Well then.

Looking back at posts from January 2009, I see a mix of hope and serious concern. Country after country was following the US into what has since become known as the Great Recession. It is reckoned by some as the largest global contraction since the 1930s; I’ve only been following such things for about 20 years, so I don’t know for sure (the Asian currency crisis of 1997 might give it a run for its money in terms of the number of people harmed), and Edward, who would likely have known off the top of his head, is no longer with us.

Still, for all that massive economic dislocation was bearing down on the developed world, new leadership in America gave cause for hope. Republican ideas had been tried, and had failed in the sands of Iraq and in the money markets on Wall Street that had turned into casinos where gains were privatized and sufficiently large losses offloaded onto the general public. With the Bush restoration in 2000, that party had claimed that the grown-ups were back in charge. But it was Democrats who did all of the adult things of putting America back together after the economic carnage of 2008, and they even managed to extend America’s promise to people who had been excluded, to take some of the fear out of American health economics, and to give regular folks more of a chance against plutocracy. In foreign policy, Obama’s most famous adage — “Don’t do stupid shit” — illustrates the low bar set by his predecessor, one unlikely to be cleared by his successor.

Here at the outset, the Trump administration (I still can’t believe I have to write that) looks set to do some very stupid shit indeed. Statements from the transition have not been particularly coherent, but they indicate that the incoming administration does not care whether NATO and the European Union continue to exist, and may in fact prefer it if they didn’t. This is foreign policy malpractice on the greatest scale imaginable. NATO and the EU are human institutions, and therefore imperfect, but blithely talking about doing without them indicates that the Trump people have not asked the third great policy question: “Compared to what?”

We’ve seen what Europe is like without institutions, in which Putin-style land grabs and subversion of neighboring governments are the order of the day. Every few months construction crews in Berlin dig up another unexploded bomb that’s a relic of the last time that kind of Europe was in vogue. Let’s just not.

Given that European policy and politics with Trump in the White House are likely to be a Gish gallop of ridiculous idiocy, it will be worth it to me to concentrate on a few things, in the hope that other people will pick up other threads. At the moment, I’m most interested in Kremlin subversion of the upcoming German election, further signs that Putin’s circle is testing Europe’s institutions, conflicts in the Caucasus, and some aspects of Brexit. In my working life, I have been doing a lot of things related to pharma and biotech in recent years, and so at a micro level I am interested in whether the European Medicines Agency stays in London (seems unlikely, post-Brexit) and if not, who will win the competition to host the agency. I’m sure other stuff will attract my attention, but that’s what I know I will be looking at.

Thanks, Obama. I hope we see your like again before too much time has passed.

Growth is a driver of migration. Get used to it.

A seriously important blog post. Migration is a problem of success, not failure.

As sub-Saharan Africa increasingly rises out of deep poverty, more people can afford to emigrate and are aware that life might be better somewhere else. The propensity to migrate is positively correlated with real per-capita GDP. In Latin America, however, the correlation is negative. Potential migrants are likely to be better off at home, except the poorest of the poor.

The conclusions we can draw from this are salutary. First of all, they’re not going away. The development train has left the station, and one of its effects is that migration has become an option. Perhaps the pressure will reduce as more countries reach the middle-income level, but it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of migrants from Latin America to the US.

Second, neither calling for more development aid (that you have no intention of delivering) or giving lectures on corruption and good governance will help at all, because migrants, as opposed to refugees, are not motivated by desperation but rather by hope. Nor will yelling about “benefits”, because they’re not beggars but economic migrants in the truest sense of the word.

It’s also worth pointing out that the distinction between a refugee and a migrant is a spectrum rather than a bright line – if you can’t think of a way to persecute people by economic means you’re not trying, and as Rick points out above, development encourages movement for refugees, too.

Third, very visibly, they are following the same routes trade follows, carrying their smartphones and wearing their FC Barca shirts. You can’t have 44-tonne trucks driving in two or three days from Dover to eastern Turkey and not have people moving along the same roads.

The overwhelming conclusion is that we’ll just have to live with them. Punkt, ende. However I expect a lot of squirming on the hook before this sinks in. Like the War on Drugs or the rules of the eurozone, immigration is one of those issues where nobody believes in the system, nobody would design anything like it again, but it stumbles forward by the sheer inertia of incumbency.

Does Russia want Donetsk, or just to keep the conflict going?

The other day, someone on twitter said it felt like the news was working up to an end-of-season finale, a big finish for the longest running of TV shows. On Thursday, as Yanis Varoufakis and Wolfgang Schäuble were failing to agree on whether or not they agreed in Berlin, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were heading in their respective Airbus A310s to Kiev and then Moscow. Diplomats must be delighted at times like this; suddenly the job is as important as they spend their time making out it is.

As it turned out, Merkel and Hollande‘s mission only resulted in agreement to look at a draft ceasefire implementing the Minsk agreement from last year, a document widely considered to be a dead letter. The new content in it seems to have been more concessions of territory to the pro-Russian side.

All this diplomacy was triggered by the Americans floating the idea of providing Ukraine with modern armaments. Back in Germany, Merkel was rather sceptical about the idea at the NATO security conference in Munich, saying variously that there seemed to be plenty of weapons around and that no amount of them would impress Putin. (There may be plenty of AKs, tanks, and artillery, but the US proposal focuses on communications and electronic warfare, and perhaps anti-tank guided weapons.)

In general, the level of anxiety about the situation seems to have spiked in the last few days. Hollande has been saying that he fears total war. You might well ask what on earth is happening in the Donbass if it’s not war, but the fear is that it might get worse, moving from a so-called hybrid conflict confined to the area around Donetsk to a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Carl Bildt thinks it is possible; Anders Fogh Rasmussen thinks it is possible; former NATO deputy supreme commander Sir Richard Sherriff thinks so, and wonders where the British prime minister has got to. (Good question.)

Here’s a question. Hollande and Merkel are working from the assumption that handing over a bigger area of territory to the separatists would end the conflict, and that their territorial control reflects the wishes of the population. On the other hand, though, they are also working from the assumption that it’s not the separatist leadership who decides. Hollande and Merkel didn’t address themselves to Alexander Zakharchenko in Donetsk, but rather to Vladimir Putin in Moscow. In a real sense, they clearly believe that it’s Putin who decides what happens there.

If the Ukrainians were to accept such a proposal, and offer to give up the whole Donbass, would Putin accept it? I am not sure he would.

A DNR entity of real size and contiguity, a Republic of Novorossiya, would be disturbingly big and independent, and likely to make trouble. It would, however, still be small enough that the Ukrainians might hope to take it back one day. It would also set a precedent Putin would hate – as well as orange-clad protestors occupying city squares in the hope of joining Europe, he would have to worry about sovok or natsbol types with AKs hoping to join the Soviet Union, as it were, by setting up their own novorossiyas. Insurgency would have become an option for his own constituency. Annexing it to Russia would be massively provocative and would pose the question of how to demobilise and disarm the DNR.

Further, if you want to join NATO or the European Union, the rules are clear – you have to leave your irredenta at the door. The precondition of membership is that you wind up any geopolitical conflicts you have open. Nobody wants to attach the trigger of the NATO air forces to a checkpoint dispute outside Luhansk – it’s too risky. So long as the conflict in Ukraine is not resolved, Ukrainian membership of NATO is ruled out. The little green men are the guarantee. On the other hand, a Ukraine reeling from the loss of the Donbass would be very likely to do anything at all to get under the NATO security guarantee for the rest of the country.

Just keeping the conflict going, however, suits Russian interests rather well. Anyone who has an interest in the matter has to go to Moscow first. Ukrainian NATO membership is ruled out. The DNR stays deniable, but also dependent, so the level of violence can be turned up or down as is expedient. As some people from Transdniestria turned up in Crimea, it could act as a pool of proxy fighters for use elsewhere, in the Caucasus, the Baltics, or against Russian dissidents. And the horse may sing; the option of a counter-Maidan movement based there is kept open, although the chances of that happening must be minimal now.

Polling seems to suggest that a solution keeping the Donbass in Ukraine has strong public support, including in the rebel zone, although it’s not obvious to me how they surveyed it. If it’s a matter of a form of words that grants Donetsk what might be termed devo-max within Ukraine, though, I can’t help doubting anyone would fight for that so tenaciously, or with such means – main battle tanks, artillery in such quantity that the shells are delivered by the trainload. And such a deal has been on the table for months. Clearly, it’s the conflict that matters, not any particular political arrangement, and it seems there is only one man who can call a halt.

On the other hand, arming the side fighting against what looks more and more like the Russian regular army is a frightening prospect. No-one should doubt that for a moment, and I imagine the Russians will take care to remind us on a regular basis. Also, we need to think hard about getting the Ukrainians some money before they run out of foreign exchange completely.

Syrian reservists

Why are hundreds of Syrians turning up in cargo ships between Italy and Greece?

It seems that the Syrian government is trying to mobilise its army reserve, and the reservists aren’t keen to go.

It’s fairly well known that the government doesn’t trust much of its army, and has relied on its spooks, some elite units, its party militia, and international volunteers. Now, it seems they’re short-handed again. Meanwhile, ferries that operated from Syria to Turkey have been shut down, probably because too many people were leaving to dodge the column.

The timing – the callout began in mid-November – is suggestive.

I saw the wall Mr Gorbachev tore down.

In October 1989, I was in Berlin for the first time. Small town boy, big city lights. We flew with Pan-Am back then. The airline also doesn’t exist anymore.

I caught about the last possible glimpse at the wall in its concrete dividing brutality, looking eastward from the visitor platform at the Brandenburg gate. The next time I experienced a similar feeling was in 2008, on the UN premises in Panmunjom, South Korea, looking north. And in 2012, in the Banksy gift shop, right next to the wall in Bethlehem.

West-Berlin was an oasis of calm before the storm. On October 18th, my mother, who hails from East Germany, my sister and I were having lunch at the famous Kaffee Kranzler on the Ku’Damm, at the time West Berlin’s main shopping street. I was facing a big info wall attached to a building across the street. When I read and told my mother that, according to news reports, Erich Honecker, the GDR’s head of state and chairman of the state council since 1971, had just been removed from power, she could hardly believe it. That was a common reaction to a lot of things happening in those days.

Just that afternoon we were doing a state-run bus tour of East Berlin. Some parts of the tour could still be executed according to the last four year plan. Forced currency exchange, Soviet war memorial, and Pergamon museum. Others not so much. There was not enough cake left for the Kaffee klatch at the state-run coffee house, not even for Western tourists paying in Dollars or Deutsche Mark. Too many former employees had already answered the call of freedom and had left the socialist workers’ and famers’ state for Hungary.

Decay and new hope were palpable with both hands in East Berlin that day, while nearby, the GDR’s top brass desperately hoped that replacing Erich Honecker with Egon Krenz would allow their regime to survive. On the way back to the West, our bus was searched for 45 minuts by the East German border control. At a border that would only exist for a couple more days.

In June 1990, I was in Berlin for the second time. One week before East Germany was to become part of the two Germany’s economic and currency union. This time, I walked through the Brandenburg Gate. On the way to Potsdam, border police didn’t even bother to check our passports anymore. A lot can happen in seven months.

These days, I’m in Berlin relatively often. Because what belonged together, grew together, eventually. Of course, there are still a number of things, biographies, opinions, that divide East and West Germany, particularly in Berlin. But it is no longer a wall. Not in the city, and not in the hearts.

To Europe! To Germany! To Berlin! Poor, sexy, but united. And to the hope, that, one day, families, friends, and lovers will no longer be separated anywhere by walls and borders on maps and in minds.

[ I originally posted this story in German on https://fallofthewall25.com/weltweit#Tobias+Schwarz where you can find more personal wall-stories from all over the world. // photo credit: Press foto / Visualisierung der LICHTGRENZE am Brandenburger Tor © Kulturprojekte Berlin_WHITEvoid / Christopher Bauder, Foto: Daniel Büche / http://www.berlin.de/mauerfall2014/presse/pressebilder ]

The FT could not be more wrong about Brazil and the Internet.

The FT is worried about the Internet, and specifically what the Brazilians are up to with it as a result of the Snowden disclosures.

I am not. Details of Brazil’s very successful policy with regard to the development of the Internet are here, in a fine post on the Renesys blog. Basically, we’re seeing the conflation of two things here – the US’s genuine concern for the Internet, and its equally genuine concern for the interests of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and the spooks.

What is the Internet? You can always start a good row on the NANOG list by asking for a definition. But I don’t think there is much real dispute that it’s fundamentally a set of interconnected autonomous networks. The key protocols overlay diverse media bearers and underlay diverse applications, while the routing system unites Autonomous System numbers, defined as networks having an independent routing policy. It differs from, say, the mobile carriers’ GRX and roaming hub infrastructure, or the older international voice interconnection systems, in that there is no central intermediary or necessary hierarchy. If AS X and AS Y want to interconnect directly, they can do so as long as they can physically reach each other.

As such, more local interconnection is always and everywhere a good thing for the Internet. Back in the 90s, although the rhetoric of radical networking was at its peak, the system was in fact heavily dependent on central intermediaries, the so-called Tier 1 operators. As a very rough generalisation, you could say that the Internet worked like it was meant to among US universities, government users, and research centres, and everyone else was eventually a customer. This had distinct geographical and political consequences – supposedly, the topological centre of the African Internet was the 111 8th Street carrier hotel in New York City, or the LINX in London, depending on who tells the tale. The convenience of this for the NSA should be more than obvious.

Those days are long gone. The Tier-1 operators no longer rule the earth like they once did, and anyway the club of Tier-1s has a very different membership now, with major players including Tata of India, Telecom Italia-Sparkle, and PCCW of Hong Kong where once it was a nearly total American monopoly. What changed? More competition, for a start, but also much more interconnection between customer networks. I mentioned the LINX, the London Internet Exchange. IXen are membership organisations that provide for peering between their members, and their spread has been a major factor in the quantitative growth and qualitative development of the Internet worldwide. Another important issue is the increasing tendency of eyeball networks – consumer ISPs – and content networks to peer directly.

To understand why this is a good thing, I recommend another Renesys post. Shorter paths equal lower latency, and more diverse paths equal greater resilience to disruption.

Latin America was rather late to this development. It exhibits the traits of the 1990s Internet to an extreme degree, with both nearly all its traffic to and from the wider world and enormous amounts of intra-regional traffic passing via Terremark’s NAP of the Americas in Miami. The politics of this, again, ought to be obvious, especially from a Latin point of view informed by their distinctive intellectual tradition. The economics and engineering of it are not good either. Locating hosting, applications, or content delivery infrastructure in a country that reaches its neighbours via a 5,000 mile submarine cable round trip is asking for trouble, and a structural barrier to scaling up an Internet company anywhere in the region.

Hence Brazil’s effort to create local IXen and ISPs and to build more regional fibre links, which has been a great success (check out the numbers in the post!). Not only do they want better connectivity, they also want participation in the Internet rather than just consumption of Google searches and lolcats. A good measure of this is AS numbers per capita. Theirs are rocketing.


(If you find this interesting, a more detailed technical report on it has just appeared here)

So, to summarise so far: there is nothing natural, open, or free about sending traffic from Sao Paulo to Rio via Miami. And the Internet founders did not intend and do not want this. It is bad economics and bad engineering, and the rest of the world left it behind years ago. Brazil is right to do everything possible to get rid of it, and its efforts are already bearing fruit. I think they are also right to identify it as a form of underdevelopment imposed on them by the rich. IETF and ISOC are very clear that peering and local interconnection are nothing but good.

We have an excellent counter-example to Brazil in the Renesys data set – Mexico, which had until very recently a private monopoly of telecoms, no regulator, and no IX. Mexico has far fewer AS numbers per capita and far less growth in this metric.

The FT is confusing the entirely healthy development of the Internet as it was intended to work, and indeed does in Europe, with the Great Firewall of China or the lesser firewalls of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Iran. In doing so, it is letting the US get away with using the rhetoric of free speech to maintain an exorbitant commercial privilege, and of course to tap Dilma Rousseff’s phone whenever this seems expedient. This agenda permits freedom in a negative sense, but at a real economic price and at the cost of giving up participation and control.

And it serves, probably unintentionally, another agenda – the Chinese or Iranian approach, in which free speech on the Internet is a political threat that must be censored and an open door for US competitors that must be closed by censorship in its secondary function as a non-tariff barrier. This one can work economically – note the huge Chinese Web 2.0 companies like QQ and Sina Weibo, or the roaring growth in AS numbers within Iran – but it is deeply illiberal and anti-democratic.

There is an alternative to this unattractive pair of options. That is real Internet development, like the Brazilians are doing, like Kenya is doing, or like Europe did in the 2000s. It must not be demonised by conflation with Chinese opinion management.

Send the envoy

There could only be one song for this post*. I had “Iran follow-up post” on my to-do list, but I wasn’t expecting the follow-up to be basically “dealio!”. The US statement is here, which carefully emphasises that the sanctions infrastructure remains in place, and the document itself is here, via Fars News Agency.

As far as the nuclear content goes, it addresses the build-up of more centrifuges and requires the mixdown of the existing 20% enriched uranium or its conversion to reactor fuel. It freezes work on the Arak plutonium reactor, and importantly asserts that Iran will be able to enrich up to reactor levels in the future. It seems to be stronger than expected in terms of verification and monitoring, providing for a lot of new inspections and a joint commission on monitoring. I’ll wait for Arms Control Wonk, but Mark Hibbs seems to think it’s sound.

In the light of this now-classic post, it doesn’t get rid of the isotope program with the Tehran research reactor but it does provide guarantees that it’s not acting as a cover for work on a bomb. If the 20% HEU is converted into fuel for the reactor, and the IAEA inspectors verify that, it can’t also be further enriched for use in a bomb. That’s the key issue in their model and the deal addresses it.

It also provides for a year-long process towards winding up the whole issue and ending the UNSC involvement, as well as for future cooperation on getting Iran some proliferation-resistant nuclear power stations. The AFOE official view is nicely summed up by this tweet from Conor Friedersdorf:

and also this one from Chris Bryant MP:

As far back as 2009, we made the choice to stand out against the conventional wisdom on this particular point. Hey, the conventional wisdom was represented by a horrible bunch of kéké clowns, it wasn’t hard. Further, the main challenge then was getting the EEAS set up and functioning and she did actually come from setting up a substantial new institution in the UK. We came back on this one last year. Anyway, here’s the victory roll, in the Grauniad. Rod Liddle, your boys took a hell of a beating.

Catherine Ashton

*The Wikipedia page for Philip Habib is a strong case that whether Warren Zevon intended the song sincerely or satirically in 1982, he certainly meant it after 1987.

It can be done.

The P5+1 talks were, as we blogged, very close to an agreement between the US and Iran. Just not close enough, and we’ll meet again in the third week of November – in a week’s time, that is. It can be done, though.

The main obstacle, they say, is that France has an additional demand regarding the Iranian heavy-water reactor at Arak. This reactor is primarily intended to produce odd radio-isotopes for medical, scientific, and industrial uses. Don’t ask me, ask France24.

Perhaps Laurent Fabius has been reading Arms Control Wonk. ACW is one of the great achievements of Internet culture, up there with lolcats, /b/, the NANOG mailing list, and James Deen’s filmography, and for many of its readers, even less acceptable for use at work. Recently, they used a Bayesian decision tree approach to work out what options might minimise the chance of an Iranian bomb while being acceptable to the Iranians.

The answer is that the apparently dull question of the isotopes is crucial; because the Arak HWR would also create quite a lot of plutonium along with the isotopes, and wouldn’t make much of a fuss doing it, it would be the most likely way to get to the Bomb without anyone noticing in time to do anything about it. ACW concludes that the key Iranian demand, to own the nuclear fuel cycle, is acceptable with IAEA safeguards and without the Arak HWR. They also have some useful hints about monitoring and also about how the Arak HWR could be replaced, or operated under safeguards.

So, the take-home so far: the French aren’t being unreasonable, they’re reading the right blog, and a deal is possible.

What about the Iranian side? When Hassan Rouhani won the elections, he benefited from years of preparation working in a thinktank whose aim was to keep the option of peace open. Interestingly, he turned down the job of minister of intelligence to run it. The nuclear industry has been pulled closer to the elected government. Outriders have been allowed to go out and argue a radical case for peace. The new president wished the Iranian Jews a happy Rosh Hashanah. This will all have cost political capital, and will have run up risks for those involved if it doesn’t work out.

On the other hand, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has basically stopped listing more Iranian shipping lines, airlines, banks, and other businesses. You only have to read the piece to the bottom to know that even that will have cost political capital, and will have run up risks for those involved if it doesn’t work out. But then. Here is Dexter Filkins’ superb profile of Iranian intelligence chief, Qassem Suleimani, who sounds just as frightening as one of our best and not much worse.

Specifically, here’s US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, later the civilian half of David Petraeus:

Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. “If you guys don’t stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!” he shouted. “When you’re ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me.” He stomped out of the room. “It was a great moment,” Crocker said.

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.”

Crocker hammers the point home in the NYT this week.

Perhaps the most important lesson here is that democracy eventually worked. It wasn’t war, not warmongering, that changed anything. It was an election. Iranians voted out Ahmedinejad and voted in Rouhani.

It may be imperfect democracy, heavily influenced by other powers. Those powers seem to believe in it more than one might expect – Khamenei wanted even those who didn’t believe in the Islamic Republic to come out and vote, presumably hoping the result would demonstrate how wrong they were, although he might not have voted the way we expect. (And, of course, whose democracy isn’t?)

Also, international action other than war worked. Economic sanctions helped a lot. The US and allied navies’ rather paradoxical policy, moving hordes of ships into the area and also being ostentatiously helpful around shipwrecks and incidents of piracy, seems to have helped, not least because there are other people involved. Reassuring the neighbours is important too.

And here’s something interesting. Iran added 136 Internet Autonomous System Numbers between 2011 and 2013, more than doubling their total, vastly outgrowing Turkey or Israel or Egypt or Lebanon.

There are some other people who deserve recognition. Wendy Sherman, US diplomat, is one. Another is EU diplomat Catherine Ashton, as this blog said. Even velociraptor tory Peter Oborne thinks so, these days.

The commitment on both sides deserves respect. And, as ACW makes clear, if the problem is the Arak HWR, it is both real, and can also be solved.

Q&A: The Catalan Way explained

Why are Catalans taking part in a human chain this Wednesday? The Catalan newspaper Ara has produced a series of questions and answers in English which should explain everything you want to know about why the human chain is taking place today.

What is the ‘Via Catalana’?

The ‘Via Catalana’ (The Catalan Way) is a political demonstration which will take place this September the 11th. Inspired by the Baltic Way — a human chain formed by up to two million people on August 23 1989 across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — its aim is to create a 400 km long chain which will cross Catalonia from north to south. 400.000 people have signed up to take part in the human chain, although organizers hope that the actual turnout will be at least twice that figure. People will be asked to join hands at exactly 17:14 (15:14 GMT). The chain, which runs along highways, roads and city streets, will come to an end at 18:00 (16:00 GMT). If successful, it will be one of Europe’s largest ever demonstrations, following in the footsteps of last year’s march in Barcelona, when up to 1,5 million people walked through the streets of the capital asking for independence, the country’s most massive rally ever. Continue reading

Security tactics

Regarding the headline here:

US and UK at odds over security tactics as row escalates

something comes to mind.

The signals intelligence alliance between the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is also an information security alliance. This may be the most important element of it. The countries involved, plus some other partners, maintain a big book of standards known as IRSIG (International Regulations on Signals Intelligence) which sets the standard operating procedures down.

First of all, this explains why the British (or, say, Canada) would care so much. There is no difference between the political decision to share intelligence, and the administrative one to classify it at a level that permits the recipient to see it. To do the latter implies the former, and vice versa. Therefore, most of the information in the system is as classified in the UK as in the US (or Canada).

Secondly, I wonder if there is a plan set out in IRSIG or a similar joint document on what to do in the event of leakers. This would explain a lot.