MONUSCO, its in-country peacekeeping force, to join forces with the Congolese Armed Forces in a full-scale military operation to route the rampaging rebel group, the M23. Too often peacekeepers have been reduced to bystanders, most shamefully in Bosnia and Rwanda.

U.S. ambassador to the UN and genocide authority Samantha Power is often taken to task for advocating humanitarian intervention in an age when many Americans of conscience believe it’s only a cover for implementing our own agenda. The odds of that are rolled back to some extent when it’s authorized by the UN. In a November 5 press release reacting to MONUSCO’s success, she stated (emphasis added)

We look forward to the final declaration providing for the timely disarmament and demobilization of the M23, as well as accountability for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In this regard, we continue to call for the establishment of “mixed chambers,” a hybrid domestic-international court that would prosecute the worst perpetrators of atrocities. We reiterate our calls for the DRC government to hold accountable all those who have committed abuses in the Congolese army, as well as militia members.
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