Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Combating Somali Pirates

November 30, 2009

Yesterday, an oil tanker headed to the US from Saudi Arabia was hijacked by Somali pirates.  The attack was another addition to the long list of such incidents in the past decade (10 ships have been hijacked in just the last two month). 

The pirates have increased their capability and range over time.  They now mount attacks from mother ships stationed in the middle of the ocean, from which they launch smaller vessels against their targets.  The tanker captured Sunday was seized 600 miles off the coast of Somalia where the pirate bases are located.

Piracy has flourished in the Indian Ocean between the Gulf of Aden and the Seychelles islands despite increased naval patrols.  This trend may be the result of a flawed strategy pursued by concerned powers.  Navy vessels from the US and other countries cruise off Somalia’s coast and other parts of the ocean looking for pirates, but the area that the US Fifth Fleet and foreign navies have to patrol is 2.5 million square miles, which makes their task daunting to say the least.

A better method of combating the pirates would be to set up a convoy system like the Allies did in World War Two to reduce the effectiveness of German submarines.  A convoy strategy would force hijackers to take on warships rather than evade them as they have been doing.  The odds that pirates could successfully capture oil tankers or other vessels that were guarded by destroyers are very low, so using convoys would almost certainly limit the ability of the hijackers to kidnap people and disrupt trade.

Why Iran Backed Out of a Nuclear Deal

November 3, 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published an illuminating news analysis article by Michael Slackman in which he discusses domestic politics in Iran and its relations to the nuclear issue http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/world/middleeast/03iran.html?ref=global-home). 

Last month, Iran tentatively agreed to a deal with the West and Russia over its nuclear program but then backed away from it before anything was signed.  The deal would require Iran to ship most of its uranium out of the country for it be enriched and then returned to the Islamic Republic for use in a research reactor.  The measure was designed to ease Western concerns that Iran will use its stockpile of uranium to build nuclear weapons, and it would do so by preventing Iran from enriching its uranium to weapons-grade levels.  The Islamic Republic denies that it seeks to acquire the Bomb.

Mr. Slackman argues that reformists and traditional conservatives oppose the nuclear deal because Mr. Ahmadinejad supports it.  He says that they are trying to turn public opinion against him for their own political advantage.

Mr. Slackman offers some interesting insights, but he seems to underestimate the degree to which many Iranian leaders believe that maintaining the capability of building nuclear weapons is critical for Iran’s national security.  It may be true that some public figures see political benefits in undermining the Iranian president, who won the last presidential election amid widespread complaints of voting fraud, but Iranian security concerns and perceptions of national interests should not be discounted.

The Upcoming P5+1 Talks

September 30, 2009

Last week, the leaders of the US, France and Britain publicly revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed about the existence of a uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qum in Iran.  This revelation came just days before the planned P5+1 talks between the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which will take place tomorrow in Geneva.  On his ForeignPolicy.com blog, Marc Lynch speculated about why the existence of the site was recently disclosed (http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/25/the_iran_nuclear_revelation).

Mr. Lynch argues that the revelation strengthens the bargaining position of the P5.  But the disclosure will not likely be a significant game-changer.  The European powers were already convinced of the need to compel Iran to allow intrusive IAEA inspections, and they apparently are still more concerned about the Iranian nuclear program than the US. 

Meanwhile, the new information will merely reinforce Israeli fears that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.  This fact gives the Iranians leverage because the US wants to quickly reach a deal with Iran to ward off a threatened Israeli military strike that could have disastrous consequences for the US and the Middle East region.

Despite the disclosure of the Qum facility, the Russians and the Chinese will still likely veto any harsh economic sanctions against Iran because the two countries have strategic relationships with the Islamic Republic, especially when it comes to energy. 

Any deal between Iran and the West will probably entail an Iranian agreement to report the location of all of its nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspectors to closely monitor them.  In return, other powers will acknowledge Iran’s right to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and give the country economic benefits.  In addition, the US may reestablish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic for the first time in 30 years.

Whether such an agreement will be reached at the upcoming meeting is uncertain.  And even if a deal is made, the Iranians could still pursue a secret nuclear weapons program, especially if they believe it serves their vital national interests.

The P5+1 negotiations might bear fruit and head off an international crisis.  But the exposure of the Qum site will probably not play a major role in such a development.

Russia Will Buy French Naval Vessels

August 26, 2009

Today, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia’s general staff, announced that his country will buy a Mistral-class carrier from France and might enter into a joint venture with France to build several more.  The vessel can be used to launch amphibious assaults or transport weapons platforms like helicopters and tanks long distances.

It puzzling why Russia wants to purchase carriers.  Even with the new ships, Russia would have a very limited overseas force projection capability, and it is unclear which countries might be targets of a Russian amphibious assault.  Russia has recently been flexing its muscles in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in places like Georgia and Kyrgystan, areas which Russia considers part of its sphere of influence, but those places can easily be reached by land and air. 

The ships, which have an estimated cost of 300 million euros per vessel, seem like a waste of money for a country that is trying to modernize its army.  Perhaps Russia wants to use the carriers to transport weapons to overseas buyers like Venezuela, but that would likely be a bad business decision because any additional revenue resulting from the acquisitions would probably not yield a profit once the cost of the vessels is taken into account.

Obama Pushes for Foreign Farm Aid

July 9, 2009

President Obama is proposing that the world’s wealthiest nations contribute $15 billion over the next three years to help farmers in poor countries grow more food and thereby reduce world hunger.  The money would go to providing high-yield seeds, fertilizers, crop-storage facilities and other key items to Sub-Saharan Africa and other rural areas where the bulk of the world’s one billion hungry people live.

In the past, aid from the US and other economic powers has come in the form of food shipments from the developed world to the developing world.  But economists and agricultural experts have advocated for a different approach, essentially heeding the proverb that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime. 

While Obama’s new initiative is commendable, it fails to address one of the major contributing factors of world hunger, which is government subsidies for farmers in the US and Europe, particularly France.  Such subsidies, which are politically rather than economically motivated, raise the global price of food and make it tougher for impoverished people to afford it.  Wealthy nations need to stop artificially raising the cost of agricultural products if they are serious about helping poor people.