Focal Points Blog

In Mali, Conflict Continues a Year After the French-led Invasion



Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Tensions Revive in Kidal, Northern Mali

A mere nine months after a French-led military intervention supposedly stabilized the country, Mali is once again in turmoil. Despite Paris’ claims that all of its military would leave, more than likely the 1,000 remaining French military personnel in Mali are there for “an enduring mission.”

At the same time, at present,  momentum for another major French-led military intervention in the Central African Republic will result in more permanent French troops on the ground elsewhere in Africa, joining those already there in Chad and the Ivory Coast, just to name a few. A French re-militarization of Africa, under the well-worn pretext of humanitarian intervention, is in the making.
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Republicans Want It Both Ways With Treaties


In a new report for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Usha Sahay and Kingston Reif cite President Obama’s June 19 speech in Berlin. The President announced his intentions to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal an additional 1,000 or more warheads below the level required by the New START treaty. When he stated that these cuts could either be “pursued through formal agreements” ― treaties ― or “parallel voluntary measures,” 24 Republican senators immediately wrote him to the effect that “any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.”
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Drones Trail a Whole Host of Dilemmas – Ethical and Otherwise – in Their Wake

DroneIn a recent column at Foreign Policy in Focus, Conn Hallinan used the image of Pandora’s box to illustrate the limitless outpouring of problems that drones present. Most of the concern over drones revolves around, abroad, the deaths of innocents (not to mention the dubious ethics and legality of assassinations anywhere), and, on the home front, surveillance. But, in a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article titled Which drone future will Americans choose?, Hugh Gusterson outlines issues often gone unnoticed.

For instance, no other state uses weaponized drones. (Currently, Gusterson explains, Britain and Israel are the only other states in possession of them.) Hasn’t it ever occurred to anyone that if states such as Russia and China develop or acquire them, they might use them as we do? Gusterson:

If they decide to use their own drones outside the boundaries of international law against people they brand “terrorists,” the United States will hardly be in a position to condemn them or counsel restraint.
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George Kennan’s Prescience About the Military-Industrial Complex

Kennan, George

In a 1985 article in Political Psychology, which I recently found while browsing JSTOR, John Kennan was quoted by author John E. Mack.* Kennan, the political scientist and diplomat whose ideas informed the U.S. policy of “containing” the Soviet Union wrote (in “Letter to an American,” the New Yorker, September 24, 1984):

The habit of spending from two to three hundred billions of dollars annually on preparations for an imagined war with Russia ― a habit reaching deeply into the lives and interests of millions of our citizens both in and out of the armed services, including industrial workers, labor-union officials, politicians, legislators, and middlemen: This habit has risen to the status of a vast addiction of American society, an addiction whose overcoming would encounter the most intense resistance and take years to accomplish even if the Soviet Union had in the meantime miraculously disappeared from the earth.
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Susan Rice Attempts to Solve the Japan-China Deadlock

Trans-Asian Railway

Sending Caroline Kennedy, a household name in the United States, to Japan as the ambassador indicates that President Obama has realized there is no better choice than using the tension in East Asia to capture and retain the attention of the American public to his amazing skills in handling Asia. While the jingoistic heat may stay for a while, the White House will cool it down soon.

In 1940, the GDP (in US$ billion) of Germany, Japan, the UK and the U.S. amounted to US$387, $192, $316 and $943 respectively, with a ratio between the two Axis and the two Allied powers at 0.4599:1. In 2012, the GDP of China, Japan and the U.S. amounted to $8,358, $5,960 and $15,685 billion respectively, with a ratio between China and the U.S.-Japan team at 0.3861:1.  The GDP per capita of the U.S. in 2012 was US$49,965 and that of Japan was US$46,720, but the Chinese figure was merely US$6,188 which was less than 7% of the U.S.-Japan combined total.
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Mandela in the Age of Drones

Predator_and_HellfireBeyond the headlines surrounding the passing of Nelson Mandela lies another story. Before overseeing the historic transition of power heralding majority rule in South Africa, Mandela led Umkhonto we Sizwe, the militant wing of the African National Congress which was labeled a terrorist organization by the United States. The Central Intelligence Agency is suspected to have played a role in his arrest, having invested more resources in countering the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid movements than did South Africa’s own security services. It devotes a similar level of attention today to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, where it has deployed drones to eliminate targets who are suspected of terrorism based on their patterns of behavior.

The United States Government’s public justification for drone warfare was defended by the current CIA Director and then top Presidential counterterror aide John Brennan, who argued that drone strikes are legal, ethical, and wise. The first two of these points are up for debate, but using targeted strikes against suspected terrorists is widely considered to be wiser, safer, and less expensive than attempting to capture suspects and bring them to justice. Brennan noted that the primary purpose of these strikes is not to punish targets for past actions, but to “mitigate an actual ongoing threat.” It is likely that the threat Mandela presented to one of the United States’ Cold War allies would have easily passed Brennan’s threat mitigation test for using drone strikes.
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The Human Rights Project: Determined by the Needs of the Powerful


This paper is an excerpt from a much longer chapter in the forthcoming book on People-Centered Human Rights.

“Ours is the age of rights. Human rights is the idea of our time, the only political-moral idea that has received universal acceptance.”
Louis Henkin

This quote from Louis Henkin, the venerable international legal scholar and passionate advocate for human rights, represents both the promise and the contradictory limitations of the human rights idea. For Professor Henkin and most of the human rights establishment, the universality of human rights is uncontested. The dominant values, assumptions, legal framework, research methodologies, forms of advocacy, institutional expressions and norm-setting processes that developed over the last six decades of the “modern” human rights period are seen as a natural evolution of progressive global relations.
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Yemen: Chaos, Conflict, and Revolution

The Yemeni Revolution, 2011-2012. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Yemeni Revolution, 2011-2012. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Yemen. The very name of this country brings many thoughts to one’s mind. It happens to be one of the oldest centres of civilization in the region, and is currently the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. If that does not impress you, Yemen is also the only state in the Arabian Peninsula to have a purely republican form of government, and was the first country in the region to grant voting rights to women.

A nice resume, indeed! Sadly, of late Yemen has not made it to the papers for the right reasons. As harsh as it may sound, present-day Yemen is far from perfect.
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In What World Does Spending 3/4 of a Billion Dollars on One Bomber Make Sense?

The B-17

The B-17

At Bloomberg, Tony Capaccio reports the new long-range bomber planned by the Air Force may cost 50 percent more than it had projected. The figure thrown around is $810 million for one, up from $737,000,000 for the B-2. Bear in mind that, during World War II, a number quoted for B-17s ― one of its predecessors ― was 12,731 manufactured. Let’s see how many of previous generations of bombers you could buy with the money spent on one of the new bomber (figures from Wikipedia).

• 3,399 B-17s at $238,329 each

• 1,267 B-29s at $639,188 each

• 15 B-52s at $53.4 million each

Is one new bomber worth that many of the old bombers? In terms of pure destructiveness, that’s questionable. Bear in mind that the B-29 was used to transport and drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Really, how much more bang for the buck does a bomber need?

$810 million for one bomber ― is the Pentagon even listening to itself?

Is Iran Granted the Right to Enrich Uranium by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or Isn’t It?

There are any number of obstacles that could trip up the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1”—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany—but the right to “enrich” nuclear fuel should not be one of them. Any close reading of the 1968 “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word “enrichment” is not used in the text, all signers have the right to the “peaceful applications of nuclear technology.”

Arak heavy water reactor

Arak heavy water reactor

Enriched fuel is produced when refined uranium ore—“yellowcake”—is transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas and spun in a centrifuge. The result is fuel that may contain anywhere from 3.5 to 5 percent Uranium 235 to over 90 percent U-235. The former is used in power plants, the latter in nuclear weapons. Some medical procedures require fuel enriched to 20 percent.
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