Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 What the U.S. Should Learn from Russia’s Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:35:18 +0000 Miriam Pemberton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138354 Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

By Miriam Pemberton
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December. Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea. It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defence downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defence cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history. It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defence industry’s modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the 10-year cuts, many more communities will be affected. This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognising the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what’s going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously. Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can’t be done in a day.

This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Day Anti-Castro Forces Tried to Bomb the U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:29:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138337 Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

When the politically-charismatic Ernesto Che Guevera, once second-in-command to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was at the United Nations to address the General Assembly sessions back in 1964, the U.N. headquarters came under attack – literally.

The speech by the Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary was momentarily drowned by the sound of an explosion.

The anti-Castro forces in the United States, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had mounted an insidious campaign to stop Che Guevera from speaking.

A 3.5-inch bazooka was fired at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River while a CIA-inspired anti-Castro, anti-Che Guevara vociferous demonstration was taking place outside the U.N. building on New York’s First Avenue and 42nd street.

First Phase Digital

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

But the rocket launcher – which was apparently not as sophisticated as today’s shoulder-fired missiles and rocket-propelled grenades – missed its target, rattled windows, and fell into the river about 200 yards from the building.

One newspaper report described it as “one of the wildest episodes since the United Nations moved into its East River headquarters in 1952.”

With the United States resuming full diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday – after a 53-year hiatus – will there be a significant change in its attitude towards the politically-ostracised Caribbean nation in the world body?

The United States has routinely led or co-sponsored scores of U.N. resolutions critical of human rights violations in Cuba and consistently voted against every single General Assembly resolution calling on Washington to lift the economic embargo on Havana imposed in 1960.

At the last General Assembly vote in October 2014, an overwhelming majority – 188 out of 193 members – voted to end the embargo, for the 23rd consecutive year.

As in most previous years, the only two countries to vote against the resolution were the United States and Israel.

And three other countries that have traditionally voted with the United States – Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands – abstained on the vote this year.

After the vote, and as if anticipating a change in the political horizon, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez invited the United States to establish “mutually respectful relations.”

“We can try to find a solution to our differences through respectful diplomacy. We can live and deal with each other in a civilised way despite our difference,” he added.

Asked about the historic U.S.-Cuba agreement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had been informed in advance of the announcement by the U.S. government.

“This news is very positive. And I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and Cuban President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalising relations,” Ban said.

“As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasised, through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time Cuba and the United States normalise their bilateral relations,” Ban told reporters Wednesday.

“The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations,” he declared.

As longtime U.N. staffers would recall, the failed 1964 attack on the U.N. building took place when Che Guevera launched a blistering attack on U.S. foreign policy and denounced a proposed de-nuclearisation pact for the Western hemisphere, as he addressed delegates.

It was one of the first known politically motivated terrorist attacks on the United Nations.

After his Assembly speech, Che Guevera was asked about the attack aimed at him. “The explosion has given the whole thing more flavour,” he joked, as he chomped on his Cuban cigar.

When he was told by a reporter that the New York City police had nabbed a woman, described as an anti-Castro Cuban exile, who had pulled out a hunting knife and jumped over the wall, intending to kill him, Che Guevera said: “It is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S. Flag Can Be Seen Again in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:51:53 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138335 The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

The announcement that the United States and Cuba would reestablish diplomatic relations took most Cubans by surprise. Over half of the population was born after the severing of ties in 1961 and the start of the embargo that has marked their lives.

“I wasn’t expecting it; it’s the news of the century and a step that will put in gear many changes,” a journalist who has followed the question for years told IPS.

Groups of university students took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate the return of the three Cuban agents serving out lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons on charges of spying.

A U.S. contractor serving time in a Cuban prison, Alan Gross, was also released. His arrest and sentencing to 15 years in prison on charges of involvement in subversive plans in Cuba was seen by Washington as a major hurdle to the normalisation of relations with Havana.

Nor was the Cuban government willing to move in that direction unless the Cuban agents were freed.

Antonio Guerrero, whose sentence ended in 2017; Ramón Labañino, sentenced to 30 years; and Gerardo Hernández, who had been given two life sentences, arrived in Havana on Wednesday.

The other two members of the group known as “the Cuban five”, René González and Fernando González (no relation), had served out their sentences and have been back in Cuba since 2013 and February of this year, respectively.

In a televised speech – broadcast simultaneously with U.S. President Barack Obama’s address in Washington – President Raúl Castro said that his openness to dialogue with the U.S. gave continuity to his brother Fidel’s (president from 1959 to 2008) willingness to negotiate.

Observers see that statement as targeting segments of society and even within the government who could be opposed to the normalisation of relations. “The conflict with the United States, and especially the embargo, has served for decades to justify our shortcomings,” a researcher who wished to remain anonymous told IPS.

The reestablishment of diplomatic ties does not include the lifting of the trade and economic embargo against Cuba, a decision that is up to the U.S. Congress. But Castro urged Obama to “modify its application by use of his executive powers.”

More than seven million people in this country of 11.2 million were born under the embargo.

But the move towards normal relations with Cuba’s powerful neighbor only 90 miles away will pose enormous challenges to this country’s socialist development model, which Castro says he will not abandon.

Luis Emilio Aybar, a sociologist, says Cuba should follow a pragmatic policy of economic and political ties like the ones it has with many other countries, while maintaining its “alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist policies” – but without forgetting that the U.S. will continue to be the main enemy of this form of government.

Vulnerability to different kinds of foreign influences “will now be multiplied manyfold, and will be added to the loss of hegemony that socialist values are suffering in our country. The U.S. government understands the situation clearly; that’s why it took this step,” said Aybar, who believes the solution to the dilemma “lies in understanding that you can be pragmatic and radical at the same time.”

Rita María García Morris, executive director of the independent Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue, said it was important for civil society institutions to keep their doors open to a conciliatory dialogue, even if it is difficult and painful. “It has never been easy to acknowledge differences,” she said.

The reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro, such as an expansion of private enterprise and a new foreign investment law, enabled the government to optimise relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and to renew negotiations with the European Union.

Havana and Brussels are involved in talks towards a political and cooperation agreement that would further diversify the diplomatic ties of the Cuban government, which is keen on drawing larger flows of investment to ensure growth, particularly in the Mariel special economic development zone.

Against that backdrop, the United States appeared to be increasingly isolated in its stance towards Cuba, which was officially invited to take part in the next Summit of the Americas, in Panama in April, despite Washington’s resistance. Now that things have changed, Castro and Obama will be able to use that occasion to strengthen the direct dialogue that they began with a phone conversation on Tuesday Dec. 16.

Pope Francis’s mediation in the process that led to the new relations between the U.S. and Cuba did not come as a surprise, given the dialogue in recent years between Castro and the Catholic Church leadership in Cuba, which helped bring about the release of several dozen political prisoners.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Non-Violence and the Lost Message of Jesushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:22:12 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138311

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that in a world that has moved far from the Christic life of non-violence, a clear message and unambiguous proclamation is needed from spiritual or religious leaders that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

I recently visited Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, two great spirits whose lives have inspired us and millions of people around the world.

St. Francis, a man of peace, and St. Clare, a woman of prayer, whose message of love, compassion, care  for humans, animals and  the environment comes down through history to speak to us in a very relevant and inspirational way.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Today, in the 2lst century, as we the human family face increasing violence, we are challenged to admit that we are on the wrong path, and that we need to find new ways of thinking and doing things from a global perspective.

Peace is a beautiful gift to have in life, and it is particularly treasured by those who have known violent conflict, war, famine, disease and poverty.  I believe that Peace is a basic human right for every individual and all people.

Love for others and respect for their rights and their human dignity, irrespective of who or what they are, no matter what religion – or none – that they choose to follow, will bring about real change and set in motion proper relationships.  With such relationships built on equality and trust, we can work together on so many of the threats to our common humanity.“For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill”

Poverty is one such threat and Pope Francis challenges us to take care of the poor, and has declared his desire that the Catholic Church be a church of the poor and for the poor. To meet this challenge, we can each ask ourselves ‘how will what I do today help the poor’?.

Pope Francis also has spoken about the need to build fraternity amongst the nations. This is important because building trust amongst people and countries will help bring peace to our interdependent, inter-connected world.

Violence begets violence as we witness every day on our television screens, so the choice between violence and non-violence, is up to each one of us.  However, if we do not teach non-violence in our education systems and in our religious institutions, how can we make that choice?

I believe that all faith traditions and secular societies need to work together and teach the way of non-violence as a way of living, also as a political science and means for bringing about social and political change wherever we live.

A grave responsibility lies with the different religious traditions to give spiritual guidance and a clear message, particularly on the questions of economic injustice, ‘armed resistance‘, arms, militarism and war.

As a Christian living in a violent ethnic political conflict in Northern Ireland, and caught between the violence of the British army and the Irish Republican Army, I was forced to confront myself with the questions, ‘do you ever kill?’ and ‘is there such a thing as a just war?’.

During my spiritual journey I reached the absolute conviction that killing is wrong and that the just war theory is, in the words of the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, “a phony piece of morality”.

I became a pacifist because I believe every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other. When we deepen our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters, it is not possible to torture or kill anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. 

I also believe that Jesus was a pacifist and I agree with McKenzie when he writes: “if we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we can know nothing of Jesus’ person or message. It is the clearest of themes.”

For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill.

During the last 1700 years, Christians have moved so far away from the Christic life of non-violence that we find ourselves in the terrible dilemma of condemning one kind of homicide and violence while paying for, actively participating in or supporting homicidal violence and war on a magnitude far greater than that which we condemn in others.

There is indeed a longstanding defeat in our theology. To help us out of this dilemma, we need to hear the full gospel message from our Christian leaders.

We need to reject the ‘just war’ theology and develop a theology in keeping with Jesus’ non-violence.

Some Christians believe that the ‘just war’ theory can be applied and that they can use violence – that is, ‘armed struggle/armed resistance’ – or can be adopted by governments to justify ongoing war.

It is precisely because of this ‘bad’ theology that we need, from our spiritual or religious leaders, a clear message and an unambiguous proclamation that violence is not the way of Jesus, violence is not the way of Christianity, and that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished and replaced with a more human and moral way of solving our problems without killing each other. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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After 53 Years, Obama to Normalise Ties with Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:59:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138317 Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in commerce, among other measures, including launching a review of whether Havana should remain on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”."The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations." -- Michael Shifter

He also said he looked forward to engaging Congress in “an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” he said in a nationally televised announcement.

“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

The announcement, which was preceded by a secret, 45-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, drew both praise from those who have long argued that Washington’s pursuit of Cuba’s isolation has been a total failure and bitter denunciations from right-wing Republicans.

Some of the latter had vowed, among other things, to oppose any effort to lift the embargo, open U.S. embassy in Havana, or confirm a U.S. ambassador to serve there. (Washington has had an Interest Section in the Cuban capital since 1977.)

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all costs,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of a number of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers and a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuba people’s expense,” he said in a statement.

The outgoing Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, also decried Obama’s announcement.

“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban American.

But other lawmakers hailed the announcement.

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat and one of three lawmakers, including a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who escorted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, Alan Gross, from Havana Wednesday morning as part of a larger prisoner and spy swap that precipitated the announcement.

Part of that deal included the release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, including Gross, who the U.S. considers to be political prisoners.

“Those who cling to a failed policy [and] …may oppose the President’s actions have nothing to offer but more of the same. That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people,” Leahy said. “It is time for a change.”

Other analysts also lauded Obama’s Wednesday’s developments, comparing them to historic breakthroughs with major foreign-policy consequences.

“Obama has chosen to change the entire framework of the relationship, as [former President Richard] Nixon did when he travelled to China,” said William LeoGrande, a veteran Cuba scholar at American University, in an email from Havana.

“Many issues remain to be resolved, but the new direction of U.S. policy is clear.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank that has long urged Washington to normalise ties with Havana, told IPS the regional implications would likely be very positive.

“Obama’s decision will be cheered and applauded throughout Latin America. The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations,” Shifter said.

“Since his sensible and lofty rhetoric at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Latin Americans wondered where Obama has been in recent years.”

Indeed, Obama also announced Wednesday that he will attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Because Castro was officially invited, over the objections of both the U.S. and Canada, at the last Summit in Cartagena in 2012, there had been some speculation that Obama might boycott the proceedings.

Harvard international relations expert Stephen Walt said he hoped that Wednesday’s announcement portends additional bold moves by Obama on the world stage in his last two years as president despite the control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, like Rubio, who have opposed Obama’s efforts to reach out to perceived adversaries.

“One may hope that this decision will be followed by renewed efforts to restore full diplomatic relations with even more important countries, most notably Iran,” he told IPS in an email.

“Recognition does not imply endorsing a foreign government’s policies; it simply acknowledges that U.S. interests are almost always well-served by regular contact with allies and adversaries alike.”

Administration officials told reporters that Wednesday’s developments were made possible by 18 months of secret talks between senior official from both sides – not unlike those carried out in Oman between the U.S. and Iran prior to their November 2013 agreement with five other world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme — hosted primarily by Canada and the Vatican, although the Interests Sections of both countries were also involved.

Officials credited Pope Francis, an Argentine, with a key role in prodding both parties toward an accord.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The Vatican’s strong endorsement could mute some of the Republican and Cuban-American criticism of normalisation and make it more difficult for Rubio and his colleagues to prevent the establishment of an embassy and appointment of an ambassador, according to some Capitol Hill staff.

Similarly, major U.S. corporations, some of whom, particularly in the agribusiness and consumer-goods sectors, have seen major market potential in Cuba, are likely to lobby their allies on the Republican side.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish,” said Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

Donohue headed what he called an unprecedented “exploratory” trip to Cuba earlier this year.

“Congress now has a decision to make,” said Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of many of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations. “It can either show that politics stops at the water’s edge, or insist that the walls of the Cold War still exist.”

Wednesday’s announcement came in the wake of an extraordinary series of editorials by the New York Times through this autumn in favour of normalisation and the lifting of the trade embargo.

In another sign of a fundamental shift here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill took some steps to ease the embargo during his tenure as president, disclosed in her book published last summer that she had urged Obama to “take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

That stance, of course, could alienate some Cuban-American opinion, especially in the critical “swing state” of Florida if Clinton runs in the 2016 election.

But recent polls of Cuban Americans have suggested an important generational change in attitudes toward Cuba and normalisation within the Cuban-American community, with the younger generation favouring broader ties with their homeland.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Russian Arms Producers Move Ahead of Western Rivalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138293 The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

The world’s top 100 arms producing companies racked up 402 billion dollars in weapons sales and military services in 2013, according to the latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But this was a decrease of about 2.0 percent over the previous year, and the third consecutive year of decline in total arms sales by these defence contractors.

Still, Russian companies increased their sales by about 20 percent in 2013 compared with U.S. and Western arms manufacturers.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said “the remarkable increases” in Russian companies arms sales in both 2012 and 2013 are in large part due to uninterrupted investments in military procurement by the Russian government during the 2000s.

“These investments are explicitly intended to modernise national production capabilities and weapons in order to bring them on par with major U.S. and Western European arms producers’ capabilities and technologies,” he added.

But these gains, however, were registered long before the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea last February.

With economic and military sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Moscow this year, there is a possibility that Russian arms sales, particularly exports, may suffer when new figures are released for 2014.

Asked about a potential decline, Wezeman told IPS “it is almost impossible to make predictions.”

The sanctions will not have a great effect on the short term, but the Russian industry may feel them if the sanctions stay in place for some years, he added.

According to SIPRI figures, Western Europe offered a more mixed picture, with French companies increasing their sales, while sales by British companies remained stable, and sales by Italian and Spanish arms-producing companies continuing to decline.

The share of global arms sales for companies outside North America and Western Europe has been increasing since 2005, says Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The Russian company with the largest increase in sales in 2103 is Tactical Missiles Corporation, with a growth of 118 per cent, followed by Almaz-Antey (34 per cent) and United Aircraft Corporation (20 per cent), according to SIPRI.

Almaz-Anteys arms sales in 2013 make it the 12th-largest arms producer (excluding China) and bring it closer to the top 10, which has been exclusively populated by arms producers from the United States or Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The year 2013 also saw the introduction of a 10th Russian arms company, communication and electronics manufacturer Sozvezdie, to the SIPRI list of top 100.

Wezeman told IPS Russia has for some years realised it is technologically behind in many aspects of weaponry and that it will need foreign input to develop new generations of weapons.

It has been looking for Western companies to partner with in the development of new generations of weapons and key components, he noted. Russia has been negotiating with European companies on cooperation in wheeled armoured vehicles, jet engines and avionics.

“The sanctions have killed those talks and that leaves Russia in the position it was before – not having all the technology and not having the funds or the expertise to develop it all on its own,” Wezeman said.

He said sanctions have also put pressure on production and development of Russian weapons for export.

Some of the most advanced Russian export weapons (e.g. Su-30 combat aircraft) rely on Western components and the sanctions seem to also ban such components – but only if they are part of new agreements, since the European Union sanctions ban sales under agreements reached after the sanctions were agreed.

Wezeman also said Russian officials have complained for years that arms factories are outdated with worn-out production equipment. A major plan has been announced to modernise the factories, but Russia just doesn’t have the technology to do it on its own, he added.

“It needs input from more developed Western countries, but that is largely out of the question, with sanctions and the whole changed Western relations with Russia,” he noted.

Asked if Russian arms sales will be affected by sanctions, Wezeman said in the short term Russia’s exports are unlikely to take a hit.

Probably the first exports that could suffer would be helicopters and trainer aircraft using Ukrainian-produced engines, he predicted.

Ukraine seems to have stopped all arms deliveries to Russia, including components such as engines for Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters and Yak-130 trainer/combat aircraft (officially it has, but it is a bit uncertain if that embargo is 100 percent or if it excludes such components used in weapons that are meant to be exported from Russia), he said.

With India and China defying U.S. and Western sanctions, Russia now finds it even more important to look for partners in large markets in Asia, including joint technology agreements in the development of new weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: The Sad Future of Our Planethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-sad-future-of-our-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-sad-future-of-our-planet/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:22:22 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138284

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that – in the light of the agreement reached at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – the world’s governments have once again demonstrated their irresponsibility by failing to come up with a global remedy for climate change.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

It is now official: the current inter-governmental system is not able to act in the interest of humankind.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – which ended on Dec. 14, two days after it was scheduled to close – was the last step before the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, where a global agreement must be found.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In Lima, 196 countries with several thousand delegates negotiated for two weeks to find a common position on which to convene in Paris in one year’s time. Lima was preceded by an historical meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the world’s two main polluters agreed on a course of action to reduce pollution.

Well, Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen, including the energy corporations.

This is an act of colossal irresponsibility where, for the sake of an agreement, not one solution has been found. The “big idea” is to leave to every country the task of deciding its own cuts in pollution according to its own criteria.“Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen”

And everybody is aware that this is most certainly a disaster for the planet. “It is a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the Dutch diplomat who is the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). ”But the great hopes for the process are also gone.”

To make things clear, all delegates knew that without some binding treaty to reduce emissions, there is no way that this will happen. But they accepted what it is possible, even if it does not solve the problem. It is like a hospital where the key surgeon announces that the good news is that the patient will remain paralysed.

The agreement is based on the idea that every country will publicly commit itself to adopting its own plan for reducing emissions, based on criteria established by national governments on the basis of their domestic politics – not on what scientists have been indicating as absolutely necessary.

This, of course, is the kind of treat that no country in the world objects to. The real value of the treaty is not the issue. The issue is that the inter-governmental system is able to declare unity and common engagement. The interests of humankind are not part of the equation. Humankind is supposed to be parcelled among 196 countries, and so is the planet.

This act of irresponsibility is clear when you look at all the countries producing energy, like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, Iran or Ecuador, Nigeria or Qatar, whose governments are interested in using oil exports to keep themselves in the saddle. And take a look at what the world’s third largest polluter, India, is doing in the spirit of the Lima treaty.

Under the motto: “We like clean India, but give us jobs”, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is moving with remarkable speed to eliminate any regulatory burden for industry, mining, power projects, the armed forces, and so on.

According to the high-level committee assigned to rewrite India’s environmental law system, the country’s regulatory system ”served only the purpose of a venal administration”. So, what did it suggest? It presented a new paradigm: ”the concept of utmost good faith”, under which business owners themselves will monitor the pollution generated by their projects, and they will monitor their own compliance!

The newly-appointed Indian National Board for Wildlife which is responsible for protected area cleared 140 pending projects in just two days; small coal mines have a one-time permission to expand without any hearing; and there is no longer any need for the approval of tribal villages for forest projects.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar boasted: ”We have decided to decentralise decision making. Ninety percent of the files won’t come to me anymore”. And he said that he was not phasing out important environmental protections, just “those which, in the name of caring for nature, were stopping progress.” He also plans to devolve power to state regulators, which environmental expert say is akin to relinquishing any national integrated policy.

It is, of course, totally coincidental that Lima conference took place in the middle of the greatest decrease in oil prices in five years. The price of a barrel of oil is now hovering around the 60 dollar mark, down from over 100 two years ago. This price level has basically been decided by Saudi Arabia, which did not agree to cut production to increase the cost of a barrel.

The most espoused explanation was that the low cost would undercut schist gas exploitation which is making the United States energy self-sufficient again, and soon an exporter. But this will equally undercut renewable energies, like wind or solar power, which have higher costs and will be abandoned when cheap oil is available.

Again coincidentally, this is creating very serious problems for countries like Russia and Venezuela (U.S. irritants) and Iran (a direct enemy), which are now entering into serious deficit and serious political problems. And, again coincidentally, this is making use of fossil energy more tempting at a moment in which the world was finally accepting that there is a problem of climate change.

In March, countries will have to present their national plans and it will then become clear that governments are lacking on the very simple task of arresting climate change, and this will lead us to irreversible damage by our climate’s final deadline, which was identified as 2020.

Thus the exercise of irresponsibility in Lima will also become an exercise in futility.

Is there any doubt that if the people, and not governments, were responsible for saving the planet, their answer would have been swifter and more efficient?

Young people, all over the world, have very different priorities from corporations and industry … but they also have much less political clout.

 

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

 

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OPINION: Europe Has Lost Its Compasshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:43:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138263

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that, with the fall of the Swedish government orchestrated by the far-right and centre-right opposition, a symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy in Europe has fallen, and the grip of an irrational fear of immigrants tightens as Europe’s politicians seek a scapegoat.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The Swedish Social Democrat government, which took office only two months ago, has just resigned. The far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats sided with the four-party centre-right opposition alliance, and new elections will be held in March next year.

In Europe, Sweden has been the symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy – the place where those escaping dictatorship and hunger could find refuge; the country without corruption, where social justice was a national value.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

However, in just a short period, the Sweden Democrat xenophobic party, which wants to close the country to foreigners and is now the third-largest party in parliament, was able to topple the government on Dec. 3.

Similar parties exist in the other Nordic countries – Finland, Norway and Denmark – where they have been similarly able to take a decisive role in national politics. The myth of northern Europe, the modern and progressive Nordic Europe, has vanished.

A few days later, in Dresden (the Florence of Germany) in Saxony, thousands of demonstrators marched to the cry ”Wir sind das Volk” [“We are the people”] – the same battle cry used in protests against the Communist regime in then East Germany 25 years ago, only this time the protest was against immigrants.

A previously unknown activist, 41-year-old Lutz Bachmann, has set up the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and in seven weeks has been able to rally thousands of people. The local paper, the Sachsische Zeitung, has reported that Bachman has several criminal convictions for burglary, dealing with cocaine and driving without a licence or while drunk.“The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants”

Such details were irrelevant to the demonstrators. They “miss their country”, demand “protection of the Homeland” and applaud Bachmann’s call for a “clean and pure Germany”.

In Saxony, foreign immigrants account for only two percent of the population, and only a small fraction of those are Muslim. But the announcement that facilities would be opened for some 2,000 refugees from Syria, was the trigger in this town of 530.000 inhabitants. In the last state legislative elections, a new populist party, the Alternative for Germany, took almost 10 percent of the vote.

A similar irrational fear is gripping many European countries.

Italy, for example, now has two major parties (the Northern League and the Five Star Movement), which together account for around 35 percent of the vote, with xenophobic tones, and another major party, Forza Italia (literally Forward Italy) led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is flirting with an anti-European policy. The three more or less openly advocate withdrawal from the Euro.

At the same time, in 2013, only 514.308 children were born (including those of immigrants), 20.000 less than the year before. Between 2001 and 2011, according to ISTAT, the national statistical institute, the number of families formed by one person increased by 41.3 percent, while those with children fell by five percent. Of those with children, 47.5 percent had one child, 41.9 percent two and only 10.6 percent three or more.

If, as is conventionally held, the demographic replacement rate is 2.1, this means that the Italian population, like everywhere in Europe, is on a steep decline.

Of course, having child today is not an easy choice. To put it simply: in 2009, Italy had a budget of 2.5 billion euro for social interventions and, four years later, only one-third of that; in 2009, Italy’s Family Policies Fund stood at 186.5 million euro and is now less than 21 million. No wonder then that 60 percent of the population lives in fear of becoming poor.

The number of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rose from 1.8 million in 2007 to 2.5 million in 2013. And while Italy’s young people are being humiliated, its senior citizens are being mistreated – 41.3 percent of pensions are less than 1,000 euro per month.

By the way, 83,000 Italians expatriated in 2013, and the number of young people with a university degree that went to the United Kingdom, for example, was just over 3,000 – but in the same year, 44,000 foreigners also left Italy and while Italy received nearly 355,000 immigrants in 2011, two years later the number was just 280,000. And yet the campaign of xenophobia in Italy has it that there is a dramatic increase in immigrants.

This social decline is happening at different speeds and in different proportions all over Europe. In Germany, the core country, 25 percent of the population fall into the so-called “Hartz IV” category – under the Hartz Committee reform of the German labour market introduced by then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – and have to survive on the bare minimum of benefits.

This social decline is being accompanied by an unprecedented increase in social inequality. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, published a study In 2002 on inequality among world citizens, starting from the 19th century, using the Gini index of inequality (where absolute equality = 0). In 1820, the index stood at 50, had risen to 60 in 1910, 64 in 1950, 66 in 1992 and 70 ten years later.

Today the ratio between a minimum wage and a top salary is very simple – the small guy must work 80 years to earn what the big guy earns in a year!

According to a number of sociologists, ‘catching up’ (or the so-called ‘demonstration effect’), is one underlying reason for corruption. It is no accident that the south of Europe has much more corruption than the north (but the Protestant Ethic must also play a role).

In just a few months, the former prime minister of Portugal, José Socrates, has been jailed, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to politics in France to try to escape several accusations and Spaniards are riveted by the revelation of giant webs of corruption that the government is now trying to stymie by changing the judge in charge of the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Romans have awakened to find out that a criminal organisation has been controlling the town council and the administration, and this coming on the heels of a similar discovery in Milan, where individuals who had been already convicted of corruption got back into business and did more of the same in the public works for next year’s Expo.

It is no wonder that, as in every crisis, in a climate fear and uncertainty, there is a need for a scapegoat. The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants.

This all shows that Europe has lost its compass – and there is nothing on the horizon indicating that it can be recovered soon.

Who is going to provide an answer to Europe’s anguish when those in power escape from reality and look for scapegoats? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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What Future for the ACP-EU Partnership Post-2015?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:04:37 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138244 The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

“There are still prospects for a meaningful ACP-EU partnership, capable of contributing and responding concretely and effectively to the objectives of promoting and attaining peace, security, poverty eradication and sustainable development,” according to the top official of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni was speaking at the 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers held here from Dec. 9 to 12, during which ACP and European Union representatives took the opportunity to renew their commitment to working closely together, particularly in crafting a common strategy for the post-2015 global development agenda.

Besides discussing trade issues, development finance, humanitarian crises and the current Ebola crisis, the two sides also tackled future perspectives and challenges for the ACP itself and for its partnership with the European Union.“We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda … is so valuable” – European Development Commissioner Neven Mimica

It was agreed that comprehensive cooperation built on collaborative approaches, creative methods and innovative interventions in all the countries of the ACP will be the inspiration for a joint initiative in 2015, in the context of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lomé Convention, the trade and aid agreement between the ACP and the European Community first signed in February 1075 in Lomé, Togo, and the forerunner to the Cotonou Agreement.

The European Union will also be celebrating European Year for Development in 2015, which is also the deadline year for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The convergence of these three events, and the anticipated adoption by the international community of the development framework which is to replace the MDGs, “together represent a unique opportunity for the ACP and the European Union to demonstrate in a concrete fashion that they have and continue to strive for impactful relations in the future,” said Bhoendratt Tewarie, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development of Trinidad and Tobago, who chairs the ACP Ministerial Committee on Development Finance Cooperation.

While acknowledging the current economic and financial difficulties being experienced by the European Union and the efforts under way to address them, it was stressed that these do not undermine the validity and strength of the ACP-EU partnership, that the rationale behind the partnership remains valid and that efforts must be redoubled for mutual benefit.

Proof of the commitment to help ACP countries meet the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement was identified in the concrete efforts being undertaken by both sides to improve the quality of life of the most impoverished and vulnerable countries – as  well as other countries, including middle income and upper middle income countries – of the ACP which continue to experience serious developmental challenges.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said that the post-2015 development agenda and the post-Cotonou framework – to succeed the current ACP-EC Partnership Agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, in 2000 – “will shape development policy for the next decade.”

“We can agree on the need for an enhanced approach, building further on our partnership, incorporating overarching principles, such as respect for fundamental values, and taking account of specific realities in countries and regions,” he told the meeting.

The New EU Commission and EDF Programming

The Council of Ministers’ session was also the occasion for ACP members to meet with members of the new European Commission, which took office on Nov. 1, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Development Commissioner Mimica as well as European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

Under the new Commission, the eleventh edition of the European Union’s main instrument for providing development aid to ACP countries, the European Development Fund, has been approved for the period 2014-2020 fora total of 31.5 billion euro, but has not yet entered into force.

Pending a further six ratifications on the European side, which are expected by mid-2015, a “bridging facility” amounting to 1.5 billion euro sourced from unused funds from previous EDFs, will allow priority actions to continue in ACP countries in 2014 and 2015.

To date, 53 national indicative programmes (worth up to 10 billion euro for the period 2014-2020) have been signed, with the remaining programmes to be signed by early 2015.

At the regional level, there is broad agreement on the content – sectors and financial breakdown – of the programmes, which should be signed by the first semester of 2015. The Intra-ACP cooperation strategy will be also be adopted and signed during the first semester of 2015.

“But we must not be complacent,” said Mimica. “We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was adopted last June in Nairobi, is so valuable.”

The Joint Declaration represents the springboard for building greater consensus and contributing towards meaningful and ambitious outcomes in July and September next year, looking forward to a post-Cotonou framework.

“Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player”

Meanwhile, the ACP Group is currently reflecting on its institutional aspects, such as leadership, organizational mandate, and implementation of reforms which aim at making it a more effective and accountable stakeholder in the international political context, while working on reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development in member states.

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Dr Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

An Eminent Persons Group has been established and a report will be presented to the next ACP Summit with the aim of identifying the most suitable strategic approach for ACP to be more effective, more visible, more accountable in a world of partnership and ownership, incorporating overarching principles such as respect for fundamental values and taking into account the specificities of the realities in countries and regions.

An important sign of the ACP institutional change was also launched during the 100th Council of Ministers with the appointment of the new Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, who will head the ACP Secretariat from 2015 to 2020, a landmark period covering the latest part of the ACP partnership agreement with the European Union.

Appointment of the Secretary General generally follows a principle of rotation among the six ACP regions – West Africa (currently holding the post), East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

Gomes is the Ambassador of Guyana to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium and the country representative to the WTO, FAO, and the IFAD.

Gomes has led various high-level ambassadorial committees in the ACP system, currently serving as Chair of the Working Group on Future Perspectives of the ACP Group, which transmitted a final report on “Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player” during the ACP Council of Ministers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Afghan Concern Over Western Disengagementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 19:09:03 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138230 Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

The U.S./NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command lowered its flag for the last time in Afghanistan on Dec. 8, after 13 years. The ISAF mission officially ends on Dec. 31, and will be replaced on Jan. 1, 2015 by “Resolute Support”, a new, narrow-mandate mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.

However, despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently pledged continuing assistance for years to come,here in Kabul many fear that donor interest in the country may now start waning and that Afghanistan will likely drop out of the spotlight because history has already shown that, when troops pull out of a country, funds tend to follow.

“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole ‘Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own,” Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a leading civil society actor and Deputy Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), told IPS.“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole 'Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own” – Mir Ahmad Joyenda, Deputy Director of Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased more than four-fold between 2003 and 2012, but economic growth was largely driven by international investments and aid.

Since the U.S.-led military intervention of 2001, Afghanistan has been the focus of large international aid and security investments, being the world’s leading recipient of development assistance since 2007, Lydia Poole notes in Afghanistan Beyond 2014. Aid and the Transformation Decade, a briefing paper prepared for the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme which provides data and analysis on humanitarian financing and related aid flows.

According to data collected by the author, “the country received 50.7 billion dollars in official development assistance (ODA) between 2002 and 2012, including 6.7 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance”, and ODA “has steadily increased from 1.1 billion dollars in 2002 to 6.2 billion in 2012.”

On Dec. 4, delegations from 59 countries and several international organisations gathered for the ‘London Conference on Afghanistan’, co-hosted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, to reaffirm donor humanitarian and development commitments to the war-torn country.

The London Conference served as a follow up to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in 2012, where the international community pledged 16 billion dollars to support Afghanistan’s civilian development financing needs through 2015, based on an agreement known as the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF).

In London, the international community reaffirmed its Tokyo commitment and the vague willingness to “support, through 2017, at or near the levels of the past decade”.

However, the London Conference “produced no new pledges of increased aid, so the drop in domestic revenues to 8.7 percent of gross domestic product, down from a peak of 11.6 percent in 2011, leaves Afghanistan with a severe and growing fiscal gap”, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, remarked in a meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With the imminent withdrawal of NATO troops, the Afghan economy is already under strain, “We estimate that growth has fallen sharply to 1.5 percent in 2014 from an average of 9 percent during the previous decade”, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank, stated on Dec. 4 in London.

Furthermore, many indicators from the 2015 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview Report of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that there is still a considerable humanitarian emergency: “1.2 million children are acutely malnourished; approximately 2.2 million Afghans are considered very severely food insecure; food insecurity affects nearly 8 million people with an additional 2.4 million classified as severe, and 3.1 million are moderately food insecure.”

Despite the many risks associated with Western disengagement, Joyenda prefers to emphasise the opportunities, advocating a fundamental shift of attitude: “The international community should use this opportunity to have a rebalancing of priorities: ‘less money for security and weapons, more money for civilian cooperation and reconstruction’,” he told IPS.

Since 2011, the primary focus of international expenditure in Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly security. When international troop levels were at their peak at 132,000 in 2011, “spending on the two international military operations – the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) – reached 129 billion dollars, compared with 6.8 billion dollars in ODA, of which 768 million dollars was humanitarian assistance”, writes Poole.

“We also need a proper alignment of funds with the State’s economic planning,” Nargis Nehan, Executive Director and founder of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a non-governmental organisation advocating equal rights for all Afghan citizens, told IPS.

According to Nehan, “the international community made the State a less legitimate actor through the creation of parallel structures. Millions of dollars for example have been directed to development and humanitarian projects via the Provincial Reconstruction Teams”, which consisted of a mix of military, development and civilian components, conflating development/humanitarian aid with the agendas of foreign political and security actors.

“The political framework was never adequate,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director and co-founder of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, told IPS. “Over the past few years the international community was busier – at least at the government level – with preparing the withdrawal and designing a positive narrative, rather than with the Afghans left behind.”

“Afghanistan has been a rentier-State for one hundred and fifty years, and will be dependent on external support for quite a while. In this phase we have to lighten the country’s donor dependency, we cannot just walk away. We have the political responsibility to keep to our commitments,” he noted.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Faiths United Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:05:05 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138197 By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

“Never was there a greater need than now for all the religions to combine, to pull their wisdom and to give the benefit of that combined, huge repository of wisdom to international law and to the world.”

The words are those of Christopher Weeramantry, former judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and its vice-president from 1997 to 2000, who was addressing a session on faiths united against nuclear weapons at the civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7 in the Austrian capital.

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Weeramantry strongly criticised the argument of those who claim that nuclear weapons have saved the world from another world war in the last 50 years.

He pointed to the ever-present danger represented by these weapons and said that on many occasions it had been luck that had prevented catastrophic nuclear accidents or the breaking out of a devastating nuclear war.

Noting that nuclear weapons “offend every single principle of religion,” Weeramantry was joined on the panel by a number of different religious leaders, including Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and peace activist, as well as Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA.

Although there often seems to be a gap between the positions of different faith communities concerning different issues, all panellists were very clear in pushing the moral imperative and declaring the similar values that are inherent to all religions.“The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it” – Mahatma Gandhi

According to Mustafa Ceric, it “is not the question of whether you believe, it is the question of whether we are going to wait and see the destruction of our planet.”

Ceric also stressed that the goals and values of humanity are defined by common moral and ethical standards and that the role of religious communities today is greater than ever. Faced with fear and mistrust in society, he said, they also have the responsibility to care for peace and security in the world.

Akemi Bailey-Haynie continued with an emotional statement from first-hand experience – her own mother was a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.

“When nuclear weapons are considered a deterrent or viable option in warfare, it seems from a mind-set that fundamentally denies that all people possess infinite potential. No one has the right to take away a precious life of another human being.”

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

For Bailey-Haynie, nuclear weapons serve no purpose other than mass destruction. They have devastating effects on human beings and the environment, and the possibility of nuclear accidents or potential terrorism cannot be ruled out, she said, adding that dialogue between people of different or opposing opinions is the beginning to achieve change regarding this issue.

“As a second generation survivor, I deeply feel the sorrow, as well as the outrage, born of not being able to yet live in a time when the most inhumane of weapons, nuclear weapons, have been banned,“ she concluded.

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Anglican Bishop, sent a video message to participants to express his deep solidarity and support for ICAN’s civil society forum initiative.

He argued that the best way to honour the victims of the incidents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to negotiate a total ban on nuclear weapons to ensure that nothing comparable could ever happen again.

Two of the session’s speakers, Ela Gandhi and Mustafa Ceric, also attended the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

There, Ela Gandhi delivered a speech in the spirit of her grandfather who, she said, would have joined the movement to abolish nuclear weapons if still alive.

As Gandhi had dedicated his life to teaching humanity that there is a non-violent way of dealing with conflict, he even condemned nuclear weapons himself in 1946 when he said: “The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it.”

Pointing out that the mere existence of nuclear weapons leads to similar armament of rival countries, Ela Gandhi warned that these nuclear arsenals could destroy a chance for future generations to survive and have a prosperous life.

The Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was the scene of intense and often emotional discussions among official representatives from over 160 countries, victims and civil society participants. Notably, both the United States and the United Kingdom were officially represented for the first time at a conference where their nuclear arsenals were subject to debate and criticism.

Religion played an important role at the conference, where many lobbying groups had religious backgrounds, and the opening ceremony was addressed by Pope Francis.

“I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity, planted deep in the human heart, will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home,” aid Pope Francis, expressing his hope that “a world without nuclear weapons is truly possibly.”

In a statement on behalf of faith communities to the final session, Kimiaki Kawai, Program Director for Peace Affairs at Soka Gakkai International (SGI), said: “The elimination of nuclear weapons is not only a moral imperative; it is the ultimate measure of our worth as a species, as human beings.”

He said that “acceptance of the continued existence of nuclear weapons stifles our capacity to think more broadly and more compassionately about who we are as human beings, and what our potential is. Humanity must find alternative ways of dealing with conflict.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Africa Sets Demands for Post-2015 Climate Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/africa-sets-demands-for-post-2015-climate-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-sets-demands-for-post-2015-climate-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/africa-sets-demands-for-post-2015-climate-agreement/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 19:45:59 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138213 Members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance staging a demonstration at the Climate Change Conference in Lima. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance staging a demonstration at the Climate Change Conference in Lima. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

The post-2015 global climate change agreement should be flexible and fully resourced or else condemn Africa to another cycle of poverty resulting from the adverse effects of climate change.

Echoing this view, African delegates and civil society groups at the ongoing (Dec. 1-12) U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, said that some of the continent’s demands were being relegated, yet they are crucial for the post-2015 period.

Azeb Girma, an environmental activist from Ethiopia, told IPS that he was disappointed with the way the negotiations were proceeding.  “We thought to have a pathway to Paris [venue for the next climate change conference in 2015] but Africa is cheated. Africa is demanding adaptation but this has been pushed away. The discussions are leading nowhere,” said Girma.

Some of the negotiators claimed that developed countries were backtracking on some of the positions earlier agreed to at the Durban Climate Change Conference in 2011.

Dr Tom Okurut, Executive Director of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), told IPS that in Durban parties had agreed that adaptation was supposed to be part of the post-2015 climate deal but some developed countries were not willing to commit themselves in the draft texts."We have a mandate from science, from our people, from the continent of Africa, and from the United Nations itself to push for enhanced global climate action to cut [greenhouse gas] GHG emissions as well as strengthen adaptation; this remains a priority for us" – Nagmeldin El Hassan, Chair of the African Group at the Climate Change Conference in Lima

“We need a legally binding agreement that binds all parties to whatever has been agreed to, unlike the current protocol where parties can opt out of the process. Right now, everything is voluntary and that is why we are not getting very big output here,” said Okurut.

Since the beginning of the Lima conference, the African Group has been pushing for a multilateral rules-based system with a comprehensive outcome aimed at halting the growing threat of climate change to the African continent.

“We have a mandate from science, from our people, from the continent of Africa, and from the United Nations itself to push for enhanced global climate action to cut [greenhouse gas] GHG emissions as well as strengthen adaptation; this remains a priority for us,” said Nagmeldin El Hassan, Chair of the African Group while addressing a group of African journalist covering the conference.

Among the more thorny debates in this round of talks is the scope and format of country pledges or ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCS). Some parties, especially the African Group and most of the least developed countries (LDCs), want the focus to be on both mitigation and adaptation, while those in developed countries want the focus only on mitigation.

Earlier in the week, several African environmental groups under their umbrella group, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), held a demonstration at the convention centre urging ministers and other negotiators to back the African position on INDCS.

“We call on all parties to take seriously their responsibility to agree on deep emission cuts and avoid further climate crisis. Time is running out while the negotiations are moving at a very slow pace,” said Nicholas Ndhola, an activist from Zimbabwe.

“We urge and demand all parties, especially the developed countries, to agree on the scope of INDCs to include all elements and not only mitigation which tends to ignore differentiated commitments towards finance, adaptation, technology transfer, means of implementation and capacity-building,”he added.

John Bideri from Rwanda told IPS that the developed countries were seemingly determined to ensure that issues about adaptation and technology transfer are not adequately agreed and defined as the parties agree on framework for the next agreement to be hammered out in Paris in 2015.

Seyini Nafo, spokesperson of the African Group at the Climate Change Conference in Lima and member of the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Seyini Nafo, spokesperson of the African Group at the Climate Change Conference in Lima and member of the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“It is time to come up with an equitable deal. Lima may be the last chance for us to make a breakthrough and end a standoff that has prevented adequate climate action for decades. Please stand with the poor, stand with the vulnerable,” urged Bideri.

The INDCs bring together elements of a bottom-up system – to be put forward by all countries in their contributions in the context of their national priorities, circumstances and capabilities – with the aim of reducing global emissions enough to limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

According to the London-based CARE International, there is a need to set clear guidelines on the scope and format of INDCs.

“At the moment we run the risk of having to compare apples with oranges – if we don’t clearly define what countries must include in their national climate commitments towards the new agreement due in Paris next year, then it will be extremely difficult to understand how much progress is being made to curb climate change,” said Sven Harmeling, CARE International’s climate change advocacy coordinator.

However,in a statement in Lima,Miguel Arias Canete, the European Union’s Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, said that “the European Union and other developed countries must take into account the concerns of developing countries that want more adaptation, finance and technology sharing elements, but it should be in a mechanism or process outside of the INDCs.”

He added that “countries’ intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) should be exclusively devoted to mitigation.”

While Africa has been pushing for adaptation as part of the post-2015 agreement, it is not about to give up the demand for mitigation in areas of sustainable land and forest management, especially carbon finance, under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme.

Dr Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Water and Environment Minister, speaking at a REDD+ post 2015 discussion organised by the Peruvian government, said that parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been slow in implementing the Warsaw REDD+ Framework.

“We would want our colleagues in developed countries to agree on REDD+ result-based financing. This is a very key issue for us in Africa. We affirm the need to integrate the REDD+ into the overall structure of the 2015 agreement for durable and effective climate change governance,” said Kamuntu.

Critical among Africa’s demands is fulfilment of the financial pledges for climate financing.  At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, developed countries pledged to scale up climate funding to 100 billion dollars a year from private and public sources by 2020. For the African Group, fulfilling this could make money available for a post-2015 poverty eradication agenda.

Some developed countries, such as Norway and Australia among others, have announced contributions to the Green Climate Fund, bringing the fund to close the 10 billion dollar mark.

Seyni Nafo, African Group spokesperson and a member of the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance, told IPS that much more funding was needed.

“Recent pledges to the Green Climate Fund are a small first step, but funding around 2.4 billion dollars per year is not close to the actual need, and is a far cry from the 100 billion dollars pledged for 2020. Lima should provide a clear roadmap for how finance contributions will increase step-by-step up to 2020,” he said.

The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The United States and China have announced commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a bilateral agreement, sending a strong signal for implementation of an international climate treaty in 2015.

Seyni Nafo said the recent announcements by the European Union, United States and China of their 2030 emission targets were to be commended for proactivity but fall well short of what science requires.

He challenged the European Union and the United States to match stronger mitigation targets with intended contributions on finance, adaptation, technology transfer and capacity-building in accordance with their obligations under international law.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nuclear States Face Barrage of Criticism in Viennahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:19:17 +0000 Jamshed Baruah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138201 Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

By Jamshed Baruah
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Sarcastic laughter erupted when a civil society representative expressed his “admiration for the delegate of the United States, who with one insensitive, ill-timed, inappropriate and diplomatically inept intervention” had “managed to dispel the considerable goodwill the U.S. had garnered by its decision to participate” in Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

The speaker was Richard Lennane, who prefers to call himself the “chief inflammatory officer” of Wildfire, a Geneva-based disarmament initiative. He was making a statement at the final session of the Dec. 8-9 conference in the Austrian capital – the third after the Oslo (Norway) gathering in 2013 and Nayarit (Mexico) earlier this year.“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting.” -- Akira Kawasaki of Peaceboat

Unlike the previous conferences, the United States and Britain – two of the five members of the nuclear club, along with France, Russia and China – participated in the Vienna conference.

But Washington’s diplomatic jargon was far-removed from the highly emotional impact of statements by survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of nuclear testing in Australia, Kazakhstan, and the Marshall Islands. They gave powerful testimonies of the horrific effects of nuclear weapons. Their evidence complemented other presentations offering data and research.

Ambassador Adam Scheinman, special representative of the U.S. president for non-proliferation, assured that “underpinning all of our efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use”.

This claim not only left a large number of participants unimpressed but also failed to give reason for hope that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference next year would bear fruit.

All the more so, because as the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out in a joint statement, “nearly five years after the successful 2010 NPT review conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan – particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps – has been very disappointing.

“Since the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2011,” the statement added, “Russia and the United States have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles, which far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements.”

2015 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the consequences of which are still being felt by hibakusha (survivors) and their families, as Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima Peace Ambassador and survivor of the atomic bombing explosion on Aug. 6, 1945, illustrated in an impassioned statement.

“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting,” said Akira Kawasaki, from the Japanese NGO Peaceboat.

“The only solution is to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons and we need to start now,” Kawasaki added.

U.S. ambassador Scheinman sought to reassure in a statement prepared for the general debate: “The United States fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapons use and gives the highest priority to avoiding their use. The United States stands with all those here who seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

“The United States has been and will continue to work to create the conditions for such a world with the aid of the various tools, treaties and agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime.”

Irrespective of the veracity of the U.S. claim, Scheinman’s dry and rather formulaic remarks stood in stark contrast to passionate pleas made by representatives of 44 out of 158 participating states, that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error remains real.

States that expressed support for a ban treaty at the Vienna Conference include: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Holy See, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Echoing worldwide sentiments, Pope Francis called in a message to the conference for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all”.

In a message delivered by Angela Kane, High Representative of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna initiatives had “brought humanitarian considerations to the forefront of nuclear disarmament. It has energized civil society and governments alike. It has compelled us to keep in mind the horrific consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons.”

Questioning the rationale behind nuclear weapons, Ban – who is known to be committed to nuclear disarmament – said that keeping the horrific consequences of nukes in mind was essential in confronting those who view nuclear weapons as a rational response to growing international tensions or as a symbol of national prestige.

In his widely noted message, he criticised “the senselessness of pouring funds into modernizing the means for our mutual destruction while we are failing to meet the challenges posed by poverty, climate change, extremism and the destabilizing accumulation of conventional arms.”

In “the 70th year of the nuclear age”, Ban said “possession of nuclear weapons does not prevent international disputes from occurring, but it makes conflicts more dangerous”.

Besides, he added, maintaining forces on alert does not provide safety, but it increases the likelihood of accidents. Upholding doctrines of nuclear deterrence does not counter proliferation, but it makes the weapons more desirable.

Growing ranks of nuclear armed-states do not ensure global stability, but instead undermine it – a view with which also faith organisations gathered in Vienna agreed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:24:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138185 Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that U.S. officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report."Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability." -- Donna McKay of PHR

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorised and used torture and other ill-treatment.

“This is a wake-up call to the USA; they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims,” said Amnesty’s Latin America director, Erika Guevara.

The Senate Committee’s report, actually a 524-page, partially-redacted summary of a still-classified 6,300-page report on the treatment of at least 119 terrorist suspects detained in secret locations overseas, accused the CIA not only of engaging in torture that was “brutal and far worse” than has previously been reported, but also of regularly misleading the White House and Congress both about what it was doing and the purported value of the intelligence it derived from those practices.

Water-boarding, for example, was used against detainees more often and in more of the CIA’s “black sites” than previously known; sleep deprivation was used for up to a week at a time against some suspects; others received “rectal feeding” or “hydration’; and still others were forced to stand on broken feet or legs.

In at least one case, a detainee was frozen to death; in the case of Abu Zubayda, an alleged “high-value” Al Qaeda detainee who was subject to dozens of water-boardings, the treatment was so brutal, several CIA officers asked to be transferred if it did not stop.

While the CIA officers and former Bush administration officials, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, have long insisted that key information – including intelligence that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — was obtained from EITs, the report concluded that these techniques were ineffective.

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive EITs provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report, which relied on the CIA’s own cables and reports.

In some cases, detainees subjected to EITs gave misinformation about “terrorist threats” which did not actually exist, the report found. Of the 119 known detainees subject to EITs, at least 26 should never have been held, it said.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, who fought hard for months to release the report over the CIA’s fierce objections, wrote in its Forward that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, “she could understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security,” according to Feinstein.

For his part, CIA director John Brennan, a career CIA officer appointed by Obama whose role in the Bush administration’s detention programme remains cloudy, “acknowledge(d) that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.”

But he also defended the EITs, insisting that “interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” A fact sheet released by the CIA claimed, as an example, that one detainee, after undergoing EITs, identified bin Laden’s courier, which subsequently led the CIA to the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

With several notable exceptions, Republicans also defended the CIA and the Bush administration’s orders to permit EITs. Indeed, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members released a minority report that noted that the majority of staff had not interviewed any CIA officers directly involved in the programme.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this report to ever be published,” said the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “This is purely a partisan tactic” which he said was designed to attack the Bush administration. Republicans also warned that the report’s release would endanger U.S. service personnel and citizens abroad by fuelling anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world.

But Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam war, defended the report, calling it “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose …but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain has championed efforts to pass legislation outlawing torture, particularly because Obama’s 2009 executive orders prohibiting such practices could be reversed by a future president.

Passage of such a law – whose prospects appear virtually nil in light of Republican control of both houses of Congress for the next two years – is one of the demands, along with release of the full report, of most human-rights groups here.

“The Obama administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First.

Many groups, however, want Obama to go further by prosecuting those responsible for the EIT programme, a step that his administration made clear from the outset it was loathe to do.

“We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture programme,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented a number of detainees at Guantanamo, including Abu Zubaydah, in U.S. courts. “They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and, if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Noting that health professionals, including doctors and psychologists also played a role in the EITs, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also called for legal accountability. “For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.

“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability,” she said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Urged to Ban Nuke Strikes Against Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:02:28 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138181 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are urging the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring nuclear strikes on cities to be a clear-cut violation of international humanitarian law.

At the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, supporters of the proposed resolution argued that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is undeniable that the explosion of a nuclear weapon on a populated area would engender destruction beyond acceptable human limits.“The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the 'incremental steps' towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes?" -- Jonathan Granoff

“There are over 6,000 cities already members of our campaign called Cities Are Not Targets! declaring it illegal to target cities with nuclear weapons,” said Aaron Tovish, campaign director for Mayors for Peace.

“This initiative to have the bodies of the United Nations explicitly outlaw such conduct is of great value,” he said.

Proponents argue that just raising the issue would bring a dose of reality into the debate about the threat of nuclear weapons, and that a GA resolution calling on the Security Council to affirm the illegality of using nuclear weapons on populated areas under international humanitarian law (IHL) could be a real, practical step to advance nuclear disarmament.

Jonathan Granoff, head of the Global Security Institute, said that other uses also violate international law but there should be no question that destroying a city is illegal.

Granoff told IPS, “Pending obtaining a legal ban, a convention, or a framework of instruments leading to nuclear disarmament, which is required by the promises made by the nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice, this step would make us all a bit safer and downgrade the political status of these horrible devices.”

Is a resolution necessary?

In recent years, it has become apparent that failure to fulfill promised progress on nuclear disarmament has been caused by deeply entrenched security policies that do not seem likely to change.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have raised hopes of further nuclear disarmament, yet this has flown in the face of a reality in which nuclear weapons states continue to either modernise or expand their arsenals, or do both.

Nuclear states agree that the warheads are bad (often recognising a legal responsibility to disarm), yet critics note that in an act of impressive cognitive dissonance, these states simultaneously advance that they are good because they are necessary for deterrence purposes and strategic stability, the disturbance of which could be bad.

Thus, while they exist, so these states say, it is good to rely on them.

China, Russia, the UK, U.S. and France have agreed they have a legal responsibility to disarm, based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.

India has called for negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on a universal, nondiscriminatory, treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and Pakistan has said it would join such a process. Israel has said nothing.

In 2000, 13 steps were agreed upon to move towards disarmament – and then in 2010, 64 additional commitments were made by 188 states.

Yet despite the non-realisation of these incremental moves towards disarmament, the nuclear weapons states maintain that any other attempt to delegitimise, ban, and eliminate the warheads is a distraction.

Proponents of the resolution like Granoff see it as a step forward towards extrication from the situation.

Granoff told IPS, “The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the ‘incremental steps’ towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes? Will it provide impetus to get a ban on testing, fissile materials, and more cuts of arsenals?”

Criticism of the proposal

The proposal is likely to face robust criticism from nuclear weapons states and those under the “umbrella of deterrence” (those states allied to a nuclear power that claim to be protected by affiliation).

Speaking to IPS, former deputy judge advocate general, U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap Jr. expressed reservations about the advancement of such a resolution.

Dunlap remains unconvinced on the question of whether there is an authoritative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons in IHL, saying, “It sounds as if Mr. Granoff assumes that IHL applicable to the use of conventional weapons would automatically apply to the use of nuclear weapons. This is incorrect.

“In fact, even some of the countries which are parties (as the U.S. and some other nuclear powers are not) to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (which contains targeting rules) made an express reservation to it to the effect that it did not govern the use of nuclear weapons.”

These legal arguments are hotly contested, however. Proponents of the resolution point to the final document from the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010 which “reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

Those in support of the proposal seem undeterred. Alyn Ware of the World Future Council told IPS, “I think it’s a good proposal. I don’t think it’s the only path. The idea of ‘non-first use’ also has traction.”

Ware stands in opposition to Dunlap, saying “A nuclear weapon has a much larger blast impact than conventional weapons. The blast impact can’t be contained to a specific military target.

“If it’s far away from populated areas, then maybe it will not violate IHL, but there would still be enormous problems with fall out and controlling its trajectory… but you can’t even make the argument when it’s in a populated area.”

IPS spoke to former Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Office of Ms. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, Randy Rydell, who said, “The nuclear powers will almost certainly try to deal with this humanitarian campaign by diverting it onto the track of “arms control” — namely, we need to improve the safety and security of nukes and “keep them out of the wrong hands”.

Both arguments divert attention from the risks inherent in such weapons, in anybody’s “hands”.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Civil Society Support for Marshall Islands Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:41:34 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138164 Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Ahead of the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, activists from all over the world came together in the Austrian capital to participate in a civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7.

One pressing issue discussed was the Marshall Islands’ lawsuit against the United States and eight other nuclear-weapon nations that was filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April 2014, denouncing the over 60 nuclear tests that were conducted on the small island state’s territory between 1946 and 1958.“The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up. It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival” – David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF)

The location was chosen not only because it was an isolated part of the world but also because at the time it was also a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands governed by the United States. Self-government was achieved in 1979, and full sovereignty in 1986.

The people of the Marshall Islands were neither informed nor asked for their consent and for a long period did not realise the harm that the testing would bring to the local communities.

The consequences were severe, ranging from displacement of people to islands that were strongly radiated and cannot be resettled for thousands of years, besides birth abnormalities and cancer. The states responsible denied the harm of the practice and refuse to provide for adequate amount of health care.

Castle Bravo was the code name given to the first United States‘ test of a nuclear bomb in 1954 and was 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Addressing the ICAN forum, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum explained that his country had decided to approach the ICJ to take a stand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

De Brum said that the Marshall Islands was not seeking compensation, because the United States had already provided millions of dollars to the islands, but wants to hold states accountable for their actions in violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and international customary law.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, commits nuclear-weapon states to nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear power. The nine countries currently holding nuclear arsenals are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Although a certain degree of disarmament has been taken place since the end of the Cold War, these nine nations together still possess some 17,000 nuclear weapons and globally spend 100 billion dollars a year on nuclear forces.

The Marshall Islands case, which has received worldwide attention and support from many different organisations, is often referred to as “David vs. Goliath”. One eminent supporter is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), whose president, David Krieger, said: “The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up.”

“It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons,” he continued, “and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival. The people of the Marshall Islands deserve our support and appreciation for taking this fight into the U.S. Federal Court and to the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world.”

Another strong supporter of the case is Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist organisation that advocates for peace, culture and education and has a network of 12 million people all over the world. The youth movement of SGI even launched a “Nuclear Zero” petition and obtained five million signatures throughout Japan in its demand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The campaign was encouraged by the upcoming 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015 as well as the holding of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Addressing the ICAN, de Brum urged participants to support the cause of the Marshall Islands. “For a long time,” he said, “the Marshallese people did not have a voice strong enough or loud enough for the world to hear what happened to them and they desperately don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

He went on to say that when the opportunity arose to file a lawsuit in order to stop “the madness of nuclear weapons”, the Marshall Islands decided to take that step, declaring in its lawsuit: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”.

De Brum recognised that many had discouraged his country from taking that step because it would look ridiculous or did not make sense for a nation of 70.000 people to take on the most powerful nations in the world on such a highly debated issue.

However, he said, “there is not a single citizen on the Marshall Islands that has not had an encounter with one or another effect of the testing period … because we have experienced directly the effects of nuclear weapons we felt that we had the mandate to do what we have done.”

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons is the third in a series of such conferences – the first was held in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 and the second in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Hiroshima, Nagasaki Cast Shadow Over Nuclear Conference in Viennahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 20:28:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138126 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was at Harvard University early this week to pick up the ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ award, his thoughts transcended the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Austrian capital of Vienna which will be the venue of a key international conference on nuclear weapons next week.

But this time around, the focus will be on the “humanitarian impact” of the deadly use of any one of the over 16,300 nuclear weapons that still exist nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War."We may not hear much about next April's NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that's what it's about." -- Dr. Joseph Gerson

“A single detonation of a modern nuclear weapon would cause destruction and human suffering on a scale far exceeding the devastation seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” warns Austria, the host country for the conference.

The 70th anniversary of those destructive U.S. bombings in Japan will be commemorated in Hiroshima next year.

In his acceptance speech, the secretary-general told the Harvard audience the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons is attracting growing attention – as he singled out the Vienna conference due to take place Dec. 8-9.

The last two conferences on the same theme took place in Oslo, Norway in March 2013, and in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014.

Ban said people are also asking why the world’s nuclear powers are spending vast sums to modernise arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“Where are their disarmament plans? They do not exist,” he lamented.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States alone plans to spend about 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years just to modernise its nuclear arsenal.

And the total estimated cost for modernisation of weapons over the next 30 years is a staggering one trillion dollars.

Asked about the possible outcome of the Vienna conference, Dr. M.V. Ramana, associate research scholar, Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, told IPS, “My hope is that people will come out of the Vienna conference with a continued resolve to eliminate these weapons, not in the distant future as the nuclear weapons states keep promising, but in the near future.”

Referring to the secretary-general’s speech, he said: “It is refreshing to hear a high official speak with such candour. I would like to especially underline what he said: ‘Ultimately, there are no right hands for wrong weapons and add that all nuclear weapons are wrong weapons.’”

His statement that the nuclear weapon states do not have disarmament plans is also sadly spot on, said Dr. Ramana, author of ‘Bombing Bombay? Effects of Nuclear Weapons and a Case Study of a Hypothetical Explosion’.

Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS, “We expect that the outcome of the Vienna conference will reflect the demand from the overwhelming majority of states that we must take concerted action now in response to the evidence about the risks and impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation.”

The logical conclusion of the evidence-based gatherings in Oslo and Nayarit – and now Vienna – is to launch a diplomatic process to prohibit nuclear weapons, she added.

“A treaty banning nuclear weapons would advance nuclear disarmament through its normative force and practical effects,” she said.

The Vienna conference may not launch such a process but it can help set the stage by presenting irrefutable evidence about the dangers of nuclear weapons, challenging the idea that nuclear weapons have any value for defence or deterrence, and providing space for governments, international organisations, and civil society to examine the legal landscape and suggest ways forward, said Acheson.

Dr. Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Programme at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), told IPS, “We may not hear much about next April’s NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that’s what it’s about.”

With the success of the Review Conference in doubt – given the P-5′s resistance to fulfilling their Article VI obligation to begin good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and the failure of the United States to co-convene the promised 2012 Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone (Weapons of Mass Destruction) conference – the Austrian government’s goal is to build positive momentum going into the Review Conference, he added.

The P5 comprises the United States, UK, France, China and Russia, the world’s five major nuclear powers, who are also the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Dr. Gerson said recognising that nuclear weapons abolition cannot be negotiated without the active participation of the nuclear powers, Austrian Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, placed a high premium on winning their participation, especially the U.S. and Britain, who now have bragging rights over Russia, China and France.

“The price paid was Austria’s commitment to limit the conference to educational discourse,” he said.

Dr. Gerson said those who demand action steps will be violating their invitations and will have little impact on the chair’s summary, which will lack the bite of Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo’s summary at Nayarit conference.

“And it will be interesting to see if and how – after their boycotts of the Oslo and Nayarit Conferences – the presence of the Anglo-American nuclear powers leads some to bite their tongues,” he added.

Dr. Gerson also predicted the Vienna conference may reinforce commitments of some to work for abolition, but the men and women of power and most of humanity have known the essentials since the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Most will speak diplomatically, but the hypocrisy of bemoaning the human consequences of nuclear weapons while Washington spends one trillion dollars to modernise its nuclear arsenal and to replace its delivery systems, Britain moves toward Trident replacement, and Russia relies increasingly on its nuclear arsenal in face of NATO’s expansion, will hang heavy over the conference,” he declared.

The government of Austria says nine states (the P5 plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) are believed to possess nuclear weapons, “but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future.”

Dr. Ramana told IPS delegates to next week’s meeting will certainly be aware that next year will be the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the bombings “that first made us realise the utterly horrendous nature of the humanitarian consequences of the use of even one or two nuclear weapons”.

“What we do need to remember is that 2015 will also be the seventieth anniversary of the anti-nuclear peace movement,” he reminded.

“Just as nuclear weapons haven’t gone away, the movement challenging these weapons of mass destruction hasn’t gone away,” he added.

Dr. Gerson said governments will position themselves, rehearsing their arguments in the run up to the NPT Review. Meanwhile, out of earshot, serious side discussions will take place to frame and influence next April’s diplomacy.

“Civil society will speak truth to power. We’ll also be drawing on our contacts to build popular force behind our demands that April’s NPT Review mandate the commencement of Article VI’s good faith negotiations to eliminate the world’s omnicidal nuclear arsenals.”

One certain outcome, he said: the Human Consequences process will have been kept alive, to be revisited following April’s NPT Review Conference.

Acheson told IPS that Ban’s remarks at Harvard highlight “why we can no longer afford to wait for leadership from the nuclear-armed states”.

She said their plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals, extending the lives of these weapons of mass destruction into the indefinite future, demonstrate they are not willing to comply with their legal obligation to disarm. “We can’t afford to keep waiting for leadership from nuclear-armed states.”

Acheson said a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons can and should be negotiated by those states ready to do so, even if the states with nuclear weapons are not ready to participate.

“The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks has already been cited as the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal of launching a new diplomatic process,” Acheson declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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War Knocks on Door of Youth Centre in Zwarahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 09:05:05 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138103 Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZWARA, Libya, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

“The house belonged to a former member of the secret services of [Muammar] Gaddafi so we decided to squat it for the local youth in Zwara [an Amazigh enclave 120 km west of Tripoli, on the border with Tunisia],” Fadel Farhad, an electrician who combines his work with the local militia, tells IPS.It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

The centre is called “Tifinagh” after the name given to the Amazigh alphabet. Also called Berbers, the Amazigh are native inhabitants of North Africa.

The arrival of the Arabs in the region in the seventh century was the beginning of a slow yet gradual process of Arabisation which was sharply boosted during the four decades in which Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011) remained in power. Unofficial estimates put the number of Amazighs in this country at around 600,000 – about 10 percent of the total population

Like most of the youngsters at the centre, Farhad knows he can be mobilised at any time. The latest attack on Zwara took place less than a kilometre from here a little over a week ago, when an airstrike hit a warehouse killing two Libyans and six sub-Saharan migrants.

Three years after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital.

Several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

“Here in Zwara we rely on around 5000 men grouped into different militias,” Younis, a militia fighter who prefers not to give his full name, tells IPS. “We never wanted this to happen but the problem is that all our enemies are fighting on Tobruk´s side,” adds the 30-year-old by the pickups lining up at the entrance of the building.

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The polarisation of the conflict in Libya has pushed several Amazigh militias to fight sporadically alongside the coalition led by Misrata, which includes Islamist groups among its ranks.

However, the atmosphere in this squat house seems at odds with religious orthodoxy of any kind, with an unlikely fusion between Amazigh traditional music and death metal blasting from two loudspeakers. This is the work of 30-year-old Bondok Hassem, a well-known local musician who is also an Amazigh language teacher as well as one of the commanders of the Tamazgha militia.

“Both Misrata and Tobruk are striving to become the alpha male in this war. We are all fully aware that, whoever wins this war, they will attack us immediately afterwards so we are forced to defend our land by any means necessary,” laments Hassem between sips of boja, the local firewater.

But can it be international partnerships that hamper an already difficult agreement between both sides?

Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France are backing Tobruk and Misrata relies mainly on Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile, NATO officials are seemingly torn between wanting to stay out of the war, and watching anxiously as the violence goes out of control. Today, most of the diplomatic missions have left Tripoli, except for those of Italy and Hungary.

A fragile balance

Moussa Harim is among the Amazigh who seem to feel not too uncomfortable siding with the government in Tripoli. Born in Jadu, in the Amazigh stronghold of the Nafusa mountain range – 100 km south of Tripoli – Harim was exiled in France during Gaddafi’s time but he became Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2012.

Although he admits that Islamists pose a real threat, he clarifies that in Misrata there are also people “from all walks of life and very diverse affiliations, communists included.”

It is the geographical location itself which, according to Harim, inexorably pushes the Libyan Amazigh towards Misrata.

“Except for a small enclave in the east, our people live in the west of the country, and a majority of them here, in Tripoli,” the senior official tells IPS.

But there are discordant voices, like that of Fathi Ben Khalifa. A native of Zwara and a political dissident for decades, Ben Khalifa was the president of the World Amazigh Congress between 2011 and 2013.

The Congress is an international organisation based in Paris since 1995 that aims to protect the Amazigh identity. Today Ben Khalifa remains as an executive member of this umbrella organisation for this North African people.

“This is not our war, it’s just a conflict between Arab nationalists and Islamists, none of which will ever recognise our rights,” Ben Khalifa tells IPS over the phone from Morocco. Although the senior political activist defends the right of his people to defend themselves from outside aggressions, he gives a deadline to take a clearer position:

“If Libya´s Constitution – to be released on December 24 – does not grant our legitimate rights, then it will be the time to take up arms,” Ben Khalifa bluntly claims.

At dusk, and after another day marked by exhausting shifts at checkpoints and patrols around the city, the local militiamen cool down after swapping their rifles for a harmonica and a guitar at the squat house. This time they play the songs of Matloub Lounes, a singer from Kabylia, Algeria´s Amazigh stronghold.

“I can´t hardly wait for the war to end. I´ll burn my uniform and get back to my work,” says Anwar Darir, an Amazigh language teacher since 2011. That was the year in which Gaddafi was killed, yet a solution to the conflict among Libyans is still nowhere near.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Iraqi Kurds Seek Greater Balance between Ankara and Baghdadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/iraqi-kurds-seek-greater-balance-between-ankara-and-baghdad/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 20:09:59 +0000 Mohammed A. Salih http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138098 A PKK soldier stands in front of a crowd gathered in the Qandil mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A PKK soldier stands in front of a crowd gathered in the Qandil mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Mohammed A. Salih
ERBIL, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

After a period of frostiness, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey seem intent on mending ties, as each of the parties show signs of needing the other.

But the Kurds appear more cautious this time around, apparently leery of moving too close to Ankara lest they alienate the new Iraqi government in Baghdad with which they signed a breakthrough oil deal Tuesday.It’s clear that despite the recent slide in relations, both sides need each other. As a land-locked territory, Kurds will be looking for an alternative that they can use to counter pressure from the central Iraqi government.

The agreement, which will give Baghdad greater control over oil produced in Kurdistan and Kurdish-occupied Kirkuk in exchange for the KRG’s receipt of a bigger share of the central government’s budget, may signal an effort to reduce Erbil’s heavy reliance on Turkey.

The warmth between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey was a rather strange affair to begin with. It emerged unexpectedly and evolved dramatically, particularly after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Whereas Turkey is a major player in the Middle East and Eurasia regions, Iraqi Kurdistan is not even an independent state. The imbalance of power between the two parties made their development of a “strategic” relationship particularly remarkable.

And given the deep historical animosity in Ankara toward all things Kurdish, the change of heart on its leaders’ part seemed almost miraculous, even if highly lucrative to Turkish construction companies in particular.

But those ties suffered a major blow in August when the forces of Islamic State (IS) swept into Kurdish-held territories in Iraq.

With the IS threatening Kurdistan’s capital city, Erbil, Turkey did little to assist the Kurds. Many in Kurdistan were baffled; the overwhelming sense here was that Turkey had abandoned Iraqi Kurds in the middle of a life-or-death crisis. KRG President Masoud Barzani, Ankara’s closest ally, even felt moved to publicly thank Iran, Turkey’s regional rival, for rushing arms and other supplies to the Peshmerga in their hour of need.

In an attempt to simultaneously develop an understanding and save face, some senior KRG officials defended Ankara, insisting that its hands were tied by the fact that more than 40 staff members in its consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul, including the consul himself, had been taken hostage by the IS. Other officials were more critical, slamming Ankara for not having acted decisively in KRG’s support.

And the fact that Turkey was experiencing elections where the ambitious then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was running for the newly enhanced office of president was also invoked as a reason for his reluctance to enter into war with such a ruthless foe.

It also appeared to observers here that Erdogan did not want to do anything that could strengthen his arch-enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even if that meant effectively siding with the Sunni jihadists.

But last month’s visit to Iraq by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appears to have helped repair the relationship with the Kurds in the north. Davutoglu turned on his personal charm to reassure his hosts, even visiting a mountainous area where Turkish special forces are now training members of Peshmerga and a Turkish-built refugee camp for Iraqis displaced by the war.

The question of how long it takes for the relationship to bounce back to the point where it was six months ago is anyone’s guess.

But it’s clear that despite the recent slide in relations, both sides need each other. As a land-locked territory, Kurds will be looking for an alternative that they can use to counter pressure from the central Iraqi government.

Focused on laying the foundation for a high degree of economic and political autonomy – if not independence — from Baghdad, the Kurds’ strategic ambition is to be able to control and ideally sell their oil and gas to international clients. And geography dictates that the most obvious and economically efficient route runs through Turkey, with or without Baghdad’s blessing.

As for Ankara, Iraqi Kurdistan is now its only friend in an otherwise hostile region. Once upon a time, not long ago, politicians in Ankara boasted of the success of their “zero-problems-with-neighbours” policy that had reshuffled regional politics and turned some of Turkey’s long-standing foes in the region, including Syria, into friends. But that era is now gone.

Ankara has come to see Iraqi Kurdistan as a potential major supplier of its own energy needs and has generally sided with the KRG in its disputes with Baghdad.

At the same time, however, Kurdish leaders have been criticised here for putting most of their eggs in Ankara’s basket.

The last time Kurds invested so much of their trust in a neighbouring country was during in the 1960s and 1970s when the Shah of Iran supported their insurgency as a means of exerting pressure on Baghdad. When the Shah abruptly abandoned Kurds in return for territorial concessions by the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the Shatt al-Arab River separating southern Iran from Iraq in 1975, the results were catastrophic.

Turkey’s indifference and passivity in August when all of Iraqi Kurdistan came under existential threat by IS jihadists reminded many here of the consequences of placing too much trust in their neighbours. The hoary proverb that “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” suddenly regained its currency.

IS’s siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani – just one kilometre from the Turkish frontier – compounded that distrust, not only for Iraqi Kurds, but for Kurds throughout the region, including in Turkey itself.

Turkey’s refusal to assist Kurdish fighters against IS’s brutal onslaught has made it harder for the KRG to initiate a reconciliation.

Although Ankara has now changed its position – under heavy U.S. pressure — and is now permitting the Peshmerga to provide limited assistance and re-inforcements for Kobani’s defenders, the process of mending fences is still moving rather slowly.

While that process has now begun, it remains unclear how far both sides will go. Will it be again a case of Ankara and Erbil jointly versus Baghdad, or will Erbil play the game differently this time, aiming for greater balance between the two capitals.

Indeed, the much-lauded oil deal struck Tuesday between the Baghdad and the KRG may indicate a preference for the latter strategy, particularly in light of their mutual interest in both confronting IS and compensating for losses in revenue resulting from the steep plunge in oil prices.

Still, given the history of deals sealed and then broken that have long characterised relations between the Kurds and Baghdad, nothing can be taken for granted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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