Focal Points Blog

TRIPping Up Least Developed Countries on Medicines, Green Tech, and Textbooks?

wto-world-trade-organization-intellectual-property-textbooks-medicines-haiti-tanzania-laos As Brazilian Ambassador Roberto Azevedo won the race to head the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week, he must have been at least a little worried about taking over an organization that even leading members say is sinking into irrelevance. With the collapse of the Doha Round of talks, trade idealists are pinning their hopes on the December 2013 Ministerial Conference in Bali. But in the corners of WTO political decision-making there is an immediate and clear place to make progress: intellectual property rules in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Instead, though, in current negotiations with the world’s most impoverished countries, it seems the United States and the European Union remain committed to the flawed strategy that helped spark the Doha failure.

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS, sets out minimum standards for intellectual property (IP) protection and enforcement that all WTO Members are required to implement in their national laws. The subjects include patents that range from medicines to seeds to genes, and copyright that lasts until 50 years after the death of the author.

Whatever one thinks about IP in general, it is hard to argue that translating an economics book into Swahili for use in Tanzania, making generic AIDS medications for people in Haiti, or adapting climate technologies so they will work in the tropical climate of Laos, are unjust “piracy” efforts to be guarded against. That is why, since the agreement’s signing in 1994, LDCs have been exempted from implementing the full complement of TRIPS rules — first for ten years, then for an additional seven and a half. That exemption is scheduled to end in June 2013.

The TRIPS Council is currently taking up a proposal put forward by Haiti on behalf of the WTO’s LDC members to delay implementation of the TRIPS Agreement until these countries are no longer “least developed.” That request has garnered a great deal of support from development groups and from some leading members of the U.S. Congress.

It is worth remembering that we are not talking about fast-growing middle-income countries like India, China, or Argentina — or even Botswana, which graduated from LDC status in 1994. Instead, LDCs are the most impoverished and economically vulnerable countries. Officially, they are classified by the United Nations based on three factors: lowest income (Gross National Income of $ 1,190 per capita); poor human development indicators for nutrition, health, and literacy; and economic vulnerability. LDCs are home to 880 million people, one eighth of the world’s population, yet they subsist on 0.9% of the world total Gross Domestic Product. They largely lack the economic capacity to benefit from intellectual property rules, but are extremely vulnerable to the barriers that IP rules create to the diffusion of knowledge, science, and health. So why is it even on the table to force them to implement TRIPS fully in order to be WTO members?

When WTO talks broke down in acrimony during the summer of 2008 in Geneva, one of the main causes, most observers will acknowledge, was the “single undertaking” approach which put virtually every item of the negotiation into a single indivisible package. WTO members would be wise to take a message from failure: More diversity in the global trading regime is desperately needed.

Today’s rich countries largely got where they are by copying, adapting, and extending technologies first created elsewhere. Through much of the 19th century, the United States, for example, was a notorious pirate of English technology and written work — it denied foreign authors and inventors IP protection, arguing that the knowledge and technology was necessary for the country’s development. In the contemporary world few are promoting a wholesale indifference toward intellectual property. But taking advantage of IP requires a technological base, access to markets, and capabilities in finance, human expertise, and governance. Article 66.2 of TRIPS requires rich countries to support LDCs in obtaining technologies they need for development and economic growth — an obligation that most experts agree has not been met, as is made obvious by the continued abysmal economic performance of LDCs.

It seems time, then, for WTO members to simply recognize that WTO membership should not come with a TRIPS obligation until countries have at least graduated from LDC status.

Specifically, LDCs will continue to need policy space to:

  • Ensure access to affordable medicines: LDCs, by definition, face substantial health problems—often high rates of HIV and malaria, weak health systems, and massively insufficient health budgets. Implementation of TRIPS IP rules drives up the price of key medicines by allowing them to be patented, thereby putting life-saving technology out of the reach of patients and national health programs. In places like Uganda and Bangladesh, where nascent industries are trying to produce medicines, patent rules meant for advanced economies will destroy these fledgling efforts.
  • Educate their populations: Both the distribution and translation of important books — even out of date ones — are routinely blocked by copyright rules. LDC education budgets, though, can rarely afford new bulk purchase of copyrighted books for students or a reasonable selection of academic journals for universities. Licensed copies of software, equally critical for 21st century learning, are out of reach for most people in LDCs.
  • Use seeds and agriculture goods to feed growing populations: As the U.S. Supreme Court casecurrently pending shows, IP can hinder traditional farming practices by preventing free exchange of IP-protected seeds and varietals that will be increasingly essential in places facing soil depletion and food insecurity.
  • Adapt green technologies to fit tropical and low-resource climates: Is it illegal for Bangladesh, the most climate insecure country in the world due to sea-level rise and river flooding, to adapt Israeli-designed water filtration systems to work in a low-resource, tropical setting? Without permission of the multiple-patent holders it could be under TRIPS.

Each of these areas suggests that LDCs — given their low development levels and tiny public sector budgets — might do well to place limits on intellectual property rules. They might choose not to allow patents on “essential” medicines, provide broad exceptions for public-sector use of copyrighted works, and designate sectors as essential for national development and therefore temporarily unrestricted by IP. None of this suggests countries cannot differentiate between “pirated” TV shows and essential public goods. But it does suggest that least developed countries must have the space to set its own policy, with development needs front and center.

So what will happen at the WTO in the coming days? So far it is not clear. The United States, European Union, and Australia are pushing hard to keep in place the “no roll-back” provision that prevents LDCs from changing their existing laws, even if they’re left over from the colonial era or new laws that have proven bad for development. They’re pushing for a very limited timeframe, one that is too short for any serious development to take place. And they’re pushing even further, by insisting that LDCs must start immediately to implement TRIPS.

But so far, it seems, LDCs are holding on to their rights. The WTO agreement actually says that they “shall” be granted an exception upon a duly motivated request — so legally this is their right. And none of the powerful WTO members is relishing trying to make the case publicly for forcing the most impoverished countries in the world to enact restrictive rules or face sanctions.

If the WTO is going to claim relevance it is going to have to embrace global trade diversity. That is, it must move past the one size fits all model that derailed the Doha Round. The WTO needs to acknowledge that, whatever benefit it may claim for poor countries, prematurely imposing restrictive IP measures is not it. And a first step would be a permanent fix that gives LDCs predictable policy space: So long as you’re “least developed” and facing such massive economic and social challenges, take the flexibilities you need by making affordable medicines, distributing translated versions of books, maybe even use a copy of Windows 8 without permission. And if the “developed” countries hold up their end of the bargain — if technology transfer happens — LDCs will cease to be LDCs and that’s a global goal everyone has embraced.

Matthew Kavanagh is a fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and Senior Policy Analyst for the Health Global Access Project.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (5/17)

“When did the economy become more important than life itself?”

In the new way of reckoning, a carbon tax to prevent the atmosphere’s temperature from rising to dangerous levels would be “too expensive.” So too would be a thorough cleanup after a nuclear attack or accident, which is why the White House has endorsed a plan to relax decontamination standards. The health of businesses, not of people, is what newscasters monitor daily, if not hourly — as if the Dow Jones Industrial Average took the pulse of the nation, rather than that of 30 corporations.

Your money or your life, Dawn Stover, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Does Peace Have to Be This Expensive?

… the nation’s nuclear weapons programs … has cost at least $9.8 trillion in 2013 dollars — costlier than all other government expenditures except Social Security and non-nuclear defense programs. … In short: Nuclear weapons have been the United States’ third-highest national priority since World War II, in terms of dollars, and we spend a fortune every year to manage and secure them.

The Prophets of Oak Ridge, Dan Zak, the Washington Post

Democracy in Name Only

At some point shortly after the end of the Second World War, democracy reached its apex in countries such as Britain and the US. … it has been declining ever since [and] have reached the downward slope of the arc. The formal structures of democracy remain intact. People still vote. Political parties vie with each other in elections, and circulate in and out of government. Yet these acts of apparent choice have had their meaning hollowed out. The real decisions are taken elsewhere. We have become squatters in the ruins of the great democratic societies of the past.

There is no alternative, Henry Farrell, Aeon magazine

How Did Austerity Hawks Miss This?

… everybody cannot cut their way to growth at the same time. To put this in the European context, although it makes sense for any one state to reduce its debt, if all states in the currency union, which are one another’s major trading partners, cut their spending simultaneously, the result can only be a contraction of the regional economy as a whole. Proponents of austerity are blind to this danger because they get the relationship between saving and spending backward. They think that public frugality will eventually promote private spending. But someone has to spend for someone else to save, or else the saver will have no income to hold on to. Similarly, for a country to benefit from a reduction in its domestic wages, thus becoming more competitive on costs, there must be another country willing to spend its money on what the first country produces. If all states try to cut or save at once, as is the case in the eurozone today, then no one is left to do the necessary spending to drive growth.

The Austerity Delusion, Mark Blyth, Foreign Affairs

“He knew exactly which ones to push”

[Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov had a particular knack for infuriating [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice: He had “perfected the art of irritating Rice,” wrote Glenn Kessler, who covered her for the Washington Post. “He knew how to push her buttons to get her annoyed,” said Kramer, Rice’s former assistant secretary. “He knew exactly which ones to push.”

Minister No, Susan Glasser, Foreign Policy

Priggishness Does Not Become Us

This isn’t an argument for using military force in Syria, or Iran, or anywhere else — maybe the use of force is justified and useful and maybe it’s not. But if we in fact intend to accept the “unacceptable” and tolerate the “intolerable,” we would be wise to develop a different and more nuanced vocabulary. … our absolutist rhetoric [is] just obnoxious — and its sheer obnoxiousness makes it dangerous. The rhetoric of “unacceptable” and “intolerable” risks generating and reinforcing the very bad behavior we’re trying to stop — not just because each empty threat further reduces our credibility, but because our general stance toward the world has become so hectoring and schoolmarmish.

Would Machiavelli Have Drawn a Red Line?, Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy

Right-Wing Think Tank: Hispanics Welfare Queens Like Blacks

Jason Richwine, who just resigned from the Heritage Foundation.

Jason Richwine, who just resigned from the Heritage Foundation.

In 2007 the Heritage Foundation played a major role in derailing immigration reform. This year it tried to replicate its success by publishing a study claiming that unlawful immigration and amnesty would cost U.S. tax payers approximately $6.3 trillion dollars. However, their ploy to sabotage immigration reform failed in dramatic fashion. Not only were their exaggerated estimates on the cost of amnesty resoundingly refuted by both conservative and liberal groups, but their entire report appeared to hinge on a premise that reeked of racism.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s study, one of the primary reasons immigration reform would cost so much is that a typical undocumented immigrant lacks adequate education. And poorly educated individuals, according to the study, “are net tax consumers: the benefits they receive exceed the taxes they pay.”

This notion of the undocumented being “poorly educated” comes directly from Jason Richwine, one of the coauthors of the study. Richwine got his Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard University, where he wrote a dissertation titled IQ and Immigration Policy. In it he claims that Hispanics have on average lower IQs than their Caucasian counterparts. Moreover, he writes, “[n]o one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” In other words, Hispanics will probably never be as smart as white people.

Richwine goes on to say that the IQ disparity between the two races explains why Hispanics have never been able to fully assimilate into American culture and why they are more likely to accept government handouts: “When given the choice between a paycheck from a low-paying job and a welfare check, most intelligent people would realize that the welfare check offers them no potential for advancement. Low-IQ people do not internalize that fact nearly as well.”

There you have it: Hispanics are dumb. Dumb people rely more on government handouts. Therefore, Hispanics will use more government handouts than the average citizen and as a result they will drain the government of its resources. Keep them out!

To the Heritage Foundation’s credit, it is a straightforward argument.

Nevertheless, the argument is horribly flawed. This year Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college at higher rates than whites. There is a substantial income gap between whites and Hispanics, but each successive generation of Hispanics continues to narrow this gap. No to mention the fact that Hispanics have served in almost every U.S. war and have received 44 Medals of Honor, the third most for any ethnic group. Not bad for a people who failed to “assimilate.”

Despite the fact that the Heritage Foundation’s study is faulty at best and racist at worst, it’s still hugely informative. The study offers a genuine glimpse of what many, especially on the right, think about Hispanics. Many Hispanics, including this writer, have generally felt that opposition to immigration reform does not stem from some intellectual argument, but from visceral emotions driven by xenophobia. The study produced by the Heritage Foundation has proven this point to be correct.

Luckily, the Heritage Foundation is in the minority. According to a CNN/ORC international survey, 84% percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

America is known as the melting pot of the world. Immigrants from across the globe call this place their home. The notion pushed by the Heritage Foundation that Hispanic immigrants need to assimilate is not only paradoxical but also deeply offensive. America is a country that embraces immigrants and all the diversity that comes with them; it doesn’t assimilate them into a homogenous stew. E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. Most Americans seem to understand this, even if the Heritage Foundation does not.

Javier Rojo is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

President Obama Tries to Pass Guantanamo Closure Buck to Congress

Cross-posted from the People’s Blog for the Constitution.

GuantanamoAs the hunger strike at Guantánamo has widened to include all of the men held there, President Obama recently announced that he would renew a push on Congress to close the prison and examine his administrative options. However, the implication that Congress is preventing the closure of Guantánamo is at best disingenuous.

Obama has the power to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo right now. The president himself has placed a uniform ban on transferring any prisoners to Yemen, a collective punishment policy that he could reverse immediately. He could also release prisoners by issuing a certification through the Department of Defense and State that the administration has steps to assure the secure release and monitoring of the prisoners.

Moreover, President Obama’s seemingly newfound rhetorical opposition to indefinite detention runs counter to the policies of his administration. While he may have tried to move the prisoners to the United States, he still wanted them indefinitely detained, in violation of the Constitution and International Law. This has left even supporters of his detention policy befuddled.

The Guantánamo hunger strike can only be ended by the administration taking meaningful steps to close the prison. Those steps can begin immediately by releasing the 86 men who have been cleared for release by the government itself. The remaining men should either be given a speedy and fair trial or released as well.

The men at Guantánamo are resolute to peacefully protest through a hunger strike until they receive justice. One of them, Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi put it this way:

I do not want to kill myself. My religion prohibits suicide. But I will not eat or drink until I die, if necessary, to protest the injustice of this place. We want to get out of this place. It is as though this government wishes to smother us in this injustice, to kill us slowly here, indirectly, without trying us or executing us.

Currently, 21 of the men, including Mr. al-Alwi, are being force-fed in violation of medical ethics. The force-feeding process is brutal, as was described by one prisoner in an New York Times op-ed and can constitute torture, if undertaken as a form of punishment.

As the hunger strike continues, people across the world are pushing for the closure of Guantánamo and an end to indefinite detention. A change.org petition started by a former Guantánamo prosecutor, calling for the prison’s closure, has gained over 100,000 signers in less that two days. From May 17-19, people of conscience will stand together to demand that President Obama close the United States’ forever prison.

Michael Figura is a legal fellow for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Expand Nuclear Weapons Programs to Protect Missileers’ Tender Psyches

On May 8 we posted about an article by Robert Burns of the Associated Press, in which he reported that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

In a follow-up piece, Burns asks Is There a Morale Crisis in the US Nuclear Force? He reports:

Inside the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape, two officers stand watch, authorized to turn the keys enabled by secret launch codes if the presidential order ever comes. … Publicly, the Air Force insists that its missileers, as they are known within the service, are capable, trustworthy and committed. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also acknowledged in congressional testimony that he worries that talk of further shrinking the nation’s nuclear force is having a “corrosive effect” on his troops.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said at the same congressional hearing that it’s understandable that young missile officers may be demoralized by the realization that theirs is a shrinking field.

“You say, ‘My goodness, there’s only three (missile wings in the entire Air Force). There’s no opportunity there,’” Welsh said. “That’s actually not the case, but that’s the view when you’re in one of those units.”

While “That’s actually not the case” might be true technically, any opportunity may just be a higher rank and more responsibility in a field that’s, nevertheless, “shrinking.” (Not fast enough to our liking!)

Though it may not be exactly what they mean, one could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Secretary Donley and Gen. Welsh are recommending expanding our nuclear-weapons program to prevent missileers from growing discouraged and help them keep their heads in the game.

I know what you’re thinking: would that their jobs oppressed them because the fate of the world lies on whether or not they push a button. (Or toggle a series of switches or whatever.) But, hey, you’ve got to be pretty hard-hearted towards missileers and their sensitive psyches to deprive them of more nukes.

Burns reports on the real reason for their bleak career prospects (emphasis added).

Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer and now a national security scholar at Princeton University, said Friday that morale has dropped in part because the ICBM mission that originated in 1959, deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. or Europe, is less compelling than it was generations ago.

“This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago and because so few senior commander jobs exist within the missile specialty,” Blair said. “Most crews can’t wait to transfer out of missiles into faster-track careers such as space operations, but the Air Force doesn’t make it easy.”

While they wait for those transfers, maybe the Air Force can take a cue from “the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape” and dole out Prozac to their missileers. It’s a lot cheaper and less risky than expanding our nuclear-weapons program to boost their morale.

Spirit of Boondoggle Departs Quashed Los Alamos Project, Finds New One to Possess

Thanks in large part to lawsuits filed by the Los Alamos Study Group, last year the Obama administration halted the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The research for which it was earmarked was on plutonium pits, which is where the chain reaction of a nuclear weapons occurs. Even if you believe in nuclear weapons, the need for new pits is nonexistent because they’re noted for their longevity.

How difficult it is to discontinue researching and manufacturing plutonium pits is a microcosm for how the nuclear weapons-industrial complex itself endures. In February at Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman reported that, without the CMRR-NF, Los Alamos would

… instead permanently parcel out work to an array of smaller buildings. [The] institution’s director said. … “I’m concerned that in the current fiscal crisis, it may no longer be practical to plan and build very large-scale nuclear facilities,” Charles McMillan, who heads the New Mexico research site, said at a three-day conference on nuclear deterrence in Arlington, Va. “A new path forward is needed.”

On May 7, a Los Alamos Study Group [LASG] press release stated:

After more than a year since a halt to new funding was announced for [the CMRR-NF], a few details about the latest plan to construct a large-scale “pit” factory complex have begun to emerge.

Note that McMillan’s use of the phrase “very large-scale nuclear facilities” referred to the two main buildings of the planned CMRR-NF. The complex that LASG refers to is smaller buildings, as Ms. Grossman reported. More from the press release:

It is now clear that the “interim” “plutonium sustainment” plan [in lieu of the CMRR-NF – RW] of last year is but the first part of a much larger, multibillion dollar plan spanning approximately two decades, which could easily exceed CMRR-NF in final scope, cost, and possibly in size.

The new plan aims not just to replace the capabilities once envisioned for … CMRR-NF but also to supplement or replace some the most dangerous and demanding capabilities of LANL’s large main plutonium facility.

This year’s plan is certainly much larger than the … “interim” plan … in pit production capacity, physical scale, environmental disruption, cost, and duration [and] includes everything in the “interim plan” plus construction of underground laboratory and production “modules” connected by “tunnels” to the [large main plutonium facility].

Furthermore, states LASG Director Greg Mello:

“There are as yet no firm mission requirements, no project definition, no total estimated cost, no requested line item, no analysis of alternatives, no environmental impact statement [EIS], and no schedule for this project. Despite these deficiencies, despite wasting $500 M and ten years on the last plan, and despite NNSA’s abysmal management record, the agency now claims that hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent each year, starting right now, to get this ‘non-project project’ going.”

Mello then hints at how difficult it is to put the nail in the coffin of these projects. Like monsters or slashers in horror movies, they have a discouraging habit of rising up like phoenixes just when you think you’ve killed them dead.

“No U.S. warhead requires new pits, so none of this is about maintaining warheads. Pit aging is not even mentioned in the April 8 letter as a driver for this project.”

What purpose would new plutonium pits serve then? From the press release again.

The need for new pit production is tied to these two proposed Life Extension Projects (LEPs), which congressional and administration officials have described to us as, essentially, new warheads:

• A proposed W78/W88 “interoperable” Air Force/Navy warhead for land-based and sea-based missiles. Depending on the design chosen and the size of the “build,” [it] might require pit production.

• The proposed “Long-Range Stand-Off” (LRSO) missile warhead [which] too might require pit production.

The spirit of boondoggle flees the dying host of one project, only to seek out another to possess. We can never truly drive a stake may never be drive into nuclear weapons until the Unholy Trinity of waste, pork, and campaign financing is exorcised from the body politic.

Portugal Struggles to Meet Troika Conditions

As the dust settles on the Cyprus bailout, a recent court ruling places the so-called Troika—the European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC), and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—back into the headlines as it finds itself at odds with another Eurozone country.

After months of deliberation, on April 5th the Constitutional Court of Portugal struck down four of nine proposed budget cuts that would have raised 4 billion euros over three years as part of payment plan for a 78-billion-euro bailout.

This includes a ruling against the government’s plan to eliminate one of two extra “bonus” months in the summer and its decision in January to cut sickness and unemployment benefits. This court decision will cost Portugal around 1.2 billion euros in savings.

Following the court’s ruling, foreign creditors decided to withhold further loan payments until the situation resolved itself. In order to qualify for the next loan installment, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho must convince the European Union and the IMF that he can raise the funds lost by the court’s ruling through other means.

The IMF has continued to call for a reduction in state-provided health services and state pensions based on its determination that these sectors resulted in the largest increases in government spending. The IMF also found that there is “excess employment” in the education and security sectors. In order to meet this demand, Coelho has requested that the constitution be revised to shrink the state, thus allowing the originally prescribed cuts.

The opposition Socialist Party has resisted this move, making it unlikely that Coelho will secure the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament to amend Portugal’s constitution. Instead the Socialist Party has called for an early election, convinced it would gain control of the country despite failing to oust Coelho’s center-right government through an earlier vote of no confidence. Once in power the party could then begin negotiations for a new bailout.

Possible Respite

In a surprising show of leniency, the European Union finance ministers agreed to extend the maturity dates of Portugal’s loans by an average of seven years. This decision grants Portugal enough flexibility to issue a 10 year-bond, a move that will once again grant the country access to European bond markets.

However, the plan was still conditional upon approval from the Troika. The ruling by the constitutional court and the subsequent Portuguese scramble to secure funds has caused concern for the Troika. Because of fears that Portugal might not be able to bring its budget back in line, the Troika delayed their approval pending further discussions with the Portuguese government.

Prime Minister Coelho has announced that while he will not raise taxes, he will institute new spending cuts totaling 1.2 billion euros. Although he did not reveal the specifics, Coelho did announce that half would still come from the health and education sectors, cuts in social security and pension benefits, and cuts in other government offered services. The other half would come from cuts in ministries’ budgets.

The Portuguese government met with the Troika on Monday April 13th to discuss the specific cuts it plans to make to meet its 2013 budget. After this meeting Coelho announced that the government plans to raise the retirement age and make public sector employees work an extra hour daily. The government also plans to lay off around 30,000 government workers. The Troika returned to Lisbon this week to determine if this latest round of proposed cuts are enough to once again disburse rescue funds.

The Troika has somewhat relented during the early days of these meetings, granting Portugal permission to sell its 10-year bond. Thus far bond sales have raised around 3 billion euros. However, negotiations to see if the Troika will once again begin to disburse bailout payments are still ongoing.

Underlying Problems

Up until this point Portugal had been an obedient pupil in the Troika’s austerity regime. The Center Right Party was able to push through tax hikes and cuts in social services. Unlike other struggling eurozone countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Cyprus, Portugal merely suffered from years of low growth and private sector investment—not questionable fiscal policies.

And there were brief signs of improvement following structural reforms, at least by the Troika’s standards. For example, unit labor costs have fallen, exports have risen, and the current account balance is moving in the right direction.

However, other economic indicators tell quite a different story. The budget deficit has widened from 4.4 percent of GDP in 2011 to 6.4 percent in 2012, the economy shrank by 3.2 percent, and unemployment is expected to reach 19 percent.

Augusto Praca, international relations advisor for Portugal’s largest trade union confederation, the CGTP, emphasizes that “most of our economy has disappeared. Companies are going bankrupt. There is no investment, and the government is only interested in paying back our loans.” And similar to Cyprus there is a youth brain drain, with one in 10 graduates now leaving Portugal for Brazil. This is not surprising considering how hard young people have been hit in Portugal; the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 24 is 42.1 percent.

Even if the Troika agrees to Portugal’s proposed 2013 budget, most economists and many European officials agree a second bailout may still be necessary.

So what are the implications for the rest of the Eurozone now that one of its star pupils has stumbled? However unlikely it may be, hopefully the situation in Portugal serves as a wake-up call for the Troika. Unless it begins to focus on policies that stimulate demand throughout the entire Eurozone, Portugal may not be the only country lining up for another bailout.

Bryan Cenko is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Syria: Great Game or Just a Tug of War?

John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad in better times.

John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad in better times.

The visit by US secretary of State John Kerry to Russia earlier this week gave hope that an imminent diplomatic breakthrough in Syria is on the horizon. The reason for this hope is the realizationthat a military solution in Syria has proven much more difficult than expected. The Syrian army and the opposition are unable to deliver a decisive victory against one another after three years of battle that cost over 70, 000 Syrian lives and millions of refugees.

The Syrian conflict is much more complex than expected because it quickly evolved into a regional and international tug of war between great powers like the US, Russia, China, Iran, and Israel, and minor players like Jordan and the Gulf States. Each of those countries is vying for its own interests in this important regional country.

For China and Russia, the real issue is not just to prevent the US and Israel from dislodging an important ally and converting Syria from an important regional player into a US satellite state, but to challenge the US policies and hegemony around the world as rising super powers.

For Iran, the loss of the Syrian regime would end its historic expansion in the Levant and would isolate its Hezbollah colony in Lebanon. It is very important for Iran, moreover, which views itself as a regional powerhouse with regional interest and allies, to maintain its foothold in the Mediterranean and at Israel’s doorstep.

Its historic alliance with the Syrian regime gave Iran a much-needed Arab face that it used to increase its presence and influence in the region. More importantly, however, Iran uses the Syrian regime as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, as a first line of defense against its arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, in the meantime, sees the Syrian conflict as an important element in its wider conflict with Iran. Moreover, deposing the Damascus regime is a strategic imperative for Israel to ensure its supremacy over all of the Arab states especially after converting Iraq from a powerful Arab state with regional ambitions into an Iranian satellite and failed state.

Within the conservative American and Israeli movements Syria and Iran were supposed to be the next target after the war in Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. Having powerful unfriendly Arab states in the Middle East can pose a future danger to US and Israeli hegemony in the region and is something that should be addressed according to the neoconservative thinking in the US and Israel.

The war against Iraq that saw the establishment of the Bush doctrine of “preemptive war” was supposed to start the remaking of the Middle East and create surgical chaos before new weakened and fragile states emerge. Such states would depend on the US for their survival and pose no threat to Israel for decades to come.

The administration of President Barack Obama came in to power with the intention to roll back the Bush doctrine of preemptive wars in the Middle East and prevent Israel and its neoconservative allies from completing their overarching strategy of remaking the Middle East into chaotic and fragile states. Ironically, what made this strategy so successful was none other the Arab dictatorial regimes themselves. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Bashaar al Assad were brutal and oppressive dictatorships and inherently inflexible toward more democratic reform and allowing their citizens breathing space outside their suffocating control. Demolishing such regimes that lack basic legitimacy in the eyes of an oppressed citizenry proved much easier than expected.

Obama’s cautious approach toward Syria put a stop on the US and Israeli drive to remake the Middle East and forced the Israeli leadership to halt its war plans, for now, at least, against Iran.

The biggest prize for Israel is Iran, not Syria, but Syria is a necessary step toward defeating Iran by defanging its Syrian and Lebanese allies. This explains why conservative and powerful American lawmakers like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pushing the Obama administration toward more active military involvement in Syria that goes beyond diplomatic and financial support for the opposition and the refugees.

While the Obama administration also views Iran, and, to a lesser extent Syria, as a major threat to its interests in the region, its approach toward dealing with it is less confrontational and definitely not through military means. The irony of this is that the Obama administration ended up becoming a lesser threat to Iran and the regime of Bashaar al Assad because it considers clandestine operations, diplomacy, and containment as the best approach toward containing Iran and its Syrian ally. Kerry’s meeting with the Russian leadership is clear evidence that the Obama administration is hoping to coax the Russians and the Chinese to support an international conference to end the conflict in a manner acceptable to all concerned. Unless different kind of variables emerges on the ground, such as a military confrontation with Israel, or large-scale use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, the Obama administration is content with a management approach to the Syrian conflict.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: aliyounes98@gmail.com and on Twitter at @clearali.

Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?

It’s debatable how much nuclear weapons add to national security. But what’s undeniable is that they add layer upon layer of complexity, sprinkled with convoluted and even counterintuitive thinking (such as how missile defense systems are seen as an offensive act), to national defense. By way of example, on April 30, in the Times of India, Indrani Bagchi, wrote:

India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons against it. [It] will protect its security interests by retaliating to a “smaller” tactical attack in exactly the same manner as it would respond to a “big” strategic attack.

Two questions immediately arise.
1. Why did Pakistan develop tactical nuclear weapons?
2. Why would India respond disproportionately to the use of what’s often referred to as “battlefield” nuclear weapons? (Not to diminish their power or, by any means, condone a state’s possession of them.)

First, we’ll quote Ms. Bagchi, who quotes Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. Speaking for nuclear-weapons policymakers in New Delhi, Mr. Saran “placed India’s nuclear posture in perspective in the context of recent developments, notably the ‘jihadist edge’ that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability have acquired.” (No, jihadis haven’t – yet anyway – insinuated themselves inside Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.)

Answering question one, Saran said that Pakistan hopes (according to Indian policymakers), by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

You can see how nuclear weapons have the power to cloud men’s minds. Pakistan (if the Indian policymakers are correct) thinks that it can keep India from retaliating to yet another terrorist attack. With the same dearth of commonsense that Pakistan exhibits in the above passage (if true), India then declares that it won’t just retaliate with tactical nukes, but with strategic nuclear weapons.

Never mind that the best way to keep India from retaliating is, obviously, to refrain from attacking. Of course, that beggars the question of whether Pakistan can keep its militants from attacking India (except for when it wants them, too).

Providing an answer to question two, Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”

Re what’s emphasized: ever notice how often bravado and black humor intersect? To buttress his argument, Saran claims:

“A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In any event, another answer to question one may exist. Ms. Bagchi writes that Pakistan may – also? primarily? – have developed tactical nuclear weapons

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

Western policymakers might be inclined to shoot down this line of thinking as a conspiracy theory. But, as historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, writes in a recent ebook

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

Minot’s Launch Control Fail: Reason #532 Why Nuclear Deterrence Is a Fragile Foundation for Peace

Robert Burns of the Associated Press reports that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

The tip-off to trouble was a March inspection, which earned the equivalent of a “D” grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations. … In addition to the 17, possible disciplinary action is pending against one other officer at Minot who investigators found had purposefully broken a missile safety rule in an unspecified act that could have compromised the secret codes that enable the launching of missiles. [Emphasis added.]

Human error when on nuclear launch duty is serious enough. But willfulness only further increases the degree of difficulty of managing nuclear risk.

You could tell it was bad. The deputy commander of the 91st Missile Wing, Burns reports, wrote in an email:

“We are breaking you down, and we will build from the ground up. … It takes real leaders to lead through a crisis and we are, in fact, in a crisis right now.”

He told his subordinates, “You must continue to turn over the rocks and find the rot.”

The deputy commander’s name, by the way, is General Jack D. Ripper, I mean, Lt. Col. Jay Folds. But what exactly turns these officers into slackers? Burns asked Bruce Blair, the co-founder of Global Zero and one-time launch control officer.

“The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago. … Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force’s culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles.”

In other words, they’re sulking. But how can the Air Force maintain a nuclear command without officers who aren’t immune from making mistakes or obsessing over their stalled careers? By replacing them with robots! Hey, “smart,” autonomous drones are starting to seem inevitable. Why not adapt them to nuclear launch control?

Of course, that would be Reason Number 533 Why Nuclear Deterrence Is a Fragile Foundation for Peace.

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