Monthly Archives: May 2013

Bay of Bengal: fishermen v. port builders

Bangladesh’s Chittagong, has… become a bottleneck. The Bangladeshis are modernising it… China is putting $200m towards upgrading the airport at Cox’s Bazar, the country’s southernmost tip, to attract investment and tourists.  Myanmar’s …new government, keen for foreign inflows to help rebuild the economy, has been approving projects that sat idle for years. Sittwe is one, but it looks small compared with the Dawei project on Myanmar’s Tenasserim coast… a deepwater port, industrial zone and highways to connect it with distant Bangkok, estimated to cost $8.5 billion.Thailand’s rulers dabbled for centuries with the idea of building a canal across the Kra isthmus, which would link their own gulf directly to the Andaman Sea and save days of costly shipping through the Strait of Malacca. Dawei should do the trick…. The Japanese are taking advantage of Myanmar’s opening to build a riverine port called Thilawa, south of Yangon.

The Chinese are exploring ways round their own Malacca-strait dilemma. They have been building new oil and gas pipelines across the whole of Myanmar starting from a new port-terminal at Kyaukphyu, near Sittwe….China’s activity in the Bay of Bengal is purely “defensive” [some say] but Indians versed in the “string of pearls” theory, which sees Chinese-built ports encircling India, will not be much comforted.

Amid the sometimes airy speculation, it is relatively easy to predict the effects on the repurposed waters of the bay. Yugraj Yadava, the director of an environmental watchdog in Chennai, says increased shipping is already eroding traditional livelihoods and polluting the sea. About 31% of the world’s coastal fishermen live and work on the Bay of Bengal, and they stand to lose huge tracts to the port-builders (and to rising sea levels, too). Mr Yadava says the bay still has some of the world’s healthiest natural fisheries, but they are under threat, not least from non-native species that stow away in long-haulers’ ballast.

Collisions between fishing vessels and commercial ships are becoming more frequent, as are snagged nets. All this will probably accelerate in the next few years. Before the Bay of Bengal falls victim to its new-found popularity, it might be good if some of its beneficiaries were to build a transnational maritime authority, to limit the damage.

Excerpts, The Bay of Bengal: New bay dawning, Economist,Apr. 27, 2013, at 40

The Risk of Unburnable Carbon

Several  reports suggest that markets are overlooking the risk of “unburnable carbon”. The share prices of oil, gas and coal companies depend in part on their reserves. The more fossil fuels a firm has underground, the more valuable its shares. But what if some of those reserves can never be dug up and burned?

If governments were determined to implement their climate policies, a lot of that carbon would have to be left in the ground, says Carbon Tracker, a non-profit organisation, and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, part of the London School of Economics. Their analysis starts by estimating the amount of carbon dioxide that could be put into the atmosphere if global temperatures are not to rise by more than 2°C, the most that climate scientists deem prudent. The maximum, says the report, is about 1,000 gigatons (GTCO2) between now and 2050. The report calls this the world’s “carbon budget”.

Existing fossil-fuel reserves already contain far more carbon than that. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in its “World Energy Outlook”, total proven international reserves contain 2,860GTCO2—almost three times the carbon budget. The report refers to the excess as “unburnable carbon”.

Most of the reserves are owned by governments or state energy firms; they could be left in the ground by public-policy choice (ie, if governments took the 2°C target seriously). But the reserves of listed oil companies are different. These are assets developed using money raised from investors who expect a return. Proven reserves of listed firms contain 762GTCO2—most of what can prudently be burned before 2050. Listed potential reserves have 1,541GTCO2 embedded in them.

So companies and governments already have far more oil, gas and coal than they need (again, assuming temperatures are not to rise by more than 2°C). Logically, the response to this would be for governments to leave their reserves untouched and for companies to run theirs slowly down, returning more of what they earn to shareholders. Neither of these things is happening. State-owned companies are taking an increasing share of total energy output. And in 2012, says Carbon Tracker, the 200 largest listed oil, gas and coal companies spent five times as much—$674 billion—on developing new reserves as they did returning money to shareholders ($126 billion). ExxonMobil alone plans to spend $37 billion a year on exploration in each of the next three years.

Such behaviour, on the face of it, makes no sense. One possible explanation is that companies are betting that government climate policies will fail; they will be able to burn all their reserves, including new ones, after all. This implies that global temperatures would either soar past the 2°C mark, or be restrained by a technological fix, such as carbon capture and storage, or geo-engineering.Recent events make such a bet seem rational. On April 16th the European Parliament voted against attempts to shore up Europe’s emissions trading system against collapse. The system is the EU’s flagship environmental policy and the world’s largest carbon market.  Putting it at risk suggests that Europeans have lost their will to endure short-term pain for long-term environmental gain. Nor is this the only such sign. Several cash-strapped EU countries are cutting subsidies for renewable energy. And governments around the world have failed to make progress towards a new global climate-change treaty. Betting against tough climate policies seems almost prudent.

The markets are [also] mispricing risk by valuing companies as if all their reserves will be burned. Investors treat reserves as an indicator of future revenues. They therefore require companies to replace reserves depleted by production, even though this runs foul of emission-reduction policies. Fossil-fuel firms live and die by a measure called the reserve replacement ratio, which must remain above 100%. Companies see their shares marked down if the ratio falls, even when they pull the plug on dodgy, expensive projects. This happened to Shell, for example, when it suspended drilling in the Arctic in February….

At the moment neither public policies nor markets reflect the risks of a warmer world.

Energy Firms and Climate Change: Unburnable Fuel, Economist, May 4, 2013, at 68

Flooding Vietnam: Climate Change

Ho Chi Minh City (known locally as HCMC), Vietnam, a city full of rivers and canals,  has so far been spared a devastating flood, and donors have so far been eager to help. The World Bank, for example, has upgraded stormwater and canal infrastructure in a few central districts, and on April 8th, 2013 officials from the Dutch city of Rotterdam were in town to promote a joint Dutch-Vietnamese project designed to help HCMC adapt to climate change.Yet nearly half the city lies less than one metre above sea level, and scientists say groundwater extraction, which causes land subsidence, may be having a huge unseen effect. Nearly 70% of the city is already vulnerable to extreme flooding, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Flood risks are rising in HCMC’s lower-lying districts, in part because the property boom that accompanied Vietnam’s 2007 entry to the World Trade Organisation led many developers to build wherever they could. One potential victim is an Intel factory inside a high-tech park on HCMC’s eastern outskirts. The threat to such a big firm is troubling because the city accounts for more than half of foreign direct investment in Vietnam, and exports have helped offset weak consumer demand. In Vietnam urban floods also pose public health risks in the form of outbreaks of cholera or dysentery…

The government is promoting a plan to build a 172-km (106-mile), $2.6 billion system of ring dykes to protect urban areas west of the Saigon River. But the financing is not yet secure, and the World Bank has said such large flood-control solutions may be unsustainable.

A better option may be a smaller $1.4 billion dyke proposed by Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch consultancy that has managed similar projects in New Orleans and other flood-prone places. But officials at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development typically prefer expensive infrastructure projects, which offer opportunities for kickbacks. “They love dykes,” says Ho Long Phi, a professor at Vietnam National University in HCMC.  Mr Phi may be Saigon’s best flood-control asset. Unlike many Vietnamese officials, he understands that bigger flood-protection measures are not necessarily better, and that if the city is to prosper in the long term, it will need to work with, rather than against, nature. Today’s policies will only transfer flooding risks to future generations. In Mr Phi’s view, the only thing that may change the government’s short-sighted approach to flood prevention is a catastrophe,

Up a creek: A low-lying city must take drastic action to prevent flooding, Economist, May 4,  2013, at 41

Hunter and Killer Drones

The Pentagon is discussing the possibility of replacing human drone operators with computer algorithms, especially for ‘signature strikes‘ where unknown targets are killed simply because they meet certain criteria. So what characteristics define an ‘enemy combatant’ and where are they outlined in law?

Drone strikes and targeted killings have become the weapon of choice for the Obama administration in their ongoing war against terrorists. But what impact is this technology having, not only on those who are the targets (both intended and unintended), but on the way we are likely to wage war in the future?

John Sifton is the advocacy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, and says that while drones are currently controlled remotely by trained military personnel, there are already fears that the roving killing machines could be automated in the future.  ‘One of the biggest concerns human rights groups have right now is the notion of a signature strike,’ he says. ‘[This is] the notion that you could make a decision about a target based on its appearance. Say—this man has a Kalashnikov, he’s walking on the side of the road, he is near a military base. He’s a combatant, let’s kill him. That decision is made by a human right now, but the notion that you could write an algorithm for that and then program it into a drone… sounds science fiction but is in fact what the Pentagon is already thinking about. There are already discussions about this, autonomous weapons systems.’‘That is to human rights groups the most terrifying spectre that is currently presented by the drones.’

Sarah Knuckey is the director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University Law School and an advisor to the UN. She says the way that drones are used to conduct warfare is stretching the limits of previous international conventions and is likely to require new rules of engagement to be drawn up…The rules of warfare built up after World War II to protect civilians are already hopelessly outdated, she says. The notion of border sovereignty has already been trashed by years of drone strikes, which she estimates have targeted upwards of 3,000 individuals, with reports of between 400 and 800 civilian casualties.

Excerpt from Annabelle Quince, Future of drone strikes could see execution by algorithm, May 21, 2013

China – Australia Dependency

China’s demand for iron and coal has helped to turn it into Australia’s biggest trading partner and to keep Australia more economically robust than most other rich countries. But in some parts of the country the new relationship with China came as a reminder of the unwelcome side-effects of the boom… Chinese trade not only helped Australia survive the global downturn. It has also boosted the currency’s strength, and made it harder for manufacturers to find markets for their exports. The problem is unevenly distributed around the country. ‘

South Australia has suffered the greatest pain: in no other state does manufacturing account for such a big share of the economy…. Five years ago, Mitsubishi closed its plant in Adelaide. Australia’s remaining carmakers, Holden, Ford and Toyota, have shed jobs steadily since then. Australians are buying imported cars more cheaply than ever, especially from Japan; their dollar has risen by 26% against the yen since October.  Even wine, South Australia’s third-biggest export, has suffered: exports in fiscal 2012 dropped in value by A$62m ($65m), or 2%. Codan, an electronics company based in Adelaide, has done better. By making many high-tech products in Malaysia, it has been able to protect itself from the strong Aussie dollar.

The Australian dollar: Resources boomerang, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 44

The Use of Torture in Afghanistan

Military police at Australia’s detention centre in Afghanistan were pressured to make prisoners more “pliable” by gagging them, depriving them of sleep and denying them exercise…A young male detainee who was deaf mute and possibly intellectually disabled was held in the centre because of pressure from the Special Operations Task Group, despite concerns from medical staff that he was not fit to be detained.  A senior Afghan intelligence officer, a Colonel Hanif, complained vigorously that detainees were being transferred from Australian to Afghan custody on scant evidence that they were insurgents.  The Defence Force denied a teenage boy access to his dying father, a suspected insurgent who had been shot in a battle with Australians. The boy was allegedly turned over to US interrogators, though the ADF denies this.

The claims relate to 2010 and 2011, after Australia took responsibility for managing detainees in Oruzgan province from the withdrawn Dutch troops…..But Fairfax Media has been told that in the first year Australia was running the detention system, tensions flared between the military police who managed the detainees and the forces who captured and interrogated them.  One source said: “We had two very conflicting sets of guidelines: one was to treat them humanely but the other was the pressure from the SOTG [Australian Special Operations Task Group]*** and intelligence guys who wanted us to condition them in such a way as to make them more pliable … so their state of mind was conducive to interrogation. “They wanted us to gag and hood the detainees to stop them from talking to each other.

Excerpt, David Wroe, Deborah Snow,Military police pressured to make prisoners more ‘pliable’,  Sydney Morning Herald, May 18, 2013

***Special Operations Task Group (SOTG)  The Australian Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) is deployed to Southern Afghanistan to conduct population-centric, security and counter-network operations. At around 300 personnel, the SOTG is one of the largest, most potent Special Forces units in Afghanistan. The SOTG is primarily based in Multi-National Base Tarin Kot but has command and liaison elements in Kandahar and Kabul. It consists of approximately 300 personnel from the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments, the Special Air Service Regiment, the Special Operations Engineer Regiment, the Special Operations Logistic Squadron, and various other services, units and commands around Australia.  The SOTG trains, mentors and partners with Afghan National Police officers from the Uruzgan Provincial Response Company (PRC) and other branches of the Afghan National Security Forces, in order to build their capacity and capability to establish and maintain security and stability in the region.SOTG operations are Afghan Police led in order to build confidence in the ANSF and improve the connection between the local people and the Afghan Government.  The Task Group also works closely with the co-located CT-U providing Special Forces support to operations in Uruzgan province.

Source: http://www.defence.gov.au/op/afghanistan/info/factsheet.htm

Weapons Supply to Syria: CIA & Co.

Qatar, which has taken a lead in arming the Syrian opposition, is coordinating with the CIA and has tightened control of the arms flow to keep weapons out of the hands of al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters, according to rebels and officials familiar with the operation.  With Britain and France discussing lifting an EU ban on arming the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, Western countries are concerned about making sure no arms end up in the hands of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, which has pledged support for al Qaeda and which Washington considers a terrorist group.

Rebel fighters in Syria say that in recent months the system for distributing arms has become more centralized, with arms being delivered through opposition National Coalition’s General Command, led by Selim Idriss, a general who defected to the opposition and is a favorite of Washington.

Qatar mostly sends arms to rebels operating in the north of Syria, while Saudi Arabia, another rich Gulf Arab kingdom, sends weapons to fighters operating in the south, several rebel commanders said….”Before the Coalition was formed they were going through liaison offices and other military and civil formations. That was at the beginning. Now it is different – it is all going through the Coalition and the military command.”  Shipments of weapons to Syrian rebels were curbed last year when Washington raised concerns that arms were falling into the hands of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

Today, Qatari shipments have resumed with tighter controls exerted from the palace of Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in consultation with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said a senior Qatari security official. “There’s an operations room in the Emir’s diwan (office complex), with representatives from every ministry sitting in that room, deciding how much money to allocate for Syria’s aid,” the Qatari official said.  “There’s a lot of consultation with the CIA, and they help Qatar with buying and moving the weapons into Syria, but just as consultants,” he said. The CIA declined to comment.  Rebel commanders contacted by Reuters said they submit their lists of needs to the General Command led by Idriss, which forwards the requests to Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

One Western source involved in the process said the new system of control is not foolproof: sometimes weapons sent in by Qatar do in fact reach hardline groups.Several rebel commanders said they believed wealthy Kuwaiti and Saudi individuals were also sending weapons and money to rebel fighters outside the National Coalition’s distribution channel.  “They usually ask for a video proving that an attack took place with the name of the brigade that did it. Sometimes they ask for a statement expressing gratitude,” said a rebel commander in Damascus.  He said the Saudis and Qataris also occasionally send weapons into each other’s territory, bypassing normal controls. “Sometimes the Qataris manage to send stuff to the southern part and the Saudis to the northern side. When they do so, they send it to brigades that are not part of the military command.”

According to the Qatari official, weapons supplied included small arms including AK-47 rifles, rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades and ammunition. Qatar also provides instructions on battlefield techniques such as how to rig weapons on vehicles.

[How?]

The weapons are purchased mainly from eastern Europe by arms brokers based in Britain and France, and are flown from Qatar to Ankara and then trucked to Syria, the Qatari source added.

[Timeframe]

Hugh Griffiths, a researcher on arms transfers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said 90 Qatari military air cargo flights were made to Turkey between 3 January 2012 and the end of April 2013.He suggested the Qataris had made no particular effort to disguise the nature of the cargo.  “The Qataris never announced the cargo as ‘humanitarian aid’ as pretence, they’ve always been more forthright in terms of their support in the form of military aid,” he said.

[Military Bases and Mercenaries]

The planes were Qatari air force aircraft flying from Al Udeid, a big air force base shared with the U.S. military.”This is quite unusual for arms deliveries intended for non-state actors in conflict zones, in the last 20 years or so the pattern has been to use private, commercial companies,” he said.

By Amena Bakr and Mariam Karouny, Qatar, allies tighten coordination of arms flows to Syria, Reuters, May 14, 2013

US Government Lobbying for Biotechnology Industry

American diplomats lobbied aggressively overseas to promote genetically modified (GM) food crops such as soy beans, an analysis of official cable traffic revealed on Tuesday.  The review of more than 900 diplomatic cables by the campaign group Food and Water Watch showed a carefully crafted campaign to break down resistance to GM products in Europe and other countries, and so help promote the bottom line of big American agricultural businesses.

The cables, which first surfaced with the Wikileaks disclosures two years ago, described a series of separate public relations strategies, unrolled at dozens of press junkets and biotech conferences, aimed at convincing scientists, media, industry, farmers, elected officials and others of the safety and benefits of GM producs…The public relations effort unrolled by the State Department also ventured into legal terrain, accotrding to the report. US officials stationed overseas opposed GM food labelling laws as well as rules blocking the import of GM foods. The report notes that some of the lobbying effort had direct benefits. About 7% of the cables mentioned specific companies, and 6% mentioned Monsanto. “This corporate diplomacy was nearly twice as common as diplomatic efforts on food aid,” the report said….

In some instances, there was little pretence at hiding that resort to pressure – at least within US government circles. In a 2007 cable, released during the earlier Wikileaks disclosures, Craig Stapleton, a friend and former business partner of George Bush, advised Washington to draw up a target list in Europe in response to a move by France to ban a variety of GM Monsanto corn.  “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits,” Stapleton wrote at the time.”The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices,” he wrote.

Excerpts, Suzanne Goldenberg,Diplomatic cables reveal aggressive GM lobbying by US officials, Guardian, May 15, 2013

The Nuclear Village in Japan

After an earthquake and tsunami created a creeping nuclear catastrophe two years ago the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) said it would get the country out of nuclear energy by 2040. Although it quickly backtracked, almost all of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are still lying idle.

In February this year (2013), Shinzo Abe, leader of the then incoming Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said the new government would restart reactors after they passed a forthcoming set of new safety tests. The country’s “nuclear village”, a cosy bunch from industry and government, cheered. But now the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is starting to alarm the public once more. On April 15th, 2013 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN body, flew in to investigate a series of dangerous incidents.

A power outage in March (2013) left four underground pools that store thousands of the plant’s nuclear fuel rods without fresh cooling water for several hours. A rat, it later emerged, had gnawed through a cable. Workmen laying down rat-proof netting caused another outage. Then this month regulators discovered that thousands of gallons of radioactive water had seeped into the ground; the plant’s operator had installed a jerry-rigged system of plastic sheeting, which sprang leaks. The quantity of contaminated water has become a crisis in its own right, the manager has admitted. And now the pipes used to transfer water to safer storage containers are leaking too.

Experts who examined the causes of the 2011 catastrophe reckon the LDP has paid too little attention to what went wrong. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of a parliamentary investigation, says the country may be moving “too hastily back towards nuclear power, without fully regaining the trust of the Japanese public and the international community”. Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor of Asahi Shimbun newspaper who headed a private-sector investigation, says it is unfortunate that the 2012 election, which brought the LDP back to office, did not include a proper debate about the future of nuclear energy.

Now the set of policies known as “Abenomics” is making a return to nuclear power ever more pressing. The LDP is expected to push hard to restart plants if it wins a crucial election for the upper house of parliament this summer. Mr Abe’s focus on the economy has given greater say to the voice of business, including the big utilities whose plants are idle. Smaller firms clamour for cheaper power too.

Japan’s broader economic future may be at stake… [the deterioration of  overall current-account balance]  could affect Japan’s ability to keep funding its huge public debt domestically. A big cause is the cost of energy imported to fill the gap left by nuclear power. A weaker yen, the result of the central bank’s radical loosening of monetary policy, is further pushing up the price of imported oil and gas…[T]he public is still afraid of nuclear power. A nationwide poll  in February 2013 found that around 70% of respondents wanted either to phase out all the plants, or to shut them down immediately. Opposition is likely to be strongest at the local level, as regions move to switch their reactors back on. This week an Osaka court ruled on a suit brought by local residents to have Japan’s only two operating reactors, at the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture, shut down. They lost, but their suit looks like only the first of many battles

Japan’s nuclear future: Don’t look now, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 44.

Choking Uranium Markets to Stop Nuclear Weapons

Making nuclear weapons requires access to materials—highly enriched uranium or plutonium—that do not exist in nature in a weapons-usable form.   The most important suppliers of nuclear technology have recently agreed guidelines to restrict access to the most sensitive industrial items, in the framework of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Nevertheless, the number of countries proficient in these industrial processes has increased over time, and it is now questionable whether a strategy based on close monitoring of technology ‘choke points’ is by itself a reliable barrier to nuclear proliferation.  Time to tighten regulation of the uranium market?

Not all the states that have developed a complex nuclear fuel cycle have naturally abundant uranium. This has created a global market for uranium that is relatively free—particularly compared with the market for sensitive technologies….

Many African states have experienced increased investment in their uranium extractive sectors in recent years. Many, though not all, have signed and ratified the 1996 African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (Pelindaba) Treaty, which entered into force in 2009. Furthermore, in recent years, the relevant countries have often worked with the IAEA to introduce an Additional Protocol to their safeguards agreement with the agency…

One proliferation risk inherent in the current system is that inadequate or falsified information connected to what appear to be legitimate transactions will facilitate uranium acquisition by countries that the producer country would not wish to supply….

A second risk is that uranium ore concentrate (UOC) is diverted, either from the site where it was processed or during transportation, so the legitimate owners no longer have control over it. UOC is usually produced at facilities close to mines—often at the mining site itself—to avoid the cost and inconvenience of transporting large quantities of very heavy ore in raw form to a processing plant.,,,UOC is usually packed into steel drums that are loaded into standard shipping containers for onward movement by road, rail or sea for further processing. The loss of custody over relatively small quantities of UOC represents a serious risk if diversion takes place regularly. The loss of even one full standard container during transport would be a serious proliferation risk by itself. There is thus a need for physical protection of the ore concentrate to reduce the risk of diversion at these stages.

A third risk is that some uranium extraction activity is not covered by the existing rules. For example, uranium extraction can be a side activity connected to gold mining or the production of phosphates. Regulations should cover all activities that could lead to uranium extraction, not only those where uranium extraction is the main stated objective.

Restricting access to natural uranium could be an important aspect of the global efforts to obstruct the spread of nuclear weapons

Excerpts, from  Ian Anthony and Lina Grip, The global market in natural uranium—from proliferation risk to non-proliferation opportunity, SIPRI, Apr. 13, 2013

Covert Operations in Iran

Washington believed that covert action against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be more effective and less risky than an all-out war… In fact, Mark Fitzpatrick, former deputy assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation said: “Industrial sabotage is a way to stop the programme, without military action, without fingerprints on the operation, and really, it is ideal, if it works.”The US has a long history of covert operations in Iran, beginning in 1953 with the CIA orchestrated coup d’état that toppled the popularly elected Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed a dictator, Reza Shah. The US has reorganised its covert operations after the collapse of the shah in 1979…

In January 2011, it was revealed that the Stuxnet cyber-attack, an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme, has been accelerated since President Barack Obama first took office. Referring to comments made by the head of Mossad, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton confirmed the damages inflicted on Iran’s nuclear programme have been achieved through a combination of “sabotage and sanctions”.

Meanwhile, several Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated. The New York Times reported that Mossad orchestrated the killings while Iran claimed the attacks were part of a covert campaign by the US, UK and Israel to sabotage its nuclear programme….

There are at least 10 major repercussions arising from the US, West and Israeli policy of launching covert war and cyber-attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities and scientists.

First, cyber war is a violation of international law. According to the UN Charter, the use of force is allowed only with the approval of the UN Security Council in self-defence and in response to an attack by another country. A Nato-commissioned international group of researchers, concluded that the 2009 Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities constituted “an act of force”, noting that the cyber-attack has been a violation of international law.Second, the US covert operations are a serious violation of the Algiers Accord. The 1981 Algiers Accords agreed upon between Iran and the US clearly stated that “it is and from now on will be the policy of the US not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs”.

Third, the cyber war has propelled Tehran to become more determined in its nuclear efforts and has made major advancement. According to reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), prior to covert operations targeting the nuclear programme, Iran had one uranium enrichment site, a pilot plant of 164 centrifuges enriching uranium at a level of 3.5 per cent, first generation of centrifuges and approximately 100 kg stockpile of enriched uranium.Today, it has two enrichment sites with roughly 12,000 centrifuges, can enrich uranium up to 20 per cent, possesses a new generation of centrifuges and has amassed a stockpile of more than 8,000kg of enriched uranium.

Fourth, the strategy pursued has constituted a declaration of war on Iran, and a first strike. Stuxnet cyber-attack did cause harm to Iran’s nuclear programme, therefore it can be considered the first unattributed act of war against Iran, a dangerous prelude toward a broader war.

Fifth… [s]uch short-sighted policies thicken the wall of mistrust, further complicating US-Iran rapprochement and confidence-building measures.

Sixth, Iran would consider taking retaliatory measures by launching cyber-counter-attacks against facilities in Israel, the West and specifically the US…

Seventh, Iran is building a formidable domestic capacity countering and responding to western cyber-warfare. Following the Stuxnet attack, Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a directive to establish Iran’s cyber army that is both offensive and defensive. Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has the fourth biggest cyber army in the world. Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) acknowledged that IRGC is one of the most advanced nations in the field of cyberspace warfare.

Eighth, Iran now has concluded that information gathered by IAEA inspectors has been used to create computer viruses, facilitate sabotage against its nuclear programme and the assassinations of nuclear scientists. Iranian nuclear energy chief stated that the UN nuclear watchdog [IAEA] has been infiltrated by “terrorists and saboteurs.” Such conclusions have not only discredited the UN Nuclear Watchdog but have pushed Iran to limit its technical and legal cooperation with the IAEA to address outstanding concerns and questions.

Ninth, worsening Iranians siege mentality by covert actions and violations of the country’s territorial sovereignty could strengthen the radicals in Tehran to double down on acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran could be pondering now the reality that the US is not waging a covert war on North Korea (because it possesses a nuclear bomb), Muammar Gaddafi lost his grip on power in Libya after ceding his nuclear programme, and Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded (because they had no nuclear weapon).

Tenth, the combination of cyber-attacks, industrial sabotage and assassination of scientists has turned public opinion within Iran against western interference within the country…[P]rovocative western measures have convinced the Iranian government that the main issue is not the nuclear programme but rather regime change.

Excerpts from  Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Ten consequences of US covert war against Iran, Gulf News, May 11, 2013

Multinational Corporations in US Courts: Kiobel v. Shell

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS)… grants American district courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or of a treaty of the United States”. At the age of 190 it sprang back to life on April 6th 1979, when it was used to allow two Paraguayans to sue a former Paraguayan policeman in an American court for acts of torture committed in Paraguay.Since then, roughly 150 lawsuits have been filed against American and foreign corporations for actions committed around the world. Four local plaintiffs used the ATS to sue Unocal in a federal court in Los Angeles for human-rights violations allegedly committed during the construction of an oil pipeline in Myanmar. A human-rights organisation used it to sue Yahoo on behalf of two Chinese democracy activists for actions committed in China by a subsidiary. ATS suits against DaimlerChrysler and Rio Tinto, among others, are pending. Though most ATS cases have been dismissed or settled, the costs of settlements can be high and the negative publicity damaging.

Multinational companies will therefore cheer the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), released on April 17th, 2013. It dramatically limits the ability of plaintiffs to file suit against corporations in American courts for actions committed abroad.  The ruling stems from a case brought in New York by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs living in America. They allege that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations—including murder, rape, theft and destruction of property—committed by Nigeria’s armed forces in the region of Ogoniland. A federal appeals court dismissed their suit, arguing that the ATS provides no grounds for corporate-liability lawsuits. But as the 150 ATS suits show, other courts have disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to settle the question.

In an earlier ruling, in 2004, the court cautiously ruled that the ATS permitted lawsuits for “a modest number of international law violations”, such as piracy and crimes involving ambassadors, which would have been recognised when it was adopted. The court’s Kiobel ruling goes much further. It holds that the ATS does not apply to actions committed by foreign companies, and noted a strong presumption against applying American law outside the United States, “There is no indication,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice, “that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms”.  In a separate concurrence, four of the court’s liberals took a slightly softer tack, arguing that the ATS should allow suits that prevent America from becoming “a safe harbour…for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind”. But that reasoning still does not permit foreign nationals to use American courts to sue foreign companies for acts committed on foreign soil.

Extraterritoriality: The Shell game ends, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 34

U.S. Special Operations in 30 African Countries

The United States Army’s Transportation Command (US-TRANSCOM) is looking for private flight contractors to transport commandos from the Joint Special Taskforce Trans-Sahara as they conduct ‘high risk activities’ in 31 African countries.The pre-solicitation notice, issued by the US-TRANSCOM on 1 April, says the contractor will need to conduct air drops, fly commandos in and out of hostile territory and carry out short notice medical evacuation between 12 August 2013 and 27 June 2017. A 10.5 month base period will start in August this year to be followed by three one-year option periods.  [This is]  under the auspices of the US military’s Africa Command, under which the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara (JSOTF-TF) falls.

TRANSCOM is looking for aircraft able to carry at least six passengers and 2 500 pounds of cargo. From the US intelligence hub located in a military airfield in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso..…”Services shall be based at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, with services provided to, but not limited to, the recognized political boundaries of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, South Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda, as dictated by operational requirements. It is anticipated the most likely additional locations for missions from the above list would be to: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia,” the Transcom work statement reads.

The expansion of US commando operations is focused on confronting the threat posed by Sahelian and sub-Saharan terror groups which include Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which operate in nearly all north and north-west African countries. The operations are also aimed at confronting Al Qaeda inspired Nigerian Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and its more radical splinter movement Jamā atu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdān (Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa), better known as Ansaru.

In East and Central Africa, the US special forces operations will target renegade rebel groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony, Al Shabaab in Somalia, Islamic militant sleeper cells in the coastal areas of Kenya and Tanzania and various regional rebel groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In yet another sign of intensifying US military and security interest in Africa, the US Defence Logistics Agency on April 12 issued a request for bids to provide the US Air Force with 547,500 gallons of No. 2 diesel fuel “for ongoing deliveries to Niamey Airport, Niger, (Africa).“The fuel is intended for a fleet of unarmed US Predator drones which are presently flying intelligence and surveillance missions from a military airport in Niamey into Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Algeria and other suspected terrorist locations in the Sahel.

Since 2009, private flight contractors engaged by US special operations forces have been operating Pilatus PC-12s on intelligence gathering and image collection missions over Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and other Central African states from a small airport located near the Ugandan city of Entebbe. 

Excerpt, Oscar Nkala, US Army seeking private contractors for African commando transportation, www.defenceweb.co.z, May 7, 2013

The Nanosecond Decision to Kill: drones

These are excerpts from the report of the UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns,  Apr. 9, 2013

What are Lethal Autonomous Robotics?

Robots are often described as machines that are built upon the sense-think-act paradigm: they have sensors that give them a degree of situational awareness; processors or artificial intelligence that “decides” how to respond to a given stimulus; and effectors that carry out those “decisions”. …   Under the currently envisaged scenario, humans will at least remain part of what may be called the “wider loop”: they will programme the ultimate goals into the robotic systems and decide to activate and, if necessary, deactivate them, while autonomous weapons will translate those goals into tasks and execute them without requiring further human intervention. Supervised autonomy means that there is a “human on the loop” (as opposed to “in” or “out”), who monitors and can override the robot‟s decisions. However, the power to override may in reality be limited because the decision-making processes of robots are often measured in nanoseconds and the informational basis of those decisions may not be practically accessible to the supervisor. In such circumstances humans are de facto out of the loop and the machines thus effectively constitute LARs.

Examples of  Lethal Autonomous Robotics

  • The US Phalanx system for Aegis-class cruisers automatically detects, tracks and engages anti-air warfare threats such as anti-ship missiles and aircraft.
  • The US Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) system can automatically destroy incoming artillery, rockets and mortar rounds.
  • Israel‟s Harpy is a “Fire-and-Forget” autonomous weapon system designed to detect, attack and destroy radar emitters.
  • The United Kingdom Taranis jet-propelled combat drone prototype can autonomously search, identify and locate enemies but can only engage with a target when authorized by mission command. It can also defend itself against enemy aircraft.
  • The Northrop Grumman X-47B is a fighter-size drone prototype commissioned by the US Navy to demonstrate autonomous launch and landing capability on aircraft carriers and navigate autonomously.
  • The Samsung Techwin surveillance and security guard robots, deployed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, detect targets through infrared sensors. They are currently operated by humans but have an “automatic mode”.

Advantages of Lethal Autonomous Robotics

LARs will not be susceptible to some of the human shortcomings that may undermine the protection of life. Typically they would not act out of revenge, panic, anger, spite, prejudice or fear. Moreover, unless specifically programmed to do so, robots would not cause intentional suffering on civilian populations, for example through torture. Robots also do not rape.

Disadvantages of Lethal Autonomous Robotics

Yet robots have limitations in other respects as compared to humans. Armed conflict and IHL often require human judgement, common sense, appreciation of the larger picture, understanding of the intentions behind people‟s actions, and understanding of values and anticipation of the direction in which events are unfolding. Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans – while they are fallible – at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not.

Full Report PDF

US Special Operations in 70 Countries

Not long after Adm. William H. McRaven led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, he was put in charge of the nation’s entire contingent of Special Operations forces, and set to work revamping them to face a widening array of new threats as America’s combat role in the Middle East and southwest Asia winds down….Admiral McRaven’s goal is to recast the command from its popular image of commandos killing or capturing terrorists, and expand a force capable of carrying out a range of missions short of combat — including training foreign militaries to counter terrorists, drug traffickers and insurgents, gathering intelligence and assessing pending risk, and advising embassies on security.

But along the way, the ambitious Admiral McRaven has run into critics who say he is overreaching, or as one Congressional critic put it, “empire building” at a time when the military is shrinking its footprint in Afghanistan and refocusing on other hot spots around the world. Congress has blocked, at least temporarily, an idea to consolidate several hundred of the command’s Washington-based staff members in a $10 million-a-year satellite office here, saying it would violate spending limits on such offices.

At the same time, Admiral McRaven has also faced criticism that he is encroaching on the turf of the military’s traditionally powerful regional commanders. Shortly before leaving the Pentagon, former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta granted Admiral McRaven new authority to make staffing decisions in the Special Operations units assigned to the regional commanders. While they will still have the final say on missions in their region, Admiral McRaven will now have the ability to allocate the much sought-after 11,000 deployed Special Operations forces where he determines intelligence and world events indicate they are most needed.

Indeed, in the past year, the command has conducted three classified exercises to determine where it can expand Special Operations forces in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As for the office he has sought in Washington, Admiral McRaven couches his plans to consolidate the command’s disparate operations into a new “National Capital Region” office in similar reform-minded terms, telling Congress in April that it would “better support coordination and decision-making” with other federal agencies.  Supporters described the plan as a management efficiency for the 373 people serving as liaison officers scattered in dozens of executive branch departments and the intelligence community, as well as members of a legislative affairs office that has operated here since the mid-1980s.  If the plan is approved, an additional 70 Special Operations personnel could be assigned to the Washington office. By comparison, the Central Command, which oversees the Middle East and South Asia, has just 15 people in Washington. The Africa Command has 10. The headquarters would be overseen by a three-star officer and is envisioned to have an annual budget of $10 million, although some of that money is already in the command’s budget for staff assigned to duties here.

Admiral McRaven’s proposals have run afoul of Congress before. Last spring [2012], the Special Operations Command sought approval for new authority from Congress to train foreign internal security forces that had been off limits to the American military… Statistics provided by Special Operations Command noted that in any given week, its personnel were operating in more than 70 countries. During one week in March (2012), for example, the command had teams in 92 nations.  Until now, those troops have been financed through the geographic commands in the Middle East, Africa, Europe or Latin America….The goal, command officials say, is not just improving their quality but also improving their coordination with foreign troops and diplomats. The command has sent liaison officers to 10 United States embassies worldwide – Australia, Canada, Britain, Jordan, Poland, Colombia, France, Turkey, Kenya and Italy – to advise indigenous special forces and coordinate activities with those troops.

Nearly a decade ago a similar experiment to place small teams of Special Operations troops in American embassies to gather intelligence on terrorists and to prepare for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them, backfired.  In one case, members of the “military liaison elements” in Paraguay were pulled out of the country after killing an armed robber who attacked them. The shooting had nothing to do with their mission, but the episode embarrassed senior embassy officials, who had not been told the team was operating in the country.

Admiral McRaven says those early problems have been ironed out, and his troops carry out missions only with the approval of the regional American commander and the United States ambassador in that country.

ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER, A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations, New York Times, May 1, 2013

 

Neither Free, Nor Informed: indigenous peoples in Ecuador

The Constitution of Ecuador adopted in 2008 establishes a broad range of rights for indigenous peoples and nationalities, including the right to prior consultation, which gives them the opportunity to influence decisions that affect their lives. But this right has yet to be fully translated into legislation, as the bill for a Law on Consultation with Indigenous Communities, Peoples and Nationalities is still being studied by the National Assembly.

Article 57, section 7 of the constitution guarantees “free, prior and informed consultation, within a reasonable period of time, on plans and programmes for exploration, exploitation and sale of non-renewable resources located on their lands which could have environmental or cultural impacts on them.” The constitution also stipulates the right of indigenous peoples “to share in the profits earned from these projects and to receive compensation for social, cultural and environmental damages caused to them. The consultation that must be conducted by the competent authorities shall be mandatory and timely.”  “If the consent of the consulted community is not obtained, steps provided for by the Constitution and the law shall be taken,” it adds.  Legal grounds for consultation are also established in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which Ecuador ratified in 1998, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.

Nevertheless, recent mining and oil drilling projects have put the government’s commitment to respecting the right to consultation to the test, and spurred indigenous organisations to take action.  On Nov. 28, 2012, hundreds of indigenous representatives converged in Quito to protest the lack of consultation prior to the 11th oil auction round, in which exploration blocks containing an estimated total of 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil would be put up for bids from private companies. At the time, Domingo Peas, a leader of the Achuar indigenous ethnic group, declared that “the government says it has carried out prior consultation, but this is not true.”  “The consultations carried out among the peoples and nationalities in the areas of influence are invalid, because there was no participation by indigenous peoples and nationalities in determining the way they were conducted, they did not respect their traditional methods of decision-making, and cultural aspects, such as language, were not adequately taken into account,” he stressed.  Overall, said Peas, the consultations “were neither prior, nor free, nor informed, and were conducted in bad faith.”

The president of the influential Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Humberto Cholango, believes that the authorities have not done enough. “Prior consultation is still pending, we have still not seen the results we would like to see. We need the law to be approved; that would be a major advance,” he told Tierramérica*.

The draft law, comprising 29 articles, refers to consultation on legislative measures and establishes four stages: preparation; a public call for participation and registration; the actual holding of the consultation; and analysis of the results and conclusion.  In accordance with the law, the government will determine if a proposed bill affects the rights of certain communities, in which case the National Assembly will convene a prior consultation that will be conducted through the National Electoral Council…

One year ago, President Rafael Correa stated in one of his regular Saturday broadcasts that non-governmental organisations “want prior consultations to be popular consultations and to be binding; that means that for every step we want to take, we will need to ask the community for permission.”  “This is extremely serious. This is not what the international agreements say. This would not mean acting in the interests of the majorities, but rather in the interest of unanimity. It would be impossible to govern that way,” he declared.  In response to these statements, indigenous organisations sought reinforcement, calling on agencies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the ILO to supervise the implementation of prior consultation.

In fact, indigenous communities in Ecuador have already turned to some of these mechanisms in the past. In 2003, the Quechua community of Sarayaku filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the state for authorising oil exploration in their territory, without prior consultation.  The community, located in the province of Pastaza, in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest region, denounced damages to their territory, culture and economy. In June 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of the community and against the state. The government is still studying how to pay the required compensation – a total of 1,398,000 dollars for material and moral damages and legal costs – and how to finish repairing the physical damage caused

By Ángela Meléndez, Ecuador’s Indigenous People Still Waiting to Be Consulted, Inter Press Service, May 2, 2012

Foreign Corporate Immunity: Chevron/Canada v. Ecuador

A Toronto judge halted on May 1, 2013 an effort to enforce a $19 billion Ecuadorean judgment against U.S. oil company Chevron Corp in Canada, finding that his Ontario provincial court was the wrong place for the case.  The action is the latest skirmish in a two-decade conflict between Chevron and residents of Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region over claims that Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001, contaminated the area from 1964 to 1992.

Citing Chevron’s promise to fight the plaintiffs until “hell freezes over, and then fight it out on the ice,” Justice David Brown of the Ontario court foresaw a “bitter, protracted” battle that would be costly and time consuming.  “While Ontario enjoys a bountiful supply of ice for part of each year, Ontario is not the place for that fight,” Brown wrote in his ruling on Wednesday. “Ontario courts should be reluctant to dedicate their resources to disputes where, in dollars and cents terms, there is nothing to fight over.”

Alan Lenczner, principal lawyer in Toronto for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs, said they would definitely appeal, arguing that a multinational company could not be immune from enforcement in a country where it earns so much. “Chevron Corp itself earns no money,” he said in a statement. “All its earnings and profits come from subsidiaries including, importantly, Chevron Canada.”  Chevron Canada’s assets are worth more than $12 billion, the plaintiffs had said, and alongside separate actions in Argentina and Brazil, they had sought to persuade the Ontario court to collect the damages awarded to them by the South American court.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, has steadfastly refused to pay, saying the February 2011 ruling by the court in Lago Agrio was influenced by fraud and bribery. A related fraud case goes to trial in New York in October.  The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the country’s courts can recognize and enforce foreign judgments in cases where there is a “reasonable and substantial connection” between the cause of the action and the foreign court. Chevron called Brown’s ruling a “significant setback” to the Ecuadoreans’ strategy of seeking enforcement against subsidiaries that were not parties to the Ecuador case.  “The plaintiffs should be seeking enforcement in the United States – where Chevron Corporation resides. In the U.S., however, they would be confronted by the fact that eight federal courts have already found the Ecuador trial tainted by fraud,” Chevron said in a statement. Last month, a consulting firm whose work helped lead to the $19 billion award against Chevron disavowed some environmental claims used to obtain the judgment.

Excerpt, Judge halts Chevron-Ecuador enforcement action in Canada, Reuters, May 1, 2013

Fighting Biopiracy: European Union

The European Union is debating a biopiracy law requiring industry to compensate indigenous people if it makes commercial use of local knowledge such as plant-based medicines.  Under the law – based on the international convention on access to biodiversity, the Nagoya protocol – the pharmaceuticals industry would need the written consent of local or indigenous people before exploring their region’s genetic resources or making use of their traditional know-how. Relevant authorities would have the power to sanction companies which failed to comply, protecting local interests from the predatory attitude of big European companies.

A German pharmaceutical company’s dealings in South Africa [is an example of biopiracy].  Pelargonium sidoides, a variety of geranium known for its antimicrobial and expectorant qualities, has been used traditionally by indigenous communities in South Africa for centuries to treat bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. It also stimulates the nervous system, so has been used in the treatment of AIDS and tuberculosis.  In 2000, the German company Schwabe made significant profits on Umckaloabo, a product derived from the geranium, without compensating local communities. It then filed patents claiming exclusive rights to the medical use of the plant.

But in 2010 the patents were cancelled following appeals from the African Centre for Biosafety in South Africa and the Bern Declaration in Switzerland, calling the patents “an illegitimate and illegal monopolization of genetic resources derived from traditional knowledge and a stark opposition to the Convention on Biodiversity.”…[The] law would help protect biodiversity and ensure that the people from the region are adequately compensated for their resource and their traditional know-how. …The need to ensure the property rights of indigenous populations becomes more pressing as industry looks more and more to plant and animal-based cures to common diseases.Only 16 countries have ratified the Nagoya protocol. The European Union and its 24 of its 27 member states have signed the convention, but are yet to ratify it. When they do, Nagoya should soon reach the 50 states needed for it to come into force…  “The 16 states are countries in the South…

Excerpts, EU ponders biopiracy law to protect indigeneous people, EurActiv, April 26,  2013

See also EU portal on Biodiversity and Benefits Sharing

See also article on Alice v. Schwabe