Focal Points Blog

Watch Out What You Wish For: China Now No. 1 Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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Pity Poor Michael Hayden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Dismantlement National Nuclear Security Administration

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

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

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

But,

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

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

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

Say what?

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

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

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

Before Solidarity, There Was the Polish Church

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

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

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

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

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

Its leader Hassan Nasrallah claims that Hezbollah still stands ready to fight Israel, despite concentrating on fighting Sunnis in Syria. (Photo: Sajed / Wikimedia Commons)

Its leader Hassan Nasrallah claims that Hezbollah still stands ready to fight Israel, despite concentrating on fighting Sunnis in Syria. (Photo: Sajed / Wikimedia Commons)

Hezbollah recently announced that it had acquired advanced missiles from Iran. At Politico Magazine, Matthew Levitt writes that move is intended, in part, to deter Israel from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. (While Levitt works for the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy, no obvious route exists for tuning the observations rendered in this article to political ends that favor Israel hawks.) Also, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah still stands ready and willing to fight Israel. However, writes Levitt, what Nasrallah

… didn’t say, and is loath to publicly admit, is that Hezbollah desperately wants to avoid a full-blown military conflict with Israel right now and is therefore limiting its attacks on Israel to small and infrequent roadside bombs along the Lebanese border and attacks by local proxies on the Golan Heights.

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By Pushing for More Sanctions, U.S. Hardliners Play Into Hands of Iranian Hardliners

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

“Buoyed by the failure of the US and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program,” writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service, “pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.” But, he continues,

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

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Does Syria See the U.S. as an Ally?

Syria’s Assad regime benefits from U.S. attacks on the Islamic State. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

Syria’s Assad regime benefits from U.S. attacks on the Islamic State. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

In Foreign Policy magazine, Noah Bonsey writes:

U.S. officials publicly acknowledge that the Syrian regime’s behavior — indeed its very nature — is a primary factor fueling the jihadis’ rise and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces continue to kill far more civilians (and rebels) than the Islamic State does. They also recognize that the role of mainstream rebels will be essential in reversing jihadi gains.

The U.S.-led coalition’s strikes have enabled the regime to reallocate assets to face mainstream rebels, whose defeat remains the regime’s top priority. Since strikes against the Islamic State began, regime forces have gained ground against mainstream rebels on key fronts in Hama province and in Aleppo city; in the case of the latter, they have done so against the very same rebel groups that are confronting the Islamic State in the nearby northern countryside.

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