Latest Developments, November 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Hornet’s nest
France 24 reports on the possible shape of France’s looming military intervention in the Central African Republic, which promises to be “more complicated” than the one in Mali earlier this year:

“ ‘A situation like the one in CAR where the targets aren’t clearly identified, where people don’t wear uniforms, where the adversary doesn’t seize territory can be a real hornet’s nest. That’s why France is going in on tiptoe,’ said retired general Vincent Desportes

France’s foreign minister tried to alleviate concerns about a French intervention by speaking on Thursday of simple ‘support’ for the panafrican force and a deployment that ‘will not be as massive or long’ as the one in Mali. Military experts, however, say that such peacemaking missions generally require a lot of boots on the ground.
‘There’s an immediate need in CAR and it’s obvious that French troops are going to do the work themselves before handing off to [the African Union’s peacekeeping force, MISCA] and turning into a rapid response force,’ said Desportes.” [Translated from the French.]

Preserving impunity
The New York Times reports that a new provisional deal between the US and Afghanistan would mean thousands of American troops stay in the country through 2024:

“After a war that stands as the longest in American history, the security agreement defines a training and counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan lasting at least 10 more years and involving 8,000 to 12,000 troops, mostly American.
Despite the sometimes harsh criticism from Afghan officials during the negotiations, the agreement includes concessions that the Obama administration could not win from Iraq during a similar process in 2011, leading to the final withdrawal of American troops there.
Now, the United States has at least an initial agreement from Afghan officials that American soldiers will not face Afghan prosecution in the course of their duties. And United States Special Operations forces will retain leeway to conduct antiterrorism raids on private Afghan homes — a central American demand that Afghan officials had resisted and described as the last sticking point in negotiations.”

Corporate climate talks
Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman writes about the rise of corporate sponsorship at the UN’s COP 19 climate summit which is wrapping up in Warsaw:

“Among them, Pascoe [Corporate Europe Observatory’s Pascoe Sabido] says, are ‘General Motors, known for funding climate skeptic think tanks like the Heartland Institute in the US; you have BMW, which is doing equal things in Europe, trying to weaken emission standards.’ Grupa Lotos, the second-largest Polish petroleum corporation, has its logo emblazoned on the 11,000 tote bags handed out to delegates here.”

British terror
The BBC reports on evidence suggesting an undercover unit of the British army killed unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles” of the 1970s:

“Speaking publicly for the first time, the ex-members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF), which was disbanded in 1973, said they had been tasked with ‘hunting down’ IRA members in Belfast.

The details have emerged a day after Northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin, suggested ending any prosecutions over Troubles-related killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The MRF’s operational records have been destroyed and its former members refused to incriminate themselves or their comrades in specific incidents when interviewed by Panorama.
But they admitted shooting and killing unarmed civilians.”

Anonymous denial
The Washington Post reports that the latest CIA drone strike in Pakistan, which allegedly killed six people at a madrassa, is creating even more controversy than usual:

“The [US] official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a madrassa was in the vicinity but said it was not damaged.

Although the United States has carried out dozens of drone strikes in tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, provincial officials said Thursday’s attack was the first in other areas in more than five years.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also issued a statement Thursday condemning drone strikes, calling them a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

Bogus numbers
The Daily Maverick reports that oft-repeated African hunger statistics appear to be “vastly exaggerated”:

“If twelve people died of ‘hunger’ ever minute in Africa it would mean that 6.3-million people starve to death annually. The limited available data does not support this. According to World Health Organisation mortality data, about 9.5-million people died in Africa in 2011. Of those deaths, only 396,161 were attributed to ‘nutritional deficiencies’.”

Last words
Open Democracy reproduces two letters from a new collection of the final writings of Ogoni rights and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa:

“I don’t think I’ve ever been ‘street-wise’. Bull-headed, yes. You have to be to take on Shell and the cabal that rules Nigeria.

I don’t see Shell and the government allowing me to travel—they must dread what bombs my presence will drop in Europe as I’m supposed to address the Swedish Parliament, the European Parliament in Strasbourg and another meeting in London. There or not, my words will ring through all the places.

Exxon had to pay 5 billion USD for the oil spill from one tanker in Alaska. By the time we’ve created sufficient awareness internationally, it should be possible for us to find assistance should we wish to sue.

As far as I am concerned, Shell should lose its mining lease in Ogoni.

No, Shell are merely hoping that the government will succeed in ‘pacifying’ the Ogoni and then they will move in proudly and calmly to continue to steal. They are in for a fight they will never forget.”

Sleeping with the enemy
The Guardian interviews War on Want’s John Hilary about big NGOs’ excessive coziness with governments and corporations:

“Development-speak is littered with references to partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives. Hilary refuses to accept this as evidence of progress and argues instead that even the most positive of such initiatives eventually give sway to the demands of the most powerful.

This ‘wholesale abdication of responsibility’, according to Hilary, has helped turn the issue of corporate accountability into little more than a public relations exercise.

While often brought on to panels and called into debates to give the alternative view, Hilary is not the only one unhappy with the state of British development work. A group called the Progressive Development Forum, for example, of which Hilary is a member, brings together those working in the sector to debate how to reframe conversations away from aid, charity and philanthropy and instead revive narratives of global justice and the need to tackle structural drivers of poverty and inequality.”

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Latest Developments, November 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Hot Earth
The World Bank has released a new report warning that the planet could get 4°C warmer over the next century “even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges”:

“Moreover, adverse effects of a warming climate are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and global development goals, says the study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, on behalf of the World Bank. The report, urges ‘further mitigation action as the best insurance against an uncertain future.’

The report identifies severe risks related to adverse impacts on water availability, particularly in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. River basins like the Ganges and the Nile are particularly vulnerable. In Amazonia, forest fires could as much double by 2050. The world could lose several habitats and species with a 4°C warming.”

Long goodbye
Agence France-Presse reports that the French army has ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, though a contingent of its soldiers will remain in the country indefinitely:

“Of the 2,200 French soldiers still left in Afghanistan, a military official said that about 700 would return to France by the end of the year.
Around 50 trainers will remain based in Wardak province, west of Kabul, and 1,500 would stay in the Afghan capital, where most will be tasked with organizing the final departure of French troops by the summer of 2013.
After that date, only several hundred French soldiers involved in cooperation or training missions will remain in the country, the military official said.”

Killer robots
Human Rights Watch has released a new report calling on the world’s governments to “pre-emptively ban” weapons that would be able to operate without human guidance:

“Fully autonomous weapons could not meet the requirements of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said. They would be unable to distinguish adequately between soldiers and civilians on the battlefield or apply the human judgment necessary to evaluate the proportionality of an attack – whether civilian harm outweighs military advantage.
These robots would also undermine non-legal checks on the killing of civilians. Fully autonomous weapons could not show human compassion for their victims, and autocrats could abuse them by directing them against their own people. While replacing human troops with machines could save military lives, it could also make going to war easier, which would shift the burden of armed conflict onto civilians.
Finally, the use of fully autonomous weapons would create an accountability gap. Trying to hold the commander, programmer, or manufacturer legally responsible for a robot’s actions presents significant challenges. The lack of accountability would undercut the ability to deter violations of international law and to provide victims meaningful retributive justice.”

Growing slick
Reuters reports that an oil spill has spread “at least 20 miles” from an ExxonMobil facility off Nigeria’s coast:

“ ‘This is the worst spill in this community since Exxon started its operations in the area,’ said Edet Asuquo, 40, a fisherman in the Mkpanak community, as women scooped oil into buckets. In some marshy areas, plants were poking out of the slick, not yet dead and blackened by the oil.
‘The fishermen cannot fish any longer and have no alternative means of survival,’ Asuquo said.”

Fairer taxes
Sol Picciotto and Nicholas Shaxson, authors of ‘Regulating Global Corporate Capitalism’ and ‘Treasure Islands’ respectively, make the case for a unitary tax to replace current global rules that “seek to disaggregate [multinationals] into collections of separate entities”:

“Instead of taxing multinationals according to the legal forms that their tax advisers conjure up, they are taxed according to the genuine economic substance of what they do and where they do it. Each company submits to the tax authorities of each country where it does business a ‘combined report’ providing consolidated accounts for the whole global group, ignoring all internal transfers. The report specifies the group’s physical assets, workforce and sales and the overall profits are then divided up among jurisdictions according to a formula weighing these three factors. This system would benefit everyone, particularly developing countries.”

Big waste
The Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder looks at the inefficiencies of US food aid – in one case, freight and logistics accounted for 97% of the cost of salmon for Cambodia – prompting him to ask three questions:

“a. How many people in the developing world go hungry each evening because of the way we waste our food aid budgets?
b. Is there really no limit on how much money is spent lining the pockets of our own companies before the OECD refuses to count the spending as aid?
c. How dare we lecture developing countries about wasteful procurement, corruption and inefficient public expenditure?”

Limited vision
Global Policy’s Katherine Wall takes issue with the “one-nation” theme being peddled by UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband:

“Rather than focusing on social justice within the borders of the nation-state, we should broaden our understanding of the common good. By realising that the modern world in inter-connected, that the welfare of each is linked to the welfare of all, we can re-define the goals of the left. Instead of a common good within the confines of the nation, we should be pursuing the global common good and articulating how that aspiration can be achieved. ‘One-nation’ rhetoric limits the very ideas of social justice to within the borders on a map. What if we were to reimagine the world? What if we were to be truly one-nation – one world – in which the welfare and the good of all people were as important to us as those who happen to live within our state? Surely this would look a lot more like justice. Surely this would more accurately capture an understanding of the common good.”

A little sharing
Oxford University’s Frances Stewart argues that redistribution of wealth within and between countries is needed to eliminate poverty worldwide:

“The average incomes of high-income countries (in Europe, North America and Japan) are more than 70 times the average income of low-income countries. Redistribution of 10% of the incomes of the richest countries would increase the incomes of the poor group of countries by more than ninefold per head, clearly providing poor countries with enough resources to eliminate poverty.”