Focal Points Blog

Recent Arms Purchases by Azerbaijan a Hedge Against Armenia, Not Iran

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

This year has witnessed a rapid escalation of tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan. In February, Baku agreed to buy $1.6 billion of arms from Israel. The order included drones, anti-aircraft missile defense systems, and various other weapons. Shortly thereafter, Azerbaijan reported that Iranian oil rigs had entered contested Azerbaijani waters in the Caspian Sea. A standoff over lucrative offshore petro rights seems imminent. In March, Azerbaijani police arrested 22 people they claimed were planning an Iranian-backed plot to assassinate U.S. and Israeli diplomats. Frequent closings of the Iranian-Azerbaijani border—apparently by Iran—have cut off the supply route to Nakhichevan, a truncated Azerbaijani enclave landlocked between Iran and Armenia. Two weeks ago, Baku refused entry to a senior aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader. Both countries withdrew their ambassadors in the ensuing diplomatic standoff. Most recently, an Azerbaijani court sentenced an Iranian reporter to two years in prison for drug possession, a move widely suspected as being politically motivated.

Azerbaijan prides itself on its secularism and is discomfited by what it sees as Iran’s attempts to spread Islamic influence in the region. Many Azerbaijani politicians publically refer to their nation as “North Azerbaijan,” insinuating that Azeri-speaking areas of Northern Iran are rightfully part of the Azerbaijani Republic. Azerbaijan’s “bunker mentality” is unsurprising given its history and precarious geopolitical location. A former Soviet republic sandwiched between Russia—who helped Azerbaijan’s western neighbor, Armenia, expel ethnic Azeris from Nagorno-Karabakh during the early 1990s—and Iran, Azerbaijan is a small nation inhabiting a volatile region it experiences as increasingly hostile.

Iran, for its part, sees the existence of a neighboring secular Shia state as a threat to the very integrity of the Islamic Republic. This fear may not be as ludicrous as it sounds. An estimated 20 percent of Iran’s population is Azeri, and they share close cultural and linguistic ties with Turkey, one of Iran’s main regional rivals. Azerbaijan and Israel are also on chummy terms. The secular Shia state is the second leading supplier of oil to Israel. Moreover, since 2001, the United States has frequently used Azerbaijani airspace to access Afghanistan. Iran suspects that the United States is using Azerbaijani intelligence to keep tabs on the region and increasingly fears that Azerbaijan could be the staging ground for an attack by Israel or the United States.

Speaking in Baku last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, addressing growing tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan, said that “there is a danger that it could escalate into a much broader conflict that would be very tragic for everyone concerned.” Conflict would likely draw other nations—such as Armenia, Russia, and/or Turkey, into the fray. Still, Azerbaijan will not likely agree to allow Israel or the United States to use its airstrips to attack Iran. Even with its newly acquired weapons, Azerbaijan is dreadfully ill-prepared to face off against its southern neighbor. One only needs to compare the military budgets of Azerbaijan and Iran: $2.8 billion to $7.5 billion, respectively, to see how perilous it would be for Azerbaijan to provoke Iran directly by military action or indirectly by allowing Israel or the U.S. to use its bases as a staging ground for an attack. Moreover, Iran’s active army is ten times larger than that of Azerbaijan. As a small country bordering Russia, a nation closely allied with the Islamic Republic, Azerbaijan has much more to lose than it does to gain should conflict ensue.

Azerbaijan’s recent weapons purchases should be seen as an attempt to aggrandize itself militarily vis-à-vis neighboring Armenia. Last fall, Armenia reportedly purchased 60 tons of used weapons from Moldova, a move that the Azerbaijani administration decried as having “destabilizing” effects in the region. But even with its most recent arms purchase, Armenia’s military pales in comparison to that of Azerbaijan. Armenia spends approximately $400 million a year on its military, or one-seventh as much as Azerbaijan. Armenia’s army is also substantially smaller.

Azerbaijan’s recent arms purchases are self-defeating. Due to the arguably solid alliance of Iran, Russia, and Armenia, conflict in the region would be dangerous at best—and perilous at worst—for Azerbaijan. Moreover, in addition to being limited geographically and militarily, Azerbaijan lacks allies among its closest neighbors. Even though Azerbaijan wants Armenia out of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is a mistake to think that this outcome—or any outcome desired by Azerbaijan—could be brought about by arms purchases that prepare the nation for a conflict from which it could not benefit.

Gabriel I. Rossman is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

My Non-intervention Problem

 U.N. peacekeeping forces were neutered in Rwanda.

U.N. peacekeeping forces were neutered in Rwanda.

When it comes to foreign policy, most progressives agree that intervention in another state’s internal affairs is ill-advised. With regards to Syria, Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Stephen Zunes summed this argument up well back in March.

“Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that international military interventions in cases of severe repression actually exacerbate violence in the short term and can only reduce violence in the longer term if the intervention is impartial or neutral. Other studies demonstrate that foreign military interventions actually increase the duration of civil wars, making the conflicts longer and bloodier, and the regional consequences more serious, than if there were no intervention. In addition, military intervention would likely trigger a ‘gloves off’ mentality that would dramatically escalate the violence on both sides.”

Speaking generally, if Vietnam hadn’t soured us on intervention, Iraq sure did. In the case of Syria, U.S. intentions, as Rob Prince and Ibrahim Kazerooni explain at Focal Points, remain suspect since the United States has long sought the its destabilization. It’s sort of a twofer to the United States, since bringing down Bashar al-Assad’s regime removes a key ally of Iran. Another objection to intervention in Syria is that it would conflict with Russia’s wish to keep Bashar al-Assad’s regime intact. We already see this beginning to happen when a Russian cargo ship allegedly transporting helicopter gunships to Syria was ordered out of British waters after its insurance coverage was revoked.

This author understands those rationales, but, in his gut, he balks. It’s not just how progressives go all libertarian and label liberals who call for intervention liberal hawks. Nor how it makes progressives look soft on defense. What most troubles me is the reflexiveness with we resist intervention.

Granted, the word intervention is maddening in its neutrality. Here, for instance, is its military definition: “Action taken to divert a unit or force from its track, flight path, or mission.” But, to me, the most heroic use of the military is not to defend our soil — that’s its everyday job. It’s to save the lives of innocent people — of any nation — who are in peril. It’s true that I personally have a rescuer complex; I suppose some background is in order.

What opened up the world of foreign policy to me personally was the Rwanda massacre and the refusal of the United Nations and the United States to make more than token attempts to prevent it or halt its progress. I read books on the subject such as Philip Gourevitch’s 1998 classic We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux).

That led to read a series of books about the Holocaust, as well as Problem From Hell : America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books, 2002), for which author Samantha Power was unjustly smeared as a liberal hawk. Much of that book was devoted to Rafael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide and whose ceaseless lobbying led the United Nations to adopt the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The concept of genocide, though, is limited by its requirement that the existence of a group of people or an ethnicity be threatened. Mass killing isn’t always confined to one race. As Timothy Snyder made crystal clear in The Bloodlands (Basic Books, 2010), during World War II, 14 million people of different races and nationalities were killed by both Hitler and Stalin in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, and western Russia. Nothing, though, obliterates the concept of genocide like nuclear weapons, the ultimate in equal-opportunity mass killing.

Needless to say, from the Holocaust to Rwanda, intervention came too late or not at all.

Walking the subject of mass killing back from millions dead spanning continents to thousands in one state, Syria could provide a test case for a new approach to intervention. Instead of thinking in terms of halting a repressive and murderous regime, which is a punitive act, focus instead on incentives — but not just to the regime. Also dangle incentives to the insurgents, as a way to identify the so-called good guys and force bad actors among them to mend their ways.

In other words, clear guidelines need to be codified — not only for Syria, but for opposing all tyrannies — which, if conformed to will result in the reward of assistance in the form of arms from other states, NATO, and the United Nations or even intervention. These guidelines would include the obvious, such as refraining from: savage retaliation against the regime’s forces, killing civilians, and blocking monitoring by human rights groups.

Of course navigating around obstacles such as, in Syria’s case, Russian and Chinese opposition to intervention, might prove impossible. Nevertheless, incentives for insurgents might help in separating the wheat from the chaff, such as extremist Islamists in Syria.

Syria, the United States, and the El Salvador Option (Part One)

Every day the news from Syria is more and more somber as the country and the region continue their journey to unknown and more dangerous realms. As Syria appears to heading for “beyond explosion,” for implosion and NATO foreign military intervention that could result in unpredictable dangerous consequences.

A curious person asking about the situation would get the following predictable reply: Syria is on the verge of civil war; it is run by a ruthless leader that violates human rights on a biblical scale and needs to be removed so that the “peace loving” Syrian people can live in harmony and tranquility and it appears the only way to achieve this goal is through yet another NATO-led military “humanitarian” intervention under the auspices of the United States.

Stepping back from the official (and Fox News’) version of Syrian analysis, and remembering a few historical facts, changes the picture considerably.

• Through repeated presidential doctrines, U.S. administrations – starting at least with Truman – have made it clear that the Middle East holds a strategic position in U.S.’ regional and global policy.

• It’s an historical fact that to protect those strategically declared interests, the United States will partner with anyone and do anything – kosher or not – from Netanyahu in Israel to Saddam in Iraq, to Bin Ali in Tunis, to Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah, to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, to Osama Bin Laden, the list goes on (when it serves U.S. interest).

• At least since WW II, the United States has repeatedly engaged in the destabilization of regimes it called undesirable, through various means (economic boycotts, bribes, CIA clandestine operations, infiltrating foreign militaries).

All this is done to change regimes that oppose U.S. interests in one way or the other! Why think that the basic paradigm has changed in the case of Syria? The goal remains the same; only the methodology – we would argue – is slightly different. Old wine, new bottle.

Let’s look at just a few pertinent facts:

1. The destabilization of Syria and Lebanon as sovereign countries has been on the drawing board of the US-NATO-Israel military alliance for at least ten years. Action against Syria is part of a “military road-map,” a sequencing of military operations that is being put into operation. According to former NATO Commander General Wesley Clark – the Pentagon had clearly identified a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan ” (Pentagon official quoted by General Wesley Clark in “ Winning Modern Wars ” [page 130]).

2. The overthrow of Syria’s government is a premeditated US plot which was instituted long before the outset of the Arab Spring. A concerted campaign to isolate, destabilize and overthrow the Syrian government began as early as 2002, a year after Clark was informed of the Pentagon’s plan to blitzkrieg through the Middle East. It was then that Secretary of State John Bolton added Syria to the growing “Axis of Evil.” It would later be revealed that Bolton’s threats against Syria included covert funding and support for “opposition’ groups inside of Syria spanning both the Bush and Obama administrations. In 2011, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner remarked that the US has been funding Syrian opposition groups since at least 2005 and the funding continues until today. In an April 2011 AFP report, Michael Posner, the assistant US Secretary of State for Human Rights and Labor, stated that the “US government has budgeted $50 million in the last two years to develop new technologies to help activists protect themselves from arrest and prosecution by authoritarian governments.”

3. A Washington Post report went on to explain that the US “organized training sessions for 5,000 activists in different parts of the world. A session held in the Middle East then gathered activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon who returned to their countries with the aim of training their colleagues there.” The same Michael Posner would add, “They went back and there’s a ripple effect.” That ripple effect of course is the “Arab Spring,” and in Syria’s case, the impetus for the current unrest threatening to unhinge the nation and invite in foreign intervention. (Emphasis added).

What we have here then is not a humanitarian gesture to democratize Syria – to the contrary, a pro-active policy of regime change similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan that was planned many years ago. The only thing needed was the proper context to implement the plan.

As every effort by the U.S. administration so far has not brought down the Syrian regime, this leads us to posit that the next step in the sequence of events – as it happened in Iraq and Afghanistan – is the implementation of the Salvador Option. This operation under U.S. supervision and support was perfected in El Salvador at the cost of 75,000 lives and in Guatemala with several hundred thousand deaths in the 1980s.

In Part Two, we will discuss this further.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog. Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: The Eurozone Crisis

It’s my fifth day at the Rio+20 summit and my mind is elsewhere.

Just enough Greek voters gritted their teeth and switched their votes to give the center-right New Democracy party another shot at government in their June 17 elections. Amid this victory for fear over hope it’s bear in mind the meteoric rise of the radical anti-austerity Syriza coalition, which polled a close second. Syriza’s support rose from 5 percent in 2009 to 27 percent on Sunday, narrowly avoided the fate of presiding over the next p

The metoric rise of the radical anti-austerity Syriza coalition was not enough to win the Greek elections. (Photo: Adolfo Cuartero/Flickr)

The metoric rise of the radical anti-austerity Syriza coalition was not enough to win the Greek elections. (Photo: Adolfo Cuartero/Flickr)

hase of the country’s economic collapse.

Greek voters gave European politicians a small window of opportunity to devise a credible plan to halt the downward spiral of bank insolvency and sovereign debt that’s afflicting much of Southern Europe. More likely, however, it has bought them a little more time to display even greater hubris. Thankfully, there’s plenty of insightful commentary that puts this in perspective.

Paul Krugman’s column in The New York Times is essential reading. Without shirking the fact that “there are big failings in Greece’s economy, its politics and no doubt its society,” he points out that all of these are “beside the point” because:

[T]he origins of this disaster lie farther north, in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, where officials created a deeply — perhaps fatally — flawed monetary system, then compounded the problems of that system by substituting moralizing for analysis. And the solution to the crisis, if there is one, will have to come from the same places….The only way the euro might — might — be saved is if the Germans and the European Central Bank realize that they’re the ones who need to change their behavior, spending more and, yes, accepting higher inflation.

Larry Elliot, writing in The Guardian, also stresses the need for European and global policymakers to tackle “structural issues,” given that the Eurozone has fatally locked in “differences in productivity and competitiveness.”

A more detailed version of this analysis has been provided over the past few years by the Research on Money and Finance group, under the guidance of Costas Lapavitsas. He’s also featured in Monday’s Guardian, reminding readers that the Pyrrhic victory for pro-austerity parties in the Greek election prolongs the Eurozone’s structural failings, that are hitting southern Europe hard: “As long as Germany continues to keep its own wages stagnant, no country in the Eurozone can significantly gain competitiveness by reducing wages,” he writes, while reminding readers that delays in tackling structural issues have served mainly to shift responsibility for the crisis from private investors to the Greek people:

When the crisis burst out in 2010, Greece had €300bn of debt, held overwhelmingly by private creditors and governed by Greek law… by early 2012 Greek debt had risen to €370bn. Of that, however, only about €200bn remained in private hands. In less than two years, the EU had saddled Greece with a massive official debt, much of which had been used to retire old debt, allowing large private creditors to exit without losses.

His conclusion that the next “more complex and dangerous phase” will play out in Greece may not be correct, however. Spanish government bonds are taking a hammering, pushing the costs of servicing government debt (which, in turn, was mostly incurred by bailing out failed private investments) to unsustainable levels. The unwinding of the country’s recent bailout (which, as I live in Barcelona, I take no particular pleasure in having predicted) continues apace.

As the BBC’s Paul Mason points out,

“Spain can now go bust on its own timetable, instead of one dictated by a Greek exit from the euro. And then the problems begin….The over-arching problem is the severe social pain and disintegration austerity has brought to Greece: 22% unemployment; 1,000-euro one-off tax demands to pensioners; falling incomes, closing shops and bars; quiet motorways. Despair.”

A similar list could be reeled off for Spain.

All of this may seem far removed from the Rio+20 talks, but there’s actually not such a great distance between this and the “green economy” agenda that the EU is pushing here. “The EU is badly affected by a crisis of capital accumulation” explains Antonio Tricarico of Re:Common, an Italian-based organization challenging the financialization of nature. “There is a massive amount of private wealth, and few sufficiently profitable assets to invest in… so they’re creating new asset classes from which to extract more value.”

Or, at least, that’s what the EU wants to do. As I write, most of the meat has been stripped from its proposals to push new ecosystem services markets through the Rio+20 summit, and the EU is fuming.

Taliban Vaccination Ban: Paranoia or Based in Fact?

Reports Declan Walsh for the New York Times on June 18:

A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were due to be vaccinated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden.

The commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said that polio vaccinations would be banned until the C.I.A. stopped its drone campaign, which has been largely focused on North Waziristan.

One’s initial instinct is to chalk it off to Taliban dogmatism and savgery. But, their suspicions may be warranted. Walsh refreshes our memories about Dr. Afridi.

In March and April 2011, Dr. Afridi ran a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad that was designed to covertly determine whether Osama bin Laden lived in a house in the city. Dr. Afridi failed to obtain a DNA sample, a senior American official said, but did help establish that Bin Laden’s local protector, known as “the courier,” was inside the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.

Dr. Afridi was arrested three weeks after American Navy SEALs raided the house on May 2, 2011, killing the Al Qaeda leader. But the Abbottabad operation was not his only vaccination campaign.

American officials say Dr. Afridi had been working with the C.I.A. for several years, at a time when he was leading polio vaccination efforts in Khyber Agency, a corner of the tribal belt that harbors a rare strain of the disease.

Western aid workers have sharply criticized the C.I.A. for recruiting a medical personnel and have complained of harsh restrictions on their work imposed by suspicious Pakistani authorities.

For their part

American officials say Dr. Afridi was targeting a mutual enemy of Pakistan and the United States.

And polio isn’t?

U.S. in No Position to Condemn Alleged Russian Transfer of Helicopter Gunships to Syrian Regime

AH-64A Apache gunship firing rockets during exercise.

AH-64A Apache gunship firing rockets during exercise.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has claimed that “there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria,” though the Russian government denies the accusation. If true, it would be highly disturbing, given the Syrian regime’s widespread use of such weapons against unarmed civilians. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called for an immediate end of arms transfers to the Syrian regime, particularly of weapons that have been used to target civilians.

However, the United States is hardly in a position to criticize arms transfers to governments which use them to attack innocent civilians, particularly helicopter gunships.

Thousands of Salvadoran civilians are believed to have been killed by U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships during the 1980s. Obama named Robert Gates, one the key architects of the Reagan administration’s Central American policy during that period, as Secretary of Defense.

The administration of Clinton’s husband provided helicopter gunships to the Turkish government despite their widespread use again civilians in Kurdish areas of the country. U.S. arms were responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in that country during the 1990s and over 3000 villages were burned.

Similarly, both the Clinton and Bush administration provided helicopter gunships to the Colombian military, despite their use against civilian targets.

Amnesty International called on the United States to cease such arms transfers to both Turkey and Colombia, but both the Clinton and Bush administrations rejected the plea.

In early October of 2000, immediately following the killing of a dozen Palestinian civilians by U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships killed a dozen Palestinians—including attacks on apartment complexes in Netzarim—the Clinton administration announced a new shipment of advanced Apache attack helicopters. The Pentagon acknowledged that, “U.S. weapons sales do not carry a stipulation that the weapons can’t be used against civilians. We cannot second-guess an Israeli commander who calls in helicopter gunships.” Amnesty International called for a cessation of all attack helicopter transfers to Israel, but Clinton administration rejected this call as well.

Similarly, the widespread use of helicopter gunships by Israeli forces against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 led Amnesty to again call for an end to the U.S. providing such materiel to the Israeli government, but the incoming Obama administration—like the Bush, Clinton and Reagan administrations before it—rejected the call to consider human rights in the transfers of such deadly technologies.

The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has tried to justify such transfers on the grounds that these governments were faced with armed insurgencies, including groups which had engaged in acts of terrorism. This is the exact same rationalization currently being used by the Syrian regime and its apologists. Yes, there is indeed an armed insurgency underway, and some elements are indeed terrorists, but that still does not give a government the right to target civilians. This is true regardless of the offending governments’ relations with the United States.

The very idea that the Obama administration even cares the slightest about civilians killed by helicopter gunships is debunked by the incident involving the release of audio and video footage of U.S. helicopter pilots in Iraq killing two unarmed Reuters journalists and several would-be rescuers. Not only did the Obama administration refuse to indict the pilots responsible, they chose to prosecute the private who exposed the illegal killings for “aiding the enemy.”

It appears, then, that the Obama administration’s opposition to the alleged Russian arms sale is not out of any concern for civilians, but out of a desire to weaken the Syrian government’s ability to combat rebel fighters armed by such U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Hypocrisy aside, it is still imperative for anyone concerned about human rights to categorically oppose Russian military assistance to Syria, such as helicopter gunships, which could be used against civilians, as it is imperative to oppose arms shipments by any country to governments which would likely target innocent civilians.

Unfortunately, the United States is in no position to preach to the Russians about the sanctity of arms.

Congress Attempts to Legislate Away Containment of Iran and Replace It With War

At Foreign Policy in Focus Stephen Zunes reports on a resolution (HR 568) that the House passed in a show of bipartisanship (401-11) that couldn’t have come at a worse possible time (as is usually the case with bipartisanship these days). He explains that HR 568 calls for “the president to oppose any policy toward Iran ‘that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.’”

… Congress has essentially told the president that nothing short of war or the threat of war is an acceptable policy. Indeed, the rush to pass this bill appears to have been designed to undermine the ongoing international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Even Colin Powell, as quoted by Dennis Kucinich, “has stated that this resolution ‘reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war.’”

First, the vote shows yet again that Democratic congress-persons would rather pander to their donors (in this case, lobbying groups such as AIPAC) rather than represent their constituents. Sure, talk tough on defense, especially with respect to Iran, plays well with most American voters. But many of those voters don’t understand, as congress-persons do — or would if the psyches of many of them weren’t as compartmentalized as they are — the extent to which such talk can pave the way to catastrophic war. Besides, though best left to legal scholars, HR 578 smells either illegal or unconstitutional.

What escapes most observers — Professor Zunes conspicuously excepted — is that as apocalyptic as war with Iran would be, the implications of HR 568 are even more sweeping. He writes:

The language of this resolution, however, significantly lowers the bar [for taking military action against Iran] by declaring it unacceptable for Iran simply to have “nuclear weapons capability” — not necessarily any actual weapons or an active nuclear weapons program.

Nuclear weapons capability, which isn’t technically illegal under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is also known as “virtual deterrence,” because the program has yet to become “bricks and mortar.” One can’t help but wish that the missiles and bombs with which we threaten Iran were also virtual and it were all a videogame.

More to the point, writes Professor Zunes:

There is enormous significance to the resolution’s insistence that containment, which has been the basis of U.S. defense policy for decades, should no longer be U.S. policy in dealing with potential threats. Although deterrence may have been an acceptable policy in response to the thousands of powerful Soviet nuclear weapons mounted on intercontinental ballistic missile systems aimed at the United States, the view today is that deterrence is somehow inadequate for dealing with a developing country capable of developing small and crude nuclear devices but lacking long-range delivery systems.

Indeed, this broad bipartisan consensus against deterrence marks the triumph of the neoconservative first-strike policy, once considered on the extreme fringes when first articulated in the 1980s.

According to this line of thinking, no need to rely on deterrence alone with non-nuclear weapon states: we’re free to mount an offensive attack, as well. Meanwhile, with nuclear-weapons states, first strikes are almost entirely out of the question — not only nuclear strikes, but conventional. Thus do states that aspire to nuclear weapons draw the inevitable conclusion that they need to develop a nuclear-weapons program to avoid offensive attacks and “qualify” to be handled with a deterrence policy by the United States.

In a similar vein, Martin Hellman, arguably the world’s clearest quantifier of nuclear risk and proprietor of the site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, recently wrote:

The logical inconsistency – and danger – of nuclear deterrence should be obvious, but it still forms the foundation of our national security strategy. Yet, for nuclear deterrence to work:

• we must be irrational enough for our adversary’s threats not to deter us, yet
• our adversary must be rational enough that our threats will deter them.

As I commented at Defusing the Nuclear Threat in response:

I think I’ve got it: The rational us are supposed to act irrational in hopes the irrational them acts rational. Makes perfect sense!

Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: What’s at Stake with the Green Economy

President Barack Obama may be steering clear of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, but thousands of government delegates, civil society activists, and business lobbyists are already streaming into Brazil.

I arrived last night and will blog throughout this UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I’ll bring you the latest about the talks among those somber-suited delegates who’ll buzz around a complex of aircraft hangars on the edge of the city. And I’ll sum up the action at the tent city that has sprung up in Rio’s vast and verdant Flamengo Park — where the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice is taking place.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro/

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro/

To kick things off, here’s some recommended reading for anyone who’s about to board a plane to Rio to attend the summit from June 20-22, or to help you follow the action if you’re not. To learn what’s at stake, I recommend reading the Rio Conventions, which world leaders agreed to follow during the meeting they held here in 1992. These landmark treaties laid out the principles under which key issues of environmental protection are to be discussed. The three landmark conventions address climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.

Then there’s Agenda 21 — a modest and rather toothless action plan for supposedly “sustainable development.” (While over-excited tea partiers may consider that document to be a Soros-funded, left-wing conspiracy for the United Nations to achieve world domination, it never had much impact.)

And although the first Rio Earth Summit successfully established a framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, its impact has remained limited. Nature magazine’s damning report card, which makes that clear, is also very disturbing. Global greenhouse gas emissions have risen at even faster rates than before. We continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. Land degradation is causing the continued spread of deserts.

For this reason, many delegates in Rio this time around are simply calling for measures to implement existing commitments. They say that would be better than creating any new corporate-driven initiatives or issuing yet more empty promises. The Third World Network has a comprehensive overview of the key issues, and is publishing regular updates with details of who said what at the Rio+20 talks.

“Green economy” proposals have proven to be some of the most contentious so far. On June 14, the 133 countries that comprise the G77+China (the largest negotiating bloc, representing the majority of the world’s population) walked out of talks on this element of the text. They cited a lack of progress on funding to help developing countries achieve more sustainable development and “technology transfer” mechanisms that could ease patent restrictions to promote the spread of cleaner technologies. Today, they kicked out of the agreement text that would have advocated a “transition to a green economy.”

That’s a win for progressives. Really. Wait — don’t we want a greener economy? Of course we do, but as this briefing, this video , this animation, and this report clearly show, there’s widespread concern that the term “green economy” is being used as a cover by rich countries lobbying for new markets to be created in biodiversity and ecosystems, and new avenues for financial speculation. A truly green economy, by contrast, would recognize the limits of what can be “financialized.” It would protect both the common good and public resources.

The battle between these very different worldviews will continue here over the coming days. The Rio+20 negotiating text remains littered with language that could be used to promote markets for environmental services. And the fight against the anti-democratic variety of green economics must be waged outside this conference too, because the World Bank and other powerhouses are busily building institutions to support these new markets.

Oscar Reyes is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies’ Sustainable Energy & Economy Network.

Multinationals Use International Tribunals to Overpower Nation-States

A leaked document posted at Public Citizen last night offers a stark reminder of the rising power transnational corporations enjoy in the domestic settings of nation-states where they do business. The Huffington Post’s Zach Carter writes that “The newly leaked document is one of the most controversial of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. It addresses a broad sweep of regulations governing international investment and reveals the Obama administration’s advocacy for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.” As Carter points out, “The terms run contrary to campaign promises issued by Obama and the Democratic Party during the 2008 campaign.”

The threat faced by nation-states from the growing power of multinational corporations is very real. At the center of concern is the power that multinationals have to override the domestic laws of countries through the arm of international tribunals tasked with adjudicating trade disputes between states and multinational firms. The most important example that illustrates this concern, as Carter rightly points out, is the case currently before a World Bank tribunal assessing the claims of a Canadian firm arguing for its right to mine for gold in El Salvador irrespective of the objections of the country’s government and people.

The case of El Salvador is worth more consideration that Carter is able to devote in his article. In early 2009, the multinational firm Pacific Rim Mining Corporation filed suit against San Salvador for its refusal to allow exploitation of gold deposits in El Salvador’s rural north. The corporation claimed that the government violated its Chapter 10 responsibilities under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by refusing to issue exploitation permits after Pacific Rim filed an Environmental Impact Assessment in accordance with El Salvador’s national law.

The stakes for Pacific Rim were potentially quite high. The corporation had began exploring for gold in El Salvador years earlier, and in fact was given the green light by a previous administration to map out possible sites where the country’s deposits could be exploited to greatest profit. Pacific Rim subsequently identified some 25 sites where they believed gold could be successfully mined. But as exploration efforts expanded, so to did the worries of environmentalists and social activists. Critics of Pacific Rim’s intentions argued that mining operations would contaminate the country’s water channels and arable soil with the cyanide-laced water used to extract gold from subterranean rock. A sustained protest movement formed around the issue which succeeded in moving public opinion against the corporation’s presence in the country.

But the stakes for El Salvador are even higher. If the tribunal finds in Pacific Rim’s favor, the country would be forced to pay out damages it cannot afford. While the country’s economic situation is not nearly as dire as some of its regional neighbor’s, its fiscal health is far from secure. Just recently, the country’s economic minister stepped down after the International Monetary Fund shut the tap on a $750 million dollar loan and budget numbers took a turn for the worse. The Wall Street Journal reports that “El Salvador’s economic growth of 1.5 percent last year was lower than projected, while public spending and debt soared past expectations.” Another possible outcome from the tribunal’s deliberations is a negotiated settlement. The most likely outcome would involve amending El Salvador’s environmental and mining laws which in turn could open the door to foreign corporations and ease access to the country’s natural resources.

Barack Obama was a staunch opponent of CAFTA before he was president, which makes the leaked trade document especially upsetting. The Obama administration, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, has largely failed to curb the power of multinationals to hold sway in domestic policies. But the documents published by Public Citizen last night suggest that the White House is actively in league with them — a revelation that should give even Obama’s staunchest supporters pause and offer incontrovertible evidence that on this issue, at least, the president and his challenger Mitt Romney hold the same policy preference. Thus, regardless of the electoral outcome later this fall, supposed allies of the United States can expect to receive a raw deal.

Spanish Austerity Savage to the Point of Sadism

Spanish prime minister -- and bailout apologist -- Mariano Rajoy.

Spanish prime minister — and bailout apologist — Mariano Rajoy.

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz characterizes the Spanish bank bailout as “voodoo economics” that is certain “to “fail.” New York Times economic analyst Andrew Ross Sorkin agrees: “By now it should be apparent that the bailout has failed—or at least on its way to failing.” And columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman bemoans that Europe (and the U.S.) “are repeating ancient mistakes” and asks, “why does no one learn from them?”

Indeed, at first glance, the European Union’s response to the economic chaos gripping the continent does seem a combination of profound delusion, and what a British reporter called “sado-monetarism”—endless cutbacks, savage austerity, and widespread layoffs.

But whether something “works” or not depends on what you do for a living.

If you work at a regular job, you are in deep trouble. Spanish unemployment is at 25 percent—much higher in the country’s southern regions—and 50 percent among young people. In one way or other, those figures—albeit not quite as high—are replicated across the Euro Zone, particularly in those countries that have sipped from Circe’s bailout cup: Ireland, Portugal, and Greece.

But if you are Josef Ackermann heading up the Deutsche Bank, you earned an 8 million Euro bonus in 2012, because you successfully manipulated the past four years of economic meltdown to make the bank bigger and more powerful than it was before the 2008 crash. In 2009, when people were losing their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, Deutsche Bank’s profits soared 67 percent, eventually raking in almost 8 billion Euros for 2011. The bank took a hit in 2012, but the Spanish bailout will help recoup Deutsche Bank’s losses from its gambling spree in Spanish real estate.

And, just in case you thought irony was dead, it was the Spanish housing bubble that tanked that country’s economy—at the time Madrid’s debt was among the lowest in the Euro Zone—and German banks (as well as Dutch, French, British and Austrian) financed that bubble. German Banks also financed the real estate bubble that crashed Ireland’s economy. Some 60 percent of Deutsche Bank’s income is foreign based.

Consider this figure: in 1997 real estate loans in Ireland were 5 billion Euros. By 2007 they were 96.2 billion Euros, a jump of 1730 percent. Real estate prices rose 500 percent, the same amount that Spanish housing prices increased. The banks didn’t know they were pumping up a bubble? Of course they knew, but they were making money hand over fist.

When the American financial industry self-destructed in 2008, the Irish and Spanish bubbles popped, and who got the bill? Irish taxpayers shelled out $30 billion to bail out the Anglo-Irish Bank—essentially the country’s total tax revenues for 2009—and in return got a 15 percent unemployment rate, huge cuts in the minimum wage, pension reductions, and social service cutbacks. Spain is headed in the same direction.

As Spanish economist and London School of Economics professor Luis Garicano told the New York Times, “Unfortunately, Spain did not manage to reach one of its main goals in the negotiations [over the bailout], which was to have Europe bear part of the risk of rescuing the financial sector, without letting it fall instead directly onto the shoulders of the Spanish taxpayers.”

Garicano went on to complain, “Those who lent to our financial system were the banks and the insurance companies of Northern Europe, which should bear the consequences of these decisions.”

But of course they will not. Instead, the banks got to go to the casino, gamble other people’s money, and get repaid for their losses. That’s sweet work if you can get it.

However, the “sado-monetarism” strategy is about more than just bailing out the banks at the expense of the vast majority of European taxpayers. It cloaks its long-term designs in coded language: “rigid labor market,” “internal devaluation,” “pension reform,” “common budgetary process,” “political union.”

A quick translation.

“Rigid labor market” means getting rid of contracts that guarantee decent wages, working conditions and benefits, all won through a long process of negotiations and industrial action. As the New York Times put it, the current rightwing Spanish government is attempting to “loosen collective bargaining agreements.”

The drive to scrap union contracts is coupled with “internal devaluation,” which, as Krugman points out, “basically means cutting wages.” If the working class can be forced to accept lower wages and slimmer benefits—and there is no better disciplinarian in these regards than a high unemployment rate—profits will go up. Sure, the vast majority will be poorer, but not the people who run Deutsche Bank.

“Pension reform” simply means impoverishing old people, who had nothing to do with the real estate bubbles that brought down Ireland and Spain. But again, someone has to sacrifice, and old people don’t have all that much time left anyhow.

Oh, for ice floes to put them on.

“Common budgetary process” and “political union” means giving up national sovereignty in the service of keeping the banks solvent—in essence, the end of democracy on the continent. People could then elect any one they pleased, but no national government would have any say over economic policy. Want to do a bit of pump priming to get the jobless rate down and tax revenues up? Nope. But feel free to paint park benches any color you like.

The 100 billion Euro ($125 billion) Spanish bailout will fail for the average Spaniard, as bailouts have already failed the Irish, Portuguese and Greeks, and it will lock Spain into generations of debt. Italy is next (not counting the small fry like Cyprus and several Eastern European countries that may fall before Rome is finally sacked). The Euro Zone’s economies are predicted to contract 0.1 percent for all of 2012, and the jobless rate for the 17-country bloc is 11 percent, higher than at any time since the Euro was established in 1999.

Spain’s right-wing prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has tried to argue that the bailout was not as onerous as those imposed on Ireland, Portugal and Greece, but the Germans soon set him straight: “There will be a troika [the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund] and it will make sure the program is being implemented,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaube told the Financial Times.

It is not unlikely that the Euro will fall sometime in the next year, but of course the debts will remain. The dead hand of the past will lie on the brow of the living for a long, long time to come.

Financier George Soros puts much of the blame for the current crisis on Germany—indeed, he accuses Chancellor Andrea Merkel of trying to establish a “German Empire”—but that is simplistic. Germany has certainly led the “sado-monetarian” charge, but this strategy is not just about unleashing the austerity Panzers to establish a Fourth Reich. All over the world, capital is on the march, with the goal of rolling back the social programs of the post-World War II period and returning to the Gilded Age when the rich did pretty much as they pleased.

Weakening unions is central to this, as is privatizing everything capital can get its hands on, and the economic crisis is the perfect cover to try an accomplish this. For a fascinating analogy, pick up Indian journalist P. Sainath’s brilliant “Everyone Loves A Good Drought” that exposed how wealthy landlords in India manipulated a natural crisis to increase their grip over agriculture.

Former Deutsche Bank head Ackermann recently prattled on about the “social time bomb” of economic inequality, but so far he has not offered to share his 8.8 million Euro bonus. In the meantime, according to the International Labor Organization, youth global unemployment will reach 12.7 percent this year and stay there for at least four years, creating a “lost generation” of workers.

So, the answer to Krugman’s question, “why are they repeating ancient mistakes?”

Because they are making out like bandits.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

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