Monthly Archives: April 2011

Where it Never Died: Nuclear Power in Russia, Urkraine and Belarus

Twenty-five years after the Chernobyl disaster, Eastern Europe is still clinging to nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement is essentially non-existent, but experts say ‘green’ energy is still a viable alternative. Don’t panic, it’s really not so bad! This is a sentiment that has been repeated by leading politicians in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine since the start of the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. They view this neither as a second Chernobyl, nor as a reason to consider ending the use of nuclear power. In the eyes of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, for example, nuclear power is “absolutely safe.”

In fact, the Kremlin is planning to more than double the number of nuclear power plants in Russia from the current 10 by 2020. There were even plans to build a nuclear power plant in the Pacific Ocean. However, analysts say that since last month’s powerful earthquake and tsunami, that idea is being revisited and the project may well be cancelled.

Belarus and Ukraine also see nuclear power as the way forward. Ukraine has four nuclear plants and there are plans for a Russian firm to build two more reactors at one of them. The Russian energy firm Rosatom is to begin construction of the first nuclear plant in Belarus in the autumn. Belarusian officials signed the contract on March 15, just days after the nuclear disaster in Japan.  Tobias Münchmeyer, a nuclear expert at Greenpeace in Berlin, believes the difference between Western and Russian nuclear power plants in terms of safety is “much less” than widely believed. According to Münchmeyer, most power plants in Eastern Europe are no less safe than their Western counterparts. But 11 Russian reactors, of the same type involved in the Chernobyl disaster, are an exception. These, Münchmeyer regards as “particularly dangerous.”….

Russian and Ukrainian politicians have repeatedly claimed that there is no alternative to nuclear power. But Münchmeyer disagrees, arguing that Moscow could do away with the use of nuclear power relatively quickly, as it currently accounts for just 17 percent of the electricity produced in Russia. This could be replaced, he said, with power generated by renewable sources or gas.  The situation in Ukraine is quite different. The four nuclear plants there account for 48 percent of the electricity produced in the country. But at the same time, the country produces an excess of power and exports what it doesn’t use itself….

For Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the future is nuclear, Deutsche Welle, Apr. 23, 2011

Drone Strikes in Pakistan: business and ire

The main supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan was temporarily closed on Sunday after thousands of people blocked a key highway in Pakistan to protest against U.S. drone strikes, officials said.  The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, however, said the two-day blockade would have no impact on the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan. “Coordination with Pakistani government officials has been conducted and we understand the government will maintain security,” an ISAF spokesman said. “There is no impact on ISAF sustainment.”  The routes through Pakistan bring in 40 percent of supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to the United States Transportation Command. Of the remainder, 40 percent come through Afghanistan’s neighbors in the north and 20 percent by air.

The call for blocking the supply line came from cricket-turn-politician Imran Khan after U.S. officials rejected Pakistan’s demand for sharp cuts in drone strikes in its tribal regions where al Qaeda and Taliban militants are based. Activists from Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), Khan’s party, and some Islamist parties staged a sit-in on the highway leading to Afghanistan through the Pashtun tribal region of Khyber.   “It is meant to send a message outside that we oppose drone strikes. We will never accept them,” Asad Qaiser, PTI president in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said….The attacks by U.S. pilotless aircraft are a source of concern for the Pakistani government, which says civilian casualties stoke public anger and bolster support for the Islamist militancy.  But the protests have irked Pakistani truckers involved in the lucrative business of transporting supplies to the foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Aizaz Mohmand, Pakistanis rally against drone strikes, block NATO supply route, Reuters, Apr. 24, 2011

Taliban as Political Actors: who is afraid of negotiations?

Washington’s military strategy in Afghanistan now aims to avoid the appearance of defeat for America, but for Afghanistan it is a recipe for unending civil war.  In essence, it is a version of the strategy pursued by the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1980s: to build up the Afghan army to the point where it can contain the insurgents without the help of outside ground forces, while seeking to win over individual insurgent commanders and their supporters.  This strategy may create forces that can defend key cities against the Taliban. But it is unlikely that Afghan security forces will be able to do this on their own. And it offers little real prospect of either eliminating or winning over enough of the Taliban to control the Pashtun countryside and end the insurgency. Nor can such a large security force be sustained by an impoverished country through its own resources.

Faced with awesome U.S. military power, most Taliban fighters neither fight to the death nor surrender. They just go home to their villages, and wait to see what happens next. This is exactly what happened after the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.To contain continuing Taliban influence across a large swathe of the country would require effective, honest, representative and locally rooted Afghan civilian authorities. Is this possible, given the experience of the past 10 years?

The overwhelming probability therefore is that existing U.S. strategy will lead to a situation in which, once American troops withdraw from an active ground role, the Taliban will re-establish their control of the countryside and besiege the southern and eastern cities, which will be defended by a mixture of the Afghan National Army on the ground and U.S. firepower in the air. Because they will need their help in this war, the Taliban will be compelled to preserve their links to Al Qaeda, and continue to draw revenue from the heroin trade.

There will be an enduring risk that the weakness of the Afghan government and the deep ethnic divisions in the Afghan Army will intensify internal strife and face Washington with the choice of either reoccupying the country with ground troops or pulling out and leaving Afghanistan to its fate.

Faced with this reality, there is a growing consensus in the international community and among many U.S. experts on the idea of peace talks with the Taliban — not just to break away individual commanders, but to draw the movement as a whole into a peace settlement. And as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in a key speech at the Asia Society in February, Pakistan will have to play an essential role in any settlement. In this way, Pakistan can be turned from Washington’s “problem” into an asset.  Declaring U.S. readiness to “reconcile with an adversary,” Ms. Clinton spelled out three “red lines for reconciliation” with the Taliban: “They must renounce violence … abandon their alliance with Al Qaeda, and abide by the Constitution.”  Then came a crucially significant shift in the U.S. position. The three redlines were no longer described as pre-conditions but as objectives — as “necessary outcomes of any negotiation.”

There is also a growing recognition in the American establishment that the Afghan Constitution is not set in stone and can be renegotiated by Afghans themselves — including the Taliban.  Ms. Clinton’s speech narrows the difference in approach between the United States and Pakistan, which has long insisted that the war can only be brought to an end by political, not military means, and that talks must begin without preconditions. It also closed the gap with America’s NATO allies in Europe, virtually all of whom have privately been calling for talks with the Taliban to secure a political solution.

In talks with the United States, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has suggested interim peace-building measures, intended both to lay the basis for later talks on a final settlement and to allow the U.S. to explore which leaders and elements in the Taliban are in fact ready for compromise. He has said that Pakistan stands ready to help in such a process.  His call for a sequenced approach to a peace settlement involves in the first instance a mutual deescalation of violence to open the way for negotiations and offer an incentive to the Taliban to disavow Al Qaeda. Peace-building measures can include local cease-fires to instill trust for serious talks, which must be led by the Afghans themselves.

Other steps can also be taken to prepare the ground for political negotiations. An important step would be the creation of a Taliban office possibly in a Gulf country to encourage their transformation into a political actor from a fighting force. Such measures need be initiated without delay, for without them the prospect of an unending conflict looms, an outcome that is in nobody’s interest.

However, Gen. David Petraeus and the Pentagon have yet to accept the notion of talks with Taliban leaders. So far they have only embraced a policy of “reintegration,” which aims at splitting and weakening the Taliban, and not “reconciliation” which means negotiating with them.  A European diplomat depicted this stance rather graphically: “the U.S. military only wants to talk with their boots on the Taliban’s neck.” This approach no longer enjoys the confidence either of the international community or of a majority of Americans. Above all the Afghans want an end to the fighting and a chance at peace.

ANATOL LIEVEN and MALEEHA LODHI, Bring in the Taliban, NY Times, April 22, 2011

Who has the better Missiles, India or Pakistan?

Pakistan successfully test-fired a new short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile, the Hatf-9, at an undisclosed location, the Defense Ministry said.  The firing of the missile with a range of just less than 40 miles was at sea, the Defense Ministry said in the written statement.  Hatf-9 is a multi-tube ballistic missile system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and intended to deter emerging threats and increase Pakistan’s short-range strategic weapons development program. It is a low-yield battlefield deterrent capable of inflicting damage on mechanized forces such as armed brigades and divisions, the statement said.

It comes after a test in March of a Hatf-2 surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a range of 110 miles. The Ministry of Defense released a video — less than 1 minute in length — of the test firing. It showed the missile leaving the launch ship and hitting a target ship amidships, followed by billowing smoke.

In early February, Pakistan successfully test-fired its nuclear-capable Hatf-7, or Babur, cruise missile as “part of a process of validating the system,” a government statement said at the time. “Babur can carry strategic and conventional warheads,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Arthar Abbas said. Also, it has a 10-foot circular error point accuracy, tight enough for use in surgical strikes.

The missile — named after the 16th-century Muslim ruler Hair ID-din Muhammad Ba bur, founder of the Mughal Empire — reportedly flew approximately 370 miles.  Its range is reported to be 470 miles, which, analysts have said, would allow for the missile to be launched deep inside Pakistani territory and reach major cities in neighboring India. The range is politically significant because the missile was developed with an eye to defending Pakistan against India’s indigenously developed BrahMos cruise missiles.  The latest test firing drew reaction from Indian-based military analysts and government officials.

“Pakistan already has the long and medium-range Shaheen and Ghauri series of missiles, acquired with help of China and North Korea, to act as the delivery mechanism for strategic nuclear weapons,” a senior Indian official is quoted in the Indian media.”So, with this new missile, Islamabad seems to be looking at tactical nuclear deterrence against advancing enemy formations. But it is being foolhardy if it thinks nuclear weapons are war-fighting weapons,” he said.

India’s main cruise missile, the PJ-10 BrahMos, was first tested in 2001.  The BrahMos is jointly developed by Russia’s Mashinostroyenia and India’s BrahMos Corp. and has a ramjet cruise engine based on Russia’s supersonic anti-ship Yakhont missile. The BrahMos’s maximum speed is 2,100 mph — three times that of the Tomahawk.  BrahMos Aerospace said it received $4 billion of orders from the Indian military. The missile, with a range of around 180 miles, will be delivered to the army and navy over the next five years, with orders beyond that up to 2015 worth around $10 billion, a company statement said.

Pakistan tests latest defensive missile, UPI, April 22, 2011

On Failed and Brittle States: 1992 onwards

The annals of diplomacy recorded something startling in February. Saying, in effect, that it was in danger of collapse, the West African state of Guinea voluntarily turned to a United Nations agency that deals with failed or failing states. Like most of its neighbours Guinea has a history of violence, weak governance, poverty and destructive competition for natural resources. Its new government sought help from the UN Peacebuilding Commission, an unwieldy body that duly set up a task force known as a “country-specific configuration” to bolster the government in Conakry. It is already involved in shoring up half a dozen other countries, all African, at the behest of the Security Council; but this was the first time a country owned up to being at risk.

Such honesty is rare, but states that cannot control their territories, protect their citizens, enter or execute agreements with outsiders, or administer justice are a common and worsening phenomenon. Robert Gates, America’s defence secretary, says “fractured or failing states” are “the main security challenge of our time.” The term now extends beyond the poor world: American officials have applied it to the Italian region of Calabria…“Failure” may misleadingly imply that a government is trying to function but not managing. In fact, dysfunctional statehood may suit the powerful. As Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College in North Carolina has written*, the last thing a kleptocrat needs is good judges, or robust ministries that could be power bases for rival robber barons. “Where governments have become deeply complicit in criminal activities…perpetuation of state failure is essential for the criminal enterprise to operate.”

Yet even fairly bad rulers, say African or Afghan warlords or corrupt provincial governors in Russia, may feel the need to provide certain public goods, if only to further their own interests. Such public services might range from half-decent roads to the suppression (or perhaps limitation through taxing) of petty crime. What those rulers will not do, though, is create an arena in which other economic or political players can emerge. Is that a success or a failure, then?…

Calling Afghanistan a failed state seems less controversial, but in a land where central power has always been weak, what does success mean? The American-led coalition’s goals include the defeat of the Taliban, the interdiction of the opium business and the bolstering and cleaning up of the government in Kabul. But such aims may be hard to reconcile, argues Jonathan Goodhand of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The drug economy may have had a stabilising effect on some parts of Afghanistan, he has written; the only plausible hope of a functioning state may rest on a compromise among regional barons whose power rests on narcotics.

If this is even half-right, then success is hard to imagine, let alone achieve. And many an outsider has grown cynical about the prospects of even partial success in establishing a clean government in Kabul. Local support for clean governance is too weak; many hidden channels link the state, the drug lords and even the Taliban.

Another category of states, hard to place on any spectrum of success or failure, could be described as “brittle” dictatorships, like the communist regime that once ruled Albania or the one that still holds sway in North Korea. Such regimes are successful in the sense that they manage, as long as they last, to make people do what they are told; but once they fall, such polities can shatter into a thousand pieces….

To have any hope of success, state-mending efforts must tackle benighted places as they really are, says James Cockayne, who co-directs a New York think-tank called the Centre on Global Counterterrorism Co-operation. They must cope with local power-brokers with no particular link to state capitals; and also with anti-state forces with global connections that could never be trumped by a single national government, even a clean one.

The clearest cases of such transnational state-spoilers concern the drug trade. As long as Latin American narco-lords find it easy to sell cocaine and buy guns in the United States, no government to the south can eliminate them. Whether in Latin America, in Afghanistan or in the emerging narco-states of West Africa, purely national attempts to deal with drugs can be counter-productive; they just drive up prices or create new networks.

In many other cases the wreckers are too effectively globalised for any one state to take them on, adds Mr Cockayne. Examples include Somali warlords with deep ties to the diaspora and Western passports; Congolese militia leaders who market the produce of tin and coltan mines to end-users in China and Malaysia; Tamil rebels who used émigré links to practise credit-card fraud in Britain; or Hezbollah’s cigarette smuggling in the United States.

No worthy effort to train civil servants in just one capital will be of much use in neutralising these global networks. Last November the UN Security Council took a step towards recognising this. It passed a resolution telling buyers of tin not to source their raw material from mines controlled by Congolese militia leaders.

It was highly unusual for the council to issue an order to anybody except governments. Global Witness, an anti-corruption outfit, has reported that the resolution has been badly enforced, with only half-hearted efforts at self-policing by the tin industry. But at least the UN may be edging away from the fiction that governments, and people under their orders, are the only factors that determine the fate of nations.

Failed States: Where life is cheap and talk is loose, Economist, Mar. 19, 2011, at 67

UN Was Looking the other Way? war crimes, Sri Lanka

The UN report on Sri Lankan war crimes has accused the UN itself of failing to take action that could have saved civilian lives.  The independent report estimates “tens of thousands” of civilians died in the final bloody months of the three-decade conflict., contradicting the UN’s own strongly contested estimate of 7000 civilian deaths from January to May 2009, and the Sri Lankan government’s initial claim that no civilian blood was spilled in its military campaign.  The three-member panel, commissioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, found “credible allegations” that the government committed war crimes, including shelling its own no-fire zones and hospitals, as about 330,000 people became trapped on a strip of land between the two forces.  It accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of gross human rights violations, including forced conscription of child soldiers and the use of human shields…The UN did not escape criticism. “During the final stages of the war the UN political organs and bodies failed to take action that might have protected civilians,” the panel found.

“Although senior international officials advocated in public and private with the government that it protect civilians and stop the shelling of hospitals in UN or ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) locations, in the panel’s view the public use of casualty figures would have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians while those events in the Vanni were unfolding.” It added: “The conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity.”…  It also recommended the UN’s Human Rights Council reconsider its controversial May 2009 resolution commending the Sri Lankan government for ending the war, but which failed to address allegations of misconduct by government forces…The UN at the time was criticised for bowing to government pressure not to make stronger statements on abuses and civilian casualties, in order to stay in the country.

UN called to account on war in Sri Lanka , The Australian, April 20, 2011

Global Warming:global lost in the local

The Obama administration and environmental interests generally agree that global warming is a threat that must be dealt with. But they’re on opposite sides of a Supreme Court case over the ability of states and groups such as the Audubon Society that want to sue large electric utilities and force power plants in 20 states to cut their emissions.  The administration is siding with American Electric Power Co. and three other companies in urging the high court to throw out the lawsuit on grounds the Environmental Protection Agency, not a federal court, is the proper authority to make rules about climate change. The justices will hear arguments in the case Tuesday.

The court is taking up a climate change case for the second time in four years. In 2007, the court declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under that landmark law. The same reasoning applies to power plants. The administration says one reason to end the current suit is that the EPA is considering rules that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But the administration also acknowledges that it is not certain that limits will be imposed. At the same time, Republicans in Congress are leading an effort to strip the EPA of its power to regulate greenhouse gases.

The uncertainty about legislation and regulation is the best reason for allowing the case to proceed, said David Doniger, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which represents Audubon and other private groups dedicated to land conservation. “This case was always the ultimate backstop,” Doniger said, even as he noted that the council would prefer legislation or EPA regulation to court decisions. The suit would end if the EPA does set emission standards for greenhouse gases, he said.  The legal claims advanced by six states, New York City and the land trusts would be pressed only “if all else failed,” he said.

When the suit was filed in 2004, it looked like the only way to force action on global warming. The Bush administration and the Republicans in charge of Congress doubted the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.  Federal courts long have been active in disputes over pollution. But those cases typically have involved a power plant or sewage treatment plant that was causing some identifiable harm to people, and property downwind or downstream of the polluting plant.

Global warming, by its very name, suggests a more complex problem. The power companies argue that any solution must be comprehensive. No court-ordered change alone would have any effect on climate change, the companies say. “This is an issue that is of worldwide nature and causation. It’s the result of hundreds of years of emissions all over the world,” said Ed Comer, vice president and general counsel of the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group.

The other defendants in the suit are Cinergy Co., now part of Duke Energy Corp. of North Carolina; Southern Co. Inc. of Georgia; Xcel Energy Inc. of Minnesota; and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA is represented by the government and its views do not precisely align with those of other companies.

Eight states initially banded together to sue. They were California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. But in a sign of the enduring role of partisan politics in this issue, New Jersey and Wisconsin withdrew this year after Republican replaced Democrats in their governor’s offices.

Another complication is that the administration and the companies may be on the same side at the Supreme Court, but the power industry is strongly opposing climate change regulation. The Southern Co. is a vocal supporter of GOP legislation to block the EPA from acting.  “It’s two-faced for them (the companies) to come into court and say everything is well in hand because EPA is going to act,” said Doniger, the NRDC lawyer.

Comer said the key point is that judges should not make environmental policy. “This has important implications for jobs. If you raise energy costs in the U.S., does that lead industry jobs to go elsewhere and if it does, do you get the same emissions, just from another country?” Comer said. “These judgments are properly made by elected officials.”  Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was on the federal appeals court panel that heard the case, is not taking part in the Supreme Court’s consideration of the issue.

The case is American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 10-174.

MARK SHERMAN, New climate change case headed to Supreme Court, Associated Press, Apr. 18, 2011