Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Truth About Christian Zionists

It is curious -- and deeply disappointing -- to observe the way in which some figures on the pro-Israel American left discuss the phenomenon of Christian support for Israel. These are people who are capable of discerning subtle shifts in the mood of the Arab street. They delve into the complexities of Hamas politics and report back to us on apparent -- if often meaningless -- policy distinctions. But when the subject turns from Israel's enemies to Israel's friends, their palate grows dull. Suddenly, the shades of gray disappear and all that remains is stark black and white.

Such is my analysis of M.J. Rosenberg's July 24 piece, "Playing the Jesus Card," in which the author provides a stunning example of exactly this sort of simplistic analysis. Rosenberg repeats three stereotypes about Christian Zionists that stand in stark contrast to the facts. First, he mischaracterizes the beliefs of Christian Zionists, claiming that they are "fundamentalist Christians whose theology dictates unwavering support for Israel." Next, he confuses the politics of Christian Zionists when he imagines that they all "are hard-core Republicans." Finally, he mistakes the policy of Christian Zionists when he asserts that they "emphatically support Israeli settlements and oppose the two-state solution."

Like all other stereotypes, these three fall apart upon deeper scrutiny. In the first case, not all "Christian Zionists" are "fundamentalists." The membership of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) -- the largest Christian pro-Israel organization in United States, of which I am executive director -- demonstrates this fact. While a majority of our members may well be evangelical (a term that is hardly synonymous with "fundamentalist"), other streams of Christianity are well represented in our ranks. Our members include evangelicals and Episcopalians, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, Charismatics and Catholics.

Even if one accepts the phony assertion that Christian supporters of Israel are exclusively evangelical, the claim that these evangelicals are exclusively Republican is demonstrably false. In 1992, Bill Clinton received a full one-third of the evangelical vote. In 2004, John Kerry received one-fourth of the evangelical vote. And in 2008, Barack Obama, too, received one in four of these votes. I am sure that CUFI's many Democratic members would be amused by Rosenberg's insistence that they do not exist.

It is certainly true that many Christian Zionists (as well as Jewish Zionists) are skeptical of the land-for-peace formula. And sadly, developments in the Middle East too often validate such skepticism. Yet most Christian supporters of Israel have never made opposition to the peace process the focus of their advocacy. Christians United for Israel, for instance, has never taken a position against a two-state solution or in favor of settlements. Instead, much like the leading Jewish pro-Israel organizations, CUFI supports the positions of the democratically elected government of Israel.

For example, like all Israelis, we are worried about the danger of a nuclear Iran. So from its inception, CUFI has focused on building support for economic sanctions that would pressure Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. Consistent with our position that Israelis must decide their own fate, we have asked the U.S. government not to pressure Israel into taking risks that Israeli citizens themselves do not wish to take.

CUFI's support of Israel's government reflects our deep respect for Israel's democracy. The members of CUFI do not see Israel as some wayward banana republic that must be restrained or prodded by a wiser United States. We see, instead, an Israel that has behaved responsibly, with admirable restraint, and has repeatedly taken risks for peace, such as Israel's withdrawal from Arab population centers in the West Bank in the 1990s, Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. If the Israelis want to take more risks for peace, we defer to their decision to do so. And if they instead conclude that these risks have not paid off, and choose through their votes to slow the pace of concessions, we once again defer. This is not extremism; it is humility.

Meanwhile, the critics of Christian Zionism, such as Rosenberg and the organization J Street, take a very different position toward Israel's democracy: They disdain it. The will of the Israelis who fight the wars and suffer the terrorist attacks is of little consequence to them. These critics believe that they know better, and they are determined to overrule -- through American fiat -- what the Israelis have decided at the ballot box. This is, of course, their right. But as these critics elevate their rigid ideologies above the will of Israel's electorate, they should know better than to label "extremist" those of us who defer to the Israelis. Even Christian Zionists know what "chutzpah" means.

Finally, a reality check is in order regarding Rosenberg's outlandish claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is somehow "playing the Jesus card" -- that is, seeking to rally Christian support to overcome pressure from the Obama administration -- because he agreed to speak, via satellite, at CUFI's July summit. Netanyahu also spoke live via satellite at the May conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest Jewish pro-Israel lobby. It is natural that the two leading U.S. pro-Israel organizations would invite Israel's sitting prime minister to address their delegates. And it is likewise natural that Israel's prime minister would accept invitations from these two friends. No conspiracy here; simply common courtesy.

Beijing birth defects rise again

The birth defect rate rose again in the Chinese capital Beijing last year, mirroring increases elsewhere in the country, according to figures.

The city's birth defect rate has almost doubled in the last decade.

The causes of such defects are not clear, but there are concerns they could be related to heavy pollution.

A growing number of babies in China are being born with abnormalities - ranging from extra fingers and toes and cleft lips to congenital heart disease.

In Beijing last year, according to Chinese officials, the rate was 170 per 10,000 births. That is significantly higher than the global average.

This fits with other reports about sharp rises in birth defects across the country, in both rural and urban areas.

Some provinces with large coal and chemical industries seem to have some of the highest rates.

It is hard to know for sure what's causing these defects, but they are helping to fuel broader concern about the health impact of acute air, water and soil pollution in China.

Sensitive issue

An editorial in Tuesday's China Daily newspaper broadened the argument by pointing to modern urban lifestyles as another possible factor for the growth in birth defects.

As well as worrying about pollution, it said, individuals should also think twice about their busy, stressful schedules.

All this is politically sensitive for China.

More research is needed, for example, detailed mapping to see what correlation there is between different types of defect and pollution levels.

Improvements in health facilities, which give better monitoring of newborns and better diagnosis, may also account for part of the increase.

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Web Monitor finds an unlikely style icon, unlikelier wrestling fan and the most unlikely technophobe. Share your favourite bits of the internet by sending a link via the letters box.

Colonel Gaddafi• Colonel Gaddafi has been popping around the news headlines of late, and so has the New York Fashion week. Vanity Fair has put these together and come up with Dictator Chic. In Colonel Gaddafi - A Life in Fashion Vanity Fair admires how his style has become more unusual over time:

"Early Gaddafi, in the elegantly tailored tunic of a military butcher, before he learned the fine art of accessorizing with maps of Africa and photos of dead people."

• The former chief of staff to Senator John McCain, Mark Salter, says manners seem to have been forgotten in US politics recently and considers a dramatic career change to wrestling. McCain Tweeted Salter's article in America Speak on and reposted on Real Clear Politics was a must read:

"I despair of the coarsening of our politics and our broader culture. So much so that after a lifetime in politics I'm beginning to think I might have rendered more honorable service to humanity had I worked in professional wrestling."

• Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, revealed at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit that he could have averted the financial crisis if only he would have known how to access his voicemail. Karen Tumulty from Time magazine's Swampland blog explains that Barclays Capital wanted to use Buffet's money to bail out Lehman Brothers. But Buffet didn't know the details because they had been left in a message on his voicemail:

Warren Buffett not on the phone

"It was all too complicated for Buffett to take in, in a quick phone call, so he asked Diamond [Bob Diamond, the head of Barclays Capital] to fax him the details. Buffett got back to his hotel room around midnight and was surprised to find... nothing. Lehman went under, and within days, the world was in a full-blown financial crisis.

Fast forward 10 months. Buffett, who admits he never has really learned the basics of his cell phone, asked his daughter Susan about a little indicator he had noticed on the screen: 'Can you figure out what's on there?' It turned out to be the message from Diamond that he had been waiting for that night... I caught up with Buffett afterward, and asked him whether, in retrospect, he might have gone for the deal. He pulled the simple little Samsung phone out of his pocket and pondered it for a moment. It's entirely possible, he suggested. 'I don't know.'"

Can China save the world?

On the edge of the Yellow Sea, bulldozers at Dalian's sprawling new port plough the ground, paving the way for a second iron ore transport line.
Dalian Port's operations are expanding quickly
Dalian Port's operations are expanding quickly

It will carry shipments of imported ore from China's northeastern coast to steel mills in the interior. The air is dusty from mountains of black ore waiting to be taken away.

The construction is part of the port's plans to invest more in its infrastructure to handle iron ore and oil.

China's 4tn yuan ($580bn, £352.7bn) economic stimulus package is driving demand for raw materials.

The iron ore that passes through Dalian Port is from Australia, Brazil and Canada. Recently, it has started to receive shipments from Mauritania and other parts of Africa.

The port is also building a huge oil tank with China National Petroleum Corporation, the state-owned firm that controls oil major PetroChina. Total capital investment in 2009 will be between $120m and $150m.


During a tour of facilities still under construction, senior manager Xu Shengke admitted that, overall, business had slowed due to the economic crisis. Last month, the port's Hong Kong-listed unit reported a 49% drop in profits in the first half of 2009, largely as a result of a slump in global trade.

"The financial crisis has definitely impacted us. But as you can see, our investment plans have not been affected at all," Mr Xu said. "Our expansion is part of a broader national strategy."

Can China save the world? No, but it can help
John Zhao, Hony Capital

In July, China's State Council elevated a plan to develop a coastal economic zone and international shipping centre around Dalian to a strategy of national importance.

As part of that plan, construction on a $10bn railway linking Dalian with the northern city of Harbin has been brought forward by two years. A further $1.5bn worth of investment in other railways has been announced.

Infrastructure investments - some huge in scale - constitute the main part of China's reaction to the financial crisis. In classic Keynesian fashion, Beijing has been spending its way out of the crisis.

Stimulus package

Investment of $580bn was announced in November 2008, but many experts believe the real figure will be much higher. Chinese banks collectively lent a record $1tn in the first half of 2009, but they have recently started to curb lending.

State-owned companies - including Dalian Port - have been the main beneficiaries of the stimulus measures, often in the form of cheap, readily-available loans.

At last week's World Economic Forum, hosted by Dalian, the world's business elite debated the implications of China's response to the economic crisis.

Some believe the stimulus package will help China overtake the United States as the worlds biggest economy by 2030.

"Can China save the world? No, but it can help," said John Zhao, chief executive of Hony Capital, one of China's best-known private equity firms.

He said countries with minerals, energy and other commodities stand to benefit the most from China's appetite for raw materials.

Under fire

Mr Zhao and others agree that the stimulus package, while effective as an emergency measure, does not address underlying economic problems.

L-R: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and WEF founder Klaus Schwab
World leaders have examined China's swift reaction to the economic crisis

Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, is such a critic. He believes western consumption of Chinese exports will be weak for years and argues that simply pumping more money into construction and investment is unsustainable.

Instead, Mr Roach is urging Beijing to invest more money in providing better healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits, in order to promote domestic spending.

Investments in social welfare account for only a fraction of the stimulus package, which is expected to run until November 2010.

"China is still an export machine," he says.

"As an externally dependent economy, it's almost mathematically impossible for China to save the world."

'China bashing' in the Indian media

It's the silly season in India-China relations. If you've tuned into one of the more hawkish Indian television channels or are reading the views of the many experts on India and China, it might seem like the two countries are at each other's throats.

There has been a spate of denials from the Indian foreign ministry, the border guards and even the Indian air force. All insist that there have been no clashes and no violations of Indian air space.

"A media report about two ITBP [Indo-Tibetan Border Police] jawans [soldiers] having been injured due to firing from across the Line of Actual Control has come to notice. It is factually incorrect," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

And here is what the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman had to say about the same incident: "I have not heard of the scenario you mentioned... I have noticed, however, that Indian media has been releasing some groundless information recently. I wonder what their intention is."

'Without pause'

But China's concerns about accuracy do not seem to bother a large chunk of the Indian media, which is engaged in a rather serious bout of "China-bashing" these days.

Such China "stories" continue without pause.

Facts do not seem to matter as some Indian media organisations believe that this is the best way to grab a larger market share.

"Nothing has changed on the ground between the two countries," a senior Indian official, who preferred anonymity, told the BBC.

Chinese soldiers at a drill ahead of a military parade in Beijing, China, on 19 Sept 2009
The Indian media has been reporting alleged incursions by Chinese soldiers

"I just can't understand the reasons for this hysteria," the official said.

China is India's largest trading partner, with two-way trade volumes crossing $50bn in 2008.

The two countries have been trying to negotiate a solution to their decades-old boundary dispute, a process which shows few signs of reaching fruition anytime soon.

There hasn't been a single fatality in skirmishes along the undefined India-China boundary since 1967, but the memories of the crushing defeat inflicted by the Chinese on India in the 1962 war have not faded from the minds of some Indians.

In a sense, the ghost of 1962 also has not been exorcised from the memories of a certain narrow, but influential, category of retired generals and diplomats, who still harbour ambitions of "giving it back to the Chinese".

Media war

In the last two decades - ever since a path-breaking visit by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing in 1988 - there has been a visible effort on the part of the two governments to try to narrow their differences.

A code was agreed on how patrol parties were to act in case they encountered each other.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited China in 2006

These encounters do take place and the two sides have a specified drill in such cases, which appears to have worked well over the years.

But now, the threat to a stable India-China relationship is coming not from the governments, but from sections within the media.

If the largely private Indian media is belligerent about China, a response is beginning to emerge from the Chinese side as well.

"India likes to brag about its sustainable development, but worries that it is being left behind by China. China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass," the state-run Global Times wrote in June this year.

In essence, a media war, initiated by a few Indian television channels and newspapers, has now been joined from the Chinese side as the Global Times opinion piece indicates.

Briefing editors of national dailies, a senior Indian official suggested that there was no point in the press showing any "hysteria".

Not many journalists, it would appear, want to listen to such suggestions.

Could war erupt in arms-spree LatAm?

Is Latin America gearing up for conflict? Some regional commentators certainly fear that a handful of countries are teetering on the edge of a full-blown arms race they can ill afford - either financially or diplomatically.

That fear has been stoked in the past week by the coincidental announcement of two major procurement programmes.

Firstly, Brazil confirmed on 7 September that it will buy four Scorpene attack submarines from France, and will build 50 EC-725 transport helicopters under licence.

It has also opened negotiations with French company Dassault for a large order of Rafale fighter aircraft.

Then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned last week from a successful shopping trip to Moscow, with T-72 main battle tanks and an unknown quantity of air defence systems in the bag.

Both countries are ramping up military expenditure to levels not seen in decades.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin
Venezuela has signed a $2bn arms deal with Russia

For Brazil, re-armament is ostensibly necessary to update much of its obsolete equipment and to improve the protection of its vast territory and recently-discovered offshore oil fields.

But Brasilia also harbours a desire to cement its status as the regional political and economic heavyweight through increasing military clout.

Hence the accords with France, which will also see the two countries co-operate on the construction of a hull for a nuclear-powered submarine that Brazil wants in service by 2020.

Full technology transfer was a key Brazilian demand during all its contract negotiations.

Conscious of regional sensitivities, Brazil has consistently stressed that its re-armament is non-offensive.

For an emergent world power seeking the prize of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, that claim is entirely credible.

Cross-border spate

Yet the acquisitions by Mr Chavez, the region's most mercurial and outspoken leader, are a different case - particularly since Venezuela's relations with neighbouring Colombia have slumped towards outright belligerence since late July.

The standoff followed Bogota's decision to grant basing rights to the US military at seven sites across the country.

FARC rebels
Colombia is fighting a battle against the Farc rebels

Mr Chavez - whose military doctrine is founded on a hypothetical US invasion from Colombia to seize his lucrative oilfields - has used the US-Colombia agreement to justify his new Russian hardware.

Moreover, with diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Colombia partially suspended and a cross-border trade spat brewing, the dispute on this occasion appears set to be unusually venomous.

Colombia, meanwhile, continues to be by far the largest recipient of US military aid in Latin America - some $6.1bn (£3.6bn) since 1999 - as it continues a war against left-wing Farc insurgents and drug cartels.

Its armed forces are designed and equipped for airmobile counter-insurgency operations, unlike their more traditional Venezuelan counterparts, meaning that military conflict between the two sides would be ill-matched and, in the final analysis, almost certainly inconclusive.

This begs the question of whether Venezuela's recent military purchases could be a precursor to conflict.

In theory, yes, given that Venezuela is consolidating its conventional armoured and air superiority over Colombia - it has already taken delivery of 24 advanced Su-30 fighters.

In a worst-case scenario, analysts fear that an embattled Chavez might be tempted to launch a military adventure to divert attention from his growing domestic woes, pushing his AMX-13 and Scorpion 90 light tanks across the border and launching long-range airstrikes.

But in practice, the risk of war breaking out is still negligible, given the likelihood of massive dissuasive pressure from both the US and Brazil.

For the moment, at least, arms acquisitions by Mr Chavez continue to be a mix of both nationalistic pride and sabre-rattling.

Economic suicide

Elsewhere on the continent, fears of an arms race between neighbouring Chile and Peru - which have contested a maritime boundary since a war in 1879 - resurface periodically.

Yet here again, the actual threat is minimal.

Peru knows that it would be economic suicide to try to match Chile's vastly superior armed forces.

Chaco War
Bolivian military purchases briefly raised fears of a Chaco War rerun

Sporadic outbursts of nationalist rhetoric are good for letting off steam, but do not indicate genuine military competition.

Even military minnows Paraguay and Bolivia have recently been mentioned in an "arms race" context.

Recent Bolivian military purchases - including helicopters from Russia - briefly raised over-exaggerated fears in Paraguay of a retaliatory re-run of the bloody 1932-1935 Chaco War, in which Bolivia lost large swathes of territory.

In reality, however, the appetite for confrontation is non-existent.

Appropriately, perhaps, it is the two countries that for four decades embarked on the world's largest ever arms race - the US and Russia - who may hold the key to the situation in Latin America.

The former superpowers are playing out a miniature version of an oddly nostalgic game on the continent, reminiscent of Cold War proxy conflicts where each has their favoured partners.

Russia, for example, is supplying a number of countries with arms on generous terms, while the US reactivated its naval Fourth Fleet in mid-2008 to patrol the waters of the south.

Yet even here, explanations are relatively straightforward.

Russia sees Venezuela as a key military market in the developing world, and in reality has little appetite for a genuine strategic alliance with the volatile Mr Chavez.

The US, meanwhile, has expressed concern about the recent arms purchases.

The state department said Venezuelan policy posed "a serious challenge to stability" in the region.

Washington knows that accepting Brazil's claim to regional leadership steals much of the thunder from Mr Chavez in a part of the world it can no longer treat as its "backyard".

So an arms race in Latin America? Not yet, not quite.

As with much of the region's tempestuous politics, the rhetoric continues to outpace the reality.

But even so, recent developments suggest that while the world is preoccupied with conflicts on other parts of the globe, the seeds are quietly being sown for the increased militarisation of a region that arguably should have its budgetary priorities elsewhere.

China in huge Venezuela oil deal

Venezuela has announced a $16bn (£10bn) investment deal with China for oil exploration in the Orinoco river.

The move comes shortly after Venezuela signed a similar agreement with Russia, which is estimated to be $20bn (£12bn).

President Hugo Chavez said the deals would boost oil production in Venezuela by about 900,000 barrels per day.

Investors in Venezuela's oil industry have complained for months that a lack of government investment in infrastructure has hurt production.

Multi-polar world

Speaking on state television, Mr Chavez said the deal with China was over three years and that the investment would go towards developing heavy crude oil resources in the Orinoco River belt.

For President Chavez it is part of a wider effort to increase his base of bilateral partners in the oil industry.

The socialist leader often speaks of what he calls a "multi-polar world" in which Latin American countries are less dependent on Washington.

However, US companies and the US government are still the mainstay of the Venezuelan energy industry.

The Venezuelan leader will hope that these multibillion dollar deals, signed with countries which are more friendly to his "21st Century Socialist Revolution", will give him further economic independence from Washington.

No settlement freeze - Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed US demands for a total freeze on settlement building in the West Bank.

He is quoted as saying he had told Washington he would instead consider "scaling down construction".

US Mid-East envoy George Mitchell is in the region to finalise terms for renewed peace talks.

The Palestinians have said they will not take part unless Israel stops all construction in its settlements.

The US hopes the Israeli and Palestinian leaders can meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.

After talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday, Mr Mitchell said they were working hard to reach agreement on "many outstanding issues".

The US envoy had been set to meet Mr Netanyahu on Monday, but talks were delayed so both men could attend the funeral of an Israeli air force pilot.

Lt Assaf Ramon - son of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster - died when his fighter jet crashed in the West Bank on Sunday.

'Strike a balance'

Mr Netanyahu is reported to have laid out his position on settlement construction to the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs committee on Monday.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on 14/09/09
Jerusalem is not a settlement, and construction there will continue as usual
Benjamin Netanyahu
Obama Mid-East plans in jeopardy
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He told them that Mr Mitchell had requested a complete halt to the building work.

"We made clear that we will build 2,500 housing units which are already in construction," Mr Netanyahu is quoted as saying by a parliamentary official.

"A few days ago, we confirmed 450 additional housing units. I told the Americans that we shall consider scaling down construction."

He said Israel would strike a balance between offering a gesture that would help restart peace negotiations and ensuring a "normal life" for residents in the West Bank settlements.

He also said that any scaling down of construction would be "for a temporary period", not as yet agreed with the Americans.

"The Palestinians expected a complete halt to construction, a freeze, now it is clear that will not be," he went on to say. "Jerusalem is not a settlement, and construction there will continue as usual."

In a statement late Monday, Mr Netanyahu's office said no meeting for peace talks had been set.

But his office added he was ready to move forward a visit to New York, currently set for 23 September, if necessary to enable dialogue.

The US has been preparing a package for peace talks that would see Israel halt settlement construction and Arab nations that have no peace deal with Israel take the first steps towards recognising Israel.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas insists he will not meet his Israeli counterparts until there is a freeze on the settlement of occupied territory, which is illegal under international law.

When news emerged of Israel's plan to build 450 new homes last week, he said there was no point attending a summit with Mr Netanyahu.

Sabri Seidam, an aide to Mr Abbas, told reporters: "Israel has to stop stalling and focus on creating the atmosphere for a resumption of the peace process.

"Its sole track should lead to the establishment of the Palestinian state."

Regarding other Arab states' recognition of Israel, a former Saudi ambassador to the US, Turki al-Faisal, wrote in the New York Times that diplomatic ties could be renewed "only after they [Israel] have released their grip on Arab lands".

Mr Abbas and the Israel prime minister are due to hold separate talks with Mr Mitchell on Tuesday.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been suspended since December.

Russian Supreme Court Orders Tatarstan To Change Language Law

The Supreme Court in Moscow has ordered that not only official documentation in Tatarstan's state bodies, but also public announcements, posters, public advertisements, as well as ballot papers, must be printed in both Tatar and Russian.

If the order is implemented, even promotional posters for purely Tatar-language oriented cultural events will have to be published in Tatar and Russian.

Tatar activists have been complaining that such actions show that the Kremlin is pursuing a policy directed at assimilating the country's many ethnic minorities.

Moscow also forbid Tatarstan from adapting the Latin alphabet several years ago after the Tatar government passed legislation on the use of that script over Cyrillic.

What NATO and Kabul can learn from their enemy.

Last month during a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan's minister of the interior, Hanif Atmar, showed Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen and Amb. Richard Holbrooke a particularly sobering map. Atmar shaded two thirds of Helmand Province in Afghanistan's south -- an area home to about 750,000 Afghans -- to denote its status under Taliban control.

It is not news that swaths of Afghanistan -- particularly rural Pashtun areas in the south -- now fall under the influence of the Taliban's "shadow government." What has been overlooked is why. Force certainly plays a part as the Taliban conquers new territory. But it's the insurgents' management structure -- one that supplements rather than supplants existing tribal structures -- that explains the Taliban's staying power. NATO and Kabul aren't being outfought in Helmand; they're being outgoverned.

So far, NATO has responded to Taliban expansion by reinforcing its units in the area, boosting its firepower, and combating the poppy economy through interdiction and crop substitution. That's the easy part. The real challenge will come after territory is regained and NATO begins its fight for the population -- not just the land. To get this next phase right, NATO and its Afghan allies would do well to take a lesson from the force that has been managing much of the south for the last two years: the Taliban. Yes, time to take advice from the enemy. What methods of "guerrilla governance" are attracting the support of local populations? And how could NATO and Afghan forces use them to "clear, hold, and build?"

There is no better place to start than the Taliban's court system, staffed by groups of religious scholars who review disputes over land allocation and property rights -- issues of vital importance in pastoral Afghanistan. There are a dozen or so courts like this in Southern Afghanistan who settle cases and sentence local criminals. Their justice is visible, immediate, and familiar to Afghans who have relied on informal conflict resolution for centuries. The courts' attraction is rooted in the absence of effective alternatives, rather than ideological affinity. Afghans, desperate for some measure of order, will often turn to Taliban courts even if they do not support the organization's overall goals. Indeed, though many have dismissed the courts as a mere PR gambit, a sideshow to the Taliban's main operations. But PR might be just the point: The courts are better at gaining local support than dozens of gunmen or bomb-makers ever could.

If NATO and the Afghan government want to cement any future military gains in the south, they will have to offer an alternative to justice à la Taliban. The official answer is to build up the nascent Afghan court system -- a near impossible long-term task unlikely to win hearts and minds anytime soon. Realistically, another option would work far better: accept informal local and tribal courts as reality and explore new avenues of interaction and, possibly, support. In the near-term, that is far more doable than fixing a judicial system that is largely perceived as corrupt and is certainly understaffed. (There are just six judges in Kandahar to serve nearly 1 million people.)

Relying on traditional mediation under tribal or religious elders is hardly a radical idea; the U.S. military in Iraq has been doing it for years. In areas with strong tribal authority and sparse government representation, U.S. military units have been walking a tightrope -- implicitly allowing tribal law while halting any excesses.

In Afghanistan, the existence of local courts is a fait accompli -- the only question is who will influence them, NATO or the Taliban? Captain David R.D. Nauta, a Dutch legal advisor writing in NATO's in-house journal, recently endorsed tribal law as a stopgap measure. The formal court system, he writes, is "two decades away," and informal courts, which are "crucial to restore some degree of rule of law," need to be utilized by NATO and Afghan forces in the meantime.

In the coming months, NATO forces will venture into areas long held hostage by the Taliban or affiliated elements. If they bring empty promises of a fair justice system in some distant future, the Taliban will be handed a victory, regardless of the military situation. Or, if NATO takes a chapter from the Taliban book, it might just beat the insurgents at their own game.

How to combat the biggest security threat you've never imagined.

There's an old adage about horsemeat: The more you chew, the bigger it gets. There's a new adage about cyberthreats: The more you know, the scarier they get.

Cybersecurity is vital to everything we do nowadays, from finance to romance. Just walk around any office -- whether medical, legal, public relations, manufacturing, service, whatever. Nearly everyone there is doing the same thing: sitting before a screen using a computer, mostly online. While cybersecurity is assumed, cyberinsecurity looms. It has morphed into a type of terrorism.

This morning President Obama told how today's terrorism comes "not only from a few extremists in suicide vests, but from a few key strokes of a computer." He dubbed the ability to cyberattack "a weapon of mass disruption." That's clever, but it shortchanges the danger.

Just last year were some 44,000 incidents causing the Pentagon alarm, no doubt many by Chinese authorities but some by geeky high-school hackers. Attacks across the U.S. federal government rose by some 40 percent last year, and bad guys in Iran got a hold of highly-sensitive blueprints for Marine One, and financial data on U.S. military helicopters. Other hackers apparently got their hands on data galore on the design and electronics of the new Joint Strike Fighter. One could go on.

With so much being so dismal, we'd better focus on three positive points. They're reflected in the president's remarks today and the report he issued, "Cyberspace Policy Review."

First, cybercrime is a global phenomenon that must be combated globally. We know the threat can come from anywhere. But usually we don't even know where an actual attack came from. U.S. authorities claim that stealing and subsequent selling of at least 40 million credit and debit cards from Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Office Max, and other chain stores probably came from Estonia, China, and Belarus. But such theft is hard to trace.

Cybercrime networks are active on virtually every continent, increasingly collaborating across national borders. As we know from 9/11-type terrorism, an asymmetric threat that doesn't respect borders is tough to detect, and even tougher (frankly, impossible) to deter. With no home address for the attackers, there's no place to retaliate. Hence, the big game has become rougher, at least a lot more chaotic, than existed in the U.S.-Soviet nuclear faceoff, which I worked on over all those many years.

Second, cybersecurity is as much a consumer threat as a national security threat. As Obama put it, "millions... have been victimized -- their privacy violated, their identities stolen, their lives upended, and their wallets emptied." Consumer Reports estimates that one in five online consumers claim to have been victims of cybercrime over the past two years. Imagine the outcry if one out of five houses in your neighborhood was robbed over the past two years. You'd surely flee, as your neighbors would.

Cybercrime cost Americans more than $8 billion over the last two years, according to Obama. That number is likely to rise steeply, unless the United States gets its act together. "America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity," the president added.

Third, it's something experts can anticipate and handle fairly predictably. We may not know the precise type of attack coming, but we know they're coming. And combating them is totally in our power.

Hence this is different from the other foreign-policy woes Obama faces. The Afghanistan-Pakistan mess depends so much on a pack of incompetent or corrupt leaders. The Middle East "peace process" hinges on Israelis and Palestinians each getting their own acts together (most dubious) and then wanting to wheel and deal at the same time (hasn't happened yet). North Korean proliferation depends on the craziness of Kim Jong Il, or whatever the hell is happening there.

In contrast, U.S. policymakers have a great deal of power to determine how cybersecurity will be handled. That's why it's good that Obama is bringing this process into the White House, under the yet-to-be-named "Cyber Czar" (funny, since that's one threat Russian czars never faced, not that they handled any of their threats all that well).

And that's why this effort may please Hillary Clinton: It does take a village. To put up defenses without inhibiting commerce or infringing on privacy takes government, for sure, but also private industry -- especially key players in the Internet ecosystem - network providers, applications guys, Web developers, software developers, etc.

Let's see if the Obama administration can indeed put this all together. It'd better, or we're totally phished.

How the coming vegetarian revolution will arrive by force.

I have a prediction: Sooner than you might think, this will be a vegetarian world. Future generations will find the idea of eating meat both morally absurd and logistically impossible. Of course, one need only look at the booming meat industry, the climbing rates of meat consumption in the developing world, and the menu of just about any restaurant to call me crazy. But already, most people know that eating red meat is bad for their health and harmful for the planet. It's getting them to actually change their diet that's the hard part -- and that's exactly why it won't happen by choice.

Going by the numbers, eating meat is pretty hard to justify for the even moderately health-conscious. A National Cancer Institute report released last March found that people who ate the most red meat were, as the New York Times put it, "most likely to die from cancer, heart disease and other causes." The biggest abstainers "were least likely to die." Those who eat five ounces of meat daily, (the equivalent of one and a half Quarter Pounders or Big Macs) increase their risk from cancer or heart disease by 30 percent compared to those who eat two-thirds of an ounce daily -- a stark difference.

The environmental impact is also crystal clear -- and similarly appalling. "Livestock's Long Shadow," a 2006 report by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organzation (FAO), found that livestock is a major player in climate change, accounting for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions (measured in carbon dioxide equivalents), or more than the entire global transportation system.

The obvious solution to both health and environmental disasters is to stop eating meat altogether. But this is easier said than done. Even the studies addressing the impact of meat on the planet downplay vegetarianism, as if the authors are nervous to press it on people. Going veggie is not even proposed as one of the FAO's "mitigation options" (which instead include conservation tillage, organic farming, and better nutrition for livestock to reduce methane gas production). Nor is it emphasized in "Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry," a report by Danielle Nierenberg at the Worldwatch Institute. The study's author is herself a vegan, but she told me, "Food choices are a very personal decision for most people. We are only now convincing them that this is a tool at their disposal if they care about the environment."

She has a point: Giving up meat is tough, and arguing people into it is probably a losing proposition. Even with all the statistics out there about the dangers of meat, there are fewer vegetarians in the world than you'd think. A Harris poll conducted in 2006 for the Vegetarian Resource Group found that only 2.3 percent of American adults 18 or older claim never to eat meat, fish, or fowl. A larger group, 6.7 percent, say they "never eat meat," but often that means they only avoid the red kind. Worldwide, local vegetarian societies report high participation in just a few places - for example, 40 percent in India, 10 percent in Italy, 9 percent in Germany, 8.5. percent in Israel, and 6 percent in Britain.

So how will we become a vegetarian planet? The numbers suggest that we won't stop eating meat simply because it's "the right thing to do." People love it too much. Instead, we'll be forced to stop. By 2025, we simply won't have the resources to keep up the habit. According to the FAO report, 33 percent of the world's arable land is devoted to growing crops for animal feed, and grazing is a major factor in deforestation around the world. It's also incredibly water-intensive. The average U.S. diet requires twice the daily amount of water as does an equally nutritious vegetarian diet, reports the Worldwatch Institute. Meanwhile, there will be more than 8 billion people on this earth, and two-thirds of the world's population will live in water-stressed regions.

Sounds like a mess -- and one that doesn't bode well for our cattle cravings. Meat will disappear -- except as a luxury available to few -- and the ethical issues will evolve, too. In the way that slavery, once a broad social norm, later became an unthinkable crime, we can expect to see a similar shift once meat-eating disappears from our planet. Perhaps, some day, the very idea of eating animal flesh will seem as remote as the idea of owning humans does now. So if you're a carnivore, enjoy now -- before the inevitable vegetarian revolution begins.

If the United States wants to listen to the world, maybe it should start by watching first.

When U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo this week, he delivered a message of openness. "There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground," he told a global audience of billions. But if he convinced his listeners abroad, a lingering irony will catch up with the president upon his return home: Americans themselves are literally disconnected from foreign news; they are not "listening" at all. Foreign news stations are not broadcast in the United States, meaning that for all but the extended-cable watcher, seeing things from another point of view is, well, impossible.

To call for more international news channels on U.S. television might sound a bit outdated in the era of Web-based and mobile video services. After all, Al Jazeera English already claims that at least half of its Web traffic, or 11 million visitors a month, comes from North America-based IP addresses. Still, U.S. television remains the primary source from which most Americans get their video news; Watching news videos on YouTube or LiveStation is popular only among a small tech-savvy elite.

In the rest of the world, a plethora of international media channels is the televised norm. BBC World, France 24, Al Jazeera and the Chinese state provider, CCTV, all broadcast in Africa. Virtually all international news channels can be found on European TV. Germany, France and Britain have each launched Arabic-language news channels in the Middle East. And many international carriers now deliver international outlets' programming to Asian and Latin American broadcasters.

Pity the United States, where programs from such stations as Al Jazeera English, BBC World, and France 24 are only on special cable packages or squeezed into few-minute slots on local PBS channels - if they're available at all. In Washington, for example, cable provider RCN offers France 24 as part of standard cable, but customers pay extra for BBC America, and Al Jazeera is just absent. Another provider, Cablevision, only offers Euronews and BBC World.

Add the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center's latest annual report on news media, U.S. cable networks spent only 8 percent of their time on foreign coverage in 2008, and you get a United States that is wholly detached from the global news conversation. Since, international news channels, by comparison, dedicate the bulk of their editorial content to world events, the result is a growing gap between what U.S. residents and most global TV-viewers see and think about.

The solution sounds easy: just introduce more foreign news channels. But cable companies claim that international stations simply do not attract large enough audiences for advertisers to be enticed. Offering foreign news in any but the most expanded cable packages would be a profit-losing venture. Instead, cable companies have invited foreign channels to be featured in a pay-extra international news tier, but the international stations balk at that plan, insisting that they deserve to be wrapped in the same package as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. That leaves the option of foreign channels paying the cable operators to broadcast their content - a hard sell to the stations' funders abroad.

A shift in the current cable regulatory policy could change the game. The Federal Communications Commission that regulates U.S. cable companies allows them to operate on a broad tier basis, where channels are packaged in bundles ranging from basic to expanded (foreign news relegated to the latter). One solution would be à la carte pricing - selling each channel individually - an option that would enable consumers to receive Al Jazeera's or Japanese NHK's programs if they'd like.

When American viewers can't access international news, their ability to take part in global conversations suffers greatly. The average U.S. television-watcher doesn't ever see the diverse interpretations of any single event that filter in to most TVs across the world. So if ever the U.S. administration wants Americans to "listen" to the world abroad, it might start by providing them the soundtrack.

The language of empire

It's easy to be pessimistic about the United States' standing in the world these days. The financial crisis shamed Wall Street for reckless behavior at a time when China's economic clout is fast rising. Leaders at the G-20 called for a multi-polar world, even as their prescriptions looked to be self-fulfilling. Even the U.S. National Intelligence Council concluded that the United States "will be less dominant" a quarter of the way into the new century in last year's Global Trends 2025 report.

But for those who claim that the post-American world is a fait accompli, there is one big problem: The English language is winning hearts and minds faster than politics ever can. With the June 10 addition of "noob" (a pejorative description of a newcomer to a particular task or group) to its lexicon, English will boast one million words - twice as many as Cantonese, four times as many as Spanish, and 10 times as many as French. Half the world's people are projected to be speaking English by 2015. And so long as English is on track to become the world's unofficial language, the United States will likely be center stage.

The stats say it all. In mid-2007, the International Herald Tribune stated that "English is spoken in some form by three times as many nonnative speakers as native speakers." English is a first language for 400 million people, and a fluent second for between 300 and 500 million more, the IHT wrote. Add on top of that the 750 million who have studied English as a foreign language and you have well over 1 billion members of the English-speaking world. Every globally influential newspaper is either written in English or has an English-language version. The same is nearly true for science, where more than 90 percent of the world's major journals are printed in English. With all this at stake, it's no surprise that the global market for English-as-a-second-language training products and services is worth $50 billion (that's more than Lithuania's 2008 GDP).

Why the English explosion? It's all about upward mobility. In China, America's putative superpower replacement, learning English is considered a gateway to middle-class security; 300 million people speak it there, and another 350 million people speak it in India. According to a recent report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, between 96 and 100 percent of people in China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam believe children should learn English. Their goal is reflected in the more than 90 percent of Japanese elementary schools that offer English programs. Children in China start learning the language in third grade and more than 50,000 English-training centers there offer further instruction. Chris Gibson, the British Council's director for South India, aims to have every South Indian speaking it by 2010, at which point he believes that English will be a codified world language (Penguin Books' operations in India, meanwhile, are salivating at what they see as the world's fastest-growing English-language market).

Asian countries aren't alone in their anglophilia. Since 1998, Argentinean students have been required to take two hours of English per week from fourth grade through high school. That same year, Chile mandated that government-run schools begin offering English instruction starting in fifth rather than seventh grade. English is the language of choice in the classrooms of many African countries. And even continental Europe has placed growing emphasis on learning English. The Dean of MBA programs at France's ESSEC Business School, Laurent Bibard, told The New York Times that the school is adopting English because "it's the language for international teaching." English, he continued, "allows students to be able to come from anyplace in the world and for our students -- the French ones -- to go everywhere."

The trends suggest that English's influence is primed to increase in the decades ahead. Consider this forecast by the Director of Asia for the McKinsey Global Institute: "By 2100, the world will go from a 7,000-language planet to a couple of hundred languages at the most...English will be the major medium of communication in many countries and the second-most prevalent in China, Japan, Korea, and much of Africa and Latin America - as it already is in most of Europe."

Language quite literally anchors human progress - it allows children to learn, authors to write, consumers to buy, companies to produce, leaders to negotiate, people to travel, and enables just about anything else that you can imagine. Whether it's Latin during the first century or French in the 18th, great powers and global lingua francas tend to go together. So while the unipolar moment may be over, the growing influence of English will ensure that the United States doesn't fade into the sunset anytime soon.

The myth of "Made in China"

From shoes to electronics to kitchen appliances, that ubiquitous stamp, "Made in China," has become a symbol of the times. In the last decade, annual U.S. imports from China have grown from about $81 billion to last year's $338 billion. Everything, it seems, comes from the Middle Kingdom.

But as it turns out, "Made in China" is a bit of a misnomer these days. Over the last 20 years, supply chains have fragmented across the globe -- with one part made here, and another made there. Rarely is any one product made in any one country. China often specializes in the final stage of production: putting components together before exporting to the final users. Indeed, much of the value of U.S. imports from China, and similarly from Mexico, includes parts and components made in other countries -- the United States among them. According to our recent study, domestic content (the stuff that directly contributes to domestic economic growth) makes up about 45 percent of Chinese exports and 34 percent of Mexican exports to the United States. The rest comes to China from abroad to be assembled and sold. A tag like "Made in China, Vietnam, the United States, Japan, and China again," might be more apt.

The very nature of China's and Mexico's export industries keeps their domestic input relatively low. In every year since 1996, more than 50 percent of exports in both economies have been "processing exports," wherein firms import parts and components from abroad under favorable tariff treatment and assemble them for export. The finished products arrive in the United States, Europe, and other markets with their whole value counted as imports from China in official trade statistics.

In some categories, such as consumer electronics, "processing trade" accounts for upwards of 90 percent of the countries' exports. China and Mexico add very little value to these products -- less than 20 percent for computers, electronic devices, iPods, and cellphones. Many components, and hence the value, in those exports come from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, or even the United States and the European Union.

So what?

First, it means that the U.S. trade deficit with China and Mexico is not as large as meets the eye. What's more, the United States' deficit with countries that make component parts -- such as Japan -- is probably understated. Yes, U.S. imports from all of Asia over the last 15 years have slightly declined, while China's share of U.S. imports has increased rapidly. But it's not that the world has stopped importing Japanese, Korean, and other countries' products; China is just "indirectly" exporting them instead by buying international components, assembling them, and then shipping them abroad.

Second, understanding that "Made in China" doesn't quite mean what we think it means helps clear up a mystery. Since the economic crisis began, China's exports have dropped significantly, but the impact on its GDP growth, oddly, appears muted. What's going on? Given the low share of domestic value added in China's exports, the Chinese economy's true dependence on exports is only half as large as the headline trade data would lead one to believe. The pain of a reduction in China's exports is shared with other economies that supply components, such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. For example, for every iPod that the United States decides not to import, the "decline" in recorded exports from China is $150 -- but only about $4 of that value was added in China. In other words, China's GDP declines just $4 for each lost $150 iPod. Japan, on the other hand, contributes about $100 to the $150 value and takes the far bigger GDP hit from "China's" decline in exports.

Yet while the crisis has hit China with only a soft blow, Mexico's case is less benign. The country has become highly integrated into a North American supply chain for autos, consumer durables, and electronics, importing parts and components from the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent Asia. Mexico's average domestic value added in its exports to the United States is even smaller than China's, meaning that a slowdown in exports may have limited effect on Mexico's GDP per unit. (The feedback from a Mexican exports slowdown is likely felt mostly by the United States and Canada, rather than by Japan.) However, as reliant as Mexico is on the U.S. economy, a drop in usually huge export volumes is already proving very painful.

Although China's processing export model may be proving a keeper in times of economic crisis, what might need changing is the way we look at trade deficits. With truly global supply chains, perhaps it's time for a more accurate stamp: "Made Everywhere."

After Record Year, Migrant Remittances 'To Fall 5-8 Percent' In 2009

2008 was the year that financial meltdown plunged the global economy into a deep downturn.

But for migrant remittances, it was actually a bumper period.

A new report by the UN's Conference on Trade and Development says workers sent home a record $305 billion in cash -- up nearly 9 percent on the previous year.

That's partly because the economic decline started too late to affect full-year results, according to Detlef Kotte, one of the report's authors.

Kotte says another reason was the huge increases for two of the largest recipients, India and Bangladesh. Their migrant workers are concentrated in Gulf states that benefited from high oil prices until halfway through the year.

But 2008 also marked the likely end of an eight-year spurt of growth in remittances.

Already that growth had slowed, from a whopping 22.7 percent in 2007.

In The Pipeline

The report says that this year, remittances are likely to drop by 5-8 percent.

For Europe and Central Asia, the figure is more than 10 percent, the sharpest drop of any region.

"The main receivers of workers' remittances [in this region] are Ukraine, Russia," Kotte says.

But he adds that "in terms of importance for the national economy," Tajikistan has 34 percent of its gross domestic product in workers' remittances, Moldova more than 25 percent, and countries like Kyrgyzstan whose remittances exceed 10 percent of their GDP.

"These countries will be the first to be affected," Kotte says.

An event to feed unemployed migrant workers of Moscow's shuttered Cherkizovsky Market was broken up by police in July.
Kotte says the recession has eaten into remittances because of the sharp contractions in sectors where migrants typically find jobs -- like construction and services -- and because others are discouraged from going abroad in search of work.

Normally, he says, those who are already abroad tend to send more money when times are especially hard at home; but not this year.

"The crisis is global and the countries from where remittances are transferred even have greater macroeconomic difficulties than many of the countries that are receiving the remittances, so it's kind of an unusual picture," Kotte says. "Normally remittances make up for losses of national income, but this is not the case. This is also maybe one of the reasons why in 2008 we still see an increase, but this cannot be sustained in 2009."

No Early Revival

Kotte says remittances should begin to pick up in 2010 as the expected economic recovery takes hold.

But any pick-up could be slow because economic recovery is still expected to be sluggish. Moreover, joblessness is likely to continue rising even as economies pull out of recession.

"It would be a bit optimistic to expect 2010 to be a year of very fast growing workers' remittances given that domestic unemployment has risen in these countries and given that there's a tendency, in the context of overall deflation, for wages to decline," Kotte says. "So in 2010 there will probably be a continuation of a crisis in workers' remittances."

The world's new threat: conflict fatigue

This winter, the militaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda -- much to our surprise, given their historical antipathy -- joined forces in an offensive against a rebel group based in eastern Congo: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or the FDLR. Led by the architects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the FDLR has terrorized Congolese civilians for nearly 15 years. The group's presence has also served as a pretext for Rwandan intervention that has frequently worsened an already grim humanitarian situation in eastern Congo.

We and many other observers predicted at the time that the joint offensive would lead FDLR rebels to conduct reprisal attacks upon civilians. So, we weren't surprised to hear that atrocities against civilians have escalated dramatically in recent weeks. In one instance, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUC, reported that the FDLR had massacred more than 60 people in the village of Busurungi. Local officials tell us that the FDLR killed nearly twice that number, after clashes with the notoriously inept Congolese Army.

While human rights groups catalog atrocities and advocacy groups sound the alarm, U.N. officials tell us that the situation in eastern Congo is "tense but under control." The gap between the rosy assessments we frequently hear from MONUC and the grim accounts we hear from Congolese affected by the conflict is outrageous and infuriating. And as the Congolese government launches a new offensive this summer, we think the worst is ahead.

Doing research and advocacy to help end the crisis in the Great Lakes region around Congo can feel like screaming into an empty room. The region has been so violent for so long that the United Nations, donor governments, and the press have become numb. But there is a cure to even the worst cases of "conflict fatigue": an understanding that solutions are within reach if we just have the will to pursue them -- solutions that can prevent thousands of senseless deaths.

With greater operational capacity, firmer direction from the U.N. Security Council, and decisive leadership on the ground, MONUC could provide greater protection for civilians.

With high-level multilateral diplomacy led by the United States and the European Union, the Congolese and Rwandan governments could go beyond their current uneasy military cooperation and achieve lasting political solutions to the regional conflict. With bigger incentives for disarming, an emphasis on civilian protection, and tactical support from Western militaries, a regional counterinsurgency strategy could succeed against the FDLR.

With greater coordination among donors, conditioned support to the Congolese government could begin to end impunity, professionalize the Army, and improve governance. And with corporate due diligence in the mining sector, the Congolese could begin to benefit from their country's immense natural resources while drying up the trade in conflict minerals that remain a lifeblood for predatory militias.

That's a laundry list of "coulds," but in a place like Congo -- a desperately poor country where nearly 6 million people have died from 13 years of chronic conflict -- the world has a lot of work to do. Anyone advocating for an end to the conflict must be content with slow and steady progress and not expect a quick fix. In fact, this is true of most conflicts. Conflict fatigue only takes root when we forget that.

Will the recession make Europe's militaries weaker?

The economic crisis has wracked government budgets across Europe, as revenues have fallen and spending on stimulus and bailouts has soared. Already, there are signs that defense spending across the continent will suffer. Finance ministers will be looking for ways to reduce deficit and debt, and military budgets are a tempting target.

Such budget cuts will have some salutary effects: Defense establishments, with their resistance to civilian oversight and emphasis on continuity, tend to get bloated in times of relative plenty. It often takes a crisis to force meaningful reforms. But cuts also threaten to sap the effectiveness of European fighting forces and leave parts of the world exposed to insecurity.

The easiest portion of the budget to cut is operations. But it's also the most important portion. Withdrawing soldiers from faraway places plays well at home and requires no layoffs, but it means fewer troops in some of the world's most imperiled regions. Poland announced in April that it would withdraw from all U.N. peacekeeping operations. While the Poles may be no less safe, fragile countries such as Chad and Lebanon still need foreign troops to keep the peace.

Rather than withdrawing from conflict zones, European countries and agencies should stop sending overlapping missions to the same trouble spots. Both the EU and NATO sent missions to Sudan in 2007, and three different forces are currently fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia. Better to roll those operations into one; the current duplication wastes taxpayer money.

As defense ministries slash their budgets, their instinct will be to cut multinational weapons programs and make any purchases domestically so as to protect jobs at home. But that carries risks. Many truly necessary systems, such as transport airplanes, are so expensive and complex that they are best funded and shared between countries.

Granted, many past collaborative programs have been disastrous, such as the seven-nation plan to develop the A400M military transport aircraft. A modern-day Spruce Goose, the plane cannot fly because its engines, made by a four-nation European consortium, lack the proper certification; the plane is also said to be too heavy.

But the trouble with the A400M lies not in the collaborative nature of the program. The plane is a failure because its designers have been more concerned with securing production jobs than with obtaining a good product. In return for investing in the aircraft, they have demanded that a commensurate number of production jobs go to their country. As a result, bits of the plane are being built all over Europe -- and not necessarily in the countries most qualified to do the job.

European governments must be smarter. They should accept that it makes more sense to order the needed parts from the plant with the most relevant technical expertise. The governments also need to be more ready to buy off-the-shelf components, rather than try to generate jobs by manufacturing parts from scratch.

The impact of the budget cuts -- particularly the reductions in personnel and equipment -- also threaten to turn some European militaries into showcase forces, incapable of deploying abroad and thus irrelevant to most EU and NATO operations. It makes little sense, for example, for all but very few allies to keep tanks unless they are upgraded to be able to operate in faraway places such as Afghanistan and unless the governments have access to aircraft big enough to transport the tanks. As an excellent new study commissioned by the Nordic governments concluded, "small and medium-sized countries lose their ability to maintain a credible defence" when certain units shrink too much.

There are two ways to avoid such outcomes while cutting budgets. Some of the key equipment that makes modern warfare possible -- such as planes providing air-to-ground surveillance or military transport -- needs to be jointly owned. NATO operates a common fleet of aircraft that coordinates air traffic, and the alliance plans to buy transport airplanes for its members to use. This arrangement allows militaries of smaller and poorer European states, like the new allies in Eastern Europe, to take part in complex operations in distant places.

But that alone will not generate enough savings. Indeed, the time has come for European governments to consider abandoning parts of their national forces and infrastructure and to form joint units with their neighbors. Modern militaries do virtually all their fighting abroad and in coalition with others. If they lack the money to equip and deploy their soldiers overseas, they need to consider radical cost-saving measures. More governments should do as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg did -- they merged parts of their air forces -- or emulate the Nordic countries, which are considering joining their amphibious units.

Most European governments have, in the past, found it too difficult to part with the cherished symbol of national sovereignty that is a proper army or an air force. But the practical value of such military services in Europe is often negligible. As the recession deepens, defense ministers across Europe should see the crisis as an opportunity to combine certain units and programs across countries. This will save money, which could be put to use properly training and equipping forces for EU and NATO operations.

How the Palestinians should respond to Netanyahu

The response from Palestinian and Arab leaders to Benjamin Netanyahu's defiant foreign policy speech last Sunday has so far consisted mainly of throwing up their hands in despair. While understandable given the prime minister's intransigence on Israel's prior commitment to a complete settlement freeze and other key issues, this approach is not likely to accomplish very much.

By reproducing rhetoric from the 1990s that led to massive Palestinian frustration, Netanyahu may be hoping to provoke a reaction that is more visceral than strategic. If the Palestinians and Arabs adopt a less than constructive attitude at this stage, there is every danger that President Barack Obama and his administration will conclude that the Israelis and the Palestinians are simply two recalcitrant and irresponsible parties that are impervious to reason, and walk away to focus on other matters. But Obama's new approach, combined with Netanyahu's unconstructive attitude, presents a rare opportunity for Palestinian leaders to seize the initiative in the peace process.

Rather than simply dismissing Netanyahu's words, it is vital that they instead move quickly to draw a stark contrast based on a constructive stance of their own, and position themselves in as close alignment as possible with the American president. The Palestinians should be emphasizing their moves to fulfil their road map commitment on security, as recently demonstrated by the Palestinian Authority's bold and politically costly security operations against Hamas militants in the West Bank.

A new initiative to bolster security measures by combating incitement by militant groups, as Obama urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to undertake at their White House meeting in May, would strongly reaffirm Palestinian seriousness to fully play their part in promoting peace and would be an effective means of keeping the focus on Israel's continued avoidance of its own responsibilities.

It is also important that the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, express a sincere desire to engage productively in the peace process in response to significant Israeli moves such as a complete settlement freeze. They should frame such a move as operationalizing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

Future public diplomacy efforts by the Palestinians and Arab States should also focus their attention on the mainstream American Jewish Community. A large number of American Jews support Obama's efforts to push Israel toward a settlement freeze, a fact Netanyahu is keenly aware of. He seems to be calculating that his rather tepid, theoretical acceptance of the concept of Palestinian statehood and his rhetorical invocations of Israeli nationalism might weaken support for the president's efforts. The extent to which Netanyahu is effective in gaining currency with this crucial constituency may be an important factor in determining whether the Obama can remain firm with the Israeli government without intolerable domestic political cost.

Obama has placed a great deal of political capital at stake on the issue of settlements. In order to successfully shift the Israeli government from its present position, he is going to need help.

If a settlement freeze can be achieved, along with reciprocal gestures from the Palestinian Authority and Arab states, such as maintaining security and continuing diplomatic overtures, the parties can move quickly into permanent status negotiations, tackling such bedrock questions as borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and security. Many on the Israeli right, possibly including Netanyahu, would prefer to avoid these issues because they may not yet be prepared to take the necessary steps to advance peace.

By supporting Obama's position through constructive measures, Palestinians and Arabs can greatly strengthen the prospects that permanent status talks become unavoidable, and that with strong American leadership the parties could soon find themselves in serious peace negotiations for the first time since January 2001.

'Informal' Caspian Summit Opening In Kazakhstan, But Iran Not Invited

The leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan are gathering in the Caspian coastal city of Aktau, Kazakhstan's main Caspian port.

They are coming for an "informal" Caspian summit on September 11 that was first announced publicly less than a month ago. But they represent only four of the five Caspian littoral states. The fifth, Iran, has not been invited.

Federico Bordonaro, senior analyst for the Italian-based risk analysis group Equilibri, says Iran "has expressed its rage and indignation" for not having received an invitation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on September 9, "In our view, the meeting runs contrary to Iran's national interests."

He added that the summit "violates previous agreements, in which the five Caspian littoral states came to the understanding that any decision on the waterway should be made with the participation of all its neighboring countries."

Bordonaro said Mottaki's perceptions may be accurate.

"The Iranians fear that Russia wants to rebuild a Russian-led bloc on the Caspian, which would encompass Russia and the former Soviet republics," Bordonaro says. "And this would enable these countries to dictate the rules on the Caspian and take advantage of Iran's relative diplomatic isolation. Another possible reason why Iran was left behind is because Iran is in a very delicate moment, diplomatically speaking."

Significant Distinction

One of the issues under dispute is the question of whether the Caspian is a sea or a landlocked lake. The distinction is significant in terms of dividing up access to Caspian's abundant hydrocarbon resources.

If the parties agree to designate it as a sea, the Caspian will be carved into national sectors extending from the individual states' coastlines. Those with long Caspian coastlines, like Kazakhstan, would get a larger share of Caspian resources.

If it is a lake, it falls under a "condominium" status that requires all the riches of the Caspian be divided up equally. Iran, which would receive only about 13 percent of the Caspian if it were a sea, is naturally in favor of the Caspian being a lake.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said on September 7 that the legal status of the Caspian will not be discussed by the four CIS leaders.

Still, Bordonaro pointed out that Tehran has reason to be suspicious.

"There is certainly a historical reason why Iran is not considered a peer in the Caspian region," Bordonaro says. "It's more the Russians having a privileged relationship with their former republics."

There are a number of other issues the four presidents could discuss. Pipelines, for example, should receive a good amount of attention. There is a battle in progress for access to Caspian Basin hydrocarbons. The European Union, China, India, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey and others are all trying to secure Caspian energy resources, and the competition for the region's natural gas is particularly fierce at the moment.

Decade-Long Feud

It is a good situation for Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, all of which have been promoting the idea of diversification of export routes in as many directions as possible. But for Russia, whose Soviet-era pipeline network gave it a virtual monopoly on gas and oil exports from the Caspian region, this diversification process is not so desirable.

This is a very interesting question: Why the hurry? This is also something that I think irritated the Iranians.
The EU's Nabucco gas pipeline project foresees acquiring gas from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and possibly from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also, to bring some 31 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas yearly to Europe. That amount is only a small fraction of what the EU needs, but symbolically it breaks the growing dependence on Russian gas.

Presently, such a scheme is feasible only if Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan cooperate in the construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline to bring Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan. But those two countries recently renewed a decade-long feud over three hydrocarbon fields located between them in the Caspian, dampening hopes for Nabucco.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, prodded by EU and U.S. officials, are planning to try to reconcile their differences at the Aktau summit, but with Russian President Medvedev there, that might prove difficult.

Russia's Gazprom has offered to buy all the gas that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are willing to sell, in order to export it to Europe via Russian pipelines. And as Bordonaro said, Russia's moves to maintain a tight grip over Caspian resources may be more than simply a desire to keep its virtual monopoly over the region's hydrocarbon exports.

"The Europeans are starting to think right now that maybe the real energy security issue is not the fact that [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin is too powerful and that Russia can use natural gas as a diplomatic weapon against Ukraine," Bordonaro says, "but that instead the major risk is that Gazprom hasn't the adequate level of investment and technological innovation in order to extract natural gas and in order to do the maintenance of the old network. And therefore Gazprom would have lots of interest in buying and controlling Azeri, Kazakh and Turkmen Caspian gas resources."

'European Prices'

Medvedev is also likely to meet with Berdymukhammedov and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev to discuss the construction of a pipeline project along the northeastern coastline of the Caspian. The three countries, together with Uzbekistan, agreed in 2007 to build the pipeline, but work has proceeded slowly since then.

Medvedev also plans on discussing gas supplies with Berdymukhammedov. Turkmenistan has contracts to supply Russia with some 50 bcm of gas annually. In 2008, Gazprom agreed to pay Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan "European prices" for their gas. At the time "European prices" were well over $300 per 1,000 cubic meters. That price has been dropping all this year -- prices currently hover between $220 to $250 -- but the Central Asian states have not dropped the "European price" they agreed to last year.

Amid negotiations to convince Turkmenistan to lower its price, an explosion in April along the pipeline linking Turkmenistan to Russia halted supplies. The Turkmen government says Russia is responsible for the explosion and the result is that no gas has been shipped since April. Kremlin officials have hinted that the price of gas, not only for Turkmenistan, will be a topic in Aktau.

Whatever the topics of discussion, the haste with which this summit was organized raises interest about the summit. The two "formal" Caspian summits that have been held (in Turkmenbashi City in 2002 and Tehran in 2007) took years to organize and were announced well in advance of the actual event. The first mention of this informal summit came on August 18 when Russian media reported on a telephone conversation between Medvedev and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in which the two leaders agreed to the summit.

Bordonaro said the rush to hold this summit could indicate some unpopular decisions are coming.

"This is a very interesting question: Why the hurry?" Bordonaro says. "This is also something that I think irritated the Iranians. If they are in a hurry and they don't want to have too much spotlight turned on their meeting, it means that probably they want to proceed toward an agreement that may not be very popular in other regional countries."

Even the length of the summit is unclear. The four presidents will be in Aktau on September 11, but Medvedev and Nazarbaev will be arriving after a meeting they are attending in Orenburg that same day. On September 12, Medvedev is reportedly traveling to Turkmenistan where the Silk Route road rally that begin in Kazan ends the following day.

Energy Or Values? EU's Central Asia Dilemma Discussed At Polish Forum

KRYNICA, Poland -- Experts meeting at the 19th Economic Forum in the Polish ski resort of Krynica have reached two conclusions about the future of relations between the European Union and Central Asia.

One was that, with its vast oil and natural-gas resources, Central Asia is emerging as an important region for the EU, which is dependent on energy imports.

The other was that the EU, its energy needs notwithstanding, must uphold democratic standards in Central Asia, which has been criticized for plodding reforms and disregard for human rights.

This is the first year the four-day Krynica forum -- which focuses largely on pan-European issues -- had dedicated discussion time to Central Asian issues.

Two seminars held on September 10 heard opinions from officials and energy experts from the EU, United States, and Russia, as well as the Central Asian states.

Import Diversification

Many panelists noted that the EU's complicated relationship with Russia, which serves as Europe's main energy supplier, makes it imperative that Europe diversify its energy sources.

Energy experts pointed out Central Asia's potential as an alternative source of oil and gas for the West.

Some of the Russian panelists, however, suggested it is unlikely Central Asian oil and gas will reach Europe anytime soon.

Konstantin Simonov, the head of Russia's National Energy Security Fund, said that in any case, there should be no competition between Russia and the EU over Central Asian energy resources -- and that Moscow and Brussels have shared interests in the region.

"The very interesting point is that today the same amount of gas that is extracted in Central Asia is already being supplied to the European Union and Ukraine. Here, lots of people consider Ukraine as a European country," Simonov said.

"That means that when we speak about who is more important there, Russia or Europe -- Europe thinks that control of Central Asia will solve Europe's energy resource problem, but here we somehow forget that all these energy resources are already in Europe," he continued.

"So the question is really about creating new routes for supplying energy to European consumers."

Simonov said Russia has already quit a number of its energy projects in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But he suggested that Europe wouldn't automatically "take Russia's place" in the energy-rich region.

"If anyone else is entering the Central Asian energy market as the next major partner, it will be China," he said. He added that China, unlike Russia, would use the energy for its domestic market rather than passing it on to another consumer.

Delicate Topics

Several participants focused on the dilemma Europe faces as it weighs its need for energy against its commitment to democratic values in its dealing with repressive regimes in Central Asia.

They said the EU should find a balance between addressing its own energy security and its principles.

Human rights activists and opposition politicians in Central Asia have in the past accused the West of turning a blind eye to unfair elections and appalling human rights situations in the region.

Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party, said Europe gives off the impression that "Central Asia is all about oil and gas."

"We all know that the EU two years ago adopted a new strategy for Central Asia that has four main points -- energy security, the fight against extremism and terrorism, economy and trade, and human rights and democratization," Kabiri said.

Kabiri said that "in discussions about this new strategy" with representatives of other Central Asian countries and the EU, "we noted several concerns" related to the new strategy. "It seemed to us then that the main point of this strategy was energy security, and that the region was important to Europe only as a reserve fuel tank."

In what may be a sign of Europe's delicate relationship with Central Asia, the Krynica forum cancelled a scheduled seminar on authoritarianism and religious extremism in Central Asia.

One of forum organizers, who asked not to be named, said the seminar was cancelled because of the Uzbek delegation's displeasure with the topic of authoritarianism.

How Copenhagen can succeed where Kyoto failed

Avoiding catastrophic climate change may be the single greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. The threat is of almost unimaginable scale. If greenhouse gas emissions remain unrestricted, the latest science says, the planet will be 5 degrees Celsius warmer by 2100 and the seas 5 feet higher -- and rising. The world's biomes will be vastly different, with massive dust bowls in the United States and water covering much of Bangladesh. Half of the species currently on the planet will be extinct. And human-caused climate change could be irreversible for 1,000 years.

Mitigating such disaster requires the world's countries to make major coordinated changes. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which produced the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, required countries to slash emissions, with rich countries reducing first and aiding poorer countries. But former U.S. President George W. Bush rejected Kyoto, and China, its growth fueled by coal, became the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases. Emissions have exploded at a faster rate than even the United Nations' most pessimistic scenario.

This December in Copenhagen, there is another UNFCCC summit and another chance for the world to coordinate and help stop climate change. The prospects look auspicious this time, but the need for reform is also growing more urgent. Foremost, the United States is finally developing legislation that would slash emissions 83 percent by 2050. And China has committed to a green-energy future -- though only in amorphous terms.

Still, a draft treaty prepared by nongovernmental organizations and released last week -- a good guideline for how the Copenhagen protocol might look -- gives reason for pause.

Its central goal is clear and necessary: "The global mean temperature must peak as far below 2°C above the pre-industrial period as possible." The draft also contains a number of valuable articles aimed at breaking the logjam over deforestation and financing the transition to a clean-energy economy in the developing world.

But it has two flaws that must be addressed before the meeting in Copenhagen. First, the draft is built around a Chinese demand that industrialized countries reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. That is simply not going to happen. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill winding its way through the U.S. Congress aims to reduce emissions to a few percentage points below 1990 levels. Japan has recently announced a goal only slightly stronger than that of the United States. And even Europe seems unlikely to agree to more than a 20 percent cut. A workable treaty must therefore be built around a more realistic target for developed countries.

Second, the draft never once mentions China -- the biggest and fastest-growing emitter, and thus the biggest determinant of success -- by name. Indeed, China's growth in emissions could erode all other countries' efforts to stabilize the world's temperature. Thus, the upcoming UNFCCC must address China rationally and squarely. Beijing is not prepared to institute an absolute emissions cap or reduction. But, the new climate protocol should require China to at least stall emissions growth at under half the past decade's rate and ensure that the country's emissions peak no later than 2025. China is aggressively pursuing leadership in a variety of clean-energy technologies on its own terms, and whatever results from Copenhagen should address those laudable efforts as well.

The Copenhagen UNFCCC meeting offers the opportunity for bold changes to help preserve our planet and ourselves. But only if all key emitters come to the table and make difficult concessions -- and only if the UNFCCC sets plausible targets and works with all players -- will Copenhagen succeed where Kyoto failed.