Monthly Archives: July 2014

Columbia River: Salmon Restoration

When Dwight Eisenhower, then president of the United States, and John Diefenbaker, his Canadian counterpart, signed a treaty in 1961 to jointly control the unruly Columbia river, they hailed their collaboration as a model for the rest of the world. Fifty years after the treaty was implemented, in 1964, cracks are appearing.

The treaty involved a series of new dams and an agreement to share the power generated as a result. It has worked well. There has been no repeat of the catastrophic flood that wiped out the second-largest city in Oregon in 1948. The United States dutifully hands over Canada’s share of the hydropower generated, worth an average of C$215m ($170m) a year between 1998 and 2013. But the Americans in particular are keen to make changes. Nigel Bankes of the University of Calgary says there is “zero chance” that the disagreements between the two countries can be resolved before September 16th, 2014—after which date either country can give ten years’ notice that it wishes to terminate the agreement.

Money is one of two main differences. In return for building three dams—Duncan, Hugh Keenleyside and Mica —on its side of the border, Canada received an upfront payment from the United States and a guaranteed share of the extra power that could be generated downstream as a result of more dependable water flows. The Americans think Canada has been more than reimbursed for the costs of dam construction, and want to whittle away the annual energy payment known as the Canadian Entitlement. In an open letter to Barack Obama in April, 26 senators and congressmen from the Pacific north-west said a reduction should be part of a renegotiated deal.

Not so fast, say the Canadians. They point out that people were displaced and fertile land flooded to create the dams. That represents a continuing loss. There are also benefits not captured in the treaty, says Bill Bennett, the minister of energy and mines for British Columbia (BC), which implements the treaty for Canada. More dependable water flows lead to improved navigation and irrigation south of the border; BC also co-operates when the United States asks it to spill water over its dams to help meet obligations under endangered-fish-species legislation.

In fact, fish are the other slippery issue.The restoration of salmon migration on the upper reaches of the Columbia river is being pushed by First Nations (native Indian) tribes on both sides of the border. The United States wants salmon on the negotiating table, but the Canadians do not. None of the treaty dams was built with fish ladders and they would be costly to construct today. “Salmon migration in the Columbia river ended 26 years before the treaty was ever ratified,” says Mr Bennett. “It was eliminated by the Grand Coulee dam in 1938, and our position is that’s an important issue but it’s not part of the Columbia River Treaty discussion.”

Excerpt, The Columbia River Treaty: Salmon en route, Economist, June 7. 2014, at 42

Palau Fights Big Fishing Countries

The traditional prescription for an ailing reef is a fishing ban called a bul. Local chiefs may declare a bul to rest a busy fishing spot or protect endangered sea turtles. Now Palau’s president has a more drastic plan. He proposes a complete ban on commercial fishing—a bul to turn the 600,000 square kilometres (232,000 square miles) of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) into a marine reserve the size of Ukraine. Locals could still fish close to shore, but not for export. The ban would last until world leaders implement programmes “to reverse the devastation to our oceans and seas”, Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau, recently told the United Nations. Environmentalists have rallied to his cause. Such reserves are usually declared by countries with fishing grounds and cash to spare. Palau has a population of 20,000 and a GDP of $246m. I

A total ban might hurt Palau, which is part of Micronesia, 800km (500 miles) east of the Philippines. Though small, its waters are full of bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Japanese and Taiwanese boats pay to fish there, helping Palau earn $5m in revenue from fishing taxes and licensing fees in 2013. That is a lot for a microstate with an annual government budget of only $70m. And fishing revenues have been growing thanks to a regional negotiating block. Together, eight remote Pacific states control 14m square km of tuna-rich waters. They have forced Asian and American ships into a cap-and-trade scheme that boosts access fees by limiting total fishing days. In an age of collapsing fish stocks, the relative health of fisheries in the western Pacific has given island states a rare measure of economic influence. Palau’s bet, however, is that its fish are worth more in the water than out. Mr Remengesau doubts that small islands will ever capture more than “a drop” of a tuna fishery worth billions but dominated by foreign fleets. Ecotourism, meanwhile, accounts for about half of Palau’s GDP. Palau’s leaders hope that a national marine reserve will lure enough tourists to offset lost fishing revenue….

Palau has only one boat capable of patrolling its EEZ. Many tuna bandits escape detection. Technology could help: last year the country tested surveillance drones. The problem is money. Japan and America have helped fund enforcement. Both have an interest because of their fishing deals with Palau. But they may not want to fund a system that locks them out of its waters altogether,

Marine protection in the Pacific: No bul, Economist, June 7,  2014, at 46

CIA Black Sites at Court of Human Rights

The CIA ran a secret jail on Polish soil, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on July 24, 2014, piling pressure on Poland, one of Washington’s closest allies, to break its long silence about the global programme for detaining al Qaeda suspects.  The court said it had been established that the CIA used a facility in a northern Polish forest, code named “Quartz”, as a hub in its network for interrogating suspected al Qaeda operatives rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Poland has always denied that the CIA had a jail on its territory, even as leaks from former U.S. intelligence officials, and a Senate investigation, brought more and more details of the programme into the open.  The July 24, 2014 ruling was the first time that a court in Europe had said that the CIA operated one of the secret jails – often referred to as “black sites” -on the continent.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative who acted for one of the men who brought the case, told Reuters both Poland and the United States would have to take note of what she called an historic ruling…The court case was brought by lawyers for two men, Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, and Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who are now both inmates at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military’s prison on Cuba.

They alleged they were flown in secret to a remote Polish airfield, then transferred to the CIA-facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty where they were subject to treatment they said amounted to torture.  Lawyers for Nashiri said one on occasion he was forced to stand naked and hooded in his cell while his interrogator operated a power drill, making the detainee believe he would be harmed. In another incident, the lawyers said, an interrogator cocked a pistol next to Nashiri’s head.

The court ruled that, despite the wall of secrecy around the U.S.-led “extraordinary rendition” programme, there was enough circumstantial evidence to say beyond reasonable doubt that both men were held at a CIA-run facility in Poland. It said Poland knew about their detention and should have known they were at risk of ill-treatment.

The court found Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent torture, ensure the right to liberty, and properly investigate allegations a crime had been committed on its territory.  It ordered Poland to pay al-Nashiri 100,000 euros in damages and 130,000 euros to Zubaydah….

The ruling from Strasbourg may have implications for other European states alleged to have hosted CIA prisons: similar cases have been lodged with the court in Strasbourg against Romania and Lithuania. The court ruling did not directly cover the United States, which is outside its jurisdiction.

Excerpt from CHRISTIAN LOWE, European court says CIA ran secret jail in a Polish forest, Reuters, July 24, 2014

Partition of Central African Republic

Central African Republic is de facto partitioned with Christian militias in the west of the impoverished, landlocked country pillaging diamonds and mainly Muslim Seleka rebels in the east controlling gold mines, U.N. experts said on Friday.  Violence between the Muslim and Christian communities killed at least 2,400 civilians between December 2013 and April 2014, the panel said, but they acknowledged the toll was likely higher due to underreporting.  Seleka rebels seized power more than a year ago, committing abuses on the majority Christian population that triggered waves of deadly revenge attacks by the anti-balaka Christian fighters, forcing a million people to flee their homes.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council released in July 2014, the experts who monitor sanctions violations said they believe “that armed groups, whether associated with anti-balaka or the former Seleka, have been manipulated and incited by political spoilers to commit acts of violence against civilians and international forces with the aim of strengthening those leaders’ influence and destabilizing the transition process or promoting the partition of the country.”  “The country is de facto partitioned into two … with the predominant presence of so-called anti-balaka militias in the west and of the new Seleka in the east,” the experts said.

The violence in Central African Republic has continued despite the presence of 2,000 French troops and some 6,000 African Union forces. In April, the Security Council authorized a U.N. peacekeeping force of up to 10,000 troops and 1,800 police, which is due to assume authority in September.  “Armed groups have been involved in the illicit trade and exploitation of natural resources, namely gold and diamonds,” the experts’ report said.  “In the west of the Central African Republic, anti-balaka members are digging for and trading in diamonds in remote villages,” it said. “In the east, Seleka forces retain a tight grip on artisanal gold mines.”

In December, the Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Central African Republic and then in May, it imposed sanctions on the country’s former President François Bozizé and two other men linked to the country’s conflict. ..Armed groups were mainly using small arms that were circulating in the country before the crisis or obtained from government stockpiles following the collapse of the national security forces, the experts said.

Excerpt from Michelle Nichols. Central African Republic de facto partitioned, UN experts say, Reuters, July 12, 2014

Corruption in Somalia

A United Nations panel that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions on Somalia has accused Somalia’s  president, a former minister, and a U.S. law firm of conspiring to divert Somali assets recovered abroad, according to a new report.  The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, an 8-person committee, disclosed the findings in a confidential report to the U.N. Security Council’s Somalia/Eritrea sanctions committee. Reuters reviewed a copy of the 37-page document.  The U.N. Monitoring Group said the information it has gathered so far “reflects exploitation of public authority for private interests and indicates at the minimum a conspiracy to divert the recovery of overseas assets in an irregular manner.”

Most of the overseas assets were frozen at the outset of the civil war in 1991 and include cash and gold held in banks during two decades of chaos and conflict in Somalia, as well as government properties on foreign soil.  What the monitors describe as a conspiracy involved the U.S.-based law firm Shulman Rogers, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his office, former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam, as well as two other individuals whom the monitors said acted as liaisons between Shulman Rogers and Somalia…

All those accused of involvement in the plan to divert assets have denied any wrongdoing. Several accused the chairman of the Monitoring Group, Jarat Chopra, of dubious investigative methods and making baseless assertions….

A 2013 U.N. Monitoring Group report said individuals in Mohamud’s government used the Somali central bank as a personal “slush fund”, with an average 80 percent of withdrawals made for private purposes. The presidency and the then-central bank governor Abdusalam Omer have strongly denied that accusation..  In its latest report, the Monitoring Group said that “a complex architecture of multiple secret contracts, which defied a separation of powers between the Presidency and the Central Bank, created the opportunity and rationalization for the misappropriation of public resources.”  “‘Pie-cutting’ of overseas assets by those involved in the project entailed retention of excessive percentages and direct payments from recovered assets as well as attempts to circumvent deposits in the Central Bank of Somalia,” it added.

Abrar, the former central bank governor who was also a former Citigroup vice president, quit last October after seven weeks on the job, alleging she had been pressured to sign a contract with Shulman Rogers that she feared could invite corruption at the central bank.According to the new report, she sent her resignation from Dubai after fleeing from Mogadishu out of fear for her safety.The Monitoring Group said it had followed up on a number of Abrar’s allegations and her concerns about the contract and the planned scheme for the recovery of Somalia’s overseas assets. One of her main worries, the monitors said, was a clause in a July 2013 contract with Shulman Rogers that gave the law firm a bonus of 5 percent of recovered assets in addition to its fees and for Shulman Rogers to retain a further 6 percent of recovered assets for undefined costs and expenses.

“Ms. Abrar considered this clause for undefined costs and expenses to be for hidden fees and ultimately understood that it was meant as a side payment to be divided two percent each between Foreign Minister Adam, Musa Haji Mohamed Ganjab and Abdiaziz Hassan Giyaajo Amalo,” the report said…

After consulting with the World Bank, the Somali president’s office said in a statement to Reuters that it revoked a power of attorney it had granted to Shulman Rogers in May and was renegotiating its contract with the law firm.

Excerpts from LOUIS CHARBONNEAU AND DRAZEN JORGIC, Exclusive: U.N. monitors allege ‘conspiracy’ to divert Somali assets, Reuters, July 15, 2014

Iran Nuclear Talks: the Khamenei Card

On July 7, 1014 as critical nuclear negotiations got underway in Vienna between Iran, the United States, Europe, Russia and China, Khamenei (Iranian Supreme Leader) started talking hard numbers.  The Supreme Leader’s remarks were unprecedented both because they represented a blatant intervention from his perch in Tehran in the super-sensitive talks in Vienna, and because they relayed confidential technical details that had not been aired publicly before by Iranian officials.

The moment could not be more critical. An agreement is supposed to be reached before July 20, 2014 that will rein in the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and end or curtail the Western sanctions that have put so much pressure on Tehran. Failure to reach an accord will add yet more potentially apocalyptic uncertainties to the Middle Eastern scene…

The Supreme Leader started talking about SWUs, which it is fair to say few Iranians, or for that matter Americans, Europeans, Russians or Chinese ever have heard of.  In this context the acronym stands for “separative work units,” which relates directly to Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to levels that might feed into nuclear weapons. SWU defines the capability derived from the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges and their efficiency. For example one thousand AR1 centrifuges with the efficiency of 0.9 translates into 900 SWU, whereas 225 AR2 centrifuges with an efficiency of 4 translates into 900 SW…

“They want us to be content with 10,000 SWUs,” he said. That is, he estimates the bottom line the West will accept. “But they have started from 500 and 1000 SWUs,” he added. “Our people say that we need 190,000 SWUs,” he went on. That’s a big spread to try to close.  Khamenei then raised the problem of American and European objections to the more-or-less bomb-proof underground facility Iran has built at Fordo, where much of its enrichment goes on. “They emphasize Fordo because they cannot get to it,” said Khamenei. “They say you must not have a place which we cannot strike. Isn’t this ridiculous?”

Last December [2013] Khamenei said publicly he would not interfere in the negotiations and would leave the details to the diplomats. Now it appears he is playing a more shadowy game, either dictating terms to the Iranian team in Vienna or, perhaps, providing them the cover they need to stand firm.

A source close to the negotiations told IranWire that the numbers Khamenei cited are precisely what American negotiators have put on the table, and constitute one of the confidential topics being discussed over the past few months. Two days before Khamenei spoke, Under Secretary of States for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the senior American negotiator, said that Iran must end up with a fraction of the centrifuges it currently runs, but she did not cite any numbers.

The source said that Khamenei’s statements are technically significant, and are in line with the terms of the negotiations, which deal with SWUs rather than the number of centrifuges as such.

According to a European diplomat who is a member of his country’s nuclear negotiating team, the accuracy of the numbers leaked by Khamenei is both astonishing and worrisome, because he is limiting publicly the concessions that might be made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s team….

It is clear Khamenei wants to leave no doubt about his regime’s red lines in the negotiations…  But Khamenei doesn’t see this crisis only in terms of nukes. For the West, he says, the nuclear issue “is just an excuse” to pressure Iran, he said. “If it is not the nuclear issue they will come up with another excuse—human rights, women’s right, etc.”

Excerpts from Reza HaghighatNejad, Iran Supreme Leader Spills the Nuke Talk Secrets, Daily Beast, July 9, 2014

Nuclear Materials in Iraq – 2014 War

The U.N. atomic agency said on Thursday (July 10, 2014) it believed nuclear material which Iraq said had fallen into the hands of insurgents was “low grade” and did not pose a significant security risk.  Iraq told the United Nations that the material was used for scientific research at a university in the northern town of Mosul and appealed for help to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”.

Iraq’s U.N. envoy this week also said that the government had lost control of a former chemical weapons facility to “armed terrorist groups” and was unable to fulfill its international obligations to destroy toxins kept there.  An al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, took over swathes of Syria and Iraq before renaming itself Islamic State in June and declaring its leader caliph – a title held by successors of the Prophet Mohammad.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “is aware of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further details”, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said.  “On the basis of the initial information we believe the material involved is low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk,” she said. “Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.”

Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a July 8 letter that nearly 40 kg (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at the university.  “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,” he said.

However, a U.S. government source said it was not believed to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to use to manufacture into a nuclear weapon. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the reported seizure likely posed no direct threat. But, he said: “The sheer fact that the terrorists … show unmistakeable interest in nuclear and chemical materials is, of course, very alarming”.

Any loss or theft of highly enriched uranium, plutonium or other types of radioactive material is potentially serious as militants could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device or a “dirty bomb”, experts say.  Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA chief inspector, said that if the material came from a university it could be laboratory chemicals or radiation shielding, consisting of natural or depleted uranium.  “You cannot make a nuclear explosive from this amount, but all uranium compounds are poisonous,” Heinonen told Reuters. “This material is also not ‘good’ enough for a dirty bomb.”  In a so-called “dirty bomb”, radioactive material such as might be found in a hospital or factory is combined with conventional explosives that disperse the hazardous radiation.

Citing U.N. investigations dating back ten years or more, Heinonen said there should be no enriched uranium in Mosul. The Vienna-based IAEA helped dismantle Iraq’s clandestine nuclear programme in the 1990s – during Heinonen’s three decades there.  “Iraq should not have any nuclear installation left which uses nuclear material in these quantities,” he said.  Another proliferation expert, Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said: “The Mosul region and several university departments were scoured again and again by U.N. inspectors for a decade after the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and they know what materials were stored there.”  “These included tons of uranium liquid wastes, sources, uranium oxides, and uranium tetrafluoride. Some of these items are still there, but there’s no enriched uranium,” he said.

Excerpts from Fredrik Dahl, UPDATE 4-Seized nuclear material in Iraq “low grade” – UN agency, Reuters, July 10, 2014

Pipeline Hardball: EU versus Russia

Bulgaria and Russia are seeking to soon resume the construction of the South Stream pipeline designed to ship natural gas via the Black Sea to the European Union to cut dependence on Ukraine for transit of the fuel.

Bulgaria, which mostly relies on Russian gas for its energy needs, halted the project last month after the EU’s executive arm sent a letter asking for work to be suspended because of concerns the Balkan country may have broken the bloc’s public procurement laws by favoring local and Russian bidders. Russia then said the 28-nation union was seeking to retaliate over its conflict with Ukraine.

Bulgaria and OAO Gazprom picked a consortium of Russian pipeline builder Stroytransgaz and Bulgaria’s Gasproekt Yug to build the pipe’s section, Russia’s state gas exporter said on May 27. Stroyntransgaz’s main shareholder is Gennady Timchenko, 2014 who’s been sanctioned by the U.S. over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis with visa bans and asset freezes.

The EU is also investigating whether the project breaches a so-called unbundling law that prevents gas providers from having control over pipelines.  The link, scheduled to start operations in 2015, is designed to deliver 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. It would run as deep as 2,250 meters (7,400 feet) below the Black Sea surface, passing across Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia before entering Italy, according to its website. The Bulgarian section will be 540 kilometers (335 miles) long and cost 3.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion), the government said in 2013.

The pipeline’s construction should continue after the EU concludes its probe of the project, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said in a Bloomberg TV interview on July 4, 2014. The government is working with the Commission in Brussels to iron out differences, Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said in another interview on same day.

The project is financed by Gazprom and partners including Eni SpA, Electricite de France SA and Wintershall AG.

Russia, Bulgaria Seek Quick Resumption of South Stream, Bloomberg, July 7, 2014

CIA in the New Kurdistan

Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Erbil/Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 10, 2014 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are U.S. drones taking off and landing at the facility.  Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split — complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State…

The peshmerga Kurds has worked closely over the years with the CIA, U.S. Special Forces and the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s most secretive task force, which has become a bulwark of counterterrorism operations. Peshmerga forces already are staffing checkpoints and bunkers to protect the CIA station, which sits a few hundred yards from the highway.

“Within a week of the fall of Mosul we were being told to double or even triple our capacities,” said one Western logistics contractor who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’d signed nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government on the matter.  “They needed everything from warehouse space to refrigeration capacity, because they operate under a different logistics command than the normal military or embassy structures,” the contractor said. “The expansion was aggressive and immediate.”…The local Kurdish intelligence official described what was taking place as a “long-term relationship with the Americans.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said July 3, 2014 that Irbil would host such a center, in addition to one being set up in Baghdad, and suggested it had already begun operating. “We have personnel on the ground in Irbil, where our second joint operations center has achieved initial operating capability,” he said then.

The Kurdish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s no secret that the American special forces and CIA have a close relationship with the peshmerga.” He added that the facility had operated even “after the Americans were forced out of Iraq by al-Maliki,” a reference to the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal after the Obama administration and the Iraqi government couldn’t agree on a framework for U.S. forces to remain in the country.

The official refused to directly identify the location of the facility but when he was shown the blurred-out location on an online satellite-mapping service he joked: “The peshmerga do not have the influence to make Google blur an area on these maps. I will leave the rest to your conclusions.

Expansion of ‘secret’ CIA post suggests closer U.S.-Kurd ties, Seattle Times, July 11, 2014

An Independent Kurdistan

Kurdish peshmerga forces are said to have seized control of production facilities at the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oil fields in the north of the country.Kurdish MPs have also withdrawn from Iraq’s central government.  They did so after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki accused the Kurds of harbouring extremists.  Kurdish forces have moved into areas of north-western Iraq abandoned by the Iraqi army during the advance of Islamist insurgents led by the Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) group over the past month…

The Kurds have since declared plans to hold a referendum on independence in the areas seized, escalating tensions with Iraq’s central authorities.  In a statement on Friday, the Iraqi oil ministry condemned the seizure of oil refineries, adding that they expected Kurdish fighters to “support security forces in confronting terrorist groups rather than using the conditions to raid and occupy oil fields”.  Reuters news agency said a senior source within the Kurdistan Regional Government had confirmed the takeover.

The unnamed source said they had been “forced to act to protect Iraq’s infrastructure after learning of attempts by Iraq oil ministry officials to sabotage it”….The two oilfields are said to have a combined daily output capacity of some 400,000 barrels per day, AFP quotes a ministry spokesman as saying.

The Kurdish minority in Iraq managed to establish an autonomous region in the north in 2005 after decades of political and military efforts to seek self-rule…Leader of the Kurdish region of Iraq Massoud Barzani: “The goal of Kurdistan is independence”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, who is himself a Kurdish politician, told Reuters news agency on Friday that the Kurdish political bloc had suspended all day-to-day government business after Mr Maliki’s remarks.  He said the country risked division if an inclusive government was not formed soon, adding: “The country is now divided literally into three states – Kurdish, a black state [Isis] and Baghdad.”

Iraq conflict: Kurds seize two oilfields in north, BBC, Juy 12, 2014

10 Million Land Mines

In June 2014, the American ambassador to Mozambique, Douglas M. Griffiths, speaking on behalf of an American observer delegation at the conference of The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction announced that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace old ones that expire, which will have the practical effect of reducing the estimated 10 million mines in the American stockpile. Mr. Griffiths also said the United States was “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.”
While he gave no date, the language was still the first explicit commitment that the United States intended to sign the treaty.

“With this announcement, the U.S. has changed its mine ban stance and has laid the foundation for accession to the treaty,” said Stephen Goose, the executive director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch…. “No target date has been set for accession by the U.S., and no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty,” he said. “The U.S. is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire.”....Other disarmament advocates were equally pointed in their criticism. Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, expressed concern about the absence of a timetable to destroy the stockpile. Without that, the announcement would have little practical effect “for many, many years to come.”…

The United States is researching ways to replicate the strategic value of antipersonnel land mines without their collateral damage…American defense officials have argued that these weapons have an important purpose — in deterring ground invasions, for example — and that the United States would put itself at a disadvantage by renouncing them. A number of potential American adversaries — notably Russia, China and Iran — have not signed the treaty….

The Pentagon’s main objection to the treaty focuses on American difficulties defending South Korea from North Korea. The Demilitarized Zone between them is filled with land mines — periodically they detonate, as animals step on them — and they are considered a central element of South Korea’s first-line defense against a North Korean invasion.  But to destroy Seoul, the South Korean capital, the North does not need a land invasion: Its artillery could wreak great damage. So advocates of signing the treaty have argued that the mines along the zone are an outdated Cold War relic.

Excerpts, RICK GLADSTONE, U.S. Lays Groundwork to Reduce Land Mines and Join Global Treaty, NY Times, June 27, 2014

United States Military Presence in Africa

In partnership with Senegal and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), U.S. Army Africa conducted U.S. Africa Command’s Exercise Western Accord 14 to enhance ECOWAS’ ability to provide mission command capability to support regional peace operations.

Training focused on developing the ability to plan, deploy, employ, sustain, and redeploy a rapid deployment force in response to a regional crisis. Western Accord 14 is a key element in a broader series of military-to-military activities to demonstrate the strong partnership between the U.S and western regional African partners, and all of the participating militaries, US Army Africa said.

In an ongoing partnership, the U.S. along with 16 other countries participated in Exercise Western Accord (WA 14) in Dakar, Senegal from June 16-27.  “For the past few decades, America has partnered with African militaries in medical capacity-building events and various training engagements across a number of key skill sets,” said Col. Robert Dixon, strategy and plans director, USARAF. “During part one of the exercise, ECOWAS and partnering nations received academics that took them through the UN standards for mission analysis and focused on collective tasks, functional, and staff procedures in support of Command and Control of a peacekeeping operation based on real world events. During the command post exercise (the second part of the exercise), they prepared and executed their plan to move forces into a contested area, defeat the threat, and restore basic services and the rule of law while setting the stage for national reconciliation.”

The ‘Accord’ series is important not only to the U.S. Army, but to the AFRICOM leadership as well, noted Dixon.  “We do the exercise for the AFRICOM commander,” he said. “Primarily what we’re doing is training a joint force, familiarizing ourselves with the African environment, and working in Africa with our African partners. Working with countries participating in UN or African Union peacekeeping operations in countries like Somalia, Malawi, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Central African Republic helps with shaping exercises to replicate real-world environments that better prepares countries for the type of environment they will go into,” Dixon said.  For the first time in the exercise’s history, Dixon said Western Accord 14 has included non-government organizations, the civilian and police components along with the military component replicating peacekeeping operations in Africa to strengthen the relationship between the authorities and enhance regional security in West Africa.

16 countries train, familiarize, partner during Western Accord 2014, Press Release US Army Africa, July 3, 2014

US Operations in Somalia 2014

U.S. military advisors have secretly operated in Somalia since around 2007 and Washington plans to deepen its security assistance to help the country fend off threats by Islamist militant group al Shabaab, U.S. officials said.  The comments are the first detailed public acknowledgement of a U.S. military presence in Somalia dating back since the U.S. administration of George W. Bush and add to other signs of a deepening U.S. commitment to Somalia’s government, which the Obama administration recognized last year.

The deployments, consisting of up to 120 troops on the ground, go beyond the Pentagon’s January 2014 announcement that it had sent a handful of advisors in October 2013. That was seen at the time as the first assignment of U.S. troops to Somalia since 1993 when two U.S. helicopters were shot down and 18 American troops killed in the “Black Hawk Down” disaster.  The plans to further expand U.S. military assistance coincide with increasing efforts by the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers to counter a bloody seven-year insurgent campaign by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab to impose strict Islamic law inside Somalia.

Those U.S. plans include greater military engagement and new funds for training and assistance for the Somali National Army (SNA), after years of working with the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, which has about 22,000 troops in the country from Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia.  “What you’ll see with this upcoming fiscal year is the beginning of engagement with the SNA proper,” said a U.S. defense official, who declined to be identified. The next fiscal year starts in October.

An Obama administration official told Reuters there were currently up to 120 U.S. military personnel on the ground throughout Somalia and described them as trainers and advisors. “They’re not involved in combat,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that until last year, U.S. military advisors had been working with AMISOM troop contributors, as opposed to Somali forces.  President Barack Obama last year determined that Somalia could receive U.S. military assistance…

U.S. special operations forces have staged high-profile raids in the past in Somalia, including an aborted attempt in October to capture an al Shabaab operative in the militant group’s stronghold of Barawe. U.S. officials have acknowledged Washington’s support for AMISOM and Somalia’s struggle against al Shabaab.  U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials have been known to operate in the country.  U.S. troop numbers on the ground in Somalia vary over time, the officials told Reuters. Deployments are “staggered” and “short-term,” one official said. But the Obama administration official added that there was overlap in the deployments to allow for a persistent presence on the ground.

Excerpt from PHIL STEWART, Exclusive: U.S. discloses secret Somalia military presence, up to 120 troops, Reuters, July 2, 2014

 

The Battle for Iron Ore: Guinea

Buried beneath the mist-capped mountains of south-eastern Guinea is one of the world’s biggest deposits of iron ore. Estimated at around 2.2 billion tonnes, the Simandou concession contains almost as much as the entire global iron-ore industry produced in 2013. Thanks to its size and unusually high quality, some experts say that whoever controls Simandou may dominate the world’s iron-ore sector for a generation.

After a decade of wrangling, Guinea has now struck a deal worth $20 billion with Rio Tinto, a British-Australian metals and mining giant, to exploit the southern half of the deposit. This should enable the company to mine 95m tonnes of ore from the jungle-matted mountains every year, creating 45,000 jobs and doubling the west African state’s GDP. Rio Tinto has also agreed to build a deepwater port and a railway line to take the ore 650km (400 miles) to the sea. Guinea’s government hopes it will create a “growth corridor” stretching the length of the country.

Until recently it had looked as though Guinea would gain little from its abundant natural resources, which also include diamonds, bauxite and gold. The dirt-poor country has been a classic case of the “resource curse”: blessed with natural riches but still languishing at the bottom of almost every development index, thanks to corrupt, warmongering rulers.

Days before he died in 2008, Guinea’s then dictator, Lansana Conté, signed over the rights to mine the northern half of Simandou, which Rio Tinto then owned, to an Israeli businessman, Benny Steinmetz, for $160m. Mr Steinmetz soon sold a 51% share on to a big Brazilian mining company, Vale, for $2.5 billion, prompting Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British telecoms billionaire and philanthropist, to remark, “Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?”

In April 2014 the democratically elected government of President Alpha Condé stripped Mr Steinmetz and Vale of their concession. Mr Steinmetz has begun arbitration proceedings against the government of Guinea; Rio Tinto is suing both Steinmetz and Vale, accusing them of conspiring to steal its rights. The Guinean government has said that Vale may not have known about the various allegations of dishonesty against Mr Steinmetz and is therefore free to bid in the future for the rights to blocks in the Simandou area that have yet to be allocated.

Excerpts, Guinea and its iron ore: Let the people benefit, for once, Economist, June 7, 2014, at 57

Un-addicted to Coal – United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released on June 2, 2014 the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States…

Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

[Goals to be achieved by 2030]

· Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;

· Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;

· Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and

· Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

The Clean Power Plan will be implemented through a state-federal partnership under which states identify a path forward using either current or new electricity production and pollution control policies to meet the goals of the proposed program. The proposal provides guidelines for states to develop plans to meet state-specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and gives them the flexibility to design a program that makes the most sense for their unique situation. States can choose the right mix of generation using diverse fuels, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals and their own needs. It allows them to work alone to develop individual plans or to work together with other states to develop multi-state plans.

Also included in today’s proposal is a flexible timeline for states to follow for submitting plans to the agency—with plans due in June 2016, with the option to use a two-step process for submitting final plans if more time is needed. States that have already invested in energy efficiency programs will be able to build on these programs during the compliance period to help make progress toward meeting their goal.

Excerpt, EPA Proposes First Guidelines to Cut Carbon Pollution from Existing Power Plants/Clean Power Plan is flexible proposal to ensure a healthier environment, spur innovation and strengthen the economy, US EPA Press Release, June 2, 2014

Killing off Foreign Tech Firms – China

E-commerce companies and banks in China are scrapping hardware and uninstalling software for mainframe servers made by American suppliers in favor of homegrown brands said to be safe, advanced and a lot less expensive.  Domestic rivals of these companies such as Huawei Technology Co. and Inspur Co. are winning contracts from state company and bank IT departments at an accelerating rate.

Some companies, such as e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, have been building internal computer networks with open-source software and commonly available hardware.  The movement dates to 2008, when Alibaba’s computer-network department director Wang Jian proposed cutting back on foreign suppliers and replacing their wares with equipment and technology developed almost entirely in-house. What Wang wanted to get rid of most was the so-called IOE system, an acronym for an IT network based on the names of three suppliers: IBM, whose servers are packaged with the Unix operating system; Oracle, which supplies database-management systems; and EMC, the maker of data-storage hardware. Wang dubbed his campaign the “De-IOE Movement.”

Wang decided to revamp Alibaba’s network by replacing its Unix-based servers with less expensive, X86-based PC servers running on the open-source Linux operating system. In such a system, several PCs with X86 microprocessors inside can be linked in a chain to function as a server, replacing a mainframe server. The e-commerce company also built a database management-system of its own with an open-source structure, and started storing data on an internal cloud-storage system…

De-IOE Movement milestones were reached in May 2013 when Alibaba pulled the plug on its last IBM server, and two months later when Alibaba’s advertising department abandoned its Oracle database. The rest of the company’s databases are scheduled to switch to a homegrown system from Oracle’s by 2015.

IT departments at companies and banks across the country are now following Alibaba’s example — and hitting their longtime American suppliers in the pocketbook.  The switch to servers made at home has been a slow process for Chinese banks. Ultimately, the banks’ IT experts have been making these decisions, although they’re being encouraged by the government to choose Chinese suppliers, according to a source close to the China Banking Regulatory Commission.  [But]

“Getting rid of IOE means that all of the software must be moved and made compatible to domestic server systems, which seems to be a mission impossible,” said the consultant…And replacement costs can be astronomical. “The basic technology networks for an IOE system and a ‘De-IOE’ system are totally different,” said another source a state bank. “De-IOE will lead to transforming personnel and management. It’s hard to estimate how high the costs will be.”  Ultimately, said the IT consultant, Chinese banks will only manage to kill off IOE systems if products made by Chinese suppliers can provide comparable security and capacity levels, and if the new hardware and software are compatible.

China pulling the plug on IBM, Oracle, others, MarketWatch June 26, 2014

Peru Pipelines and Indigenous Peoples

Peru’s government said in June 2014 that three companies have qualified to submit bids for a contract to build and operate a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline project in the country’s southern region, the state news agency Andina reported.  State investment promotion agency ProInversion said that two of the contenders for the Southern Peru Gas Pipeline concession are consortia.

The consortium Gasoducto Sur Peruano is made up of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and the firm Enegas. The consortium Gasoducto Peruano del Sur is made up of France’s GDF Suez, as well as the firms Sempra, Techint and TGI. The third contender is Energy Transfer.  The technical proposals are expected to be submitted on June 26, 2014 and the concession is scheduled to be awarded on June 30, 2014. The bid consists in the design, financing, construction and maintenance of a 32″ pipeline, in three sections.

The Southern Peru Gas Pipeline will extend some 1,000 kilometers, transporting natural gas from the Camisea fields in Peru’s south-eastern Amazon region to the Peruvian coast. The project is expected to require an investment of some $4 billion.  The government says the pipeline is to provide inexpensive gas to southern Peru, helping to spur development in one of the country’s poorer regions.  [However NGOS have argued that the project will harm indigenous peoples living in the region].

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples,, James Anaya (see Remarks on the extension of exploration and extraction of natural gas  in Block 88 of the Camisea project, March 24, 2014)

“[S]everal national and international NGOs have claimed a number of environmental and health problems in relation to the expansion plan of the project, in some cases stating that any activity of extractive industry within the reserve is simply incompatible with its protection goals. The Special Rapporteur has found that in many cases these claims are speculative and vague, and without relation to the information contained in the EIA of the company or the findings of government.”

But the rapporteur stated also that:

“Assessing the impacts that mining activity could have on indigenous peoples within the reserve and to establish effective safeguards, it is necessary to have adequate knowledge beforehand, to the extent possible, these peoples and their dynamics, in observance the principle of non-contact remote villages. However, while there is relatively extensive information on indigenous reserves within the sustained or sporadic contact with settlements, the available information on indigenous peoples in isolation is outdated and incompleteThis information gap has generated divergent opinions and a lack of trust in relation to the protective measures that the Government has demanded that Pluspetrol is committed to implement in the context of extractive activities in the reserve.

Excerpts, Three Contenders for Peru’s Southern Gas Pipeline,  Peruvian Times, June 6, 2014 and the Remarks on the extension of exploration and extraction of natural gas in Block 88 of the Camisea project, March 24, 2014

Pacific Ring of Fire: Nuclear Power in Taiwan

Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party agreed with the opposition on suspending construction for a nuclear power plant that attracted tens of thousands in a demonstration in April 2014.  Premier Jiang Yi-huah said the government won’t be seeking additional funding to complete the project, located 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Taipei, as a gesture of goodwill to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, during a press briefing carried on cable television networks.

Pressure was mounting on President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration to halt the $9.4 billion project, after about 28,500 people rallied against it in front of the president’s office yesterday, according to police. Opposition DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang lcalled for a suspension of the project in a televised meeting with Ma. A former chairman of Su’s party has been on a hunger strike since April 22.

“We’re putting the No. 4 nuclear power plant on hold in the spirit of leaving the next generation an option,” President Ma said on a post on his Facebook page yesterday, after a meeting with cabinet members including the premier, ministers of economy and atomic energy, as well as Taipei and Taichung city mayors. “When we need it in the future, it can offer an additional choice.”

Safety inspections on the plant’s first unit will be exempt from the halt, Jiang said, though the start of operations will need to follow a referendum vote. The plant is being built by Taiwan Power Co., a state-run utility.  S

Planning for Taiwan’s Longmen Nuclear Power Plant, the island’s fourth, began in 1980. Its two units have a planned electricity-generation capacity of 2,700 megawatts, which would account for about 6 percent of Taiwan’s installed capacity once completed. Atomic reactors made up 13 percent of the island’s electricity capacity, compared with 27 percent from coal-fired generators and 37 percent from gas-fueled units, according to Taipower’s website.

Like Japan, Taiwan lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area bordering the Pacific Ocean that is tectonically active.

Excerpt, Yu-Huay Sun Taiwan Ruling Party Concedes on Halting Nuclear Power Plant, Economist,  May 3, 2014, at 36