Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Millions of Chinese Face Water Shortages

The Financial Times reports this morning that China is having major water problems:

The diversion of water to Beijing for the Olympics and for big hydropower projects threatens the lives of millions of peasant farmers in China’s north-western provinces, according to a senior Chinese government official.

In an interview with the Financial Times, An Qiyuan, a member and former chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee for Shaanxi province and former Communist party chief of Shaanxi, warned of an impending social and environmental disaster because of overuse of scarce water resources.

In a critical tone seldom heard from Chinese officials, Mr An called on Beijing to provide compensation to the provinces that have been told to pump their cleanest water to the capital in order to ensure potable supplies during the Olympics.

There are probably a great many lessons that can be learned from this story, but I'll limit myself to two:

* Totalitarian economies don't work. But China's been instituting all kinds of market reforms, you say. True. But this is classic proof that, at the end of the day, Beijing will still interfere with the market and risk the lives of its own citizens.

* China has a serious propaganda and influence system that reaches around the globe. This sounds like a conspiracy theory, but stop and think about it: How did Beijing convince the International Olympic Committee they should host the Games? By giving the impression that their capacity to do was was far greater than it in fact was. If they've hoodwinked us about that, where else might they be trying to deceive us?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Democrats Model Political Warfare - Or Lack Thereof

No doubt many publications have written about the comparative use of technology by Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, though this article from the Financial Times caught my eye. While the story is about domestic politics, it provides lessons that are applicable to foreign policy as well.

One passage notes that,

Mr Obama... has run the model new technology campaign, in which staff and volunteers have the autonomy to make their own decisions.

This is in contrast to the Clinton campaign, which has a more top-down approach. Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute explains:

Even businesses find it hard to change their organizational structure to fit the demands of new technology. But for political campaigns, which are classic command-and-control operations, it is particularly difficult. Mrs Clinton maintains a competent and solid website but Mr Obama has made it the central organizing tool of his campaign.

The article goes on to explain that,

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mrs Clinton has maintained a much less flexible campaign than her surging opponent.

In the world of national security, the question of centralized command-and-control versus decentralized networks is a hot topic. The reasons are fairly obvious: terrorists and other non-governmental actors are increasingly organizing themselves as networks, creating great flexibility and making it very difficult to thoroughly stomp them out. Should the military, CIA and State adopt network organizations themselves, to compensate? Plenty of ink has already been spilled on this question, but I would simply add that these are not uncharted waters for us; the Obama campaign understands how to run a flexible and delegated operation. If they know how, there's no good reason the government couldn't learn.

A second lesson to be learned by foreign policy types from this election relates to technology and the various media of communication. The FT explains that,

The Obama website offers almost instant video replays of his speeches, which are also packaged by Obama officials for YouTube. A few mouse clicks from each webcast provides a simple procedure to make online donations. Users can set up blogs, join the Obama Facebook group and even download ring tones featuring recordings of his speeches.

He's fighting his battle on every front, using every tool avaliable to him. While the various media in Iraq might be slightly different, the lesson is the same: don't be content with just one method of getting out your message; don't just accept what worked last year. If people can innovate and come up with creative ways to win elections at home, you'd think they could do likewise with the American message abroad.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"It's Not Prudent to Fly over an Aircraft Carrier"

We are indebted to the good folks over at Samizdat Cafe for bringing today's story to our attention.*

It would seem that the Russian military has decided that overflying our aircraft carriers is the new cool. From the Washington Post:

A long-range Russian bomber buzzed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean last weekend, while a second bomber circled about 50 miles away, U.S. officials said. The Nimitz scrambled fighter jets to intercept the Russian warplanes.

In a statement carried Tuesday by Russian news wires, Russian air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said the Tu-95 bombers conducted their Saturday flight "in strict compliance with the international rules of using airspace over neutral waters and without any violation of other countries' borders."

In case you had a little trouble reading between the lines, that's Soviet-speak for, "Ya, we flew over your carrier; what you gonna do 'bout it?" We can probably expect more of this sort of thing in the months and years to come:

Last August, Russian President Vladimir Putin [affectionately known to this blog as Pooty-Poot] revived the Soviet-era practice of long-range patrols by strategic bombers over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans....

Asked what message he thought the Russians were sending, [Adm. Gary] Roughead, [Chief of Naval Operations,] said, "I think what we are seeing is a Russian military... particularly in the case of the navy, desiring to emerge as a global navy."

Although "it's not prudent to fly over an aircraft carrier," he said, "we knew they were coming. We saw them coming. We detected them at the appropriate time. We launched our alert aircraft, who escorted the Russian aircraft." He said the United States has not asked for an explanation, nor have the Russians offered one.

*(We'd also like to thank them for the headline, which we ganked.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chinese Spies Arrested in US

Front page news on today's Financial Times:

The US on Monday announced a series of arrests in cases involving alleged spying by the Chinese government, including one where a Pentagon official was alleged to have helped Beijing obtain secret information.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Gregg Bergersen, a Pentagon employee with top secret security clearances, for allegedly providing a Chinese government agent with information about US weapons sales to Taiwan. In another case, Chung Dongfan, a former Boeing employee, was arrested for economic espionage involving US military programmes.

The arrests highlight the growing concern in the US about Chinese military and industrial espionage. Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney-general for national security, on Monday said the Bergersen case was a “classic espionage operation.”

Mr Wainstein said it involved “a foreign government focused on accessing our military secrets, foreign operatives who effectively use stealth and guile to gain that access, and an American government official who is willing to betray both his oath of public office and the duty of loyalty we rightly demand from every American citizen”.

Mr Bergersen, a 51-year-old Defence Security Co-operation Agency employee, was accused of providing sensitive information to Kuo Taishen, a 58-year-old Taiwanese-born US national who operates a furniture business in New Orleans, who allegedly sent the information to a Chinese government official, sometimes over encrypted e-mail.

The Justice department on Monday released an affidavit from an FBI investigator supporting the criminal complaint against Mr Bergersen, Mr Kuo, and Kang Yuxin, a 33-year-old Chinese woman who allegedly acted as a “cut out”, or intermediary, with the Chinese official, who is referred to as “PRC Official A”.

The affidavit describes a series of phone conversations and e-mails during which Mr Bergersen and Mr Kuo would arrange meetings where the Pentagon official would provide information about US weapons sales to Taiwan. But the affidavit also makes clear that Mr Bergersen appeared not to know that Mr Kuo was a Chinese agent.

The document says the PRC official’s contact details also appeared in the address books of a former US defence contractor, who was separately convicted for acting as a Chinese spy and violating US export control laws.

The Justice department said Mr Kuo cultivated Mr Bergersen and other US government employees, who provided him with classified information. One official said the investigation is ongoing.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Putin Continues Soviet Slide

The proof that Russian President Vladimir "Pooty-Poot" Putin wants to bring back Soviet-style international thuggery continues to roll in. Two stories highlight the problem.

In Europe, the Ukrainians have managed to gain admittance to the WTO before their former masters, a major slight to Putin's Russia. His response? He's threatening to cut off their gas supplies again, just like he did - to no avail - during the Orange Revolution.

On the other side of the world, the Japanese report an incursion by a Russian Tupolev 95 bomber into their airspace. Japan scrambled 22 planes in response and has lodged an official protest with the Russian embassy, but given that the two nations haven't gotten around to formally ending World War II yet, I wouldn't place must hope in the diplomatic option.