Blogrolling

It says something about AFOE charter member and – to use a NASA title – principal investigator Edward Hugh that, when Nosemonkey recently did a roundup of new European blogs, the top one on the list had already been roped in to EdWorld, as a contributor to Demography Matters and Global Economy Matters.

You will be assimilated.

Glowing Georgians and Radioactive Russians

No, this is not a Litvinenko post…or at least not primarily. Recently, the Georgian ex-KGB said it had caught a Russian smuggling highly-enriched uranium into Georgia, who was nailed in a sting operation where Georgian agents posed as representatives of an Islamist terrorist group that wanted to buy fissile material. He handed over a sample, claiming to have several kilos back at home in Vladikavkaz, and they put the handcuffs on him. Good work, fellas, you might say, and you’d be right – both the US National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Atomic Energy Authority analysed the stuff, and it turned out to be 90 per cent enriched.

On the downside, it turns out that this happened in November, 2005, and he’s been sentenced to eight years in a secret trial. One wonders what kind of a trial, and also why the Georgians took so long to mention it. Being a small state next to Russia with ambitions of NATO and EU membership, and an existing counter-terrorist alliance with the US, you’d think they’d trumpet it from the rooftops. They claim it was in order not to compromise continuing inquiries, which may be true or may not.

Siberian Andy asks, in the light of this, if Russia has lost control of its nuclear weapons. He thinks it’s plausible. I disagree, slightly. Russia is clearly far more stable than it was in the Yeltsin years, what with the restoration of the FSB security state, and nuclear custodianship, command, and control is obviously a priority. Perhaps more importantly, surging oil and commodity prices have made a big difference to the state budget – Putin is in a position to hold a dramatically bigger share of the market for corruption than Yeltsin ever could, and it would make sense to direct it at the academic/industrial nuclear community and the roketchiki who actually look after the things.

But there’s obviously a problem.
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Thomas Barnett joins Shrillaholics Anonymous

Thomas P.M. Barnett, Pentagon thinker and tech entrepreneur, stands up in the centre of the circle and says…I am Thomas Barnett….and I…am shrill! You’ll feel better now you’ve said it, Tom. See his latest column, here, in which he says that:

That’s how we’ll master this allegedly chaotic world: recalling that we’re history’s first and most wildly successful multinational economic and political union. Our greatest source of stability is our vast web of horizontally connecting networks.

Does that sound like a union of states not far from you, anyone? That has been the subject of much criticism, nay, contempt from Tom’s employers recently?

Meanwhile, back at his blog, he asks: Can Israel and Iran grow up, making the good point that everyone else has had to get used to nuclear deterrence. Our octopus-like tentacles of technocratic integration, economic interdependence and international law inch closer to his occiput. Soon he’ll be one with the Borg.. After all, what better example of his “SysAdmin shrinking the Gap” is there but EU enlargement?

Sometimes the stereotypes are right

It’s usually a charmingly naive belief that wars are the fault of leaders, and if the Ordinary People could choose we’d all live in peace. It doesn’t take long, considering some parts of the blogosphere, your local bar, the historical record and such, to realise this is absurdly simplistic. For one thing, there are always plenty of people who, whether they knew it or not beforehand, burst into a dark bloom of hatred at the hat of a drop. For another thing, the structural forces, the permanently-operating factors in Soviet military jargon, that make leaders do these things would work just as well whoever the individuals are.

Call me a determinist and spank me if you like, but I doubt that’s seriously contestable. But the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to defy this, or at least it has done in the last two years or so. Consider the detailed draft agreement on the Golan Heights, but not just that – the Prisoners’ Document agreed between Hamas and Fatah, Khalid Meshaal’s recent statement that Hamas would accept Israel within the 1967 green line as a “reality”, and more, going back to the ceasefire offer set up by MI6 station chief Alistair Crooke back in 2002, and it’s hard not to conclude that some people aren’t trying.

As Simon Hoggard said about Northern Ireland, they’ll do anything for peace but vote for it. More accurately, they would vote for it if it was on offer – majorities of both parties to the conflict express this view in polls. There are probably lessons to be learned about the long-term management of national interests in a small space from Europe – Gordon Brown’s chief economist and now MP, Ed Balls, has apparently been commissioned to study the economic aspects of the question, and he’d be a fool not to look back at the Monnet/Schuman plans. I doubt he’d like it very much – what did happen to the suggested French-Italian-Spanish initiative after all, then?

In conclusion, though, it’s tempting to think that the continuance of the conflict has a lot to do with hierarchy itself, and the vastly enhanced power and status that war gies leaders. If it wasn’t for the frozen war, Belfast politicians would be of similar status to those of Bradford. No US presidential gladhanding there.

Update: You doubt my method? The Globe and Mail reports that Dick Cheney rejected an offer of Iranian help in Iraq and Lebanon in 2003…oh, and another offer: Jalal Talabani says the Iranians offered him and the US talks “from Afghanistan to Lebanon”..

An alternative exit strategy for Jacques Chirac

Who knew Chirac was so personally popular in the Lebanon? More popular than he is in France?

Marc Lynch carries the results of a poll of Lebanese public opinion with some fascinating results. Apparently, a majority of Lebanese admire El Presidente, although not a majority of Shia. They rather like Hugo Chavez! In fact, they admire Chavez more than Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, although they would rather have Ahmedinejad in charge than him.

Nobody has confidence in the United States. Neither does anyone believe in “spreading democracy”. The biggest level of support for an Islamic state, among the Sunnis, didn’t break 5 per cent. (Is that the famous Jihad Chill?) Everyone said they were Lebanese first. Only the Christians put their religion second. (Everyone else put Arabness second.) 71 per cent overall said an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 green line would improve their opinion of the US. Over 50 per cent of Shia (i.e. Hezbollah’s base) supported a two state solution.

When asked which nation should be a superpower for preference, France came out marginally ahead overall, with Russia in second place, then China, then the US. Germany drew 10 per cent of the Shia vote but no votes from anyone else. Britain wasn’t an option. Interestingly, the Shia were the only group not to pick France, with Russia no.1, then China, then Germany. Everyone except the Druze picked France as a candidate for emigration by a large majority. The Druze were the only group to go for the US, but only by a bare plurality. Asked where they would rather send a family member to study, France was the first choice of all groups but the Druze, who plumped for Germany. (Curiously, no two groups agreed whether Germany or Britain was more democratic, but everyone thought France was more democratic than the US, Germany, or Britain.)
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One goes up, one goes down

An unacknowledged fact of world economics is the role of command or planning mechanisms in what is held to be a global market economy. J.K. Galbraith raised the point that large companies are in a sense planned economies within their walls, with technical and commercial decisions made by management, wage and pricing structures determined either managerially or by negotiation with trade unions, and the whole enforced through targeting and budgeting exercises.

Hence, China announces a cut in petrol prices, presumably passing-on some of the $20 drop in the oil price since the summer of 2006, or perhaps trying to supply-manage inflation. Sometimes, though, decisions driven by nonmarket procedures can be just as quick as market ones..

Iran, Venezuela and other oil exporters are lobbying for an OPEC production cut. I think Jerome of Eurotrib suggested that the Saudis were targeting US stock levels. Here is, perhaps, another interesting indicator.

Sarko’s In, But Where are the Votes?

Nicolas Sarkozy has been “elected” as the UMP’s presidential candidate. Why the scarequotes? Well, “elected” usually implies a contest between more than one candidate. And Sarkozy was faced with only one contestant-the Apathy ticket.

Over Christmas, he successfully neutralised most of the possible internecine threats, bringing essentially all the serious rightwing politicians on board. The key to this was his recruitment of former Prime Minister (and convicted criminal) Alain Juppé, who was parachuted into a parliamentary seat back into Bordeaux town hall in the autumn, possibly in the hope he would run against Sarkozy.

But Juppé has signed up with Sarko, almost certainly in exchange for a promise that he will return to the prime minister’s office if the Right wins the election. Defence Minister Michéle Alliot-Marie, meanwhile, saw her campaign fail to get off the ground in a meaningful fashion. That left only Sarko to face an uncontested election. You might have expected a North Korean majority of 90+ per cent, but it didn’t happen. Only 69 per cent of those eligible to vote picked Sarkozy over the apathy ticket.

Before that, though, there had already been some other interesting developments..
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German-American Relations

Given our slightly jaundiced piece on things Anglo-German, it may be just as well that work and other nuisances kept us from joining in, but the good folks at Atlantic Review held a “blog carnival” yesterday on German-American relations.

The introduction in English is here (just ignore the juxtaposition of a tagline featuring the words “truth, honesty and integrity” and a button proclaiming “GOP blogger” because the intro does provide a good summary) and the introduction in German is here.

North Sea neuroses

Matthias Matussek, once London correspondent of Der Spiegel and now its culture editor, not to mention brother of top diplomat Thomas Matussek, has a book out. Wir Deutschen: warum die anderen uns gern haben können is meant to be a call for a renewed German patriotism and pride in culture. This would usually suggest a very dull book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Not for the right reasons, though.

Matussek’s approach is idiosyncratic, not that there is anything wrong with that, and the book is really a collection of essays, on topics ranging from Heinrich Heine and Angela Merkel to Britain, Britain, the German economy, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the World Cup, Britain, Danish cartoonists, the East after reunification, and Britain. In fact, an obsession with Britain runs through this book like letters through a stick of rock-hardly a page passes without comparing some German institution, writer, company, statesman or building to one in Britain, and no chapter is complete with a volley of snark directed roughly westward.

Now, it is a truism that Britain and Germany share a mutual obsession. But this would be less interesting if it wasn’t for the sheer wordcount devoted to complaining about the British obsession with Germany. There is a complete chapter on Anglo-German relations, which I looked forward to-the possibilities are immense. Would he dig into the pre-1914 closeness that gave Bradford a Little Germany (and its own Nazi, Ernst-Wilhelm Bohle, born there in 1903 and later Rudolf Hess’s right hand) and Leeds a Dortmund Square, Robert Graves a relative on the Oberste Heeresleitung?

Nah. Instead, most of the chapter is dedicated to the results of a trip to Germany for some schoolteachers his brother’s embassy organised, and a pleasant but uninformative weekend in the country with John Le Carré.
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Who Lost Turkey?

That’s the question on the cover of this week’s European edition of Newsweek, and it’s a good one.

The rift isn’t formal yet, as the EU will likely opt for only a face-saving partial suspension of negotiations after a deadlock on Cyprus failed to be resolved last week. But it takes no special reading between the lines to see that a fundamental tipping point has been reached. Late last week Cyprus threatened to “veto” Turkey’s entire bid. French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, kicking off his campaign, also called for the suspension of further talks. “Turkey’s place is not in the EU,” said he.

Long experience with the EU and its predecessors warns against saying never and assuming that anything is ever completely settled. On the other hand, Turkey first signed an Association Agreement with the European Community before the Beatles had a #1 hit in America. That’s now longer than the entire lifespan of East Germany.

There are reasons why Turkish membership will take time, and why membership will be difficult for all concerned. But frankly, I can’t see how Europe’s interests are served by a definitive rejection. An important opportunity is slipping away.