Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

chinasea-1x-1The Chinese People’s Republic seeks to control the South China Sea.  It is building artificial islands which it will claim as Chinese territory.

Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.

The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims.  This is a big mistake.

map_disputed-reefsThe sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation.   The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia.  But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route.  The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.

The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.

artificialislandIn the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces.  In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.

I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments.  They both abuse human rights.  They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors.   An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.

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WTO overrules U.S. country of origin law

May 20, 2015

The World Trade Organization has overruled a U.S. law requiring that imported meat be labeled as to its country of origin.

The law gives an unfair advantage to domestic livestock breeders and meat processors, the WTO said.

Now the WTO is in the process of deciding what retaliatory tariffs can be imposed by Canada and Mexico if the United States does not repeal the law.

This is a sample of what can be expected if Congress approves the Trans Pacific Partnership or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements.

The mechanism is different in the TPP and TTIP, but the purpose is the same.  Under the investor-state dispute settlement processes in these agreements, a panel of arbitrators could fine a government whose laws supposedly treated a foreign investor unfairly.  The government would have the choice of paying the fine or repealing the law.

It might be good to have a trade agreement that set minimum standards for inspection of imported meat.  But the existing and proposed trade agreements go the other way.  They restrict the power of democratically-elected governments to protect their citizens.

LINKS

WTO Rejects U.S. Appeal of COOL Ruling by Lydia Zuraw of Food Safety News.

If Fast Track Passes, Anything Attached to a “Trade” Treaty Will Pass by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny!  [Hat tip to naked capitalism]

Putin: a would-be Tsar of all the Russians?

May 5, 2015

russians_ethnic_94Source: University of Texas Libraries.

Back when the Ukraine crisis first broke out, I speculated that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal was to reconstitute the old Soviet Union, first by luring the former Soviet Republics into an economic “Eurasian Union” common market, and then to transform the economic union into a political union.

I then began to think, as I still think, that Putin’s policy was more a response to an external threat posed by Ukraine joining NATO and the Russian naval base at Crimea becoming a NATO base.

But there is a third possibility, and that is that Putin is trying to bring all the ethnic Russians back into the Russian Empire.  This would include not only the Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but in northern Kazakhstan.

The great Russian novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a tract in 1990 in which he advocated a union of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, with northern Kazakhstan included in Russia, and independence for all the other Soviet republics and satellite states.

Maybe President Putin is thinking along these lines, and maybe he isn’t.  I have no power to read his mind.  But recent reports say that Kazakhstan’s leaders are worried about Russia’s ambitions and their Russian minorities.

Just as in Ukraine, there are reports of increasing Russian discontent and also increasing anti-Russian feeling.   It is easy to imagine Putin stepping in, as he did in Ukraine, to protect his fellow Russians.

The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, among others, have large Russian minorities, and, as members of NATO, they are entitled to call upon the United States to defend them if attacked.

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Debating the TPP: links to the pros and cons

May 2, 2015

I’m strongly against the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and the fast track proposal for approving it, based on what I know of both.

I write this even though I admit I don’t know what will be in the TPP when it is finally submitted to Congress.  I could be wrong in everything I say.   I don’t think I will be, in fact I’m pretty sure I won’t be, but in this post, I link to arguments in favor as well as those opposed so you can read all the arguments on both sides of the question.

I link.  You decide.

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Poor nations and the new world order

April 28, 2015

One of the things I’ve come to realize in recent years is that institutions exist that constitute a kind of world government.

I always thought that for a world government to exist, it would have to have its own army.  But the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the investor-state dispute settlement judges in international trade agreements don’t need armies to enforce their—unless you consider the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to be their army.

PrashadPoorerNations97818I just finished reading  THE POORER NATIONS: A Possible History of the Global South (2012) by Vijay Prashad, which is about how international institutions came into being to fight nationalistic governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America—the Third World.

These international institutions are greatly from the world government envisioned by the idealists who created the United Nations.

I’m worried about how the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and other proposed trade agreements would create rules to protect international corporations and investors against national laws to protect labor, public health and the environment.  But for Third World nations, as Prashad showed, this is nothing new.

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A note on the TPP and fast track

April 23, 2015

I’ve been writing about the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as if it were a done deal, and the only significance of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, aka “fast track,” in regard to the TPP is to push it through with a minimum of debate.  This is not so.

I do in fact think that is the significance of “fast track,” but I should emphasize that the TPP is not a done deal.  The Japanese government is balking at some of the proposals and, without Japan, the TPP would be meaningless.

So a “fast track” plan that allowed Congress to give meaningful input into the negotiations would be important.  Whether or not the Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill does this is an important question.

‘Fast track’ involves more than just the TPP

April 21, 2015

The significance of “fast track” goes far beyond clearing the way for quick approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

There are other TPP-like trade agreements now under negotiation, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade In Services Agreement.

The Trade Promotion Authority bill, otherwise known as “fast track,” would govern how such agreements are negotiated and voted on in the future.

In theory this could work well.  Negotiators would pursue objectives set by Congress, the leaders of Congress would be kept informed as negotiations progress and ratification of the agreement would be only a formality.   But there is no mechanism in the current fast track bill by which Congress can call the negotiators to account or demand information.

Fast track assumes good faith on the part of all concerned, and, based on the historic record, including the way the TPP has been negotiated, I think this would be a naive assumption.

LINK

Hatch Bill Would Revive Controversial 2002 Fast Track Mechanism That Faces Broad Congressional, Public Opposition by the staff of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division.

What’s Wrong With Wyden-Hatch-Ryan’s Fast Track Bill – The Specifics by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny (via naked capitalism).  [Added 4/22/2015]

At last the TPP comes before Congress

April 17, 2015

Update: The headline should read “At last fast track comes before Congress”.  TPP hasn’t yet come before Congress and it is possible (though unlikely) that it never will.

I’ve been ranting so long about the danger and harm in the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that I’m at a loss for something new to say now that it is actually nearly ready to come before Congress for a vote.

The TPP is an agreement among 12 nations, including the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan, which would set limits on financial regulation and food safety standards and make drug patent and copyright laws more restrictive.

hulk-tppIts most controversial provisions is the Investor State Dispute Settlement system, which would allow foreign investors to seek sanctions against governments whose labor, environmental, health and other laws deprived it of its just profits.

Under ISDS, “foreign investors” – mostly transnational corporations – have the ability to bypass U.S. courts and challenge U.S. government action and inaction before international tribunals authorized to order U.S. taxpayer compensation to the firms.

Today Congressional leaders announced support for fast track authority, which means that the House of Representatives would have no more than 60 days to debate the agreement and the Senate 30 additional days, after which they would vote “yes” or “no”.

This does not mean that fast track has been approved.  This would require a vote by the full House and Senate, which is yet to come.

The TPP is a thick and complex document.  Negotiations have been conducted under strict secrecy, and the material will be new to most members of Congress.  What little is publicly known comes from leaked negotiating documents, many of them through WikiLeaks.  (Thank you, Julian Assange).

If TPP is approved through a fast track process, I would bet that dozens of congresspeople a year later will be saying they wouldn’t have voted for it if they had realized all that was in it.

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Doctors Without Borders on the TPP

April 17, 2015

tpp_infographic2_0

It is not too late to modify these harmful rules.  Negotiations among the United States and 12 other nations have been  are in the process of being completed, and it is now will then be up to the United States Congress to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement—or not.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on the TPP

April 17, 2015

tpp_1Well, it’s too late now to try to influence the negotiations.

Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate finance committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the chair of the House ways and means committee, agreed to support fast-track approval for the proposed 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

This would mean that the House would have 60 days to discuss the agreement, and the Senate would have an additional 30 days, before they voted “yes” or “no”, with no possibility of amendment.

The fact that President Obama and powerful Congressional leaders support fast track does not mean that it has been approved.  The procedure requires a vote of the House and Senate, and, since there is strong opposition in both parties, it may well not be approved.

The world invests in China’s new bank

April 16, 2015

aiib-graphic

Fifty-seven governments, including all the major powers except the USA, Canada and Japan, have signed up to participate in China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The AIIB may or may not be an important force in building infrastructure in Asia.  But the eagerness of the world’s governments to participate shows a willingness to follow the leadership of China even against the advice of the USA.

The red countries on the map are governments that participate in the Asian Development Bank, which is supported by Japan and headquartered in Manila, who also participate in the Asian Infrastructure Investment banks.  The blue countries on the map are other countries who have joined the AIIB.

The yellow countries are Asian Development Bank participants who held back from joining the AIIB.

I know, from reading of history, that China is following a pattern of drawing other countries in to itself rather than engage in overseas conquest.

During the Age of Discovery, for example, Europeans had a trade deficit with China and also India.  All the exploits of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus were intended to find a route by which the European nations could trade directly for the porcelain, silk and spices of Asia rather than through Muslim middlemen.  All the gold and silver that Cortez and Pizarro found in the New World and brought back to Spain eventually went to China and India.

China went into temporary eclipse during the 19th and early 20th century, but the current Chinese government has restored China to its historic position—the nation that the rest of the world comes to, and tries to connect with.

I do not claim to know whether how much Asian infrastructure will in fact be built through the AIIB, nor what the future holds for China.  As stockbrokers say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But for now, the Chinese policy of offering things to people is more successful than the U.S. policy of forcing things on people.

LINKS

57 nations approved as founding members of China-led AIIB by Gary Huang for the South China Morning Post.

The infrastructure gap: Development finance helps China win friends and influence American allies by The Economist.

The power of the new Chinese investment bank by Richard Javed Heydarian for Al Jazeera.

 

Hillary Clinton promoted fracking to the world

April 16, 2015

Urkaine_map

gas_landsMy e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey in Baltimore sent me a link to a well-researched article in Mother Jones documenting how Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State promoted fracking in foreign countries.

Fracking—hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas—is a destructive process that, among other things, creates increased risk of earthquakes and contamination of ground water and uses up vital supplies of fresh water.

I’m opposed to fracking unless there is a more desperate need for fuel than there is now.

But however you look at it, promotion of fracking in foreign countries in no way benefits the American public, except for a few wealthy investors and corporate investors, such as Beau Biden, the Vice President’s son, who is on the board of directors of an energy company that hopes to do fracking in Ukraine.

There is a strong grass-roots opposition to fracking in many countries, and, to the extent that the American government is seen to be promoting fracking, this generates ill-will toward the U.S. government and Americans generally.

Unlike in the USA, most landowners do not own the mineral rights under their land. Those rights are owned by governments and can be sold, leased or given away even if the owner objects. So fracking decisions are not usually made by an individual landowner to get income, but by government officials.

Hillary Clinton did not decide to promote fracking on her own. This is President Obama’s policy.

I doubt Republicans in Congress have any objection to promoting fracking abroad. They object to the Obama administration presuming to regulate fracking on U.S. public lands.

LINK

How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World by Mariah Blake for Mother Jones.

China’s new bank is a great attractor

April 13, 2015

AIIB-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank-Countries

The world is rushing to join the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is China’s alternative to the U.S.-influenced World Bank.

The Shanghai-based bank would raise $50 billion to invest in Asian infrastructure projects, such as dams, airports and electric power plants.

Only founding members are entitled to a vote.  Reuters reported that voting will be weighted so that Asian members have 75 percent.  China will announce the names of the founding members on Wednesday (April 15).   The Economist explained:

The AIIB is but one of a number of new institutions launched by China, apparently in frustration at the failure of the existing international order to accommodate its astonishing rise.

Efforts to reform the International Monetary Fund are stalled in the American Congress.  America retains its traditional grip on the management of the World Bank.  The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) is always directed by a Japanese official.  [snip]

China, flush with the world’s biggest foreign-exchange reserves and anxious to convert them into “soft power”, is building an alternative architecture. 

It has proposed not just the AIIB, but a New Development Bank with its “BRICS” partners—Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa—and a Silk Road development fund to boost “connectivity” with its Central Asian neighbors.

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Racial discrimination is alive and global

April 6, 2015

race.cardRacial minorities, older workers, gays and lesbians and others face unfair discrimination all over the Western world.

That was the conclusion of a British economist named Judith Rich after studying field experiments in 17 countries using equally-qualified testers of different races, ages and so on.

The 70 studies have investigated if discrimination exists on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, obesity, caste and religion. Significant and persistent discrimination against the vast majority of these groups in all markets was found.

High levels of discrimination in hiring were recorded against ethnic groups, older workers, homosexuals and men applying to female-dominated jobs.

Immigrant groups were discriminated against despite being educated in schools, and proficient in the language, of the country of residence.

Middle Eastern and Moroccan groups across Europe and African-Americans in the United States were discriminated against when seeking jobs or housing.

An African-American applicant needed to apply to 5o percent more job vacancies than a white applicant to be offered an interview.

Having a higher qualification made virtually no difference for African-Americans but it made a significant improvement in interview offers for whites.

Even more disturbingly, white applicants with a criminal record received more interviews than African-Americans with no criminal record.

Older workers needed to make between two to three times as many job applications as a young worker to get an offer of interview.

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The Iran nuclear deal looks torpedo-proof

April 4, 2015

Am I the only one who finds it just a little bit odd that the American officials loudly claiming Iran cannot be trusted to fulfill any deal are simultaneously pledging that they will not fulfill any deal?  Is it possible they have such little self-awareness?

via Hullabaloo.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry deserve a lot of credit for the nuclear deal with Iran, as do President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and the other diplomats who worked on the negotiations.

iran nuclear deal mapI think it is the best deal that can be expected.   The Iranians have nuclear power plants, which they are not willing to give up.  Any nation with nuclear power has the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

What the Iranians have done is to give up equipment and uranium stockpiles that would have enabled them to develop weapons-grade uranium and plutonium overnight, and to submit to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that they do not do so.

It is crazy for Republican Senators presidential candidates to threaten to torpedo the deal.

What made the economic sanctions effective against Iran in the first place is that they were supported by U.S. allies and the Security Council of the United Nations.  Under the agreement, the other negotiating parties, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China and other countries will resume trade with Iran no matter what the U.S. government does.

The only ones who would be hurt if the U.S. government renounced the deal would be Americans who want to do business in Iran.

iran-nuclear-non-proliferation-israel-unThe problem of the spread of nuclear weapons is more than just Iran.  Almost all industrial nations—Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and many more—have the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

Actually, it is a tribute to the world’s good sense that only nine nations are known to have nuclear weapons—the USA, Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

The only way to stop the spread of nuclear weapons on a long-term basis is for the existing nuclear power to agree to disarm and to turn over control of nuclear materials to an international agency.  Every nuclear-capable nation, not just Iran, should be open to the IAEA.

LINKS

The Iran nuclear deal, translated into plain English, by Max Fisher for Vox news.

The Iran Nuclear Deal, by the Numbers by Graham Allison for The Atlantic.

A good deal: How both sides can sell the Iran agreement back home by Ali Vaez for Reuters.

What if the US & UN sanctioned Israel over its nukes the way they did Iran over enrichment? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.


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