Newsnotes 2010 09

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

Iraq: Twenty Years On

Make Money, Not War [Military Robots]

Kosovo: the Bleeding Kansas Solution

China Rising, USA Falling

Odd Weather, Odd Sun

 

Iraq: Twenty Years On

The 20th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait has been allowed to pass without any reminders that I noticed. It happened on August 2nd 1990, after Saddam had tried and failed to get the Kuwaitis to make a reasonable settlement of the debts he had run up in the war he had waged against Iran.

Though the Soviet Union lasted till 1991, it was clear by 1990 that it was no longer a challenge to the USA. The USA had a chance to make a new world, and the USA bungled it. Rather than try to create a stable world order, as the USA had done in parts of the world after World War Two, they decided to knock over some old allies whom they felt they didn’t need. Mobutu in Zaire fell. Suharto in Indonesia fell. Ceausescu in Romania fell. The Christian Democrats of Italy disintegrated as hard evidence suddenly emerged for corruption that had been long suspected but largely impossible to prove. The Christian Democrats of Germany were also hit, but were tougher than their Italian counterparts and managed to bounce back and also complete the unification of Germany.

Saddam Hussein was mired in debt when he invaded Kuwait. He might have been negotiated out again: instead he was targeted for destruction in what was meant to be a demonstration of Western might.

The unique power that the West possessed in the early 1990s was massively abused and also used incompetently. There was no noble purpose behind what was done then: there was also a lack of realism. It was said of the British in World War One that they were lions led by donkeys. The US attempt to dominate the world after 1990 looks much more like jackals advised by sheep. Advisors were more keen to stay ‘on-message’ than to work out what the truth really was. Those who dared report unwelcome facts got picked on and punished, even though most of them were clearly loyal to the USA’s basic aims. But while truth-speaking became punished, little is done about vast numbers of private companies that attach themselves to the war-machine and make a good living out of it.

Back in August 1990, Brendan Clifford gave a description of Iraq, one that has withstood the test of time:

“Saddam was until last month attempting to develop Iraq into a state of the Western kind – a secular state whose inhabitants were citizens… But now, under pressure of the economic blockade and the menacing build-up of American military power on his border, he has cast aside the political work of a lifetime and capitulated to the popular movement of Arabia – the Islamic revival…

“The Arab world is now going through a phase of development which Europe went through in an earlier period. Nation states are being established out of a pre-national situation. Naturally, there is conflict in the process. But it is certain that the process will continue. And if Europe and America do not make space in their world outlook and their strategies for that process, that is what might endanger the peace of the world. Wars containable within the Arab world may become world wars.”[A]

After the first Gulf war was over, he noted that it had failed in its main aim: Saddam was still there.

“It was revealed by the White House in the moment of apparent victory early in March that Bush had taken expert instruction on ways of pronouncing Saddam’s name which conveyed an insult… Behind all the efficient machinery of killing was this dreadful little worm of a man setting it in motion, while at the same time fantasising himself as [legendary US sheriff] Bat Masterson walking tall down the main street of Tombstone and making the badmen quail…

“This was the situation set up by Bush as agent for the United Nations. And there can be little doubt that he anticipated either the overthrow of Saddam by his lieutenants (to whom it had to be made clear that great rewards would follow such an action) or the disintegration of all social organisation in Iraq. Either would have been sweet to him and would have let him rest content.

“Saddam was not overthrown. The regime did not crumble. Social chaos did not set in…

“What was done after the end of the Turkey Shoot [the massacre by air power of Iraqi troops retreating from Iraq] was maniacal. As the regime did not crumble, the centrifugal forces in the State were urged into motion in the hope that this would somehow cause Saddam to be overthrown. But this was done without serious intention of dismantling the state of Iraq, setting up a state of Kurdistan, and transferring Shia areas to Iran. It was nothing but an act of wanton trouble-making, the outcome of spite against Saddam for still being there after all that had been done to his people and army.” [B]

Bush Senior did at least have sense enough to cut his losses. Iraq was harassed for the next twelve years, on the pretext of hidden ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that did not in fact exist. But Bush Junior seems to have had the same outlook as his father with rather less of his father’s judgement: he viewed it as an unsettled family feud. He first used the 911 attacks on the World Trade Centre as an excuse to invade Afghanistan, without seeing whether it was possible to persuade the Taliban to stop protecting al-Qaeda, which might have been possible. His must have hoped to conclude it with the death or capture of Osama bin Laden, but this failed. He then neglected the vital task of consolidating a new government in Afghanistan, where it was hopelessly bad government after the Soviet withdrawal that had caused the original rise of the Taliban. Instead he decided that the USA might now settle the matter of Iraq. Huge numbers of US citizens confused Saddam’s secular regime with the Islamists of the 911 attacks, so there might be more tolerance of US losses than there would have been in 1991.

Initially the war seemed like a triumph. Iraq was overrun in a few weeks, with less than 200 allied casualties. But there was staggering incompetence when it came to what to do next. Looting was tolerated, setting a precedent for lawlessness that has lasted till this day. There was some idea of wiping the slate clean and allowing a ‘normal society’ to emerge. But Saddam Hussein and the Baath had been the main forces working for the creation of something like that, building on top of the old and very non-Western traditions of Iraq, birthplace of the world’s first urban societies and long-term centre of Islamic culture. What emerged spontaneously was sectarian politics, a three-way split between Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. This also meant that life became much more dangerous for Iraqi Christians and for various strange little religions that had been there for centuries or millennia, notably the Mandaeans.

US citizens typically believe that the’ normal’ is what they think it should be, even if it never existed. They treat their own political system as something miraculously devised by the Founding Fathers after the American Revolution. In fact the American Constitution was largely a formalisation of the existing politics of the colonies, itself a copy of older English practices. They seem to think that some copy of this system can be imposed on people with completely different backgrounds, and that a state built on those lines will unite diverse peoples who may well find more in common with people across the colonial borders of their state than with their supposed fellow-citizens.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan are now regarded as US failures even by a majority of US citizens. As the US tries to pull out militarily, things can only get worse. It may unfortunately get blamed on Obama, who inherited an impossible situation. But Obama should have distanced himself from the whole mess much more definitely, even at the risk of not getting elected.

 

Make Money, Not War [Military Robots]

The Afghan and Iraq wars have been fought in a new way. Not just massive bombing, as was applied in the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War Two. But extensive use of both mercenaries and war robots.

War robots have been a science fiction notion for decades. Mostly they’ve not been very practical. Germany’s V-One ‘doodlebugs’ were an early example, the same idea as modern Cruise Missiles. But these were essentially automatic devices that guided themselves to a pre-planned target. They lacked the flexibility that front-line warfare needs, especially when it becomes guerrilla warfare. Front-line robots have been developed over the past few years, as an article in the magazine Scientific American explains:

“Not a single robot accompanied the U.S. advance from Kuwait toward Baghdad in 2003. Since then, 7,000 ‘unmanned’ aircraft and another 12,000 ground vehicles have entered the U.S. military inventory, entrusted with missions that range from seeking out snipers to bombing the hideouts of al-Qaeda higher-ups in Pakistan. The world’s most powerful fighting forces, which once eschewed robots as unbecoming to their warrior culture, have now embraced a war of the machines as a means of combating an irregular enemy that triggers remote explosions with cell phones and then blends back into the crowd. These robotic systems are not only having a big effect on how this new type of warfare is fought, but they also have initiated a set of contentious arguments about the implications of using ever more autonomous and intelligent machines in battle. Moving soldiers out of harm’s way may save lives, but the growing use of robots also raises deep political, legal and ethical questions about the fundamental nature of warfare and whether these technologies could inadvertently make wars easier to start.” [F]

The problem is not so much these robots spying on the enemy, as when they are fitted with lethal weapons, even though these are always under human control. The view is that people get too detached, it is like a video game, with the operators maybe forgetting that real people get killed.

But do these machines contribute to winning war? The USA is able to overrun small countries, but can it then remould them to match US wishes? Killing innocents – particularly via machines – may solve individual problems but alienates the people you are trying to win over. The same problem has been found with the various mercenary forces – they may do particular military tasks very well, but they shoot much too readily and do more harm than they are worth. They also tend to be treacherous, reaching deals with the people they are supposed to be fighting and sometimes helping them attack what is supposed to be their own side.

Armed forces have a very peculiar culture. They need it, because they have to stick to their original purpose under the strongest possibly pressures, constant dangers and perhaps an unseen foe. It is hard enough on a battlefield, harder still against irregular warfare.

War is about one corporate body trying to impose its will on another. Each seeks to keep its own identity, and very commonly tries to fragment the opposition into smaller combines or separate individuals. In the USA, corporate feeling up to the 1950s was strong enough for waging war with great effectiveness. They’d always tell you a lot about how individualist they are, but almost all of them do it in exactly the same terms and it is a limited sort of individualism. Everyone was scared of being ‘off-message’. This also makes them bad at winning a peace, they fail to understand why others are different. But during the Cold War, their instinct was to back whoever was not on the other side.

Iraq and Afghanistan were laboratories in which the New Right tested their various ideas. Thankfully, those ideas have proved ineffective. All of their nasty fantasies have bumped into a harsh reality and have failed.

 

Kosovo: the Bleeding Kansas Solution

Faced with a tricky situation as Yugoslavia broke up, the Serbs have bungled it from first to last. Tito, who was half Croat and half Slovene, had drawn up the boundaries of the Yugoslav Federal Republic in a way that minimised Serb power. But that’s not how it gets seen in the West.

In the case of Kosovo, they relied on the fact that Kosovo had no right of secession under the former Yugoslav constitution, unlike the Croats etc. Legally speaking they were correct, but the USA had decided to use Kosovo to further punish Serbia, having decided to make Serbs the villains. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo had good reason to believe that if they refused to make a deal with the Serb government, they would eventually get an independent state. In the end, US bombing of Serbia forced a hand-over of most of the state to occupation by ‘KFOR’, a NATO-led force. The Serbs hung onto the north with its ethnic-Serb majority.

In February 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent. The Serbian government reacted by going to the United Nations, the only option open to them in view of NATO’s presence. But they then asked the wrong question, they asked just if the declaration of independence was legal. The UN Court spent a long time pondering it and then declared that it was not illegal, without trying to decide what this meant.

“In the present case, the question posed by the General Assembly is clearly formulated. The question is narrow and specific; it asks for the Court’s opinion on whether or not the declaration of independence is in accordance with international law. It does not ask about the legal consequences of that declaration. In particular, it does not ask whether or not Kosovo has achieved statehood. Nor does it ask about the validity or legal effects of the recognition of Kosovo by those States which have recognized it as an independent State.” [C]

The Serbs once again acted as if global politics were honest. They should have asked several extra questions:

  • If legal, does it thereby transform Kosovo into an independent state?
  • If legal, does it make it legal for other states to recognise this state as an independent state?
  • Since no specific right to secede was ever granted, would it be legal for regions within Kosovo to refuse to join the secession, if the majority there wished it?
  • Does the United Nations have in principle an obligation to resolve such issues?
  • Does the United Nations have an obligation to resolve such issues when it has intentionally changed the previous balance by binding resolution and/or the actions of a force authorised by the UN?

Given the question asked, the court was able to evade the substantial issues. Some UN members held that the principle of ‘territorial integrity’ meant that it was not legal for any part of a sovereign state to secede without the agreement of the central government. This has been the norm. The United States enforced it on its own seceding states in the 1860s and has never denied the principle. What it has done is apply it inconsistently. They supported Panama when it seceded from Columbia (thereby allowing a better deal for the US-built Panama Canal). They supported Cuba and the Philippines rebelling against the Spanish Empire, and then took them over and tried to remould them, unsuccessfully in the case of Cuba. They also actively supporting the central Nigerian government against Biafra, ex-Soviet Georgia against its breakaway regions, and refuse to help most other secessionist movement. And the UN, currently very much the creature of the USA, has accepted this.

“The Court is not required by the question it has been asked to take a position on whether international law conferred a positive entitlement on Kosovo unilaterally to declare its independence or, a fortiori, on whether international law generally confers an entitlement on entities situated within a State unilaterally to break away from it. Indeed, it is entirely possible for a particular act such as a unilateral declaration of independence not to be in violation of international law without necessarily constituting the exercise of a right conferred by it. The Court has been asked for an opinion on the first point, not the second.” [D]

The whole break-up of Yugoslavia would have been vastly less painful if the United Nations had been willing to step in and make the split on some fair basis. Or the European Union could have done it. What actually happened was that things were allowed to drift and then the Serbs were punished for resenting a settlement that was grossly unfair to them. Majority-Serb areas were regarded as integral parts of new states founded on anti-Serb sentiment. An enforced partition would have been the least painful solution, but it was rejected on the grounds that the existing boundaries were legally established for federal republics with a right of secession. Which would have meant all Kosovo staying part of Serbia, but since the actual principle was “punish the Serbs and blame the Serbs for not liking it”, there is currently a determination that all Kosovo shall become an independent state. And the UN resolution feeds into this:

“Almost everyone had expected the International Court of Justice to give an ambiguous opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. When, on July 22nd, a summary of the opinion was read, most strained to understand the legal jargon. But one line was clear. The declaration did not, said ten of the 14 judges, violate international law.

“Serbs, Albanians and just about everyone else were stunned. In October 2008 Serbia had, via the UN General Assembly, asked the ICJ to give its opinion on the independence declaration of eight months earlier, and was confident of a favourable answer.,,

“Until last week Serbia’s plan for Kosovo was clear. Following the ICJ verdict, it would go back to the General Assembly and ask for a resolution demanding fresh talks on Kosovo’s status. One idea was that it might then propose to recognise Kosovo in exchange for formal control over the Serbian-run north of the country. On July 28th Serbia did table a UN resolution. But the word ‘status’ was nowhere to be seen.” [E]

Kosovo has always been ethnically mixed. The Serbs used to be the dominant group and quite possibly the ethnic majority. The ethnic Albanians seem to want it all for themselves – that was the original problem, Slobodan Milosevic built his career on his 1989 protest at ill-treatment of Serbs in Kosovo when the ethnic Albanians dominated.

No one has behaved well. The international community under US leadership has behaved worst of all. The US is full of illusions, obsessions and resentments. The US sees itself as ‘global sheriff’ defeating and punishing the ‘bad guys’. They don’t understand foreign countries, and they do not even learn from their own history, the secessionist Civil War that was started by the sad spectacle of ‘Bleeding Kansas’ from 1854 to 1858.

At the time of US Independence, slavery was legal in most states, but marginal in the north, since the big profit from slavery came from negro slaves growing tropical crops that were desired by European consumers and were immensely profitable. Not just cotton, also tobacco, rice and some cane sugar. Most northern states outlawed slavery but most also denied negros the vote and broadly did not want them there at all. Objections to slavery in the West were to a considerable degree a desire to keep those territories all-white – the Oregon Territory even had a specific ban on negros going there. And some historians think that the US Constitution was only accepted as a replacement for the loose ‘Articles of Confederation’ because the northern states were offered the Northwest Territory as a new area for settlement with slavery not allowed. Virginia had a plausible claim, but at that time Virginia wanted a stronger federal government which they expected to dominate. In the early days they did indeed dominate the new Republic, with four of the first five Presidents being Virginians.

Before the 1850s, there had been a broad understanding that new territories would either allow slavery or forbid it in line with the states to the east of them, the line agreed on being the Mason-Dixon Line between Virginia and Maryland. (Though slavery was marginal but legal in Maryland until after the end of the Civil War). The unexpected development of Missouri as a slave state north of the line caused a crisis. The 1820 Missouri Compromise accepted Missouri but said that the older line would be respected in future.

This compromise broke down, especially when the South made it clear that it was never going to get rid of slavery and had come to regard it as a good system. When California was seized from Mexico, it was mostly settled by northerners and slavery was not allowed. There were proposals to separate off the southern half, which would have meant a new state dominated by Southern values, but Congress did not allow this. They did however decide to set up the Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory, on the assumption that slave-owners from Missouri would move west and make another slave state, while those who objected to slavery could go to Nebraska. But the actual decision was left to ‘popular sovereignty’, ignoring the fact that two mutually hostile populations would be moving in. In fact the North proved stronger – they had solid control of Nebraska and there was a state-wide civil war over Kansas, with two rival state governments. But Congress was dominated by Northern interests, so it was clear that the South had lost. Naturally they began thinking about secession, confirmed when Lincoln was elected President.

Letting two rival populations contend is a formula for disaster. It is also not very smart of the USA to let it happen in Kosovo etc. It may be easier in the short term, but it has convinced a lot of people that a global order dominated by the USA is a bad idea. Not a New World Order of the sort that was promised in the 1990s, but global disorder in which the USA hopes to flourish as the ‘biggest beast in the jungle’.

 

China Rising, USA Falling

What people call ‘Chinese Capitalism’ has all along been something much more collectivised and state-run than the Keynesian system in Western Europe. I’ve been saying this since the mid-1990s, and there’s been little sign of anyone taking notice of my words. But nowadays, mainstream news media are noticing the facts on the ground. Thus in the New York Times

“During its decades of rapid growth, China thrived by allowing once-suppressed private entrepreneurs to prosper, often at the expense of the old, inefficient state sector of the economy.

“Now, whether in the coal-rich regions of Shanxi Province, the steel mills of the northern industrial heartland, or the airlines flying overhead, it is often China’s state-run companies that are on the march.

“As the Chinese government has grown richer — and more worried about sustaining its high-octane growth — it has pumped public money into companies that it expects to upgrade the industrial base and employ more people. The beneficiaries are state-owned interests that many analysts had assumed would gradually wither away in the face of private-sector competition…

“They join a string of other signals that are fueling discussion among analysts about whether China, which calls itself socialist but is often thought of in the West as brutally capitalist, is in fact seeking to enhance government control over some parts of the economy.

“The distinction may matter more today than it once did. China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy this year, and its state-directed development model is enormously appealing to poor countries. Even in the West, many admire China’s ability to build a first-world infrastructure and transform its cities into showpieces.

“Once eager to learn from the United States, China’s leaders during the financial crisis have reaffirmed their faith in their own more statist approach to economic management, in which private capitalism plays only a supporting role.

“‘The socialist system’s advantages,’ Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in a March address, ‘enable us to make decisions efficiently, organize effectively and concentrate resources to accomplish large undertakings.’ …

“Mr. Wen and President Hu Jintao are also seen as less attuned to the interests of foreign investors and China’s own private sector than the earlier generation of leaders who pioneered economic reforms. They prefer to enhance the clout and economic reach of state-backed companies at the top of the pecking order…

“Everyone agrees that China runs a bifurcated economy: at one level, a robust and competitive private sector dominates industries like factory-assembled exports, clothing and food. And at higher levels like finance, communications, transportation, mining and metals — the so-called commanding heights — the central government claims majority ownership and a measure of management control…

“Yet it is hard to argue with success, other economists say, and China’s success speaks well of its top-down strategy. Asian powerhouses like South Korea and Japan built their modern economies with strong state help. Many economists agree that shrewd state management can be better than market forces in getting a developing nation on its feet.” [H]

That’s a false history. China’s rapid economic rise began under Mao, who organised the entire economy into ‘work units’ that combined production with welfare and local politics. The economy tripled under Mao, remarkable for a society with limited experience of industrialisation and that was shut off from the rest of the world, mostly by the USA which denied that ‘Red China’ was a legitimate state until the early 1970s. Deng allowed a limited opening up, including export-orientated industries that were partly private and partly foreign owned. But as the article says, the ‘commanding heights’ were never given up.

Part of the reason for the lack of profitability of the state sector was that it retained its social obligations, in particular pensions. This is gradually being replaced by a Western-style system of universal welfare. Allowing for that, the state sector remained viable and was kept healthy all along. This has been done using the banks, compelling them to put social needs first. This was noted by the Economist magazine, after a fashion:

“Finance has huge potential in China—less than 1% of AgBank’s retail customers have mortgages. And the country’s banks had a good crisis, largely because they never entirely left the government’s embrace. So although they make money and have the trappings of public companies, the state owns a majority stake and the Communist Party appoints the top brass, whose pay is a fraction of that of their Western peers. Those bosses, with their dual role as party bigwigs and chief executives, are beholden to a higher authority than the stockmarket. Their regulators, meanwhile, wield supposedly crude tools to control banks, such as lending caps and reserve ratios, long dismissed by ‘light touch’ supervisors elsewhere. And the system is pretty closed. Some foreign banks have minority stakes in Chinese firms. But foreigners’ own operations on the mainland have a market share of less than 1% by profits, while Chinese banks make less than 4% of their profits abroad.” [K]

Chinese bankers have done a good job for their own country, while getting salaries typical for skilled professionals. Meantime Western bankers get paid millions for financial games that end up doing enormous damage to the real economy. the Economist thinks that Chinese banking will soon adapt to superior Western practices. Sensible?

Meantime China’s export-orientated sector is tied to the global economy and therefore faces difficulties. It was predicted when the crisis began that this would cause problems for China. It didn’t, because it was only one small section of a gigantic and fast-growing economy. The export-orientated sector also requires China to accumulate dollar and dollar bonds that cannot easily be turned into anything useful. Internal growth is simple growth and has proceeded fine. New roads and railways tend to increase wealth in the long run even if there is no immediate need.

Meantime some people in the USA is having doubts about its whole strategy since the 1970s. Here’s an article from a magazine called The American Conservative:

“Here’s an economic history test:

“1. Which Great Power pioneered the secular trend towards freer international trade?

“2. Which Great Power first resorted to spiraling foreign indebtedness to pay for its wars?

“3. Which Great Power first permitted large-scale foreign direct investment in its domestic industries and infrastructure?

“If you guessed such latter-day globalizers as the United States or Britain, you flunked. The correct answer in each case is the Ottoman Empire.

“During much of its existence of more than six centuries, the empire arguably ranked as the world’s top power, but this did not stop its eventual collapse in 1922-23. For anyone concerned about America’s future, the implications are thought-provoking. Indeed, in many ways America’s current trajectory seems like a speeded-up version of the Ottoman movie.

“Although the Ottomans were never as rabidly ideological in their trade views as the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, they diverged sharply from the systematic mercantilism that marked the rise of Europe in early modern times. Their import tariffs were relatively low, and Ottoman policymakers took a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ view of the empire’s rising trade deficits in the mid-19th century. In so doing, they eerily anticipated similar insouciance in Washington in the last three decades…

“With hardly a second thought, the U.S. government not only found the money—entirely internally, of course—to fund the massive rearmament program that won World War II, but afterward advanced huge sums to jump-start other major nations’ postwar recoveries. Thereafter, until well into the 1960s, the American economy remained so strong that the cost of maintaining a vast global network of military bases seemed readily manageable.

“By the 1970s, however, the bloom was off the rose: a trade crisis in 1971-72 forced the United States off the gold standard, and the U.S. Treasury began to rely ever more heavily on foreign money to fund its deficits. A decade later—in the last years of the Reagan administration—the United States had become the largest debtor nation in history. And that was still in the good old days when American policymakers continued to harbor hopes of eventually stopping the rot. Since then, on the strength of catastrophic policy mistakes by Bush I, Bill Clinton, and Bush II, the situation has spun completely out of control.” [J]

Since they call themselves conservatives, it’s not surprising that they minimise the guilt of the main offender, Ronald Nelson Reagan. Jokes at the time about his name adding up to 6-6-6 supposed that he’d be causing some sort of global disaster, which of course he did not. His ‘Star Wars’ program helped bring down the USSR, which could not match such a program and feared that it might give the USA ‘first strike’ capability, the ability to win a nuclear war if they started it without prior warning. But Reagan also convinced the US public that the state was not the answer to their problems, that the state was the main problem. He convinced them that taxes were some sort of robbery, so that cutting them was good even if rich people got most of the benefit. Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama have been tied to that agenda, which is too popular to openly defy. It’s much easier to go on increasing the debts. Clinton had in fact got the deficit under control, but Bush II blew it all with huge gifts to the rich.

China is playing a long game, which is a very Chinese thing to do. Whereas Japan was a lone challenger to US supremacy, China is working closely with Russia and also forming blocks like BRIC and BASIC with large nations that have common interests. China also shows no interest in global hegemony, which would anyway need close allies with shared values, which doesn’t seem feasible. US hegemony has depended on European acceptance, sometimes enthusiasm. I’d see it as much more likely that the world gets more harmonious as US power declines.

 

Odd Weather, Odd Sun

So far, 2010 has been an unusually warm year globally, and also a year with some very odd weather patterns. The odd weather patterns meant that Britain had a cold snowy winter in 2009/10, and could well have another one in 2010/11. It has also brought fires and a heatwave to Russia, flooding to several parts of China and a disastrous flood to Pakistan.

Global warming can include local cold spells, as with Britain last winter. I mentioned at the time that Vancouver was short of snow for the 2010 Olympics and had to import snow from other parts of Canada. While Moscow experienced record heat this summer, parts of Russia were colder than usual. The problem in Pakistan is a mass of cold wet air that normally would not be there. Still, globally it is hotter than ever:

“The combined global land and ocean surface temperature made this July the second warmest on record, behind 1998, and the warmest averaged January-July on record. The global average land surface temperature for July and January-July was warmest on record. The global ocean surface temperature for July was the fifth warmest, and for January-July 2010 was the second warmest on record, behind 1998.” [G]

Of course there are several components. Human failings are part of the problem in Pakistan, and the whole disaster may further discredit a weakening government. And in Russia, the heat was no one’s fault but the forest fires were made worse by human neglect:

“Extreme weather conditions, however, appear to have compounded a man-made disaster waiting to happen, and there is now growing anger over the government’s response and the parlous state of both fire and forestry services. When the wildfires broke out, the media reported, firefighters discovered forest roads overgrown and in poor repair, ponds intended to provide water for their tanks filled with sludge and fire trucks broken down or in a state of disrepair.

“They blame a 2006 reform of the country’s forest code that allowed logging companies to contract out firefighting. It also dismantled the national fire service’s effective network of monitors, replacing them with satellite and aerial-based technology that has proved unable to detect fires early before they spread. When the fires broke out, contractors were unprepared and poorly equipped, local officials say. A paper from the Academy of Sciences’ Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics three years ago warned prophetically that ‘the first dry year after the liquidation of the system of forest protection would become a catastrophe’ for Russia.” [H]

 

References

[A] The Crisis Over Iraq, by Brendan Clifford, Bevin Society in association with Labour And Trade Union Review, August 1990

[B] The First United Nations War, by Brendan Clifford, Bevin Society in association with Labour And Trade Union Review, April 1991

[C] Kosovo judgement, section 51. The full text can be found at [http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/141/15987.pdf]

[D] Ibid, section 56

[E] [http://www.economist.com/node/16693751]

[F] [http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=war-of-the-machines]

[G] [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100817133158.htm]

[H] [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/world/asia/30china.html]

[J] [http://www.amconmag.com/article/2010/aug/01/00041/]

[K] [http://www.economist.com/node/16541609]

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