Nuclear Diplomacy – Not That Sort

It’s become a routine part of any foreign trip President Sarkozy takes that he announces the sale of a nuclear power station. On his recent visit to the Middle East, for example, the two keynote announcements from his meetings with the leaders of the UAE involved a) the sale of a nuclear power station and b) the establishment of a French military base. We’ll come to the base later; first, the nuclear, as Harold MacMillan said. Not only that, Sarkozy went on to Saudi Arabia, where he offered them a couple of nuclear power stations. Qatar had also lined one up. He’d already sold a number of them to China, and offered the possibility of one at least to Libya.

Clearly, not only is Areva a major export earner, it’s also an important part of French foreign policy. When we say that Sarko “signed” a contract for a nuclear reactor, what we mean is of course that the agreement was held over so as to be announced when he showed up; this bit him on the backside when the Indians refused to play, arguing that boosting his image was no concern of theirs.

But I would suggest that nuclear technology, as with aircraft and arms sales and even branches of the Louvre, has been restored to the sort of foreign-policy place it held in the 1950s; impress a superpower and win a reactor. That kept going until even Kinshasa University got one; one hopes Sarko doesn’t go quite that far. In this, and many other things, Sarkozy is as neo-Gaullist as they come; this symbiosis of the state, technology, and policy is a core element.

Even if his report on economic growth includes no less than 314 (told you he was like Chirac with too much caffeine) individual propositions, it appears to consist of the creation of some new educational institutions, heavy spending on R&D, pious vows about reducing labour costs, and a nod to Danish social policy. Note that the president of Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, was consulted.

Over New Year, the SNCF brought a gaggle of trains into the Grand Palais for their anniversary celebrations; the centrepiece of this Gaullist techfest was the video of the world speed record set in the spring. A large crowd of sober citizens gathered, as if to view the latest howitzer sometime in the 1910s. Sometimes, progress exists; this is something the French state understands.

So does realpolitik, though; the backstory of the UAE base is that the emirates have been trying to reduce their dependence on the US for some time, especially Abu Dhabi (which dominates the military). As well as asking the Louvre to open a branch, they bought Mirage 2000 aircraft, and now they want an EPR reactor and a French military presence.

Web applications and geopolitics

I was recently fiddling with the German Federal Railways’ on-line European timetables, when I noticed something very strange. They have the best cross-European timetable, no doubt about it, but some odd things happen if you’re heading too far east. For example, when I asked it for a route from Paris to Tallinn, everything went a little bit weird..

To kick off, it suggested Nachtzug number 237 to Hamburg, which seemed fair enough. And, I was informed, I could take a limited number of bicycles with me on prior reservation. Things went wrong, though, at the next step. In Hamburg, there was a connection on EuroCity 31 to Copenhagen. You can see where this is going, can’t you – due north, essentially. There, I was to catch an X-2000 Swedish high-speed train to Stockholm and transfer to the docks by bus, before hopping a Silja Line ship to Turku in Finland. Presumably rested after the overnight crossing, I’d catch fast train no. R130 to Pasila/Böle, to meet a night train, D 31 (for some historical reason all the long-distance trains are numbered as German D-Züge) to St. Petersburg.

Arriving in the northern capital at 1.40 am, I’d cross it to the Vitebski station and spend three hours on the platform waiting for the express 649-KH to Tallinn. Riiight. In all, some 63 hours. The only alternative differed in that I’d have to change in Brussels as well.

Somehow, the great clockwork was set up to try and avoid leaving EU territory – it’s the only explanation I could come up with. If, after all, I forced it to route via Minsk it produced a far better result, down to 33 hours and four trains – and no ships! But left to its own devices, though, it did go to Russia. I am fascinated by this application pathology – it’s quite routine for timetable servers to produce absurdly complicated routes in order to save a few minutes somewhere, and in fact it’s an important problem in Internet engineering that the system’s basic rules can easily create inefficiently large numbers of hops unless something is done to enforce a less specific route.

Or is there some sort of assumption that nobody wants to go via Belarus baked into the code?