Friday, 27 September 2013

CLIMATE-CHANGE: The Inconvenient Truth

For a quarter of a century now, environmental activists have been issuing predictions in the vein of the Catholic Church, warning people of the coming greenhouse effect armageddon. Environmentalists bleakly predict global warming will usher in plagues of biblical dimensions -- perpetual droughts, deluge-like floods and hurricanes of unprecedented force.

Data shows global temperatures aren't rising the way climate scientists have predicted. A new report by an international scientific group has listed human activity as the most likely reason behind global warming observed since the 1950s.

The report by the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used the strongest words yet on the issue, saying man-made warming was "extremely likely". The full 2,000-page report will not be released until Monday, but a summary with key findings was published at a meeting of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday.

In its previous assessment, in 2007, the panel had said it was "very likely" that global warming was man-made. It now says the evidence has grown thanks to more and better observations, a clearer understanding of the climate system and improved models to analyse the impact of rising temperatures.

The new predictions are essentially the same as the old ones, albeit a little more precise. The only adjustment the IPCC is making is an increase in the predicted rise of sea levels. The new report forecasts that coastal waters may rise by between 29 and 82 centimeters (11 and 32 inches) by the end of the century. The previous report predicted a rise of 18-59 centimetres.

The IPCC's problem: its climate models should have been able to predict the sudden flattening in the temperature curve. Offering explanations after the fact for why temperatures haven't increased in so long only serves to raise doubts as to how reliable the forecasts really are.

In any case, scientists have discovered some possible indications as to why temperatures are not currently rising. One explanation involves the Pacific Ocean, which, calculations indicate, has absorbed an unusually large amount of heat from the Earth's atmosphere in recent years. If this proves to be true, then the warnings are still in effect. It would mean the greenhouse effect is adding more and more energy into the climate system, exactly as the simulations predict, just with a larger portion of that energy than expected disappearing temporarily into the ocean.

One of the most controversial subjects in the report was how to deal with a purported slowdown in warming in the past 15 years. Climate skeptics say this "hiatus" casts doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change. Environmental policymakers within the IPCC fear, though, that climate skeptics and industry lobbyists could exploit these scientific uncertainties for their own purposes.

The IPCC assessments are important because they form the scientific basis of UN negotiations on a new climate deal. Governments are supposed to finish that agreement in 2015, but it's unclear whether they will commit to the emissions cuts that scientists say will be necessary to keep the temperature below a limit at which the worst effects of climate change can be avoided.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-Photo

JAPAN: TEPCO & Fukushima

Japan is stumbling helplessly from one crisis to the next as it battles the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but a quick solution is unlikely.

Workers from Japan’s TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi plant have located a crack in the bottom of a tank that may have leaked 300 tons of radioactive water in August, Japanese media reports. This comes as the company seeks to reopen another nuclear plant.

The water that was being pumped into the tank at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could have caused the existing gap to expand and likely led to the massive leak. The leak which sparked the crisis came from one of the 1,000 above-ground storage tanks built inside the plant by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The company promised to continue their investigations.

Moreover, silt fences intended to prevent soil containing radioactive substances from slipping into the ocean were found to be damaged on Thursday. The damage was found close to the buildings of the fifth and sixth units. Both were on cold shutdown for planned maintenance, thereby managing to avoid meltdowns.

TEPCO has been stumbling from crisis to crisis. And with no improvement in sight, it had recently become clear that Japan would find itself, out of necessity, doing something that is generally considered very un-Japanese: asking for foreign help.

Japan had thus far taken the view that it didn't need any help -- certainly not from abroad -- and that TEPCO would take care of things. This is despite the fact that the company is an energy provider, with little more experience in complex disaster management than a commensurate energy company in US would have.

Accordingly, the situation at Fukushima two and a half years after the nuclear meltdown can at best be described as tenuous. Rather than implementing a clearly thought-out disaster management plan, TEPCO's approach has been a haphazard patchwork.

Every day, TEPCO pumps 400 tons of contaminated cooling water and groundwater out of the radioactive wreckage of Fukushima. This water is too heavily contaminated with cesium, strontium and tritium to be emptied into the ocean. Instead, TEPCO stores the liquid in numerous tanks, the largest of which are 12 meters (40 feet) across and 11 meters high, hastily riveted together rather than welded.

Satellite images show how these behemoths have proliferated at the Fukushima site, with a few dozen of them in mid-2011, then several hundred by mid-2012. Currently, there are over 1,000 such tanks, with plans for over 2,000 of them by 2015. TEPCO is veritably drowning in contaminated water.

When one of these makeshift containers recently sprang a leak, it apparently took weeks before the company's two-person foot-patrol passed by and noticed it, by which time 300 tons of highly contaminated water had seeped out of the tank. This event ranks as a level three "serious incident" on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). In comparison, the catastrophe at Chernobyl and the 2011 Fukushima triple meltdown are both classified at the maximum level, seven.

There's little question that more of these tanks will develop leaks, with a number of them approaching their expiration dates and only some of the tanks outfitted with sensors to provide early warning of leakage.

Malfunctions, bungling and cluelessness seem to be ongoing themes at Fukushima. Sometimes it's a radioactive cloud of steam rising from the ruined reactors; another time it's a leak plugged with nothing more than a bit of tape. Then there is the radioactive water -- it's difficult to gauge just how much -- that has already entered the groundwater and flowed into the ocean, something TEPCO until recently insistently denied. TEPCO president Hirose has now also apologized for the radiation that has affected fish off the coast near Fukushima.

Now, the Japanese government is providing funding for a number of more creative measures meant to turn things around at Fukushima. One plan involves a steel barrier erected between the plant and the ocean to stop radioactive water from flowing into the sea.

TEPCO also plans, by 2015, to freeze the ground around the entire reactor complex, creating a subterranean ring of permafrost with a circumference of 1.4 kilometers (0.9 miles) to prevent groundwater near the surface from seeping into the ruined complex and becoming contaminated, as it currently does. This technology has been used in mining, but has never been applied on this scale or as a long-term measure meant to last for years.
As for the contents of the 1,000 radioactive storage tanks, there is only one long-term solution -- the contaminated water must be cleaned, and then emptied into the ocean. It is possible to a large extent to filter out the cesium and strontium. The tritium, although somewhat less of a concern, can't be filtered out. Little by little, the Japanese public is being prepared for the coming release of this water -- much to the horror of fishermen.

TEPCO recently completed a large filtration facility, but even that did little to increase confidence in the company's crisis management abilities -- hardly had the facility gone into operation before it was off-line again, having begun to rust and spring leaks.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Fukushima Disaster Photo

Thursday, 26 September 2013

AFRICA: The Threat of Islamic Extremist Grroups

Islamic militants have been expanding their operations in Africa, creating an arc of instability stretching from Mauritania to Somalia. The countries most affected – Mali, Nigeria and Somalia – share common denominators: ethnic or religious divisions and extreme poverty.

All three countries are strategically relevant. Mali is a central trafficking route. Somalia has access to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer and has the continent’s biggest proven natural gas reserves.

Security experts say the Sahel, an area of arid land which stretches from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west, has become a centre of gravity for jihadists and organised crime. The focus has been on Mali in the heart of the Sahel in recent months where French troops have retaken large areas in the north from Islamic extremists.

The militants had moved into northern Mali on the back of a nationalist uprising by Tuareg rebels in January 2012. The Tuareg rebellion, led by the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad), came after a military coup in the capital, Bamako, in the south of the country. This left a power vacuum in the north.

The rebellion was initially supported by the Islamic group, Ansar Dine. Four more Islamic groups now operate in the region: AQIM, MOJWA, al-Muwaqun Bi-Dima, and the most recent and more moderate Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA).

The Tuareg rebels have been marginalised since April by Islamist movements seeking a united theocratic Malian state.AQIM, MOJWA and al-Muwaqun Bi-Dima all impose a strict interpretation of Sharia law in the territories they control. They are also heavily engaged in criminal activities.
AQIM in particular provides logistical support and transport along the drug smuggling routes of the Sahel where networks from East and West Africa converge.

Another important source of funding for the groups is the kidnap of foreign nationals for ransom. More than 50 westerners have been kidnapped by AQIM since 2003. AQIM took advantage of the power vacuum and regional divisions to extend its power in northern Mali. But the group does not enjoy widespread support among the population.

AQIM is the militant group with greatest regional – and international – reach. Its criminal activities have made it al-Qaeda`s richest branch. It is also linked to a complex network of affiliates and allies operating from Nigeria to Somalia. One of these affiliates is al-Shabaab which operates in Somalia in East Africa. The upsurge in Islamic fundamentalism took hold in Somalia because it has been a failed state for ten years.

After 2008, al-Shabaab aligned itself with al-Qaeda which gave it money and training. In 2011, a successful AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) campaign forced the group to retreat from most towns, including the capital, Mogadishu.

Some members of al-Shabaab, rather than overthrowing local regimes, want to prioritise the fight against the ‘far enemy’, namely the West, particularly the US and some European countries.
They want to become integrated into the global jihad movement. Al-Shabaab is estimated to have between 7,000 and 9,000 members.

Nigeria is considered by many as one of Africa`s new powers with growing demographic, economic and military weight on the continent. But ethno-religious divisions, unequal regional development and poverty - mainly in the north east - are a major source of instability for other radical groups such as Boko Haram to exploit.

Boko Haram, which translated means ‘Western education is a sin’, caught the world’s attention in 2009 after it launched a violent campaign against Nigerian security forces. Its main goal is to replace President Goodluck Jonathan`s regime with a pure Islamic State and to expel Christian communities from northern Nigeria. By the end of 2012 Boko Haram was active in 14 of the country`s 36 states.

The group is focussed on defeating the secular government. It does not seem capable - or interested - in attacking Western targets.Members of Boko Haram have recently received training and funds from AQIM in Mali.

Another Islamist terrorist group operating in Nigeria is Ansaru.This group was created in early 2012 and its main goal is ‘to reclaim the lost dignity of Muslims of Black Africa’ and create an Islamic caliphate from Niger to Cameroon and northern Nigeria. Ansaru focusses its attacks on foreign nationals and foreign interests. Most groups operating in North Africa still present a major challenge for African and global security.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Reuters, Boko Haram group in Nigeria

ALGERIA: Algeria's Security Posture

In 2011, Algeria had serious misgivings about international intervention in Libya, which Algiers feared would result in many unintended consequences, few of them good for Algeria or the region. Those misgivings have since proven correct.

Libya itself has collapsed into violent chaos, while weapons flows out of Libya in 2011 and 2012 fuelled a Salafi jihadi insurgency in northern Mali that eventually resulted in Bamako losing control of the entire northern half of the country. And in Tunisia, a new Salafi jihadi threat has emerged on Algeria’s borders.

Although Algeria initially stuck fast to its long-standing principle of non-interference, its security posture gradually evolved and has since become more proactive. Two years after the fall of the Gadhafi regime in Tripoli, Algiers is more willing to work with its neighbors and international partners on security issues, but only so long as Algeria remains in the driver’s seat.

When NATO began its air campaign in Libya in support of disparate rebel groups fighting the Gadhafi regime, Algeria warned that the end result would destabilize the region. Throughout the NATO campaign and the ensuing destabilization of both Libya and northern Mali, Algeria hunkered down and adopted a fortress-like posture. Over the previous decade it had only just managed to restore peace and security within its own borders. It had no appetite for potentially risky foreign campaigns.

Ultimately, however, the collapse of northern Mali at the hands of Salafi jihadis, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), led to the first evolution of Algeria’s security posture. Despite privileging a political solution to the conflict in Mali over a military one, Algiers ultimately acquiesced to French military over-flight of Algerian airspace. In light of Algiers’ past policy position, this was a major concession.

Whether or not Algeria’s decision to grant France the use of its airspace was a catalyst for the January 2013 terrorist attack at the Tigantourine gas facility near the southeastern Algerian town of In Amenas, the attack contributed to the further evolution of Algeria’s security posture. The deadly hostage-taking caught Algerian security services by surprise—no one expected that terrorists would target a hydrocarbons facility in the Algerian desert, because doing so would be tantamount to a suicide mission. Algeria’s conventional response to terrorist attacks was well-known: Algeria does not negotiate with terrorists; its only position vis-a-vis terrorists is to kill them. The In Amenas attack, in which almost all of the terrorists were killed, plainly demonstrated this.

However, while Algiers’ response at In Amenas remained consistent with its past practices, the incident compelled Algiers to reconsider how it would counter terrorists before they struck. In particular, Algeria became increasingly concerned about Salafi jihadi activities in western Tunisia around Jabal al-Chaambi.

In the early spring of 2013, the Uqba ibn Nafi Brigade, a Salafi jihadi group allied with AQIM, carried out a series of attacks against Tunisian security personnel. Although AQIM’s leadership in Algeria had largely been pinned down in the Boumerdes Mountains and unable to sustain a meaningful level of operations, Algerian officials appeared to be concerned that AQIM in northern Algeria might try to build a bridge to the Uqba ibn Nafi Brigade, which could breathe new life into what had otherwise been a moribund organization.

Algeria is as concerned about its southern border as it is about Tunisian terrorist activity and the possible revival of terrorist activity in northern Algeria, albeit for different reasons. The human toll at In Amenas notwithstanding, the threats posed by terrorism to Algeria’s sparsely populated south, where most of the country’s oil and gas production take place, are primarily economic.

Algiers depends heavily on oil and gas export revenue to fund the state budget, including everything from health care to public sector wages and large-scale infrastructure projects. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is extremely fiscally conservative and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid running a deficit; any disruption in oil and gas production threatens the budget and as a result can pose a threat to the quality of life of average Algerians.

Terrorist threats in more populated northern Algeria, however, directly impact Algeria’s citizenry and could potentially have significant political consequences. Safety and security have returned to Algeria under Bouteflika’s tenure. In fact, whether or not his policies were directly responsible for it, the restoration of public safety may be Bouteflika’s greatest legacy.

Over the course of 2013, Bouteflika has been preparing the ground for a 2014 presidential campaign in which he or one of his preferred successors will run. He would clearly like to run on his security sector successes himself, or ensure that his successor is able to do so. A major terrorist attack within Algeria would undermine all that he has worked for and complicate the 2014 presidential campaign.

Partially as a result of the devastating attack at Tigantourine and partially in order to prevent AQIM in northern Algeria from leveraging any potential contact with the Uqba ibn Nafi Brigade, Algeria deployed an additional 12,000 troops on the Tunisian border and has coordinated military operations with Tunisian security services. There have also been unsubstantiated reports that Algerian forces have crossed into Tunisia in order to directly confront Salafi jihadi groups.

But just because Algeria is now proactively engaging cross-border threats, this does not mean that security cooperation with its neighbors and international partners is limitless. In fact, Algeria remains willing to engage in multilateral counterterrorism efforts only to the extent that it is able to dictate the terms of cooperation itself. The biggest hurdle that Algeria’s potential partners must overcome is acknowledging that they do not control the battlefield. Instead, Algeria does, and it will never cede that control to outside influence.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

DR-CONGO: Joseph kabila's address to UN

President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) warned today that the selfishness of some States could threaten efforts to set a new sustainable development agenda for the decades ahead.

“At a time when the question of post-2015 development is high on the agenda, the international community is more and more marked by the failure of certain of its members to respect the fundamental principles of international relations, the persistent selfishness of some States and the convulsions of the world economy,” he told the General Assembly on the second day of its annual General Debate.

President Kabila is one many leaders addressing the annual Assembly session at which heads of State and Government and other high-level officials will present their views and comments on issues of individual national and international relevance. The Debate will conclude on 1 October.

The theme of this year’s 68th Assembly is the post-2015 development agenda, aimed at drawing up an even more ambitious blueprint to totally eliminate poverty and its attendant ills in the decades following the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cycle.

Turning to his own vast country, where violence still continues in the east despite the efforts of UN peacekeepers to bring stability over the past 20 years, Mr. Kabila recognised the irony that part of the problem stemmed from the DRC’s willingness to accept refugees in the wake of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Back then Mr Kabila was still a Rwandan soldier.

Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s Tutsi leadership has supplied and underwritten a series of largely Tutsi insurgencies capable of projecting Rwandan power into the lawless vacuum next door. In the mid 1990s, this policy included systematic reprisal killings against Hutu refugees fleeing the aftermath of the genocide.

In 1996, the US reversed three decades of support for Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko by tacitly backing a Rwandan and Ugandan invasion of what was then called Zaire. The effort swiftly toppled Mobutu, who was once a reliable anti-communist ally, but who seemed to be tolerating the presence of Rwandan militants responsible for the 1994 genocide.

The Clinton administration helped expedite rebel leader Laurent Desire Kabila’s path to the Congolese presidency without really knowing much about him. It quickly became clear that Kabila was no democrat, and Washington’s relationship with his government, and with that of his adoptive son Joseph Kabila, who has been president since his father’s assassination in 2001, has been chilly.

Mr Kabila went on to say '' Without peace, sustainable development in the DRC remained “only hypothetical.'' However he avoided point the finger to Rwanda and Uganda, two countries that are cited in UN Report last year as ''main sponsors'' of rebels groups that cause violence, instability in eastern Dr-Congo.

The reason is simple: Rwanda, Uganda and Joseph Kabila are the reason of the Dr-Congo's conflict. One must be politically blindfolded to even think that they are part of the solution. A prospect of an everlasting peace deal should start with the neutralization of these '' three musketeers''.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Rwandan born Congolese President Joseph Kabila-addressing the UN General Assembly, (UNGA)

KENYA: Al-Shabab & The Westgate Attack

Al-Shabab's brazen Sept. 21 attack on the luxury Westgate Mall in Nairobi, where an unknown number of its members killed at least 68 people and wounded 175, was just the latest step in its evolution from leader of an Islamic state in Somalia to a regional Islamist terror movement spreading its tentacles throughout the Horn of Africa.

Al-Shabab's motives seem clear: a vicious and bloodthirsty strike at the soft, civilian underbelly of East Africa's most important city to provoke a heavy-handed response, one that channels the popular support of disenfranchised Muslims in Kenya and re-energizes a terror group thought to be on the wane. Regardless of the motive, it's not yet possible to assess whether this attack signals the rebirth of al-Shabab as a regional jihadi movement, or the last gasp of a dying organization.

Al-Shabaab means "The Youth" in Arabic. The terrorist group was founded in 2006 as a militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, a radical group of Sharia courts that had assumed power in southern Somalia and had also gained control of the capital Mogadishu. The young militants saw themselves as freedom fighters against "foreign invaders" from Ethiopia who, with American military assistance, where trying to drive out the fundamentalists.

After a coup in 1991, Somalia had ceased to exist as a nation. The leaderless country, torn apart by conflicts among rival clans, developed into an ideal haven for militant Islamists from around the world -- and al-Shabaab became a melting pot for international Muslim terrorists.

According to US intelligence agencies, mujahedeen from Afghanistan and Pakistan joined al-Shabaab after the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. In February 2012 the organization's leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, swore allegiance to al-Qaida. Apparently, Somali expatriates from the United States and other Western countries have also joined the group since then.

Al-Shabaab, with an estimated 5,000 militants, also staged attacks abroad from the very beginning. In July 2010, suicide bombers killed 74 people who were watching a television broadcast of the soccer World Cup final in the Ugandan capital Kampala. It was an act of revenge against the Ugandan army, which has been in action in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force since early 2007.

A year ago, Kenyan forces seized al-Shabab's final stronghold, the Somali port of Kismayo, sending the group into the country's rural interior and cutting off their economic lifeline. A long and brutal war against a slippery enemy, it seemed, was nearly won. After entering Somalia's conflict in October 2011, the Kenyan military, working together with the Somali National Army and the Ethiopian Defense Forces, had successfully weakened the Islamist terrorist group and seemed poised to restore peace to a fractured nation riddled by two decades of conflict.

Those gains, it turns out, were fleeting. The three countries' militaries have been unable to wrestle control of Somalia's southern hinterlands from al-Shabab's forces. Provided an operational safe haven, but lacking a city base, al-Shabab transitioned from conventional fighting to asymmetric warfare using guerilla and terror attacks to target the new Somali Federal Government (SFG) in Mogadishu and now, tragically, in the heart of Kenya.

Like any good guerrilla force, al-Shabab knows it has to conserve its sparse resources for maximum impact. Occurring less than a month before the second anniversary of Kenya's Somalia intervention, the Westgate attack comes during a nadir in relations between Nairobi and the SFG, which controls just a small swath of land in and around Mogadishu. Many in the Somali government are wondering when the Kenyan military will exit Kismayo, and doubt its intentions.

The persistent theory in Mogadishu is that Kenya seems reluctant to turn over the valuable port, preferring to relinquish control to a warlord of its choosing rather than Somalia's central government. Meanwhile, many Kenyans are wondering when their troops will return home. For its part, al-Shabab may be hoping that the Westgate attack will convince Kenyans that a sustained involvement in Somalia is just too messy.

And yet, it may also be a ploy to provoke Kenya, encouraging even greater commitment to sustaining forces in Somalia.  If the attack provokes Kenya to venture deeper into Somalia, al-Shabab hopes it can exhaust foreign forces in an asymmetric campaign of hide-and-seek insurgency. Inciting Kenya's rage and prompting an extended invasion is almost as positive an outcome for al-Shabab as getting the Kenyan military to unilaterally withdraw. Either way, the goal is the same: it's largely a matter of sequencing.

The Westgate attack may also be intended to fan the flames of xenophobia. Resentment and persecution are familiar feelings to Somalis living in Kenya -- and for native Kenyan Muslims, as well, who have historically maintained a contentious relationship with the central government. It's too early to say whether Westgate will provoke retaliatory attacks against these communities in Kenya: much depends on whether or not the Kenyan government and security forces are willing and able to prevent an upwelling of violence against minority Muslims.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- A Kenyan lady, escaping the Westgate attack, in Nairobi-Kenya

IRAN: Rouhani's charm offensive

Iran, the perennial bad boy of the international community, has suddenly become the diplomatic darling at this year's U.N. General Assembly session, mounting a charm offensive that has many U.N. diplomats asking themselves: Can this be real?

In his diplomatic debut before the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope on Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama would not be swayed by "war-mongering pressure groups" at home in dealing with the Iranian nuclear dispute and called for a consistent voice from Washington on the issue.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly just hours after Obama addressed the annual gathering of world leaders, Rouhani said he was prepared to engage in "time-bound and results-oriented" nuclear talks and did not seek to increase tensions with the United States.

Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world President Hassan Rouhani said in his address to the UN General Assembly. At the same time, militarism of “some players” and generalization of western values, he says, poses a true danger for the world security.

Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, stated that nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security doctrine in a sweeping speech, which also condemned the use of drones in the Middle East, as well as the enforcement of harmful and “violent” sanctions on Tehran.

Iran's charm offensive contrasted starkly with Iran's previous appearances at the United Nations. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's former president, took a certain pleasure in pushing Washington's buttons, lambasting Israel and raising doubts about the veracity of American claims that al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks. The change of tone from the Ahmadinejad era appears to be having an effect.

The White House is clearly enticed by the Iranian overtures. The Iranian diplomat has been invited to participate in a meeting of big-power ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on Iran's nuclear program.

But not everyone was swayed by the Iranian diplomatic gambit. Despite what some analysts believe has been a marked change in Iran's posturing since the election of Mr. Rouhani, who is thought to be more of a reformist than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel largely signalled its rejection, with the country's delegation walking out of the UN chambers during the Iranian President's address, as has been the custom in prior UN General Assemblies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has openly dismissed Iran’s newly conciliatory stance on its nuclear program, labelling it as a ruse designed to buy the Islamic Republic more time.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo Credit: Reuters, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

U.S.-IRAN: Obama's overture to Rouhani

In an address that could be considered as ''Obama's doctrine'' toward the volatile Middle East, North Africa, Syria and Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday that there should be a basis for an agreement on Iran's nuclear ambitions but that the roadblocks will be difficult to overcome. Obama made clear that the United States will take direct action to eliminate threats when necessary and will use military force when diplomacy fails.


Obama, in closely watched remarks on Iran based on a diplomatic opening offered by Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, said the United States wants to resolve the Iran nuclear issue peacefully but is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. "The roadblocks may prove to be too great but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested," Obama said.

Ever since he took office, Rouhani has been on a public relations offensive aimed at the US/West and reformists within his country. His most recent salvo was an interview with NBC News in which he said he had full authority to conclude a nuclear deal with the US/West. He has also recently exchanged letters with President Barack Obama, overseen the release of 11 political prisoners, and cautiously warned the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps about getting involved in the political arena. It seems now that Obama's address at the U.N. General Assembly, has given Rouhani a chance to transform this thaw in relations into a real diplomatic opportunity.

If Iran's recent political history holds true, Rouhani has a unique window of opportunity to win sanctions relief. The last three Iranian presidents before him were able to influence policy in their first year before their powers faded. Each came into office with a strong agenda: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's goal was economic liberalization; Mohammad Khatami aimed for a cultural opening, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad peddled a populist message. And all three were successful in making progress at the start of their terms -- though they all ran into strong resistance from the supreme leader as their tenure dragged on, which reversed their policies.

Rouhani is even better placed than his predecessors to have real influence. He enjoys support from a broad swath of the Iranian political spectrum -- from hard-liners to reformists -- in no small part because of the lessons each camp is drawing from developments across the region. Hard-liners realize that the "resistance policy" advocated by the previous team has not worked well. Resistance has brought Iran only more sanctions, led Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the brink of disaster, and lost Hezbollah the broad public support it once commanded across the region. They see Rouhani's strategy as a new approach toward the same goals, and they are willing to give it a try.

As for Iran's reformers, they look to Cairo and see what happened to deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as a sobering lesson for what could have happened in Iran had they prevailed in 2009. A sharp confrontation with the old system and the security forces it controls, in other words, could have quickly brought about a de facto coup.

Rouhani has also made good use of the support he commands. Though his election was as much a surprise as that of his two immediate predecessors, he has quickly assembled an impressive team of like-minded, effective technocrats -- most of whom are acceptable to the hard-liners. His style is the smile, not the snarl, which disarms critics used to the previous crowd's exaggerated rhetoric.

Rouhani's book, National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy -- which made the case that the deals negotiated with European powers in 2003 and 2004 preserved Iran's options while forestalling international pressure -- may serve as a blueprint for his current strategy.

The moment of truth is coming. Obama's address at the U.N. General Assembly today is by far the best overture Iran can possibly dream of from a U.S. President. If Iran is serious about a nuclear deal with United States, it should seize this unique opportunity of diplomacy. If a deal can't be made in the next few months, it's hard to see another opportunity when the chances would ever be this good again.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- US President: Barack Obama-addressing the U.N. General Assembly

CAMBODIA: Hun Sen & the stolen election

Almost two months after Cambodia’s national elections, Cambodia's long-time authoritarian leader Hun Sen began another five-year term as prime minister Tuesday, declaring his victory "historic" despite accusations of rigged elections, mass protests and a boycott of parliament by the opposition.

Ruling party lawmakers renamed Hun Sen as prime minister of the Southeast Asian nation in a parliamentary vote that was boycotted by the opposition. Hun Sen, who has ruled virtually unchallenged for nearly three decades, will take the oath of office in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace later in the day.

The opposition's 55 elected lawmakers stayed away from parliament's opening session Monday and again Tuesday over allegations the country's disputed July ballot was marred by fraud. The ruling party's 68 lawmakers renamed Hun Sen to his post. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would announce the party's next step on Wednesday but called Hun Sen's re-appointment a "constitutional coup.

Hun Sen has been prime minister for 28 years, since the Vietnamese government appointed him to the post while it occupied the state in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Cambodia became a United Nations protectorate, and UN peacekeepers staged the nation’s first national elections. Almost 90 percent of the people voted. Hun Sen came in second.

In a show of how desperate he was to hold on to power, Hun Sen rounded up allied governors of seven eastern provinces and threatened to secede from the nation if he were not reinstated as prime minister. The United Nations caved and installed both Hun Sen and the actual winner, Norodom Ranariddh, as co­–prime ministers. That system prevailed until a small civil war in 1997. Hun Sen won and has been the nation’s sole leader since then.

For this most recent election, the two principle opposition parties finally joined forces, and managed to win almost half the vote, according to the National Election Commission. But then the commission, like most every organ of Cambodia’s government, is a simply tool of Hun Sen.

The commission’s final total was: 3.2 million votes for Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party—versus 2.9 million for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. That’s a 300,000-vote difference. And one small bit of cheating alone, among so many, seems to show that the election was stolen: The National Election Commission said it issued as many as 800,000 temporary identification cards, even though those are supposed to be for the few people who might have lost their cards.

That was a new twist for Cambodian election fraud and could conceivably have allowed people to vote twice. It could have changed the outcome all by itself. However, a standard government practice during campaigns is to close the media to opposition candidates while Hun Sen saturates the airwaves. What’s more, the regime bribes, threatens, and intimidates voters nationwide.

Thousands of likely opposition voters found their names removed from the voter roles—and Hun Sen flunkies are believed to have used those names before the actual voters arrived. And of course, capping all of it off, the National Election Commission, with no outside witnesses, counted the votes and came up with its final numbers without accepting any challenge for a recount.

Experts say that a stronger and more vocal opposition could lead Hun Sen to make some changes in the government and small political compromises but it is unlikely to loosen his grip on power. Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have held three rounds of talks this month in an effort to resolve the political deadlock.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Hun Sen

Monday, 23 September 2013

CHINA: Bo Xilai' & China's Anti-Corruption Commission

On Sunday, a Chinese court found disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai guilty of the crimes of bribe-taking, embezzlement, and abuse of power, sentencing him to life in prison. It is, at least nominally, the end of an 18-month scandal that saw the formerly high-flying Bo brought low after his right-hand man Wang Lijun tried to defect to a U.S. consulate.

If the trial of Bo Xilai, a princeling and former Politburo member in China, had been a TV drama, the closing credits for directing and scripting would have gone to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party’s secret anti-corruption body. The court itself was merely the setting.

In the course of his five-day ordeal, he shocked and delighted the public, which is accustomed to hearing that defendants accept all charges and offer apologetic statements to seek leniency during closed-door court sessions. Instead of performing the usual role, Bo denied all the charges and recanted an earlier admission of guilt, which he said he had made under duress: “I was interrogated several hundred times and passed out 27 times during the investigation,” he said. According to Bo, officials had threatened the death penalty for his wife, who was accused of killing the British businessman Neil Heywood, and to extradite his son, who was studying in the United States, if he didn’t stay mum.

Of course, those revelations were all edited out of the official court transcript, part of which was broadcast via micro-blog. However, insiders quickly leaked them to the public. The transcripts earned Bo much more sympathy than the party had anticipated, and they boosted his supporters’ claims that he was the victim of a power struggle and that his confessions were coerced. In the end, then, the trial said less about Bo’s guilt or innocence than about the party’s manipulation of the country’s judicial system in order to protect the interests of the senior party leadership -- all in the name of stemming corruption.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection was established in 1927 under the name of the Central Supervisory Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. It was originally charged with rooting out corruption within the top leadership ranks, but after the Communists took over China in 1949, the top leadership found it to be more useful for maintaining discipline further down the party hierarchy. They thus came to rely on it to quietly regulate the rank-and-file members without garnering much attention in the media or among the public.

Since the 1980s, as corruption has become more rampant, the party has expanded the commission’s role, giving it ever more power to discipline and control the conduct of some 80 million party members through a network of branches extending to the township level. According to a recent state media report, nearly half of the cases under investigation by the commission were based on tips or anonymous reports by petitioners or whistleblowers, which, most assuredly, means that the commission got its marching orders from the top leaders or via complaints sent to high-level party and government organizations.

During a typical commission investigation, which takes the place of any normal judicial proceedings, the commission employs a practice known as shuanggui, or “double regulations.” The accused is taken to a secret place (from which he or she cannot access his or her own network and connections) for harsh interrogation. The secrecy is also intended to shield the public from details that might harm the party’s image and to limit collateral damage to those higher up the chain of command. During the investigation, the commission can enlist the help of public security agents and get access to stacks of court subpoenas, detention permits, arrest warrants, and tax auditing permits. Prior to Bo’s trial, the commission reportedly scrounged together some 900 case files, each as thick as a book.

For a major case, the commission can take its investigations a step further and organize special teams of several hundred people to look into it; their findings take precedence over any other evidence. To prepare the allegations against Bo, the commission brought together more than 300 anti-corruption officials. Different teams were sent to conduct interviews and gather evidence in multiple locations at home and abroad. That seems like a lot of work under normal circumstances; it is all the more mind-boggling considering that all investigations of senior officials are approved by the Politburo, and that by the time the official is pulled into the system he is already considered guilty. Officials under investigation have no right to hire a lawyer. Their confessions can be obtained by any means during the investigation.

Upon completion of the investigation, the commission determines the parameters of a regular trial to follow, and hands down its own sentencing recommendation. The commission detained Bo between April and August 2012 before handing over him to the court. In an internal report, which was partially released by the state media, the commission listed six charges, including corruption, violation of party rules, abuse of authorities, and “maintaining improper sexual relations with a number of women.” Unsurprisingly, the court ended up adopting most of the recommendations. As is usually the case, his attempts to defend himself against the charges were considered a challenge to the court -- one that could lead to severe punishment.

According to the state media, the court convicted more than 100 senior officials under the direction of the commission between 1999 and 2009. Among them, eight were executed and 20 received a suspended death penalty or life imprisonment. Some, including the former deputy mayor of Beijing, committed suicide or died under mysterious circumstances before being detained. For example, on May 29, 2007, Zheng Xiaoyu, director of the National Food and Drug Administration, was tried for dereliction of duty after he allowed counterfeit drugs to enter the market. Dereliction of duty carries a maximum sentence of seven years, but the commission reportedly recommended the death penalty to appease public anger. The court acquiesced by adding corruption charges, and duly sentenced him to death.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is headquartered inside a nameless and closely guarded office complex on 41 Pinglanli Avenue in Beijing. It has no listed phone number. Although officially a secret, in recent years, the commission has been constantly mentioned in the state media. Few ordinary Chinese understand its history or how it works. In their eyes, especially in the eyes of those who have been victimized by rampant government corruption, the commission stands as their only hope for justice. Many are willing to tolerate the organization as long as it appears to target corrupt officials.

After President Xi Jinping took the helm of the party last November, he appointed Wang Qishan, a fellow princeling known as China’s “fire chief” for his previous leadership role in resolving social and economic crises, head of the commission. At the same time, he made fighting graft a priority.

Over the past ten months, the commission has sent ten "inspection teams" to monitor local governments and state-owned enterprises, bringing down a number of big “tigers,” including Jiang Jiemin, who oversaw state-owned enterprises and headed the country’s largest oil and gas producer for years. That has earned the body wide popularity.

Despite these high-profile initiatives, though, few observers really believe that the commission will make a dent in corruption. In the past five years, the commission has grown dramatically -- as has the number of its successes. Yet corruption has worsened.

At a more fundamental level, government graft occurs due to the lack of transparency in the system. And China’s anticorruption commission is nothing if not opaque. Often, the commission seems to enforce the law selectively. Since many who are under investigation have connections to, or enjoy the backing of, senior officials, one of the commission’s most important tasks is to filter out and, if necessary, remove any suggestion of impropriety. The investigations also serve as a way to warn them of bad behavior and offer a way out of a potential political scandal.

Prior to Bo’s trial, the commission weeded out any information that could implicate other senior leaders and imply that Bo was a victim of political power struggle. And that is why the most worrying aspect of the Bo trial is that it showed just how politicized the commission itself has become.

In years past, members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, enjoyed absolute immunity while they were in office -- the threat of purges would be too destabilizing for the country. That explained why Zhou Yongkang, a former Standing Committee member whose family had reportedly pocketed billions of dollars from his political connections and who had openly supported Bo until the very end, was allowed to serve out his term.

Over the past few decades, however, senior Chinese leaders have started employing the commission as a tool to criminalize political opponents -- not just to keep them in line but to make sure that their own positions are secure. Former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao successfully brought down Chen Xitong, the former party secretary of Beijing, in 1998, and Chen Liangyu, the former party chief of Shanghai, in 2008, because the two Chens -- not related -- were undermining their authority.
Bo’s name has now been added to that list. Misfortune befell him when he conspired with his friends and allies at the top to seize power and become China’s premier.

So far, getting rid of the well-connected Bo has proved to be more challenging than many expected -- Bo’s allies and foes are deeply intertwined, sharing common political and economic interests. Emboldened by support from within the party, especially among fellow princelings, Bo turned the court into a forum to fight for his political reputation, knowing too well that a guilty verdict had already been determined by the commission.

At a time when rampant government corruption has ignited strong social resentment, that is a dangerous thing. It could spell disaster for the party and lead to political instability -- when party officials are unable to defend themselves against criminal charges, they will resort to further political machinations.

If the commission can keep itself, and its trials, out of the limelight, only letting leak its charges and verdicts, it will no doubt help win more hearts and boost Xi’s credibility in the short term. However, if the Bo episode becomes the norm, and with its unlimited power, the public will soon catch on to the fact that the commission has itself become a breeding ground for power struggles, corruption, and abuse of power.

And here, Bo’s own example is instructive: when he was party chief of Chongqing, he initiated a similar type of anti-graft and anti-crime campaign, during which several thousand party officials, businesspeople, and residents were hastily detained for investigations or executed. In the end, Bo’s opponents employed similar methods to destroy him. If the leadership does not abolish the commission and continues to deny the important roles that an independent media and judiciary play in the fight against corruption, no one will win.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Bo Xilai, at the end of his trial

GERMANY: Merkel's third term & Europe

Angela Merkel has scored a remarkable victory. In Sunday’s federal election she won a third term as German chancellor, and her conservative bloc achieved its best result for over two decades, winning over 41 percent of the vote. It did so well that it narrowly missed clinching an absolute majority in the Bundestag.

Merkel will be forced to form a coalition. Her expected partner is the Social Democratic Party, which polled 26 percent. But unlike the last time she had to share power with this party (2005–2009), Merkel is now in a far stronger position to call the shots. And she is in a very strong position to shape policy for Europe. The long interregnum that preceded this German election is over.


Merkel will come under pressure from Southern European euro-zone countries to ease up on the austerity measures she insisted upon in return for substantial loan guarantees. Greece may soon request a third loan, raising questions about the merits of continuing to bail out the country.

If Europe’s Southern periphery is hoping for any relief from the Social Democrats sharing power with Merkel, they could be mistaken. Throughout the euro crisis, the Social Democrats have supported Merkel’s position. With an electorate that has clearly endorsed Merkel’s handling of the crisis, the Social Democrats do not have much room for maneuver on this issue.

François Hollande, France’s Socialist president, had been hoping for a Social Democratic victory. But with Merkel now firmly in the saddle, she and Hollande have little choice but to begin working closely together on European policy.

For France, this means, first of all, introducing long-overdue reforms. With Merkel’s support, the EU had allowed Hollande some breathing space over reducing the French budget deficit. But he did not make much use of that time. Now, Merkel is worried not just about the effect of France’s weakness on the German economy but on the credibility of the euro-zone as a whole. She is sure to make that clear to Hollande in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, because France is so crucial to the euro-zone and to the EU, Merkel and Hollande need to overcome their personal animosities and revive the Franco-German engine. Ever since Hollande took office two years ago, the relationship has been bad. The two leaders did not even bother to hold the bilateral meetings that have traditionally preceded EU summits. Continuing this neglect would be dangerous for Europe’s future.

In London, David Cameron, the British prime minister, must be cock-a-hoop about Merkel’s victory. He believes that Merkel is amenable to his wish list on EU treaty reform, which includes repatriating powers from the European Commission in Brussels back to the member states. Were that to happen, he might be able to win the UK referendum on EU membership planned for 2017.

In this regard, Germany’s Social Democrats could play an important role in setting Berlin’s agenda for Europe. The party is more pro-European than Merkel’s conservative bloc. Indeed, had the conservatives won an absolute majority in the Bundestag, the party’s Euroskeptic wing would have had a much stronger say. The Social Democrats will now temper that.

Indeed, if this “grand coalition” does emerge in the coming weeks, it could be good news for Europe. For far too long, Euroskeptics across Europe have been able to flourish because Merkel rarely said where Germany stood on Europe.

The longer she prevaricated for fear of alienating her own Christian Democrats, the more movements hostile to EU integration could try to fill the vacuum she created. Now, Germany’s new government has to take a stand on Europe.

That will also mean understanding that Germany and the EU must act strategically. For far too long, Germany’s foreign policy has been reactive and uncritical. Merkel has never made any effort to strengthen Europe’s foreign, defense, and security policy.

Yet weakness is not something that the EU can afford. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is looking increasingly ineffective, while instability continues to rock Europe’s neighbourhood.

Merkel now has the chance for a fresh start. Whatever coalition emerges following the election, the chancellor shouldn’t squander her victory.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-

Friday, 20 September 2013

U.K.-BELGIUM : Britain's spying on Belgium

Documents from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that Britain's GCHQ intelligence service was behind a cyber attack against Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian telecoms company.

A "top secret" Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) presentation indicate that the goal of project, conducted under the codename "Operation Socialist," was "to enable better exploitation of Belgacom" and to improve understanding of the provider's infrastructure.

The presentation is undated, but another document indicates that access has been possible since 2010. The document shows that the Belgacom subsidiary Bics, a joint venture between Swisscom and South Africa's MTN, was on the radar of the British spies.

Belgacom, whose major customers include institutions like the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, ordered an internal investigation following the recent revelations about spying by the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) and determined it had been the subject of an attack. The company then referred the incident to Belgian prosecutors.

When news first emerged of the cyber attack, suspicions in Belgium were initially directed at the NSA. But the presentation suggests that it was Belgium's own European Union partner Britain that is behind "Operation Socialist," even though the presentation indicates that the British used spying technology for the operation that the NSA had developed.

According to the slides in the GCHQ presentation, the attack was directed at several Belgacom employees and involved the planting of a highly developed attack technology referred to as a "Quantum Insert" ("QI"). It appears to be a method with which the person being targeted, without their knowledge, is redirected to websites that then plant malware on their computers that can then manipulate them. Some of the employees whose computers were infiltrated had "good access" to important parts of Belgacom's infrastructure, and this seemed to please the British spies, according to the slides.

The documents also suggest that GCHQ continued to probe the areas of infrastructure to which the targeted employees had access. The undated presentation states that they were on the verge of accessing the Belgians' central roaming router. The router is used to process international traffic.

According to the presentation, the British wanted to use this access for complex attacks ("Man in the Middle" attacks) on smartphones users. The head of GCHQ's Network Analysis Centre (NAC) described Operation Socialist in the presentation as a "success."

The hacking attack by Britain's GCHQ intelligence service on Belgian telecoms provider Belgacom has angered politicians in the country. Belgium plays host to the EU's top institutions as well as NATO, and Prime Minister Elio di Rupo is considering diplomatic retaliation.

Di Rupo added that Belgium was a popular target because it hosts many of the most important European Union institutions, universities and corporations, as well as NATO. He said his government would increase funding to increase Internet security and also move to decisively implement a new cyber strategy.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Belgacom Centre photo in Brussels

ARGENTINA: Cristina F. de Kirchner & the Economy

With two years left before she must leave office, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has brought the Argentine economy to the brink of a currency crisis. Fernández's government has been spending oodles of money with the side effect of annual inflation in excess of 20 percent,  which it has repeatedly denied in almost comical fashion. As if to prove that inflation could not possibly be so high, the central bank has defended the peso at an artificially strong exchange rate with the dollar.

This policy has required the central bank to deplete its reserves, selling dollars to prop up the peso, while Fernández's government has strictly limited Argentines' ability to buy dollars at the favorable rate and take them out of the country.

Inevitably, a black market has arisen for dollars in Argentina. The official exchange rate is about 5.7 pesos to the dollar; the black market rate, which is sufficiently out in the open, has the peso at about 9.2 to the dollar. The gap is enormous, suggesting that an end to the central bank's interventions would lead to a massive devaluation.

In the past few years, the central bank has relied on trade surpluses to prop up its reserves. But those surpluses, which ran as high as 2.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, have essentially disappeared. In fact, the International Monetary Fund predicts that Argentina will see trade deficits every year from 2013 through 2018.

These deficits will continue to chip away at the reserves, as will the interest payments on Argentina's still unsettled debts, for which the government has lately relied on the central bank. Foreign investment in Argentina would help to bring in more hard currency, but the country has consistently lagged behind its neighbors Chile and Uruguay in attracting money from abroad.

As things stand now, the safety net for the peso is rapidly fraying, a fact made obvious by a comparison of the central bank's reserves with the size of the money supply. In the spring of 2009, the reserves were worth about 1.8 times as much as the monetary base at the official exchange rate. Since then the ratio has dipped steadily, settling at around 0.65 this month.

Perhaps ironically, this value is just below the level of 0.67 that the central bank was required to maintain before the disastrous crisis that began in 2001. In fact, the ratio never slipped below 0.82 that year, but a huge devaluation still occurred when the government finally abandoned the peso's one-to-one peg to the dollar. The peso fell by 25 percent in two weeks and more than 70 percent in six months.

If the central bank can hang in there, Argentina could achieve a rare soft landing. All of the likely candidates for president -- Mauricio Macri, Sergio Massa, Daniel Scioli and Elisa carrio have condemned the rampant inflation that is destroying the peso's value. To varying degrees, they are all committed to converting the economy from a mad scientist's laboratory into a more transparent and integrated part of the global financial system.

As a result, a successful election is likely to bring a flood of foreign capital and a reinvigoration of the economy, bolstering the central bank's reserves and the peso. Government spending would fall, the printing of money would slow, and inflation would ease. Share prices and asset values would rise. Only a gradual devaluation of the peso, if any, would be necessary.

But Argentine governments don't always survive until elections, especially when the economy runs into trouble. If the gap between the official and black market exchange rates continues to grow over the next few months, so will the flight of capital that the government has tried so doggedly to restrain. Eventually, the loss of liquidity could lead to runs on banks and chaos in the streets.

A trigger might come much sooner, however. On September 30, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to hear Argentina's appeal in a case brought by bondholders who have yet to settle claims from the last crisis. According to a brief filed by Argentina's lawyers, the current ruling could cost the country another $15 billion in reserves. If the court refuses or rules against Argentina, default and devaluation could occur virtually overnight.

In this situation, not only the soft landing but also the transition to an economically saner regime could come under threat. The last post-crisis transition featured a string of five presidents in two weeks, and the time would be ripe for less scrupulous hands to grab control of the ship of state. With a bad political outcome, the promise of an improved business climate might disappear, and along with it any chance of an influx of foreign capital.

It has been suggested that Fernández de Kirchner dreams of a constitutional reform and third term in office, much as her predecessor Carlos Menem did in 1999. In truth, she'll be lucky to finish her second. Yet if she moderates her doomed economic policy now, she may still be able to protect the economic future of her compatriots, as well as her own legacy.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Thursday, 19 September 2013

SYRIA: Where Assad got chemical weapons?

On Monday, UN weapons inspectors presented their conclusions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21. The evidence, says Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is "overwhelming and indisputable." Now it is undisputable that Syria has and used chemical weapons. The next question in mind of many is: Where did the Syrian regime get its large stores of chemical weapons?

Last month, it was revealed by the UK newspaper ''Daily Mail'' that the UK government approved the license for UK firms to supply chemical to Syria-- a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’.

The UK firms, with the backing of UK government, delivered sodium fluoride to a  Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes. But intelligence experts believe President Assad’s regime uses such companies to divert chemicals into its weapons programme.

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) approved the export licenses last January, about 10 months after the Syria civil war began. The chemicals were to be used for industrial purposes. The licenses were revoked six months later only after the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions.

It seems now that the UK is not the only supplier of Assad's chemical weapons. German officials have confirmed today that Berlin sent chemicals to Syria that could potentially be used to make sarin gas. The government stressed, however, that it is confident the “dual-use” chemicals were not used for military purposes.

The chemicals included hydrogen fluoride, sodium fluoride and ammonium hydrogen fluoride, which require special export permits (so-called "dual-use" permits) because they can be used for either civilian or military purposes, including the production of deadly sarin. The first set of deliveries was made in 2002-2003, under the center-left government of Gerhard Schroeder. The second was made in 2005-2006, under the current center-right incumbents.

Beyond Europe, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seems to be Assad’s main supplier.
Since mid-1990s, the North Koreans have been selling missile components and providing equipment and expertise for Syria’s nascent nuclear weapons program, so it should come as no surprise that they are participating in Assad’s chemical weapons efforts as well.

The North has supplied parts, such as vacuum dryers, and technical expertise, especially in connection with synthesizing chemicals and fabricating warheads. Along with other states, North Korea has, in all probability, sold chemical precursors as Syria lacks the capability of producing many of them.

In November 2009, Greece found four shipping containers with 13,000 protective suits in a Liberian-flagged vessel en route to Syria. Damascus claims that the garments were for agricultural and research purposes, but they were also designed for handing chemical weapons. And if there were any doubt about the purpose for the suits, there were 23,600 gas detectors in the containers. The garments were identical to those confiscated the preceding month in Busan, in South Korea, on a Panamanian ship that left Nampo, North Korea, for Latakia, Syria’s principal port. The UN believes the two incidents are related.

Pyongyang is also providing '' after-sales services'' to Assad, even putting its personnel close to the front lines. North Korean officers, for instance, have been spotted around Aleppo. The location is significant because in mid-March allegations of chemical weapons use near that northern city surfaced.

UN's report details in relation with the sarin attack on civilians, outside the Syrian capital Damascus on August 21, point the finger to Assad. Assad violated international norms in relation with the use of chemical weapons, but the United Kingdom, Germany and North Korea (possibly) also violated international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances to Syria, regardless of the purpose of the trade.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- UN weapons inspectors take samples in Syria in August 2013.

EUROPE-U.S.: NSA Bank Spying & the SWIFT agreement

After Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a state visit to Washington in response to the US spying on her communications with top aides, despite a phone call from US President Barack Obama, attempting to persuade her into following through with the trip, Brazilian President Dilma Roussef stands firm and is demanding a full public apology from President Obama. Now the European parliamentarians are infuriated after revelations that the US is spying on bank data in the European Union, money transfers and credit cards transactions.

The recent revelations regarding the degree to which the US intelligence agency NSA monitors bank data in the European Union has infuriated many in Europe. "Now that we know that which we had long been suspected, we have to protest loudly and clearly," Jan Philipp Albrecht, a legal expert for the Green Party in the European Parliament, said. He is demanding a suspension of the SWIFT agreement, which governs the transfer of some bank data from the EU to anti-terror authorities in the United States.

According to the documents revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA monitors a share of international money transfers, including bank and credit card transactions. "Follow the Money" is the name of the NSA branch that handles the surveillance. Information obtained by "Follow the Money" then flows into a financial database known as Tracfin. In 2011, Tracfin had 180 million datasets -- 84 percent of which are comprised of credit card data.

But data from the SWIFT network, headquartered in Brussels, also ends up on Tracfin. SWIFT, which handles international transfers among thousands of banks, is identified by the NSA as a "target" according to the Snowden documents. They also show that the NSA monitors SWIFT on several different levels , with the NSA department for "tailored access operations" also being involved. Among other methods, the documents note that the NSA has the ability to read "SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks."

European Parliament President Martin Schulz also demanded consequences. "European data protection regulations have to be the clear standard in dealings with the Americans," he said. He said that simply abandoning the SWIFT agreement would be ineffective without an alternative for handling important international banking transactions. But the US government, he added, must live up to its obligations regarding openness with Europe.

The reactions have been intense in part because European Parliament flexed its muscles in 2010 when a first draft of the SWIFT agreement came up for a vote. The lawmaking body rejected the treaty before ultimately passing a new version with strengthened data protection language.

Fulfilling the regulations has proven difficult. After a long period of silence, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström has also since weighed in, demanding clarity from the US. But Social Democrats, Liberals, Greens and leftists in the European Parliament want more. They have demanded the suspension of the SWIFT deal between the US and the EU. "The Americans are apparently breaking into the system. We are being played for fools and spied on without limits," said liberal European parliamentarian Sophie.

A suspension of the data protection deal would be a first in trans-Atlantic affairs -- and it is also unlikely. Even in the event of a parliamentary majority, the European Council would likewise have to agree. But EU parliamentarians have to show clearly where they stand. "The NSA activities have been known now for 14 weeks, and one still can't see any real effort by EU governments or by the US to shed light on the situation.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and US President Barack Obama

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

U.S.: America's unhindered gun mania

The tragic shooting in Washington feels all too much like deja vu. But President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats no longer even attempt to take on the real issue: America's unhindered gun mania.

Barack Obama didn't make much of an effort. The United States president could only find it in himself to offer a few obligatory words after the killing spree in Washington, only 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the White House: condolences to the victims, gratitude for the Navy and the police -- and the empty oath to investigate the matter "as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to try to prevent them."

A shrug of the shoulders, resignation, cynicism: The latest bloodbath -- this time at the Washington Navy Yard, a historic naval base -- seems like a depressive sort of deja vu. It feels familiar to the media, who reflexively transform the victims into heroes and the perpetrator into a telegenic outsider. It feels familiar to the politicians, who find only empty clichés. And it feels familiar to the nation, which mourns for a short time and then clicks away.

The meaninglessness of this ritual is also made apparent by Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate. When asked whether he will now propose a bill for the strengthening of gun laws, he answers laconically, "We don't have the votes."

But it's not just about votes. And it's also not just about passing laws. Nothing is going to change.
The problem is that nothing can uproot the underlying phenomenon: America's fascination with firearms as the ultimate form of conflict resolution. It is a historical and long-legitimized fascination that was once tied to basic survival and has since been turned into a profitable business by Hollywood and the gun industry.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 1,000 mayors, will hold a protest this Thursday in Washington against the firearms madness. But their anger can fade too, as witnessed recently in Colorado, after voters ousted two Democrats who had supported the group from the state senate -- and replaced them with two Republicans sponsored by the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA). Criticizing guns in America is political poison.

It's hard to believe: Newton was only nine months ago. The tragic school shooting sunk the nation into collective trauma. Obama swore to devote "whatever power this office holds" to enact tougher gun control. The watered down law that arose from the shooting and was meant, at the very least, to improve the system of background checks failed in the Senate -- due to resistance from both parties.

Stricter controls might have revealed that Aaron Alexis, the apparent perpetrator of Navy Yard, suffered from mental illness for the past decade. They might have revealed that he was cited frequently as a Navy reservist for "misconduct." They might have revealed that on Sunday he went to Sharpshooters, a gun shop and firing range in Virginia, and easily purchased a Remington rifle and two boxes of bullets.

One thing is certain: Aaron Alexis could have purchased this equipment elsewhere, as well. Guns don't kill people, people do. That's the frequent catchphrase of the NRA, who has remained conspicuously silent in the wake of the Washington shooting.

There's something else the NRA likes to say: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." This motto was put to use on Sunday night in the heart of Manhattan, just two blocks from Times Square. Two New York City cops shot wildly at a confused -- and unarmed -- man. Instead they hit two passers-by.

On the same night a young policeman in North Carolina fired 10 bullets into the body of a 24-year-old. The young black man was running up to him after surviving an automobile accident -- he was looking for help.
Even "good guys" succumb to the weapons fetish. But most of them limit their rage to violence-soaked, gun-glorifying video games, such as the new Grand Theft Auto V. Video game market experts predict the game will bring in $1 billion in the first month.

Once again, Washington looks away. Obama has gambled away his political capital anyway. The Syrian conflict has alienated him from even his own supporters in the Democratic Party. Larry Summers, the president's preferred candidate for chairman of the Federal Reserve, chose instead to remove himself from consideration. Immigration reform, Obama's next and last major project, is bound to be a stillbirth. And yet another, equally senseless debt drama is hovering on the periphery.
Any wise thoughts on gun violence? No chance. Even Obama's spokesman Jay Carney admits: "That's the world that we live in."

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AP- Shooting at Washington Navy Yard Photo 

SYRIA: Russia & Syria dispute UN's Report

On Monday, UN weapons inspectors presented their conclusions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21. The evidence, says Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is "overwhelming and indisputable."

The  long-awaited United Nations report on the deadly Aug. 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus does not directly blame either the Syrian government or the Syrian opposition, but the scrupulous level of detail in the report provides new evidence pointing to a military-orchestrated assault rather than a rebel-executed chemical weapons attack.

The U.N. inspectors' report, which was presented to the Security Council, found "clear and convincing evidence" that rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. The U.N. team compiled evidence from a broad range of sources, including several surface-to-surface rockets "capable of delivering significant chemical payloads" and statements from more than 50 victims, first responders, and medical specialists. Evidence of sarin was identified in the majority of environmental and biomedical samples, including blood, urine, and hair, collected by the U.N. team.

The lethally of the attack, the report noted, was exacerbated by the morning chill on Aug. 21, which contributed to pressing the air downward, where it poured into residential homes and basements, killing people in their sleep.

The combination of the report's weapons data (rockets designed for liquid-fill delivery and traces of sarin found on the rockets), the significant number of rockets fired, and the way the weapons were used (at a time of day when stable atmospheric conditions were expected to maximize the effect of the chemical attack) speaks volumes. That all points to a weapon that came from a military program, used by units that understand and have training in chemical warfare operations.

If an opposition group had been the perpetrator, it would have required: (A) readiness to kill large numbers of people in an opposition-controlled area, (B) access to a significant number of chemical weapons rockets from a Syrian army stockpile, and (C) some training in how and when to use chemical weapons to maximum effect.

Russia, however, has shied away from drawing such conclusions. According to Moscow government sources: Russia has evidence suggesting that Assad himself did not issue orders for a poison gas attack -- and that the evidence implicates the rebels instead. Now Damascus has reportedly presented to Russia additional evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The evidence was handed over to Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov, who met Syrian Foreign Minister and President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Russia Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov didn’t describe further the evidence Damascus had presented, although it apparently is meant to prove that rebel forces have access to chemical weapons and used it in the conflict. He, however, criticized the UN report, saying that Russia is disappointed with its “biased” and “politicized” nature.

"We are unhappy about this report, we think that report was distorted, it was one-sided, the basis of information upon which it is built is not sufficient, and in any case we would need to learn and know more on what happened beyond and above that incident of August 21," Ryabkov said.

The report released by the UN weapons inspectors on Monday is full of minutely documented details on what they found during their investigation into the massacre that activists and the United States say killed more than 1,400 people on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. The 38-page report, presented "with a heavy heart" to the Security Council by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday, confirms "unequivocally and objectively" that significant quantities of chemical weapons were deployed against Syrian civilians.

It is an assessment that the world had long been waiting for. It solidifies the foundation of the agreement recently reached between the US and Russia to eliminate Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons. And it will provide new impetus to the negotiations aimed at the formulation of a UN Security Council resolution to address the use of chemical weapons in the country.

The next thing the Security Council will do is discuss a possible resolution that anchors the agreement made in Geneva. But these talks could take some time. The annual UN General Assembly meeting will be held in New York next week, drawing dozens of leaders from around the world, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Separate meetings to address the Syria issue are to be held on the sidelines of the larger meeting.

The talks will have to address disagreements on several key points. For example, should the UN resolution threaten Syria with the kind of military action that the US is demanding, but that Russia is opposed to? Should the Assad regime be brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague? Likewise, it is still completely unclear exactly how Syria's chemical arsenal is supposed to be secured, monitored and disposed of.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-

U.K.-GERMANY: Why D. Cameron is banking on a Merkel victory?

David Cameron is the European leader who most fervently hopes for Angela Merkel to be re-elected as German chancellor next Sunday. Britain’s prime minister is convinced that he has found in Merkel an ally who will repatriate many EU powers from the central institutions to the member states.

If that is the case, Germany would be radically shifting away from its traditional support for political and economic integration and toward a more member-states-based approach. That would have immense strategic implications for the future of the EU as a political entity. Merkel herself has given only a hint of her views on Europe’s future. Last month, she said she wanted to encourage discussions on how and whether the EU could give ''something back'' to member states. “We don’t have to do everything in Brussels,” Merkel added.

That was music to Cameron’s ears. No wonder he is banking on a Merkel victory. He is hoping, too, to remain prime minister and leader of his Conservative Party. This is despite being desperately weakened and humiliated in parliament three weeks ago, when his own backbenchers voted against military action in Syria.

Cameron is also hoping to be re-elected at the next UK general election in 2015. His calculation is that with Merkel in the Chancellery, Berlin will then agree to certain EU treaty revisions. When, two years later, Cameron will have to keep his promise of holding a referendum on Britain’s continued EU membership, these treaty changes could make it more palatable for British voters to say yes to remaining in the EU.

Naturally, Britain’s opposition Labour Party is horrified by the thought of an alliance between Merkel, Cameron, and other like-minded conservatives across Northern Europe. Labour lawmakers maintain that several of Europe’s Conservative parties will try to introduce revisions to the EU treaties that would weaken social and employment laws as well as financial regulations. These, of course, are the EU laws that Britain’s Conservatives hate. They regard them as intrusive and threatening to national sovereignty.

Indeed, a new movement of Tory lawmakers called the ''Fresh Start'' project has been making the rounds in European capitals. Its 40-page manifesto is a must-read because it explains what Britain, according to the Conservative mindset, wants from the EU.

Fresh Start is seeking a UK opt-out not just from all social legislation but also from all existing measures on policing and criminal justice. If EU member states were to agree to these revisions, the bloc would, to a large extent, become an à la carte organization.

Also, left-wing parties in Britain and other European countries know that if such revisions were made, especially on social legislation, support among their members for the EU would plummet.
That is why a group of Labour lawmakers and party supporters have established the Labour for a referendum movement. The group wants Ed Miliband, the party’s leader, to call a referendum on Britain’s EU membership—and soon.

The problem is that the Labour Party is not united over a referendum. Miliband will not say where he stands on the issue. The matter fact is 40 percent of the Labour parliamentary party would support a referendum. But even if Miliband agreed to call one—and very soon—would Labour really have enough energy, imagination, and support to change British public opinion on the EU?

The result of Cameron’s weakness and Labour’s dithering is that responsibility for the EU’s future direction rests more than ever with the next chancellor of Germany.

Merkel has already been shifting Germany’s position on Europe. During her second term, she moved away from the pro-integration community principle, long upheld by previous chancellors. As the euro-zone’s biggest paymaster, she wants Germany to have a say on economic and fiscal matters in Europe, including setting standards for reforms in the highly indebted Southern European countries.

As long as it suits her own purposes, she might be inclined to help Cameron. After all, he is a close friend and valuable ally on most economic issues. But Cameron should not underestimate how much the Germans are attached to upholding social standards. Nor will they want to see banks freed of all regulation. Even if re-elected next Sunday, Merkel may have less room for maneuver than Cameron hopes.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-German Chancellor Angela Merkel Photo