Focal Points Blog

Emphasis Added: the Week in Pieces (7/1)

Erdogan Rallies His Base

Mr. Erdogan, in rally after rally … sought to energize the conservative masses who propelled him to power. … His supporters represent a social class that was previously marginalized, and Mr. Erdogan has used his speeches to play on those class resentments.

“The potato-head bloke, itching his belly — this was how they regarded us for decades,” he said in a speech on Tuesday. “They think we do not know anything about politics, arts, theater, cinema, poetry, paintings, aesthetics, architecture.”

Turkish Police and Protesters Clash in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, Tim Arango, Sebnem Arsu and Ceylan Yeginsu, the New York Times

Defending Ourselves Against a State That’s Not Our Enemy With a System That Doesn’t Work

Building a costly third [missile defense] site using outdated, ineffective technology to counter a long-range missile threat that does not exist is not in the best interests of U.S. national security.

East Coast Missile Defense: A Rush to Failure, Tom Z. Collina, Arms Control Today

Emperor Hirohito’s Uncanny Ability to Compartmentalize the Suffering of His People

There are reasons to doubt the traditional story that the Emperor was horrified by the bombing of Hiroshima. The documentary evidence is thin, and if the Emperor was so moved, it begs the question: why was he moved by secondhand reports of a city destroyed in August when he was not moved by driving through Tokyo and personally witnessing the devastation of that city in March? Would it not be sensible to expect that firsthand experience would have a stronger emotional impact than a secondhandreport?

Rethinking the Utility of Nuclear Weapons, Ward Wilson, Parameters

Check Your Principles at the Door

What would be the correct kind of person to have access to videos of civilian massacres? Who’s the right kind of person to be let in the know about the fact that we systematically turned academics and other “suspects” over to the Iraqi military to be tortured? We want people who will, what, sit on this stuff? Apparently the idea is to hire the kind of person who will cheerfully help us keep this sort of thing hidden from ourselves.

As Bradley Manning Trial Begins, Press Predictably Misses the Point, Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Do Terrorists Understand the U.S. Government Better Than Its Citizens Do?

The argument that this sweeping search must be kept secret from the terrorists is laughable. Terrorists already assume this sort of thing is being done. Only law-abiding American citizens were blissfully ignorant of what their government was doing.

Why You Should Worry About The NSA, Richard Clarke, the New York Daily News

What Drove Michael Hastings to His Death?

With the media world still reeling from the death of journalist Michael Hastings, there has been a growing fervor to conspiracy theories surrounding the unusual circumstances of his death.

Michael HastingsThe speculation began after a longtime friend—Staff Sergeant Joseph Biggs—released an email Hastings had sent hours before his death. In the email, which Biggs described as “panicked,” Hastings revealed fears that the Feds were investigating him and said he planned to “go off the radar for a bit” due to a new story he was working on.

Hastings’ email was not the only spark for conspiracy theorists. Wikileaks released a series of tweets revealing that just a few hours before his death, Hastings had reached out to Wikileaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson and warned mysteriously this his death would have “serious non-public complications,” a confusing claim that may have suggested some sort of government involvement.

Less than 12 hours later, Hastings would die in a fiery car crash, so explosive that the car engine would be ejected and found nearly 100 feet away. Initial reports speculated that Hastings was driving at 100-plus miles per hour and lost control of his vehicle. Yet given the publicly available evidence and Biggs’ claim that Hastings “drove like a grandma,” many of Hastings’ followers are beginning to ask questions.

Most famous for penning a Rolling Stone article that led to the resignation of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Hastings was not short on enemies, a fact that theorists have fixated on. The topic of the big story Hastings said he was working on is not yet known, but that hasn’t stopped speculation as to whether it was somehow connected to his sudden death. Contradicting earlier reports from the Los Angeles Times, Hastings’ wife recently dispelled rumors that he was researching Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite connected to the Petraeus scandal.

All of the mystery shrouding Hastings’ death has even led to suggestions that his car was subjected to a cyber attack. Former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke bolstered this theory when he told the Huffington Post that Hastings’ crash appeared to be “consistent with a car cyber attack.” Clarke, who worked under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, referred to research done at universities that proved the plausibility of hacking into a car’s computer system to alter acceleration and braking abilities.

Given Hastings’ recent criticism of the NSA and its spy program, it seems only fitting that one of the major theories involves computer surveillance and cyber hacking. The FBI recently released a statement denying any investigation into Hastings—a very unusual move for the bureau, which seldom addresses rumors concerning investigations and had earlier declined to comment.

Other sources of skepticism include an eye-witness who claims to have seen sparks and flames coming from Hastings’ car prior the crash, spurring theorists to wonder about possible tampering with the car’s wiring. In his last article, which now seems quite foreboding, Hastings lauded several prominent journalists for making sacrifices and taking risks to investigate and criticize the government.

Hastings’ car crash may well have been an accident, but given the history of his work and the recent overreaching of the NSA, some questions must be asked and answers demanded.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

President Obama’s Anti-Nuke Sentiments a Cover for Plans to Secure Their Existence in Perpetuity

ObamaBerlinIn its most recent press release, the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) explains how President Obama’s recent speech in Berlin reaffirming his ostensible commitment to nuclear disarmament is contradicted by plans to lock their existence in for at least the next 25 years. Many readers may not be exposed to the LASG’s work. Hence, from another one of the most eloquent series of press release you’re likely read (emphasis added).

The “$275 billion (B), 25-year plan to maintain, design, and produce new nuclear warheads and build up U.S. warhead production capacity. … eclipses all prior planning for U.S. nuclear warheads.

Among its other features the new plan would:

• Replace all current warheads and bombs – even those currently being upgraded – with several new warheads and bombs in a so-called “3+2” stockpile plan;
• Build dozens of new design, testing, and production facilities, to cost tens of billions of dollars; and
• Require ever-rising spending at warhead production sites and labs, from about $8 B today up to about $14 B annually by 2038.

But, points out LASG Director Greg Mello himself:

… the plan is silent regarding the deeply troubled relationship between the federal government and the management and operating (M&O) contractors which actually run the nuclear warhead complex and its laboratories on a for-profit, cost-plus basis.

Furthermore, he says of this “profoundly nostalgic product”:

Official protestations aside, this is a Cold War plan, one that aims to perpetuate indefinitely the prerogatives and staffing levels enjoyed by nuclear weapons contractors at the same time as it perpetuates tensions with Russia. … This plan would establish a policy of planned warhead obsolescence, creating much work where little is needed.

For

Without new warheads, the weapons labs especially would have much less work to do. This plan solves that “problem” by loading the entire warhead complex with so much work and so many ambitious, simultaneous projects that it is very difficult to imagine their successful completion. Despite its claim, the plan is very unlikely to be “executable.”

In fact

We can state confidently that the delivery systems necessary to carry all these warheads will not be built.

As for President Obama, Mello recommends that he

… “execute” this plan, fire those most responsible for it, and make another plan that is more realistic, much cheaper, and in harmony with U.S. treaty obligations, the conscience of humanity, and the realities of diplomacy today.

Finally, Mello says

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this plan is not the financial waste involved but the misdirection of national attention away from our truly urgent crises.

Algeria’s Trappist Monk Massacre: The Case That Won’t Go Away

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The Case That Won’t Go Away

G.I.A.-Habib Souaidia-Marc Trévidic-Mohammed Samraou-Tibhirine-Armed Islamic GroupIt’s the case that won’t go away, that of the Monks of Tibhirine (Algeria), killed and then beheaded in March, 1996. Among the most gruesome killings in recent times, no U.S. administration in the past 17 years has deigned it important enough to press either Algeria or France to investigate.

To the contrary, the brutality of the Algerian government during the 1990s seems to have greatly impressed Washington policymakers. Washington might talk the talk of human rights and democracy, but the U.S. has a long and sordid list of close allies who specialize in various and demented forms of mass repression, from Pinochet in Chile and the Argentinian generals, to Mobutu of the Congo, Mubarek of Egypt, Sharon of Israel, the Shah of Iran and the ‘Kings’ of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, just to name a few of the usual suspects.

Now add the Algeria to the list.

Downplayed, but no secret, since 9/11, the United States has entered into a growing, if not solid strategic partnership with Algeria. It’s a curious alliance given the public political feuding between a North Africa government that publicly considered itself ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘anti-colonial’ and the behemoth of modern neo-colonialism since World War II’s end, the United States.

How else to explain the silence this side of the Atlantic concerning the beheading of the seven gentle souls, by all accounts deeply appreciated by local Algerians who knew them? It could undermine the strategic hand-holding, upset the relationship vital for U.S. growing interest and strategic control of northern Africa, from Algeria to Nigeria with its extensive deposits of oil, natural gas, uranium and the like. In the same manner and for the same reasons, here in the US we tend to hear little of the Nigerian government’s human rights violation. Funny how that works!

The US-Algerian “Deal”

In today’s world, Algeria and the United States are nothing less than birds of a feather and they most definitely flock together. The US opens doors for Algeria internationally; Algeria opens doors for Bush and Obama regionally. For the United States, Algeria has become its eyes and ears in northern Africa – the Magreb, the Sahara, the Sahel – regions where frankly despite U.S satellite and drone intelligence, Washington hardly has a clue as to what is going on, on the ground. For its part, Algeria gets some communication and high-tech weaponry toys in return, but actually something far more important – international credibility, credibility that its government was fast losing as the country’s civil war of the 1990s drew to its bloody close.

Part of ‘the deal’ includes downplaying the growing voices, allegations of government crimes against the Algerian people during the 1990s and unexplained gruesome incidents like the Tihirine killings. The Algeria civil war was very low on the U.S. media radar and was hardly reported in the United States while it was transpiring. What news that did filter in reflected the Algerian government’s version of those events. Still there is something about war crimes – they don’t go away, not like their perpetrators hope. Ten, fifteen, fifty years later, the voices of victims from their mass graves, torture chambers, those dropped from helicopters into the oceans, still percolate back to the surface.

The Tibhirine Monk Massacre

So it is with the monks of Tibhirine, who were, truth be told, a tiny part of a much more extensive horror story that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, victims of Algeria’s dirty war. Virtually unknown in the USA, the case of the Tibhirine monks refuses to die in France and continues to haunt the ruling circles of Algeria as well, the latter dominated by the military and the country’s powerful security apparatus.

But then ‘it’ – the kidnapping, slaughter and decapitation of seven Trappist monks from the monastery at Tibhirine – was one of the more gruesome acts of Algeria’s ‘Dirty War’, the civil war which wracked the country during most of the decade of the 1990s. The Trappist monks were among the 250,000 or so killed, although the exact figure will probably never be known. Only the heads remain; neither the bodies nor their possible whereabouts have been identified. What in French is called the Groupe Islamique Armee (the Armed Islamic Group) or G.I.A claimed responsibility.

Questions remain, especially concerning the possible infiltration of the G.I.A. by the Algerian security apparatus who very well might have actually run the group and directed its activities pressing the G.I.A. to commit a series of gruesome acts, including the massacre of the Tibhirine monks, in an effort to discredit the opposition movement, make them appear like monsters that need to be exterminated, as political dialogue is out of the question.

To what degree was the Algerian government complicit in the Tibhirine killings? Did they actually direct the operation? To what degree was French intelligence that had close ties with their Algerian counterparts at the very least aware of this gruesome operation (as well as many others)? These are the questions that do not go away, and once again, emerge in the public sphere.

As reported recently in the Irish Times, in France, seventeen years after the seven Trappist monks were kidnapped and killed, their decapitated heads left smiling by a small country roadside, families of the victims have asked French President Francois Hollande to fulfill a campaign promise to press the Algerian government to cooperate with the investigation. There is an ongoing investigation of the case in France, headed up by an anti-terrorist judge, Marc Trévidic, but it has been stalled for years due to lack of cooperation from both the French and Algerian governments.

Trévidic wants to interview some 20 Algerians, among them members of the government in power at the time of the murders; he also is asking for an autopsy to determine whether the decapitations took place either at the time of the killings or afterwards. To date, Algiers has been less than enthusiastic about replying, although the ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to cooperate although nothing has happened since.

Up From the Grave They Arise…Again and Again

Both French and Algerian government circles would like the case to simply run out of steam and disappear. Not likely. Besides the families of the victims, still unsatisfied with the explanations given by the Algerian government, the Order of the Friars Minor – known more commonly as the Franciscans – continue to pursue the case. There have been several documentaries and books, mostly in French but also in English. Doubts continue to grow that the official version of events reflects what actually happened.

The most damning evidence – evidence that implicates both the Algerian government of the time and to a lesser degree, France – comes from two former members of the Algerian intelligence apparatus, the Departement de Renseignement et de la Securite (DRS). Habib Souaidia was an officer in the DRS’ special forces unit charged with countering Islamic terrorism who now enjoys political refugee status in France.

The other intelligence officer, Mohammed Samraoui, became the No. 2 man in the DRS’s counter-intelligence unit. He quit and sought political asylum in Germany after being asked to organize the assassination of an Algerian Islamicist living in Germany, whom Samraoui knew had nothing to do with the Islamist guerilla movement.

Of the ruthless methods the DRS would use against its opponents, real and imagined, Samraoui would write:

At least from 1994 onward, I was able to confirm that the leadership of the DRS habitually tortured and killed their fellow citizens, as if they were simple insects. Once committed to this cycle of violence, it became perfectly logical that the generals would use massacres as a tactic to regulate the political problems that befell them in 1997 (1)

In a book published slightly earlier, by Decouverte Press in 2002 (in French), La sale guerre (The Dirty War), Habib Souaidia claims that many, if not most, of the Islamic terrorist groups in Algeria in the 1990s were both infiltrated by the DRS as well as literally run by them, prime among them the G.I.A. mentioned above. Running the G.I.A. operations from his Algiers office was Smail Lamari, Deputy Director of the DRS and in charge of operations of its military wing, known as the Securite Militaire, or SM.

Many of these ‘operations’ were ‘false flag’ operations, operations secretly conceived and implemented by the Algerian government itself, with the knowledge of the ruling clique to make the country’s Islamic movement look far worse than it was in actual fact. Committing acts of brutality, in actual fact carried out by the government, but in the name of Islamic militants helped to isolate the Islamic movement at the time from its popular base, provoke intense fear among a population that would then ask for stronger security measures, i.e., a more repressive hold on the country by the state.

At the time of the Tibhirine murders, Souaidia was serving a four-year sentence on trumped-up charges of having stolen automotive material from avmilitary warehouse, but it was because of his refusal to continue to participate in the Dirty War which was the more probably cause of his incarceration. La sale guerre does not discuss the Tibhirine murders but it cast doubts over the Algerian government’s official explanation of the murders, suggesting that, like so many others, that this was some kind of false flag operation manipulated by the Algerian state itself through the DRS, in this case with the goal of undermining talks of a political settlement then taking place in Rome.

While none of this directly implicates the Algerian DRS in the Tibhirine murders, still it is suggestive of the lengths to which the Algerian counter-intelligence operation was willing to go. In the decades since other suggestions challenging the government’s official version of the Tibhirine events have surfaced, among them French intelligence complicity with their Algerian counterparts, certainly enough ‘smoke’ to suggest that somewhere there is a fire and to merit a serious investigation.

Consequences of Tibhirine

If all the details of the Tibhirine massacres remain under wraps, the consequences are not at all ambiguous. As Louis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire wrote of the Tibhrine tragedy in Francalgerie, crimes et mensonges d’Etats:

In attacking Christianity in its very heart and soul, the assassination of the monks traumatized France, still ‘the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church’,(1) discredited the Islamicists that much more, re mobilizing the West (France, USA, UK, Germany etc.) in support of a harder anti-Islamicist position(2) at a time when a negotiated settlement between the warring parties was being considered in Rome’.(3)

What Algeria’s generals feared most at the time was a negotiated settlement with Algeria’s Islamicists that would threaten their hold on power and the oil wealth that comes with it. Aggoun and Rivoire’s analysis, while not proving Algerian DRS management of the Tibhirine killings, still gives a viable political explanation for why the Algerian government might have acted as it did.

As has been the case, frankly for decades, a fierce, under the surface power struggle in Algeria, is unfolding, ‘the battle of the clans’ as it is often referred to although in this case, the ‘clans’ as they are called in French are more accurately called in English ‘interest groups’. The DRS and the military (although there are some differences between the two) have held the reins of power for decades, their power consolidated just before the Dirty War began and continuing until today.

On the other hand, there is the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his circle who have, rather unsuccessfully it appears, tried to wrest power from the security- intelligence apparatus. Other presidents who tried were either assassinated (Boudiaf) or unceremoniously pushed aside (Zeroual) when their usefulness had run its course, or when they decided to challenge the powers that be. It is not entirely inconceivable that the Tibhirine monks’ massacre could emerge as an issue in this power struggle as the power struggle gets dirtier. It already is pretty intense.

Regardless, the case of the Tibhirine monks is essentially only kept alive due to popular pressure especially in France and Algeria. It is time the U.S. human rights movement adds its voice to the chorus demanding an explanation, justice in this case. That it might embarrass the U.S. government some, the French government more and the Algerian government most of all should have little bearing on case.

_____________

1. Mohammed Samraoui. Chronique des annees de sang. Algerie: comment les services secret ont manipule les groupes islamistes. Denoel, Paris: 2003. Back cover jacket.

2. ‘la fille ainee de l’Eglise’

3. Referred to in French as ‘l’option eradicatrice’ – or the ‘eradicating option’ – i.e., the need for the total physical destruction of political Islam in Algeria.

4. Louis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire. Francalgerie, crimes et mensonges d’Etats. La Decouverte. Paris, 2004. p.474

U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons More an Irritant Than Deterrent

The B61 dial-a-yield bomb

The B61 dial-a-yield bomb

You’ve heard of planned obsolescence — tactical nuclear weapons are a case of deferred obsolescence: a weapon that has long ago worn out its welcome in the U.S. arsenal. On June 6, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Andreasen, a consultant for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, wrote:

“Throughout the Cold War, thousands of tactical nuclear weapons — short-range nuclear artillery shells, missiles and bombs — were deployed by the United States to deter the Soviets from exploiting their advantages in Europe to mount a lightning attack. … After the Soviet Union collapsed, President George H. W. Bush ordered the return of almost all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, leaving only a few hundred air-delivered gravity bombs — the B61 — in European bunkers.

“… Politically, however, there are still voices that argue that even a bomb with no military utility is ‘reassuring’ to certain allies, and that storing this artifact in European bunkers and maintaining allied aircraft capable of dropping this bomb is a valuable demonstration of NATO ‘burden sharing.’ Moreover, these proponents are prepared to pay — or rather, have the U.S. pay — $10 billion to modernize and store the B61.”

But to a state such as Pakistan, tactical nuclear weapons present an exciting new addition to their arsenal for which they may have big plans. At his Foreign Policy blog Best Defense, Tom Ricks interviews Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. He said that Pakistan is

“… now are looking at tactical nuclear weapons.” [Their fear, Armitage said, is that if there is another Mumbai-like attack, India will respond with a corps-sized attack on Pakistan.] “Tactical nukes is what you’d use against a corps.” [This might provoke India to escalate further.] “But Pakistan would say that its tactical nukes would deter that.” [Brackets are Ricks’s.]

In a recent post titled Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?, I excerpted the Times of India’s Indrani Bagchi, who quoted Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. The latter said that Pakistan (according to Indian policymakers) hopes, 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.”

What Pakistan is “signaling” to me is that it doesn’t want to feel compelled to stay the hand of its Islamist militants, who it’s long viewed as its wild card. (That’s making the generous assumption that the army and/or ISI won’t be complicit in a future militant attack on India.) Instead, Pakistan is making contingency plans for the retaliation from India that it expects. But, is the luxury of keeping militants around worth developing and maintaining tactical nukes to clean up their messes? That’s some skewed calculus.

To give you an example of the problems this created, consider Ricks’s remark “This might provoke India to escalate further.” 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. … “A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In other words, not only wouldn’t India be deterred from retaliating by Pakistan’s tactical – once called “battlefield” – nukes, it would retaliate with strategic – your garden-variety, apocalyptic – nukes! This whole business is riddled with opportunities for miscommunication that could result in an all-out nuclear war. In October 2012, George Perkovich explained in a Stimson Center report, about which I posted a month later.

Many worry about Islamist militants acquiring proprietorship of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. But the greater risk, according to Perkovich, is the confusion that India experiences in situations such as when its parliament was attacked in New Delhi in 2001 and during the Mumbai 2008 assault. Thus the nuclear deterrence model, which, according to conventional thinking, worked for the United States and Russia, may not be universally applicable. Why?

Perkovich writes that, “when it comes to … initiating and managing warfare between nuclear-armed states, it is generally assumed that a tight, coherent line of authority” is S.O.P. Otherwise “the implications for deterrence stability are profound.”

For example, if

… India is attacked by [Islamist militants] emanating from Pakistan and with ties to Pakistani intelligence services, [India] naturally infers that such actions represent the intentions and policies of Pakistani authorities. … If Pakistan does not … detain and prosecute the perpetrators … pressure mounts for India to demonstrate through force that it will [retaliate].

Perkovich presents this scenario.

For example, while India could perceive that the terrorist attacks it attributes to Pakistan signal Pakistani aggressiveness, Pakistani leaders [may only have intended the] initial terrorist attacks as a signal that the Pakistani state does not seek a wider conflict but [merely seeks] to press India to make political accommodations, in Kashmir or more broadly.

… This signaling process becomes all the more difficult and precarious if the Pakistani leaders who are presumed to be the authors of Pakistan’s signals and actions deny that the [terrorists] actually do manifest the policies of the state.

In that case …

Indian leaders then face a highly unstable dilemma. They could act as if the initial violence reflects the intentions of Pakistan’s chain of command, and send … signals of retaliatory action according to normal models of deterrence.

But this might only confuse Pakistan. Perkovich explains (emphasis added).

… if Pakistani leaders believe or claim that the perpetrators were not carrying out state policies, and India does escalate, Pakistani leaders will feel that India is the aggressor.

It becomes obvious that not knowing on whose authority an Islamist extremist attack on India was mounted

… produces dangerous confusion and ambiguity that interfere in the management of deterrence. Who is sending signals through violence that is perceived to be emanating from the state and/or its territory? What is being signaled?

In the end

… disunity erodes the rationality on which deterrence is predicated.

Returning to Ms. Bagchi and tactical nukes, she writes that another reason Pakistan developed them is

… 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.

In a recent ebook, historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, confirms this.

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.

Or, reports Elaine Grossman for the National Journal (emphasis added):

“When the U.S. says that they are worried about the security [of] Pakistan’s nuclear arms, it means it fears that these might fall in the hands of such elements as the extremist Taliban,” said a commentary published by Pakistan’s Frontier Post in late 2011. “However, when [former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi says so, he means that these are in danger of being whisked away by the U.S. armed forces.”

Update on the B61 from Arms Control Now:

But today (June 27), the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut funding for the B61 by $168 million, or 30 percent below the request, to $369 million.

Germans Shocked That Obama Allowed NSA Free Rein

The former East Germany’s Stasi used similar justifications as the U.S. for total surveillance.

Stasi detention facility

Stasi detention facility

If recent revelations have led Americans to question how the United States defines freedom, Germans are questioning how the United States defines friendship. Turmoil surrounding PRISM’s overseas snooping has pushed the protection of privacy to the front of Germany’s agenda, imperiling German-U.S. relations. The American National Security Agency has been able to access data clouds in Europe for the last five years, which is news to most European citizens, although the European Parliament has known since 2011. In Germany, outrage is boiling as many begin to reassess the German-American relationship.

Since the end of World War II, Germany and the United States have enjoyed a relative closeness and codependency and are often described as a partnership, marriage, or friendship. But over the last decade, political rifts over the global economy, the war in Iraq, and America’s civil rights violations have caused this transatlantic love to fade. PRISM’s direct invasion of Europeans’ privacy provides further cleavage between the two Western superpowers.

German government officials, political parties, and news sources have been openly critical of the Obama administration, demanding information and justification. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger linked the security issue to one of democracy’s fundamental predicaments, explaining that “the more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is.” She called on Washington to be completely transparent about its motivations for such excessive surveillance in order to resolve the conflict.

During President Obama’s visit to Berlin on June 19, Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed the president for specifics on the NSA’s role in Europe. While Obama’s outline of the NSA’s restricted domain and assertions about its role in terrorism prevention in Germany seemed to reassure Merkel, he’ll have to do much more to win over the rest of the country.

One reason that many Germans aren’t taking the bait is that former East Germans, including Chancellor Merkel herself, liken the invasiveness of PRISM’s techniques to Stasi infiltration. The all-too-recent horror of the German Democratic Republic’s repression hovers in German minds, giving a particularly sinister gleam to the NSA’s operations. The Socialist Unity Party of Germany justified Stasi actions as efforts to preserve state security, a frighteningly similar goal, when taken at face-value, to that of our own security agency. European Parliament member Mark Ferber reported that he “thought this era had ended when the DDR fell.”

With no comparable national experience in the popular American imagination, it seems that the U.S. government is less constrained to value privacy in the same way. The disparity is even embedded in law—the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly provide protection of citizens’ privacy, whereas Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects Germans’ lives, homes, and correspondence from interference by public authorities. The threat that PRISM poses to Germany’s guarantee of privacy protection is frightening to Germans on a deep level that perhaps even the most concerned Americans can’t fully comprehend.

Although Merkel and Obama used the term “friendship” liberally throughout their joint press conference, the term may no longer describe a unity of ideals with regard to human rights. “Is [Obama] a friend?” asks Jakob Augstein at Spiegel Online, observing that “revelations about his government’s vast spying program call that assumption into doubt.”

It is obvious that the German people will not readily sacrifice the privacy that they fought to have, and the United States can either take a page from the German book or retain its current security agenda. But even if the latter becomes agreeable to the American people, NSA persistence overseas may discolor the German-American friendship with pigments of mistrust and reluctance.

Emma Lo is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Surveillance State Is Only New to Whites

baltimore-surveillance-nsa-edward snowdenThe past three weeks have been a bombardment of information regarding the US Surveillance State. I was tempted to say “a bombardment of revelations,” but that would have implied it was surprising, and to anyone paying attention for the past decade, that would have been disingenuous. It’s not surprising that the NSA has been collecting metadata on our communications, and it’s equally unsurprising that they’ve been lying about it. It’s not surprising that the FBI has been using drones to spy on US soil, that the US hacks Chinese computers and cell phones, or that the British had spied on foreign diplomats at the G-20. But it is groundbreaking that this information is now confirmed.

Disregarding my own cynicism (I know I should be shocked, shocked!), there is something deeply insidious about the outrage being expressed. Not just the hero-worship or vilification of Edward Snowden. Despite this author’s opinion that, sunlight being the best disinfectant, these leaks are good for the American people, Snowden and the leak process is not the story. The story is the confirmation of an unconstitutional surveillance state to which Americans never consented, never even got the opportunity to debate how many of our civil liberties we’re willing to forgo in the name of security. No, the insidiousness is in the outrage over the surveillance state itself. Now it’s a big deal, now that they’re spying on us. But where was the outrage over Stop And Frisk or any of New York’s other recent surveillance and anti-whistleblowing excesses? Oh, that just happened to Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims. Where was the outrage when we were openly intercepting the e-mail and phone communication of all non-Americans regardless of probable cause? Oh, that just happened to foreigners, they’re not protected by our laws. These inherently xenophobic reactions, which of course are nothing new, highlight our problem: the surveillance state stops being ok when it goes from racist to all-encompassing.

The surveillance state is not a new problem; it’s a new problem for white people. The surveillance state has been a daily thorn in the lives of New York’s minorities for years, but it’s not just inconvenient. The surveillance state as a racist institution has been destroying the economy of majority-black cities and non-white neighborhoods for decades.

“I Believe In A Better Baltimore,” then-Mayor Martin O’Malley told the city in his 2002 re-election campaign, asking Baltimore to “risk action on faith” as he so eloquently put it. And the city bought his hopeful, inspiring rhetoric. but never asked for a plan, and so voted for the BELIEVE campaign, a multi-million-dollar press bonanza that put O’Malley’s administration in very comfortable approval numbers. By the time he left Baltimore for the Governor’s Mansion in Annapolis, however, the city’s murder and violent crime rates were back to their horrific mid-90’s levels, as were drug and STD rates, the campaign having changed nothing. Well, almost nothing.

Today, the streets of Baltimore are littered with the tattered remnants of the BELIEVE campaign: scratched stickers on newspaper stands and mailboxes, torn banners on the sides of buildings. In fact, aside from the politicians who pepper their speeches with the word, the only aspect of BELIEVE left intact are the blue light boxes that continue to degrade the economies and self-esteem of Baltimore’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. For those not familiar with the blue lights, their purpose is as purportedly noble to city safety as PRISM is to national security. Officially known as Portable Overt Digital Surveillance Systems (PODSS), the flashing camera system was intended to improve security by filming the actions on the corner. The always-on surveillance cameras track sound as well as image, and can identify a resident’s walking patterns and run a program to calculate the likelihood of their criminality. In minority neighborhoods from Baltimore to Chicago, Big Brother is always watching. The best description of their use and impact comes from John Duda at the Indypendent Reader:

… the streets monitored by these cameras have been marked as permanent emergencies, as territories distinct from the “normal” or “good” areas of the city. Rather than addressing these territories as communities of fellow citizens, the cameras address entire blocks as potential criminals, feeding into a logic in which extraordinary regimes of policing and incarceration appear justiï¬ed. The City of Baltimore has installed at least one camera which illustrates this point perfectly: a camera is equipped with a motion detector and a taped recording connected to a loudspeaker; when anyone walks past the apparatus, their picture is taken, and the recording informs them both that they are a criminal and that they have been photographed.

What a blue light on a lamppost means is that you’ve stumbled onto a problem corner. It has come to mean that, if you regrettably find yourself on such a corner after dark, you should lock your doors and not stop at stop signs or even stop lights if possible due to the imminent threat of carjacking or worse. But as gang rates spike with non-violent offenders caught by the POD cameras seeking protection in prison, what the blue lights really mean is that no business will ever enter these areas. While dealers move over one street to evade the camera, no significant investment or purchase will be made here and the legitimate economy of the neighborhood will continue to spiral downward. And as the blue lights destroy Baltimore’s neighborhoods and the potential of their residents, they pay fitting homage to the bluff that crushed a city’s hope, as underneath them are little black boxes labeled very visibly: “BELIEVE.”

It’s worth noting that in San Francisco, a nearly-majority white city (48%), outrage sparked by the implementation of POD systems brought legal changes to curb their impact on civil liberties. Similar challenges in Chicago (35% white) and Baltimore (31% white) have yielded no results and no media attention.

Non-white Americans have been under surveillance, subject to the violence of a police state, their constitutional rights trod upon, for decades. But now white people know that their e-mails are being read, their phone calls recorded by the government. Now the constitutional rights of people with “nothing to hide” are being infringed upon, now it’s a crisis. Welcome to your first glimpse of the America of forty percent of your countrymen.

Zachary Gallant is a Fulbright Fellow in Post-Conflict Redevelopment with an M.A. in International Politics from the University of London, and a recovering Baltimore City political operative. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacharyGallant.

“World War Z”: Israel’s Best Foot Forward?

World War Z“A Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt posits a right of return for Arabs and Jews?” asks blogger levi9909 at Jews sans frontieres. An anonymous poster at 1971 Productions blog provides some background on World War Z (with emphasis added and, where applicable, sic):

According to the novel [by Max Brooks, Metropolitan Books, 2006] a key occurance near the beginning of the zombie pandemic takes place in Israel. While every other nation dismisses the zombie threat as a ‘non-news’ item, Israel takes proactive steps with the closing of its borders to everyone except uninfected Jews and Palestinians.

The book details how the state takes steps to protect itself via the building of “The Wall”, turning the nation into a literal prison state. All Israeli, non-Israeli Jews, and Palestinians and descendants of pre-1948 Palestinians who lived abroad, are allowed to return to Israel to live behind this wall after being screened for the disease. Also in order to scale back on the amount of land it has to secure, the government unwillingly pull back from the West Bank and most other areas they had seized, before sealing themselves in.

… the Palestinians and The Jews ‘live happily ever after’ in peace and unity.

An anonymous commenter replied (again, sic):

I’m pretty certain that if zombies were attacking the Middle East, Israel will only let Jews inside its boarders and let the Arabs and the rest of the world die. They will NOT save the Palestinians. Max Brook’s tries to make the Jews the only civilzed nation on the planet, while all the Muslim nations act crazy and die.

In a trailer scene reminiscent of Colson Whitehead’s poignant Zone One (Anchor, 2011), zombies overrun an enormous wall. I had read Brooks’s dazzling novel, but forgot the details, and was wondering where the wall World War Z’s zombies were scaling was located. Upon watching the movie with my son and learning that it was outside Jerusalem, one couldn’t help but draw a comparison with Israel’s West Bank and two Gaza Strip barriers. Nor the obvious analogy of, as some Israelis see it, hordes of Arabs in the form of Palestinians overrunning their country. Meanwhile, evocations of Christians invading during the Crusades made it especially unsettling to see Jerusalem thus ravaged.

I then watched closely to see if those admitted into the walled compound that Jerusalem had become included Arabs. The fast-moving action and dialogue slipped by me and I was unable to pick out Arabs or hear references to their admittance. In any event, it seemed to have underplayed, as opposed to Brooks’s novel, in which the crisis seems to bring out the best in Israelis.

In his novel, however, either to advance the narrative, reflect his political concerns, or both, Brooks took the opportunity to eliminate two “existential” threats to Israel.

From the 1971 post:

… a threatened yet ironically safe Tehran takes a less than proactive step to quell the sudden influx of Pakistani refugees crossing Baluchistan into Iran. With India all but destroyed by the zombie virus, many Pakistanis who cannot fly out of the country see Iran as the next best alternative. Launching a misjudged nuclear strike against Karachi, Pakistan responds to Iran in a likewise manner, ensuring the annihilation of both countries in the process.

Finally, some brief observations about whether the film works. The case can be made that it’s the zombie film to end all zombie films. Whether all those in the interim since George Romero’s 1978 horror classic Night of the Living Dead – which cashed in on a trifecta of powerful drama, genuine shock, and a social conscience – were even necessary is a moot point. World War Z features the revved-up variety of zombies, which amps up the action, but forfeits the suspense inherent in zombies’ traditional slow gait.

Nevertheless, World War Z is an exciting and moving. Furthermore, the much criticized ending might seem tacked on, in part because it’s scaled down from a cast of skatey-eight million. In a Vanity Fair piece about the problem-plagued making of the film, director Marc Foster said of the final scenes: “The maximum amount of actors or human beings on that set were 20.” Some movies start small and end big; others start big and end small, an arguably more satisfying strategy.

Russia and China Fail to Meet Minimum Standards in Human Trafficking

They had been on the State Department’s watch list, but were further downgraded in this years’s Trafficking in Persons report.

Secretary of State Kerry at the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report event.

Secretary of State Kerry at the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report event.

As a country that will celebrate February 2, 2014 like a national holiday, the United States has cause for some self-evaluation. Super Bowl XLVIII is expected to be responsible for the trafficking of 10,000 prostitutes into New Jersey to meet the influx of fans looking to pay for sex. Yet despite this dark underbelly to one of America’s favorite and most celebrated pastimes, the United States awarded itself a sterling Tier 1 grade in its 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, which was released on June 19.

Less fortunate were China and Russia, both of which were downgraded this year to Tier 3 after a respective nine and eight years on the Tier 2 “watch list.” A Tier 3 designation means a country does not comply with any of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards and is not making any efforts to do so, whereas a Tier 2 county has made significant efforts to comply with those standards. A Tier 3 ranking also comes with sanctions, which could include withdrawing non-humanitarian and non-trade aid and halting U.S. participation in any cultural and educational exchange programs, though President Obama has the power to waive these sanctions.

Prior to its release, there had been some discussion as to whether Washington’s political and economic agenda would sway the findings of the report. These speculations are grounded in the government’s decision two years ago to save India — “the demographic epicenter of human trafficking” — from a Tier 3 ranking, which, according to former director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Mark Lagon, likely had more to do with politics than anti-trafficking efforts. This year, Secretary of State John Kerry demonstrated a commitment to fighting modern day slavery by standing behind fact and no longer delaying the decision to downgrade several major powers to their deserved ranking.

This is not to say that the Trafficking in Persons Report has been without criticism. Representatives from both Russia and China have been extremely outspoken against their country’s demotions. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman for China disregarded the State Department’s findings, countering that China “has achieved remarkable progress in fighting domestic and transnational trafficking.” She went on to attribute the Tier 3 ranking to Washington’s arbitrary and biased view of China.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also dismissed the report, characterizing its findings as the result of “unacceptable methodology.” It continued on to mock the idea of following the dictates of another country in combating organized crime and trafficking in Russia. The report, however, describes Russia as lacking “any concrete system for the identification or care of trafficking victims.”

Russia and China, in addition to other Tier 3 countries, have 90 days before non-trade and non-humanitarian related sanctions come into place to prove their commitment to combat trafficking and protect victims.

Also worth noting is that Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally, and Malaysia were notified that without any significant changes, they would be downgraded next year to Tier 3 as well. Several countries, such as Iraq and the Congo, were promoted from the watch list to Tier 2 as recognition for significant strides made this past year.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Hydrofluorocarbons: Finally, Something the U.S. and China Can Agree On

Obama, JinpingPresident Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping didn’t reach much consensus on cyber hacking or other divisive issues during their recent two-day summit in Rancho Mirage, California. But they made huge strides forward on a decidedly wonkier front by agreeing to reduce the production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Commonly used in refrigerators and air-conditioning units, HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and are therefore known as “super greenhouse gases.” They were introduced to the market as refrigerants after the landmark Montreal Protocol of 1987, in which nearly 200 countries agreed to phase out the production of ozone-depleting compounds. Although ozone-friendly, HFCs could account for as much as 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Their production has soared in developing countries like China and India, as demand for refrigerators and air conditioning explodes among the middle class.

In 2009, the United States, Canada, and Mexico submitted a joint proposal calling on other parties to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs and replace them with new, safer compounds. According to the Center for American Progress, this amendment to the protocol would eliminate the equivalent of 90 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050 and avert a half-degree (Celsius) rise in global temperature by the end of the century. Over 110 other countries support the proposal, but strong objections from China, India, and Brazil—who argue that the phase-out would slow development and saddle them with high costs—have prevented the proposal from taking effect.

Therefore, China’s about-face on HFCs at the Sunnylands summit, as leading environmental advocates have pointed out, is a really big deal. In an astonishing gesture of superpower cooperation, Obama and Xi signed a pledge stating that their countries would “work together and with other countries through multilateral approaches,” including the Montreal Protocol, “to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs.”

There’s now renewed hope that the world could see a substantial reduction in HFCs in the near(ish) future. However, it’s uncertain whether China will support the proposed amendment to the Montreal Protocol or pursue other multilateral approaches, which might take a lot longer. China’s powerful chemical companies, which are heavily invested in the production of HFCs, will probably do everything they can to delay the phase-down until they determine that investing in new refrigerants is more lucrative.

Nevertheless, the joint pledge signed by the United States and China has given a much-needed jumpstart to the global movement to reduce HFCs. It’s also a promising indication that the “most important bilateral relationship in the world” will give rise to further joint efforts to tackle climate change. It’s about time that the world’s two largest polluters take more initiative in cleaning up their own mess.

Cindy Hwang is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

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