Monthly Archives: June 2012

International Law-Making by Tacit Consent; the free-for-all drone attacks

When Thomas de Maizière, the German defense minister, told a gathering of army reservists last month that he considered the U.S. strategy of using drones for targeted killings a “strategic mistake,” his remarks received almost no coverage.  Only the online news edition of the German public television broadcaster ARD carried the story.  According to their reporter, Mr. de Maizière said he thought it was unwise to have U.S. commanders direct such attacks from their base in the United States.  Repeated requests to the reservists’ association for a full transcript of the speech went unanswered. Nor did the Defense Ministry publish the remarks.  Mr. de Maizière is not the only politician in Europe to feel uneasy with the United States’ frequent use of unmanned drones to target what it says are terrorism suspects in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. But many are reluctant to speak out about their doubts.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel; the E.U. foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton; and the new French president, François Hollande, are among the many officials unwilling to publicly criticize the practice of remote control, targeted killings….Even when several German nationals — accused of being militants who had undergone training in terrorist camps in Pakistan — were killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan in 2010, the German government played down the incident.  In an official reply to queries by opposition parties in the German Parliament, the government said on nearly every count that either it had no reliable information or that the information it did have was confidential.

In contrast, the Obama administration has had to start explaining the issue of drone attacks as human rights organizations, security experts and the military have begun asking the White House to justify their legality. John O. Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism chief, gave a major speech on the issue in April. He said that the targeted attacks did not breach international law because the United States has been acting in self-defense since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.  Mr. Brennan added that the White House was doing everything possible to balance security and transparency.

Legal experts say, however, that most of the targeted killings are carried out by the C.I.A. The agency is not subject to the same transparency or accountability as the military would be.  “The laws of war do not prohibit intelligence agencies from taking part in combat operations,” said James Ross, legal adviser to Human Rights Watch. “But states are obligated to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and actually provide redress for victims of unlawful attacks, and that is difficult in the case of intelligence agencies.”

Apart from the legal issues, the Obama administration has also been accused of leaking details from secret drone attacks to reap political mileage during the presidential election campaign.  Republicans sharply criticized the White House’s announcement last week that Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, had been killed during a drone attack in Pakistan.

Analysts suggest that European governments prefer to turn a blind eye to the drone attacks because they see the Islamist militants targeted by the United States as a danger to Europe, too. Having this threat eliminated outweighs what qualms they may have about the method employed.  “E.U. countries have their own interests in tacitly condoning these tactics,” said Nathalie Van Raemdonck, a guest researcher at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, an independent research center in Rome. “Since they are not involved in any such operations, they cannot be accused of playing any role in targeted killings. The Europeans are content with letting the U.S. do their dirty work.”

European governments, however, are not united on this issue. Britain has armed drones in Afghanistan, and other European countries also employ them for surveillance purposes so the issue of targeted killings does not directly concern them. Government officials point to this to explain their silence.  Analysts say this approach is short-sighted. The United States intends to arm Italian surveillance drones in Afghanistan beginning next year. France has plans for military drones for reconnaissance and attack missions. NATO is trying to get member states to finance surveillance drones that eventually may also be armed.  Even more importantly, China, Russia and other non-Western countries are also working on developing armed drones.  This could lead to a free-for-all situation unless standards for the use of these weapons are agreed upon, legal experts say. It is time, said Mr. Bütikofer, the European Parliament lawmaker, for Europe to break its silence.

Excerpts, JUDY DEMPSEY, Europe Stays Quiet Despite Unease About Drones, NY Times,June 11, 2012

China and its Collaborators in Africa

Congolese critics accuse Sassou-Nguesso [President of Congo] of using the Chinese-backed building boom to move from his ‘authoritarian-authoritarian’ model to something nearer the ‘developmental authoritarian’ style of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. However, Sassou-Nguesso was in triumphant mode as he inaugurated a spate of Chinese construction projects in the country’s hinterland on 14-18 May. These projects are intended to bring the benefits of oil-backed growth to regions previously isolated from the bustling cities of Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.  Now known locally as ‘The Cutter of Ribbons’, Sassou-Nguesso is using oil money and plans to develop Congo-Brazzaville’s mineral resources to shape a new relationship with China. Once a key commercial and diplomatic ally of France, Sassou-Nguesso’s headlong rush to Beijing coincides with the election of President François Hollande. Hollande’s African policy team promises to break with the old Françafrique networks. Among their advisors is the activist lawyer William Bourdon, who has been pursuing a case against Sassou-Nguesso in France for stealing Congolese state assets…..

From fibre-optic installation and new dams to more than 1,000 kilometres of paved roads, companies like China Road and Bridge Corporation and China State Construction Engineering Corporation have quietly landed most of the major contracts issued by the Brazzaville government.  That means large profits and more deals to come.

Congo-Brazzaville, for so long the preserve of European companies, is drawing serious attention from China. The two countries have signed deals to develop special economic zones, build a new oil port and revamp an ageing refinery. For the Chinese investors, the lure is Congo-Brazzaville’s rich but under-exploited resource base. Having relied for decades on offshore oil riches and forestry, the country has until recently made little effort to exploit its mineral deposits, develop its more remote regions or diversify the economy into commerce and services. That could change if the new Asian relationships live up to their billing. For Sassou-Nguesso, the big attraction is an engagement based purely on economic and financial criteria, with a partner who does not impose awkward governance or human rights conditions.

This is not Congo’s first encounter with Asian investment. South Korean and Malaysian companies, via the Consortium Congo Malaisie Corée, had proposed a huge resources-for-infrastructure deal that would build new rail lines in exchange for access to forestry and mining permits in 2008. That deal didn’t work out but the Chemin de Fer Congo Océan received part of its order of engines and cars from Korail in August 2011. Malaysian investors have looked at opportunities in the hydrocarbons sector and – building on their experience of rural Congo in the timber business – palm oil production. In 2010 Atama Plantation agreed to invest $300 million in new oil palm plantations and processing capacity.

The most recent interest from Chinese entities takes the engagement a step further. Alain Akouala Atipault, a Minister in the Presidency, was China’s guest at an international infrastructure and investment forum in Macau where, on 24 April, he signed an agreement with the China Friendship Development International Engineering Design and Consult Corporation (FDDC) – an offshoot of the Trade Ministry in Beijing.  FDDC will seek out Chinese investors interested in setting up operations in four special economic zones, which Congo plans to establish in Brazzaville, Pointe- Noire, Ouesso and the Oyo-Ollombo area. FDDC will also help to mobilise financing for the zones, build their infrastructure and carry out feasibility studies……

China’s engagement in Congo is typical of its strategy elsewhere in Africa. Beijing often takes a long-term view of whether projects will generate an economic return. Viability is seen in broad terms, encompassing not just the specific project’s concerns but also the wider trade and political benefits of partnership and the political goodwill that could open up access to valuable natural resources. Congo has both major reserves of high-value timber – a sector where Congo Dejia Wood Industry, Jua Ikié, Million Well Congo Bois, Sino-Congo Forêt and Société d’Exploitation Forestière Yuan Dong are already active – and reserves of minerals such as iron ore and potash, which are largely untouched.

China National Complete Plant Import & Export Corporation is developing the potash reserves at Mengo with Canada’s MagIndustries; Australia’s Sundance Resources relies on finance and expertise from Hanlong Mining and other Chinese infrastructure companies to make its designs on iron-ore projects in Cameroon (Mbarga) and Congo-Brazzaville (Nabeba) viable. Sundance is waiting for final approvals from Yaoundé and Brazzaville and expects all the paperwork to be signed before the end of 2012.

Beijing’s policy of ignoring questions of democracy and human rights is certainly helpful to Sassou-Nguesso’s regime – which has a poor human rights record, is marred by widespread corruption and remains fundamentally authoritarian despite the trappings of a multiparty system.

Excerpt, Congo-Brazzaville: Sassou Draws in Beijing,AllAfrica.com, June 2, 2012

See also A Continent for Sale through Queensway

Chevron and Amazon: the $18 billion Ecuador Liability

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals  on June 12, 2012  (pdf) dealt another setback to Chevron over its $18 billion Ecuador liability, reversing a lower court decision that allowed the oil giant access to documents from a prominent consulting group for the Amazon rainforest communities that sued the company.-

Seeking No Net Biodiversity Loss; the offsets standards

“Companies are increasingly seeking to demonstrate ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ as a result of their activities, stimulated by new regulations, recent requirements from investors and a more sophisticated approach to handling social and environmental risk”, said Kerry ten Kate, UK-based director of-

DARPA, Sick Soldiers and Nanotechnology

In addition to keeping the warfighter safe while deployed in theater, there is a clear need to maintain warfighter health throughout their military service….More warfighters are hospitalized each year for infectious diseases than are wounded in combat.  The negative effects of warfighter illness and downtime multiply when extended across the military: numerous medicines must be transported to military treatment facilities around the world, Soldiers must be trained to fill new roles, and in some cases operational plans must be modified or even postponed.

A rapid and adaptable platform to treat military-relevant disease may reduce this logistical burden and increase operational readiness.  

Rio+20 Earth Summit; agenda and prospects

The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is much bigger than its [three] predecessors — Stockholm in 1972,-

Cross Border Water Management: the case of Namibia and Angola

A transboundary initiative aimed at providing clean drinking water and proper sanitation between Angola and Namibia is making steady progress.  The Kunene Transboundary Water Supply Project — is a good model of trans-boundary cooperation in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The KTWSP will improve the water supply for around 700,000 residents of southern Angola and northern Namibia, providing for domestic consumption, irrigation, and industry.  The project includes the rehabilitation of the Calueqe Dam in southern Angola, which suffered extensive damage during the country’s 27 years of civil war. So far, some 35 million dollars have been invested in the project, which is being funded by the Namibian and Angola governments and contributions from the UK, the German Development Bank and Australia.

Dr Kuiri Tjipangandjara, an engineer at the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) and co-Chair of the KTWSP, told IPS that construction of a new pipeline between the southern Angola towns of Xangongo and Ondjiva has already begun. This link will supply treated water to various towns and villages along its route, such as Namacunde, Santa-Clara and Chiedi.  Designs for the network to distribute water within and around Ondjiva are in progress, as are plans for another bulk water pipeline linking Santa Clara to the Namibian town of Oshakati.

Tjipangandjara said Angola has also begun setting up a water utility for the Kunene region.  “There was nothing in place before, and it takes time to set up such a utility and other facilities of the project,” he said.  Numerous design and feasibility studies must be conducted and approved by all involved parties: Angola, Namibia, SADC and the German Development Bank.  “Of course it will be a state-owned utility,” he said, but he did not venture to predict if it would eventually operate on a cost-recovery basis like NamWater, explaining that each country designs its own policies – dictated by the reality on the ground and by history. –

McCrystal, Petraeus and Allen and the Tragedies in Afghanistan

The senior allied commander in Afghanistan has ordered new restrictions on airstrikes against Taliban fighters who hide in residential homes, coalition officials said Sunday (June 10, 2012), a move in response to a NATO attack in the eastern part of the country last week that Afghan officials say killed 18 civilians….Officials said the directive from Gen. John R. Allen, the commander for international and United States forces in Afghanistan, underscores NATO’s existing commitment to protecting civilians…On Sunday, however, American officials said General Allen’s order did not necessarily go that far and sought to describe it in more nuanced terms, saying that NATO would continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings for shelter.  “When there is concern over the presence of civilians, air-delivered munitions will not be employed [ONLY] while other means are available,” said a senior United States defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the policy deliberations.  Militants often hide in civilian homes, so a complete ban on airstrikes could hinder the ability of American forces to pursue the Taliban. General Allen’s order does not affect ground operations against insurgents. An agreement between the two countries in April gave lead authority for night raids to the Afghans, although missions are to be conducted jointly and targets selected by consensus. Allied officials still retain control over dropping bombs in these operations, and Afghan officials say they were not involved in the decision to carry out the fatal airstrike last week.

The joint Afghan-NATO raid last week was hunting a Taliban commander and some of his fighters who had holed up in a home in Logar Province where a wedding had taken place, according to local residents. An early-morning firefight broke out between the coalition troops and the insurgents, with the civilians trapped inside. The coalition decided to call in an airstrike, which killed the insurgents but also 18 civilians, including 9 children, Afghan officials said.   On Friday, General Allen apologized for the civilian deaths and took the unusual step of meeting with the relatives of some of those killed……

General Allen’s directive comes nearly two years after Gen. David H. Petraeus, upon assuming command of international forces in Afghanistan, issued new guidelines on the use of force in Afghanistan that expanded restrictions on artillery strikes and aerial bombardment, but clarified that troops had the right to self-defense.  Troops widely complained that restrictions put in place by General Petraeus’s predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, exposed them to excessive risk by tying their hands when they sought to attack people suspected of being militants or destroy buildings used to harbor insurgents.  But General McChrystal’s rules were popular with Afghan officials, including President Karzai, and human rights advocates, who said the restrictions had significantly reduced Afghan civilian deaths.

On Sunday (June 10, 2012), human rights advocates expressed wariness about whether General Allen’s orders would have an immediate impact. “We’ve seen improvements in detention-related abuses and excessive force at checkpoints, but when it comes to civilian casualties, we’re still seeing tragic incidents, even today,” said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Asia.

ERIC SCHMITT, Allies Restrict Airstrikes on Taliban in Civilian Homes, NY Times, June 10, 2012

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On Tuesday June 12, 2012, NATO said that Allen had issued an order telling U.S. and coalition forces “that no aerial munitions be delivered against civilian dwellings.”But the statement also contained this caveat: “As always, Afghan and coalition forces retain the inherent right to use aerial munitions in self-defense if no other options are available.”

At a Pentagon news conference on Tuesday, officials repeated the policy outlined by Allen but denied it differed greatly from Karzai’s.-

The Nuclear Lobby

The report of the Center for International Policy provides a profile of the nuclear weapons lobby, noting along the way that in a constrained budgetary environment different parts of the lobby may either collaborate to promote higher nuclear weapons spending or compete for their share of a shrinking pie.

• The Pentagon and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration are scheduled to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons projects over the next decade and beyond, including $68 billion to develop and purchase a new generation of nuclear bombers; $347 billion to purchase and operate 12 new ballistic missile submarines; and billions more on new nuclear weapons facilities.

• In the 2012 election cycle, the top 14 nuclear weapons contractors gave a total of $2.9 million to key members of Congress with decision making power over nuclear weapons spending. These firms have donated $18.7 million to these same members of Congress over the course of their careers.

• More than half of the contributions cited above went to members of the four key subcommittees with jurisdiction over nuclear weapons spending – the Strategic Forces Subcommittees of the Armed Services Committees in each house and the Energy and Water Subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees in each house. Total contributions by major nuclear weapons contractors to members of these four subcommittees have been over $1.6 million in the 2012 election cycle thus far, and $11.7 lifetime to these same members.

• Of the 14 nuclear weapons contractors tracked in this report, Lockheed Martin has been the biggest contributor to key members of Congress with influence over nuclear weapons spending. So far during the 2012 election cycle, Lockheed Martin has donated $535,000 to these key members; other major donors include Honeywell International, $464,582; Northrop Grumman, $464,000; and Boeing, $336,750.

• Leading advocates of high levels of nuclear weapons spending have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from major nuclear weapons contractors in the course of their careers…..

Policy Recommendations

• Reduce the ballistic missile submarine force. The ballistic missile submarine force should be reduced from 12 boats to eight, with additional warheads carried in each boat. This would save $18 billion over the next decade while sustaining the capability to deploy the number of warheads called for under the New START treaty.

• Postpone new nuclear bomber plans. Plans for a new nuclear bomber should be shelved, at a savings of $18 billion over the next decade. At a minimum, the bomber should not be made nuclear-capable.

• Cancel the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility.  There is no circumstance under which it will be necessary to build large numbers of new plutonium “pits” or triggers for nuclear warheads. Therefore, the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at Los Alamos National Laboratories should be cancelled, at a savings of $5 billion over the next decade.

• Cancel building the Mixed Oxide (MOX ) facility.  Plutonium waste from nuclear warheads can be neutralized without building the multi-billion dollar MOX facility. It too should be cancelled, at a savings of at least $4.9 billion in construction costs over the next twenty years.

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The top 14 nuclear weapons contractors employ 137 lobbyists who formerly worked for key nuclear weapons decision makers. The majority of the revolving door lobbyists – 96 – worked for key members of Congress or key Congressional Committees; 26 revolving door lobbyists worked for one of the military services; and 24 revolving door lobbyists worked for the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy. Some lobbyists worked for one or more Congressional offices or agencies before leaving government, and many now work for more than one major nuclear weapons contractor.   There are 19 revolving door lobbyists working for major nuclear weapons contractors who were staffers for members of the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee – the committee that controls spending on the nuclear warhead complex.

Excerpt William D. Hartung and Christine Anderson, Bombs Versus Budgets: Inside the Nuclear Weapons Lobby, Center for International Policy, June 2012

See also Nuclear Weapons Establishment

Zero nuclear weapons?

The Public has the Right to Know who has Nuclear Weapons

Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building (pdf)

 

Nuclear Wastes from Japan make their Way to China

Chinese customs officials have intercepted 1,127 tonnes of imported waste metals from Japan with excessive gamma rays in the coastal city of Ningbo in east China, local authorities said Tuesday (June 5, 2012).  The radiation levels of the waste metals, imported by a recycled metal company in Ningbo, was twice the national standard and hazardous to the human body and the environment, according to Ningbo customs.  The metals contained caesium-137, a radioactive isotope of caesium. Small amounts of caesium-137 were released into the environment during nuclear weapon tests and nuclear accidents, most notably the Chernobyl disaster.  Ningbo customs has ordered the cargo to be returned and has handed the case over to the anti-smuggling department for further investigations.  Ningbo customs has intercepted a total of 8,544 tonnes of waste imported metals with excessive radiation from Japan since the Japanese nuclear disaster of March 2011, said Wang Lingbao, a logistics control department official with the customs.

Chinese customs intercept radioactive waste metals from Japan,Xinhua, June 5, 2012