Latest Developments, June 17

In the latest news and analysis…

War plans
The Telegraph reports on increasing American willingness to get involved in Syria’s civil war, while some US allies remain skeptical:

Reports from The Times on Friday night claimed that 300 US Marines have already been deployed to northern Jordan, along with a Patriot anti-aircraft missile, ahead of plans to arm the rebels.

Sweden opposed the US move to provide greater military support. Carl Bildt, the foreign minister, warned that the US decision could set off an arms race with Russia, which is already considering whether to supply its advanced S300 air defence systems. ‘I don’t think the way forward is to get an arms race going in Syria,’ he said, ‘There’s a risk that that would undermine the conditions for a political process.’

The option of enforcing a limited no-fly zone to protect rebel training bases in Jordan, is also being considered, according to US officials. However, the French government indicated that it would be almost impossible to secure the necessary international agreements.

Diplomatic spying
The Guardian reports that British intelligence agencies monitored the computer and phone communications of foreign officials during G20 summit meetings in London in 2009:

“The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by [Government Communications Headquarters] and its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, whose access to phone records and internet data has been defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey.

The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers.”

UK tax havens
Christian Aid and the IF campaign have released a new report underlining the importance of UK-controlled territories to a global financial system that “encourages crime, corruption and aggressive tax avoidance” in poor countries:

“The report reveals that the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos – all British Overseas Territories – together with the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are now the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in developing countries.”

Making amends
The University of London’s Lutz Oette highlights the importance of the UK’s recent agreement to compensate Kenyan victims of colonial-era torture but calls on the government, which refused to apologize, to make “much more fundamental changes”:

“Given the historical context, this reparation is a small price to pay for a country that greatly benefited from colonialism. Rather than oppose or undermine such claims, the UK – both the government and the public at large – should welcome these developments. They provide an overdue opportunity to confront Britain’s past, to live up to the rule of law and notions of justice, and to show that it respects victims and their suffering. This includes addressing lingering colonial power imbalances.

The UK government should therefore take immediate steps to make publicly available all records about abuses committed in all former British territories and to cooperate with any interested parties, including survivors’ organisations. Where sufficient evidence is available, the UK should provide adequate reparation to the victims, which should also comprise a full apology.”

Presidential plea
Guinean President Alpha Condé calls on rich countries to do their bit in the global fight against corruption:

“What we need now is the support of developed countries in building a global business climate that permits those who play by the rules to prosper and locks out those who do not. Too many of the world’s finance centres enable the predators who rely on offshore corporate vehicles to mask their identities; loop their finances through offshore jurisdictions; and use prestigious law firms, accountants, financial advisers and public relations firms to give their destructive behaviour a false veneer of respectability.”

Cosmetic CSR
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that an Edo state government official has said that so-called corporate social responsibility projects by oil companies often do little or no good:

“[Orobosa Omo-Ojo, the Commissioner for Special Duties, Oil and Gas] said such actions by oil firms amounted to insulting the sensibilities of their host communities.
‘Most of the CSR projects by oil companies have not amounted to anything tangible to the host communities.
‘Apart from digging one bore-hole here, a three-classroom block there and a cottage hospital somewhere, the host communities have never benefited enough from oil companies.
‘Yet, they extract crude oil from the host communities for over 15 to 20 years and when the oil wells dry up, they move on leaving the community more impoverished than they met them.’ ”

What would Hippocrates do?
The Overseas Development Institute’s Yurendra Basnett calls on G8 countries to prioritize the duty to do no harm when drawing up international trade agreements:

“In the murky and complex areas of standards and technical requirements, there is a thin line between expanding and restricting trade. Most developing countries lacking capacities are likely to find themselves facing costs not benefits. The World Trade Organization ministerial conference follows the G8 later this year and needs to consider updating the rules that govern such agreements. Perhaps the notion that some benefit – but that others are not left worse-off – needs to be established as a minimum when advanced economies enter into such agreements, with the burden of proof placed on members of the exclusive arrangement. At the very least we need to keep an eye on how this plays out for developing economies that are not a part of these agreements.”

First UN war
The Economist wonders whether the United Nations really knows what it is getting itself into with its first ever combat mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

“This is the first time that the UN will send its own troops into battle. In the past the Security Council has authorised the use of ‘all necessary force’ but has delegated the fighting to posses from willing nations. In the Korean war the Americans were in command. In Afghanistan and Libya NATO took charge. In Congo, however, the UN itself will be responsible for artillery fire, helicopter gunships—and the inevitable casualties. Should the UN really be doing this?”

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