Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Exceptionally dangerous
In a New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it “alarming” that US military interventions in foreign conflicts have become “commonplace”:

“The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

I carefully studied [US President Barack Obama’s] address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Lethal aid
The Washington Post reports that the CIA has started arming Syrian rebels:

“The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.

The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.”

Excessive murders
Al Jazeera reports that the Dutch government has issued a formal apology for mass executions in Indonesia during the colonial era:

“Special forces from the Netherlands carried out a series of summary executions in its former colony between 1945 and 1949, killing thousands.
In total, about 40,000 people were executed during the colonial era, according to the Indonesian government; however, Dutch figures mention only a few thousand.

‘They are apologising for all the war crimes, which the Dutch merely call excesses,’ [Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen] added.
The Hague had previously apologised and paid out to the widows in individual cases but it had never said sorry or offered compensation for the victims of general summary executions.”

New boss
Reuters reports that Mali’s newly elected government has announced plans to review all existing oil and mining contracts:

“ ‘If there are contracts which it is necessary to revise in the interests of Mali, we will start negotiations with the partners in question,’ [Mines Minister Boubou Cisse] said.
Cisse, a 39-year-old former World Bank economist, said the inventory would be conducted under complete transparency and its results would be made available to the public.

Cisse said his ministry aimed to increase the contribution of the mining sector in the national economy from around 8 percent at present to 15 to 20 percent in the long term.”

No strikes
The UN’s commission of inquiry for Syria has released its latest report on recent atrocities in the war-torn country, along with a statement making clear its position on the prospect of foreign military intervention:

“For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself. With the spectre of international military involvement, Syria – and the region – face further conflagration, leading to increased civilian suffering.

There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations, leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach.”

Peddling wars
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has put out a press release suggesting Canada’s government wants to increase arms sales abroad:

“CADSI also took the opportunity to thank the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, for her department’s recent decision to provide financial support to CADSI to strengthen the Canada brand at major international defence and security trade shows and increase the visibility of western Canadian businesses at those events.
‘Our Government is pleased to partner with CADSI to help promote western Canadian companies on the global stage,’ said Minister Rempel. ‘The defence and security industries are important economic drivers in Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada is committed to strengthening these key sectors.’ ”

Words and deeds
The Guardian reports that the US has thus far failed to keep its promises under the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria is now under pressure to sign:

“About 2,611 tons of mustard gas remains stockpiled in Pueblo, Colorado. The second stockpile, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky, is smaller – 524 tons – but more complicated to decommission, because it consists of a broader range of lethal gases and nerve agents, many of which are contained within weaponry.”

Divide and rule
Georgetown University doctoral candidate Nick Danforth argues that European colonialism’s most enduring harm has little to do with arbitrary borders:

“In Syria, the French cultivated the previously disenfranchised Alawite minority as an ally against the Sunni majority. This involved recruiting and promoting Alawite soldiers in the territory’s colonial army, thereby fostering their sense of identity as Alawites and bringing them into conflict with local residents of other ethnicities. The French pursued the same policy with Maronite Christians in Lebanon, just as the Belgians did with Tutsis in Rwanda and the British did with Muslims in India, Turks in Cyprus and innumerable other groups elsewhere.
The militarization of these ethnic and religious identities, rather than the failure of perfectly placed state borders to alleviate tension between them, explains much of violence in the Middle East today. Blaming imperialism is usually sound politics and good comedy. But in this case, focusing on bad borders risks taking perpetual identity-based violence as a given, resulting in policies that ultimately exacerbate the conflicts they aim to solve.”

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Latest Developments, July 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Lethal aid
Reuters reports that while Washington tries to decide whether or not the Egyptian military’s ouster of a democratically elected president constitutes a coup, the US will continue delivering “aid” to Egypt in the form of F-16 fighter jets:

“A U.S. decision to brand [President Mohamed Mursi’s] overthrow a coup would, by U.S. law, require Washington to halt aid to the Egyptian military, which receives the lion’s share of the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. assistance to that country.
The jets, which will likely be delivered in August and are built by Lockheed Martin Corp, are part of the annual aid package, a U.S. defense official said.

Asked about the F-16s, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: ‘It’s our view that we should not … hastily change our aid programs.’ ”

Deportations halted
Voice of America reports that a European court has blocked Malta’s plan to deport Somali migrants to Libya:

“Maltese authorities had intended to send two planes back to Libya carrying 45 Somali migrants who had arrived Tuesday. But the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling banning the repatriations.

Authorities say more than 400 migrants have arrived on the island in the past week, including babies, pregnant women and three men with gunshot wounds. Most are Eritrean or Somali.
The European Court of Human Rights declared illegal in 2009 the practice of so-called ‘push back’ – where migrants are forced to return where they came from.”

Low standards
The Guardian reports that members of a palm-oil industry sustainability initiative have been implicated in “Asia’s worst air pollution crisis in decades”:

“Greenpeace said its investigation pointed to a wider problem among the industry which is being ignored by the [Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil], which only investigated member companies who had been named in the media, not all member companies in the Sumatran region.
‘Rather than claiming the innocence of members who’ve been reported in the media, the RSPO needs to address the real problem – years of peatland drainage and destruction which is labelled “sustainable” under RSPO rules and has laid the foundation for these disastrous fires,’ said [Greenpeace’s Bustar] Maitar.”

Taking sides
The Azerbaijan Press Agency reports that the Azeri government is accusing France and Germany of violating an arms embargo by selling anti-tank missiles to Armenia:

“The embassies of the aforementioned countries in Azerbaijan were demanded to clarify how these countries that imposed an embargo on the sale of weapons to the conflicting parties could deliver these systems to Armenia.

France and Germany announce that in connection with the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, they are not selling weapons and military vehicles to Azerbaijan and Armenia and have imposed an embargo on this.”

Biofuels shift
Inter Press Service reports that changes to EU regulations on biofuels are eliciting mixed reviews from anti-poverty activists:

“ ‘From the point of view of the climate, this result is unexpectedly positive: from now on only truly sustainable biofuels will be subsidized,’ Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam International’s biofuel expert, told IPS.
‘But as far as food security is concerned, the result is outright negative. Last year the Commission proposed 5 percent to protect the existing industry while blocking its expansion. Everything higher than this percentage is unjustifiable. It signifies a subsidised growth of the sector, resulting in more speculation on land and food, causing more food insecurity and hunger.’ ”

Pharma bribes
The BBC reports that “senior executives” of the UK’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, are under investigation in China over alleged corruption:

“They are being investigated for bribery and tax-related violations, said the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
They are suspected of offering bribes to officials and doctors in an attempt to boost sales in the country.

‘The case involves many people, the duration of time is long, the amount of money involved is huge and the criminal activities are malicious,’ the ministry said.”

New wealth measure
The Alternative Development and Research Center’s Prahlad Shekhawat welcomes the UN Development Programme’s adoption of a “more inclusive” way of calculating wealth:

“[The Human Development Report 2013] includes both the amount of human well-being that countries generate as measured by the Human Development Index, as well as the level of resource demand and consumption as measured by the Ecological Footprint. It is a big step forward that a leading UN agency has now offered a strategy for alternative development. Earlier versions of the report only included Ecological Footprint outcomes in the background data.
The United Nations HDI is an indicator of human development that measures a country’s achievements in the areas of life expectancy, education, and income. The Ecological Footprint measures a people’s demand on nature and can be compared to available biocapacity. The HDI-Footprint, using simple indicators, prominently reveals how far removed the world is from achieving sustainable development.”

Ethical stain
The British Medical Association’s Eleanor Chrispin and Vivienne Nathanson write that doctors are “increasingly among those expressing concern” about the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison:

“This year’s annual representative meeting of the BMA condemned the participation of doctors and nurses in force feeding, branding it a ‘stain on medical ethics.’ In doing so, the BMA added its voice to that of the American Medical Association, which denounced the practice in a letter to the secretary of defense of the United States, and in a BMJ editorial. Individual doctors on both sides of the Atlantic have publicly expressed their alarm. While the US authorities continue to pursue a medically supervised regime of force feeding, the more insistent the medical community’s protests will become.
The forced enteral feeding of competent adults, protesting at being held without charge, is a human rights issue. The use of doctors and nurses as instruments to violate detainees’ fundamental rights is an issue of both human rights and medical ethics.”

Drone questions
The BBC reports that British MPs will hold an “inquiry” into the country’s policy on armed drones:

“MPs will examine the UK’s deployment of armed drones and the legal

The Defence Committee will look at the lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan as well as the constraints on the use of drones in the UK and overseas.
MPs will also investigate the future potential for unmanned aerial vehicles, and what capabilities the UK will seek to develop between now and 2020.”